Celebrating Conservation in Kenya


Photo provided by No Water No Life

A new Instagram series on the Mara Conservancy has been announced by ILCW member Alison Jones, director of No Water No Life, in honor of the 15th anniversary of Kenya’s Mara Conservancy (June 11, 2001). Jones was involved in the initiative’s founding days in the western Triangle of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The fifteen years since are a testament to the benefits of community-based conservation and public/private non-profit management. It is also a part of the No Water No Life documentation of sustainable solutions.

Despite global recessions, terrorism impacts and disease scares reducing tourism income, the Mara Conservancy has survived.  Many are amazed, including world-renowned conservationists, who applauded the Conservancy on its opening day, but doubted it would last more than two years given the volatility of Kenya’s politics. Today tourism and wildlife are thriving in the Mara Triangle, thanks to the security and solid management provided by the Conservancy.  Furthermore, more than 100 similar conservancies have sprung up since 2001 based on this initial model. Congratulations to Kenyan and other US conservationists, supporting politicians, the adjacent Maasai communities and all who have worked to make the Mara Conservancy succeed.

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Shooting Nilgai Raises Questions of Ethics, and Efficiency

By Neha Sinha, ILCW Member (India)

Neha Sinha is a Delhi-based conservationist.

Previously published in The Wire

Nilgai feeding on crops. Photo by Neha Sinha

A war of ideologies has broken out between women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi and her counterpart at the environment ministry, Prakash Javadekar. Gandhi, a well-known animal rights activist, has accused Javadekar’s ministry of having a “lust to kill animals” after his ministry asked states to come up with lists of wild species which can be declared “vermin” and be killed.

Wild species are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 – all except vermin. These vermin include animals like rats, crows and insects like termites. In the case of damage to human life, protected wild animals, like ‘man-eating’ tigers or leopards and ‘rogue’ elephants can be killed or removed, while individuals of others species with lower levels of protection, like nilgai and wild boars, can be killed or removed on specific orders even if they damage property. Moving from the occasional act of removing individual animals toward the more active decision to declare entire species as vermin has been seen as populist, and as coming at the cost of good management. Javadekar says he is helping farmers, while Gandhi questions the human-centric move of shooting the animals. A series of broad orders by states now allow animals to be killed, implying that they can also be trapped or tortured without the need to report back to the state.

Wild boar are now vermin in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar, Nilgai are also declared vermin in Bihar and can be killed. Maharashtra and Telangana have given orders to kill wild boars; Telangana can kill wild boars state-wide, while other states have specified districts for the culling. The orders range from six months to a year.

In fact, the culling of animals is one major issue on which the global environmental movements of animal rights and wildlife conservation diverge. The first focuses on individual life while the latter is about sustaining wild animal populations, even if that means the culling or removal of individual animals. The case of Ranthambhore’s tiger Ustad (moved from Ranthambhore to a zoo on charges of man-eating) was a case in point of these two ideologies diverging. The animal rights lobby wanted Ustad to be free while wildlife conservationists argued that Ustad, who had become unpopular with forest guards, should be captured for the sake of the sustaining the tiger population in Ranthambhore. But the new orders have wildlife conservationists up in arms, who say the orders are sweeping and encourage random killing.

The first issue is the sweeping nature of the orders, which may lead to a killing spree.

For instance, the orders for killing wild boar in Telangana stated that the animals could be killed anywhere in the state, but those that appear to be ‘running back to the forests’ should be spared. “This order was full of loopholes. We already have reports that other animals, such as spotted deer, were being poached, after the wild boar culling order. Snares and traps were being laid, which do not discriminate between animals. The entire exercise is random and unscientific,” says Nimesh Ved, a representative of Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations. Responding to a petition, the Telangana high court then made the culling orders more specific. It said that protected areas would not be in the purview of the boar culling, and other animals should not be killed. However, the problem of who checks this and how poaching will be curbed still exist.

In other parts of India, there are other moral and social complexities to killing animals. “Himachal’s order on culling monkeys reduces a monkey to something like a louse. Anyone can kill monkeys,” says environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who is fighting a case in the Himachal Pradesh high court against the order. “Additionally the orders are broad enough to stipulate that you can actually torture the monkey, trap it, and beat it.” Monkeys have for long been fed by people who believe it is a form of the Hindu deity Hanuman. “In Shimla, it is a fact that tourists feed monkeys. First you feed them, then you want to kill them,” Dutta adds.

Hunting in India

The second problem, conservationists say, is that states will allow any citizen to kill animals because vermin by definition implies that anyone can do the exterminating. This could mean a change in attitude for the worse toward wildlife, and it may complicate the protection of other species that are still deemed protected. In Bihar, the state government first announced that people with licenses can kill nilgai, three years ago. But no one came forward. The reason? Hindus don’t want to kill an animal that resembles a cow. Further, if the Muslims in the area kill Nilgai, this could lead to communal tensions. How then would the new orders, which allow anyone to kill nilgai, sit with these traditional values – the sort of religious or spiritual values that have aided conservation?

“Nilgai are a real problem in Bihar. Their numbers have gone up exponentially because they have been feeding on crops,” says Arvind Mishra, a member of the Bihar State Board for Wildlife. The particular landscape that Bihar has – a floodplain – also means that the animals are far from forests, and unlike Telangana, can’t always be chased into forests. “The particular sociocultural beliefs of the state mean that most may not actually want to shoot nilgai. Thus it is best if outsiders come in to shoot them,” Mishra says. Thus, Bihar has employed the services of ‘Nawab’ Shafat Khan, who has been widely seen as glorifying hunting. Consequently, in Mokama taal in Bihar, 200 nilgai have been shot.

Outsiders shooting animals for pleasure or game forms the basis of trophy-hunting, followed prominently in many African countries as well as in the US. With crop damage by wild animals having come down, others ask if it is a hunters lobby that is behind the move. “Many farmers in Uttarakhand actually are abandoning their farms and moving to cities to find work. It is possible that this pro-hunting move is actually coming from a completely different lobby – the upper-class hunting lobby, which wants hunting to start in India again,” says Vidya Athreya, a scientist with Wildlife Conservation Society of India.

But if animals are to be killed, only state authorities should do it, and not individuals, others stress. “All laws, policies and guidelines in India suggest that whenever a conflict-animal needs to be eliminated, the forest department or police or paramilitary personnel are the ones who must do it under authorisation,” says Odisha-based conservationist Adtiya Panda. “This disturbing trend of favouring a particular lobby of trigger-happy shooters is very suspicious. Why is the law being bent to indulge them in state sponsored shikar [hunting] holidays in this day and age?

The central dilemma still holds: by banning hunting in the 1970s, India has privileged certain wild species, particularly large mammals, and culling will change these attitudes. Thus, while generations within the country consume domestic animals like chicken (which, for instance, animal rights groups will not tolerate), we have balked at the thought of having Asian bear-paw soup, which comes from a ‘big, wild’ animal. The charge that we are misusing animals and subjecting them to our whims also stands; there was a massive criticism when media reports suggested that Goa mulled declaring peacocks and endangered bison as vermin.

Post-culling solutions

Ultimately, culling offers revenge, but not solutions. “We cull animals for a year. Then what happens? We still need to find solutions to crop-raiding by animals,” Athreya says. Panda adds, “Given the population dynamics of India and the minuscule proportion of our land area remaining under wilderness, it is never a case of too many animals here, it is always a case of too little habitat. Shooting animals like this is just random and not solution-oriented.” In fact, he suggests moving Bihar’s nilgai to Jharkhand.

“Bihar may complain of an excess in nilgai but neighbouring Jharkhand’s Palamau Tiger Reserve is practically bereft of sufficient populations of large prey species and could easily have taken in Bihar’s ‘excess’ nilgai. The 200 Nilgai that Bihar culled could have technically formed the prey base to sustain two tigers for their lifetime!” Such experiments – of restoring populations of large animals by translocation – have been done before. For instance, Indian bisons – towering, one-tonne animals – were translocated from Kanha to Bandhavgarh in 2012. Other solutions that have been used have been crop-insurance against animals, and strip-cropping to avoid planting large swathes of edible crops.

At the same time, other problems that create conflict between animals and people remain. These include vanishing forests and fragmentation of habitat; 14,000 square kilometre of forests were cleared in the last thirty years for industrial projects and artificial feeding of animals either by people or unattended garbage.

Mishra says Bihar can consider having a holding facility for nilgai, and the state will be open to innovative solutions. The fate of Himachal’s monkeys are waiting for the court’s decision. Maharashtra and Telangana have killed hundreds of boars already. At the moment, it seems innovative and long-term solutions will only be found after this year’s gunfire.

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Keeping the Mali Elephants Alive from Poachers

By Susan Canney (ILCW member UK)

Previously published on the WILD Foundation Blog


Three things have been keeping the elephants alive: the local people, Malian military patrols and the elephants themselves.


Last year the sudden dramatic escalation of poaching in the first half of 2015 was the result of a new development whereby international trafficking networks were directly targeting individuals in the elephant range to recruit them as guides and accomplices. At the same time local military were re-deployed to deal with unrest elsewhere in the country related to the signature of the Peace Accord between the Government and Tuareg rebels, and personnel changes in the Malian government delayed the training and deployment of the anti-poaching rangers, substantially increasing the Mali Elephant Project’s (MEP’s) workload.



While working on getting the rangers operational, the MEP continues to engage local communities (as funds and time allowed) to provide a continual reminder:

  • of the benefits of solidarity and that fighting poaching improves security;
  • of the benefits of elephants and of coming together to improve livelihoods for the benefit of all through collective resource management;
  • that those who poach are thieves as they steal for themselves that which belongs to the community;
  • and that poaching does not go undetected: the community knows who the poachers are.


Village meeting

Like people everywhere, there is a spectrum from those who are completely law-abiding to those who are criminal and need to be constrained by law enforcement. Between these extremes there are those who might be tempted if they feel they are in a situation where it’s “everyone for themselves”, as is often the case when there is an absence of government, lawlessness, uncertainty and threat to their security and livelihood, and the likelihood that their actions would be undiscovered.


Mali Elephant Project ranger in the Gourma

The MEP’s community work counters this by building solidarity and social cohesion through helping communities come together to create mutually beneficial systems of resource management that require collective work but benefit the livelihoods of all. Elders which constitute the management committees establish the social norms, including the branding of poachers as thieves, while the “brigades de surveillance” ensure that illegal activity is detected.


However law enforcement is also required to deal with those who kill elephants regardless of social norms, as well as to demonstrate the government presence that supports the rule of law, and supports community collective action.


Military patrols

Mali had no capacity to deal with the advent of elephant poaching in 2012. Since then the MEP has worked with the government to create a new ranger force from scratch.


Mali Elephant Project rangers

To cover the period until the ranger force was operational, the MEP raised money for patrols by the Malian military from local bases in the elephant range, who are so poorly resourced that they require additional money for fuel and food to be able to leave their bases. These were greeted with much enthusiasm by the local community who suffer from the thieving and lawlessness.


The elephants

The elephants have been helping by behaving very differently this year. Normally they would be in the north of their range moving between the series of semi-permanent water bodies formed by rainwater that collects in depressions. These lakes and drainage-ways are surrounded by dense thicket forest, which although it only covers a tiny proportion of the land surface, is a vital habitat for the elephants who spend over 90% of their time there, because not only do they find water and food, but also shade and refuge from humans. Normally they prefer the lakes and forests in the remote north where they are far from human settlement and their interaction with humans is minimized. As one lake dries they move on to the next until they all congregate together at Lake Banzena to pass the last few months of the dry season, as this is the only lake that holds water year-round, and is accessible to elephants.


Elephants and cattle at Banzena

This year, however they are not frequenting the forests and lakes of the previously tranquil north, even though good rains meant they are full of water. The elephants have changed their behaviour. Apart from a small group of around 14-20 in the Gossi corridor, they are gathered in large groups in the centre of their range, in the more secure areas close to the main road.


This may be because they remember that last year they experienced very heavy poaching in those northern areas, particularly in the vicinity of Banzena, and so have tried to avoid those areas. Another reason may be that there are jihadists and bandits hiding in their favourite forests. Or it may be a combination of both.


The left hand map shows the locations of poaching incidents in 2015 in relation to the elephant migration route shown in grey, as recorded by Save the Elephants’ GPS collar data. The right-hand map shows the 2016 distribution of elephants in red in February (as an example) compared to where they would usually be shown in green. As the year progressed elephants have been gradually moving to join the large herd at Inani. Usually they would spend several months at Lake Banzena but this year only one group of about 75 individuals “commutes” 35km from Inani to Banzena to drink but does not stay.




Unfortunately staying in the centre of their range brings them close to human settlements and increases the risk of conflict, particularly as the elephants are reported to be more aggressive and restless than usual. A large herd of over 100 spent the first months of the year at Lake Korarou far to the west of their usual range, in an area they haven’t used since the 1970s when human population densities were less. Unfortunately the people in these areas are not used to living with elephants and two people were killed through surprising elephants in a thicket forest. The MEP immediately visited the area and together with local dignitaries held community meetings to discuss the reasons, how to prevent such occurrences, how the MEP is working to prevent these kind of tragedies, express condolences and offer a small gift to the families afflicted. The communities of this area expressed their wish for help to develop the resource management systems established by the MEP.


The result

As a result of these three things poaching rates decreased from an average of 9.43 elephants killed per month from December 2014 to June 2015, to 3.90 elephants killed per month from July 2015 to April 2016.


This is despite a worsening security situation due to the emergence in 2015 of a new jihadist group called the Macina Liberation Front, allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). One indicator of the level of security is the number of attacks registered in the elephant range by the Long War Journal which has increased sharply from none in 2014 to the numbers shown in the graph below. More attacks undermine the rule of law, deter government presence and embolden poachers.


Although poaching levels must be reduced further, this reduction extends the estimated date of population extirpation by almost 3 years, from August 2018 to June 2021. This assumes the current rate of loss continues, however it is unknown whether this would be the case. It may be that as elephant numbers are reduced, they are more difficult to find, poachers are less likely to encounter them, and the rate of loss slows. On the other hand this may make little difference because information on elephant locations is shared across the elephant range, and the poachers are willing and able to travel.


More information is required and the gathering of that information and acting upon it will be the task of the rangers … Who will hopefully be in action very soon.


To see all photos and other articles about the Mali Elephants go to the WILD Foundation Blog.


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New Film About Fracking from ILCW Member

Dear President Obama is a film
by ILCW member Jon Bowermaster (USA) Fellow

In it fracking, or the extraction of natural gas by drilling deep into the earth and releasing the gas by pumping water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure into the rock below, has come under attack for causing pollution of air, underground water supplies and even earthquakes. Once thought a clean alternative in extracting fossil fuels, the reality points to fracking as being hard on the environment. Bowermaster is showing the film across the US with Q&A sessions after the screening. The purpose is to convince President Obama to join the anti-drilling majority and call for fossil fuels to be left in the ground.
See the trailer.

Excerpt from Ruminations at Twilight

By Leslie M. Browning  (USA)  Fellow
The cure for our modern maladies is dirt under the fingernails
and the feel of thick grass between the toes.

The cure for our listlessness is to be out within the invigorating wind.

The cure for our uselessness is to take back up our stewardship;
for it is not that there has been no work to be done,
we simply have not been attending to it.

Roads are killing tigers, wildlife, and those who don’t drive

By Neha Sinha ILCW member (India)
(This article originally appeared in the dailyO)
On Saturday night, a young tiger was killed on a road near Dehradun.
You may think: are there tigers in Dehradun? Where was the tiger going? What were we doing on Saturday night – were we on a road, heading to a party, or on a leafy residential lane, propelling ourselves to a quiet, music-suffused evening at home?
For the more imaginative among us, we could remember tales of animals and beasts that crossed roads in our parent’s time, or the joke about the chicken crossing a road. For others, it may seem odd; after all, how many countries in the world can say a tiger was crossing the road?
There are many aspects that are amazing and diverse about our country. Those who use roads – or hate using them, is one of them.
There are many among us who think that a set of gleaming, black-topped roads, winding for miles, visible from a plane, is a sure sign that the nation is on the right track, the path to prosperity – literally.
And yet there are others for whom roads, built for cars – are not such good news. I have met tribal people who prefer cutting through forests than taking a road or a bus trip, because the walk through the forests, leeches et al, is shorter than traversing a dusty, noisy, pushy road.
The National Highway from Delhi, just before Agra, cuts a town in half, with a tall iron fence dividing the area into two. What do people do to cross the road? They run for their lives. Sometimes, they clamber over the forbidding fence in the mid-day northern heat. Sometimes they walk half a kilometre to find a crossing, broken apart forcibly, or at a red-light meant for cars.
In north Delhi’s Yamuna bypass, I often see women hitching up their sarees, sprinting wild-eyed across the road, denied dignity or safety. In Kolkata’s tragic flyover collapse this April which left 24 people dead, one of the most obvious lacuna in the much-delayed project was that the flyover was being made in an old, crumbling part of the city.
There was neither the passage nor the engineering rationale to build this gigantic structure, which was within arm’s length from century-old buildings. The purpose of this flyover, like many other roads, was to serve the car-using, motorised public, to the peril of all that was around this road.
Now coming to wildlife. Wild animals do sometimes use roads. To be more specific, they are forced to use roads, as roads without speed breakers cut through national parks, tiger reserves, reserve forest, and eco-sensitive areas.
As in the case of Kolkata, the roads are built, widened and maintained oblivious to the ecosystem, human or animal, around it. On the Haridwar-Najibabad road, where the tiger was killed on May 8, three leopards also died earlier, after being hit by vehicles.
A Facebook community “Roads to Nowhere” catalogues deaths of various animals on roads across the country. The species and individual animals may surprise you. The documentation of death includes tigers and leopards, known to be sure-footed and otherwise fearsome. Like all cats, indeed, like the metaphoric “deer in the headlights”, tigers freeze when light falls on them. The death toll also includes elephants, who move surely, slowly, and for long migrations, but are unable to escape a speeding truck or car. It includes birds, usually known to fly rather than walk – struck while flying low, or doing takeoff.
It includes endemic animals like the Western Ghat’s lion-tailed macaque, which spends its life on trees, occasionally coming on the road to cross over to another forest. It includes tiny butterflies which seek salt from roads, incredulously unaware of a huge vehicle charging forward. It includes ectothermic snakes and amphibians, who come on roads seeking life-giving warmth. Basically, the death toll includes all sorts of wild animals.
As more roads come up on our maps and under our cars, and as forests and wild areas shrink, the deaths will only increase. Are we to continue turning a blind eye to what roads do to those who are not using motorised vehicles?
To stress the point, roads are used by many, and they mean different things for different people – or animals. For a cyclist, a road can be a death trap, if it has no speed breakers and motorised vehicles zip down. For a child, a road can mean looking at the patterns it forms on the ground – a mosaic of cobbles and gravel in one part, a pugdundee in another.
For villagers living close to natural ecosystems, markers and milestones are usually a fruiting tree, a holy Banyan, or a big rock. For many, roads are what is around the road rather than on it: a meeting place, a tea-stall, a place to sit.
Roads take us to places. Roads are memories. A road, a lane, a path, a walkway, is an essential part of man’s existence. Roads join people; they also displace them, as in the case with the Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor. Roads take us to tiger reserves, and they also kill tigers. All over the country, roads are being thoughtlessly widened, slashing down acres of forests, thousands of trees, homes and refuge for birds, animals, and shade for people who use these areas.
Like every Indian, I want India to have good roads. No one should live in poverty and deprivation because there is no road to his home or to a hospital. But roads have to be built according to what is around them. They can’t just be planned in conference rooms and executed in isolation.
We must decide, for instance, to have roads with speed breakers in protected areas and sanctuaries. Here, the purpose is wildlife conservation; speed has to be regulated. In our ever-growing country, these reserves are minority land use; they seem invisible while decisions are being taken.
We must decide how many lanes we need in these areas- are two lanes not enough, going through forests? Do we need six? As car traffic goes up, as it inevitably will, shall we require sixteen lanes one day? We love the Fast and Furious, and every car ad shows a racing car. But what of the slow and guileless; that non-motorised vehicle, that troop of walking villagers, that elephant herd, that once-fearsome tiger?
The time has come to stop our obsession with cars, and build roads that don’t just encourage speed and width, but also suitability.
The road to prosperity is a long one. But prosperity also needs thoughtfulness. We don’t need more dead tigers and imperilled pedestrians to show us that roads need to adapt to those who are forced to use them; not just those who choose to use them.
See photos and the entire article.