Saturday, March 24, 2012

United Arab Emirates Residents Shocked as Exotic Pets Prowl the Streets

This cheetah is one of many exotic pets roaming the streets of the U.A.E

The United Arab Emirates have been in the spotlight currently for being the major center of trade in exotic pets. But now, that threat has reached a whole new level as local residents are in a state of shock and fear in finding these animals out on the streets. This week's incident involved a five-month-old cheetah strolling down into a residence in the city of Al Ain. Fortunately, the cheetah was captured by the police and zoo authorities before being transferred to the latter's facilities for proper care. While this escapade was met with a happy ending, across the U.A.E, there is a rise in similar incidences of exotic animals escaping and endangering lives of people. This year, the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) of Dubai witnessed two separate incidences in which a lion and a tiger were spotted hanging out of car windows on separate occasions. On February 9th, a JBR resident was returning home after grocery shopping one evening when a white SUV pulled up at the traffic light. As the window rolled down, a few-month-old lion poked its head out, causing the residents to drop his bags in shock. Few weeks later, a similar incident occurred with a another SUV driving down the roads with a full size tiger hanging out the window.
The same cheetah before being captured

The incidences have led to residents voicing their concerns for their lives and the animals. One of them is JBR resident Marianna Darby, who stated that these exotic animals are not just endangering the lives of residents but are also ill-treated by their owners. She further added, saying that the animals are declawed with their teeth filed down and found in various states of malnourishment. One ideal example of the mistreatment of these escaped animals occurred in May last year, when a ten-month-old cheetah was spotted roaming the streets of Al Karamah. The animal was reported to have been subject of severe animal abuse, with a chain around its neck and malnourished. It was captured by authorities and brought to the Abu Dhabi Wildlife Center. Few months earlier, a two-year-old female cheetah was discovered swimming ashore from Khalid Port before taking refuge in a nearby mosque. At that time, media reports suggested she may have been part of illegal cargo aboard a dhow and jumped into the sea to escape its captors. She was then captured and sent to the Sharjah Desert Park.
After the capture

This article is a clear representation about the dangers of the exotic pet trade affecting the Middle East. In the United Arab Emirates, several exotic animals are seen roaming the streets causing grave concern to the citizens. While most of the animals focused are big cats, others included primates such as chimpanzees and reptiles like snakes and crocodiles. Many of these animals are subjected to a great deal of abuse, as they suffer serious injuries and malnutrition in the hands of their so-called owners. In addition to that, residents are also at a grave risk as these animals escape from their "masters" and go about roaming the streets. And while there has not been a report of such exotic animal attacking and injuring an innocent civilian, the fact that any of these escapees causing harm to the general public is bound to happen no matter what. Among the examples shown in this article include a member of, who was encountered by a monkey while walking on a beach. The animal flashed its teeth at her, causing a great deal of fear. Another involved a woman named Jhanavi Thaker, who came across a chimpanzee while walking on the Jumeirah public beach. The animal jumped at her sandwich, snatched it away, and started scratching her. Thankfully, the chimp's owner noticed and ushered his pet away. However, the situation could have been a whole lot worse. I personally believe that this article should be a wake-up call for the U.A.E and the Middle East to combat the exotic pet trade spilling into the towns and cities in the region. These animals are being illegally smuggled overseas, and are becoming subject of severe abuse and neglect far away from their natural habitats. This is why it is crucial to combat this ongoing threat for the sake of both the animals and the general public.

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Namdapha National Park's Tigers Threatened by Poaching

A Bengal tiger

In 2004, Rajasthan's Sariska National Park came into spotlight when the park witnessed a shocking loss of its tigers. Now recently, there appears to be a similar situation in Namdapha Tiger Reserve in northeastern India. Reports have shown that poaching has emerged, but it would be too late, if tigers are killed in a planned manner. According to Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) B.S Sajwan in October 2010, the reported decline in Namdapha's tiger population was due to human encroachment in the buffer zone by 84 families of the Lisu tribe from across the border in Burma. Although a report of an interception made by a team led by PCCF J.L Singh to the park on February this year against suspected poachers brought good news, an official report took serious exception to such activities. The Assam-based NGO Aaranyak recovered few iron Burmese traps set up along routes that have pugmarks of tigers. In addition to that, the organization had also set up eighty cameras in a 300 square kilometer area for a census, out of which eight were stolen along with 24 memory cards by poachers. This indicated that Namdapha National Park has a porous border with neighboring Burma. The reason the poachers stole the monitoring equipment was due to the trans-boundary and international ramifications, which they did not want to expose.
A member of the Lisu tribe

I'm shocked in a sense that based on the reports of tiger killings, Namdapha National Park could end up the same way as Sariska did eight years ago. In addition to that, the report which showed poachers having stolen cameras and memory cards set up for census indicates just how smart and sophisticated they are when carrying out their illegal deeds. Fortunately, this article also indicates that Namdapha will be receiving a visit from a high level team of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) led by Dr. Rajesh Gopal along with five other members. These include Prerna Bindra of the National Wildlife Board, who is expected to check the situation along with Dr. Gopal and others. Furthermore, the team of the National Crime Control Bureau (NCCB) will also be visiting to help the environment and forest department in dealing with such problems. However, it has not been confirmed when any of these groups are expected to arrive. But I hope it is soon, otherwise the poachers will be sure to strike again at any given time. India had earlier witnessed the loss of its local tiger population in one national park. It cannot loose another after what had happened in Sariska.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Study- Isle Royale's Gray Wolves Could Soon Become Extinct

A lone wolf in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park in 2006

A recent study has proclaimed that populations of gray wolves in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park have diminished to the point that they could become extinct within a few years. In 1979, the wolves in Isle Royale had reached an all-time high of fifty animals. But now, that figure has reached an all-time low to nine individuals according to a report. Since the 1980s, the wolf populations were reduced dramatically to twelve animals due to a disease outbreak. They have continuously decreased through the 1990s and by 2009, up to 24 individuals were counted. Researchers indicated that the reason behind the decline is lack of females, which caused an increase in inbreeding and shrinkage of the gene pool. In addition to that, the shortage of the wolves' primary food source, the moose, has also caused trouble for the population. Researchers clarified that hunting by humans did not play role in the downfall of the population, since the Isle Royale is a federal wilderness area. Being a small and isolated island, Isle Royale is unique for its relationship between the wolves and moose where wolves are the only predators and moose are almost exclusively their prey. The moose first arrived on the island in the early 1900s, and started to flourish. In the 1940s, wolves entered the island via an ice bridge from Ontario, Canada. This led to the establishment of the predator-prey relationship seen nowhere else in the nation.
Shortage of moose has also contributed to downfall of Isle Royale's wolves

I feel that this is a crucial time to start the reintroduction of wolves in Isle Royale. Most of the remaining animals are the same subspecies living in mainland Michigan, and the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin where populations range from hundreds to thousands. In addition to that, the province of Ontario itself has good numbers of these wolves in order to help with the reintroduction. This national park is perhaps the only wild place in the U.S where wolves have coexisted with their natural prey without any human encroachment, making it an ideal place for researchers to study the predator-prey relationship. Without their existence, Isle Royale would no longer become a place of study and may loose its status as a national park. This is why it is extremely important to plan reintroductions of wolves from the Great Lakes region, in order to reboost the remaining population. In addition to that, there should also be a focus on reviving the moose numbers on the island through reintroductions. The wolves in Isle Royale are on the brink of extinction, and without any action, they will be gone.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Three African Countries Wage War Against Elephant Poachers

Mutilated elephant carcasses in Cameroon's Bouba N'Djida National Park following the slaughter

It has been recently announced that the nations of Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya are waging war against poachers who have mercilessly slaughtered hundreds of elephants within the past few weeks. Among the most shocking and tragic incidents, Cameroon had experienced a mass slaughter of 200 elephants over the past eight weeks in Bouba N'Djida National Park. In response, more than 100 government soldiers were deployed at the site in a military offensive against the poachers to secure the nation's sovereign territory, the local people, and the elephant population. It was said that the heavily-armed killers entered the territory by illegally crossing the park's border with Chad. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), they were reportedly Arabic speakers believed to be from Sudan, and traveling on horseback.
Malaysian customs officers inspecting an illegal ivory seizure made in Port Klang early this year

Since the horrific mass murder, the government of Cameroon was under pressure from the European Union, civil society and environmental groups, and members of the diplomatic and international community to take action and secure the nation's borders. Lamine Sebogo, elephant coordinator for WWF Africa elephant, stated that the remaining elephants in northern Cameroon are a key to the subspecies' survival. He added saying that the area accounts for 95 percent of elephants in Cameroon, and around 80 percent of the total population in Central Africa. The WWF stated that details of the slaughter have been difficult to determine, due to the area's remote location and the level of insecurity. It is estimated that the total elephant population in Bouba N'Djida is at around 400. The number of animals poached over the past few months is thought to be between 200 and 300, although there have been reports as high as 450. The WWF further added that any remaining population is at high risk until military forces are able to secure the area. According to Natasha Kofoworola, regional representative of WWF Central Africa Region Programme Office, the perpetrators must be engaged, arrested, and prosecuted to send a message of deterrent to other poachers that Cameroon's territory and wildlife resources are not to be violated. In 2010, following the increase of poaching in the trans-boundary areas of Cameroon's Lobeke National Park, WWF International's Director General Jim Leape sent a letter to the prime minister requesting drastic action to help curb the situation. In 2011, twelve ambassadors also wrote about the high levels of insecurity several of the nation's national parks, especially those on international borders, requesting reinforcement in the parks' security. However, during those times, the government did not respond until this horrific massacre which according to WWF-Cameroon's country director Basile Yapo Monssan "is their wake-up call."
Team of Virunga National Park's rangers with one of the bloodhounds of the new Congohounds unit

While Cameroon is gearing up for the battle against elephant poachers, authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have unleashed a new elite anti-poaching unit: bloodhounds. Known as the Congohound unit, the first operation of these super sleuths was launched after a succession of poaching incidents in Virunga National Park. Lasting for two days, the operation resulted in an armed conflict between the park rangers and suspected elephant poachers. In the end, the rangers recovered an illegal cache of weapons. During a routine aerial surveillance of the park, a dead elephant was found on the eastern edge of the park without its tusks. Two of the five bloodhounds were deployed with their handlers, together with a trained ranger protection unit. Following their arrival at the crime scene, the team followed the scent trail for seven kilometers to a small fishing village. There, a unit of rangers patrolled the area through the night and intercepted a group of suspects who opened fire the following morning. After a short exchange, the suspects fled the scene, leaving behind their rifles. The park's chief warden, Dr. Emmanuel de Merode, praised the dogs and the rangers saying that they proved to be an effective weapon against poachers. The training was conducted by a specialized Swiss center that has trained many K-9 units in Europe and North America. It's leader, Dr. Marlene Zahner, stated that she was very proud of the rangers' achievements. The canine unit was deployed in the park as part of a program funded by the European Union to protect its wildlife, which includes mountain gorillas and the elusive okapi as well as elephants. In addition to protecting wildlife, the use of bloodhounds is also part of the effort to restore the rule of law in the park which is heavily influenced by illegal armed groups.
The Congohounds unit with Dr. Marlene Zahner in the center

I'm extremely proud to see these African nations have taken a drastic step in an effort to confront elephant poaching. Cameroon has deployed government soldiers at one of its national parks, following the horrific massacre of 200 elephants eight weeks ago. However, I was shocked to find out that despite numerous letters sent last year and the year before, the nation had failed to enforce its security in its national parks and borders in an effort to combat this ongoing threat. Now, it appears that the time has come for Cameroon to strengthen its efforts in protecting its elephants. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has specialized its effort against poaching by employing bloodhounds to track down poachers and recover any illegal contraband. In my opinion, Cameroon should learn from its Central African neighbor in an effort to fight the battle against poaching. This will give the park rangers and other authorities an advantage against the perpetrators. But at the same time, I feel that Cameroon should also enforce stricter laws against poaching including stiffer sentences for the poachers. In addition to that, Cameroon should not wait for a catastrophic incident in order to take such a drastic action. Even a simple crime related to poaching must be taken very seriously. This was seen in the case of Kenya, where two rangers were killed while on duty. The two men were patrolling to remove wire snares in Sagala Ranch when they were ambushed by poachers, who shot them dead and stole their rifles and ammunition. Since then, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other security agencies carried out a massive operation resulting in the arrest of 33 suspects. According to Paul Odoto of the KWS, the suspects are still in custody and security teams are still patrolling the area in search of the missing firearms and to rid it of poachers. This is an ideal example of how poaching is taken seriously in Kenya, and should be implemented in other nations where the crime is rampant including Cameroon.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cambodia to Set Up Protected Area to Save Mekong's River Dolphins

An Irrawaddy dolphin

It has been recently reported that the Cambodian government has announced its plans to protect the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins by establishing a conservation area in the mighty Mekong River. This 180-kilometer area will stretch from the Laotian border, through the province of Stung Treng, and to the town of Kratie. According to Touch Seang Tana, chairman of the Commission for Conservation and Development of Mekong River Dolphin Ecotourism Zone, three government ministries had finished a draft sub-decree that may be submitted for the Council of Ministers' approval within two weeks. Under the draft sub-decree, the use of gill nets, floating fish cages, and houseboats would be banned in the area between June and November, and in "core zones"- which would make up about half of the protected area- for the remainder of the year. Mr. Tana further added that in recent years, the government had promoted dolphin-watching to attract ecotourism and stopped the use of illegal fishing nets. In May 2010, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimated that there were 85 adult dolphins in the river. However, Mr. Tana said there were believed to be between 85 and 180 dolphins remaining. The figures clearly indicate that the dolphins are threatened by fishing, where they risk entanglement in gill nets. Gordon Congdon, freshwater conservation manager at WWF Cambodia, stated that it is essential to ban or significantly restrict the use of gill nets. However, he also added that the move would affect the local people on the river, but the WWF, the government, and other groups were working to provide "alternative livelihood programs."

I'm extremely proud to see what the Cambodian government is doing in partnership with the WWF and other groups, in order to help save the Irrawaddy dolphins. By establishing a conservation area, these unique species of river dolphins are on the verge of being given a second chance. An earlier example was seen in the case of Bangladesh, who declared certain areas in the Sunderbans region a sanctuary for both the Irrawaddy dolphin and its relative the Ganges River dolphin. I'm also very happy to see that these organizations are providing the people of the Mekong an alternative route to fishing that does not result in entanglement of the dolphins. But what really amazes me is that the conservation program has been well-supported by the villagers because the arrival of tourists has generated income. However, I also feel that the influx of ecotourism to the Mekong River should be closely monitored because these dolphins could be very sensitive to what is around them. And getting too close to them would be disturbing. But all in all, I think they have a hopeful future ahead of them.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Former Tarzan Actor Arrested for Keeping Big Cats as Pets

Former Tarzan Steve Sipek with his tiger in Loxahatchee in 1985.

Tarzan is renowned in literature as the lord of the jungle. Much of his life was spent in a remote, hostile environment surrounded by wild and untameable inhabitants he calls his friends. His adventures of protecting his animal brethren from heartless poachers and other such villains looking to devastate the jungles and its inhabitants have fascinated the minds of readers and viewers for generations. So why would anyone playing the jungle hero would want to keep wild animals right in America's own backyard? This was especially the case of former Tarzan actor Steve Sipek, stage name Steve Hawkes, who was arrested recently for keeping two tigers and a panther, which were removed from his five-acre compound in Loxahatchee, Florida. In addition to that, he was taken into custody for not having federal permit to keep his animals and there were violations concerning the fencing and caging. According to officials, the animals were not being fed a proper diet, they had even bit people several times and had escaped in the past.
Steve Sipek alias Steve Hawkes as Tarzan in one of his movies King of the Jungle.

In December 1996, a puma escaped from Mr. Sipek's property by leaping over a perimeter fence. In 2002 and 2010, two of his acquaintances were bitten but did not press charges. However, none of these incidents caught the eyes of authorities than the escape of his 600-pound Bengal tiger named Bobo in 2004. The animal wandered about in the Loxahatchee community before being shot to death by a Fish and Wildlife officer. Since that incident, Mr. Sipek had been battling authorities to keep big cats. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson stated that they had been working with him to get him and his partner, Melanie Boynes, into compliance. Since the changes in state rules in keeping Class I wildlife made in 2004, Mr. Sipek was barred from keeping new exotic cats as pets. However, he saw a loophole in the law by applying for a state commercial license for two tiger cubs. According to the license, it required him to meet a certain criteria which includes an advertising campaign and "open for business" hours. Unfortunately for him, federal authorities declined to issue him a permit, saying that he had failed to meet the standards of the Animal Welfare Act.
Steve Sipek with one of the tiger cubs he acquired after his Bengal tiger Bobo was killed.

My opinion about this article is that it should be considered a wake-up call to people all over the U.S and in other parts of the world that owning big cats is extremely dangerous and life-threatening. Tarzan has long been depicted as a friend of wild animals, where he helps them and the animals help him including dangerous ones. However, Tarzan is a fictitious character and the kind of relationship he has with his animal friends is something meant mainly to entertain the audiences. In reality, wild animals are unpredictable regardless of how they look or what size they are. Mr. Sipek had once made a vow in the past to protect big cats he had shared the screen with. This was a result when he was saved by a lion during a stunt, in which the set caught on fire. However, he did so by keeping the animals on his property. Like him, there are several ordinary people in the world who see themselves as so-called "animal heroes" by keeping wild animals in their property and fail to meet the standards of caring for them. This, in turn, results in either the animals turning against their "owners" or escaping from the property and posing as a threat to general public. In addition to that, the animals are also kept in uncomfortable conditions affecting their health making them prone to disease and other maladies. The only safest way to help wild animals in need is to reach out to the community, and educate on the importance of such animals in our world. In addition to that, collaborating with major organizations like the World Wildlife Fund also helps. But keeping wild animals in our own residential community is not an option.

Steve Sipek giving a bowl of milk to a lion at his home.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Kaziranga National Park Employs Sniffer Dogs in Battle Against Poaching

A sniffer dog training school under the TRAFFIC India program

When most people think of sniffer dogs, they think of dogs trained to sniff out illegal contraband. Usually this includes narcotics, weapons, explosives, and other illicit items considered to be life-threatening among human kind. But now, these top dogs have been employed to help combat a different kind of enemy: the illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife. One of the most notable places to find these quadrupedal security officials is in Kenya, where they are employed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to seize rhino horns and elephant tusks. Now, this idea is being implemented in India's Kaziranga National Park to help officials bring down poachers. The man behind the idea of using dogs to combat poaching is Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, secretary general of Assam-based NGO Aaranyak. According to Dr. Talukdar, the idea was suggested by his friend to get a dog used extensively by the U.S Secret Service. As a result, he got Jorba, a now 15-month-old Belgian Malinois and his sister Zerina and formed the K-9 squad with support from the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF). In August 2011, Jorba was put to the test in Assam's Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary where he helped track down a 2-km trail used by poachers. He led the authorities right up to a village, where the poachers were sheltered, resulting in their arrest. Soon after, Jorba joined the anti-poaching service along with Kaziranga's forest guards.
The Belgian Malinois; known to assist both the law enforcement and the military is now helping in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade.

It is extremely amazing to see how dogs trained to locate and seize narcotics, weapons, and other illegal contraband deemed life-threatening to the public be employed in helping save endangered wildlife from the deathly hands of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. And none could have been the choice for this task than the German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian) and its Belgian counterpart, the Malinois. With their high intelligence and superb trainability, combined with a keen sense of smell, powerful stamina, and a strong bite force, they are truly an ideal breed of super dogs. Normally, they have assisted both the law enforcement and the military around the world in occupations ranging from sniffing out dangerous contraband to apprehending criminals and terrorists. The Belgian Malinois, in particular, was made famous recently as a member of the U.S Navy's SEAL Team Six that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. But now, this breed and the German Shepherd are becoming famous in the ongoing battle against poaching and wildlife trade.
The German Shepherd is also being employed for the task.

In India, the wildlife trade monitoring program TRAFFIC is running a successful program in training these dogs to detect a wide range of illegal wildlife products. In addition to that, some dogs have even been stationed in some Indian states to carry out their jobs. For example, seven German Shepherds are working in Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. One of the notable dogs, Tracey, helped recover a pair of elephant tusks in Jharkhand's Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition to that, another named Jackie helped capture two poachers in the Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh and Raja of Maharashtra's Brahmapuri Wildlife Division assisted in solving a leopard-poaching case resulting in the arrest of seven poachers. I personally believe that the use of Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds in this battle should be implemented in other nations, especially those that function as major hubs for illegal activities regarding the wildlife. This way, it would make it tough for poachers and all other operators of the wildlife trade. Nonetheless, this article gives a clear representation of how dogs can be used in helping save lives of other animals as well as people.

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