Friday, April 24, 2015

Namibia to Conduct Aerial Patrols to Repress Poaching

A mother black rhinoceros and her calf in Etosha National Park

Pohamba Shifeta, the Minister of Environment and Tourism in Namibia, recently announced that the government will conduct aerial patrols in game reserves and train rangers to efficiently control the problem of poaching. While addressing a press conference in the capital city of Windhoek, Minister Shifeta pointed out that some rangers are neither correctly trained nor committed to their work of fighting poaching in the country. His address came a few days after news that earlier this year, 38 rhinos might have been killed in the famed Etosha National Park. Of this figure, 31 carcasses were found between April 8 and April 17 this year. The 31 rhinos found dead could bring the death toll of rhino poaching in Etosha National Park within a six-month period, to 42. Minister Shifeta further added that the government was busy revisiting the law so that courts would be given the privilege to enforce harsher sentences on poachers. In addition, the ministry was working jointly with the police and defense force, and would also redistribute conservation specialists. Minister Shifeta also indicated that the ministry recently visited Etosha National Park and were not satisfied with the condition of the fence around it. Official figures indicate that Namibia lost 24 rhinos in 2014, and the peril seems to be increasing. Simeon Negumbo, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, indicated at the end of the week that the 31 rhino carcasses were either old or still had their horns attached. He further added that the ministry and the police were still inspecting whether all the dead rhinos were victims of poaching or not.

The use of aerial patrols and properly training rangers to combat poaching is highly essential not just in Namibia, but in other African countries where elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species reside. Elephants and rhinos are particularly in the spotlight, due to countless numbers of these animals falling victim to poaching in order to feed the growing demand of rhino horns and ivory in Asia. In addition, the illegal rhino horn and ivory trade is also known to finance militant groups across Africa and help them flourish. These groups have also turned to poaching in order to gain access to rhino horns and elephant tusks, which fetch astronomical sums of money enabling the groups to purchase weapons or any necessary items to conduct their crimes against humanity. Some notable groups that are key players or suspected of being key players in this trade are Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). This connection between the illegal wildlife trade and terrorism is a clear indication that it is essential to take serious action to suppress the demand of ivory, rhino horns, and other wildlife products. In addition, poaching and the wildlife trade is also fueled by corruption in Africa. This could be seen when although certain countries take a pledge to combat poaching by any means necessary, they would receive diplomatic visits by foreign dignitaries from China, Vietnam, and others countries who secretly function as passages in illegally exporting ivory, rhino horns, and other wildlife products. One example of this was seen in a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in November 2014. In addition, customs and other law enforcement officials are bribed by the perpetrators and some high-ranking politicians are known to secretly lend a helping hand in the illicit business. The threat of poaching and illegal wildlife trade in Africa tremendously affects its tourism industry which relies on foreign investment to benefit the continent's socioeconomic development. This can contribute to high levels of poverty and unemployment in African countries and force the people make money by dishonest means, including poaching. In Mozambique, people of lower-class status are found to be involved in South Africa's rhino poaching and contributing to the downfall of the country's rhino population in recent years lured by the promise of making easy money to support themselves and their families. Therefore, it is highly crucial to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in an effort to reduce the demand of wildlife products and end terrorism and corruption through military and diplomatic means.

View article here                        

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Odisha State Police Receive Training to Fight Wildlife Crimes

Police officials participating in the workshop

International wildlife trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC has recently joined forces with the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the Odisha State Police force to bolster wildlife law enforcement in the state. To do this, a wildlife law enforcement capacity building training workshop was established specially for police officials on April 9 at the police headquarters in the city of Cuttack. Over sixty police officials in leading positions from 55 police stations located in the proximity of Odisha's protected areas took part in the workshop, which was initiated by the Director of General Police (DGP) Sanjeev Marik. As part of his inaugural speech, he indicated that there is a lack of awareness and knowledge of laws related to wildlife and environmental crimes among police and other enforcement agencies and that the forest department is completely responsible for enforcing wildlife laws. He also promised that the state police has full support combating wildlife crimes in Odisha. According to B.K Sharma, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) who has been conducting several wildlife crime crackdowns during his long term with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), there is a need to regard wildlife preservation as an issue of national prestige and dignity. That is, crimes related to wildlife should be considered equivalent to other severe felonies. He also emphasized on the substantial role that the police can play in fighting wildlife crimes.
Workshop session

The workshop consisted of various specific sessions carried out by TRAFFIC's resource team which included experts from different lines of law and enforcement. During the technical session of the workshop, head of TRAFFIC in India Dr. Shekhar Niraj presented current information on wildlife crime hubs, the species involved, changes in supply and demand movements, identification of specimens in trade, and various drivers of the illegal wildlife trade and poaching. He further stressed that it is essential for the police to be educated about the legislation, tools and methods to fight wildlife crimes, especially in civic trade and export hubs that function as significant centers for wildlife products. Other sessions included interactive ones which were carried out on the use of intelligence collection and resemblance by TRAFFIC's central experts which included a highly proficient IPS officer named Varun Kapoor. In addition, the organization's senior lawyer Saurabh Sharma led a session on wildlife laws and utilization of confirmatory laws. There were also sessions on species and specimen identification, DNA fingerprinting, and wildlife forensics conducted by former senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) Dr. S.P Goyal. Nishant Verma, a senior officer from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau of India (WCCB) conducted a session on intelligence collection and investigations. Participants at the workshop also received comprehensive field training on surveillance, seizure and interrogation, and recognizing and dismantling traps set up by poachers. The session was conducted by trainers from the Tamil Nadu-based Special Task Force. The participants also learned about examining marine species through real examples of marine and coastal species, and even wildlife parts and derivatives frequently found in the illegal wildlife trade through confiscated wildlife products.
Participants learning how to identify and dismantle traps set up by poachers

The police officials demonstrated enthusiastic interest in learning different techniques to minimize wildlife crime and shared their experiences during the technical and field sessions. This indicates that the battle to curb poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and other wildlife crimes is best accomplished with the involvement of police departments, military branches, and other agencies. Wildlife organizations alone are not solely responsible for ensuring the survival and well-being of the world's wildlife. The Odisha State Police recently participated in a workshop designed specifically to educate the personnel on how to help in combating wildlife crimes. This was seen through the participation in various training sessions in which members of the state police learned about species and specimen identification, wildlife forensics, wildlife laws, and even how to identify and dismantle traps set up by poachers. Mr. Sanjeev Marik stated in his inaugural speech that wildlife crimes are just as ruthless and life-threatening as other severe felonies such as murder, assault, robbery, extortion, etc. In addition, wildlife crimes are intertwined with organized criminal syndicates that monopolize in activities that threaten human lives and even terrorist organizations like the Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). These organizations have been and continue to be responsible for numerous crimes against humanity on both national and international levels. They are also known to profit from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade which help drive their activities. This is why it is extremely crucial to train and educate law enforcement agencies and military branches around the world on how to combat wildlife crimes in an effort to target and bring down global criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations threatening human and animal lives.

View article here      

Indian Gazelles Documented in Southern Karnataka


A team of conservationists and researchers from the Nature Conservation Foundation recording the leopard population of Karnataka last week were taken by surprise when their camera traps revealed a herd of chinkaras or Indian gazelles across vast stretches of dry lands close to the city of Bangalore. The animals were spotted at Bukkapatna State Forest in Sira and Gubbi taluk of Tumakuru district. Out of the 200-plus cameras that were set up to record any leopard movement, several of them captured chinkaras indicating that there is a large population of these magnificent antelopes. Known locally as "sanna hulle," chinkaras were documented for the first time in southern Karnataka and probably for the second time in the state as a whole. According to wildlife biologist Sanjay Gubbi, who has been initiating the study on leopards, the gazelles are thought to have existed rarely in northern Karnataka bordering the states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra but this was the first time they were documented in southern Karnataka. He further added that they could have been living in the southern part of the state, but none of scientists and researchers have recorded them and even the locals may have mistaken them for blackbucks.

It is a very astounding discovery that chinkaras have been sighted in southern Karnataka. Earlier, it was believed that blackbucks and four-horned antelopes, known locally as "chousingha" (four horns), are the most widely recorded antelopes. But now, the unexpected documentation of chinkaras in southern Karnataka has marked a breakthrough in the abundance of antelopes in the state. The reason is because the gazelles were thought to have existed in numbers so sparse that local people could have mistaken them for blackbucks. Nonetheless, the documentation of chinkaras is a clear indication that proper measures should be taken to ensure their survival. These magnificent antelopes, like most grassland-dwelling animals are under threat by agriculture, industrial development, and predation by feral dogs. They are also threatened by poaching, and no case received much public attention than that of Bollywood actor Salman Khan who was accused of allegedly hunting this gazelle, along with the blackbuck, in the late 1990s. While the case is still pending, poaching incidents involving chinkara still occur in India's arid areas. This is why it is extremely crucial to undertake necessary measurements to guarantee the protection of these magnificent antelopes and implement forceful methods in targeting poachers intent on illegally killing them.

View article here     

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Laos' Irrawaddy Dolphin Population Down to Five Individuals

Irrawaddy dolphin

The Irrawaddy dolphin population in Laos has been reduced drastically to five animals after a deceased female was recently discovered on Cambodia's Cheutal Touch Island close to the Laos-Cambodia border. The incident led to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) imploring the two countries to work together on common resolutions to save the critically endangered dolphin. Weighing 223 kilograms and growing 2.4 meters long, the Irrawaddy dolphin is thought to be one of only six left in a six-kilometer trans-boundary river pool called the Wang Paa Khaa river pool which covers the Laos-Cambodia border. Local people saw the dolphin on the island's beach last Wednesday and immediately notified the river authorities, who then transported her to the town of Kratie in Cambodia for a checkup. Although the cause of death is not yet found, the marks on her body indicated that she was in old age. The dolphins of the Wang Paa Khaa river pool have been struggling to survive in recent years, with people placing gillnets and using illegal fishing methods such as explosives and poison which seriously decimated their population. Entanglement by gillnets has been recognized as the leading cause of dolphin deaths in the river, as fishermen have been using these nets more and more over the last few years. While Cambodia has prohibited gillnet fishing in the whole pool and neighboring areas on its side of the border, Laos only banned their use in the deepest parts of the pool within its area. However, the most sinister of all threats to the dolphins is the proposed construction of the Don Sahong Dam in Laos just three kilometers from the pool. This would involve using explosives to dig millions of tonnes of rock and has the capability to kill or seriously hurt the dolphins' sensitive hearing. It was historically believed that 40-50 dolphins used the trans-boundary pool, but their numbers dwindled to around 25 in the mid-1990s. There are roughly 85 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong River, with majority of the animals in Cambodia.
A pair of Irrawaddy dolphins

Four months ago, the northern white rhinoceros appeared in the spotlight after the death of one in the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Park, reducing the global population to just five animals. Majority of these remaining rhinos are in captivity, but the fate of the Irrawaddy dolphins in Laos is even worse. The drastic reduction in the population of these dolphins has been due to indiscriminate use of illegal fishing methods such as gillnetting, poisoning, and even using explosives. Unlike its neighbor Cambodia, Laos banned fishing only in the deepest sections of the Wang Paa Khaa river pool making the dolphins more vulnerable to gillnets, explosives, and poisoning. As a result, Laos' dolphin population is down to five animals left. In addition to illegal fishing, the dolphins are under a far greater threat with the planned construction of the Don Sahong Dam. It is highly essential that Cambodia and Laos must work together to prevent further depletion in Laos' dolphin numbers. This includes ending the use of all kinds of illegal fishing gear and placing strict regulations on the use of gillnets and boat traffic. Furthermore, the construction of the Don Sahong Dam should be canceled in order to revive the numbers of these dolphins which are also a major tourist revenue in Cambodia and Laos. The Irrawaddy dolphins are a critically endangered species and should be heavily protected to ensure that their populations survive. Without their presence, the tourism industry in both Cambodia and Laos would be greatly affected.

View article here                          

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Conservation Groups Defend Scottish Wildcat Captive Breeding Plan

A Scottish wildcat

Conservation groups have recently come into the spotlight for defending a planned Scottish wildcat captive breeding program known as the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. The movement came after an animal charity asserted that trapping wildcats to breed them in zoos undermined the species' chances of survival. Among the thirty groups defending the program included the Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, whose members indicated that it was crucial to conserve the wildcats. The Scottish wildcat is faced with the threat of extinction due to breeding with feral cats, disease, loss of habitat, and roadkill. One particular critic of the captive breeding plan is the Captive Animals Protection Society (CAPS), which supports the use of a 500-square mile area including the Ardnamurchan and Movern peninsulas known simply as the "Wildcat Haven." Its campaigns director, Nicola O'Brien, argued that capturing animals from the wild to stock zoo exhibits is unacceptable. In addition, Emily O'Donoghue, director of the Wildcat Haven project, asserted that any effort to remove wildcats from the region will be opposed and that the project aims to open several new sites to protect other wildcats. Supporters of the action plan, on the other hand, argued that it symbolizes the majority view on conservation efforts to save the wildcats, and indicated that capturing some genetically important at-risk wildcats was essential to conserve the species. Captive breeding would happen in the Highland Wildlife Park, but also in areas inaccessible to the public, and the plan's goal is to stop the decline of Scottish wildcats within six years. The Scottish Natural Heritage indicated that captive breeding would "reinforce" populations in the wild. Its director of policy and advice, Andrew Bachell, stated that the work will use current captive wildcats and would add to the captive cat population with a small number of extra cats to avoid inbreeding and guarantee that any breeding program has a healthy genetic base. The group also added that work to set up six priority areas for Scottish wildcat population would begin soon.
Scottish wildcat kitten

The Scottish wildcat population is critically low due to issues ranging from disease and habitat loss, to breeding with domestic cats. It is highly essential to take necessary steps to prevent any further depletion in the population to these factors. Captive breeding is necessary to help revive genetically pure individuals, in order to expand the population. At the same time, identifying and proposing specific areas of protection is also important. Relying on just one of these strategies is not sufficient enough to save the Scottish wildcat from the brink of extinction. CAPS has spoken against the captive breeding program and insisted that the wildcats are to remain in the wild with no form of human interference. The Wildcat Haven project added that it intends to establish several new sites to protect the wildcats What would happen if feral cats suddenly turn up in these areas? This is why it is extremely important that the defenders and the opponents of the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan should come to terms with one another and join forces to save the Scottish wildcat. In addition to captive breeding and establishing new sites for the wildcats, it is crucial to implement methods to prevent the feral cat population from taking control over areas that may be sufficient for wildcats. This includes capturing feral cats and offering them for adoption to the public. A similar technique has and continues to be used in the U.S in dealing with feral horses and donkeys known as mustangs and burros. The Scottish wildcat is currently the top predator in its native habitat after the wolf was hunted to extinction and if this cat becomes extinct, it would tremendously affect Scotland's ecosystem.

View article here

Sand Boas Threatened by Poaching and Habitat Loss

The sand boa population in Andhra Pradesh is decreasing

Forest officials have recently indicated that sand boas are falling prey to poachers and wildlife smugglers during summer months, which are known to lead to a high mortality rate because of intolerable heat coupled with ignorance of the snakes' captors about their feeding habits. These incidents have been found in the eastern mandals and the town of Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh's Chittoor district, where the sand boas make their home in moist agriculture land and along river banks. Although the snakes are resilient, their population is now decreasing. Until twenty years ago, there used to be several occasions when the sand boas would crawl inside rural huts during the monsoon season after being swept away by floods. In the process, they also suffered from random killing by the people. During the last ten years, Chittoor district has been staggering under drought situation with insufficient rainfall. This experience has dramatically affected the survival of sand boas, along with rapidly disappearing wetlands and drying riverbeds. Forest officials further added that large plots of farm land, which are the main habitat for the snakes, are slowly being converted into real estate zones. Divisional Forest Officer T. Chakrapani stated that although the sand boas are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, there have never been any official or scientific surveys to pinpoint their habitats and protect them. He further added that the boas venture out into the open land and dried up water sources to escape the summer heat and look for wetlands, which makes them vulnerable to poachers. After being captured, the poachers would feed the sand boas milk, pieces of vegetables, and even beef which results in the snakes dying in captivity. Such incidents of these snakes being captured are ignored due to total lack of surveillance mechanism.

It is extremely disturbing that sand boas are being captured by poachers and there has never been any undertaking of scientific or official survey to locate their key habitats in order to protect them. These boas, like most species of snakes, play an important role in controlling the rodent population which is beneficial for farmers. When they become captured by poachers and fed inadequate diet, they perish in the heartless hands of their captors which can become problematic to farmers and other people in rural areas who rely on growing crops for their livelihood. To further add to the problem, large tracts of farmland which provide adequate habitat for these snakes are being converted into real estate zones. With the sand boa population in decline, it is highly crucial to conduct proper scientific surveys to locate any available habitat in order to protect these snakes and at the same time target poachers or anybody suspected of carrying the boas. In addition, rural communities should be educated about the importance of sand boas and other snakes to prevent indiscriminate killings. They must also be encouraged to help authorities locate where poachers have been sighted in order to prevent any further decline in the population.

View article here