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Posts Tagged ‘Poaching’

This week India began its country-wide tiger census, which is held once every four years.  Over seven days, experts will be tracking tigers to see if numbers have increased from the official figure of 1,706 as reported by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Though hopes are high that tiger numbers have increased, the reality is that poaching is on the increase.  The Wildlife Protection Society of India reported that the poaching of tigers in 2013 is at a seven-year high.  As the year comes to a close, 39 deaths due to poaching have been recorded in India (and while the total number of tiger deaths is less than the 76 for 2013, versus 89 last year, the increase in poaching is alarming).

[photo credit: simple.wikipedia.org ]

[photo credit: simple.wikipedia.org ]

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has said that proximity of human settlement with tiger habitats is a major reason for poaching. There are about 762 villages with 48,549 families in the core/critical tiger habitats across the country (and, I would add, in my non-expert opinion, that high demand from China and other Asian nations is probably the major reason).

A research study published last month in the journal PLOS ONE found that human settlements and intervention are negatively impacting tiger movements.   Many tigers are found in small, protected parks in India, and their survival depends on improving and increasing the connectivity between these areas via tiger corridors.  Tigers can go 650 kilometers between protected areas, so creating wildlife corridors are just as important as having tiger reserves.

These isolated protected areas are too small to even hold demographically viable populations of tigers.  The report’s authors stated that adult tigers live in areas that are less than 7 percent of their historical range.

Having just been in Kanha National Park, in central India, and seeing the number of villages and people surrounding it, I was unsurprised to hear of the impact of humans on tigers.  The reality in India and many other places is that there are simply a lot of people and dwindling wild lands.

chitvan village

Local village outside Kanha National Park, MP, India [photo credit: Suzanne York]

But that’s the situation in which we have to work.  And it’s important that local people are vested in protecting nature.

Valmik Thapar, a tiger conservationist, said in a recent interview that India should look to Africa for the best innovative wildlife tourism model to conserve wildlife.  “We should learn from Africa. Their wildlife policies allow locals to manage a large part of the land for wildlife.  We don’t even match up to the ‘A’ of Africa when it comes to preserving and conserving our wildlife.”

The pressure from the illegal trade in animals is enormous, and add to that human encroachment, habitat loss, development, and economic globalization and it will take all hands on deck to save tigers.  Even the best conservation models in Africa are struggling in the face of rampant poaching of elephants and rhinos.

It is in the world’s interest to help protect the remaining tigers in what little habitat remains for them.   Cracking down on poaching (especially international syndicates) and an all-out education program (see this example in China) in countries that consume trafficked animal parts must be top priorities.

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[While the post below, originally written for my work blog 6 Degrees of Population, isn’t specifically on India, it does highlight the increase in poaching of endangered species around the world that must be stopped.]

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During that 15 minute coffee break you took this morning, somewhere across the ocean an elephant was killed.  It is estimated that every 15 minutes an elephant is slaughtered, about 40,000 annually.

It makes you wonder how much longer wild elephants will roam the earth.  Because at this rate, with high global demand for ivory and high levels of poverty for people that live near these creatures, they won’t be around for much longer.

Elephant

The New York Times recently ran an op-ed by Carl Safina of the Blue Ocean Institute called “Blood Ivory” that highlighted the forces at play.  Certainly consumption and poverty are drivers, but Safina pointed out how international policy has failed elephants.  A loop-hole of sorts in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES – an international agreement that regulates the trade of endangered plants and wildlife), allows for one-time sales of ivory stockpiles, resulting in skyrocketing demand for ivory.  Ironically, a CITES ban on ivory in 1990 was successful in increasing elephant populations, yet this same multilateral environmental agreement is now feeding demand for ivory.

It is undeniably a bleak situation, yet there are some solutions – beyond ending the CITES loop-hole – that can begin to address and hopefully change the situation for the better, for both people and elephants.  Two solutions are empowering women and recognizing rights of nature.

Solution: Empowering Women

Addressing the needs of women can benefit communities and the environment.  Women are on the frontlines of coping with the effects of environmental degradation. In most countries around the world they are the main providers of food, water, and other resources for their families. When women are empowered, they can better support their families and adapt to environmental impacts, including climate change.

A woman’s decision on when and whether to have a child and her access to reproductive care, as well as education, are key components of a healthy and sustainable society.

In Tanzania, for example, family planning use has increased among married women since the early 1990s, yet it is still relatively low in the country, rising from 10 percent in the early 1990s to 34 percent in 2010, according to Population Reference Bureau.

Part of empowering women is addressing inequity.  Tanzania currently has 46 million people, estimated to increase to 82 million people by 2050. Most poachers are driven by grinding poverty, in a country where nearly 70 percent of the Tanzanians live on less than $1.25 per day. When people’s basic needs are met, they choose to invest in their families and communities.

Tanzanian Woman

Empowering Tanzanian women and families with reproductive rights, healthcare, education and sustainable and secure livelihoods can and will improve the situation and enable them to overcome challenges.

Of course, poachers tend to be men, and males with little education or few job prospects need to find ways to survive and feed their families.  Men need to be invested in and empowered too, to overcome poverty and a lack of quality jobs, and to have the right to an education.  Ultimately it comes down to empowering all people.

Solution: Rights of Nature

Earth does not exist for our species alone. Elephants and species all over the world are at grave risk due to human development and demand. The planet is undergoing its sixth mass extinction. Despite global conservation efforts, more species are lost every day. Worse, some like elephants and rhinos, are poached only for their tusks and left to die.

Given this situation, there is a growing movement around recognizing rights of nature that acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. This is another solution for protecting elephants. Under this thinking, nature is not viewed as property and something to be exploited by humans.

There is precedent. Ecuador has included rights of nature in its state constitution, recognizing the legal right of ecosystems to exist. Bolivia has passed a law of Mother Earth, mandating nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life, regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration. Rights of nature has been upheld in Ecuadorian court.

Considering Tanzania again, which still has a somewhat viable elephant population, recognizing rights of nature could be one way to protect remaining numbers.  The country recently rescinded a proposal to sell a stock-pile of ivory under the CITES loophole.  If rights of nature laws were in place, then selling ivory could be found illegal.

Natural laws should be constructed to be in balance with the needs of local people; as stated above, even poachers need education and sustainable economic alternatives.  Currently though, neither elephants/nature, nor people, are winners in this terrible situation.

Ensuring a Brighter Future

Not to be overlooked is the role of consumption.  Educating and empowering women and girls, promoting economic and sustainable livelihoods for local populations, and pulling people out of poverty must be top priorities.  But if there are no consumers for a product, or if there is a ban, then the market theoretically disappears, as happened with the earlier CITES ban.  A ban on ivory trading must be reinstated across the board, no exceptions.  And consumer education must also be made a priority.  Buyers of ivory need to fully comprehend – and care – about the true costs of ivory.

It is estimated that Africa has lost close to 90 percent of its elephants in the last fifty years.  There is still a small window of opportunity to change this picture and protect elephants and the people who share the land with them.  This is not negotiable; this is how a civilized society should function.  The global community knows what to do – fully implement a ban on ivory, invest in people’s rights and livelihoods, and protect and respect nature.

(Elephant photo credit: Derek Keats, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dkeats/6026172562/sizes/m/in/photostream/)

(Tanzanian woman photo credit: NewsHour, http://www.flickr.com/photos/newshour/3724432128/sizes/m/in/photostream/)

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photo: hdw-inc.com

India’s first anti-poaching tiger unit is now an official entity. Time will tell if it has any teeth (no pun intended).

This Special Tiger Protection Force has its work cut out for it. Stopping poaching and hunting is not an easy task. Poaching is probably a bigger threat to tigers than even habitat loss.

The BBC reports that “The 54-member force will patrol tiger reserves in national parks straddling the borders of Karnataka, Tamil Nado and Kerala states in the south.”

There are plans for a second tiger force to operate in the state of Orissa, in eastern India. The latest tiger census reports 32 tigers in Orissa, though the government disputes this number.

Officials say the unit will deal with poachers and hunters and that unit members have received training in jungle survival and weapons use, with a special course in combat training.

Overview of India’s Tiger Population:

  • India: 1,706 (estimated)
  • Karnataka: 300
  • Madhya Pradesh: 257
  • Uttarakhand: 227
  • Maharashtra: 169
  • Andra Pradesh: 72
  • Tamil Nadu: 163
  • Assam: 143
  • Kerala: 71
  • Rajasthan: 36

There were 100,000 tigers in India at the beginning of the 20th century. Today India has over half the world’s tiger population, found mainly among 102 national parks, 515 wildlife sanctuaries, 44 conservation reserves and 4 community reserves. Protecting and preserving wildlife corridors is also key to saving India’s tigers.

Demand for tiger parts – especially skins and tiger bones used in traditional medicines – comes mainly from China. The Environmental Investigation Agency reported last year that even though Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboao promised that his country would “vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products”, China appears to have quietly reopened the trade in tiger and leopard skins.

What is needed is an all-out global effort to change consumer preferences and attitudes, promote education and awareness, and enforcement of anti-poaching laws to alter the situation.  Not to mention habitat preservation. The anti-poaching unit seems like a good start.  I wish it all the success in the world.

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