Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lion’s share goes up in Gir

Jumana Shah
Friday, May 30, 2008 03:31 IST

AHMEDABAD: Now, here's one more reason for the last breed of Asiatic lions in Gir to cheer. Acknowledging the need to expand the habitat area of lions, the state government has accepted the Greater Gir proposal.

According to the proposal, the current sanctuary area has to be increased threefold and the entire corridor declared eco-fragile.

Through the Rs40 crore allocated to the Gujarat Lion Conservation Society in the state budget this year, the government has already initiated expansion of the habitat as the population of lions is expanding rapidly. The entire corridor up to Palitana in Bhavnagar and Mahuva in South Savarkundla and Jesar will be declared protected.

This expansion is in addition to the recent addition of a 180 sq km area of Girnar hills to the 1,460 sq km of the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and Puniya and Mitiyala forest areas to the sanctuary in the past.

"The idea of Brihad (Greater) Gir has been accepted by the government. Nearly 200 sq km area will be given protected status sometime in the future and maybe even sanctuary status eventually," said principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Pradeep Khanna. He said efforts were on to identify and acquire land which used to be the traditional corridor of lions as they were straying there in huge numbers anyway.

Most of this land which was once habited by lions is now farmland, cattle grazing land (guachar) or villages. This is making the task of giving the area the requisite protected status rather difficult. "Identifying the ownership of the land is a lengthy process as the area is very large. But since the government has agreed in principle to expand the habitat of lions, it should not be very difficult," Khanna added.


Thirty-three held for illegally entering Gir forest, released on self-bail

Posted online: Tuesday , May 27, 2008 at 11:26:03
Updated: Tuesday , May 27, 2008 at 11:26:03

Junagadh, May 26 Forest officials arrested 33 people for illegally entering the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary on Sunday. However, they were released later after producing self-bails.

According to forest officials, the arrests were made under the provision of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. They said the offenders will be prosecuted and fine will be slapped on them.

Officials said that Deputy Conservator of Forest (Gir east) J S Solanki, during his scheduled visit in the protected area, noticed a group of men and women there. When he questioned them, he found that the group had made an illegal entry.

“Illegally entering a protected forest area is a serious offence. They will be prosecuted before the court of deputy conservator of forest,” Solanki said. He added that on Saturday, a motorcyclist was also arrested while roaming around in the protected area.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, a carcass of a full-grown lioness was recovered from Babaravidi, a protected area outside the Gir forest near Malia town. A postmortem conducted on the spot did not show any injury on the body.

“The exact cause of death could not be established immediately. Viscera of the animal have been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory, Junagadh for a detailed clinical examination,” officials said.


King of the Gir


A forest-dwelling animal, the Asiatic lion is comfortable in the the Gir which is a combination of dry decidious and shrub forest interspersed with patches of grassland and riverine forest.

The Gir Forest in Saurashtra, Gujarat is the only remaining large tract of natural forest in the region. Most of this forest was initially established as a wildlife sanctuary primarily to provide a safe home for the Asiatic lions. Subsequently the central part of the Sanctuary was declared as a National Park to upgrade the protection afforded to the habitat of this endangered wild cat. This population is the last remaining free ranging and wild population of lions in Asia. For a species that was once very widespread in its distribution from Syria eastwards through most parts of northern and central India and possibly numbered in thousands this has been quite a dramatic decline in distribution as well as numbers. The current population is estimated to be about 370 which in itself is remarkable as the population had hit a low of about 20 animals in the late 1880s.

The Asiatic lion is a forest dwelling animal. The Gir forest is a combination of dry deciduous and scrub forest interspersed with patches of grassland and riverine forest. The terrain is undulating with a few expansive plains. These forests on an average receive between 650 and 1000 mm of rainfall and droughts are quite common.

Invaluable collection

Gir is a delight to the wildlife tourist as well as a wildlife researcher as it holds a wonderful variety of plant and animal life. Both lions and leopards are regularly sighted. Chital, sambar, nilgai, chinkara, wild pig, chousingha, two species of mongoose, small Indian civet, common langur are species of mammals that can be sighted easily. The forest has a rich bird life especially raptors. The reservoirs and rivers hold large populations of mugger crocodile.

I have had the good fortune to sight five leopards together. This group was a mother with her four fully grown cubs. This in many ways indicates both the health and productivity of the forest and also the good protection that is given to the wildlife here.

There is a fairly large human population living in and around the Sanctuary. The Maldharis who live in the forest are pastoral who graze herds of buffaloes in the forest. They live in thorn enclosed settlements called ness. Thousands of tourists visit Gir every year. They all want to see lions and in their anxiety to sight the wild cat they often fail to notice and enjoy the landscape and other species of wildlife.

While seeing a wild lion is always a thrilling experience it is good to also develop an interest in other wildlife. Junagadh and Veraval are the closest towns to the headquarters of the protected area in Sasan village. Since there can be no guarantee for sighting wildlife it is important to invest sufficient time to sight the wildlife of Gir and to savour the experience. I can assure you that seldom will a visit to Gir be disappointing.


The Lion People

May 25, 2008
Deepa Krishnan

Everyone knows about the Masai of Africa, but have you heard of the Lion People of Gujarat?

My daughter went to Sasan Gir Lion Sanctuary, and brought back this portrait of a Maldhari herdsman.

The Maldharis are buffalo-herders, who live in little mud nesses inside the Gir forest. Like the Masai, the Maldhari count their wealth in cattle and build their ness with a thorn enclosure to safeguard livestock from predators. But unlike the Masai, the Maldharis are vegetarian and do not slaughter their livestock for meat. They live instead, by selling milk and milk products, and use the earnings to barter or buy vegetables.

Maldhari homes have no electricity or running water. Every morning, the Maldhari men take their cattle to the forest to graze, while the women gather firewood and grass, draw water, and tend to the home. While letting their cattle graze, the Maldhari have to keep a sharp lookout for Gir's Asiatic lions, for whom the cattle are an easy target.

They're good looking people, these men, aren't they? Sharp features, confident, and so very macho. Maybe you'd be macho too, if you had to watch out for prides of hunting lionesses, with only a stick or an axe to protect your herd? The lions take 8 out of every 100 cattle that the Maldhari own, but the Maldharis do not hunt or kill the lions. They have learned to live alongside them.

The Forest Department believes Maldhari cattle over-graze the forest and deplete its water resources, making life difficult for the deer, nilgai and other ungulates of Gir. In addition, they fear domestic cattle will bring disease into the forest, wiping out the last surviving pure breed of Asiatic lions.

But other conservationists say the Maldhari herds are still vital to the survival of the lions. A 16-month study monitoring six Maldhari nesses in 2006-2007 established that almost 50% of the diet of Gir lions consists of Maldhari livestock. If you were to remove the Maldharis from the park, the study says, it would significantly affect the lion density, pride size and structure.

Sasan Gir has a complex set of problems. The biggest one is that it has too many lions and too little space. So there are territorial fights among the lions, and this leaves the smaller and younger males with no choice but to look for new places outside the protected area. Gir's lions have now started migrating outside the park. I'm glad they are reclaiming the lands where they once roamed, but this brings them into populated areas and creates new sources of conflict. Relocating the lions to another sanctuary would be a good idea - but the Gujarat government doesn't want to move the lions out of Gujarat, so it blocked a plan recommended by the Wildlife Institute of India to move some lions to Madhya Pradesh.

Five state highways pass through Sasan Gir, and there is a widespread limestone mining nearby. There's a cement plant barely 15 kilometers outside the protected area. There are 23 temples, and 250,000 tourists every year. In an area that has very little rainfall, these human activities drain scarce resources, and leave the waterholes dry in summer (Lions in Gir have fallen into human wells!).

Instead of fixing these issues (which involve influential people and big money), the government has got it into its head that the Maldharis - a community that does not poach - are the chief problem.

In my view, the biggest threat to the Asiatic lion is not the Maldharis. The biggest threat is that the only 300-odd surviving Asiatic lions in the world are all hemmed together in one small forest. A single epidemic could wipe out the entire species. This is a disaster just waiting to happen.

Deepa Krishnan has a consulting practice in banking technology. She owns Mumbai Magic and Delhi Magic, companies that offer insightful, off-beat city tours


Gujarat's Pride?

Will some of Gir's prized Asiatic Lions find home in MP?

Debarshi Dasgupta

Why Gir Lions Are Sacred
A central proposal to move some lions to Kuno in MP from Gir has been in limbo for over two decades

Gujarat has been resisting since the lions are widely seen as the pride for Gujarat

Distributing the lions, feel experts, will reduce risks from an epidemic or natural calamity at one spot

Now MP and the Centre want to introduce some zoo lions into Kuno

The Supreme Court is hearing a pil pleading the court to order Gujarat to part with some lions

The dispute between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh over sharing wild Asiatic lions has taken a new turn.

The possession of the only surviving wild Asiatic lions has been a matter of pride for the Gujarat government.

With the Narendra Modi government rejecting an ambitious federal proposal to relocate some of lions from Gujarat's Gir sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh is now going ahead with transferring zoo-bred animals to Kuno—where a special habitat will be readied. Conservationists say this may have disastrous consequences since the lions will have to be adapted to the wild by humans and their offspring, if any, then prepared to be released. Brij Kishor Gupta of the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), however, says: "It's the second or third generation of these parent lions that we can think of releasing into the wild. This will take about 10 years."

Three genetically 'pure' Asiatic lions, two females and a male, have been identified to be moved from zoos in Delhi and Hyderabad, once the facility at Durandi in the Kuno sanctuary is ready. P.B. Gangopadhyay, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), wildlife, with the MP government, claims this is an interim measure. "Hopefully, Gujarat will one day understand our position that relocation is in the interest of the safety of the lion. Even the National Board of Wildlife has strongly endorsed our stand," he says. The stakes are high for MP as it has already spent Rs 15 crore to prepare Kuno and relocate over 1,500 families from the area.

Gir is home to 360 of the last surviving wild Asiatic lions. The proposal to shift some of these animals to a new location was first mooted in 1995 to ensure the lions have better chances of survival in case of a natural calamity, such as an epidemic. The outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus in Serengeti, Kenya, in 1994 which killed 30 per cent of the lions, typifies the kind of risk that exists. However, Gujarat's argument against the relocation plan is that the population of lions in the state has gone up from 327 in 2001 and that the Kuno sanctuary is not suitable enough.

Meanwhile, last month, in cooperation with the CZA, the Madhya Pradesh government demarcated an area in Kuno to house the "off-display conservation breeding centre" for zoo lions. But the move to 'rehabilitate' zoo lions in the wild has many critics. Says Asad Rahmani, director of Bombay Natural History Society: "The whole idea of conservation will be defeated, more so because we have a surviving wild population. It is a pity that politics is determining the outcome of such a prestigious project. Animals don't recognise political boundaries but only those that are ecological and Kuno is well within the ecological boundary of the Asiatic lion."

Adds Raghunandan Singh Chundawat, a conservationist specialising in big cats: "These zoo-bred lions are used to human presence and their offspring will require training to adapt to the wild and hunt. But what is the guarantee that these lions will not at some point stray into conflicts with humans for easy prey?"

The Supreme Court is hearing a pil seeking the relocation of wild lions filed in 2006 by Faiyaz Khudsar, a trustee with the Biodiversity Conservation Trust of India. "The people were relocated around Kuno to make way for wild lions.

Would it be ethical to introduce zoo lions instead?" asks Khudsar. While Gujarat is not legally bound to hand over its lions, Ritwick Dutta, the lawyer for the petitioner, argues, "Wildlife was kept a concurrent subject so that the centre can direct a state to carry out a task in the interest of protecting endangered species such as the Asiatic lion."

Pradeep Khanna, PCCF, wildlife, with the government of Gujarat, insists relocation does not recognise the successful conservation efforts of the state. "This proposal continues despite our success in tackling poaching and our ongoing efforts to repair wells that trap the lions. Even the local people of Gir take pride in conserving the lions and have paid a price in terms of losing some of their cattle," he says.

Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, in their affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court, have argued over various points such as whether the prey base in Kuno is adequate for lions, whether lions and tigers can coexist or if the lions will be adequately protected from poachers in Kuno. However, many conservationists argue that Gujarat's reasons for refusing to hand over some lions are not ecological but more political and economic in nature. The possession of the only surviving wild population of Asiatic lions has been an emotive issue for long in the state and the official press releases portray them as the 'pride of Gujarat'. It is common to find local politicians who bristle at talk of moving the lions.

Achyut Yagnik, honorary secretary of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action in Ahmedabad, says the possession of the lions has become a 'political legacy' that the Modi government has inherited from Shankersinh Vaghela. "When this proposal first came up, people from Saurashtra (where Gir is located) campaigned to retain ownership of the lions. The people of Gujarat take great pride in these lions who have a special place in local folk traditions," he says. The sanctuary attracts over a lakh of visitors annually. Revenues from Gir touched Rs 1.37 crore in 2007.

All eyes are now on the Supreme Court. Will it settle the dispute and end Gujarat's 'monopoly' over the Asiatic lion? Or will Madhya Pradesh have to continue to make do with lions in captivity? The fate of the conservation programme virtually rests on the apex court ruling.


Two lion cubs drown in Gujarat village well

May 22nd, 2008 - 1:26 am ICT by admin

Junagadh (Gujarat), May 21 (IANS) Two one-month-old lion cubs were found dead in a well in a village near Gujarat’s Gir forest Wednesday, even as a cub rescued from a well in another village was reunited with its mother. The two cubs, a male and a female, had fallen into the well owned by farmer Chagganbhai Parshottambhai in Khilavad village, 195 km from here. Chagganbhai saw the carcasses in the morning and informed forest officials.

Assistant conservator of forests J.K. Dhami told IANS that a lioness and her cubs could have wandered near the farm in search of prey. The cubs might have entered the machine room, where a large steel pipe is connected directly to the well, he said.

The autopsy confirmed they had died due to drowning, Dhami said.

Meanwhile, a six-month-old lion cub that was rescued Monday from a well near Sutrapada village, 150 km from here, was reunited with its mother Tuesday night.

To unite the cub with the lioness, forest officials put the young animal in a cage and left it near the border of the village. Their efforts paid off when a lioness came near the cage Tuesday night to retrieve her cub. As soon as the door of the cage was opened, the six-month-old rushed to its mother, who carried it away to a nearby forest.


Water points for Asiatic lions in Sasan Gir in Gujarat

21 May 2008, 1907 hrs IST,ANI

SASAN GIR SANCTUARY: With mercury registering high temperature with each passing day, the forest authorities in Sasan Gir sanctuary have made arrangements to protect lions and other wild life and domestic animals from being thirsty.

About 215 artificial water points have been made to arrange drinking water for animals.

The wildlife division in Sasan Gir is sending in a large number of tractor-tankers to replenish water holes and is also keeping a watch on movements of the prides.

According to B D Pati, the Chief Conservator of Forests, the drive of creating man-made waterholes is on and a good number of people are involved to make sure that pride of the jungle has no such problem.

"The work of filling water point is on and we are sending a team inside the jungle with tankers. They are keeping it well. We have made several artificial water points and we are filling them regularly wherever we believe that the lions are returning to drink water. A good number of people too are engaged in this drive," B D Patil said.

Wild Life Conservation Trust is one such non-government organization (NGO) that is active in construction of a wall surrounding open wells in the nearby villages, lest the animals from the sanctuary fall into them.

"Actually Sasan Gir is a dry deciduous forest type of area. There are seven parallel rivers, which go dry at times in summers. So to prevent these wild animals to come out of the wild forest and to make sure they get water inside the forest we have installed 200 artificial water points in the sanctuary area," said Kishor Kotecha, Founder, Wild life Conservation Trust.

Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as Sasan-Gir) is the sole home of the pure Asiatic Lions.

Spread over about 258 kilometres for the fully protected area (the National Park) and 1,153 kms for the Sanctuary, the area is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species.

Established in 1965, the total area of 1,412 kms is located about 65 km from Junagadh city of the Junagadh district in Kathiawar peninsula of Gujarat.

Seven rivers that pass through Gir namely Hiran, Saraswati, Datardi, Shingoda, Machhundri, Ghodavadi, and Raval have started drying up.

Less than 250 watering points are presently available for more than 390 lions, 350 leopards, and 40,000 ungulates, including spotted deer, Sambar, Nilgai, Chinkara, antelope, and wild boar.

Besides, Gir harbours 1,000 species of birds and 26 species of reptiles


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Indian champion of animal rights

Tuesday, 20 May 2008, 2:36 pm
Press Release: University of Auckland
20 May 2008

A prominent Indian lawyer and advocate for the rights of wild and domesticated animals will be speaking in Auckland in early June.

Raj Panjwani has dedicated his career to preventing cruelty to animals used for food production, entertainment, hunting and research.

Over the past 25 years he has advocated on behalf of animals such as turtles, antelope, tigers, deer, goats, buffalo and bears.

Mr Panjwani’s notable Supreme and High Court successes in India include:
• Banning the use of tigers, lions, panthers, bears and monkeys in circuses.
• Obtaining a right of choice for school students opposed to dissection and experiments on animals.
• Securing the imprisonment of Sansar Chand, one of India’s most notorious wildlife criminals.
• Acquiring the mandatory labelling of animal-derived food products.
• Defending a legal challenge by traders seeking to reinstate the trade in ivory and the fur and skins of endangered animals.

In 2002 the Supreme Court of India Bar Association acknowledged his efforts by awarding him a citation for “Adding knowledge to the practice of law”.

At The University of Auckland’s Law Faculty he will deliver a public lecture on the current state of animal protection in India and the implications of the global expansion of agribusiness for farm animals.

His visit to Auckland, his only stop in New Zealand, will mark the end of a ten-day speaking tour organised and sponsored by Voiceless, the fund for animals, that is taking Mr Panjwani first to leading law schools in Australia.

India is a nation that is largely committed to the principle of non-violence, says Mr Panjwani. “It also has possibly the largest vegetarian population. Despite this, animals in India continue to suffer enormously and in staggering numbers even though the Constitution mandates that every citizen have compassion towards all living creatures."

Mr Panjwani’s lecture will provide a rare insight for lawyers and non-lawyers alike into the cutting-edge field of animal law, says Peter Sankoff who teaches an animals and the law course at the Auckland Law School.

“Relying on the notion of compassion for animals, Mr Panjwani has over the last two decades continually broken new ground for animals in the courtroom, working as legal counsel for India's major environmental and animal protection organisations.”

What: “Animal law talk: An Indian perspective”. Public lecture by Raj Panjwani, hosted by the Faculty of Law and the Animal Rights Legal Advocacy Network (ARLAN)
Date: Tuesday 3 June 2008
Time: 7-8.30pm
Venue: Stone lecture Theatre, Faculty of Law, 17 Eden Crescent. The lecture is free and open to the public.



Monday, May 19, 2008

No electricity, phone or TV; lions as neighbours

18 May, 2008 11:22:00 Vaihayasi Pande Daniel

The serene teak forests and gently rising and falling grassy knolls that make up the 1,412 sq km of the magnificent Gir Forest National Park are home to about 350 of Asia’s only lions.

Gir, interestingly, is also the home of Lakhibai, 15. Lakhibai and her 500 odd fellow nomadic herdsmen, the Maldharis, and their contingents of shiny black, mammoth buffaloes and cattle, also uniquely inhabit this southwestern Gujarat jungle.
Lakhibai is not afraid of the lions that share her forest home. We bumped into her while she was gracefully walking home with her day’s enormous haul of grass balanced on her head; armed not even with a stick. Nor do the lions bother with her. It is a situation of mutual respect. Unlike other Indian wildlife reserves, where the villages situated within the protected park were all relocated when the parks were established by the government, in Gir forest many of the Maldharis, who live in 50 or so scattered villages called ness, were allowed to stay on.

They were also given rights to graze their buffaloes in the placid meadows of Gir. The Gujarat government apparently compensates them 50 per cent for every buffalo/head of cattle that the lions take for prey; although applying and receiving the compensation is said to be a torturous process.

Living deep and buried in this dense, peaceful forest has cut the Maldharis off from the flow of every day modern Indian life. Cut them off from ‘civilisation’ virtually. Their life has changed just negligibly from what it was in the 1960s when the forest park was created. They live in simple communities that have not had the benefit of modernisation. There is no electricity. Or running water. The villages are of a few homes each and the Maldharis uproot, from time to time, and migrate to better grazing areas within the park.

Kerosene lanterns are the only means of light in Lakhibai’s home that she shares with two younger sisters and parents. They chop wood from the forest to run their stoves. “I get up at 5 am. We cut grass and organise food for the buffaloes,” she explains in her sweet-sounding dialect.

Lakhibai has never been to school. She has rarely ventured out of the forest or beyond a 50 km radius of her home. She has not watched television nor used a telephone. And prefers not to ride in a vehicle; Maldharis use camels or opt to walk long distances. The radio is the prize possession of their home. “I listen to music on it,” she says shyly. It runs on batteries. But she has not heard of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan and does not know anything about Hindi films. Or what it means to be Hindustani.

Maldharis, who dress in a special intriguing gypsy style with black skirts and wrapped in colourful chunnis, are not a caste by themselves. Charans, Ahirs and Rabaris and folks from other cow-herder castes can be Maldharis. Staunch vegetarians, they do not slaughter their livestock. The word maldhari means people who have maal or worth. A strange title for virtually possession-less, nomadic people?

Not really when you realise that over the years their buffaloes have made the Maldharis wealthy. This entire community of pastoral nomads own about 16,000 head of livestock.

Lakhibai cannot tell you what exactly her family earns but locals from Sasan town, which is located at the entrance of the forest, tell you that these families earn close to Rs 20,000 a month selling milk. Maldharis live quite contentedly off the milk products they sell, and use, and do not have much to spend their money on except more cattle and buffalo. So much of it is invested in jewellery. True to their name Maldhari women wander around with heavy ear-rings and other jewellery.
Lakhibhai and her clan, who do not farm, are very wily herdsfolk. The lions do not often get to their buffaloes. They keep a very sharp eye is what the forest guides tell you. And they are not afraid of lions. The forest is full of Maldharis trekking down forest paths. Lions are not prone to harming humans in these forests. They have enough game to keep themselves happy.

But there could be a wrinkle on Lakhibai’s continuing existence in her forest paradise. Opinions differ on whether the Maldharis, who revere their environment as well as the lions, live in awe-inspiring harmony side by side with the lions. Or that the lions will ultimately pay for the over-grazing of the forest by the Maldharis’s herds.

Some statistics reflect that buffaloes and cattle make up 37 per cent of the lion’s prey. Net result: A decrease in population of the lion’s natural prey like deer and nilgai. Maldharis are extremely resistant to being moved out of the forest. Apparently experiments in the past have not been successful because of the Maldharis’s inability to till land.

We encounter Lakhibai’s sleepy village, a cluster of a few simple thatched homes, 15 minutes ahead by jeep. A huge herd of buffaloes amiably chew cud, standing in front of it. Dusk is about to descend and the menfolk are busy securing the herd for the night.

It will probably take Lakhibai another 15 minutes to reach home and then half an hour to wind up her tasks. Then she will probably tune into the outside world, the only way she can, when she turns her radio on.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Species on the brink of extinction

18 May 2008, 0052 hrs IST,AGENCIES

The Wildlife Conservation Society has released a list of the "Rarest of the Rare", a dozen animals most in danger of extinction. The list includes obscure animals like Abbot's booby, an ocean-going bird that only nests on Christmas Island.

Threats to each species vary widely. In the case of Abbot's booby, the introduction of yellow crazy ants to Easter Island has severely altered their nesting habitat.

Other species suffer from diseases, as in the case of the golden arrow poison frog, or poaching for the Chinese medicinal trade, which has reduced the population of Sumatran rhinos to fewer than 300 individuals, according to LiveScience.

The animals listed are:

l Abbott's booby: A large black-and-white seabird that breeds on Christmas Island, a remote Australian island in the Indian Ocean.

l Addax: A nocturnal antelope species with long spiral horns, found the sand dunes of the Sahara desert.

l Angel shark: Bottom-dwelling, predators once common throughout the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and Black seas.

l Bengal florican: A large terrestrial bustard bird native to Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam, and India.

l Black-faced lion tamarin: A small primate that sleeps in tree holes dug out by woodpeckers and feeds on insects, fruit, and plants. Discovered in Brazil in 1990.

l Burmese roofed turtle: One of Myanmar's seven native turtles, threatened by hunting and egg poaching.

l Dragonflies of Sri Lanka: Of the 53 endemic species of dragonfly found in Sri Lanka, at least 20 are threatened.

l Golden arrow poison frog: An amphibian native to Panama, threatened by a highly-infectious fungal disease.

l North Atlantic right whale: Hunted since the 10th century, only 350 of these slow-moving 100,000 kg cetaceans remain.

l Ricord's iguana: A reptile native to two isolated locations in the arid southwestern Dominican Republic.

l Pygmy hippopotamus: A small hippo from the Upper Guinean Forest of Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone.

l Sumatran rhino: Also known as the hairy or Asian two-horned rhinoceros, fewer than 300 survive today in the subtropical and tropical dry forests of Indonesia and Malaysia.


Animal farm a death trap

- Valmiki tigers easy prey

A dead tiger at the sanctuary Telegraph picture

Valmiki Tiger Reserve (West Champaran), May 17: Big cats are dying a slow death in the 18th national park created to protect the animal, the Valmiki Tiger Reserve.

In 1997 the reserve had 53 tigers. Now it is left with 32.

Even after lakhs of rupees being pumped into it, the park remains the same 880sqkm of unsafe haven due to poachers. A visit by The Telegraph revealed instances of neglect and apathy, man-animal conflicts and violations of Wildlife Protection Act — right under the noses of the forest officers.

Sample this: On May 10, 2008, a 9ft adult Royal Bengal Tiger died near Naurangia village, 340 km from Patna, after its right front limb was enmeshed in a steel trap, set by poachers, for seven hours.

Cow herders from Naurangia who found the wild cat struggling to free its leg said the hapless animal unleashed its pain and fury on a Sahul tree, biting deep into its bark. Forest officers arrived after a while, but without medicine, tranquillisers or any form of medical support. The animal slowly died a painful death before the officials’ eyes. When an expert from Patna arrived late in the evening, he saw only the smouldering ashes of the cat at a cremation spot.

This is not an isolated case. Villagers come up with several stories of how poachers from West Champaran, Uttar Pradesh, and adjoining Nepal claim lives with out any official intervention.

Usually poachers prefer steel traps that have sharp nails. The trap is tied to a small but strong steel chain, which, in turn, is tied to an iron rod dug deep into the ground. After trapping an animal, a poacher usually poisons it — to sell its skin, teeth, nails and bones at a high price in the international market.

S.P. Yadav, a tailor at Naurangia village, said: “We hardly see any forest patrolling parties. Everything is left at the mercy of god. It is villagers who inform forest officers when things go out of hand.”

Official records in the Valmiki Nagar divisional forest office show no cases of unnatural death in the past two years. But, in the absence of his seniors, a forest guard gave figures. It seems that there were 18 deaths between April 2007 and March 2008 of deer, rhinoceros and peacocks.

Chief forest conservator B.N. Jha said: “Tell us how can we guard a 880sqkm reserve with 65 permanent staffers? Rest of the staffers come on an ad hoc basis and are generally removed after some time.

“I would be happy to use the media to draw the system-in-charge’s attention towards the sorry state of affairs at the park. Bihar authorities have one tranquilliser gun that has to be kept at the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park in Patna.”

A significant recovery of rhino horns was made in November 2007 by the Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB), which guards the Indo-Nepal border at Valmiki Nagar. But even SSB officers concede it is difficult to check every person crossing the soft border. “We frisk suspicious people but entries are made only of those entering in two, three or four-wheelers,” said an SSB officer posted at Gandak Barrage at the border.

Forest employees, too, stress that their hands are tied. “What can we do with dandas (sticks)?” is the common refrain. The reserve has over 300 employees, including the recent deployment of 25 unarmed jawans of Special Auxiliary Police.

Protecting even the core area of 335sqkm is no mean feat. G.K. Pandey, a wildlife expert, said: “It was almost impossible to even venture into the forest till 1994. Counting of tigers by camera is a recent addition. A forester hardly knows where the tigers are minus any tracking system.”

The reserve is also witnessing an increasing man-animal conflict. Though the core area has three villages, 25 villages surround the national park. There are a total of 121 villages with over 1.5 lakh population in and around the park. While villagers are not ready to leave their home, Wildlife Protection Act terms them as trespassers living in “prohibited” areas.

Sameer Kumar Sinha, a senior field officer working with Wildlife Trust of India at the reserve, said: “Villagers are a problem. They are not ready to accept the rehabilitation plan offered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, earlier known as Project Tiger.”

“Our job is to provide data on ecological distribution of wild animals. Tigers move in and around core the area and very often come into conflict with the humans. The reserve has been declared a prohibited area, but officers can’t stop people from entering the forests,” he added.

It’s not that the reserve lacks funds to spruce up its act. It receives a cumulative central and state government annual budget of Rs 213 lakh. In 2007-08, the Union forest and environment ministry sanctioned Rs 106.663 lakh, besides Rs 81.228 lakh on a pattern of 50:50 sharing with the Bihar government, for the park.


Passage through India

By Sanath Weerasuriya

Holiday in Luxury', a popular outbound travel agent specialized in Indian destinations, is now offering three new tours to nature and adventure lovers in Sri Lanka. Gir National Park Tour, Delhi- Shimla- Manali Tour and religious tour to Velankanni are new on cards for 'Holiday in Luxury'.

Five nights - six days Gir National Park Tour covers Gir National Park safaris, Tribal Village Visit and few city tours. Gir is the only home in India for the Asiatic Lion of which there are nearly 300 in the park. The Gir National Park lies in the Gujarat peninsula in South-Western India. Within the sanctuary, there are numerous human settlements of cattle herders called Maldharis with an estimated 20,000 head of livestock (which, incidentally, forms a significant part of the Lion's diet).

There are also places of Hindu worship and pilgrimage and sulphur springs at Tulsi Shyam and Kankai Mata. The edges of the park have good population of Indian Gazelle, protected by religious sentiments of the local people.

Six nights / seven days Delhi- Shimla- Manali Tour mainly covers adventure sports and activities. Situated in the north-west Himalayas, Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh.

Spread across 12 kms along a ridge that overlooks terraced hillsides and cultivations, Shimla is magnificently robed in dense forests of oak and pine, fur and rhododendron, and it is best to travel here on the slow train from Kalka. Shimla also is a convenient base for variety of adventure sports such as Skiing, Trekking, Fishing and Golfing.

'The tour to Velankanni is one of the most popular tour of India' said Ananda Cooray, the proprietor of 'Holiday in Luxury'. The main Velankanni Basilica is the white storied architecture and the most beautiful sight of all. Neatly paved stones surrounded the entire basilica.

The whole place was kept sparkling clean radiating rays of hope and piety. This was with the help of more than two hundred and twenty-five workers. The Shrine Basilica had three churches - the Main Church, Annex Basilica and the side Church. In addition there was the Chapel at the Lady's Tank


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Woman electrocuted in field, two arrested

Posted online: Saturday , May 17, 2008 at 10:27:21
Updated: Saturday , May 17, 2008 at 10:27:21

Junagadh, May 16 A woman was electrocuted after coming in contact with a live wire fence at an agriculture field.
The incident occurred early this week on the outskirts of Rabarika village in Jetpur taluka. The police arrested two persons, including the owners of the land, on Thursday.

In their bid to save standing crops from cattle, farmers, especially in the Saurashtra region, erect fencing around their fields and rig them with live wires.

But many a times, this practice takes a toll on human life as well as on wildlife.

According to police sources, Kankuben, 50, a shepherd woman along with her husband and stock of cattle were camping between Rabarika and Kerali village.

On Tuesday, while coming back to her camp after selling milk, she accidentally came in contact with a live wire and died on the spot.

Later her husband Ghela Bharwad lodged complaint with the Jetpur taluka police under Section 304 (C) of the Indian Penal Code, a non-bailable offence.

Acting on the complaint, the police started investigations and arrested two persons, identified as Bhanu Khant – the landowner and his associate Leela Dhudha.

The two had reportedly put the electric fence in a bid to save their groundnut crop from the wild nilgais.

The two have been thoroughly grilled by the police and produced before the court of judicial magistrate (first class) jetpur town.

When reports last came in on Thursday evening, the hearing and submission before the court was completed and court's orders are being awaited.

According to the officials, it is strictly prohibited under law to pass an electric current through a fence.

But, in spite of forest department's intensified drive against such practices, it has been difficult to prevent farmers from doing so.

Last year, in an incident on October 19, five lions were electrocuted on the outskirts of Prempara village, just five kilometres away from the Gir east forest headquarters of Dahri town.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Joy over India tiger cubs births

Only 32 tigers were reported in the park's last census

Fourteen tiger cubs have been spotted in a reserve in north-western India, forestry officials say.

The sightings are a rare piece of good news in the fight to halt the steep decline in tiger numbers in India.

Forestry officials in Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan say the cubs are from several mothers and have been seen regularly in recent months.

Ranthambore had just 32 tigers at the last count. India is thought to have 1,500 tigers, half the world's total.

But conservationists say they face extinction unless urgent action is taken to save them.

'Positive development'

Ranthambore has seen tiger numbers fall from 46 in 2004.

The park authorities are currently conducting a new tiger census and up-to-date figures - which will include the new cubs - are expected in June.

RS Shekhawat, deputy field director at Ranthambore, said the sightings of the cubs was "good news for all of us".

"Credit goes to both governments - state and federal, the forest authorities and also local people for this positive development," he told the BBC.

Ranthambore covers 392 of dry deciduous forests sprawling over undulating terrain. The BBC's Narayan Bareth in Jaipur says forest officials want more space for the tigers.

"We are contemplating expanding the habitat area for the tiger population because the population is on the rise," Mr Shekhawat said.

Nearly 100 villages surround the park, and the more the tiger population grows the more they are likely to come into conflict with humans.

The Wildlife Trust of India's state co-ordinator, Mahendra Kachhawa, urged the authorities to tighten security at the park.

"You know the park is an easy target for the poachers," he told the BBC.

Tiger taskforce

Rajasthan's state government is under pressure from the Indian government to take steps against poachers.

It is fantastic news and new cubs means the habitat is good and conditions ideal in Ranthambore for breeding
Sujoy Banerjee,
WWF-India's Species Conservation Programme

In 2005 it was reported that tigers had been wiped out at another park in Rajasthan, the Sariska sanctuary. That prompted the setting up of a tiger taskforce in India.

Wildlife experts welcomed the latest news, saying they also had information about sightings of tiger cubs in other reserves.

"Ranthambore is back to its heyday of the 1980s, and the secret of success is in better management and a lot of protection, which was not there earlier," Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) told Reuters news agency.

"We at least know that tigers don't breed when they are disturbed. A lot of hard work has gone into Ranthambore and the results are just starting to show now."

Ranthambhore is a major tourist attraction, drawing about 200,000 people from India and abroad every year.

"We are so happy the 14 tiger cubs were spotted in the park. It will set an example for the other parks. It will boost the local economy," said Arvind Jain, a local hotelier.


Tiger population on the rise in Tamil Nadu

Chennai (PTI): As the decline in tiger population in the country continues to be a case of concern, a 25 per cent increase in the number of big cats in Tamil Nadu's wildlife sanctuaries has brought smiles on the faces of conservationists in the state.

"The number of tigers have gone up from 62 to 76, thus registering a 25 percent increase," Tamil Nadu Environment and Forests Minister N Selvaraj said. "The tiger population in India has come down from 3,642 in 2001 to 1,411 in 2008," he said, quoting a report by the Wildlife Institute of India while speaking on the grants for his ministry in the Tamil Nadu Assembly on Tuesday.

Selvaraj said the declaration of the Anamalai Wildlife Sanctuary and Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary as new Project Tiger areas in 2007 helped the population of big cats to pick up. "It proved that the state was a frontrunner in tiger conservation and the priority placed for this cause by the state," he said.

The Centre provided 100 per cent assistance in the areas of tiger habitat conservation, ecological development and protection, forest fire control measures and human-wild conflict resolution in Project Tiger areas. The state would also spend Rs crores on tiger conservation activities in the Kalakkad-Mundathurai, Anamalai and Mudumalai sanctuaries, Selvaraj said.


Tigress in Pench reserve forest gives birth to four cubs

Bhopal (PTI): Here is a good news from the forests of Pench Tiger Reserve as a tigress on Thursday gave birth to four cubs raising the total number of tiger cubs in the reserve forest area to 16.

At present there are 33 adult tigers in the Pench Tiger Reserve according to the joint wildlife study conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India in association with the Forest Department in the state, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Dr P B Gangopadhyaya has said in a press release.

The Pench Tiger Reserve already has 12 tiger cubs and with the newborn four cubs the total number of cubs in the Pench Tiger Reserve has increased to 16.

The state Forest Minister Vijay Shah has directed the forest officials to ensure the care of newborn cubs and also asked them to share the good news with the visiting tourists.


Gir lions’ den gets bigger by 180 sq km

Anil Pathak
Thursday, May 15, 2008 12:09 IST

GANDHINAGAR: The Asiatic lions at the Sasangir lion sanctuary will soon be able to romp through a larger roaming ground, an expansion that is expected to enhance their chances of survival.

The state government has decided to extend the sanctuary up to Girnar, Junagadh, merging an additional 180 sq km, raising the sanctuary's total area to 1640 square km.

The state forest and environment department has been compelled to expand the limits because more than 100 big cats have strayed into the forests and nearby villages, threatening milch animals and humans.

The state forest and environment secretary, SK Nanda, said that the proposed extension of the sanctuary would provide a better habitat to the lions, which had started moving to the nearby plains bordering Amreli and Bhavnagar districts.

"The initiative is the need of the hour and the state government is committed to preserving and protecting the lions at Gir, the lone abode of the Asiatic lions in world," Nanda said.

He said that the move was a part of several other measures the government has envisaged as part of a Rs40 crore plan announced by chief minister Narendra Modi to save the lions.

Responding to increasing congestion in the sanctuary, the state government had extended the sanctuary area twice in the recent past.

Earlier, authorities had incorporated Puniya into the limits of the sanctuary in 1989.
But again, the lions had started moving towards the forest range of Amreli and again the sanctuary area was expanded by merging the Mitiala stretch of the forest into the sanctuary in 2004.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lion eats cub in Gujarat’s Gir forest

May 13th, 2008 - 4:42 pm ICT by admin

Junagadh (Gujarat), May 13 (IANS) In a rare incident, an eight-year-old lion ate a four-month-old cub in the Gir forest in Junagadh district of Gujarat, officials said. The incident occurred Monday in the forst between the villages of Dudada and Raidi when a lioness was being wooed by two lions.

The lioness had come with her three cubs to the area followed by a 15-year-old lion, said Chief Forest Conservator Bharat Pathak.

Pathak said the younger lion fought fiercely with the older one before driving it away. The cub, which had run away in panic when the lions were fighting, tried to come back to its mother when the victorious lion attacked and ate it, Pathak said.

“It is a rare incident. Lions don’t normally eat their own,” Pathak said.

He added that only the cub’s skull and four of its paws were retrieved from the spot.


Lion cub dies at Gujarat zoo

May 13th, 2008 - 12:59 am ICT by admin

Junagadh (Gujarat), May 12 (IANS) A one-year-old lion cub has died at the Sakarbaugh zoo of Junagarh town in Gujarat, officials said Monday. The cub was brought to the zoo a year ago after it was abandoned by its mother. “It had been under treatment since then as it was afflicted with blindness and illness of the brain,” veterinary surgeon C.N. Bhuva said.

“The cub was on the life support system. We could not save it,” Bhuva said.


Lion cub dies at Gujarat zoo

May 13th, 2008 - 12:59 am ICT by admin

Junagadh (Gujarat), May 12 (IANS) A one-year-old lion cub has died at the Sakarbaugh zoo of Junagarh town in Gujarat, officials said Monday. The cub was brought to the zoo a year ago after it was abandoned by its mother. “It had been under treatment since then as it was afflicted with blindness and illness of the brain,” veterinary surgeon C.N. Bhuva said.

“The cub was on the life support system. We could not save it,” Bhuva said.


After lion deaths, Wildlife Crime Cell prepares database on offenders

Press Trust of India
Posted online: Monday , May 12, 2008 at 03:18:53
Updated: Monday , May 12, 2008 at 03:18:53

Ahmedabad, May 11 The Wildlife Crime Cell (WCC), formed by the Gujarat government, is in the process of creating a database of the habitual wildlife offenders in the country.
An official associated with the cell said that its members are coordinating with the Central and other state agencies to find out about such type of offenders. The WCC is also coordinating with the police department of other states and also the Coast Guard to ensure that crimes against wildlife are curbed, sources said.

The cell has also set its eyes on intelligence gathering in and around major protected wildlife habitats in the state, they added.

The proposal to form the WCC was mooted by the state government after eight lions were killed in the Gir national park and its surrounding areas in three separate incidents in March and April last year.

“The idea behind establishment of the cell is to curb the crime against wildlife in the state,” principal conservator of forest Pradeep Khanna of the state forest and environment department said.

The Government Resolution (GR) dated August 10, 2007 says the cell will also deal with wildlife experts and other state government agencies. It will collect and collate information on wildlife crime in the state.

Besides, the cell will also suggest measures to effectively deal with such crimes, the GR said.

The cell will comprise Additional DGP, Home Department, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (wildlife), Junagadh Conservator of Forests (wildlife crime), Gandhinagar, states the GR. It was signed by Victor Mecwan, Under Secretary to the state government in the Forest and Environment department.

Gir is the last abode of the Asiatic lions and the 2005 census recorded their number at 359.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Man-eater leopard burnt alive in Uttar Pradesh

May 10th, 2008 - 12:12 pm ICT by admin

Lakhimpur Kheri (UP), May 10 (ANI): Irate residents on Friday burnt alive a man-eater leopard at Bilahar village in Lakhimpur Kheri District in Uttar Pradesh.
According to the villagers, the leopard had killed five people since December and injured several others.

Hundreds of armed villagers surrounded the orchard where the wild cat was hiding.

” The beast came out of a bush breaking the human ring and attacked a number of people. After it attacked me, I caught hold of its legs. After that we were struggling as it wanted to bite my head but my shoulder was nearer to him, which it attacked,” said Ram Naresh, an injured villager.

Wildlife authorities were unsuccessful in catching the wild cat after spotting it early this week.

Depletion of their habitat has threatened the leopards, forcing them to stray into human settlements — attacking people and cattle — and often getting killed in return.
Despite being an endangered and protected species, at least 228 leopards have been killed since January 2006, 68 of them had been killed in 2007 alone.
India had about 7,300 leopards in the wild according to a 1997 census, but conservationists say the number is now lower.

Development pressures and encroachments into forest areas has also brought humans and wild cats into conflict. (ANI)


Forest officers, police review security at Gir

Posted online: Wednesday, May 07, 2008 at 02:53:47
Updated: Wednesday, May 07, 2008 at 02:53:47

Junagadh, May 06 A high-level meeting was convened on Tuesday — reportedly prompted by a poaching incident, that of a leopard in the revenue area outside the Gir forest. The meeting decided to review the security arrangements and the precautionary measures to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
Inspector General of Police (Junagadh Range) Mohan Jha chaired the meeting, which was attended by forest conservators, deputy forest conservators and police officers.

“Various issues were discussed, including the fresh reports of threat to wildlife particularly from the Madhya Pradesh-based Baheliya tribal members. Officials have been asked to be on the alert and keep extra vigil in and around the Gir forest,” Jha said.

He said the state government has made it compulsory to convene review meetings at a regular interval. Officials have been asked to keep a tab on the movement of inter-state labourers and to check hotels, dhabas, railway and bus stations without any lapse, he added.

Conservator of forest (wild life) Bharat Pathak, said, “It was a periodical inter-department co-ordination meeting, in which the concerned officers were asked to remain alert."

Meanwhile, no breakthrough has been made in the last Saturday’s poaching incident wherein a leopard was killed on the outskirt of Simar village under the Jashadhar forest range.

The hunt is still on to nab the two persons suspected to be involved in the crime, said an official, even as unconfirmed reports said that the two were held on Tuesday.


Panther dies of brain haemorrhage in Gujarat

May 5th, 2008 - 4:37

Junagadh (Gujarat), May 5 (IANS)

A five-year-old panther has died of brain haemorrhage in Gir region of Gujarat, officials said Monday. The carcass was found Saturday in village Samer in Gir (east) of Jasadar range. The post mortem examination showed the panther had died due to brain haemorrhage after it got stuck in a fence, said J.S. Solanki, deputy conservator of forest of Gir (east).

Two people have been booked under the Wildlife Protection Act for their suspected role in the killing, he added.


MP seeks Asiatic lions from zoos

9 May 2008, 0425 hrs IST,Himanshu Kaushik,TNN

AHMEDABAD: In a desperate move, Madhya Pradesh government has written to all the zoos in the country to spare Asiatic lions for Kuno-Palpur National Park, where lions from Gir were to be shifted.

Senior officials of Gujarat forest department revealed that they had received a letter asking for lions from any of the zoos here, especially from Sakarbaugh Zoo in Junagadh where lions are brought for treatment.

Officials said that after Gujarat Government said no, MP government has decided to acquire at least six lions from different zoos in the country.

Sources said that the move has tourism in the focus. "MP government plans to have a lion safari on the lines of Devaliya Park near Sasan in Gujarat. Later, it also plans to go in for conservation measures - which is acttually the original plan for developing Kuno-Palpur," they added.

"It seems MP lobby in Delhi has become active again, pressurising all concerned to ensure that the long-pending proposal for shifting the lions to Kuno-Palpur is accepted by the Centre. But Gujarat will continue to resist this move," said a senior official said.

GA Patel, an Ahmedabad-based member of the Rationalization of the Boundary of Sanctuaries and National Park, a committee of the Central Government, said: "I was in Delhi last week and during my visit, I learnt that a meeting was held to get pure Asiatic breed of lions from various zoos. But this is only an experiment, as the hunting habits of lions suffer due to their stay in zoo."

He said that earlier also lions were sent from Gir to Chandra Prabha sanctuary near Dehradun but none of the seven-odd lions survived.

Sources said the issue has now reached the Supreme Court through a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking the apex court's intervention in the matter.

A Delhi-based NGO Bio-diversity Conservation Trust has filed a PIL in the apex court urging it to direct the Gujarat Government to cooperate with MP to implement the Centre-aided project for transferring the big cats to Kuno-Palpur sanctuary.

Gujarat officials said the MP government had mooted the proposal over a decade ago without taking them, and also the local villagers in and around Gir, into confidence, they said.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Poachers strike again in Gir, leopard carcass found

Posted online: Sunday , May 04, 2008 at 12:29:16
Updated: Sunday , May 04, 2008 at 12:29:16 Print Email To Editor Post Comments

Junagadh, May 03 Once again a poaching incident has come to light in the revenue area outside the Gir forest, after a carcass of a grown-up leopard was discovered in the area on Saturday. Forest officials have confirmed it as a poaching incident. Two locals, who are suspected to be involved in the poaching are absconding.
According to deputy conservator of forest (Gir east) J S Solanki, evidences collected from the spot point out that two locals, identified as Kala Dabhi and Uka Dabhi, both residents of Simar village, might have been involved in the incident.

“An investigation has been initiated in the case and hunt is on to nab the culprits. All the claws, skull and skin of the animal have been found intact,” said Solanki.

The carcass of the leopard, aged between five and six years, was found in a field located on the outskirts of Simar village, falling under the Jashadhar forest range of Gir’s east forest division. Poachers had laid a trap in an agriculture land owned by one Madhav Ladumor. When informed, forest officials rushed to the spot and recovered the carcass. It was sent to the Jashadhar Animal Care Centre where a post-mortem was carried out.

“The animal died due to anabdominal injury caused by a trap wire that was found wrapped around its body,” said Solanki. He added, “According to the postmortem report, the animal died of the muscle hemorrhage in the heart.” First Offence Report has been registered under various provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Killing of wild animals is a serious offence and offenders are liable for a punishment of seven years of rigorous imprisonment and Rs 25,000 fine, or both, said Solanki. Last year in the months of March and April, Madhya Pradesh-based tribal gangs had killed eight lions in and around Gir forest. After these incidents, this is the first major case of poaching that has been reported from the area.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Humans get 10 more years to save Earth

2 May 2008, 0318 hrs IST,Nitin Sethi,TNN

NEW DELHI: While humans have been heedless in making global warming a reality, nature has given Earth a break.

Nations and leaders may get a rare chance to sink their differences and fix climate change as latest research shows that natural phenomena could keep Earth's temperatures in check for the next 10 years.

The 10-year window, beginning 2010, will not last for ever. And from 2020 onwards, temperatures will begin to rise again. But till then, phenomena like cooler North Atlantic waters could counter heating up of Earth due to greenhouse gas emissions as has been predicted by UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This could mean temperatures would continue to be at existing levels.

The heartening news, which could mean that the world has moved a step or two away from the brink of climate change, has been published in the latest issue of Nature . The research published in the reputed journal says Earth could benefit from a phase where certain phenomena cancel out the effects of greenhouse gases.

IPCC in its fourth assessment report had warned that at current rates of greenhouse gas emissions from the rich and the developing worlds, the global climate could warm by 0.2 degree Celsius in a decade, raising the sea level and leading to dramatic consequences for coastal societies in particular.

It's known that though increasing greenhouse gas emissions push temperatures upwards, the warming curve is not smooth — there would be periods when processes aid the heating, while the opposite happens during other periods.

Now, research carried out by scientists from Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences and Max Plank Institute of Meteorology, both based in Germany, has shown that the next decade is going to be one such period when natural occurrences negate the effect of increasing emissions and keep global climate cooler than what was forecast earlier.

All predictions of global temperature changes are based on complex mathematical models that create future scenarios according to parameters and data that scientists feed in.

Due to numerous physical phenomena involved, these predictions work better when the average temperature increase for a longer period — several decades — is calculated. The breakthrough has come with scientists being able to predict changes that could occur over 10-year intervals — what climatologists consider a much shorter time period.

The scientists studied temperatures measured on the surface of oceans — a crucial factor in determining variations of global average temperatures. They were able to predict workings of a critical phenomenon called meriodional overturning circulation (MOC). It brings warm water into the north Atlantic, releasing heat into the atmosphere. This then returns to cooler waters in the southern portions of the ocean. But MOC is known to change intensity over decades.

Researchers were able to predict that MOC would weaken over the next decade and as a result would cool north Atlantic waters, consequently keeping global temperatures under control.

MOC, in a sense, would work just the way El Nino and La Nina do to affect global temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. These are more familiar in India as they can impact monsoons. While the research might have brought down the immediate threat levels globally and can allow governments and decision-makers — especially in the US, Europe and North Africa — to plan for lower levels of crisis management, there could be other spin offs.

This kind of predictive studies could also help simulate, once models get better, precipitation in different regions at more accurate levels. Researchers across the world too are working on improving the ability of such simulations to predict more than just global temperatures.


Vultures face extinction

- Study links decline to painkiller traces in carcasses

New Delhi, May 2: Three species of vultures in India face extinction within a decade, wildlife scientists said last month, after a new study of the 15-year decline in the nation’s vulture population.

India has lost 99.9 per cent of the oriental white-rumped vultures over the past 15 years and 96.8 per cent of long-billed vultures and slender-billed vultures, researchers from India and the UK said.

All three species of vultures could be down to a few hundred birds or less across the whole country, and thus functionally extinct, in less than a decade, said the scientists from the Bombay Natural History Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other UK institutions.

“Time has almost run out to prevent the extinction of vultures in the wild in India,” said Richard Cuthbert of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and a co-author of the study published today in Journal of Bombay Natural History Society.

The latest vulture count led by Bombay Natural History Society scientist Vibhu Prakash last year covered 160 road transects, or segments, across central, northern and eastern India, totalling about 18,884km. In one set of 70 transects, where he had recorded 130 birds in 2003, he spotted only 31 last year.

“Although thousands of birds may remain, they are now spread very thinly across a huge area,” Prakash and his colleagues said in their report. “This is a dangerous situation for such social birds, which nest and roost communally and rely on information gained from one another when searching for widely dispersed food sources.”

Scientists tracking the decline have attributed it to diclofenac, a common painkiller. They argue that vultures get exposed to toxic levels of diclofenac when they feed on carcasses of livestock that have died within a few days of treatment.

After a sustained campaign by conservation scientists, the Indian government outlawed manufacture of the veterinary form of diclofenac two years ago. In discussions leading to the ban on veterinary diclofenac, government scientists had questioned the hypothesis and demanded stronger evidence of the link.

“It’s commonly used to relieve pain in animals used to draw carts,” said a senior animal husbandry scientist. “But I would have liked to see some more evidence of its role,” the official said.

A senior scientist specialising in pharmacology said the drug is metabolised by the body within a few hours, and the amount of diclofenac in the body drops to very low levels.

But Cuthbert told The Telegraph that investigations have shown that even four days after treatment, there are substantial diclofenac residues in the tissues of livestock.


The Environment and Humanity’s Future

Article – May 2, 2008
Posted/Updated: 2008-05-02 17:50:33

• Lessons From Easter Island
• The Coming War for Earth’s Resources
• Is Going Green the Answer?
• The Environment, Dwindling Resources and Mankind’s Survival

A four-part series about the environment and humanity’s impact upon it: Think of all the issues that could be addressed—the efforts, theories and competing ideas that could be analyzed—and, after all is said and done, the many different ways this series could conclude.

The article “Lessons From Easter Island” presents a historic example of what happens when human beings take the environment for granted, indiscriminately stripping the planet of its natural resources, bringing society to the brink of collapse. History also shows that man refuses to learn from the past, thus repeating disastrous patterns—ultimately on a global scale.

In “The Coming War for Earth’s Resources,” we look at today’s landscape: The world population is increasing to disastrous proportions. And with China and India, two of the most populous countries on earth, emerging as First World nations, there are too few natural resources available to maintain the industrialized, high-tech, “Me first” lifestyles that billions wish to copy from the West. In addition, cities continue to absorb surrounding towns and suburbs, transforming into burgeoning megacities that encroach upon farmlands and wildlife areas. These and other factors are contributing to a future scenario of global violence as peoples and nations clash over food, water, oil and other disappearing necessities of life.

Then, in our article “Is Going Green the Answer?” we look at the efforts offered to solve the situation before things grow worse.

Finally, in “The Environment, Dwindling Resources and Mankind,” we ask, How did humanity come to this point in the first place—and what will be its final outcome?


Zoo winners snap up a prize

May 2 2008 Chester Chronicle

CHESTER Zoo’s annual photographic competition was a roaring success.

The winner of the Photographer of the Year 2007 title was John Birch from Runcorn with his affectionate picture of the zoo’s Asiatic lion Asoka and his mate Asha.

John was awarded a canvas print of his picture, £100 worth of vouchers for Camera Solutions in Chester, a Canon wireless compact digital camera and a trophy shield.

Other winners were Becki Scott from Manchester who was runner-up in the Print section; Marian Wade from Whitchurch who came first place in the Digital section; and Sara Jayne Buxton who was runner up. William Grayson from Rhyl took first place in the Garden section and Fred Skinner from Cheadle Hulme was runner-up.

Finally, the junior section saw 14-year-old Amy Feather from Silsden take first place and 10-year-old Joshua Clarke from Holywell was runner-up.

The 2008 competition is now up and running – details and a downloadable entry form can be found online at www.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Rare Sight: A tiger in India's Ranthambore National Park

By Lily Huang | Newsweek Web Exclusive
May 1, 2008 | Updated: 4:27 p.m. ET May 1, 2008

In India tigers are in trouble again—and it may be the last time. Wildlife conservation experts now believe that India has so few tigers left, and they have so little room to maneuver, that populations have no recourse but to dwindle to extinction. Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of the Panthera Foundation, has championed tigers, jaguars, leopards and pumas and worked to preserve their habitats, from South America to Southeast Asia. Formerly the executive director of science of exploration at the Wildlife Conservation Society, based at the Bronx Zoo, Rabinowitz wrote "Life in the Valley of Death," about his recent experience negotiating with the Burmese dictator to create the largest tiger reserve in the world, in the Hukaung Valley in Burma. NEWSWEEK's Lily Huang spoke with Rabinowitz by phone about the work of conservation and strategies for the future. Excerpts:

How long have tigers been endangered?
Alan Rabinowitz: That's a very good question. Part of the problem is that nobody has been actually counting tigers, following tigers. It's only been a little over 10 years that people have come up with a technology using camera trapping in a certain grid formation to get accurate density estimations of tigers. Until that time we didn't really know how to count tigers. People did things like estimating tiger numbers by their tracks—their pug marks—but the main place to do that was the tiger reserves in India. And that, in fact, contributed to years [of inaccuracy], whether it was by the technique being bad or because of the people doing it just not reporting it accurately because their promotions were based on tiger numbers going up. For years and years India reported huge successes in tiger populations and tiger numbers when in fact anybody who was on the ground actually looking at tigers—me included—realized that tigers were declining. Drastically.

When I started in '93 or so in Indochina—doing tiger surveys throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam-tigers were in desperate shape. Desperate. I can't pinpoint the year. What we know is that by the turn of the 20th century—about 1900 or so—there were thought to be as many as 100,000 tigers still roaming throughout the clear range. When the world woke up to the tiger crisis—because nobody was even paying attention or questioning it—in the early to mid-1990s, we were dealing with estimates (which I thought were overestimates at the time) of 5,000 to 7,000 left throughout their entire range. Now we know it's probably half that, at most. People like myself and Ullas Karanth and some old-time cat biologists who were working within tiger ranges knew that tigers had been on a steady decline—continuously—for our entire careers.

Why have conservation efforts since then not been more successful against the crisis?
The traditional paradigm in wildlife conservation—which was valid—started in the '60s and '70s, when large swaths of habitat started being lost, throughout the tropics and other regions. People started waking up to the threat on wildlife species and especially the large cats. The main emphasis was on locking up habitat. And locking up habitat worked well for a lot of species, except when those individual species were targeted for economic reasons. Then it didn't matter if you locked up habitat. Now, we didn't realize that for a long time—we didn't realize what kind of pressure was being put on tigers specifically because of things like livestock conflicts and the use of tiger parts and the very high price for traditional Asian medicines. Everybody says traditional Chinese medicine, but it's actually used in many Asian medicines.

And these causes were not apparent?
We didn't know because there really was hardly anybody looking at tigers specifically. Even in my early graduate days, in the late '70s and early '80s, I would do a radio telemetry study on something like jaguars or I would follow tigers, and I would know what would be happening in my particular little area. I would set aside a park, it would be a success, and we'd feel, "OK, if this was repeated a hundred times or a thousand times by others of like minds, you'll save this species." Well, that never really happened.

So conservation efforts were undermined by unforeseen causes?
What people don't realize is that conservation is actually a very new word. In the '80s eco-tourism wasn't even a term. Conservation biology wasn't a science. There were no courses in school. You studied zoology. I went out and did traditional wildlife, which is capturing an animal, radio-collaring it, following it in the jungle. My job early on for the Bronx Zoo was to just do scientific research, not conservation. When I started realizing, first with jaguars, that these animals were going down, I actually had to fight to do something in conservation, because that wasn't really a field. The assumption was that there was enough [wildlife] out there, and it wasn't a crisis yet. By the time we realized—as usually happens with crises—it's already way far gone. And then you're just doing crisis management. The tiger was very far gone.


Chug into Vidarbha to spot tigers

Shweta Karnik
Friday, May 02, 2008 03:20 IST

MTDC will introduce toy trains to take tourists on a tour of the dense jungles from Nagpur to Tadoba

Picture this. A journey aboard a luxurious toy train through scenic forests of Vidarbha, right into the tiger territory.

The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), in collaboration with the Indian Railways, has readied a toy train that will take tourists to the dense jungles in the interiors of Nagpur, which are home to the endangered tiger. The corporation has tentatively planned to inaugurate this train on May 9.

The state government had asked its forest department to chalk out a policy to boost eco-tourism in Maharashtra. Last year, state’s minister for tourism Suresh Shetty had told DNA that besides exploring the thick jungles in the state, they were also planning a highly decked-up narrow gauge toy train for Nagpur. “It will be designed in such a way that it becomes one of the heritage trains,” he had said.

The toy train will chug from Nagpur to Pench, and go almost up to Tadoba. “This train would give tourists a closer look at nature’s beauty. There is potential to develop these trips into tiger safaris,” Shetty said.

MTDC has entered into an agreement with Central Railways to use the narrow gauge toy train that was lying idle. The train was generally used for local commuting in Tadoba and its adjacent areas.

“We decided to make use of this toy train looking at the success of the toy train to Matheran,” a senior MTDC official said. With the the target audience being high-end tourists and international visitors, the train’s interiors have been designed on the lines of Deccan Odyssey to suit such customers’ needs. It will be a two or three coach air-conditioned train.

Besides, MTDC will also provide open jeeps for tourists to take them farther into the interiors of the jungles. However, unlike the Deccan Odyssey, this toy train does not
have accommodation facilities for tourists.

They will be lodged at the MTDC’s resorts at respective junctions. When asked about the direct connectivity from Mumbai, the official said, “People will have to travel to Nagpur to enjoy the toy train safari. However, if the plan gains momentum, we might tie up with airlines to carry tourists to from Mumbai to Nagpur for the safari.”


Forest officials beaten up, cops let culprits go

Ashwin Aghor
Friday, May 02, 2008 02:43 IST

The forest department team that had gone to Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary to demolish the illegal construction of Sadanandbaba Ashram on Wednesday had a narrow escape when Sadanandbaba, along with trustees and devotees, assaulted the members. However, despite reaching the spot in time, the Thane (Rural) police did not arrest the culprits.

The team was led by assistant conservator of forest VP Patil and range forest officer Subhash Darade. Sources said when the team tried to confiscate peacocks from the ashram, the devotees prevented it from entering the premises. When the forest officials tried to force their way in, the devotees allegedly locked them in a room and beat them up.

They were released only after a team from the Virar police station reached there. However, to the forest officials’ surprise, the police criticised them for raiding the ashram without the police’s knowledge.

“We were surprised to know that we would have to take permission from the police to carry out operations in our own jurisdiction. Police can not dictate terms to us,” said a senior forest department official.

“This attitude of police is not acceptable. Forest department officials are free to discharge their duties. Police must act on the complaints they receive,” said Babanrao Pachpute, state forest minister. Police would have to take action against the culprits, otherwise we would recommend action against them, Pachpute added.

Wednesday’s turn of events is a result of the eviction notice issued to the trust, which was asked to vacate the premises before April 30. Apart from carrying out illegal construction inside a sanctuary, the ashram trustees violated Wildlife Protection Act by keeping four peacocks in the premises. The ashram is said to have strong political support.