NO BIG OIL in Virunga

BIG WIN FOR WILDLIFE – NO OIL in VIRUNGA
at least for now

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British oil company Soco International has said it will suspend exploratory operations in Virunga National Park, home to half the world’s Critically Endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) as well as thousands of other species. The announcement follows several years of campaigning from conservation groups, which argued that drilling could lead to severe environmental destruction in the UNESCO World Heritage site located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The DRC government granted the company permits to conduct exploratory operations for oil in the park in 2012. But while the operations were approved by the DRC government, they were condemned by the UN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and even the British government. A petition against oil drilling in the park was signed by over 750,000 people.

Established in 1925 largely to protect the mountain gorilla population, Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park. Mountain gorillas were discovered in 1902 making them one of the last big mammals described by scientists. Virunga is also home to okapi (Okapia johnstoni), another big mammal discovered in the first years of the 20th Century. In addition to gorillas and okapi, the park is also home to chimpanzees, lion, savannah elephants, forest elephants, eastern lowland gorillas, and several species of rare birds. With a wealth of habitats, including rainforest and cloud forest, it is considered one of the most biodiverse parks on the continent.

The announcement by Soco International doesn’t mean the fight over oil in Virunga is over. Currently, 80 percent of the park is covered by oil concessions, making it very possible another oil company will come in when Soco leaves.

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To see the full article published by Jeremy Hance visit:
http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0611-hance-soco-suspends-virunga.html

 

 

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Sunder the elephant is FREE!

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After years of being chained and violently beaten, the fourteen-year-old elephant Sunder is finally safe in his new home at the Bannerghatta Biological Park in Bangalore, India.

For six years, Sunder was chained and abused at the Jyotiba temple in Kolhapur, India. In 2012, the Maharashtra Forest Department and the Project Elephant division of the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued orders to retire Sunder to a sanctuary. Sadly for Sunder, the orders were never carried out, and instead Maharashtra Member of the Legislative Assembly Vinay Kore, who had given the elephant as a “gift” to the temple, sent him to live in an old, dark poultry shed where until recently he has been chained and subjected to numerous beatings.

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An undercover investigation conducted by the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals India (PETA India) had resulted in footage of a mahout (handler) violently beating Sunder with a thick wooden pole. The video revealed a malnourished-looking Sunder, chained by two legs, writhing in pain and struggling to stand as the mahout strikes him repeatedly with the pole.

As a result if the investigation, “the Supreme Court of India passed a judgment in favour of PETA India by ordering the implementation of a 7 April 2014 Bombay High Court order to release the well-known and much-abused young elephant Sunder to an elephant care centre in Bangalore by no later than 15 June,” stated PETA India. “The Supreme Court also ordered that the Secretary, Revenue and Forests Department, Maharashtra State will be responsible for the implementation of its order and must strictly meet the deadline.”

This decision was supported by celebrities Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson, Celina Jaitly, Gulshan Grover and many others who took to Twitter, met with concerned government officials, and helped in other ways with the campaign for his release.

A few days ago, Sunder was freed and began the journey to his new home. “We are overjoyed to report that the much abused young elephant Sunder was placed on a truck by a team of experts who had travelled to Kolhapur to work with the Maharashtra Forest Department and is now being driven carefully and slowly to his new home as per the order of the Supreme Court of India,” said Peta India.

Despite the court’s decision, and the fact that Sunder was now free to be relocated, the cruel and vicious people who abused Sunder all those years did not let him begin his journey in peace. Even to the last moment, they tried to find ways to hurt the terrified elephant.

“The transition was not easy. This progress was made after a great deal of struggle, including dealing with sabotage by screaming men, near rioting, tires which were punctured with nails by those who wanted to keep Sunder in Kolhapur to endure a life of abuse and a mahout (elephant handler) who shouted the wrong commands in order to agitate Sunder. Even now, a motorcycle gang is following the truck, despite police protection. The police and Maharashtra Forest Department officials as well as the experts who travelled to Kolhapur to assist with Sunder’s move are travelling with Sunder,” said PETA India.

After all the turmoil getting Sunder away from his abusers, he is now peacefully residing at a 49.5-hectare forested area care centre for elephants. As soon as he has settled down and his serious leg wound caused by long-term painfully tight chaining has healed, he will join a herd of thirteen other elephants. The sanctuary is enclosed by fencing, which allows the elephants to roam freely and wade in the ponds and streams that spread out throughout the Bannerghatta Biological Park.

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Tree-hugging keeps Koalas cool

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Tree-hugging helps koalas beat Australia’s heat, research has found. By spreading their bodies out over lower branches koalas are able to absorb the cooler temperatures that occur inside trees and reduce their core temperature. This not only makes them more comfortable but also increases their chances of surviving the intense heatwaves that take place in Australia. Unlike other animals, koalas do not use hollows or dens for shelter but rather spend their time exposed to the sun.

“They’re just stuck out on the tree all the time so when hot weather comes they’re completely exposed to it,” Dr Michael Kearney from the University of Melbourne’s zoology department told Guardian Australia. “When a heatwave comes the most effective way for the koala to lose heat is through evaporation. They don’t sweat but they can pant and lick their fur.” However, in times of intense heat and low rainfall, koalas cannot maintain the evaporation rates needed and have to seek other ways to remain cool.

The scientists studied around 30 koalas on French Island, near Melbourne. At times of extreme heat they witnessed them lying flat out along the branches, which is an unusual stance for them.

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Thermal image of a koala hugging the cool lower limb of a tree, illustrating a posture typically observed during hot weather

“I sort of see it as, ‘Oh I’m so hot, I’m going to lie down’, but there’s more reason to it than that,” said Kearney, a co-author of the report. “The fur on their tummy is quite a lot thinner than the fur on their backs, so they’re pushing that fur and that part of their body as much against the tree as possible. “Any way that they can lose heat that doesn’t involve losing water is going to be a huge advantage to them. Dumping heat into the tree is one of those methods.”

The team fitted radio collars to the bears so they could track them during the day in both winter (June–August 2009) and summer (December–March 2010 and 2011). They then used thermal imaging technology to confirm and further examine their observations.

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Ringleader of Rhino Wildlife Crimes Punished

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Zhifei Li, only thirty years old, the owner of an antique business in China, was sentenced today to 70 months in prison for heading an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which 30 rhinoceros horns and numerous objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth more than $4.5 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

The sentence – one of the longest ever imposed in the United States for a wildlife smuggling offense – was announced by Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey; Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice; Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

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Li, 30, of Shandong, China, the owner of Overseas Treasure Finding in Shandong, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas to a total of 11 counts: one count of conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act; seven counts of smuggling; one count of illegal wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act; and two counts of making false wildlife documents. Judge Salas also imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.

Li was arrested in Florida in January 2013 on federal charges brought under seal in New Jersey and shortly after arriving in the country. Before he was arrested, he purchased two endangered black rhinoceros horns from an undercover USFWS agent in a Miami Beach hotel room for $59,000 while attending an antique show. Li was arrested as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

In papers filed in Newark federal court, Li admitted that he was the “boss” of three antique dealers in the United States whom he paid to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to him via Hong Kong. One of those individuals was Qiang Wang, aka “Jeffrey Wang,” who was sentenced to 37 months in prison on Dec. 5, 2013, in the Southern District of New York. Li played a leadership and organizational role in the smuggling conspiracy by arranging for financing to pay for the wildlife, purchasing and negotiating prices, directing how to smuggle the items out of the United States, and getting the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the goods and smuggle them to him in mainland China.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Salas ordered Li to serve two years of supervised release and to forfeit $3.5 million in proceeds of his criminal activity as well as several Asian artifacts. Various ivory objects seized by the USFWS as part of the investigation have also been surrendered.

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The result of Mr. Zhifei Li’s greed…

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“Sambo” Forced Out of Retirement

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Two years after she was walked out of the city in the middle of the night to a quiet life of retirement on the outskirts of the capital, Sambo, Phnom Penh’s iconic and much-beloved elephant, might soon be back at work entertaining tourists. Funding for her recently concluded rehabilitation program now gone, her owner is insisting he has little choice but to begin showcasing her once more at Wat Phnom, a decision contested by the elephant rescue organisation that bankrolled her two-year sabbatical.

Sin Sorn, who owns Sambo, says that as the pair are no longer supported by the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival foundation (EARS), he cannot afford to pay for her food and medical care without the steady income he earned for the more than 20 years that she was a tourist attraction at the temple.

The decades that 54-year-old Sambo spent walking on hard concrete and gravel while giving rides resulted in a painful abscess on a foot, overgrown toenails and a host of other issues, causing her to limp. A veterinarian retained by EARS warned in 2012 that a further deterioration in her “painfully lame” condition could lead Sambo to collapse on the city’s streets, Sorn agreed to move her to a plot of land for rest and medical treatment. That contract expired in March, leaving EARS and Sorn at loggerheads about what happens next.

“I do not have money to support her anymore. I will bring her back to Wat Phnom, but I will not allow people to ride her while she walks like in the past,” Sorn said yesterday at the sandy Phnom Penh Thmey compound where Sambo has lived since February 2012, as the elephant shovelled sugar cane into its mouth behind him. “I spend $15 a day just on Sambo’s food … [In the city], she will just stand in one place and tourists or people can touch her, take photos with her or buy fruits that I will sell to feed her.”

EARS has spent $45,000 over the two-year period paying for Sambo’s medical care and a monthly compensation package for Sorn to help fund an assistant caregiver, food, electricity and water and to cover his loss of earnings.

Sambo’s feet are in a far better condition than before, but EARS founder and CEO Louise Rogerson says sending her back to the city would be the worst possible decision for the elephant’s welfare. “She’s never going to fully recover 100 per cent, but what we’ve done is given her an intensive medical program over the last two years,” she said. “It has been a very slow rehabilitation process, there is absolutely no way she can go back to the city. It would be impossible for her to walk on hot tarmac roads.… It would basically be animal cruelty.”

EARS has offered to fund Sambo’s retirement at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Takeo province or at the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri province instead, but Sorn has rejected these options. He says he would prefer to move her to a piece of land in Kampong Speu province that his son has said he will purchase if donors help with her upkeep and medical costs. EARS has rejected that land as unsuitable for the elephant’s long-term retirement.

“I want to appeal to everyone in Cambodia and overseas and other organisations to help my Sambo. But not EARS. I want those who love elephants to help my elephant directly through me, because I am the owner of the elephant and I am taking care of her every day,” Sorn said.

He declined to explain why he no longer wanted any support from EARS, citing “personal issues” with the organisation. Sorn also brushed off concerns about Sambo’s health and any doubts of his commitment to care for her in the city. “Sambo has lived with me since she was 8 years old and I consider her my daughter. So I want to stay with Sambo until I die.”

Rogerson is clear, however, that Sambo “deserves a better life after 30 years of standing in the city”. “He’s pleading poverty and that he can’t afford to feed her, but that’s not the case. We can continue on an agreement if he wants to consider his elephant first and return her to her natural habitat with other elephants,” she said.

Wildlife protection officials from the forestry administration will visit Sambo this week to evaluate her health and determine whether the elephant can return to the city, Phnom Tamao sanctuary director Rattanak Pich said. The Ministry of Information has also offered its compound on Monivong Boulevard as a possible sleeping place for Sambo if she returns to the city, Minister Khieu Kanharith said.

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Article published in the Phnom Pehn Post
by Kevin Ponniah and Mom Kunthear

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Bees and African Elephants

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Bee booby-traps defend Africa farms from Elephants

Wire fences booby-trapped with beehives are being built in five African countries to prevent elephants from raiding farms, while also providing local people with honey. This also saves elephants from being killed by farmers that would destroy their crops.

‘Beehive fences’ are now being put up in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda by UK charity Save the Elephant, says Lucy King, leader of the Elephants and Bees Project in Kenya — and they are already in use at three communities in Kenya.

The project, which is a collaboration between Save the Elephants, the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, studies how to use the African bush elephants’ instinctive avoidance of African honey bees to avoid crop losses.

Conflicts between farmers and elephants are a growing problem, with the animals’ encroachment onto farms causing massive crop losses.

Simple beehive fences using local materials. Bee Hives are hung every 30 feet and linked together and if an elephant touches one of the hives or the interconnecting wires, the beehives all along the fence swing and release the stinging insects.

A study, which was published in 2011 in the African Journal of Ecology, elephants made 14 attempts to enter farmland and 13 of these were unsuccessful. In each case the elephants were forced to turn away from the area after confronting a beehive fence or walk the length of the fence to choose an easier entry point through a thorn bush. Only once did elephants break through a beehive fence to eat crops, according to the paper.

Electric fences have proved successful in barring elephants from some human designated areas, says the study. In Kenya, electrification projects often fail because of poor maintenance, spiralling costs and the lack of buying capacity among the communities where the elephants are common.

According to Paul Udoto, corporate communications manager at the Kenya Wildlife Service, the use of beehive fences to prevent elephants from raiding farms is not a silver bullet, but it could be used alongside these other interventions. He adds that human-animal conflict is largely due to people moving onto land used by animals. Where elephants and agricultural land overlap, incidents of humananimal conflict are on the increase, Udoto tells SciDev.Net.

Suresh Raina, a bee expert at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya, is impressed with the idea. It is an intelligent solution to a challenge which farmers were facing in the past to save crops from the incursion of elephants in their fields,

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A king bee hive fence in Kenya

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Fracking in Everglades

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“Fracking” in Everglades on temporary hold

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ordered the Dan A. Hughes Company, LP to stop all exploratory “fracking-like” drilling activities at five wells in Collier County, on the edge of the Everglades, until further notice, saying that the DEP will review results of monitoring efforts by the company.

The “fracking-like” drilling refers to a request from the company to the DEP which “proposed an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida.” According to the DEP, the Dan A. Hughes Company proposed injecting a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to create some openings in the oil-bearing rock formation, which would then be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhanced oil production. The department subsequently requested that the company not move forward until additional information could be collected.

Ignoring the DEP’s request, the Dan A. Hughes Company commenced the “fracking-like” extraction method and in December 2013, officials caught the company conducting “unauthorized activities” at a well south of Lake Trafford in Collier County, northeast of Naples, FL.

The possibility of groundwater contamination worries opponents of oil and gas drilling in the area, as well as the fact that the ecologically fragile region is already endangered by agricultural runoff, invasive species, rising sea levels due to climate changeand other threats. Because of environmental damage due to construction and the chance of potential oil spills, drilling poses far too great a risk to wildlife.

Locally, resistance has been building to potential oil and gas operations and recently, Sen. Nelson (D-FL) wrote a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking that they investigate the company’s illegal drilling practices. “We cannot tolerate expanded industrial drilling activities that pose a threat to the drinking and surface water so close to the Florida Everglades. The recent discovery of a fracking-like incident there raises serious concerns about whether outside wildcatters would soil one of the world’s great environmental treasures,” Sen. Nelson’s letter read.

Hopefully, Sen. Nelson’s letter, along with the work of non-profit organizations like South Florida Wildlands Association and concerned citizens, will help draw nation-wide attention to the contentious issue.

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“Fracking” is not worth the destruction of the Biodiversity of this unique ecosystem

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Potential victim of Everglades “fracking”

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 The everglades is not one ecosystem but many, no where else on earth is there a place like this

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