Press on Environment and Wildlife
Rhino Task Force in Assam (August Week 1 (2005)) Considering threats from large-scale natural disasters and epidemics that could wipe out the entire population of the animal species from the state, the government of Assam has finally constituted a task force on rhino translocations. This will come as a major step towards securing the long-term future of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. The body will work towards in creasing the population of rhinos in Assam from the existing 1,900 to 3,000 distributed across six of its protected areas over a period of 15 years. It has identified Manas National Park, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Laokhowa-Burhachapori-Kochmara complex as places where the rhinos can be translocated from Kaziranga National park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Chaired by the chief wildlife warden of Assam, M C Kalakar, the task force will be a collaborative endeavor of the Assam forest department in partnership with the World Wide Fund (WWF) for nature- India and the International Rhino Foundation. The objective is to translocation a nucleus population of the prioritized target protected areas. Said Malakar (Times of India, July 29th), “The translocation will be done as per protocols following international standards. Before the translocation the field staff and required technical personnel in Assam will be trained through a number of work shops. The first one of these work shop will be held in Pobitora in November.” Interestingly, Assam has over 70% of the world’s one-horned rhino population bulk of which is concentrated in the Kaziranga National Park. “While Kaziranga and Pobitora have seen a rise in the annual growth of rhinos (5% and 12% respectively) places like Manas National Park which were once home to a large number of rhino has none of them left now. So the need was felt to create a viable population of rhinos across its range in Assam “said Delhi zoo director B S Bonal who is also a member of the task force.
Plastic ban in Punjab (August Week 1 (2005)) Following the example of Himachal Pradesh, the Punjab Government has decided to ban the use of all types of plastic bags in the state. A decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of the Council of Ministers presided over by the Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, in Chandigarh last week. The Chief Minister said (The Tribune, July 28th) that the ban would come into force after six months. During this period traders could switch over to paper bags. There would be strict enforcement of the ban, he added. The ban was needed in view the adverse environmental and health implications, including the death of cattle in the state. The Council of Ministers also gave its approval to the draft of the Punjab Plastic Carry Bags (Manufacture, Usage and Disposal) Control Bill, 2005.The ban on plastics was working well in Himachal and Uttaranchal. There was no reason why it was not possible to enforce it here, Capt Amarinder Singh said, adding that penalties and other punishments for violating the ban would be declared in the official notification soon.
Ministry versus Tribal Right’s Bill: Tribal Affairs Environment Ministry (Issue of the week, July Week 4 (2005)) Coming around to accepting the inevitability of the Tribal Rights Bill, Environment Minister A Raja said he is not against granting rights to tribal but differs with the tribal ministry on who should table the bill. Insisting that the legislation should be drafted and implemented by his ministry, and not by the tribal affairs ministry, Mr Raj said (The Pioneer, Wednesday, July 20, 2005), "There are no two opinions on granting rights to tribals. The question is who (should table the bill in Parliament) and in what manner (should it be implemented)." The Tribal Affairs Ministry had approached the Union Cabinet for a go-ahead to introduce the Scheduled Tribe (Recognition of Rights) Bill, 2005, but was withheld in the previous session of Parliament. The environment ministry has been unhappy with some provisions of the existing draft of the tribal Bill. Mr Raja felt that since the bill will have a direct bearing on the forests and wildlife, his ministry would be well placed to see through its implementation. "We are entrusted to look after the forests. So anything that immediately affects the forests and wildlife should come under our purview," Mr Raja argued. He did not indicate when the bill will be placed in the House. Which ministry will be entrusted the responsibility of drafting and piloting the Bill in Parliament will be looked into by a group of ministers (GoM) headed by Home Minister Shivraj Patil. Besides Mr Raja, others in the GoM include Tribal Affairs minister PR Kyndiah, Water Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss. The tribal bill has severed the pitch between conservationists who believe in keeping the forests pristine and ridding people from the protected areas versus those who believe in involving the tribal in wildlife conservation. The Environment Ministry has a stated position not to forcibly evict tribals from protected areas, but had not gone as far as legalising land rights of tribals. The tribal affars ministry felt that the environment ministry will only pay lip-service to tribal cause, but buckle under pressure from a section of wildlife activists and not legislate a one-time settlement of land rights. The bill has also acquired political colours after tribal parliamentarians across the political spectrum lobbied with the Government to right 'historical wrongs' to the tribals. The Left, which has extended outside support to the Government, has also been pressing for introduction of the Bill.
Delhi Zoo hopes to have the long awaited chimpanzee offspring (July Week 4 (2005)) After over seven months of concerted effort, Delhi zoo’s last big effort to usher in a bundle of joy in the chimpanzee enclosure is finally bearing fruit. Reeta, the young female chimp, which was procured from Chandigarh’s Chhatbir zoo in December last year, has apparently gone into a ‘heat’ period, thereby increasing the chances of mating. Said Delhi zoo director B S Bonal: “Rustam and Ruby have been together for a long time. So maybe that’s why they were not getting attracted to each other. Then we got another female chimp, Reeta, from Chandigarh and we were sincerely hoping that things would work. But all this while, they were simply not getting the desired stimulant. This may have happened due to many factors like climatic change, biological factors, old age, etc.” Zoo officials are upbeat now the Reeta has gone into the heat period. Said Bonal: “For the past four days, Reeta and Rustam have been doing quite well. They have been kept together in the same enclosure and mating is taking place.” Delhi zoo had waited very long for the stork to visit the chimps. Only last year, before the new chimp was procured from Chandigarh, the zoo authorities tried to provide the couple with a more naturalistic environment. Their enclosure was upgraded and elaborately ‘furnished’ for them to loosen up. According to zoo officials, the ‘Chandigarh attraction’ was procured under the Breeding Loan Scheme among zoos wherein the first offspring will have to be handed over to the Chhatbir zoo.
Bamboo shoots trouble in Kerala (July Week 4 (2005)) Kerala is inching towards yet another environmental hazard as wild bamboo varieties have started blooming simultaneously in almost all forest tracts. This rare phenomenon is being witnessed after a long gap of 48 years. Large-scale flowering of different varieties of bamboosa bamboo is already being reported from Attapady, Ponmudi, Iravikulam, Pathanamthitta, Kothamangalam, Malayattoor, Wayanad, Idukki, Palakkad, Kasargod and the eastern parts of Kozhikode. Blooming and bearing fruit will mark the culmination of the life cycle of bamboo and after this phenomenon no bamboo forest will be left in the State. Hard days are also ahead for the adivasis and poor farmers who depend on bamboo for their livelihood. Wild animals too would be at risk. According to K K Seethalakshmi of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, it would take at least eight years of sustained revitalisation efforts to bring the bamboo forests back to their old glory. A total destruction of bamboo forests would force animals to move out in search of fodder and refuge, ultimately resulting in recurring human-wildlife conflicts. It would also render hundreds of low-income families engaged in various bamboo products jobless. The situation would badly affect the functioning of Kerala Bamboo Corporation and its products like Bamboo Plywood. Experts also warn that after the bamboo fruits are fully utilised, the rodents would turn to the nearby farms. Such a situation would land the marginal agricultural families living close to forests in near-starvation. “Nobody can prevent the blooming of bamboo. But we can regenerate them in the same localities. Only a systematic effort can dilute the adverse impacts,” says Seethalakshmi. However, the Forest Department is yet to develop any kind of strategy for replanting bamboo. The Department is also clueless about the problems which would be created by the dead bamboo in future as it would easily catch fire. It also has no idea on controlling the various pests that eat the new bamboo shoots.
Tiger population decline in Madhya Pradesh (July Week 4 (2005)) The latest tiger census figures show that the tiger population in the National Parks and Sanctuaries of Madhya Pradesh is 394 as against last year's 416. The difference between the two tiger census figures has put the State forest authorities in a tight corner. The question now doing the rounds is whether the last census figures were fudged and bloated or whether there has been a sharp decline in the population of tigers in the Protected Areas of the State. The official tiger census figures released last weekend show that there are 394 tigers in the Protected Areas of Madhya Pradesh. Last year's census had put the number of tigers in the same area as 416. The State Chief Wildlife Warden, Mr. Gangopadhayay said (Hindu, Monday, July 18, 2005) after last year's census, it was declared that there were six tigers in the Rani Durgawati Sanctuary and seven tigers in the Palpurkuno Sanctuary. The current census has revealed that there is not even a single tiger in these sanctuaries. The other forest officials also expressed concern over the decrease in the number of tigers in the State. There is a common view in forest circles here that the rapid fragmentation of habitat is a major danger when it comes to the survival of tigers.
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