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Wildlife & Biodiversity

China’s wandering elephants become international stars

image: Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone. | Photo Credit: CHINA DAILY VIA REUTERS.

by AP

Major global media are chronicling the herd’s more than yearlong, 500-kilometre trek from their home in a wildlife reserve in mountainous southwest Yunnan province to the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kunming.

Twitter and YouTube are full of clips of their various antics, particularly those of two calves who slipped into an irrigation ditch and had to be helped out by older members of the group.

“We should be more like the elephant and be more family oriented, take family vacations and help and care for and protect each other,” read one comment on YouTube signed MrDeterministicchaos.

The elephants have been trending for days on China’s Weibo microblogging service with photos of the group sleeping attracting 25,000 posts and 200 million views Monday night.

Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone.
Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone. |

The 15-member herd has been caught at night trotting down urban streets by security cameras, filmed constantly from the air by more than a dozen drones and followed by those seeking to minimise damage and keep both pachyderms and people out of harm’s way.

They’ve raided farms for food and water, visited a car dealership and even showed up at a retirement home, where they poked their trunks into some of the rooms, prompting one elderly man to hide under his bed.

While no animals or people have been hurt, reports put damage to crops at more than $1 million.

Sixteen animals were originally in the group, but the government says two returned home and a baby was born during the walk. The herd is now composed of six female and three male adults, three juveniles and three calves, according to official reports.

What exactly motivated them to make the epic journey remains a mystery, although they appear to be especially attracted to corn, tropical fruit and other crops that are tasty, plentiful and easy to obtain in the lush tropical region that is home to about 300 of the animals. Others have speculated their leader may be simply lost.

Asian elephants are loyal to their home ranges unless there have been disturbances, loss of resources or development, in which case they may move out, according to Nilanga Jayasinghe, manager for Asian species conservation at the World Wildlife Fund.

“In this case, we don’t really know why they left their home range, but do know that there has been significant habitat loss due to agriculture and conversion of forests into plantations within that range in the last few decades,” Jayasinghe wrote in an email. “What possibly happened here is that in their search for new habitat, they got lost along the way and kept going.”

Authorities have been working to avoid negative interactions and “must determine what the best next steps here are and keep human-elephant conflict at bay,” Jayasinghe wrote.

Kunming is to host the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity’s Convention of Parties to discuss topics such as human-wildlife conflict, and “this is a real-time example of the importance of addressing the issue and its root causes for the benefit of both wildlife and people,” she wrote.

Elephants are given the top level of protection in China, allowing their numbers to steadily increase even as their natural habitat shrinks, and requiring farmers and others to exercise maximum restraint when encountering them. Government orders have told people to stay inside and not to gawk at them or use firecrackers or otherwise attempt to scare them away.

So far, more passive means are being used to keep them out of urban areas, including the parking of trucks and construction equipment to block roads and the use of food drops to lure them away.

As of Tuesday, the herd remained on the outskirts of Kunming, a city of 7 million, with one of the males having moved away on his own, creating even more excitement — and worry — for those attempting to keep tabs on them.

A statement Monday from a provincial command center set up to monitor the group said the elephants appeared to be resting, while more than 410 emergency response personnel and police personnel, scores of vehicles and 14 drones were deployed to monitor them. Area residents were evacuated, temporary traffic control measures implemented, and 2 tons of elephant food put in place.

Another objective was to “maintain silence to create conditions for guiding the elephant group to migrate west and south,” the command center said.

Asian elephants, the continent’s largest land animal, are declining overall, with less than 50,000 left in the wild. Habitat loss and resulting human-wildlife conflict are their biggest threats, along with poaching and population isolation.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Close Encounter in the Wild: Hair-raising Video of a Rhino Chasing Away Tiger in Kaziranga by Niloy Bhattacharjee: For this particular video, Bishwajit Chetry had to patiently wait for half an hour. And then it all happened in a flash. The 25-year- old, who has been working as a tourist guide in the world heritage Kaziranga National Park for the past five years, was accompanying a group of three visitors from Mumbai in early April. Driving a few kilometres inside the Bagori range of the national park, he stopped his vehicle near a small freshwater body.

“There was this rhino, a tall and huge one, drinking water. I could sense something, so I told the tourists that we will go no further and wait near the water till the next movement of the animal. After around thirty minutes or so, the female adult rhino noticed a Royal Bengal tiger a few meters away. The mother rhino had its calf along with it and in such a situation they become very alert and ferocious. It started chasing the tiger. The rhino ensured that the tiger was out of the water. I filmed the entire chase. It was one of the rare, fortunate moments for me and a lifetime experience for the tourists,” says Bishwajit Chetry.

The tiger population in Kaziranga National Park has increased to 111, according to the 2017 census. In 2014, the number was just 83. The sanctuary hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceroses. According to the census held in March 2018, jointly conducted by the forest department of Assam and some recognized wildlife NGOs, the rhino population in Kaziranga National Park is 2,413. It comprises 1,641 adult rhinos (642 males, 793 females, 206 unsexed), 387 sub-adults (116 males, 149 females, 122 unsexed), and 385 calves.

As India Crosses 22-Crore Mark, Gender Gap in Vaccine Remains Worse Than Countrys Sex Ratio
As India Crosses 22-Crore Mark, Gender Gap in Vaccine Remains Worse Than Country’s Sex Ratio

Kaziranga is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and the park has numerous small bodies of water.

“When I take tourists, I follow deer calls to locate tigers. This year there have been maximum sightings. Almost all tourists whom I have accompanied have been fortunate to see the Royal Bengal tiger at Kaziranga. Despite four spells of floods, I have possibly seen the Royal Bengal tigers a hundred times this year. The maximum sightings have been in the Kohora Range. You need to be patient to sight a Royal Bengal tiger in its lair,” says Chetry. He has first-hand knowledge of 400 species of birds found in the national park and also runs a jeep safari service for tourists.

According to Bishwajit Chetry, whose father works as a forest guard in the national park, the tiger seen in the video was injured in a territorial fight and had head wounds. It was resting in the waterbody, something tigers normally don’t do for a long duration. They come to drink water and then leave.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

India’s deep seas are home to 4,371 species of fauna, reveals ZSI by Shiv Sahai Singh .
India is home to 4,371 species of deep-sea fauna, including 1,032 species under the kingdom Protista and 3,339 species under the kingdom Animalia, a recent publication by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has revealed.

The deep-sea ecosystem is considered to be below a depth of 200 metres, where solar energy cannot support primary productivity through photosynthesis. This publication is the first detailed work on deep-sea organisms of the country.

Published by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the book titled ‘Deep Sea Faunal Diversity in India’ is the work of five authors and several other contributors over 41 chapters.

India is surrounded by the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea and the Laccadive Sea (Lakshadweep Sea). Of the 4,371 species, the maximum of 2,766 species has been reported from deep sea areas of the Arabian Sea, followed by 1,964 species from the Bay of Bengal, 1,396 species from the Andaman Sea, and only 253 species from the Laccadive Sea.

RIMS ship investigator
The authors behind the book point out that India is one of the countries that made a pioneering exploration in the deep Indian Ocean region in 1874 by commissioning a RIMS (Royal Indian Marine Survey) ship investigator, which conducted enormous studies in seas around India. “This RIMS investigator continued to work till 1926. After that, several other vessels, including vessels of the Indian Navy and scientists from the ZSI and other institutions, conducted deep sea explorations, gathering information about the fauna. This publication is a result of the work put together by several scientists across three centuries,” C. Raghunathan, ZSI Acting Director, one of the authors of the publication, said. The marine biologist said deep sea fauna had a vast diversity, starting from unicellular eukaryotes, sponges, corals, echinoderms and fishes, and also mammals.

Kailash Chandra, former ZSI Director, said that the deep sea ecosystem was the most unexplored ecosystem across the world. It included hydrothermal vents, submarine canyons, deep sea trenches, sea mounts, cold seeps, and mud volcanoes. “This publication, the first of its kind, provides baseline information on all groups of fauna and biological organisms in the Indian deep seas. Not only will this support our knowledge on conserving and managing deep sea faunal resources, but it will also pave way for their sustainable utilisation,” Dr. Chandra said.

31 species of sea mammals
There are 31 species of sea mammals which are found in deep sea ecosystem of Indian waters, including the Critically Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin. Two other species, the Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoise and the Sperm Whale, are recorded as ‘Vulnerable’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classification.

The list of mammals includes Cuvier’s Beaked Whale and Short-beaked Common Dolphin, which dive as deep as 8,000 metres below the Earth’s surface.

Marine turtles
Out of the seven species of marine turtles found across the world, five species have been recorded from Indian waters. India is known as one of the best and largest breeding grounds for sea turtles, especially for Olive Ridley and Leatherback Turtles, across the world.

Indicative map of Deep-Sea fauna of Indian seas
Indicative map of Deep-Sea fauna of Indian seas

The publication’s chapter-wise description includes details of 36 species of sponges, 30 species of hard corals, 92 species of octocorals, 124 species of hydrozoans, seven species of jellyfish, and seven species of comb jellies.

The other deep-sea fauna found in Indian waters include, among others, 150 species of molluscs, including 54 species of cephalopods; 134 species of prawns; 23 species of lobsters; 230 species of echinoderms, 53 species of tunicates, 443 species of fishes and 18 species of sea snakes.

The other authors of the book are Honey U.K. Pillai, P. Jasmine and Tamal Mondal.

The publication comes days after the allocation of ₹4,000 crore was made for the Deep Ocean Mission by the government of India in the Union Budget for 2021-22.

Scientists pointed out that while the publication comes up with a baseline figure of 4,371 species, there is an urgent need for greater exploration of Indian deep seas. Most of the earlier explorations were carried to maximum depth of 2,000 metres, whereas parts of Indian seas are deeper than 6,000 metres, Dr. Raghunathan said.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

New species of African violets found in Mizoram
The newly-described species Didymocarpus vickifunkiae (Gesneriaceae) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement Scientists from IISER Bhopal found the plant in three locations near the Myanmar border
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An ‘African’ flowering plant has been recorded scientifically for the first time in India.

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Bhopal found the variant of the African violets in Mizoram.

The newly-described species, Didymocarpus vickifunkiae is currently known from only three locations near the north-eastern State’s border with Myanmar and is considered an endangered species. It is an epiphyte — a plant that grows on trees — and produces light pink flowers during the monsoons.

The species has been named after Vicki Ann Funk, a noted botanist who worked at the Smithsonian Institute in the U.S.

The finding has been published in Systematic Botany, a peer reviewed journal published by American Society for Plant Taxonomists, in a paper co-authored by research scholar Prasanna N.S. and Vinita Gowda, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at IISER Bhopal.

“Commonly known as African violets, Didymocarpus is a genus belonging to the plant family Gesneriaceae whose members are distributed in Asia from Western Himalayas to Sumatra,” Dr. Gowda said.

“Most of these species are narrow endemics and require specialised habitats to survive, thus acting as an indicator of pristine habitats. There are 106 currently known species of this genus, of which 26 are in the northeast,” she told The Hindu.

African violets, native to Tanzania and Kenya have been popular in the horticultural world, often used indoors in European countries.

“The Mizoram plant is new to science which could be restricted to those areas because of reasons to be studied or it could be more widespread in areas where they remain to be spotted. But its discovery has underscored the floral diversity of the northeast that has a unique biogeographic placement as a part of two biodiversity hotspots — the Indo-Burma and the Eastern Himalayas,” Dr. Gowda said.

The new species is an outcome of Mr. Prasanna’s evolutionary study on the Didymocarpus group of plants found across India and the neighbouring countries, including China. The concentration of this genus is in the northeast.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Rare Himalayan Serow spotted in Spiti

Himalayan Serow, a goat antelope, was sighted and captured in a camera by the state wildlife wing for the first time in Spiti valley today.

byDipender Manta

Himalayan Serow, a goat antelope, was sighted and captured in a camera by the state wildlife wing for the first time in Spiti valley today.

The near-threatened Himalayan Serow had almost disappeared from the cold desert. It was today spotted at Hurling village in Spiti valley of Lahaul-Spiti district, much to the delight of wildlife officials. The officials have captured the movement of this rare animal in the camera near a stream where it was grazing. It fled soon after sensing human movement.

Himalayan Serow is included under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and its hunting is prohibited. It is also listed among the endangered species by the International Union for Conservation for Nature. An official said it was an extremely shy animal and its habitat was dense forests. Only in winter its sighting was possible when it migrated to lower elevations, he said.

Archana Sharma, Principal Chief Conservator, Wildlife Department, congratulated the officials and directed them to ensure the protection of this rare animal. She said Himalayan Serow was earlier spotted at Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu, and in Chamba district. She said the wildlife officials at Kaza had been asked to keep a tight vigil as hunting increased during winters when wild animals descended into lower regions due to heavy snow in higher reaches.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Butterflies are migrating early in southern India this year

In a departure from the past, the annual migration of butterflies from the hill ranges of the Eastern Ghats towards the Western Ghats is an early phenomenon this year.

Usually, butterfly migration in south India begins in October-November, with the onset of the northeast monsoon, from the plains to the Ghats, and in April-June, just before the advent of the southwest monsoon, from the Ghats to the plains.

The southwest monsoon is the season for the breeding of butterflies, especially milkweed butterflies, in plains of south India, after which they migrate.


Migratory paths of butterflies in South India
Migratory paths of butterflies in South India

But this year, the first migratory sighting was recorded in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Palakkad district by forest watchers on July 14. Later, butterfly enthusiasts in Salem, Erode, Tiruppur, Coimbatore and the Nilgiris observed their movement in large numbers from August 21, which is still continuing. Butterfly migration has also been recorded in Mysuru, Bengaluru, Kolar and Coorg districts in Karnataka.

“The migration started early after a gap of eight years. The Eastern Ghats complex of the Yercaud hills (Shevaroy hills), Pachamalai, Kolli hills, Kalvarayan hills are the major originating places for the migrating species. The movement was observed towards the Nilgiris, the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and Palani hills also, apart from the Western Ghats hill ranges in the Coimbatore district,” said A. Pavendhan of The Nature and Butterfly Society (TNBS).

A recent study revealed that four species of milkweed butterflies belonging to the Danainae subfamily are mainly involved in the migration — the Dark Blue Tiger, Blue Tiger, Common Crow and the Double-branded (commonly known as tigers and crows). Species like Lime Swallowtail, Lemon Pansy, Common Leopard, Blue Pansy, Common Emigrant and Lemon Emigrants are also involved in the migration but their numbers are very low. However, the number of Lime Swallowtail butterflies had increased considerably this year, P.A.Vinayan, president, Ferns Nature Conservation Society (FNCS), Wayanad, told The Hindu.

Observers noted that Blue Tiger and Dark Blue Tiger accounted for 90% of the butterflies involved in migration. Lime Butterfly and Common Emigrant were higher in numbers than the crows.

“The change in rainfall pattern and a considerable increase in the number of sunny days may be the major reasons for the earlier migration,” Mr. Vinayan added.

Mr. Pavendhan said peak migration was observed over Coimbatore district on August 25. The starting rate of movement was 180 individuals per hour, when the counting was done over a band of about 10 metres in the morning, and the movement reached a peak of 1,060 individuals per hour around noon.

A congregation of butterflies sighted at Appapara in North Wayanad forest division

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Assam Keelback snake rediscovered 129 years after its last sighting by a Britisher

New Delhi: The Assam keelback or Herpetoreas pealii, a snake species endemic to Assam, was found 129 years after it was last spotted by British tea planter Samuel Edward Peal in 1891.

Peal had collected two male specimens of the non-venomous brown snake in the state’s Sivasagar district and deposited them in a museum. British zoologist William Lutley Sclater, the same year, had described the snake as a new species, naming it after Peal and the place where it was found. While one of the two specimens collected was kept at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) in Kolkata, the other was sent to the Natural History Museum in London. No sighting of the snake had been reported since and it was considered a lost species.

In September 2018, a team of scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India (WWI) found it along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, while retracing the steps of the Abor Expedition — a military expedition by the British against the Abors in 1911. But Abhijit Das, who was part of the WII team, said that the specimen at ZSI Kolkata was “destroyed” by the time they rediscovered the snake and the team had to collaborate with the Natural History Museum to identify it.

Their peer-reviewed findings were finally published in the June 2020 issue of Vertebrate Zoology, a journal published by the Museum of Dresden in Germany.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Baghjan: A classic example of plunder by extracting industries on endangered ecosystems

Durlov Gogoi was an alumnus of my college. An ace footballer, Durlov had been a goalkeeper in the Assam State team. His consistent excellence in the field earned him the job of a fire fighter in Oil India Limited (OIL). On June 10, Durlov’s body was recovered from a pond in OIL’s production well site in Baghjan area of Assam’s easternmost district Tinsukia.

Durlov, along with fellow fire fighter Tikheswar Gohain was pressed to service when a massive fire broke out on June 9 after a 14-day uncontrollable oil leak from the damaged oil well. The two fire fighters were reported to be missing till their bodies were recovered the next day by the SDRF-NDRF team.

As raging fire engulfed the area, burning house after house, people fled leaving everything behind for the safety of their lives. Hundreds of families from Natun Gaon village were forced to take shelter in two schools at Guijan, some four kilometers away.

Baghjan: A classic example of plunder by extracting industries on endangered ecosystems 1
Image credit: TC Mohan
On May 27 at about 10:30 am, the rig ‘DGR – Location 5’ blew out with a huge blast. The blowout led to an uncontrolled release of crude oil and natural gas as the well’s pressure control systems failed. Immediately, more than 600 families (mostly from the indigenous Assamese and tea tribe communities) of two villages–Baghjan and Dighaltarang were evacuated to the nearby Baghjan Government ME school premises.

“There had been a loud hissing sound and soon news spread that a pipe blasted and we have to leave home that moment,” Renu Moran (name changed) recounted the incident on May 27.

“I had just finished cooking, but had to leave everything behind—our belongings, livestock and all essentials because many of us experienced breathing difficulties,” continued the middle-aged woman with a choking voice “even the fodder for our livestock has been covered with oil.” People ran helter-skelter when they saw a cloud of gas and a rain of oil.

Some 12 shelters had been set up till now and thousands of people have shared space in the constricted facilities without caring for the essential social distancing norms amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recurring tremors in the area frighten the panic-stricken people all the more. Cracks appeared in the walls of many houses.

Unimaginable catastrophe

On June 6, Asomiya Pratidin, the highest circulating vernacular daily of Assam, reported that five people lost their lives at Natun Gaon in greater Baghjan after inhaling the toxic gaseous substance. Petu Kishan (26) died on June 1 while Bumoni Dutta (36) and Janmoni Sonowal died on June 3.

A day later two other people Prabin Dutta (55) and Axom Gohain had died. The report further stated that the local people have leveled serious allegations that these deaths were due to the poisonous effect of the toxic crude.

“People complained of severe headache, nausea. Everything smelled of kerosene,” said an elderly woman taking shelter in the make-shift camp.

“Nobody ever imagined such a catastrophe would hit our Baghjan area. I had to leave everything–my poultry and five pigs. I saw one of the pigs dying as I left,” cried another woman in front of reporters.

Burnt carcasses of livestock lie here and there in the deserted villages. “The fire gutted everything. From as high as the betel nut trees to small tea plantations-everything burnt down,” said Jagat Lagasu, who lives near the Brahmaputra on the edge of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. “The continuous roaring noise from the blowout has become an irritant, taking toll on the health of people,” he added.

Baghjan: A classic example of plunder by extracting industries on endangered ecosystems 2
Image credit: Nirantar Gohain
Air, water and soil have become equally polluted with the spilled over oil forming a thick toxic layer over croplands, fisheries, tea plantations and forests. Although oil leakage in the area is not a new problem but this is for the first time such a massive disaster has hit affecting lives and livelihood and devastating he fragile ecosystems.

The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) calls for accountability and justice for the oil well catastrophe to indigenous Assam communities and to the environment of Northeast India.

“Just days after the commemoration of World Environment Day, reality confronts us on how State actions and big corporations continue to worsen Indigenous Peoples (IP) vulnerabilities and fail in protecting endangered ecosystems,” stated an IPMSDL report.

Irreversible damage to already endangered ecosystems

The accident site was within the eco sensitive zones of two richest bio-diverse areas in northeastern India– the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park also a biosphere reserve and the Maguri-Motapung Beel—one of the most important wetlands in the region.

In 2013, the sighting of a Baikal bush warbler in the Maguri beel increased the number of avian species seen in India to 1,225. Reckoned as a rich wildlife habitat and a haven of rare avian population– both endemic and migratory–Dibru Saikhowa is one of the last refuges of the endangered White-winged Wood Duck.

The area is also known for its rich herpetofauna. The rescue of a black soft-shell turtle (nilssonia nigricans) thought to have been extinct in the wild in the Baghjan Tea Estate near the Maguri beel a few years back rejuvenated herpetofauna conservation efforts in the state. Those efforts have now been severely jeopardized by the spill of crude followed by the inferno that brought doom to the different ecosystems–river, wetland and grasslands.

The oil spill reached these two hotspots and three rivers connected with the Brahmaputra within no time. Two days after the incident the carcass of an endangered Gangetic dolphin was recovered from one of the river channels.

“With the approach of the evening you would hear the uninterrupted cacophony of insects in the Maguri beel. That has now fallen silent,” said Jainal Abedin who runs an eco tourism business in the area. “I can’t hear the croaks of the frogs as well,” he said.

“With many of the insect and amphibian species on the decline from the crude spill, wonder how the next season of migratory birds would be? No doubt OIL would compensate for lives and property. But what would be the compensation for the ecological disaster? How would OIL compensate for the damage that has become irreversible,” asked Chandan Kumar Duarah, a science and environment reporter.

“The indigenous communities engaged in agriculture and fishing would otherwise have been busy in their paddy fields at this time of the year. They would definitely return to their homes from these make-shift camps but most of them would lose their livelihood as their land become unproductive, water sources poisoned. This is one perfect example of the continuing plunder of indigenous territories for corporate take-over and profit,” he added.

Lack of preparedness wreaked havoc

Although, India’s minister for petroleum and natural gas Dharmendra Pradhan discussed the situation with the heads of OIL as well as of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) and directed to take all necessary steps to ensure safety and all possible support to the local population, the situation could not be brought under control. A Singapore-based disaster control team that arrived at the site the day the fire broke out said that it might take weeks to stop the fire and oil leaks.

The lack of preparedness on part of the operating agencies has led to widespread condemnation while protests against drilling permission in this eco-sensitive area have grown louder. There have been increasing concerns by environmentalists over this issue and they have now been joined by local students unions.

Meanwhile, an FIR has been registered against Oil India Limited (OIL) and its outsourced well operator John Energy for the Baghjan blowout under the Indian Penal Code and the Disaster Management Act. Two officials responsible for the blowout well, have been placed under suspension, said OIL chairman and MD Sushil Chandra Mishra. The Company formed a five-member inquiry committee to look into any prima facie evidence of human error.

The disaster struck in the midst of a raging controversy following environmental clearance to Oil India Limited by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for drilling and hydrocarbon testing at seven locations inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park surrounded by six rivers–Lohit, Dibang and Disang on the north and Anantanala, Dangori and Dibru on the south.

‘There has been a trend to grant clearances to projects that destroy sensitive wildlife habitats, based on poor assessments. The main problem in environment protection is the current environmental decision-making process. We don’t believe in expert committees and the regulatory authorities concerned as they seem to be hand-in-gloves with the operating industries,” said environmentalist Jayanta Kumar Das.

“India is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the draft agreement, published in January and likely to be adopted in October, calls for protection of at least 30% of land and sea areas to stop catastrophic loss of biodiversity by 2030.

This commitment will require creation and regeneration of new protected areas, prioritizing areas of abundant biodiversity. Yet, we want to destroy the richest biodiversity abundant areas like Dibru Saikhowa, Dehing Patkai and Dibang valley! Giving precedence to extractive industries over natural forests is regressive, increase GHG emissions will add to the climate crisis,” said Rituraj Phukan, secretary general of Green Guard Nature Organization.

The country’s national policies like North East Hydrocarbon Vision 2030, the Manipur Hydro Power Policy 2012, Indian Oilfield Act 1948 and New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) enabled extensive corporatization, privatization and exploitation of Indigenous Peoples lands through drilling, mining and energy projects.

As the Union Government turned to the Northeast–the most resource-rich landscape but largely untapped region in the country– communities now find themselves in a quandary. Indigenous communities want recognition of their ownership over natural resources.

Tribal communities in Nagaland and Meghalaya are approaching courts to protect their rights over oil and coal and those in Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are struggling to retain control over their forests. In Assam, protests have continued against big dams and river interlinking. The recent times have been witness to the growing concerns against coal mining and oil exploration.
by Mubina Akhtar

Wildlife & Biodiversity

The cost of wildlife exploitation

NEW DELHI: Wildlife trade has become big business and the subsequent exploitation of wild animals puts our health, economies and biodiversity at risk, says World Animal Protection as they launch a campaign today targeting G20 leaders to support a permanent wildlife trade ban to protect wildlife and prevent future zoonotic pandemics.
As part of the campaign, international animal welfare charity, World Animal Protection is asking the Prime Minister of India, who will represent the country at the G20 summit, to support the call for a global ban on wildlife trade forever.
Covid-19 is one of the worst pandemics of animal origin that we have faced in a century. But the charity believes it won’t be the last, unless we urgently ban all commercial trade of wild animals globally.
Businesses are placing profit, estimated between USD 7-23 billion a year, over the health and welfare of both people and animals. The multi-billion-dollar trade in wild animals takes animals from their natural environments or commercially farms them, exposing them to stress and cruelty creating a hotbed for disease. As we have seen with COVID-19, these diseases can then be transferred to humans.
The main reason for the industrial scale commodification of wildlife is public demand for wild animals as food, traditional medicine, exotic pets, entertainment and fashion accessories.
World Animal Protection has been campaigning for many years to shift social attitudes and change industry practice to stop the exploitation of wild animals for the following uses:
Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM)
The demand for traditional medicine has devastating consequences for many species of wildlife traded globally, including bears that are poached and farmed for their bile.
The cruelty and poor conditions these bears suffer on farms leaves them susceptible to diseases which can then be transferred to people in close proximity. This risk to public health from the intensive farming of bears, and many other wildlife species, can be eradicated with a comprehensive wildlife trade ban.
TAM has an estimated value of USD 60 billion a year, and thought to account for nearly 30 per cent of China’s pharmaceutical revenue.
Exotic pets
Each year, millions of wild animals are captured from their natural habitats and bred in cruel captive conditions to be traded around the world as pets. Snakes, parrots, iguanas, lizards, tortoises, and even otters – these are just some of the wildlife species suffering as pets around the world.
Wild animals in the tourist industry
The growth of global tourism has driven the trade of tens of thousands of wild animals to be used for entertainment where they are being beaten, chained and abused.
The animals caught up in this cruel industry have often been legally traded or captive bred and spend many hours a day in close proximity to humans, increasing the potential spread of zoonoses.
“Cruel multi-billion-dollar businesses have been exploiting wild animals on an industrial global scale and we are now all seeing the true cost of that. This pandemic isn’t just about wild animals being sold for food. It’s much bigger than that, it’s about greed and the commodification of wild animals at every level. If we learn anything from this situation, it is that we need to leave wild animals where they belong, in the wild. We all have a responsibility to make a shift in our behaviour and attitudes towards animals that could save the lives of millions of people, animals and our economies. Some measures are being taken at national level, but there is a need for a coordinated global action. We urgently need to persuade the G20 to take steps towards implementing a global wildlife ban to protect us from future pandemics,” said Steve McIvor, CEO at World Animal Protection.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has been a vocal advocate of wildlife conservation and has repeatedly called for compassion towards animals.
In this address to the nation after announcing the lockdown, the Prime Minister had urged all citizens to care for animals around them.
“The need for a global ban on wildlife trade is urgent and extremely important. What we are witnessing with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is the result of human exploiting wild animals for their gains. This must stop now. The Prime Minister of India understands the importance of wildlife preservation and has supported animal welfare issues in the past. Now as he prepares to represent India at the G20 summit, we appeal to Narendra Modi to give his support to the call for an end to wildlife trade forever,” said Gajender K Sharma, Country Director, World Animal Protection India.
World Animal Protection has a strong track record of supporting local communities to transition away from incomes based on wildlife cruelty.
It’s urgent that we come together now to implement to a comprehensive wildlife trade ban to eliminate the threats of future pandemics to our health and economies.
Join us and ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi to support the call for an end to global trade of wild animals.
This story is provided by NewsVoir