Wildlife Poaching

Burning Pelts in Kashmir

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 14, 2007

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Historic Burning of Pelts in Srinagar - "The End of an Era"

 Last week, (Dec 2007) Ashok Kumar in IFAW’s India office, lit the flames to a pyre of more than 127,000 smuggled pelts and skins of endangered species seized in India.

One of the routes to the decimation of wild species has been shut down: The fur trade of Srinagar in Kashmir valley. The process began some years back in 1997. The time had come, late no doubt, that a licensed trade in garments made from skins and furs of wild species had to come to end.

The carnage of a wide range of wild species over decades, if not centuries, can be guessed at by a mind boggling number of fur garments and skins declared by licensed furriers of Kashmir. The stock of tiger skins and garments alone tallied more than 89. In all, the stock of skins from wild species totaled more than 125,000.

The tradition was age old, going back perhaps 200 years or more. Trappers and hunters of wild species in forests of the Indian sub-continent and the Himalayan range sold their `produce’ to a small town trader, who in turn delivered these to major cities such as Calcutta and the walled city of Old Delhi. The hub Gihara Gali later came to be known as Lane number eleven, the notorious wildlife trading alley. Actually, the word Gihara refered to a tribe of part time hunters turned wholesalers and taxidermists of wild skins and furs, who also supplied the Kashmir fur industry. The oldest case of the infamous wildlife trader, Sansar Chand, a Gihara, dates back to 1988 - he was accused of selling 29,489 skins to Kashmiri traders. The list of species seized in this case reads almost exactly as those now burned and included one tiger and five leopard skins. Jackal, wild cat and fox skins predominate. The case is still undergoing trial after 19 years.

In 1978, Ashok Kumar had sought an appointment with Sheikh Abdullah, the Prime Minister of J&K state. He was also called Sher-e-Kashmir (the Lion of Kashmir). Fur garments were on open sale in his state, in Kashmiri owned shops all over India and in Nepal. He requested him to halt the carnage. His reaction was sharp: “mine is a tourism driven state, tourists from all over the world come to Kashmir, and they buy fur garments. That provides livelihood to my people.” No, it cannot be halted, he said. Two decades later, his son, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Chief Minister of J&K was to approve the public burning of these skins. In 1986, the Central Government of India banned the trade in wildlife skins.

The furriers took the government to court and succeeded in getting a “stay” order halting the implementation of the ban. As a result of NGO intervention in the court case, the stay was lifted and the ban came into force in 1992.

Yet in Kashmir, this trade remained legal and licensed, since J&K state had a separate wildlife law. That law was brought on par with the Central Law only in 2002, which threw up the question, what to do with stocks of skins, furs and garments (some of which were considered to be legally held by licensed furriers)?

To a committee appointed in 1997, furriers numbering 224 offered to surrender their stocks knowing a ban was imminent; an inventory was made and the value was determined. But where was the money, all of Rs.9.42 crores (US$ 2,400,000) to compensate the furriers?

The Central Government refused to give the amount because that would amount to buying wildlife skins. The Central Government had already refused to do that for ivory traders and furriers in the rest of the country and their stand was accepted by the Delhi High Court in 1997 and upheld by the Supreme Court of India. The trickiest question was: should the government of J&K agree to compensate furriers? A move that could appear as if the state was buying wildlife articles, There was an impasse.

A solution was proposed: compensation would not be given for the stock, but as rehabilitation grants to artisans. That opened a Pandora’s box because hundreds of artisans came forward to claim the grant whereas the furriers were traders and not at all artisans. The furriers then filed a case in the High Court of J&K in 2006 asking for the amounts promised to them when their stock was surrendered. The Court’s decision instructed the J&K Government to deposit the amount with the High Court, which would then release the funds to the 224 furriers.

This process of paying compensation to furriers is ongoing and the stage was set for the burning of the furs and skins. At one stage, the temptation could have been to challenge - in the Supreme Court - the decision of the J&K High Court to compensate the furriers. There is little doubt that based on the Delhi High Court judgment of 1997 and upheld by Supreme Court, such a petition could have been admitted, halting the process of destruction of stocks. A more balanced view was that Rs. 9.42 crores was just money that could bury a gory past once and for all.

Yet Kashmir, the paradise on earth, has its serpents. There is said to be as yet hidden, undeclared stocks. That story is beginning to unfold to be chronicled another day.

The burning of many truckloads of fur garments and skins was started by J&K’s Wildlife Department on December 3, 2007 in Srinagar, Kashmir. Chief Wildlife Officer A K Srivastava observed that they had waited many years for this moment to arrive. I lit the first torch and lowered a tiger skin onto the pyre. As the flames leapt skywards, I witnessed history being made. Going up in flames was the largest single agglomeration of wildlife skins anywhere in the world. Wild species have respite from the Kashmir fur trade but there are newer challenges to wild species from the emergence of new markets in China. At no time can we give up the battle.







Endangered Gharials

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 14, 2007

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Another Rare Species, Another Disease Killing Them Off

What is killing India’s endangered gharials? 17 of the critically endangered crocodile-like critters have been found dead in the Chambal River in recent weeks, a terrible blow to a species whose population boasts just 200 breeding pairs.

Whatever killed the gharials -- most likely a "bacterial disease," according to wildlife conservator V K Pattnaik -- wreaked havoc on their liver and lungs. And the 17 found bodies may not be the only ones affected. According to the news agency UNI, unofficial death tallies could be in the dozens over the last week alone.

According to the IUCN Red List, gharial populations plummeted from as high as 10,000 in 1946 to just 200 in 1974, mostly due to hunting for their skins. Current threats are mostly habitat-related, with irrigation, sand-mining and commercial river traffic destroying the gharial’s river home.

The IUCN downgraded the gharial from "endangered" to "critically endangered" earlier this year. At this rate, it may not be long before it is downgraded again -- if not lost forever.



Conservation and tourism

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 13, 2007

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According to the International Ecotourism Society, the market for conservation-oriented tourism continues to grow; in 2004, worldwide ecotourism and nature tourism were growing three times faster than the tourism industry as a whole.

The popularity of nature-based travel led the United Nations to hold a World Ecotourism Summit and declare 2002 the International Year of Ecotourism. More than 55 million Americans are interested in sustainable travel, which protects both environment and culture, according to a study by the Travel Industry Association of America sponsored by National Geographic Traveler.

Source: http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/travel/17journeys.html


Climate change and Global Warming

The poor of the world are providing breathing space to the world

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 12, 2007

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The poor of the world are providing breathing space to the world

"We believe India must take a proactive and leadership position on the issue of climate change. It is also important to assert the linkages between increasing weather disasters and climate change. It is clear that while we will never be able to make absolute predictions or direct correlations between events that we see around us and the warming that is now inevitable, there is enough evidence to make connections. For instance, we know that climate change will lead to intensification of tropical cyclone events, like the one in Bangladesh, which has devastated the lives of millions in that country. We also know that rainfall in our world will become more variable – devastating for people dependent on rainfed agriculture. We can already see the rapid melting of glaciers (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/cover_nl.asp?mode=1), which will threaten water security in large parts of the country.

Biofuels are being touted as the new panacea for climate problems. All the biofuel in the world will be a blip on the world’s total fuel consumption. In the us, for instance, it’s agreed that if the entire corn crop is used to make ethanol, it will replace only 12 per cent of current gasoline—petrol—used in the country.If we factor in fuel inputs that go into converting biomass to energy—from diesel to run tractors, natural gas to make fertilizers, fuel to run refineries—biofuel is not energy-efficient. It is estimated that only about 20 per cent of corn-made ethanol is ‘new’ energy. This reckoning does not account for the water it will take to grow this new crop. There are fears that rainforest might be cut to expand biofuel crop cultivation; this will contribute substantially to climate change.

So how should biofuel be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Any strategy must be founded on an understanding that biofuels aren’t substitutes for fossil fuels, they can make a difference if we limit our fuel consumption. If that’s the case, governments should not give subsidies to grow crops for biofuel. They should, instead, invest in public transport that will reduce the number of vehicles on roads. Biofuels should be just for public buses and only if cars get off the road

Biofuels could be a part of the climate solution but only if they are used to help the world’s poor to leapfrog to a non-fossil fuel-based energy future. The poor are today providing the world its only real opportunity to avoid emissions. For, the bulk of renewable energy -80 per cent-is the biomass-based energy used by the poorest to meet their cooking, lighting and fuel needs.

So, the opportunity for a biofuel revolution is not in the rich world’s cities to run vehicles-but in the grid-unconnected world of Indian or African villages, where there is a scarcity of electricity for homes, and generator sets to pump water and to run vehicles. It here that fossil fuel use will grow because there is no alternative. Instead of bringing fossil fuel long distances to feed this market, this part of the world can leapfrog to a new energy future. The biofuel can come from non-edible tree crops-jatropha in India, for example-grown on wasteland.

The irony is that it is the poor in the world who provide us breathing space today. Currently, about 80 per cent of renewable energy is biomass based energy used by the poorest to meet their cooking, lighting and fuel needs. This also provides us the opportunity for a biofuel revolution – reinventing the energy options for millions who are still unconnected to the fossil fuel grid (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/cover_nl.asp?mode=9). In this challenge, our forests can be critical players – planting trees to provide employment, which will also absorb carbon dioxide and increase the sinks for our emissions (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/cover_nl.asp?mode=10).



Wildlife , Forest Laws

Wildlife Habitat

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 06, 2007

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The rate at which devlopment is taking place , especially in less developed countries like India, forests and wetlands are lost even before we have explored and indexed the wildlife living in those areas.

So no wonder that many of us feel that time has come to save all wildlife in forests, wetlands and oceans. In other words let us save the habitat and not just the species in the habitat we know is endangered.


Bio diversity and oceans

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 06, 2007

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“Seventy percent of the world is ocean and eighty percent of global biodiversity is in it. We need to take care of the ocean. No matter where we are, we depend on it.”
–Wallace J. Nichols

Wallace J. Nichols does much of his turtle research in Baja California, Mexico.

For at least 150 million years, sea turtles have roamed the Earth’s oceans. This makes them at least 858 times older than the first Homo sapiens. Survivors of the mass extinction that wiped dinosaurs out, enduring lengthy travels along the sea and fighting heavy predation that results in survival statistics of about one in a thousand, they have managed to stay around. That is, until now. Out of the seven species of marine turtles in the world, six feature as endangered or critically endangered in the Red List of Threatened Species, a list compiled by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and updated every year with the best available scientific information. Humans bear direct responsibility.

Source: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?3987


Film Reviews- Wildlife, Nature and Environment

nature and music

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 04, 2007

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Music in Nature Part 4: The Power of Music

I was shocked and saddened in early November with the news of an ecological disaster in the San Francisco Bay. Learning that the tragedy could have been prevented made me downright angry. I made it up to the Bay Area over Thanksgiving and on the way back stopped by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My friend there told me about the video the Ocean Conservancy put out illustrating the fact that this accident was a "Preventable Tragedy." While very informative (and mind boggling why such a tragedy wasn’t prevented) it lacked something. It seemed slow. It needed music! Inspired, I spent a few hours putting together a track for them. I emailed the Ocean Conservancy and by the next morning the sparks were flying. I’m thrilled to be involved in such a project with such a wonderful organization. It just goes to show you - the power of music in film is endless and the power of being proactive can pay off huge. It feels great to make a difference doing what I love.

To view the original movie without music goto: http://youtube.com/watch?v=QETWumARv6c

To view the version with music (and a few added zooms, etc.) goto: http://youtube.com/watch?v=txR4B6padQQ

To learn more about the spill goto: www.oceanconservancy.org/SFspill

Cody Westheimer is a composer living in Los Angeles, CA. To learn (and hear) more about Cody go to www.CodyWestheimer.com or email him at cody@codywestheimer.com

Source: http://www.wildlife-film.com


Send in a wildlife photo to a newspaper!

Posted by Susan Sharma on November 24, 2007

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Send in a wildlife photo to a newspaper

The common use of affordable digital cameras have indirectly helped conservation and wildlife issues. It is easier than ever to click a newsworthy photo and send it to a paper! and as you will observe, photographs are vocal and make people think.


Trek on foot!

Posted by Susan Sharma on November 24, 2007

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Trek on Foot!

Long-distance hiking is incredibly romantic — the idea of spending weeks
or months at a time in some of the most beautiful backcountry areas in the
world is almost universally appealing, especially when contrasted to the
fluorescent lights, traffic jams, and overwhelming email inboxes of modern
life. But long-distance newbies need to realize that the reality of
long-distance hiking is not always pleasant: you can’t just “float” by like
you can in “the real world” — there are always miles to be walked, stormy
weather to fend off, fatigue and soreness to treat, discomforts to cope
with, etc. You have to earn the “Beautiful moments” — the sunsets, wildlife
encounters, 12,000-foot ridgewalks, and trail magic from generous locals.
If you understand the work-to-reward ratio of long-distance hiking, and if
you’re okay with it, you’ll have much more success and you’ll enjoy yourself
much more.

For new trekkers:
1. Familiarise yourself with all that you can read about the place.
2. Read trip reports by others
3. Develop skills, become more familiar with your gear and
maps/guidebook, and understand better the terrain and weather. Ideally go
with a more experienced backpacker who can transfer knowledge they have
learned from others and from their trials and errors.


Environment Awareness

Visiting the Zoo

Posted by Susan Sharma on November 24, 2007

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Visiting the Zoo

A colorful campaign aimed at parents and children is playing up the “wild” in the premier attractions owned and operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Those attractions are the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn. A new agency, Deutsch, is encouraging potential visitors to “Go wild” in a campaign with a budget estimated at $7 million — and, as the elephants at the zoo might say, that’s hardly peanuts.

 The campaign includes television and radio commercials; signs and posters; print advertisements; trading cards bearing pictures of animals, which are of course called “wild cards”; and a Web site where computer users are invited to “build your wild self” and forward the images to friends.

With species going extinct at an alarming rate, wildlife protection is possible only if the adults who are now in charge, do their bit. 
While the ad companies are doing a good job of attracting kids, can they do something to make "visiting the zoo" serious adult business too?

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