Liberia needs to muster the courage to ban FGM
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has called on others to ban female genital mutilation, yet her country is poised to miss an opportunity to end the practice
The author is FGM programme manager at Equality Now
Wednesday 27 April 2016 15.37 BST
When Nobel peace prize laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected Africa’s first female head of state in 2005, expectations were high. Throughout both her terms as president, she has talked about her firm commitment to women’s rights, coming out strongly in favour of the health and safety of women and girls.
Last year, at an international event on gender equality, President Johnson-Sirleaf said: “Too many of our countries have yet to muster the courage to ban the irreparable harm inflicted by genital mutilation on young girls in traditional societies.” It was a controversial statement, as Liberia is one of the states yet to do so – half of Liberian women and girls (pdf) are estimated to have undergone this extreme form of violence.
Following bans last year in Nigeria and The Gambia, Liberia is now one of only three countries in west Africa yet to ban FGM – the others are Mali and Sierra Leone.
FGM: a costly, organised crime against women and girls...Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/blog/2016/apr/13/fgm-costly-organised-crime-africa
In Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Sande female secret society promotes and carries out FGM as part of a rite initiating girls into womanhood. FGM is a taboo subject (pdf) and it is forbidden to talk about secret societies and their practices with non-initiated people.
Punishment for such violations include physical abuse, forceful initiation and death threats – something Ruth Berry Peal, a woman in northern Liberia who was forced to undergo FGM, and other women have faced for years after standing up against it.
Liberia’s media has been silenced on the issue too – and the lives of journalists who speak out are put at risk. Mae Azango was forced into hiding in 2012 for writing about the issue in Front Page Africa.
Things appeared to be changing last year when, in response to many years of international and national pressure, a domestic violence bill was finally introduced to strengthen legislation on violence against women and girls – including, for the first time, a ban on FGM.
The proposed measures on the latter were, though, extremely weak. The bill regarded FGM as an offence only when performed on a girl under the age of 18 – or a person 18 or older without their consent. This would provide a loophole for parents or guardians to grant consent on behalf of their daughters, leaving those most at risk unprotected. The bill also included ineffective penalties for perpetrators, where counselling and fines could be arbitrarily determined by a judge.
Equality Now and its local partner, the Women of Liberia Peace Network, with funding from Comic Relief, have been working to ensure that a total ban on FGM is included in the bill instead – as required by the Maputo protocol, the African women’s rights legal framework, which Liberia has ratified.
How the Gambia banned female genital mutilation....Maggie O'Kane..Read more:http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/24/how-the-gambia-banned-female-genital-mutilation
This week, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse as legislators decided to delete the FGM provision entirely. A debate will now be held on Thursday on the bill in its current state. As this provision was the most controversial measure, the domestic violence bill could pass without any mention of FGM.
At a time when the Africa-led momentum to end FGM is growing, it is vital that we do not lose the opportunity to protect more girls and women from this huge violation of their rights. Unlike neighbouring countries such as Guinea and Sierra Leone, Liberia has already managed to significantly reduce (pdf) FGM prevalence from 85% for middle-aged women to 44% for girls aged 15 to 19. However, unless tough legislation is enacted and properly implemented, it may be difficult to accelerate this change and the lives and wellbeing of millions more girls will be put at risk.
Johnson-Sirleaf is well positioned to “muster the courage” to do what is necessary to ensure that Liberia bans FGM – either as part of the current domestic violence bill, or as a standalone bill, as a matter of urgency.
There has been too much discussion and not enough action. Liberia cannot afford to keep making statements to make it seem like it is doing something, without following through and putting real measures in place, which promote and protect the rights of its girls.
Mary Wandia is FGM programme manager at Equality Now
on: Apr 28, 2016, 06:15 AM
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on: Apr 28, 2016, 06:09 AM
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Dentist wins 'green oscar' for using healthcare incentives to halt logging
Scheme offering Indonesian villages that stop illegal logging large discounts on medical care is saving lives as well as the rainforest
Wednesday 27 April 2016 18.00 BST
As a dental surgeon, a successful career in conservation was not something Dr Hotlin Ompusunggu ever imagined.
But her work in Indonesia, where she has helped save orangutans by providing people with healthcare discounts if their villages stop logging, has clearly paid off. As well as cutting logging and improving health, this week she won second a “green oscar” prize and there are plans to replicate her model across south-east Asia.
“The idea is to save the lives of these people and also save the forest. A dentist is not a typical background, but I’m passionate about community development and I’m interested in health in the bigger picture. I have learned that to be a healthy human being, you also need healthy nature, and that’s how I came to find myself here,” she said.
In 2007, she co-founded the NGO Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), with a mission to break the cycle between poverty and illegal logging in the 1,100 km sq Gunung Palung national park in remote south-west Borneo by giving local people healthcare incentives to preserve the globally important rainforest. The forest is home to endangered species including hornbills, gibbons, sun bears, clouded leopards, and 2,500 orangutans – roughly 10% of the world’s population.
Ompusunggu, who is from a big city on Sumatra, said she wasn’t originally interested in conservation. “I took it for granted that we had beautiful forests with orangutans. I was even sceptical about conservation, I wondered why we spend so much money saving orangutans. But I learned that the orangutan is the farmer of the forest, and the forest provides water for people, so it all comes back to people and conservation for human wellbeing.”
Illegal logging is destroying vast areas of the national park’s protected forest each year, and it has been estimated that 98% of it could disappear within 10 years. The 18 villages that border the park are very poor and many people resort to chopping down lucrative ironwood trees to earn a living.
“One of the drivers to log is instant cash to pay bills – particularly medical bills. If your loved one is dying, you will do anything to help.”
So Ompusunggu went to the community and asked people: “If the global community wants to help you to save the forest, what would you like help with? What do you need to enable you to protect the forest? And they asked for affordable, accessible, high-quality healthcare.”
Villages that stop logging receive discounts of up to 70% on medical care. More than 24,000 patients have been treated so far at the main clinic and mobile clinics for TB, high blood pressure, dental problems and diabetes. Since 2007, infant deaths have fallen by two-thirds and child immunisation rates increased by 25%. There has also been a significant reduction in rates of common illnesses. No one is turned away: those who cannot afford treatment can pay by taking part in reforestation activities.
“By providing this healthcare as an incentive we have removed one of the reasons for people to log the forest. But also it’s in line with what the community asked us for from the beginning,” she said.
As a result of the scheme, the number of villages free from illegal logging has more than doubled and the number of households involved in illegal logging has fallen from 1,350 to 450.
She said another request was for alternative livelihoods. Teams of local forest guardians are trained to monitor illegal logging and teach others about the importance of healthy forest ecosystems and conservation. “Many people want to farm but the methods are not good because they use slash and burn and with the population there is not enough land. Also fertiliser gets more expensive so they need a new way to be more independent, so they asked us to train them to farm organically.”
Gunung Palung national park in remote south-west Borneo. The forest is home to endangered species including hornbills, gibbons, sun bears, clouded leopards, and 2,500 orangutans.
For Ompusunggu, it wasn’t a challenge to win the community over and stop them logging once alternatives were provided. “They believe that they need forests. They live next to the forest, and they know if there’s no more forest there won’t be water for them. With a common understanding, we work together with them and they know that we are there to help them. They know also that to do logging is illegal, and to give them alternative solutions is to increase their dignity. So they feel they are doing the right thing for their future and their community.”
Ompusunggu has won the 2016 Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) gold award, and will receive her prize from HRH Princess Anne at a ceremony in London on Wednesday night.
The awards, which recognise the success of grassroots conservation leaders in developing countries, provide winners with funds to scale-up their projects. This year, other award-winning schemes range from protecting tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea to safeguarding migrating birds of prey from hunters in Georgia.
Ompusunggu, who won one of the prizes in 2011, has been recognised by the awards a second time for the outstanding success of her project with a further grant of £50,000. The WFN prize money will now be used to establish the country’s first conservation hospital, she said, and fund a possible national expansion.
“The funding will enable us to scale-up and help us see potential replication of our scheme across forests in Indonesia. We did some site visits and are working to see what will be the impact on communities might be.”
on: Apr 28, 2016, 06:06 AM
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Workers face 'epidemic of heat-related injuries' due to climate change
Major UN report warns heat stress suffered by factory and field workers will devastate health and reduce productivity
Thursday 28 April 2016 11.19 BST
Workers in fields and factories face an epidemic of heat-related injuries that will devastate their health, income and productivity as climate change takes hold, a major UN report has warned.
Productivity losses alone could rise above $2tn by 2030, as outdoor employees in many regions slow their pace, take longer breaks and shift their work to cooler dusk and dawn hours.
The effects of heat stress brought on by a warming world are already evident among the 4 billion people who live in the tropics and subtropics, says the report, Climate Change and Labour, which was jointly produced by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UN Development Programme and the World Health Organisation.
In west Africa, the number of very hot days each year has already doubled since the 1960s, with an increase of around 10 sultry days each decade.
Matthew McKinnon, the manager of the UN’s climate vulnerable support forum, told the Guardian that increased incidence of heat stroke was only the most dramatic evidence of the problem he encountered on a recent trip to Ghana.
He said: “Teachers were complaining that it was too hot to teach children in schoolrooms which had no air conditioning. The children were also exhausted. We had truck drivers who were complaining that the rates of tyre bursts was increasing a lot because of the heat. Farmers too were worried that they had to spend too much time in open fields in the hot season.”
Around 2% of daylight hours are predicted to be shaved off the working day in west Africa, south Asia, and 10 regions in Asia, Africa and Latin America by 2030, potentially creating an epidemic of heat-related injuries.
“If temperatures climb beyond 2C, it would really be a problem on that scale in the tropics and sub-tropics,” McKinnon said.
More than half of the workforce in many middle- and low-income countries is already exposed to heat hazards, which also affect workers in factories that have inadequate air conditioning and ventilation systems. This is in turn can make normal work impossible.
“When heat is at a maximum threshold and it continues to get hotter, there are limitations to what people can do,” McKinnon said.
If ambient temperatures rise above the body’s median 37C, a person can only continue working by expelling heat through sweat evaporation. Where high humidity or clothing requirements prevent this, the only way to avoid dehydration and ultimately, clinical heatstroke is through reducing the work rate, resting and drinking as much water as possible.
Heat-related health breakdowns would have a gender dimension, hitting men who traditionally slog through heavy-lifting jobs, and pregnant women who are forced to work for economic reasons, especially in rural areas.
The worst-affected areas in the century ahead will likely include countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Burkina Faso which had already lost 2-3% of their available daylight work hours by the mid-1990s due to heat extremes.
Even if the Paris agreement succeeds in limiting global warming to 2C, 10-15% of daylight work hours will be lost in vulnerable countries by the century’s end, says the study which bases its estimates on theUN climate science panel’s latest findings.
“Limiting warming to 1.5Cas enshrined in the UNFCCC Paris agreement would still result in a substantial escalation of risks but increases the viability of adaptation measures and contains the worst impacts in health, economic and social terms,” the report says.
The paper calls for low-cost measures such as guaranteed access to drinking water in workplaces, frequent rest breaks, management of output targets, and a protection of employee’s incomes and conditions.
However, more labour disputes to protect vulnerable workers - and apply the ILO’s guidelines on climate change – are all but inevitable as the century advances, according to the ILO.
Moustapha Kamal Gueye, an ILO spokesman, said: “Climate change is going to be a major issue for unions in the years ahead. It is a significant problem already and workers and unions are far ahead of governments and employers when it comes to putting on pressure about the urgency to take action.”
on: Apr 28, 2016, 05:58 AM
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Montserrat's last two mountain chicken frogs to be reunited to save species
Conservationists pin hopes of the species’ survival on breeding the Caribbean island’s last known male and female in the wild
Wednesday 27 April 2016 10.34 BST
In what could be a fairytale ending, conservationists are hoping to reunite the last two remaining wild mountain chicken frogs living on Montserrat and help their species breed on the Caribbean island for the first time since 2009.
A project led by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust will next month take the last remaining female and “translocate” her into the territory of the last remaining male as part of a 20-year recovery plan for the species, one of the world’s largest and rarest frogs that exists on just two Caribbean islands, Montserrat and Dominica.
The two frogs are the island’s only known survivors of an outbreak of the deadly chytrid fungus disease, a pandemic ravaging amphibian populations worldwide.
Montserrat’s remaining male and female live roughly 500m apart among the boulders of a steep, fast-flowing stream in the rainforest. Over the next few weeks, the team of conservationists will first try to locate the male by his deep, whooping mating call, which begins as the rains of the breeding season start to fall. Then they will try to find the female further downstream.
Providing the two can be found, the team will move the female into the male’s territory and set up a few artificial nests to encourage her to stay. There will be several weeks of intense monitoring where two conservationists will hike for an hour to and from the stream and spend around six hours every night keeping watch on the female to make sure she hasn’t moved back to her old home.
The ultimate hope is that over the next four months of the breeding season, the two mate and nest, something that has never before been observed in the wild on the island.
“The best chance for them breeding is in the wild in their native habitat - it’s just a matter of getting them together,” said Jeff Dawson, amphibian programme manager for Durrell and project coordinator for the mountain chicken recovery programme, which also involves ZSL, Chester zoo, Nordens Ark in Sweden and local governments.
“Now it’s started raining I’m confident that the team out there will do their best to locate the frogs and the translocation will go ahead. After that it’s out of our hands, all we can do it let nature take its course.”
Dawson said the project had encountered early reluctance from some conservation groups who were concerned about interfering with the frogs. Attempts to reunite the frogs last year were thwarted by an unusually dry wet season in which they couldn’t be found.
“We thought about bringing them into captivity but the risk is much greater with stress and transportation and they are tricky breeders in captivity. These are potentially the last two remaining frogs in the wild. If they stay where they are now, they won’t breed and will eventually die and that will be the last we will see of their species.
“If you move them together there is the potential they won’t breed or something else will happen. The outcome would still be the same as not doing anything but there is that chance that they will breed.”
The frog is ecologically important: Montserrat and Dominica have no native terrestrial mammals, so it acts as a top predator. It has a voracious appetite and anecdotal reports from farmers cite an increase in insects corresponding to the crash in frog numbers. It is also culturally important to the islands.
Years of overhunting and habitat loss, as well as volcanic eruptions in Montserrat, had already reduced numbers of the frog, which was once found on many eastern Caribbean islands. Then chytrid fungus arrived, devastating Dominica’s population in 2002 and reducing numbers from of tens of thousands to around 200 when it reached Montserrat in 2009. There are now thought to be less than 100 individuals left in the wild.
Chytridiomycosis, described by scientists as “the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates,” has so far infected more than 600 amphibian species globally, causing population declines, extirpations or extinctions in more than 200 species. It spreads via spores and affects the skin of amphibians — through which many drink and breathe — leading to cardiac arrest.
Dawson said it was not known how these two survived the chytrid outbreak, but that the ramifications for fighting the disease were huge. “They may have native immunity or natural resistance to disease - we know of frogs on Dominica that survived chytrid as well. The fact that they survived tells me that their offspring would be genetically resistant, which would be fantastic in terms of trying to build up the population on Monserrat.”
The recovery programme has been working with captive breeding projects in four zoos and in-situ conservation since the disease hit and next steps include plans for semi-wild enclosures where they can test the ability of captive-bred frogs to fight the disease in carefully controlled conditions.
“Chytrid is not going away, it’s all over the island - so until someone finds a cure for it, we need to look at how we manage the environment so that populations can survive. If we can find a way to save this species and help it recover, the information we learn will be really important and useful for other populations of amphibians around the world.”
on: Apr 28, 2016, 05:56 AM
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Bison to become first national mammal, joining bald eagle as American symbol
The bison will join the bald eagle, the national emblem since 1782, as America’s symbolic animal, in an effort to prevent it from going extinct
Wednesday 27 April 2016 17.25 BST
The bison, an animal once hunted to the brink of extinction in America, is set to become the first national mammal of the US, putting it on a par with the bald eagle as a symbol of the nation.
Congress has passed legislation, the National Bison Legacy Act, which names the hoofed beast as a “historical symbol of the United States” and establishes it as the nation’s landmark mammal.
Once the bipartisan move passes the Senate and receives Barack Obama’s sign-off, the bison will join the bald eagle, the national emblem since 1782, as America’s symbolic animal. America’s flora is represented by the oak, the national tree, and the rose, the national floral emblem.
The designation is a “milestone” in the effort to “prevent the bison from going extinct and to recognize the bison’s ecological, cultural, historical and economic importance to the United States”, said Cristian Samper, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“The bison will serve as a great national symbol for the United States as it is as strong as the oak, fearless as the bald eagle and inspiring as a rose,” Samper added.
The honor doesn’t confer any new protections for the bison but represents a startling turnaround in the fortunes of the animal, also known more informally as the buffalo. The species was virtually wiped out in the 19th century as settlers moved west across America, slaughtering bison as they went.
The US army had a policy to kill off bison to harm the Native American tribes that relied upon them, as well as to make way for farmland and for food. Although the animals can run at speeds of 35mph and are surprisingly agile, they were easy targets for hunters.
Tourists paid to slaughter the animals and bison killing contests were popular – one person from Kansas managed to shoot 120 bison in just 40 minutes. As many as 30 million bison once roamed as far east as New York, but by the dawn of the 20th century, little more than 1,000 remained in remote pockets of habitat.
A conservation effort pulled the bison back from the brink, led by the newly established Yellowstone national park, which protected an initial herd of just two dozen animals, growing it to around 5,000 today. There are around 30,000 wild bison left in areas of America’s west, with a further 400,000 raised as commercial livestock across all 50 states.
“The buffalo has had a special place in the lives of tribal people since time immemorial and played important roles in our culture, religion and lifestyle,” said Jim Stone, executive director of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council.
“Now buffalo have become a part of the fabric of tribal life once again, created the foundation for an economic movement based on healthy food choices and provided conservation groups opportunities to expand the habitat for the species.”
Bison have distinctive thick brown fur, long beards and horns. They also have a distinctive hump, which comprises powerful muscles that allow bison to move snow out of its way by using its head as a sort of snowplow. The animals, which can weigh up to 2,000lbs, are migratory and once performed a key role in ecosystems by tearing up vegetation to allow new plants to grow.
The imposing animals prefer eating grasses to humans but can prove risky to careless observers. Last summer, five people were injured by bison in Yellowstone. Three of the injuries occurred when people got close to bison in order to take selfies with the animal, only to be tossed in the air or jabbed by its horns.
Four of the people were hospitalized but none died. The National Parks Service, which prohibits visitors from getting within 75ft of bison, has warned that bison have little patience for unscheduled photoshoots with people who attempt to pose with the beasts.
on: Apr 28, 2016, 05:54 AM
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Cecil's legacy: could the death of one lion start a conservation movement?
Inspired by Cecil the lion, activists have begun an uphill struggle to convince Unesco to do for wildlife what it already does for places – and create World Heritage Species
Wednesday 27 April 2016 22.51 BST
On July 2nd of last year, Cecil the Lion – a 13-year-old, black-maned, pride-leader – was killed by trophy hunter Walter Palmer in Zimbabwe. The surprising thing about Cecil is not how he died – around 600 lions die every year at the hands of trophy hunters – but at the reaction to this particular killing. As details of Cecil’s grisly – and possibly illegal – death leaked out, the news blew up on social media and in the press, surprising conservationists who see this kind of thing with depressing regularity.
Cecil the Lion became more famous in death than he ever was in life. Yet while many expressed outrage and condemnation, Daniela Relja – an educator and advocate from Barrie, Canada – was not content to leave it at that. She turned her anger and sadness over the killing of Cecil into an initiative to make lions the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Species.
“A commitment by UNESCO to designate iconic species as [a part of our] world heritage will resonate globally and stimulate awareness worldwide,” she said, noting that current conservation mechanisms have not proven up to the task of saving iconic species from a multitude of threats.
A new idea is needed.
The big idea
What do the Great Barrier Reef, the Okavango Delta and the Grand Canyon have in common? While they may lie on different continents and represent startlingly distinct environments, each benefits greatly from being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 1972, UNESCO’s immensely successful programme has given special attention and protection to more than 1,000 treasured sites – both cultural and natural – around the world.
What is the inherent value of our wildlife? What is the value of having our lions, rhinos, elephants and tigers?
Now, in the wake of daily news about beloved species being wiped out for profit, wildlife-activists are asking a simple, yet profound question: could UNESCO provide similar aid to our planet’s wildlife heritage?
“In the same way that UNESCO recognises sites as belonging to the world’s people, so too should certain species that have been a critical part of what it is to be human,” said Brent Staplekamp, a lion conservationist who worked with Cecil and a supporter of the new initiative to create a UNESECO World Heritage Species programme.
The idea has actually been percolating in conservation circles for over a decade, but has yet to get off the ground. It was originally developed by renowned chimpanzee-expert, Toshisada Nishida, who wanted to see humankind’s closest relative as the first World Heritage Species. But Nishida died in 2011 without achieving his goal.
Today, his mission has been taken up by a small yet passionate group of activists from around the world who have issued a petition to UNESCO to finally enact a new program for the world’s increasingly embattled wildlife.
“If UNESCO deems the loss of our heritage sites and monuments as an irreparable harm to our collective heritage, why not apply the same principle to our wildlife?” said the initiative’s founder, Relja. “The loss of lions, for example, would be an irreparable harm. Imagine the world where lions are a memory!”
Relja said the programme would give the world a new way to formally value wildlife.
“Presently our wildlife acquires value through exploitation – sold, hunted, exhibited ...bred for profit.”
If Stonehenge is a part of our world heritage, why aren’t lions? Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at dawn in Wiltshire, England
She said, however, that the World Heritage Species concept could change how we view the Earth’s other species.
“With World Heritage Species the question becomes: what is the social and cultural significance of our lions, tigers, whales? What is their value to the humanity? What is their legacy value? Of course, the foundational question is: what is the inherent value of our wildlife? What is the value of having our lions, rhinos, elephants and tigers – for the simple reason of there being lions, rhinos, elephants and tigers.”
In memoriam: starting with lions
While Toshisada Nishida’s idea was focused on kick-starting the programme around great apes, the most recent resurrection of his original concept began with Cecil’s untimely death.
“Cecil is our special mascot and inspiration. Out of the tragedy of his demise a stronger global awareness emerged,” Relja said, pointing to hugely popular online communities devoted to the late lion. Click to watch Cecil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUeDrUOmHvw
Despite the supposed ‘novelty’ of the story, Cecil’s death was actually deeply emblematic of the lion’s overall recent history. As true apex predators, lions may have once been the kings of Africa, but they have been deposed by centuries of habitat loss, prey decline, conflict with local people, and, yes, trophy hunting. Surveys suggest that only some 15,000-35,000 lions survive today in the wild (less than the human population of Canterbury). This a decline of around 75 percent in just 50 years and research last year predicted the population could be cut in half again over the next 30 years.
“The lion is arguably the most important animal to our collective human culture with images, songs, references and totems found across the globe,” Staplekamp said, who pointed to important similarities between Homo sapiens sapiens and Panthera leo.
“We are about the same age in terms of evolutionary history and originate from the same place.”
According to Staplekamp, it’s possible lions and humans actually came up in the world together.
I believe that once listed or defined as a World Heritage Species, lions will then belong to the world.
“It may be a bit of a romantic notion but imagine if the reason we stand upright is because when we came down from the trees we needed to stand up to see our new competitor!”
At the apex of their power, lions roamed nearly the entire continent of Africa, a broad swathe of southeastern Europe, the coasts of the Middle East and almost the entire Indian subcontinent. They hunted in the plains of Greece, slept in the cold Atlas Mountains, plodded along the shores of the Red Sea and competed with tigers in the savannas of India.
That world is gone. Today, they are extinct from Europe and the Middle East; only a single population survives in India and even in Africa they persist only in small, disconnected, harassed populations. One subspecies, the Barbary lion, is extinct while another, the West African lion, is on the edge of obliteration.
The story of the lion proves that even one of the most charismatic and recognisable animals on the planet can remain haphazardly and poorly protected.
“I believe that once listed or defined as a World Heritage Species, lions will then belong to the world,” Staplekamp said. “Third world countries that are home to lions are then not the only ones responsible for their conservation costs.”
Staplekamp thinks the end of trophy hunting for lions is in sight. But when that happens, he said, there must be another way for lion-range countries to ensure funds for managing Africa’s deposed king.
Other contenders: charisma or evolution
But lions won’t be the end of it. The group said they envision dozens of species falling under the World Heritage Species programme including, but hardly limited to, other big cats, great apes, whales, marine turtles, elephants, rhinos and polar bears. Greater protection for charismatic animals, they note, would also help protect smaller, less charismatic species by enabling better protection of habitat and more conservation funds overall.
“The call is to crown the King first and then take care of the rest of the Kingdom,” said Relja who added that “the senselessness of Cecil’s killing is an easily understood symbol across society at large.”
Not everyone agrees that lions should be the first World Heritage species, however, or even that lions belong under the list. While Corey Bradshaw enthusiastically supports the idea of establishing World Heritage Species, he believes the designation should be reserved for species that are evolutionarily distinct or ecologically vital.
“What makes [lions] any different to any other threatened species? If we merely brand other pandas as pandas, I very much doubt we’ll have any real change given the new status,” said the conservation ecologist with the University of Adelaide. “It is for this reason that I think the entire approach needs to be turned on its head.”
Bradshaw would like to see the World Heritage Species largely bestowed on species that are evolutionarily distinct – i.e., have few close living relatives. In a blog post on the concept, he pointed to such wonderfully bizarre and evolutionarily deep species as the horseshoe crab, the long-beaked echidna, and Peripatus velvet worms.
Such species are decidedly uncharismatic and, as such, little known by scientists and largely ignored by the general public. These forgotten species – which incorporate the vast, vast bulk of the world’s biodiversity – could gain far more from World Heritage designation than lions, according to Bradshaw.
However, there may be a way out of the debate. Currently, the UNESCO lists sites under two wholly different categories: cultural and natural. The Taj Mahal is a cultural UNESCO site, the Galapagos Islands a natural site, while St. Kilda in Scotland is both a cultural and natural. Why couldn’t World Heritage Species follow the same path? Why not a category for cultural species, including standouts like lions, wolves, dolphins, and penguins. And then another category for evolutionary distinct species – species that if we lose we lose millions of years of bizarre evolutionary traits – such as solenodons, giant ibis, and the purple frog.
“Listing a lungfish, a platypus or a strange deep-sea fish might just enfold many more similar species into the limelight,” Bradshaw said.
How would it help?
Much of what World Heritage status brings to its select sites is immeasurable, but undeniable. Places designated as World Heritage Sites tend to see increased visitation, more press coverage and better protection from governments. UNESCO also gives grants to developing countries to help preserve these sites.
World Heritage Sites have become powerful enough that “even the most right-wing, anti-conservation governments think twice about challenging their status,” Bradshaw said. As an example he points to his native Australia whose conservative government has faced considerable pressure from UNESCO over its protection, or lack-thereof, of the Great Barrier Reef.
Proponents of World Heritage Species said the hypothetical programme could do the same for species. Such a designation could bring increased awareness and media attention to the listed species, boost eco-tourism in the species’ range and, perhaps most importantly, add significant social and political pressure for improved conservation measures.
“The World Heritage Species idea approaches conservation as a global problem requiring a global solution,” Relja said. “Although that sounds obvious, it is relatively new thinking. The practical measures for conservation to date have mostly been local or regional. The involvement of the world’s governing body would take it to the next level.”
She said the programme would by no means replace such global protocols as the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but would be complementary.
“The biological diversity mandate is too broad in scope and in some ways conceptually abstract to be directly applicable to a specific species. World Heritage Species resolves this dilemma by bringing it back to the actual species. The discussion becomes about our lions, our elephants, our tigers, our rhinos, our whales.”
But whatever benefits such a programme could theoretically accrue, one big question remains: can it be done?
Chris Wold, a law professor at the Lewis and Clark Law School, agreed with activists that something “new” is needed on the international stage in order for the world to “address the full range of impacts facing some species.”
But he said, “the current problem is that UNESCO does not have a mandate, either in its constitution or in the World Heritage Convention, to focus on species.”
Still, Wold, who wrote a discussion paper on the idea in 2005, said this doesn’t mean it’s impossible. He outlined a few possible avenues to make World Heritage Species a reality. One would be to have nations sign a new international treaty under UNESCO, although getting nations to agree to a new treaty is never easy. Another possibility, which Wold proposed in his paper, would be to circumvent a new treaty and simply have UNESCO develop criteria for what a World Heritage Species would look like; protections for this species could then fall under other, already-existing treaties and laws. A third way would be to amend UNESCO’s constitution to allow it to establish a World Heritage Species programme, again avoiding the difficult task of developing a wholly new treaty.
But for all the hope and optimism among supporters, the battle remains uphill.
Mechtild Rössler, the current director of the World Heritage Centre, said she didn’t see the need for a World Heritage Species programme, arguing that UNESCO already plays a major role in protecting species by safeguarding habitat under its World Heritage Sites.
Adding any new protocol to UNESCO, she said, “would be a costly and lengthy exercise without any concrete outcome…at a time when funds for conservation are diminishing.”
But it’s unlikely the idea – which has been supported by a number of conservation groups in recent months – will disappear anytime soon. In a time where existing conservation organizations are increasingly overwhelmed, where wildlife news is almost always depressing, where the war against extinction is being lost on a daily basis – something new is needed, according to activists: a sea change, a transformation from the seemingly intractable problem of overexploitation to a love for our collective wild heritage. In a time where wildlife populations are being wiped off the Earth due to far more than just habitat destruction – we are entering an age of emptiness, empty forests, empty seas, empty savannas – activists see a need to go beyond the norm.
And, the idea of the World Heritage Species has a symbolic and optimistic power that is hard to deny.
“The World Heritage Species [concept] casts each and every one of us a steward of something greater than a single individual and extends the time horizon beyond our lifetime,” Relja said. “The responsibility of protection now rests in our hands and extends to the entire human family and the future generations.”
Late in the evening of July 1st last year, Cecil the lion – a male in the prime-of-his life and the head of a family – was allegedly lured outside the protection of Hwange National Park with an elephant carcass as bait. Once outside the sanctuary, Walter Palmer shot him with an arrow from a compound bow. Although desperately wounded, Cecil escaped. The hunter and his guides then tracked the bleeding male for some 11 hours before they finally found him just after dawn the next day and finished him off.
Cecil the lion was skinned, beheaded and – aside from his trophy head – left to rot.
Activists hope that’s not the end of Cecil’s story; they hope something good can come out of all of this. Maybe – just maybe – Cecil can become the beginning of a better future for our wild heritage.
on: Apr 28, 2016, 05:45 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
'Largest ever lion airlift' flies 33 big cats back to Africa
Lions rescued from circuses and zoos in Latin America will get cargo plane ride to South Africa and live out their days in sanctuary park
Associated Press in Lima
Wednesday 27 April 2016 03.50 BST
Thirty-three lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia are being flown back to their homeland to live out the rest of their lives in a private sanctuary in South Africa.
The largest ever airlift of lions will take place on Friday and has been organised and paid for by Animal Defenders International. The Los Angeles-based group has for years worked with lawmakers in the two South American countries to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, where they often are held in appalling conditions.
The lions suffered in captivity: some were declawed, one lost an eye and many were recovered with broken or rotting teeth.
The group said the first group of nine lions would be collected in the capital, Bogota, on a McDonnell Douglas cargo plane, which would pick up 24 more in Lima before heading to Johannesburg.
From there they would be transported by land to their new home at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, where they would enjoy large natural enclosures.
“It will be hugely satisfying to see these lions walking into the African bush,” said Tom Phillips, ADI’s vice-president, as he inspected the cages that will be used to transport the lions.
“It might be one of the finest rescues I’ve ever seen; it’s never happened before taking lions from circuses in South America all the way to Africa,” he added. “It’s like a fairytale.”
World Lion Day – in pictures
In honour of World Lion Day today, photographer and predator expert Paul Goldstein has selected some of his favourite images of the endangered animals. Wimbledon-based Paul has spent years studying and photographing lions.
Click here to see all this incredible pictures: http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2015/aug/11/world-lion-day-in-pictures
on: Apr 28, 2016, 05:38 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Using seawater for heating? Alaska aquarium takes the plunge
Following its switch to a new system, the Alaska SeaLife Center is almost fully heated by seawater and carbon dioxide loop technology instead of fossil fuels.
By Ben Thompson, Staff April 24, 2016
In another sign of the global shift from fossil fuels toward innovative clean energy solutions, an Alaska aquarium has switched to a heating system that runs on seawater.
The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC), a public aquarium, research center, and wildlife rehabilitation facility in Seward, Alaska, announced this week that it has successfully transferred 98 percent of its heat supply from fossil fuels to an alternative system that uses ocean water and carbon dioxide (CO2), a shift that the aquarium’s management hopes will lower operational costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
“This project reflects the core mission of the Alaska SeaLife Center ‘to generate and share scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine eco-systems’,” ASLC Special Projects Director Darryl Schaefermeyer said in a release from the center.
“It illustrates the broad and tangible ways in which our day-to-day work can contribute to the long term health and sustainability of the city of Seward, the state of Alaska and the global community,” he said.
Cheapest way to heat your home? Four fuels compared.
The new ASLC system was designed by Andy Baker, owner and project manager of the energy efficiency consulting firm YourCleanEnergy, and draws heat from the waters off nearby Resurrection Bay to warm a mixture of glycol and water. The heated glycol then comes into contact with liquid carbon dioxide, which then boils. The CO2 vapor is compressed to 2,000 psi, well beyond the compound's critical pressure point, causing its temperature to rise. The hot CO2 is then used to heat water, which is pumped into the building's heat loop
“The big news in the final implementation of the system is the use of trans-critical CO2 heat pumps. This is absolutely unique in the field,” Mr. Baker said. “We were delighted to work with the ASLC on this project.”
The ASLC will continue to save money and emissions using the more than $1-million setup; the aquarium estimates tens of thousands of dollars in energy savings annually and a carbon output cut of 1.24 million pounds per year.
“As a mission driven non-profit organization, this project is doubly important,” ASLC president and CEO Tara Reimer said. “We are benefitting the environment and saving money at a time when both are very critical.”
Baker also noted that, while the system has the slight potential to contribute to greenhouse gas output, its use of CO2 while cutting back on the facility’s own carbon footprint makes the technology environmentally sound.
“The fact that you could use the same gas to solve the problem is pretty cool,” he told Alaska Dispatch News.
Baker also says that if the system sticks and costs continue to lower, competition could emerge and lead to widespread use of the technology – though he doesn’t see it happening for a while.
“They're not ready to stick into a home or small business,” Baker told The Associated Press. “They're going to be a little too expensive and too complex. Eventually it will get there.”
on: Apr 28, 2016, 05:36 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Is wildlife thriving in Chernobyl's radioactive landscape?
Remote cameras in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone found evidence of wildlife populations that appear to be unaffected by the nuclear contamination.
By Ben Thompson, Staff April 21, 2016
Thirty years after the worst nuclear accident in history, land once blanketed in radioactive fallout is now home to a stable wildlife population.
A new study on the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), the 1,000-square-mile area surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Pripyat, Ukraine, found that animals are living normally in the exclusion area despite persistent radiation across the region.
The Chernobyl plant disaster of 1986 occurred when an explosion rocked the Soviet station and released large amounts of radiation across Europe, resulting in thousands of fatalities and widespread contamination. But after millions of dollars spent on recovery, and a total evacuation of humans, wildlife abounds in the protected landscape.
"Information regarding the response of flora and fauna to chronic radiation exposure is important in helping us understand the ecological consequences of past (e.g. Chernobyl and Fukushima) and potential future nuclear accidents," says an article in the current issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
Reports of a "vibrant ecosystem in the most radioactive areas" in the CEZ have persisted for years, but the recent study more conclusively presents the scope of the animal presence in the zone and examines the effects severe radiation has on such populations.
"When humans are removed, nature flourishes – even in the wake of the world's worst nuclear accident," said Jim Smith, an environmental scientist at the University of Portsmouth in England, in an October interview with The Christian Science Monitor, following the release of another study pointing to the natural resurgence in the abandoned area.
"It's very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are now much higher than they were before the accident," he said.
The current research, performed by an international team of scientists, conducted a remote camera study in the Polesie State Radioecological Reserve, a portion of the CEZ located in Belarus. The scientists set up nearly 100 "scent stations" infused with fatty acid scents, designed to attract animals. Motion-activated infrared remote cameras recorded the activity of animals at the stations, which were distributed at least two miles apart to minimize the risk of the same animals visiting multiple sites during the survey.
The study was conducted over several weeks in 2014, during which various scent stations were activated for seven-day periods. The researchers found a total of 14 mammal species in the zone, including four – the Eurasian boar, gray wolf, raccoon dog, and red fox – seen often enough to qualify them as occupants of the region.
The results showed that, despite the lingering impact of the nuclear disaster, "Radiation did not negatively affect occupancy probability for any species," and that "the current distribution of wildlife within the CEZ is unaffected by [cesium-137] contaminant densities."
While the overall wildlife populations appeared strong, the team could not determine the lingering radiation's effects on individual animals. The scientists did suggest that "current levels of exposure are not limiting the distributions" of several of the surveyed species.
"We didn't find any evidence to support the idea that populations are suppressed in highly contaminated areas," said co-author James Beasley said in a University of Georgia press release. "What we did find was these animals were more likely to be found in areas of preferred habitat that have the things they need – food and water."
The new information presents a positive outlook for animals in the CEZ, but the researchers wrote that further investigation would be needed to conclusively determine how radiation impacts other aspects of individual animals and populations as a whole.
As previous researchers wrote, after discovering the ecological richness of the CEZ, "Radioactivity at the level associated with the Chernobyl meltdown does have discernible, negative impacts on plant and animal life. However, the benefit of excluding humans from this highly contaminated ecosystem appears to outweigh significantly any negative cost associated with Chernobyl radiation."
on: Apr 28, 2016, 05:33 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
To catch wildlife poachers, computer scientists turn to AI
Using an artificial intelligence application that develops the most effective patrol routes, a team of researchers from the University of Southern California are proving that technology has a role to play in protecting wildlife.
By Story Hinckley, Staff April 28, 2016
A team of computer scientists may have developed a surprising way to curb wildlife poaching.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a team of computer scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) have developed a model for “green security games” that use game theory to protect wildlife from poachers. Game theory uses mathematical equations “to predict the behavior of adversaries and plan optimal approaches for containment,” explains NSF, which would allow park rangers to patrol parks and wildlife sanctuaries more effectively.
“In most parks, ranger patrols are poorly planned, reactive rather than pro-active and habitual,” Fei Fang, a Ph.D. candidate in the computer science department at USC and a researcher involved with the project, tells NSF. “We need to provide actual patrol routes that can be practically followed.”
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Ms. Fang, along with research leader Milind Tambe, a professor of computer science and systems engineering at USC, developed an artificial intelligence application called Protection Assistant for Wildlife Sanctuary (PAWS) in 2013 and they have spent the last few years testing its success in Uganda and Malaysia. Both of these countries are in desperate need of patrol assistance, as the Uganda Wildlife Authority notes that “the killing of elephants for ivory generally shot up over the last four years,” and three of the largest ivory seizures in the last few years took place in Malaysia.
Fang and Tambe say that PAWS allows guards to be more effective without requiring additional resources by creating patrol routes that specifically target the most threatened areas yet also randomize routes to make them unpredictable.
“These routes need to go back to a base camp and the patrols can’t be too long. We list all possible patrol routes and then determine which is the most effective,” adds Fang. “If the poachers observe that patrols go to some area more often than others, then the poachers place their snares elsewhere.”
The PAWS application learns from experience, altering suggested patrol routes based on past successful efforts. The system can also synthesize the routes with the most animal traffic, where poachers will likely visit more often.
This is not the first tech innovation aimed at catching poachers. In February, The Washington Post reported on a growing number of robotic animals used by American wildlife law enforcement to catch illegal poachers in the act. And for a few years, engineers and conservationists have been working together to develop a conservation drone that could monitor illegal activity from above. Fang and Tambe acknowledge some shortcomings of the technology, but they say PAWS has already had demonstrated success.
“This research is a step in demonstrating that AI can have a really significant positive impact on society,” Tambe tells NSF, “and allow us to assist humanity in solving some of the major challenges we face.”
Research teams at USC are also exploring how game theory and artificial intelligence can assist other environmental conflicts, such as illegal logging in Madagascar.