Press on Environment and Wildlife
Brown Cloud over Bihar (March Week 2 (2006)) As NASA’s Terra satellite images of northern India began to unravel on his computer, Larry Di Girolamo knew he had seen nothing like the thick brown cover of soot and dust draping one state maximum—Bihar.
‘‘It’s shocking how Bihar stands out in the images,’’ Girolamo, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, University of Illinois, told The Sunday Express. ‘‘Some days it’s much worse, or it’s better. But it always looks hazy. I am stunned.’’
From his faraway lab, Larry could tell Bihar’s electoral campaigners a thing or two they need to know about peoples’ issues there.
‘‘Sometimes we find such a pollution pool localised over a city,’’ he says. ‘‘But this covers an entire, densely populated state!’’ Could the airborne particles affect Bihar’s rainfall patterns, agriculture and damage lungs? An indicator of the possibility is that ‘‘most pollution resides very close to the surface, less than one km in altitude.’’
Lead author of this 2001-2004 study published in Geophysical Research Letters last month, Larry estimates that the worst swathe looms over 300 kms x 550 kms of the state—‘‘seven times worse than global winter averages.’’
‘‘We have to be concerned of a direct health impact,’’ agrees co-author V Ramanathan, director, Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California. ‘‘This study confirms the problem.’’
The haze is suspected to have sources in old-fashioned kitchens burning wood and cow dung on smokey stoves, but scientists have not ruled out diesel and vehicular emissions as the cause. The immediate worry, says Ramanathan, is that the pollution could prevent ‘‘10-20 per cent sunlight’’ from hitting the ground.
‘‘We are probing how these particles affect sunlight and rainfall,’’ says Ramanathan, currently studying atmospheric brown clouds over South Asia.
At The Energy and Resources Institute—part of a South-Asian Atmospheric Brown Cloud project—director-general R K Pachauri wants more answers. The Bihar haze is estimated to hover at one to three km altitude. ‘‘There’s a world of difference between one and three km,’’ he says. ‘‘We need to investigate its health effects, how much is inhalable.’’
‘‘Our studies using satellites show that man-made pollution is highest in winter,’’ says S K Satheesh, assistant professor, Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science, and advises ‘‘urgent investigations.’’ In the paper, the team—including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Centre for Atmospheric Research—demands a study of Bihar’s climate and health changes.
But it’s a struggle.
‘‘Over the past few months, I have had a hard time getting reliable, relevant health statistics out of India,’’ Larry confesses. His first advise, distribute modern stoves.Meanwhile the cloud flits over Bihar, spilling into West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and the Bay of Bengal.
Hunting of wild boars, blue bulls allowed (March Week 2 (2006)) Under pressure from the lobby of hunters, the Punjab Government has allowed hunting of endangered species of blue bull and wild boars. A notification in this regard was issued by the government on March 6, reports The Tribune.
The state Minister for Forests, Mr Hans Raj Josan, when contacted, admitted that the notification had been issued for issuing permits for hunting the said species of animals in the state. As per the notification, hunting has been opened even in the ecologically sensitive kandi forest of the area.
As per the notification, the permit for hunting would be issued by the respective SDMs after receiving a resolution from the village panchayat, stating that the said species of animals were damaging their crops. The permit would be valid for two months, the minister said.
Interestingly, the government has kept the forest and the Wildlife Department out of the procedure for issuing permits for hunting.
Earlier also the government had initiated the move to open hunting under pressure from the lobby of hunters surrounding the Chief Minister. However, the move was stalled as the department did not have census of the animals for justifying hunting.
After that a hurried census of the animals was carried out by the Wildlife Department. As per the census, there are 8,000 blue bulls and 14,000 wild boars in the state. However, some of the members of the Wildlife Advisory Board, while speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the number of animals projected in the census was exaggerated.
They alleged that there were about 12,000 villages in Punjab. Wild boars existed largely in the Kandi areas comprising about 3,000 villages. If the census of the department was believed to be true, there should be four wild boars per village in the Kandi area. The boars should be seen roaming about in the forests. But the fact was that it was still very difficult to locate the animal in the forests.
Mr Sukhdeep Singh Bajwa, former Wildlife Warden, who caught an SDM in the poaching case, described the government move as unfortunate.
Environmentalists have flayed the government move. They have alleged that as per the forest survey of India report the forest cover in the state has gone down by 80,000 sq hectares. If the forest area has gone down to such an extent, how can you expect the animal population to grow to such a proportion that hunting can be justified.
Tibet lifeline for vanishing tigers (March Week 2 (2006)) The Dalai Lama has thrown a lifeline to India’s dwindling tiger population after an emotional appeal to outlaw the trade in animal skins provoked an extraordinary reaction in his homeland, reports The Telegraph.
All over Tibet, there have been reports of people burning wild animal furs since the Dalai Lama made his appeal at a Buddhist prayer meeting in Amravati in Maharashtra in January.
Thousands of Tibetans attended the festival and many carried the Dalai Lama’s words back to their homeland.
“The reaction of the Tibetan people, now they have been made aware of the results of their actions — it gives a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel for the Indian tiger,” said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
An ancient tradition of wearing animal furs seemed to have been revived in Tibet in recent years, partly perhaps as a result of greater disposable income.
Since December 1999, 18 of 19 major seizures of wildlife parts or skins in India either involved Tibetans or were strongly linked to Tibet, said Wright.
In January, the Dalai Lama said he was “ashamed” to see images of Tibetans decorating themselves with skins and furs. “When you go back to your respective places, remember what I had said earlier and never use, sell or buy wild animals, their products or derivatives,” he told pilgrims at the Kalachakra, an initiation ceremony for Buddhists in Amravati.
Chinese authorities initially reacted with suspicion to the burning of skins, apparently seeing it as an expression of support for the Dalai Lama.
Eight Tibetans have been detained since late February in Sichuan province for carrying out the burning “under foreign influences”, according to Radio Free Asia, a US government-funded station.
A Tibetan delegate to China’s parliament denied reports of fur burning.
“There is no such problem,” said De Ji, a delegate from Shannan prefecture, south of the Tibetan capital Lhasa.
But Wright said the Chinese had taken some steps to outlaw the multi-million dollar trade in the past few days, which had until now been carried on openly on the streets and in the markets of Tibet.
“Frankly, the only country that hasn’t reacted is India. It has done nothing to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade.”
India has ordered a tiger census after reports emerged last March that the entire population of up to 18 tigers in a sanctuary in western India had been killed by poachers.
A census in 2002 counted 3,642 tigers.
Wright said she saw 83 fresh tiger skins and thousands of fresh leopard skins on a trip to Tibet last year. In one street alone, in Linxia in Gansu province, she counted 163 leopard skins, most or all from India, on open display.
Forest officials shoot bison, trigger protests by villagers (March Week 2 (2006)) A bison was shot down by forest department officials in Cooch Behar, triggering fierce protests from villagers, reports The Indian Express.
According to reports, three bisons had strayed out of Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary on Tuesday.
While one was driven back, another was tamed with shots of tranquilisers. But the third ran into Mahishbari village, located around 17 km from the sanctuary.
Forest department officials said the bison was shot down out of public concern after it had injured three people. ‘‘With a mob of 4,000-5,000 people gathering after the attack, the law and order situation in the area was at stake. So there was no other way but to resort to this extreme step,’’ said an official.
But local sources said only one villager was injured in the attack. And that villager, too, is protesting against the killing. Now, the villagers living in the fringes of the forest have launched a mass campaign, collecting signatures and demanding the prosecution of the forest officials responsible for the killing.
The straying of wild animals has become a recurrent phenomenon in recent times. With the number of bisons in the sanctuary increasing manifold — the bison population has multiplied by as many as five times in the last decade — it is but natural that the bisons stray out of the forests in search of food.
Forest sources claim that thanks to successful conservation and stringent anti-poaching measures, the bison count in Jaldapara alone stands at a staggering 1,500.
Forest authorities added that such a drastic step is resorted to only in the rarest of circumstances and there had been no such killing in the past one year.
Wayanad forests lure animals from nearby parks (March Week 2 (2006))
With the summer heat picking up, the Wayanad forests in Kerala have started attracting wildlife from the adjoining national parks in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, forcing Forest authorities to step up anti-fire and anti-poaching measures, reports The Pioneer.
Forest guards since last week have seen groups of animals, including elephants, journeying into Wayanad from Nagarhole and Bandipore in Karnataka and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu.
Availability of plenty of water and feed as well as thick and dark foliage have drawn the animals, escaping scorching heat and wildfires in the neighbouring national parks, Forest officials said.
"Wayanad has about 20 check-dams across streams and rivulets and 50 to 60 rainwater holes, where the moving animals can slake their thirst. Besides, the area has been made free from forest fire threat by taking effective steps," Deputy Conservator of Forest Phaneendra Kumar Rao, told PTI here.
Apart from normal steps like creation of 'fireline,' forest protection committees had been formed in fire-prone areas to rope in people's support for forest protection measures, he said.
Twenty anti-poaching squads had been formed this year by dividing the wildlife sanctuary into separate sections. Copious summer showers this season also augured well for Wayanad making it ideal for the seasonal visitors.
Consensus after census: Help! (Issue of the week, March Week 1 (2006)) The Indian Express who first broke the story of tiger numbers being suspect in Ranthambore reported on the latest census figures with the telling caption above.
Buzz is tiger count down from official 47 to about 15; Ranthambhore DFO says ‘we will lose everything’ if prompt action isn’t taken.
Alarm bells are ringing in India’s showpiece tiger reserve, the Ranthambhore National Park, and the man ringing them is the one in charge Deputy Field Director Raghuveer Singh Sekhawat.
With the three-day carnivore census indicating a figure even lower than last year’s “corrected estimate” of 26, Sekhawat’s call couldn’t be clearer: “The Centre, the state and non-state agencies must come together immediately or we will lose everything here in the next few years.”
He has reason to be worried. In the last one year alone, his staff have done four counts of the tiger. Following The Indian Express expose on 18 missing tigers last year, the state forest department, Wildlife Institute of India and independent experts brought the number down to 26 from the official 47.
“Even that number was highly optimistic. Everybody here knows we don’t have more than 15 tigers,” says a staff member. He isn’t the only one. In fact, there is a rare consensus among forest staff, guides and senior officials. Says one of them: “We know for sure we have at least 15. Maybe a few more. But don’t quote me before the official figure is announced.”
DFO Sekhawat who took charge after DFO G S Bhardwaj was shown the door last November following an Express report on poaching in Ranthambhore, refuses to be dragged into giving a number but on the future of the tiger here, he minces few words.
“The actual forest cover is shrinking every day with rampant grazing and associated pressure. With so many people entering the forest everyday, our existing protection level can’t warranty safety from poachers. Recently, we found a foot-trap chain. Unless a few quick decisions are taken and we act at the highest level, it won’t be long before Ranthambhore and its tigers disappear,” he told The Sunday Express.
Top priority, he says, are:
• A 50-km boundary wall. Cost: Rs 15 crore. “It will stop thousands of cattle that enter the park for grazing.”
• Staff, more staff. Including existing vacancies, 238 more are needed. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje recently promised to end the recruitment ban and assured 400 new personnel for the forest department. Sekhawat’s immediate requirement is about 150. “Our staff are old. The homeguards are no better. We need strong young men here,” says Sekhawat.
• Relocation of four villages (and the remaining 59 families of a fifth) and 150 Moghiya (tribal hunters) families from the park
• Development schemes in 96 surrounding villages to take pressure off the park. Earlier, a Rs 33-crore World Bank scheme failed as fund flow stopped because the government was able to spend only Rs 13.2 crore of the Rs 21.6 crore that came in.
• Upgrade amenities for ground staff on par with police force. For years, project allowance has been stuck at Rs 350 a month.
“We know we can’t do all these overnight. But we must start, we must send a message,” says Sekhawat.
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