Saturday, November 18, 2017

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

An elephant herd in Kenya's 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 and organizations representing them and the farming industry have towards the CDFW and 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 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Africa's Elephant Poaching Drops, But Why do Elephant Populations Continue to Fall?

A stockpile of elephant ivory

Experts have recently confirmed that elephant poaching in Africa has declined for the fifth year in a row. However, they also revealed in their new report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that elephant populations continue to decline because of illegal killing and other anthropogenic activities while seizures of substantial illegal ivory shipments were at record high last year. In East Africa, where elephant numbers have been almost reduced by fifty percent in ten years, illegal killing has dropped back to pre-2008 levels. While elephant numbers are either increasing or stable in southern Africa, the illegal killing remained high in central Africa. The report also indicated that international illegal ivory trade activities stayed as high as in past years, which could be down to a panic auction by traffickers as major countries such as U.S, China, U.K, and Hong Kong have placed domestic bans. There are also reports that the price of ivory has declined by 50% in the past few years. However, there is also proof that ivory is being prepared in Africa for Asian markets with smaller quantities of "worked" ivory already made into ornaments which can be transported through airport check-in and carry-on luggage or by couriers. According to general secretary of CITES, John Scanlon, the decline in elephant poaching indicates "what is possible through sustained and collective frontline enforcement and demand reduction efforts, coupled with strong political support." He further added that the surge in the seizures of illegally traded ivory last year may also be an indication that ivory trafficking has been affected by the possibility of greater restrictions, the immediate domestic ban in several countries, and expectation of continuous drop of price. Therefore, international crime syndicates behind poaching and smuggling might be involved in the panic auction of illegal ivory. According to Colman O'Criodain, wildlife policy manager of the WWF, emphasis is now on closing loopholes that allowed the trade to continue and sanctioning such legislation to ensure that elephant populations do not continue to dwindle.
African elephant population circa 2013

Despite a significant decrease in Africa's elephant poaching, elephant populations are continuously falling. Despite substantial efforts in law enforcement, coupled with strong political support, and immediate domestic ban on ivory in several countries, the killing of elephants for their tusks goes unabated. The perpetrators behind the illegal trade appear to be using small quantities of "worked" ivory to be made into ornaments which can be shipped to Asian markets unnoticed. In addition, a so-called "panic sell-out" of ivory involving international crime syndicates has been going on in response to domestic bans in various countries. This implies that the global ivory trade is still continuing with incidences illegal killings of elephants in centered in central Africa and other parts of the continent to feed the growing demand of ivory in Asia. It is highly essential to put emphasis on shutting down loopholes that enabled the trade to continue and enforcing a legislation that outlaws not just the poaching of elephants, but also the processing and shipping of ivory. With an average of 55 elephants killed everyday, action needs to be taken.

View article here              

Thursday, October 26, 2017

New Hope for Tamil Nadu's Blackbucks


Forest officials in Tamil Nadu's Kancheepuram district have proposed to declare three reserve forests as blackbuck sanctuaries to protect the endangered antelopes. In Kancheepuram district, they are found in three reserve forests in the Chengalpattu forest division where their numbers are close to 300. The three reserve forest areas are Thirukazhukkundram, Salur, and Thaiyur. The first two adjoining ones are spread over 1,310 hectares of wooded area, while the third one is spread over 600 hectares and located on the western side of the Rajiv Gandhi Expressway. The Thaiyur Reserve Forest also has a dense blackbuck population, compared to Salur and Thirukazhukkundram. More than 200 animals were observed there a few years ago by a Chennai-based biodiversity research organization called the Care Earth Trust. The local people living near the forests stated that the animals are at risk of getting injured by glass pieces because drunks haunt the area and leave liquor bottles behind. One forest officer indicated that a proposal had been brought up earlier by the central government to establish an institute of higher learning in the Thaiyur Reserve Forest, which would be destructive to the blackbucks' survival.
Blackbuck in Guindy National Park; also in Tamil Nadu

It is necessary that these three reserve forests be declared sanctuaries for blackbucks. The first step in protecting such endangered animals is to notify the public by declaring areas where the animals have been observed as sanctuaries. This should be then followed by developing rules and regulations that everyone has to abide by. For example, it is crucial to report any suspicious activity in the vicinity of these forests related to not just poaching but also regular acts of hooliganism such as drunkenness and disturbing of peace. Furthermore, the central government should reconsider its proposal of setting an institute of higher learning. This would be detrimental to the survival of the blackbucks, as was the case of animals in the vicinity of IIT Madras. The idea is to have both people and animals live side-by-side one another in peace. The way to achieve that goal is to come up with and conduct measurements that do not have a negative impact on both people and animals.

View article here

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tough Times for the Great Indian Bustard

Great Indian bustard

A five-day landscape survey carried out by the Maharashtra Forest Department and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for possible great Indian bustard habitats resulted in not a single sighting being made of the magnificent bird. However, WII scientist Dr. Bilal Habib confirmed that even though not one bustard was sighted it does not mean that there are no bustards in Maharashtra. According to M.K Rao, additional principal chief conservator of forests (APCCF), there is a discrepancy between areas covered during the survey and where the bustards were found. He further added that the birds are using new areas, which was also uncovered from WII's radio-collaring project for the GIBs last year. Despite the installation of protected area for the conservation of the bustards, their numbers continue to decrease. On the contrary, the bustards have been recorded in human-dominated areas outside protected areas in Maharashtra and neighboring states. Gopal Thosar, a GIB expert who has been associated with the bustards for more than twenty years, stated that it is a warning sign. He indicated that one of the reasons for the lack of bustard sighting during the survey was that newer GIB areas were not considered. He further added that the forest department needs to develop a policy to encourage local farmers to save the bustards. Mr. Rao added that change in crop pattern could also be one of the reasons, in which the birds do well where traditional land use pattern is still being implemented. Habib stated that the WII study has proved that the bustards were observed in and around crops of differing heights and intercrop spacing. It was noted on the edges of tall and short and well-spaced crops or grasslands. The only time when the bustards were not sighted was when there was an increase in temperature and crop harvest. Their return corresponded with the arrival of monsoon and presence of cover.

It seems that this study has discovered that the movement and sighting of the great Indian bustard is influenced by the way farmers utilize their land. When farmers incorporate traditional land use practice, it protects existing bustard habitat from any significant changes in land use. This was the case of Warora near Maharashtra's Chandrapur district, where traditional land use practice, low rainfall, and the farmers' economic status appear to be favorable for the bustards during the breeding season. However, one of the survey's team members, Prakash Kamde, pointed out that encroachments and substantial use of pesticides is threatening the birds. He further added that farmlands have shrunk for development projects, which is also contributing to the disturbance. It is highly crucial to take large-scale efforts to save the great Indian bustard in Maharashtra and in other parts of its home range. This includes incorporating a policy to encourage farmers to save the birds. The farmers will not come forward to save the bustards, unless they are rewarded. This implies that there is a great need to establish a joint partnership between the farmers and forest departments, in order to save the great Indian bustard. Furthermore, emphasis should be placed on banning pesticides and preventing large-scale development projects from taking place, especially in areas where farmers practice traditional land use. Such projects not only affect the bustards, but also the farmers' lifestyle and livelihood. As long as these threats continue to persist, the great Indian bustard will keep shifting from one habitat to another until there are no habitats left for it.

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Has Rajasthan Become Unsafe for the Chinkara?


The magnificent chinkara or the Indian gazelle continues to be poached in Rajasthan for its meat primarily by the Bawariya community supposedly at the order of the wealthy Rajputs. In 2017 so far, a dozen of these gazelles have been illegally hunted in Bikaner district. According to data from the forest department, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur districts each registered about about six to ten incidences of chinkara poaching every year. However, activists stress that real numbers are twice or thrice than those reported. Remarkably, poaching of chinkara is rife in a region with a large population of the Bishnoi community which passionately protects the animals and trees and despite the members fiercely assaulting the hunters when they are caught. However, according to Rampal Bishnoi, a conservationist from Jodhpur, the poachers have resorted to other methods of hunting since gunshots alert the Bishnois. Their new method consists of using a tape recorder to play the sound of a chinkara fawn while hiding nearby a forest area. At times, the poachers would use a battery-operated fan in a tin can to produce a whirring sound to lure the animals. When the gazelles come, the poachers come out from the hiding and strike at the animals' legs, crippling one or two, and beat them to death. They would then quickly sever the head and legs, dump them, and flee with the animals' torsos.
Rajputs in 1876

The poachers are mostly of the Bawariya community, a scheduled caste whose occupation has been hunting and traditionally serving the Rajputs, who are the politically dominant caste in Rajasthan. The Bawariyas are generally poor and live in thatched or one-room houses. The Bishnois dislike both the Bawariyas and the Rajputs, and stress that members of the Bawariya community hunt at the order of the Rajputs who are fond of chinkara meat. According to Sudeep Kaur, deputy conservator of forests, Indira Gandhi Nahar Project - Stage II, Jaisalmer, the number of chinkara poaching cases increases in winter when there is a tourist flow in the region. He further added that the conviction rate is poor, in which out of almost hundred cases in Bikaner, there has only been one conviction and a couple of acquittals while the majority is pending in courts. Chief conservator of forests Raghuvir Singh Shekhawat elaborated on the conviction rate, indicating difficulty in getting evidence or witnesses is difficult in case of an animal death. In addition, the poor Bawariyas are able to get top lawyers to fight their cases.
A Bishnoi woman

Despite its protection under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the chinkara is continuously poached in its homeland. Even with protection of the Bishnoi people, it is still unsafe as poachers have resorted to far subtle means of killing them without the Bishnois noticing. But what is even more appalling is that the rate of convicting the poachers is very poor, as they are able to have access to top lawyers defending them due to their allegiance to their wealthy employers. However, despite the promise of acquittal from alleged poaching cases, many Bawariyas remain poor and earn as little as Rs. 500 per chinkara they kill. This clearly implies that members of the Rajput community are behind the illegal trade of chinkara meat and benefiting from it. Because they are so wealthy and politically dominant, the Rajputs have little to fear of being tried and convicted on charges related to Rajasthan's ongoing chinkara poaching. It is unconscionable that such members of the Rajput community see themselves as untouchable from law enforcement officials and the judicial system. It is highly essential to take action against this crisis by training the forest department staff on how to frame cases for higher convictions. Furthermore, it is crucial to reach out to the Bawariya community and encourage them to give up the traditional practice of hunting by providing harmless alternatives that can guarantee them a fair pay to support themselves and their families. This could include employing former poachers in the forest department to help in tracking down and capturing other poachers. Most importantly, it is necessary to form a peace treaty between the Bishnois, Bawariyas, and the Rajputs. While some members of the Rajput community are involved in Rajasthan's chinkara poaching, it does not mean that the entire caste is involved. It would be very useful if the Bishnois and the Bawariyas join forces with one another in the battle against poaching in their homeland. If the poaching of the chinkara continues in Rajasthan, then the state would become unsafe for the gazelle.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Could the Death of a Young Girl by a Tiger Have Been Avoided?

Bengal tiger

A ten-year-old girl was recently mauled to death by a tiger in Madhya Pradesh's Sehore district. The girl, identified as Nitu, was out grazing cattle with her two younger sisters during the early morning hours in Sehore's Khadabad village which is close to the Ratapani forest area where the tiger population has increased in the last few years. According to forest officials, the tiger was hiding in the bushes, reportedly feeding on a calf when it pounced on Nitu from behind, grabbing her by the neck. Her sisters screamed and pelted stones at the tiger, which left its victim and escaped with its kill. Nitu succumbed to her injuries by the time her sisters took her home. According to Manoj Argal, conservator of forest in Sehore forest division, it is not clear what prompted the tiger to attack. One officer stated that the tiger is not a man-eater and that this was the "first such incident reported from this area." Forest officials granted monetary relief to the family and advised the villagers to avoid venturing out into the forests. Nitu's father, Suresh Bhilala, was given Rs.10,000 and guaranteed a financial help of Rs.4 lakh in the next three months.
View of Ratapani forest area

It is extremely tragic to see such a young life lost to one of India's most iconic animals, but what is truly shocking is that the area where the attack happened has not been notified as a tiger reserve for so many years. Ratapani, which spreads over 890 square kilometers in Bhopal-Raisen forest division, is recorded to have eleven breeding tigers but it has not been declared by the state government as a tiger reserve despite an in-principle approval from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2008. The reason for this delay is facilitation of two developmental projects in the area. These projects are the widening of the current 4/6 lane NH-12 section from Bhopal to Baraily by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and upgradation work on Obaidullagunj to Rehti Road which passes through Ratapani. In 2015, the Madhya Pradesh High Court accepted a petition over the delay in notifying Ratapani area as a tiger reserve. The petition was driven by RTI activist Ajay Dubey through his counsel Siddhartha Radhelal Gupta. Notices were given to the forest department, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), State Wildlife Board, NTCA, and the environment ministry asking them to answer why the Ratapani area has not been declared a tiger reserve despite the approval of the NTCA. A proposal for the declaration of Ratapani as a tiger reserve was shifted to the backdrop of growing tiger population in the sanctuary and the animals frequently wandering into Bhopal district's Kerwa forests. This was inhibiting tiger habitat and resulting in man-animal conflict.
Road running through Ratapani

The death of this young girl was attributed to the delay in declaring Ratapani as a tiger reserve and the lack of action that is deemed necessary to make space for tigers and prevent any human encroachment into the area. The two developmental projects on roads cutting through the area are preventing any measurements required to establish Ratapani as a tiger reserve, and this cannot go on forever. Further delay will increase the chances of tiger attacks in the area and severely affect the livelihood and lifestyle of the villagers. It is highly crucial to put these projects on hold and first work towards making Ratapani a tiger reserve. This includes identifying specific locations in the area occupied by tigers and if villages happen to be present, it is necessary to encourage the villagers to move from those spots and settle in areas where there is no indication of tiger or any other predator presence. This would help prevent any human-animal conflict and provide plenty of space for tigers and other wild animals. When a forest area is found to have a significant number of tigers or any wild animals, it must be declared a protected area without delay and should be undergone with proper measurements to ensure that both people and wildlife coexist peacefully.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Study Reveals that Alligators Like to Eat Sharks

American alligator

A recent study published in the Southeastern Naturalist revealed instances of alligators preying on small sharks along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The study was conducted by James Nifong of Kansas State University and his colleagues, who have spent almost ten years studying alligators along the Florida and Georgia coasts generally using lamps to view the reptiles' nocturnal hunting activities. During their study, more than 500 alligators were caught and their stomachs examined to see what they had eaten. Their research found proof that the reptiles had consumed three species of sharks - each measuring 3-4 feet - and a stingray. Dr. Nifong also found historical evidence of alligators in confrontation with sharks dating as far back as the 1870s, but the findings were limited to an island off the coast of Georgia. They included one instance in which sharks attacked a group of alligators that were feeding on fish. Dr. Nifong indicated that such instances occur when sharks and rays swim up into freshwater and GPS tracking of alligators showed that the reptiles were opportunistic enough to take advantage.

It is astounding to see what a unique behavior alligators are capable of demonstrating in their natural habitat. Normally their diet consists of freshwater fish, crustaceans, birds, other reptiles, and various mammals ranging from rodents to raccoons and deer. However, this recent study has revealed their diet has also included sharks which nobody knew about before. One of the three shark species being preyed on by the alligators could be the bull shark, which is responsible for attacks on people along with the tiger and great white shark and is known to swim between both salt and fresh water. As part of this research study, it would be useful to identify which species of sharks the alligators are consuming. This could help indicate that alligators are dominant predators in the swampy ecosystems of the Southeastern U.S. While this seems like big news, Dr. Nifong indicated that the findings brought into question how important sharks and rays are to the alligators' diet. They also brought into question the fatality of some juvenile sharks in terms of population management of endangered species. This is why it is crucial to further study this unique hunting behavior to see if alligator attacks on sharks are increasing and investigate whether it is influenced by coastal development that has pushed alligators out of their freshwater habitats.

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