1 Tahrcountry Musings: August 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

It is uncharitable to paint Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ant-wildlife

Lot of recriminations is doing the rounds, after the recent reconstitution of Indian Board for Wild Life. Lot of apprehensions have been voiced by conservationists regarding the manner in which reconstitution has been done. Many see is it as an attempt to plant guys who are “yes men” for giving clearances to development projects. I think it is carrying things a wee bit too far. The Prime Minister may be a pro-development man and a go getter if he makes a decision, but it is uncharitable to paint him as anti-wildlife. You don’t have to look beyond Gujarat, to see what I am driving at.

The infamous lions poaching case of 2007 in Gujarat hogged the headlines in press across India. Between February and March 2007, organized poachers from Madhya Pradesh had killed eight Asiatic lions in and around the Gir National Park. Narendra Modiji, who was the chief minister of Gujarat, at that time, visited the area twice. Know of any other Chief Minister, who has visited a poaching spot even once? He gave full support to the team of investigators. He was not in the denial mood which is the wont of politicians. He sought help from outside sources also. WPSI Executive Director Belinda Wright chipped in with help for scientific forensic investigation.  Chief Minister himself was monitoring the progress of the case regularly. The Gujarat government appointed special prosecutors at all levels up to the Supreme Court to pursue the case. All these resulted in conviction of all 39 accused, a rare occurrence in India.

Yes, I think, you can put Narendra Modiji on the right track if you convince him. That is your job, environmentalists. Look at the bright side of things and work with a positive attitude. You cannot blame the Prime Minister for toeing the development line, in his effort to build a dynamic and prosperous India.

PMO will look at your concerns, if it is genuine. A few days back I sent a representation to the Prime Minister, regarding the plight of wildlife trained forest officers in India. They are given the short shrift, and incompetent, untrained officers posted in wildlife reserves across India, at the behest of politicians, who look for pliant officers. It is a shame that after spending huge amounts of taxpayers’ money, the trained officers have to sit in office as pen pushers. Others are doing jobs that have nothing to doing with wildlife. This does not augur well for India’s wildlife. PMO has forwarded my representation to ministry of environment for follow-up. They immediately informed me about what is going on. I am sure something positive will come out of this.

Chinese traffickers spell doom for African elephants

A new  report, called Out of Africa; Criminalisation of the African Ivory Trade, commissioned by Born Free USA and C4ADS (a nonprofit organisation that is dedicated to data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting of conflict and security issues worldwide), has come up with some disturbing findings about role of Chinese gangs in the criminalization of African ivory trade.

The report points out that the majority of the illegal ivory trade is dominated by a small number of gangs spearheaded by Chinese and that the majority of the ivory is shipped via just 100 large annual consignments that make up 70-80 per cent of the trade. Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar are the ports of exit while the top three airports in the chain are Nairobi, Addis Ababa, and Johannesburg.

Adam M Roberts, CEO of The Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA said, approximately 229,729 elephants were killed and trafficked in fewer than six years.

Read the full report HERE

Friday, August 29, 2014

A worldwide assessment of where roads should be built and should not be built

It was with great fascination that I read a new paper on roads that appeared in journal Nature.The researchers William F. Laurance, Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, Sean Sloan, Christine S. O’Connell, Nathan D. Mueller, Miriam Goosem, Oscar Venter, David P. Edwards, Ben Phalan, Andrew Balmford, Rodney Van Der Ree and Irene Burgues Arrea have come up with a 'global roadmap' for prioritising road building across the world. The study will help planners to balance the competing demands of development and environmental protection. It will also help to limit the environmental costs of road building while maximizing its benefits for human race. Read this against the fact that More than 25 million kilometres of new roads will be built worldwide by 2050.

Professor William Laurance of James Cook University in Australia, the study's lead author says "Roads often open a Pandora's Box of environmental problems, but we need roads for our societies and economies, so the challenge is to decide where to put new roads and where to avoid them."

Professor Andrew Balmford from the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology who is a co-author says “"For particular regions the approach can be improved by adding detailed local information but we think our overall framework is a powerful one."

Journal Reference:
William F. Laurance, Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, Sean Sloan, Christine S. O’Connell, Nathan D. Mueller, Miriam Goosem, Oscar Venter, David P. Edwards, Ben Phalan, Andrew Balmford, Rodney Van Der Ree, Irene Burgues Arrea. A global strategy for road building. Nature, 2014, Published online27 August 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A model that explains how geckos move and cling on to walls and ceiling

                                            Pic credit: Oregon State University

Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a model that explains how geckos move and cling on to walls and ceiling. Geckos, spiders and some other insects have branched hairs called “seta” that can instantly turn their stickiness on and off, and even “unstick” their feet without using any energy.

The “smart” adhesion system allows the geckos to run at 20 body-lengths per second. The scientist added that the forces provided by the seta could actually support 50 times the body weight of the gecko.

Details appear in the latest issue of Journal of Applied Physics

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

We are facing a “biological holocaust” warns Dr E.O. Wilson

Dr E.O. Wilson, 85-year old Harvard University scientist considered as world’s foremost authority on biodiversity has warned that we are staring at the face of a “biological holocaust”. The renowned scientist was talking to the interviewers of journal of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He had a prescription in mind.

“I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish,” said Dr Wilson. Dr Wilson’s dream is to see humans essentially withdraw from half of the Earth. Giving an exposition of his “Half Earth” theory, he said: “It’s been in my mind for years that people haven’t been thinking big enough – even conservationists.

Dr Wilson added that these “corridors” he had in mind running vertically down continents will let species move north as temperatures rise, for example, while those going horizontally will enable species to move east as rainfall declines in the west. We need large corridors at the landscape levels as “islandisation” can have a disastrous impact on wildlife,

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Elan Filler, a 7th grader cracks the mystery of fungus infections

A fungus called Cryptococcus gattii is causing untold misery to lot of patients in Southern California. This has been going on for years. No one had a clue to where it came from. The suspects were trees.

Elan Filler, a 7th grader was looking for a science fair project. Her dad Dr. Scott Filler who is an infectious disease specialist at the University of California ran in to Springer's advisor Dr Heitman at a conference, and told him about Elan and her project. Dr Heitman took it up with Springer. Soon Elan was swabbing tree trunks and growing out the fungus in Petri dishes as per plans chalked out. Springer analyzed the genetic fingerprints of fungi in the samples. To the delight of scientists C. gattii from three trees, Canary Island pine, New Zealand pohutukawa and American sweet gum, matched almost exactly with C. gattii from infected patients.

Details are published in the latest issue of PLOS Pathogens. Elan Filler has been named as an author on the study

Friday, August 22, 2014

What a shame - Zambia has lifted the 2013 ban on hunting

Zambia has lifted the 2013 ban on hunting.  Hunting wildlife, with the exception of big cats, is now legal. Disturbing fact is that hunting of elephants will be allowed.  Read it against the report from scientists that an estimated 100,000 elephants in Africa were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012 and their numbers are declining by two per cent to three per cent every year. More animals are being killed than their recruitment. It is a real shame

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Genetic proof of new variety of tarsier

                                           Pic credit: University of Kansas

Researchers at the University of Kansas' Biodiversity Institute have established the presence of a new variety of tarsier. Pronounced as (tar-SEER). Tarsiers are completely carnivorous, a unique phenomenon among primates.

Details appear in the latest issue of journal the journal PLOS ONE

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Never buy a Dell computer- Their service sucks

Guys, if you are planning to buy a computer never go for Dell. I had unpleasant experience with their third rate service.

Last week for no apparent reason, my computer failed to hook on to internet. I attached the modem to another laptop and it worked flawlessly. Just to make make doubly sure I took the modem to the provider BSNL and they hooked it on to their computer. Again there was seamless connectivity.

I rang up Dell service and explained my predicament. The guys took me through the whole gamut of trouble shooting over the phone. As the need was mine I stuck to it even though I had other pressing affairs on hand. After lot of seesaw activity, the guy told me that there was no problem with hardware and the problem could be software related. They made me re install Windows 7 which had come preinstalled. It took some more of my precious time. Even after reinstalling there was no connectivity. BSNL guys were absolutely sure that the problem was with the computer. After further round of tinkering the DEll guy told me that the problem is software and they do not attend to software problems. What utter nonsense. The computer came with windows 7 preinstalled by Dell as operating system and the system was covered under warranty. Thy have a moral responsibility to look at the problems. I got a wee bit wild and asked the guy whether I am supposed to throw away the computer which is still under warranty. I could hear him talk to another  guy and after some deliberation the Dell guy told me that a technician will come to my place and attend to the problems. Another 24 hours have elapsed and the technician is still to come and do the repairs.

So, guys, give a wide berth to Dell computers. You have better options with better service.

Undercover operation foils wildlife trafficking in Canada

The Fish and Wildlife Enforcement officials in Alberta, Canada have smashed a wildlife trafficking gang after a two-year undercover operation. Officers seized 322 packages of moose and elk meat, worth about $6,500 on the black market.  $1,105 in cash and a 2013 Ford F-150 truck was also seized. The officers added that unregulated trade in wildlife fuels black market demand which could in turn lead to more poaching.
Yes, little drops of water make the mighty ocean. If all the countries of the world join together in covert and overt actions we can certainly nip the menace of poaching.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Wildlife Ecology, Conservation, and Management, 3rd Edition

Wildlife Ecology, Conservation, and Management, 3rd Edition
John M. Fryxell, Anthony R. E. Sinclair, Graeme Caughley
ISBN: 978-1-118-29106-1
528 pages
June 2014, Wiley-Blackwell

The third edition of the magnificent book, Wildlife Ecology, Conservation, and Management is out and I had a chance to glance through it. Several improvements have been incorporated in this edition.

The authors have introduced a series of modules introducing R to readers and set up a server link to Wildlife Ecology, Conservation, and Management software examples.Worked examples enable readers to practice calculations explained in the text and to develop a thorough understanding of key statistical procedures and population models commonly used in wildlife ecology and management.

 Four new chapters have been introduced. The four new chapters cover: habitat use and selection; habitat fragmentation, movement and corridors; climate change, and; evolutionary response to disturbance. A thorough updating of all chapters has been done to present important areas of wildlife research and management with examples of recent advances.

I recommend the book unreservedly to wildlife managers, park rangers, biological resource managers, and those working in ecotourism.

Friday, August 08, 2014

All ivory market must close down, new study recommends

Legal Ivory Trade in a Corrupt World and its Impact on African Elephant Populations
Article first published online: 7 AUG 2014, Conservation Biology

Elephant poaching is at an all time high in Africa. Against the backdrop of this disturbing trend, the contents of this paper assume great significance.

To save elephants, all ivory markets must close and all ivory stockpiles must be destroyed, according to this paper by Elizabeth Bennet published in Conservation Biology. Illegal hunting of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) for ivory is causing rapid decline in their populations. Since 2007, illegal ivory trade has more than doubled. Bennett says corruption enables the laundering of illegal ivory into legal or potentially legal markets. Poachers and traffickers can rapidly pay their way out of trouble, so the financial incentives to break the law heavily outweigh those of abiding by it. Maintaining reliable permitting systems and leak-proof chains of custody in this context is challenging, and effective management breaks down. Once illegal ivory has entered the legal trade, it is difficult or impossible for enforcement officers to know what is legal and illegal. Bennett signs off saying “If we are to conserve remaining wild populations, we must close all markets because, under current levels of corruption, they cannot be controlled in a way that does not provide opportunities for illegal ivory being laundered into legal markets.”

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Conservation – Facing the uncertain future

I read yesterday, a very good report prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), titled Considering Multiple Futures: Scenario Planning to Address Uncertainty in Natural Resource Conservation. The report includes 12 case studies representing a range of scenario planning approaches for natural resource and conservation issues.

 The report is intended as a guide to natural resource managers’ to plan for a variety of long-term threats to America’s wildlife and habitats. Even though the report is meant for USA, it has inputs that have relevance the world over.

Service Director Dan Ashe said “Scenario planning helps environmental professionals prepare for the future in the midst of uncertainty, and provides conservation leaders with the tools they need to respond to these threats.”

If you are interested in having a look at the report, download it HERE

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

New frog species from Malaysia

The newly discovered frog from Malaysia named Hylorana centropeninsularis

                                          Pic credit:Chan et al. 

Read the details in Herpetologica

Kin Onn Chan, Rafe M. Brown, Kelvin K.P. Lim, Norhayati Ahmad and Lee Grismer. 2014. A New Species Of Frog (Amphiba: Anura: Ranidae) of the Hylarana Signata Complex from Peninsular Malaysia. Herpetologica, 70(2), 2014, 228–240 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

To bait or not to bait

To bait or not to bait: A comparison of camera-trapping methods for estimating leopard (Panthera pardus) density
Byron D. du Preez, Andrew J. Loveridge , David W. Macdonald
Biological Conservation
Volume 176, August 2014, Pages 153–161
Leopards have lost a third of their historical range, and their current CITES status is ‘Near Threatened’ even though they have the largest natural distribution among felids. In this paper the authors describe the pros and cons of normal camera trapping versus baited camera trapping in getting accurate data on leopard populations
unbaited camera-trapping has the disadvantage of low capture rates which in turn affects the accuracy of the resultant density calculations. Another disadvantage is that dependent cubs are underrepresented in the data skewing demographic structure.

In their research the scientists found that baited camera-trapping significantly increased leopard capture rates, as well as recording dependent cubs. To boot it was also cost effective. It has the potential to accurately survey unmonitored populations; including where their density is too low to determine accurately via other means.