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Climate Change, Sc. & Environment

Declassified Spy Photos Reveal The True Scale of Melting of The Himalayan Glaciers

Mike  Mcrae 

MIKE MCRAE
Just under half a century ago a system of satellites codenamed Hexagon was circling the globe and snapping high-resolution shots of the changing landscape… not to mention a Russian airfield or two.

With the Cold War long melted, those images were declassified back in 2002, providing rich pickings for all kinds of research. Now scientists have used these pictures to present a startling new perspective on the Himalaya’s vanishing glaciers.

A team of US researchers from Columbia University and the University of Utah have made detailed measurements on changes to the thickness of ice in the Himalayas between two time periods; from 1975 to 2000, and then 2000 to 2016.

In some ways, what they found might not come as a great shock, if you’ve been paying attention to the climate crisis.

“It looks just like what we would expect if warming were the dominant driver of ice loss,” says the study’s lead author Joshua Maurer from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

The team stitched together galleries of images of the Himalayas taken by the Keyhole-9 ‘Hexagon’ photographic reconnaissance satellites, ending up with an overview of some 650 glaciers spanning the famous mountain range.

They then developed a process to turn the 3D map into a form that provided information on elevations.

By comparing the results with modern stereo satellite imagery from NASA’s Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) program, Maurer and his team could calculate annual changes to ice coverage.

Since the turn of the millennium, glaciers have thinned by an average of just under half a metre (roughly 1.5 feet) per year. Over the preceding decades, that loss was half; closer to 22 centimetres, or just under 10 inches.

That’s averaged out as well. While some glaciers at higher elevations are holding steady, there are rivers of ice closer to sea level that are losing on average 5 metres (16 feet) a year.

Of course, glaciers can thin out over time for a number of reasons. Lower precipitation, for example, or fine particulates from pollution increasing localised warming by darkening the ice and absorbing sunlight.

These factors can almost certainly contribute to the melting of large patches here and there, but the sheer scale of the change implies a more global effect.

To test their suspicions, the team also compiled data on temperatures taken by ground stations and compared these with rates of melting across the map.

Sure enough, both sets of figures lined up neatly enough to reveal that our warming planet can certainly account for the ice loss.

“This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting over this time interval, and why,” says Maurer.

Further west, mountain ranges such as the Alps have attracted attention for accelerated melting of their icy peaks in the 1980s.

While it took a little longer to come up to speed, it’s now clear the Himalayas are rocketing ahead. Given the area they cover and their position, we can expect the melting of their glaciers to be a catastrophe of immense proportions.

Seasonal snowmelts contribute significant quantities of water to major river systems such as the Indus, where hundreds of millions rely on its flow and volume for drinking water, farming, and hydroelectricity.

Increased melting might temporarily be a boon, but in the long term, millions of people will face an increasing risk of water crisis.

Tragically, pooling meltwater is putting communities at greater risk of cataclysmic flooding as elevated lakes burst at the seams, sending walls of water crashing downhill.

In the 1970s, US authorities launched the Hexagon system of spy satellites partially in hope of having advanced warning of a building global threat.

Thankfully, that particular type of threat never eventuated. But now, nearly 50 years later, the same library of pictures has given us strong evidence of a much more serious threat. This time, it’s real.

This research was published in Science Advances.

Renewable Enegy, Sc. & Environment

Hungary to Build $1 Billion Green-Powered Town From Scratch

By Brian Parkin

Hungary is planning to create a green-powered town with jobs and housing for thousands on a barren strip of Danube flood plain.

The 1 billion-euro ($1.1 billion) Hegyeshalom-Bezenye project in northwest Hungary will be the size of about 500 soccer pitches and have full amenities such as schools and shopping facilities, said co-developers EON SE and German property company FAKT AG on Tuesday. Vegetables will be grown under glass where scrubland is today.

The carbon-neutral town will draw mainly on solar and biogas power and will create as many as 5,000 permanent jobs in the greenhouse venture, Nikolai Ulrich, a board member of FAKT, said by phone. The property company is partnering with EON, builder KESZ Group and the Hungarian government on the venture.

The sweeping infrastructure and horticultural project underlines “how a scrap of land and vision can create a green business and community venture of scale,” said Ulrich. FAKT and its partners say the project will serve as a model for other conversion sites across the continent, including coal regions making the switch to clean energy.

When complete, Hegyeshalom-Bezenye will include about 1,000 homes, a restaurant, hotel, rail station, shopping facilities as well as schools and training units. The project embeds a sustainable water management policy that aims to avoid lowering the area’s water table, said Ulrich. Cooling will be supplied via geothermal plants, he said.

As well as boosting Hungary’s supply of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, the site will host Europe’s largest inland fishery, cultivating salmon, bass and sea bream, he said.

Sc. & Environment, UN

UN report: Humans accelerating extinction of species

By SETH BORENSTEIN

People are putting nature in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals, scientists said Monday.

But it’s not too late to fix the problem, according to the United Nations’ first comprehensive report on biodiversity.

“We have reconfigured dramatically life on the planet,” report co-chairman Eduardo Brondizio of Indiana University said at a press conference.

Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past, the report said. More than half a million species on land “have insufficient habitat for long-term survival” and are likely to go extinct, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored. The oceans are not any better off.

“Humanity unwittingly is attempting to throttle the living planet and humanity’s own future,” said George Mason University biologist Thomas Lovejoy, who has been called the godfather of biodiversity for his research. He was not part of the report.

“The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that,” Lovejoy said.

Conservation scientists convened in Paris to issue the report, which exceeded 1,000 pages. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) included more than 450 researchers who used 15,000 scientific and government reports. The report’s summary had to be approved by representatives of all 109 nations.

Some nations hit harder by the losses, like small island countries, wanted more in the report. Others, such as the United States, were cautious in the language they sought, but they agreed “we’re in trouble,” said Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund, who observed the final negotiations.

“This is the strongest call we’ve seen for reversing the trends on the loss of nature,” Shaw said.

The findings are not just about saving plants and animals, but about preserving a world that’s becoming harder for humans to live in, said Robert Watson, a former top NASA and British scientist who headed the report.

“We are indeed threatening the potential food security, water security, human health and social fabric” of humanity, Watson told The Associated Press.

It’s also an economic and security issue as countries fight over scarcer resources. Watson said the poor in less developed countries bear the greatest burden.

A fisherman unloads his catch in the port of Suao, north eastern Taiwan on June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

The report’s 39-page summary highlighted five ways people are reducing biodiversity:

— Turning forests, grasslands and other areas into farms, cities and other developments. The habitat loss leaves plants and animals homeless. About three-quarters of Earth’s land, two-thirds of its oceans and 85% of crucial wetlands have been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive, the report said.

— Overfishing the world’s oceans. A third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

— Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet or dry for some species to survive. Almost half of the world’s land mammals — not including bats — and nearly a quarter of the birds have already had their habitats hit hard by global warming.

— Polluting land and water. Every year, 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge are dumped into the world’s waters.

— Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals. The number of invasive alien species per country has risen 70% since 1970, with one species of bacteria threatening nearly 400 amphibian species.

“The key to remember is, it’s not a terminal diagnosis,” said report co-author Andrew Purvis of the Natural History Museum in London.

Fighting climate change and saving species are equally important, the report said, and working on both environmental problems should go hand in hand. Both problems exacerbate each other because a warmer world means fewer species, and a less biodiverse world means fewer trees and plants to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air, Lovejoy said.

A couple walks through a forest with the Frankfurt skyline in background near Frankfurt, Germany on Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The world’s coral reefs are a perfect example of where climate change and species loss intersect. If the world warms another 0.9 degrees (0.5 degrees Celsius), which other reports say is likely, coral reefs will probably dwindle by 70% to 90%, the report said. At 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius), the report said, 99% of the world’s coral will be in trouble.

“Business as usual is a disaster,” Watson said.

At least 680 species with backbones have already gone extinct since 1600. The report said 559 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food have disappeared. More than 40% of the world’s amphibian species, more than one-third of the marine mammals and nearly one-third of sharks and fish are threatened with extinction.

The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species.

The IUCN calculated in March that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants.

Scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth.

The report comes up with 1 million species in trouble by extrapolating the IUCN’s 25% threatened rate to the rest of the world’s species and using a lower rate for the estimated 5.5 million species of insects, Watson said.

Outside scientists, such as Lovejoy and others, said that’s a reasonable assessment.

The report gives only a generic “within decades” time frame for species loss because it is dependent on many variables, including taking the problem seriously, which can reduce the severity of the projections, Watson said.

“We’re in the middle of the sixth great extinction crisis, but it’s happening in slow motion,” said Conservation International and University of California Santa Barbara ecologist Lee Hannah, who was not part of the report.

A lemur looks through the forest at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park in Andasibe, Madagascar on Dec. 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Jason Straziuso)

Five times in the past, Earth has undergone mass extinctions where much of life on Earth blinked out, like the one that killed the dinosaurs. Watson said the report was careful not to call what’s going on now as a sixth big die-off because current levels don’t come close to the 75% level in past mass extinctions.

The report goes beyond species. Of the 18 measured ways nature helps humans, the report said 14 are declining, with food and energy production noticeable exceptions. The report found downward trends in nature’s ability to provide clean air and water, good soil and other essentials.

Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats, and it’s happening worldwide, Watson said. The report projects 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers) of new roads will be paved over nature between now and 2050, most in the developing world.

Many of the worst effects can be prevented by changing the way we grow food, produce energy, deal with climate change and dispose of waste, the report said. That involves concerted action by governments, companies and people.

Individuals can help with simple changes to the way they eat and use energy, said the co-chairman of the report, ecological scientist Josef Settele of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany. That doesn’t mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but balancing meat, vegetables and fruit, and walking and biking more, Watson said.

“We can actually feed all the coming billions of people without destroying another inch of nature,” Lovejoy said. Much of that can be done by eliminating food waste and being more efficient, he said.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears

Animals, Sc. & Environment, Wildlife

For the first time, a rare rhino was born by artificial insemination at the Miami zoo

For the first time a rare rhino was born thanks to artificial insemination. The Indian rhino mother Akuti gave birth to a healthy young rhino at the Miami Zoo last Tuesday. It is the first Indian rhino born by artificial insemination.

The little rhino, whose gender is still unknown, was born at half past twelve in the afternoon and is the first little one of Akuti, a seven-year-old single-horned Indian rhino. The father is Suru, an eighteen-year-old Indian rhino. Both mother and baby are doing well. Both still have to be examined by a veterinary team which is only done when the staff consider it safe to separate the little one from his very protective mother for a few minutes, according to a spokesperson for the zoo.

No natural fertilization

Akuti (meaning “princess” in Hindi) did not get pregnant, despite several attempts at natural fertilization. That is why a team of experts was brought to the Miami zoo that started the artificial insemination process in January last year.

As soon as it became clear that Akuti was indeed pregnant, the rhino was trained to accept ultrasound. In this way the employees could keep a close eye on the growth and birth of the young.

Indian rhinos are on average between 15 and 16 months pregnant and the mothers can give birth to a calf once every two or three years. Akuti and her baby cannot yet be seen in public at the zoo, that only happens when the two are used to each other.

© Zoo Miami/Ron Magill

The Indian rhino is very popular among poachers because of its horn. There are approximately 3500 Indian rhinos in the world, according to the International Rhino Foundation. The Miami zoo is therefore very happy with the birth of the baby rhino: “This very rare birth is not only significant for Zoo Miami, it is incredibly important to the international efforts to maintain a healthy population under human care of this highly vulnerable species throughout the world.”

It is not the first time that an endangered species is artificially fertilized. Earlier, an elephant, a crocodile and a giant panda became pregnant via this route.

Sc. & Environment

US studying India anti-satellite weapons test, warns of space debris

Acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan warned any nations contemplating anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests like the one India carried out on Wednesday that they risk making a “mess” in space because of debris fields they can leave behind.

Speaking to reporters in Florida during a visit to the US military’s Southern Command, Shanahan said the United States was still studying the outcome of a missile India said it launched at one of its own satellites.

“My message would be: We all live in space, let’s not make it a mess. Space should be a place where we can conduct business. Space is a place where people should have the freedom to operate,” Shanahan said.

Experts say that anti-satellite weapons that shatter their targets pose a space hazard by creating a cloud of fragments that can collide with other objects, potentially setting off a chain reaction of projectiles through Earth orbit.

India’s foreign ministry played down any risk of debris from its missile test on Wednesday, saying the impact occurred in low-Earth orbit and that the remnants would “decay and fall back on to the Earth within weeks.”

In Washington, a senior U.S. military official told lawmakers that the United States was tracking about 270 objects from India’s test, a number that would likely grow as the fragments spread out.

Lieutenant General David Thompson, vice commander of US Air Force Space Command, added the International Space Station was not at risk at this point.

First Published: HT,  Mar 28, 2019 

Sc. & Environment

Changing the stripes of conservation

Missing from the discourse focussed on Avni however, is the story of how a rising tiger population is forcing the animal to seek out new hunting grounds, as tigers need a huge prey base.” Sarati village in Yavatmal district, Maharashtra, was gripped by fear of Avni.

Missing from the discourse focussed on Avni however, is the story of how a rising tiger population is forcing the animal to seek out new hunting grounds, as tigers need a huge prey base.” Sarati village in Yavatmal district, Maharashtra, was gripped by fear of Avni.   | Photo Credit: S Sudarshan

Was the ‘man-eating’ tigress Avni that was killed in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district a casualty of rising man-animal conflict, or was some other dynamic at play? Serish Nanisetti on how development projects in tiger habitats and the fragmentation of migration corridors call for a rethink of conservation policies

The modest stretch of forest that’s visible from the roadside is flanked on either side by cotton fields and toor dal (split pigeon pea) crop. A few kilometres away, on the other side of this jungle, in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, is National Highway 44 (NH 44). These fields are cultivated by the residents of Sarati village, where the Forest Department has set up a camp to search for a tigress cub. The cub belongs to the litter of T1, or Avni, the tigress that was killed on November 2, 2018 and caused a huge national outcry.

The killing of the tigress may have slipped from public memory. But for many villagers in Wedshi, Vihirgaon, Pimpalshinde, Borati, Ralegaon, Loni, and other villages in Yavatmal district, the terror of the tiger remains real. The media had highlighted the Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary as a hunting ground for the tigress, which had been declared a man-eater. But the tigress, when it was killed, was several kilometres away, in a different forested tract. How the tigress sought out new territory, found a mate, and had a litter in the small deciduous forest surrounded by agricultural fields and villages is still a matter of conjecture for conservationists.

“We began cultivating here in 2003. The forest was right till here [he points to the road]. We cleared it and began cultivating. That was the first time I ever saw a tiger, and I cannot describe the fear I felt,” says Gautam Patil, recalling the day he caught a glimpse of Avni during the monsoons, at the height of the man-eater scare. Patil, a farmer, points to his five-acre field. “This might be a small forest, but we cannot see beyond a few metres during the monsoons. We cannot cultivate anything other than cotton, as wild boars and other animals raid the fields.”

The Pench Tiger Reserve has 30 tigers. While an adult tiger requires 25-40 sq km of forested area to enjoy sufficient quantity of prey, now there is one tiger for every 8-10 sq km, leading to spillage. Vinod Thakur Veterinary doctor and conservation activist

Just three lamp posts away is the house of Gajanan Shyamrao Pawar. He went to his cotton farm abutting the forest to check on his crop on October 24, 2018, and never returned. The 30-year-old’s half-eaten body was later discovered in the jungle by his brother. “He had food at 10 a.m. and went to the farm. He didn’t return for lunch. A goatherd called to say he was missing. We began a search, and his body was found far inside the jungle at around one in the afternoon,” recalls his mother Indukala Pawar, sitting on the doorstep of their small house. Soon after killing Pawar, the tigress had disappeared from the area.

More tigers than before

According to the records of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests based in Nagpur, the tigress killed three other people — Gulab Mokashe of Wedshi village, Waghu Raut of Vihirgaon, and Nagorao Junghare of Pimpalshinde — in a span of 24 days in August 2018. The Pandharkawada Forest Department records the names of Avni’s other victims: Sonabai Bhosale of Borati, Lakshmi Rampuchrey of Jira, Shankar Atram, Jira, and Chanduk Phutki of Adni. All these villages border the small forest which the tigress had made its territory. A few months later, the tigress was shot dead by the son of a hunter tasked for the job by the Forest Department.

Missing from the discourse focussed on the ‘man-eating’ tigress is the story of how a rising tiger population is forcing the animal to seek out new hunting grounds, as tigers need a huge prey base. Not too long ago, there was a real fear of the big cat’s extinction. But things have changed since. Aided by excellent conservation efforts, more awareness, and forest management and control over poaching, the overall tiger population in the country has gone up.

Changing the stripes of conservation

The 2006 tiger census by the National Tiger Conservation Authority had pegged the number of tigers at 1,411. Officials involved with the 2018 tiger census operations say that the number is now closer to 2,600. “We have completed the tiger census that was begun in 2018, and the analysis is going on. We will release the information by the end of May,” says Y.V. Jhala of the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, which deployed about 15,000 camera traps spread over 400,000 sq. km in 18 States for the census.

India began a quadrennial scientific tiger census, discarding the old pug mark counting method, from 2006. In 2010, there were 1,706 tigers, and in 2014, the number jumped to 2,226, raising expectations of optimistic numbers for the 2018 census as well.

The surging numbers have pushed the count of tigers to about 400 in Madhya Pradesh, made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. But is there land to keep us with this increase? One tiger was mapped travelling from Chandrapur district, bordering the Tadoba-Andhari National Park in Maharashtra, to the Satpura range near Hoshangabad district in Madhya Pradesh. Another tiger, fitted with a tracking collar, was found to have travelled 500 km in 72 days, starting from its habitat in the 138 sq. km Bor Tiger Reserve in Wardha district. It travelled through Amravati and Nagpur before getting electrocuted on a farm in Wardha.

The problem is that we haven’t yet mapped the tiger corridor, or any of the well-defined routes that the tigers may be using for migration and resettlement. Adding to the confusion is that there are many forest tracts that abut the roads.Milind PariwakamWildlife Conservation Trust

He bag, waghache panje (see here, the pug marks of a tiger),” says Nilesh Gaddamvar in Marathi, pointing to large pug marks in the dust. Gaddamvar works as a guide at the Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. Officials say that there are now 18 tigers in the Sanctuary. “We are getting visitors from Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai. Most of them manage to spot the tiger in its habitat here and take photographs,” says Gaddamvar. He adds that there were only five tigers here in 2011, when he began working as a guide.

Safari visitors usually make a stop at the Hanuman temple located next to a small artificial lake on a ridge in Tipeshwar. The luckier among them might get to see frolicking tigers and cubs a few yards away from the road and their protected vehicles. How the temple came into being and why it is now deserted is a success story of Indian conservation efforts: nearly 500 villagers of Tipeshwar were evacuated and the population resettled outside the forest in Parva village in 2010. Another 140 villagers from Mihirgaon, inside the forest, were paid about ₹7 lakh per family and relocated outside the forest area in 2014.

While these two villages have been pulled out of the forest and resettled, the hamlets on the fringes of the jungle have expanded rapidly. Sarati, which didn’t exist before 2003, has 1,057 voters, Vihirgaon has 719 voters, and Lone, another village where Avni claimed a human life, has 417 voters.

Frequent accidents

On February 2, the Field Director of Pench Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra issued a statement: “A road-hit case of a tiger has been reported near Devalapar, Harnakund, on NH 7, this evening between 7 to 7.30 pm. PTR teams, as well as the team of Nagpur division, have reached the spot. There is a trail of blood, and we have also identified the vehicle. Teams reported that the tiger is nearby, and they have heard growling too. They are monitoring the situation, and a proper decision will be taken as per the local circumstances. The rescue team has left for the spot.” Such reports of road accidents and electrocutions involving tigers are barely noticed beyond a small circle of tiger conservationists and observers.

As a matter of fact, roadkill incidents are quite common on NH 44 (earlier known as NH 7), which passes through some of the most picturesque river valleys, ridges, and forested zones in central India. In this region, NH 44, which connects Srinagar to Kanyakumari, passes through small agricultural fields draped with rows of colourful saris to keep wild boar at bay.

A tiger trap in Mohda village, Madhya Pradesh.

A tiger trap in Mohda village, Madhya Pradesh.   | Photo Credit: S Sudarshan

Broken migration corridors

Wildlife conservationists have read the recent rise in the number of tigers as indicating the existence of a broad and long migration corridor — a tongue of land in central India that is changing the tiger story. This tiger corridor is criss-crossed by seasonal rivers such as the Godavari, Wainganga, Penganga, Dollara, and countless other smaller water channels and ravines.

According to officials of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, about 24,000 km of roads cut through these corridors, and they have a deadly impact on tigers. About 16 tigers have been killed in road and train accidents over the past five years. Forty-two leopards have also come under wheels. And no one has been keeping track of the number of smaller mammals such as foxes, rabbits, deer, wolves, snakes, peacocks and other wildlife that die on these roads.

“The problem is that we haven’t yet mapped the tiger corridor, or any of the well-defined routes that the tigers may be using for migration and resettlement. Adding to the confusion is that there are many forest tracts that abut the roads. We want a problem-solving approach to linear intrusions and habitat fragmentation. It is important to work on conservation, but it is also important to work on maintaining connectivity between sub-populations,” explains Milind Pariwakam of the Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Pariwakam had drafted a report on the factors behind the fragmentation of the fragile tiger corridor. The report calls for a rethink of India’s approach to infrastructure development, and recommends special pathways for wildlife so that their movement during migration or resettlement is not affected.

“Tipeshwar is one of the better-maintained forests which visitors can check out. There has been no man-animal conflict here ever since we evacuated the villages from the core area. Places where such conflict occur are more than 40-50 km from Tipeshwar,” says P.B. Panchabhai, District Forest Officer of Pandharkawada in Yavatmal district.

Threat from big projects

“The threat to tigers is not due to the man-animal conflict. It is due to the large-scale projects that are coming up near the sanctuaries. Forest Department officials have trans-located a village called Agarzari on the border of the Pench Tiger Reserve. But the resorts that cropped up there after changes in land use continue to operate. These use barbed wire and electrified fencing to keep animals at bay, leading to accidents,” says Vinod Thakur, a veterinary doctor and conservation activist who was part of the tiger census operation.

He blames the ‘four-laning’ of the national highway running through the Pench Tiger Reserve and Kanha Tiger Reserve, and the widening of the railway line in central India from narrow gauge to broad gauge, for the fragmentation of the habitat. “Even Jai, the tiger which became famous as Asia’s biggest feline, fell to this development juggernaut in the Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary. Jai’s cub, Srinivas, died due to electrocution. Jai sired around 20 offspring, but now very few of them are in Umred-Karhandla in Maharashtra. The rest have migrated,” says Thakur.

Big-ticket projects pose an even bigger threat. For instance, according to filings with the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Birla Cement Corporation is planning to set up a 3.9-tonne greenfield integrated cement plant with a 40 MW captive power plant in Yavatmal district’s Mukutban village. Mukutban is on the southern side of the Pandharkawada Forest Department, where man-animal conflict has captured media attention. How a cement plant and the ancillary activities associated with it will affect the environment is anybody’s guess.

Of the 50 designated tiger reserves in the country, the 16 in central India form a continuous tiger corridor. The Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary has about 18 tigers. Kawal, though designated as Kawal Tiger Reserve in 2012, has seen a tiger or two only in the last four years. This year, a tiger got electrocuted after it came in contact with an electrified wire trap set up by poachers. The Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary, on the other hand, is not a tiger reserve but is home to many tigers. “The Pench Tiger Reserve at present has 30 tigers. While an adult tiger requires 25-40 sq km of forested area to enjoy sufficient quantity of prey, now there is one tiger for every 8-10 sq km, leading to spillage. The tigers are moving out to other forests to find prey. This can be an opportunity to improve our record and practices in wildlife conservation,” says Thakur.

While the killing of Avni triggered celebrations among some villagers, there are also a few who see it differently. “I am unhappy that the tigress is dead. It is a big loss. When the tiger scare was at its peak, I was hopeful that this village would be shifted. The tiger was merely protecting the jungle, which was its home,” says Gunawant Tekam, who runs a small shop near the fields that border the jungle in Sarati. “I am saying this because I have seen the fear of the people as well as the changes in the landscape.”

The depredations of Avni may have grabbed the headlines. But of far greater significance, though missing from the mainstream discourse, is the changing dynamic of tiger migration and movement, which suggests that India needs to rework its conservation and forest settlement policies.l

Serish Nanisetti

First Published in The Hindu

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Sc. & Environment

Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio plans mini Hornbill festivals

KOHIMA: The Hornbill Festival has put Nagaland on the global tourism map with the state recording a huge influx of tourists for the event from December 1 to 10 this year. 
However, chief minister Neiphiu Rio feels there’s potential to attract more tourists. “We need to improve connectivity and have more hotels to carter to this rising number of tourists,” he said during an interaction with the media here.

Talking about the first aspect, Rio agreed that road conditions need to be improved. “Give me some more time,” he said. “I expect the roads to improve in the next two years,” he added.

However, the chief minister said the problem the hoteliers in the state face is that although there is a huge demand for rooms during the Hornbill Festival, “there’s less takers during rest of the year,” he said. “The state need to have a uniform flow of tourists throughout the year as that will only boost the tourism industry,” he stated.

The state is thus planning many mini Hornbill-type festivals throughout the year. “We have 16 major tribes in the state. Each tribe has its own distinct culture and festival. While the Hornbill Festival showcases the rich tradition of each and every tribe, we can celebrate the festivities of different tribes separately too,” Rio said. “In that case there will be some festival almost at every month and tourists can come all round the year. It will also boost tourism in different districts also as the tribes are spread over different regions,” he felt.

The state is also focusing on homestay facilities which are picking up fast all over the world. “We have a committee which visits and checks the facilities and other aspects once somebody offers his place for homestay. Tourists are invited to stay there only after it gets green light by the panel,” Rio stated.

The chief minister is also looking forward to quick completion of the proposed new airport near Kohima. The state government had planned a Greenfield airport at Ciethu, some 50km away from the state capital. Nagaland now has its only airport at Dimapur which cannot cater to large aircrafts. “The new one will have a longer runway. It’s expected to be ready by 2021 and that will surely be a shot in the arm for state tourism,” Rio said.                                     By Archita Bhaduri 

Sc. & Environment

Man killed on remote Indian island tried to ‘declare Jesus’ to tribe

John Allen Chau’s diary suggests he knew the risks of going to North Sentinel Island

Michael Safi in Delhi @safimichael

John Allen Chau, right, with Casey Prince in Cape Town
 John Allen Chau, right, in Cape Town. He told his parents not to be angry at God if he died on North Sentinel Island. Photograph: Sarah Prince/AP

An American man who was killed by an isolated tribe on a remote Indian island wrote to his parents hours before his death that he wanted to “declare Jesus” to the tribespeople and that they should “not be angry at them or at God if I get killed”.

John Allen Chau, 26, is believed to have been hit with a volley of arrowsshortly after making land on North Sentinel Island, part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, last Friday.

The island, which is off-limits to visitors without permission, is home to a 30,000-year-old tribe that is known to aggressively resist outsiders.

Chau repeatedly tried to contact the tribespeople and managed to reach the island the day before he was killed. He tried to offer gifts of fish and a football, he wrote in his diary.

“I heard the whoops and shouts from the hunt,” Chau wrote in an entry that was given to several media outlets by his mother. “I made sure to stay out of arrow range, but unfortunately that meant I was also out of good hearing range.

“So I got a little closer as they (about six from what I could see) yelled at me, I tried to parrot their words back to them. They burst out laughing most of the time, so they probably were saying bad words or insulting me.

“I hollered: ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.’ I regret I began to panic slightly as I saw them string arrows in their bows. I picked up the fish and threw it towards them. They kept coming.Advertisement

“I paddled like I never have in my life back to the boat. I felt some fear but mainly was disappointed. They didn’t accept me right away.”

One of the tribespeople – “a kid probably about 10 or so years old, maybe a teenager” – fired an arrow that struck his Bible, he wrote that night, onboard a boat he had paid fishermen 25,000 rupees (£275) to let him stay on, moored close to the island. “Well, I’ve been shot by the Sentinelese.”

The next day as he prepared to make another approach, Chau wrote a letter to his parents. “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this, but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people,” he wrote.

“Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed. Rather, please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I’ll see you again when you pass through the veil.

“This is not a pointless thing. The eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language, as Revelations 7:9-10 states.”

He signed off: “Soli deo gloria” (glory to God alone).

A Sentinelese man
 A Sentinelese man aims his bow and arrow at an Indian coastguard helicopter as it flies over North Sentinel Island after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

But his diaries revealed less certainty about the mission he was undertaking. “If you want me to get actually shot or even killed with an arrow, then so be it,” he wrote, addressing God. “I think I could be more useful alive though.

“I don’t want to die. Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else continue? No. I don’t think so. I still could make it back to the US somehow, as it almost seems like certain death to stay here.”

He gave the diary and letter to the fishermen and took a kayak back to the island. The fishermen told police they saw the tribe dragging away and burying Chau’s body the following day.

Seven people including five fishermen have been arrested for helping Chau reach the island. The Indian government recently lifted a ban on tourists going to the island, but Denis Giles, an activist for tribal rights in the Andamans, said state authorities still asked people to seek permission, and the status of the island was “a grey area”.

Police said Chau had visited the Andamans, which are scattered across the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, four times in the past three years.

His family posted on his Instagram on Wednesday that they forgave his killers and asked for those who helped him to be released. They said Chau was a “beloved son, brother and uncle” as well as a Christian missionary.

“He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people,” the family said. “We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death.”

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