25 July 2013

Indian Owls vs Black Magic

How Black Magic is Threatening India's Owl Population

owl for salePhoto: © Abrar Ahmed
A round head, flat face, forward-facing eyes with some feathers around and the ability to rotate the head as much as 270 degrees in either direction. These are the distinguishing features that make owls instantly recognizable. But today, we humans are taking the lead in their habitat destruction by unprecedented tree cutting and illegal trading, according to a recent wildlife report. What is wrong with the human race? Do we have to destroy everything?
Dyed Owls 
Photo: © Abrar AhmedSpotted Owlet, Dyed Spotted Owlet with coloured eyes, and Dyed Spotted Owlet
For sale 
Photo: © Abrar Ahmed Spotted Owlet offered at Nakhas market, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
Owls are trapped and traded illegally in India because they are of great importance in many superstitious beliefs. Thus, these cute birds are used in black magic and sorcery. Referred to as ‘tantriks’, the black magic practitioners use owls and their various body parts in rituals and sacred ceremonies.
Body parts prescribed by a shaman (or tantrik) are the skull, bones, blood, claws, eyes, beak, liver, kidney, meat and eggshells. Some owl species with false “ear tufts” are supposed to bestow great magical powers and are therefore in great demand.
Owls parts for sale 
Photo: © Abrar Ahmed Owl parts for sale for folk medicinal use / black magic
Performance with owls' eggs 
Photo: © Girish V. JatharA tribal man performing using owl’s eggs in Maharasthra, India
The darkest time for owls in India is between mid-October and mid-November. This is the period when the great festival Diwali is celebrated and more owls disappear than at any other time. In this festival, the goddess of wealth and wisdom, Laxmi, is worshiped. The owl is regarded as the vehicle of Laxmi. Because owls are associated with wealth, the animals are sacrificed that day in the misguided belief that it will bring good luck, wealth and wisdom. The way this innocent wild animal is plundered to feed ignorant superstition is totally unacceptable.
Owl Trappers 
Photo: © Abrar AhmedOwl trappers
Photo: © George WangzhiyongTrapped owls
With the owls caught using bamboo poles, nets and various traps, their population is in serious danger. Bird catchers earn a lot and, getting paid up to 10,000 INR (USD 200-250), and thus try to catch this bird by any means. Out of 30 known species, 15 species are caught up in the trade: the spot-bellied eagle owl, spotted owlet, barn owl, Asian barred owlet, dusky eagle owl, collared owl, oriental scops owl, tawny fish owl, rock eagle owl, eastern grass owl, jungle owlet, brown fish owl, mottled wood owl, collared scops owl and the brown wood owl.
Photo: © Abrar AhmedOwls and owl parts confiscated from various sources (Kalander means street performers)
Photo: © Abrar Ahmed
Recently, a report titled 'Imperilled Custodians of the Night: A Study on Illegal Trade, Trapping and Use of Owls in India', written by Abrar Ahmed, was published by Traffic India, the wildlife trade-monitoring network of the WWF and IUCN. The report, based on various investigations and detailed studies, revealed how owl species are facing extinction because of black magic and the illegal trade. Even though the hunting and trading of Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India, still they are highly sought after by traders.
Perhaps we are not fully aware of the ecological importance of owls. As a natural form of pest control, these natural predators control rodent populations and maintain and balance the food chain.
Street show 
Photo: © Abrar AhmedA street performer (kalander) with an owl
Owls are birds of prey, as they hunt other living things for food. Their excellent night vision and superb hearing play an important role in locating and attacking prey silently in darkness. We should not hunt them or sacrifice them as the totems of clairvoyants and mystics. It is sad to learn how some non-essential traditions in India are conflicting with an enlightened modern life style.
Though based on religious superstition, this issue is quite difficult to wipe out, but to raise awareness, one does not need to be a part of an NGO. The most practical approach would be to inform the local authorities right away of any of such trading taking place in front of your eyes. Let this unfortunate bird not to be the victim of superstition any longer.
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owl

Courtesy: http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-black-magic-and-illegal-wildlife-trading-causing-dwindling-owl-population-india

23 July 2013

Indus River dolphin calves successfully rescued in eastern Pakistan

© WWF pakistan
© WWF Pakistan
© WWF Pakistan
Sukkur, Pakistan: A joint team of WWF-Pakistan and the Sindh Wildlife Department recently rescued two stray Indus River dolphin calves caught in a canal in eastern Pakistan.

The calves, a male and female, were stranded in the Dehar Wah canal for two hours before the successful rescue saw them released 80 km downstream.

Joint rescue teams from WWF-Pakistan and the Sindh Wildlife Department regularly carry out these operations. The stranded dolphins are carefully captured, placed on a stretcher, kept moist with water and wet towels, and transported in a sound-proof vehicle and released in the main stream of the Indus River.

The stranding of Indus River dolphins in irrigation canals is a potential threat to their existing population. Dolphins regularly travel back and forth into irrigation canals when canal gates are open and during canal closure the water level drops and dolphins become trapped in small pools with depleting fish supply.

Intensive fishing in canals during closure period also aggravates the risk of net entanglements of these endangered dolphins.

Since January 2013, four successful rescue operations have been carried out resulting in the rescue of five dolphins.

WWF-Pakistan launched the first phase of the “Indus River Dolphin Conservation Project” (IRDCP) in 2004 with the goal of preserving the dolphin’s genetic variability, conserving the biological diversity of the lower Indus River eco-system, ensuring sustainable use of river biological diversity and promoting actions to ease pollution and wasteful extraction of river resources, the second phase was launched in 2007.

The Indus River Dolphin Conservation Project focuses on the root causes of biodiversity loss by linking the protection of the Indus River Dolphin with measures in the agricultural and fisheries sectors.

Eco-tourism is also part of the project with dolphin watching tours and the new Indus Dolphin Conservation Centre in Sukkur. The project combines conservation work with the improvement of the livelihood of local communities.

The Indus River dolphin is one of the world's rarest mammal and most endangered cetaceans. A 2011 dolphin population survey estimated the population to be 1,297 individuals.

Courtesy: http://wwf.panda.org/?209334%2FIndus-River-dolphin-calves-successfully-rescued-in-eastern-Pakistan

21 July 2013

Thol to be thrilled

Publication: The Times Of India Ahmedabad; Date: Jul 20, 2013; Section: Front Page; Page: 1

Guj govt to kill Thol with rly track Allows Freight Corridor Close To Sanctuary Himanshu Kaushik | TNN

Ahmedabad: A Gujarat government decision allowing railway tracks within 700 metres of Thol bird sanctuary has ruffled many feathers.

    The state forest department has recently approved a proposal to allow tracks for a dedicated freight corridor, a move environment activists say will disturb the safe haven for winged visitors that throng the lake from across the globe. Officials say the decision is a violation of Supreme Court order and a notification of Union ministry of forests and environment. As per a SC judgment, no new infrastructure projects can be allowed within 10 km of a sanctuary till the state government earmarks an eco-sensitive zone.

    The state government has in-principle decided to have an area of 2 km around the sanctuary marked as eco-sensitive zone. Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) Corporation of India has undertaken the project to create additional rail infrastructure to provide an efficient, cost-effective transport system. The DFC will significantly reduce freight costs and with the shifting of freight trains on DFC it would generate line capacity for additional passenger trains.

    A member of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Prerna Bindra has in her report pointed out that the land use around Thol is changing rapidly with large residential and commercial complexes coming up in the vicinity. Bindra has suggested that eco-sensitive zone under the Environment Protection Act must be demarcated for the sanctuary prior to sanctioning the project.

    A study commissioned by NBWL was carried out recently to gauge the nature of threat and disturbance that the project might cause to the birds in Thol. Every year the sanctuary hosts cranes, geese, flamingos, pelicans, egrets, herons, spoonbills, ducks and whistling teals.

17 July 2013

Wildlife Institute of India to study tigers in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve

To know about density, abundance and demographic ratio of tigers, the wildlife wing of the forest department for the first time will implement a research project titled 'Long-term monitoring of tigers, co-predators and prey species in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) and adjoining landscapes'.
On June 25, the state government gave its go ahead to the Rs1.64 crore project which will be implemented by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, on 70:30 cost sharing basis between the state government and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The project, submitted by WII tiger scientist Bilal Habib, is for a five-year period and will be intensively implemented in five protected areas (PAs) and its corridors soon.
The PAs include TATR, Navegaon National Park, Nagzira, Bor and Chaprala wildlife sanctuaries. The study, to be conducted in two phases, will include capacity building of local staff for managing man-animal conflict.
"The memorandum of understanding (MoU) is ready and it will sent to the WII this week. Of the Rs1.64 crore, Rs46 lakh will be given by the state while remaining funds will come from the NTCA," said Virendra Tiwari, chief conservator of forests (CCF) & field director, TATR. In a letter to chief wildlife warden SWH Naqvi, the government has authorized field director to sign the MOU.
Tiwari told TOI that TATR landscape is one of the most important landscapes in Central India and is crucial for long-term conservation of tigers in the region. The area has witnessed highest number of conflict cases in the recent past. The study would investigate dynamics of tigers, co-predators and their prey.
TATR has been extensively mapped. Hence, in the first year, mapping of current land-use pattern, infrastructure, mining areas, villages, roads, power transmission lines, demographic profile, livestock population, dispersal corridors, prey and predator occupancy etc in the landscape surrounding TATR will be done.
The first year of the project will evaluate these factors to provide crucial information about surrounding landscape in terms of capability to sustain tiger dispersal or act as corridor for tigers dispersing from TATR.
The WII researchers will also study population density apart from abundance and demographic structure of tigers. Capture-recapture, distance sampling method and spatially explicit approaches will be used to achieve the objective.
"The exercise will be carried out on an annual basis and hence there will be no need to carry the Phase IV exercise to monitor tigers during the duration of the project," officials told TOI.
Officials informed that as part of the exercise, five tigers and as many leopards will be fixed with satellite radio-collars within TATR. Monitoring of village relocation sites will also be done as these will provide the impact of relocation. In TATR, first relocation happened in 1975 followed by 2007 and 2013.
During the entire monitoring programme, two-three such cycles will be carried out. Besides, socio-economic aspects of tiger and leopard conflict and village surveys once in three years will also be conducted. Food habits of tigers and co-predators will also be part of the study.

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN Jul 16, 2013, 01.09AM IST

- See more at: http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/category/thesaurus/wildlife#sthash.UuUGABG5.dpuf

- See more at: http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/category/thesaurus/wildlife#sthash.UuUGABG5.dpuf

26 May 2013

Shocking betrayal on Western Ghats

J.B.S. Haldane, the celebrated 19th-century scientist and humanist who quit England protesting its imperialistic invasion of Suez to become an Indian citizen, once said: “Reality is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we CAN suppose!” I could never have imagined that you would be party to a report such as that of the High Level Working Group on Western Ghats, but, then, reality is indeed stranger than we can suppose!
In our report to the Ministry of Environment & Forests, based on extensive discussions and field visits, we had advocated a graded approach with a major role for grassroots-level inputs for safeguarding the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats. You have rejected this framework and in its place, you advocate a partitioning amongst roughly one-third of what you term natural landscapes, to be safeguarded by guns and guards, and two-third of so-called cultural landscapes to be thrown open to development, such as what has spawned the Rs.35,000-crore illegal mining scam of Goa.
This is like trying to maintain oases of diversity in a desert of ecological devastation. Ecology teaches us that such fragmentation would lead, sooner rather than later, to the desert overwhelming the oases. It is vital to think of maintenance of habitat continuity, and of an ecologically and socially friendly matrix to ensure long-term conservation of biodiversity-rich areas, and this is what we had proposed.
Moreover, freshwater biodiversity is far more threatened than forest biodiversity and lies largely in what you term cultural landscapes. Freshwater biodiversity is also vital to livelihoods and nutrition of large sections of our people.
That is why we had provided a detailed case study of the Lote Chemical Industry complex in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, where pollution, exceeding all legal limits, has devastated fisheries so that 20,000 people have been rendered jobless, while only 11,000 have obtained industrial employment. Yet, the government wants to set up further polluting industries in the same area, and has therefore deliberately suppressed its own Zonal Atlas for Siting of Industries.
Your report shockingly dismisses our constitutionally-guaranteed democratic devolution of decision-making powers, remarking that local communities can have no role in economic decisions. Not surprisingly, your report completely glosses over the fact, reported by us, that while the government takes absolutely no action against the illegal pollution of Lote, it had invoked police powers to suppress perfectly legitimate and peaceful protests against pollution on as many as 180 out of 600 days in 2007-09.
India’s cultural landscape harbours many valuable elements of biodiversity. Fully 75 per cent of the population of lion-tailed macaque, a monkey species confined to the Western Ghats, thrives in the cultural landscape of tea gardens. I live in the city of Pune and scattered in my locality are a large number of banyan, peepal and gular trees; trees that belong to genus Ficus, celebrated in modern ecology as a keystone resource that sustains a wide variety of other species. Through the night I hear peacocks calling, and when I get up and go to the terrace I see them dancing.
It is our people, rooted in India’s strong cultural traditions of respect for nature, who have venerated and protected the sacred groves, the Ficus trees, the monkeys and the peafowl.
Apparently, all this is to be snuffed out. It reminds me of Francis Buchanan, an avowed agent of British imperialism, who wrote in 1801 that India’s sacred groves were merely a contrivance to prevent the East India Company from claiming its rightful property.
It would appear that we are now more British than the British and are asserting that a nature-friendly approach in the cultural landscape is merely a contrivance to prevent the rich and powerful of the country and of the globalised world from taking over all lands and waters to exploit and pollute as they wish while pursuing lawless, jobless economic growth. It is astonishing that your report strongly endorses such an approach. Reality is indeed stranger than we can suppose!
Madhav Gadgil, Chairman, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel
An open letter from Madhav Gadgil says Kasturirangan panel report will rob the region of its biodiversity

Courtesy: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/shocking-betrayal-on-western-ghats/article4726179.ece

6 May 2013

The much awaited report of the high level working group on Western Ghats

The much awaited crucial report on Western Ghats prepared by K Kasturirangan-led 10-member high-level working group has been submitted to the environment ministry. It proposes protecting 90 per cent of the region's 'natural landscape' as ecological sensitive area.
High Level Working Group presents report on Western Ghats to MoEF; proposes protecting 90 per cent of the region’s ‘natural landscape’ as ecological sensitive area. The Western Ghats is a biological treasure trove that is endangered, and it needs to be “protected and regenerated, indeed celebrated for its enormous wealth of endemic species and natural beauty” – says the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest’s High Level Working Group, whose much awaited report on the Ghats was presented to Ms.Jayanthi Natarajan, Minister of State (IC) for Environment & Forests. The 10- member Working Group is headed by Dr. K Kasturirangan (Member, Planning Commission) and includes environmental experts and other professionals as its members.


19 April 2013

Amreli’s Lions Distressed By Firing Practice

April 2013: In February and March every year, Gujarat’s Amreli district police conducts firing practice in Khambha town, barely half a kilometre away from the Mityala Wildlife Sanctuary, home to seven Asiatic lions (as per the census conducted in 2010).
In addition, the region acts as an important corridor for larger lion populations in the district. The annual firing practice sees around 70 policemen of various ranks firing 32 rounds each day: a total of 950 cops firing no less than 30,000 rounds in the area over the course of the practice session. The sound of the gunshots is naturally distressing to the lions, which flee the region, sometimes venturing into neighbouring farms looking for livestock to hunt. “We have written to the concerned government departments to find an alternate firing range as this one is very close to the wildlife sanctuary,” Vimalsinh Rathod, a wildlife activist in Khambha told the Times of India. He hopes such activities are banned in a 10 km. periphery around the sanctuary, and that it will be declared a silent and eco-sensitive zone.
Source: Sanctuary Asia.