A chance encounter with a big male grizzly bear required quick thinking and some gentle words of persuasion to escape alive. Cougars from one region of Utah have blue eyes and those from other regions don’t. How the jaws and teeth of carnivores actually work. How, sadly, only a few hundred wolverines are left. And a beautifully clear explanation of trophic cascades – the reasons why the eco-system really needs for top predators to be protected, instead of being killed.
Kirk Robinson, Executive Director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, showed slides of magnificent wild animals from all over the American West and Canada too, explaining their natural history and the vital role that they play in nature.
On December 3, 2016, he spoke to a packed, attentive crowd at the Best Friends Visitors Center, in Kanab, Utah, as part of Wild Kane County’s series of wildlife programs.
In case you missed this terrific talk, if the angels of technology are with us, we’ll soon have a video posted on Youtube that you can watch.
Wolf and man have a millennia-old relationship. They gave us our best friend, the whole culture of the werewolves, and fascinating fare for movies and books.
But now, the wolf population in India is on the decline, and we may be causing widespread damage to the environment. Luckily we may have other countries to learn from.
The Assault on the Indian Wolf
The wolf population is under severe strain in India. Shortages in zoos have led to a brisk exchange program and put pressure on the endangered animals. The Indian wolf can only be found in the wild in two states: Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The Jodhpur Zoo recently offered a pair of lions in exchange for a pair of wolves from the Shakkarbagh Zoo in Gujarat. The female of the wolf pair is yet to be delivered. When the Shakkarbagh Zoo was keen on acquiring a pair of tigers from Bangalore, they were asked for a pair of wolves in exchange.
The need has created pressure on the wild population, which is already under severe duress. There are an estimated 250 wolves in Gujarat and around 300 in Rajasthan. The Gujarat authorities have set up artificial breeding centres to attempt to revive the population.
Local farmers consider the wolf a threat to their livestock and do not hesitate to chase them out of their fields or kill them by smoking out their dens. Sometimes, mothers are killed, leaving young cubs behind that cannot fend for themselves. More damage is caused by wild lands being converted to farms, and reduced food sources. Wolves like solitary places and cannot tolerate the human presence. And no, we don’t own the planet…
The larger worry though is that wolves play a very important role in the maintenance of the ecosystem. Wolves prey primarily on large ungulates, hoofed mammals. By preying on the most vulnerable (diseased, young, old, weak or injured) individuals, wolves help keep prey populations healthier and more vigorous. Predation by wolves also regulates ungulate distribution and group size, which impact overall native biodiversity.
When the ungulate population becomes too abundant for their habitat, for example, they overgraze vegetation, leading to habitat degradation and its incredibly damaging effects on other native wildlife.
Populations can be bred artificially, but need to be reintroduced to the wild. The effects of such experiments in the past were wildly successful and should be carefully considered by the Indian wildlife authorities.
The Yellowstone Park Experiment
When wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone National Park, within a short time, they managed to change the course of rivers and affect local and migratory wildlife in a positive way. In short, they completely changed the local ecology and environment – that would have otherwise taken decades of conservation efforts.
India could do well to learn from such efforts and emulate them. The effects of reintroducing wolves into the wild may not have the exact same extent of effects, but the benefits are undeniable.
But such a move needs to be supported by education, awareness, and compensatory mechanisms for the farmers when they, and their livestock, venture into a wolf’s territory.
India has seen a lot of success on that front in different wildlife preserves. Local populations that live on the borders of forests have shown sufficient understanding and are able to coexist with tigers, lions, and leopards.
The occasional loss of livestock is part of life and nature’s cycle. But it can be a win-win situation too. Local populations in the foothills of the Himalayas are now getting insurance from NGOs for snow leopard attacks on their livestock. The snow leopard is a critically endangered animal and conflict with humans is simply not acceptable.
However, there’s no reason why we need to wait for the wolf to become critically endangered too before we act, is there?
George Monbiot’s four minute video, How Wolves Change Rivers
In the heart of the South Luangwa Park in Zambia is Kakuli Safari camp and during my visit there, the guide was a Scottish/Zambian man named Mike. His story is as fascinating as is the bush surrounding the Kakuli camp.
Mike was born in Uganda, but quickly whisked back to Scotland as a toddler when Idi Amin was in power. Do you remember that period in history, 1971-9, when the megalomaniac Idi Amin ruled over Uganda? Amongst his many atrocities against his people and the land, all in the name of power and greed, he had enticed a young naive, Scottish doctor into his sphere of power as his personal physician. This man was Mike’s father. As the corruption became worse, Mike’s dad was encouraged to leave and take his family back to Scotland. He had seen things and knew the secrets of Idi Amin’s regime that made him a threat. But it was already too late and Idi Amin suspected such, so he had body guards and henchmen pull the strings tighter around the doctor.
There was a movie made later on called The Last King of Scotland starring Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin and James McAvoy as Mike’s dad, Nicholas Garrigan. It was an account of Mike’s father’s experience with Amin and of the brutality perpetrated by Amin in those days. Mike’s father did manage to get his family back to Scotland, but he almost lost his life trying to leave the country, after being brutally beaten, by sneaking onto a plane with a load of passengers all fearing for their lives and Amin’s henchmen chasing the plane down the runway upon realizing that the physician was on that plane.
This story was told by Mike and only late one evening sitting around the campfire after many had gone to bed, did he tell it to a few of us after much prompting as we wanted to know more about how this enigmatic and intelligent man came to be in the bush of Zambia. None of us realized the horror that his story would entail.
After years in Scotland, Mike was missing his roots in Africa and returned, but long after Amin had been deposed and was living in exile in Lybia and Saudi Arabia. Not being interested in following his father’s footsteps, Mike wandered deep into the bush and found solace in the heartbeat of the nature of Zambia and all her inhabitants there. Mike had become well versed in the behaviors of the animals and took us on several adventures along the river where we encountered some rogue male elephants and once a leopard walking down the path toward us. Knowing the mindset of the animals gave him the understanding of how to respond so that we were never in danger. Guiding visitors through the bush was truly Mike’s calling, as well as his passion. He was able to interpret the activities of the animals without interrupting them, thus, when we came upon a nanny elephant tending three babies in a spot of shade one quiet morning, we could watch without intrusion, and feel the magic of the moment. Africa as you showed it to me will always live in my heart. Thank you, Mike, wherever you are.
Elephants roam the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, especially in the heat of the dry season where the temperature rises to 102-108 F. There is little water in the Luangwa River, but they herd themselves to the water’s edge, wary of every moment in the edge of the bush, suspecting a lion to emerge at any second.
During one such dry season, I was on my trip of a lifetime to Africa and traveling through the bush with a guide and five others on our way to an airstrip, leaving Zambia and all of its inhabitants after spending a thrilling week of animal watching there. It was mid-morning and already the heat enveloped us in a shroud so uncomfortable that it sucked the vitality quickly from our bodies. We were quenching our thirst on water plus electrolytes, which were growing in short supply and for those of us who had packed a sufficient amount, could have sold the packets for the price of gold. Those people in our group without electrolytes were at our mercy for handouts. Amazing how priorities shift in moments of need. But that morning everyone was feeling good after a breakfast and the sharing of the “gold.”
Sitting high up in the open air safari vehicles, bouncing along the sandy rutted track, we cruised lazily through the bush, longing to see the last group of baboons, zebra, waterbuck, giraffe, and of course the beloved elephants. When the guide, who was driving, slowed down and cut the engine off, it was enough of a pattern interrupt that we pulled ourselves back into the present moment, sensing an impending event. All eyes went to the guide, Mike, who was swinging around toward us with his finger to his lips in the sign of silence. The sudden hush amongst us was palpable. The vehicle rolled to a halt in the middle of the track . Off to the left, standing as if alone in a small shady area amongst the hot dry bush, stood a smallish elephant, a young adult. A teenager. She was swaying back and forth, her trunk brushing from side to side, back and forth, her ears flapping gracefully and slowly. She did not look at us but kept her rhythm and her head down. As our eyes became accustomed to the shade in which she stood, we could see that she was not alone, but with two baby elephants, lying on their sides directly in front of her. It was the constant touch of her trunk that they were enjoying as they slept. Every so often we watched as one would flip his tail or flick a fly with an ear.
As we began to understand what we were seeing, our hearts began to melt. A slight gasp of awe arose from several of us. This was a “nanny,” left to watch over the babies as they napped while the rest of the family went to forage in the nearby bush. We could not see them, but knowing how far the low rumble of an elephant call can travel, they were surely close enough. So here she was, “rocking” the babies with her trunk in the stillness of the morning. Such tenderness, this, and quite vulnerable as she really couldn’t defend them from predators.
And it became apparent that there was more to this scene. A tiny baby, less than a year old, was harbored under her body. She was rocking that baby with her left foot as she swayed as well. Three very young elephants alive and well, peacefully tucked against her body, occasionally twitching as babies do in their sleep.We were witness to a very intimate event in the daily life of an elephant family and we knew it. No one moved a muscle except to click the shutter of cameras. It was being recorded as a moment in time that would resonate for each of us forever.
The heat was no longer the issue of the day, the discomfort of the body was forgotten, the emotions of longing and sadness upon leaving our magical camp in Zambia were suspended as we collectively came into the present moment and held on to it as long as we westerners could, since we were so unaccustomed to being in Being. I felt the presence of Grace, pure Grace.
Nature is full of such moments, yet it is so rare to walk upon them and hold still long enough to get what it is that is going on. But for the five of us travelers from a distant land, and the guide who had the consciousness to recognize what he was seeing before we blundered into it and disrupted it with our business of travel, we got to share moment of true Magic. That is Magic. That is what it is.
Top photo: Suzanne Cordrey
Second photo: Wikimedia Comons / “This work has been released into the public domain by its author, John Walker. This applies worldwide.” / Victoria Falls, in Zambia.
Third photo: Thomas Breuer / Wikimedia Commons/ “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.” / Forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) in the Mbeli River, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Congo. Female forest elephant with her baby.
In Odisha, in east central India, following heavy rains, a huge volume of water has been released from the Hirakud Dam, to try to manage the danger of severe flooding in the area.
Swollen rivers have so far claimed 34 lives, and are affecting one million people, many of whom have been evacuated.
Floodwaters threaten cattle, buffaloes, and other animals. When people are evacuated, their herds of animals are left behind. Cattle are short on food since grazing pastures are covered in water, and there is no shelter for them.
Kailash Ch Maharana, Chairman of the Maitri Club, which sent relief teams to rescue animals in the 2011 floods, has written,
“The flood situation in Odisha could be worse than that of 2011. The release of water from the Hirakud Dam and incessant rain in the catchment areas caused the rivers Mahandi, Bramahani, Baitarani, and their tributaries to swell, further inundating the riverside villages and the adjoining areas.
“The Maitri Club is preparing to dispatch a team of seven experienced personnel with fodder and tarpaulins to help the needy animals. Your support, in any way, will be gratefully received.”
Mahanadi means “great river.” It flows through the Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Before entering Odisha, it is joined by the Hasdeo and the Jonk rivers.
The Hirakud Dam, on the Mahanadi, is the largest earthen dam in the world. It spans 15 miles, from one hill to another, and creates the largest artificial lake in Asia.
Before the dam was built in 1953, the Mahanadi, at its widest, was one mile wide. Now it is narrower and, at certain spots, winds it way through dense forests. It travels over 900 kilometers (560 miles), depositing more silt than any other river in India, creating rich agricultural land.
The river is subject to flooding caused by heavy downpours of rain. In 2011, severe flooding caused great damage to mud huts in 25 villages above the dam.
To contact Kailash Maharana at the Maitri Club, click here to go to their website.
Photo: Soumyadeep Chatterjee / Wikimidia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.” / Mahanadi River, Tikarpara, Satkosia Tiger Reserve.
Last week WildEarth Guardians secured the very best protection possible under the Clean Water Act for more than 200 miles of headwater streams of the Colorado, White and Yampa Rivers.
The victory means that these newly designated “outstanding waters” will remain pristine—now and forever.
It also means that Colorado’s cutthroat trout will have a better chance to survive rapidly changing climate conditions because of the added degree of security. And it means that these waters can’t be polluted by activities like fracking, mining, logging and cattle grazing.
The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission approved the “outstanding waters” designation for critical cutthroat trout streams in roadless national forests on the White River National Forest. The downstream communities of Carbondale, Meeker and Craig will also benefit by having source water for drinking water supplies protected by the designation.
The commission supported our proposal for outstanding waters by a vote of 8 to 1, and so too did thousands of our members in Colorado and across the nation—we thank you too!
Outstanding. It’s what we won and it’s how we feel.
And we’re going to keep fighting to secure similar victories for wild forests, pristine waters and native trout all across the American West.
2,000 Mute Swans in New York State are being threatened by a plan to kill them, on the grounds that they are harming the natural world. As we know, it is humans, not swans, that harm the natural world. Please read more about this issue on the Friends of Animals website. The link is given below, at the end. And please write a polite letter to help save the swans. Thank you.
Please cancel the plan to kill 2,000 Mute Swans in New York State.
Mute Swans and other waterbirds do not destroy habitat. They are part of the natural world — a beautiful, innocent part of nature, and they have every right to live in peace, undisturbed.
I have personally cared for Mute Swans in Utah for many years, and I know them well.
All wildlife must be respected and protected – this is the core principle which forms the basis of all wildlife law. The problems that human beings have in their relationships with nature are caused entirely by humans – by our aggressive and destructive relationship with the planet we live on. These problems will never be solved by killing other species whenever we find them inconvenient.
It is time for us to come to our senses and relate to animals and all of nature with kindness, respect and compassion – to protect wild animals and not kill them.
How can we help ourselves by destroying other forms of life?
Sharon St Joan
Thank you to Sharon Hopkins for passing on information about this threat to Mute Swans in New York.
To read more about this issue on the Friends of Animals website, click here.
This week on The Treetalker: Another way to recycle your Christmas tree, and an op ed in the NYT by Bernd Heinrich – Emeritus biology professor at the University of Vermont and the author of “Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death,” about some of the things that are being done to restore the American Chestnut, and I resolve to get rid of “stuff.”
Honorable Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Prime minister of Pakistan,
It’s Winter, and it’s the time for the arrival of Migratory Birds from Europe, Central Asia and Siberia to the wetlands of Pakistan. Several endangered migratory birds including Siberian cranes and bustards are being hunted indiscriminately. Both species of the migratory birds flying into Pakistan from Siberia during the winter months are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) with 14,000 other endangered species in Pakistan including birds, other animals and plants.
The locals have been found shooting at flocks of Siberian cranes flying overhead during winter with their AK-47 machine guns just for leisure and on the other hand members of royal families from the Middle East, particularly those in Saudi Arabia, are often given licenses to hunt endangered migratory birds, such as bustards, despite the stringent restrictions. International laws are been violated. These birds are of much Ecological importance as they prey on insects and weeds and thus contributing towards the betterment of Agriculture and Environment. In an era of unstable climate change the environmental disaster is elevated by the mass killing of such birds.
I request your honor to kindly take strict actions against hunting of Migratory Birds in Pakistan and impose a complete ban on hunting of these Birds. I, hope that this request will get your kind consideration and mercy towards your “Guests” the beautiful and innocent Migratory Birds.
Khalid Mahmood Qurashi,
President, Animal Save Movement Pakistan
H # 1094 / 2 Hussain Agahi Multan , Pakistan
Photo: Photographer: BS Thurner Hof / Wikimedia commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / A Siberian Crane; this one is in captivity in a zoo.
To view the Facebook page of Animal Save Movement Pakistan, click here. (Caution: graphic photos)