Monday, June 23, 2014

Center for Biological Diversity Demands Expansion in Grizzly Bear Recovery Efforts

Grizzly bear

It has recently been reported that the Center for Biological Diversity is encouraging federal officials to bolster attempts to assist grizzly bear recovery efforts, which includes reintroducing the animals to western states such as Arizona and California, otherwise face a lawsuit for failing to adhere to parts of the Endangered Species Act. The Tucson-based conservation group announced on Wednesday that it had filed a petition determining more than 100,000 square miles of probable habitats for the bears, including the Grand Canyon, Utah's Uinta Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. This petition was filed to Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, and stated that the two bureaus had a "mandatory duty to develop a recovery plan for the grizzly bear" by "revising and updating" recovery plans dating back to 1993 for populations recognized at the time when the species was first recorded. In addition, the petition also added that the agencies should identify extra regions where recovery tactics have to be enforced. It was filed under an administrative portion of the Endangered Species Act, declaring that the grizzly bear's current residence represents only a small portion of the bears' historic habitat and just 22 percent of its range in the contiguous United States. According to the group, recovery plans have only been formulated for grizzly bear populations in six regions: the Cabinet-Yaak, Greater Yellowstone, North Cascades, Northern Continental Divide on Glacier National Park, Selkirk Mountains, and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. Out of these six regions, only the first four received on-the-ground recovery assistance.
Map of grizzly bear range

This article indicates that it is highly essential to further expand the population of an iconic species in the United States whose current range is limited to only a fraction of its historic range. The grizzly bear historically ranged throughout the western half of the United States, including the American Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and California. However, decades of indiscriminate hunting and habitat loss due to the arrival of early settlers resulted in a mass extinction throughout the animal's historic range. Currently, the grizzly bear's range is limited primarily to Yellowstone National Park which comprises the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. In addition, it also inhabits parts of northwestern Montana and a small portion of Washington comprised of North Cascades. The current population of these majestic animals in the lower 48 states is approximately 1,600 and much of that figure is concentrated in and around Yellowstone National Park. If the people of the United States want grizzly bears around for centuries, then it is absolutely necessary to identify essential habitats in parts of the western United States where they once flourished in order to expand the animals' recovery efforts. The grizzly bear has long been part of California's history; it is the state animal and is even depicted on the state flag and seal. Therefore, reintroducing it back to the Sierra Nevada range or anywhere else in the state would not only be a way to expand the bear's range in the U.S but also restore California to its former glory. Although the grizzly bear population in and around the Yellowstone region has significantly recovered, the species should not be stripped of its status as an endangered species. There are still significant portions in other parts of the western U.S, including California, where the grizzly bear once existed and it is very crucial to reintroduce it back in those parts in order to ensure the species' survival and that its current population number 1,600 would increase to roughly 6,000 or so.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Study- Newly Discovered Prehistoric Tibetan Fox is the Ancestor of Modern Arctic Foxes

An illustration of prehistoric life in the Tibetan Plateau with possible ancestors of the present-day arctic foxes hunting Tibetan antelopes.

Scientists have recently discovered that the newly recognized prehistoric Tibetan fox is the ancestor of the modern-day arctic fox, indicating that the animals used the Tibetan Plateau as an aid to adapting in the Arctic region. This study has been published in the research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences showing that a recently discovered three to five million-year-old Tibetan fox, known scientifically as Vulpes qiuzhudingi, is a possible ancestor of the arctic fox. The data is said to provide support to an idea known as the "out of Tibet" hypothesis, which states that the evolution of present-day Arctic animals is closely linked to their prehistoric ancestors that first became adapted to survive in cold regions in the high altitudes of the Tibetan Plateau. The origin of this discovery dates back to 2010 when a team of geologists and paleontologists led by Dr. Xiaoming Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology unearthed fossil specimens in the Zanda Basin in southern Tibet. In addition to the fox, the team discovered extinct species of a badger, bharal (blue sheep), snow leopard, three-toed horse, Tibetan antelope (chiru), woolly rhinoceros, and 23 other mammals. According to Dr. Wang, Tibet is an unexplored place and the discovery of these fossil specimens are helping in the rewriting of an important chapter of Earth's current geological history.
Arctic fox

It is extremely amazing to know that the ancestry of arctic foxes dates back to the Tibetan Plateau millions of years ago. This indicates that the ancestors of the arctic fox and even some other wild animals that currently inhabit the Arctic region had not previously lived in the extreme conditions, but further south into the Tibetan Plateau. In fact, the discovery of this prehistoric fox along with the assemblage of other fossilized animals contradicts the origin of Pleistocene megafauna in the Arctic or frozen steppes elsewhere in the world. Instead, some of the megafauna, which includes the saber-toothed cat, woolly mammoth, and the woolly rhinoceros, originated from Tibet which served as a "training ground" for cultivating adaptations that enabled them to survive severe climatic conditions in the Arctic and surrounding regions. In other words, the prehistoric animals from the Pleistocene epoch were pre-adapted to cold climates during the Ice Age.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tanzania Obtains R44 Helicopter to Counter Poaching

An R44 helicopter

The Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism recently received a delivery of an R44 helicopter from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation in an effort to combat poaching that is increasing in the country's game reserves. This donation came in the midst of a complaint by the government of Tanzania and international conservation groups last month warning that the country's elephant population could become extinct within the next seven years unless crucial action is taken to halt organized syndicates behind the ongoing crisis. The helicopter was given to the Tanzanian government on June 14 by Mark Childress, U.S Ambassador to Tanzania, on behalf of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. While speaking at the handover ceremony in Dar es Salaam, he assured that the United States will continue to help Tanzania to battle poaching in all of its national parks. According to Lazaro Nyalandu, Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, the government values United States' support in Tanzania's anti-poaching efforts and stated that the helicopter will be launched soon to carry out aerial surveillance over the Selous Game Reserve. He further added that the government plans to obtain two more helicopters - a Bell 206 and another R44 - to bolster the aerial fleet used by game wardens to find and track down poachers in Tanzania's eastern and coastal areas, including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In addition, the government has enlisted 450 out of the targeted 900 game rangers this year so far. Furthermore, 25 new AK-47 rifles have been obtained in order to train game ranger trainees at the Pasiansi Wildlife Training Institute. It has been said that the Howard G. Buffett Foundation financed the training of four pilots who will operate the helicopters, and is also acquiring vehicles and communication equipment for game rangers. The foundation will even pay salaries for the pilots and meet the operational costs for the R44 helicopter.
Conservationist and philanthropist Howard G. Buffett

It is amazing and beneficial to see what the United States is doing, in order to help Tanzania in an effort to combat the threat of poaching that is affecting not just the country's wildlife, but also its tourism industry and socio-economic development. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation has played a key role in providing significant support to Tanzania through the donation of equipment crucial for the battle against poaching. One of these donations has been an R44 helicopter, which would help scout various national parks and other protected areas for poaching activities. In addition, the foundation also plans to donate two more helicopters along with vehicles and communication equipment for game rangers. The origin of this collaboration between Tanzania and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation goes back to April this year when Howard G. Buffett visited the country and promised to halt the poaching of elephants and rhinos during a meeting with President Jakaya Kikwete. In that same month, the rampant poaching of Africa's elephants prompted the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to ban importing of all hunting trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Figures indicate indicate that Tanzania's elephant population in Mikumi National Park and Selous Game Reserve decreased from 38,975 in 2009 to roughly 13,084 today. In addition, the population in Ruaha National Park and Rungwa Game Reserve declined from 35,461 in 2006 to 20,090 today. International conservation groups indicate that Kenya and Tanzania account for almost seventy percent of elephants slaughtered in the last ten years.
Elephants in Selous Game Reserve

With the Howard G. Foundation providing donations to Tanzania, it appears that the future for elephants, rhinos, and other animals might be promising. The foundation had also earlier donated R225 million to be used in improvising anti-poaching operations in South Africa's Kruger National Park over the next three years. This indicates that the Howard G. Foundation is very conscious about Africa's poaching epidemic and has been helping local governments in countries like South Africa and Tanzania where poaching is rife. However, some countries in Central and West Africa also happen to be major hotspots of rampant poaching that has taken its toll on the elephant population and has completely wiped out the regions' rhino population. Furthermore, like their eastern and southern African counterparts, these countries rely on tourism for socio-economic development. As poaching continues to claim lives of elephants and other animals in Central and West Africa, the tourism industry of these regions would decline and affect their socio-economic development. This is why it is crucial that the Howard G. Foundation should look into the issues concerning poaching in Central and West Africa and see how it could help the countries in those regions to combat poaching in an effort to revive their individual tourism industries and socio-economic developments.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tourism Minister of Mozambique Demands a Consolidated Effort Against Poaching

An elephant carcass in Mozambique.

Mozambique's Minister of Tourism Carvalho Muaria has recently called for a concerted effort of all parties keen on battling against illegal poaching. While speaking at a workshop held by the World Wildlife Fund in Maputo, he stated that international criminal syndicates are targeting southern Africa's elephant and rhino populations. He warned that the disappearance of such flagship species "will have a negative impact on tourism and socio-economic development. Furthermore, he emphasized the significance of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Mozambique and South Africa aimed to intensify the battle against rhino poaching and a new law on conservation areas which greatly increases the punishments for poaching the protected species. In addition, conservationist Madyo Couto indicated that both the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros are now extinct in Mozambique where they were once fairly abundant in the 1960s. He further added that the people of Mozambique are still killing rhinos. That is, many of the poachers who kill rhinos in South Africa's Kruger National Park are enlisted in Mozambique. Mr. Couto also indicated that some Mozambican police are also involved in the poaching epidemic by hiring guns out to poachers, noting that the same police gun was confiscated from poachers in South Africa and returned to the Mozambican police three times. The involvement of the police was so prevalent, that the whole unit in the Massingir District, located on the border with Kruger National Park, was relocated at the beginning of the year. In addition, Mr. Couto also pointed out that poaching had also corrupted the staff in Limpopo National Park where several park wardens and senior officials were recently fired for their involvement in these illegal activities.
Burned ivory

This article clearly indicates that the poaching epidemic in Africa continues to prove to be inevitable. That is, it not only involves poachers carrying out the dirty work for international organized crime syndicates but also the police and officials working in national parks and other protected areas providing some kind of support to individuals they generally regard as the enemy. The purpose of combating the threat of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in Africa and other parts of the world should not only involve wildlife experts and conservationists, but also law enforcement and military officials who are specifically trained to pursue and apprehend anyone suspected of conducting or being involved in such illicit activities. The involvement of the police in this ongoing poaching epidemic by providing support for the poachers one way or another has spelled complications in the battle to end poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Similarly, park wardens and senior officials working in any national parks or protected areas have also been found to be providing some kind of help to poachers which could be indicating areas where elephants, rhinos, and other targeted animals are commonly seen or frequent most often. By doing so, these members of the parks' staff, who play a crucial role in Africa's tourism, are negatively affecting the industry and socio-economic development not just in Mozambique, but also in other countries where poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is rampant. This is why it is extremely crucial that law enforcement and military officials, and staff members of various national parks must be thoroughly educated about how to avoid accepting bribes from poachers so that they do not become involved in the ongoing wildlife crime wave.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

One of the World's Largest Elephants Falls Prey to Poachers in Kenya

Satao, who was known to hide from humans for many years, was recently killed by poachers for his ivory tusks.

Africa has been experiencing some of the worst rates of poaching regarding its elephant and rhino populations. Almost every week, incidents of such bloodthirsty activities make headlines with recent examples such as the slaughter of nearly seventy elephants in Garamba National Park of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of these incidents was also reported in Kenya, where a bull elephant named Satao was poisoned to death by poachers. Satao, who was most likely born in the 1960s, was known for adapting his behavior to hide from humans for many years and was reported to have tusks weighing over a hundred pounds. He died of his wounds from poison darts in an isolated corner of Tsavo National Park, where he had migrated in search of fresh water after the recent storms. A British documentary filmmaker named Mark Deeble, who had spent a long time filming Satao, told how the elephant would move from one bush to another in order to keep his tusks hidden indicating that he was aware of the danger of ivory-poaching. In addition, Tsavo Trust's Richard Moller, who had been monitoring Satao for several months and confirmed his death on May 30, called him "an icon". The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has recorded the slaughter of 97 elephants this year so far, but experts contradict the official figures. One of the key figures disputing the figures is conservationist Richard Leakey, who denies that the number of elephants killed in Kenya has declined. He also described the poaching epidemic in Kenya as a "national disaster" and that poachers were conducting their illicit activities with "outrageous impunity." Furthermore, he noted the port city of Mombasa as a "staging post" for ivory trafficked from countries across the region. Earlier this month, police in the city confiscated more than 200 elephant tusks weighing 4,400 pounds in a warehouse charging two men in connection with the haul. According to Mombasa County commissioner Nelson Marwa, the confiscated ivory was linked to drug lords and terrorism.
Park rangers stand near three of the nearly seventy elephants slaughtered in Garamba National Park.

The poaching epidemic affecting Africa's elephant and rhino populations has reached astronomical levels. That is, despite the concerted efforts to halt any such activities, the war is still raging and the bloodbath is still increasing. Satao, who was often referred to as "an icon", was one of the recent victims of this epidemic along with the nearly seventy elephants ruthlessly massacred in Garamba National Park. People from all around the world, including the countries where the demand for ivory, rhino horns, and other wildlife is rife, need to refrain from importing and purchasing such merchandise in order to help conservationists and authorities put a stop to this ongoing wildlife trade. Furthermore, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is linked to terrorism. In other words, these two environmental threats help finance terrorist groups such as the Al-Shabaab, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to carry out their bloodthirsty work of massacring countless numbers of innocent civilians. In addition to people, poaching and the wildlife trade have and continue to affect the local economies of African countries especially when poachers continuously slaughter animals in various national parks that are known to benefit from tourism. As long as the poaching epidemic continues to affect national parks and other protected areas in Africa, it would impact the tourism industry which in turn would affect the local economies of various African countries. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to step up the coordinated efforts to combat this ongoing epidemic and stay one step ahead of the poachers and other operators of the wildlife trade.

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Western Railway Agrees to Reduce Train Speed Near Gir Forest


It has recently been reported that the Western Railway has agreed to limit the speed of trains passing near Gir Forest National Park, in order to prevent any accidents of lions moving through the area. The agreement was reached after a meeting with Western Railway officials in Bombay yesterday in the aftermath of the death of six lions in Gir Forest this year in separate accidents after being hit by trains. As part of the agreement, railway authorities will consider the order of not running goods trains in the hours of morning and evening when there is more movement of lions on railway tracks in Amreli district. In addition, the authorities also agreed to give training to more railroad engineers in order to sharpen them about lions. That is, they would be taught why the lions need to be protected and can they do to guarantee the animals' safety if found on the tracks. This training will be given by forest officials. Furthermore, the forest department will set up a barbed wire fencing in a 30-kilometer area on the railway track that is frequented by lions while the railway will build a tunnel running under the track to allow lions and other animals to safely cross.

This is an extremely good news for conservationists and anybody involved in the protection and well-being of Asiatic lions and other animals in Gir Forest and the surrounding areas. The establishment of railroad tracks has made it difficult for lions to move from one place to another and has resulted in several accidents of being hit by trains. One example was seen in the case of two lionesses being killed by a goods train early this year. As the population of these animals swelled over the years from 180 in 1974 to 411 in 2010, many began dispersing beyond the borders of Gir Forest which brought them into conflicts with people resulting in tragic consequences. For example, they would be killed by trains when crossing railway tracks and even by traps laid by farmers intended for crop-raiding animals. With preventive steps like educating railway operators about what they can do ensure the safety of lions and the construction of barbed wire fencing along with a tunnel running underneath the tracks, it appears that the lions and other animals have a good chance of survival as they move into areas surrounding Gir Forest. I think these steps should also be implemented in other parts of India and the world, especially where there is a great deal of railway activity that could deeply affect the movement of wildlife in such areas.

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Brazil to Temporarily Ban Catfish Fishing to Save the Amazon River Dolphin

Amazon river dolphin

It has recently been reported that the Fishing and Aquaculture Ministry of Brazil has announced that the country would temporarily ban the fishing of a certain species of catfish known as the piracatinga, which requires using Amazon river dolphin flesh as bait. The ministry's spokesperson Ultimo Valdares indicated that the ban would go into effect next year for a five-year period. According to Nivia do Campo, president of an environmental activist group located in the state of Amazonas, the Mamiraua Reserve has experienced a loss of more than 1,550 river dolphins. She further revealed that ever since fishermen started using the dolphins as bait in 2000, the population of the species decreased by an annual rate of ten percent. The piracatinga catfish, known also the "water vulture" due to its diet comprised of decomposing matter, is a major source of income in Colombia where merchants encourage fishermen to use dolphin flesh.

It is pleasing to see what Brazil is doing, in order to help save one of its flagship species. The Amazon river dolphin has been revered by the local river communities for centuries. For example, there is one legend which tells of these dolphins turning into handsome men and are able to leave the water at night. Therefore, these animals are not consumed by the local people and killing them is bad luck. However, their status as creatures of myths and legends, has never stopped them from suffering in the hands of humans. This was seen in the case of using their meat as fishing bait, which led to scores of these magnificent animals ruthlessly slaughtered. With the implementation of this ban, the people of Brazil will have the opportunity to search for an alternative to dolphin meat as fishing bait. Furthermore, these animals continue to suffer due to threats such as pollution and construction of dams and require a great deal of attention to save and protect them. Recently, scientists discovered and identified a new species of river dolphins in the Araguaia River basin. Known as the Araguaian river dolphin, it is said that only 1,000 of these dolphins exist in the basin. This indicates that river dolphins, as a group, are considered to be one of the rarest animals in the world. Therefore, it is highly crucial to implement protection methods of river dolphins not just in South America but also in Asia as well.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Zebras Recorded Making the Longest Migratory Trek in Africa

Zebras running through a waterhole in northern Namibia.

Earth is known to contain a wide variety of phenomenons related to nature. One of these natural phenomenons are migrations of different species of animals. When most people think of migrations involving animals, it is usually believed that such movements are carried out according to seasonal changes. This is true in some cases, particularly migratory birds in which some species embark on an arduous journey that covers a vast expanse from north to south and back. However, there are also other factors that contribute to migration among animals. One of these factors is the human encroachment on habitats, which is increasingly leading species to extinction. This example of migration was recently discovered by wildlife experts in the case of a 500-kilometer migratory journey made by 2,000 zebras traveling between Namibia and Botswana. The recently discovered migration occurred within the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which covers national parks in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It began in floodplains near the Namibia-Botswana border at the start of the wet season, followed a route across the Chobe River, and ended at the waterholes and grasslands of the Nxai Pan National Park. The zebras spent roughly ten weeks there before returning back to Namibia. Local conservationists and residents knew that the zebras had left the floodplains of the Chobe River and returned months later during the dry season, but did not know where they went.

A study indicated that this newly discovered migration is a rare bright spot when mass movements of wildlife are disappearing due to fencing, land occupations, and other pressures caused by humans. According to Robin Naidoo, a senior conservation scientist at World Wildlife Fund who led a two-year study on the migration, the lack GPS tracking technology made it difficult to know where the zebras were going thus indicating why the migration was not detected earlier. With the affordability and availability of GPS tracking system in the last twenty years, scientists and researchers were able to keep track of animals via migration or otherwise. In the case of these zebras, researchers were able to discover this massive migration after fitting eight zebras with satellite-tracking collars and monitoring their movements in late 2012 and 2013. The data was published in the conservation journal Oryx. The research also indicated that a fence blocking a zebra migratory route since the late 1960s was removed in another part of Botswana in 2004. Since then, some 15,000 zebras traveled the reopened route in the 2008-2009 period. The information about this mass migration is now in the process of being made useful. For example, Tony Sinclair, an expert on the world-famous Serengeti migration, stated that that the zebra research indicates that the animals have to move through lands dominated by people and that the migration could be lost if more protective measures are not implemented. He wrote in an email that people whose land is crossed by the long migration route may acquire motivations to protect it "with some innovative thinking", such as by hooking into tourism.

It is absolutely extraordinary to see what surprises nature has to offer through studies conducted by scientists and researchers. However, it is also important to understand the factors contributing to such spectacles. For example, in the case of this zebra migration, research has revealed that the reason the zebras migrated in such vast distances was due to the increased encroachment by humans for generations. The migration of Africa's animals was and still is best documented in East Africa's Serengeti, where wildebeests probably cover more ground by means of meandering and traveling in greater numbers than zebras. However, zebras in southern Africa travel in a straight line and the distance between their departure and destination is an average of six to twelve miles further than in the Serengeti. The recent research of this zebra migration in southern Africa indicates that the animals may cross through areas occupied by people, and that could spell trouble between people and animals. This is why it is crucial to educate the public about the importance of coexisting with such animals peacefully and implement stronger methods to protecting the wildlife. There is much to be learned about this zebra migration and longstanding research is required to affirm if it is annual and "whether this is genetically summarized and passed behaviorally to the offspring."

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