Thursday, May 29, 2014

Numbers of Herbivorous Animals in Gir Forest Increased by 6.48%

Spotted deer in Gir Forest National Park

It has recently been reported that the number of herbivorous animals in Gir Forest National Park have increased by 6.48 percent in the last one year. It was affirmed during a herbivore count carried out by the forest department recently in Gir Forest. Officials indicated that if the figures from the last five years are analyzed, the numbers of herbivores has almost doubled. The count disclosed that there are 79,289 herbivores in Gir Forest including chital (spotted deer), sambar deer, nilgai (blue bull), four-horned antelope (chousingha), chinkara (Indian gazelle), and wild boar. From 2009 to 2010, there were only 38,953 herbivores in Gir Forest. Officials of the forest department indicated that the density of the prey base for Asiatic lions was roughly 79 animals per square kilometer in the national park, where lions were found over 1000 square kilometers of the the total 1412-square kilometer area. In addition, they also revealed that there were 23,326 Hanuman langur monkeys which contradicted the claim made by a group of experts from Madhya Pradesh who submitted in the Supreme Court that there were no monkeys or peacocks in Gir Forest. Furthermore, the number of spotted deer had increased from 32,115 in 2009-2010 to 63,306 in 2013-2014. However, this recent growth is lower than the one from 2012 to 2013 in which herbivore numbers had doubled by 38 percent. That is, their numbers had increased from 53,873 animals in 2011-2012, to 74,455 in 2012-2013. In addition, the numbers of four-horned antelopes and Indian gazelles had not increased as expected and were deemed disappointing. In fact, with the exception of the growth in 2012-2013, the number of four-horned antelopes had been steadily decreasing over the last five years from 1,165 in 2009-2010 to 756 this year.
The numbers of the four-horned antelope (top) and the Indian gazelle (bottom) were found to have not increased after the recent herbivore count.

While this may seem like good news to some people, it is extremely important to consider the animals whose numbers had been decreasing steadily in the past few years or so. This was seen in the case of the four-horned antelope and the Indian gazelle in Gir Forest National Park, whose numbers were found to have not increased as expected by forest department officials. Therefore, it is crucial to conduct investigations on what factors may be contributing to the decrease in numbers of these antelopes. The four-horned antelope, known locally as chousingha ("four horns" in Hindi), is the only species of antelope in the world that has two pairs of horns while most species, including the Indian gazelle, have one pair of horns. It is the only antelope that is found nowhere else in the world, but in India and Nepal. The Indian gazelle is one of the most graceful antelopes in the Indian subcontinent along with the blackbuck, which gained public attention as a victim of illegal poaching by Bollywood actor Salman Khan in the late 1990s. Both of these antelope species are under tremendous threat of not only poaching, but also habitat loss, overgrazing, diseases, and even tourism. That is, visitors to any national park where these antelopes are found would gather in large numbers in areas frequented by them for the purpose of viewing and photographing. This mass gathering of tourists disturbs the four-horned antelopes, Indian gazelles, and other animals in India and other parts of the world such that they never have a moment's peace. This is why it is crucial to investigate the decrease in numbers of such animals like the four-horned antelope and the Indian gazelle, in order to determine the cause(s) of this situation and address those problems to the general public.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Illegal Wildlife Trade Resurfaces in West Bengal

Black pond turtles

It has recently been reported that ever since the arrest of a wildlife trader from Baguiati in the state of West Bengal earlier this year, the threat of illegal wildlife trafficking syndicates in that city along with Dum Dum and Rajarhat have reappeared once again after the traders lied low for sometime. The resurfacing of the syndicates was indicated by the seizure of around thousand black pond turtles two days ago at the Keshtopur Ghoshpara area. The turtles were brought from Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, and were being transported to Bangladesh and China. According to Santosh Nirmalkar of NSCBI police station, the traffickers had hired a warehouse in the area where they had stored the turtles. So far, four had been arrested and after being interrogated they disclosed some more names. A similar wildlife trafficking racket had been busted in the area earlier this year. In addition to black pond turtles, there has also been an increase in demand of olive ridley sea turtles. Inspector Koushik Mondal of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau stated that turtles are primarily poached in India and sent to Bangladesh. He further added that there are two rackets specializing in the illegal turtle trade: one in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and another in Andhra Pradesh. In addition to native animals, exotic animals were also found to be smuggled in the region. This was seen in the case of three rescued chimpanzees and the successive arrest a trader by customs officers in January that led to a dire reduction in such illicit activities. However, after the accused received a bail, the activities began to resurface. The police and customs officials have confirmed that several animal trading shops have sprouted in the area, and some of them appear as part of a large illicit chain functioning in the region consisting of the India-Bangladesh border. Exotic animals are known to be brought into this region primarily via Bangladesh and Nepal. The smugglers, who use the region as a shipment point, transport the animals to countries like China and Thailand. The chimps, for example, were brought from South Africa and smuggled into India through river routes from Bangladesh.
An olive ridley sea turtle

This article indicates that it is highly crucial to keep a lookout for syndicates specializing in the illicit trade of wildlife, and search for them even while they are keeping a low profile. Just because a specific area where the illegal wildlife trade was once rampant and experiences a drastic reduction in such activities, does not mean the threat is gone forever. It is important maintain a close lookout for any suspicious activities related to smuggling of animals both exotic and native, and encourage the public to lend its support in reporting such activities. Furthermore, once it has been confirmed from which places the animals are brought, it is important to maintain contact with authorities in those places and make sure that they are on high alert for any perpetrators attempting to smuggle animals to other parts of a country. For example, this article has identified the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh as primary hubs of illegal wildlife trade rackets that bring turtles into West Bengal; which is why it is crucial that authorities in those states should ensure that the animals do not end up being smuggled to West Bengal or anywhere in or out of India. Similarly, authorities in Bangladesh, Nepal, and South Africa should follow this procedure of helping curb any illegal wildlife trade activities. Both the black pond and olive ridley turtles are classified by the IUCN as "vulnerable", and are under constant threat of being overexploited as either food, medicine, pets, or souvenirs. Because of this ongoing threat, experts are calling for conserving these reptiles. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to take serious measurements in curbing illegal activities concerning the plight of these turtles and other endangered wildlife.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

U.S Marines Train Chadian Park Rangers in the Battle Against Elephant Poachers

A Chadian park ranger undergoing training in Zakouma National Park.

It has recently been reported that a team of U.S Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina have been assigned to train park rangers in Chad's Zakouma National Park in the battle against elephant poaching. The team of fifteen marines led by Lieutenant John Porter taught 101 newly enlisted park rangers crucial tactics to help combat poachers and wildlife traffickers. These tactics included weapons handling and safety, raid strategies, field medicine, and patrolling and exploration techniques that could be used to foil smuggling, improvise border security, and guarantee the rangers' safety. According to Staff Sergeant Phillip McCallum, who served as an instructor for four years, the training sessions the rangers underwent were similar to what the Marines go through in the School of Infantry. The need for this outside expertise dates back to the poaching epidemic that massacred Zakouma National Park's elephants between 2006 and 2009 in the midst of the Chadian Civil War. The national park's elephant population plummeted from 4,300 in 2002 to fewer than 500 today. Since the end of the civil war in 2010, Chad became more stable and Zakouma's elephant population began to recover. More than twenty calves were reported earlier this year, highlighting a major victory for the park that only had four five calves born in the previous four years. However, despite the war being over, the threat of poaching still continues and not only are the elephants in danger but also park rangers. In 2012, six rangers charged with protecting the elephants were killed by poachers and such violent clashes continue.
A herd of elephants by a waterhole.

It is absolutely amazing to see that armed forces are beginning to recognize the ongoing problem of poaching and the illegal trafficking of wildlife, and are providing their help to local authorities in the battle against these threats affecting the world's wildlife. This was seen in the case of U.S Marines training park rangers in Chad to battle elephant poachers. The purpose of carrying out this movement was in response to casualties the park rangers suffered from poachers employing tactics similar to that of soldiers against their adversaries. However, it was not the first time Chad's rangers have benefited from outside help. Last year, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) provided similar training to rangers in Sena Oura National Park facing more threats from cross-border traffic with Cameroon. According IFAW's director for France and Francophone Africa Celine Sissler-Bienvenu, the fact that Chad's park rangers are receiving military-style training would not only protect elephants but also increase security in the country. I think it would be very beneficial that international armed forces could lend a helping hand to park rangers and other authorities in Africa and elsewhere in the world, who are unable to take a stand against poachers and wildlife traffickers. At the same time, public outreach programs should be implemented in countries heavily affected by poaching and illegal wildlife trade. A recent example is seen in the introduction of anti-poaching lessons in schools bordering the Masai Mara and Serengeti National Parks. With the combination of outreach programs targeted at civilians and training of local authorities by international armed forces, Chad and other countries heavily affected by poaching and wildlife trafficking would be able to take a stand against these threats

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