Wildlife

India’s soaring wildlife crime

In February this year, customs officials at Chennai International Airport in southern India heard unusual squeaks coming from the luggage of a man who had arrived from Bangkok. Inside his bag was a tiny leopard cub in a basket.

The customs department in Chennai has been seizing star tortoises, sea cucumbers and pangolin scales being smuggled out of the country for years. Officials now say exotic species being smuggled in are on the rise. But where the exotic wildlife being smuggled into India is going is anybody’s guess.

The illegal trade in wildlife is driving species all over the globe to the brink of extinction. In India, the trade is expanding rapidly, driven by demand for rare species—headed for the pet market—as well as for species believed to have medicinal properties. The main consumer markets are China and South East Asia, but wildlife—alive or as body parts—is also smuggled to the Gulf, Europe and Northern America. Beyond India, the main transit countries are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Indian wildlife species and products commonly smuggled out of the country are tiger and leopard skins, their bones and other body parts, rhino horns, ivory, turtles and tortoises, sea horses, snake venom, mongoose hair, snake skins, tokay gecko, sea cucumber, chiru fleece, musk pods, bear bile, medicinal plants, red sanders timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias. Most people probably don’t even realize that this wealth of species even exists in India. But they are perishing fast, with a population of only about 25 of the chiru remaining.

The most trafficked species are pangolins, seahorses and tortoises:

– In 2018, TRAFFIC India released a study which revealed that at least 5,772 pangolins were captured in India from 2009 to 2017 for illegal trade.

– The Patagonian seahorse (hippocampus patagonicus) is one of the three sea horse species which is trafficked for its use in medicine.

– The Indian star tortoise is now the most trafficked tortoise worldwide as it is in high demand as a pet.

The tokay gecko has come into the picture recently after a number of seizures, mainly in northeast India. The trade is believed to be fueled by unfounded claims it can be used as a cure for AIDS. A crackdown by agencies in several Indian states has led to the arrest of more than 300 gecko traffickers in the past year. More than 1,000 geckos have been confiscated in India during this period and released back into the wild.

Rat poison affects peri-urban wildlife in Cape Town, South Africa

Urban rat poisons are spilling over into Cape Town’s natural environment, threatening species such as caracal, mongoose, otter and owl, a team of University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers in the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild) has discovered.

In their recent paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the researchers found that anticoagulant rat poisons are infiltrating Cape Town’s peri-urban wildlife food chains. They identified six predator species at risk: caracal, Cape clawless otter, Cape eagle owl, large spotted genet, honey badger and water mongoose. Others are likely affected as well.

They detected at least one of the four most toxic rat poison compounds, all available in over-the-counter products, in six of the seven species tested. Caracals living in or near vineyards had the highest exposure to rat poisons but the route to exposure is unclear.

One of the most significant findings of the study is that exposure occurs at all ages. Several lactating female caracals were sampled in the study and found to be exposed to rat poisons, suggesting that kittens may be exposed through their mother’s milk.

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As consumers, we need more eco-friendly alternatives to rat poison and the simplest solution is well within everyone’s reach – improve the management of waste which attracts rats in the first place.

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Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

There are no current tropical storms.

NewsBytes:

USA – Texans are scrambling for cover Saturday as reports of tornadoes roll in and much of the central US readies for heavy rain, strong winds and large hail. More than 70 million Americans are under the threat of severe weather from Texas to southern Minnesota. That total on Sunday jumps to 80 million under threat as storms are predicted to move into the Great Lakes area. A tornado destroyed two homes Saturday morning in Comanche County, Oklahoma, southwest of Oklahoma City. Areas of Texas and Oklahoma remain under a tornado watch.

India – Serious damage to railway services due to floods in the past two years has prompted the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) to deploy over 1,600 personnel full time with gadgets to maintain safety of its 6,400-km tracks in Northeast, West Bengal and Bihar during the monsoon. Patrol-men equipped with GPS trackers, fog detonators, walky-talky and other gears would carry out patrol to avert any damage to railway tracks due to the Monsoon rain and floods.

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Wildfires

Wildfires – India

Massive forest fires have broken out in the jungles of Almora and Nainital districts. In Nainital district, wildfires have been raging in Bhimtal, Sattal and Devidhura areas; flames raging in inflammable pine jungles on Bhowali Road in the district have left environmentalists particularly worried. The state capital, too, has witnessed around 32 cases of forest fires in the last 11 days. More than 400 ha of forests have been destroyed by the fires which are caused by arsonists.

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Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

There are no current tropical storms.

NewsBytes:

TC Fani – Update – The death toll from Tropical Cyclone FANI has increased to 42 in India, while 17 fatalities have been confirmed in Bangladesh. Approximately 10 million people from coastal areas in the north-eastern States of India have been affected by the tropical cyclone.

Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

There are no current tropical storms, Tropical Cyclone Fani has now dissipated over India.

NewsBytes:

India – Two people died Friday after Cyclone Fani slammed into eastern India, officials said, as the storm sent coconut trees flying, blew away food stands and cut off power and water. The monster weather system, which made landfall at the eastern holy city of Puri in the morning, is one of the strongest to come in off the Indian Ocean in years, with winds gusting at speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour. In recent days, authorities in Odisha state, where 10,000 people died in a 1999 cyclone, have evacuated more than a million people as they fret about a possible 1.5-metre (five-foot) storm surge sweeping far inland.

USA – Eight storm-related deaths were reported across the United States this week as a slow-moving storm pounded an area from southern Texas to the Ohio River Valley, leaving more than 20 million people under a flash flood watch or advisory. Seven of those deaths were caused by flooding, while one person was killed by a tornado in southern Oklahoma. Record-breaking flooding from the Mississippi River has devastated the Midwest. On Thursday, waters rose above the record set during the Great Flood of 1993, and officials say it could be a month before the water completely clears.

Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

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In the Indian Ocean: Tropical cyclone (tc) 01b (Fani), located approximately 205 nm southwest of Calcutta, India, is tracking north-northeastward at 12 knots.

NewsBytes:

India – What is expected to be India’s strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in 20 years is barreling toward 100 million people on the country’s east coast, prompting officials to begin emergency evacuations. On Thursday, Tropical Cyclone Fani had strengthened significantly in the Bay of Bengal, with maximum sustained winds of 250 kilometers per hour (155 mph) and gusts of up to 305 kilometers per hour (190 mph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Fani, which is about 60 kilometers (38 miles) off the coast of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states, is equivalent in intensity to a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic, or a supertyphoon in the Pacific. It is not expected to make landfall until Friday morning in Odisha, near the city of Puri, but tropical cyclone-force winds are already coming ashore in portions of Andhra Pradesh and along the Odisha coast as well.

USA – A slow-moving storm system is bringing the threat of flash floods to tens of millions of Americans Thursday from Texas all the way to Illinois after severe storms earlier this week left 2 dead in Oklahoma. Lightning led to a series of fires and heavy rainfall from overnight thunderstorms left flooding issues in several East Texas cities.

Earthquakes

Magnitude 5+ Earthquakes – Global

5.9 earthquake hits south of Fiji.

5.8 earthquake hits Arunachal Pradesh, India.

5.2 earthquake hits Mindanao in the Philippines.

5.1 earthquake hits Halmahera, Indonesia.

5.0 earthquake hits Halmahera, Indonesia.

5.0 earthquake hits the South Sandwich Islands.

Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

There are no current tropical storms.

NewsBytes:

South Asia – Torrential rains followed by flash floods have killed at least 91 people in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, officials and local media said on Wednesday. Thunderstorms in northern, central and western Indian states late on Tuesday have killed at least 47 people. The most affected state was Madhya Pradesh from where 16 deaths were reported. In neighbouring Pakistan, rains followed by flash floods have killed 39 and injured dozens in the last two days. Numerous houses were destroyed.

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Environment

Bovine Companions

Delhi’s development minister announced a controversial plan to house abandoned cows alongside senior citizens, who will care for the animals — considered holy by many in India.

Gopal Rai points out how the Indian capital’s cow shelters are teeming with bovines abandoned by their owners once they dry up, while old people are put into nursing homes to live out their remaining days virtually alone.

He proposes adding an old-age home to a modernized 18-acre cattle shelter in southwestern Delhi, where “cows and senior citizens will coexist, taking care of each other.”

But a leading animal rights advocate says the scheme is “unethical because the government will be using the senior citizens living there for their labor.”

Earthquakes

Magnitude 5+ Earthquakes – Global

5.3 earthquake hits the Myanmar-India border.

5.1 earthquake hits New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.

5.0 earthquake hits the central east Pacific rise.

Mystery Indian Ocean seismic waves

Mysterious seismic waves in the Indian Ocean that were picked up by monitoring stations from Madagascar to Canada three weeks ago have baffled scientists.

Researchers and earthquake enthusiasts who spotted the signals have narrowed down the origin to a region just off the coast of the island Mayotte.

The slow waves detected on November 11 rumbled for more than 20 minutes, unbeknownst to most people.

They are similar to those typically seen after large earthquakes, which are known to travel great distances – but, no such earthquake took place.

Theories as to what caused the cryptic rumble have ranged from a slow earthquake or underwater volcanic eruption to an undetected meteor strike.

Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

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In the Indian Ocean: Tropical cyclone 07b (Gaja), located approximately 1033 nm southeast of rah Island, Oman, is tracking westward at 12 knots.

NewsBytes:

India – Cyclone Gaja blew ashore Friday in a southern India coastal region, damaging homes after more than 80,000 residents were evacuated. Authorities reported the storm had killed 13 people. Gaja hit the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu state with heavy rains and winds of 55 miles per hour. The storm weakened after coming onshore.

Disease

World’s largest gathering creates perfect storm for infectious disease

A tent city is rising near Allahabad, India, at the confluence of three of the country’s holiest rivers: the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. Complete with running water and sparkling LED lights, the city will accommodate 150 million pilgrims — a crowd equivalent to nearly half the population of the United States — next February for the Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest bathing event.

But some experts worry that the iconic religious festival poses a major health concern. The last major gathering in 2015 altered the bacterial population of the Godavari River, increased the risk of waterborne disease outbreak and introduced drug-resistant “superbugs” according to a study published in October in Microbial Ecology.

This is not the first time the festival spurs health concerns. Experts have long recognized it as a major cause of cholera epidemics during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Researchers saw a 130-fold increase in the total number of bacteria following the festival. They also discovered that most of the naturally occurring bacteria in the river were replaced by microbes usually found in human skin and feces. There were also elevated levels of pathogens that cause salmonella, whooping cough, staph infections and tuberculosis.

Water is an open system. If the water is not treated, it goes to different areas, which may lead to bacteria swapping genetic material with one another without reproducing — that process is known to speed the proliferation of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. This could lead to antibiotic resistance spreading downstream through the river.

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Storms and Floods

Tropical Storms – Roundup of Tropical Storms:

Gl sst mm

In the Eastern Pacific Ocean: Tropical Storm Vicente is located about 195 mi…310 km s of Acapulco Mexico with maximum sustained winds…45 mph…75 km/h. Present movement…w or 275 degrees at 10 mph…17 km/h.

Hurricane Willa is located about 230 mi…375 km s of Las Islas Marias Mexico and about 175 mi…285 km ssw of Cabo Corrientes Mexico with maximum sustained winds…155 mph…250 km/h. Present movement…n or 360 degrees at 7 mph…11 km/h.

In the Western Pacific Ocean: Tropical storm (ts) 31w (Yutu), located approximately 638 nm east-southeast of Andersen AFB, Guam, is tracking northwestward at 12 knots.

NewsBytes:

Spain – A firefighter was found dead in the southern Spanish province of Malaga on Sunday, the fire service said, after heavy overnight rain swept through streets and forced hundreds of people from their homes. In the town of Campillos, cars were borne along the streets by the water and left in wrecked piles after the flood subsided. Almost 400 millimeters of rain fell in 24 hours in the town of Ardales – around 62 km (40 miles) from the main city of Malaga.

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India – A sudden cloudburst in Virudhunagar flooded various parts of the town, including Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation depot, on Saturday night. Within two hours, the town experienced 119 mm of rainfall. Some 20 employees, who were trapped as the depot was marooned with water for more than four feet, were rescued by Fire and Rescue Services personnel.