Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rise in Vehicular Accidents Involving Iberian Lynxes Escalates Protection Methods

An Iberian lynx killed by an oncoming car

The Iberian lynx population in Andalusia has significantly increased in the past three years, but environmentalists have warned that the number of the animals killed by cars has risen by an even greater rate over the same period. Getting struck by an oncoming vehicle continues to be the biggest threat to these critically endangered cats whose prime habitats are Donana National Park and Sierra Morena mountains. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) indicated that out of the 27 lynxes that perished last year in Andalusia, 21 were killed by motorists. This number has raised the alarm in the Andalusian regional government, which is escalating work on an action plan to prevent any further deaths by vehicular accidents. The Andalusian administration and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport have agreed on crucial measurements which include setting up more traffic signs warning motorists of the animals' presence and lowering the speed limit in areas where the highest rates of road deaths have been documented. In addition, authorities will also deploy teams to analyze the state of roadside fencing, clean up riverbeds to aid wildlife crossing, and eliminate barriers of bushes to enhance visibility. Although the action plan is national to the extent, the primary focus will be on Andalusia where majority of the lynxes live. Last September, the government of Andalusia allocated 1 million euros for improvements in Iberian lynx safety as part of the Life Lince project. More currently, Andalusia and Madrid considered the prospect of applying for a new European Union Life Project to establish a natural corridor connecting the northern part of Donana with Sierra Morena. The project would have a supposed cost of 4.25 million euros.
A young Iberian lynx and a European rabbit. In addition to vehicular accidents, rabbit hemorrhagic disease is affecting the rabbit population which the lynx rely on as a staple source of food.

It is very fantastic that the government of Andalusia is taking crucial action to save lives of the Iberian lynx from the threat of vehicular accidents. The last strongholds of these rare and magnificent cats are in the areas of Donana National Park and Sierra Morena mountains. Unfortunately, these places are dissected by a network of roads and highways that put the lynxes' lives in jeopardy making them prone to death by vehicular accidents. In addition, these cats are also threatened by a new outbreak of rabbit hemorrhagic disease which is also affecting the European rabbit population in Spain. The rabbits are a major source of food for the lynx and other carnivorous creatures it shares its habitat with. If the rabbit population is completely depleted, it would eventually lead to a downfall in the Iberian lynx population along with other carnivores. This is why it is extremely crucial to take necessary action to prevent any further impact on the Iberian lynx population from not just vehicular accidents, but also the rabbit hemorrhagic disease. The population of this lynx has increased from 92 individuals in 2002 to 332 individuals in 2014 and it is important to ensure its survival by preventing any threat from hindering its population growth.

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Bizarre California Sea Lion Strandings Connected to Warmer Pacific Ocean

Young sea lions

Federal scientists have recently indicated that a record number of young sea lions stranded along the coast of California this year is connected to a perplexing weather pattern that has heated up their Pacific Ocean habitat and possibly impacted the fish populations. Justin Viezbicke, West Coast Stranding Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), stated that roughly 940 sea lion pups have been medicated by California's marine mammal centers earlier this year. This figure is higher than 240 strandings commonly seen during April, and scientists speculate that the undernourished youngsters are leaving sea lion rookeries in southern California too early to search for food on their own after their mothers failed to return promptly from hunting trips to nourish them. According to the Marine Mammal Center's director of veterinary science Dr. Shawn Johnson, the premature pups are leaving the rookeries long before they are old enough to hunt on their own and there has never been such a high number of pups stranded this early in forty years. The strandings are strange because the pups, born in June last year, are not supposed to be weaned until May. Dr. Sharon Melin, a biologist of NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, satellite data showed that mother sea lions are foraging in usual hunting ground but possibly spending longer periods of time away. NOAA climatologist Nate Mantua added that fish populations are probably obstructed by a 330-foot deep layer of ocean water that is two to five degrees warmer than normal at this time of year along the Pacific Coast from the Aleutian Islands to Baja California. The change was produced by a weather pattern comprised of weak northern winds and strong southern winds that are generating warmer-than-normal conditions. It is uncertain how many stranded sea lion pups will perish among the population of 300,000 sea lions. In 2013, about 70 percent of nursing pups died in what NOAA proclaimed an "unusual mortality event" connected to strandings. Dr. Melin stated that pups examined on San Miguel Island this month were found to have a below average weight of 44 percent at seven months of age, indicating the lowest growth rate since scientists began documenting such evaluations in the 1990s. Dr. Johnson added that most of the stranded pups have been revived in southern California, but the pups are also known to either swim or be carried further up north and may someday show up in the states of Oregon and Washington.

It is very disturbing to find young sea lions stranded along the Pacific Coast due to a very unusual weather pattern that also happens to be affecting the fish population which these animals rely on for their survival. In addition, these youngsters' mothers are spending longer periods of time out in the ocean foraging for food which probably gives them lesser time to care for their offspring. Could this behavior also be connected to this weather pattern? It is highly essential to examine this weather trend and check to see whether it might be linked to climate change. The reason is because climate change is known to cause changes in normal behavior of different species of animals. One notable example is seen in the case of polar bears, which are forced to swim vast distances in search of dry land which puts their lives in jeopardy. In addition, other species of marine mammals such as walruses would haul out on an island too small to accommodate their large rookery and end up fiercely competing for space which probably forces some members of the rookery to search for land in vast stretches of the Arctic seas. This behavior demonstrated by polar bears, walruses, and possibly other marine mammals is a clear indication how the polar ice caps have been melting and continue to melt due to climate change. However, there could also be other unusual behavior patterns demonstrated by animals living along the fringes of the world's oceans that may be linked to climate change and this recent news about young sea lions being stranded in large numbers could be one of them. This is why it is extremely crucial to take serious action in an effort to stop climate change before it gets any worse.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ministry of Environment and Forests Not Keen to Reintroduce Asiatic Lions in Madhya Pradesh

Asiatic lion

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has recently been reported that it is not keen on reintroducing Asiatic lions from Gir Forest to the state of Madhya Pradesh which was part of the animals' historical range in India and where they were last documented in the 19th century. The over-twenty year old plan has achieved political connotations in current years with Prime Minister Narendra Modi making it an issue of Gujarati self-esteem when he was the chief minister of the state. The plan to reintroduce some of the lions from Gir Forest was clarified by the Supreme Court of India in April 2013 in which it ordered the MoEF to move some of the lions to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh by October of that year. The court developed a committee comprised of representatives of the ministry, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and independent wildlife experts. By October 2013, the committee had came up with a plan but the operation got dropped again with the government of Gujarat suing the Supreme Court's order. The court dismissed the appeal in August 2014. Last week, the ministry called a meeting of the committee in which a senior member indicated that the meeting substantially analyzed the procedure. The analysis showed that there has been no positive progress at all and that issue has become more of a concern to politics than conservation. Representatives of the ministry stated that the committee has been requested to "revise the action plan" within a month. They further added that government officials from Madhya Pradesh who showed up at the meeting stated that there was now sufficient prey for the lions at Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary--one of the reasons apparently alleged by Gujarat to oppose the reintroduction. The government of Madhya Pradesh had previously spent over 60 crore rupees on developing the wildlife sanctuary and relocating villagers. In a late interview, Minister of Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar refused to comment on the progress of the reintroduction exercise and alleged that the issue was still before the court. A second member of the committee, when asked about the condition of obscurity, answered that he does not think the ministry will authorize the reintroduction given Prime Minister Modi's previous opposition.
Map of proposed reintroduction sites for Asiatic lions (light blue) in India. Gir Forest (dark blue) is the current home, while Chandraprabha (light pink) was a former proposed site for reintroduction. 

The debate over the reintroduction of the Asiatic lion has gone far enough. This had previously been and continues to become a political issue and not a conservation issue in India. And while it is still being carried out, lions are continuously making their way beyond the vicinity of Gir Forest due to increase in their population and encountering a wide-range of man-made obstacles along the way. It is time that politicians and anybody involved in politics in India stayed away from this matter and let wildlife conservationists and environmentalists deal with it. The Asiatic lion once ranged throughout western, central, and northwest India before being restricted primarily in Gujarat's Gir Forest National Park. After decades of conservation efforts, its population increased dramatically with an estimated 411 individuals recorded in 2010. But now, these majestic animals have been disembarking beyond Gir Forest to recolonize areas in Gujarat where they once roamed and are encountering several obstacles along the way that are threatening their lives. This is why it is extremely crucial to consider reintroducing these lions in other parts of India where they historically roamed in an effort to further expand their home range. Furthermore, the need for relocation is necessary since an epidemic or some natural disaster could decimate the subspecies. The Asiatic lion is not just a pride of Gujarat, but also the pride of India as a whole along with the tiger.

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Veterinarians Demand Stricter Action for Exotic Wild Animal Trade in Dubai

A young serval cat whose picture was sent by TM Exotics to possible customers.

Veterinarians in the United Arab Emirates have recently called for a strict new law established in the emirate of Sharjah that outlaws the trade of exotic wild animals to be simulated and tightly imposed in Dubai. The prohibition on breeding and owning exotic wildlife came into force in November last year in Sharjah after a proclamation made by the emirate's ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi. The law dictates that anyone found to be breeding or in possession of exotic animals can face a fine of up to Dh100,000 and the animals confiscated. According to Dr. Ulrich Wernery, scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai, implementing stricter local rules and severe fines would help deal with the problem and also discourage people from purchasing exotic animals online. This is especially essential in the case of a Thailand-based breeder known as TM Exotics which is offering cheetah cubs for sale for Dh7,700 via its Facebook community page. In addition, the company is also selling young serval cats from Africa for as little as Dh5,500 or Dh10,280 a pair. According to the company's website, the animals are microchipped, immunized, and dewormed. The company further added that shipping the animals abroad was "not considered a problem." The U.A.E is a signer of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) which means exotic animals can be traded only with legitimate filing. Although the commercial trade in serval cats and their New World relatives, the ocelots, is permitted, it is not so in the case of cheetahs. The reason is because cheetahs fall into the CITES' Appendix I, which includes animals that are threatened with extinction. A report presented to CITES by Kuwait last July indicated that the U.A.E seized 32 cheetahs and four cheetah skins from smugglers between 2007 and 2013. The most recent seizure was made in the first half of 2014 when eleven cheetahs were confiscated at the Ghweifat border checkpoint with Saudi Arabia. In addition to cheetahs, the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) seized four wolves from a house in Al Sabkha early this year after agents received complaints from residents. Dr. Zoe Hamilton of Vienna Vets in Umm Suqeim indicated that animal welfare laws need to be enforced, stressing that a lot of wild animals are always sick and malnourished. Furthermore, potential owners of such animals lack the knowledge in taking care of them and demand that their so-called "pets" be declawed and have their teeth removed.
Cheetahs are also targeted as exotic pets to potential buyers, despite being labeled under Appendix I.

It is highly crucial to enforce strict laws against the exotic pet trade, especially when it comes to potentially dangerous animals that are victims of such a lucrative market. Among the animals most affected by the exotic pet trade in the U.A.E are cheetahs. These animals are estimated comprise of about 7,500 individuals remaining in the wild and are named on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable to extinction. They are also much larger and more dangerous than their smaller cousins, servals and ocelots, making them extremely difficult to maintain. In addition, serval cats and ocelots are also wild animals by heart and are likely to inflict serious injuries to their potential owners even though they are labeled as "Least Concerned." Instead of importing cheetahs and other exotic animals for the purpose of pet ownership, there should be a great deal of focus on the conservation of these animals. Cheetahs are ideal animals for such projects in an effort to reintroduce them into the wild. The Asiatic cheetah is one of the most critically endangered of all cheetah subspecies that is now restricted to the wilds of Iran. The population of this cheetah is estimated to be 40 to 70 individuals, with vehicular accidents accounting for 40 percent of deaths. Efforts to halt the construction of a road that cuts through the center of the country's Bafq Protected Area were failed. This is why it is extremely crucial that Iran should join forces with other countries like the U.A.E in order to help revive its cheetah population from further depletion. Exotic pet ownership deprives all wild animals, including endangered species, of their freedom and should never be encouraged by any means.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mexican Wolf Numbers on the Rise in the American Southwest

A female Mexican wolf in central New Mexico's Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.

A yearlong survey recently released by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that the population of Mexican wolves has increased significantly in the American Southwest with at least 109 animals spread across forested areas in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The numbers have more than doubled than in 2010. Last year's survey revealed at least 83 wolves in the wild. According to Benjamin Tuggle, the regional director of the wildlife service, the increase is a "monumental milestone" that culminated from a mixture of management adjustments, experiments like cross-fostering wolf pups among different packs, and more social resilience for the wolves. He also pointed to attempts which included more collaboration with ranchers, techniques for restricting livestock killings by the animals, and a compensation program targeted at facilitating the economic consequences of wolf predation. However, despite the rise in wolf numbers, federal wildlife agents are still worried about safeguarding genetic diversity. The reason is because inbreeding is known to cause several problems such as low survivability among pups. Officials indicated that 38 pups survived at least through the end of 2014, compared to only seventeen in 2013. Biologists recorded nineteen wolf packs between Arizona and New Mexico; out of which there were only eight breeding pairs. Federal officials stated that the Mexican wolf population is now comprised of four generations of wild-born animals with more than half of them equipped with collars to allow managers to track and observe their activities. They further added that the figures are anticipated to continue increasing because the wildlife service has currently finished changes that will grant the wolves more space to extend their territory.
Mexican wolves with pups

It is a major accomplishment of what wildlife officials have been doing to ensure the survival of Mexican wolves in the American Southwest that have resulted in a significant increase in their numbers. However, there is still an obstacle to ensuring the genetic diversity which conservationists need to consider in order to further help in reviving the Mexican wolf population in the U.S. Out of the nineteen wolf packs documented, there were only eight breeding pairs. This is why it is essential to further introduce more breeding pairs in the wild and also cross-foster wolf pups among different packs to decrease any risks of inbreeding among Mexican wolves. These efforts also need to be implemented in reviving the United States' red wolf population, especially among captive individuals kept for breeding. Furthermore, in order to further ensure the survival of Mexican wolves and wolves in other parts of the U.S, ranchers need to be provided with livestock guardian dogs to safeguard their livestock from wolves and further restrict any killings. Compensation alone is not always the solution to ranching communities. In addition, sport hunters need to be thoroughly educated about the importance of wolves as keystone species and that they are not trying to compete with their human counterparts for access to their prey but only helping maintain the ecological balance.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Obama Administration Unveils Plan to Forcefully Tackle Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

Illegal ivory products seized in New York

The Obama Administration has recently introduced a dynamic plan to tackle the illegal trafficking of wildlife which would include using American intelligence organizations to pursue and target people who benefit from the approximated $20-billion-per-year illicit market. The plan, which was drafted by the agents of the Interior, Justice, and State Departments, will also intensify pressure on Asian countries to put an end to the purchasing and selling of elephant ivory, rhino horns, and other items which President Obama called an "international crisis." It will also attempt to diminish the demand for those items on a global scale. However, the projected actions, which are the outcome of a two-year administration review on how to curb wildlife trafficking, are said to be backed by only a moderate increase in financing and staffing for the law enforcement division of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The effort has been applauded by anti-trafficking experts as a crucial step, even as they stated the federal government faced a daunting responsibility. The plan came as the U.S has become the second-largest market for illegal wildlife products and a significant passage of products to Asia, where rhino horns are thought to cure illnesses like hangovers, headaches, and even cancer. Officials indicate that millions of pounds of illegal wildlife products are sold every year to American and foreign consumers.
Rhino horns seized in Hong Kong

The illegal wildlife trade has driven several species of animals close to extinction while sustaining the rise of international criminal syndicates. As part of the plan, the wildlife service is sending its officers abroad for the first time to help fight wildlife trafficking coming from South America, Africa, and Asia. One officer is stationed in Thailand, while three will be sent to Botswana, Peru, and Tanzania later this year. In its most current budget request, the Obama Administration called for $75.4 million per year for the wildlife service's law enforcement branch which is $8 million more than last year. In addition, roughly $4 million of financing would be used to aid efforts to halt wildlife trafficking in African countries and another $4 million to increase forensic labs and add special agents. However, wildlife service agents indicated that staffing remains deficient and investigations decreased from more than 13,000 in 2012 to roughly 10,000 in 2014. The wildlife service has 205 detectives and an extra 120 officers who inspect almost forty ports of entry, investigating more than 180,000 wildlife products last year. Since 2012, records indicated that law enforcement agents have detained 26 people and indicted 18 for trading in ivory and rhino horns as part of a national criminal investigation into the wildlife black market known as Operation Crash. Furthermore, agents have destroyed smuggling rackets trading in gallbladders and paws from Asian black bears and the critically endangered totoaba. Court documents and other records indicated that the smuggling syndicates are comprised of American auction and antique dealers, Irish mobsters, people with connections to drug cartels in Mexico and South America, safari operators from South Africa, and traders from China and Japan. Law enforcement agents indicated that they lack the resources to fully police the illegal wildlife trade. In addition, fines for such activities are low, and loopholes in the law still permit trade in some items like ivory. This shows that most traffickers of endangered wildlife have little to fear of authorities. Officials further added that smugglers bring in products primarily through ports in Los Angeles and New York and the wildlife trade takes place in antique stores and auction houses across the U.S, self storage facilities in places such as the Bronx and Chelsea in New York, and the Internet.
Confiscated wildlife products at JFK Airport

It is a tremendous step that the Obama Administration has taken to reveal a plan to tackle the illegal wildlife trade on both national and international levels. However, there are several obstacles in the way that make this task difficult to accomplish. For example, law enforcement officials lack essential resources, fines are low, and the law has several loopholes that enable the operators of such illicit activities to continue their work with impunity. This was especially seen in the case of an investigation of merchants in Los Angeles and San Francisco last year by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) revealed that 90 percent of ivory sold might be illegal under federal law. The investigators indicated that several items seemed to have been aged chemically or physically damaged to look at least 100 years old or older. This indicates that the operators specializing in trading illegal ivory manipulate the federal law that allows selling of ivory in the U.S if it is a century old. Kenya-based wildlife investigator Daniel Stiles added that several such pieces originate from factories in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Nigeria where crude ivory is extracted from poached elephants and changed to look older. It is absolutely essential to target these factories and detain the workers along with the poachers, so that illegal ivory does not make its way into the U.S or other parts of the world to be sold in auctions or even stores. Furthermore, corruption is an ever-growing problem in countries like Nigeria, the DRC, China, and others where the illegal wildlife trade and poaching virtually operate with impunity. There is a major need to put pressure on such countries infamous for corruption to improvise their laws against wildlife crimes and change their perspectives towards criminal activities directed at endangered species. One possibility would be to convey a message to corrupt countries that if they do not properly put a stop to poaching and other wildlife crimes on their soil, then U.S and other developed countries will not provide them with financial assistance. African countries, in general, are known to rely on tourism for the benefit of their individual economies and socio-economic development. However, at the same time, they are consistently being targeted by poachers and despite their efforts consisting of increased security and strict laws against wildlife crimes, poachers are able to get away easily due to bribery and corruption. This allows poachers and wildlife traffickers to continue conducting their illegal activities and wreak havoc on the wildlife that foreign and domestic tourists pay large amounts of money to observe. This has contributed to the downfall of Africa's elephant and rhino populations in the past years. A report from Colorado State University showed that more than 100,000 elephants have been massacred since 2010. The global threat of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is linked to organized criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations such as Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, Boko HaramJanjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who profit from wildlife crimes to conduct their crimes against humanity. Therefore, efforts to deal a fatal blow on poaching and wildlife trafficking should be a key element in the war against terrorism and organized crime. The congress is also attempting to address wildlife smuggling with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham having presented a bill that would bolster fines for smuggling in wildlife and enable law enforcement officials to seize the smugglers' resources. While this bill is still pending, it is extremely crucial that it must pass as a first step in bringing change to the whole scenario in which punishments against wildlife crimes are too low and not much of a deterrent. Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are linked to organized criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations which claim lives of countless civilians. It is absolutely essential to put a stop to these crimes against nature in order to combat crimes against humanity.

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Mali's Elephant Deaths Blamed on Poaching by Extremist Factions

An elephant family in Mali

Africa's elephant poaching has been reaching unprecedented levels in the past years. Much of the poaching activities have occurred in Central and East Africa to feed the growing demand of ivory in China and finance militant groups like Al-Shabaab, the Janjaweed, and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to finance their crimes against humanity. But now, this ongoing epidemic has recently been reported in Mali where nineteen elephants have fallen victims to poaching over the past month. Their deaths have been blamed on poaching by rebellious jihadis and other rebel insurgents connected to the cross-Sahara smuggling syndicate. Conservationists indicated that there are 350 to 500 elephants believed to be living in the country, and are under an increasing threat not only from poachers but also climate change and decreased rainfall. The elephants' home in the region of Gourma is located in a portion of Mali where there is no government control and has been rife with activities from Al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations. According to Nomba Ganame, a Malian representative of the WILD Foundation, the slaughter in the past five weeks indicated the first example of extensive poaching in the country. He further added that in 2012, several young men were attracted by high stipends offered by Al-Qaeda and other groups and took up arms in response. However, when they found themselves rejected from their communities, they turned to organized crime. At a parliamentary conference in the capital city of Bamako, a member of the government's nature conservation group called for military police to send in military aid. The reason is due to shortage of staff and vehicles to patrol a 32,000-kilometer area. Mr. Ganame asserted that WILD Foundation had offered young men an "honest alternative" to joining the jihad through an income supplementation program. This program is known to give part-time work for 500 farmers and shepherds near the elephants' migration trail. Their job includes outlining the animals' movement and an intention to resolve human-elephant conflicts. One 40-year-old farmer from Gourma's Hombori area stated that the Al-Qaeda had tried to enlist him several times in 2012 as an organizer with a monthly income of 300,000 CFA francs. He further added that Wild Foundation gave him a motorcycle for his daily rounds to watch elephants, fuel, and food. In his own words, the farmer stated that looking after Mali's elephants gave his life meaning. Furthermore, the program changed his perspective towards Al-Qaeda whom he says are "liars."
Map of Mali showing the region of Gourma where the elephants live.
The elephant poaching epidemic in Africa has been spreading to other parts of the continent and Mali is a recent site of such activities. The country has also been the site of several activities linked to Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups that have contributed to its instability. One of the most recent examples of civil unrest in Mali occurred when Al-Qaeda and other groups propagated themselves onto a Tuareg-led revolution calling for an independent state in the north. This has led to a French military intervention in January 2013 with French forces continuing to battle against Al-Qaeda and even an establishment of a 10,000-strong U.N stabilization force known as MINUSMA which is protecting cities like Gao and Timbuktu. However, Al-Qaeda has been continuing its attacks and never showed any signs of slowing down. Fighting has tremendously increased in the past few weeks between Arab and Tuareg rebels and loyalist militias. Much of the battles have centered on critical staging areas along Sahara's smuggling trails used to transport drugs, firearms, fuel, immigrants, and now ivory. This indicates that Mali's elephants are caught in the crossfire and are under dire threat from Al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations that have claimed lives of forty U.N peacekeepers almost two years ago. Although it is beneficial that the WILD Foundation has established a program to provide Malian farmers and shepherds a better alternative to joining Al-Qaeda and help make a positive contribution, the threat of civil unrest and terrorism still looms. It is highly essential to combat Al-Qaeda and other groups that are continuously wreaking havoc on the daily lives of Mali's people and elephants. This includes forming a joint partnership between the country's military and rangers in protecting the lives of both people and elephants. Furthermore, farmers, shepherds, and other people should be encouraged to never join forces with Al-Qaeda and persuaded to be part of the program committed to saving Mali's elephants. The feedback from the anonymous 40-year-old farmer is a clear indication that participating in this program can greatly benefit potential recruits, as well as the elephants and the Malian community. It is also important that the government of Mali should be involved in this movement by providing the program's recruits monthly income that would support them and their families. Otherwise, these people would be forced to take a different path which involves joining an organization of ruthless and bloodthirsty cutthroats who have absolutely no regard for human or animal life.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

New Variation of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Threatening the Iberian Lynx

European rabbit

A recent study led by the Hunting Resources Research Institute has indicated that a new variation of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) in wild rabbits is threatening the survival of the Iberian lynx. Scientists have discovered this new variation all over the Iberian Peninsula, including areas where the lynx live, such as the Sierra Morena mountains. According to Miguel Delibes-Mateos, the co-author of the study, there is very little known about this variation making it hard to say whether it is more serious than the previous one. However, the major difference is that it is known to affect very young rabbits aged ten or eleven days and put their dynamics in danger, which has never happened before. In addition, there is no study which explicitly assesses the mortality rate of wild rabbits as a result of the new variation. Recent studies indicate that the new variation appears to be taking over the common disease virus, which is believed to be the major factor in the decline of wild rabbits in the Iberian Peninsula. Data from the government of Andalusia and the Life-Lince Project indicated that the reduction in the abundance of rabbits has been characterized by a significant decline in the number of lynx kittens born in the wild between 2012 and 2013. Furthermore, the Iberian lynx is not the only organism tremendously affected by this new variation of the RHDV. Other components of the Iberian Peninsula's ecosystem such as plants whose seeds are dispersed by the rabbits to enable their growth. Also, the rabbits' warrens provide shelter for large numbers of vertebrates and invertebrates and their feces provide food for beetles and nutrients to the soil. Delibes-Mateos confirmed that scientists and researchers can assume that the healthiest rabbit populations would survive the disease more favorably as it was seen in the case of the original disease virus in the 1990s.
Iberian lynx

It is very disturbing to see how the trend of the RHDV is continuously affecting the rabbit population in the Iberian Peninsula, especially with the discovery of a new variation of the virus which is not known in science. It is very crucial to begin studying this new variation of RHDV, in order to better understand how it affects the rabbit population compared to the original virus and what could be done to eliminate it. The Iberian lynx and other wild carnivores in the Iberian Peninsula rely on the European rabbit as a source of food. If the rabbit population continues to dwindle, it can have a severe impact on the lynx population. This was seen in the case of a major decline in the number of lynx kittens born in the wild between 2012 and 2013 and could affect populations of other carnivorous species in the Iberian Peninsula. In addition, the depletion in the rabbit population could also affect other components of the peninsula's ecosystems such as beetles and soil which depend on the rabbits' feces for food and nutrients. The defecation made by rabbits from eating plants is known to promote seed dispersal which would cease to exist if this new virus variation prevails. Therefore, it is extremely essential to study this new form of virus to help in battle against the rabbit hemorrhagic disease in order save not just the rabbits but also the Iberian lynx and other components of the peninsula's ecosystem.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Chitwan National Park Praised for Tiger Conservation Achievement

Tigress cooling off

Conservationists from around the world have again praised Nepal's persistent efforts to protect its rare wildlife species, including tigers, that are under international threat from prevalent poaching and illegal wildlife trade. On the last day of a five-day zero-poaching conference, Chitwan National Park was proclaimed the first international site to be certified as Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CATS). The standard is a spontaneous, independent scheme for any site committed to tiger conservation and is based on about seventeen components with affiliated minimum rules and principles for adequate management of tiger reserves. Chitwan National Park was bestowed with the first ever international tiger habitat for its perfection in tiger site preservation and protection. Authorities indicated that efforts included exceptional coordination between them and conservationists, strong and efficient law enforcement organizations, commitment of local communities, and duty of security squads in diminishing the illegal wildlife trade on both local and national levels. Nepal earlier celebrated its efforts in preventing poaching activities in 2011 and 2013 during which not a single tiger or a rhinoceros was killed. Likewise, a tiger census in 2013 marked a rise of approximately 63 percent in tiger population with a total of 198 animals. Similarly, a count from 2011 indicated that there are 534 rhinos in Nepal.
Chitwan National Park

Nepal has done an outstanding job in ensuring the survival of its native wildlife species, including tigers and rhinos. Efforts such as excellent coordination between conservationists and authorities, engagement of local communities, and effective law enforcement networks have contributed to curb any incidents of poaching activities in the vicinity of the country's protected areas like Chitwan National Park. However, in countries like Laos, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Burma, and Bhutan, the situation is much different. The tiger population in these countries are critically low due to rampant poaching and illegal wildlife trade. For example, Bhutan has an estimated population of 75 tigers while Cambodia has 20 tigers, Laos has 17, Vietnam has 20, China has 45, and Burma has 85. These countries are in a tremendous need of help in conserving and protecting their individual tiger populations, as well as other wildlife populations. In addition, they should also look at Nepal as a model on how to properly improvise their efforts in ensuring the survival of their tiger populations. If these Asian countries follow similar steps that Nepal took to protect its tiger population and maybe with some help from other countries, then they would hopefully be applauded for taking the initiative and conducting efforts to prevent any poaching or wildlife trade incidents from happening within the vicinity of their individual national parks and other protected areas.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Front-line Workers Oblivious to Ploys Used by Wildlife Smugglers

Confiscated ivory tusks inside luggage

During a recent summit held in Bangkok, it has been pointed out that front-line transport workers are mostly unaware on how criminal organizations mask illegal wildlife products in order to safely transport them into given destinations for public consumption. Illegal wildlife trade experts and customs officials stated that teaching handlers of air, freight, land, and ship cargoes can help in the battle against wildlife smuggling. According to Martin Palmer, an expert on international trade compliance requirements and international transport, traffickers of wildlife have come up with ingenious methods to transport their illicit products virtually undetected. For example, a box of ground up rhino horn can be almost impossible to distinguish from a box containing grey chalk from a visual inspection. At the summit, elephant and rhino trafficking expert Tom Milliken presented a case study in which a leading international carrier company in 2011 unexpectedly discovered in its German storehouse that the packages it was transporting contained ivory bangles destined to China from Nigeria. He further added that there is proof that ivory processing is taking place by Chinese sculptors in Africa. Wildlife trade experts indicated that this shift is a new threat to transport workers and such information needs to be conformed for the transport industry so that they can better evaluate the risks. They further added that they are requesting the transport industry's help specifically because most of the customs and security agents at ports and airports across the world are "overwhelmed" by issues related to drugs, human trafficking, and security. An official for the World Customs Organizations (WCO) that very few customs agents across the world have specific teams that know which wildlife species are banned from the international trade. The United Nations' International Maritime Organization estimates that roughly 90 percent of items traded across the globe are shipped internationally. In most incidents, sea containers are not scanned compared to air cargoes. For that reason, experts indicate that customs agents work on the principle of a very reasoned danger assessment to pick containers that have a higher chance of containing illegal wildlife products. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicated that several airlines had initiated training programs for staff to recognize potential suspects' luggage and behaviors. Its aviation environment director Michael Gill stated that the association recently accepted an invitation to side with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's United for Wildlife Task Force, which will investigate a whole series of issues and actions to help put a stop the illegal wildlife trade. A representative of a shipping company stated that the industry was not aware of the ploys used by wildlife smugglers, but there was common awareness that such crimes can happen.
Above and below: A box full of ivory hidden inside a stack of timber confiscated in Malaysia in 2012
A cargo of ivory bangles revealed in Germany on its way to China from Nigeria
Confiscated turtles and tortoises

It is highly essential to educate and train handlers of various cargoes in order to combat the threat of illegal wildlife trade. Just intercepting various parcels and shipments suspected of containing illegal wildlife products after they have slipped past customs and security personnel in a specific country is not sufficient enough to fight this ongoing threat. Some airports and ports have specialized units trained in properly identifying cargoes containing endangered wildlife. However, there are several other such places around the world where security and customs personnel are overwhelmed by problems related to other issues such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, etc. and that they probably do not have time to intercept illegal shipments containing illegal wildlife products. For this reason, it is extremely important to thoroughly educate and train customs and security agents in these places so that they can properly identify cargoes containing endangered species or even body parts of such wild animals under serious threat from poaching and wildlife trade. Furthermore, seaports should be provided with special scanners that airports have in order to help prevent any illegal wildlife products from being sold to unsuspecting consumers. In addition, it is also crucial to target and shut down factories in Africa where elephant ivory is being manufactured to be shipped to China. This would further help in further putting a stop to the demand of ivory in the country, along with awareness campaigns directed at general public. The number of endangered species, including elephants and rhinos, being targeted to feed the growing demand from general public in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries is staggering. It is time to take a tough stand against the ongoing threat of illegal wildlife trade and put a stop to it by any means necessary.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Recent Series of Illegal Wildlife Trade Seizures Threaten Critically Endangered Palawan Forest Turtles

Palawan forest turtle

Two months ago, a series of illegal wildlife trade seizures resulted in confiscation of 186 critically endangered Palawan forest turtles. These incidents included one that took place on December 16, 2014 when 27 turtles were confiscated during a raid in Manila. Six days later, on December 22, 78 more were confiscated in Taytay and 18 more were seized in the same city on January 21 2014. The most recent seizure occurred on January 30 in Taytay, which resulted in a confiscation of 28 more turtles. In each incident, Palawan forest turtles were confiscated along with less threatened turtle species, except for the most current, where they were the one and only species involved. The major threats to these forest turtles are habitat loss and the increasing demand in the international pet trade. According to Dr. Sabine Schoppe, director of the Philippine Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program and founder of Katala Foundation Inc. (KFI), there are as few as 3,000 Palawan forest turtles left in the wild. KFI is known to work jointly with the Philippine CITES Authorities and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) to preserve the forest turtles through habitat restoration and protection, local awareness, increasing activities, research, and care and rehabilitation of seized turtles. Conservation program TRAFFIC has been observing the international trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles in Southeast Asia for more than ten years and discovered that the trade in extremely threatened species has not been diminished.
Palawan forest turtles from one of the confiscations.

The threat of illegal and unsustainable harvesting of commercial trade is the main threat to Southeast Asia's animal species caused by an outbreak of urban demand. Several species, including Palawan forest turtles, are critically endangered but what is even more disturbing is that the threat generally not recognized or addressed. This indicates why there are growing numbers of confiscations in Southeast Asia. It is highly essential that the threat of illegal wildlife trade be recognized and addressed to the general public throughout the region in order to further raise awareness about the dangers several species face. Furthermore, there should be a demand to stiff penalties imposed on the perpetrators operating the trade and they should be deprived of their rights to appeal their cases. In addition, penalties for endangering the lives of threatened species through poaching and illegal wildlife trade should include imposing a life sentence and even a death sentence on the perpetrators. The reason is to send a global message to everybody that wildlife crimes will not be tolerated and anybody involved in poaching and wildlife trade will suffer the consequences. Southeast Asia should no longer be able to afford any losses of its precious wildlife to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. It is time to take a tough stand against these ongoing atrocities and show no mercy to anyone involved in the endangerment of wild species.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

North Carolina's State Wildlife Regulators Demand an End to Red Wolf Reintroduction Program

Red wolf

State wildlife regulators from North Carolina have recently called for an end to to the federal program of reintroducing red wolves in the state and remove all wolves that were released on private lands in Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington counties. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission ratified two resolutions that noted failure to meet project goals, interbreeding with coyotes, and intrusion onto private lands as reasons to put a stop to the reintroduction program. The commission also indicated that 64 releases of red wolves by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service were destined to be done on federal land but actually took place on private land and thus were unlawful. The commission stated that the wolves and their offspring should be recaptured. Furthermore, the commission accepted short-term rules that will allow limited daytime hunting of coyotes in the five counties. This move resulted from a lawsuit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center in favor of the Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Red Wolf Coalition. It asserted that the commission abused the Endangered Species Act by allowing coyote hunting in the five counties. As modified, the rules would allow coyote hunting from one-hour before sunset to one-hour after sunset on private land with permits available online in the future. The commission also approved the classification of red wolves as state-listed threatened species under the rules.
Red wolf walking

It looks like there needs to be a change in the approach of reintroducing red wolves back to their former habitat. Earlier when some were reintroduced, they must have interbred with coyotes. As a result, hybrids began to show up and this has led to a great deal of controversy directed at the federal red wolf reintroduction program and the practice of hunting coyotes in North Carolina. Currently, there are roughly 200 genuine red wolves being held in captive-breeding facilities across the U.S, including one in North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge west of the Outer Banks. But elsewhere in the state, there is a significant presence of coyotes and red wolf-coyote hybrids which are hindering further reintroduction of red wolves into the wild. In order to tackle this problem, it is crucial to thoroughly educate hunters and other residents about the physical differences between coyotes and hybrids before carrying out any hunts. This should involve careful study of the two species so that no mistake can occur. Furthermore, it is highly essential to eradicate coyotes and the hybrids from lands across North Carolina in order to make it easier to reintroduce red wolves back into the wild. The reason is because coyotes were historically not native to North Carolina. They were probably introduced by sportsmen in the past for the purpose of hunting but migrated in from border states and interfered with the early efforts of red wolf reintroduction. Therefore, these animals need to be eradicated significantly to prevent any further hybridization. In the meantime, captive-breeding facilities housing red wolves across the country must team up together to intensify captive-breeding of the last remaining genuine red wolves and help one another to achieve their ultimate goal. Methods to further increase the number of red wolves should include transferring a female wolf from one facility to another one where there could be a limited number of females to produce offspring. Lastly, when it comes to reintroducing red wolves in the wild, it is best to release them in national parks, wildlife refuges, and other protected areas in North Carolina and other southeastern states to avoid any potential conflict with the public. The fate of this magnificent species of wolf rests in the hands of researchers, wildlife conservationists, and the people of North Carolina.

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