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Category: Wildlife (page 1 of 2)

Who speaks for the Sundarbans?

The 2015 UNEP Champion Of The Earth‬ (Policy Leadership) award has gone to Bangladesh‘s PM Sheikh Hasina.

With a population of 140 million, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populated countries. It is also one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Cyclones, floods and droughts have long been part of the country’s history but they have intensified in recent years. Her vision is to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed one by 2041 through implementing environmentally aware policies.

The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009 made Bangladesh the first developing country to frame such a coordinated action plan. Bangladesh is also the first country to set up its own Climate Change Trust Fund supported by nearly US$300 million of domestic resources from 2009-2012.

Her government earmarks 6-7 per cent of its annual budget on climate change adaptation.

In addition, the Bangladesh Constitution was amended in 2011 to include protection of the environment and safeguarding natural resources for current and future generations. Prioritized in the constitution along with wetlands and wildlife, the forestry policies initiative by Prime Minister Hasina has provided a natural barrier from some extreme weather events and the country’s forests cover has increased by almost 10 per cent.

Here’s the irony.

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Forest Department Says ‘No’ To Wholesale Elephant Capture For Now

“I have seen this video on Whatsapp,” said Karnataka Forest Minister B Ramanath Rai. “I cried. If you see the video, no person on earth will have the heart to recommend removal of elephants.”

The minister was referring to my video of the capture of a wild elephant at Hassan, one of 23 that were captured from the area. He was speaking to an invited audience of scientists, environmentalists, conservationists, NGOs and advocacy groups, besides farmers and planters from the Coorg region which has been affected by the man-elephant conflict I have been covering.

It was the sort of moment journalists hope for, the reason we become journalists.

When we go into the field to research and report, the unstated hope is that our stories will create impact, provoke thought, spark discussion and debate around policy, and become a catalyst for change.

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Temple elephants… and what lies beneath

At the entrance to the temple is Devi. She has been chained to this spot for 35 years. As a female, she is never taken to festivals, so has never, ever moved. Not one inch. Prof Nameer has asked the temple leaders (politicians, businessmen) to allow the animals to be walked for one hour a day; they refused.

This is just so sad.

No, it is beyond sad – it is horrific. It is inhuman. And the fact that this scene plays out at the entrance to Guruvayur, one of India’s richest, most famous temples, multiplies the horror manifold.

Or it would if the passage from an article by Liz Jones for the Daily Mail were true. It is not.

 

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Follow the ivory

In January 2012 a hundred raiders on horseback charged out of Chad into Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjidah National Park, slaughtering hundreds of elephants—entire families—in one of the worst concentrated killings since a global ivory trade ban was adopted in 1989. 

Carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, they dispatched the elephants with a military precision reminiscent of a 2006 butchering outside Chad’s Zakouma National Park. And then some stopped to pray to Allah. Seen from the ground, each of the bloated elephant carcasses is a monument to human greed. Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade, and seizures of illegal ivory are at their highest level in years.

From the air too the scattered bodies present a senseless crime scene—you can see which animals fled, which mothers tried to protect their young, how one terrified herd of 50 went down together, the latest of the tens of thousands of elephants killed across Africa each year. Seen from higher still, from the vantage of history, this killing field is not new at all. It is timeless, and it is now.

~ Bryan Christy, Ivory Worship, National Geographic, October 2012

Protecting elephants is dangerous business in Africa. Elephants move. They migrate in search of fodder, they sashay across national borders and wander into danger. Into worlds where tusks are treasures and elephants are easy targets for desperate warlords armed to the teeth, stripped of conscience, and willing to do whatever it takes to finance their fights.

 

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Yeah! THAT’ll do it.

India, says this news report, lost more 41 tigers this year till date, thus continuing a process of attrition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is deeply interested in the environment in general, and tigers in particular. So of course the concerned department is concerned, and hell bent on doing something constructive about it. Like, so:

Vikas Kharge, secretary Revenue and Forest Department (Forests), told TOI that choosing actor Amitabh Bachchan as the ambassador for its tiger conservation projects is likely to have a positive outcome for conservation measures.

“We are yet to finalise the modalities and a meeting with the actor will soon take place. He is a tiger lover and his involvement in the project will have a unique appeal for the masses,” he said.

Because, having already gutted the funds for Project Tiger, what we now need to do is spend most of the little that remains on signing up a costly “ambassador”.

Irony wept bitter tears.

PS: More on our tigers

 

 

The sound of a hundred elephants

A trumpet shatters the sun-baked stillness of the plain. Moments later, the elephants emerge out of the forest and race onto the grasslands that stretch in front of me. There are about twenty of them in that first rush and then more, and more, emerging in twos and fours and in bigger groups of eights and tens. Big elephants and small, male and female, some brown, some black, a few flecked pink — score upon score of elephants, crossing the plain at full tilt.

What is the sound of a hundred elephants running?

Silence.

A silence that magnifies the thudding of my heart and the clicking of my camera.

How can a few hundred elephants, collectively weighing thousands of tons, move at top speed across baked earth without a sound?

Because it is World Elephants Day today, one of the coolest elephant stories you’ll read, from Arati Kumar-Rao’s pre-Peepli days. And to go with that, this magnificent collection of images from her gallery, sampled below:

Photo by Arati Kumar-Rao

Photo by Arati Kumar-Rao

More love for the most lovable of beasts, via this Storify featuring Arati Kumar-Rao and Radha Rangarajan, sampled below:

Elephants inset 2

More elephant posts from earlier, here — including Arati’s encounter with a patriarch and the lessons learnt therefrom.

It’s not all joy and celebration, though. In his Nature without Borders project, Kalyan Varma has been narrating the story of man-elephant conflict in Hassan, and its heart-wrenching consequences. (NB: The next part of this narrative is due out on Peepli shortly; watch this space)

Is India selling out its tigers?

In the New York Times, journalist and co-author of Tigers Forever Sharon Guynup asks the question — and lists the reasons why the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’.

But the Modi government’s aggressive focus on development threatens both the cats’ future and the nation’s environment. India is razing forests and flooding them with dams, giving the go-ahead for new mines and pushing rapid industrialization. The 2015 budget cut funding for the environment ministry by 25 percent and support for tiger protection by 15 percent.

Toward that end, the government is moving swiftly and systematically to alter environmental regulations. Last August, a high level government committee was given the impossible task of reviewing the country’s major environmental laws and suggesting overhauls, all within a few months. Most of the committee members lacked environmental expertise, recommendations were not reviewed by independent authorities and most outside input was “invited.”

It is, argues Guynup, a perfect storm. Laws are being changed to permit large-scale deforestation; dams are coming up in job lots that will wipe out large sections of forest land, including reserves; sane voices from the outside, that could warn of the dangers, are being deliberately shut out of the process…

“Maybe I’m exaggerating,” said Ashok Khosla, the first director of India’s Office of Environmental Planning and Coordination, “but it sounds to me as if we have a cliff ahead of us and we have our foot on the accelerator.”

More on these lines here.

Lots in a name

Following on from the story of Arati Kumar-Rao’s meeting with Junius — here, the story of Ben.

A Nat Geo piece talks of the need, for expert and lay enthusiast alike, to learn how to identify an elephant.

To think like an elephant scientist, it’s important to look at key characteristics, said elephant biologist and National Geographic Explorer Joyce Poole. These traits include sex, body size and shape, tusk configuration, and ear patterns. By knowing the animals as individuals, you can get a better understanding of their behavior, relationships, and sophisticated family dynamics.

The piece has a handy guide to identifying elephants by key characteristics (and tons of useful internal links). A beautifully devised interactive companion site identifies the elephants of the Mara region, and provides current locations.

Tangentially related, an Economic Times piece suggests that it may be time to start identifying and naming Indian lions, in order to get people to care. FWIW.

Cry me a river…

On July 1, 2015, Cecil the Zimbabwean lion was killed by recreational hunter Walter Palmer. In the aftermath, Cecil earned himself a wiki page and iconic status, and will soon get a tote bag and beanie toy; Palmer became a universal hate object, the subject of death threats and target of vandalism;  a million people signed an online petition and Zimbabwe responded by banning trophy hunting.

 

Hang on a minute, though, says a young Zimbabwean studying in the US, in this NYT oped — are you sure you aren’t conflating Cecil with Simba the Lion King?

In a first-person piece that proves, yet again, that man-animal interactions are almost always nuanced, and rarely black on white, Goodwell Nzou calls out what he perceives as global hypocrisy:

The American tendency to romanticize animals that have been given actual names and to jump onto a hashtag train has turned an ordinary situation — there were 800 lions legally killed over a decade by well-heeled foreigners who shelled out serious money to prove their prowess — into what seems to my Zimbabwean eyes an absurdist circus.

We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.

Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.

And please, don’t offer me condolences about Cecil unless you’re also willing to offer me condolences for villagers killed or left hungry by his brethren, by political violence, or by hunger.

The oped is worth reading in full. Please do.

 

An Elephant & I

It was nearly dusk as we headed out of Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. It had rained leopards on us that day. Every Salvadora persica tree had a rosetted one under it. Every other large Arjuna tree had guldaar flopped astride a branch.

But the day’s gifts were not over. Not yet.

We had spent the whole day in the park and were exhausted. The normal whispered chirpiness had hushed to an occasional word here and a “look!” there.

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