Engineers and Environment

Computer tools for conservation

Posted by Susan Sharma on August 05, 2007

Forum Post

Computer tools for conservation

This tool — known as the "SWAP model," short for State Wildlife Action Plan — is unique: It considers a habitat’s numerous species all at once and displays the results in maps that are intuitively easy to grasp.  A cutting-edge, customized computer tool that takes 150 years of information on at-risk animals across Tennessee and marries that data to the latest in mapping software — geographic information systems (GIS) has been in use in the U.S.A.

The SWAP model incorporates 150 years of information on:

Animal sightings in Tennessee; Their preferred habitats; Threats to these animals (such as road construction or dam building); and Conservation actions known to counteract these threats. The software tracks 664 at-risk animals across the state — on land, in water, and in caves — with data mathematically weighted toward most recent sightings, species most at risk, and other key factors.

Then it produces maps that display color areas where at-risk species are proven to live and thrive. The darker the color, the more viable the habitat.  Part of what makes the SWAP model so innovative is that it turns the longstanding conservation strategy of preserving a habitat for the sake of a single rare species  on its head.

“That’s the old, standard way of conservation thinking,” “The SWAP model allows us to see all the at-risk species in an area that will benefit by removing certain threats or restoring habitat."

Another intriguing aspect of the SWAP model is its ability to project hypothetical scenarios. What if the Conservancy were to restore a farmland pasture to wooded wetlands, for instance? Would that help the at-risk species in the area?

The SWAP model can predict the outcome.

Read the full article at
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nature/wildlife films

Film making in Africa

Posted by Susan Sharma on August 05, 2007

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Here is a quote from a prominent African film authority, which is applicable to a large extent to the situation here in India as well.

"As an industry, wildlife and natural history filmmaking touches uniquely on three socio-economic issues which are crucial to the future of the African continent:

Firstly, in the wake of globalisation, if our rich natural resources are properly managed and developed, then independent and sustainable development in African countries will continue. It is crucial in the pursuit of African renewal and the new partnership for Africas development that such resources need to be exploited to the advantage of African people.

Second is the crucial issue of conservation and environmental protection - an issue which is not unique to Africa and requires international cooperation and resources to develop effective strategies in combating threats to our environment. Showcasing these issues on television internationally is an effective way to raise awareness and support for these causes.

The third issue is the development of the African film industry so that wildlife and natural history filmmaking is representative of all Africans. To achieve this, it is imperative to implement training programmes which will foster the development of black filmmakers and to change the current status of the industry. Put simply, the challenge is how do we make indigenous Africans not only the observed but the observers and the participants in telling the story about this continent.

We need to be conscious of this fact: if we are to ensure the survival of our environment and the prosperity of this industry, filmmaking must become representative and diverse. Africans are presently the trackers, the translators and the lodge servants in this industry, perhaps sometimes the odd ranger or national park representative... but rarely the arbiter of the story.

We are following through at pledges made at last year’s Wild Talk Africa conference to spend $1 million on developing the industry here and commissioning up-and-coming natural history filmmakers. From now on, through the NHU AFRICA, will produce 40 hours of programming a year, ranging from lower-budget/higher-quality series to blue chip documentaries.

So far we have commissioned films on frogs in Madagascar, a lake in Venda, desert elephants in Namibia, climate change in Africa, ground squirrels in the Kalahari, a southern African travel series, a wildlife rehab series in Johannesburg, a good news conservation series, and of course where would the NHU AFRICA be without films on cheetahs, sharks, wild dogs and crocodiles! Our aim is to work with international broadcasters on some of these productions and we are currently co-producing HD films with NHK, and Five in the UK and are in discussion with National Geographic over a few more".

-Marcel Golding
Source: WildFilmNews July 2007

Environment Awareness

To eradicate poverty, we have to regenerate our ecology

Posted by Susan Sharma on August 03, 2007

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To eradicate poverty, we have to regenerate our ecology

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, announces a five-day refresher workshop on how to use the environment to eradicate poverty in rural India.

For more than two decades, CSE’s campaigns and research have shown that India’s poverty is ecological in nature. This means that to eradicate poverty, we have to regenerate our ecology. Many villages have done this. CSE has been studying their experiences.

The refresher workshop seeks to learn from these models and put in place a framework for sustainable villages. This highly interactive course is designed to clarify the linkages between environment and poverty, and to demonstrate its feasibility through a two-day field trip to Laporiya, a village of pastoralists who have collectively drought-proofed their village and created sustainable livelihoods. In addition to experienced CSE staff, the course faculty includes eminent development experts.


Understanding India’s biomass economy

Eco-systems, land use and livelihoods: Linkages

Rainfed areas in crisis: Food security

Spectre of jobless growth: Chronic, concentrated poverty

Key indicators: Environment and poverty linkages

Poverty eradication programmes: A critique

Ecological opportunities, economic value

Decentralised governance: Ecology, Panchayati Raj

Ecological Act: The promise of NREGA, experiences

How to evaluate development effectiveness of NREGA

Case studies: Community-led village eco-restoration

Workshops: Create your own ’poverty line’; Prepare a detailed roadmap on how to create sustainable livelihoods using local ecology

Field trip: A two-day visit to drought-prone Laporiya (a community of pastoralists in Rajasthan) to experience a remarkable community-led water management initiative.

For more information click here

Wildlife Poaching

A real victory for tigers

Posted by Susan Sharma on August 03, 2007

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 A real victory for tigers

In a key win in the battle to save wild tigers, The CITES convention on endangered species  rejected a lifting of the 14-year ban on domestic trade in tiger parts in China.

“The international community has sent a clear message that the world cannot sacrifice the last wild tigers for the sake of a handful of wealthy tiger farm investors.”

The International Tiger Coalition said it commended delegates from four countries with wild tigers – India, Nepal, Bhutan and Russia – and the United States in standing firm on behalf of wild tiger conservation during a lengthy debate. The decision was adopted by consensus, but not before China tried to soften the language.

Privately run “tiger farms” across China have bred nearly 5,000 captive tigers and are putting enormous pressure on the Chinese government to allow legal trade in tiger parts within China. They argue that their captive tigers will meet the demand of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) users for tiger-bone tonic wines and medicines.

“A lift of the ban would simply lead to an increase of demand for tiger parts and the ‘laundering’ of skins and parts from poached wild tigers.

“India and Nepal in particular have been heroic and spoken up strongly and passionately in defence of tigers and should be commended for their stance.”

Source: From a report by the EIA The Environmental Investigation Agency


African Rats: The Best TB and Landmine Detectives

Posted by Susan Sharma on August 02, 2007

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African Rats: The Best TB and Landmine Detectives
Trained giant African rats, with their extraordinary sense of smell, can detect whether or not a sputum sample contains TB indicators 48 times faster than a human lab technician. They also are brilliant at detecting mines—and won’t set them off, unlike dogs or humans, because they are so light.

Ashoka Fellow Bart Weetjens has shown how to put these “HeroRATS” to work in Tanzania. Now he and his HeroRATS organization, APOPO, have been asked to bring this life-saving innovation to the 11 countries of the Great Lakes Region in Africa.

A HeroRAT can screen 40 sputum samples for TB in 10 minutes—a day’s work for a lab technician. HeroRATS are accredited according to International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), just like mine detection dogs, and 23 HeroRAT teams are now deployed in Mozambique. HeroRATS are cheaper to breed, train, feed, maintain and transport; the use of HeroRATS speeds up landmine clearance and reduces operational costs; the rats are highly intelligent and social creatures, with an highly developed sense of smell; they are adapted to the environment; and they love to perform repetitive search tasks in exchange for food rewards. Moreover, the African giant rat has a lifespan of eight years, much longer than other types of rats, and can be used for several years after the one year training period.

APOPO now has a proven, recognized approach—and the challenge to bring it to scale quickly across 11 of Africa’s most troubled countries. APOPO is demonstrating how to do so in Tanzania. It has established a certified animal training center in Morogoro. Skilled trainers from there then go out to the most affected parts of the country to help local people learn how to train and use the rats.

For further information (including technical reports, videos and articles), please visit the websites and

nature/wildlife films

The Curse of Copper

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 24, 2007

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The Curse of Copper

Kenya-born film makers, Jenny Sharman and Richard Jones (True Nature Films) won the ’Best Independent’ award at Missoula (IWFF) with their film ’The Curse of Copper’. The film also picked up a merit for music. Made in Ecuador, the film is having a very positive impact in drawing attention to the plight of a unique cloud forest and local communities that are being threatened by a Canadian mining company. The film is helping to stimulate a growing public campaign to try to stop this open cast copper mine from going ahead, but, as yet, the company continues to push forward with its plans. If you’d like to see the film, please go to


nature/wildlife films

"Everyone for Conservation"

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 16, 2007

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The Congolese film "Everyone for Conservation"(3 hrs) won the Merit Award for best Conservation initiative at the International Wildlife Film Festival, 2007.

The film was produced to bring about change in behavior and attitude critical for the protection of both human and wildlife populations. Produced by a Congolese production team, it is being disseminated by Congolese educators.

The premise is that awareness efforts must be grounded in the communities where the problems manifest themselves; the issues must be locally determined, the voices recognizable to the audiences that view the films, and produced in the language or languages of the region, in a manner and style that is culturally appropriate. Dissemination is at the community level, in group settings that empower people to think and communicate with each other through shared experience.


Tribal Bill-How it will affect our forests

Copy of message sent by retd IFS officers

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 13, 2007

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COPY of the message sent 11.7.07
Dear all fellow foresters,
We the retired Forest Officers have discussed overall impact of  the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (2 of 2007) and draft Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules, 2007.The Ministry of TribalAffairs Notification New Delhi, 19th June, 2007 has invited Objections or suggestions from all persons likely to be affected by the 6th of August 2007.Any objection or suggestion which may be received from any person in respect of the said draft rules within the period so specified shall be considered by the Central Government. Objections or suggestions, if any, may be addressed to the Joint Secretary tothe Government of India, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, 7th Floor, A–Wing, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi – 110001.
We foresters are concerned when we find that these rules are meant to hand back rights to tribals over land and forest produce that they have traditionally inhabited and used for sustenance and continue to do so even today.But a campaign, more covert than up front, by some wildlife groups, has instead turned the bill into a battle of people versus wildlife. The campaign has found friends in a set of parliament members who with their powerful reach in Delhi’s corridors have perhaps got away with scuttling the bill. The Union ministry of environment and forests has enjoined the battle. The Act is here to stay, but the finer details could be modified based on suggestions.Comments, objections and suggestions on the draft Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules, 2007, are being invited by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, New Delhi to reach by the 6th of August 2007. Comments can be sent by email too.
A copy of the Act as well as the draft rules can be viewed in the website http://www.tribal. <http://www.tribal.
Those of you who are familiar with the legal details please log on and post your comments
Shri SA Shah IFS (Retd.) and many forest officials like myself would like to request you to kindly consider the following points for research study. In case this information is available kindly share the findings with the undersigned. This will substantiate the myth that the Impact of Regularization of Unauthorized Cultivation would be postive on the economy of the affected tribals.
Salient points of study are given below.
  1. Present status of allotted forestlands: Have they improved in productivity or have they deteriorated? What was the quality of farming practices followed by the concerned forest dwellers?
  2. What has been the input to improve such lands? Has the soil improved? Was the soil analyzed? If so, what are the results of the analysis?
  3. What has been the annual income from such lands? Have they provided sustainable livelihood to the concerned tribals?
  4. Did the allotment of such lands cause any social tension?
  5. What has been the ecological and environmental impact of such small and scattered pieces of land under cultivation? These should include:- 1. Biodiversity 2. Fire 3. Grazing 4. Illicit cutting of trees 5. Erosion in the adjoining areas and 6. Margin effect.
  6. Did the allotment create social tensions in the community?
  7. Did the allotment of forestland prevent them from annual migration to the urbam areas close by?
  8. Did the allotment of forest land make the beneficiaries to send their children to school .regularly?

A line in reply will be highly appreciated.


S.K.Verma IFS (Retd.)
Former PCCF Rajasthan 
President- Green Arc Society, Udaipur &
Regional Convenor Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)Udaipur
Source :

Tiger Task Force Report

Tigers may be down to 1,300 in India

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 11, 2007

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Tigers may be down to 1,300

Aalarm bells begin to ring; States reluctant to accept statistics, responsibility

This alarming loss highlights the fact that never before has India had fewer tigers, even in 1972, when the census showed 1,827 tigers.

The current estimates have been arrived at as part of the all-India estimate of tigers conducted by Wildlife Institute of India - a task entrusted to them by Project Tiger. It may be recalled that on May 23, the Ministry of Environment and Forests released to the media tiger numbers for Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan - the rest detailed are expected to be made public sometime later in the year. ---------------
The enumeration shows that the big cat is severely depleted across its range - in some cases to the point of no return. For example, in Jharkhand(12), Chhattisgarh (25) and Bihar (20), the tiger is almost a write-off. Besides the abysmally low populations, insurgency plagues protected areas in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, so much so that they are out of administrative control. One can also forget about a safe haven for the tiger in the Northeast, except for Assam which has about 75 tigers, mainly concentrated in Kaziranga. The rest would not total over 25 spread over three parks - Namdapha has at the most five tigers, with not enough prey base even to sustain these, Dampha in Mizoram would have between three to five, Pakhui-Nameri in Arunachal being the best among them, with five to eight tigers. The marshy terrain of Sundarbans did not allow for a census by the WII, but a previous enumeration carried out by the Indian Statistical Institute showed that the reserve has no more than 65 tigers, while Buxa and Jaldapara in North Bengal has a low, unviable population.
Source :
Article by Prerna Singh Bindra on 5July 2007

Tribal Bill-How it will affect our forests

Comments by Ritwick Dutta, Wildlife Lawyer

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 10, 2007

Forum Post
Subject: Re: Draft Forest Rules - Objections.

The Amendment in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 by which the National Tiger Conservation Authority was set up as also the Forest Rights Act and the Rules provides for greater role of people in daclaration of National Parks, Sanctuaries and specifically in creation of critical wildlife habitats as well as Inviolate areas for wildlife conservation. However, the scheme is such that now if an area is to be declared as critical wildlife habitat, the Consent of the individuals as well as gram sabha will be required at almost every stage  i.e from relocation to acceptance of the relocation package. Thus the whole process is Consent driven. (This to me is fine since there is a need to ensure greater public participation in decisions which concerns the life of the people) Unfortunately, if the same area is to be opened up for mining or construction of a hydel power project or even SEZ, no such consent will be required. All that will be required is a "public Hearing", which too is not mandatory; the Panel for public hearing will comprise of District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate and no representative from the Panchayats or Gram Sabha and further the Rehabilatation and other issues need not be even shared with the public. The Project proponents need not explain as to why other alteratives have not been considered.
Thus while we would have effectively delayed or have made the process of creation of National Parks and Sanctuaries as also critical wildlife habitat difficult, there is no safeguard so far as protection of these areas are concerned. Thus, while the Forest Department has to follow the "consent" prosedure for declaration of the area, a Mining Company in order to mine the area need to follow the EIA procedure as contained in the highly diluted Environment Impact Assessment Procedure.
The proponents of the Forest Rights Act, have thus played into the hands of the Mining and Industrial lobby since National Parks and Sanctuaries are the only areas where any such actvity is prohibited. The Act also targets the weakest of all the State agencies i.e the Forest Department while it does not impact the Private Sector at all.....

Ritwick Dutta 
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