India plans new railway through protected areas, threatens already-imperiled wildlife

April 11th, 2014
Chital deer roadkill on Bandipur highway. Photo by Raghuram.

Chital deer roadkill on Bandipur highway. Photo by R. Raghuram.

 

—Special report by Sanjay Gubbi and Shreya Dasgupta—

On a winter day in November 2013, a passenger train in the eastern state of West Bengal in India collided with a herd of 40 to 50 elephants, killing five adults and two calves. This was not an isolated event. Such grisly incidences have killed tigers, leopards and several other wildlife species in the past. In fact, train-kills like these have become a routine affair in India.

The country’s fiscal growth has necessitated the development and improvement of its surface transport infrastructure. New roads and railway lines have been implemented or planned in many wildlife-rich areas. In addition, several state governments have amplified their demands for new railway lines that would pass through key tiger and elephant habitats.

Bandipur, together with the adjoining Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, has one of the highest densities of large mammals in the world. These reserves connect with other protected areas including BRT, Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserves, as well as Cauvery and MM Hills Wildlife Sanctuaries, forming one of the country’s largest contiguous wild tiger and elephant habitats (approximately 9,000 square kilometers, or 3,475 square miles). This may appear to be stamp-sized when compared to the colossal wildlife habitats in some parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. However, the area is highly productive, holding wildlife densities comparable to the African savannahs.

Approximate route of the proposed railway line passing through Bandipur and Wayanad preserves. Credit: Nature Conservation Foundation

Approximate route of the proposed railway line passing through Bandipur and Wayanad preserves. Credit: Nature Conservation Foundation/Panthera

To a large extent, the Karnataka Forest Department has curtailed threats such as poaching. But linear intrusions such as highways and power lines continue to disturb these globally important wildlife habitats. Additionally, new threats are emerging as economic changes bring about new needs for India’s human populations. Growing human population and increased affluence among a section of the society has increased the demand for human use of wild areas. This demand is mostly for accommodation of industries such as electricity generation, surface transport, agriculture, tourism and other needs that either fragment or lead to a total loss of wildlife habitats.

The new railway line demanded by the state of Kerala, if implemented, will bisect 32 kilometers (20 miles) through two protected areas (Bandipur and Wayanad). This could eventually spell doom for wildlife, especially wide-ranging species such as tigers and elephants.

Construction of this railway line would only add to Bandipur’s battles against rampant development. Two national highways passing through this tiger reserve have demonstrated the negative impacts that linear intrusions can have on wildlife. Studies have shown highway development through wildlife habitat can lead to high rates of wildlife mortality due to vehicular collisions, genetic isolation, impediment of animal movement and increased agitation due to vehicular noise.

Traffic-related wildlife mortality is especially high at night. Several nocturnal species such as the civet, mouse deer, black-naped hare and various reptiles are regular victims of speeding vehicles. In addition, key prey species for tigers such as axis deer are also regularly hit. Young individuals are particularly susceptible to vehicular collisions at night due to their slow responses to speeding vehicles and their tendency to become transfixed by headlights.

In addition, vehicular traffic during the night could facilitate increased use of the area for illegal activities such as timber smuggling and wildlife poaching. Previously caught poachers in Bandipur and BRT Tiger Reserves confessed to having hunted at night on the highways passing through these reserves. Highway edges are a nighttime draw for many prey species due to increased visibility of predators; unfortunately, by lingering near roadways, these species become more visible to human hunters.

Through persistent efforts, forest officials, the state board of wildlife and conservationists convinced key policy and decision makers of the conservation merits of night traffic closure. They did this by providing a solution that would ensure commuters at night would remain unaffected: an alternative road that bypassed Bandipur, and which was only 35 kilometers (20 miles) longer than the highways inside the protected area.

Soon after, in a landmark move, the state government of Karnataka spent $7.8 million (INR 4.7 billion) to improve this alternative road. It passes along the edge of Nagarahole and Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuaries, and is a much less damaging option when compared to traffic passing through the core of Bandipur and Mudumalai Tiger Reserves at night.

Tiger killed on Bandipur highway. Photo by Yathish Kumar.

Bengal tiger killed on Bandipur highway. Photo by D. Yathish.

However, the battle is not yet over. We continue to fight against business interests who have challenged the night closure in the Supreme Court of India. But for now, the ban has ensured at least a little peace for tigers, their prey and other denizens of Bandipur, Mudumalai and Wayanad.

Yet, the progress made by reducing the impact of highways has so far not been echoed by railways. The neighboring state of Kerala has remained the loudest and most persistent supporter of the proposed line. They remain obstinate despite the Indian Railway’s report that the project is not economically feasible, demanding a huge investment on the order of $700 million (INR 42.67 billion). Additionally, they say that environmental impacts can be very large. Based on this report, the Kerala High Court rejected the rail expansion project when business interests expressed opposition.

Protagonists of the railway line argue that an elevated track would be environmentally feasible. However, the funds needed to build such a track and the disturbances it would create during the construction phase (which often happens at snail’s pace in India) may be substantial and prohibitive.

For countries like India where protected areas are small and human population is great, finding solutions in the best interests of wildlife is of huge importance – and very complicated. It’s not just about keeping rail tracks out of the animals’ way. As our protected areas are small, the problems facing them are several folds higher than those in North America, where engineering solutions could prove to be win-win solutions. Any additional development within India’s protected areas comes at a huge cost to wildlife.

The proposed railway line would also be completely counterproductive to attempts at conserving wildlife habitats in the area. For example, the federal Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in India has designated theadjoining areas of Bandipur as an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). Developmental activities such as mining and construction of polluting industries and hydropower projects are prohibited or regulated in ESZs that exist in the immediate vicinity of a protected area. Developing a railway line either within the tiger reserve or in the limits of the ESZ is also prohibited. However, many business groups have been relentlessly using political pressure in effort to circumvent these regulations and implement the railway project through Bandipur.

Bandipur National Park. Photo by Praveen Ramaswamy.

Bandipur National Park. Photo by Praveen Ramaswamy.

Since December 2011, the Nature Conservation Foundation and Panthera have supported the efforts of the government to ensure that ESZs are designated around the protected areas of Karnataka. They convinced elected representatives and local communities, as well as provided technical input for the delineation and declaration of ESZs. This has been seen as a unique effort as in most areas it is difficult to convince political leaders of the benefits of conservation. However, a senior legislator from the area helped us garner support among other legislators and people within the district.

Additionally, the National Wildlife Action Plan drafted under the chairmanship of the country’s Prime Minister, mandates the Ministry of Surface Transport and Ministry of Railways to by-pass all protected areas and corridors while constructing roads and railways. Yet, governments continue to demand that these linear infrastructures pass through fragile landscapes.

There are several alternatives available for transporting freight and passengers while avoiding areas like Bandipur and Waynad. While these alternatives may be slightly more expensive, their ecological benefits are many. The budget of the Indian railways for the year 2014-15 is a colossal $10.74 billion (INR 643 billion), and building alternative routes that bypass wildlife-rich areas will make but a small dent in the allocated resources.

India has earmarked about four percent of the country’s landscape for wildlife preservation and protection. If the swarms of vehicles and speeding trains are kept out of these regions, it would neither affect the country’s aspiring economic growth, nor would it hinder any of our transportation problems.

Losing iconic or keystone species such as tigers and elephants to train-kills would truly undermine the conservation efforts of the government and the many private organizations working hard to preserve India’s unique and irreplaceable biological legacy. When it comes to saving the endangered species of this country, developing safer alternative routes for transport should be a mantra. The tiger cannot change its ecological behavior or move to another habitat; hence, it is up to us to redraw our plans.

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Sanjay Gubbi is a scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation and Panthera, and Shreya Dasgupta is a science communicator at the Nature Conservation Foundation. Both are based in Bangalore, India.

 

Tiger in Bandipur National Park. Photo by A.S. Hari.

Bengal tiger in Bandipur National Park. Photo by A.S. Hari.


 

Eats, shoots and leaves, an essay on giant pandas

June 30th, 2011


Giant panda in Chengdu in South Western China. Photo by: Shubhobroto Ghosh.

By: Shubhobroto Ghosh

Please note : The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not representative of the viewpoints of any organization.

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning” – Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize winner in Physics (1932) in Physics and Philosophy (1958).

Among the hundreds of images and descriptions of what is possibly the cutest living animal, the giant panda, one particularly sticks in my mind, the anecdote about an animal that goes to eat in a restaurant. The animal looks at a dictionary lying on the table and finds the entry on giant panda saying : “Giant Panda – Bearlike animal found in China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” The animal takes out a revolver slung around its waist, shoots in the air twice, startles customers and leaves. The epithet is meant to serve as a lesson in English language syntax. It is not known if real Giant Pandas raid restaurants for food or carry revolvers around their waists, but there were plenty of offerings connected to this animal during a recent trip to China.

When I heard that my participation in a conference on animal protection was confirmed in early June 2011, I drove everyone around me and the organizers into a tizzy because I spoke of nothing but giants pandas till the time I actually landed in China. I forgot about everything else apart from the obsession to see a live giant panda in person, the symbol of World Wildlife Fund that is meant to serve as a beacon for conservation worldwide. I harried my co passenger Rohit Gangwal, of a wildlife protection group from Jaipur named Raksha that we would rush for the zoo as soon as we set foot in Chengdu in South Western China.

No sooner had the plane landed that my giant panda dream erupted vociferously and made me impatient with each passing moment. Rohit put up with a lot of unreasonable demands from me and sacrificed a well earned rest to accompany me to the Chengdu Zoo. We went in and the first signboard that caught my eye was that of the giant panda. My heart was racing at the prospect of seeing the animal alive, but the first sighting was disappointing to say the least. I came across a sleeping animal with his bum pasted to a glass pane. But it was a sighting after all and my excitement remained all the same as I ran to the other end of the enclosure only to find a second animal inside in a similar position. I was riveted anyway, and waited for the animals to wake up and almost ignored the smaller and just as cute red pandas eating lunch in an adjacent enclosure. I could have waited for eternity just to see the animals awake, but time was not of the essence and I had to move on.

Chengdu Zoo is a large one and the commentary I had heard prior to my visit had not been very charitable. And it did appear in real life that the facility lived up to the rather checkered reputation it had garnered for itself. It is a large facility, by any standards and the grounds are quite beautiful and tastefully decorated but what you see inside the enclosures really do depress you. Most large animals are in small, unfurnished enclosures that do not provide them any enrichment in their lives. And large animals there are many.

Among the notable large mammals displayed at Chengdu Zoo are white rhino, Asian elephant, lions, tigers( some of them white), northern lynx, giraffe, takin, addax, scimitar horned oryx, Pere David’s deer, Bactrian camel, chimpanzee, orangutan, sun bears and moon bears. Some of these species were seen by me for the first time and although it is always a thrill to see a new animal species, the enjoyment is compromised by the fact that they are in small barren enclosures that offer them little privacy. Among the more disturbing facets of the zoo are a cockatoo fed and being made to perform tricks by the public, a pony and a Bactrian camel huddled in small pens and turtles, goldfishes, hamsters and rabbits in tiny cages to be sold outside the zoo gate. It was also disconcerting to see live animals being fed to reptiles in the reptile house and a very distinct overcrowding in the aviaries.

Chengdu Zoo is an astonishing place for birdwatching with light vented bulbuls and rufous capped babblers flitting around everywhere. The zoo has been helped by Animals Asia Foundation in instituting better enrichment measures for their inmates and this is an endeavor that ought to continue.

It would be remiss of me not to mention my parting memory of Chengdu Zoo because they involve giant pandas. It was nearing closing time when I cajoled Rohit to accompany me for a final glimpse of the sleeping beauties. And lo and behold! They obliged by sitting upright in front of us, munching their bamboo sticks, the classical giant panda pose that has beguiled many a conservationist and the general public in countries throughout the world. It was indeed a sight to cherish and I stood like a statue for half an hour savoring the animal going about its dinner. It was an unforgettable sight, but I repeat that the giant pandas in Chengdu Zoo are not in the best of conditions. Their dens are featureless and they are forced to be in public gaze, and although this is how I managed to see the mythical creature for the first time, I would rather have them getting access to their outside enclosures (filled with greenery and of a modest size) for twenty four hours a day. The irony is heightened by the fact that the zoo has loudspeakers in front of the giant panda enclosure playing songs like, “I see skies are blue…..” Well, the skies are maybe blue but in a coop, it is certainly not a wonderful life for the inmates and this practice ought to be stopped in the facility.

Part of my dream realized, I returned to the hotel feeling satiated and replete with memories of the day. Friends and colleagues from across the world were met and accosted and courtesies, pleasantries, hugs and kisses exchanged. Some of them whetted my appetite for seeing more giant pandas by showing me pictures of the animals in the famed Chengdu Giant Panda Research and Breeding Base (winner of the United Nations Global 500 Environmental Award).

So another round of desperate requests and pleadings followed and this time I found three companions to visit the place : Arvind Sharma from Himachal Pradesh, Sashanka Dutta from Assam and Jiban Das from Orissa. The Giant Panda centre does make you feel the magic of the natural habitat of the animal. The moment you enter, you well and truly imbibe the spirit of the Giant Panda and evoke memories and descriptions of the animal as portrayed by George Schaller, Desmond Morris and the French missionary Pere David who is credited with having brought this creature to the notice of Westerners (This element of discovery has a dubious aspect that is increasingly being taken note of by many).

There are several trails that lead one to different enclosures housing the animals. The first one only revealed a sleeping animal and a specimen ambling in the bush far away. But again, luck was on our side and just as we were about to depart for another enclosure, one animal came walking within visible range and started feasting on bamboo. Again the classical pose, and the cameras started clicking. I guess one can never ever tire of seeing a Giant Panda in that position, the cuteness of the animal is extraordinary. The animal, due to its neotenic features spontaneously solicits a bond and connection bordering on profound spirituality. Observing the animal in his home country, in his home state, in surroundings that do approximate the wild state although the animal is in confinement, does fill one with a sense of awe and respect. The sight of a living giant panda can make even the most hard nosed scientist or biologist forget objectivity. As many field biologists are now tending to acknowledge, it is well nigh impossible not to get emotionally involved in the lives of individual animals that one observes as part of a study, the compassionate component is as important as the scientific element.

There are many young giant pandas on display in the Chengdu centre and there are always hordes of people ogling over them. The centre has 96 giant pandas under its custody, 22 of them loaned to zoos in China and abroad. I had the great good fortune of having a personal session with Sarah Bexell, head of Conservation Education at the Giant Panda Center. Sarah demonstrated many conservation initiatives that have been instituted in Sichuan province to help protect this animal in the wild by taking into account needs of the local populace.

Although this article is principally about giant pandas and my absolute and childish fascination for seeing an animal in flesh that I had read tomes about, the narrative would be incomplete without paying a tribute to the Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson and her energetic team at the Moon Bear Rescue Center in Chengdu. I had the privilege of visiting this place with several luminaries of wildlife conservation and welfare and can state unequivocally that it stands out as one of the best captive animal facilities I have seen anywhere. Here, bears that have endured a lifetime of abuse in captivity in bear bile farms are accorded a second chance to live.

But I must get back to the pandas, especially because I also saw the beautiful and cute red pandas at the Giant Panda Center in Chengdu. I saw only one animal, clambering through the dense foliage and his scarlet pelage seemed as brilliant and attractive as the piebald colouring of his larger cousin.

The most enduring image of the symbol of World Wildlife Fund remains a cliche, but one I do not resent writing. An animal sitting upright, holding its food in its pseudo thumb, eating shoots and leaves. The imagery given by the animal in the restaurant anecdote is well justified in real life on all grounds.


Red panda in Chengdu in South Western China. Photo by: Shubhobroto Ghosh.

About the author: Shubhobroto Ghosh is a former journalist for the Telegraph newspaper whose work has also been published in the Times of India, New York Times, The Statesman, The Asian Age, and the Hindu. He has worked on conservation issues in India and UK for several organisations and was project coordinator of the Indian Zoo Inquiry project. He did his Masters thesis on British zoos. He currently works in the NGO sector and maintains a keen interest in environmental issues.

Update: interview on toxic pesticide used to kill wildlife (and endangering people) in Kenya

June 30th, 2011

An interview in four parts with Paula Kahumbu, Executive Director of WildlifeDirect, provides detail and context on the use of the neurotoxic pesticide Furadan to kill lions and birds en masse in Kenya. Lions are down to around 2,000 individuals in Kenya. Kahumbu, recently awarded an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic, and WildlifeDirect are working to pressure the government to estimate the environmental and human cost of Furadan.

Also known as Carbofuran, Furadan is manufactured by the Farm Machinery and Chemicals Corporation (FMC) in the United States. As of May 2009, the US banned Furadan from being used on any crop for human consumption due to its lethal toxicity. Still, FMC says it will continue to manufacture the pesticide for use abroad.

For more information: Stop Wildlife Poisoning

For more on the fight to stop Furadan in Kenya:

Lion poisonings decimating vultures in Kenya

(01/19/2011) It’s a common image of the African savanna: vultures flocking to a carcass on the great plains. However, a new study has found that vulture populations are plummeting in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, a part of the Serengeti plains, due to habitat loss as well as the illegal killing of lions. Increasingly farmers and livestock owners have targeted lions and other big predators by poisoning livestock carcasses with toxic pesticides, such as Furadan. Not only illegal, such poisonings take their toll on other Serengeti wildlife, including vultures that perish after feeding on the laced carcasses.

Updated: East Africa’s lions falling to poison

(05/11/2010) Eight lions have been poisoned to death in a month in Kenya, according to conservation organization WildlifeDirect. Locals, frustrated by lions killing their livestock, have taken to poisoning the great cats using a common pesticide in Kenya called carbofuran, known commercially as Furadan.

Prime Minister of Kenya urged to ban lion-killing pesticide after child dies from ingestion

(11/10/2009) On Monday October 26th a three-year-old girl mistakenly ate the pesticide Furadan (also known as carbofuran) in western Kenya. Her father, a teacher at a primary school, said that he had no knowledge of how dangerous the pesticide was, which he had purchased to kill pests in his vegetable garden.

Toxic pesticide used to kill birds by the thousands (warning: video is graphic)

June 29th, 2011

A new video from WildlifeDirect shows the brutal impacts of the neurotoxic pesticide Furadan being used intentionally to kill entire flocks of birds, which are later sold as meat. Ducks, pigeons, and storks are often targeted. The process is brutal.

“Based on a survey I did in 2009, 6,000 birds were killed every month. Tens of thousands are killed every year. I’m very concerned and I think man is at risk too–that is the greatest concern,” says researcher Martin Odino in the video. In 2009 a three year old Kenyan boy perished after consuming the pesticide, which his father had purchased for use in the family’s vegetable garden.

Furadan is also used in revenge-killings against lions. Farmers and ranchers lace cattle carcasses with the pesticide and when lions feed, they die. Declines in vulture populations have also been linked to the deadly toxin.

Also known as Carbofuran, Furadan is manufactured by the Farm Machinery and Chemicals Corporation (FMC) in the United States. As of May 2009, the US banned Furadan from being used on any crop for human consumption due to its lethal toxicity. Still, FMC says it will continue to manufacture the pesticide for use abroad.

For more information: Stop Wildlife Poisoning

For more on the fight to stop Furadan in Kenya:

Lion poisonings decimating vultures in Kenya

(01/19/2011) It’s a common image of the African savanna: vultures flocking to a carcass on the great plains. However, a new study has found that vulture populations are plummeting in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, a part of the Serengeti plains, due to habitat loss as well as the illegal killing of lions. Increasingly farmers and livestock owners have targeted lions and other big predators by poisoning livestock carcasses with toxic pesticides, such as Furadan. Not only illegal, such poisonings take their toll on other Serengeti wildlife, including vultures that perish after feeding on the laced carcasses.

Updated: East Africa’s lions falling to poison

(05/11/2010) Eight lions have been poisoned to death in a month in Kenya, according to conservation organization WildlifeDirect. Locals, frustrated by lions killing their livestock, have taken to poisoning the great cats using a common pesticide in Kenya called carbofuran, known commercially as Furadan.

Prime Minister of Kenya urged to ban lion-killing pesticide after child dies from ingestion

(11/10/2009) On Monday October 26th a three-year-old girl mistakenly ate the pesticide Furadan (also known as carbofuran) in western Kenya. Her father, a teacher at a primary school, said that he had no knowledge of how dangerous the pesticide was, which he had purchased to kill pests in his vegetable garden.

1,000 new species discovered in New Guinea

June 27th, 2011

Blue monitor lizard
Varanus macraei, a monitor lizard first described in 2001, lives on the island of Batanta. WWF calls it “one of the most spectacular reptile discoveries anywhere… with a mesmerising pattern of turquoise and blue.” Photo © Lutz Obelgonner.

Scientists discovered more than 1,000 previously unknown species during a decade of research in New Guinea (slideshow), says a new report from WWF.

Final Frontier: Newly Discovered species of New Guinea (1998 – 2008) is a tally of 10 years’ worth of discoveries by scientists working on the world’s second largest island.

While the majority of 1,060 species listed are plants and insects, the inventory includes 134 amphibians, 71 fish, 43 reptiles, 12 mammals, and 2 birds.

More pictures at Turquoise ‘dragon’ among 1,000 new species discovered in New Guinea.

Banana plantation threatens rainforest valley (video)

June 21st, 2011

Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains were recently spared a titanium mine, however now the region faces a new peril: bananas. The Australian firm Indochina Gateway Capital Limited has proposed a banana plantation in the Southern Cardamom Mountains. The plantation would likely destroy an elephant corridor for one of Cambodia’s last wild elephant populations. In addition, pesticides used in the plantation could pollute local waters, threatening nearly-extinct species, such as the royal turtle, and local people.

According to Wildlife Alliance: [we] recently proposed an alternate plantation location to Indochina Gateway as a win-win solution: Move the proposed location of the plantation to the nearby province of Kampot, where the same beneficial conditions exist (i.e. excellent water supply and good soil). Beyond that our proposed plantation area is actually closer to a harbor and labor sources, and it is located in truly degraded forest inside a low priority ecosystem.

For more information: Learn About the Threat to Key Tropical Forest Corridor Presented by Banana Plantation

For more on the conservation organization Wildlife Alliance:

Cambodia’s wildlife pioneer: saving species and places in Southeast Asia’s last forest

(05/11/2011) Suwanna Gauntlett has dedicated her life to protecting rainforests and wildlife in some of the world’s most hostile and rugged environments and has set the trend of a new generation of direct action conservationists. She has designed, implemented, and supported bold, front-line conservation programs to save endangered wildlife populations from the brink of extinction, including saving the Amur Tiger (also known as the Siberian Tiger) from extinction in the 1990s in the Russian Far East, when only about 80 individuals remained and reversing the drastic decline of Olive Ridley sea turtles along the coast of Orissa, India in the 1990s, when annual nestings had declined from 600,000 to a mere 8,130. When she first arrived in Cambodia in the late 1990s, its forests were silent. ‘You couldn’t hear any birds, you couldn’t hear any wildlife and you could hardly see any signs of wildlife because of the destruction,’ Gauntlett said. Wildlife was being sold everywhere, in restaurants, on the street, and even her local beauty parlor had a bear.

What does a baby moose look like? (photos)

June 12th, 2011

Moose and mom are doing fine. Photo courtesy of ZSL's Whipsnade Zoo.
Moose and mom are doing fine. Photo courtesy of ZSL’s Whipsnade Zoo.

It’s true that moose, also known as European elk (Alces alces), are odd looking animals, yet that doesn’t prevent their babies from being as endearing as any others. This baby moose, named Chocolate (get it?), was born at Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Whipsnade Zoo in late May.

The moose are apart of the European Breeding Program. Photo courtesy of ZSL's Whipsnade Zoo.
The moose are apart of the European Breeding Program. Photo courtesy of ZSL’s Whipsnade Zoo.

A closer look at Chocolate, the moose. Photo courtesy of ZSL's Whipsnade Zoo..
A closer look at Chocolate, the moose. Photo courtesy of ZSL’s Whipsnade Zoo.

Happy world oceans day! (photos)

June 8th, 2011

Coastline in Colombia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Coastline in Colombia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Celebrated since 1992, today is World Oceans Day! As apart of the day’s festivities, conservation organization Oceana is asking people to become Ocean Heroes by pledging to recycle, clean up a local waterway, or eat only sustainable seafood for the summer!

Purple-striped jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Purple-striped jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Leopard shark in a kelp forest at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Leopard shark in a kelp forest at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Overlooking the ocean at dawn on Bunaken Island in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Overlooking the ocean at dawn on Bunaken Island in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Tufted puffin in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Tufted puffin in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Mangroves and seagrass in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler
Mangroves and seagrass in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Red starfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Red starfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Rain coming in over beach in Suriname. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Rain coming in over beach in Suriname. Photo by: Jeremy Hance..

Moon jellyfish (Aurelia labiata) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Moon jellyfish (Aurelia labiata)at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Critically Endangered leatherback sea turtle returning to the sea in Suriname after laying eggs. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Critically Endangered leatherback sea turtle returning to the sea in Suriname after laying eggs. Photo by: Jeremy Hance..

Islands off Bird's Head, northern New Guinea . Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Islands off Bird’s Head, northern New Guinea . Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Humpback breaching in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Humpback breaching in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Green sea anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Green sea anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Overlooking the ocean at sunset on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Overlooking the ocean at sunset on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Last chance for the Xingu River and its people? (video)

June 7th, 2011

Brazil recently announced it was going ahead with building the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam, although the construction is set to flood rainforest, change the character of the Xingu River, and displace at least 16,000 people, although transforming the lives of many tens-of-thousands more. Indigenous people along the Xingu have been fighting the dam for decades.

Mongabay.com has been following the Belo Monte dam closely:

Brazil’s shame

(06/03/2011) As an American I know a lot about shame — the U.S. government and American companies have wrought appalling amounts of damage the world over. But as an admirer of Brazil’s recent progress toward an economy that recognizes the contributions of culture and the environment, this week’s decision to move forward on the Belo Monte dam came as a shock. Belo Monte undermines Brazil’s standing as a global leader on the environment. Recent gains in demarcating indigenous lands, reducing deforestation, developing Earth monitoring technologies, and enforcing environmental laws look more tenuous with a project that runs over indigenous rights and the environment.

Amazon mega-dam gets final approval

(06/01/2011) Brazilian authorities gave final approval to the controversial Belo Monte dam, reports AFP.

Controversial Brazilian mega-dam receives investment of $1.4 billion

(05/02/2011) Brazil’s most controversial mega-dam, Belo Monte, which is moving full steam ahead against massive opposition, has received an extra infusion of cash from Vale, a Brazilian-run mining company.

Bill Clinton takes on Brazil’s megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil’s megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.

World’s most controversial dam, Brazil’s Belo Monte, back on

(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.

Indigenous leaders take fight over Amazon dams to Europe

(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.

Judge suspends Brazil’s monster dam: contractor ‘imposing’ its interests

(02/27/2011) Construction on Brazil’s planned mega-dam, the Belo Monte, has been ordered suspended by a federal judge, citing unmet environmental and social conditions. Just last month, the hugely controversial dam, was handed a partial license from Brazil’s Environmental Agency (IBAMA). However, the judge, Ronaldo Destêrro, found that the partial license, the first of its kind in Brazil, was granted under pressure from the dam’s contractor, Norte Energia or NESA.

Antelope release! (photos)

June 7th, 2011

Red hartebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.
Red hartebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.

Three antelope species were recently released at the Umphafa Private Nature Reserve in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa in an ongoing effort to restore an over-cultivated area. In all 7 impala, 21 red hartebeest, and 22 blue wildebeest were released.

“These recent releases are exciting developments for UmPhafa. The releases of the wildebeest represent the first for this species on UmPhafa and the new populations of red hartebeest and impala will serve to top up our existing herds. It is hoped that these species will go on to breed in the future and help us on our way to reaching carrying capacity for these species,” said Rebecca Perry, Conservation Director, in a press release.

The reserve was opened in 2006 by Action for the Wild, the conservation organization of Colchester Zoo. To date, 13 species have been released in the 5,000 hectare protected area, including giraffe, zebra, blesbok, servals, African rock pythons, common reedbuck, nyala, waterbuck, leopard tortoises and white rhinos.

Impala release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.
Impala release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.

Blue wildebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.
Blue wildebeest release. Photo courtesy of Colchester Zoo: Action for the Wild.