To find how Tawang’s cranes will do in winter, Govt plans a study — in monsoon

Black-necked crane. Photo: Dibyendu Ash
Black-necked crane. Photo: Dibyendu Ash

What does the Environment Ministry do when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asks it to re-evaluate a hydel project in the middle of the rare black-necked crane’s wintering site and conduct a study “as expeditiously as possible”? It sets out to determine the water flow requirement at the wintering site in just 45 days — during the monsoon months of May and June.

Under scanner is the proposed 780 MW hydro-electricity project (HEP) at the wintering site — a 3-km stretch along the Nyamjang Chhu river — of the rare bird in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang. The Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), a Tawang-based group led by Buddhist lamas, had moved the NGT against the environmental clearance.

On April 7, NGT suspended the environmental clearance granted in 2012 and directed the ministry to conduct a study of environmental flow (E-flow) requirement at the wintering site “as expeditiously as possible” through the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and make the report available for public consultation for a fresh appraisal of the project.

On April 28, the ministry wrote to NJC Hydro Power Ltd, the project developer, to “immediately” conduct a study through WII and “submit the report to the ministry within 45 days for further consideration”. The Tawang river basin study report accepted by the ministry also sought a water flow assessment, it said.

When contacted by The Indian Express, top ministry officials refused to comment on how a rapid study during May-June would prescribe the water flow required during the lean season to protect the crane’s wintering site. During winter, migratory birds fly south (for warmer clime) to specific sites, where they spend a few weeks. The stretch along Nyamjang Chhu river is one of two such sites in Arunachal for black-necked cranes.

On several occasions, officials and experts have gone on record accepting that the wintering site was never studied in the lean period and a four-season study was necessary to determine its E-flow requirements. Consider these:

  • Noting that the “E-flow for this HEP has been indicated based on only one season study”, the ministry itself in its letter dated February 3, 2016 to the Arunachal Pradesh government recommended that “the E-flow values for Nyamjang Chhu project may be finalised with a four-season study with recommendations of the EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydroelectric projects).
  • The Tawang river basin study was discussed in meetings of the EAC in July and August 2015. The minutes of the July 2015 meeting noted: “The developer of Nyamjang Chhu joined the study late. The sites could be visited only for one season i.e. pre-monsoon season. In absence of the data for three seasons, it was not possible to conclude and recommend on all aspects of the project. During the present study, the team could not directly observe or camera-trap the bird, as winter season was already over by the time the developer joined the study.”
  • The minutes of the August 2015 EAC meeting noted that the E-flow for the project was “recommended based on only one-season study”. Therefore, it recommended that “the E-flow values for Nyamjang Chhu project are to be finalised by a four-season study to be undertaken by WII or equivalent”.

Since it was mooted in 2009, the Rs 7,000-crore Nyamjang Chhu hydel project has faced stiff resistance from locals who consider the black-necked crane an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama who was from Tawang. On May 2, two villagers were killed in police firing during a protest against the arrest of SMRF secretary Lobsang Gyatso.

NJC Hydro Power Limited is a Special Purpose Vehicle of Bhilwara Energy Limited (BEL) for development of Nyamjang Chhu HEP. In a letter to the Arunachal Pradesh government in December 2013, NHPL expressed “concern” that the “outcome of the cumulative studies may affect the environment and forest clearance of Nyamjang Chhu HEP”.

Source: Indian Express; Photo:Dibyendu Ash

Madhya Pradesh curbs pangolin smuggling to China with 82 arrests from 9 states

On April 23, 2015 five tonnes of frozen pangolins were seized in Indonesia
Photo: David Brossard
Pangolin | Photo: David Brossard

Madhya Pradesh which gained global notoriety for unabated poaching of tigers is now being lauded at international forums for its big breakthrough in busting the Indo-China pangolin smuggling syndicate. With 82 smugglers arrested from nine states across country, the Chinese fetish for aphrodisiacs from pangolin oil has been stomped out by the big bust.

Now, Special Task Force of state forest department is working with Interpol to nab remaining gang bases in China, Vietnam, Nepal and Malaysia. They were brutal gangsters, who would dip pangolins in boiling water to extract scales. The pan-India network and supply link to China has been wiped out.

More than 50,000 pangolin species have been smuggled out in last few years. The figure could be more, but STF officials shy away from disclosing data. “Forget about what we have lost, at least the remaining ones can survive,” said an STF officer.

The big catch in the syndicate chain was Rajkumar Bothra, 45, resident of Kareemnagar area in Assam. He was nabbed after a tip-off by Kolkata-based marine engineer Danish and 12 others in May 2015. Bothra is said to be one of the middleman in the international syndicate involved in Indian pangolins to China and Vietnam.

This gang allegedly confessed to poaching and trafficking of 100 pangolins from Madhya Pradesh to China in last 12 months. Officials also confiscated 2 kg pangolin scales from their possession. Blood, meat and scales of pangolins are sold to traditional medical practitioners at a premium in south eastern countries.

Those arrested from Kolkata have been identified as Jamal Iqbal, 59, and his son Danish, 24. Eleven others, including an independent corporator were arrested from Chhindwara district.

While Jamal is into leather business, his son Danish was studying marine engineering and was arrested before completion of his course. Jamal had developed a large pangolin poaching network in Madhya Pradesh with help of Nafeez Ahmad, an independent corporator in Chhindwara.

“Tribals are used to picking up pangolins from forests and are paid Rs 400 to 500 per kg for scales. It was then forwarded to Jamal between Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 and was further shipped to China where it’s sold for around Rs 1 lakh and more,” said and STF officer.

The entire operation was carried out by officer in charge (OIC) STF Ritesh Sirothia, range officer, Nitin Nigam, forest guard Chandra Sekhar Sharma, Rajkumar Yadav, Ravi Sharma and Anil Yadav under direct supervision of state’s chief wildlife warden Ravi Srivastava and his subordinate R P Singh.

Those arrested include 23 from MP, seven from Maharashtra, two from Odisha, two from Andhra Pradesh, one from Chhattisgarh, two from West Bengal and one from Mizoram. This ant-eating mammal with armour of keratin scales has been listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species.

Experts said, “If poaching continues, pangolins could go extinct. “Officials claim there are two smuggling routes to China-Nepal through north Bengal, Manipur and Myanmar. In traditional Chinese medicine, roasted pangolin scales are used for detoxification of blood, draining pus, curing palsy and stimulating lactation while its blood is used to treat asthma, cancer and reproductive problems in China.

Madhya Pradesh forest department also sought help from environment crime wing of International Criminal Police Organisation, Interpol, in a desperate attempt to arrest four Myanmar and Chinese nationals in connection with poaching of tigers, smooth-coated otters, turtles and other near extinct wildlife species from the state.

There were regular inputs on seizure of hides of tigers (apparently poached from protected areas of MP) in countries like Ethiopia and Nepal, but this is for the first time the state approached Interpol. STF of MP forest department has sent a dossier of ‘most wanted foreign nationals’ — around 12 — to CBI, which is National central bureau (NCB) for Interpol in India. NCB India will forward this report to Interpol’s general secretariat headquarters in Lyon (France). Another key player of the gang on wanted list is Amir Hussain Laskhar of Assam and his female associate Zobi Hmar.

In January, Interpol contacted MP government for details about Jaiy Tamang, 42, a resident of Nepal, who was arrested from Delhi’s Majnu ka Tila area for trading in pangolins scales and tiger hides. Tamang, who is said to be a middleman between wildlife traders in MP and foreign countries secured bail from local court, which was later dismissed by MP High court on April 21 in a 13-paged judgement. Coordination between MPFD and INTERPOL is being cited as an encouraging effort towards curbing wildlife crime.

Original Story: Times of India | Photo: David Brossard

Madhya Pradesh STF arrests kingpin of Indo-China Pangolin smuggling module

Photo: David Brossard
Photo: David Brossard
Pangolin | Photo: David Brossard

In a major breakthrough Madhya Pradesh forest’s special task force (STF) have arrested alleged kingpin of Indo-China Pangolin smuggling network from Assam. This is the 80th arrest in the country’s biggest ever poaching network cracked by the STF.

A team has been dispatched to Delhi to meet Interpol officials for further probe into overseas operations. Accused Amir Hussain Laskar, has been arrested on a specific input, said sources. He was produced before a special court in Balaghat which remanded him to five days police custody. He is middleman between Indian and Chinese wildlife traders, said an STF official privy of information.

“Laskar was working for an established network of international poachers. His arrest is a big success,” he said. STF arrested 80 people linked to the pangolin smuggling network from nine states across India so far.

Laskar is part of a global racket involved in smuggling Indian pangolins to China and Vietnam, where its blood, meat and scales are sold to traditional medical practitioners at a premium. This ant-eating mammal with armour of keratin scales has been listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species. Experts said, “If poaching continues, the pangolin could go extinct.”

Accused (name kept confidential pending investigation) masterminded the killing of hundreds of pangolins and smuggled them to south Asian countries from Madhya Pradesh and other parts of country, said an officer. Nine of his local conduits were arrested in state’s Chhindwara district in September 2014. At least 47 kg pangolin scales known as ‘chuan shan jia’ in Chinese were seized.

Officer said there are four layers in the global network and the Kolkata businessman is part of the second one. Passport and other documents reveal frequent visits to China. Officials claim there are two smuggling routes to China — Nepal through north Bengal, Manipur and Myanmar.

Local poachers are paid Rs 6000 for scales of one pangolin, which weighs around 1.3 to 2 kg. It is resold for Rs 15,000 to middlemen and Rs 30,000 to those who export illegally. The international value is 30 times more than what is paid to poachers.

Officials claim in traditional Chinese medicine, roasted pangolin scales are used for detoxification of blood, draining pus, curing palsy and stimulating lactation. Using its blood to treat asthma, cancer and reproductive problems is also a common practice in China.

Pangolins are found mostly in south-eastern parts of Madhya Pradesh, especially Pachmarhi area of Hoshangabad, Chhindwara, Balaghat and Seoni districts of the state. Madhya Pradesh which is largely focused on tiger conservation does not have any project to protect this endangered mammal.

Original Story: The Times of India | Photo: David Brossard, Flickr

Statement of Concern by Tiger Biologists on the WWF-GTF Report

Global tiger population distribution | WWF
Global tiger population distribution | WWF

On Sunday, April 10th, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Global Tiger Forum (GTF) issued a report stating that the world’s wild tiger population was on the rise, and on track for a doubling in a decade. We do not find this report1 and its implications scientifically convincing.

1. Having devoted years of our lives to trying to understand and save wild tigers, we believe their conservation should be guided by the best possible science. Using flawed survey methodologies can lead to incorrect conclusions, an illusion of success, and slackening of conservation efforts, when in reality grave concern is called for. Glossing over serious methodological flaws, or weak and incomplete data to generate feel-good ‘news’ is a disservice to conservation, because tigers now occupy only 7% of their historic range2. A recent World Conservation Union (IUCN) assessment3 showed 40% habitat loss in the last decade, and a spike in poaching pressure in many regions. Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao PDR and China have virtually lost viable tiger populations in recent years. This is not a time for conservationists to take their eyes off the ball and pat each other on the back.

2. There is no doubt that wildlife managers in parts of India and even in specific reserves in South East Asia and Russia have made commendable conservation efforts, leading to recoveries in specific tiger populations. India has invested massively in recovering several tiger populations2 over the last four decades. This has been possible because of strong political, administrative and public support rarely matched anywhere else.

3. Such sporadic tiger recoveries should be monitored using statistically robust camera trap or DNA surveys. Rigorous scientific studies in India, Thailand and Russia4-6 demonstrate this can indeed be done. But these studies also indicate that tiger recovery rates are slow and not likely to attain levels necessary for the doubling of wild tiger numbers within a decade4-6.

4. Estimates of tiger numbers for large landscapes, regions and countries currently in vogue in the global media for a number of countries are largely derived from weak methodologies7-9. They are sometimes based on extrapolations from tiger spoor (tracks and droppings) surveys, or spoor surveys alone. While spoor surveys can be useful for knowing where tigers occur, they are not useful for reliably counting their numbers. Translating spoor counts to tiger numbers poses several statistical problems that remain unresolved9, which can lead to fundamentally flawed claims of changes in tiger numbers7-9.

5. Source populations of tigers that occur at high densities and which are likely to produce ‘surplus’ animals that can disperse and expand populations now occupy less than 10% of the remaining 1.2 million square kilometres of tiger habitat2. Almost 70% of wild tigers survive within these source sites. They are recovering slowly, only in some reserves4-6 where protection has improved. Outside these source sites lie vast ‘sink landscapes’, which are continuing to lose tigers and habitat due to hunting as well as rural and developmental pressures.

6. With the above considerations in view, even taking these putative tiger numbers at face value, simple calculations show that doubling of the world’s tigers in ten years as hoped for in the report1 is not a realistic proposition. Assuming 70-90% of wild tigers are in source populations with slow growth4-6, such an anticipated doubling of global tiger numbers would demand an increase between 364-831% in these sink landscapes. We believe this to be an unlikely scenario.

7. Rather than engaging in these tiger number games that distract them from reality, conservationists must now focus on enhancing and expanding recovery and monitoring of source populations, while protecting their remaining habitat and their linkages, all the while being guided by the best of science.

K. Ullas Karanth, Ph.D Director for Science Asia-Wildlife Conservation Society ukaranth@wcs.org

Dale Miquelle, Ph.D. Director, Russia Program-Wildlife Conservation Society dmiquelle@wcs.org

John Goodrich, Ph.D. Senior Director, Tiger Program-Panthera jgoodrich@panthera.org

Arjun Gopalaswamy, Ph.D. Research Associate, Zoology, University of Oxford, UK arjungswamy@gmail.com

Citations

1. WWF. Global wild tiger population increases, but still a long way to go. 2016.

2. Walston J, Robinson JG, Bennett EL, Breitenmoser U, da Fonseca GAB, Goodrich J, et al. Bringing the tiger back from the brink—the six percent solution. PLoS Biol. 2010;8: e1000485.

3. Goodrich J, Lynam A, Miquelle D, Wibisono H, Kawanishi K, Pattanavibool A, Htun, S., Tempa, T., Karki, J., Jhala, Y., Karanth, K U.. Panthera tigris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T15955A50659951. 2015.

4. Karanth KU, Nichols JD, Kumar NS, Hines JE. Assessing tiger population dynamics using photographic capture-recapture sampling. Ecology. 2006;87: 2925–2937.

5. Duangchantrasiri S, Umponjan M, Simcharoen S, Pattanavibool A, Chaiwattana S, Maneerat S, et al. Dynamics of a low-density tiger population in Southeast Asia in the context of improved law enforcement. Conserv Biol. 2016; DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12655. doi:10.1111/cobi.12655

6. Miquelle DG, Smirnov EN, Zaumyslova OY, Soutyrina S V, Johnson DH. Population dynamics of Amur tiger (P. t. altaica, Temminck 1884) in Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik: 1966-2012. Integr Zool. 2015;10: 315–328.

7. Karanth KU, Nichols JD, Seidensticker J, Dinerstein E, Smith JLD, McDougal C, Johhnsingh, AJT, Chundawat, R, Thapar, V. Science deficiency in conservation practice: The monitoring of tiger populations in India. Anim Conserv. 2003;6: 141–146.

8. Karanth KU. India’s Tiger Counts: The Long March to Reliable Science. Econ Polit Weekly. 2011;XLVI: 22–25.

9. Gopalaswamy AM, Delampady M, Karanth KU, Kumar NS, Macdonald DW. An examination of index-calibration experiments: counting tigers at macroecological scales. Yoccoz N, editor. Methods Ecol Evol. 2015;6: 1055–1066. doi:10.1111/2041-210X.12351

Lioness mauls woman to death in Gujarat’s Bharad village

Asiatic lioness in Gir, Gujarat, India
Asiatic lioness in Gir, Gujarat, India
Asiatic lioness in Gir, India. Photo: Shaunak Modi

A 50-year old woman was mauled to death by a lioness in Gujarat’s Bharad village on Monday in a second such incident of lion killing a human on the periphery of the Gir lions sanctuary in last one month. The attack took place in Dhari taluka of Amreli district in the state’s Saurashtra region.

Labhuben Solanki, a migrant labourer, was sleeping with her family members in a mango orchard when a lioness dragged her into the nearby ravine. Her mutilated body was found barely half a kilometre away.

Dhari assistant conservator of forest (ACF) M.M. Muni said the woman’s family members tried to save her by shouting but in vain. “One of the three cubs of the lioness has been caged by the forest department while efforts to nab the killer beast are on,” Mr Muni said.

Earlier on March 19, 62-year-old Jinabhai Parmar was mauled to death by a lion in a similar manner while he was asleep in the open at Ambariya village of the district.

Mr Muni said two lions were rounded up the next day and bones and a piece of cloth belonging to Parmar were found in the stool of one of them in the animal care centre in Sasan. It meant the man was eaten up by lion.

Amreli district is home to over 170 Asiatic lions, according to the latest census conducted by the State Forest Department last year.

Asked about the recent attacks by lions on human beings, the forest officer said: “We are trying to find out the reason for such an unusual behaviour of the wild cat. Maybe hungry and thirsty lions get attracted to people sleeping in the open near a water body.”

Original Story: NDTV; Photo: Shaunak Modi

NGT suspends environmental clearance of Nyamjang Chhu project

Black-necked crane | Photo: Risto Kuulasmaa
Black-necked crane | Photo: Risto Kuulasmaa
Black-necked crane | Photo: Risto Kuulasmaa

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has suspended the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu Hydroelectric Project, by Bhilwara Group in Zemithang on eco-sensitive stretch of Tawang River basin.

In an order issued on Thursday, NGT said that fresh study should be carried out for grant of EC including public consultation.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) shall make fresh appraisal of the proposal for grant of EC and take appropriate decision for making recommendations to the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), stated the order issued by NGT Judicial Member Justice U.D.Salvi and Expert Member Prof. A.R. Yousuf.

The appeal was filed in 2012 before the National Green Tribunal, Principal bench, New Delhi by Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), a Tawang based group spear-headed by Buddhist Lamas opposing the grant of Environmental Clearance.

The MoEF&CC is also required to make a separate study of E-flow requirement for protection of habitat and conservation of the Black necked Crane.
The locals hold the Black-necked crane as sacred, an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama who was a local from Tawang and wrote about the Black-necked crane in his poetry. Only a 3 km stretch of the Nyamjang Chu River is the wintering site of the BNC and the barrage is proposed to come right in the middle of this stretch near Zemithang.

Tawang Basin Study prepared by NEHU in 2014 and commissioned by state govt had already noted the importance of the danger posed to the sacred cranes. The report by NEHU was never made public by the state government though the current ruling by NGT looks like it heavily relied on the study.

It also noted that studies done should be open for public consultation in order to offer an opportunity to affected persons having plausible stake in environment to express their concerns to facilitate objective decision by the EAC on all environmental issues and open a way for sustainable development of the region.
The SMRF had challenged the grant of EC on faulty Scoping Process, Concealment of information, submission of false and misleading data, lack of application of mind by the EAC at scoping stage, as it overlooked inappropriateness for sitting barrage at the place used by Black necked Crane, non-inclusion of ToR for impact assessment of 7.5MW Khangteng and farcical hearing.

Apart from the black-necked cranes, the valley is also home to other Schedule-I species such as red panda and the snow leopard in the higher reaches and the Arunachal macaque Macacamunzala, a newly described primate species in the area.

NGT took note of the fact that Environment Impact Assessment report does not record any of these facts. “This is a serious omission and it incorrectly states that the area and its surrounding areas harbour no rare or endangered wildlife” it said.

The NGT further states that “hydel power provides eco friendly renewable source of energy and its development is necessary, however, we are of the considered view that such development should be ‘sustainable development’ without there being any irretrievable loss to environment”.

The project involves 23.45km long Head Race Tunnel requiring extensive tunnelling in geologically fragile landscape and comprises of eight de-silting chambers and with underground Powerhouse having 6x130MW Pelton Turbines.

The HRT bypasses around 35kms stretch of river between barrage and the powerhouse.

Original Story: The Arunachal Times | Photo: Risto Kuulasmaa

Chinese custom agents seize 68,000 pythons skins

Python skins seized in China
Python skins seized in China
Two Chinese policemen fill out paperwork related to the seizure of 900 python skins in July. This week, reports surfaced that 68,000 skins were recovered in China. | Photograph By: HinaPhotoPress/ChinaPhotoPress 

Photos show Chinese authorities rolling them out one by one: python skins adorned with nature’s intricate patterning. The 68,000 skins were recovered this week as part of what may be the largest python skin smuggling case ever, according to the Los Angeles Times, which cited Chinese media.

Customs agents in Haikou, a city in China’s southern province of Hainan, confiscated the skins, estimated to be worth $48 million. The smugglers claimed the items would be used in traditional Chinese musical instruments. According to the Los Angeles Times, Chinese media reported that at least one suspect said the company used fake customs declaration forms to import python skins and eggs. On January 29, authorities arrested 16 people across five Chinese cities in connection with the incident.

Pythons can be found across Asia, Australia, and Africa. They’re non-venomous constrictors that kill by wrapping themselves around their prey and suffocating it. Trade in live pythons and their parts is regulated by an international treaty to ensure their survival in the wild.

Even so, 500,000 skins are imported from Southeast Asia each year, primarily to Europe, according to a report by the International Trade Centre, a subsidiary of the World Trade Organisation. Python skins are in high demand in Europe and the U.S. for upscale shoes and handbags.

This appetite fuels a black market trade, which, judging by the size of this one seizure in Haikou, may be huge. “The report shows the problems of illegality persist in the trade of python skins and this can threaten species’ survival,” said the International Trade Centre’s Alexander Kasterine, according to the BBC.

Some other wildlife crime busts and convictions around the world this past week:

TUSKS ON A BOAT: Border guards in southeastern China’s Guangdong Province confiscated 221 elephant tusks worth nearly $3 million, according to the Daily Mail. They discovered the tusks—reportedly the biggest ivory haul ever made in China—on an abandoned speedboat crossing from Hong Kong to the mainland. The smugglers had fled.

BONES AND SKINS: Indonesian police busted two suspects for allegedly poaching endangered Sumatran tiger cubs and selling their parts, reports Fox News. Police said that one of the men claimed a connection to a national tiger syndicate network. That suspect had previously been arrested in January 2014 for possessing other illegal wildlife, including helmeted hornbill casques and a stuffed clouded leopard.

TORTOISE TAKING: Indian customs officials seized 146 critically endangered tortoises from an abandoned bag at the airport in Mumbai, reports the BBC. The radiated tortoises and ploughshare tortoises had been wrapped in plastic bags for their intended journey from Madagascar to Nepal. No arrests have been made.

LEOPARD LOOTERS: Authorities in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, arrested two men after recovering a leopard skin in their possession, says The New Indian Express. The men, both Nepalese, are suspected of attempting to smuggle it into China via Nepal.

This story was updated to clarify that the Los Angeles Times reported that one suspect said the company used fake customs declaration forms to import python skins and eggs.

Source: National Geographic

Mumbai Mangrove Cell to set up first response centre for stranded marine animals

Bryde's whale beached in Juhu, Mumbai

The proposal has been discussed with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation and a formal nod is awaited by the mangrove cell of the forest department, whose staff will be part of the Management Centre.

The Mangrove Cell in Mumbai is to set up a Marine Animal Stranding Management Centre in Sindhudurg district, for first response in cases of stranding or beaching of marine animals. A pilot project will be set up in the coastal town of Malwan.

The proposal has been discussed with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation and a formal nod is awaited by the mangrove cell of the forest department, whose staff will be part of the Management Centre.

There has been a need to fast-track response mechanisms when it comes to stranding of marine animals, with an increase in reported incidents in coastal districts in the past few years. Networking has already been carried out in many coastal towns to receive information of any stranding.

“The centre, on receiving information, will deploy boats to rush to the spot with parallel information also sent out to veterinarians closest to the spot to examine whether the marine animal has an injury or a health condition. It will also have a rescue kit with items like flat ropes, hammers, forceps and stretchers for both rescue effort as well as post-mortem,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, mangrove cell. He added that the kit has been designed as per norms of marine rescue efforts around the world and may cost around Rs 3-4 lakh.

The challenge before officials and experts dealing with the marine ecosystem was laid bare when dealing with the first case of live stranding of a 40-feet blue whale on the Alibaug coast in 2015. After a 10-hour rescue effort, the mammal could not be saved. The process to fix a protocol was then set in motion, with training from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute to forest officials and other stakeholders.

Other recent incidents like the one on Juhu beach in January, when a 37-feet Bryde’s whale was washed ashore, too turned into a public spectacle with many thronging the beach to view the dead mammal. This delayed the process of carrying the whale for an autopsy and also posed a health hazard to the crowd that attempted to get close to the mammal despite warning of the harmful gases emanating from its decomposing body.

To tackle such occurrences, a five-day national workshop was held in Mumbai last month with marine experts from UK and Thailand in attendance for capacity building of various stakeholders. Though the training was on cetaceans, which only include large aquatic, carnivorous mammals like whales and dolphins, the centre will cater to all marine animals. Vasudevan said that the centre and its responses have been developed in consultation with experts at the workshop.

“The same team that was part of the workshop will be expanded to include around 30 people including forest officials, veterinarians, NGOs and other interested citizens. We did not want to keep the centre restricted to marine mammals since other species including turtles or fish too are washed ashore,” Vasudevan said. The aim will be to set a fixed protocol and have such centres in each of the coastal districts of the state, he said.

 Source: Indian Express; Photo Source: The Quint

NHAI begins NH7 repairs, now that expansion is granted.

NH7 Killer Highway

With the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) facing another biggest assault amid felling of thousands of trees by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the authority’s double standards and arm-twisting for the expansion of NH7 has come to the fore.

Even as tree felling is in full swing, the NHAI has started repairing and tarring of existing two-lane 37km NH7 stretch between Mansar and Khawasa. Conservationists have raised question mark over NHAI’s tarring and repairing of existing road. “The road repairs could have been taken up in 2012-13 when the existing two-lane between Mansar and Seoni was full of craters and in bad shape. But NHAI never repaired the road completely and did it only when there was pressure,” said former member of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Kishor Rithe.

Sources said NHAI repaired the road in 2013, that too partially, only following pressure from one of the MP high court judges who used to travel through this road from Nagpur. It was also repaired after protests from locals.

“What NHAI is doing now could have been done then also and saved many lives. The issue of wildlife clearance for NH7 was raised in the NBWL meetings. We always stressed on repairing the existing road till clearances are granted but NHAI never repaired the road completely,” Rithe said. “Now that it has got all clearances, it is repairing the existing two-lane road. It is apparent that as NHAI wanted clearances it resorted to arm twisting by not repairing or tarring of existing road,” said conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar.

On the contrary, a senior NHAI official said, “We are not tarring the 37km road but just repairing by filling potholes. A target of June 2016 has been set to complete the four-laning but we plan to do it by December 2015.”

When asked why the road was not repaired then, the official said, “At least 40-50 crore would have been spent for resurfacing and still it would not have been a permanent solution.” The Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of TOI report of September 29, 2013 about bad condition of the road.

A senior forest official, who was part of NHAI meeting, said, “After HC bashing, NHAI was virtually on the verge of floating tenders to resurface the road, but one of the top BJP leaders from Nagpur, who is now a minister, told NHAI officials that if the road is tarred, it will never become four-lane. The NH7 expansion got a twist since then.” The existing NH7 passes through Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and its buffer areas that are rich in wildlife and important forest corridor connecting Kanha and Pench. On Maharashtra side, though mitigation measures have been announced, Central India’s biggest tiger corridor to Indravati, Navegaon-Nagzira, Tadoba will be destroyed.

Source: Times of India | Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons