Friday, May 29, 2009

Court allows narco test on key accused in lion poaching case.

Roxy Gagdekar
Thursday, May 28, 2009 13:58 IST

Ahmedabad: A Bhavnagar court on Wednesday permitted narco test on Minter Singh, the key accused arrested from Madhya Pradesh in the 2007 lion poaching case, which is being investigated by IG (prisons) Keshav Kumar.

"Minter has so far named his Uttar Pradesh associate Shabbir Qureshi but more names would come up once Qureshi is interrogated," Kumar told DNA.

The police will soon take the custody of Qureshi, who is currently in UP police custody. "The entire trade of lion body parts is held in international market and Minter is a key link between the poachers and the international traders," Kumar said.

"We were not able to establish the exact link between the two states, till Minter named Qureshi," Kumar said. Qureshi was arrested by the UP police for allegedly selling 13 tiger skins. Minter is in the second layer in the pyramid of the lion poachers and traders in the country. "The next phase of investigation will include names of the international traders, who might had purchased the body parts of the lions," another source in CID (crime) said.

The trade of body parts of wild animals is spread across the globe and the lion poachers from the state too could have a link to it. "The poachers from the Baheriaya tribe have been arrested, booked and convicted and they had sold the lion body parts in the international market," a police source said.

Minter is considered significant for the case as he has all the vital information related to the trade. He was arrested from Kutney village in MP. A total of 36 people have been convicted for poaching of eight Asiatic lions at three different sites in and around the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in 2007. Carcasses were found at different places, including Babariya range in the Gir sanctuary as well as from Bhunduriya village in the coastal belt of Bhavnagar district, 100 km from the sanctuary.

The CID (crime) during the course of investigation found that those arrested had contacts in UP and MP. The MP-based poachers come to Gujarat to kill the lions; they later sell the body parts in MP. They have also links with people in Karnataka and UP.

New names surface in lion poaching case.

28 May 2009, 0326 hrs IST, Parth Shastri, TNN

AHMEDABAD: The state Crime Investigation Department (CID) officials have got crucial information about the nation-wide tiger and lion poaching
racket during the questioning of Minter Singh, who was nabbed from Katni, Madhya Pradesh on May 9 in a joint operation by CID and Madhya Pradesh forest officials.

On the basis of his confession, a team of CID (Crime) officials will get custody of another prime accused - Shabbir Hussain Qureshi from Lucknow jail early next month. Qureshi is a resident of Uttar Pradesh.

According to CID officials, they completed all the arrests in the lion poaching cases in Gujarat after Singh was arrested. A total of 18 men and 13 women have been arrested in eight lion poaching cases from three sites in the state, including Babaria forest range of Gir, where carcasses of three lions were found.

"We got court's permission on Wednesday to conduct a narco analysis test on Singh. The preliminary investigation has revealed that he used to deal with the UP-based master poacher Qureshi, who had established international links for exporting animal body parts. We have already initiated a process to get Qureshi to Gujarat to question him on his role in poaching and trade," said VV Rabari, additional director general, CID (Crime).

Keshav Kumar, IG (Prisons) and investigating officer in the poaching cases, told TOI that it is the only second case in the country where narco analysis permission for the poaching cases has been sought. "Earlier, in the same poaching cases, we had performed the test on the accused to get more details on the modus operandi of the group. Earlier, Sansar Chand was identified as the middleman for lion body parts. But, the new development has exposed a bigger inter-state nexus," said Kumar.

Talking about Qureshi's track record, officials said that when he was arrested in December 2007 from Allahabad, he had three tiger skeletons. He confessed to have sold 600 tiger skins abroad and had contacts with Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian buyers and sellers. Since tigers are not available easily, he is suspected to have eyed lions, which have a similar bone structure. Tiger bones have a huge international market, said officials.


CID finds Uttar Pradesh connection in 2007 Gir lions poaching case.

Vikram Rautela
Posted: Thursday , May 28, 2009 at 0146 hrs IST

After Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh links have emerged in the Gir Asiatic lions poaching case of 2007. Gujarat Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which is investigating the case, said on Wednesday that involvement of a notorious poacher from UP, Shabbir Hussan Qureshi, is being investigated and that he will be brought to Gujarat for interrogation soon.

The case had recently hogged headlines for the large number of convictions secured. A total of 36 people, including a wildlife goods trader from Karnataka, Prabhakar Keshav Gajakosh, were arrested and later convicted under provisions of both the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Qureshi, who is known to have connections in national and international poaching rackets, is presently lodged in an Allahabad jail. He was arrested by the Special Task Force (STF) of the UP Police from Lucknow with 17 tiger skins and 100 tiger bones worth Rs 20 million in November 2007.


Lion population in Bhavnagar increases to 25 from 14 in four years

Express News Service Posted: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 2354 hrs IST


Within four years of the last census in 2005, further dispersion of Asiatic lions on a large- scale in areas of Bhavnagar district has been observed. From 14 in the last census, which was a record in itself, the number of lions in the green areas of the coastal belt is now 25.

The forest department has already considered declaring nearly 200 square kilometres in the district with green cover area as conserved forest for the lions. The district is located at least 100 km away from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, the home of the Asiatic lion.

“In the last census, 14 big cats had been found in and around Bhavnagar. Our recent estimate puts the number at 25,” said K Randhava, Deputy Conservator of Forest, Bhavnagar (Junagadh Circle). The total number of lions in and around the sanctuary in the census was put at 359. Like Bhavnagar, dispersion has been observed towards Sutrapada (Junagadh district) and Barada (Porbandar district) in recent years. With the lion population on the rise, their further dispersion in search of more space and food has not been ruled out.


No takers for Gir Sanctuary?

Thursday, May 21, 2009 17:56 IST

Tourist inflow to the Gir National Park in Gujarat, the world's only natural habitat for the rare majestic Asiatic lions, has dipped due to the intense heat.

This year several factors have affected the number of tourists and wildlife enthusiasts from visiting the sanctuary. Apart from the rise in mercury, global recession and the Indian Premier League cricket tournament have distracted visitors to this place.

Consequently, allied services such as hotels, travel agents and taxi operators have been adversely hit.

"Sometimes we take one or two trips to the Park, but now it is even once in three days sometimes as business is bad," said Rafiq, a taxi driver.

Did you know?

Established in 1965, the Gir Forest National Park is one of the most important protected areas in Asia.


In His Majesty’s den


Wildlife splendours of the world’s only Asiatic lion habitat.


A lion resting in the Gir forest.

THE lion, a young male, lay crouched some 15 metres from the road. Realising that it had been spotted, it lowered its head and flattened its ears in an attempt to hide. I took out my camera and signalled to those behind me to stop and be silent. And, as it slowly raised its ears, I took a photograph. Then I advanced to the edge of the road to take another. The lion flattened its ears again, this time maybe as a sign of aggression, and then abruptly got up and ran away without even a growl.

My companions included four forest staff, Dr. Bivash Pandav from the WWF-International and Dr. Pranav Trivedi from the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore. I had helped several students from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehra Dun, in their research in the Gir Protected Area (1,470 sq km, which comprises the sanctuary and the national park) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Pranav had been researching on peafowl here for his Master’s dissertation. Now, in the early part of February 2009, we were together on the 115-km trek from Pipadwa village in eastern Gir to Sasan in western Gir. Our aim was to quantify the lion and ungulate abundance and evaluate the status of the habitat in the park. The Gujarat Forest Department, besides giving us permission, made use of this opportunity by sending teams of staff to learn as much natural history from us as possible.

We would leave early in the morning when the temperature was a little above 20°C, walk until midday when the temperature touched 36°C, rest in the cool shade of a nallah until around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then walk the remaining distance to our destination. Every day we covered close to 20 km. Unfortunately, I could not complete the entire trek owing to personal reasons and my walk came to an end at central Gir, close to Chodavadi where I had radio-collared lions in the late 1980s. While Pranav and Bivash continued and finished the walk three days later, I returned to Sasan and Ahmedabad in a vehicle via Chodavadi, Kankai and Amla hillock, driving through this part of Gir after a span of nearly 20 years.


Besides the Gir Protected Area, which includes the Mitiyala wildlife sanctuary, other key lion habitats in Greater Gir are Girnar, the Coastal Forests and the Hipavadli zone.

The walk and the drive gave me sufficient opportunities to renew my contact with Gir and revel in the wildlife splendours of the world’s only Asiatic lion habitat. We went to bed and woke up in the mornings to the roar of lions in the Mitiyala forests – a satellite population that links the Gir lions with those of Hipavadli. We enjoyed the early morning fragrance of the snow-white flowers of Karamda (Carissa carandus) and Nevri (Ixora arborea) in the cool shades of nallahs, and watched the chinkara gazelle and the chowsingha antelope disappear over the hills in fluid leaps.

The chital, the chinkara (above, right) and the sambar. Nearly half of the Gir lion's diet is reported to be livestock and the rest comprises prey such as these.

We flushed sand grouses crouching camouflaged amidst the grasses and rocks along the burnt verges (burning is done by the Forest Department as a fire-management measure), and watched the full moon rise and bathe the golden hills in a silvery light. Once, as the near-full moon rose over the Bhimchas forests, we heard a leopard and a lion roaring repeatedly, as though challenging each other. We observed a mugger float like a log in the Rawal reservoir and admired in silence, in the headlight of our vehicle, the lithe grace of a leopard as it slunk into cover.
Historical distribution

(Top)The nilgai. There is a need to augment the prey base in Gir.(Above) A pair of painted sand grouse.

The historical distribution of the Asiatic lion, which morphologically differs from its African counterpart in having a belly fold, stretched from Syria, across West Asia to eastern India. In his book The Gir Lion, Indian Forest Service officer H.S. Singh concludes that the present range of Gir lions is limited to the three Gujarat districts of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar, covering a total area of 8,500 sq km. If the areas recently visited by some lions, especially nomads, are also included, this range or Greater Gir is as large as 10,500 sq km. Conflict with people, in the form of depredation of cattle, is high outside the Gir Protected Area. People retaliate occasionally by poisoning the lions or electrocuting them using power stolen from government supply lines.

Besides the Gir Protected Area (which includes the Mitiyala wildlife sanctuary,18 sq km), other key lion habitats in Greater Gir are Girnar (180 sq km), the Coastal Forests (110 sq km) and the Hipavadli zone (250 sq km). The Gujarat government plans to develop the Barda area (ca 500 sq km), not connected to Greater Gir, as the second home for the lion. It intends not to restore the habitat connectivity between Barda and Greater Gir in the hope that any disease affecting Gir lions will not be transmitted to Barda lions and vice versa. Sustained and systematic efforts, on the contrary, will be made to strengthen the existing connectivities between the Gir Protected Area and the habitats of the satellite populations.


A lioness with its cubs. There was an increase in lion poaching as traders sold the animal's bones as tiger bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

One worrying problem about Gir lions, whether it is inside the protected area or outside it, is their predilection for livestock, which are easily hunted and commonly available. Nearly 50 per cent of the Gir lion diet is reported to be livestock and the rest comprises prey such as the chital, the sambar, the nilgai and the wild pig. This dependency on livestock often leads to attacks on humans, more frequently outside the protected area. Our enquiries revealed that the lions inside the Gir forest are much more tolerant of people. The people inside Gir are also capable of avoiding sudden encounters with lions – an ability not much evident in the people who live outside.

The morning we left Bhimchas on our way to Hadala we heard lions roaring at a distance. I thought two males could be fighting. The staff said they were possibly attacking maldhari (pastoralist) buffaloes near one of their nesses (camps). There was total silence after the first roar. When we returned to the road after an hour of futile search over hills and valleys, we met three maldharis. They said eight lions, including a few cubs, had attacked buffaloes and although the lions had been driven away, a calf had been injured.

Like all other protected area in the country, Gir also faces the problem of having numerous settlements on the periphery as well as inside. There are about 97 revenue villages on the periphery with a population of about 150,000 and 14 forest settlement villages with about 4,500 people and 4,000 livestock. Fortunately, except for two forest villages the rest are on the fringes of the protected area and therefore their impact on the protected area may not be serious.

Open wells such as this within the forest and in the neighbouring agricultural fields frequently take their toll on the lions.

On the first day of our trek, as we approached Gidharadi revenue village, we met villagers going into the forests for over a kilometre to collect firewood and fodder. If such a situation persists around all the revenue and forest villages and around the 50 or so maldhari nesses (which still persist in the sanctuary area outside the 250-sq km national park) then the impact on the habitat will be enormous. One way of reducing this impact would be to permit the people to use a one-kilometre belt of forest around each settlement to meet their fodder and firewood needs through plantation and fodder cultivation programmes assisted by the Forest Department and other conservation agencies.

Around 1985, forest officials in north and central India were baffled by incidents of poaching in which bones of the slain tigers were taken away. In some instances the skins were left behind. This was the time when tiger poaching for bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), was spreading into Indian tiger habitats. This depleted the tiger numbers in many of our reserves and even led to the extinction of the tiger in places such as the Sariska Tiger Reserve in 2004. No one thought that this demand for tiger bones would lead to the traders promoting lion poaching.

A Gir Maldhari (pastoralist) with his buffaloes. Villagers going into the forests for well over a kilometre to collect firewood and fodder will have an enormous impact on the habitat.

In April 2004, a lion was found in the Dedakadi forest range, near the Gir headquarters at Sasan, with its right paw nearly ripped off – a sure sign of the use of a leg-hold jaw trap, which is commonly used to kill tigers. Soon officials detected organised poaching of lions, and there were reports of bones being removed from carcasses, and it came to light that tribal poachers from Madhya Pradesh, disguised as agricultural labourers, were killing the lions. The needle of suspicion pointed persistently to the TCM business as it is difficult to differentiate bones of lions from those of tigers.

Conservationists, already upset with the episodes of tiger-poaching incidents, created a furore about the lion poaching, which made Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi visit Gir twice in April and May 2007. The Chief Minister held discussions with the village elders and senior forest officials to identify the problems that hindered effective protection. When problems such as the lack of young staff (there had been no recruitment for several decades) and the paucity of equipment such as wireless and firearms were pointed out, the Chief Minister issued orders to rectify the situation. Young villagers were recruited as watchers and forest guards and sufficient firearms and wireless sets were secured. The effectiveness of the intervention was evident when we walked through the forest – we were accompanied by many young staff and we did not come across illegal activities such as tree felling in the forests, which were reported to be rampant as late as a year ago.

However, numerous problems such as increasing pilgrimage and vehicular traffic within Gir, the threat of new developments breaking corridor connectivity, declining tolerance for wildlife in the younger generation and the rapid increase in human population in the Greater Gir area endanger the lion and its habitat. Meanwhile, some suggestions that can be more immediately addressed come to my mind.

Teak trees, which provide neither food nor quality shade in summer and whose dry leaf litter is a fire hazard, have crowded certain parts of central and western Gir. There is an urgent need to thin and remove them in certain locations so as to create open areas that will benefit the most abundant chital deer, thus increasing the prey biomass available to the lions. Open wells within the forest as well as in the neighbouring agricultural fields frequently take their toll on the lions, and such wells should be securely covered.


The Gir Protected Area has a high density of leopards.

Civil works such as unwanted construction of check dams across nallahs, which is often an eyesore in some places, should be avoided. If blackbucks can occur in the undulating hilly tracks of the Sigur range in the Nilgiris in South India, eastern Gir can also support a sizable population of blackbuck, which could augment the prey base, if a proper introduction programme is carried out. An unsuccessful attempt was made in the 1970s.

My memory goes back to a morning near Bhimchas nearly 20 years ago, when I led a research team from the WII on foot through a patch of dry, tall grass. My attention was suddenly drawn to something black that twitched in the grass. The movement and the sound made me stop and watch intently. An adult lion lay crouched facing in my direction hardly 10 metres from me. I held my breath and retreated slowly. Seeing me retreat, my colleagues fell back. The lion had only been warning me because as soon as I withdrew, the twitching, which is a sign of alertness and can be a prelude to an attack, stopped. I came out of the patch of grass without ever seeing the lion in full.

Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh is a wildlife biologist with Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, and WWF-India


Gir national park in Gujarat has artificial water pits for animals

Gir National Park, Mon, 18 May 2009 ANI

Gir National Park, May 18 (ANI): With mercury rising each passing day and natural water sources drying up, forest rangers of Gir National Park in Gujarat are digging trenches in which water is filled periodically by tractor-driven tankers for the animals to quench their thirst.

Game Wardens of the Gir sanctuary have dug around 215 cavernous wide pits in the deep jungle in which water for the animals is filled periodicallyy tractor-tankers as almost all the water sources have dried up.

According to Sandeep Kumar Singh, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, the drive to create morertificial water holes will continue till June last when the monsoon sets in here.

"This is in fact the peak period when lots of water sources dry up.Although we have around seven perennial rivers in the Gir National Park and Sanctuary. But still there is the need of managing artificial water holes. So what we do is we have a lot of artificial water holes where our staff on a regular basis, particularly two times in a day, go and fill the water so that there is no problem of water for any wild animals," said Sandeep Kumar Singh.

Established in Circa 1965, the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, also known as Sasan-Gir, is the sole home of the majestic Asiatic lions.

Covering a total area of 1412 kilometres (about 258 kilometres for the fully protected area (the National Park) and 1153 kilometres for the Sanctuary), the area is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species.

The April 2005 census recorded the lion-count in Gir at 359, an increase of 32 as compared to the previous figures of 2001. By Suresh Soni (ANI)


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tourism dips in Gir sanctuary due to heat.

19 May 2009, 1540 hrs IST, ANI

SASAN GIR (Gujarat): Tourist inflow to the Gir National Park in Gujarat, the world's only natural habitat for the rare majestic Asiatic lions,
has dipped due to the intense heat.

This year several factors have affected the number of tourists and wildlife enthusiasts from visiting the sanctuary.

Apart from the rise in mercury, global recession and the Indian Premier League cricket tournament have distracted the prospective visitors to this place.

Consequently, allied services such as hotels, travel agents and taxi operators have been adversely hit.

"Due to the heat and the IPL cricket matches, the tourist inflow is less. There are about 70 vehicles here. Sometimes we take one or two trips to the Park, but now it is even once in three to four days sometimes. The business is quite bad," said Rafiq, a taxi driver.

However, the officials manning the sanctuary sounded optimistic by saying that this is just a seasonal phenomenon and the tourist inflow would increase when the heat decreases.

They also pointed out that there is a particular time to visit the park as such tourist inflow is not that bad.

"For the time being this maybe the reason. But we are getting more tourists. Everyday the number is increasing. And there is a time to visit the forest," said Sandeep Kumar Singh, Divisional Forest Officer, Gir National Park.

Established in the year 1965, the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary covers a total area of 1412 kilometres (about 258 kilometres for the fully protected area (the National Park) and 1153 kilometres for the Sanctuary).

This region is regarded as one of the most important protected areas in Asia.


Of Cats, Weekly Feline News.

Been busy this past week but fortunately found time enough to post the feline news today. So, here they go...

Bengal TigerFirst tigers and there's report of a very disturbing incident here. Naval officers in Thailand were shocked when they found grisly animal remains after making a recent smuggling bust. According to details a gang of eight was trying to illegally transport animals across the border into neighboring Laos when it was apprehended by the Thai Navy. The authorities found carcasses of two dead tigers and pangolins as well as forty three live pangolins - who were undoubtedly destined for a terrible fate had they not been rescued. So a very sad incident which highlights the continuing menace of poaching and illegal animal trade in Southeast Asia that is threatening the endangered species of cats and other mammals. You can find more about this and other similar incidents in the past by going to the website of TRAFFIC, the organization that monitors wildlife trade, but be warned of the graphic nature of images there.

Staying with tigers - there is good news too. Two of the states in India have reported a rise in the number of their bengal tigers. In Jaipur, there has been an overall increase in the number of wild animals including tigers, leopards and sloth bears. And in Kerala, ten new tigers have been sighted in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. Positive signs amid desperate times for the tiger. More on the above here and here. And for an interesting and realistic look at the state of tiger conservation in India, go here.

To the mangrove forest in Sunderban, Bangladesh. Two separate attacks on people by tigers. Whilst in one account the tiger was able to make away with a fisherman who was collecting firewood deep in the forest, in the other case a father and son bravely fought off a maneating tiger - a very rare and fortunate occurrence indeed. More on the two attacks here and here. And to learn more about the tigers of Sunderban and an analysis of the ongoing conflict between them and people, go here.

In Kaziranga National Park a boat has been donated by David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation to combat wildlife poaching and smuggling. Kaziranga has been recently hit by a spate of tiger and rhino poaching incidents. The provision of this new boat, which will patrol the adjoining river in search of poachers, is set to aid the authorities there in helping wildlife. The full report here.

Asiatic LionLions. And the news is good here. The Asiatic Lions in Gir, India, are set to benefit from over a hundred water holes that have been dug there by the local authorities. It's summer there and the lions are increasingly venturing outside the park to establish new territories. The water holes will help the big cats in sustaining themselves. More on this here.

And the Asiatic Lions will now be tracked through modern GPS collars in India. This has been recommended by a task force there. The tracking system is to receive a general overhaul that will help in the study of lions as well as minimize conflict with people. The full recommendations of the task force here.

JaguarFor Jaguars - there is both good and bad news, relating to their habitat. While the US government has approved the funding of over one hundred million dollars for the rain forests that make up the home of these great cats in South America, the government in Brazil is taking steps that do not bode well for the Amazon, and the environment in general. Whereas the US law aims to check deforestation and climate change by providing debt relief to tropical nations in exchange for their commitment to conserve forests and coral reefs, the law proposed by Brazil will grant land rights for illegally occupied property in the Amazon. This will pave way for further clearing of the forests and irreparable damage to the ecosystem there. More on the two laws here and here.

LeopardTo the leopards. The Snow Leopard Trust is set to benefit from the sale of alcohol! This has come about after Whyte & Mackay, the Glasgow based makers of world's first 'ethically distilled' vodka decided to donate fifteen percent of their profits to the trust. More on the above here. And you can reach the website of the Trust here.

And a woman has been arrested and sentenced in Oregon over charges of violating the Endangered Species Act. The woman, a Ukrainian National, had imported three leopard skins from the Democratic Republic of Congo but unfortunately for her, an error by the shipping department resulted in her undoing! To read the interesting story behind her capture go here.

CheetahTo Cheetahs and there is good news here too. A Cheetah birth has been recorded in The Nairobi National Park in Kenya after many years. This after years of adverse climate and prey conditions in the park. The birth is a positive sign for the population of the beautiful felines there. More here.

And for the first time - the critically endangered Saharan Cheetah has been recently photographed by a camera trap. A remarkable event that will buoy the hopes of the scientists and conservationists working to protect these endangered cats. The full account here.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Tiger, panther, sloth bear population increases.

15 May 2009, 0541 hrs IST, Anindo Dey, TNN

JAIPUR: There is good news for wildlife enthusiasts. The tiger populace in the state might have just registered an increase from the last

According to officials of the forest department, initial estimates of the tiger population in the state suggest that the count stands somewhere at 40 tigers, a minimum increase of atleast five tigers from the last count in 2008.

"The figures released by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, in February 2008 had put the count of tigers to somewhere between 32 and 35. This year we have just finished the count of tigers in all the tigers reserves of the state and though the analysis of the data is still pending but initial estimates suggest that the count may be somewhere around 40," officials of the state forest department revealed.

The official said that it would take some more time to finish analysing the data and the final count would only be available by the end of the month.

However, the chief wildlife warden, Rajasthan, R N Mehrotra refused to divulge any details and said, "It is too early to comment. But the count of all the mammals in the state has increased."

The tiger count in the state had begun in March and the method of trap camera was used for it. The count was done along with the WII.

"While the count was exclusively done for an estimate of the tiger population in the park but the trap camera would also be clicking other animals. It would also help us in earmarking areas where the tigers have marked their territory," he said.

"There have been many births at the Ranthambore tiger reserve since the last census, the biggest reserve in the state. But there have been casualties and three tigers were relocated to Sariska," the official said.

Another surprising feature of the count of other wild animals, that was done separately, has shown a remarkable increase in the panther population too. In fact, panthers were spotted at 35 places in Sariska and 45 places in Udaipur. Ranthambore has also registered an increase in the number of sloth bears.

Panther killed

JAIPUR: A panther was killed at the Ranthambore national park on Thursday morning by a tiger. This is the second of its kind incident at the park. Earlier, on April 2 a similar incident had occurred at the Baacola area of the park. Officials of the park revealed that like last time this time too, it was probably a male tiger that killed the panther. "By the time we recovered the body, the panther had been badly mauled by the tiger," he said. tnn


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Want to save the tigers? Try eating them!

May 13, 2009 - 9:41 AM

In India, China and Russia, there were once 100,000 wild tigers. Today, only a few thousand survive.

They’ve disappeared because poachers kill them to sell crushed tiger bone, which is made into a paste that is supposed to kill pain.

The usual solution is to ban the sale of these products. Actor Harrison Ford says in a public-service announcement, “When the buying stops, the killing can, too. Case closed!”

But the case isn’t closed. The ban is 33 years old, yet the tigers still disappear.

“If we continue the current approach, ... the tiger is doomed,” Terry Anderson of PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center (, told me for my ABC special “You Can’t Even Talk About It.”

Anderson points out that governments have repeatedly failed to save animals by banning their sale. They’ve failed with the Colobus monkey in West Africa, the alligator in China and now with the tiger in Asia.

How do we save them? Here’s an idea. Let’s sell them! And eat them!

A hundred years ago, American bison were almost extinct. Why? Because no one owned them and had the incentive to protect them. People just killed them.

Then ranchers began to fence in the bison and farm them. Today, America has half a million bison.

Does America have a shortage of chickens? No. Because we eat them. I realize this is counterintuitive. Expand animal populations by letting people consume them? The conventional thinking seems so much more sensible -- and sensitive.

But it’s simpleminded. In Africa, rhinos were disappearing because poachers killed them for their horns, considered an aphrodisiac. African governments banned the products, but this did little good. A black market, complete with official corruption, arose. The government’s game wardens took bribes or slept on the job.

“It was a complete failure,” says Dr. Brian Child, who spent 20 years in Africa working to save endangered species. “Wildlife was disappearing everywhere.”

What finally worked, he says, was letting landowners own rhinos so they could make money off them from tourism. Suddenly, each tribe had skin in the game, and an incentive to protect its own rhinos.

It’s human nature. No government protects resources as effectively as you protect your own property. In Africa, says Anderson, those indifferent security guards suddenly became fierce protectors of their tribal rhinos.

He asked one: “What happens if you catch a poacher? You kill him? He said, ‘No, we just beat them up. They go back to their village and don’t ever come back.’ These people don’t tolerate poaching because they want to keep the animals alive. They allow hunting. They allow photography. That is the way to save wildlife.”

In China, thousands of tigers survive only because some tiger farms protect them. Their owners hope that next year the Chinese government will lift its ban on tiger product sales. Then they can make money off the traditional medicines.

That would be terrible, American conservation groups say.

“There is no need to farm tigers,” says Judy Mills, of Conservation International ( “[A] survey that we did recently in China ... showed that 90 percent of Chinese people actually support the ban.”

It’s nice that they said that, but half the people polled also said that they’d consumed products they thought contained tiger.

She conceded the point: “We know that Chinese people believe that having a bottle of tiger-bone wine in the cupboard is a nice thing to have around in case somebody has some aches and pains.”

So what does it matter if they say they like the ban?

“Our method is working. But to a certain degree, it hasn’t had a chance to work.”

Please. Thirty-three years? How long can we wait? It’s such a conceit for conservation groups to think a government decree can change thousands of years of culture.

What has worked is letting people own and profit from the sale of exotic animals. It’s worked with elephants in Zimbabwe, rhinos in southern Africa and the bison in America.

Says Anderson, “If we make animals a marketable product, they will be saved.”

About the writer
John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News’ “20/20” and the author of “Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.”


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shining a Light on India's Rural Poor.

Solar lanterns are already making some headway in India's poorest areas, and a new study suggests they could be a bigger part of the effort to reduce fossil fuel use while improving lives.

By: Matt Palmquist | May 11, 2009

The study found that in households with solar lamps, students almost doubled their study times.Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia

About 2 billion people in developing countries worldwide lack electricity, which in turn impacts the health, ecology and safety of rural households. Many are forced to rely on inefficient and environmentally damaging kerosene lamps: Developing nations alone burn 470 million barrels of oil and release about 400 billion pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as a result of using kerosene. Other sources of light fuel include cow dung, precious forest firewood or crop residue.

But in a massive new study carried out in Gujarat, one of Western India's poorest states, hit hard by drought in recent years, researchers have proposed that solar photovoltaic lanterns could represent a solution for rural communities with insufficient lighting. This is particularly true in India, where the average number of sunny days ranges from 250 to 300 per year, generating a solar energy equivalent greater than the country's total energy consumption. With India's large and growing population, solar lanterns, using the country's abundant sunlight, could be the cleanest and most practical energy alternative available.

"These lanterns have the potential to replace the candles, kerosene lamps and hurricane lanterns commonly used by villagers," wrote the two researchers at Taiwanese universities, Govindasamy Agoramoorthy of Tajen University and Minna J. Hsu from the National Sun Yat-Sen University, who led the study. "Furthermore, they can be used outdoors in agricultural fields during irrigation and harvesting, for fishing at night, and many other farm-related activities."

Their article, "Lighting the Lives of the Impoverished in India's Rural and Tribal Drylands," has been published online in the journal Human Ecology. Between January 2004 and December 2007, the researchers gathered data on the benefits of the lanterns from 25 villages in the district. All demographics were considered: In addition to recording data on names, heads of households, poverty level, family size, number of children and students, the researchers also tracked household savings (in kerosene and electricity costs) before and after the introduction of solar photovoltaic lanterns. And rural women were interviewed at least a month before receiving the lanterns and a month after.

The lanterns — provided by the nonprofit Sadguru Foundation — cost $87.50 and consist of a photovoltaic module connected to a storage battery, charge regulator, compact fluorescent light source, inverter, and a switch. One lantern can provide light for more than six hours after a full day's charge and can save about 100 liters of kerosene per year, which in turn reduces CO2 emissions.

During the nearly four years of tracking use, the researchers found that expenditures for kerosene and electricity dropped significantly after the introduction of solar lanterns. Overall, each household saved $91.55 in energy costs per year, which the researchers called "a huge savings on an annual family income ranging from $150 to $250."

In addition, with the six hours of light supplied daily by the solar lanterns, the researchers found the average number of hours students in a household spent studying increased from 1.47 to 2.71. "This increase in study hours has had a positive influence on students' performance at school," the researchers wrote. "Likewise, women are able to perform their routine household work both indoors and outdoors during power outages."

The research comes at a critical time for India: The commercial solar photovoltaic market has increased from 10 firms in 1992 to 60 in 2002, and the resulting competitiveness has pushed the prices of solar lanterns to their lowest levels in the world. But the lanterns have been slow to catch on. "Even though India's Ministry for Non-Conventional Energy Sources (renamed the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy) encourages solar photovoltaic technologies ... community response has been poor — only 365,000 solar lanterns have been installed under the program promoted by the ministry," the researchers noted.

Nonprofit agencies, foundations across the international community and even celebrities ranging from Bollywood stars to Bon Jovi, however, have begun to take notice. Especially encouraging to the researchers is the news that the United States-based nonprofit Energy and Resources Institute, with $30 million in funding for a four-year period from the Clinton Global Initiative in 2007, has engaged in a sustainable development project that aims to provide solar lanterns to thousands of rural households across India. "If implemented efficiently, these projects could not only improve the quality of life for India's rural poor but also enhance sustainable use of the environment," the researchers conclude.

Miller-McCune has previously looked at alternative lighting solutions — including photovoltaics — for the developing world. John Perlin gave an overview of photovoltaics and examined a German program trying to create a solar cell marketplace. And Lindsey McCormack profiled a researcher who patented a combination of familiar technologies — flexible solar panels, LED lights and a lithium cell phone battery — to form a cheap, renewable lighting system for developing nations.


Key accused in 2007 Asiatic lions poaching case held in MP

Express News Service
Posted: May 11, 2009 at 0335 hrs IST

Rajkot/Ahmedabad Minter Singh, a key accused in the Asiatic lions poaching case of 2007, was arrested in Kutney, Madhya Pradesh on Saturday, in a joint operation by the Gujarat CID (Crime) and the MP Police. Singh will be brought to Gujarat for prosecution.

A total of 36 people have been convicted for the poaching of eight Asiatic lions at three different sites in and around the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in 2007.

The arrest of Singh, who is suspected to be the kingpin of the poaching racket, is considered significant for the case, as some villagers of Kutney were involved in the poaching that had jolted the state.

Carcasses were found at different places, including Babariya Range in the Gir sanctuary as well as from Bhunduriya village in the coastal belt of Bhavnagar district, 100km from the sanctuary.

A total of 36 people, half of them women, were arrested from Una in Junagadh district and from the Bhavnagar railway station in 2007.

A Junagadh court had sentenced 20 people to three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000 each, while the Bhavnagar metropolitan court sentenced 16 people to four years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,000 each. They were convicted under provisions of both the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Singh was wanted in the same case.

The CID (Crime) was handed over the investigation of the case at a time when the state government was under pressure to shift some of the Asiatic lions to MP. While poaching left no tigers in neighbouring Rajasthan, it was for the first time that Asiatic lion’s last abode — Gir sanctuary — had become a target of poachers.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

The great escape.

Mountains, oceans, heritage places, forests... the list is endless when it comes to choosing one
for that much-needed break. Coordinators share the experience of their wonderful holidays

Call of the wild
Forests have always seemed inviting to me. More than hill stations or sea beaches. Perhaps this attraction owes much to the fact that the first time I went to a forest, I was a baby, barely a few months old. My first experience of actual wilderness of forests was when I still had not learned to walk - our elephant had been attacked by a rhinoceros who was protecting her child. Of course I have no remembrance of that incident but it still thrills me. Our elephant, the brave hero, had kept us safe.
Since then, I have been to many forests in all parts of the country. After 13 years or so of going to forests, the first time I had seen a Royal Bengal Tiger in a forest — the image is still etched in my mind, it had been in Kanha forest reserve in Madhya Pradesh. Since then, we have been rather lucky for we’ve been blessed with tiger sightings in Bandhagarh and Pench (both in Madhya Pradesh) as well as Chitwan forest in Nepal.
Recently, we went to a truly unique place to try our tiger luck. However, the peculiarity of this forest is that it does not have tigers. No, it has not been severely struck by poaching but is home to the world’s last Asiatic lions.
Gir National Park in Gujarat is 1412 sq km of deciduous forest interspersed with semi-evergreen and evergreen flora. We reached the forest lodge by afternoon. Resting that day, we mentally prepared ourselves for tough routines for the next few days. After all, they all began at 5.30am! Gir National Park provides tourists with the option to hire jeeps which they can use to enter the forest twice daily. We had to take an official guide with us who would not only provide safety but also help us spot animals in their camouflage with their experienced and well-trained eye.
The first day of our trip whipped up our excitement for the jungle lived up to our expectations - smell of the trees, and the presence of concealed life all made the adrenaline rush through our veins!
We saw spotted deer (chital) and their ample number proved they were enjoying a good life in the forest. On our route, we reached one of the several lakes in the forest. There we saw an uncommon sight — two crocodiles! Furthermore, as we were in that particular clearing, we could hear a lion roaring from a nearby-forest!
We did not spot a lion that particular trip, but in the evening, we struck luck. Just as we neared the exit, it was close of the day as well as our second trip, and we were informed that a lioness had been spotted nearby. We hurried to the place and there she sat — beautiful with the royalty of a queen. Several jeeps crowded around but she hardly seemed to care.
There is a great difference between lions and tigers. Tigers tend to be shyer and usually prefer to hide away from humans. However, lions hardly bother. Secondly, while tigers may attack (after a warning, with an exception of the tigers in the Sunderban delta), lions never attack unless they are either greatly agitated or hungry. After clicking pictures of the first lioness sighting of my life, we left.
The next day began with excitement. As we started our journey, we suddenly saw a blur of movement to our left. The jeep was immediately stopped. There, having jumped from a tree was a leopard that ran past the jeep, barely five feet away from me, and hid amidst the trees! We did not get a picture of this but seeing it with our eyes was enough. Later during the day, we saw wild dogs. These animals live in groups and due to their teamwork are generally more dangerous than the big cats themselves.
During our evening trip, we faced yet another exciting situation — a lioness was drinking water from a stream that was at a lower level and would soon rise. We, along with several other jeeps, patiently awaited, only to have our patience rewarded as this beauty walked past our jeeps into the forested area.
The sun soon disappeared below the horizon and it was time for our next day to begin. We were extremely excited as each of us felt exceptionally lucky. We found a lion walking in front of our jeep!
It was one of the rarest and luckiest of times - having a full grown lion in all it’s royalty walking in front of our car, following the road, for nearly 15 minutes! One might ask if we were scared but, in all honesty, I can say no - the gorgeous King of the Jungle having graced us by his presence awed us and left us praising the experience.
Then it was time to leave. It was hard to bid goodbye to the beauty of the jungle. Being an avid forest lover, it is truly surprising that people can be heartless enough to kill these majestic beasts for monetary gain. After all, wildlife is the rainbow that shines over our country, and perhaps even the entire world.
Aankhi Mukherjee, Calcutta
Girls’ High School.


Big cats in Gir face extinction.

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: The 370 Asiatic Lions in the Gir forest, Gujarat, are facing extinction due to epidemics, fire and cyclone, Ravi Chellam, Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bangalore, said here on Saturday.

Dr. Ravi Chellam, who made a presentation, said a group of scientists led by him conducted a study on trans-locating a small number of lions from Gir to overcome this problem.

They found the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh as most suited to house them as it had large tracts of forests.
Political opposition

The study was done in 1993-94 and in 1995 the team submitted the trans-location proposal to the Union government at a meeting attended by Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh officials.

The suggested timeline for shifting was 2005 but due to strong political opposition the plan was not implemented.

Dr. Ravi Chellam said the animals were in good health. Moving them from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh was not a problem. Technology was there and in Africa tens and thousands of animals of different species were trans-located every year.
“We lack willingness”

“We lack willingness, long-term vision and support for conservation,” which was threatening the survival of the big cats, he said.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Heat wave delays tiger relocation in Sariska.

New Delhi, May 03: Unrelenting heat wave in Northern India has put a halt on Rajasthan government's plan to relocate a tiger from Rathambore National park to Sariska sanctuary with state officials preferring to wait till monsoon to execute the task.

"There was a proposal to shift second male tiger in the beginning of this month in the park. But it is now not advisable in view of intense heat conditions in the Northern state. The plan has been put on hold for at least next two months till monsoon," National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) member secretary Rajesh Gopal said.

Pointing to the reason behind the move, he said: "Tigers can suffer sunstroke or die if we try to trap them for translocation purpose. We also don't want to disturb its habitat as it can be fatal given the animal has to be darted and tranquilised before it is airlifted. It will also be taxing for our men to do the work successfully in this heat wave condition," he said.

"Last time, we had executed the task during monsoon when the weather was favourable for the animal. We will again wait for rains as the onset of summer this year has witnessed temperatures soaring beyond 43 degrees Celsius," Gopal added.

Presently there are three big cats -- a male and two females -- in the wilds of Sariska as part of the government efforts to revive the population of the endangered species. A total of five predators, three males and two females, have to be introduced by the end of this year as suggested by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).

Sarsika lost all striped animals by 2004 to poachers and excess human interference in the sanctuary.

Last year, a tiger and two tigress, fitted with radio collar to monitor their movement, were successfully relocated from Ranthambore to Sariska, spread over 800 sq km with a core area of around 500 sq km.

Bureau Report

Old panda digs will showcase Asian lions.

By: Carol Sanders

1/05/2009 1:00 AM

Winnipeg's zoo is turning its old panda enclosure into a $1-million manor for rare Asian lions to lure more visitors and funding for the struggling city attraction.

"This is all part of the goal to revitalize the park and zoo," said Mike Stevens, president of the Zoological Society of Manitoba and member of the board of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy.

"And it's all part of master plan to have a best-in-class facility."

The 2000 master plan for the park called for a massive overhaul. Phase One was to include a new zoo entrance at Corydon Avenue and a multimillion-dollar revitalized polar bear exhibit.

Stevens said converting the unused 20-year-old panda bear enclosure into an Asian lion home got bumped up on the list of things to do because it was affordable, fit the criteria for promoting conservancy and education, and the lions would boost attendance.

"About four years ago, we had the African lions and they had some cubs," said Stevens. "It was extremely successful and it became pretty obvious that lions are a top attraction."

Zoo spokesman Dr. Bob Wrigley said 450,000 visitors came to see the lions.

"We knew everyone wanted to see the king of the beasts." Now the zoo is hoping to successfully breed nearly extinct Asian lions, said Wrigley.

"We're hoping we can be the first zoo in North America." The warm-weather cats will have space to roam and a cosy abode in cold winters, Wrigley said. And their fans won't be forgotten.

"It'll be a four-season place for people."

A two-storey mural and exhibits aim to bring people closer to the lions and their history, Wrigley said.

"We'll have interpretive programs, special dinners and sleepovers with the lions," said Wrigley.

"We want to show people's relationship with the lion over 20,000 years of art and hunting" -- from primitive cave paintings to the near-extinction of today.

There were lions in the wilds of North America at one time, he said.

"They would have been here before the last ice age and died out 10,000 years ago," said Wrigley. The American lion came across the Bering Strait and was genetically related to the Asian lion, he said.

"It probably had longer hair because of the colder climate and it was larger." Wrigley marvelled at the amazing range of the kings of the beasts who also inhabited Europe.

"It was pretty adaptable and yet it's been so persecuted for thousands of years that now it's just about disappeared."

At the turn of the last century, there were only 100 Asian lions left in the world, said Wrigley. Today, there are about 250 Asian lions in the Gir Forest and zoos of India. The Assiniboine Park Zoo is hoping to swap India some macaques for an Asian lion couple.

Nearly one-third of the cost of the $1-million panda enclosure retrofit was raised by the Zoological Society of Manitoba.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Letter of Shree Bhushanbhai Pandya.

19th April 2009.

The Editorshri
The Times of India


Mr. Himanshu Kaushik

Dear Sir,

Ref: The Gir lion news published on Page no. 5 of The Times of India dated
16th April 2009.

I have been closely observing Gir lions since more than two decades documenting their behavior in Gir and in some other areas as well. The news of “food chain” seem to be misleading because –

1. Present Asiatic lion population (as per 2005 census) at 350 plus is the highest ever in the history of Gir. Obviously they need larger area. Also, increased population of herbivores spread outside Gir and some of the lions living on periphery do follow them. Also, lion is a strong territorial animal which tries to drive away younger or weaker lions. Females with young cubs also try to protect her young ones from other males. Such females, if living on periphery, often find areas like sugarcane fields a safe habitat. Some lions find this new home and have been increasing there, while some use various corridors to roam in both - protected as well as surrounding areas.

Lions in fact are in a process of regaining their lost territories of old Gir which was three times larger than the present 1412 sq. km. area and their population was much less.

2. Another independent lion census done by scientists and researchers around the same period of last census also shows almost the same number of lions of 350. It also showed that central Gir is also occupied by lions. This supports the fact that the lions have not moved after maldharies.

3. It is a simple fact that inducing domestic livestock in lion food chain is certainly not a correct conservation method. Wild animals should live on wild prey and they have not to be “fed” by domestic livestock.

4. Humans and domestic livestock share the same natural resources that of the wild animals. Moreover, it is observes that most of the cattle grazing areas have degraded irrevocably. In the long-term conservation, it is necessary that wild habitats be remain free from human inhabitation. Accordingly, protection is being provided in Girnar, Pania, Mitiyala, Barda, etc. new sanctuaries.

Bhushan Pandya.

Bhushan Pandya
Wildlife Photographer
(Gujarat Gaurav Awardee)
Nishad Color Lab
“Vraj”, Panchnath Temple Road,
Rajkot – 360001.

Tel: (O) 0281 2224188 (R) 0281 2229494 (M) 94282 03117


Gujarat: An Ecological Nightmare.

By S Faizi

02 May, 2009

The business bosses are rightly grateful to the Gujarat government for the massive corporate welfare benefits they receive at the expense of the tax paying public. But the hapless public has little recourse as the state has been turned into an ecological nightmare by the avaricious corporates and an authoritarian government. This tragedy is compounded by the virtual absence of a political opposition; and the civil society has either been silenced or co-opted, with just a few remarkable exceptions.

Like many great cities in the world, Ahmedabad too has been the gift of a river. But today the Sabarmati river is being eliminated by design to grab real estate for the corporates. This is perhaps the first case in the world of a designed destruction of a river. I was a startled witness, about three years ago, to bulldozers pulling down the compound wall of the Sararmati Ashram abutting the river bank. Along with the river were also to disappear the lakhs of poor who had nothing but a make shift hut in the subhuman slum pockets on the banks of a river that nurtured the city until it was dammed upstream. The corporates and their greedy political cousins will build a fortune on the grave of a river, but their fortune will remain a challenge not just to ecology but to civilization itself.

The Western Ghats, the Vindhya-Satpura ranges and the Aravalli mountains terminate in Gujarat, from the southeastern corner to the northeastern tip, giving it a rich and varied assemblage of fauna and flora. Gujarat has a high proportion of the country’ vertebrate fauna, as high as 27 per cent, birds and mammals in particular. However, while the national forest policy envisages to achieve an average of 33 per cent forest cover across the country, Gujarat has reduced its forest cover to 7.7 per cent of the terrestrial area in the early part of the decade, a trend that that has worsened since. Between 1980 and 2005 the state has officially destroyed 546 sq km of its forests. An indication of the increasing pace of forest destruction is the growing number of animal attacks on people, mainly the Adivasis. According to official statistics, between 2000 and 2005 there were over 50 deaths and about 800 persons sustaining injuries caused by wildlife attacks, mainly Leopard and Sloth bear, due to their venturing out from the diminishing habitats.

The development juggernaut is at the centre of the forest destruction, displacing people and eliminating their livelihood. Mining continues to take its toll on even sanctuaries like Balaram Ambaji and Narayana Sarovar, the latter already truncated to lease out mining lands to powerful business houses. The real estate lobby is mischievously eying the Nal Sarovar sanctuary which is a haven for transcontinental migrant birds. Though the opposition to the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada has made it known well, what is not so well known is that the state has about 230 other dams with an inundation area of 1400 sq km, a greater part of this being former forestlands. The dams have not only caused the destruction of forest but also played havoc on the ecology of the rivers and are the source of the salinity increase in vast areas of the state, rendering the land infertile. With the vast network of irrigation canals, soil salinity is pervasive in the state posing a grave threat to the future of its agriculture. The paradox here is that such irrigation infrastructure was created in a state having about 400 natural water bodies, excluding the rivers, with a combined water spread of over 2000 sq kms!

An environmental disaster without parallel anywhere in the world, the Kalpasar project, is in the making. A megalomanic fantasy to create a 2000 sq kms freshwater basin in the Gulf of Khambhat by building a dam in the Gulf into which drain the rivers Narmada, Mahi, Sabarmati and Dhadar. The idea is to supply water to the industries located in Saurashtra through a 660 km long canal. A multilane road and railtrack are also planned on the 64 km long dam wall. Tidal power generation is also part of the project. A Department of Kalpasar has been established to undertake this about one lakh crore (one trillion) rupees project officially known as Gulf of Khambhat Development Project. This project that has not yet drawn the attention of the civil society is going to be a massive marine disaster that will eliminate the Gulf and all the estuaries and the mangroves of Khambhat. The lethal combination of dictatorial politics and scheming business extends the boundaries of absurdity.

The Alang coast of the Gulf of Khambhat is already a dangerously polluted place. The world’s dumpyard of dead ships here might make a few businessmen in some far away cities rich, but the dangerous waste that these ships are pollute the land, the beach and the sea and put the life of hundreds of migrant workers at risk. It was a national shame that the Gujarat government wanted the lethal French waste ship Le Clemenceau to be brought to Alang; it was international protest on our behalf that eventually forced the French government to call back the waste ship to their shore.

Alang is, however, not alone as a pollution hotspot. The four decades old Nandesari industrial area near Vadodara is a massive pollution estate that has rendered the groundwater of a large area of the district unusable and turned the area’s once fertile farms into barren lands. Mini and Mahi rivers are also victims of this pollution estate; it is indicative that the endangered Indian soft shell turtle has all but disappeared from these rivers. The story of Ankleshwar and Vapi are no different. The groundwater of more than 70 talukas of the state is reported to be polluted.

Modern Gujarat turns even a fabulous festival into an environmental tragedy. The annual kite festival held on the Utharayan day in January causes a massacre of birds, especially the winter migrants. The kite strings laced with powdered glass (in order to cut the rivals’ strings) snag the unsuspecting birds, often leading to death. The strings hanging from trees continue to cause mortality. In Ahmedabad alone more than 5000 birds were killed by kites in 2005. A year later the mortality in the city and surrounding areas included 16 White rumped vulture, a highly endangered bird protected in the schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. A people who had an admirable tradition of protecting the Sarus crane on their farms and patiently suffering the crop raiding by the Nilgai have been turned into bird killers!

I leave out the Narmada environmental disaster that continues to play out. However, I should mention the inundation of part of the adjoining Soolpaneswar Sanctuary, that received little attention even as the Supreme Court took a categorical position against non-forest activities in sanctuaries and national parks even if prior clearance under the Forest Conservation Act had been obtained, through its order of 13 November 2000. A passionate forest officer in the sanctuary told me of the submergence of a significant part of a range within the sanctuary perimeter by the Sardar Sarovar dam. However, officials in Gandhinagar responded variously to my queries on the issue: either denying submergence or claiming to have obtained central clearance. This issue did not attract the attention of the Central Empowered Committee (appointed on the direction of the Supreme Court) that takes a firm position with regard to protected wildlife areas in other parts of the country.

The indicators cearly tell of the kind of economic prosperity in the state. 148 farmers in the state had committed suicide as admitted by the chief minister in the Legislative Assembly in March 2007. (And no compensation was paid to their families, even as the heaping of support to the corporate houses goes on unrestrained). The National Family Health Survey report of 2006 has recorded an increase in the proportion of women suffering from anaemia from 46.3 per cent in 1999 to 55.5 per cent in 2004. The polarization of wealth and poverty has abysmally deepened in Gujarat.

As the corporate greed rapidly devour the state’s natural resources and reduce the environmental space like an occupying force, in connivance with the officialdom, it will be a long struggle before a semblance of sustainability can be brought back to the home of the Mahatma. This national struggle shall not be delayed, for, there are several other states wanting to rapidly emulate the Gujarat ‘model’.

(Author intro: ecologist specializing in international environmental policy)


Saturday, May 2, 2009

All for a single voter.

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission on Thursday created history by deploying its men and machinery just to collect one vote, that too in the polling station set up in the Gir forest of Gujarat, sanctuary for the Asiatic lion.

The lone voter — Guru Bharatdasji Darshandasji Maharaj (58) — a priest in the local Shiva temple and resident of Banej within the forest, where the polling station was set up, cast his vote at 10.30 a.m. after duly showing his Elector Photo Identity Card. Interestingly, the polling personnel were moved to the place on Wednesday evening itself and after he exercised his franchise, they could not wind up.

As per the election rules, they had to wait till 5 p.m., the closing time, to see whether there was any “challenge vote.” Banej comes under the Una Assembly segment of the Junagadh Lok Sabha constituency.