Friday, March 14, 2014

Save rhinos, be safe from leopards

In the urban jungle that in Mumbai people are constantly getting killed by roving leopards (there are 11 feet long alligators as well).

In the Kaziranga national park/forest the rhinos are getting killed by China backed poachers.

The proposed solution: deport the leopards and de-horn the rhinos. The cruelty is unimaginable and the solutions dont work. 

As far as the rhinos are concerned, serious question, why do we not present a few baby rhinos to China (just like they loan their pandas) for a few million dollars so that THEY can saw of the horns periodically and leave the few rhinos back in the jungle in peace.
Assam lost at least 90 of its 2500-odd rhinos to poachers since 2008, 34 of those only in 2013. Mumbai's Aarey colony lost three children and two women to leopards in the last two years even though the forest department has trapped two dozen leopards in and around the colony since 2004.

Indeed, chopping off horns to save rhinos is not a new idea. Namibia was the first country to dehorn its rhinos in 1989. But it also invested heavily in anti-poaching infrastructure during the 1990s. In the absence of effective security, dehorning alone does not help. In Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, for example, most of the dehorned rhinos were killed within 12-18 months of dehorning in the early 1990s. Dehorning has not worked in South Africa either, where 350 rhinos were poached in 2013 alone. The Kenyan Wildlife Service took a stand against dehorning and lost 37 rhinos in 2013. Zimbabwe kept faith and lost six newly dehorned rhinos during January-August 2011 in the Save Valley Conservancy. 

The problem is manifold. First, one cannot remove the whole horn without mutilating the rhino like poachers do. After veterinarians saw off the horn, the stump remains rooted deep inside the tissue and is enough to lure poachers. Secondly, like nail, horns grow back, making dehorning necessary every 3-4 years. Huge expenses apart, it requires frequent sedation of rhinos. Unfortunately, one in every 20 immobilisation attempts kills a rhino. Thirdly, the horn serves key biological purposes, from selection of mate for breeding to defending calves against predators. Altogether, absence of the horn does not make the survival odds significantly higher compared to the threats of poaching. Then there is the issue of the chopped horns, valued in gold in the international market.
While Assam plots a loss of face, Maharashtra is suffering from a loss of reason. It is possible to trap and shift every leopard sighted in Aarey Colony. Only it will be a never-ending exercise. The leopards of Aarey are part of the population that lives in Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and will keep showing up, unless all leopards are removed from SGNP itself. That too may not solve the problem as leopards are known to move into SGNP from other parts of the state. 

If nothing short of extermination will free the Aarey colony of leopards, how can the residents escape conflict? The forested stretches around the settlements should be avoided, especially by children who often take short-cuts through bushland because the BMC dragged its feet over launching a bus service to the nearest school 5 km away. It is unclear why the forest department or NGOs failed to move the city transport department for over a year or run a school bus themselves. The area should be cleared of garbage piles that attract feral dogs and pigs that in turn draw leopards. More toilets should be installed so that residents do not have to squat in the open and be mistaken by leopards for prey animals. Mumbai's many civil society groups take pride in garbage collection drives or awareness campaigns but have so far failed to tap into government or voluntary schemes to offer any permanent solution to either.