Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The importance of landscape history

Even though I was hooked on to my passion for hiking, flying and skydiving during the course of my sojourn, I found enough time at night to read. I got an opportunity to read a wonderful book by landscape historian Prof Tom Williamson. The book was borrowed from a British acquaintance.

Prof Tom Williamson has authored an important, path breaking book. According to Dr Williamson far from being 'natural', nature and the countryside have for centuries been influenced by activities of humans. Because of this fact we need a better understanding of the human history of important habitats in order manage them into the future. The book examines the impact of social and economic organization on the English landscape and biodiversity against backdrop of agricultural revolution, landed estates, the formation of large-scale industry and the growth of towns and suburbs. Even though the thrust is on England it has inputs that matters the world over. The author dug in to game books, diaries, churchwardens' accounts and even folk songs for his work. The outcome is an original perspective on the complexity and ambiguity of man/animal relationships in this post-medieval period.

Dr Williamson says “"What remains certain is that nature has never existed outside of or independent from the activities of men. The nature lies embedded in the social and the economic: its history is largely, though not entirely, that of successive forms of social, economic, and agricultural organization.
"We must accept the essentially unnatural character of our natural heritage, and we must also celebrate what some have evocatively termed the 'unofficial countryside', of gravel pits, wasteland and sewage farms. But we must also strive to preserve what remains of our 'traditional' countryside, for cultural reasons as much as for biological ones." He also argues that recreating lost habitats needs to be done with an historical perspective and warns of the danger of a one size fits all approach.

Published: 05-12-2013 Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
 Extent: 296
ISBN: 9781441124869
 Imprint: Bloomsbury Academic
 Illustrations: 25

Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reckoning the impact of social values on spatial conservation priorities

Here is a good paper on coming to terms with impact of social values on spatial conservation priorities. Impact of social values has a very important place, in the scheme of things, while devising conservation strategies. The scientists used conservation planning software Zonation to arrive at some interesting conclusions.  Conservation planners will find the paper very useful.

Integrating Biological and Social Values When Prioritizing Places for Biodiversity Conservation
A paper by
Conservation Biology, Volume 28, Issue 4, pages 992–1003, August 2014
  The cascading impact of social values on spatial conservation priorities has received little attention from scientists and is poorly understood. Here the scientists present an approach that incorporates quantitative data on social values for conservation and social preferences for development into spatial conservation planning. They undertook a peoples’ participation GIS survey to spatially represent social values and development preferences and used species distribution models for 7 threatened fauna species to represent biological values. These spatially explicit data were incorporated in the conservation planning software Zonation to examine how conservation priorities changed with the inclusion of social data. Integrating spatially explicit information about social values and development preferences with biological data produced prioritizations that differed spatially from the solution based on only biological data. However, the integrated solutions protected a similar proportion of the species’ distributions, indicating the fact that Zonation effectively combined the biological and social data to produce socially feasible conservation solutions of approximately equivalent biological value. The scientists were able to identify areas of the landscape where synergies and conflicts between different value sets are likely to occur. They emphasize that Identification of these synergies and conflicts will allow decision makers to devise communication strategies to specific areas and in turn ensure effective community engagement and positive conservation outcomes.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Now, that’s what I call exemplary punishment

Poachers in Africa usually get away with light punishments.  Not anymore. The judiciary is pouncing on poachers.

In a decision hailed by conservationists across the globe, a poacher from South Africa has been sentenced to the heaviest penalty possible now, 77 years, for killing three rhino calves in the Kruger National Park (KNP).
The South African court also held the poacher, Mandla Chauke, responsible for the death of his accomplice. The accomplice was killed by park rangers in the shoot-out following the poaching.  The court convicted Chauke for murder also.

The verdict has come as a shot in the arm for the embattled park rangers who go through extreme ordeals in the course of duty.

Poverty alleviation,close links with local communities, concern for their welfare  and condign, speedy punishments for poachers, hold the keys to future conservation strategies

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Arabian tahr- Exciting news

My friends in UAE, has some exciting news regarding endangered arabian tahr. Management of Nature Conservation (MNC), has done some admirable piece of work in ex-situ conservation.100 animals were born this season, in this facility. The centre is expecting five more births before the season ends. The highlight is a twin birth; a rare occurrence in Arabian tahr. The centre has 425 Arabian tahrs, believed to be the world’s largest Arabian tahr population in captivity.

A rare occurrence. Pic of twin tahrs born in Management of Nature Conservation facility
Pic credit: MNC

Thursday, July 10, 2014

out, travelling

I will be travelling to areas with no internet connectivity for the next few days. Consequently there will be no update till 26th.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Cookies, citizen science and robust research methods to track the diversity of ant species

This is brilliant. Scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Florida have combined cookies, citizen science and robust research methods to track the diversity of ant species across the United States. The method has helped the scientists to collect more data, more quickly, from more places than a research team could do otherwise. The protocol involved Pecan Sandies cookies and sealable plastic bags, with specific instructions of what should be done. More than 1,000 participants, with samples from all 50 states, have taken part in the project since its launch in 2011.

The project increased the public's ecological literacy and the criticisms that public involvement made citizen science data unreliable was turned on its head. It emphatically depicted that citizen science is very reliable if properly guided.

Details of the study appears in the open-access journal Ecosphere published online on July 7

Friday, July 04, 2014

Cause for alarm- Disturbing increase in Thai ivory trade

A survey by TRAFFIC has revealed a near trebling of the number of ivory items for sale in the past 18 months and a sharp rise in the number of outlets selling ivory in Bangkok. The quantity of ivory found far exceeds the limited supply available. Thailand permits legal trade in ivory from domesticated Asian Elephants in Thailand. This is the loophole used by unscrupulous elements.

“As TRAFFIC’s latest market research demonstrates, Thailand’s efforts to regulate local ivory markets have failed: it is time for the authorities to face the facts—their nation’s ivory markets continue to be out of control and fuel the current African Elephant poaching crisis. Without swift and decisive action to address glaring legal loopholes, this unacceptable situation will continue,” said Naomi Doak, TRAFFIC’s Co-ordinator for the Greater Mekong region.

The findings are published in TRAFFIC report:  Polishing off the ivory: Surveys of Thailand’s ivory market

If you are interested in reading the report click HERE

Thursday, July 03, 2014

World's protected areas are not doing enough

 Scientists from James Cook University, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Queensland, Stanford University, BirdLife International, the International Union for Nature Conservation, and other organizations have come up with the disturbing finding that the world's protected areas are not doing enough to protect the world's threatened  biodiversity. 85 percent of world's 4,118 threatened mammals, birds, and amphibian species are not adequately protected in existing protected areas.  Dr. Oscar Venter is the lead author of the study.

Dr James Watson, WCS’s Climate Change Program Director and a Principle Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, and senior author on the study said "The problem is that countries tend to favour land that is cheap to protect when establishing new parks, instead of focusing on land that is important for wildlife.”

Professor Hugh Possingham of the University of Queensland adds “By formalizing the interdependence of protecting both wild terrestrial areas and threatened species, we can greatly increase the chances of maintaining Earth’s biological diversity for future generations. When these goals are combined, countries are much more likely to create new parks in biologically threatened areas, which will lead to long-term dividends for global conservation.”

The authors of the study are: Oscar Venter of James Cook University and the University of Queensland; Richard Fuller of the University of Queensland; Daniel B. Segan of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland; Josie Carwardine of CSIRO Ecosystem Science; Thomas Brooks of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the University of the Philippines, and the University of Tasmania; Stuart H.M. Butchart of BirdLife International; Moreno Di Marco of the Global Mammal Assessment Program, Sapienza Universit√° di Roma; Takuya Iwamura of Stanford University; Liana Joseph of the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society; Damien O’Grady of James Cook University; Hugh P. Possingham of the University of Queensland and Imperial College London; Carlo Rondinini of Global Mammal Assessment Program, Sapienza Universit√° di Roma; Robert J. Smith of the University of Kent; Michelle Venter of James Cook University; and James E.M. Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland.

The details of the study appears in the latest issue of journal PLOS Biology

Saturday, June 28, 2014

World's first fully recyclable paper cup

                                               Pic credit: Jane Mingay/Green Your Cup

 British entrepreneur and engineer Martin Myerscough, has come up with world's first fully recyclable paper cup. The innovation has the potential to divert millions of cups away from landfill.

Conventional paper cups are made from paper laminated with plastic. This aspect makes them difficult to recycle. The plastic layer is intended to keep the drink warm and stop the paper from getting wet.  Since separating the lining from the cup is very cumbersome, most companies do not bother about it. They send them straight to land fillings instead.

The new cup has a thin film liner that is designed to separate easily from the paper in the recycling process. The left over paper can be easily recycled. It can come back to us in the form of newsprint.

The innovator Myerscough said: "I always thought it was such a waste that disposable coffee cups couldn't be easily recycled. In these times of limited resources and diminishing landfill space, a single-use cup that can't be recycled is an indulgence we just cannot afford. I hope Green Your Cup will make a difference to how people think about the wastefulness of some of our everyday habits “.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Discarded android phones and conservation

Here is another use of technology to keep poachers at bay. Rainforest Connection (RFCx), a San Francisco-based non-profit startup, in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has developed a technology using old Android phones to monitor audio signals associated with logging and poaching. The system automatically alerts authorities who can rush in to stop the crime. Initially this will be deployed in the endangered rainforests of Central Africa. The system was field-tested last year in Indonesia's West Sumatra and gave very encouraging results.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The bullet man bites the bullet

This blog usually does not deviate from wildlife affairs. Today I am going to make a departure. This is to eulogize the Prime Minister of India Shri: Narendra Modi, who is a no nonsense man and a go-getter

In government circles Mr Modi is known as, the bullet man. While dealing with government secretaries he wants them to come up with bullet points portraying succinctly the targets, what has been achieved, what remains to be done and what are the constraints. He has a penchant for power point presentations that puts the points across without any ambiguity. He frowns at secretaries coming up with voluminous files and trying to access the details from them. He is also stickler for timing. He comes to his office well in advance and wants the others to report in time. He gives lot of leeway to officers in their functioning and encourages original thinking. He has ensured that officers with proven mettle remain in their post for at least five years. For him there is no sweeping of problems under the carpet. They have to be dealt with head on. I am sure it is going to be a carrot and stick policy. All these augurs well for the future of India.

The bullet man recently bit the bullet nonchalantly by hiking railway fares. The railway is in shambles. Successive governments pandered to the vote bank and did not have the will to raise the fares, which in turn landed the railway in its pathetic state now. The only way forward is to raise the fares and ensure good governance.

As a former government officer, I am impressed by the actions of a dynamic leader. No wonder right thinking men in the opposition like Shashi Tharoor and Jayram Ramesh recently acknowledged the good fall outs of Narendra Modi’s style of working, even though they have sharp differences with him from ideological points of view.

I wish the Prime Minister the very best in his endeavour to build a dynamic and prosperous India.

A writing competition for budding conservationists

Pete Bethune, founder of marine conservation organization, Earthrace, is a well known figure in international conservation circles. Pete is a world-record holder for the fastest trip around the world in a powerboat and is an avid supporter of marine life conservation. He is also the author of two best-selling books. The book Whale Warrior covers his time in Antarctica and is a treat to read.

Pete believes that youngsters are the key to future success of conservation. He founded the Earthrace Junior Activists Club in 2008. This club is run by Earthrace volunteers Alison Banks, Natalie Borghardt and Junior Activist Captain, 17-year-old Zach Affolter. The club has over 1,200 young members.

In an effort to encourage a growing network of children and young people from around the world who care about preserving and protecting the oceans Pete is launching a writing competition. Anyone up to the age of 18 can submit an essay or short story of no more than 500 words based on the theme ‘what the oceans mean to me’.  There are four age categories for the ocean writing challenge:  Under 10; 10-12 years, 13-15 years; and 16-18 years. The first prize is Earthrace remote control boat. Other prizes include a remote control shark, signed copies of Pete’s book Whale Warrior, Junior Activist t-shirts, caps, bumper stickers, signed posters, plush Maui’s dolphin toys and wristbands.

Entries should be sent by email to alison@earthrace.net by the closing date of 31 August 2014. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bumblebee hummingbird

Here is a beautiful recording of Bumblebee hummingbird (Atthis heloisa) captured by by Roberto Pedraza Ruiz at the Sierra Gorda Mexico

Rare video capture of Siberian tiger by Chinese fishermen

While fishing in the Ussuri River, which acts as a border between Russia and China, two Chinese fishermen got a prize catch on their mobile - A Siberian tiger swimming. Have a look at this rare video