Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Maharashtra's Rajapur Forest Experiences 20% Increase in Deer and Blackbuck Populations in Two Years

Spotted deer nursing

The Rajapur forest belt located 104 kilometers from the Maharashtri town of Yeola has seen a 20 percent increase in its blackbuck and deer populations in the past two years. Forest officials indicated that plantation and plentiful water in waterholes have resulted in the populations' growth. They further added that they have set up the first solar panel in Nashik district, which is used to fill the waterholes from a 180-foot deep bore well. Forester Arjun Bhalerao indicated that the panel was set up six months ago to provide electricity to five villages which are included in the forest belt: Deodari, Kharwandi, Mamdapur, Rajapur, and Somthane. Each village has a certain number of waterholes. For example, Rajapur, Kharwandi, and Deodari have two waterholes while Somthane has three and Mamdapur has four. The waterholes are filled using solar power throughout the year, except during summer when tankers are used to fill them. Forest officials also rejected the chance of poaching in the forest belt, pointing out that forest guards keep watch and that villagers are also cooperative. However, the forest department is facing staff crunch where there is one forester, three guards, and six laborers for the belt which is situated on 4,500 hectares of land. Forest employees said that enlistments need to be done soon as senior staff members go into retirement.

It is wonderful to see how the deer and blackbuck populations are successfully thriving in a forest belt thanks to a great deal of commitment provided by the forest department to ensure that the animals coexist peacefully with villagers. For example, the practice of plantation has steered blackbucks away from destroying the villagers' crops and the forest department did not receive any complaints in the recent past. Furthermore, the installment of a solar panel has promised accessibility to water for the animals thus allowing their populations to increase. But what is truly amazing is how the forest officials and villagers have been maintaining a strong partnership in looking out for any poaching activities in the forest belt. This indicates why there has not been any possibility of poaching in the area. It is essential that villagers and forest officials across India should establish such a partnership, in order to combat poaching which threatens the nation's wildlife. The key to fighting such an ongoing atrocity is a joint partnership between the professionals and local people who are familiar with the area where wildlife resides. That is, villagers can help by providing helpful tips to forest guards where the poachers were last seen, what direction(s) they were headed, and other vital information. The partnership seen between the forest guards and villagers living in the vicinity of the Rajapur forest belt is an ideal example why poaching has not occurred in recent times. In other parts of India, the situation is different and that is why it is crucial that forest officials and villagers should follow the example of their counterparts in the Rajapur forest belt in order to combat the threat of poaching.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Native American Tribes from United States and Canada Sign a Treaty to Restore Bison to Its Former Range

Bison grazing at Montana's National Bison Range

The Native American tribes of U.S and Canada have recently signed a treaty that would restore the bison to its former range, which includes 6.3 million acres of prairie grasslands in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains under the tribes' shared control. A media release from the Wildlife Conservation Society indicated that this treaty, known as the Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty, was signed on September 23 in the town of Browning, Montana by the following tribes: the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of Fort Belknap Reservation, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck Reservation, the Blackfeet Nation, Blood Tribe, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Piikani Nation, Siksika Nation, and Tsuu T'ina Nation. In addition, the media release stated that the treaty confirms "intertribal alliances for cooperation in the restoration of the American buffalo (or bison) on Tribal/First Nations Reserves or co-managed lands within the U.S and Canada." The Wildlife Conservation Society also helped complete the document's details. Furthermore, the signing acknowledged that these tribes and First Nations have more ability cooperatively than individually to engage in restoring habitat and increase the bison's numbers. In an op-ed on LiveScience.com, five tribal experts laid out the treaty's basis, the tribes' vision, and what will be done to enforce the provisions in the document. They included Angela Grier of the Piikani Tribal Council, Chief Earl Old Person of the Blackfeet Nation, Ervin Carlson of the Intertribal Buffalo Council, Leroy Little Bear of the Blood Tribe and University of Lethbridge, and Tommy Christian of the Fort Peck Tribal Council. They indicated that the key component in restoring the bison would be to engage with conservation groups; researchers and allies in federal, provincial, and state governments; farmers and ranchers; and Native American youth. This would also serve as a dual purpose of undertaking conservation and preserving the Native American culture.

It is amazing to see what the Native American people of U.S and Canada strive to do, in order to bring the bison back to its former range. The American bison, nicknamed "buffalo", has played an important role in the lives and cultures of Native American tribes in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains of North America. The animal was and is still considered a major source of food for tribes living in the regions. In addition, it also played an important role in the daily lives of these tribes. For example, its hide was used to make war shields and covers for their tipis, bones were manufactured into weapons and utensils, and even the sinew was made into bowstrings. However, the bison is also a sacred animal and religious symbol. For thousands of years, Native American tribes in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains have relied on the bison as a source of food, lifestyle, and an object of worship. Unfortunately, when the early settlers arrived in North America, they heavily hunted the bison almost to the brink of extinction which not only affected the ecology of these regions but also robbed the Native Americans of their culture and way of life. In response, conservation efforts helped bring the bison back from extinction and now there is a plan to help further restore the species back to its former range. This process will be implemented through a teamwork between Native Americans and farmers, ranchers, conservation groups, researchers, and government officials. It will not only revive the bison population, but also further preserve the Native American culture.

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Ontario Man Arrested at U.S-Canada Border with Fifty Turtles Hidden in his Underwear

Spotted turtle

It has recently been reported that a man from Windsor in the southwestern part of Canada's Ontario province was arrested at the U.S-Canada border while attempting to smuggle more than fifty freshwater turtles into the U.S. Border patrol agents found that the turtles were hidden in the man's underwear and strapped elsewhere on his body. The man, Kai Xu, was apprehended at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel after authorities "noticed irregularly shaped bulges under (his) sweatpants on both his legs." Mr. Xu was also arrested, along with his suspected partner Lihua Lin from Toronto, earlier after Mr. Lin supposedly tried to smuggle 200 turtles in his luggage on a flight bound to Shanghai. The turtles found in Mr. Xu's pants included several North American species such as diamondback terrapins, eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders, and spotted turtles. One of them is known to fetch up to $800 in the illegal pet trade. It is said that Mr. Xu's alleged involvement in the illegal smuggling of tortoises and turtles is unclear, but he was incriminated on Thursday in a U.S district court on charges of illegal trading, exporting, and smuggling. Originally from China, he is a Canadian citizen and an engineering student at the University of Waterloo. Last month, officials of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service began following Mr. Xu after an informant at a Detroit post office warned them about a seven-pound package marked "Live Fish Keep Cool" that had arrived for him. The officials reportedly observed Mr. Xu after carrying the contents of the package into plastic bags in the back of his Ford Escape, and then walking across a parking lot on Hoover Street located south of Eight Mile Road in northeast Detroit with the bags and scissors. He then walked between two U.S Postal Service tractor-trailers and came back ten minutes later without the bags. That was when one of the officials noticed unevenly shaped bulges under Mr. Xu's sweatpants on both of his legs. The officials pursued Mr. Xu to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, where border patrol agents discovered that he was hiding the turtles on his person while carrying out a secondary inspection after Mr. Xu entered Canada. He is scheduled to appear at a bond hearing on Friday. It is unclear what charges his partner Mr. Lin faces.

It is extremely disturbing to see how endangered species are smuggled across borders and overseas both nationally and internationally in large quantities, which decreases their populations at an alarming rate and deeply affects the ecological balance of their native habitats. Like the trafficking of drugs and other illicit contraband, endangered species are smuggled over vast distances at a large scale to feed the voracious appetite of public consumers. This recent incident taken place at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is one of several cases of smuggling attempts to continuously satisfy the growing demands of public consumers who view endangered species as either food, medicine, or property. According to Melissa Maraj of the U.S Customs and Border Protection, the perpetrators are known to use a great deal of creativity and cleverness when carrying out such smuggling attempts. For example, earlier this year, a passenger traveling to Beijing attempted to smuggle a turtle in a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) sandwich at China's Guangzhou International Airport. Chris Shepherd of the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic stated that little is done to track down important traders or kingpins of tortoises and turtles, which indicated how the illegal smuggling of these reptiles has skyrocketed and resulted in several seizures. One such incident occurred in Thailand last November in which 500 turtles were confiscated at an airport. The reason why the illegal wildlife trade has been able to operate with impunity is because it is low-risk compared to trafficking of drugs, arms, and humans and the chances of being caught and sent to jail are less. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to impose harsher laws and penalties against the illicit trade of endangered species around the world. Just because this lucrative trade does not fit the magnitude of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, or human trafficking does not mean that it should be treated as a separate crime. The illegal wildlife trade is a high-profit crime that involves taking lives of endangered species and depriving them of their freedom, and is linked to global criminal syndicates that are known to monopolize in trafficking of drugs, arms, and humans, extortion, prostitution, racketeering, and other forms of vice that concern human lives.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

International Experts Demand Security for Sunderbans' Tigers

Bengal tiger

It has recently been reported that international biological experts have urged authorities to guarantee security for tigers living in the Sundarbans, in order to protect them from extinction. A commission comprised of forty international tiger experts provided some suggestions to the Department of Forests during their two-day visit to the Sundarbans on Thursday following the 2nd Global Tiger Stocktaking Conference. These suggestions included increasing cooperation and sharing knowledge with other countries as the Sundarbans is the only habitat in both India and Bangladesh where tigers live. In addition, the commission also underlined regular monitoring of tigers so that they can be protected from poaching and the illegal trafficking of wildlife. The experts, led by Chief Conservator of Forests M. Yunus Ali, entered the southern part of Sundarbans through Mongla point and visited different points such as Jamtala, Karamjal, Katka, and Shailo River. While visiting, they swapped views with the Village Tiger Response Team (VTRT) and even shared their knowledge with forest officials.

It is very beneficial what this team of international tiger experts did while visiting the Sundarbans which is known to have one of the highest concentrations of tigers than anywhere else in the Indian subcontinent. In addition, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, this natural region comprised of mangrove forests and tidal waterways has a dark side. The tigers of Sundarbans have earned an infamous reputation as man-eaters. This type of behavior dates back even before modern times when tigers in the region were said to "regularly kill fifty or sixty people a year." Even today, incidents of tiger attacks in the Sundarbans continue to make headlines. This is particularly due to the devastating effect of Cyclone Sidr, which deprived the tigers of their natural prey. Although it is said that tigers in Sundarbans are not persecuted for conducting attacks on people, there have been some instances of retaliatory killings from villagers. One occasion involved a tiger that had attacked and wounded people in southwestern Bangladesh and regularly preyed on their livestock. This triggered a massive outcry among villagers and resulted in the tiger being killed. The coexistence between people and tigers in the Sundarbans has always been uneasy. This is why in order to ensure security for tigers, it is also essential to guarantee security for villagers living within the vicinity of the Sunderbans so that both people and tigers can live alongside one another peacefully.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Plan to Construct Helipad Threatens Blackbuck Habitat in Tamil Nadu's Guindy National Park

A 30-acre polo ground in Guindy National Park which is said to be prime blackbuck habitat is under threat of a recently proposed plan to construct a helipad.

It has recently been reported that a 30-acre polo ground in Tamil Nadu's Guindy National Park is under threat due to a plan to construct a helipad. A senior forest officer indicated that officials at Raj Bhavan intend on constructing a helipad, despite protests from forest department officials. He further added that the proposed construction site for the helipad is within 200 meters of blackbuck habitat and therefore it would not be recommended to build a helipad. Another forest officer added that this was not the first time such an idea is being implemented. In September 1998, the polo ground area was cleared of bushes to build a helipad to aid the landing of former Prime Minister A.B Vajpayee. However, forest officers were rigid in their decision to not permit the construction of the helipad and the initiative was cancelled. Instead, a helipad was built temporarily inside Anna University. Naturalists, on condition of obscurity, indicated that authorities could establish a long-lasting helipad at Anna University. They further added that many open areas in Tamil Nadu that were once home to blackbucks have been converted to urban environments and Guindy National Park is one of the last remaining blackbuck habitats in Tamil Nadu.

The idea of constructing a helipad or any major man-made structure in an area that is prime habitat for wildlife is strictly frowned upon. The proposed site of creating a helipad in Guindy National Park has been a primary stronghold of blackbuck whose habitat has diminished throughout much of Tamil Nadu and is limited to only a handful of places. In addition to Guindy National Park, the blackbuck is found in Point Calimere, Sathyamangalam, and Vallanadu Wildlife Sanctuaries. If the initiative of helipad construction is further pushed, then the population of Guindy National Park's blackbucks will be under siege resulting in the species becoming lost forever. This is why it is extremely crucial to consider other areas in Tamil Nadu where there is no evidence of wildlife presence in order to carry out any major construction project. Sixteen years ago, a helipad was built inside Anna University in order to aid the landing of former Prime Minister A.B Vajpayee. The reason was because it could not be built in the polo ground area in Guindy National Park due to the presence of blackbuck in the area. However, the establishment of the helipad must have been temporary. This is why the idea of constructing a helipad on the polo ground has sprouted once again and putting the lives of blackbuck in the area at risk. Therefore, the people behind the idea of constructing the helipad must reconsider their decision of building the helipad in Guindy National Park and look for other more suitable places like Anna University to conduct their project.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Legislation to Sanction Countries Involved in the Illegal Ivory Trade

A herd of elephants

It has recently been reported that a new legislation introduced by Oregon representative Peter DeFazio would enforce sanctions on countries that expedite the illegal ivory trade. The White House National Security Council indicated that elephant ivory donates between $7 billion and $10 billion per year to the illegal wildlife trade and finances organized crime and terrorist syndicates. These organizations include Al-Shabaab, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and Janjaweed. The legislation, titled Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants in their Range (TUSKER) Act, was named in honor of a large tusker named Satao who was recently slaughtered by poachers in Kenya. It  highlighted major points such as the death toll of elephants massacred for their tusks in 2013, the number of park rangers killed while trying to protect endangered wildlife, and how the ivory trade funds sadistic terrorist groups that threaten local stability in Africa and national security in the U.S. In addition, the legislation indicated an explicit warning that any country allowing the ivory trade would face trade sanctions. It is also supported by numerous international wildlife and conservation groups such as Born Free, Humane Society International (HSI), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). According to IFAW's Regional Director of North America Jeff Flocken, the legislation is an "important step toward ending senseless violence and making the world safer for people and animals."

The illegal ivory trade has been gaining a great deal of international attention not just from wildlife and conservation groups, but politicians as well. Among these politicians is Representative Peter DeFazio, who has introduced a legislation asserting to take a tough stand against this ongoing illicit trade that has claimed as many as 40,000 elephants in Africa. This legislation not only highlights how the ivory trade has been killing elephants, but also how it is financing international terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab, LRA, and Janjaweed to conduct their bloodthirsty activities that involve taking of human lives. Al-Shabaab was known for carrying out a horrific terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi last year. These facts indicate that the ivory trade is a global catastrophe that is claiming both human and animal lives, and therefore needs to be eradicated by any means necessary. Furthermore, the legislation introduced by Representative DeFazio warns that any country that permits the ivory trade would face trade sanctions. In other words, those countries that have been found to allow ivory trade in their towns and cities would be banned from trading their local goods with other countries.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Residents of North Carolina Criticize Recovery Efforts to Protect Red Wolves

A captive red wolf at the Red Wolf Education and Health Care Facility in Columbia, North Carolina

It has recently been reported that red wolves in the state of North Carolina are becoming unpopular among the local people, who have severely criticized recovery efforts intended on saving the species by alleging that red wolves are not existing as pure species but coyote hybrids. In addition, other complaints ranged from wolves preying on domestic livestock and game animals, threatening pet cats and dogs, and that efforts to sterilize coyote hybrids have been unsuccessful. The criticism against North Carolina's remaining red wolves took place in the Mattamuskeet Early College High School cafeteria, where roughly hundred people comprised of landowners voiced their denouncements towards the recovery efforts. However, the forum was also attended by supporters of the red wolves. They included Janet Hoben of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition in Los Angeles, Jack Dafoe of the Southern Environmental Law Center, and Professor James Gilliam of North Carolina State University. Unlike the landowners, these people voiced their reactions concerning the plight of North Carolina's red wolves which currently number around 100 animals. For example, Ms. Hoben called the results of the state's recovery efforts as "hardly an experiment." In other words, the current population of red wolves is still critically low since 2013 even though the year saw seven litters produce 34 wolf pups. Professor Gilliam, on the other hand, proposed building a fence around the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge to prevent the wolves from interbreeding with coyotes. As of now, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has planned to make a decision on the red wolf recovery program by next year.
A red wolf at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News

It is extremely outrageous to see that the people of North Carolina are treating the red wolf as if it is a subject of immense persecution like its relative the gray wolf. This magnificent species of wolf once ranged throughout the southeastern U.S, but disappeared throughout much of its historical range due to pressure from humans and is now limited strictly in North Carolina where recovery efforts have been carried out since the late 1980s to revive the species. However, in 2013, the numbers of red wolves in North Carolina suddenly dropped to fewer than 100 animals. There have been numerous complex issues that have led to this sudden downfall in red wolf numbers. Among them include interbreeding with coyotes and hunting by human hunters who mistake the red wolf for a coyote, which have been hindering the recovery efforts to prevent the species from becoming extinct. The people of North Carolina need to understand that the red wolf is part of their home state's natural heritage and if they demand to have the species completely eradicated from North Carolina, then it means they are asking to have part of the state destroyed from the face of the Earth. In order to prevent any further depletion in red wolf numbers, people must refrain from carrying out coyote hunts or hunting of any other animals in order to avoid any accidental shootings from happening. In addition, they must keep their pets inside their homes or at least in a yard with secure fencing to prevent any potential encounters between them and wolves. Furthermore, captive red wolves should always be reintroduced in protected areas such as wildlife refuges and nowhere else. These sanctuaries should also be heavily fortified such that no coyote can come in and no red wolf can come out. This would help in improvising the recovery efforts intended on reviving the red wolf population in North Carolina.

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ministry of Environment and Forests Introduces Campaign to Save India's Snow Leopards and Dugongs

Snow leopard

It has recently been reported that a special conservation program is being designed in an attempt to take crucial measures to protect India's snow leopards and dugongs as they are struggling to survive in their habitats. Although the decrease in numbers of the snow leopards over the last few years has not been officially recorded due to physical limitations deriving from high-altitude mountains, committed wildlife groups have estimated that the current species' number in the country is around 700. It is said that the upper Spiti landscape in Lahaul and Spiti district in the state of Himachal Pradesh have a density of only one snow leopard in every 100 square kilometers of area. Wildlife conservationists indicated that the government had proposed a committed conservation program for the snow leopard in 2009, but the project was never carried out. The failure of utilizing the project followed by growing stress on the Himalayan ecosystem in the last five years has worsened the snow leopard's survival. Koustubh Sharma, a regional ecologist for the Snow Leopard Trust, pointed out that the leopard is an indicator species of the mountain ecosystem indicating its health. That is, it is known to indicate the state of rivers and rainfall quantity determined by the mountains. He further added that the main reason for the snow leopard's decline is inadequately planned advanced projects such as hydro-power dams, large-scale cutting, and mining in the Indian Himalayan region that disintegrates the animal's corridors and annihilates its habitats. A senior wildlife official of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) assured that the program will be in shape shortly and described it as a "landscape-based, trans-Himalayan approach with cooperation with other habitat countries like China, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Russia, and other Central Asian countries."

It is very beneficial for the wildlife of India that a unique conservation program is being devised, in order to implement necessary measurements to ensure the survival of the country's dugongs and snow leopards. Both of these species are highly endangered due to numerous factors. The snow leopard has suffered immensely from threats such as poaching, habitat destruction, and persecution as a livestock predator. This graceful, yet ghostly cat is one of the top predators of the Himalayas and plays a significant role in keeping the populations of mountain-dwelling herbivores in check. In addition, it is also an indicator species of the mountain ecosystem's health. That is, it is indicates the state of the region's rivers and rainfall quantity determined by the mountains. This could mean that the snow leopard may serve as an indicator to the impact of climate change affecting the Himalayas. This is why it is extremely crucial to provide protection measurements to ensure its survival, which would not only help the Himalayan ecosystem but also scientists and researchers studying the impact of climate change so that they can come up with necessary steps to prevent any further damage to the region. Furthermore, the dugong, like its relative the manatee, is severely threatened by habitat degradation, pollution, fishing, hunting, etc. It is known to keep the balance in marine ecosystems by grazing on seagrass. Therefore, it is necessary to implement strong protection measurements to guarantee the survival of the dugong otherwise its disappearance would greatly impact the ecological balance of marine ecosystems of India.

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Government of Kenya to Invest 200 Million Shillings on National Wildlife Census

Ministry of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources cabinet secretary Judy Wakhungu (left) being shown around the Kenya Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Academy.

Recently, Kenya's Ministry of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources cabinet secretary Judy Wakhungu announced that the government will launch a KSh-200 million national wildlife census this year. While speaking during a pass out parade of 566 rangers at Kenya Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Academy on Thursday, she indicated that the census will include all species of wildlife across the country and not just large animals like in the past. She further added that the census is directed at getting the precise number of Kenya's wildlife, in order to find means of protecting and increasing the animals' populations. The census, which will be conducted in December this year, is estimated to cost between KSh-180 and 200 million. In addition, Cabinet Secretary Wakhungu pointed out that the census will include Kenya's 108 endangered species and that aerial and ground spotting will be implemented to obtain accurate figures. Furthermore, she added that the enlistment of 566 rangers was incited by the increase in poaching early this year. However, the recruits' were unable to complete the required six months of training due to the poaching situation. Fortunately, Cabinet Secretary Wakhungu's principal secretary Richard Lesiyampe assured that the government will provide the rangers with advanced instruments such as night vision goggles, sophisticated firearms, and even helicopters in cases of emergencies when battling poachers.

It looks like Kenya is taking a brand-new step in order to combat poaching and ensure the survival of its wildlife. The plan to spend 200 million shillings on a national wildlife census is crucial to understanding the state of the country's wildlife. Kenya had conducted wildlife censuses in the past, but these were limited strictly to large animals. This new census will involve all animals both big and small. It is extremely important to understand that a wildlife census should never be restricted to a particular animal species based on its size or any other factor. Wildlife censuses should include all animals regardless of what size they are since each species is known to play crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance. In Kenya, for example, it is not only elephants, lions, and other large animals that play important roles in keeping balance in ecosystems but also small animals. These include bats, bushbabies, elephant shrews, hedgehogs, and true shrews which are known to keep the insect population under control. In addition, civets, genets, and mongooses prey on small mammals such as rodents to ensure that their populations do not increase to cataclysmic levels. Furthermore, presence of such small animals could indicate the state of an ecosystem. For example, if the populations of mongooses and their relatives are critically low, then the state of an ecosystem would appear to be overrun with rodents eradicating vegetation which herbivores also rely on for survival. With this new wildlife census underway, Kenya appears to be leading the way to battle the threat of poaching in Africa. However, there are other African countries that do not seem to stand a chance against poaching. This is especially true in Central Africa where militant groups have and are probably continuing to decimate the numbers of elephants and other prominent animals to finance their civil wars. Therefore, it is crucial that such countries badly affected by poaching be provided with essential resources to take a tough stand against poaching conducted by both poachers and bloodthirsty militants. Otherwise, Central Africa's wildlife would face the risk of possible extinction which would have a negative impact on the region's tourist industry and socio-economic development.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Non-profit Organization Uses Social Media to Battle Peru's Illegal Wildlife Trade

A capuchin monkey in a cage

It has recently been reported that a Peru-based non-profit organization called Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC) is using a public campaign through social media and press releases in order to track down and rescue victims of the country's growing illegal wildlife trade. According to the organization's co-founder and project director Noga Shanee, the organization has registered 47 complaints from fourteen states in Peru concerning hundreds of animals illegally advertised in markets, kept as pets, and used as tourist attractions. In addition, the NPC is also attempting to assemble information on wildlife routes and movements in Peru. Furthermore, its campaign intends to highlight problems concerning Peru's illegal wildlife trade which has received insufficient attention from the country's government and other NGOs. Ms. Shanee indicated that the main problems in battling the wildlife trade are lack of resources and qualified rescue personnel, very slow justice system, and lack of public awareness. She further added that people are afraid to directly file complaints fearing that they would get into trouble with their friends and neighbors. However, social media has allowed people to anonymously report illegally kept wildlife. In addition, NPC is known to collect information covertly and file the complaints in the NGO's name. One example of this came earlier this month when the NPC team rescued two endangered Peruvian spider monkeys from a circus in the town of Bagua based on a clue on Facebook. The monkeys were in an extremely lamentable state - they were badly malnourished, had been tied up in the sun without adequate food or water, and lost most of their teeth. Equivalently, several other unnamed tip-offs helped disclose locations of animals kept illegally in markets, tourist centers, restaurants, roadside circuses, and even private homes. For example, the campaign resulted in seizures of over 200 animals from a market in Peru's Bellavista Province. Among the commonly traded animals are parrots and monkeys. A survey carried out by Ms. Shanee between 2007 and 2011 indicated that primates were the second-most targeted animals in northeastern Peru with an estimated 85 percent captured alive for the pet trade.
One of the two Peruvian spider monkeys rescued from a circus in Bagua, Peru.

It is amazing to see how a conservation organization committed to helping put a stop to the ongoing illicit trade of wildlife uses social media as part of its efforts to save countless numbers of animals being illegally kept as either pets or tourist attractions. Members of the NPC are using a public campaign via social media and press releases to address the issues concerning Peru's illegal wildlife trade, which has been growing for several years. But what is truly intriguing about this campaign is that it makes it easier for people to anonymously report cases of the illegal wildlife trade without fearing any repercussions from their friends, neighbors, or any close associates. This is especially true in Peru where an extremely slow justice system along with lack of public awareness, resources, and experienced rescue personnel has made it an ideal place for the illegal wildlife trade to flourish. However, there are also other tropical countries in Central and South America and other parts of the world such as Africa and Southeast Asia where the wildlife trade is flourishing due to the same factors that Peru has been experiencing. This is why it is extremely crucial that conservation groups based in those countries employ tactics similar to what NPC is doing, in order to put a stop to the illegal wildlife trade.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

United States Contemplating Tougher Ivory Laws Amidst Rise in Elephant Poaching

Thai officials with confiscated ivory products and tusks during a news conference in Bangkok.

It has recently been reported that the United States is moving to enforce tougher bans on selling of ivory in an effort to halt a recent rise in elephant poaching. It has been noted that the states of New Jersey and New York have already taken steps to stiffen restrictions on the sale of ivory, and environmental groups indicate that their next aim is California. According to Elly Pepper, a policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the law in California needs to be improvised. She further indicated the reason California needs to strengthen its law in banning ivory sale by providing her own account of witnessing an appalling amount of ivory in the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. A 2008 study from Care for the Wild International showed that California is the second-largest market for ivory after New York with major centers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even though California has tough laws regarding ivory, Ms. Pepper stated that she is working with other organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, to introduce a legislation that would boost enforcement, increase penalties for misdemeanors, and block legal loopholes. Ms. Pepper pointed out that one of the loopholes is a law allowing the sale of ivory imported before 1977. She further added that it is hard to make a distinction between ivory imported before and after 1977, and that increasing a minimum of $1,000 fine is not enough to discourage the smugglers. Although the federal government ruled that all commercial imports of elephant ivory regardless of age should be banned in the country, some state legislators pointed out that the actions did not go far enough. One of them is New Jersey state Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat and primary advocate of his state's law which prohibits the barter, purchase, sale or possession of ivory or rhino horn with restricted exceptions for educational purposes. He indicated that the federal government has made too many exceptions that can easily be avoided by people dealing illegal ivory in the country. These loopholes imply to sport hunters and antique dealers. The tougher federal and state laws have even caused resentment from antique dealers, musicians, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) asserting that what they are doing has no impact on the illegal ivory trade and that they are able to distinct between old ivory and new ivory. However, environmental groups argued that new ivory often comes into the country disguised as antique ivory and that no one knows what is legal and what is illegal.
Elephants in Kenya

The illegal trade of ivory in the past years has and continues to claim countless lives of Africa's elephants. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that more than 100,000 elephants were ruthlessly slaughtered for their tusks from 2010 to 2012. The study further showed that the scale of elephants killed illegally has skyrocketed from 25 percent to between 60 and 70 percent in the last decades. The statistics and numerous reports of elephants killed prompted intensive measurements to battle the ongoing threat of poaching. One of these measurements included toughening of ivory laws in the U.S on both federal and state levels. However, despite the federal government of the U.S taking action against the illegal ivory, there are several loopholes that enable sport hunters and antique dealers to bring, deal, and possess ivory in the country. States like California has been found to be the second-largest market for ivory, despite having strict laws against the ivory trade. This is why it is absolutely crucial that all the state governments of the U.S must enforce harsh laws against the illegal ivory trade, which not only includes bolstering enforcement and penalties for crimes related to this illicit business but also block the loopholes which allow ivory to come into the country unnoticed. In addition, the federal government should also join forces with state governments in ensuring that ivory does not end up on the U.S. Furthermore, countries like China and other Asian countries should follow in the footsteps of their American counterpart in imposing harsh laws directed at banning the ivory trade without any loopholes to allow ivory to enter such countries. This is especially important since Asia continues to have a growing demand for ivory, despite numerous crackdowns and seizures made in other parts of the world. The most recent case was reported in Cameroon where 200 elephant tusks were seized. In order to effectively combat the illegal trade of ivory and other wildlife products, conservationists, environmentalists, and authorities must target corrupt officials who are known to cooperate with criminal networks in the black market trade. This would help in apprehending not just poachers, but also prominent figures of organized criminal syndicates that operate and oversee the trade of endangered species around the world.

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