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How is recent Locust attack in parts of India related to Climate Change?

If you are a biology student, you have surely heard about Locust, a swarm forming short horned grasshopper, in the family of Acrididae. These insects are harmless when solitary but in groups they are gregarious pest. A modest locust swarm can travel upto 200 kilometers and eat as much food as about 35,000 people in one day, according to Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) of United Nations. This migratory pest has previously invaded Rajasthan in past two decades, including significant one last year. However, this year ‘Its the worst locust outbreak seen in a quarter of a century’ says officials. The difference this time is that Locusts have attacked areas where they have not been previously seen since 1993 and that too in very large numbers. The swarms have spread to parts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Even National capital Delhi and surrounding regions have been kept on high alert, because if the wind favours, the swarm could reach these areas. I heard people saying, Why to worry when we have jetting machines, fire engines, and pesticides to tackle this problem. But worry you should! Because this is just another disastrous outcome of the global phenomenon- Climate change.

There have been studies that show the last five years have been hottest in our planet since the advent of industrial revolution. Since 1980’s each decade has been warmer than the previous ones. And this trend is expected to continue because of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Unexpected rainfalls, cyclones in one part of the world, to drought and forest fires in another part are all a result of climate change. One of the scenarios under Climate change is the increase in frequency of rainfalls due to warming of ocean waters. There have a been rise in the frequency of cyclones over the Arabian sea due to climate change. In 2018, cyclone Makunu hit parts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, turning it into a watery landscape. Rainfall fell and gathered in different parts of deserts that borders Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, making it breeding grounds for Locusts. Further, cyclone Luban that hit Arabian Peninsula in October 2018, created more favorable conditions for locusts to breed. There were unexpected rainfalls in Arabian Peninsula regions caused by Indian Ocean Dipole, a phenomenon accentuated by climate change. In January and February 2019, coasts of Red sea on the side of Africa and Asia received good rainfall. African side already has a locust problem and unexpected rainfall made good breeding grounds for them. Infact, last year Africa too witnessed one of its worst locust attacks. And when there was not enough food, locust swarms flew towards Arabian Peninsula where locusts have already grown due to two cyclones. They reached there in March 2019. The swarm then travelled to southern Iran from where they entered South Asia in April-may and June.

In June 2019, Monsoon started early in Thar desert making excellent conditions for Locusts to breed. Locusts need moisture in sand to breed which was provided to them in ample amount. The rainfall at that time provided them food supply in form of desert vegetation, like ‘Sewan’ (Lasiurussc indicus) and ‘Safed Dhaman’ or Cenchrusciliaris grass. Generally, Locusts leave India by November, but this did not happen in 2019 because they got every favorable condition they needed for survival and they stayed till January 2020. Here comes an interesting part, pests and animals can change their behavior and adapt to changing climate. So, locusts which leave India in winters, are now spending winters here.

When Locusts return to Southern Iran, they will be in for more conducive conditions during the onset of monsoon in India. The reasons why Locusts have been reported as early as April this year is because of excessive pre-monsoon rains this year and changing wind patterns over India and Pakistan. Infact, Pakistan declared emergency on February 2, 2020 after Locust swarms puts its food security at risk. Hence, we can say that worst Locust swarms that we are facing today is a cumulative effect of climate change The pre-monsoon rains are due Western Disturbances that visit India frequently, but that too visited early this year with larger than usual numbers of disturbances. At this point of time we cannot say whether increased Western Disturbances is because of climate change or not. Scientists are still working to figure out that part. You can read more about Western Disturbances in my previous post. Till then, don’t forget that Locust swarm’s mess can be intercepted because we have advance technologies today, and we are in hand prepared for problems before their arrival but the global problem of Climate change which is the root cause of such disturbances is the real issue here and we have absolutely no idea what else it has in store for us. Its high time that leaders across the world acknowledge this and take measures today so that we don’t have to deal with any bigger mess in future.

Refrences-

  1. Climate Change Brings the Worst Locust Attack in Decades to India-https://thewire.in/agriculture/locust-attack-india-jaipur-climate-change
  2. Locust attack: Plague a grim reminder of climate change’s reality- https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/locust-attack-plague-a-grim-reminder-of-climate-change-s-reality-69139
  3. Locust attack: ‘This is very, very rare’ :https://www.downtoearth.org.in/interviews/climate-change/locust-attack-this-is-very-very-rare–68992
  4. Climate Crisis Brings India’s Worst Locust Invasion in Decades- https://www.ecowatch.com/india-locust-invasion-climate-crisis-2646105181.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
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Sustainable Development- Key to a Green Earth.

Famous conservationist Lawrence Anthony in one of his book mentioned something about policy of his enterprise, Earth Organization, called ‘Cooperative Ecology’. He said that ‘demonizing of commerce and industry that defined the green movement in past has to end. People have to live in the planet. Both sides must develop a better understanding of the use and value of natural world. If an Animal rights group bluntly opposed mining, then all their members should stop using metal and glass in their own lives. Respect for Biodiversity needs to be ingrained into industry and sensitive areas must remain sacrosanct, but there is plenty of room for cooperation and compromise’.

Most of you might not agree to the statement of cooperation and compromise said by Lawrence Anthony but what he said above is the veracity of the story behind sustainable development- A term that most of us are aware about. Sustainable development is the way a society can organize itself for its long term existence. Sustainability is a path leading towards for a better present, future, keeping in mind the preservation of environment, natural resources and social-economic development. Hence, it is a broad discipline giving insights to most aspects of human world- business, technology, environment and social sciences. The idea originated after the onset of industrial revolution around mid 19th century. Leaders and scientists around the world started noticing patterns of ecological, economic and social crisis. In the year 1992, United Nations Conference on Environment and sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro was a first international attempt to develop action plans and strategies for a sustainable future.

Today, the government around the world is trying so hard to create value and regulate markets even if they are failing at it miserably. No doubt that this ain’t an easy task, but the government needs to realize that progress is not just human growth in terms of economy while neglecting every other aspects. With the onset of global pandemic, people are getting more aware about environment crisis, they are realizing the value of planet and its resources. When Lawrence Anthony said that ‘Respect for Biodiversity needs to be ingrained into industry’, I think he meant that once the people have an idea that our planet has its limits, they will start respecting it and they will know that integrated measures are needed to be taken, not just for economic growth but every dimension of growth possible. For instance, Human Development Index (HDI)-a statistical tool that measures a country’s economic and social achievement. HDI will not reflect on inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment etc. It only takes three dimensions into consideration- Human health, Knowledge and a decent standard of living. Living above a minimum HDI would guarantee that basic human needs are getting fulfilled.

As human population is increasing, Our demand and consumption for resources is increasing, exceeding what the planet can regenerate same year. Earth’s resources are finite, if human consumption is not regulated, these resources are going to get extinguished sooner. How much a nation consumes versus how much it actually has forms a way for ecological footprint i.e maximum limit of consumption per person in accordance to earth’s ecological capacity. It is basically demand and supply of nature. Living below it will ensure a good future for generations to come, as the earth will have time to regenerate itself. Therefore we can say that we will be on a sustainable track if we manage to keep above a minimum HDI and below maximum ecological footprint. If we can control our consumption habits, the threat to a sustainable future can be overcome. Here comes the part of cooperation and compromise of every individual.

There are 3 pillars of sustainability- economic, society and environment, informally also called as profit, people and planet. Unfortunately today, companies and business focus only on short term profits neglecting people and planet resulting into their long term irreparable damage. Though profit is necessary for business to survive and develop, but that shouldn’t be the only ultimate goal. Thus, only conscious businesses, leaders and cooperative individuals can set up the path for people and planet.

Sustainability can be in everything that we do- the device in which you are reading this post, to the clothes that you are wearing and the plate in which you are eating your snack, are all made from either minerals, synthetic fabrics and chemicals, all which is given to us by this planet. Extraction of minerals by mining industry can be very polluting and lead to deforestation at a wider scale, but can we really survive without these devices? How can then sustainability be in technology? The answer is simple- By being effective in resource utilization and waste management. Using devices for long time even if there is new one available at the market to effectively disposing off our tech waste is a step in sustainable development. Companies which focus on recycling lithium ion batteries rather than disposing them off are consciously leading towards sustainability. Similarly, clothing and textile industries that uses toxic chemicals can cause water pollution if not treated properly. Using cotton that is sustainably produced and use of less toxic chemicals while applying principal of circular economy is in respectability with environment. It is evident that everything in nature works in a circular way and not linearly. Circular economy aims at eliminating waste, be it biodegradable or non biodegradable, through reuse, re-manufacturing and recycling it. This in turn leads to less use of chemical substances. Thus, circular economy will build economic, natural and social capital by designing out waste and pollution; keeping products and materials in use; and regenerating natural systems.

Most of us think that corona virus outbreak has a positive impact on environment and climate today. Himalayan ranges are visible in parts of our country after a gap of 20-30 years. Surely this is a good sign of a healthy environment. However, as soon as this is over, which it will be eventually, isn’t everything going to be as it was before? Climate change will still be here as Carbon dioxide emissions will continue, deforestation is still happening and so is illegal wildlife trade. Economic crisis though tremendous, is short lived and we will be able to recover it through years to come, however ecological crisis which was always prevalent will again be left to second level.

Every person, every government needs to start thinking consciously, effectively and logically about the consequences of producing too much food, waste, clothes, etc and consuming more than required. The government needs to regulate policies and economy in ways that benefits us for a longer period of time. Every business will respond to our consumption and utilization, it is therefore responsibility of citizens who consume too much, drive their cars without giving a second thought to public transport and who really know nothing about effective waste management, Who buy too many clothes and too much food, be it un-seasonal. Citizens who don’t speak up to their government and who don’t ask companies to change. It is a responsibility of each and everyone of us who are reading this right now to stand up for this planet today. Nothing is the future except the planet that we live in. We need to stop being too much demanding and save something for future generations too. Similarly, people who bluntly oppose mining should know that there are ways to make mining more eco-friendly. All we need is better rules and legislation regulating illegal mining activities and likewise many illegal activities that are harming the biodiversity. Blindly opposing something without facts and awareness is not brave. A culture where people are aware, transparent, integral, loyal, fair and accountable will automatically set itself on the path of sustainable development. All we need is a conscious leader to guide them.

References-

  1. Sustainable development- What is it? (https://youmatter.world/en/definition/definitions-sustainable-development-sustainability/)
  2. The Last Rhinos By Lawrence Anthony
  3. Ecological footprint (https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/)
  4. Unfortunately, corona virus is bad news for ecology in long term (https://youmatter.world/en/coronavirus-bad-ecology-long-term/)
  5. Circular Economy (https://youmatter.world/en/definition/definitions-circular-economy-meaning-definition-benefits-barriers/)
  6. Top ten ways to make mines more ecofriendly (https://www.miningglobal.com/top-10/top-10-ways-make-mines-more-environmentally-friendly)

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Nature vs Hydropower: A battle for life in Dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh

In the year 2003, Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee launched an ambitious Hydropower project that aimed at adding 50,000 MW of installed capacity of hydropower across 16 states in the country by the end of 2017. The center of this project was the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the north east, where out of 162 hydropower sites identified for 50,000MW initiative,  Arunachal Pradesh accounted for more than half of the installed capacity.

One such site, located in Arunachal’s lower Dibang valley is prepping up itself in becoming India’s largest hydro power project with an estimated cost of 28,080.35 crores. The project involves diversion of 1150.08 hectares of forest land.  The proposed project location is at the junction of the Paleo-arctic, Indo-Chinese, and Indo-Malayan bio-geographic regions having luxuriant forests and a plethora of Flora and Fauna making it an ecological sensitive zone. The region is reported to have 680 species of birds, that is more than half of India’s total birds species. Wildlife Institute of India has recorded 413 plant species, 159 butterflies,  113 spiders, 14 amphibian, 31 reptile, and 21 mammalian species within the project area. There has also been reported sightings of tiger around the area. About 6 globally threatened mammal species are found in this region of which 3 are endangered and 3 are under the vulnerable category. The proposed site is a prime habitat for animals like hoolock gibbon, elephants, Mishmi Takin, clouded and snow leopard, fishing cat and mithun among other species. The site is also close to Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary. Arunachal’s Dibang valley is also a home to miniscule Idu Mishmi tribe, that borders China and Tibet. Idu Mishmi consist of 1.3% of state’s population, and the tribe has a historic link to Lord Krishna’s wife Rukmani.

The foundation for the project was laid in 2008 by the then Prime Minister of India  Manmohan Singh in the state capital Itanagar. However, there has not been any progress since then due to massive protests between 2008 to 2013 by local tribe population over their displacement, deforestation, loss of community land and mainly because of irreplaceable damage that will occur in richest Himalayan Bio-geographical area. The project site is an earthquake prone region, massive drilling in the valley can cause severe landslides endangering lives of people and animals. What will happen if the dam breaks? Because there are chances that it can. There have also been discrepancies in Environment Impact Assessment reports and Detailed project Reports given by the company.

The developer, Etalin Hydro-Electric Power Company which is a joint venture of Arunachal Pradesh’s Hydro Power Development Corporation with Jindal Power Limited (JPL) stated that total 2.7 lakh tress have to be felled for the construction of concrete dam. These are subtropical evergreen broad leaved and subtropical rain forests. Though Minister Prakash Javedkar said that there will be compensatory afforestation which is mandatory as per Forest Conservation act 1980, but there is not enough land to assure that. Moreover, the project would displace several members of the Idu Mishmi tribe from their community land, which includes both rice fields and forest land that provides them with a source of livelihood. According to studies, 115 families of 5 villages are likely to be displaced and 744 families of 39 villages are to be affected due to acquisition of land. The Idu Mishmi population is about 12,000 and it will affect 2000 people directly.

The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) is an apex body of the Environment Ministry tasked with deciding whether forest land can be diverted for industrial projects. The center has been pressing FAC to grant clearance to the project, which is mainly due to three reasons, through this project the government would dam River Dibang along with small river named Ashu pani, and able to harvest 3,097 megawatts providing uninterrupted electricity to the state and make profit by selling a certain amount to other states as well. Secondly, the dam will also help in controlling floods caused by overflow of monsoon waters of Brahmaputra in Assam and parts of Arunachal.  And thirdly some media reports stated that it is a reactionary measure by Indian Government against Chinese damming Brahmaputra at its source, and this will provide India its rights over River system.  

The authorities say that the the Dibang valley project will help the state economically, but what about ecological concerns? Can it subdue the cost of diverting huge forestland in a highly bio-diverse area, the impact on tribal community, and impact on a wildlife sanctuary and a national park? Through years, FAC has ruled that the Environment Impact Assessment report placed by the power company has not properly accounted for the impacts the project will have on environment.  In 2019, the FAC again reviewed the progress of the environment appraisal and said neither of its recommendations had been fully complied with, though a wildlife assessment was done by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. A sub committee of FAC visited the Etalin Hydropower project site this February and recommended that the project will be allowed only if the developer deposits money for wildlife conservation in the area. Scientists have also been continuously warning government about the climate change induced hazards that the hydropower dams will not be able to withstand.

FAC has again deferred its decision on the controversial project. The 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower project has been delayed for over six years. The FAC on April 23 this year held a meeting and decided that it is prudent to get input from Ministry of Power, Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) and National tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). The decision has surely been delayed for sometime again but we need to show the government that we are against this Project. Common people can do this by writing to the ministry, FAC and expressing their concerns for such destructive project, they can also sign petitions by various NGO’s. No money in this entire world can compensate for the ecological loss we will face if this project is granted clearance. Haven’t we humans already learned our lesson from Corona Virus outbreak that nature fights back when we mess with it?

 

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If you live in Texas, you might see a Tiger in someone’s backyard.

Imagine having a captive Tiger as a ‘guest of honor’ in a high school party. Well, one such incident happened in 2018, in a school prom in Miami when the authorities decided to take up the theme of prom party-‘welcome to the Jungle’ in a literal way and further managed to bring a Caged Tiger on stage and arranged some other animals too. Though the event received a lot of criticism, the school defended itself by saying that animals were minded by state licensed handlers. Now such piece of news isn’t as shocking to citizens of US as it might be to some of us. It is quite common for people in some states of America to have exotic animals as their pets.

There are 6 sub species of tigers found in the wild- Royal Bengal tiger, Amur tiger, South China tiger, Sumatran tiger, Indochinese tiger and Malayan tiger. These are pure bred species of tigers, and the ones that are accounted for in wild. Hybrid free lines like Ligers, Tigons don’t exist in wild, and have no conservation value as these hybrids suffer from various health problems.

Different states in US have different laws for Tiger ownership which specifies whether a species is allowed, banned or requires permit. 4 states in US have no laws in keeping dangerous wild Animals as pets- Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Owning a pet tiger is legal or unregulated in these states. 15 states in US require a permit or license for keeping tigers or any other exotic animals as pets, meaning, roughly half of the states allow keeping exotic animals as pets on a legal basis. An estimated 7000-10,000 tigers are found in captivity and nearly 3890 tigers are found in the wild. Thus, captive tiger population exceeds wild ones. Only 6% of captive tiger population in Zoos and other facilities are accredited by Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the rest are under private ownership of people in their apartments, backyards, side shows, menageries, trucks and private breeding grounds. One can get a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) licence to exhibit or breed any animal they want. Private and roadside Zoos breed tigers and lions which give hybrids to just attract tourists. Almost as bad as it sounds, there is no proper records of how many captive tigers are currently in US, who owns them, when are they sold or traded, what happens to them when they exceed 5 months of age after they are too big or dangerous to keep, and finally what happens to their parts after they die.

Tiger cubs can be easily bought online at a very low price. In some states, people can keep a tiger in their backyard without reporting it to their neighbors and in others, it is much easier to buy a Tiger cub than a pure breed dog in a pet shop. The question that arises is how can America being the greatest country in the world have no proper laws for exotic animals. Under the United states Endangered Species Act, international or interstate trading of tigers is illegal, however there are no laws against big cats ownership, as I mentioned above.

America loves Big cats. People value personal liberties and believe that they have a right to own what they want including Big cats. This sense of entitlement runs deeply in Americans. If you watch the documentary that was released on Netflix on March 20th, ‘Tiger King’, you will know everything that is wrong with captive tiger owners in the United States. Joe Exotic aka ‘Tiger King’ owned the largest population of big cats in U.S once, though now in Jail for his crimes against wildlife and murder for hire, he not only bred captive tigers in his private zoo in Oklahoma, but also allowed their petting by visitors and to have a photo shoot with them, he even sold tiger cubs for a large amount of money. Later he was charged for killing of 5 tigers in his Zoo. His contemporary Bhagavan ‘DOC’ Antle, who is the owner of ‘Myrtle Beach Safari’ is famous for producing White Tigers. They have unnatural creations like Ligers just to draw more tourists. If you follow his son Kody Antle on Instagram, you’ll get to know the extent at which the park promotes itself. He poses shirtless with Big Cats and hybrid Ligers along with attractive young women feeding off the cats with milk bottles, making Tiktoks with them, swimming with them in big pools, which i don’t know how sensible people find amusing at all. Somehow, people of America are very smitten by wild cats. They even swim with tiger for $5000, bottle feed them, pose with them for a photo and pet them. A day tour at Myrtle Beach Safari will cost you $50,000!

These people are showmen and they make money out of animal antics. Such private zoos will give you an impression that everything they do is a part of conservation. They believe that personal, close up experience with the endangered species will encourage people towards conservation. Who are we fooling now? How are we really conserving a species by caging it, allowing people to pet it, bottle feed it, take photos with it and inbreeding it in captivity. This is purely Animal Abuse. If you read my previous post, you will know how captive breeding is not an option for conservation of Big cats when you really can’t relocate them into the wild. Captive breeding programs managed by accredited zoos can only benefit species if they are part of a conservation management plan. Moreover, conservation in itself means to preserve wild animals in their natural habitat and not in captivity. The captive breeding of exotic Animals is the main Big cat problem in America. This in turn continuously supply cubs for entertainment industries like Zoos, menageries and film shoots.These cubs are snatched away from their mothers as soon as they are born. and once they have become too large after 4-6 months or too difficult to manage and pet, they are killed later for parts to be sold in black market or enter illegal wildlife trade. This in turn supports poaching further declining tigers in Wild.

Another problem is the accidents that happen on a regular basis when you keep a wild animal in small enclosures. Private owners are not trained for the proper care of these animals which in turn results in risk for both owner and public. So many accidents have happened across America due to private ownership of exotic animals. An infamous incident happened in 2011, Zanesville, Ohio, when an exotic pet owner Terry Thompson set his 56 Animals loose along with 36 of Big Cats and then shot himself later. County sheriff and his deputy had to kill most of the animals including 18 Bengal Tigers and 17 lions to protect the community. There is a never ending list of tragic stories of people getting mauled, bitten or killed by a tiger. Imagine all the pain and loss.

People need to understand that tigers cannot be domesticated with thousands of years of breeding in captivity. They are wild animals. Owning them endangers life of tiger, the owner as well as the public. They are enormous beasts and might kill you even when they want to play with you. A wild animal which is born to live in an area of more than 20 square miles when is confined to a space that is equivalent to your room area, develops mental and physical health problems. The conditions in private zoos are worse. There is no way that you are conserving a species like this in captivity. These animals are in acute pain, no matter how happy they look to an observer and they need to be left where they belong. The animal which can kill a a human being with a swipe of his paw is not meant for homes or private zoos. In February 2019, members of Congress proposed a federal bill-The Big Cat Public Safety Act which is pending in both chambers of Congress. This would ban the private ownership of big cats and direct contact with their cubs forever ending this animal cruelty in the name of conservation. People in America can help by never encouraging or visiting facilities that allow public interaction with these wild Animals. Tiger Crisis is a major problem in United States of America which can be defeated only when people are more aware about the current situation of Big Cats and decide to take a step against Animal cruelty.

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Kumbh Mela to Violate The Forest Conservation Act in 2021

Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world continues to fascinate every soul on earth. It happens once every 3 years in one of these locations on the banks of the corresponding rivers; Ganga in Haridwar, Godavari in Nasik, Kshipra in Ujjain and Sangam (confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers) in Allahabad. The Ardh (half) Kumbh is held every 6 years in Haridwar and Allahabad. The Purna (full) Kumbh and the Maha Kumbh (great/supreme pitcher) are held every 12 years and every 144 years, respectively, only in Allahabad. The 2021 Kumbh mela will be held in Haridwar, Uttrakhand for which the government has started preparing already. Millions of Pilgrims, Sadhus, tourists from different parts of the world will come together to bathe in the Holy river Ganges. While we are in between a lockdown, the government has planned to spend over 4500 crores for the largest congregation of the world.

Religious gathering of devotees is a sight to behold, it is literally like a temporary city which is being set up, but every good thing comes at a great price too. The Ganges in India is one of the most polluted rivers. It is also a life support for millions of Indians. The Corona Virus Lockdown has made River Ganga cleaner to an extent that Gangetic River Dolphin was visible again in parts of Ganga, which is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. But we don’t know how long that will last. With the onset of Kumbh mela next year, millions will take a bath in the holy river, the end result of which leaves the river choked up with chemical pollutants. There is a practice of open defecation which pollutes the ground water and the use of soaps in river water. A reported study states that the transmission of Blood borne diseases is a possibility in a secret ritual where thousands of aspiring sadhus undergo a shaving process.

A meeting was organised by National Mission for clean Ganga (NMCE) on April over video conferencing to discuss about the funds Uttrakhand government would need for community toilets and Urinals in the Kumbh Mela. It was decided that 16,075 community toilets and 20,000 community Urinals will be build for the event.  However, the decision was deffered on the grounds that other components of the plan like making arrangements for dustbins and solid waste management was not included. The dates for next meeting has not been decided yet.

Another major issue that troubles prominent environmentalists is the decision of temporary transferring lands of Rajaji Tiger Reserve and Narendra Nagar Forest Division to Kumbh Mela Samiti for the Kumbh Mela next year. Uttrakhand forest department has decided to temporarily transfer 778 hectares of Reserve Land for 9 months starting from Sept 1st 2020 to 31st May 2021. The land will be used to construct ‘akhadas’, parking, police check posts and health camps. The proposal, which has been sent to the Ministry for approval of giving lands of reserved forests for non-forest uses violates The Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Moreover, it also goes against the advisory of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) which states that ‘for non-forest activity, the forest land could only be given for 15 days and it doesn’t include Protected areas’.

The state Government however wants an exemption from this section and said that Kumbh Mela is a significant Hindu tradition and therefore should be considered an exceptional case.

The creation of facilities for devotees will destroy the natural habitat of wildlife, it will also lead pollution of all kinds, noise pollution being the most dangerous for animals. For those of you who don’t know, The Rajaji National Park is a Tiger reserve which has a significant population of Royal Bengal tiger, an endangered species, beside other animals. The use of Reserved land for non forest purposes will cause an irreplaceable damage to the rich biodiversity and wildlife wealth. The authorities have said that there will be no felling of trees and wildlife mitigation measures will be taken, however, one would be too naive to not see the damages that have been previously done by gatherings on such a bigger scale. Our government right now is least concerned about environment issues and their main agenda is to collect the revenue.  India is a land of cultures, traditions and festivals, and it is imperative for us to understand that religious traditions and environment concerns go hand in hand.

Though the forest officials are quite uncertain about the Kumbh as the state’s financial condition is not good due to Lockdown, and congregations across the world are also being cancelled. The head of all akhadas have stopped the preparations of kumb in Haridwar due to Corona Virus Scare. But there is still time for Kumbh Mela, and we don’t know what the decision of Ministry will be, we can hope whatever steps the government takes, moving on it doesn’t cause much harm to the wildlife and environment. We don’t know if the Uttrakhand Government will have the capacity to take responsibility of the negligence of Environment and Forests at the hour of need. The Festivals and congregations may come and go, but there is No Planet-B for us. Let’s be responsible tourist and a concerned citizen of this country.

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Gujarat won’t give away its ‘State Pride’

Most of you might be familiar with the video of a pride of Lions frisking in a city of Gujarat during the rains, which got viral a year back. Once spread over the coastal forests of North Africa and Northern Greece, across south west Asia to entire Indian subcontinent, Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica) are now found only in their last remaining habitat of Gir National Park in Gujarat, India.

There are many causes of extinction of Lion population but the major ones are over-hunting and habitat loss. By late 19th century Lions were extinct from Turkey and last lion sighting in Iran was in 1941. During 1900’s the last remaining population of Lions were confined to Gir national park of Gujarat and protected by Nawab of Junagadh in his private hunting grounds. From a dozen in early 20th century the population grew to over to more than 500 according to 2015 population analysis.

Last century saw a sudden uproar in lion population, such that the 1400 sq km of Gir Sanctuary in Junagadh state began to be too small for them. Now, Lions are found in 20,000 sq km area of Saurashtra  region. Most of the lions have been living outside the forest area because of increase in their numbers and shortage of space. Open wells, live wires, passing trains, poaching etc are literally a death trap for these majestic animals.

They are also seen roaming in city roads, private farms and village homes. This has resulted in a wide range of human-wildlife conflict in and around the Gir. Big cats and humans are competing for the same limited resources. There have been a reported case where lions killed humans, leading to their life time imprisonment in Zoos or rescue centers. But with the increase in lion population, their deaths are also alarming. The government has ongoing projects where they are trying to create alternate habitats for big cats in Saurashtra but they are not yet ready to move them from Gujarat.

The isolated population of Asiatic Lions in Gujarat face an immense danger. In 1994, Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) was the cause of death of 1000 Lions in east Africa. Canine distemper is a contagious viral disease that affects a wide variety of animal species, including dogs, coyotes, foxes, pandas and wolves. It attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of animals. In 2018 CDV was responsible for the deaths of 5 lions out for 24, from a pride of 26. The rest of them died due to babesiosis, another microscopic parasites that infects Red blood cells. Authorities in Gir however said that Lions contracted a contagious disease after eating contaminated food giving no highlight on the cause of death. Indian Council of Medical Research suggested to vaccinate the entire Lion population in Gir for CDV which is practically not possible. The lions in Gir are wild and free ranging, and  there is no way possible to keep a track of which lion is vaccinated and which is not. Also, no animal population that exists in wild has anyway been fully vaccinated except the Red fox in Europe. No one knows how efficiently CDV vaccine will work for Wild Lions. Still there is no known treatment for Canine Distemper virus.

One epidemic, one disease, one natural calamity, one virus, can wipe out the entire population of Asiatic Lions leading to their extinction. Both genetic and stochastic environmental factors pose a huge threat to the last surviving population of these lions. Another major issue of concern is the fact that the whole lion population is inbred with much reduced genetic diversity, which leads to more difficulty in their management. In early 1900’s, it was decided that a pride of Lion, will be trans-located to Kuno Wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh (MP), after being carefully examined by Wildlife Institute of India and many other authorities. Between 1996-2001, MP government relocated 24 villages containing 1547 families for Kuno Sanctuary to provide efficient space in the new home of Lions.

The Gujarat Government is however reluctant to provide the founder Lions from Gir for reintroduction. The state takes pride in their efforts for conservation of the majestic animal and is resistant in further giving them away. More than 25 years have been passed and no serious action has been taken for relocation of the Lions by the Gujarat government.  The government has made several arguments against translocating the Lions to MP such as that Kuno Sanctuary has inefficient prey base for Big cats and alleged that it won’t be safe to shift the mighty beast to a state which has failed to protect their own Tiger Population. Further objection the state made was that the area of kuno Palpur sanctuary is too small for the pride of lions to be relocated.

However, this isn’t the issue, the problem is that the state government playing politics over Lions. The then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi fought long court battles to prevent the lions from being moved to the Kuno Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh in central India. Stating in Supreme court that for the people of Saurashtra, the lions are a symbol of pride, is bound to their culture, and is like a family member to them, the Gujarat Government played an emotional card.  Later, in April 2013, the Apex court passed a verdict in the best interest of the species and gave 6 months to the government to relocate the lions. That was more than 5 years ago, and the authorities haven’t respected the spirit and intent of Court’s order. A committee was set up by the ministry after the orders from the Apex Court, however the delay resulted in contempt petition, which was discharged later in 2018 after the Ministry of environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) assured that it would speed up the project. Even after this the delay in reintroduction is purely political and bureaucratic. For instance, Gujarat government again insisted on completing over 30 studies as per the relocation guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) before releasing the lions. These are recommended by the IUCN but are not mandatory.

We still don’t know when the state government of Gujarat will be persuaded to make a ground progress in the relocation of Lions. The continued reluctance of the state to share their pride has come under criticism by prominent environmentalists. The animals are getting strangled amidst the politics. With the onset of  Novel Corona virus, no one knows what else Nature has stored for us. Inability to see the greater good will result in the destruction of an entire species. Gujarat’s pride may lead to the extinction of Asiatic Lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amidst the Corona Virus lockdown, will Zoos Lose their importance?

A few months ago, Who would’ve thought that a microscopic virus will force the entire human race to stay at home. Nature surely works in mysterious ways, no matter how hard we try to subjugate its power, it will always hit us hard in the face.

After the first engine came into existence during the 1800’s, humanity’s thirst for power knew no bounds. A drastic development in science and technology, made our lives better and easier- but at what cost?

Nothing ever comes for free, and the cost of our development is always paid by the voiceless- Animals. To understand our own body functions, we use animals, to understand how a drug works, we use animals, for genetic research, we use animals. It is now mandatory that any potential medicines before using in clinical trails, should be tested in mammals. This is because humans share 90% of genes with any other mammal and we have same organs. Surely, Human lives matter more than Animals.

Even after all of this, humans are not satisfied and use animals for pleasure, entertainment, and amusements. We created zoos and circuses. We have held animals captive, caged them and denied their basic right- freedom. Here comes the part where most people argue that Zoos are not just for amusements, they are meant for education, scientific purposes, captive breeding and also important for tourism.

Let’s get one thing straight-  the first zoo’s which were created were nothing but a menagerie, where exotic animals were kept by the powerful people mainly royals for display. Large animals like big cats were kept primarily to showcase their power and for staged fights.  Then came travelling menagerie where exotic animals visited towns and cities and performed shows alongside showmen and animal handlers. This later became a part of circus. what meant an enjoyment for most of the people, is a living hell for animals. Animal circus is nothing but a profit driven business, and people walking into such traps can clearly observe animal cruelty.  There is a clear distinction between training of domestic animals like dogs and wild ones. Most animal trainers believe that they must demonstrate physical superiority over their ‘subjects’ and beat the animals into submission. Five common methods used for this are- bull-hooks for elephants, whips for big cats, chains, electric prods and even starvation. Theoretically, these methods are used to teach animals to associate certain behaviors like disobedience, aggression etc with punishment and discourage them from acting out negatively.

The concept of zoological park is not new. However, the modern zoo concept was born in 18th century when people had an urge to research on animal behavior and anatomy. With an advancement in science and technology, came a wave of habitat destruction and fragmentation. Deforestation, over hunting and loss of natural habitat of animals led to extinction of species like Dodo and a wide range of human-wildlife conflict. So, animals destroy crops and kill humans and their pets, and humans retaliate by killing these animals. We forget that we have invaded their space and home. This isn’t some political issue, this is a battle of survival for these animals.

It is a cycle- human population is increasing, forest covers are shrinking, humans and wildlife are competing for the same limited resources. Here comes another role of Zoos- these animals are later sent to be kept under captivity. We take their homes, then we take their freedom.

Surely animals like tigers are bred in zoo under captivity, but there has been no successful cases of these animals being reintroduced and further thrive in the wild. An exception is California Condor, which initially started decimating due to human activities like habitat destruction. Isn’t it time for humanity to take account of their actions?

Zoos in India follow the guidelines given by  Central Zoo Authority however i have personally been to Zoos and seen them violating the guidelines. Animals are kept in a small enclosure where they can’t even move properly, most of them lie in their own piss for days, water served is not hygienic. There is no proper maintenance of the enclosure. Some animals are kept in an environment they are not accustomed to.They are teased by visitors and there is no such sort of ‘education’ being provided to students visiting these Zoos in India. This however may not be true for many Zoos in Europe and America. But let’s agree to the fact that captivity and cages are not meant for Wild Animals. Animals like big cats, chimps, and other mammals, once start living in captivity, exhibit signs of unusual behavior and disturbed mental health. they have problems in reproduction, disturbed sleeping patters, unusual foraging activities. They are not able to hunt or live in groups and therefore they die in the wild. Species extinction rate is higher in current epoch and at current rate, 20-50% of earth’s species will become extinct in the next decade. Zoo’s do help saving genetic material from total extinction. There are some species which are found only in the zoo but not in the wild like New Guinea Singing Dog. This raises another issue, Is it important to have some individuals of a species still existing somewhere rather than go extinct completely?

To answer this, we need to understand evolutionary history of earth. We need to understand how the extinction of a species will pave a way to the evolution of next superior one, Which is a topic for some other day. Of course, with humans in the background, the extinction today is clearly due to Human activities.

Can we think of anything worse? The animals lose their physical and mental health. New calves and cubs are torn away from mother and spend their lifetime in cages. They are born in cage and they die there alone. Recently i saw a video of a circus where a tiger died during the performance due a seizure he had after jumping from the ring of fire . Animals show stereotypical behavior as a means of coping up with the captivity.  No living organism which can feel things like humans do, deserve such cruelty. With animal rights activists working day and night to stop such inhumane activities, most circuses have now been banned from using animals. Many still do use animals, but we can hope that in future people will boycott any circuses where animals are displayed.

Many National Parks and wildlife Sanctuaries are open for common people for tourism, educational, recreational purposes and scientific research. Animal in captivity and animal in wild show very different behavior, captive animals are aggressive and depressed. So isn’t it justified to study animals in their natural Environment?

Every creature on Earth was born free and has the right to freedom. Humanity has been too cruel towards animals since time immemorial but the lock down today has forced most of us to think whether the Cage is an appropriate place for a wild Animal or not. We have been forced into a lock down by a virus, we think about our mental issues in such difficult times,but how can we forget that animals too feel emotions like us. We blatantly ignore such aspects.  Lets raise a voice for the voiceless and step forward to  forever end Animal Cruelty.

 

Unseasonal Rains in North India are a result of Climate change or Not

Who doesn’t know Greta Thunberg, a young climate change activist trying to educate the world about Climate Change. Everybody today knows what climate change is, but most governments dismiss the fact that climate change is a real thing.

 What we know is that earth’s climate has been changing throughout the advent of time. In last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700-12,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. So what is different this time? It is purely the pace at which this climate change is occurring due to human activities.

The evidence of rising temperature is prevalent and striking. Thermometer records kept over the past century and a half show Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius), and about twice that in sensitive parts of arctic.  Clearly, humanity’s impact on Earth is so profound that scientists have argued that the current epoch, which began 12,000 years ago, after the last ice age, changed to a new one during the 1900’s after the onset of industrial revolution and should be named as ‘Anthropocene’. With Striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, global warming, plastic pollution, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation etc are all leading towards sixth mass extinction with a rate estimated at 100-1000 times higher than previous one . Some scientists even argue that the Anthropocene epoch began around 8000 years back with development of farming and sedentary cultures, but that’s not the point, the point here is that we are in the age of Anthropocene and whether we like it or not, our activities are causing climate change.

 Therefore, can we say that the Unseasonal rainfalls prevalent in north India at this time, a result of climate change?

Let’s be clear about something- we know that seasons and rainfalls are caused by earth’s rotation,revolution around the sun and also wind patterns. One such kind of wind pattern, called as western disturbances frequently visits India during winter months of December to March thereby causing  rainfall in winters, snowfall, and hailstorms in some parts of North India. These westerly winds are responsible for pre-monsoon rainfall that we are  experiencing now-a-days. So, we know westerly disturbances are common to Indian Subcontinent. However, climate change has the capacity to effect the intensity and frequency of western disturbances such that the more intense the western disturbances, the more extreme the weather- extreme rainfall, extreme snowfall etc. Western Disturbances in India are are important for the development of locally important staple wheat. But too much of rain can also ruin the crops. This year we surely have observed a high intensity of Western Disturbances, and will continue to observe so in the coming month too, according to Indian Meteorological Department. 

Any disturbance if becomes a regular event for say like a decade to multi decade, can be attributed under Climate Change.  Climatologists will study a pattern for years before saying that it is a result or a consequence of climate change. Therefore, for now we cannot predict whether the high intensity of western disturbances is a result of warming climate or just any usual disturbance. If westerly winds follow the same pattern for years to come, climatologist can thereby take average of all such disturbances for decades and categorize it under climate change or a result of it.

 The Novel Corona virus has forced humans inside, the earth is trying to heal the damage that has been done over the past 200 years. Pollution has reduced to a much greater extent, and waters are clearer in most parts of the world. But what is going to happen when humans are back on track and we continue the same activities we’ve been doing before the lock-down happened.