Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mobile Phones Helping Save Lives of People from Indian Elephant Encounters

Indian elephants in tea fields

It has recently been reported that mobile phones are being used at an increasing rate in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to cut down the conflict between elephants and people living near their habitat. Leading in this technological revolution is Ananda Kumar of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), who pointed out that elephants have killed as many as 39 people from 1993 to 2013. He further added that 30 of those deaths occurred as a result of people not being aware of the elephants' presence. Initially, in 2002, Dr. Kumar and the NCF used a local cable network to warn the local villagers about the elephants' presence which led to two tribal watchers being hired to track the animals in a hill station called Valparai. The location where the elephants were sighted was recorded and shown on Valparai Television (VTV) through a news ticker at the bottom of the television screen. However, the strategy of using the cable television began to lose its purpose which prompted Dr. Kumar to employ mobile technology. He began sending out mass text alerts to subscribers to warn them of the elephants and eventually the number of subscribers increased. In addition, Dr. Kumar and his team also helped set up beacons to alert people during late evening hours when elephants move through tea estates. The way this works is when an elephant or a herd of elephants are in the vicinity, a call or text message sent either by NCF or anonymous villagers would turn on the beacons which give off a blinking red light to warn people moving around at night. Furthermore, Dr. Kumar and his team also maintains a comprehensive database of each subscriber and place of residence for over 2,000 people and prepares maps that recognize numerous corridors through which elephants move. This is also covered with maps of villages to analyze areas that are most sensitive to encounters with elephants. The hard work implemented by Dr. Kumar and the NCF has paid off. Between 2002 and 2007, there were no incidences of human deaths from elephant encounters for 31 months. In addition, property damage by elephants decreased significantly in 2011 and 2013. The advantage of Dr. Kumar's work is that interventions are maintained by the community and based on considerable conversations with them using current technology that is easily managed. The program is financed by a U.K-based charity called Elephant Family and some local tea plantations.
An elephant caught on a rampage in Karnataka

The measurements conducted by Dr. Kumar and the NCF are shining examples of how to take necessary steps to prevent any fatal encounters between people and animals and ensure peace and harmony between the two species. Human-wildlife conflict is a growing problem in India with accelerated urbanization and clearing of land. A recent report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicated that almost 1,000 people were killed in Assam, Maharashtra, and Orissa in conflicts with wild animals between 2009 and 2011. Among the animals that were known to kill people were elephants. However, in Tamil Nadu's Valparai Hill Station, there is a stark contrast to the ongoing fatal encounters between people and animals due to the extraordinary work put by Dr. Kumar and the NCF thanks to the use of advanced technology and extensive communication with local villagers. One example of this outstanding achievement occurred when Dr. Kumar received a call from a village woman in the middle of the night after she saw an elephant outside her house and was worried that her one-month old child's crying might excite the animal. In response, Dr. Kumar encouraged the woman to keep making noise to show that there are people inside and advised her not to go out in the middle of the night. In the meantime, a range officer arrived at the spot to help her and the elephant went away. The following morning, the woman called Dr. Kumar and thanked her him for saving her child. This just one of the few success stories in which people and animals are able to coexist peacefully. However, elsewhere in India there are numerous incidents of human-wildlife conflicts resulting in human and animal deaths as the country continues lose 300 acres of forests and other habitats per day to roads, highways, and mining. With so much shrinking of habitat, it is very crucial that Dr. Kumar's conservation model needs to be simulated in other parts of India where the human-wildlife conflict remains high. Hopefully, this conservation model will also help in curbing similar situations outside India in other places like Africa, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, etc.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Experts- Increase in Indus River Dolphin Population

Indus river dolphin

Experts have recently indicated that the population of the Indus river dolphin is increasing, despite being confronted by threats such as addition of poisonous chemicals in water, illegal fishing, industrial waste, and sewage. A survey conducted in 2011 revealed that the number of dolphins occupying the Indus River between the Chashma and Kotri Barrages was 1,505. According to the World Wildlife Fund's senior project officer in Sukkur Imran Malik, the dolphins ended up towards Kotri Barrage during a powerful flood in 2010 and became vulnerable to slipping into the barrage's offshoot when searching for food during the yearly closure of canals every January. He further added that fishermen dumped poisonous chemicals into the river after the floods eased off, which resulted in considerable damage to the dolphins and other marine life. Since then, the World Wildlife Fund joined forces with the provincial wildlife and fisheries departments to establish an awareness campaign in that regard. In addition, he indicated that there are currently 1,452 dolphins in the river, out of which 96 were documented in between the Chashma and Taunsa Barrages, 465 between the Guddu and Taunsa Barrages, 857 between the Guddu and Sukkur Barrages, and 34 between the Kotri and Sukkur Barrages. According to the deputy conservator of Sukkur's wildlife department Taj Mohammed Shaikh, the reason the dolphin population has increased is due to the ongoing awareness campaign which helped people learn about the significance of marine life. Therefore, there had been no reported incidents of poisonous chemicals being added into the river or canals in the last two to three years.

Although this seems like promising news for the river dolphins in the Indus River ecosystem, this does not mean they should be safe from human activities on the long-run. There are still threats of sewage being released into the waters by people residing along riverbanks, chemicals for fishing being added into the river, hot water released from the Guddu thermal power station, and industrial waste dumped by factories in Sukkur and Ghotki District. This has led to the range between the Guddu and Sukkur Barrages being declared a protected area to protect the river dolphins. However, there are probably other areas between Pakistan's barrages where dolphins may be residing in considerable numbers. Therefore, is why it is extremely crucial to work in order to prevent the dolphins from becoming extinct. This does not only mean setting up an awareness campaign, but also establishing special treatment plants to remove any harmful material from sewage before being released into the river. Similar facilities should also be set up to treat industrial waste being produced from factories. Furthermore, a ban should be imposed on chemicals used for fishing and the policy for issuing fishing licenses must be reviewed. It is important to understand that awareness campaigns alone cannot guarantee the survival of an endangered species; there should also be an implementation of direct action towards any factors deemed as threats to that endangered species. For example, in the case of Indus river dolphins, the threat of pollution should be dealt with the establishment of treatment plants specializing in treating sewage and industrial waste in order to prevent the dolphins and other marine life from being severely harmed. The combination of awareness campaign and direct action can promise safety and survival of endangered species.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ministry of Environment and Forests Approves Electronic Inspection Near Railway Lines to Counter Elephant-Train Collisions

A herd of Indian elephants

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has recently approved the use of technology, specifically 24/7 electronic surveillance and wireless sensors, to end high numbers of elephant fatalities due to train collisions. The use of electronic surveillance and wireless sensors is a new addition to a series of measurements such as reducing speed of trains in areas haunted by elephants that the MoEF has identified to protect them and also save them from train collisions. The MoEF had also notified the Supreme Court about these new measures in an affidavit filed last week where a case is being conducted on the issue. In addition, the ministry has also notified the apex court about ratifying site-specific solutions instead of enforcing systematic measures for the entire elephant landscape which is extended across sixteen Indian states covering nearly half of India. These states include Odisha and West Bengal where the problem of elephant deaths by train collisions is quite dangerous. The Supreme Court has over the years showed concerns over the elephants' deaths after being killed by speeding trains, and even requested the railway and environment ministries to take concerted measurements to stop the danger.

The MoEF is now fighting for the use of electronic surveillance to keep a note on such deaths. In its affidavit, it notified the court about a pilot project by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi for an economical wild animal detection system that uses wireless sensor systems at Uttarakhand's Rajaji National Park. The ministry had earlier set up the "e-eye" system based based on infra-red cameras on pilot basis in Corbett National Park for following wild animals and catching poachers. Now, it has told the government of West Bengal to check out the usefulness of implementing the "e-eye" in the state's northern landscape. The affidavit also disclosed that the MoEF and railways have agreed on restricting the train speed to 25 kilometers per hour in all recognized elephant habitats. The ministry also proposed diverting goods and unscheduled trains from other routes in elephant areas recognized in West Bengal. Other measurements suggested included easement of lofty slopes on railway hills in all elephant areas, planning barriers and fencing in vulnerable expanses of railway tracks, stimulating railway staff, and constructing ramps and underpasses in areas frequented by elephants to expedite smooth movement of the animals.

The approval given by the MoEF in using electronic surveillance and wireless sensors shows that elephants can safely cross railway tracks with little or no fear of being killed by oncoming trains. This also shows that the railway ministry would not have to face any further problems regarding damage to the trains as a result of elephant-train collisions. Reducing speed limit of trains is not enough to put an end to the growing problem of elephant-train collisions. Solutions such as constructing ramps and underpasses, establishing barricades and fencing in vulnerable areas of railway tracks, sensitizing railway staff, and diverting trains from other routes are also essential in further maximizing the safety and protection of elephants from train collisions. These measurements would not only help save elephants, but also other animals that share the same habitats with elephants in areas dissected by railway tracks. However, elephants are not the only animals in India at risk of being killed by trains. There have been reports of lions getting killed by trains either in the vicinity or outside Gir Forest National Park. It would also be beneficial to implement the same measurements being proposed to help save the elephants from getting hit by trains in order to ensure the safety and well-being of lions.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

U.N Helps South Africa Battle Rhino-poaching Through Donation into Law Enforcement and DNA testing

Black rhinoceros

The United Nations has recently donated R30-million into law enforcement and DNA testing to help South Africa battle the ongoing poaching of rhinos. Environment Minister Edna Molewa indicated at a briefing that her department had signed a cooperation agreement with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to establish the program. The United Nations' Global Environmental Facility (GEF) has allotted R30-million to the project over four years. This project, known as the UNEP-GEF Rhino Project, is devised to intensify law enforcement, improvise environmental crime scene management, and help stop poaching on the ground and the illegal wildlife trade internationally. One of the main focuses of the project will be the application of forensic technology to help assure convictions for the poaching and trade of rhino horns. Part of this project would include enhancing a database of rhino horn DNA samples. That is, several rhino horn stockpiles that were built up over the years from natural causes of death had DNA samples taken. Some of these horns were analyzed by the veterinary genetics laboratory from the University of Pretoria. However, there was an inventory of samples to be evaluated and the money donated by the GEF would help pay for the inventory to be reduced. Minister Molewa stated that the DNA analyses provided a record of the horn's origin, which, if found wrongly in possession of anyone, would help in prosecuting the individual. According to Frances Craige, chief director of South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs, the money would be used for crime scene management such as how and when a rhino was killed. Earlier, a program manager had been assigned to supervise the UNEP-GEF Rhino Project and a trailer containing forensic equipment was bought. A training on advanced crime scene management is scheduled to begin next month.

It is very beneficial and helpful of the United Nations to help South Africa in its battle against rhino-poaching. The money donated by the U.N will help South Africa strengthen its law enforcement, conduct DNA testing, improvise environmental crime scene management, and stop poaching and the illegal wildlife trade on both national and international grounds. All these goals are part of the UNEP-GEF Rhino Project. This project has so far consisted of a program manager to run it and a trailer containing forensic equipment has been bought, but there is still a host of other components to help in the fight against South Africa's rhino-poaching problem. One of them is the training of advanced crime scene management which will start next month. In addition, this project has also brought together other groups involved in the rhino-poaching battle. These include South African National Parks (SANParks), the South African Police (SAP), University of Pretoria, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It appears that South Africa is on the verge of gaining the upper-hand against the poaching of rhinos with this project underway. Hopefully, this will prevent poachers from further decimating South Africa's rhino population to meet the growing demands of rhino horns and save the nation's tourism industry.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Government of Australia Plans to Strike a Major Blow on South Africa's Canned Hunting Industry

Young captive-raised African lions looking out from behind chain-link fencing.

The term "canned hunting" refers to an unethical practice of hunting in which captive-raised wild animals are released inside a large, fenced-in enclosure instead of in a wild stretch of land and ruthlessly shot to death by human hunters at a close range. This controversial mode of hunting received harsh criticism from animal rights activists and hunting organizations, who indicate that the practice eliminates the concept of fair chase. The concept of fair chase refers to a balance between the hunter and the hunted, and allows the hunter to occasionally succeed while animals usually avoid being killed. Canned hunting does not live up to this concept and consists of hunters simply pursuing a captive-raised animal in an enclosed area with nowhere to escape and killing it on the spot. It is no wonder that this barbaric practice does not sit well with hunting organizations, animal rights groups, or anybody involved in the proper safety and well-being of wild animals.
African lion

Now, the practice of canned hunting is facing the wrath of not animal rights groups, hunting organizations, or any similar organizations but federation. This is seen in the case of the latest news about the Australian government planning to strike a major blow on South Africa's canned hunting industry. The canned hunting industry of South Africa is as appalling as any other similar industry where wild animals are raised in captivity and then released into an enclosed area destined to be killed for pleasure. In this case, the animals in danger are lions. It is said that hundreds of so-called "lion farms" in South Africa specialize in breeding lions for the purpose of this ruthless method of hunting. The way this works is that cubs are separated from their mothers at birth and raised by humans during which visitors to such facilities pay to pet and play with them. As the cubs grow older, the visitors are given the privilege of walking them. Once the cubs grow to be roughly three years of age, they are released into an enclosed area ready to be eliminated in the hands of human hunters. According to South African conservationist and anti-canned hunting campaigner Ian Michler, time and money are major issues and people want to participate in the type of hunting that promises them to kill a wild animal with unlimited success and at a cheaper rate. For example, hunters can pay $75,000 to go on a safari out in the wild to hunt a lion with no promise of a successful kill while canned hunting offers the guarantee of a kill at approximately one tenth of the price. Nonetheless, canned hunting is an extremely unethical and inhumane practice of hunting and it is even despised by Australian Minister of Environment Greg Hunt who had earlier banned the importation of rhino body parts into Australia and is now expanding that ban on the importation of lion body parts and trophies. This new ban is scheduled to be implemented by Christmas.
Australian Minister of Environment Greg Hunt with Ian Michler and member of parliament Jason Wood.

Although I applaud the Australian government's move to impose a ban on the importation of lion body parts into Australia, I still think it would do little to put a stop to canned hunting. In addition to placing a ban on the importation of animal body parts and trophies, it is crucial to target facilities where canned hunting is being operated. Most of these facilities consist of private agricultural farms that contain lions and other exotic big game animals that had been raised in captivity and then released into enclosed areas where they are ruthlessly massacred in the hands of human hunters. The combination of imposing bans on importation of endangered exotic animal body parts and trophies, along with targeting and shutting down canned hunt facilities would greatly help in eradicating the barbaric practice of canned hunting. Apart from Australia, federal governments in other countries, including South Africa and the U.S, should also impose bans on the importation of endangered animal body parts. At the same time, they should join forces with one another in identifying and targeting facilities that conduct canned hunting, shut them down, and prosecute the proprietors and operators of this barbaric form of hunting.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thousands March Worldwide Demanding Protection of Elephants and Rhinos

Demonstrators in Nairobi, Kenya demanding an end to poaching of elephants and rhinos.

The ongoing poaching threat directed at elephants and rhinos has led to thousands of people worldwide demanding full-scale protection of these animals fearing that they are being driven to extinction. The protests, known as the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, took place in 136 towns and cities in six continents including Nairobi, New York City, Paris, Soweto, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. In South Africa, which is struggling to curb its continuous rhino-poaching crisis, protesters gathered across seventeen cities. One of the organizers of the march, Dex Kotze, asserted that political leaders "do not have the guts and political will to make changes in their laws." He further added that Africa is now home to roughly 400,000 elephants, compared to 27 million 350 years ago, and about 9% of those are being ruthlessly slaughtered each year. Mr. Kotze also emphasized that the protests are also meant to highlight the alleged "gang of 19" countries classified by CITES as not doing much to stem the illegal trafficking of elephant tusks, rhino horns, and other body parts of endangered species. Among these countries are Angola, China, Kenya, Laos, Mozambique, and Vietnam. Out of these countries, China is known to be the major importer of ivory with 37 factories and 130 retail outlets, which Mr. Kotze demanded to be shut down. In Nairobi, several hundred people took to the streets demanding full-scale protection of Kenya's elephants from poaching. Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of WildlifeDirect, indicated that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is incapable of going after powerful crime syndicates by itself. However, Jamey Ponte, a co-organizer of the march in Kenya, stated that governments can take steps to make a difference. For example, in the case of Kenya, the port city of Mombasa which is known to be the major exporter of ivory should be fortified with security checkpoints to thoroughly inspect exports in an effort to intercept ivory about to be exported to China. Likewise, a similar step should be implemented in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania which is the second major exporter of ivory.
Demonstrators take to the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa calling for an end to poaching.

I highly applaud what these demonstrators around the world are doing to show how much they care about elephants and rhinos that are being heavily poached on a large-scale to meet the growing demand of ivory and rhino horns. It goes to show how the world is not blind to such ongoing environmental catastrophes threatening to wipe some endangered species off the face of the Earth. It is that very spirit that is essential to ensure the survival of elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species around the world. The battle against illegal poaching, wildlife trade, and other environmental threats that are putting the lives of endangered species at risk of being completely eradicated should not just be left to authorities, conservation groups, NGOs, and similar organizations. It is extremely crucial that local communities around the world should be involved in the battle. This further helps in putting pressure on federal governments to convince them in taking action by changing their laws in order to make it virtually impossible for poachers and other criminals specializing in wildlife crimes to carry out their illicit activities. While it has been noted that countries like U.S, France, Kenya, and South Africa have hosted demonstrations demanding serious action against elephant and rhino-poaching, it would also make more difference if people in China, Laos, Vietnam, and others where the demand for ivory and rhino horns remains high follow this example. In other words, they should join forces with demonstrators outside their home countries in the battle against poaching and the illegal trade of elephant ivory, rhino horns, and other body parts of endangered species. This would further help in putting pressure on federal governments around the world on a global scale to take decisive actions against powerful crime syndicates driving the poaching of endangered species and the illegal trade of their body parts. The threat of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is not only helping meet the demands of obtaining body parts of endangered species for the black market, but is also financing terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab, the Janjaweed, and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) which are infamous for conducting crimes against humanity. This is why it is extremely important to take every necessary step to put a stop to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade to save not just the lives of animals, but also human beings.

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