Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ministry of Environment Says Work on Great Indian Bustard Breeding Center has Begun

A great Indian bustard in its natural habitat.

It has been recently reported that the Ministry of Environment and Forests has began the process of setting up a national conservation breeding center for the critically endangered great Indian bustard. In a written reply to the Parliament's Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Environment Prakash Javadekar indicated that the plan is still in its introductory stage and therefore there is no specification of time limit. The initiation process of setting up a national conservation breeding center for the bustard was based on the advice of a workshop conducted on January 17, 2014 on "Feasibility and Roadmap for Great Indian Bustard Captive Breeding." Minister Javadekar also added that the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan have been petitioned to consider making available approximately four square kilometers of sufficient land and provide fifty percent of the anticipated capital cost of Rs. 30 crore over a two-year period. He further stated that an everlasting pledge of fifty percent of a predicted yearlong running cost of Rs. two crore for roughly fifteen years has been sought from the three states.
Minister State for Environment Prakash Javadekar

This article indicates that the road to recovery for the great Indian bustard is on the verge of being underway. While it has not been disclosed as to how long the plan will last, it is clear that the state governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan have been petitioned to consider making an area of roughly four square kilometers for the bustards to flourish. Nonetheless, I think this is the beginning of a crusade for India to help save the great Indian bustards through captive breeding with the process of establishing a national conservation breeding center. I very much hope that the state governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan will play important roles in providing sufficient land area for the great Indian bustard to thrive since the bird happens to inhabit these three states. All three of them consist of open grassland habitat which is ideal for the bustard, but much of the areas have been converted to agricultural land which has pushed the bustard to the brink of extinction. This is why it is extremely crucial to identify and conserve patches of land relevant for the birds' survival and conduct captive breeding efforts to help them make a comeback to areas across India where they had once disappeared.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Increase in Blackbuck Numbers at Vallanaadu Wildlife Sanctuary

Blackbucks in Vallanaadu Wildlife Sanctuary

It has recently been reported that the blackbuck population in Tamil Nadu's Vallanaadu Wildlife Sanctuary has increased by 300 percent due to protective measurements carried out by the Department of Forest and the creation of awareness by the forest staff in nearby villages over the years. A survey carried out by the forest staff last December indicated that the sanctuary's blackbuck population, which numbered at 37 in 2010, has increased to 120. Established in 1987 on a 1,641.21-hectare patch of land, Vallanaadu is one of three wildlife sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu known for having considerable numbers of blackbuck. The other two are Point Calimere and Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuaries. Due to the blackbuck's presence in these protected areas, the state government of Tamil Nadu bestowed them with sanctuary status with the goal of increasing the antelope's population. In addition, the government also provided protection to the blackbuck through the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The aspects to the sudden increase in Vallanaadu's blackbuck population include consistent patrolling by the forest staff, which helped completely stop poaching and trespassing of people and stray dogs into the sanctuary. Moreover, the department also planted grass on two hectares on a trial run in an effort to increase the range of grazing land. When the trial gave acceptable results, the area increased to five hectares. According to a ranger named C. Nellainayagam, the forest staff also dug deep bore-wells with tanks at four points to provide drinking water for the animals so that they do not need to go out of the sanctuary in search of water. Furthermore, the forest staff carry out awareness programs in nearby villages so that villagers would not harm the blackbuck accidentally wandering into their property. The Department of Forest has even proposed to the state government to turn Vallanaadu into an eco-tourism center.

This article clearly describes the ability and effectiveness of tasks carried out by members of the forest personnel in a wildlife sanctuary, in order to help protect its flagship species and other wildlife. Vallanaadu Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has proven itself as an exemplary example of a wild place deeply committed to protecting its wildlife and ensuring its survival. This was seen through continuous patrolling by the forest staff for poachers and trespassers, raising awareness among local villagers in order to encourage them not to harm any wildlife, and increasing the amount of grazing lands for blackbucks and other grazing animals to thrive. What Vallanaadu has accomplished and continues to  should be taken as an inspiration and a guide by forest personnel and departments in other protected areas of India and the world in protecting their wildlife and ensuring its survival and peaceful coexistence with people. This would further help in conservation at both local and global levels.

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Kruger National Park Contemplates Evacuating Rhinos Targeted by Poachers

A white rhinoceros in Kruger National Park

It has recently been reported that Kruger National Park in South Africa is considering a plan to evacuate some of its rhinos out in order to protect them from poachers. According to the national park's spokesman William Mabasa, the objective is to "spread the risk" by moving rhinos to other game reserves because Kruger National Park is heavily targeted by poachers. He further added that no decision has been made on the announcement and that there is no promise that other national parks are safe since "poachers are going everywhere." Although Mr. Mabasa did not disclose how many rhinos might be evacuated under the evacuation proposal, he pointed out that Kruger National Park has experience in moving rhinos and sending them to South Africa's private game reserves and conservation organizations outside the country. He also indicated that rhinos were transferred to Kruger National Park from the KwaZulu-Natal province in the 1960s.
A poached rhino in Kruger National Park

This article coincides to some degree with a similar news report that came early this year about a plan to relocate rhinos from South Africa to Botswana as part of an anti-poaching campaign. The reason is because South Africa has continuously been heavily affected by poaching targeted towards its rhino population, and no wild place has continued to bear the brunt of this ongoing poaching epidemic than Kruger National Park. Poachers have been known to cross into this 19,485-square kilometer national park from Mozambique and often evade teams of park rangers that operate with restricted aerial surveillance, allowing them to take their toll on rhinos at epic proportions. In 2013 alone, South Africa had lost a record of 1,004 rhinos in the hands of poachers and roughly 560 so far this year with well over half killed in Kruger National Park. Despite international efforts to aid South Africa's conservation efforts, the country's rhinos continue to be brutally massacred by poachers who are believed to be working for international criminal syndicates that are targeting rhinos for their horns. The plan to evacuate Kruger National Park's rhinos is currently in the process of being discussed, but I very much hope that this discussion will not delay the proposal to move the rhinos from Kruger National Park to other national parks and game reserves inside and outside South Africa. At the same time, international and national tourists coming to Kruger National Park should be notified about the evacuation of its rhinos and the reasons behind it. In addition, tourists should also be notified of any poaching activities occurring in Kruger National Park for the sake of their safety. This would allow members of the park's staff, along with law enforcement and military officials, to conduct their duties of patrolling the park's vicinity and establishing security checkpoints around its boundaries especially along the South Africa-Mozambique border. Furthermore, those national parks and game reserves targeted for the relocation of Kruger National Park's rhinos should be put on high alert for poachers and follow procedures concerning safety of both tourists and wildlife.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Miami- Center of the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade

A pair of white rhinos in Kruger National Park.

The city of Miami conjures up an image of a paradise on Earth complete with palm trees, upscale neighborhoods dotted with luxurious mansions, sun-drenched beaches, and an endless nightlife fused with Caribbean and Latin American flavors. But behind this colorful and vibrant imagery lies a dark secret. Miami is also infamous for being a major U.S gateway for illegal drug trafficking from the Caribbean and South America making it one of the prime hotspots of criminal activities related to the drug trade. This concept of the illegal drug trade in Miami and the violence affiliated with it became a subject of glamorization in popular culture with notable examples like Scarface and Miami Vice. But now, there is a new black market gaining foothold in this South Florida city: the illegal rhino horn trade.

In the past two years alone, Miami has witnessed three seizures related to the illegal rhino trade. The most recent case involved the arrest and conviction of 76-year-old Gene Harris, owner of a Biscayne Boulevard gallery named Art by God, earlier this month. Mr. Harris pleaded guilty in a Miami federal court to brokering an illegal business involving rhino horns. He is appointed for sentencing in September, and faces an imprisonment of five years and a $250,000 fine. Case records indicated that Mr. Harris, representing clients in the state of California, aided a $60,000 investment of two mounted rhino horns from a couple in Phoenix and organized their transportation. For his part in the 2011 deal, he received a finder's price of $10,000. Court records also showed that Mr. Harris' clients, Felix and Vin Cheong "Jimmy" Kha, were managing the largest wildlife trafficking ring in the U.S before they were arrested in California last year on charges of proliferating the trade of black rhino horns. That same year, two other arrests were made. One was of 30-year-old Zhifei Li, a kingpin of an international ring who was apprehended outside a Miami Beach hotel. While taking part in the Original Miami Beach Antique Show, he attempted to buy rhino horns from an undercover federal agent. The U.S Department of Justice stated that Mr. Li's ring dealt in rhino horns and other products of exotic animals worth up to $4.5 million. He was sentenced to seventy months in prison. Another arrest made was of 44-year-old Shusen Wei, a Chinese business executive who was visiting the antique show with Mr. Li during which he offered a federal agent $10,000 in an attempt to bribe him to free Mr. Li. He later pleaded guilty for trying to smuggle rhino horns from Miami to China.

This article gives an explicit account of how the ongoing poaching epidemic of rhinos and the illicit businesses specializing in trading their horns have expanded to other parts of the world. It was initially believed that rhino horns would be smuggled out of Africa and into China and other Asian countries, but now it has been reported the operators of this illegal trade have expanded their business in other parts of the world including the U.S. One of the most common methods the traffickers prosper from the growing rhino horn trade is by selling horns that are chopped off of taxidermied mounts in museums. In addition, antique shows also serve as destinations for traffickers to purchase horns in order to smuggle them from one place to countries like China and Vietnam where the demand for rhino horns and other illegal wildlife contraband remains high. The wave of the illegal trade in rhino horns has become an unprecedented, yet life-threatening conservation issue and continues to claim countless lives of rhinos in Africa. For example, it has been reported recently that more than 150 rhinos have been killed in two months in South Africa. The threat of poaching and the illegal trade of rhino horns and other exotic wildlife products is at the same level as the illegal trafficking of drugs, arms, and people. Therefore, urgent action is needed in a combination of education and strict law enforcement to prevent any further loss of the world's rhinos and other endangered species on the face of the Earth.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Conservation Group Creates WikiLeaks-style Website to Combat Poaching

Seized elephant tusks in Mombasa.

It has recently been reported that a conservation group called the Elephant Action League has created a WikiLeaks-style website called WildLeaks, in an effort to combat poaching. It is announced as the first secure online platform for informers and the public to post anonymous information about poaching in different parts of the world. The website was created by Elephant Action League's executive director Andrea Crosta. Mr. Crosta, who has been involved with conservation issues for more than twenty years, also has prior experience as a security consultant for law enforcement. In his own words, he knew that several people had solid information about wildlife crimes but did not know what to do with it. As a result, he created WildLeaks to fill the gap between the informants and authorities who have the tools to crack down on poaching. According to Mr. Crosta, the goal of WildLeaks is "to facilitate the identification, arrest, and prosecution of anybody - criminals, traffickers, businessmen, corrupt government officials - behind wildlife crime." He further added that the Elephant Action League is forging ties with law enforcement agencies to ensure that poachers end up in prison. In addition to obtaining information about wildlife crimes, WildLeaks also aims to employ a tactic associated with WikiLeaks: public shaming. Furthermore, the site has teams operating in the field so that people can personally reach the group. This helps build up a relationship with possible informants and sources in the hope that they would provide crucial information about wildlife crimes.
Elephant Action League executive director Andrea Crosta is the creator of WildLeaks.

It is extraordinary to see what new methods are being implemented in an effort to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The battle against these two environmental threats not only consists of the interception and confiscation of illegal shipments of endangered species, raids on establishments suspected of holding or selling the contraband, or direct conflicts between poachers and wildlife officials but also using advanced technology. The most notable example of sophisticated technology implemented in the battle against poaching and the wildlife trade in recent times has been the use of aerial drones to seek out poachers, but now there is a much secretive yet effective way to further combat the threats: WildLeaks. This website has been created to allow anonymous people to post information about any whereabouts of poaching and wildlife trade activities. It is hoped that the information collected would make the news and expose poachers to the media. In addition, this website is not only aimed at bringing down poachers but other people involved in poaching and wildlife trade activities. These people include businessmen, government officials, etc. Furthermore, the website even has teams working in the field so that people can personally contact the Elephant Action League regarding any activities concerning poaching and the wildlife. The website's creator Andrea Crosta indicated that the group has so far received 24 tips and information about poaching and other wildlife crimes. Although majority of the information provided concerned the ivory trade in Africa and Asia, the group also received tips about illegal logging in Russia and Central Africa, illegal fishing and poaching in the U.S, and even trafficking of chimpanzees in Liberia. With WildLeaks developed, it seems that poachers and other people involved in poaching and the wildlife trade are not safe from the watchful eyes of the law.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Environmental Groups Say Hong Kong's New Airport Runway Threatens Dolphins

Chinese white dolphin

It has recently been reported that environmental groups have pointed out that Chinese white dolphins will encounter a new threat if the construction of the third runway of the Hong Kong International Airport gets authorized. Groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, condemned the environmental impact assessment report on the runway asserting that the dolphins' numbers declined from 154 to 62 animals over the past ten years due to construction, land reclamation, and pollution. They further added that the L-shaped runway would take more water from sea animals than the disclosed land reclamation area of 672 hectares. The report stated that the runway is being constructed to increase the airport's passenger capacity to 102 million tons and cargo capacity to 8.9 million tons per year by 2030. However, the report admitted that there would be an "insignificant to medium-level impact" on sea animals and assured to forbid underwater blasting which would cause tremendous damage. There is even a plan of developing a 2,400-hectare sea park to bring dolphins back. Lam Chiu Ying, a professor from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, indicated that squeezed water space, noise, and probable incidents would greatly affect the dolphins and other sea animals. He further added that it is unknown whether the sea park would bring dolphins back, and suggested to increase the efficiency of two current runways instead.
Updated layout plan of Hong Kong International Airport's third runway.

This article indicates how a species under threat would face any possible dangers posed by a construction or any other man-made project, even though that project promises no harm to that species. The Chinese white dolphins are in that situation in which their numbers in Hong Kong's waters would further diminish to the point of extinction with this construction of Hong Kong International Airport's third runway underway. Even though the environmental impact assessment report of this construction project assured that the dolphins would not be harmed and that they would be brought back with the development of a sea park, it received criticism from environmental groups who cited that this new runway would take more water area than the given area of 672 acres. I think it is necessary that the people behind the development of this new runway should consider what the World Wildlife Fund, the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, and other environmental groups pointed out regarding the impact of the runway on the dolphins and Hong Kong's marine ecosystems. This would help them in their decision of whether to construct the third runway or not. The Chinese white dolphin numbers have reduced significantly to 62 animals over the past decade as a result of numerous man-made threats, and should be provided full protection under any means necessary.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

NGOs Demand Trade Sanctions Against Mozambique for its Role in Poaching

An elephant in South Africa's Kruger National Park

It has recently been reported that two notable NGOs, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), are urging the U.S government to place trade sanctions on Mozambique due to its role in local poaching. The organizations argued that Mozambique has done little to battle its own regional poaching or prevent its nationals from crossing its borders to illegally kill elephants and rhinos in South Africa and Tanzania. According to EIA president Allan Thornton, the reason trade sanctions should be placed is to prompt the Mozambican government to formulate an extensive crackdown on poaching gangs and criminal syndicates that finance and mobilize the poachers. The groups further indicated that Mozambique's elephants are suffering from poaching at preposterous rates, with three to four animals killed daily in Niassa National Reserve. In just five years, the reserve lost 11,000 elephants to poachers resulting in a 55 percent decrease in its elephant population. Reportedly, poaching gangs from Mozambique are now targeting elephants in South Africa and Tanzania. In addition, the NGOs further indicated that some of Mozambique's military and police could be involved in the poaching epidemic. Evidence of this involvement included use of weapons available only to the military and police and the discovery of official uniforms in poaching camps. Given these issues, it is clear that Mozambique is not meeting its treaty responsibilities under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

This article indicates how a country could face consequences for not doing its part in battling some of the most horrific crimes in the world. In this case, Mozambique has come under the spotlight as a country that was found to have not played its part to combat the threat of poaching affecting the elephant and rhino populations in its regional wild places and surrounding areas such as South Africa and Tanzania. In recent times, the populations of Africa's elephants and rhinos have suffered drastically in the poaching epidemic at unprecedented levels. For example, the worst cases of poaching have been taking place in South Africa which witnessed a slaughter of 1,004 rhinos last year. Furthermore, much of the poaching incidents were believed to be carried out by Mozambican nationals crossing into the country via the South Africa-Mozambique border which straddles South Africa's Kruger National Park and Mozambique's Limpopo National Park. It is estimated that between eighty to ninety percent of poaching in both of these national parks were conducted by Mozambican nationals. According to IRF executive director Susie Ellis, several criminal syndicates have shifted their base of operation from South Africa to Mozambique where they are able to operate with impunity while the country's government turns a deaf ear and blind eye which allows poachers to conduct their illicit activities. The NGOs and conservationists believe that by implementing trade sanctions on Mozambique, the country would be forced to cracking down on the poaching epidemic. However, it is also crucial that a certain NGO(s) or some other organizations should go down to Mozambique and educate its military and police in order to persuade them from not becoming involved with the poachers and their superiors. The threat of poaching not only affects the wildlife of Mozambique and South Africa, but also both the countries' socio-economic developments. So as the government of Mozambique continues to turn a blind eye and deaf ear on poaching in the country, it is not only ignoring the plight of the country's wildlife but also the well-being of its own people.

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