Thursday, December 29, 2011

The year in review for rainforests.

The year in review for rainforests
Rhett Butler,
December 28, 2011

2011 was designated as "Year of the Forests" by the United Nations. While there was relatively little progress on intergovernmental forest protection programs during the year, a lot happened elsewhere. Below is a look at some of the biggest tropical forest-related news stories for 2011.

We at mongabay readily acknowledge there were a number of important temperate and boreal forest developments, including Britain's decision not to privatize its forests and the severe drought in Texas, but this article will cover only tropical forest news.


Brazil announced forest loss during the 2010-2011 deforestation year fell to the lowest level since annual record keeping began in 1988, a continuation of a three-year trend. But enthusiasm for the news was tempered by other developments that could increase risks to the Amazon. In December the Senate voted to revise the country's long-standing Forest Code, a move environmentalists fear could spark deforestation. The existing Forest Code, which is largely dysfunctional due to lack of consistent enforcement, requires landowners to main 80 percent forest cover on their properties. The new code, which will face a final vote in February or March before going to President Dilma Rousseff for approval, would maintain the headline 80 percent figure in the Amazon, but grant amnesty for illegal deforestation through July 2008 on properties up to 400 hectares (1000 acres) (some greens fear worry the deadline may shift in the future). The new Forest Code would also suspend fines — which fund law enforcement — and relax restrictions on forest clearing along rivers and on mountaintops. Green groups said the proposed code is unpopular, according to a poll they commissioned.

Amazon deforestation.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 1988-2011. Photos by Rhett A. Butler.

Another major development in 2011 was the decision to move forward on Belo Monte dam, a project that would block most of the mighty Xingu river, flooding more than 40,000 hectares of rainforest and displacing thousands of indigenous people. Most disturbing about Belo Monte is the precedents it sets for future large-scale infrastructure projects in the Amazon. For example a federal judge ruled in November that affected communities do not have the right to free, prior and informed consultation on the project. Meanwhile Brazilian companies continued to invest in projects that would drive large-scale deforestation in other Amazon countries, including dams, energy exploration, industrial agricultural developments, and new roads, suggesting that even though deforestation has been ebbing in recent years, there may be leakage to surrounding countries.

News of infrastructure investment and development came at the same time as a series of high profile assassination of anti-illegal-logging activists in the Amazon by ranchers and loggers.

Some positive news emerged on Brazil's most threatened forest ecosystem. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica announced the deforestation rate for the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) dropped significantly between 2008 and 2010, relative to the 2005-2008 period.

Finally there were signs some private sector actors continued to be motivated by the stigma of deforestation in their supply chains. JBS-Friboi, the world's largest meat processor, announced it would stop buying beef from ranches associated with slave labor and illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, while several banks were sued for failing to follow lending safeguards designed to prevent public finance from being used to subsidize deforestation.


In Indonesia, environmental groups set their sights on the pulp and paper sector, which over the past twenty years has emerged as one of the biggest drivers of deforestation on the island of Sumatra. Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), the two largest fiber suppliers, were the main targets. Greenpeace used fiber found in toy packaging and toilet as the main hook for their campaign, which relied heavily on social media, including a video suggesting that deforestation was the cause of a breakup between Ken and Barbie, popular Mattel toys. Meanwhile reports from Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian environmental groups WWF-Indonesia, and Greenomics cast doubt on some of APP's conservation claims, while an APP subsidiary in Australia was scandalized when caught in an astroturfing campaign intended to suggest broad public support for the company, when in fact there was little. The controversy, amid long-time complaints about APP's environmental record, led Lego, Mattel, Kroger, and others to drop APP as a supplier. APRIL was hit hard by an investigative report by ABC (Australia) News, which raised questions about its forest management practices and a stalled illegal logging investigation.

But the forestry sector fought back. U.S.-based groups that advocate on behalf on APP launched a series of campaigns targeting Greenpeace, WWF, the Rainforest Forest Network, and companies that have dropped APP products. One even launched an anti-Greenpeace web site and hosted comments on its Facebook page calling for violence against members of the green group. In Indonesia, pressure was more direct, with both Greenpeace-Indonesia and Indonesia Corruption Watch suffering unusual levels of harassment.

More broadly, Indonesia finally passed its much heralded moratorium on new logging and plantation concessions on peatlands and in primary forests areas, but the moratorium was much weaker than expected, reflecting the influence of business-as-usual interests in the forestry sector on the Indonesian government. The moratorium had substantial loopholes, including exclusions for industrial agriculture and mining. But the passage of the moratorium at all, reflected Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's seemingly intensified commitment to reducing deforestation. President SBY touted his 7/26 initiative, which targets 7 percent annual economic growth and a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 relative to business-as-usual. Reducing deforestation and peatlands degradation is the centerpiece of his push toward low carbon development. Indonesia signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with Europe to keep illegal Indonesian wood out of European Union markets.

Meanwhile one major palm oil producer broke ranks and took a bold step forward: Golden Agri Resources (GAR), which had been the target of an intense Greenpeace campaign, announced one of the most progressive forest policies in the palm oil sector, committing not to develop lands with carbon stocks greater than 35 tons per hectares and promising to seek "free, prior informed consent" in engaging with communities. Environmentalists hoped other forestry companies would follow GAR's lead (another palm oil company ceded land in Kalimantan contested by local communities as part of sustainability pledge). Moreover, the Indonesian government said it would 'recognize, respect and protect' the rights of traditional forest users, including indigenous people, a move civil society believes is key to reducing deforestation.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea, the independent half of the island of New Guinea, saw several significant developments in the forestry sector.

In May, the government suspended its controversial Special Agricultural and Business Leases program (SABLs), which had granted logging and plantation development concessions to mostly foreign corporations across 5.2 million hectares of community forest land. SABLs had been widely opposed by community rights groups and conservationists.

In June, a court fined Concord Pacific, a Malaysian timber company, with a nearly $100 million (K225.5 million) fine for large-scale illegal logging. The firm was ordered to pay damages to four forest tribes. It was the first ruling of its kind in Papua New Guinea.

Sir Michael Somare resigned the office of prime minister, creating further uncertainty around the country's faltering REDD program. Communities in PNG have been plagued by an influx of "carbon cowboys", unscrupulous forest carbon project developers that, at times, have swindled locals out of their land and savings.


The Republic of Congo announced it would seek international funding for a plan to convert up to one million hectares (2.47 million acres) of "degraded forest" lands into industrial plantations. While the government said the intent of the program was to to sequester carbon and take pressure off native forests, environmentalists immediately expressed concern that the proposal could drive destruction of native forests, to the detriment of biodiversity and carbon stocks.

Liberia signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to facilitate timber exports to Europe by ensuring no wood has been illegally cut.

A group of African nations re-introduced a decades-old plan to establish a "Great Green Wall" to stem expansion of the Sahara Desert. The massive tree-planting exercise would be backed by donor funds.

A controversial oil palm plantation in Cameroon was put on hold after concerns were raised about its social and environmental impact.

Uganda resurrected a plan to hand over about a quarter of the Mabira Forest Reserve to a sugar cane company. The project had been shelved in 2007 due to public uproar.


The Indian government announced in February an initiative that will "expand" and "improve the quality" of its forests as a part of the nation's National Action Plan on Climate Change. The reforestation plan, dubbed the National Mission for a Green India (NMGI), will expand forests by five million hectares (over 12 million acres), while improving forests quality on another five million hectares for $10 billion (460 billion rupees). It wasn't specified whether the new "forests" would be native or exotic plantations.

Conservation officials will pursue "permanent" protection of Jeypore-Dehing lowland rainforest in Assam, following the release of photos revealing the presence of seven wild cat species. The forest is currently threatened by logging, poaching, oil and coal development, and hydroelectric projects.

The high profile push to protect tigers will hurt lion conservation in India. The Asiatic lion subspecies (Panthera leo persica) of Gir Forest National Park in the north-western state of Gujarat is losing their federal conservation funding to tiger programs.

A mess in Sarawak, Malaysia

Indigenous forest people in Sarawak continued their struggle against forestry companies backed by the state government. Forest-dwelling Penan set up several roadblocks against logging and plantation companies, but continued to see court rulings in their favor ignored by authorities. In June, Survival International reported a thousand Penan were forcibly moved from their rainforest home to palm oil plantations to make way for the Murum dam.

Meanwhile, evidence of large-scale corruption by Sarawak's Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud continued to grow. A handful of countries, including Malaysia, said they are now investigating Taib's assets, which are believed to be worth billions of dollars, despite the minister drawing a civil servant's salary for the past 30 years. The Bruno Manser Fund, which campaigns heavily against Taib, says much of the wealth is derirved from the minister's close ties to the logging and plantation sector. The U.S. State Department apparently agrees, according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.

Taib maintains his innocence and even claimed #&8212; in March #&8212; that Sarawak's forests are "70 percent intact". He was quickly rebuked however by images on Google Earth, which reveal a stark contrast between Sarawak's damaged forests and those in neighboring Borneo states. Taib claims were also contradicted by an analysis by environmental group Wetlands International and remote sensing institute Sarvision showing that more than one third (353,000 hectares or 872,000 acres) of Sarawak's peatswamp forests and ten percent of the state's rainforests were cleared between 2005 and 2010. About 65 percent of the area was converted for oil palm, which is replacing logging as timber stocks have been exhausted by unsustainable harvesting practices.

Intergovernmental forest activities

REDD+, a program proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation, made mixed progress during December climate talks in Durban. Forestry experts said while some key issues were resolved, significant questions remain about financing and safeguards to protect against abuse. REDD+ offers the potential to simultaneously reduce emissions, conserve biodiversity, maintain other ecosystem services, and help alleviate rural poverty, but concerns over potential adverse impacts have plagued the program since its conception.

The U.S. announced a debt-for-nature swap worth $28.5 million to back forest conservation projects in Kalimantan. America also began distributing the first grants under a similar 2009 program in Sumatra. The U.S. State Department said it has pledged more than $450 million toward 'green growth' in Indonesia.

California approved cap-and-trade regulations for AB32, the state's 2006 climate law. The move, which establishes the first compliance carbon trading system in the United States, opens the door for compliance-level carbon offsets generated via forest conservation projects. California has signed working agreements with several states and provinces in Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico.

The World Bank announced it would resume lending to palm oil sector after 18-month moratorium sparked by complaints over social conflict between local communities and palm oil companies in Indonesia. Lending will be governed by a framework developed after months of consultations with stakeholders, including the private sector, NGOs, farmers, indigenous communities, development experts, and governments. A prominent lobbyist for the palm oil industry decried the safeguard provisions.

Lessons from the past?

Researchers at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference presented new evidence that the Maya ultimately did themselves in through deforestation. Climatologist Ben Cook reported the extent of forest clearing toward the end of the Mayan civilization may have been enough to reduce rainfall to the point that it unleashed devastating droughts.

On the drought front, troubling signs emerged out of the Amazon rainforest, according to new studies which examined the 2005 and 2010 droughts in the region. One concluded that nearly one million square miles (2.6 m sq km) of rainforest was affected by last year's drought, making it worse than the 2005 drought, which until then had been the worst on record. Meanwhile a subsequent projection by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and the UK's Met Office Hadley Centre concluded that climate change and deforestation could decimate much of the Amazon by reducing the resistance of the rainforest ecosystem to natural and human-caused stressors, while increasing the frequency of extreme rainfall events and droughts. Amazon die-off could have dire implications for South America's economy — roughly 70 percent of the continent's GDP occurs within the rain shadow of the Amazon rainforest.

The high price of gold and other commodities

The surging price of gold drove expansion of mining in tropical forests around the world. In Peru the impact was particularly pronounced, with several massive surface mines metastasizing across the most biodiverse part of the Amazon rainforest.

Oil palm, industrial pulpwood, and timber plantations continued to expand around the tropics, stoking growing criticism from environmentalists and social justice movements. High prices for palm oil, timber, woodpulp, and other commodities make it more profitable to clear and convert forests.

Plans for new dams and energy exploration were put forth in tropical forests around the world. In Peru, conflicts between oil companies and indigenous tribes simmered, while Ecuador's proposal to leave oil in the ground in Yasuni National Park failed to gain traction as the development community seemed unwilling to cough up funds for the initiative. Also in Ecuador, Chevron was ordered to pay more than $8 billion for damages allegedly caused by Texaco, a company it acquired in 2001. Chevron is appealing the case, which has dragged on for nearly 20 years.

Successful campaigns elsewhere

In Sri Lanka, fruit company Dole abandoned a controversial banana plantation within Somawathiya National Park after protests by local environmental groups.

After a protracted and embarrassing campaign that saw it censor its own members and shut down the ability to comment on its Facebook page, Girl Scouts USA announced it would change its palm oil sourcing policy. The group will now use only RSPO-certified palm oil, which is produced under stricter criteria than conventional palm oil.

In Bolivia, intense indigenous demonstrations forced President Evo Morales to drop plans to build a road through Tipnis, an indigenous reserve.

In Myanmar, protests astonishingly pushed the government to cancel a major Chinese dam.

In Cambodia, local campaigners successfully pressured the government to cancel titanium strip mine project.

In Sabah, Malaysia, local activists cheered the government's decision to cancel a controversial a coal-fired plant on the edge of the Coral Triangle. The project, which the government had earlier said was 'a done deal' would have increased pressure to strip mine rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesian Borneo for coal. The cancellation followed a long campaign by a group of environmental and human right organizations dubbed Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-power the Future), which turned the coal plant into a political issue.

A large Brazilian construction company pulled out of a Peruvian dam project in November citing opposition from indigenous communities.


Commodity roundtables — multistakeholder bodies that aim to create production standards for commodities — continued to meet to discuss certification criteria and ways to create incentives to improve their environmental and social performance. Nevertheless roundtables continued to by criticized by non-members NGOs concerned about standards and oversight, as well as non-member producers worried about competition. Roundtables globally won support when McDonald's launched a new sourcing policy — the Sustainable Land Management Commitment — for palm oil, paper, beef, coffee, soy, and other commodities.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) met for its General Assembly, which weighed various changes to the organization, including a vote on a controversial motion that would open the door to sustainable-certification of companies that have been involved in recent forest destruction for pulp and paper plantations. The FSC faced questions over violent conflict in a certified concession in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), its pursuit of carbon credits from forestry, and its certification of a plantation where large numbers of primates had been killed. FSC was buoyed by Danish shipping giant Maersk's decision to transition to containers built from FSC-certified timber.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) announced record sales of certified palm oil and saw a number of high profile buyers commit to sourcing only certified palm oil by 2015, a continuation of a trend. Further support came from a Dutch industry group, which said it would seek import duty exemption for RSPO-certified palm oil, and new legislation in Australia and the E.U. requiring labeling of palm oil as an ingredient on packaging. The initiative however was tested by non-compliance by some members. RSPO suspended IOI, a Malaysian giant, for its role in a land use dispute with forest people in Borneo. Another prominent RSPO member, Wilmar Corp, was accused of misleading the public over a conflict between local communities and one of its subsidiaries in Sumatra. Finally, the Malaysian government announced its own certification standard based on compliance with Malaysian law. Naturally, the standard is mandatory for Malaysian palm oil producers. Indonesian proposed a similar legal compliance-based standard — the ISPO — in 2010.

A new assessment by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) concluded that more than 90 percent of tropical forests are managed poorly or not at all.

Community rights

Momentum seemed to build for increased community control over forest lands. A paper published in Science in March found that involving local communities in the governance of forest resources boosts economic returns and biodiversity relative to areas where locals have little participation, while research published in July by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) concluded that giving local communities control over forest resources can help slow and even reverse deforestation. Shortly thereafter the Indonesian government said it would do more to strengthen and protect the rights of traditional forest users, after an initial false-start under the country's moratorium. A subsequent World Bank study published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE concluded that protected areas in tropical forests are better at curtailing deforestation if they allow 'sustainable use' by locals. Looking at every official protected area in the tropics from 2000 to 2008, researchers found that multi-use reserves in Latin America and Asia lowered deforestation rates by around 2 percent more than strict protected areas.

An indigenous community in Malaysian Borneo took land rights into its own hands when it seized an oil palm plantation belonging to the IOI Group after the palm oil giant failed to respect the terms of a court ruling that the plantation was established on native customary land.

In September Peru's newly elected president, Ollanta Humala, signed into law a measure requiring that indigenous groups are consulted prior to any mining, logging, or oil and gas projects on their land. If properly enforced, the new legislation will give indigenous people free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) over such industrial projects, though the new law does not go so far as to allow local communities a veto over projects. Still, the law puts Peru in line with the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989, which the South American nation ratified nearly two decades ago.

In December, the Rainforest Foundation UK announced an initiative to help forest communities gain recognition of traditional land use. Similar community mapping efforts at large scale are underway in Indonesia.

Strange bedfellows

Gibson Guitars found an ally in the Tea Party when its CEO criticized the federal government for raiding its facilities during an investigation into alleged illegal wood-sourcing. Gibson was first raided in 2009 when it allegedly imported illegally logged ebony from Madagascar's rainforests. Email correspondence from the time show that Gibson knew the timber was grey-market. But it was a subsequent raid earlier this year which sparked charges of government over-reach. The Department of Justice has been slow in pursuing the case, but Gibson now seems to have capitalized on the allegations as a promotional platform. Gibson has now become the cause célèbre for an effort to weaken the Lacey Act, which prohibits imports of illegally-sourced plant products. The push is backed by pulp and paper companies, which fear prosecution if protected timber species end up in their products.

BINGOs under pressure

Two big conservation groups landed in hot water when they were linked to controversial partners. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) was the subject of a report from Global Witness which said the forest giant's Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) has failed to improve the operations of several controversial logging companies, including one that is imperiling orangutans in Borneo and another which has been accused of human rights abuses in the Congo rainforest. WWF said it would commission an independent review of the program. Meanwhile Conservation International was criticized after an undercover video appeared to show a fundraiser for the group offering to greenwash for Lockheed Martin, an arms manufacturer. CI said the video was heavily edited with comments taken out of context.

The Rainforest Alliance was criticized for contributions it received from Gibson while serving as the instrument-maker's auditor. The group declined comment on the matter.

Monitoring deforestation and forest degradation from logging

Advancements continued in efforts to monitor forests, including understanding the impact of drought and selective logging, measuring water flow through forest ecosystems, tracking deforestation and forest degradation, and even assessing biodiversity. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced findings from its long-awaited satellite-based assessment of forest cover. Until now the FAO had based its bi-annual assessments largely on self-reporting by member nations. The preliminary work indicates that global forest cover, as well as forest loss, is lower than previously estimated. But the research indicates that tropical deforestation increased substantially between the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s. The FAO had previously stated the deforestation had declined between the two periods.

A comprehensive assessment of the world's carbon stocks concluded tropical forests across Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia stored 247 gigatons of carbon — more than 30 years' worth of current emissions from fossil fuels use — in the early 2000s. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by an international team of scientists, used data from 4,079 plot sites around the world and satellite-based measurements to estimate that forests store 193 billion tons of carbon in their vegetation and 54 billion tons in their roots structure. The study produced a carbon map for 2.5 billion ha (6.2 billion acres) of forests.

A separate study led by Mark Broich of South Dakota State University found Kalimantan and Sumatra lost 5.4 million hectares, or 9.2 percent, of their forest cover between 2000/2001 and 2007/2008. The research found that more than 20 percent of forest clearing occurred in areas where conversion was either restricted or prohibited, indicating that during the period, the Indonesian government failed to enforce its forestry laws.

The Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology unveiled a breakthrough remote-sensing technology that enables scientists to catalog individual tree species as they create three-dimensional maps of tropical forests. The newest version of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), as the airplane-based system is known, will offer powerful insights into the composition and biology of tropical forests.


A comprehensive assessment published in the journal Nature concluded that old-growth rainforests should be a top conservation priority when it comes to protecting wildlife. The research examined 138 scientific studies across 28 tropical countries. It found consistently that biodiversity level were substantially lower in disturbed forests and called primary forests "irreplaceable" for sustaining biodiversity. In a similar vein, a Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper found that ancient trees are essential for over 1,000 species birds and mammals.

A worldwide search for 'lost frogs' organized by Conservation International drew to a close. The effort, which employed 126 researchers to scour 21 countries for 100 amphibian species, provided further evidence of the dire outlook for many amphibian species, more than a third of which are threatened with extinction.

Researchers sounded the alarm that REDD could introduce a new extinction risk for wildlife: financial markets. The editorial, published in the journal Conservation Letters, argued that REDD could effectively link the fate of some species to the short-term whims of the carbon market. Conservation projects funded primarily by REDD are most at risk of being undermined by declining in carbon prices or changing investor preference.

In March, scientists partnered with one of the world's largest palm oil producers to measure the impact of converting tropical forest into an oil palm plantation.

A plethora of species were described for the first time by scientists in 2011 and studies suggested many more lie in wait of discovery. One noted that despite hundreds of years of research, humanity still knows less than 15 percent of the world's species. Another said that 3,000 amphibians and 160 land mammals remain undiscovered.

While new discoveries may raise hopes, over 900 species were added to IUCN Red List. Two prominent species — both rhinos — made their official exit. Both were driven to extinction primarily by habitat loss, but ultimately finished off by the rhino horn trade. An indeterminate number of other species also roamed the Earth for the last time in 2011, but we'll never know how many left us without a final farewell. Scientists however agree that we are in the midst of an extinction crisis — a survey of 583 conservation scientists found that 99.5 percent believe a serious loss in biodiversity was either 'likely', 'very likely', or 'virtually certain'. But at least one group was hopeful that the planet's sixth mass extinction could be prevented.

Still the news elsewhere wasn't inspiring. A paper in Conservation Letters recorded 89 instances in 27 countries of protected areas being downsized (shrunk), downgraded (decrease in legal protections), and degazetted (abolished) since 1900. Another warned that the global decline in top predators and megafauna is 'humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature'. Still another reported that the world's protected areas won't be enough to stem the loss of biodiversity. It instead argued that society must deal with the underlying problems of human population and overconsumption if we are to have any chance of preserving life on Earth.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two 'kings of forest' rule biggest pride in Gir.

Two `kings of forest` rule biggest pride in GirLast Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2011,
Vadodara: Experts have noticed a unique behavioral pattern at Gujarat's Gir National Park, where two lions rule the biggest pride in the forest comprising 32 felines.
"For the first time in the sanctuary, two male adult lions are ruling a pride of 32 felines. The duo controls 150 sq km of territory and displays dispersal behavior. They do not allow the other adults to feed, mingle with each other or even let them come in vicinity of the pride," Dr Sandeep Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) said.
The Gir forest is the sole home to the Asiatic Lions (Panthera Leo Persica).
"This (Gir) forest range is ruled by two male lions known as 'Kamleshwar males'. They established their territory in this area in 2005 and till date are maintaining, protecting and breeding in it",Kumar said.

Observing that dispersal is a unique behavior of animals which allows the species to occupy large and different geographical ranges as it helps them in long term survival, Kumar said the behavioral pattern also ensures less intra-specific competition and even avoid inbreeding depression.
According to the 2010 census, the lion population in the forest has increased to 411.
Officials attribute the rise in population to factors like better protection and other facilities, including availability of abundant prey and water for the big cats.

Lion cub shows human behaviour.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Dec 26, 2011, 03.32AM IST
AHMEDABAD: A four-year-old lioness sits alone staring at her brother who is being chased out of the group by her father. The foresters cannot but marvel at the human reaction of this young lioness to the domestic squabble. She stops eating till her brother returns back to the pride.
Not just the sister, but the other sub-adults too move away from the group and refuse food unless he returns. But soon they will realize the hard fact that the young lion has to move out of the pride and establish his own kingdom, say the officials.
This unique behavioral pattern has been spotted in a huge pride of 32 lions, the biggest in Gir sanctuary. The foresters who keep a watch and document the behaviour of these big cats are surprised by the nuances of inter-personal relationships and bonding displayed by these Gir lions.
Deputy conservator of forest, Sandeep Kumar who is documenting the behaviour of this group said, "It is time for the young ones to move out of the group and have own territory in the next couple of months. The sub-adult male now has to prove his supremacy before the next breeding season, which begins in February."
However the sub-adult male, who is very attached to the parent group, does not venture out much. But the father and uncle are adamant that he establishes his own territory.
Kumar said, "When the father and uncle chase away this sub-adult, his sister of the same age too runs away from the group in protest, as she gets emotional. She sits away from the group for hours together staring in the direction where her brother has gone."
This is one of the biggest prides in the Gir sanctuary or even in the state. The pride comprises of seven sub groups covering an area of 135 sq km. This pride is often spotted in the tourism zone and is commonly known as Dedakadi group. Dedakadi is an area in Gir Sanctuary.
The pride of 32 consists of two male lions, about 13-14 years of age and who dominate the group, nine adult female and ten sub-adult female and 11 cubs of less then three years of age. The two lions have not allowed any intruder in their territory for the past seven years. This 135 sq km area comprises of Malanka, Kasia and Keramba.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Leopard kills 5-year-old girl in Gujarat town.

RAJKOT: A five-year-old girl was killed by a leopard in Umba town near Veraval of Junagadh district, police said.
The incident took place last night, when the victim-- Manisha Jora was working in the courtyard of her house, located on the outskirts of the town, they said.
According to police, the leopard made a sudden attack and started dragging her to a nearby farm. Hearing her cries, Manisha's family members and people in the neighbourhood came out and ran after the wild animal. When people reached the farm, the leopard released the seriously injured girl and ran away.
The girl was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was declared brought dead, police added. 


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gir lions in zoo wait for mayor's appointment.

SURAT: 'Kya Chhe Gir No Sinh' (Where is the lion of Gir), ask visitors at the Sarthana zoo, run by the Surat Municipal Corporation ( SMC). Despite their arrival at the zoo two-and-a-half-months ago, the lions have not been put on display. Now, it seems the wild life lovers will have to wait till next year for a glimpse of the Asiatic lion brought under the animal exchange programme from Rajkot's Sakkarbaug zoo.
The zoo authorities are delaying the display of Asiatic lion as they are still awaiting certain other species, such as the Manipur deer, from the Sakkarbaug zoo, so that they can organize an official function by inviting the city mayor and other dignitaries. For the first time, the Sarthana zoo has got a pair of Asiatic lions. Until now, the zoo had a single 25-year-old hybrid lion and that too was not keeping well as he is ageing. Last year, the only lioness at the zoo died at the age of 21.
A pair of Asiatic lion was brought to the Sarthana zoo from the Sakkarbaug zoo in the third week of October 2011. Since then the big cats have been kept in captivity, away from the eyes of the visitors who are eagerly waiting to see the king of the jungle.
"After newspapers reported the arrival of the Asiatic lion, I visited the zoo with my kids, only to return disappointed. In the last one month, I have been there for over half a dozen time inquiring about the Asiatic lion, but I am not getting proper reply," said Siddharth Rana, a jari manufacturer from Chowk Bazaar.
Zoo authorities said the pair of Asiatic lions have undergone successful quarantine for over one-and-a-half-month and now they are ready to be introduced to visitors in the Sarthana zoo. Every day before the visiting hour starts, the Asiatic lions are taken out of the cages to be in the open display area.
"Since the quarantine period for the Asiatic lion is already over, we had planned the official display last week. But, due to the Sadbhavana fast in the city, we were sure that the Mayor would not have the time to inaugurate the official display. Now, we plan to hold a function in the first week of January after getting other species such as the Manipur deer from the Sakkarbaug zoo by the end of December," said Praful Mehta, in-charge superintendent of Sarthana zoo.
Asked why can't the zoo authorities get the official programme done for the public display of the Asiatic lions, Mehta said, "It is not possible to get dignitaries such as the mayor to come and inaugurate the official display of each and every species of animal arriving from Sakkarbaug zoo. We are waiting for all the species under the animal exchange programme to arrive at the zoo, so that we can keep a small function."

114 animals sick in state zoos.

Andhra Pradesh | Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:20am IST

HYDERABAD: As many as 114 animals, including 79 Asiatic lions, 19 tigers and other species are undergoing treatment for various ailments at the three state zoos. Of these, 50 percent have been suffering from multiorgan problems due to old age and the rest have minor wounds and skin diseases.
Of 114 animals, 77 lions and 17 tigers were rescued from circuses between 2000 and 2006 and some captured after they strayed into human habitations. The indisposed animals are being given treatment at the two animal rescue centres in Visakhapatnam and Tirupati zoos, according to the AP Zoos Authority.
“Generally big cats live for 15 to 20 years but 40 sick animals which are more than 20 years old, are being treated at animal rescue centres. As we take care of sick animals carefully, many are able to survive more than their average age,” said P Mallikurjana Rao, director of AP zoos.
“Apart from big cats, every week around 20 animals on an average fall ill in the state zoos,” said P Srinivas, veterinary assistant surgeon, Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad.
The three zoos house about 130 species, including 886 mammals, 1,751 birds and 471 reptiles. At the Hyderabad zoo, one old sloth bear, an Asiatic lion, two tigers, one crocodile, one spotted deer and nine other animals have minor wounds. Of this, the injuries to the leg of a rhino brought from Pune to Hyderabad in August are a concern. Its yet to recover and has been kept off display since its arrival.
At the Tirupati zoo, two tigers and three deer are suffering skin diseases. At Visakhapatnam, one white tiger and two sambhar deer and emus have bruises.
In the last nine months, 35 animals died while being handled by staff at the three zoos. In the last three years, the number of deaths were 68 in 2010, 85 in 2009 and 105 in 2008.
"We have been able to decrease the animal mortality rates due to better treatment by specilised veterinary doctors and latest facilities,” said Vizag zoo curator G Ramalingam.
But some animal rights activists are worried because 35 animals have died in zoos. Mahesh Agarwal, a member of People for Animals says, “Animals are very sensitive and once they are brought out of their forest habitats into an enclosed space, they are deprived of their natural lifestyle and food.”
He, however, offered help for animals.

Friday, December 23, 2011

NGOs to help winged friends during kite festival in Gujarat.

Published: Thursday, Dec 22, 2011, 15:01 IST
By Kinjal Desai | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA 
For animal lovers, the annual kite flying festival of Gujarat is one of the most unfortunate created disasters for the avian community.
Over 2,000 birds get injured or die annually in Ahmedabad. And like every year, this year too NGOs will join hands to providesafety and care to the birds.
Jivdaya Charitable Trust, in collaboration with 20 other NGOs of the city, is setting up a hospital at Panjrapol and rescue teams across the city to save the birds under the campaign 'Help The Birds' (HTB) starting from January 12-17.
Trustee Kartik Shastri says, "HTB is an annual campaign, where all the members join hands with the forest department and Wildlife Rescue Centre, to save birds from injuries by maanja or kite strings during Uttarayan. Efforts are also made to save these birds from succumbing to their injuries."
The centre stays open till birds are healed and often works beyond January 17. There will be 35 rescue teams and satellite centres.
Shastri said, "This time around we will have 45 doctors two each from UK, Nepal and Goa; three from Mumbai; two from BNHS Tinjore Vulture Care Centre; three from SACON centre at Coimbatore; seven from Jivdaya Trust and 15 each from Anand and Datiwada Universities."
Last year, the trust had rescued 1,865 birds of which 200 birds could not survive. The survival rate was 74%, said Shastri. 36 species were found last year, falcon, white rumped vultures, steppe eagle, barn owl, pelican, flamingo, shikra (birds of prey) and more.

Wildlife Trust of India changes people’s cooking style to save the forest

  By Sanjeeb Baruah
  Valmiki Nagar (Bihar)
23 Dec 2011
More than a hundred households living within Bihar's Valmiki Tiger Reserve have switched from the traditional mud stoves to the more efficient eco-friendly 'chulhas' to reduce their dependency on forest for fuel wood - a move that would boost conservation of the big cat.
It is hoped the green stoves or 'chulhas' would help cut fuel wood use by 40 percent, which would also allow the forest to rejuvenate and increase security for the tigers.
The improvised chulha (Photos: IANS) 
The green stoves use maximum energy produced from burning of fuel wood. An iron grate positioned just above the stove's base provides room for air circulation that helps the fuel to burn efficiently.
The households are part of the 25 revenue villages in Done Valley, that is spread over a 45 sq km area in the heart of the sprawling Valmiki reserve, the only tiger sanctuary in the state.
"Seven villages are currently part of the initiative, the remaining ones will be taken up in phases," said Samir Sinha, who is implementing the project and manager of NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
Some 18,000 villagers in the valley depend on agriculture for livelihood. However, during the off-season many migrate to places as far as Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat to work as labourers, said Sinha.
The Valmiki reserve, an 880 sq km sal forest on the Terai foothills, is home to 11 tigers, according to the reserve's Field Director Santosh Tiwari.
The reserve extends up to Chitwan National Park in Nepal in the north, providing hundreds of miles of contiguous forest cover to many other threatened animals like sambar, nilgai, gaur, rhino and various species of primates.
"Of the seven villages, Matiarwa has achieved 100 percent participation. The rest are progressing in varying degrees," says Sinha. Other villages are Majuraha, Gardi, Naurangia, Piprahwa, Khairahni and Senrahni.
Stakeholders' participation, acceptable design, monitoring and problem solving were crucial for the success of the present initiative, said Sinha. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and Germany's Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union are the other supporters of the project.
Pune-based research organisation Appropriate Rural Technology Institute was contacted to train the local women, since they were the main users, said Sinha. Of the three designs, they picked the one that resembled the traditional chulha, he said.
Initially, only the trained women were asked to install the stove in their homes, which served as demonstration sites. They were paid by WTI, thus generating employment for them.
The mud chimneys for the stoves also brought brisk business for the village potter. Those who wanted to install the chulha contacted these women who charged them an installation fee.
The stoves were monitored for their efficiency by the WTI team.
Data over the past few months shows an average reduction of about 40 percent in fuel wood consumption compared to the traditional stoves.
Apart from the human disturbances, poaching continues to be the biggest threat to the animals in the park.
A male rhino that had crossed into Valmiki Tiger Reserve from Nepal in March this year was found dead with its horn chopped off in the Valmiki Nagar forest range in May. Last year, a tigress was also found dead in Madanpur range.
A small number of rhinos still live in the reserve's Valmiki forest range, where the grasslands provide them a perfect home.
India made saving the tiger one of its top priorities. The government's latest tiger census report released in March this year put the tiger population at about 1,700, a slight improvement from the previous report in 2008, which estimated it to be around 1,400. - IANS

Gujarat HC issues notice to Centre, state govt.

Published: Friday, Dec 16, 2011, 18:29 IST
Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA 
Gujarat HC issued notices to the state and central govts and the ministry of environment and forest in a petition filed against the deforestation and mining activities in the protected forest of Banni, Kutch.
Paryavaran Mitra (Janvikas) in its petition filed through its programme director, has challenged the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.
The NGO also challenges the de-reservation of grasslands and forests due to illegal mining around sanctuaries, national parks, wildlife reserves. The petition alleges deforestation has led to irreparable loss of wildlife, animals, ecology and livelihood of the people.
The petition further raises the issue of deforestation in the area of Banni grassland located in Kutch.
It states that Banni grassland area situated in the Greater Rann of Kutch was declared as a protected forest by the chief commissioner of Kutch in May, 1955 and demarcation of boundaries took place in 2005.

In spite of hate campaign people of Guj support my Govt: Modi.

PTI | 10:12 PM,Dec 22,2011 Ahmedabad, Dec 22 (PTI) Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi today said that his government had been able to rule the state for ten years due to support of the people, in spite of a hate campaign against the state. "Six crore people of Gujarat have supported this government for ten years because it is steadily progressing...," Modi said, concluding day-long Sadbhavna fast in Junagadh district. "Detractors of the state have used all the bad words in the dictionary to describe this government but still the people have supported this government. "Congress has tried to divide the state on religious and caste lines...It has shown negative mentality," he said. "The Congress party is out of power for many years in Gujarat and can not dream to come to power in the next 25 years in the state due to its negative mentality," he added. "With this Sadbhavna fast I am trying to bring in peace, unity and harmony." Modi announced Rs 600-crore package for the Sorath region, famous for saints and pilgrimage around the Girnar, in addition to Rs 1,055 crore for Junagadh city and the district. About 8,000 people joined his fast today. PTI PD KRK

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Revenue land allotted for bustard habitat.

TNN Dec 20, 2011, 04.35AM IST
AHMEDABAD: In a reversal of sorts from recent trends, the Gujarat government alloted 1500 hectares of revenue land in Kutch to the forest department for the development of a habitat for the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard. This land near the Kutch Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary is spread across two square kilometres in Nalia taluka, which is a prime breeding ground for the species.
The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) was up-listed to 'Critically Endangered,' the highest level of threat, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in June this year.
According to a report by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), population of the GIB has been falling very fast and the bustards have disappeared from about 90 per cent of its range, while about there has been a 75 per cent decline within three generations. "We alloted 1500 hectare revenue land to the forest department recently for conservation of GIB," said Kutch district collector M Thennarasan. This has been done on the request of the forest department, he said. "Since the Bustards like grassland we plan to develop natural grass land in the area," Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) D K Sharma said.
"The area alloted is presently not ideal due to agriculture activity and human interference. We will first stop all agriculture and develop grassland, as well as providing any other protection that may be required," he said.

Gujarat slips on wetlands recognition, Pak gets honoured.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Dec 18, 2011, 07.12AM IST
AHMEDABAD: Pakistan has scored over Gujarat on the environment front. Even though Pakistan has just 10% compared to Kutch's about 12,000 sq kilometers area that attracts migratory birds, the neighbouring country already has an international recognition for the same.
Pakistan part of the desert had got the tag of Ramsar site, way back in 2002. Gujarat , on the other hand, is yet to send a recommendation for the 90% of the Rann. An official in the forest department said the Kutch area easily qualifies for Ramsar recognition . He said that the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands of international importance and to plan sustainable use.
However,the state forest department has not even recommended Kutch to be notified as Ramsar site. The official said that Ramsar tag would ensure international recognition to the area. Also the site gets a commitment from the government to preserve the ecological balance.
In addition, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and groups of citizens at all levels of the communities, including at international stage, also undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits in general, and the Ramsar Convention in particular. While attaching Ramsar recognition to Runn of Kutch in Pakistan in the year 2002, it was announced that this area was integral with the large Rann of Kutch across the frontier with India. The Runn of Kutch in Pakistan has locally and globally threatened species, including the great Indian bustard , houbara bustard, sarus crane, and hyena and also population of greater and lesser flamingos. The site does not have more then one lakh birds visiting the area.
On the contrary, over 10 lakh migratory birds flock the Indian parts of the Rann like Khadir and flamingo city. This sanctuary, which is the largest in the state, encompasses a true saline desert where thousands of Flamingoes nest and breed in the world-famous 'Flamingo City' . Pelicans, blacknecked storks, cormorant, Indian cormorant , brahmini duck, pintail, spotbill, shoveller , pochard, sandpiper, gulls, terns, stints and plovers also throng the area.
A ornithologist Bharat Jethwa says, "This is an extremely important area as it also a breeding site. The site if it gets a Ramsar recognition, it would be protected by international laws and global attention would be drawn on every measure taken for the conservation ." He said that the officials should immediately take it up and recommend this site for a Ramsar label.
Additional principal chief conservator of forest H S Singh says, "Gujarat always has maintained that there should be less penetration to outsiders. If a site gets Ramsar recognition there would much foreign interference in terms of researchers and hence Gujarat, and for the matter Centre too, was not keen on Ramsar recognition." He adds that countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh eye such tags because they get international funds for conservation, which is not the case with the Indian sites.

Killer wires to go underground.

TNN Dec 20, 2011, 04.25AM ISTAHMEDABAD: The deadly high-voltage power lines that killed more than 400 flamingos are finally going to be taken underground. The Gujarat Energy Transmission Corporation Limited (GETCO) has ordered a survey to mark areas in Khadir in Kutch where the lines will go underground. This is the same area where over 400 winged visitors had died after coming into contact with high-tension cables.
After The Times of India reported how the greater flamingos were electrocuted in the last week of November, principal secretary, forest and environment, S K Nanda asked GETCO to immediately take up a proposal for moving the cables underground or replacing the open high-tension wires with insulated wires. The company will have to complete the work before September 2012.
Surinderkumar Negi, the managing director of GETCO, said "After the incident, the department decided to take the power cables underground for nearly eight kilometer area."
Officials of the forest department said that during a meeting held on Saturday last with non-government organizations (NGOs) and GETCO officials, the proposal to move all power lines underground in Khadir was mooted. The officials said that an assurance was also given in the meeting that the efforts should be made to complete the work before the birds begin to arrive in Khadir region in September 2012.
Negi added that the department has begun the survey for the purpose. The survey will decide the actual area from where the lines will have to go underground. Negi said that the cost of laying the underground cables is likely to be approximately Rs 1 crore. The area which plays host to the winged visitors is 7.8 km. He said the underground lines cannot go below the temporary lake in Khadir that draws flamingos. "We will run the cables along the road," said Negi.
Officials said that no such incidents have been reported ever since cellophane papers and reflectors were stuck on the overhead cables. The birds have now moved away from the high-tension wires. "Number of birds in Khadir has gone down drastically since the birds are shifting from the high-tension wire with the water receding in the lake. The flamingos are now headed for the nearby Flamingo City in Kutch which is their last destination," said a forest official.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lunging to save leopards.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Dec 19, 2011, 03.21AM IST

AHMEDABAD: Twenty-one leopards were rescued in 2000-01. The number has now jumped to 161 in 2010-11. Majority of the rescue operations for leopards have been outside forest areas. A senior officer said that with sugar cultivation growing in several parts of the state, leopards are also moving into these fields.
An officer said that in Saurashtra or south Gujarat, sugarcane fields are the favourite dwelling place for leopards. During the leopard census held earlier this year, the fact that sugarcane fields were the most favoured destination was corroborated by the big cat's presence there and many pug marks found in these fields.

Chief conservator of forest, R L Meena said, "Sugarcane fields are important hideouts for leopards. With cultivation of sugarcane increasing in Kodinar and Una, leopards are moving out of forests and going to these areas. The animals have made the fields their homes. The fields are comparatively cool and also attract dogs and small animals which are easy prey for leopards.
The tall sugarcane plants are preferred by the big cats because they provide adequate cover and protection, and also breed in these sugarcane farms. Fields in Una, Talala, Kodinar in Saurashtra, and fields in south Gujarat and Vadodara have a good population of leopards. Forest officials said these are not their permanent homes, as these animals keep switching between the forest area and the fields.
With leopards moving out, the manleopard conflicts are also on an increase. There have been at least five to six incidents where humans have been attacked by leopards in the past months. In majority of the cases, leopards which were rescued had been too close to human habitat.
A large number of leopards were also rescued from unsecure wells outside the forest area. There are over 10,000 unsecure wells outside the area from Dhari in Amreli to Mahuva in Bhavnagar. Additional principal conservator of forest H S Singh said, "The leopard population in Gujarat has doubled in the last 20 years. There are 500 leopards in Gir and nearby areas."

Hunting for trouble.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Dec 19, 2011, 03.23AM IST

AHMEDABAD: On Thursday, a team of forest officials got a tip-off about a lion trapped in a farm in Bhesan Taluka. The team quickly sounded an alarm and within 10 minutes, the entire team boarded a jeep and rushed to the spot.
This is not a rarity. The state forest department is now rescuing one animal daily on an average. Also on Friday, in Bhesan Taluka, a lion got trapped when a farmer laid a trap to prevent wild animals from entering his farm.

Deputy conservator of forests, Sandeep Kumar said, "In the last decade, the number of rescue operations has registered a seven-fold increase. As against 47 animals rescued in 2000-01, the number has gone up to over 322 a year in 2010-11. This includes even smaller animals like chital, nilgai and snakes among others."
The Gir reserve forest has a carrying capacity of 290 odd lions. However, the May 2010 census showed that there were 411 lions in and around the forest. Of these, 72 lions were outside in the revenue area spread along the Saurashtra coast and in Mahuva and Palitana.
Apart from the increasing population, experts feel that the big cats are able to live outside the forest because of plentiful livestock. Moreover, they prefer cattle though there are wild prey animals like nilgai and boar.
"The population of lions is increasing and they are also moving out of the jungle to establish new territories. Since the department now has more employees, more animals are being rescued," said Ravi Chellam, an expert on lions. "Also the habitat outside the Gir forest is changing. Often animals get into trouble by falling in wells or enter fields or houses."

ITTE 2011 Business Sessions focus on destination marketing, branding and trends in inbound and outbound tourism .

Monday, December 19, 2011, 18:00 Hrs  [IST]
The Travel Agents Association of India’s (TAAI) Diamond Jubilee celebration in conjunction with ITTE and the TAAI Travel Awards 2011, held in Mumbai recently, witnessed industry experts sharing their insights and knowledge in two insightful and informative interactive business sessions. The two business sessions, ‘Destination Management and Brand Positioning' and ‘Trends in Inbound and Outbound Tourism', were put together by TravelBiz Monitor, the Knowledge Partner for the event.

The business session on ‘Destination Management and Brand Positioning' discussed the importance of branding and destination management in the travel and tourism scenario. The session was moderated by Sheldon Santwan, Editor & COO, TravelBiz Monitor and the speakers included Vipul Mittra, Principal Secretary - Tourism, Civil Aviation and Pilgrimage, Government of Gujarat; Hanneli Slabber, Country Head - India, South African Tourism; Carl Vaz, Director – India, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing; Adel El Masry, Director, Egyptian Tourism Office in India and Emin Cakmak, Chairman, Turkish India Tourism Council.

Presenting audio-visual clippings shot for South Africa’s pre-World Cup and post-World Cup promotional campaigns, Slabber said, “While making these clipings, we made sure we had people in the video; we can show beautiful places, but people are an important aspect and form the crux of the complete campaign.” Speaking about the importance of branding and knowing one’s target audience, Slabber added, “A brand can't make a guest appearance. And you can't have a brand without a partnership. The most important thing is to ‘Know your Customers'. Listen to your customers and offer the product which is relevant to them.” Slabber stressed on the fact that alignment of a brand and brand promise is crucial.

Highlighting the tourism figures for Eqypt, Masry said, “In 2010, international arrivals to Eqypt were 14.7 million and we have been witnessing a 17.5 per cent increase year-on-year. In 2010, Indian arrivals to Eqypt were 1,14,000 and we have been witnessing a 36 per cent increase year-on-year from India. Tourism is important for the GDP of our country since it contributes 11.8 per cent to GDP. India is an important market for Eqypt.”

Gujarat has witnessed a considerable increase in the number of tourist arrivals since Gujarat Tourism roped in Amitabh Bachchan as their brand ambassador: before the campaign, the state received 800 visitors for Rann Ustsav, and after the campaign, visitor figures shot to 32,000 in 2010 and 75,000 this year. Mittra said, “While deciding the destinations for the Bachchan campaign, we first selected destinations with potential to attract the maximum traffic. We wanted to highlight the different facets of our state like wildlife, heritage, pilgrimage and desert; showcasing Gujarat as a destination for everybody.” Further, realising the state’s USP, the Asiatic lion sanctuary at the Gir National Park, Gujarat Tourism has changed their logo and the new logo has lion on it. “Gujarat is the only place in the world home to Asiatic lions and hence we made our USP as our brand logo,” revealed Mittra. Over the past few years, the state has increased its tourism budget aggressively.

Turkey, with its wonderful MICE facilities, museums, beaches, shopping, adventure activities, history, culture, golf courses and sports facilities, has received 27 million tourists in 2009, the seventh highest international tourist arrival figure for the year. Cakmak informed, “2023 will be the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey and for that year, Turkey Tourism has forecast 50 million tourist arrivals, USD 50 billion in tourism revenue and the fifth rank in the world.”

Highlighting the importance of destination marketing, Vaz informed, “It is important to have a dialogue with the target audience. For instance, it is critical to educate the travel trade and the destination should be understood well before packaging the product. It is equally important to educate travelling consumers about the destination, generate awareness and create desire for the destination as an experiential option. The media too plays a very crucial role in projecting the destination. It is also vital to be a part of the travel trade associations for building relationships with the travel trade fraternity. In addition, trade associations play a very crucial role in encouraging bilateral and multilateral trade between nations. It encourages business and investment opportunities and establishes a channel of communication with potential travellers that have a propensity to travel.”

The second business session, ‘Trends in Inbound and Outbound Tourism', saw Ashwini Kakkar, Executive Vice-Chairman, Mercury Travels; Subhash Goyal, Chairman, STIC Travel Group; Abhijeet Patil, CEO, Raja Rani Travels Pvt Ltd and Karan Anand, Head - Relationships & Supplier Management, Cox & Kings forming the panel. KD Row, Executive Director, Sales and Marketing - India region, Air India, moderated the session.

Commencing the discussion, Kakkar stated that customer trends and behaviours are changing, as is the geographical trend. “We need to keep up with the pace of change and the dramatic shift in consumer patterns to closer, faster, cheaper travel. In addition, India and China are the next big inbound markets globally, and we need to adjust ourselves to cater to China as much as we did to cater to the other markets.” Patil suggested that the industry should try and adopt a Utopian model for progress, one that enables the industry to fight for fair prices that will increase inbound tourism.

Agreeing with Kakkar, Goyal stated, “Knowing trends is knowing the future. There are three Ts that depict the trends today – Technology, Telecommunication and Travel and Tourism. As leisure increases, so will travel and tourism. What we need to focus on is inbound tourism, our potential markets and our strengths - medical and holistic tourism. As far as outbound goes, there is a demand for shorter journeys. More non-stop flights will hence increase our business. Visa-on-Arrival facilities and infrastructure should be part of our main focus.”

Anand opined, “Outbound is still a new sector in India. During the 1990s, when airlines recorded a drop in business, agents decided to focus on leisure travellers. Due to calamities, inbound travel was affected, which shifted the focus to outbound. Shortly after, domestic came into notice. Now, corporate travel is back in the limelight. Indians have spread their wings, but still face certain challenges. First and foremost, we need to understand and embrace technology. Travel agents own nothing but their clients. The relationship we have with them during their travels will always hold our business; which means 24x7 quality service is a must, most of which can be made possible with technology. In addition, we need to pressure the Government into opening the doors to upcoming markets by extending the Visa on Arrival facility.”

Summarising the discussion, Row said that Visa on Arrival will be a critical decision, making it a crucial tool for the future. But what can the trade associations do to facilitate the Government's decision on issuing Visa on Arrivals to certain markets? Goyal responded, “With unity, we can make anything move. The security the government talks about is nonsense. During terror attacks, Sri Lanka faced losses due to lack of tourism, and they offered Visa on Arrivals. Their largest threat was the South Indians and that was the largest market they recorded. The associations must get together and fight for VoAs in the national interest.”

When questioned by Iqbal Mulla, President, TAAI, as to how inbound tourism figures can be increased to equal outbound tourism figures, Goyal said that Indians have made inbound tourism difficult for themselves. “It is difficult to get visas to enter our country. We need to shake up our bureaucracy to this reality,” he said.

Illegal night safaris are killing Gir lions.

Published: Sunday, Dec 18, 2011, 9:37 IST
By Roxy Gagdekar | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA 
If you are invited to a night safari in or around Gir sanctuary with the promise that you will get to see the Lion King in its natural habitat, you would do well to know that night safaris here are illegal. Moreover, your wish to have a glimpse of the Lion King running through the forest in the moonlight can actually drive it to its death.
Sources close to the development said that many of the lions which had died in Gir in the last four years, were found to have died of brain hemorrhage.
Though no convincing medical explanation has been offered for the strange phenomenon, animal conservationists say that when the lions see the bright lights of vehicles taking people on a night safari, they panic and flee into the forest's darkness.
"Many of these fleeing lions collide with trees or rocks, and it is this which caused a brain hemorrhage," a source said.
Sources allege that there have been several instances of cars chasing fleeing lions and thereby inadvertently causing their death. These lion deaths were later registered as deaths due to brain haemorrhage.
Bhaga Barad, MLA from Talala constituency, had even raised a question in the assembly in 2010 about cars pursuing lions in the Gir forest. Talking to DNA over the phone from Talala, Barad said that there was an incident in which a car had pursued a lion. The animal had jumped into a gorge and died, the MLA said.

Trapped lion rescued from Gir forest

PTI | 08:12 PM,Dec 15,2011

Ahmedabad, Dec 15 (PTI) A lion was rescued after it got caught in a trap in Gir forest in Junagadh district, forest officials said today. The incident took place in the North range of Gir forest late last night. The lion had got entangled in the trap, which was made out of barbed wires and had started roaring, they said. "After the lion got trapped, the villagers heard his cries and informed us," range forest officer J D Gojiya said. "We rushed to the spot and rescued the lion and sent him to Sakkarbaug Zoo in Junagadh city for treatment," he said. A search is on for the person, who had laid the trap, in which, the lion was caught, Gojiya said. PTI PB PD NP

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Protection of Wild Animals

15-December 2011
Important steps taken by the Government for public awareness for protection of wild animals including lion, leopard and bear include:
i. Financial assistance is provided to the State Government of Gujarat for the conservation of lions which includes awareness programmes.
ii. The Ministry has issued the guidelines for managing human-leopard conflicts for creating awareness among the public for safety of human beings and conservation of leopards.
iii. Special events like World Environment Day, World Forestry Day and Wildlife Week etc. are organized every year to spread awareness among the people for protection and conservation of environment, forests and wildlife.
iv. Financial and technical assistance is extended to the State Governments under various Centrally Sponsored Schemes, viz, ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats', ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Project Elephant’ for providing better protection and conservation to wildlife, including awareness programmes.
This information was given by the Minister of State for the Ministry of Finance Shri Namo Narain Meena who is Incharge of Environment and Forests in a written reply to a question by Shri B.N. Prasad Mahato and Shri Kaushalendra Kumar in Lok Sabha today.
(Release ID :78530)


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gir Lion Project: a rare conservation success story.

Gir Lion Project: a rare conservation success story
A shepherd leads his herd of goats at Malcheel village in Gir forest. Amit Dave/Reuters
Janaki Lenin Dec 11, 2011

It is a rare, little-known conservation success story. Asian lions have shot up in numbers from a low 50 or fewer in the early 1900s to more than 400 today. For the last few decades, the 1,400 sq km Gir forest was known as the last refuge of a species that once ranged across north India, from the Punjab in the north, to Jharkhand in the east, to the Narmada river in the south, and as far west as northern Morocco and Greece. In India, lions were decimated by hunters. Their frequent roars gave away their location, the plains they inhabited provided convenient access, their social habits made bagging several at a time the norm, and firearms made it all easy.
In 1973, the Gir Lion Project relocated almost 600 resident Maldhari families and their livestock and banished hundreds of thousands of cattle that seasonally grazed in Gir. Easing the pressure from domestic animals allowed the vegetation to recover, and as a consequence, wild herbivores bounced back ten-fold. From living off cattle in the early days of the Project, the felines changed their diets to spotted deer, sambhar and nilgai. But several Maldhari families remain and livestock continue to use the forest as pasture.
Whether it is beef or venison, it makes no difference to a lion. However, the cats were chased away from cattle kills, so the owners could recoup some of their losses by selling the hide and meat. When more wild prey became available, the cats could fill their bellies, with no fear of losing their meal. And they proliferated. But they also continue to kill some livestock. That is inevitable when approximately 100,000 cattle, most belonging to people outside the reserve, continue to graze tantalizingly under the lions’ noses in the forests every day. About 4% of the total livestock population is lost to these felines annually.
Lions have been living outside the forest for several decades as well, says lion expert Ravi Chellam. The conservation impetus has helped them reclaim a fraction of their past range by colonizing Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary to the northwest. The intervening 20 km is dotted by 122 villages, including Bilka, a town of 11,000 people, which apparently did not deter the lions. The cats have padded into the sandy coast about 20 to 30 km to the south, although at least 30 villages dot the distance to the beach. They are also settling into a smattering of small riparian forests to the northeast, 9 km away. And these large cats live in the intervening farmlands. In all, more than 100 lions, including young adults, prides, and older males, share the landscape of 6 million humans outside Gir.
An Asiatic lion rests in Gir forest, about 355 km (221 miles) from the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. REUTERS/Amit Dave
The surrounding farmlands were predominantly growing wheat in the 1960s and 70s, until irrigation made sugarcane cultivation possible in the 1980s. These have now given way to extensive orchards of mangoes meant for the export market, says Chellam. Tree cover with minimal human activity provides shelter and plenty of domestic animals offer sustenance. Large cats without any forests to call home will settle for much less. So clearly the challenge to conservation lies here, outside the protected Gir forests. Other predators too share this landscape; leopards dodge both, lions and people.
Lion researcher, Meena Venkataraman reasons that the cats are able to live outside the forest because of the plentiful livestock and the surprising tolerance of people. Although there are wild prey animals, like nilgai and boar, there are also thousands of cattle, a veritable smorgasbord on hoof.
Lions are fecund animals and, as long as Gir is well-protected, they will always be found in the surrounding landscape. Except for Girnar, the other forest areas are small; most are hardly large enough to accommodate one lion. It’s likely that the cats will shelter in the woods during the day and hunt livestock in the surrounding villages at night. The only way to minimize the loss suffered by people is to help them secure their cattle, especially during the evening hours when hungry predators are on the prowl. Lack of prey will discourage the cats from settling down and getting comfortable.
Although people appreciate the Forest Department’s prompt response in rescuing lions that have fallen into wells or removing ones that are particularly bothersome, they aren’t impressed with the compensation scheme, which covers only a part of their cost for providing the lions’ dinner, says Venkataraman.
Human residents within 5 km of the Park have lived with these felines for a long time. They have more complaints against wild herbivores eating their crops than lions taking their animals. One might wonder why the presence of a top predator does not control crop-raiding herbivores. That’s because cattle are numerous and easier to kill than alert wild animals.
These felines were already venturing far afield in the mid-1980s when a severe drought killed thousands of livestock. After an initial period of feasting, the starving lions went on a spree of attacking humans. One lion was recorded 150 km away, near Rajkot. Since then, the relationship between the cats and people has been largely amicable. Clearly we need to understand what makes these villagers so tolerant of large predators in order to ensure that this conservation ethic does not become endangered.
Any change in land use, such as mining, industrialization, and crops, or even the weather, may tilt the balance against the cats, cautions Chellam. As more rural people aspire for urban lifestyles, they may become less tolerant of lions in the landscape.
Luckily, these cats generally seem to avoid attacking people and stay out of trouble. Compared to other large felines, or even their African cousins, the Gir lions are remarkably at home with people. After all, they have lived close to humans for at least 200 to 300 years. Chellam recalls African colleagues being amazed by how closely he could approach his study subjects without a rifle or any other weapon to protect himself.
With 100 lions living amiably among 6 million people, there is much that the rest of India and the world can learn about what makes this situation so remarkable.