Press on Environment and Wildlife
Monkey experiments resume at NIV (July Week 2 (2005))

Scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) campus, Pune, have reason to smile. The crucial experiments on vaccine development, held up since 2001 for want of rhesus monkeys, are now underway in full swing. Wildlife enthusiasts had “rescued” 50 monkeys from NIV sometime in 2001 citing cruelty to animals. The then Union minister for animal welfare, Maneka Gandhi, who was also chairperson of the Central Committee for Purpose of Control and Supervision on Experimental Animals (CPCSEA), backed these protests and ultimately, had the CPCSEA ban the sole supplier of monkeys in Nainital. As a result, the NIV found it difficult to continue investigations into major viruses like Hepatitis viruses, Influenza, Measles and Rota. While other research animals like mice, guinea pigs and rabbits were used, crucial work on vaccine development suffered. In fact, projects in various national institutes across the country had to be put on hold and as a result, various initiatives on vaccine production have fallen behind schedule. NIV has confirmed that they received the first batch of 20 monkeys in the last week of June. The projects that were pending for over three years were sanctioned by the Animal Welfare Board only last month and the monkeys were dispatched from Uttar Pradesh by their registered supplier. NIV is one of the premier institutes of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and has investigated over 300 epidemics of suspected viral aetiology in the country.

Hospital uses a novel water management strategy (July Week 2 (2005)) The Aravind Eye Hospital in Thavalakuppam near Pondicherry not only treats eye ailments but also treats water that it uses. And with the treated water, it has a sprawling garden with 300 avenue trees, 250 coconut trees, 50 mango trees and 45,000 sq ft of lawns with Korean grass and lots of flowering plants. "Each day the hospital uses about 2,50,000 liters of water and of that about 2 lakh liters is treated and reused to water the gardens. When we started the hospital here, there was no drainage system so we had to do something about the water that we used and so the treatment plant came to be", says G. Venkataswamy, chairman, Aravind Eye Care System. The water, which is collected in three septic tanks, is passed through anaerobic filters and passed up and down through vertical pipes. From the filters the water is directly pumped to a buffer tank and from there the water is allowed to pass through gravel filters and then comes to a polishing pond where then the enrichment of oxygen takes place. The pond also has a fresh batch of fish swimming around and making it look all the more beautiful. The system was set up in 2003 and the garden received the Pondicherry Government's award for the best garden for the year 2004. “We like to keep the environment, our surroundings and our hospital clean, which is why we take so much care about each and everything” says the hospital staff. Commendable!
Long wait for circus animals to rehabilitated (July Week 2 (2005))

The West Bengal chief wildlife warden (CWW) these days is playing a thorn in the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) flesh by its undoing about taking 15 surrendered circus animals -- 11 tigers, 2 lions and 2 Himalayan black bears -- to its new Madarihat rescue center, near Jalpaiguri, even as the CZA sent Rs 55 lakh to it for construction of the center. To add to it, the CWW officials and the circus companies are passing bucks to each other over who will take the animals to the rescue center and bear the cost of transportation. Every other week the WB CWW is shooting letters for money either for such transportation, or cages and feeds. About 150 captivated circus animals - tigers, lions and bears - are awaiting rehabilitation at rescue centers. Three new ones - at Madarihat (North Bengal), Nandankanan (Orissa) and Bhopal are coming up for them with the Vizag center being expanded. The CZA has already released Rs 4.5 crore for the purpose. Whether this money will ever be put to its intended use remains to be seen.

CBC supports Scheduled Tribes Bill (July Week 2 (2005))

The Center for Biodiversity Center (CBC), Thiruvananthapuram, has strongly supported the Central Government's move to enact the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, as the essential first step in reforming the country's forest management regime. "The accelerating pace of forest destruction in the country could be reversed only be bringing the Adivasis, the historical custodians of our forests, back to the center stage of forest management” the CBS chief said in a media release. He also said that it was the organic affinity of the Adivasis towards the forests that had saved what little is left of forest wealth in the country today. "The amazing knowledge of Adivasis about the forests and wildlife alone is enough to qualify them as the best stewards of the forests. But the colonial Forest Act of 1927 had alienated them from the forestland and threw them into the abyss of poverty where as poverty was previously unknown in the Adivasi areas. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, quite in line with the colonial policy, sealed the fate of 67.7 million indigenous people of India. This must be undone. The forest management, in order for it to be successful, ought to be restructured by recognizing the role of Adivasis as the critical player in sustainable forest management” he said. Mr. Chief might be right about the knowledge and affinity of the Adivasis towards the forests. However, it is one thing to involve the tribes in the management of forests and quite another to make them uncontested owners of the forests (which is what the bill proposes to do).

25 peacocks poisoned to death (July Week 2 (2005)) In a shocking incident, 25 peacocks and their young ones died of poisoning at Palikoppa village in Hubli taluk. The villagers suspected the hand of some farmers behind the act as the birds used to feed on the seeds in their fields. The villagers said that farmers had killed the peacocks by adding poison to jowar grains. Eight samples of various organs of the dead peacocks were sent to Bangalore for further investigation and autopsy that the cause of death seems to be rat poison. The samples will be sent to the Forensic Laboratory in Bangalore for further tests.
Genetically engineered plants suck up mercury from the ground (July Week 2 (2005)) Across the continent in California, researchers are using transgenic Indian mustard plants to soak up dangerously high mercury and selenium deposits caused by irrigation of the nation's breadbasket. Still others are engineering trees to retain more carbon and thus combat global warming. The gene jockeys conducting these exotic experiments envision a future in which plants can be used as an inexpensive, safer and more effective way of disposing of pollution. ”Trees are really made for this, we just have to trick them to do what we want them to do,'' said Richard Meagher from University of Georgia. Mr. Meagher uses genes from E. coli that enable the common bacterium to live amid mercury. He has spliced them into a variety of plants in the laboratory, where he says his results are dramatically positive. Mr. Meagher's team has planted about 45 engineered cottonwood trees in a polluted lot. The trees are expected to treat the mercury as a nutrient and draw the toxic element for the soil with their roots. Some of the mercury is expected to vaporize into the air while most is stored in the tree. After several years of growth, the trees will be cut down and incinerated. However, it seems that the team has overlooked the fact that upon incineration the mercury still stays in the atmosphere – it’s just a choice between ingesting mercury and breathing it – I wonder which is the lesser of the two evils?
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