Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Iran's Cheetahs in Desperate Need of Help as Extinction is On the Horizon

A seven-year-old male Asiatic cheetah.

The cheetah is one of several species of wild animals that epitomizes Africa in the people's mindset. This is true as seen in countless wildlife documentaries from past and present years. But what most people do not know is that there were and still are cheetahs in Asia. In centuries past, the Asiatic cheetah once ranged throughout the Arabian Peninsula and the Near East to Iran, covering Central Asia and the Caucasus, and extending all the way into India. Proof of these magnificent cats' existence is most notably seen in ancient Indian artwork from the Mughal era in which cheetahs are depicted hunting swift prey such as blackbucks and chinkaras for the emperors and maharajahs. They were also kept as companions for the royalty at the time. However, as time progressed into the 19th and 20th centuries, the attitude towards the cheetah in Asia changed dramatically from being seen as a hunter to the hunted. As a result, countless numbers of cheetahs were killed drastically throughout their former home range and ultimately confining them to the eastern half of Iran. Iran may be the last stronghold for the cheetah, but its numbers had been diminishing perilously since the 1970s due to man-made factors ranging from land-use change, habitat fragmentation and degradation, to persecution. As a result, fewer than 50 cheetahs are now left in Iran putting them on the brink of extinction. Scientists and conservationists are afraid that, without necessary intervention, there is little chance in saving these cats from extinction, especially after a decision made by the United Nations to remove funding from conservation efforts to protect them.

An ancient Indian painting depicting Mughal emperor Akbar hunting with cheetahs.
There had been several measurements in recent years to help increase awareness of the cheetah's plight in Iran. For example, in 2014, the country's national football team declared that their 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2015 AFC Asian Cup kits would be imprinted with pictures of the cheetah. Furthermore, a crowdfunding conservation project was established, and August 31 this year was declared "National Cheetah Day." Despite these efforts, the cheetah's decline has continued. According to Urs Breitenmoser of Bern's Cat Specialist Group, the cheetah has disappeared from Kavir in the western area, while individuals in the southern region are too sparsely spread for enough to interact and breed, and it is only around Touran and Miandasht in the north where there are enough individuals to control a population. Enforcing protection measurements of these last remnants of Iran's cheetah territory proved to be intensely difficult, due to cuts made by the country's government to its environment department's budget. Luckily, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported Iran's cheetah conservation project by being able to get money into the country when other international agencies could not. But now, the agency announced that it could not continue supporting the project financially after December because it had to make significant cuts in its budgets. Therefore, Iran should now handle the project alone.
Despite the presence of signs warning drivers, many cheetahs like this one are killed by vehicles in Iran.

I do not know how to put it into words, but it is perfectly clear that the Asiatic cheetah is on a knife edge and will become extinct in a span of couple of years, unless drastic action is taken. This magnificent cat was virtually wiped out by anthropogenic factors in countries that were part of its historic range in Asia. Iran managed to save it from becoming extinct - until now. It is now the high time to take serious action to save the cheetah from extinction in Iran. The country had lost the Caspian tiger and Asiatic lion in the past; this cannot happen to the cheetah. With fewer than 50 animals left, it is in a desperate need of help and without substantial financial support from international agencies to Iran's cheetah conservation project, the cheetah will become extinct like the tiger and the lion. I urge the government of Iran to not give up on its cheetah conservation. I also urge the people of Iran to wake up and act upon this conservation issue that has remained unchanged since the 1970s. It is extremely crucial to reach out, educate, and encourage Iran's pastoral communities to refrain from hunting cheetahs and killing them in a retaliatory manner in order to protect their livestock. Instead, they should be provided with livestock guardian dogs like Anatolian Shepherds which were given to farmers in Namibia by the Cheetah Conservation Fund in an effort to prevent retaliatory killings of cheetahs. Furthermore, it is necessary to construct underpass tunnels that run underneath roads to prevent cheetahs from being killed by vehicles and also put an end to mining operations taking place in cheetah territories. The Asiatic cheetah's life hangs in balance and it is never too late to save it. But the world needs to act fast.

View article here           

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wolves in the U.S Should Deserve a Second Chance

Northwestern wolf
Two conservation groups have recently put up a reward of $20,000 to help condemn poachers responsible for killing two breeding female wolves in eastern Washington. One of the females' carcass was found on December 5 by the staff of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fifteen miles southwest of the city of Republic in Ferry County. The female wolf's radio collar had stopped functioning in early November, which triggered the search for her body. She was a member of a wolfpack known as the Profanity Pack, who was fitted with a radio collar in 2016 to help the department personnel to track the pack as seven of its eleven members were shot to protect the ranchers' cattle. According to Police Captain Dan Rahn of the WDFW, the female was able to survive the shooting and most of 2017 while traveling on her own until she was killed by a poacher. The second breeding female was found dead by hunters on November 12 roughly ten miles southeast of Colville in Stevens County. She was found within the range of the Dirty Shirt pack and was assumed to be its member. The conservation groups that put up the $20,000 reward were Conservation Northwest and Cascadia Wildlands; each contributed $10,000 toward the reward.
With 45-60 animals left by 2016, the red wolf is on the brink of extinction in its native North Carolina homeland. A push for an end to the state's wolf recovery program by Republican senators has further put the species into jeopardy.

I find it very disturbing and saddening that these two female wolves lost their lives in the murderous hands of poachers. Both of these animals were breeding females, which conservationists had high hopes for regarding the restoration of wolves in the northwestern U.S. But now, those hopes have been shattered hindering the researchers' works and putting the region's wolf population in jeopardy. It goes to show that wolves in the U.S are not getting a second chance to recolonize areas where they had long disappeared, due to human persecution. What is more shocking is that wolves in Washington coexist alongside domestic livestock without incident, yet people resort to lethal methods to eliminate them just to protect their animals. Furthermore, the federal government is also involved in this issue about the relationship between wolves and making decisions that are disheartening to conservation groups committed to protect the animals and ensuring their survival and well-being. In November this year, Republican senators pushed for an end to North Carolina's red wolf recovery program putting the animal's life in jeopardy. It is extremely appalling that the federal government makes such a decision that would spell doom to a species that is on the brink of extinction because of human persecution and pressure. In addition, the relationship between people, especially ranchers, and conservation groups concerning wolves is very strained. Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands stated that whenever the group takes legal action, it gets threats. The public needs to understand that these groups are not only trying to save wolves, but also helping farmers and ranchers to peacefully coexist with them. However, there are also people who simply do not care about wolves and would rather see them go extinct. These people could be in Washington, North Carolina, Arizona, or anywhere in the country where wolves are present and they show their colors by sending threats to conservation groups in an attempt to stop them from doing what is right for both wolves and the public. These are the kind of people that should be substantially dealt with. Both gray wolves and red wolves are part of the United States' natural heritage and should deserve a second chance.

View article here                                             

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project- Madhya Pradesh Backs Down

An Asiatic lion pair in Gir Forest National Park
The state of Madhya Pradesh has recently appeared to have given up on the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project from Gujarat's Gir Forest National Park to Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary. The state government, after almost twenty years of unsuccessful struggle with Gujarat over transfer of Gir Forest's lions, has unofficially abandoned hope on the project. An order by the Supreme Court authorizing the translocation of lions to Madhya Pradesh could not influence the government of Gujarat from providing the big cats. The government of Madhya Pradesh has instead decided to release and rehabilitate tigers in Kuno-Palpur sanctuary which they claim is ready. The decision came from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan during a State Wildlife Board meeting, suggesting at a probable failure in getting lions from Gujarat. Sources indicated that the decision to bring tigers in Kuno-Palpur sanctuary clearly shows that the government of Madhya Pradesh has lost hope on bringing lions from Gujarat. Although the government had announced and evacuated a 345-sq. km area for the sanctuary in 1981 and created an extra 900 sq. km of buffer zone in 2015, it did not acknowledge declaring the buffer zone area as a sanctuary which is being argued by the government of Gujarat. Sources further added that wildlife experts and officials from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in a turnaround position also predicted that without notifying the areas as a sanctuary, it would be harmful to the lions' breeding and survival.
View of Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary

It looks this ongoing debate between the governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh about the reintroduction of the Asiatic lion has come to a halt. For nearly twenty years, the two governments had been constantly arguing of translocating lions from Gir Forest to the forests of Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Much of the arguments given by each side were largely political with the Madhya Pradesh government arguing that Gujarat's lion population has increased to such an extent that the animals should be transferred to Madhya Pradesh so that the state could start its own lion population. The government of Gujarat, on the other hand, was reluctant to do such a thing arguing that the lions are the "state's heritage" and that the poachers targeting them in Gir Forest come from Madhya Pradesh. Eventually, the Madhya Pradesh government gave up hope and has now decided to release tigers into Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary.
The government of Madhya Pradesh is now focusing on releasing tigers into Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary

I find this news very interesting because it marks the end of the 20-year debate between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh over the translocation of lions outside Gujarat. However, it also implies that the efforts Gujarat government put in challenging the Supreme Court's order in 2013 about lion translocation in Madhya Pradesh have paid off. Two years ago, the government of Gujarat presented an argument to the Supreme Court based on studies and guidelines of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a petition filed by the Wildlife Conservation Trust, Rajkot, and a report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The argument stressed that reintroducing lions in Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary may prove to be harmful for lions, the wildlife sanctuary is an important corridor for tiger movement between Ranthambore National Park and Sehore district, and that the lions are not in any threat of extinction for the next hundred years. Before presenting such an argument, Gujarat government was mainly stressing about the lion being the state's heritage. This showed that the collaboration between conservation groups and governments can make a difference in issues related to wildlife and conservation. The government of Madhya Pradesh now wants to release tigers into Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary, but it has not notified that the sanctuary's buffer zone is a protected area which the Gujarat government has argued. It is highly essential that the Madhya Pradesh government announce the sanctuary's buffer zone as a protected area before releasing tigers into Kuno-Palpur. At the same time, the government should collaborate with conservation groups to ensure the animals' safety and well-being.

View article here                      

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Can Instagram Warn People About Wildlife Exploitation?

Instagram's message to all its users about abuse towards endangered wild animals

Social media platform, Instagram, has recently joined the battle against cruelty related to wildlife. This can be seen that when an Instagram user either looks for or clicks on a hashtag that is usually linked to abusive behavior towards endangered species such as posing with or holding wild animals, the following warning message would show up: "You are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment." When the user clicks through to "Learn more," he or she is guided to a page on wildlife exploitation with information warning tourists against taking photos with endangered exotic animals. Instagram has worked with several wildlife organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), TRAFFIC, and World Animal Protection, to find the most commonly used hashtags identified with abusive behavior towards animals, including animal tourism and the illegal wildlife trade. An Instagram representative indicated that hundreds of hashtag combinations will now produce the warning. These combinations range from phrases that turn to be used on photos of tourists with captive animals such as #lionselfie, to more outrageous ones linked to illegal wildlife trafficking like #exoticanimalforsale. A simple cursory search of such hashtags can result in thousands of photos showing people touching the animals or posing next to them being held in captivity.

Instagram logo
Although most people know that trafficking endangered species and selling their body parts is illegal and harmful to them, everyone does not consider photos of someone either holding a monkey or riding an elephant as threatening an animal's well-being - but they often can be. Some signs of whether an animal may be being mistreated include an animal being held, constrained or kept caged for tourists. Initially, Instagram had a policy that did not permit images showing animal abuse or sale of endangered animals. But now, the staff in support of the app's monitoring and reporting system have received further education from wildlife experts on what kinds of activities are abusive or illegal when it comes to animals. Instagram's latest program warning users about wildlife exploitation works much like those installed by the platform last year related to issues of self-harm, which triggered a pop-up message to users looking for hashtags related to eating disorders, suicide, and other topics. However, Instagram's warning system does have its drawbacks. For example, the message which pops up after clicking on a given hashtag related to wildlife photos would not show up to warn a user if he/she is the one posting a photo with the hashtag. In addition, anyone who sees the warning can easily click "show posts" and go about their search for such photos. According one Instagram representative, the goal of this program aims to educate people who might not know that their actions can support activities in the tourism industry that are harmful to animals.
Due to the popularity of elephants in Asia's tourism industry, tourists have their pictures taken riding on them often not understanding the animals' well-being.

I find it very impressive and beneficial that Instagram has joined forces with wildlife organizations to warn and educate users about the cruelty behind photos they take of themselves with endangered wild animals. By setting up such a program that warns users about hashtags associated with posts encouraging wild animal abuse and information related to wildlife exploitation, Instagram is reaching out to the global community and raising awareness about the illegal wildlife trade. However, the program's limits include not showing the warning message to users who themselves post photos with hashtags related to wildlife exploitation and that anyone who sees the warning can simply ignore it and proceed to look at such photos by clicking "show posts." I think out of these two drawbacks, the biggest problem is that people choose to ignore the message and spend their time enjoying looking at photos of other people holding endangered wild animals, touching them, taking selfies with them, or doing anything that encourages harmful behavior to the animals. How will people learn about the harmful effects of wildlife exploitation on endangered species, especially if they have never made physical contact with such animals and took pictures of themselves with animals? This is why I believe people should take Instagram's warning very seriously and learn to respect endangered species by giving them their space, never purchasing products made out of their body parts, and understanding the harmful effects of poaching combined with the illegal smuggling of wildlife. At first, these photos of tourists posing with endangered species may appear fun and humorous to look at but when you scratch the surface, it is not what it appears to be. Many of these animals are captured from their natural habitat, kept in cramped conditions, and constantly passed around from one tourist to another for picture-taking which causes extreme trauma. Therefore, people should reconsider their decisions of having their pictures taken with endangered animals when traveling to exotic places and never be fooled by the photos taken of themselves with such animals. If you care so much about the animals and their well-being, then don't do it. Simple as that.

View article here      

Monday, November 27, 2017

Climate Change Influences Behavior of Polar Bears

Polar bears feasting on a whale carcass on Russia's Wrangel Island in the Arctic Circle.  

Bears are generally solitary animals and normally keep a safe distance from one another, except during the mating season. However, when they are seen congregating in large numbers in a particular area, it might imply that they are social animals when in fact they are not. This example is best seen in the case of grizzly bears and Alaskan brown bears, which are known to congregate in large numbers during the annual spawning of salmon in North America. Although it initially appears that these bears are socializing over salmon, many keep their distance to avoid conflict with one another. But even with millions of fish to choose from, there is always a chance of conflict when the bears compete with one another for food to satisfy their immense appetites. The only social interaction that occurs during such events is between mother bears and their young. That is, the mothers teach their cubs how to fish for their food and most importantly, avoid contact with the highly competitive and dangerous male bears.
Some 200 bears gathered on the island, which scientists see as a sign of Arctic changing.

But two months ago, in the far eastern side of the Russian Arctic, a similar event occurred in which polar bears were sighted by a boatload of tourists congregating in large numbers on Wrangel Island. According to Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island nature reserve, the bears were seen feasting on a bowhead whale carcass that had washed ashore and later resting around it. While this encounter may seemed like a spectacle for the tourists, scientists see it as an indication of the effect of climate change on the polar bears. Due to the melting of ice earlier this year, the bears are forced to spend longer time on land than on ice where they are most at home. In addition, the bears will sooner or later face competition for little food there is on land the more crammed together they are on coasts and islands. Wrangel Island is known to be a resting place for polar bears after ice melts in early August until November, when they leave the island to hunt for seals. Mr. Gruzdev added that it is also known to have the "highest density of maternity dens in the entire Arctic." However, according to Eric Regehr from University of Washington and the lead scientist on the U.S-Russian collaborative study of Wrangel Island's polar bears, the animals now spend on average a month longer on the island, compared to how they did 20 years ago. Studies have also shown that the number of bears discovered this autumn was 589, far surpassing previous estimates of 200-300 animals which Mr. Regehr calls "anomalously high."
Coastal landscape of Wrangel Island

I really think that the public should recognize this sighting as an indication of the climate change's effects on not just polar bears, but also other inhabitants in the Arctic Circle. Not only is the melting of ice forcing the bears to spend more time on land than on ice, but it is also compelling them to venture close into villages putting locals at risk. Since mid-October, the bears have been coming dangerously close to a Chukchi village called Ryrkaipy near Kozhevnikov Cape which is located 124 miles south of Wrangel Island. Kozhevnikov Cape also happens to be an important site for walrus congregations known as haulouts. Due to change in ice conditions, walruses are forced to come ashore in steep inadequate areas. According to polar bear specialist Viktor Nikiforov, hundreds of walruses died this year as huge individuals crushed one another probably after being disturbed by a predator. The incident resulted in some walrus carcasses floating to the village, thus attracting polar bears. This was seen when one bear broke a window of a house, sending the entire village to go on high alert. Mr. Nikiforov added that scientists and local people moved walrus carcasses away from the village with bulldozers and reiterated concerns that bears spend more time ashore than on ice. He further added that measurements such as bear patrols need to be implemented to reduce human-bear conflicts.
Climate change is also forcing walruses to come ashore in unsuitable areas.

I also feel that because polar bears are spending more time on land than on ice, they are unable to hunt for seals the way they used to decades ago. Despite having some food sources on land such as lemmings, musk oxen, or even grass, the bears solely rely on seals as their main source of energy-packed food which they have evolved to depend on. This also explains why hundreds of bears gathered around the whale carcass on Wrangel Island. Like seals, whales are also packed with energy which polar bears rely on. This is why they often target beluga whales, as well as seals and walruses, while hunting on ice. The impact of climate change appears to have tremendously influenced the behavior of polar bears. They are spending more time on land in larger concentrations than they are on ice and they are forced to move dangerously close to human settlements increasing the chance of human-bear conflict. This is why it is highly essential to consider the effects of climate change seriously and take necessary action to prevent any devastation of both people and wildlife.

View article here                          

Saturday, November 18, 2017

U.S Federal Government Should Recognize the Link Between Africa's Poaching and Terrorism

Elephants in Tsavo East National Park

The Trump administration was recently reported that it would allow the importation of elephant trophies into the U.S from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service argued that the new policy would encourage wealthy big-game hunters to kill elephants, lions, rhinos, and other threatened species to raise money for conservation programs. But recently, President Trump indicated that he is delaying the policy until he can "review all conservation facts" with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The decision made by the Trump administration was highly criticized by animal rights advocates and environmental groups. However, one of the key political figures to speak against the decision was California Republican Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who pushed the administration to cancel the policy, calling it the "wrong move at the wrong time." He also opposed the action because of matters not only about Africa's wildlife, but U.S national security, pointing out the political upheaval in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe was placed under house arrest by the military. Due to this unstable situation, the U.S Embassy in Zimbabwe has advised American people to limit their travel outdoors. In addition to Mr. Royce, two other lawmakers, Republicans Vern Buchanan of Florida and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who also happened to be co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, blasted the policy. Furthermore, Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, called for "immediate federal action to reverse these policies" and not just a tweet to show that President Trump is reconsidering this decision.

Although it is great to see that public outrage has forced President Trump to put this federal policy on hold, it is extremely crucial to recognize the connection between the poaching of elephants and other endangered African wildlife to international terrorism. Mr. Royce, in his statement, indicated that elephants and other African animals are "blood currency for terrorist organizations." This shows that he recognizes poaching as not just a threat to the world's most magnificent animals, but also a matter of national security. Africa's militant organizations like Al-Shabaab, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance (LRA) profit from poaching of elephants in which they are able to gain access to arms and ammunition to carry out their terrorist attacks against both local and foreign people. I think that if poaching of Africa's elephants, lions, rhinos, and other endangered wildlife continues uncontrollably, it will lead to more incidences of terrorist attacks in both Africa and other parts of the world, especially when globally significant terrorist organizations such as the ISIS will benefit from elephant ivory and body parts of other endangered species. It is highly essential that the U.S federal government recognize the link between poaching and global terrorism and act upon it. Otherwise, lives of both people and animals will be in grave danger.

View article here                   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Trump Administration- A New Enemy to Africa's Elephants

Trophy hunter David Barrett with an elephant he killed in Zimbabwe in 2009

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has recently confirmed that the Trump administration will lift the ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe after deciding that sport hunting in those countries will help conserve the animals. The decision was made public by Safari Club International (SCI), a trophy hunting advocacy group that, along with the National Rifle Association, sued to stop the 2014 ban. USFWS's principal deputy director, Greg Sheehan, disclosed the news to the organization during the African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) in Tanzania. Although African elephants have been listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1978, a provision of the law permits for sport-hunted trophies to be imported if the government decides that hunting will help protect the population. A spokesperson for the USFWS indicated that a notice regarding the agency's decision on elephants in Zimbabwe will be published Friday in the Federal Register. It is uncertain when the agency's decision will be posted, but it is said that the decision will allow for anyone who legally kills an elephant in Zimbabwe from January 21, 2016 to December 31, 2018, or in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 to obtain a permit to import their trophy into the U.S. The decision was praised by SCI President, Paul Babaz, who said that it demonstrates the agency's recognition on hunting being "beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations." However, in a blog post, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), called the decision "jarring." He also added that the decision coming from SCI "suggests an uncomfortably cozy and even improper relationship between trophy hunting interests and the Department of the Interior." The Interior Department is led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is an avid hunter and has pushed to increase opportunities for hunting and fishing. Earlier this month, he announced the establishment of a so-called International Wildlife Conservation Council to advise him on "the benefits that international recreational hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation, anti-poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking programs."

Ever since he got sworn into office as the President of the United States, Donald Trump received severe criticism from the public regarding his views on issues ranging from immigration to the global environment. He has even attempted to reverse the laws implemented by the Obama administration, and one of them happened to be the ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Africa. This is extremely outrageous because it shows that the U.S is not taking a tough stand against the illegal poaching and trafficking of endangered wildlife around the world. How is regulated sport hunting going to help in the conservation of endangered species like elephants, whose numbers continue to fall in the hands of human beings? According to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, Africa's elephant population plummeted by 30 percent across 18 countries. In Zimbabwe, it decreased by 6 percent and Zambia recorded "substantial declines" along the Zambezi River, even though the population elsewhere in the country remained stable. President Trump does not seem to understand that the illegal slaughter of elephants in Africa is also linked to militant groups like the Al-Shabaab, Janjaweed, and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). These groups benefit financially from the elephants' ivory because it promises them arms and ammunition to conduct their terrorist activities in their countries of operations. It is not just local people who are ruthlessly killed by these bloodthirsty killers; non-African people have also been victims of their brutality. For example, Al-Shabaab was responsible for an attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013 which claimed 67 lives. Out of the 67 people killed, 17 were foreigners. This clearly implies how the illegal ivory trade is linked to international terrorism. In my opinion, the decision made by the Trump administration to allow importation of elephant ivory in the U.S is sure to spell disaster for both elephants and people. In addition, it will certainly result in severe public backlash not just towards President Trump but also members of the American public having their photos taken with elephants they have killed for trophies.

View article and video here 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wolves and Politics Don't Mix

Gray wolf

A group of Republican lawmakers are pushing a legislation that would prevent game wardens and law enforcement from investigating and prosecuting illegal wolf killings in the state of Wisconsin. This legislation is being backed by GOP state Republicans Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake, Mary Felzkowski of Irma and Romaine Quinn of Rice Lake, and Senator Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst. In an email demanding co-sponsors for the bill, the authors stated that it is an effort to compel the Congress to enact an undecided federal legislation that would remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Mr. Jarchow, who announced a run for state Senate, indicated that the bill reflects an executive order made by Governor Butch Otter of Idaho in 2011 that he believes forced the federal government to end wolf protections there. In 2011, the Department of the Interior removed the wolf from the endangered species list in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Republicans quickly formulated and declared a state wolf hunt targeted at reducing an increasing population. However, that hunt lasted for only two years after a federal appeals court placed the wolves back on the list, claiming that the federal managers failed to think about the impacts of de-listing and did not give reason for the loss of the animal's historic range. Since then, an increasing number of beef producers, farmers, hunters, and lawmakers in northern Wisconsin have protested that the state's wolf population has gotten out of control and is causing problems. Mr. Jarchow stated that they have been waiting for the authorization of federal legislation that would remove wolves from protection again. But until that happens, he thinks that the federal government is acting in bad faith, so Wisconsin should not participate in what he sees as inadequate management. However, Rachel Tilseth, a wolf advocate of the group Wolves of Douglas County, is doubtful the legislation will pass. She thinks that it is more about getting attention for the anti-wolf movement in Wisconsin. She also claimed that wolves are destroying northern Wisconsin's deer populations and decimating mass amount of livestock are false. Despite a recent report of a record population of wolves in Wisconsin, she revealed that compensations made to farmers for animals attacked by wolves were down last year.

This issue of de-listing wolves or keeping them as endangered species has been going on for a long time. And all this time, it has become more of a political matter than a conservation issue. Politicians across the country have been debating whether to keep wolves as endangered species or remove them and majority of the arguments they have given do not have any scientific backup. It makes me feel frustrated to see the country's politicians, regardless of what party they are, constantly argue on what to do about wolves and at the same time farmers, ranchers, and other people are complaining about the animals causing trouble. I say that the issues related to wolves in the U.S should be of concern to conservation groups and not politicians. Conservation groups provide arguments and suggestions with proper scientific proof when it comes to dealing with issues related to wildlife. While none of the politicians have background in science, they should be willing to listen to and consider the arguments and suggestions made by conservation groups to help with their bill-drafting and decision-making on issues related to wolves or other wildlife. This recent legislation was drafted just to gain attention from the country's anti-wolf movement and probably does not contain any valid facts why game wardens and law enforcement officials should not investigate and prosecute killing of wolves in Wisconsin. This is why it is best to leave matters related to wildlife and conservation to biologists, researchers, and groups committed to the survival and well-being of wild animals, including endangered ones. Only they can determine whether an animal species can stay on the endangered species list or not.

View article here                     

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

International Law Enforcement and Military Officials Must Help Africa's Anti-Poaching Personnel

Ravi Perera (center) accompanying members of Kenya's anti-poaching patrol with a bloodhound

Ravi Perera is no ordinary crime scene investigator. While he normally investigates crime scenes for a local police department in northwest Orange County, California, twice a year he travels to Kenya where he provides training to the personnel in support of the country's anti-poaching efforts. He even arranges for delivery of donated equipment, especially compact digital cameras which anti-poaching patrols need to record evidence at wildlife crime scenes. A native of Sri Lanka, Mr. Perera was first drawn to Africa by photography. When he was able to visit, he fell in love with Kenya where he set up a small business that allowed him to lead personalized photographic safaris in the country. During his visits, he learned that poaching is a huge problem in which elephants and rhinos are targeted for their tusks and horns. According to Mr. Perera, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in 2007. But by 2014, the number of rhinos killed grew to 1,215. The poachers are known to adopt brutal techniques in obtaining rhino horns by crippling the animals with bullets and hacking off as much of the horn as possible with a chainsaw. In addition, they also shoot to kill if confronted by an anti-poaching patrol. These are the conditions Mr. Perera is working to improvise for the anti-poaching patrols. For his next trip, Mr. Perera is going to collect compact digital and trip cameras, clothing, and first aid and trauma kits. He is also planning to take with him a collection of fingerprinting supplies to check to see which might work best in lifting hidden fingerprints from rhino horns. He will also continue to teach Kenya's anti-poaching patrol personnel how to collect and examine gunshot residue and accurately record a crime scene by using digital photography. As part of his solution to the problem of excessive area for anti-poaching patrols to guard in person, Mr. Perera will teach them how to install traps using trip cameras that set off only under special circumstances. Furthermore, he will anti-poaching patrols correct handling of evidence and how to efficiently use their dogs.
Mr. Perera teaching anti-poaching personnel how to use camera trap.
Bloodhound getting a sniff before being set off to track a scent as part of an anti-poaching patrol.  
Mr. Perera discussing with the personal keeper of northern white rhinoceros Sudan how he is doing and how to keep him safe at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.  

Mr. Perera is an ideal role model in the battle against illegal poaching and trade of wildlife around the world. Not only does he spend his time investigating ordinary crime scenes, he provides help and training to the anti-poaching personnel in Kenya in order to save elephants, rhinos, and other endangered wildlife from poachers. Although anti-poaching personnel in Kenya and other African countries are fully dedicated to defending the wildlife, they often lack necessary skills and equipment which allows poachers to stay one step ahead of them in the ongoing war against poaching and illegal wildlife smuggling. This is where people like Mr. Perera step in to ensure that anti-poaching personnel are able to gain advantage against the poachers. This includes teaching them various techniques such as how to properly install camera traps, accurately handle and examine gunshot residue and other evidences at a crime scene, and effectively use their dogs when out on patrol. However, Mr. Perera is not the only one teaching anti-poaching personnel how to combat poaching. There is even news that a team of British soldiers are training anti-poaching rangers in Malawi. It was even reported three years ago that a team of U.S Marines were training park rangers in Chad to combat elephant poaching. However, poaching still remains a continual problem for the future of Africa's wildlife. This is why it is very crucial that both local and international law enforcement officials and military personnel should join forces in taking a tough stand against poaching and illegal smuggling of Africa's endangered wildlife.

View article here             

Sunday, November 5, 2017

New Species or Not, the Tapanuli Orangutan Needs to Be Protected

A female Tapanuli orangutan with young

A study of a small orangutan population in northern Sumatra has revealed a new species: the Tapanuli orangutan. The name derives from an area covered by the Batang Toru ecosystem located south of Lake Toba in northern Sumatra, where the orangutans are found. However, this discovery is nothing new. These apes were first reported in the early 1930s, but it was not until 1997 that scientists rediscovered them and later started studying the animals. An international team of researchers, in the journal Current Biology, described a wide-range of characteristics indicating that the Tapanuli orangutan is a distinct species. As part of the investigation, the team reported how they examined the remains of an adult male orangutan killed by villagers in November 2013. The analysis consisted of comparison of the skull and jaws to those of 33 other adult male orangutans, held in collections of ten institutions around the world, revealing that the skull of the male Tapanuli orangutan is smaller than those of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. The researchers also noted the difference in the booming call of male Tapanuli orangutans to those of the two known species. In addition, they also indicated that Tapanuli orangutans have more cinnamon-colored pelts than Bornean orangutans with a curlier texture than the loose locks of Sumatran orangutans. The team also noted the facial hair of Tapanuli orangutans, indicating that dominant males have prominent mustaches and females have beards.
Male Tapanuli orangutan

The researchers also conducted an analysis of the genomes of 37 orangutans from Borneo and Sumatra, enabling them to unpick the apes' evolutionary "family tree." The results implied that orangutans north of Lake Toba separated about 3.4 million years ago  from the more southerly population of ancestral orangutans that first came from mainland Asia, giving rise to the Sumatran orangutans. A further separation from the population south of Lake Toba occurred about 674,000 years ago, giving rise to the Bornean species as well as the Tapanuli species that, like its ancestors, live south of Lake Toba. A previous research discovered that the mitochondrial DNA of Tapanuli orangutans is more similar to that of Bornean orangutans, while the nuclear DNA of the Tapanuli species is more similar to that of the Sumatran species. The new study disclosed that even after the separation between orangutans north and south of Lake Toba, the animals continued to interbreed which was possibly due to wandering males and resulted in mixing of the nuclear DNA. Fortunately, this behavior was cut short about 100,000 years ago - close to when a volcano erupted at Lake Toba - and stopped altogether between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago. Essentially, since the females stayed put, so too did the mitochondrial DNA. According to William Amos, professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of Cambridge, it was difficult to be precise when it came to timings of separations but that the proof for a new species stacked up. University of York's Dr. Andrew Marshall stated that the study emphasized the importance of conservation and added that there might also be an additional great ape species to be discovered. However, University College London's Professor Volker Sommer was not amazed, pointing out that there is no clear proof for what makes a new species. In his own words, he said that any bunch of expert biologists"can invent a new species, if they get their arguments together."
Lake Toba

It is very amazing through scientific research that new species are being discovered, especially in places like Indonesia which is one the major biodiversity hotspots in the world. Earlier, much of the newly discovered species in Indonesia came in the form of small animals such as frogs, invertebrates, and probably birds. But this is the first time that a new species of orangutan has been discovered. The research team that studied this unique species noted a number of differences and similarities between the Tapanuli orangutan and the Bornean and Sumatran species from the morphological scale to the genetic scale. While there is a great deal of amazement from scholars in biological, evolutionary, and zoological fields, others like Professor Volker Sommer are more skeptical than amazed. They argue that there is no clear criteria for what makes a new species. Regardless, the Tapanuli orangutan is critically endangered like its Sumatran and Bornean counterparts with fewer than 800 individuals believed to be existing in an area covered by the Batang Toru ecosystem. Therefore, it requires a great deal of protection from habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade so that researchers can continue to study it to unlock any further secrets about this newly discovered species in the name of science.

View article and video here                     

Friday, November 3, 2017

Walruses Need to Be Recognized as Endangered Species

Walruses on an ice floe

The Center for Biological Diversity has recently stated that walruses are threatened after the Trump Administration refused to list them as "endangered" last month. The conservation group, which filed a lawsuit in 2008 to get the animals on the Endangered Species List, said that the government's decision has put the species in an ominous state as it meets the effects of climate change. According to Chad Jay, who leads the walrus research program at the U.S Geological Survey Alaska Science Center, the animals are dealing with loss of habitat due to melting of sea ice which they rely on for breeding, feeding, nursing, their young, and avoid predators. Although the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized that sea ice is melting due to climate change, it denied that walruses are in danger of extinction, suggesting that that they will probably be able to adapt to their changing environment. However, even though the agency has estimated that there are almost 23,000 walruses left, it has indicated that there is some concern over the precise population numbers.
A gathering of about 35,000 walruses by NOAA's annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey 

The impact of climate change has and continues to tremendously affect the walruses through sea ice melting, particularly in late summer and early autumn. This is when sea ice shrinks to such a large extent that it does not cover the shallow areas that function as the animals' feeding grounds. Therefore, the walruses are forced to use land haul outs further away from their feeding grounds to rest between their feeding sessions. According to Lee Cooper, a research professor at University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science, walruses are known to survive without food for a certain amount of time. But that does not mean they can survive on the long run. The decline in sea ice is a result of ocean warming and acidification. Acidification is known to threaten clams and mussels, which constitute the main diet of walruses thus affecting their survival. In addition, climate change has even affected the movement and behavior of walruses. While males come normally come ashore at certain times of the year, since 2007, researchers have sighted more females and their young on land than males. The younger walruses are vulnerable to being trampled to death when giant herds form on land. In September, roughly 64 youngsters less than a year old were found dead near Point Lay in Alaska. This indicates that walruses on land are prone to disturbance from factors ranging from polar bears and human activities. And it is therefore crucial to identify specific areas in the Arctic region where walruses are present and mark them as off-limits to the public, in order to reduce the impact of human activities.
The Trump Administration decided not to list walruses as endangered species much to the dismay of the Center for Biological Diversity

It is equally essential that the U.S government should recognize the need to protect and preserve walruses and various species of Arctic wildlife under threat of climate change and global warming. The Trump Administration made a very shameful decision in refusing to recognize and list walruses as endangered species, despite the studies and research done by conservation groups like the Center for Biological Diversity. This indicates that the administration has very little to worry about the issue of climate change which not only harms harms the inhabitants of the Arctic, but also people and wildlife around the world. It does not matter what political party is in power or under whose presidency the U.S is functioning; the bottom line is that climate change and global warming should be taken seriously and essential measurements must be implemented to ensure the protection and well-being of people and wildlife around the world. In addition, acknowledging such environmental issues would put U.S in good terms with other countries and with various conservation groups on both national and international levels.

View article here              

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cattle Ranchers in Northern California Should Learn to Coexist with Wolves

Gray wolf howling

Officials have confirmed that an attack on livestock was made by a wolf in California for the first time in over a century. A report by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) indicated that the incident occurred on October 13 when a heifer on a ranch in Lassen County was attacked and killed by a wolf pack dubbed the "Lassen Pack." After investigating the animal's carcass, the Fish and Wildlife Department officials stated that the "location and nature of the bite marks and the significant associated tissue hemorrhaging" were logical with a wolf attack. The agency also recognized wolf tracks and the proof of a struggle near the carcass, which was missing one leg, seven ribs, and much of the heifer's neck. This was not the only investigation of a wolf attack on livestock in Lassen County. In September, the department investigated four other probable wolf depredations - or kills - on the same ranch in which one kill was concluded as a "possible" wolf devastation while the remaining cows' causes of death were unknown. Wallace Roney, the owner of the ranch, believes that wolves were responsible for the deaths of his five cows. A statement by the California Farm Bureau Federation claimed that "GPS data and eyewitness reports place the Lassen Pack near the cattle at the time of their deaths."

While it is disturbing to hear that Mr. Wallace's cows had died as a result of what he believes to be wolves, it is clear that he and other ranchers are well-aware of the wolves' presence in Lassen County since the Fish and Wildlife Department announced the discovery of the Lassen Pack in July. The pack is led by an alpha male named OR-7, who migrated into northern California from Oregon six years ago. His pack is the second wolf pack found in the region since the 1920s when California's wolf population was devastated by humans. After almost a century since the wolf's annihilation, or localized extinction, the California Fish and Game Commission included wolves to the state's Endangered Species List, much to the shock of ranchers who feared that such protections would threaten their livelihoods. The statement by the Farm Bureau indicated that livestock groups castigated the CDFW for failing to publicly announce the wolf kill. But the agency's spokesperson, Jordan Traverso, denied such claims saying that the agency announced the wolf kill on its official website and blog, and that it went through "great lengths" to talk with those possibly affected by the Lassen Pack. He further added that the agency provided Mr. Wallace with "non-lethal assistance/tools", but he declined.

This news clearly highlights the hostility ranchers, organizations representing the ranchers, and the farming industry have towards the CDFW and the Fish and Game Commission, regarding wolves in northern California. The hostility took a step further in January when a conservative legal foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of the California Cattlemen's Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation claiming that the commission added wolves illegally into the Endangered Species List. This attitude the ranchers have towards the CDFW and the Fish and Game Commission is comparable to that of French sheep farmers towards their local government. They do not want wolves roaming in the region and are not willing to work with wildlife agencies and organizations or take suggestions from them to tackle their wolf problem. If this hostility continues, then these ranchers will continue to lose their cattle to wolves or some other factors thus affecting their livelihoods. It is crucial that the ranchers and the CDFW and Fish and Game Commission join forces with one another to tackle this potential wolf problem. This includes coming up with non-lethal solutions such as the use of livestock guardian dogs to prevent wolves from preying on the ranchers' cattle. The key is to coexist peacefully without resorting to any harmful means of protection.

View article here           

Monday, October 30, 2017

Southern California's Anti-Wildlife Smuggling Operation

A Bengal tiger that was seized in Ventura County

A Florida man was arrested last week for his involvement in the illegal sale and transportation of a Bengal tiger that was seized from a residence in Ventura County, California. The perpetrator was identified as Nicholas Bishop, also known as "Nick the Wrangler," who currently lives in the city of Hallandale Beach but at the time of the crime he lived in Henderson, Nevada. According to a report by the Department of Justice, he was identified in a criminal accusation charging him with the federal felony violation of helping and condoning the purchase of the tiger. An affidavit in support of the complaint indicated that Bishop counterfeited documents used to purchase the tiger in March 2014 from an Indiana-based organization called Wildlife In Need, Wildlife Indeed. He stated that he had bought the animal for rap artist Tyga. Next month, the tiger was sighted in a backyard in the town of Piru and reported to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) which later found and seized the animal. It weighed about 100 pounds when it was found and now weighs well over 400 pounds. The two individuals possessing the tiger were convicted in state court. Bishop, on the other hand, was taken into custody on October 19. If convicted, he would be sentenced to five years in federal prison.
The tiger in the backyard of a Ventura County home from where it was seized

The apprehension of Nicholas Bishop was one of several made as part of a law enforcement initiative titled Operation Jungle Book. The operation, whose prime objective is targeting wildlife smuggling, led to federal criminal charges against 16 defendants who purportedly aided in the illegal importation and/or transfer of several animal species. In addition to Bishop, other perpetrators included a man from Monterey Park, who pleaded guilty last month to smuggling king cobras that were illegally transported into the U.S after being concealed in potato chip cans shipped from Hong Kong. An Inglewood man pleaded guilty for smuggling five monitor lizards into the country, out of which two died while they were being transported. A man from Westminster pleaded guilty to smuggling an arowana and various turtle species, and an Orange County man was sentenced to one year in prison and additional six months of house arrest after pleading guilty to smuggling protected songbirds from Asia. Last month, prosecutors also acquired three allegations charging three individuals and two companies with participating in the illegal trading of protected live corals. The indictments for all of the defendants are set for early November.
Rescued tiger in dog crate

The state of California has strict laws against the smuggling and possession of endangered and exotic species of animals from around the world. This was seen during a series of arrests made by Operation Jungle Book on alleged perpetrators accused of participating in smuggling of animals such as this tiger in southern California. This tiger was reportedly purchased for Tyga, a very prominent figure in the music and pop culture scene which indicates that the illegal smuggling of endangered species should be recognized as a significant threat to the general public just the way weapons and drugs are. Animals are often kept in residential areas like the one in Ventura County, where the tiger was confined in a backyard before being rescued. It was a disaster waiting to happen, especially when you have a 400-pound big cat that is capable of leaping nearly 30 feet in the air. Fortunately, there was no incident of this tiger attacking an innocent person or even escaping from the backyard but it could have been worse. This is why it is extremely crucial to address wildlife smuggling as an international threat to the general public as well as wildlife and take action against it. This includes establishing strict laws that outlaw any acts related to wildlife smuggling and penalties for such activities, educating the public about wildlife smuggling and how to help stop it, and setting up anti-wildlife smuggling operations in collaboration between conservation groups and the federal government. California may be one of the few states that has taken significant efforts to combat wildlife smuggling, but there are also other states where this illicit trade is probably not taken seriously. Therefore, it is highly crucial to take a step against the international wildlife smuggling and end it.

View article here