Monday, March 31, 2014

Increase in Number of Online Petitioners Against the Building of Postal Road and Railway in Chitwan National Park

Sunset at Chitwan National Park

It has been recently reported that an online petition against a planned postal road and railway through Nepal's Chitwan National Park is increasing with thousands of people from around the world showing their disapproval of the two construction projects announced by the government early this year. The petition titled "Save Tigers and Rhinos in Chitwan National Park", which was created by an NGO called Animal Nepal, had compiled over 60,000 signatures on The petition addressed to the Prime Minister and Ministers of Finance, Roads, and Forests intends to stop the government from building the proposed postal highway and East-West electric railway line cutting through the park, and respect the privacy of the wildlife and conserve their habitat. The two projects under the government's national development order have attracted widespread criticisms from different groups, including animal welfare activists, conservationists, and politicians. Many people in the field of wildlife conservation asserted their concerns about the threats the projects will have on the animals' safety and their habitats in the national park. According to Margaret Ayton, a petitioner from the United Kingdom, the government's decision denies the very concept of wildlife conservation and that constructing the road and rail line through Chitwan National Park would change the way how the world sees Nepal. The petitioners have pressed the government and the authorities to preserve protected lands and wildlife habitats from unsustainable development plans that are threatening the tourism sector for which Nepal's protected areas are famous in the international field. Chitwan National Park chief warden Kamal Jung Kunwar stated that Minister of Forests and Soil Conservation Mahesh Acharya called attention to the seriousness to protect the fragile environment from developmental proposed in this part, and look out for options that are sustainable to the current environment. Minister Acharya's announcement came when the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works made a decision to begin the construction without even carrying out an environmental impact assessment.
Indian rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park

This news highlights the action taken by the global community in an effort to help save the world's environment and its inhabitants. Chitwan National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, functions as an important habitat for charismatic species like the Bengal tiger, Indian one-horned rhinoceros, elephant, and other wildlife. The implementation of such construction projects that cut through the national park would pose a major threat to its inhabitants. Chitwan National Park has known to be one of the few wild places in the world where anti-poaching operations have shown to be effective in protecting the wildlife. But with proposed development projects like these would not only impact the environment, but affect the park's reputation as a safe haven for wildlife. This extraordinary effort carried out by 60,000 people from around the world, in order to prevent such an environmental catastrophe should be taken as an inspiration to other members of the global community to act upon similar environmental situations that are threatening to impact the world's natural habitats. Chitwan National Park may be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but there are also countless other wild places around the world that are under severe threat from issues ranging from poaching and illegal wildlife trade to habitat destruction and development projects. Many of these places are not even world heritage sites, and may not be home to charismatic species of animals like elephants, tigers, rhinos, etc. that require a great deal of attention. Regardless of what status a wild place has or the species of animals it houses, it is still part of the biosphere and must be thoroughly studied before converting it into a national park or a construction site. As part of the effort to protect the global environment, it is extremely crucial to conduct an environmental impact assessment before deciding to carry out a construction project.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kenya to Use Drones Against Elephant and Rhino Poachers

Elephants taking a mud bath in Kenya's Tsavo East National Park.

It has recently been reported that the government of Kenya is going to use drones in its battle against elephant and rhino poachers. This plan also comes along the side of tougher penalties, which include longer jail terms and stiffer fines, imposed on perpetrators in an attempt to repress the growing number of well-armed poaching gangs who target the elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns. According to Patrick Omondi, wildlife conservation deputy director for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the drones will be used in Tsavo National Park which is one of the largest national park in the country. He further added the drones would be imported, but did not give any details of how many would be brought to Kenya or at what cost. Conservationists hope that this new law will avert criminal organizations since Kenya has become a major transport route for ivory bound for Asian markets from central and eastern Africa. KWS acting director general William Kiprono indicated that 51 elephants and 18 rhinos had been killed in Kenya so far this year, compared to 302 elephants and 59 rhinos killed in 2013. That same year, Kenyan officers confiscated 13.5 tonnes of ivory at the port city of Mombasa originating from other countries in the region. At least 249 suspects have been arrested so far and prosecuted for various wildlife crimes. Among them included a Chinese man who was convicted for smuggling ivory and ordered to pay a fine of twenty million shillings or face a seven-year prison sentence.

I very much admire the steps Kenya is taking to help prevent any further losses of its wildlife to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The government indicated that these threats not only affect the wildlife, but also the tourism industry which is a major foreign exchange earner in the country. However, there are also other countries in Africa whose wildlife is a major tourist attraction. These include countries in central Africa are also known to house a rich diversity of wildlife that tourists would love to see. Unfortunately, the wildlife in Africa's central region has been hit very hard in recent times due to poaching and the wildlife trade. In some parts, militant groups have resorted to brutally massacring the elephants to finance their bloody civil wars against innocent civilians. This indicates that the national parks in that region are nowhere as safe as the ones in eastern or southern Africa. Furthermore, because wildlife tourism is a major factor to Africa's economy, the ongoing threat of poaching in Africa's central region has dramatically impacted the economy resulting in widespread unemployment and placing more people into poverty. This is why it is extremely crucial to provide substantial help to the countries in central Africa to combat poaching and the militant groups operating in the region, in order to not only save its wildlife but recover its economy as well.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

French Poachers Arrested for Hacking off and Selling Frog Legs on the Black Market

One of many frogs threatened by the growing demand of frogs' legs in France.

When most people think of frogs as delicacy, one place that usually comes to mind is France. Frogs' legs, known locally as cuisses de grenouille, are a popular food in France and conservative estimates indicate that up to 100 million pairs of frogs' legs are consumed every year. However, frogs in France have been a protected species for more than twenty years after the government ordered a ban on hunting of these amphibians in the wild. Therefore, majority of frogs consumed annually are imported into the country. Unfortunately, the growing demand for the delicacy has resulted in several illegal poaching operations in France. One example was recently reported, in which three French men aged between 45 and 50 were arrested with nearly 1,100 illegally captured and mangled frogs. The three men, who are from the commune of Landeyrat in the Cantal department, had been armed with professional traps and cages containing the frogs they had been catching in wetland areas. They had planned to provide the legs to chefs in the Auvergne region. It is said that chefs pay roughly seven pounds for a dozen pairs of native frog legs, which are served with garlic and parsley. According to the police, the frogs confiscated from the poachers would have been worth roughly 400 pounds on the black market. The three men were arrested through a long operation which consisted of using surveillance, and are facing a one-year prison term and a fine of 12,500 pounds.
Frog legs: cooked (top) and raw (bottom)

It is incredible to know that while frogs' legs are considered a delicacy in France, the method of obtaining them through hunting in local areas of the country is considered to be illegal. However, because of the growing demand of such a delicacy, people are resorting to dishonest means of obtaining frogs' legs by violating the law. This recent incident saw a rise in the number of native frogs in France being ruthlessly slaughtered to not only satisfy the public, but also dramatically impact the local ecosystems of the country's wetlands. The frogs are a keystone species in a wetland ecosystem by maintaining its balance through insect consumption. If they disappear, then the insect population in France would increase to immense levels and cause major problems for the local people. In addition, populations of other animals that feed on frogs would also diminish. This is why it is extremely crucial to educate the public about the ecological importance of frogs, and encourage them to help save the frogs by reporting any suspicious activities occurring in their natural habitats. If the frogs disappear from France's wetlands, then the ecosystems of these wetlands would be turned upside-down.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Maldives Increase Security to Halt Trade in Dangerous Animals

A ball python

The Maldives Customs Service has recently affirmed that they are strengthening security measures to stop the increase in dangerous animals being illegally imported into the country. According to Ahmed Niyaz, Senior Superintendent of Customs, the customs service is heightening its security procedures in an effort to prevent the illegal trade of such animals by carrying out cargo checks and report any findings. He further added that the customs service is working together with the police to conduct more comprehensive security checks, and stated that many snakes had been found during raids carried out by the police. The move was made following the discovery of a 4-foot long snake found on the streets of Male on Tuesday. Earlier this month, police discovered a ball python following a drugs raid in Himmafushi. In another raid, they also confiscated kingsnake and a Mexican redknee tarantula in a house in Male. A local media named Sun Online reported that customs believed that eggs of such animals were being brought into Maldives through seaports, where security is less and not regulated. Even though the country's ports security laws dictate that bringing in "dangerous animals" without appropriate permits is illegal, majority of the animals brought in are "not illegal, but require a permit." If a dangerous animal is confiscated, it is handed over to the police who would conduct a background check on the animal. If the animal is protected under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), the police would notify the Ministry of Environment who would check with international bodies. In majority of such cases, the dangerous animals would then be sent to other countries since Male lacks the expertise and has insufficient space to rehabilitate these animals. Superintendent Niyaz affirmed that a recently confiscated slow loris received a great deal of interest from international partners. The animal was discovered by the police in a drugs raid in Male on January 21. The raid resulted in the arrest of eight Maldivians with illegal drugs and more than MVR 140,000 and $11,000 in cash from the residence.
A slow loris

It is very good to see what Maldives is doing in an effort to combat the problem of the exotic pet trade, especially when it involves animals labeled as "dangerous." One of its local laws makes it clear that importing such animals without a relevant license is considered illegal, yet so many have and continue to be illegally brought into the country. This is why the customs service has decided to take a stand against this ongoing crime through a joint partnership with the police. Furthermore, the police maintains relevant contact with the Ministry of Environment so that any animal which could be an endangered species could have a second chance in life. This example should be viewed as an inspiration to other different countries where the exotic pet trade and other wildlife crimes are prevalent, so that their local governments can also take a tough stand against these crimes for the better protection and well-being of their people as well as the animals.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Rhino Poaching in Zimbabwe Decreases in 2013

World Wildlife Fund workers dehorn a rhino in Zimbabwe's Chipinge National Park to make it less susceptible to poaching.

It has recently been reported that Zimbabwe has witnessed a drop in rhino poaching last year with only 750 animals remaining. According to the director of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority, twenty rhinos were illegally killed in 2013 indicating a decrease of 66 percent compared with the previous year. However, despite this significant drop, the country's rhino population still remains in a critical condition following a surge of poaching in the late 1980s which claimed close to 2,000 rhinos. As of today, only 750 rhinos remain in Zimbabwe which include 450 black rhinos and 300 white rhinos. Edson Chidziya, the authority's director-general, told legislators that most of the rhino deaths were blamed on poaching carried out by the local people. He further added that while the poachers shoot the animals on sight, some have also resorted to poisoning them. On the other hand, the major drop in the poaching of rhinos has largely been attributed to stiff measurements implemented by Zimbabwe's authorities and conservation experts which include prison terms for convicted poachers. In addition, they have also taken to dehorning the rhinos, satellite-tracking, and relocating the animals from high-threat areas to more safe sanctuaries.
A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority worker walks into a room stocked with confiscated elephant tusks and rhino horns in Harare.

While this seems like good news, it also indicates that the rhino population in Zimbabwe is still much lower following a wave of bloodshed carried out by poachers in the late 1980s and that crucial measurements are in much need to ensure the survival of these animals and other species in the country. Last year, a wildlife conservation group reported that more than 300 elephants and other animals perished as a result of cyanide poisoning in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. This news indicates that even though a country recently experiences a drop in poaching or other wildlife crimes, it does not mean that such threats are no longer existing. Poachers and other perpetrators will always look for ways to stay one step ahead from the authorities to conduct their dastardly deeds. This is why it is extremely crucial to involve local communities to collaborate with the law enforcement and other authorities, in order to put a stop to poaching. The poaching of rhinos in Zimbabwe, according to this article, has been blamed primarily on the local people. In order to further combat the crime, it is important to educate the local people about the dangers of poaching and encourage them to join forces with authorities and conservation groups in order to make a difference in their home country. This includes tipping the authorities about any suspicious activities such as cyanide poisoning, which has been found to be the most deadliest method of poaching in Zimbabwe.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Indonesia's Islamic Clerics Issue a Fatwa Against Poaching and the Illegal Wildlife Trade

A mother Sumatran orangutan and its offspring.

It has recently been reported that Islamic clerics in Indonesia drew attention from conservation groups by declaring a fatwa against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade last week. The Indonesian Ulema Council, which is the top Muslim clerical body in the country, issued the fatwa on Tuesday proclaiming the illegal wildlife trade to be haram and forbidding Muslims from "all activities resulting in wildlife extinction." Furthermore, the fatwa is meant in part to help promote current national laws protecting endangered species which are poorly imposed and have done little to prevent such wildlife crimes. It also called for the Indonesian government to reassess permits that have been given to companies that are deteriorating the environment. The idea for the fatwa came when members of the Indonesian Ulema Council visited Tesso Nilo National Park on the island of Sumatra in September last year. There, they spoke with conservation groups, government officials, and local communities that have come into conflicts with elephants and tigers. News agencies such as the National Geographic called the action extraordinary - the first ever fatwa issued against the illegal wildlife trade. Indonesia's conservation groups also praised the council's decision and hope the move will help support current efforts to protect the wildlife. However, it is not known whether the fatwa will have a powerful impact on the policy against wildlife crimes in Indonesia. That is, it is not legally binding and while the Indonesian Ulema Council called on the government to take serious action in protecting endangered species, such religious decrees rarely result in policy changes. Nonetheless, an anonymous source within the Ministry of Forestry indicated last week that it would make a concerted announcement on the fatwa with the Indonesian Ulema Council on Wednesday.
A pangolin fetus served as a delicacy, which spells tremendous jeopardy to the species and other endangered wildlife in Indonesia and other parts of Asia

It is really amazing to see how groups of people unaffiliated with conservation in general are becoming well-aware about the damages being implemented on the biodiversity of different places around the world. One example was reported in Indonesia, where Islamic clerics attempted to draw attention about the dangers of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade by issuing a religious decree in an effort to help support existing laws designed to protect endangered wildlife and ensure stiff penalties for those involved in wildlife crimes. In Indonesia, anyone found guilty of illegally trafficking endangered species could face a five-year prison sentence or a fine of Rp 100 million. Unfortunately, despite this law being put into place, poachers and operators of the illegal wildlife trade virtually operate with impunity and crimes against wildlife are rarely prosecuted. This means that those who are charged face lighter sentences, compared to what the law states. A survey in 2009 by the environmental group ProFauna discovered 183 protected species being trafficked in seventy bird markets around Indonesia, including rare parrots, songbirds, birds of prey, and even primates and other mammals. In addition, extensive deforestation and palm oil expansion has also tremendously affected the country's wildlife. For example, last month, seven critically endangered Sumatran elephants were found dead on illegal palm oil plantations in Tesso Nilo National Park, suspected to have been poisoned by the plantation staff. In the last ten years, nearly 130 elephants had been killed in Indonesia's Riau province.
Sumatran elephants

The examples given above indicate how Indonesia has and continues to prove to be ineffective in the battle against the growing threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade threatening to decimate its endangered wildlife. Even with strict laws guaranteeing the consequences for conducting illicit activities in the country, perpetrators are able to find themselves on a safe side by serving only a minimum sentence before they are released from prison to continue carrying out their crimes against wildlife. Furthermore, such crimes are rarely prosecuted which gives these criminals more advantage and power over the government and conservation groups. This is why it is extremely crucial that groups of people who are not associated with conservation or environmentalism should make their stand against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade by convincing the public about the dangers these threats pose to the endangered wildlife. Conservation groups alone cannot do the job of keeping the world's wildlife safe; the public should also pitch in to help make a difference by collaborating with conservation groups and other such organizations committed to put an end to poaching, wildlife trade, deforestation, and numerous other environmental threats affecting the world's biodiversities.

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Poaching of Rhinos in Kenya Doubled in 2013

Rangers of the Kenya Wildlife Service receive instructions on how to use hand signals while out patrolling.

Government officials recently stated that poachers in Kenya have decimated double the number of the country's rhinos last year compared to the year before during an upsurge in wildlife killings. According to Paul Mbugua, spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), at least 59 rhinos were brutally slaughtered for their horns in 2013 compared to thirty in 2012. The surge in rhino poaching, even inside the heavily guarded Nairobi National Park, indicate that poachers have little to fear of strict new laws enacted to curb the wave of killings. The poaching of elephants, on the other hand, has decreased by around a fifth from 384 killed in 2012 to 302 in 2013. However, Mr. Mbugua warned that "poachers have become more aggressive." That is, they would kill anyone who stands between them and elephants or rhinos. As of now, roughly 1,030 rhinos and some 38,000 elephants are left in Kenya. In recent years, poaching has increased dramatically in Africa with elephants and rhinos particularly targeted. This week's INTERPOL report stated there had been record levels of international ivory seizures worldwide last year. It further added that criminal syndicates are "making millions at the cost of our wildlife with comparatively little risk", and that "large-scale ivory shipments--each one representing the slaughter of hundreds of elephants--point to the involvement of organized crime networks operating across multiple cities." Last month, a Kenyan court delivered a record sentence to a Chinese ivory smuggler after he was arrested carrying a 7.5-pound ivory tusk. He was the first person to be convicted under a new law, and was ordered to pay twenty-million shillings or face a seven-year imprisonment.
A KWS veterinarian examining a tranquilized black rhinoceros in  the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

This news is a clear example about how poaching should be taken seriously no matter what. In Kenya, the poachers seem to feel that they have little fear of the new laws designed to severely punish the perpetrators. Because of this, the number of rhinos has plummeted sharply in 2013. The poachers demonstrated this fearlessness by simply killing authorities without giving any second thoughts. In order to combat this behavior, it is crucial to employ a shoot-to-kill order and implement it while out patrolling for any potential poachers. In Kenya, safari tours are the ultimate attractions for tourism which account for 12.5 percent of the country's revenue and eleven percent of jobs. Elephants and rhinos are couple examples of charismatic animals that tourists pay large sums of money just to observe while out on a safari. With poachers decimating these animals at an alarming rate, it not only indicates that the animals are being pushed towards extinction but also that poachers are tremendously affecting Kenya's economy. As long as poaching continues, the numbers of elephants and rhinos would be pushed closer and closer to extinction and Kenya's economy would further deplete resulting in a great deal of unemployment. This is why it is absolutely necessary to take a tough stand against these poachers and if it means killing them on the spot, then so be it.

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Infamous Poaching Tribe in India Fools Forest Officials

Leopard skins

It has recently been reported that poachers belonging to the infamous Bawariya community have made clever changes in their strategy to conduct their big cat hunting operations. Earlier, they used to pitch tents which made them visible for forest officials to target, but now they have resorted to rent houses near the areas to carry out their activities. Members of this tribal community live with their families at the target area, and study the area for at least two months before planning to hunt big cats. In addition, they also easily blend in with the locals to baffle any post-hunting inspections and would immediately move out of their rented property after hunting and leave the state. Furthermore, members also involve family members especially children and women so that they are not easily suspected. On February 22, Ghaziabad police arrested one member named Prakash, a resident of Chamoli district with a fresh leopard skin estimated at twenty lakh. He admitted to having killed the animal with the support of his fellow Bawariya members, among which included his uncle who has escaped. In addition, he was smuggling the skin at Dasna Crossing in Ghaziabad when the police apprehended him. S.K Dutta, additional principal chief conservator of forests, indicated that the Indian Forest Service (IFS) is carrying out an investigation into the case. However, tracking members of the Bawariya community has become challenging since they have adopted these new tactics to avoid detection and apprehension from authorities.

This article gives a clear indication about how poachers resort to complicated techniques to evade the authorities. In this case, they have began to rent houses near areas known to contain their intended targets such as tigers and leopards. In addition, they also involve their own family members in this illicit business especially children and female members so that they are not easily suspected for their activities. While ingenious as it seems, it is also extremely life-threatening to the wildlife and frustrating for wildlife officials to see how these individuals are one step ahead of the authorities. In order to combat this catastrophe, forest officials and law enforcement officials must team up and examine various forested areas that may be ideal habitat for endangered species and check for any nearby houses. Once the houses are in sight, it is crucial to conduct investigations in order to see which ones are suspected of being occupied by members of the Bawariya community and stakeouts should be implemented to see what the occupants are up to on any given day. Furthermore, camera traps must be installed in such areas to check for any poaching activity. Lastly, it is highly crucial to maintain contact with adjoining districts and states to ensure that individuals suspected of poaching are apprehended and brought into custody.

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