Inside Sri Lanka’s Deadly Struggle To Live Peacefully With Elephants

Like many young bull Elephants, Brigadier had a strategy. Spending his days in a small patch of forest in northwest Sri Lanka, he would emerge under cover of darkness to feast on crops. One evening, he bundled into an army brigadier’s property, earning him his name and sealing his fate.

Government officials captured Brigadier and trucked him to Maduru Oya National Park. But he immediately took off, probably intending to find his way home, got lost, and wound up 120 kilometres north at Sampur beach. Incredibly, a navy boat discovered him swimming 5 kilometres offshore and towed him to safety.

After his big adventure, Brigadier settled down again, returning to his nocturnal crop-raiding routine. Six months later, he was found dead at the bottom of a well.

Apart from the swimming bit, stories like this are common in Sri Lanka, where habitat loss is forcing Elephants into an increasingly bloody conflict with humans. When I visited the country to report on efforts to stem the bloodshed, I found that the government’s favoured solution of moving problem Elephants into fenced-off national parks isn’t working. Some experts believe it will even backfire, pushing the species to the brink in the country.

The only way to secure the future of Sri Lanka’s Elephants, they argue, is to find ways to peacefully coexist with them. That is no mean feat. And yet, as I saw for myself in several villages, there is a simple solution. The question is, will it be implemented across the island? And will people accept that the Elephants must live among us or not at all?

Asian Elephants are under pressure. Their numbers have declined by an estimated 50 percent in the last 75 years, leaving just 40,000 to 50,000 in the wild. Although they aren’t poached anywhere near as much as their African cousins, their forest homes are being rapidly fragmented. Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Sri Lanka. It accounts for just 2 percent of their total habitat yet is home to over 5000 Asian Elephants – more than 10 percent of the remaining global population.

That so many Elephants remain here is a testament to the species’ cultural importance in the country. The majority of Sri Lankans are Buddhist and Elephants feature prominently in a number of stories about the Buddha’s previous reincarnations. Hinduism, Sri Lanka’s second-largest religion, also enjoys a close association with the animals in the form of the god Ganesh. “Elephants hold a very special place in our hearts,” says Prithiviraj Fernando, chairman of the Centre for Conservation and Research in Tissamaharama.

Yet as the island grows increasingly crowded and their habitat disappears, the lives of Elephants and humans are overlapping more and more. This puts Sri Lanka’s many farmers at constant odds with the animals, often with deadly consequences.

Hungry Elephants raid crops, trampling fields and sometimes people. In response, farmers attack the animals with flaming torches, firecrackers, home-made guns and even explosives embedded in fruit, known as hakka patas or “jaw exploders”. Last year, more than 300 Elephants were killed in altercations with humans and around 70 people lost their lives to Elephants. “Sri Lanka has the highest level of Human-Elephant conflict in the world,” says Fernando. “Wherever there are people and Elephants, there’s conflict.”

For more than 70 years, Sri Lanka has attempted to solve the problem by moving Elephants to national parks. According to the government’s approach, the world’s second-largest land animal belongs in protected areas surrounded by electric fencing, while people belong everywhere else. In many cases, as with Brigadier, problem animals are specifically targeted for translocation. Officials also attempt to clear whole herds using a colonial-era tactic called an Elephant drive. Day after day, sometimes for a year or more, hundreds of people venture into Elephant territory, setting off guns and thousands of “Elephant thunders” (a type of huge firecracker) to corral the animals into fenced areas.

Whichever method officials use to try to confine Elephants to parks, it doesn’t work. In 2012, Fernando and his colleagues published a study showing that of 16 translocated bull Elephants that the researchers had monitored over several years, two were killed within the park they were released in and none of the others stayed put. Some broke out and returned home while others established a new territory where they began raiding crops again.

Elephant drives produce similar results. Many males evade the round-up or break out soon after arriving at a park. The only ones that stick around are the females and calves, which tend to be more risk averse. They soon experience first-hand that Sri Lanka’s parks often lack the resources necessary to support hundreds of additional residents, each of which eats up to 140 kilograms of vegetation per day. The newcomers quickly become “emaciated, walking skeletons, and many starve to death”, says Fernando. “We’ve seen this over and over again wherever Elephants have been driven to parks and fenced in.”

I saw it for myself at Udawalawe National Park. Tourists raised their cameras as a mother and calf stepped out of the thick brush, but the Elephants were a disturbing sight, with jutting ribs, protruding shoulder blades and rope-like backbones. They plucked placidly at the short grass beneath their feet, but it clearly isn’t enough to sustain them. Like many Elephants confined to overcrowded national parks, they were on the verge of starvation.

That females and calves tend to suffer this fate is especially concerning, says Shermin de Silva, director of the Udawalawe Elephant Research Project and founder of Trunks & Leaves, a non-profit organisation focusing on Elephant research and outreach. Elephants have extremely slow reproduction rates, usually producing just one calf every six years. Earlier this year, based on mathematical modelling of Elephant population demographics from Udawalawe, de Silva reported that for Asian Elephants to maintain their numbers, females must reproduce at near-optimal rates and most calves must survive. Nutritional stress, in other words, can quickly push Elephant populations in Sri Lanka and beyond into tailspins. “For Elephants, the biggest threat is the calf that’s never born,” says de Silva.

The stark implications of this finding were reinforced earlier this year, when Fernando and his colleagues published the first nationwide Elephant survey. It showed that Elephants occur across 60 percent of the country – virtually everywhere that isn’t highly urbanised – and that 70 percent of them live side-by-side with humans. This not only means that Sri Lanka’s attempt to confine Elephants to parks has “completely failed”, says Fernando, but also that non-protected areas will have to play a critical role in the species’ survival. If Sri Lanka wants to save its Elephants, it has to find a way for people to live peacefully alongside them.

I saw just how difficult this is when I came across a bloated bull Elephant lying in a ditch by the side of a dirt road in north-west Sri Lanka, flies buzzing around two bullet wounds. A local man guessed it had been shot by a farmer in a nearby field and ran away before collapsing here. The animal was still alive when it was discovered, and a small crowd had gathered and erected a makeshift tent to give it some shade. Someone brought coconuts and bananas to try to feed it. Someone else brought water. Another person called the vet. When the Elephant died, a monk performed a ceremony to help ease it into the next life.

I left the scene feeling nauseous. But just a few minutes’ drive away, past neon green rice paddies and homes shaded by coconut and banana trees, I visited a place that is showing by example that there is an alternative.

In 2013, the village of Galewewa pioneered a programme designed by Fernando and his colleagues to use electric fences to encircle crops and homes rather than Elephants. The locals took some convincing. “People just assumed it wouldn’t be successful because they’d seen the government fences,” says Sampath Ekanayaka, manager of the Centre for Conservation and Research’s community programmes in the region. “To them, this was just another fence.”

In many ways, it is. But there are reasons to think the scheme would work. Elephants that encounter fences in national parks have “all the time in the world” to figure out how to get past the obstacles, says Fernando. Those that encounter a fence surrounding a village or crop field are unlikely to invest the time and energy required to break in because there will usually be people around, and Elephants are afraid of them.

Do Fence Me In

Eventually, after several years of deliberation, the village elders agreed to try the method. Fernando’s organisation paid for 90 percent of the installation costs, but villagers paid the rest, as well as shouldering the burden of maintaining the fences throughout the growing season. After harvesting, they take down the fences, allowing Elephants to forage on the crop remains.

The results have been encouraging. After six years with the fences, no people or Elephants have been killed, nocturnal raids are practically non-existent and crop yields and earnings have significantly increased. Galewewa’s success has prompted around 25 more villages to join the programme, and Sri Lanka’s wildlife department has now established another 30 village fences.

“I would 100 percent recommend this system to others in Sri Lanka,” says J.M.Muthubanda, president of the Fence Maintenance Society in Manakkuliya Gama, a village near Galewewa. “If we didn’t have this fence, many people would have been killed and we would have had to abandon the land. This was the best decision we ever made.”

Fencing can only ever be one part of the solution. Just as important is persuading people to change the way they think about living alongside Elephants – and to adapt their behaviour. People need to take responsibility for protecting themselves and the Elephants they share the land with, says Fernando.

Take drinking, for example. Around 70 percent of men who are killed by Elephants are intoxicated when the incident happens. Simply staying inside after a night of drinking would greatly reduce those deaths, says Sumith Pilapitiya, an independent Elephant researcher and former director general of wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka. “If you’re out drunk on a bike at night and you ride into an Elephant, what do you expect the Elephant to do at that point?” says Pilapitiya. “As human beings, we should be taking much more responsibility for our lives.”

Trains are another problem. Around 15 Elephants are killed each year on the tracks. Sri Lanka has few underpasses or overpasses but there is a straightforward fix. Train drivers could simply slowdown in the areas where Elephants tend to get hit.

What I saw in Galewewa shows that people can peacefully coexist with Elephants, so long as they have the right attitude and some semblance of support. Notionally at least, the Sri Lankan government is on board. As early as 2007, it created a national Elephant conservation plan that largely reflected the findings of Fernando, Pilapitiya and other Elephant researchers, including provisions for implementing seasonal agricultural fencing and educational programmes. But the plan was implemented ad hoc and has failed to live up to its potential as a result, says Pilapitiya, who resigned from his job heading Sri Lanka’s wildlife department in 2015  because of “systemic political interference”. G.C.Sooriyabandara, the current director-general of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, didn’t respond to repeated interview requests.

Still, there are signs of progress. In a first for Sri Lanka, the country’s Southern Development Board, following advice from Pilapitiya and Fernando, agreed to use radio tracking collars to study the movements of several herds of Elephants so it could select a site for a major industrial project that would minimise impact on the animals. “It’s the right thing to do, as far as I’m concerned,” says a high-level official at the board, who asked not to be named because he didn’t have permission to speak to the media.

As more and more villages sign up for his fencing programme, Fernando and his colleagues believe the country as a whole will eventually follow. “This is not something that can be done in a day or a year or even 10 years,” says Fernando. “It might take 25 years. But we’re hopeful that common sense will prevail.”

It is already too late for Brigadier. But if Fernando is right, Asian Elephants can look forward to a brighter future, and not only in Sri Lanka. The country’s human population density isn’t far behind that of India and Bangladesh, but it has almost 10 times the number of Elephants. This makes it a test case for Human-Elephant coexistence, says de Silva. “If we can get it to work in Sri Lanka, we can get it to work anywhere.”

From an original article by Rachel Nuwer for New Scientist

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A Collared Wolf From Michigan’s U.P. Roamed More Than 4,000 Miles Before A Hunter Killed It

A Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus)

When a hunter in Manitoba, Canada legally shot and killed a Gray Wolf in early December 2022, a radio collar found around its neck was the first clue to the incredible journey this animal had been on. The Wolf had been collared in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the summer of 2021, and its GPS data since then showed this Wolf’s multi-state and two-country trek was one for the record books.

A map plotted by Michigan Department of Natural Resources researchers showed this male Wolf travelled through Wisconsin, then Minnesota, made a short stop in North Dakota, crossed the Canadian border into Ontario, then swung up into the Whiteshell area of Manitoba, where the hunter’s bullet found him. In all, this Wolf had travelled 4,200 miles in about 18 months.

This map from Michigan DNR shows the lengthy trek of a collared Gray Wolf from the Upper Peninsula, through other northern states and into Canada.

“The use of GPS collars will certainly add more insight to the movement of these amazing animals and likely show that others may make similar movements over time, but I suspect this will stand as a record for some time for Michigan,” said Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with Michigan’s DNR.

Use of Wolf Collars

Michigan’s Wolf population has been stable for the last several years, with anywhere from 600 to 700 Wolves spread out across every county in the state’s Upper Peninsula. There’s been evidence a few Wolves have crossed the Straits of Mackinac to enter the Lower Peninsula, but there’s no documented population there so far, the DNR says.

State biologists have run a Wolf-collaring program since 1992. Currently, about 30 of the U.P.’s Wolves are wearing collars. Researchers can typically get about three years of data from a Wolf before the newer GPS collars stop working. Each spring, the DNR catches and collars new Wolves. They try to target Wolves from specific packs they want more information about – packs that might have overlapping territories, where researchers want to get a better handle on the pack boundaries. Or packs that are reportedly getting too close to livestock farms. By tracking any troublemaking packs, the DNR can use hazing methods to try to push them away from specific areas.

Beyond just population measurements, Roell said the collaring effort has given biologists lots of important information on Michigan’s 130 to 140 Wolf packs. “It also gives us insight into biological information on Michigan Wolves, their movement, their territory sizes.”

A Well-Travelled Wolf

But this lone Wolf making the 4,200-mile trip was unusual in the breadth of his roaming, researchers agree. The 92-pound male was collared in the summer of 2021 near Lake Gogebic. This is in the Ottawa National Forest in the north-western part of the U.P.

“It did not stay in Michigan very long after that,” Roell said the GPS data showed. “So it really never settled down.”

The DNR has documented other Michigan Wolves that have taken long trips. One showed up in Missouri. Others have been found in closer locales like Wisconsin or Minnesota. Some have crossed into Canada.

“The new technology that we have been using … has really given us some insight into these long-distance movements,” Roell said. “Often it seems like some of these animals are destined to stay loners.”

As for this particular Wolf, “we know this animal had been going for a while,” before it was legally harvested, he said.

Great Lakes Wolves: One Big Population?

Another group that was interested in this Michigan Wolf’s long trek was the Voyageurs Wolf Project, researchers who study Wolves and their prey in and around Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. This Michigan Wolf walked though part of Voyageurs – and through at least two Wolf pack territories in that park – on its way north to Canada. When the group recently shared this information and the Michigan DNR’s maps on social media, the post amassed thousands of likes and shares.

A Pack Of Wolves On The Ice At Voyageurs National Park

But beyond just sharing the information, the Voyageurs group said this Michigan Wolf’s trek helps expand people’s understanding of the “Lone Wolf” concept. And it shows how Wolves in the Great Lakes region are more connected than some people might think. After all, Wolves don’t know when they’re crossing state lines, or stepping into another country.

“The travels of this Michigan Wolf, along with many others that our project and other researchers have documented, show how Wolves across the Midwest states and Canadian provinces are connected,” their social media post reads.

“Although we tend to think of Wolf populations based on geopolitical boundaries (e.g. the Wolf population in a given state or province), which are useful for management and conservation decisions, there isn’t much to indicate that these boundaries actually denote the boundaries between Wolf populations.

Four Of The Great Lakes Gray Wolves Population Howling

“Instead, probably the best way to think of Wolf populations in the western Great Lakes area is to think of them as one large, connected population with dispersing Wolves moving between provinces and states all the time.”

Originally posted by Michigan Live.

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Victory! Suffering Giant Pandas YaYa & LeLe At The Memphis Zoo Will Finally Be Sent To A Sanctuary In China

Suffering: Giant Pandas YaYa And LeLe At Memphis Zoo Credit: Panda Voices

UPDATE! A huge victory for Giant Pandas YaYa, 22, and LeLe, 24, who will be sent back to their homeland of China, according to a statement from the Memphis Zoo. In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices, who have been lobbying for the pandas’ release for nearly two years, announced the news today.

“After far too many years of suffering in a grossly inappropriate zoo exhibit, YaYa and LeLe will finally get improved care at a specialized panda refuge in their homeland,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals.

“We applaud the Memphis Zoo and Chinese authorities for making the ethical decision to return the pandas to China once the loan contract ends in April 2023. We thank Billie Eilish and our many thousands of supporters worldwide for helping us encourage the zoo to do the right thing,” continued Michelson. “We are delighted to celebrate this momentous victory. Animals suffer tremendously in zoos, and we hope this will prompt all zoos to put animals’ needs first and release them to accredited sanctuaries.”

YaYa and LeLe have been suffering at the Memphis Zoo since 2003. The pandas are visibly distressed and malnourished and spend their days pacing or sleeping, clearly bored in their dirty, small enclosure. YaYa has a chronic skin condition and LeLe has significant teeth issues resulting in broken molars.

“We are overwhelmed with joy at the news of YaYa and LeLe returning home to China!” said Taciana Santiago of Panda Voices.

“We thank the Memphis Zoo for allowing this to happen and hope they provide the pandas the conditions they need to be fit to endure the long travel. We will continue to monitor their situation until we are sure they are in a suitable environment,” continued Santiago. “We look forward to seeing them live a life of retirement and peace in China. Big thanks to In Defense of Animals and all of our supporters who stayed vigilant on this journey! King LeLe and Queen YaYa will soon be home!”

The campaign to free YaYa and LeLe was supported by singer Billie Eilish.

Thankfully, the loan contract between China and the Memphis Zoo is ending in April 2023 and they will be returning home.

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Remembering Wildlife, Remembering Bears. A Review Of The Book Raising Funds For The Protection Of Bears.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” ~ Mathatma Gandhi.

A new book aims to raise awareness of the plight facing Bears and to raise money to protect them. This is the latest book in the Remembering Wildlife series which has so far raised more than £952,000 for conservation through book sales around the world.

“There can be few species that we humans have such a contradictory relationship with, than Bears. From hugging toys of them at night as children, to labelling them as anything from a nuisance to a threat, entertainment to medicine, we are nothing but hypocritical in how we relate to this most awe inspiring creature. At Remembering Wildlife, we believe it is time to stop and think about this contradiction.

As you’ll see in this stunning collection of images, the eight Bear species roam from ice sheets to forests, meadows to mountains. From tender moments with their young, to fierce territorial battles between males, we tell their story in a way that commands respect, awe and reappraisal.

American Black Bear (Ursus Americans) by Amy Gulick Tongass. National Forest, Alaska This Black Bear cub was sent up a tree by its mother for safekeeping while she fished in the stream below. It was an unusually hot day and the cub flopped out on the branch until mom gave the signal to come down for a meal.

With this book, we aim to shine a spotlight on their diversity and beauty, their resilience and fortitude and most importantly, to raise funds for those working to protect them. We are supported in this mission once again by many of the world’s top wildlife photographers, who have all generously donated their work. Together, we are determined to stand up for Bears and penetrate the moral consciousness of all those who would exploit or see them destroyed. Because the planet would be poorer without them” – Margot Raggett, Remembering Wildlife Founder.

Chaparri Ecological Reserve, Peru Andean Bear. Photographer Daniel Rosengren was visiting a bear sanctuary in Chaparri when suddenly this wild bear appeared and climbed a tree. Staff explained it visited sometimes and was not shy.

All profits from the sale of the book will be used to support projects working to protect Bears.

Each turn of the page reveals another striking image of one of the eight Bear species –American Black Bear, Andean Bear, Asiatic Black Bear, Brown Bear, Giant Panda, Polar Bear, Sloth Bear and Sun Bear – revealing tender moments with family members, fierce territorial battles and the harsh reality of life as a bear, for example, when searching for food.

Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) by Tim Laman Gunung Palung National Park, West Kalimantan, Indonesia Sun Bears are rare, and this image was one of a handful of obtained during two years of intensive camera trapping, deep in the remote rainforest of Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesian Borneo.

Actor and comedian Ricky Gervais has endorsed the book, saying it is: “A wonderful book that shows how beautiful Bears are and just what we have to lose if we don’t stand up for them now. They deserve better.”

The hardback coffee table book is a collection of 88 stunning images taken by the world’s top wildlife photographers – including Marsel van Oosten, Art Wolfe, Frans Lanting, Greg du Toit and Daisy Gilardini – who have generously donated images to help protect Bears in the wild.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) by Marsel van Oosten Svalbard. Climate change is not the only threat to Polar Bears. In Canada, the world’s largest exporter of Polar Bear skins, more than 600 Bears are legally killed every year. Hunters worldwide kill more Polar Bears than African Rhinos, which are protected by guards against poaching.

Six out of the eight Bear species are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Vulnerable or Endangered due to pressures ranging from climate change to human-wildlife conflict. Even those Bears of least concern, such as Brown Bears, are at risk of being lost for good in certain countries.

Founder of Remembering Wildlife Margot Raggett said: “Humans have long had a special relationship with Bears – we hug them at night as children and love seeing them in story books and on screen. Yet, in the real world, they’re not always viewed with the same affection and can been seen as a nuisance or a threat.

“Some face lives of misery – as dancing Bears, illegally trafficked as pets or used for medicine – or face serious threats and extinction through climate change, hunting or human-wildlife conflict.

Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) by Suzi Estzerhas. Two playful seven-month-old Giant Panda cubs in a tree Chengdu, China

“Through images and words, this book shines a spotlight on their diversity, beauty and resilience as well as raising awareness of their plight and raising funds for organisations passionately fighting for the future of Bears.”

The foreword for the book is by award-winning wildlife filmmaker, presenter and public speaker Gordon Buchanan MBE.

Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) by Tin Man Lee Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. After three hours lying motionless in remote Alaska, the photographer caught this picture of a spring cub waking up from a deep sleep and sitting up, with mother Bear, who was 20 feet away, dashing back to give a cub a nose touch.

Further information about Remembering Wildlife can be found here .

To find out more about the projects that Remembering Wildlife has already funded, click here

Each book costs £45 GBP (approximately $50 USD) and copies can be ordered at Remembering Wildlife

In Kenya’s Worst Drought In 40 Years, Elephants And Other Wildlife Are Dying In Alarming Numbers

THE CARCASS OF AN ELEPHANT THAT DIED DURING THE DROUGHT IS SEEN IN THE SHABA NATIONAL RESERVE, ISIOLO COUNTY, KENYA, SEPT. 22, 2022. (REUTERS PHOTO)

Over 100 Elephants died as a result of drought in East Africa, which has taken a toll on the wildlife in Kenya’s national parks.

Carcasses of dead Buffaloes, Zebras, Giraffes, Elephants and other animals litter the parks attracting scavengers such as Vultures and Hyenas.

ONE OF THE HUNDREDS OF ZEBRAS SUCCUMBING TO THE DROUGHT

The animals are dying due to one of the worst droughts ever to hit East Africa, with experts saying it has been the worst drought experienced in the eastern part of Africa for over 40 years.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Nancy Githaiga, the country director of Africa Wildlife Foundation in Kenya, said that 109 Elephants have been recorded dead in the Tsavo National Park, Kenya’s largest, over the past year.

“Although cases of poaching have greatly dropped due to surveillance, the number of Elephants is now going down significantly because of drought,” she said.

“It’s not just Elephants, it’s giraffes, zebras and all wildlife that are dying, you will find their carcasses around.”

Temporary waterholes were installed last year, but because of the increasing severity of the drought and the vast areas involved we MUST get more water to the dying animals of Kenya and do so FAST!

THE PHOTO SHOWS SIX GIRAFFES LYING LIFELESS IN THE SABULI WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY IN WAJIR. THE ANIMALs DIED AFTER GETTING STUCK IN MUD AS THEY TRIED TO DRINK FROM A NEARBY RESERVOIR, WHICH HAD ALMOST DRIED UP.

The drought is the worst in the region in more than 40 years and shows no signs of abating.

With each passing day, more parched animals are dropping dead, like the sad story of Monsoon, the matriarch Elephant.  

“Monsoon,” the miracle elephant, survived being shot FIVE times by poachers and even managed to give birth after her ordeal. A drought in northern Kenya killed her last month.

Animals like Monsoon are dropping dead beside dried-up water pans and nonexistent pastures. We cannot afford to lose wildlife in these staggering numbers. Please help us support charities at the heart of this crisis.

How you can help us support those on the ground:

You can support animals in need by donating as little as £1 – It only takes a minute but it can last a lifetime for an animal in need.

Everyone who donates will receive a Certificate of Appreciation as a thank you for helping animals in need.

Certificate of Appreciation

Should Wildlife Tourism Be Banned In India?

Tiger T42 – Fateh. A dominant tiger of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, he rules over Qualiji area. He is named after the legendary conservationist, synonymous with Ranthambhore, Fateh Singh Rathore-A tribute to a great man.

Wildlife Tourism in India has always been a controversial matter. In 2010, a Public Interest Litigation was filed by tiger activist Ajay Dubey, claiming that the industry was becoming unsustainable and exploitative. As per the 2006 Amendment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, “critical Tiger and wildlife habitats” must be inviolate for the vital growth of tiger populations. Any form of human activity was deemed a threat to Tiger conservation. It was on this basis that, on the 24th of July 2012, the Supreme Court ordered a temporary ban on tourism in the core zone of Tiger reserves. The ban stirred significant debate amongst conservationists.

More about the wildlife tourism ban

The underlying principle of the order was questionable. Tiger populations grew remarkably in reserves such as Kahna, Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore, despite substantial amounts of wildlife tourism. Contrastingly, Tiger populations in less popular Protected Areas, such as Buxa and Palamu Tiger Reserve, have depleted immensely despite a lack of tourism. Associating wildlife tourism to the depletion of Tiger populations remains a baseless claim.

The Supreme Court hoped that the ban would instigate the establishment of buffer zones in Protect Areas for wildlife tourism, in accordance with the November 2011 NTCA guidelines. However, despite the Supreme Court mandate, numerous states were reluctant to comply with the guidelines. Tourism in buffer zones was not the most practical alternative. These regions are used extensively by bordering villages for cattle grazing and the collection of forest produce. Habitat degradation would lead to inferior wildlife sightings, hence attenuating the attractiveness of wildlife safaris. 

Wildlife Tourism In India

Fortunately the MoEFCC and NTCA redrafted guidelines, allowing for wildlife tourism in up to 20% of the critical Tiger habitat of a reserve. The revised guidelines encouraged states to form their own ecotourism policies. Following this, on the 16th of October 2012, the Supreme Court allowed for the recommencement of tourism in core areas

Are there any benefits of wildlife tourism?

There are numerous benefits to wildlife tourism, particularly for the local communities. Following proper practices, ecotourism brings substantial economic benefits. With over 1 million people visiting tiger reserves annually, a lot of revenue is generated in the form of entry fees, guide salary, lodge bookings amongst others. This provides significant employment opportunities for the local communities and has ripple effects as locals will associate a monetary value with wildlife. This would increase the general acceptance of wildlife, hence reducing human-wildlife conflict. Furthermore, this would prevent locals from turning to game hunting for sustenance. Entry fees would also provide the Forest Department with much required funding for conservation works! It is estimated that in the Fiscal Year of 2019, wildlife tourism in Madhya Pradesh attracted nearly 2 million visitors, generating 27 crore rupees. An organization, TOFTigers, estimated that nearly a quarter of the state’s Forest Department Budget consists of park entry fees in 2017. Moreover, the industry generated an additional 2,500 full time jobs out of which 82% were given to locals. With the industry growing at a healthy 15% annually, local economies stand to benefit immensely, particularly in the North East where the wild wonders are relatively unexplored.

Tourism also has a plethora of benefits in the management of the reserve. With the Forest Departments heavily under resources and understaffed, patrolling Protected Areas is a daunting task. Parks certainly benefit from watchful tourists. Detection of forest fires, illegal activities and injured animals improves with the participation of tourists. In fact, with the development of citizen science software, tourists can contribute even further towards wildlife research. It is no surprise therefore, that within 6 weeks of wildlife tourism shutting down due to the pandemic in 2020, the cases of poaching increased by 151% across India.

Unethical Practices Cloud wildlife tourism

However, in the past, there have been concerns regarding whether the economic benefits of wildlife tourism actually reach local communities.  Wildlife tourism may also lead to some atrocious practices. For example, both captive elephants, and dancing bears, undergo immense torture while being trained for tourist purposes. Similarly, Kopi Luwark, the world’s most expensive coffee, is a major attraction in Indonesia. However, most people are oblivious to the fact that it sponsors the illegal wildlife tradeSnake charming also is equally diastorous.

Unruly visitors are not avoidable

Enforcement of rules and regulation also remains a dark spot in the wildlife industry. I personally have witnessed numerous accounts of wildlife harassment. Unruly tourists littering, wearing excessively bright colours and making excessive noise has made a few safaris unpleasant. Furthermore, in the lure of tips, guides are often overly enthusiastic during a safari. A critical protocol which is frequently ignored during a direct sighting is the minimum distance requirement between two jeeps. Though legally, animals have the right of way in forest roads, this behaviour by jeeps often obstructs their paths and causes distress to the animals. I witnessed this with the dominant male Rudra in Tadoba Tiger Reserve in October 2020 and in my first visit to the park in 2017, where a jeep did some off-roading to show the guests tiger cubs feeding on a kill. Not only did the family flee, the jeeps shamelessly continued chasing them off-roading. Littering is also a prominent issue. On the same trip, I visited the Tipeshwar Tiger Reserve where visitors, despite being confronted by both forest staff and guests, continued to litter in the park. I can name plenty of such personal anecdotes from forests all over India! Seeing the popular tiger of the park overwhelms tourist and guide alike!

The impact of such behaviour has had an observed impact on wildlife. Tigers and other wildlife of popular parks are far more accustomed to jeeps than in the smaller reserves. Despite this, tigers do witness increased stress levels. This is proved by a study of 341 samples of tiger scats by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Park. The study found that tigers had higher concentrations of the stress hormone, faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM), during the tourism season than prior. 

This behaviour could be rectified by improved education. While an underlying purpose of ecotourism is education, only 30% of India’s Protected Areas have visitor orientation centres. Private lodges also are not very proactive in the field. 

Wildlife tourism has to become more sustainable

Another issue with wildlife tourism is that lodges are not truly eco-friendly. A nationwide study of 10 of India’s major wildlife tourist destinations was alarming. 85% of tourist facilities were within 5km of the park. 93% of the lodges used local wood while the dependency on local borewells varied from 40% to 100%. Swimming pools in the lodges of Central India prove costly for local communities in the dry summer months. The fragile ecosystem of Ladakh is witnessing widespread decimation in recent years due to scores of tourists flocking to the state following the release of the movie “3 Idiots”.

The same study found that in the 10 parks, 95% of the revenue went to private operators. Only 4.5% and 0.5% went to the park and locals respectively. In fact, only 0.001% of the locals within a 10km buffer of PA were employed. This accentuates the fallacies of India’s wildlife industries! 

Larger mammals steal the limelight

Although only 10% of India’s 500 Protected Areas are Tiger Reserves, they account for 32% of wildlife tourism. Spotting charismatic species such as Tigers, Elephants, Rhinos and Lions still remains the sole interest for most visitors. Much of India’s natural beauties are unheard of by the general public. This is in sharp contrast with countries such as Australia, US, South Africa and Europe. Unlike India, ecotourism is not limited to safaris solely. These countries offer a wide array of sustainable activities across their natural landscapes including bird watching, camping, adventure sports, and natural history museums. Although it is essential to not damage the natural ecosystem, the ecotourism industry in India could be further developed. In fact, developing more activities in the lesser known parks could help distribute tourism more evenly across the country. There is much scope to expand. India could also adopt a private-public partnership in a few regions, much like the Private Game Reserves of South Africa!

The Greater One-Horned Rhino

All in all, the wildlife tourism industry is still fairly young and has much growth left. It has various benefits to wildlife but there are many issues for India to iron out such that the industry can bolster conservation efforts.

This article was first published on Think Wildlife Foundation. 

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Drought Forces Zimbabwe To Relocate 2,500 Wild Animals To New Reserves

The effects of climate change are outpacing poaching as the No. 1 threat to wildlife. In Zimbabwe, officials are now moving more than 2,500 wild animals from a reserve in the southern part of the country further north due to an ongoing drought. Rangers are relying on trucks, cranes and even helicopters to move the animals from the drought-stricken area.

“Project Rewild Zambezi,” the operation has been dubbed, involves moving animals to the Zambezi River valley, which will also help improve wildlife populations in that area. It is one of the largest live animal relocation projects in southern Africa, with more than 2,000 impalas, 400 elephants, 70 giraffes, 50 each of buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, and elands, 10 lions and 10 wild dogs, among other animals, being moved north.

The animals are being relocated from the Save Valley Conservancy to the Sapi, Matusadonha and Chizarira conservancies in the north. According to officials, the project is necessary to avoid a crisis.

“We are doing this to relieve pressure. For years we have fought poaching and just as we are winning that war, climate change has emerged as the biggest threat to our wildlife,” Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, told The Associated Press. “Many of our parks are becoming overpopulated and there is little water or food. The animals end up destroying their own habitat, they become a danger unto themselves and they encroach neighboring human settlements for food resulting in incessant conflict.”

One other option was to cull some of the animals to reduce competition for resources among the wildlife, but Zimbabwe has not had a culling since 1987. Conservationists argue that culling is a cruel and unnecessary solution.

The “Project Rewild Zambezi” is one of the largest in Zimbabwe. The country’s last mass relocation of wildlife occurred from 1958 to 1964, as hydro-dam construction led to rising water that ultimately created Lake Kariba. More than 5,000 animals had to be relocated at the time.

Drought is becoming an increasing threat in Zimbabwe and across Africa, reducing food and water available for wildlife, including vulnerable rhinos and giraffes. But hunting and poaching have also taken their toll. In Sapi Reserve, a UNESCO site, wildlife populations quickly declined from the 1950s until 2017, when it was taken over by the non-profit Great Plains Foundation. Relocating animals from areas affected by drought will also help in the foundation’s efforts to rewild and restore populations in Sapi Reserve.

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The Bloody Truth Behind The Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt

A new season started on September 1. Entire families of dolphins will be devastated for aquariums to draw crowds.

THE BLOODY TAIJI DOLPHIN DRIVE HUNT CREDIT: INTERNATIONAL MARINE MAMMAL PROJECT

Just after 6am, a fleet of 11 fishing boats left Taiji harbour on Japan’s southern Pacific coast. Within an hour, the boats were lined up in a formation, encircling a pod of 18 Risso’s dolphins and forcing them into a cove. Nets were set to trap the dolphins, and soon after, seven dolphin trainers from the Taiji Whale Museum arrived.

One by one, the divers caught the dolphins and took them under grey tarps that were meant to shield their work from the scrutiny of outside observers. Under the tarps, the dolphin trainers examined the sex and size of the dolphins, estimated their age and selected two for sale to aquariums — appearance and suitability for training are usually key factors. They were placed on stretchers and taken to sea pens set in a nearby bay.

Just an hour earlier, these dolphins had been swimming freely in the ocean with their family. Now, they were facing a life in a small concrete pool, performing tricks to entertain people who rarely think about how the dolphins ended up there.

The fate of the 16 unchosen dolphins was even more cruel. Hunters struck them with a sharp metal spike into their necks just behind the blowholes, making them suffocate in their own blood, turning the ocean water around them red. Their dead bodies were dragged into Taiji fishing port, soon to become meat products.

In a matter of a few hours, an entire family of dolphins was destroyed as part of what some local fishermen and Japanese politicians call a “tradition”.

Inconvenient truth

On September 1, a new season of cruelty will begin. The small town of Taiji made global headlines after the 2010 Academy Award-winning documentary film, The Cove, highlighted Japan’s little-known dolphin hunting practice. While the film was highly acclaimed worldwide, it received a backlash in Japan as conservatives called it an attack on the country’s culture.

More than a decade has passed and the world has changed. Climate change is considered humanity’s biggest challenge. Governments and corporations around the world are working towards sustainability goals, including wildlife conservation. Sadly, in Japan, dolphin hunts continue as they did earlier, while the world’s attention has faded away.

During the six-month hunting season each year, I’m confronted with a truth that’s inconvenient for many people considering the enormous popularity of dolphins at aquariums. Dolphins form strong family bonds, moving together to protect the young and old who cannot swim fast enough when chased by hunters. Dolphins are also generally gentle and do not attack humans even to defend themselves. This makes it easy for hunters to catch entire pods.

Our investigation revealed that at least 563 dolphins were taken from the wild in Taiji alone during the 2021-22 season, of which 498 were slaughtered and 65 were kept for aquariums. The dolphin hunts are conducted across Japan, often using spearfishing. Taiji is particularly notorious because hunters here usually catch entire pods, leaving no chance for families to recover and causing a devastating impact on the dolphin population.

2021/2022 STATISTICS COURTESY OF THE DOLPHIN PROJECT

Already, the number of dolphins that hunters are trapping is declining — it has dropped almost to a quarter of the 2,077 dolphins caught in 2000 — even though they go out to the ocean searching for their prey every day during the season. Today, hunters are unable to meet the annual government-set catch quota of 1,849 dolphins.

2021/2022 STATISTICS – TYPES OF DOLPHIN COURTESY OF THE DOLPHIN PROJECT

A wild animal exporting industry

It’s a little-known fact that hunting really started only in 1969 with the establishment of the Taiji Whale Museum in order to display live dolphins. This was around the time when the United States was booming with dolphinariums driven by a popular TV series Flipper, in which a dolphin was a lead character.

A live dolphin is sold for as much as JPY 5 million ($36,000) overseas, while it only fetches JPY 50,000 ($360) as meat.

The Japanese government has defended the hunt as part of local culinary tradition, but hardly anyone in the country eats dolphin meat. In reality, this is about the trade of dolphins to aquariums for entertainment across the world, hiding behind “tradition”. In essence, it’s an animal export industry.

In fact, our research revealed that as of March 11, 2022, 269 dolphins and small whales were being kept as inventory in a massive set of sea pens in Taiji’s Moriura Bay, waiting to be sold to aquariums across Japan and the world. The hunt only continues because of the demand for human entertainment.

Change is coming

There is reason for hope, though. In March of this year, Sweden’s Kolmården zoo, the largest zoo in Scandinavia, announced it will end its dolphin shows. The decision by the zoo, which holds 12 captive dolphins, is symbolic of a new attitude towards animals around the world. Last November, the French parliament passed a bill that bans dolphin shows as well as wild animals used in circuses. A similar ban has been in place in Canada since 2019.

Coastal countries, such as India, Chile, Costa Rica and Brazil, also ban or restrict the captivity of dolphins. Expedia is the latest among travel agencies to stop selling tickets that include dolphin shows.

In Japan, too, there are signs that attitudes are beginning to shift. In May, a Tokyo-based aquarium became the first such facility in the country to end its dolphin show. It claimed financial burden as the primary reason, but it also mentioned the global trend in recent years. And the following month, another aquarium announced that it will discontinue sea lion shows.

Change is coming, slowly but surely. Until then, I will continue my work in Taiji to tell the people of Japan what we are doing to the animal we claim to love.

This article by Ren Yabuki was first published by Aljazeera on 31 August 2022. 

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Trophy Hunting Is Driving The African Lion Into Extinction

THERE ARE LESS THAN 10,000 WILD LIONS LEFT IN AFRICA

A leading global Lion conservationist has warned of the impending extinction of lions in Africa where the overall population has fallen below 10 000 from a peak estimate of over 20 000 eight years ago.

In a presentation to the British parliamentary committee debating proposals to ban the importation of African wildlife trophies into the United Kingdom, African Lion specialist Pieter Kat said a recent field study by the organisation Lion Aid, revealed worrying prospects for the survival of African Lions:

“Our conclusion is that there are less than 10,000 wild Lions left in Africa. We base that number on the latest information from the ground,” Kat said.

“The current estimate of 20 000-30 000 Lions (in Africa) as stated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (Red List) of 2016 is grossly inaccurate and urgently needs to be updated.”

In Africa, wild Lion populations are mostly found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya.

Smaller clustered populations also exist in Uganda, Mozambique, Eswatini and Angola.

While Elephant population estimates can be done effectively by aerial survey, Kat said Lion population estimates can only be derived from small sample counts which are conducted using different techniques to ensure they are not misleading.

Kat said the IUCN 2016 African Lion population estimate was flawed because it included thousands of non-wild, captive-bred and fenced-off South African Lions in the final count.

“What we did in our latest study is to review the number of Lions in what are called lion conservation units,” he said.

“We went back to look at these conservation units in detail.

“Most people agree that Lions should be classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

“However, they are not. Instead, they are classified as ‘vulnerable’.

“One reason for this is that the IUCN partly based their estimates on 16 fenced Lion populations in Southern Africa, mostly in South Africa.

“Those fenced populations are not truly wild Lions.”

He said the IUCN estimate was also heavily influenced by trophy hunters who manipulated Lion census data to support their own claims that Lion populations are healthy enough to support trophy hunting business.

Kat said trophy hunting remains one of the biggest contributors to the decline of African Lion populations as well as the depletion of breeder gene pools through its deliberate targeting of big male Lions.

“In order to be able to develop an effective Lion conservation strategy for Africa, we need to know exactly how many Lions are where. We need to know how many lions exist in trophy hunting areas,” he added.

“The best hunting concessions in terms of tenders and bids all happen to be right on the borders of the national parks.

“We know that they are luring the Lions out of national parks to be killed in private hunting concessions, just like Cecil (in Zimbabwe) was.

“More hunting concessions in Tanzania and Zimbabwe are not being bid on anymore because they are no longer profitable. The Lions have all been shot out.”

According to Kat, the claims often made by the trophy hunting lobby to the effect that trophy hunting funds the conservation of African wildlife are grossly inaccurate and deliberately misleading:

“Trophy hunters are allowed to sit on the IUCN committee of lion experts.

“More and more people have been allowed into the group who were not primarily concerned with lion conservation but rather Lion utilisation.

“This causes problems, because whenever politicians want to make decisions on wildlife conservation, the first place they turn to is the IUCN.

“They view the IUCN as the organisation that supposedly has the knowledge and information about how to best conserve species in the wild.

“However, many of the “experts” that are being consulted are not the ones who have the right information.”

Kat said there is clear evidence that Lions are being badly affected by trophy hunting since the hunters select the best animals, which are often the biggest-maned male breeding Lions.

“A number of studies in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia have shown this.

“A hunter does not want a young male (although these were hunted in Tanzania when they ran out of the big males).

“The big-maned Lions hunters target are often the leaders in a pride. This way, trophy hunting results in heavy disruptions of Lion prides.

“The females do not produce cubs anymore because new males will come in and say, “that’s not my cub” and kill the cubs.

“The pride structure of Lions simply falls apart as a result of trophy hunting.”

To save Lions from extinction, Africa range states should adopt conservation strategies to save the biggest and the best remaining Lion cluster populations.

They also need to craft holistic conservation strategies that include the use of effective, tried and tested techniques to protect rural communities and keep livestock safe from predators in order to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

This article by Oscar Nkala was first published by The Standard on 7 August 2022.

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Australian Dad Of Three Young Girls Tries To Explains Why He Is Teaching Them How To Hunt And Kill Deer And ‘Feral’ Pigs In The Bush

JUSTIN WANN, PICTURED WITH HIS DAUGHTER EMILY, 12, HAS EXPLAINED WHY HE TAKES HE HAS TAUGHT HIS THREE YOUNG CHILDREN HOW TO HUNT

The family almost entirely live off wild game, regularly eating what they shoot and kill to teach the children where their food comes from.

WANN’S DAUGHTER SAMANTHA IS PICTURED POSING WITH A DEER THAT WAS SHOT AND KILLED DURING A FAMILY HUNTING TRIP

A recent picture uploaded online shows Samantha posing next to a deer which she shot from 45m away, before carrying the animal home.  

Emily, ‘not to be outdone by her sister’, shot her first deer just weeks later, while Sophie has also been pictured practicing to shoot with a pink single shot .22 rifle.

SAMANTHA IS PICTURED HERE WITH THE FIRST DEER SHE SHOT AND KILLED HERSELF WHILE ON A HUNTING TRIP

Samantha and Emily, who both first learnt to shoot with the same gun, now hunt with bolt action .243 hunting rifles.  

Mr Wann learnt to hunt and shoot when he was taken on hunting trips as a child by his grandfather in western New South Wales.   

SAMANTHA AND EMILY ARE PICTURED WITH A WILD DOG THAT WAS KILLED DURING A FAMILY HUNTING TRIP

‘I strongly believe in firearm education for kids, especially kids in rural areas where there is a high chance they will be exposed to guns at some stage,’ Mr Wann said. 

WANN’S WIFE SARA WITH THEIR DAUGHTER EMILY, WHO WAS 18-MONTHS-OLD AT THE TIME, POSING BEHIND A ‘FERAL’ PIG

SAMANTHA IS PICTURED WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER HOLDING A DEAD RABBIT IN HER HANDS
Editor’s Note: Misguided Parenting.

Many hunter’s believe it is their parental duty to teach children to use guns. It’s a difficult viewpoint for others to understand. Yet good parenting involves protecting children from harm. Allowing children to do what we do, regardless of age, safety and moral implications, is not protecting them.

Teaching his daughter to hunt has become a war veteran’s purpose in life. He has a dream that his daughter will be the “first four year old in the world to hunt and kill a hog.” It doesn’t seem to matter whether his young daughter wants to hunt.

“I have to be with her for her very first kill… Can’t take that away from me, you know. It’s going to be a huge accomplishment that her dad’s a triple amputee with one arm and he’s got her to where she can hunt herself,” he says in the documentary Kids and Guns. She has already been made to watch him kill a squirrel from his wheelchair, then hold the corpse for photographs and watch the skinning.

A corruption of childhood

Images of children carrying guns or holding slain animals represent a corruption of childhood. Children enjoy pleasing the adults in their life, but they don’t have to kill to earn our approval, unless we make it that way. They can help to prepare food, or feed animals, or grow vegetables. We can teach them how to create and nurture. When they reach adulthood, they can choose whether or not they want to use guns and kill animals, but before then, let’s not force them down a path.

Perhaps we should look more critically at why we teach children the things we do. Is it for their benefit, for society’s benefit, or our own? It’s one thing to dress our children in our favourite football team kit, although better they make their own choice, but it’s a different matter to place a gun in their hand.

Children are highly impressionable. Killing has no place in childhood if we want a more compassionate society. We first need to teach children to respect nature, otherwise what hope is there for preserving the natural world and for protecting humanity in the long run?

A society that promotes killing surely isn’t a healthy one.

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Protect All Wildlife are involved in many projects to protect animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats. Money contributed to Protect All Wildlife supports ALL of our worthy programmes and gives us the flexibility to respond to emerging needs. Your donations make our work possible. Thank you for your support.

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