Press on Environment and Wildlife
World Delays Action to Save Tigers (Issue of the week, October Week 1 (2006)) GENEVA, Switzerland, October 11, 2006 (ENS) - The international
community last week failed to agree on how to halt the illegal trade
in tiger parts or how to curb widespread poaching of the world's
largest cat, delaying any new action until June 2007. The lack of
action comes despite new evidence that tigers are in stark decline
and face possible extinction if poaching is not severely curtailed.
Scientists estimate only 6,000 tigers remain in the wild, although
some warn the figure could be far lower. The species is has lost 40
percent of its habitat in the past decade. Wild tigers occupy only 7
percent of their historic range and their remaining habitat is
increasingly fragmented and degraded.
There are clear signs poaching has accelerated in recent years,
driven by increasing demand for tiger parts in China and Southeast
Development and roadbuilding across Indochina is further
fragmenting tiger habitat and the clear cutting of lowland
rainforests in Sumatra and Malaysia has put further pressure on
the world's largest cat.
A report to the secretariat of the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) presented at last week's
meeting of the treaty's standing committee said efforts to save the
tiger thus far "have failed."
But the committee decided to put off discussion of the tiger crisis
again until next June, when the full CITES body convenes in
The committee did decide to send a technical enforcement mission
from the CITES Secretariat to China to look into enforcement of
this trade, but conservation groups contend that falls far short
given the gravity of the situation.
"We are disappointed by the lack of leadership … and the lack of
commitment to conservation," said Susan Lieberman, director of
WWF's global species Program. "The biggest problem facing tigers
today is illegal trade between India and China, yet neither country
showed the willingness to step up efforts to tackle this urgent
problem. How bad does it need to get for tigers before governments
take the necessary action?"
The failure of India and China to enforce laws against poaching and
trade in tiger parts was documented by a new report released last
month by two environmental groups.
The report, compiled by the Environmental Investigation Agency
and the Wildlife Protection Society of India, revealed a thriving
trade in China that has decimated tiger populations in India.
In the space of just ten days, investigators met 11 traders who
offered them whole tiger and leopard skins. The environmental
groups said the traders were clearly aware of the illegality of their
operations, but were unconcerned about the threat of arrest or
disruption by local authorities - one trader even said that
enforcement had decreased in the last two years.
The groups called for a new enforcement agency be set up in India
and China to coordinate efforts to crack down on the trade before it
is too late.
According to Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC, the
wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and the World
Conservation Union, a suggestion was on the table at the standing
committee to convene "a high-level law enforcement meeting with
all of the tiger range states and to come up with a process to
measure how well recommendations made by CITES Parties in the
late 1990s were being implemented."
"Instead, the delegates decided to do nothing for nine more
months," Broad said. "The world's tigers can't wait another nine
Biodiversity Created and Preserved in Tropics (October Week 1 (2006)) CHICAGO, Illinois, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - The tropics have long
been identified as much richer in biodiversity than higher latitudes,
but scientists have been unsure why this is the case. A new study
answers the question, finding that the tropics are both a cradle of
biodiversity, where new species originate, and a biodiversity
museum, where old species persist.
The authors of the study, published in today's edition of the journal
"Science," say their findings highlight the importance of preserving
tropical species from extinction.
"If you came from outer space and you started randomly observing
life on Earth, at least before people were here, the first thing you'd
see was this incredible profusion of life in the tropics," said the
report's lead author, David Jablonski, a professor of geophysical
sciences at the University of Chicago. "This is the single most
dramatic biodiversity pattern on this planet."
The team acquired its data for the Science study by analyzing
bivalves, a class of marine life that includes clams, scallops and
"They live everywhere," Jablonski said. "They're found from the
Arctic Ocean to the hottest part of the tropics, and they have left a
great fossil record."
The record allowed the research team to track more than 150
bivalve lineages back through time and determine where they
started and how long they lasted as well as where they persist and
They found a consistent pattern in each slice of time, regardless of
the prevailing climatic conditions. Over the entire 11-million-year
period, they found that more than twice as many bivalve lineages
started in the tropics than at higher latitudes. Meanwhile, only 30
varieties of organisms that lived only in the tropics went extinct,
compared to 107 that lived outside the tropics, or at all latitudes.
"It's a really striking, surprising pattern," Jablonski said. "And it
appears that other animals and plants were playing the same game,
even on land."
"The world is connected," added study coauthor Kaustuv Roy, a
biologist at the University of California at San Diego. "It's a global
village, even for organisms."
The forces behind the flood of evolutionary activity that flows from
the tropics remain a mystery.
"But now that we have a handle on the dynamics that set up this
spectacular planet-sized gradient, we can begin to get at the
underlying processes in a whole new way," Jablonski said.
The research team will now work to address what drives
biodiversity in the tropics by pushing their analysis further back in
They argue their findings to date strengthen the need to focus
conservation efforts on protecting the tropics.
"Without them, we've lost a key source for diversity in higher
latitudes," said study coauthor James Valentine, a professor of
integrative biology at the University of California at Berkely.
"Human-caused extinctions in the tropics will eventually start to
affect the biological diversity in the temperate and high latitudes,"
Roy added. "This is not going to be apparent in the next 50 years,
but it will be a long-term consequence."
United Nations Delays Ivory Sale (October Week 1 (2006)) GENEVA, Switzerland, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - Three African
nations will not be allowed to sell some 60 metric tons of ivory, the
United Nations announced today. The one-time ivory sale has been
postponed because UN environment officials need more
information on the status of African elephant populations and on
poaching rates.
The international trade of ivory was banned in 1989 under the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
(CITES). The ban was put in place amid evidence poachers were
slaughtering some 75,000 - 100,000 Africa elephants a year during
the 1980s.
The World Conservation Union estimates some 400,000 to 600,000
African elephants remain in the wild, down from as many as five
million some 70 years ago. Poaching and habitat loss are the key
threats to the species - an estimated 10,000 African elephants are
killed illegally each year and there is ample evidence of a thriving
illegal ivory trade.
But in 1997 the parties to CITES determined that some southern
African elephant populations were healthy and well managed, and
permitted Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time
sale of ivory to Japan. The sales took place in 1999, totaling 50
tons and earning some $5 million.
At the 2002 CITES meeting, negotiators agreed to allow Botswana,
Namibia and South Africa to make one time sales of ivory collected
from elephants that died of natural causes or as a result of
government regulated control of problem elephants. The deal
allowed South Africa to sell 30 tons, Botswana to sell 20 tons and
Namibia to sell 10 tons.
The countries have said, in accordance with treaty requirements,
that they would to use profits from the sales to fund conservation
But the plan was conditional on the successful development of a
system - known as the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants
(MIKE) - to establish current and comprehensive baseline data on
elephant poaching and population levels.
At today's meeting of the CITES standing committee, the panel
determined that "this condition has not yet been satisfied and the
sales may not go forward."
The standing committee, which consists of representatives from 15
nations, will reconsider the plan at its next meeting, set for late
May 2007 in Holland.
In a related but separate decision, the committee also decided that
Japan has established a sufficiently strong domestic trade control
system to be a trading partner allowed to purchase the ivory when
sales eventually proceed.
Conservation groups, who fear the legal ivory sale would fuel the
illegal poaching of elephant, hailed the decision to postpone the
The decision is good news for "all those involved in elephant
conservation around the world, who fight a constant battle to
protect elephants from ivory poachers," said Peter Pueschel,
program manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
But Pueschel said the standing committee had sent the wrong
message by approving Japan as ivory importer.
"We are incredibly concerned that the rubber-stamping of Japan as
an importing country - despite all the evidence showing it has
problems controlling its current ivory market - questions the
credibility of CITES, which should take decisions based on
precaution and facts," he said.
Conservationists have raised questions over the suitability Japan
to purchase the stockpiled ivory, after IFAW reports on Japan's
domestic control system revealed loopholes that allow illegal ivory
to flow into the legal markets.
Much of the Japanese control system is based on voluntary
information, IFAW said, and larger private stockpiles exist which
are not registered and can be used to launder illegal ivory into the
legal system.
"The previous one-off sale of ivory to Japan has spun the ivory
markets in Asia out of control." said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia
regional director for IFAW. "With over 17 tons of ivory under
investigation, all of which was confiscated in Asian ports in the past
year, it is ludicrous to even contemplate allowing another sale to
any country."
No Survivors in WWF Helicopter Crash in Nepal (October Week 1 (2006)) KATHMANDU, Nepal, September 25, 2006 (ENS) - A helicopter
chartered by the international conservation group WWF has
crashed in the mountains of Nepal, killing all 24 people on board,
Nepalese authorities confirmed Monday. The helicopter crashed
Saturday on its return from a ceremony where Nepal's government
turned over conservation of the wildlife and habitat around the
Himalayan mountain of Kanchenjunga to a coalition of local
The group on board the private Russian helicopter included
Nepalese government officials, journalists, Western diplomats,
Russian crew members and seven WWF staffers.
The helicopter left a conservation site in Ghunsa, near the foot of
Kanchenjunga around noon local time on Saturday.
The mountain, which is the third tallest in the world, is in eastern
Nepal near the border with India. The helicopter was due to land in
Taplejung, about 190 miles from Katmandu, 20 minutes later but
failed to arrive.
A rescue team searched for the helicopter for nearly two days
before finding the crash site Monday, about a mile from its
departure point in a very remote and mountainous area.
Rescuers, who reached the wreckage on foot, confirmed there were
no survivors.
Bad weather appears the primary factor in the crash, Nepalese
authorities said. A WWF staff member said the helicopter hit an
outcrop of rocks on a ridge and crashed into a small clearing.
"The colleagues we have lost had dedicated their lives to
conserving the extraordinary natural resources of Nepal and of the
Earth," said WWF International Director General James Leape.
"Their deaths are a huge blow to conservation efforts in Nepal, and
worldwide. They will be greatly missed."
The Nepalese officials on board included Narayan Poudel, director
general of Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife
Conservation and Gopal Rai, state minister for forests and soil
conservation. Rai, whose wife also perished in the crash, was the
official who formally handed over the management of
Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) to a council of local
"I am very happy to be part of this significant day when the people
of Kanchenjunga take on the responsibility of managing this
conservation area," Rai said while addressing the community
members gathered on the occasion. "I am convinced that the local
communities will show even greater commitment to saving the
unique natural and cultural heritage of Kanchenjunga."
The KCA is known for its rich biodiversity, spectacular scenery and
vibrant cultural heritage. The area is home to globally threatened
wildlife species such as the snow leopard and red panda. The
project, largely driven by WWF, aims to foster conservation efforts
and to support the local communities through health services,
informal education and income generating activities.
Mingma Norbu Sherpa, director of WWF's Eastern Himalayas
Program, called the ceremony a "historic day for one of the world's
most spectacular natural treasures."
"The decision shows the government's commitment to give power
to local communities, especially with regard to natural resources
and equitable sharing of benefits," said Sherpa, who was also on
board the helicopter.
The other WWF staffers on the helicopter were: Jill Bowling,
WWF-UK conservation director; Jennifer Headley, WWF UK
coordinator; Matthew Preece, WWF US program officer; Dr.
Chandra Prasad Gurung, country representative for WWF Nepal;
Harka Gurung, advisor to WWF Nepal; and Yeshi Larma, also of
WWF Nepal.
The helicopter was also carrying Margaret Alexander, the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID) deputy mission
director in Nepal, as well as Dr. Bijnan Acharya, an environmental
specialist working on behalf of USAID and Pauli Mustonen, charge
d'affaires of the Finnish Embassy.
Other conservationists quickly expressed their sorrow at the
tragedy, including the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
"Many of these remarkable people were dear friends," said Bill
Jackson, director of IUCN’s Global Program. "Their tragic loss will
be severely felt in Nepal and in the conservation family worldwide,
as equally as in my own family.”
Dr. Harka Gurung, Nepal's first tourism minister was killed in the
helicopter crash.
Nepal lost outstanding planners, biologists, botanists, geographers,
ecologists, sociologists and conservation managers. "The loss is
irreversible," says senior conservationist Bhairab Risal.
Among those killed in the crash was Dr. Harka Gurung, Nepal's
first tourism minister. He needs no introduction in whole of South
Asia for his contribution in promotion of mountain tourism,
conservation of wildlife and environment. Dr. Gurung was the
former vice-chairman of Nepal's National Planning Commission.
Dr. Chandra Prasad Gurung, a geographer, helped to implement
the first landscape level conservation program in Nepal,the Tarai
Arc Landscape. (Photo courtesy Deepak Gajurel)
Dr. Chandra Prasad Gurung was the country representative of
WWF Nepal since 1999. His expertise includes ecotourism,
sustainable development, integrated conservation and
development, and protected area management. He designed and
implemented the first successful community-based integrated
conservation and development project, the Annapurna
Conservation Area Project regarded worldwide as one of the
successful protected areas in its ability to integrate conservation
with sustainable rural development and to promote eco-tourism.
Former Director General of the Department of National Park and
Wildlife Conservation, Dr. Tirtha Man Maskey was a well known
personality in the conservation field in Nepal. Maskey specialized
in crocodile research. Along with receiving medals in Nepal, he also
was awarded the Order of Golden Ark by the Netherlands' Prince
Narayan Prasad Poudel, the director general of the Department of
National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, was one of the key
persons for the establishment of Makalu-Barun National Park. He
was a respected conservation manager.
Dr. Damodar Prasad Parajuli, secretary of the Ministry of Forest
and Soil Conservation, was a respected researcher in the field of
medicinal plants. Bigyan Acharya was an ecologist, while Sarad
Kumar Rai was a well known botanist.
"Nepal's conservation efforts will face a setback in the absence of
these personalities," mourned wildlife biologist Dr. Mukesh
Chalise. "It will take decades to groom such experts in nature
{ENS journalist Deepak Gajurel contributed to this report.}
2 new short films on wildlife (October Week 1 (2006)) The Karnataka Forest Department, as part of the 52nd Wildlife Week celebration, released two short films on wildlife here on Tuesday. One of the two films — The Great Indian Bustard and Black Bucks in Karnataka, directed by noted environmentalist Suresh Heblikar — was screened.
The other film was on the upcoming butterfly park in the
Bannerghatta Biological Garden.
Minister for Forest and Environment C Chennigappa released the two films.
Mr Heblikar's film, shot at the Ranebennur Black Buck Sanctuary, traced the issues plaguing the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard and the Black Buck. Out of 491 identified species of the Great Indian Bustard in India,
around 100 are in Karnataka. According to findings of a survey by biodiversity expert Harish Bhat, habitat loss and predators have led to a drastic decline in the number
of Bustards in the Ranebennur sanctuary.
Speaking to reporters later, Mr Heblikar said he had submitted suggestions to the State government to enrich the habitats of the two species.
Need to keep world free of pesticides (Issue of the week, September Week 1 (2006)) Conservation agriculture'
Recent trends in agriculture technology clearly indicate a major
change in the traditional agricultural practices. Often it is touted
that in order to cater to the large and increasing demand for
agricultural produce, one has to use fertilizers, pesticides and use
tillage to remove weeds etc. However, recent reports including by
the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) clearly show that
conservation agricultural practices can be employed to have
sustainable farming. These techniques, currently employed in Brazil,
many parts of Western Europe and the U.S. clearly show that
farming can be practiced without sacrificing yield. It also indicates
that yield has little to do with use of chemical fertilisers and
pesticides. Tillage is not encouraged at all whereas crop rotation
and other techniques are used to for long-term soil conservation.
The techniques are also used for reduced need for water especially
in arid to semi-arid areas, and to remove pests and weeds. The
counter argument that yield suffers has been shown to be not true,
especially when one calculates the true cost of using farm equipment
for weeding, tilling etc. Some of the leading universities have been
working with farmers to use `Conservation agriculture' to reduce
surface run-off, no tillage techniques etc. Similar efforts by
Permaculture groups have also shown that it is possible to develop
sustainable and high yield in agriculture by employing modern
trends in agriculture practices. Permaculture groups work towards
the development of complete and self-sustaining agriculture eco
systems. The FAO concludes that the biggest obstacle is the
mindset. The pay offs are clear — long term soil conservation,
lesser threat to bio and eco diversity from chemical fertilizers,
reduced pollution of water table by chemical residues and better soil
nutrition. In Kerala, NGOs should work with agriculture scientists
and irrigation engineers to re-educate farmers.
"Our experiments with chemical fertilisers and pesticides have been
based, to a large extent, on vested interests. Even the fauna has
been badly affected by the over use of chemicals. It was our
eagerness to get rich in no time that prompted us to take to
chemical fertilisers and pesticides in a big way. We did not think
twice about the environmental impact of such a switch over. Our
traditional agricultural practices at least retained the fertility of the
soil. The Agriculture Department should popularise indigenous
methods of cultivation. Many pests can be warded off using
traditional methods. The guidance of veterans in the field should be
sought and in this regard. `A return to nature' in our agriculture
strategy seems to be the right approach to life. We will also be
bequeathing a healthy environment to posterity."
The Hindu , Tuesday, August 29, 2006
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