Sunday, May 31, 2015

China Agrees to Terminate its Ivory Industry to Fight Elephant Poaching

Illegal ivory being crushed in Beijing

China has long been labeled as a major source of demand for elephant ivory coming from Africa, which has dramatically reduced the numbers of elephants through poaching in recent times. But now, it appears that might be changing with China for the first time agreeing to phase out its national manufacture and sale of ivory products. The action was hailed by conservationists who called the announcement "the single greatest measure" in the battle to save Africa's last elephants from poaching. An event in Beijing saw foreign consuls witnessing 662 kg of seized ivory being significantly demolished. It was also here where head of China's State Forestry Administration Zhao Shucong indicated that the country will rigidly control its ivory processing and trade until the financial processing and sale of ivory and its products are finally stopped. This announcement to phase out ivory was part of a 10-point plan which also included tighter policing of the illegal wildlife trade both on and offline, refreshed efforts to reduce demand through public campaigns and engagements to international cooperation. It came less than two months before mutual trade talks between China and the U.S, which are the two largest markets of for illegal ivory in the world. There is a continuous talk between U.S and China on fighting the illegal ivory trade. Conservationist groups are expectant that the talks will finally create an organized international response to the ongoing crisis. According to Peter Knights, the executive director of WildAid, the announcement was symbolic but he would be waiting to see whether the promise was delivered. He further added that WildAid's recent survey showed that 95 percent of Chinese people supported a complete ban on ivory sales.

Although it appears to be excellent and promising news that China has finally put its foot down and agreed to phase out its ivory trade, it still does not indicate that the illegal ivory trade has ceased. It is essential to cut consumer demand in China to stop the loss of Africa's last remaining elephants. Unfortunately, the progress has been slow. Since the international ban on ivory trade in 1989, it was believed that China has confiscated more than forty tonnes of ivory. The stockpile was delivered to licensed carving factories and then sold legally in markets across China. Conservation groups stated that this supports the demand for black market ivory from freshly killed elephants. This week, it was reported that Mozambique had lost half of its population of 20,000 elephants in a span of five years. Although China and a handful of other countries have destroyed confiscated ivory as a symbolic gesture that the illegal ivory trade will not be tolerated, some critics argued that the actions do more harm than good as they create a feeling of deficiency, driving the price higher. Zhou stated that the termination of ivory stockpiles was only appropriate if it was supported by strict measurements to fight the smuggling organizations and cut down the demand among Chinese people. This means that China and other countries must conduct concrete measures to combat organized criminal syndicates that are driving the illegal trade in ivory and other wildlife products. Furthermore, these syndicates probably have political connections which means politicians in countries rife with poaching and illegal wildlife trade as well as corruption are involved in the ongoing decimation of elephants and other endangered species.

The world has seen enough carnage directed at elephants and other endangered species due to the continuous demand of ivory, rhino horns, and other wildlife products. It's time to take a tough stand against this ongoing atrocity and combat it in a well-coordinated effort between countries that fall in the midst of the trade routes for smuggling endangered wildlife. This includes targeting corrupt politicians having ties with operators of the illegal wildlife trade and even militant groups such as Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who have made a name for themselves as key players in the ivory trade. These groups have also been responsible for numerous crimes against humanity as well as the decimation in Africa's elephant numbers and should be dealt with a severe blow by any means necessary. Some of these groups have ties to major terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and suppressing them might help in going after such global syndicates. In addition, ivory-carving factories across China, licensed or unlicensed, should be closed down and every trace of ivory found in any of those factories should be destroyed on sight. This would help reduce the demand for black market ivory. Africa is known to rely on tourism as a major economic sector for its socio-economic development. If poaching and illegal wildlife trade continues to prevail, it would dramatically impact Africa's tourism industry and ultimately its economy. This is why it is highly essential to take concerted efforts on a global scale to minimize poaching and wildlife trade through diplomatic and military means.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

UAVs to be Used in South Africa to Battle Illegal Poaching

Black rhinoceros and calf
South Africa has been viewed as ground zero for poaching activities directed towards elephants and rhinos to feed the ongoing demand of ivory tusks and horns in China and other Asian countries. In response, several measurements have been taken in an effort to minimize poaching but numbers of elephants and rhinos killed continue to increase in this continuous battle to suppress poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Now, it appears that there is a new technique to be used to combat poaching in South Africa: UAVs. These vehicles are part of a 12-month project which is due to start in the forthcoming weeks and whose objective is to use UAVs to stop poachers in South Africa from illegally killing elephants and rhinos. The project, known as Air Shepherd, is part of the Lindbergh Foundation and has boosted finances through crowd sourcing to set up a team in South Africa that will forecast where poachers will be and use UAVs to track them down before they kill any endangered species. The project will use a fixed-wing aircraft with an ability of roughly 1.5h made by UAV and Drone Solutions for its testing. However, Lindbergh Foundation chairman John Petersen indicated that the charity is talking to several manufacturers with considerably longer abilities. Nonetheless, he noted that endurance is not certainly the a conclusive factor in the mission's success if the operators know where to fly the UAV which is what Air Shepherd is trying to do. He further added that game reserves and national parks where the animals reside are large, and the possibility of encountering poachers by chance is slim so knowing where to fly is essential. The University of Maryland is involved in this facet of the project by employing experience it achieved in forming methods and analysis to help military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq figure out where roadside bombs are planted. This includes using behavioral and historical data, weather, and trends of the poachers in order to determine where they may be located. In addition, rangers will be deployed to act on the encrypted information given by the UAV to the ground control station, to try and intercept poachers before they kill the animals. A typical team is said to comprise of three aircrafts and two operators, and in six months of operations, Air Shepherd hopes to have four teams functioning in South Africa. Mr. Petersen stated that the operation will mostly be done at night since that is when poachers are known to operate, but there will also be some work done during the daytime hours. This includes conducting census and counting the animals. The charity is also discussing possible work in countries like Namibia and Zambia.
African bush elephant

The use of UAVs has often been described to be a useful way in preventing poaching. That is, they help rangers and other wildlife personnel detect poachers without exposing themselves. Furthermore, they have proved to be effective in protecting military personnel serving in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq by locating roadside bombs. So the idea was if UAVs are able to detect explosives and save lives of soldiers, then why not use them in detecting poachers. With the use of UAVs, park rangers and other authorities would not have to worry about getting killed by poachers while on the line of duty. The Air Shepherd project, which is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks, will deploy UAVs in South Africa which is hard hit by poaching taking countless lives of elephants and rhinos to feed the insatiable demand of horns and ivory tusks. Hopefully, this method will help make a difference in battling poaching in South Africa and other African countries and save more lives of elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species without losing them to poachers.

View article and video here              

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Study- BP Oil Spill Connected to Dolphin Die-Off in the Gulf of Mexico

A dead dolphin near Port Fourchon in Louisiana.

Scientists have recently pointed that the BP Oil Spill has probably played a major role in the killing of many dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. In a study published Wednesday, researchers from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that dead dolphins that washed ashore in areas badly hit by the oil spill between 2010 and 2012 experienced damage to the adrenal gland or bacterial pneumonia. They indicated that the damage was possibly caused by dolphins breathing in or swallowing oil as they surfaced to breathe. This study is part of a continuous investigation into the immense die-off in the Gulf, extending from the borders of Texas and Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. It began just before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up forty miles offshore. Researchers believe that previous deaths were linked to salinity and water temperatures. Current deaths have largely pointed to oil - roughly three million barrels flowed into the Gulf over 87 days - as the most powerful cause of illness and death in dolphins. BP executives challenged the findings, indicating that various studies over many decades showed that dolphins generally die from respiratory diseases. For the study, researchers checked dolphins washed ashore near Louisiana's Barataria Bay west of the Mississippi Delta that was hit hard by the oil spill. Half of them suffered from adrenal damage, which can make dolphins unprepared for tensions like cold temperatures or pregnancy. When researchers expanded their investigation to add the spill's whole footprint and dolphins washing ashore on the Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi coasts, they discovered that one in three dolphins suffered from lacerations compared to only 7 percent in populations outside the spill. Researchers also discovered that one in five dolphins had bacterial pneumonia that caused or contributed to their deaths. They deduced that condition could have existed before the oil spill due to the number of deaths being so high and added that they are continuing to examine the deaths to figure out what longstanding damage the oil may cause to the dolphin population.

The findings made the NOAA show how devastating oil spills in general can be on the long-run. Even before the BP oil spill, researchers discovered  that the dolphin population in the Gulf of Mexico was being greatly affected due to changes in water temperatures and salinity. The oil spill further contributed to the downfall in dolphin numbers with majority of animals succumbing to adrenal gland damages or bacterial pneumonia. Furthermore, they also discovered that the dolphins suffered from lacerations. It is extremely disheartening to see numbers of dolphins killed as a result of the oil spill and even before it actually took place. These animals play a crucial role in the marine environment by maintaining balance in the ecosystem and are often considered the main attraction among tourists. At the same time, organizations like NOAA should form some kind of a collaboration with other environmental organizations in order to exchange ideas on how to sustainably extract oil without damaging the environment and suggest those ideas to representatives of major oil companies. This would help prevent any oil spills in the future.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Inquiry Initiated into Tiger Attacks After Activists Lobby to Keep Big Cat in Ranthambore National Park

Tiger cooling off

India's famed Ranthambore National Park has recently been shaken up after one of its tigers came into spotlight after allegedly attacking and killing a forest guard named Rampal Saini on Friday. The tiger, known as T-24 and "Ustaad", has become a subject of a fair trial for this unfortunate incident and was initially ordered to be transferred to a zoo but the government of Rajasthan delayed the decision after strong complaints by experts and conservationists. Raj Kumar Rinwa, Minister of State for Forests, conveyed wildlife activist representatives that a detailed inquiry would be launched to investigate the causes that led to Friday's incident before taking a final decision to transfer the tiger. He further added that the government would establish a committee of experts to check into different aspects that led to Ustaad's behavior. In addition to Rampal Saini, the tiger had killed three other people earlier yet experts implored to the government that it should not be dubbed a maneater. Furthermore, a second incident occurred within a week in Ranthambore National Park when a tiger, suspected to be a female dubbed T-30, attacked and injured two villagers in the Khandar area on Thursday. The two villagers, Kuldeep Swami and Satish Meena, were rushed to a general hospital in Sawai Madhopur. Mr. Meena was transferred to the Sawai Man Singh Hospital in Jaipur because of his critical condition as a result of a head injury and too much bleeding. According to Mr. Swami, both him and Mr. Meena were walking into the forest when two tigers suddenly appeared before them and one of the big cats attacked them. The staff at the national park emphasized that the attacker could be the tigress T-30, who was sighted roaming the area with her cubs. According to officials, the tiger was hiding behind the bushes. As soon as the villagers came to know about the big cat's presence, they started gathering to see it. In spite of the warning, the crowd grew large and the tiger appeared from behind the bushes to attack the two victims.
T-24; the largest tiger in Ranthambore who allegedly attacked and killed a forest guard.

It is extremely shocking and unfortunate that Ranthambore's tigers are a subject to human-wildlife conflicts. Interestingly, they have not been venturing beyond the borders of the national park in search of prey because theoretically that is how most wild animals come into conflict with people. Instead, experts have stressed that the causes of human-tiger conflict in Ranthambore National Park is due to decline in prey base, especially in Keladevi and Sawai Man Singh Wildlife Sanctuaries, on either side of Ranthambore which has affected the tigers' territories. In addition, they have also asserted that mining activities in the area aside from the existence of villages has incited human-tiger conflict in the region. This is why it is highly essential to take crucial measurements to prevent any further conflicts between people and tigers in the vicinity of Ranthambore. Villagers should be persuaded to relocate away from the national park and the adjoining wildlife sanctuaries in order to help minimize any possibilities of human-tiger conflict. Furthermore, the lack of prey base is probably due to illegal poaching and should be tackled by implementing proper security efforts and bringing prey species from other parts of Rajasthan to help bolster their populations in those two wildlife sanctuaries. In addition, forest guards should consider changing their patrolling techniques. That is, instead of patrolling on foot, they should survey the national park via Gypsies. Ranthambore National Park is renowned for being one of the most top-notch tiger reserves in India and anything which affects its tigers would in turn affect India's wildlife as a whole.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Birth of Iberian Lynx Kittens in the Wild Brings Hope for the Species

A mother Iberian lynx with kittens

Conservation groups have recently applauded the birth of two Iberian lynx kittens as a boost in an expensive project to save a species that many are afraid could be the first cat to perish for 2,000 years. The births are thought to be the first in the wild for years outside Andalusia, where the partially EU-financed project to save the Iberian lynx was established twelve years, after its numbers had plunged to fewer than 100 in the wild. It is now thought that there are approximately 300 lynxes, which is a major improvement on previous estimates, but still so few that the species remains threatened. The fact that one pair has now bred in the area of the Badajoz province in western Spain indicates that the lynx may now be restoring itself itself across a wider area. About two kittens were sighted last week by monitors who have been following the progress of a female lynx named Kodiak who was released into the wild two years ago. It is believed that Kodiak may have given birth to more kittens. A spokeswoman from Iberlince stated that female lynxes are known to have up to three kittens in a litter.
Queen Sofia of Spain attending the release of two Iberian lynxes into the wild
It is an amazing news that Spain has witnessed the birth of Iberian lynx kittens in the wild. This is especially significant when it comes to a critically endangered species that is still in small numbers putting it on the brink of extinction. Its threats vary from drought in southern Spain to the rabbit hemorrhagic disease, which has and continues to claim lives of European rabbits that make up the lynx's staple food diet. In addition, the lynx is also prone to automobile accidents which have claimed 46 lives since 2012. This occurs when the lynx is forced to search for food which takes it away from the safety of protected areas. This is why it is highly crucial to take crucial steps in ensuring the survival of the Iberian lynx on the long-run. In areas beyond national parks or nature reserves, it is necessary to construct underpasses and set up crossing signs to alert motorists about the presence of the lynx and other animals. This would minimize the chances of lynxes getting killed by cars. Furthermore, it is essential to thoroughly study the rabbit hemorrhagic disease in order to come up with a vaccine to eradicate it. The European rabbits are the lynx's favorite prey and if the disease persists, their numbers would plunge critically low and affect the survival of the lynxes and other carnivorous animals in the Iberian Peninsula.

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