Tuesday, February 19, 2013

All wildlife species count

11 Feb 2013 The endangered must get immediate attention
While it is heartening that India has made great strides in tiger conservation and provided a legal framework to protect wildlife, the effort to conserve lesser known species remains an area of concern. This is not to undermine the efforts that have gone into making Project Tiger, into its 40th year now, a roaring success. At the last count in 2011, the tiger population stood at 1,704, as against the 2008 census figures of 1,411. Inspiring as this is, the fact remains that the tiger is only a part of biodiversity that stands threatened by the relentless march of development. That we are still a far cry from making our wildlife adequately secure can be gleaned from the fact that some 132 species of flora and fauna from India are tagged as critically endangered in the Red List of threatened species drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Significantly, while the tiger finds no mention on this list, more than 15 critically endangered bird species and a host of lesser known animals do. In 1972, when the tiger was notified as the country's national animal, replacing the Asiatic Lion, the Great Indian Bustard was all set to be nominated the national bird, but it lost out to the peacock. Today, less than 250 bustards survive and the species is on the verge of extinction. Except for the Asiatic Lion, which is found in a small pocket in Gujarat, there is hardly any population data on other carnivores, including the snow leopard. Things have come to such a pass that even the most ubiquitous sparrow is vanishing from our lives. The near extinction of vultures is well-documented, as is their impact as nature's most efficient scavenger. Over the years, serious concerns have been voiced by wildlife lovers and conservationists about the declining number of vital fauna and flora in the country. They have rued the lavish allocation for tiger conservation efforts — a whopping `167.7 crore, and `22.58 crore for Project Elephant, for the year 2012-13, to the exclusion of all other species. Experts argue that while focussing entirely on the tiger other species, including tiger prey such as the Hog Deer and the Barasingha have been neglected. And the less said about the fate of the brown bear the better it is. Although India is home to four of the eight species of bears, there are no scientific papers or studies on bear ecology in the country. If reports are anything to go by, there are only two sanctuaries for bears one each in Gujarat and Karnataka.
The plight of the gravely endangered species, paucity of funds and an ineffective implementation of the Special Programme for Recovery of Critically Endangered Species have all conspired to stump the feeble conservation efforts. This bodes ill for our future as every species plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of the ecosystem. It’s time the Government and the wildlife activists got together to take a holistic look and not limit themselves to a few species.
Source: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/53398-not-one-to-be-browbeaten-all-wildlife-species-count.html

Gunshots return to gag lion roar in Amreli.

Gunshots return to gag lion roar in Amreli
Wildlife experts say that there should not be any activity in the 10-km periphery of a wildlife sanctuary and government must declare it as a silent and eco-sensitive zone.

RAJKOT: For most part of the year, it's only the roar of Asiatic lions that breaks the tranquility of Mityala Wildlife Sanctuary in Amreli district. But for the next two months, gunshots will rent the air, forcing the lions to run for cover.

Amreli district police started their annual firing practice near Khambha town, barely half a kilometre from the sanctuary. Till March 31, 950 cops will be firing not less than 30,000 rounds in this hilly area, which wildlife activists say is the natural corridor for as many as 15 Asiatic lions.

About 70 policemen of various ranks have to undergo the annual practice daily by firing 32 rounds each. This translates into nearly 2,100 rounds being fired close to the sanctuary.

"We have written to the concerned government departments to find an alternate firing range as this one is very close to the wildlife sanctuary, " said Vimalsinh Rathod, a wildlife activist in Khambha. In fact, one lions had preyed on a goat in a private farm which is a stone's throw away from the range.

"Wildlife experts say that there should not be any activity in the 10-km periphery of a wildlife sanctuary and government must declare it as a silent and eco-sensitive zone.

Deputy conservator of forests, Anshuman Sharma said that he will look into this matter.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/flora-fauna/Gunshots-return-to-gag-lion-roar-in-Amreli/articleshow/18567658.cms

Blackbucks face perils of development.

(One of the seven blackbucks…)

Vijaysinh Parmar, TNN Feb 12, 2013, 06.13AM IST
RAJKOT: Gujarat's first cable-stayed bridge built over a sea creek in Bhavnagar may have helped the business boom with better connectivity to the city. But, barely 14 kms away, the road connecting this bridge is turning into a graveyard for the endangered blackbucks around the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park.
Over the last one month, speeding vehicles have killed seven blackbucks on the five-km stretch between Khetakhatli to Kalatalav village.
Even though this area does not fall under the national park, this is home to around 400 blackbucks. The stretch was unpaved before the cable-stayed bridge came up in August last year, say wildlife conservationists. When a pucca two-lane road was built, traffic increased significantly as it reduced the distance to Bhavnagar by about 8 km.
As many as 30 villages in Bhal region - considered the wheat bowl of the state - use this road to reach Bhavnagar faster. As per the 2010 population estimates, there were 3,950 blackbucks in and around the national park. Blackbucks are protected under Schedule-1 of Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
"This area where the seven blackbucks were killed by speeding vehicles is one of the 32 proposed eco-sensitive zones outside the blackbuck sanctuary," said D P Vaghela, assistant conservator of forests, Velavadar.
The forest department has requested the roads and buildings department to construct speed breakers on this stretch to lessen the blackbuck casualties. "Until the road was rebuilt, blackbucks were accustomed to movement of two-wheelers as well as presence of human beings. But now we are seeing trucks and other heavy vehicles on this stretch," said I R Gadhvi, president, Dharmkumarsinhji Nature Conservation Society in Bhavnagar.
Times View
King of the jungle in peril
The tragedy in Bhavangar should serve as a reminder to the Gujarat government which is planning a ring-road around the Gir sanctuary, the only home of the Asiatic lions in the wild. Environmentalists have already sounded an alarm over the proposal which will put the lives of the king of the jungle in peril.
Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-12/flora-fauna/37058560_1_blackbucks-gir-sanctuary-bhavnagar

Small step to conserve big cat.

Abhay Kumar, Feb 9, 2013, Patna
The CZA has sanctioned funds to Patna zoo to develop lion conservation area
On August 15 last year, when the country was celebrating the66th Independence Day, the zoo mandarins at Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park in the State Capital had one more reason to cheer. Two lion cubs were born to a pair of Asiatic lions-- Vishal and Sara­s­wati -- that were specially brought from Hyderabad zoo under a breeding programme. But their enormous joy was short-lived.

The mother (lioness) refused to feed the cubs. As a consequence, the health of the cub, which was born weak, deteriorated and it died the next day. The other cub was then brought up with a lot of effort. After the mother refused to feed the second cub too, the zoo employees had to hand-feed it. The cub, named Sheru, survived on goat’s milk for the first three months and thereafter started to consume meat.

Weighing just 1.25 kg at the time of birth, Sheru weighed 25 kg when the
five-and-a-half-month-old cub was released in the lion’s enclosure on February 2 for public viewing. At present, his daily diet comprises 2.5 kg chicken and 250 gm liver against his mother’s intake of 9 kg buffalo meat and 3 kg chicken.

Since Asiatic lions are found only in Gir Forest of Gujarat in the country, the CZA mandarins were quite enamoured over the report on how the zoo officials had helped Vishal and Saraswati mate and made every effort for survival of one of its cub.
The officials of CZA, after mulling over a proposal on how to develop a lion
conservation zone on the premises of zoo spread over 152 acres of land, recently sanctioned Rs 71.22 lakh for the purpose.

“Impressed with the successful breeding of Asiatic lion here, the CZA has sanctioned Rs 71.22 lakh to develop a lion conservation area on the premises,” said Abhay Kumar, director of the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park.

Developing the lion conservation area is aimed at providing an off display area to the lions, where they can enjoy their natural surroundings. “We have earmar­ked the rear portion of the existing lion enclosure for developing the conservation area. The project will be completed in six months time,” said the director. At present, there are five lions, including the cub, at the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park. Apart from Vishal and Saraswati, the parents of Sheru, the remaining two lionesses are of African hybrid.
According to the established norms of CZA, breeding of hybrid lions is prohibited in zoos. “But we can go ahead with the breeding of Asiatic lioness,” the official added. The zoo mandarins said they would soon make the Asiatic lions mate again so that cubs are born this year as well. But they will have to be extra careful this time as last year they not only lost a lion cub, but three tiger cubs too.

In August 2012, a Royal Bengal tigress at Patna zoo had given birth to three cubs. Everyone was quite delighted as it was after a gap of 19 years that a big cat had delivered at the zoo here. But in the next 20 days, the tigress, named Swarna, lost all the three new-born cubs. While the first cub died on August 28, the second and third cub passed away on September 2 and September 3 respectively.

It is believed that Swarna stopped feeding the cubs after she developed an intestinal infection on August 20. Eventually, the cubs too contracted the infection from their mother, and since then were put under the observation of zoo doctors.
The Patna zoo director sought the help of Dr Abhijit Bhaval, a reputed doctor from Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), but to no avail.

“The origin of the infection was not known. The intensity of the infection was so high in the cubs that none of the medicines worked,” said a doctor, who did not wish to be identified.

Sources said when the first cub died on August 28, the zoo officials left no stone unturned to save the other two. “But the cubs suffered from multiple organ failure. They had slipped into a coma because of systemic breakdown in their body and survived on saline and oxygen for the last four days,” the source added.

Whatever the officials might argue, but it’s equally true that Patna zoo had been losing one big cat after another, that too at a time when a concerted effort is going on for conservation of tigers.

In 2011, Tejaswani - a white tigress - and the prime attraction at the zoo, had died of a blockage in the intestine. Earlier, in May 2011, tiger Ram too had died
after a prolonged illness.

One hopes the CZA initiates remedial measures so that such irreparable losses do not recur, and the effort to develop a lion conservation zone at Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park bears fruit.
Source: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/311059/small-step-conserve-big-cat.html

Roar of cub club thunders in gir.

Himanshu Kaushik, TNN Feb 10, 2013, 02.45AM IST
AHMEDABAD: The 'cub club' has taken over Gir sanctuary and surrounding areas in Gujarat, the last remaining home of the Asiatic Lion in the world. More than a third of the 400-odd lions are now less than three years old. Of these, 50 per cent have not even crossed the one year mark. This is a demographic that experts and foresters say will only help in conserving this unique animal that has come back from the edge of extinction.
The first census of lions by Gujarat in 1964 had shown that the numbers of the wild cat had dropped to precarious depths at just 177. According to the last census in May 2010, there are 411 lions in the state. Every year, some 70 cubs are born, but only 56 per cent live to see the third year of their lives. As present, 37 per cent of the population is below three years.

This number, however, is way better when compared with African lions. The website of the Kalahari Predator Conservation Trust, quoting International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), states that food shortage, negligence and the takeover by other male lions results in only 20 per cent of cubs living to experience more than two years of their lives. About 27 per cent of all cubs die from the hierarchical invasion by another male lion.
Says H S Singh, additional principal conservator of forests, "In Gir, the territorial battles seem to be happening at an older age, which has reduced the cannibalism and improved the survival rate of the cubs." Not only within the sanctuary, young cubs are found elsewhere as well. Although they seem to be doing much better in Gir East and Gir West areas within the sanctuary. The wild cats had started moving out of the sanctuary about a decade ago. "Today, they are found in substantial numbers in regions like Amreli and Bhavnagar outside the sanctuary, but the number of cubs is comparatively less here," says Sandeep Kumar, deputy conservator of forest.
A study by V Meena of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, called 'Reproductive Strategy and Behaviour of Male Asiatic Lions', revealed that the survival rate of the cub was the lowest in the first year of birth. It adds that cub survival depends on factors like infanticide (which results in death of 60% cubs), abandonment (13%) and other natural causes (26%).
Yadvendradev Jhala, research associate at WII says, "Thirty-seven per cent cubs in the wild is a very high number. The forest department should not make efforts to save all these newborns as it would mean interfering in the natural process in which the bad genes die and the best survive."
Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-10/ahmedabad/37020017_1_gir-sanctuary-gir-west-young-cubs

Forest guards with WW II rifles losing fight against poachers with submachine guns.

(Forest guards in Kaziranga )
Manimugdha S Sharma, TNN Feb 8, 2013, 04.16AM IST
What are the odds of survival of a forest guard armed with a bolt-action rifle of WWII vintage while facing a poacher armed with an HK MP5 submachine gun? By the time he cocks his rifle and takes aim, his opponent would have shot him 100 times. This probably explains why the rhino and its defenders are unsafe in Assam. In less than two months, eight rhinos have been killed in the state, four of them in a just a week. Last year, the count was 21.
Often pulled up for their ineptitude, the foresters face insurmountable odds. A senior officer in Assam says they have been battling poachers with.315 bore and 12 bore guns and 7.62mm 2A1 bolt-action rifles (erroneously referred to as .303). These weapons are good to scare off wild animals, but are useless against poachers with AK rifles.
In Gujarat's Gir forest, guards have been fighting poachers with 12 bore double barrel shotguns and .32 revolvers. "We have been purchasing only these revolvers lately. But wherever the threat of poaching is high, units are given other guns. We have no semi-automatic or automatic rifles," says Sandeep Kumar, the deputy conservator of forests, Gir.

It is not difficult to imagine why the fight against poaching is increasingly becoming a losing one, especially in the northeast. Poorly armed and led, the forest guards cannot win the battle that became one-sided with the entry of insurgent groups and surrendered militants into the profitable rhino horn trade. With flourishing markets in China, Vietnam and other places in South-East Asia, these groups have met international demands by allegedly procuring sophisticated arms from Chinese firms.
"These weapons are either originals or knockoffs of Russian AK series rifles, American M16s, and German HK MP5s and HK 33s. The superior rate of fire of these weapons gives the user a huge advantage. Poachers have been using Kalashnikovs extensively, and the HKs in a few cases," says a senior Assam Police officer involved in counter-insurgency operations. He adds that foresters need to be trained in jungle warfare and there should be a separate intelligence network for the forests.
Sending poorly armed forest guards to battle such dangerous poachers is very unfair. But Amrit Bhuyan, the commandant of 2nd Assam Forest Protection Force, believes jungle warfare is a different ball game altogether. "My 251 men are inside Kaziranga right now. They have been given police training for the first time. I don't think they need to be taught jungle warfare tactics akin to the Army. But yes, they need to know how to function in a jungle environment; how to distinguish between a poacher and a rhino when it is pitch dark," he says, adding that his battalion does not have any night vision equipment.
In September last year, the two battalions of Assam Forest Protection Force were given the 7.62mm 1A1 SLR—a weapon discarded by both the Indian Army as well as the paramilitary forces in the mid-90s due to reliability issues.
N K Vasu, the director of Kaziranga National Park, sees it differently. "Our needs are different from the Army's. The SLRs, we believe, will help us stay in the fight; but we are also trying for more advanced weapons like the AK-47," he says.
Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-08/flora-fauna/36992220_1_forest-guards-poachers-assam-forest-protection-force

Dangers of scientific intolerance.

How intolerance has crept into modern science
Dinesh C. Sharma   |   Mail Today  |   New Delhi, February 7, 2013 | UPDATED 11:09 IST

Jaitapur - site of the multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant.
Intolerance, it appears, extends beyond just 'offensive' books, films, paintings and plays and has crept into modern science as well.

Intolerance, it appears, extends beyond just 'offensive' books, films, paintings and plays. It has crept into modern science as well. The tale of the Church harassing Galileo Galilei in the 17th century for asserting that the earth revolves around the sun is well known. The Church may not be that powerful today to issue such diktats but the dogma of India's scientific Popes is no less.

Otherwise how can one explain blacklisting of Roger G Bilham -one of the world's leading seismologists -by the Indian state at the behest of the scientific establishment for allegedly publishing a scientific paper on the historical and future seismology of Jaitapur -site of the multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant?

The news of Bilham's blacklisting was revealed at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union. It shocked the global scientific community because Bilham, a geologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is one of the most cited authorities on Indian plate tectonics. He has collaborated with top notch Indian scientists like Vinod K Gaur and R N Iyengar in the past three decades, publishing several important papers. Bilham has been a regular in Indo-US scientific networks, having visited India several times. In May 2012, when he landed at Delhi airport enroute to Bhutan, he was put on a return flight without any explanation despite holding a valid visa. He was merely told that he is blacklisted for entry. But Bilham could connect the dots.

One of the world's leading seismologists - Roger Bilham.
Only a few months back in Gandhinagar -where he had gone to present his Jaitapur paper at a workshop -a former secretary of a scientific department had declared that he would have Bilham's access to Indian science restricted because of the paper. Bilham had coauthored this paper with Gaur and it was published in the respected peer-reviewed journal Current Science in late 2011. Blacklisting meant that it was not just a veiled threat. Bilham has told me he is "puzzled why the Indian government has allowed itself to be influenced by a geophysical retiree, obviously well past his scientific sell-by date" and has attempted to "suppress freedom of scientific communication.

"If the government can blacklist an American scientist for raising uncomfortable scientific questions about Jaitapur, I wonder what it would do about a similar paper published by Indian scientists recently on the Tehri dam. The paper - as mentioned in this column a few weeks ago - clearly says Tehri dam is sited on an active seismic fault. It is shameful if the voices of scientists are going to be muzzled by a handful of science-bureaucrats just to please their political masters.

We have seen this happen in the case of British scientists who blew the lid on NDM-1 superbug. Not only were these scientists hounded by the Indian establishment, but their Indian collaborators were gagged. Thankfully, scientists are not yet afraid of speaking the truth. For instance, Dr Prabhat Jha of University of Toronto exposed how malaria death figures in India have been grossly underestimated for years.

It is intriguing that while genuine voices like those of Bilham are being suppressed, the same scientific establishments are happy to roll out the red carpet to the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates or PATH despite their attempts to influence health policies or promotion of potentially harmful medical technologies. Perhaps this strange behaviour has something to do with the rustling sound of the green buck.

A win-win for man and beast
Lioness in Gir forests in Gujarat.

At a time when human-animal conflicts are on the rise in wildlife corridors across India, lions in Gir forests in Gujarat seem to be bucking the trend.

Unlike reserves where tigers or elephants are often poisoned by villagers as they destroy crops or predate on their cattle, the pastoral community of Maldharis living in protected forests is far more tolerant. While this may be a result of traditional beliefs and cultural sentiments of Maldharis, scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, have found that it also makes economic sense for pastorals to live with lions.

Lions get a considerable part of their food from Maldhari livestock and Maldharis profit substantially by free access to forest resources.

Gratuitously unmodified papers

Genetically modified cotton.
While the dust raised by shoddy research into genetically modified cotton by Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) is yet to settle, the council has landed itself in another ethical row. Scientists at the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) of ICAR have been caught recycling their own research work relating to Leaf Curl Virus that threatens GM cotton.

They made a claim of developing virus resistant GM cotton in a paper published in Electronic Journal of Plant Breeding in 2010. Almost an identical paper was published by the same group in 2011 in another journal Current Science and in Archives of Phytopathology and Plant Protection in 2012. Co-authors of these papers include institute director Dr K R Kranthi and Dr K C Bansal, former head of ICAR's GM development project. Dr Kranthi says his name was included without his consent and the papers were not routed through official channels by the junior scientist, who is the first author. The scientist concerned has been reprimanded and told to inform journal editors about recycling.

However, ethical experts say self plagiarism is indeed serious. "Indian researchers don't consider it an offense and feel it is their right to publish their data partly in different journals. This is ethically wrong", pointed out Dr R K Kotnala, secretary of the Society for Scientific Values.

Drowning out green hurdles

The river Valley and Hydroelectric Projects Expert Appraisal Committee of the environment ministry cleared 262 hydropower and irrigation projects between April 2007 and December 2012, analysis of the minutes of 63 meetings of the panel has shown. The rejection rate was zero. In less than six years, the panel gave stage one clearance to hydropower projects with installed capacity of 49458 MW -which is about 25 percent more than the total capacity installed in 66 years since independence. Final environmental clearance was granted to hydropower capacity of 16084.5 MW, which is about three times the hydro-capacity added during the eleventh plan.

"This is contrary to impressions that the ministry is blocking development projects. We find that the reality is completely different -the ministry is being pro-projects and pro-developers at the cost of ecology and local communities", said Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People , which did the analysis.

7-month-old lion cub dies in Amreli village.

TNN Feb 5, 2013, 10.48PM IST
RAJKOT: A seven-month-old male lion cub was found dead near Karmadadi beat in Dalakhania forest range in Dhari (Gir East) division of Amreli on Monday night.
Deputy conservator of forests (Gir East) Anshuman Sharma said panel postmortem suggests the cub died due to infighting. However, forest officials are surprised as this was the same cub that was injured twice earlier. This time the cub was seriously injured and succumbed.
"Earlier, when the cub was around 4-month-old, we rescued it with serious injuries and its skull was completely exposed of the body. Our doctors worked hard to save the cub, which made a lucky recovery, and we released it into the wild. A few days later, the same cub was injured, so we rescued it and gave it further treatment and released it with the same group.
We observed the animal constantly to monitor its movements. We wanted to know why the same cub was being injured repeatedly. However, on Monday, a farmer informed us about a lion carcass and we found that it was the same cub," Sharma said.
Forest officials said there is a group of two lioness and two cubs in the area. There is also a group of male lions there.
"We suspect the males may have killed the cub. But we are still baffled as to why only one cub was injured repeatedly when there was also another one with the two lionesses," a forest official said.
Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-05/rajkot/36763683_1_lion-cub-anshuman-sharma-amreli-village

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lioness found dead in well.

Activists Demand Probe Into Its Death

RAJKOT: A two-and-half-year-old lioness was found dead from a 60-feet-deep well on the outskirts of Krakach village in Liliya taluka of Amreli district on Wednesday. Forest officials claim that it was an accidental death and the lioness may have fallen into the well while chasing a prey. However, the wildlife activists suspect that the animal was dumped in the well. The well is located in a farm between Krakach and Bavada villages.

"The height of the walls of the well is about six feet, which makes it unlikely for a lion to fall into it accidentally. The whole thing looks suspicious and needs to be probed thoroughly," wildlife activist from Savarkundla Himanshu Bhatt said. He added that he has written to the forest department officials seeking a probe into the incident.

The forest department officials have a different view. "The circumstantial evidence suggests that the lioness may have fallen into the well while on hunt. The incident probably occurred on Tuesday night. There was a slope on one side of the well from where it may have jumped and fallen into the well,'' Range forest officer at Liliya A K Turk said.

"We have found scratches on the walls of the well made by claws which suggest that the animal was alive after it fell inside and tried to come out in desperation. There were also no external injuries on the body," Turk added.