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 on: Aug 25, 2016, 06:15 AM 
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CS Monitor

Women in India fight sexual harassment with smartphones

Interest in phone apps with SOS buttons to alert contacts and websites to report sexual harassment has surged as more women challenge the view that they have a lower status than men.

By Nita Bhalla, Thomson Reuters Foundation 8/25/2016

New Delhi — Indian women armed with smartphones are using the clout of social media to fight sexual harassment by filming and publicly shaming men who molest them as greater awareness of violence against women spreads.

In the latest of a series of incidents, a young Indian woman used her smartphone to shoot video of a man sitting behind her on an IndiGo airline flight who tried to grope her between the seats. She filmed her rebuke of him in front of the other passengers.

The video, posted on YouTube last week, went viral, adding to growing anger over gender violence in the world's second most populous country where women are frequently sexually harassed in public and on transportation.

The trend to name-and-shame sex offenders comes after the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012. The incident sparked public protests and led to a national debate about the security of women – encouraging victims once embarrassed to come forward to use smartphones to expose perpetrators.

Interest in safety apps with SOS buttons to alert contacts and websites to report sexual harassment has surged in the past year or so as more women challenge the age-old patriarchal attitudes in India that view women as lower status than men.

"A video is a weapon that scares patriarchy. The proof, like in the IndiGo case, is mostly undeniable," wrote Piyasree Dasgupta, on leading news website "It leaves the woman with more power than usual to fight for her own cause with little need of either empathy or logistical help from a man. It pins a man down for his crimes with little scope of escape."


The latest video made on a domestic flight by budget airline IndiGo from Mumbai had been seen by 4.4 million viewers as of Feb. 5 and sparked outrage across social media.

"Because I'm a girl, and you have the right to touch me anytime, anywhere you want to?" the woman yells at the middle-aged man, who tries to cover his face with his hand.

The man eventually responds, saying he is sorry and asking forgiveness, watched by passengers disembarking the plane.

Upon landing in Bhubaneswar, in eastern Odisha state, the victim lodged a complaint with IndiGo crew and local police, said an airline statement.

The video is the latest of several incidents caught on camera by victims, their friends, and bystanders to show how Indian women and girls are feeling empowered by the use of smartphones and standing up to their aggressors.

In November, two sisters in the city of Rohtak hit the headlines when a video taken by other passengers showed them fighting with three young men who harassed them on a bus in the northern state of Haryana. One of the sisters hits the men with a belt while passengers on the bus watch without intervening.

Another video from the southern city of Bangalore in August showed a female jogger chasing a man who was sexually harassing her, catching up with him and forcing him to the ground. She kicks him and tells him to "get lost."

The same month, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, a video showing girls slapping an aggressor in a market went viral.

Since the fatal gang-rape in Delhi in 2012, the Indian government has tightened laws for crimes against women and introduced tougher penalties, but many Indian women say they feel no safer, according to a recent poll in the Hindustan Times.

There were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police in 2013, up from 244,270 the previous year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. These include rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, and molestation.

(Writing by Alisa Tang, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 06:13 AM 
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Lessons in disaster: children taught to prepare for Bangladesh's killer quakes

When earthquakes strike in south Asia, thousands of children are at risk from fragile school buildings. Evacuation drills are aiming to reduce the potential death toll

Saad Hammadi in Savar
Wednesday 24 August 2016 05.00 BST

As soon as the school bell rang, Lucky Akhter, 15, dropped down on her knees and took cover under a bench. When a second bell rang, she and 30 other students walked out of the classroom, joining a queue of about 300 students covering their heads with books and bags.

The students at Yearpur high school in Savar, north-west of Dhaka, were practising an earthquake drill prompted by the increasing frequency of tremors in Bangladesh over the past four years.

“The drills are important so we can save ourselves during a real incident,” says Lucky.

Bangladesh, India and Myanmar are vulnerable to a mega-thrust earthquake – a powerful 9.0 magnitude quake, according to research published in Nature Geoscience.

“Tremors have been taking place at least once every year for the last three years. This year we have felt it twice,” says Dewan Mohammed Abdus Sattar, principal of the school.

Once, a tremor occurred during school hours, causing students to panic and run straight out of the classroom, he remembers. “Things have changed since then,” he says.

In an attempt to avoid large-scale casualties during earthquakes, Dipecho – the disaster preparedness programme of the EU’s humanitarian aid and civil protection operations – has devised a training programme on how to deal with disaster in primary and secondary schools in Bangladesh. Save the Children has been working with the government to implement the training since May 2015.

The move follows major earthquakes that have killed thousands of young people globally when school buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

In 2005, an earthquake in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir (pdf) killed 19,000 children, mostly due to widespread collapse of school buildings. Three years later, two earthquakes, of 9.0 and 6.1 magnitude, hit Sichuan, China (pdf), killing more than 5,000 students as thousands of classrooms collapsed.

So far, Bangladeshi authorities have completed drills in 84 primary schools and nine secondary schools. The government is finalising drill guidelines to enable the programme to be rolled out across the country’s nearly 66,000 primary schools and 32,000 secondary schools.

Bangladesh is at the junction of three tectonic plates that stretch across India and Myanmar. Seismologists have identified an active friction of the earth’s plates between Chittagong and the Sylhet region, says Syed Humayun Akhter, professor of geology and seismology at the University of Dhaka and an author of the Nature Geoscience report.

The Indian plate moving in the north-east direction has been stuck against the Myanmar sub-plate moving in a south-westerly direction for at least 400 years, he says. “The condition is now such that a slip could happen by at least six metres.” This “slip” could affect an area of 250 square kilometres.

India began a national school safety programme in 2011 and has expanded it to include drills and evacuation procedures for hospitals and in local neighbourhoods. Some states, including Gujarat, have started auditing the structural soundness of government school buildings, says Vinod Chandra Menon, a founder member of India’s National Disaster Management Authority.

A crack in the wall of a school in Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu, after the devastating Nepalese earthquake on 30 April 2015. Photograph: Raj K Raj/Getty Images

“Our school buildings are very fragile. When an earthquake happens, the aftershocks can be very risky and hundreds of aftershocks [can] happen. If students are sitting inside the classroom, it might be risky for them because there might be cracks that can pose a high risk,” says Menon.

Dipecho funding focuses on improving the resilience of people, rather than buildings.

After the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, engineers audited more than 3,500 factories (pdf) to see how structurally sound they were. They said 25% of the buildings needed to be improved. “We need to do the same for residential buildings,” says Professor Mehedi Ansary of the civil engineering department of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Many cities in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh have grown without sound urban planning, says Akhter.

In Myanmar, Plan International has worked with the ministry of education to revise and develop policies on safe schools, says Olle Castell, disaster risk manager of Plan International Asia. “This … will have a great impact, as a new generation of children will have awareness about risks and protective measures,” he says, adding that the country is starting to embrace assistance from civil society organisations after democratic reform.

In Bangladesh, the government is hiring an international consultant to provide training on earthquake preparedness for local residential areas, which would begin in September, says Reaz Ahmed, director general of the department of disaster management.

As the drills continue, many schools need to do more to save the lives of their students. “In many schools the chairs are too low in height for students to seek shelter,” says Monir Uddin, manager of school disaster management at Save the Children in Bangladesh. The evacuation process at Yearpur high school was completed within three minutes but many schools in urban areas hardly have enough space to provide a safe location.

At Yearpur, Sattar says he plans to hold regular drill training. “We have become more organised than any other time,” he says. “We will have to organise this once every three months. The students can use these lessons in case of a real situation.”

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 06:07 AM 
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Dogs in Tanzania sniff out illegal ivory tusks in new anti-poaching effort

Two specially trained dogs help wildlife officials find tusks ‘within a minute’ as part of project between Tanzanian authorities and Wildlife Conservation Society

Oliver Milman
Thursday 25 August 2016 13.00 BST

A newly deployed team of specially trained dogs have helped authorities in Tanzania seize a haul of elephant tusks, with conservationists hoping the canine allies can help significantly slow rampant poaching in the country.

The dogs – Jenny, a Belgian Malinois, and Dexter, an English springer spaniel – discovered the four tusks at a property following a tipoff. A man was taken into custody over the ivory haul, which was initially missed by wildlife officials but found “within a minute” by Jenny’s keen nose.

The bust follows an 18-month training program that involved dogs being selected by Wagtail UK, a dog training school based in Wales, and flown to Tanzania’s largest national park, Ruaha. The dogs and their handlers have been trained to detect ivory and guns stowed away by poachers who have ravaged Tanzania’s elephant population in recent years.

The project, run by the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Tanzanian National Parks, hasn’t been without its challenges, with one of the first dogs brought over having died after being bitten by a tsetse fly.

But Dr Tim Davenport, WCS country director in Tanzania, said more dogs could be put into the field, as well as at airports and ports, to help curb poaching.

“It’s proving successful and we are considering bringing over a few more,” he said. “The challenge is to keep the dogs healthy and trained, but they can certainly help, it’s another tool we can use.

“Tanzanian National Parks are very much into the project, it’s going well. It’s only a matter of time before we start to directly track poachers as well as find ivory through dogs.”

Tanzania has one of Africa’s largest elephant populations and has become a target for poachers looking to supply the lucrative market for ivory in Asia. A census conducted last year found that the country lost a “catastrophic” 60% of its elephants in just five years, leaving Tanzania with around 43,000 pachyderms.

The country has also proved dangerous to humans battling the ivory trade. Roger Gower, a British helicopter pilot, was fatally shot by poachers in January as he was helping authorities track criminals.

Despite a global ban on the international trade of ivory, the black market in tusks for trinkets and medicines has led to fears that elephants could be wiped out in the wild. But Davenport said he hoped the poaching in Tanzania had “bottomed out” due to law enforcement measures and efforts to stem demand in China.

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 06:03 AM 
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Human-induced climate change began earlier than previously thought

Signs of warming appear as early as 1830 say researchers, whose analysis will help build accurate baseline of temperature before influence of human activity

Ian Sample Science editor
Wednesday 24 August 2016 18.23 BST

Continents and oceans in the northern hemisphere began to warm with industrial-era fossil fuel emissions nearly 200 years ago, pushing back the origins of human-induced climate change to the mid-19th century.

The first signs of warming from the rise in greenhouse gases which came hand-in-hand with the Industrial Revolution appear as early as 1830 in the tropical oceans and the Arctic, meaning that climate change witnessed today began about 180 years ago.

Researchers in Australia found evidence for the early onset of warming after trawling through 500 years of data on tree rings, corals and ice cores that together form a natural archive of Earth’s historical temperatures.

Temperature trends for the continents and tropical oceans over the last 500 years. Credit: Abram et al:

Much of what is known about Earth’s climate history is based on instruments that have monitored temperatures from the 1880s onwards. But while these capture the changing conditions seen in the 20th century, they miss the start of the warming trend.

“A lot is known about the climate record for the time when we have instrumental records,” said Nerilie Abram, a climate scientist at the Australian National University. “We wanted to look at whether these records give us the full picture.”

Pooling the data, the scientists found that temperatures in the tropical oceans and in the air above northern hemisphere land-masses began to rise above natural variations in the 1830s, just as greenhouse gas emissions edged upwards.

The scientists first thought that they were seeing the climate rebound after a period of natural cooling brought on by particles thrown high into the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions. But climate simulations showed that the warming they observed could be explained purely by the small rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The changes in greenhouse gases in the 19th century were small compared with the fairly rapid changes we see now, so seeing the climate respond this way was a surprise,” said Abrams.

‘I brought the graph’: Brian Cox refutes claims of climage change denier on Q&A: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

The southern hemisphere, including Australasia and South America, appeared to start heating up 50 years later, near the turn of the century, while no sign of warming on the continental scale was noticed in Antarctica. The lack of appreciable warming in Antarctica may be down to ocean currents carrying warm waters to the north and away from the frigid continent.

The results are important to build up an accurate baseline of the Earth’s temperature before human activity began to wield an influence on the climate. Details of the study, which involved 25 scientists across Australia, the US, Europe and Asia, are published in the journal Nature.

Industrialisation led to only minor rises in greenhouse gases in the 1800s, but what struck the scientists was how swiftly the climate changed as a result. “There is a potential that this could have a flip side,” Abram said. “If we can do anything to slow down greenhouse gas emissions, or even start to draw them back, there may be at least some areas of the climate system where we get a rapid payback.”

Ed Hawkins, a meteorologist at Reading University, said the results show how tree rings, corals and other natural material can be used to understand the regional and global changes that unfolded during and since the pre-industrial period. “This is further evidence that the climate has already changed significantly since the pre-industrial period,” he said.

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 05:59 AM 
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Global warming is melting the Greenland Ice Sheet, fast

The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing 110,000 Olympic size swimming pools worth of water each year.
Pools of melted ice form atop Jakobshavn Glacier, near the edge of the vast Greenland ice sheet.

John Abraham
Thursday 25 August 2016 11.00 BST 

A new study measures the loss of ice from one of world’s largest ice sheets. They find an ice loss that has accelerated in the past few years, and their measurements confirm prior estimates.

As humans emit heat-trapping gases, we expect to see changes to the Earth. One obvious change to be on the lookout for is melting ice. This includes ice atop mountains, ice floating in cold ocean waters, and the ice within large ice sheets or glaciers. It is this last type of ice loss that most affects ocean levels because as the water runs into the oceans, it raises sea levels. This is in contrast to melting sea ice – since it is already floating in ocean waters, its potential to raise ocean levels is very small.

So measuring ice sheet melting is important, not only as a signal of global warming but also because of the sea level impacts. But how is this melting measured? The ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are huge and scientists need enough measurements in space and time to really understand what’s going on. That is, we need high-resolution and long duration measurements to fully understand trends.

In a very recent publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, an international team reported on a new high-resolution measurement of Greenland. The lead author, Malcolm McMillan from the Centre for Polar Observation and Modeling, and his colleagues mapped Greenland with incredibly high resolution (5 km distances).

They accomplished this mapping by obtaining data from the Cryosat 2 satellite. This satellite uses a technique called laser altimetry to measure the height of surfaces. It is able to track the elevation of the ice sheets on Greenland with high precision. If the height of the ice sheet is growing, it means the ice is getting thicker. If the heights are decreasing, it means the ice layers are getting thinner.

A simplistic view would be that if ice sheets become taller, then they contain more frozen water. If they are shorter, they contain less water. But, this isn’t the entire story. Scientists also have to account for other changes, such as changes to density, surface roughness, and water content. When you realize that the Greenland Ice Sheet is many hundreds of meters thick, and the top layers include both snow and firn (which later get buried and compressed into ice), it becomes apparent that accounting for the constitution of the ice sheet can cause large uncertainty in estimates of how much water is contained within the sheet.

The authors of this study did such an accounting and they discovered that not only is Greenland losing a lot of ice, but the loss varies a lot depending on location and year. For example, 2012 was a year of incredible ice loss compared to other years. Also, the western side of the ice sheet is losing much more ice than the eastern side. They also found that a small part of the ice sheet (less than 1% of the sheet) is responsible for more than 10% of the mass loss.

In total, they estimate approximately 270 gigatons of ice loss per year for 2011–2014. This result is almost a perfect match to independent measurements made by other researchers and builds our confidence in their conclusions. To put this in perspective, the Greenland Ice Sheet is losing approximately 110,000 Olympic size swimming pools worth of water each year.

Lead author Malcolm told me:

    Using high resolution satellite data from ESA’s CryoSat-2 mission, we have produced a detailed and comprehensive picture of how Greenland has changed in recent years. In particular, we have been able to map the changing ice sheet in fine detail, and pinpoint where, and when, the greatest ice losses have occurred.

    These observations reveal not only the extent of Greenland’s contribution to sea level in recent years but, thanks to their high resolution, allow us to identify the key glaciers that are showing the greatest signs of change. The data also enable us to look at how much ice has been lost in each year and, for example, to quantify the large impact on the ice sheet of the record summertime temperatures occurring in 2012.

    Within a wider context, satellite records such as these are crucial for systematically monitoring our climate system, and assessing the impact of rising temperatures across Earth’s polar regions. In particular, they help us to understand the sensitivity of the ice sheet to changes in its surrounding atmosphere and ocean environment, and aid the development of reliable sea level rise projections.

The duration of this study is pretty short (4 years). I will be very interested to see if the mass loss continues at the same rate in following years. If the rate of mass loss increases, it may signify a larger future contribution to sea level from Greenland. This would be bad news for vulnerable coastal cities like Miami and certainly something coastal areas should plan for.

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 05:58 AM 
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Obama's offshore drilling puts whales and dolphins in peril, groups warn

Environmental groups warn president’s climate legacy could be at risk over research showing areas cleared for oil and gas extraction contain marine life

Oliver Milman
Wednesday 24 August 2016 13.00 BST   

Environmental groups have turned on the Obama administration over offshore oil and gas extraction, warning it puts whales and dolphins in peril and risks undermining the president’s commitment to putting the brakes on climate change.

Barack Obama, who recently called global warming an “genuine existential threat”, has enjoyed largely solid support from green groups that have praised his leadership on the issue. But Obama’s environmentalist allies are increasingly frustrated over federally approved fossil fuel drilling, just as the US president attempts to put the finishing touches on his climate legacy.

On Wednesday, leases for oil and gas exploration across 23.8m acres of the Gulf of Mexico will be auctioned off to fossil fuel companies. A total of 218.94m acres, about double the size of California, will have been offered up for leases in federal waters by the end of next year, with further leasing planned by the government in a new five-year program that will extend this process.

In response, protesters stormed the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s office in New Orleans on Tuesday, demanding the cancellation of the lease sales because of the link between climate change and the kind of flooding that has devastated large parts of Louisiana. Several protesters were arrested.

“While climate change affects everyone, communities of color and low-income communities continue to be hit hardest by the lasting impacts of climate disasters,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

“Thousands of oil spills, sinking lands and extreme weather creating turmoil for countless people. What more will convince the Obama administration to stop treating the Gulf like a sacrifice zone to fossil fuel interests?”

Another green group, the Center for Biological Diversity, is also ramping up its opposition to offshore drilling, releasing a report that found that burning all of the fossil fuels in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico would release a staggering 32.8bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The group claimed that expanding drilling in the gulf is contrary to America’s pledge to help keep global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial times and risks unleashing more extreme weather, drought and sea level rise upon swathes of the US.

“We can’t address climate change while expanding drilling the gulf. This report shows that new oil and gas leasing in the gulf would be a carbon bomb that will deepen our climate crisis,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “President Obama needs to align his energy and climate policies before leaving office, starting in the gulf.”

In March, activists disrupted a lease sale in New Orleans, chanting “shut it down” and brandishing banners in front of bidding companies. The action didn’t disrupt the process, however, with BOEM now overseeing around 4,400 active leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Conservationists are also fretting over the impact of oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. While the federal government has ruled out any drilling off the eastern seaboard in the immediate future, seismic airgun blasting is still being pursued by companies in waters stretching from Delaware to Florida.

Research from Duke University’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab has been released as animated maps by green group Oceana, showing that bottlenose dolphins, fin, humpback and sperm whales are all present in areas deemed suitable for the airgun testing.

A number of leading marine scientists have warned that airgun testing, where air is fired at the seabed to determine if oil or gas deposits reside there, can be extremely harmful to the ability of whales and dolphins to communicate with each other or find food. The Obama administration has been pressured to end the practice.

“These maps confirm what we’ve long feared, that dolphins and whales along the east coast are at risk from dangerous seismic airgun blasting for oil and gas,” said Claire Douglass, campaign director at Oceana.

“Hearing that whales and dolphins could be injured is one thing, but seeing the scale of the threat is another. President Obama should stop seismic airgun blasting and protect our coast.”

But fossil fuel companies have warned against any winding down of offshore drilling, claiming that it creates jobs and helps the US become less dependent on energy sources from other countries.

“If we are going to continue to drive investment in America, create jobs, and provide affordable energy, we must look to the future,” said said Louis Finkel, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, which supports a US “energy renaissance” by drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

This stance has been embraced by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has an “America first” energy policy that would drastically ramp up domestic coal, oil and gas production. His rival Hillary Clinton has promised a swift transition to clean energy sources but has come under fire from progressives for her ties to the oil and gas industry and for leaving the door open to fracking.

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 05:55 AM 
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Zimbabwe's government is standing by as its wildlife is slaughtered

Julian Rademeyer

Rogue state officials and disjointed land reforms have created an increasingly dangerous environment for at-risk animals

Thursday 25 August 2016 08.00 BST

It was a normal day in the Chipinge Safari area when two police officers, Robert Shumba and Vengai Mazhara, headed into the bush in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands after getting a tip about a poacher armed with an AK-47.

They were soon dead, shot by an unknown man who escaped the scene.

A month later, the police arrested a man alleged to have supplied the AK-47 used in the killings, 36-year-old Munashe Mugwira, an operative at the state security agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

Mugwira was detained after another suspected poacher was arrested. According to the local press, the suspect told police that Mugwira had supplied him and four others with AK-47s and .303 hunting rifles to “kill rhinos”. The man, Jason Chisango, also accused Mugwira of poisoning elephants with cyanide.

The accusations against a government agent point to a worrying trend in Zimbabwe: the involvement of the state’s security apparatus in rhino horn smuggling and supplying weapons to elephant and rhino poachers.

Mugwira – who has denied the charges – is now facing trial, and while Zimbabwe does have stringent legislation to protect its fauna and flora, the application of these laws has so far been disastrously uneven.

In December 2015, for example, Tavengwa Machona – one of Mugwira’s co-accused and a man accused by the prosecution of being involved in “decades of poaching activity” – was found guilty in a separate trial of killing two rhinos and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

However, the court promised to commute the sentence by 15 years if he paid $480,000 – the estimated value of the rhinos – to the park where they were killed. It is unclear whether he has paid the fee.
‘Things are getting worse’

The extent of the allegations against Mugwira are wide-ranging and extreme, but there are concerns that the involvement of the CIO in poaching appears to extend beyond a few rogue agents.

One conservationist, who spoke to the Global Initiative Against Organised Crime on the condition of anonymity, said thatcorrupt game scouts and poachers were regularly trading horns and tusks with CIO operatives.

Over the past decade, more than 6,000 rhinos have been killed by poachers across several African states, and things are getting worse. In the early stages of the crisis in 2008, 262 rhinos were killed. By 2015, that number had risen more than fivefold to 1,377, according to the African Rhino Specialist Group.

South Africa, which is home to 79% of the continent’s remaining rhinos, has borne the brunt of the killings, but Zimbabwe has also experienced a worrying rise in poaching. In 2014, 20 rhinos were killed; in 2015, the figure was 51.

The upsurge in poaching in Zimbabwe has complex roots including continuing political instability, a foundering economy, and widespread corruption. The ruling Zanu-PF’s party policies have also exacerbated the issue.

As part of their “fast-track” land reform programme, the government encouraged local subsistence farmers to invade wildlife conservancies where rhino populations were being protected and rebuilt.

In 2011, senior officials and military officers also seized key properties and land in the Savé Valley , an area once heralded as one of the world’s most notable conservation success stories. Ministers and local provincial leaders were controversially granted 25-year leases on the properties, justified on the basis of “wildlife-based land reform” measures to empower indigenous black Zimbabweans.

Beyond land reforms, cyanide, which is widely used in Zimbabwe’s mining industry, is relatively easy to obtain in the country and has also been used repeatedly by poachers.

In 2013 at least 300 elephants died after waterholes and salt-licks were purposefully poisoned with cyanide in what was described as “the largest massacre of elephant in this part of the world for the last 25 years”. In October 2015, at least 62 elephants were reported to have been poisoned with cyanide-laced oranges in the Hwange National Park.

With the right leadership, Zimbabwe’s wildlife could be used to reinvigorate community ownership, and the nationwide resource that has been pillaged for the profit by the central state could be protected.

But given the depth of problem it seems this change of direction will require a fresh government. This may come about sooner rather than later given the political challenges president Robert Mugabe is currently facing.

But the increasingly endangered rhino species does not have time on its side. While a few groups continue to profit massively, the onslaught on wildlife and the environment in Zimbabwe is only getting worse.

A version of this article originally appeared in “Tipping Point – Transnational organised crime and the ‘war’ on poaching”, by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, and African Arguments

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 05:52 AM 
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Call the old bill: police try to quack case of 200 lost ducks

Police investigating after the animals, worth a four-figure sum, were stolen from a farm near Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire

Press Association
Wednesday 24 August 2016 16.31 BST

Police are hunting thieves who stole more than 200 rare ducks from a farm.

The 230 ducks, worth a four-figure sum, were taken from a shed and officers believe they were rounded up and loaded into a pickup truck or van.

They were stolen in the early hours of Friday 19 August from a poultry farm near Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire.

PC Marc Camus said: “Due to the number of ducks taken, it is believed that a vehicle similar in size to a pickup truck or a transit van would have been sufficient to transport the animals.

“The breeds of ducks taken are not common and are difficult to source. The ducks may therefore be offered for sale to other poultry farmers.

“If anyone has any information about this incident they are asked to call Police Scotland on 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 05:51 AM 
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Rescued Gaza zoo animals move to new sanctuaries

Tiger and porcupines amid 15 animals to find new homes after zoo owner displayed stuffed animals who had died of starvation

WARNING: this article contains a graphic image

Wednesday 24 August 2016 14.54 BST

The last survivors of a Gaza zoo where dozens of animals died of starvation and children petted stuffed carcasses have left for sanctuaries outside Palestine.

Economic hardship deepened by war with Israel led to the deaths of most of the 200 animals at the privately owned complex in Khan Yunis.

Welcome to Gaza’s zoo, where stuffed animals are the main attraction: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

The 15 remaining animals rescued by the Four Paws international animal welfare group included a tiger, porcupines, an emu and five monkeys. They were moved on Wednesday. A baby deer that was to have made the journey died in “a desolate cage” last week, the organisation said.

“Worst zoo in the world now history,” Four Paws said in a statement announcing the zoo’s closure.

Israel, which maintains tight restrictions on its border with Gaza, allowed the animals through in the transfer called Operation Safari.

Some were destined for sanctuaries in Israel and Jordan, while the tiger will be flown to Four Paws’ Lionsrock big cat sanctuary near Bethlehem in South Africa.

Four Paws said its Gaza mission leader, veterinarian Amir Khalil, had now trained local colleagues how to care for wild animals. “We hope they will use their gained knowhow in the future to better help animals in need in Gaza,” Khalil said.

The zoo’s owner, Mohammad Oweida, once hosted family and school outings at the facility. But a seven-week war between Israel and Palestinian militants in 2014 prevented him getting enough food for the animals, many of which had been smuggled to Gaza through tunnels from Egypt.

Oweida stuffed 15 of the animals that died, including a lion and a chimpanzee, and put them on display in what Gaza residents called the “Jungle of the South”.

“I have lived and worked nine years in this zoo. I was connected to the animals more than I was to people. Today, I am forced to let them go so they can live better,” Oweida, 26, told Reuters.

He said he would particularly miss eight-year-old tiger Laziz, whom he had raised since the animal was a cub, adding: “I feel as if my soul has been taken away.”

 on: Aug 25, 2016, 05:47 AM 
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How did the chicken, a shy, flight-impaired forest bird, migrate around the globe?

The spread of chickens around the world is intimately linked to the movement of people. Research from New Zealand sheds light on how and when they arrived

Wednesday 24 August 2016 13.00 BST

Chickens are native to the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia, but over the last approximately 8,000 years, chickens have been domesticated and spread around the globe to become one of the most valued domesticated animals. These fairly shy forest birds lack the ability for long-distance flying and are not migratory. As such, their spread around the world is not just a tale of domestication, but one that is intimately linked to the movements of people around the world.

Darwin was the first to suggest that all domestic chickens descended from the red junglefowl Gallus gallus. The earliest archaeological evidence for domesticated chickens has been reported from sites in China, where chicken bones had been found dating back to 10,000-8000 years ago (West and Zhou, 1988; Xiang et al., 2014). However, close examination of the reported chicken remains found that most, if not all, bones identified as chicken are ring-necked pheasants, a species common in China, instead (Peters et al., 2016; Eda et al., 2015). Evidence from China regarding the early domestication of chickens remains controversial, but chicken remains from the Indus Valley in northern India suggests that domesticated chickens were present in southern Asia 4,000 years ago.

The rise of new molecular techniques, such as DNA analysis, allowed scientists to look at the domestication of chickens at a whole new level. An early study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) showed that domestic chickens indeed descended from the red junglefowl, and indicated that a single domestication event had taken place in Thailand (Fumihito et al., 1996). More recent studies showed that the domestication of chickens occurred in at least three separate regions in Asia (Liu et al., 2006). Moreover, domesticated chickens interbred with local populations of different wild jungle fowl species; the gene for yellow legs, an ubiquitous characteristic of domesticated chickens, can be traced back to the closely related grey junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) (Eriksson et al., 2008) rather than the red junglefowl.

From southern Asia, the chicken left its natural range behind and embarked on its Grand Tour. Domestic chickens reached West Asia and the Near East during the third and second millennium BC, and were introduced to Europe by the Phoenicians during the 8th century BC (Perry-Gal et al., 2015). Up till then, chickens had had a mostly ceremonial or symbolic role, as evidenced by the inclusion of chickens in burials, clay figurines in early Chinese cultures and mentions of chickens in early texts. As chickens spread through Europe, chicken remains in archaeological assemblages became more abundant. This indicates that chickens had started to form an established part of European livestock, and the sagas have it that when the Vikings colonised Iceland in the 10th century, they took along their chickens.

Today’s chickens represent a range of different sizes, body proportions, plumage colours, behaviour, and physiological traits related to meat and egg production. Although it is thought that many modern breeds originated relatively recently (in the 18th-19th century), evidence from historical sources suggests that selective breeding was already practiced during Roman times and that several regions had their own domestic chickens with particular characteristics (de Cupere et al., 2005).

The spread of chickens from Asia south- and eastwards is thought to have been initiated by the first farmers, or Austronesians, who spread from mainland China into Island South East Asia around 5000 years ago. With them, they took pottery and agriculture including domestic animals such as pigs and dogs (Bellwood and Dizon, 2006). Although archaeological chicken remains from this region are very scarce, it is assumed that chickens formed part of this agricultural package as well. When the Polynesians subsequently colonized the Pacific island archipelagos, chickens were taken with them. Remains of chickens have been found in archaeological assemblages all over the Pacific region, and on the Hawaiian island Kauai, chickens introduced by the Polynesians some 800 years ago now run wild. Controversial evidence even suggests that the Polynesians brought chickens to South America (Storey et al., 2007) long before Columbus set foot on the continent.

Given the widespread introductions of chickens (and other commensals such as the Pacific rat Rattus exulans) by the Polynesians, it was generally assumed that the same had happened when the Polynesians colonized New Zealand in the thirteenth century. But chickens were conspicuously absent from the earliest Polynesian archaeological assemblages. Had they been overlooked? Lost to disease or predation after their arrival? Was the abundance of large flightless birds that required little effort to capture reason to abandon the keeping of chickens? Or, were they never there in the first place? To settle the question of when chickens arrived in New Zealand, researchers used radiocarbon dating to assess the age of three archaeological chicken bones that could potentially date to the period of Polynesian colonisation.

Surprisingly, the bones turned out to be quite young, with median ages of 1756, 1757 and 1840 - although note that the radiocarbon method yields age probability distributions rather than a single age, (Wood et al., 2016). These ages postdate the arrival of Polynesians by far, and pre-date permanent European settlement, but their age distributions overlap with the arrival of Captain James Cook’s second voyage in 1773. Moreover, Cook recorded gifting several chickens, both hens and cocks, to local Māori on several occasions. Little is known regarding the fate of these chickens, and it is unclear if the bones sampled in this study represent the chickens that were gifted by Captain Cook, or their descendants. The trading by Māori of other European items between settlements along the coast suggests that Māori were quick to incorporate chickens into their diet.

This may not just have been a matter of taste. Before the arrival of humans, New Zealand was home to a unique terrestrial fauna that included large flightless birds such as the moa, and large numbers of sea birds that bred in colonies on land. Much of the native fauna had gone extinct in less than two centuries after the Polynesians arrived. Moreover, evidence from East Polynesia suggests that long-distance trading had almost ceased around that time, and that the ability to make long voyages may have been lost among Māori. With protein sources dwindling rapidly, and without the possibility to resupply by long-distance trading, Māori were facing limited food resources. The arrival of chickens may have been met with relief.

Despite their title of the oldest chicken bones from New Zealand, the bones do not answer the question of whether or not chickens were introduced to New Zealand by the first Polynesians. However, the authors argue, had chickens been on board of the first Polynesian canoes and formed an established part of the settlers’ diet, their bones would have been more abundant in the earliest Polynesian assemblages, as is the case on other Polynesian islands. The fact that New Zealand was teeming with a diverse terrestrial fauna that was easy prey may have been enough incentive to leave the chicken be.


Bellwood and Dizon, 2005. The Batanes Archaeological Project and the “Out of Taiwan” Hypothesis for Austronesian Dispersal. Journal of Austronesian Studies 1:1-32.

de Cupere et al, 2005. Ancient breeds of domestic fowl (Gallus gallus f. domestica) distinguished on the basis of traditional observations combined with mixture analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science 32:1587-1597.

Eda et al., 2016. Reevaluation of early Holocene chicken domestication in northern China. Journal of Archaeological Science 67:25-31.

Eriksson et al., 2008. Identification of the yellow skin gene reveals a hybrid origin of the domestic chicken. PLoS Genetics 4(2) e1000010.

Fumihito et al 1996. Monophyletic origin and unique dispersal patterns of domestic fowls. PNAS 93:6792-6795.

Liu et al 2006. Multiple maternal origins of chickens: out of the Asian jungles. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 38:12-19.

Perry-Gal et al., 2015. Earliest economic exploitation of chicken outside East Asia: Evidence from the Hellenistic Southern Levant. PNAS 112: 9849–9854.

Peters et al., 2016. Holocene cultural history of Red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) and its domestic descendant in East Asia. Quaternary Science Reviews 142:102-119.

Storey et al., 2007. Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile. PNAS 104: 10335–10339.

West and Zhou 1988. Did chickens go north? New evidence for domestication. Journal of Archaeological Science 15:515-533.

Wood et al., 2016. Origin and timing of New Zealand’s earliest domestic chickens: Polynesian commensals or European introductions? Royal Society Open Science 3:160258.

Xiang et al., 2014. Early Holocene chicken domestication in northern China. PNAS 111:17564–17569.

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