Saturday, March 28, 2015

Angry Mob Stops Wildlife Rescuers from Treating an Abused Elephant

An angry mob stalls Mohan's rescue

The relationship between people and elephants in India dates back thousands of years. These majestic animals have been favored for their undisputed strength and complex intelligence in carrying out various specific tasks. These include being employed as beasts of burden, war machines, and even as instruments of execution. In addition to being used as working animals, elephants in India have also played a significant role in the Indian culture as living embodiments of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god and one of the most worshiped gods in the Hindu pantheon. However, as time progressed, people began to take advantage of the elephants' cognition by forcing them to perform tricks in circuses and subjecting them to physical and mental abuse. This brutal form of cruelty has even been recorded in India where elephants are revered. One recent example has been seen in the case of an abused elephant named Mohan.
Police intervene to calm the situation

Mohan was taken from the wild more than fifty years ago and has been forced to perform tricks ever since. Like most captive elephants, he was kept shackled with heavy chains around his legs and frequently left injured and malnourished. In addition to being forced to perform tricks to the general public, Mohan would also be forced by his owners to beg on the streets of Lalganj in northern India. Due to living in such a horrendous condition and under tremendous pressure, it was no wonder that Mohan's situation prompted a charity known as Wildlife SOS to jump into action to save him and provide him with essential treatment. However, when 55 members of the charity came down to Lalganj, they were surrounded by a mob of 300 people who prevented them from providing Mohan with much-needed treatment. The charity was forced to contact the police as the mob became more extreme with over forty personnel recruited to calm the situation. But due to the concern of the rescue team's safety, a local magistrate called for the operation to be canceled and the charity was forced to leave Mohan behind. In addition, Mohan's owner, Bhupendar Mishra, has been accused of sending the mob to prevent the elephant's rescue. He also has illegal custody of Mohan and is attempting to exploit and misinform the mob. Furthermore, he is trying to hinder the rescue by registering revisions and misinforming the courts even though he has already lost the battle. According to Wildlife SOS coordinator Baiji Raj, the charity will not give up on Mohan and is hopeful to successfully save him and has now launched an appeal an appeal on its website to help fund his rescue.
Mohan

It is absolutely appalling to find elephants like Mohan and other wild animals subjected to animal cruelty. But what is more shocking and disturbing is that the effort to save Mohan from further abuse was stopped by an angry mob, which was a result of the elephant's owner Bhupendar Mishra trying to spread lies and misinforming the public simply to save his heartless dignity. Furthermore, he even tried to misinform the courts and file revisions even though he had lost the battle in court. This goes to show how an individual or a group of individuals responsible for inflicting pain and misery on a helpless animal are unwilling to give up and surrender. These ruthless people should be tried under full extent of the law and imposed with strict penalties, including the death penalty, to make an example that animal cruelty will not be tolerated and to send a message to the public about the repercussions. In India, elephants have long since been worshiped as living descendants of Ganesha but at the same time, they are viewed as objects to make easy money instead of objects of worship. People who exploit elephants and other animals through illegal and barbaric ways are lowest form of beings in the world and should be severely punished for their actions without fail. In addition, wild elephants across India should be heavily protected like most endangered species not just from poaching but also from being taken from their natural habitats to satisfy human consumption.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ministry of Environment and Forests to Take on India's Sand Mining Mafia and Endangered Species Conservation

Union Minister of  State Prakash Javadekar

At a public meeting recently held in the city of Pune, Union Minister of State for Forest and Environment Prakash Javadekar announced that satellite mapping of riverbed excavations and public participation in the conservation of seventeen endangered species is needed. The purpose of this meeting was to address the dangers affecting India's natural environment imposed by the so-called sand mining mafia which is running rampant in the country and tackling it. Minister Javadekar indicated that scientific methods will be ratified to combat this problem and a national workshop has been scheduled on March 27 with all troubled authorities. He further added that it has been decided to conduct satellite image mapping every November across India to see where sand has been transferred in riverbeds. After the workshop, extensive suggestions will be welcomed from participants and a final plan will be outlined regarding the battle against the sand mining mafia. The issue of this matter goes back to the recent suicide of IAS officer D.K Ravi in Bangalore, in which the sand mining mafia is strongly purported. Other assaults on activists and officials investigating this issue have been widely recorded over the years in the state of Maharashtra, in areas like Pandharpur. Another issue centered on various endangered species known to be on the verge of extinction. In order to protect them, the government of India is now requesting public participation. Among these species include the great Indian bustard, snow leopard, vultures, and many others. According to experts, the announcement highlighted the drastically decreasing number of vultures faltering under the effects of diclofenac and the great Indian bustard which is now found in sparse numbers in the grasslands of Maharashtra's Solapur district and Rajasthan. These issues and more are scheduled to be discussed in a workshop for politicians on April 6 and 7 in New Delhi. Minister Javadekar indicated that the among the attendees will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the workshop will focus forest conservation through a people-centric campaign, restricting various types of pollution, waste management tactics, and the action plan on climate change.

The recent announcement made by Minister Javadekar probably highlights the beginning of a new form of crusade in tackling India's environmental issues. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is now requesting the public to actively participate in the protection and preservation of India's endangered species such as the great Indian bustard and vultures. The great Indian bustard's population has been reduced dramatically across India due to habitat destruction and poaching, and is now thriving in scanty numbers. This magnificent bird is on the verge of extinction and it is highly essential that the public must step up to help save it from being completely eradicated from the face of the earth. Same goes to the vulture population which has been reduced drastically as a result of diclofenac. Without vultures, the human population of India would become prone to diseases spread by carcasses of dead animals.Although diclofenac has been taken off the market since 2006, it is still available in certain parts of the country. As a result, India's vultures continue to live on the edge unless the public puts more effort in adopting new strategies to protect them from further depletion. Furthermore, the sand mining mafia and the timber mafia are another major threats that are contributing to the depletion of India's natural environment. It is necessary to target these organized criminal syndicates and severely prosecute them under full extent of the law even though they are known to have political power. Just because an individual or a group of individual has connections with any political organization does not mean they are untouchable and are an exception to the rule. If such people having ties to politics are found to be involved in anything ludicrous or morally wrong, they should be severely punished - no questions asked.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone- A Paradise for Wildlife Crime

Tiger skins and a stuffed crocodile being sold at the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone.

A recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has indicated that the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT SEZ) in Laos is a haven for peddlers of endangered wildlife. This is seen as meat and other body parts of endangered species are being openly sold for public consumption. The report, titled "Sin City", specified how animals like bears, pangolins, tigers, and others are being bred in captivity for their meat and body parts. Written mutually by the EIA and Education for Nature Vietnam, the report pointed out that while Laos' wildlife laws are feeble, there is not even a pretext of enforcement in the GT SEZ. This means that buyers and sellers are free to trade a host of endangered species poached from Asia and Africa, and smuggled to the zone making it a paradise for wildlife crime. GT SEZ, which covers an area of 3,000 hectares, is controlled by the Chinese Kings Romans Group. The government of Laos is reportedly a 20 percent investor in the project, whose targeted goal is to draw foreign transaction in trade and tourism to propel local economic surge.
Map of the GT SEZ

The report claimed that even though GT SEZ is located on land rented out by the government of Laos, it appears to be more like a continuation of China. That is, it is run on Beijing time, majority of signs are written in Mandarin, most of the workers are Chinese citizens, and the main currency is the Chinese yuan. In addition to Chinese sellers, there is also a majority of Chinese customers who believe that the meat and body parts of smuggled animals contain aphrodisiac and curative features. The EIA discovered, during its investigation, that several species of animals sold and consumed in the region are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). For example, a restaurant in the GT SEZ exhibited "saute tiger meat" and "tiger bone wine" on its menu, while another advertised dishes made of monitor lizards, pangolins, bear paws, snakes, and turtles. Investigators even noticed a live bear cub and a python kept in cages by the restaurant's entrance and the kitchen's exit separately--both of which were available to eat on request. Furthermore, the report also described the open sale for Asiatic black bears, ivory products, rhino horns, stuffed tigers, and tiger and leopard skins. It also asserted that illegal tiger farms are putting intense pressure on the international tiger population, which is alarmingly close to extinction with as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild. In the report, the EIA pressed the government to ratify a "zero tolerance" policy toward the illegal wildlife trade and also demanded to have a multi-agency task force set up to tackle the issue.
Ivory products on sale in Vientiane (left) and bear paws soaked in alcohol.

The findings made by the EIA on the GT SEZ are absolutely deplorable. They indicate that the region is a major hub for the illegal wildlife trade and other wildlife crimes that threaten to eradicate Africa's and Asia's endangered species. This shows that Laos, as a whole, is the center of such illicit activities due to its crucial location and frail law enforcement. The government of Laos must act fast in order to eradicate wildlife crimes taking place on the country's soil if it wants to help in the battle against such crimes on a global scale. The country's law enforcement needs to be significantly improvised in an effort to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. In addition, anybody suspected of being involved in the illegal wildlife trade should be given the stiffest form of punishment in order to send the message to the public that wildlife crimes will not be tolerated and never be taken lightly. Furthermore, victims of the wildlife trade are being bred in captivity for their body parts and meat. This is especially seen in the case of tiger farms. Such facilities should be targeted, closed down, their operators should be tried under the full extent of the law, and the animals should be transferred to animal sanctuaries where they would be correctly cared for. Laos has made a name for itself as a haven for wildlife smuggling based on the findings made by the EIA and urgently needs to start making change in its attitude and behavior towards wildlife crimes. Otherwise, this habit of allowing the illegal wildlife trade would greatly affect its reputation.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

India Lagging Behind in Protecting Snow Leopards and their Habitat

Snow leopard

The first international governing committee meeting to organize conservation efforts for the magnificent and elusive snow leopard was held in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek on 19 and 20 March 2015. It was attended by ministers, politicians, and conservation organizations from twelve range countries. Unfortunately, India was not represented in the committee by its minister or any of its high-ranking bureaucrats. The reason is because the basic enthusiasm to protect the snow leopard appears to have subsided. Under a management program titled Project Snow Leopard, which began on January 2009, Indian states that are part of the Himalaya range had to determine the most excellent areas that house snow leopards and outline management plans. Out of the five states, only Himachal Pradesh finished this process with help from Nature Conservation Foundation. Jammu and Kashmir, on the other hand, is trying to safeguard all of Ladakh with help from the Wildlife Institute of India instead of earmarking a specific landscape. Furthermore, project managers in several areas have not asked for support from local communities in snow leopard conservation, helped them with alternate occupations, or formed ways to minimize conflict with snow leopards. They probably believe that it is an abomination to invest money and effort in communities, indicating that they are used to a protected area-centric approach to conservation. However, Project Snow Leopard acknowledges that there is no other way to protect snow leopard habitat. Although the progress has been slow in the past six years, the state and central governments do not seem to be too worried about India's snow leopards.
Map showing India's snow leopard habitat and projected landscapes for conservation.

It is extremely disappointing to see that India is falling behind the protection of one of its most iconic animals in the world. The snow leopard may not be a national animal like the tiger or an animal associated with Hinduism like the elephant, but it is still considered to be an endangered species that continues to live under threat of habitat destruction and human encroachment. How can India give more priority to tigers and elephants which are considered to be "iconic" due to their religious and political significance? These animals suffer from the same threats that snow leopards face and are continuously falling prey to poachers to feed the insatiable appetite of public consumption. The snow leopard, like the tiger, is considered an apex predator. It's main function is to maintain balance in its mountain ecosystem by preying on herbivores like wild sheep and goats. But when local communities come into the scene, this creates tension between people and snow leopards especially when they have domestic livestock to care for. Managers of Project Snow Leopard did not seek local support in snow leopard conservation, help the communities with alternate livelihoods, or establish ways to prevent any conflicts between snow leopards and people. This shows that they did not live up to the standards of their national participatory management program and are a disgrace to the global conservation movement. Furthermore, their behavior and attitude can affect India's reputation in protecting threatened species like the snow leopard. The snow leopard is one several threatened species native to the Indian subcontinent and should be properly and efficiently protected, especially with a total population numbering between 400 and 700 individuals remaining.

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Gujarat Government Makes a Strong Scientific Persuasion in Supreme Court for its Lions

A family of Asiatic lions in Gir Forest

The debate about the reintroduction of Asiatic lions outside of Gir Forest National Park has solely been a political issue, rather than a scientific issue. But now, there appears to be a change in this debate with the government of Gujarat having recently submitted to the Supreme Court what could be the first scientific argument about reintroducing lions in the state of Madhya Pradesh from a state government. Instead of relying on formalities, the government of Gujarat presented before the Supreme Court scientific studies and guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicating that reintroducing lions from Gir Forest to Madhya Pradesh's Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary may not be a proper move. The argument was presented in the form of an affidavit registered in response to a petition by Wildlife Conservation Trust (WTC), Rajkot, challenging the Supreme Court's order made on April 15, 2013 directing the translocation of lions. The government of Gujarat suggested that there is no immediate ground for translocating lions as the animals do not face any threat of extinction for the next century. In fact, it has hinted that the translocation may prove to be rather detrimental for tigers in Madhya Pradesh. The state government has cited a report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) that highlights Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary as an important passageway for tiger movement between Ranthambore National Park and Sehore district. Last month, a panel comprised of twelve members asked for maiden opinion from the NTCA whether lions and tigers can coexist in Palpur-Kuno or if the group would instead prefer the wildlife sanctuary as an exclusive tiger habitat.

This move made by the government of Gujarat marks for the first time that a state government has provided an adequate argument with scientific backing in the ongoing debate of India's lion translocation project. Earlier, the arguments for and against the reintroduction of lions did not present any scientific analysis in favor or against the much-debated conservation issue. The only scientific arguments for the reintroduction of lions in Madhya Pradesh were made by wildlife experts and conservationists, who warned that a natural cataclysmic event could threaten to wipe out the entire world's population of Asiatic lions if no action is taken. Now, the government of Gujarat has presented its argument against the reintroduction with proper scientific facts by the IUCN and the NTCA citing that it is not a correct move. It argued that reintroducing lions in Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary would interfere with the movement of tigers between Ranthambore National Park and Sehore district. Hopefully, this argument provided by the government of Gujarat will help the Supreme Court whether to reconsider its decision about bringing lions to Madhya Pradesh or continue allowing the reintroduction project to take place. In the meantime, Gujarat needs to work on identifying important corridors that help facilitate the movement of lions beyond the borders of Gir Forest National Park and provide protection from human encroachment. This is very crucial since lions are encountering numerous human-made obstacles that are affecting their movement outside Gir Forest.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spanish and Portuguese Groups Team Up to Save Sierra Morena's Iberian Wolf Population

Iberian wolf

More than a dozen groups from Spain and Portugal have recently united to initiate a campaign to save an Iberian wolf population living in the Sierra Morena mountains. The mountain range, which straddles the border between Andalusia and Castilla-La Mancha, has been a haven for these wolves for thousands of years. There are now believed to be only a handful of Iberian wolves remaining in the area, and the groups suspect that this subspecies could become extinct in southern Spain unless authorities revise local hunting laws and modify the management plan for the land included in the Natura 2000 protection scheme. They feel that the wolves should be given first concern treatment if the ongoing decline of the population is to be stopped. The history of Sierra Morena's wolves goes back to 1999 when eight packs were reported, but only one is known to still live as the hybridization of the subspecies and the resulting decline in genetic growth has contributed to the effect of hunting. In 2005, it was said that the goal of the national and regional governments was to increase the wolf population in Sierra Morena to 150 individuals in fifteen packs, but ever since the mid-20th century the animal has been seen as a threat to other prey species is thus a legitimate target for human hunters. The presence of large private hunting reserves has made it difficult to conduct protection measurements, and miles of boundary fences forcefully disintegrate the wolves' natural habitat. In addition, efforts have been made on these reserves to provide hunters with large deer populations and other prey species but at the same time carnivorous species are virtually eradicated. The campaigners cautioned that if political decisions are not taken quickly in 300,000 hectares of Donana National Park and Sierra Morena's Natura 2000 land, then the wolves will disappear forever.

The campaigners from Spain and Portugal have made an excellent decision in coming together in order to save the Iberian wolves living in the Sierra Morena mountains of southern Spain. These particular wolves currently number around 300 individuals, compared to more numerous populations that inhabit northwest Spain and northern Portugal. These animals are under tremendous threat from human hunters, especially when they happen to be living on hunting reserves intended to house deer and other prey species for hunters. This results in wolves getting caught in the crossfire and are virtually eliminated in the hands of hunters. It is highly essential to save Sierra Morena's wolves whose population numbers are in a critical state, and they are living under a constant threat of hunters targeting them like they would towards nearly any other animal in Spain. The establishment of hunting reserves has and continues to disintegrate the animals' natural habitat limiting their access to new territories. In order to save them, it is highly crucial to identify and close down hunting reserves which happen to contain wolves. Furthermore, hunters need to be thoroughly educated about the of wolves as a keystone species and be warned about the consequences of killing them for sport. As part of the effort to save Sierra Morena's wolves, it would also be useful to bring wolves from northwest Spain and northern Portugal in order to repopulate the southern population. It is time to act quickly otherwise Europe's southernmost wolf population will disappear.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Australia Bans Importing and Exporting of Lion Body Parts as Hunting Trophies

African lion

The government of Australia has recently placed a ban on the importing and exporting of hunting "trophies" made from lion body parts, in an effort to help restrict the organized hunting of African wildlife. Environment minister Greg Hunt indicated that he has signed an order to prohibit the import of grisly hunting trophies. The trophies are generally derived from an imitation type of massacre, primarily taking place in South Africa, known as canned hunting. The lions are raised in captivity and placed into enclosures where tourists pay large sums of money for the problematic privilege of killing them with firearms or crossbows. Minister Hunt, who announced the clampdown at a "global march for lions" at the Federation Square in Melbourne on Friday, stated that the practice of canned hunting was "barbaric" and "cruel." He further added that Liberal MP Jason Wood originally introduced the issue with him and that he hoped other countries would ratify similar measurements to help avert the decrease in lion numbers. In the past three years to 2013, hunters from Australia imported bodies or body parts, such as claws and skulls, of 91 lions. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) stated that there are fewer than 40,000 lions remaining in the wild, with numbers plummeting by almost half in the past 25 years due to habitat destruction and human-lion conflict. It further added that canned hunting had contributed to this decrease through direct kills and also by distorting the genetic balance of lion populations by selecting large males out of the gene pool to be shot. IFAW's regional director Isabel McCrea welcomed Minister Hunt's "bold" ban on canned hunting trophies.

This is indeed a bold move Australia has made in an effort to put a stop to the bloodthirsty practice of canned hunting. This brutal and unethical form of hunting has been a big business in South Africa and the U.S attracting thousands of tourists who pay large sums of money to shoot captive-raised animals in enclosed areas with no chance of escape. Canned hunting has been severely criticized by not just animal rights groups and activists, but also hunting organizations like the Boone and Crockett Club and Pope and Young Club who argue that the practice eliminates the concept of "fair chase." In addition, this barbaric practice of hunting has and continues to distort the genetic balance of animal populations by taking large individuals out of the gene pool to be shot. This is not just seen in the case of lions, but a variety of other animals such as the scimitar-horned oryx which is listed as "extinct in the wild", the dama gazelle and the addax, both of which are critically endangered and may be on the verge of extinction. As part of its effort to curb any importing or exporting of hunting trophies from lions, Australia has stated that anyone found guilty of wildlife trade crimes should be sentenced to ten years in prison and be fined $170,000 (individuals) and $850,000 (corporations). Countries like the U.S, New Zealand, the European Union, and others, including South Africa, should follow Australia's example in tackling this cruel and barbaric practice of hunting. Furthermore, the battle against canned hunting should be further enhanced by identifying and targeting potential facilities that offer such services to tourists and other clientele, closing them down, and prosecuting the operators in charge of them. The victims of this form of cruelty should be transported to facilities run by rescue organizations to be properly cared for and hopefully set to be released into the wild.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Great Indian Bustard Faces Threat of Extinction

Great Indian bustard

It has been two years since the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) made an announcement about establishing a special conservation program for the critically endangered great Indian bustard, which experts warn is faced by the threat of extinction. It is said that due to lack of funds, the central government has not made any progress at all on what many say is a crucial matter. The government of Gujarat had even given a recovery plan to the MoEF, but confessed that it is sitting on it because it does not have the money to finance the project. A senior official of the ministry admitted that this issue has been pending for long, but added that a meeting to examine it is anticipated this month. The ministry also confessed that the government of Gujarat had given a species recovery plan of 187.13 crore rupees for the great Indian bustard requesting financial assistance. Unfortunately, the requisite amount of money was not available under a centrally funded scheme known as Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats. The necessary need to protect the great Indian bustard through a national program was suggested in a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in June 2013 by a wildlife activist named Prerna Singh Bindra. In August 2014 and January, the standing committee of NBWL led by environment minister Prakash Javadekar held two respective meetings where the issue of protecting endangered species was shelved. Ironically, in both the meetings, the standing committee cleared several programs which could disturb the great Indian bustard's habitat in spite of the fact that some members of the committee clearly advised about the negative impact of such programs.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar

How long must India wait in order to save its endangered species, especially when it comes to critically endangered ones like the great Indian bustard? This magnificent bird once numbered around 1,260 individuals in 1969 to 300 in 2008. Nowadays, there are no more than 250 of these birds confined to states such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Out of these states, Rajasthan holds the majority of the bustards with around 175 while Madhya Pradesh is believed to have fewer than ten birds. These figures indicate that the great Indian has, over the past decades, suffered tremendously from threats ranging from habitat destruction to poaching. And yet, despite the formulation of any recovery programs directed at saving the bustard, no action has been taken and no progress has been made due to lack of funds. Although the NBWL led by Minister Javadekar held meetings in order to save the great Indian bustard, it postponed the issue on saving this bird as well as endangered species in general. This clearly indicates that the environment ministry has avoided its responsibility as the protector of India's wildlife and that the government of India is clipping the ministry by further shrinking its insignificant budget for wildlife. The necessity to save a critically endangered species like the great Indian bustard is not being stressed enough and it seems that India as a whole is voluntarily letting one of its endemic species go extinct.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Eurasian Lynx to Return to Britain After 13 Centuries

Eurasian lynx

The Lynx UK Trust is preparing to reintroduce eighteen Eurasian lynxes in Britain where this shy and secretive cat had long since disappeared after nearly 1,300 years. What appears to be the most grandiose rewilding project ever to take place globally would mark the beginning of the first ever reintroduction of one of Britain's most apex predators. Solitary and secretive by nature, the Eurasian lynx was historically found from Britain to China. However, due to extensive human encroachment over the centuries, the Eurasian lynx population declined to a handful of individuals remaining in parts of western Europe. In Britain, the lynx was believed to be hunted to extinction for its fur between 500-700 A.D. As part of its efforts to bring the lynx back, the Lynx UK Trust has established a public consultation to find out the public's reaction to the reintroduction plan. It will then lodge a formal application with Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). The trust assured that because of the lynx's secretive and solitary nature, it would not pose any threat to domestic livestock. It further added that it is presently busy in a variety of research to determine possible locations in Britain to release the lynx. Preferred sites of reintroduction include Thetford Forest in Norfolk and Ennerdale area in Lake District. Similar reintroduction projects occurred in the past such as one in Switzerland during the 1990s which saw lynxes successfully breed and flourish in the country, and another in Germany where fourteen lynxes were brought to a site in the Harz Mountains in 2000 and yielded similar results.
Thetford Forest, one of the chosen reintroduction sites

The British Isles were historically home to some of Europe's most powerful predators, which included the lynx, the wolf, and the brown bear. However, these apex predators were virtually wiped out from their homeland centuries ago due to extensive human encroachment. This allowed the population of the prey species, especially deer, to steadily increase without the fear of population control by any predators. But now, with this reintroduction project underway, Britain is on its way to be restored to its former glory. The Eurasian lynx, which has long since been eradicated, is set to make a comeback after thirteen centuries. Not only does this solitary and reclusive cat pose much threat to domestic livestock and farmers, but is a crucial asset to Britain's ecology in keeping the populations of deer and agricultural pest species under control. This is essential because centuries of the lynx's absence has left Britain's natural environment in a state of imbalance due to the overpopulation of deer. Britain is still absent of wolves and brown bears after centuries of persecution and human encroachment. It is also highly essential to reintroduce these apex predators to the country, in order to further restore its natural environments. Proposals to reintroduce wolves in Britain date back to late 1990s and early 2000s, but have never since been carried out due to opposition by farmers fearing that they would lose their livestock. But even without wolves, Britain's and Ireland's deer populations continue to expand leading to further damage in forestry and coming into contact with domestic livestock which would increase the chances of disease transmission. This is why it is highly crucial to reintroduce wolves, as well as the lynx, back to the British Isles in an effort to help further restore the ecological balance. As part of the effort, farmers should not just be reimbursed for livestock losses but also be provided with livestock guardian dogs as a harmless alternative to protect their animals from predation by wolves. Britain also has a significant wild boar population and these animals are known to raid the farmers' fields in search of crops. By having wolves and lynxes back in Britain, the wild boar population would be kept in check and minimize any chances of crop devastation and disease transmission. The brown bear also needs to be brought back to Britain, in order to maintain the ecological balance.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Almost One Million Birds Illegally Killed on British Military Base in Cyprus

A female blackcap caught in a net

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has recently reported that nearly one million birds were illegally killed by poachers in just two months on a British military base in Cyprus last year. The organization's international leader, Dr. Tim Stowe, urged the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to do more to take down poachers who reportedly killed 15,000 birds everyday during September and October from the British Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area. However, the MoD denied the RSPB's discoveries and doubted its survey methods. An MoD spokeswoman asserted that the ministry is committed to fight poaching adding that they detained almost fifty poachers and confiscated 450 nets and 286 pieces of poaching equipment during the previous migration period. According to Jonathan Hill, overseas territories team leader for the RSPB, the ministry had signed off on the 12-year-old survey's methods and that, if anything, the figures were traditional. BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham, who has reported largely from Cyprus and lobbied against the bird hunt, stated that he believed the figures were gathered by the RSPB in partnership with BirdLife Cyprus arguing that the two organizations could and would not be guilty of misjudgment. The RSPB suspect that organized criminal syndicates are now involved in the sale of bird meat as a black market delicacy. Their auditors have pointed out that extensive planting of acacia scrub attracts birds and creates passages for poachers to hang their nets. Dr. Stowe indicated that the military had made decent introductory steps to remove acacia scrub.
A male Cyprus warbler, one of several rare species of birds at risk of being captured for food.

The poaching of songbirds on Cyprus has been an extremely controversial issue for decades. This illegal method of catching and killing birds has been practiced for centuries in the autumn months of September and October when the birds arrive on this island nation to rest and feed as they migrate to Africa from Europe. Once caught and killed, the birds are used as main ingredients of a local dish known as ambelopoulia. Traditionally, Cypriot people would trap birds by using branches coated with a sticky lime that birds would land on and be unable to escape. But with the development of nets, the trapping techniques became extensive and chaotic as thousands of birds, including threatened species, began falling victims to human consumption and led to the ban in both the practice and the dish in 1974. However, despite the ban, there is still an ongoing illicit demand which is driving the number of birds killed to unparalleled levels and ambelopoulia continues to be served in Cyprus' local tavernas. Majority of the birds caught by poachers are common species such as blackcaps and European robins whose populations are not severely affected by trapping. However, the practice has a severe effect on rare species like the Cyprus warbler and the Cyprus wheatear. It is extremely crucial that the government of Cyprus should take serious action in ending this ongoing catastrophe affecting songbirds. This not only includes targeting poachers, but also identifying and shutting down tavernas suspected of serving ambelopoulia and target organized criminal syndicates that are becoming involved in the illicit sale of Cyprus' bird meat. Several migratory birds, mostly passerines, come to Cyprus for rest and feeding before reaching Africa and fall prey to poachers. This doesn't just disrupt their migration, but it also affects birdwatching for both residents and tourists on the island. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to combat illegal poaching of birds on Cyprus before it is too late.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

China Halts Imports of Africa's Carved Ivory for One Year

An elephant tusk carved with figures

China recently announced that it has placed a one-year suspension on imports of Africa's carved ivory products, but conservationists indicated that this move would do nothing in itself to curb the illicit ivory trade in the country that is inciting excessive poaching of elephants in Africa. The decision came just before the arrival of Prince William next week, who is a prominent figure in the international campaign to save elephants. It also came days after conservation groups sent a letter to the government of China demanding a complete ban on domestic ivory trade. Late Thursday, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) declared that it would discontinue the import of Africa's ivory carvings acquired since the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) came into effect in 1975. That following year, African elephants were listed under the convention. According to one SFA official, the brief suspension was established to provide authorities with time to assess its effectiveness and probably take more efficient measurements in the future. However, experts stated that the movement would only apply to very restricted amounts of ivory and failed to focus on a prohibition of the legal Chinese domestic ivory trade that gives cover for a larger illegal trade. Among the people who criticized China's move included Humane Society International's wildlife program manager Iris Ho, who is also one of the co-signatories of the letter sent to the Chinese government. She called the announcement "an encouraging signal that the Chinese government is ratcheting down the import of African elephant ivory into the country." At the same time, she added saying that China and other countries should "permanently ban the domestic trade of ivory and destroy all confiscated ivory stockpiles." In addition, Grace Ge Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), called the move promising but "far from sufficient." Conservationists proclaimed that the only to end the illegal trade of ivory is to ban the legal trade, enlighten people about the actual cost of ivory, and minimize its status value. Ms. Ho called the ongoing registration scheme "a flagrant loophole for illicit ivory to be laundered into the legal market." China, on the other hand, argued that ivory carving is part of its ancient cultural heritage and that it is making aggressive efforts to end the smuggling of ivory. Last year, China destroyed six tons of ivory tusks and carved ornaments confiscated from smugglers marking a symbolic move in the battle to end the illicit ivory trade. Similarly, Hong Kong destroyed a stockpile of 28 tons of ivory.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge recently arrived in China as part of the global effort to end the illegal trade of ivory. 

The move China made is not sufficient enough in the battle against the illegal ivory trade. While it may have been applauded by some people like Julius Cheptei, assistant director for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), conservation groups still feel that more needs to be done. The most crucial tactic China needs to employ is placing a permanent ban on the legal trade of ivory which provides cover to the illegal trade of ivory. In addition, the country needs to educate the public about the real cost of ivory and reduce its status value. Although ivory carving has been part of China's cultural heritage, the rules and regulations of this controversial practice are widely disregarded. The rules dictate that the country's 36 officially sanctioned workshops are supposed to primarily use ivory bought in 2008 when restricted sales from existent international stockpiles were permitted. In addition, all ivory sold commercially was supposed to carry a license confirming it originated from those stockpiles or predated the international ban. However, these rules have been put aside to enable the flow of huge quantities of poached ivory into China every year. This is why it is extremely crucial to demand a complete ban on the legal trade of ivory in order to target the illegal trade of ivory. This brutal, yet lucrative practice is not just threatening to wipe off countless numbers of elephants but financing international criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations which puts the public in jeopardy.

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