Monday, December 23, 2013

Conservation Groups Call for a Ban on Coyote Hunting to Save North Carolina's Red Wolves

A radio-collared red wolf in a facility on St. Vincent Island in Florida.

It has been reported last week that three conservation groups in North Carolina have urged a federal court to put a stop to coyote hunting in five coastal counties, indicating that the practice is killing red wolves. News about alleged deaths of North Carolina's red wolves date back to mid-October in which five animals had been shot since, and only a cut-off radio collar of the sixth animal has been found. Rewards amounting to $26,000 had been offered for information about the shootings. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is known to allow an open hunting season on coyotes, which have flourished across the state in recent decades. The petition filed Monday asked that a U.S District Court judge halt coyote hunting in Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington counties which include 1.7 million acres on the Albemarle Peninsula where about hundred red wolves roam free. Filed on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Red Wolf Coalition, it states that coyote hunting allows illegal killing of red wolves which are protected by federal law. Last month, the Wildlife Resources Commission denied violating the federal law and stated that its rules regarding coyote hunting are "in the best interest of the public, the environment and agricultural community." The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented the three conservation groups, argued that the wolves are being mistakenly shot as coyotes and this is affecting the breeding success of the recovery program. The law center further added that five alleged shooters in the past two years stated they wrongly killed wolves thinking they were coyotes. According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, eleven breeding pairs of red wolves have decreased to eight.
The coyote bears somewhat resemblance to the red wolf, but has a smaller stature and more narrow skull and snout.

This article is a clear wake-up call for the communities of North Carolina, indicating how licensed hunting has been hindering the breeding program in reviving one of the state's most iconic animals which also happens to be the most highly endangered species in the U.S. The red wolf has been suffering immensely in the hands of human hunters in recent times not due to persecution, but due to mistaken identity in which they are seen as coyotes. This year has seen fourteen red wolves having died due to this belief that they are coyotes and not wolves. Eight gunshot deaths were affirmed and two more were suspected. I very much feel that the U.S District Court judge should consider the evidence and facts gathered by the three conservation groups in order to put a stop to coyote hunting in North Carolina, otherwise the red wolf will be pushed to extinction as it did many years ago. Furthermore, I also feel that the people of North Carolina, especially those who feel concerned about the current fate of red wolves, should voice their concerns in order to provide support for these conservation groups in an effort to help save the wolves. A similar practice is being implemented by opponents who are against a proposal to strip the gray wolf of its federal protection. In addition, the efforts to revive the Mexican wolf populations in the American Southwest are also prone to various forms of hindering such as persecution from ranchers who simply do not care that these wolves are critically endangered. This why it is extremely crucial that the American public should consider the fate of the country's wolf populations, and provide its undivided support to conservation groups dedicated to keep the wolves safe from human-related harm.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

U.S Donates Forty Arabian Oryx to the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi

A herd of Arabian oryx

The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) has recently received a donation of forty Arabian oryx from the U.S, which will be part of its ongoing Arabian Oryx Breeding Program under the Arabian Oryx Breeding and Reintroduction Project. The animals, which recently arrived in Abu Dhabi, consist of 15 males and 25 females. They have been transported to the Delaika Conservation and Breeding Facility in the Al Khanza area in the southern part of the emirate, where they will breed with the oryx that are native there and currently living in that facility. The goal of bringing the oryx into the facility serves as a continuation of the facility's breeding program, and is also directed at intensifying the gene pool for the oryx in Abu Dhabi to produce more healthy, diverse, and strong population. The purpose of the EAD to bring these forty oryx for breeding is to guarantee the species' genetic diversity and population sustainability for future generations. According to executive director Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri of EAD's Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector, the agency will now further protect the population from negative impacts of longstanding inbreeding. Once the process is successful, the agency strives to release a number of these oryx into the wild.
Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan played a crucial role in saving the Arabian oryx from the brink of extinction.  

I'm very proud to see the progress being made by the Arabian Oryx Breeding and Reintroduction Project, which has over the past few years played a tremendous role in keeping the Arabian oryx population sustainable. The history of this success story dates back to the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan whose action played a crucial role in conserving the oryx and saving it from extinction after noticing a dire decline in population. Following in his legacy, the United Arab Emirates have the largest population of Arabian oryx in the world. The Arabian Oryx Breeding and Reintroduction Project, which is comprised of breeding and release programs, has the approval and support of General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the U.A.E Armed Forces. The Delaika Conservation and Breeding Facility, on the other hand, was formed by the EAD in 2010. It covers an area of 3.5 million square meters, and is home to 5,000 animals consisting of not just the oryx but also mountain and sand gazelles. The EAD has managed a number of oryx releases in Abu Dhabi with 98 animals released into the Arabian Oryx Protected Area in Umm Al Zamool in 2007, and 87 in 2010. The agency's conservation efforts resulted in Abu Dhabi becoming a home to 3,000 oryx today, increasing the oryx population in U.A.E to 4,000. In addition to managing oryx releases in the U.A.E, the EAD has also conducted a number of releases in Wadi Rum in Jordan by collaborating with Al Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority during 2010-2012.
A scimitar-horned oryx in the Werribee Open Zoo in Australia. The scimitar-horned oryx, unlike the Arabian oryx, is still considered "extinct in the wild" since 2000 and thrives mainly in captivity as of now. 

The following facts above indicate that the U.A.E have, for many years, played a crucial role in helping revive the Arabian oryx population in the world through breeding and releasing the animals into the wild. This two-step process is also conducted through joint collaboration with countries such as the U.S and a few Arab countries. The Arabian oryx is one of the most outstanding examples of global conservation in bringing a wild animal back from the brink of extinction. However, the situation is not the same with its relative the scimitar-horned oryx which has been labeled as "Extinct in the Wild" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2000. Today, the global population of scimitar-horned oryx consists of captive individuals in zoological facilities and fenced-in protected areas outside their historical range. These individuals number somewhere in thousands, and have never been reintroduced into the wild like their Arabian counterparts. Although there is a global captive breeding program for this species, it is not known how it is being carried out in order to ensure the survival of the scimitar-horned oryx. My main concern is how the captive individuals are being managed. What will anyone involved in the conservation of the scimitar-horned oryx do if any of the captive populations exceed the carrying capacity of whatever facility they are being held in? How will they prevent the negative impacts of inbreeding within a captive population? These are the two questions conservationists, researchers, and anybody involved in the scimitar-horned oryx conservation should consider when conducting their program. Furthermore, they should also consider the possibilities of reintroducing the scimitar-horned oryx back in its historical range in an effort to repopulate the species in its natural habitat.

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Nepal Uses Satellite to Follow the Snow Leopard

A team of scientists and researchers fitting a snow leopard with a collar  to keep track of it, in order to discover how climate change and human encroachment is affecting its natural habitat.

It has been recently reported that wildlife experts in Nepal are tracking the elusive snow leopard by using a collar with a satellite connection to determine how climate change and human encroachment are affecting its habitat. A five-year-old male was captured in a snare trap just a while ago at the foot of Mount Kangchenjunga on the India-Nepal border last month and fitted with the collar which uses a GPS tracking system. Experts stated that climate change is causing a rise in temperatures, forcing snow leopards to move further up the mountain slopes, where prey is limited. In addition, they also face threats from poachers killing them for their extravagant coats and livestock owners who view them as a threat to their animals. Furthermore, the leopards' body parts and bones are used for traditional Asian medicine. The male leopard, which has been fitted with the collar, was named Ghanjenjwenga after a 7,774-meter mountain in northeastern Nepal. The collar is providing scientists with data on the leopard's location and activities every four hours. According to national parks ecologist Maheshwar Dhakal, three more leopards will be fitted with the collar by next year.

It is very beneficial to see what measurements scientists and researchers in Nepal are doing to study the impact of climate change on the snow leopards, which are believed to number at 300 to 500 in Nepal alone. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that the global snow leopard population is at 4,080 to 6,590 listing the animal as an "endangered species." The threat of climate change is forcing these magnificent cats to high mountain slopes, which are scarce in prey species making them prone to starvation. Furthermore, the threat of poaching and persecution by local livestock owners adds to the mortality rate. I think that, in addition to studying the affect of climate change, special attention is also required for those two issues. This includes educating the local people living alongside snow leopards about the ecological importance of these cats, and what they can do in order to help save them from poachers. One exemplary possibility would be to be in contact with authorities, and notifying them of any suspected poaching activity in the areas. Most importantly, they should also be educated about the impact and dangers of climate change and how it affects not just the mountain wildlife but also the local communities.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Iberian Lynx Threatened by a New Strain of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

An Iberian lynx kitten and a European rabbit

It has been recently reported that the Iberian lynx is facing a threat of prey loss caused by a new kind of rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), which is affecting Spain's rabbit population. One notable place that is severely affected by the disease is the natural park of Sierra de Andujar, which is also a major lynx preserve in the Andalusian province of Jaen. The park has been recorded to contain 53 fertile females last year, while Donana National Park has counted only 25 females. The lack of prey spells major trouble for the lynx's reproduction, especially during mating season which takes place in December. In addition, the disease could also impact species recovery plans such as the Life Iberlince program which was able to triple the lynx population in the last ten years. A census in 2012 recorded 305 individuals. Last year, 44 newborn kittens survived the affect of the disease. This year's figures will not be definite until the end of December, but sources secretly said that there are no more than ten youngsters.
The European rabbit is one of several prey species that forms the staple diet of the Iberian lynx

Researchers are also worried that if the Iberian lynx does not find its prey, it may travel outside its natural habitat exposing itself to the risk of being road-killed which accounts to 33 percent of its mortality. This year so far, thirteen lynxes had been killed by vehicles. It is said that the regional government of Andalusia is working fast on special measures to halt the decline of the rabbit population. According to Miguel Angel Simon, coordinator of the Iberlince program, the plan will be to return fencing which was implemented in 2002 to repopulate the area with rabbits and assure that the food is not affected. However, the real effects of prey shortage will not be felt until March 2014 when the breeding season begins. In the last few months, the Andalusian environment department has been observing the rabbit populations and affirmed a major decrease in density. Several resources stated that the new brand of RHD has been found in twelve of the thirteen samples collected in Donana and Sierra de Andujar. In 2010 and 2011, two other onsets of the disease resulted in a large population drop. This new disease type now adds to the old one, which primarily affects adult rabbits. The most latest form of disease was first noted in the wild at rabbit farms about a year ago.
A cryoEM reconstruction of  the RHD virus

This article clearly indicates that it is a race against time to save both predator and prey from a disease epidemic that is affecting both organisms. This new type of RHD has been ravaging Spain's rabbit population for quite sometime. Earlier, this disease affected only adult rabbits but now this new type has placed itself with the old type affecting young rabbits less than thirty days old. The disease is known to cause jaundice and nasal hemorrhaging in rabbits. In addition, I feel that this disease would not only affect the lynx population in Spain but other carnivores such as weasels, martens, badgers, foxes, bears, wildcats, and even the endemic Iberian wolf. The Environment Ministry of Spain will be meeting with the flora and fauna and hunting committees in January, along with animal health specialists to find ways to combat this new disease type. In addition, Andalusian authorities have also scheduled another meeting in February 2014 as part of the Iberlince project which functions on a budget of 34 million euros over the 2011-2016 period. I certainly hope that various groups involved in efforts to fight the disease will come up with some kind of solution, but in the meantime, the focus should be on monitoring the lynxes to see where in Spain they are going and what measurements should be conducted to ensure their survival as they wonder about in parts of the country.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

India- Tiger Poaching at its Highest in Seven Years

A tiger in Corbett National Park

It has been reported that the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) has gathered data indicating that the poaching of tigers in 2013 has been recorded as the highest in the past seven years. A recent seizure of two or more tiger skins from Corbett National Park's Bijrani area in the state of Uttarakhand has increased this year's figure to 39 from 31 last year. While a total of 76 tiger deaths had been recorded this year compared to 89 last year, the number of poaching cases has skyrocketed much to the disappointment of conservationists. In 2005, India had recorded 46 cases poaching while 2006 saw 37 poaching incidents, but this year's figure is deemed as the highest. Interestingly, the data gathered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in association with TRAFFIC-India showed that the number of tiger deaths is much less than the WPSI figure. The NTCA record indicated that there had been 66 tiger deaths so far for 2013, even though the number of seizures stood at only five. However, a senior NTCA official claimed that several cases of tiger deaths this year were still under investigation. Ironically, the NTCA announced a message stating that all tiger deaths in India would be treated as poaching unless proven otherwise. According to prominent wildlife conservationist Valmik Thapar, the task of gathering figures on tiger mortality should always be deployed to NGOs and organizations who have the crucial expertise. He further added that figures given by such organizations like the WPSI are more reliable. WPSI program coordinator Tito Joseph stated that the organization's figures were based on accurate on-field investigation, and that it always determines seizures and body parts with experts and field officers before making any claim.

I believe that regardless of what the figures compiled by various organizations and NGOs say, illegal poaching remains rife in India as it does in other parts of the world. Despite numerous efforts to intensify protection measurements, poachers are always looking for ways to get an upper-hand in the continuous battle between them and conservation groups. This is why I feel that it is always essential to combat poaching by means of community involvement. That is, educating both rural and suburban communities about the dangers of poaching and what they can do in order to help put a stop to the practice. In addition to simply refusing to purchase animal body parts, people in both rural and suburban environments should play their parts in notifying the authorities about any would-be activity that could be related to poaching. Furthermore, authorities should never, under any circumstances, deny that they have a major problem concerning poaching in a certain area especially when conservation groups provide sufficient data indicating hardcore evidence of poaching activities.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Gir Forest's Lions Caught in Battle Between Farmers and Crop-raiding Herbivores

Asiatic lion

It has been reported that the state of Gujarat has been witnessing recent incidents in which lions are getting killed as a result of walking into traps laid by farmers to protect their crops from nilgais (blue bulls) and wild boars. A recent arrest of two farmers in connection to the death of a lioness has revealed that the regions where lions live is experiencing a rise in its herbivore population. The census in 2013 indicated that the herbivore population in Gir Forest National Park had increased by 18% in the past three years, along with 25% growth in wild boar population. This method of protecting fresh produce is resulting in growing man-lion conflict with the lions becoming accidental victims. Activists say that farmers are greatly affected by the problem of nilgais and wild boars destroying their crops although they are uncontested in their opinion that lions are simply accidental victims and not intended targets. An activist named Dinesh Goswami stated that he had seen farms that have been completely eradicated by these herbivores, and that farmers prefer having lions and leopards near the fields which promises protection from such crop raiders. He further added that there is no compensation for crops being destroyed by herbivores, compared to livestock predation by lions.

This article clearly indicates that a safer alternative is absolutely crucial to protect the farmers' crops from nilgais and wild boars. According to Ukabhai Vasa, a native of the Dhamraj village in Gir Somnath district's Sutrapada taluka, farmers are spending 25% of their income in protecting their farms by setting up solar lights, laying boundaries, and hiring watchmen. He further added that even if the government succeeded in fencing the forest area, then the situation could be avoided. I very much feel that fencing is an ideal alternative in keeping both lions and other wildlife, including crop-raiding herbivores, safe from farmers. The method of setting up traps against animals infamous for invading farms and destroying fresh produce is known to have its drawbacks. In this case, lions becoming accidental victims of farmers intending on targeting nilgais and wild boars for devastating their crops. This is why I firmly believe that fencing the forest area from village areas is a strategy that should be greatly considered, in order to keep both villagers and their livelihood and wildlife safe from each other. In the meantime, I also feel that it is necessary for the government of Gujarat to consider providing compensation for devastation of crops to the farmers. Compensation for livestock predation alone is not always sufficient for farmers in Gujarat or anywhere else in India.

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