Robber fly - Nature photographer Thomas Shahan specializes in amazing portraits of tiny insects. It isn't easy. Shahan says that this Robber Fly (Holcocephala fusca), for instance, is "skittish" and doesn't like its picture taken.

Eye-popping bug photos

Nature by Numbers (Video)

"The Greater Akashic System" – July 15, 2012 (Kryon Channelling by Lee Caroll) (Subjects: Lightworkers, Intent, To meet God, Past lives, Universe/Galaxy, Earth, Pleiadians, Souls Reincarnate, Invention: Measure Quantum state in 3D, Recalibrates, Multi-Dimensional/Divine, Akashic System to change to new system, Before religion changed the system, DNA, Old system react to Karma, New system react to intent now for next life, Animals (around humans) reincarnate again, This Animal want to come back to the same human, Akashic Inheritance, Reincarnate as Family, Other Planets, Global Unity … etc.)

Question: Dear Kryon: I live in Spain. I am sorry if I will ask you a question you might have already answered, but the translations of your books are very slow and I might not have gathered all information you have already given. I am quite concerned about abandoned animals. It seems that many people buy animals for their children and as soon as they grow, they set them out somewhere. Recently I had the occasion to see a small kitten in the middle of the street. I did not immediately react, since I could have stopped and taken it, without getting out of the car. So, I went on and at the first occasion I could turn, I went back to see if I could take the kitten, but it was to late, somebody had already killed it. This happened some month ago, but I still feel very sorry for that kitten. I just would like to know, what kind of entity are these animals and how does this fit in our world. Are these entities which choose this kind of life, like we do choose our kind of Human life? I see so many abandoned animals and every time I see one, my heart aches... I would like to know more about them.

Answer: Dear one, indeed the answer has been given, but let us give it again so you all understand. Animals are here on earth for three (3) reasons.

(1) The balance of biological life. . . the circle of energy that is needed for you to exist in what you call "nature."

(2) To be harvested. Yes, it's true. Many exist for your sustenance, and this is appropriate. It is a harmony between Human and animal, and always has. Remember the buffalo that willingly came into the indigenous tribes to be sacrificed when called? These are stories that you should examine again. The inappropriateness of today's culture is how these precious creatures are treated. Did you know that if there was an honoring ceremony at their death, they would nourish you better? Did you know that there is ceremony that could benefit all of humanity in this way. Perhaps it's time you saw it.

(3) To be loved and to love. For many cultures, animals serve as surrogate children, loved and taken care of. It gives Humans a chance to show compassion when they need it, and to have unconditional love when they need it. This is extremely important to many, and provides balance and centering for many.

Do animals know all this? At a basic level, they do. Not in the way you "know," but in a cellular awareness they understand that they are here in service to planet earth. If you honor them in all three instances, then balance will be the result. Your feelings about their treatment is important. Temper your reactions with the spiritual logic of their appropriateness and their service to humanity. Honor them in all three cases.

Dian Fossey's birthday celebrated with a Google doodle

Dian Fossey's birthday celebrated with a Google doodle
American zoologist played by Sigourney Weaver in the film Gorillas in the Mist would have been 82 on Thursday (16 January 2014)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pretty polly or pests? Dutch in a flap over parakeets

Yahoo – AFP, Charlotte VAN OUWERKERK, 12 March 2018

Thousands of rose-ringed parakeets, close relatives of parrots, have made their
home in the Netherlands over the past five decades, and their growing presence has
become a source of noisy debate

To their detractors, they're dirty alien invaders whose incessant chatter ruins Sunday morning lie-ins. To their supporters, they're beautiful, cheerful reminders of warmer climes amid the winter chill.

Love 'em or hate 'em, thousands of rose-ringed parakeets, close relatives of parrots, have made their home in the Netherlands over the past five decades, and their growing presence has become a source of noisy debate.

Like in other European cities such as London and Paris, the colourful green birds with distinctive red beaks have proliferated over the years.

They gather in garden trees and around schools; they even roost outside the Dutch parliament in The Hague, with urban legend telling how one debate was drowned out by the birds' constant calls.

Imported from Pakistan in the 1960s to brighten the aviaries of wealthy Europeans -- especially the Dutch and British -- over the years many escaped and have now successfully adapted to life in the city.

Indeed, the rose-ringed, or ring-necked parakeet was listed among Europe's top 100 most invasive species in the scientific journal "Biological Invasions" in December.

While their fans claim they are victims of a knee-jerk fear of anything new, some groups actively lobby for their numbers to be culled.

In Amsterdam, where one of the largest colonies of parakeets lives, the town hall has banned residents from putting out food in some areas or risk a 70 euro ($86) fine.

Critics argue the flying flocks undermine the natural order, pinching the resting spaces of owls and bats, leaving behind piles of bird droppings and ravaging trees and plants.

"Some residents are even thinking of moving house because of their infernal noise," said Wilfred Reinhold, president of an association fighting against the birds' presence in the country.

'Charming, but destructive'

With plentiful food, few predators and lots of water, the living is easy in the Netherlands, where the flocks have grown unchecked.

In Leiden, biologist Roelant Jonker has taken the country's oldest colony of the birds under his wing, despite being allergic to their feathers and even though his passion was sorely tested six years ago.

In Amsterdam, home to one of the largest colonies of
parakeets, the town hall has banned residents from
putting out food in some areas or risk a fine of 70 euros

While studying a group of yellow-eared parrots in the jungles of Colombia, Jonker was taken hostage by FARC rebels, a "traumatising experience" which lasted eight months.

But he remains determined to protect the estimated 15,000 parakeets which now call the Netherlands home. By comparison, France is 15 times bigger but counts only some 10,000 parakeets.

"Of course they are charming... but they also cause a lot of damage," said Reinhold, keeping a watchful eye on some budding chestnut trees outside the Dutch parliament.

A recently published picture of an embassy-lined street near the royal palace sullied with parrot droppings has only added grist to his mill.

'Here to stay'

Reinhold insists that measures should be taken to stop the flocks.

"Nets could be dropped on the trees at night to catch hundreds of them," he suggested, accepting however that using guns to shoot them down "would not be a very good idea in the city".

But removing them would be too costly, argued Jonker, declaring: "There is nothing to do. They are here, they are going to stay."

He pointed to some birch trees, saying they had once been imported by the Romans and were now an integral part of the Dutch landscape.

The next generation will see the parakeets "as ordinary birds... and they will be as ordinary as all the different colours of people and birds in Europe," he added.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dutch scientists use dna testing to identify illegally logged wood

DutchNews, March 5, 2018

Researchers at Wageningen University are using dna testing to help identify tropical hardwood which has been cut down illegally. 

Around 30 to 90% of all tropical hardwood is logged illegally, and checks on the origin of wood, however thorough, are not particularly effective because documentation may be fraudulent, the universitysays

The new method identifies the wood’s dna and is precise enough to differentiate between trees cut down in places that are practically next door to each other. This is important because position can mark the difference between legal and illegally logged wood. 

‘The fact that we can accurately differentiate the origin of timber down to a 14 km radius is new,’ says lead author Mart Vlam of the Forest Ecology and Forest Management Research Group at Wageningen University. ‘Previous studies only managed to do that on a much less refined scale.’ 

The research involved collecting several hundred timber samples in five timber concessions in Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville together with two logging companies. These samples were used to create a reference-database. 

‘We ran a blind test on some of the samples,’ says Vlam. ‘I had 12 pieces of timber of which I knew the origin but the genetic specialists at Wageningen Environmental Research didn’t. I gave them the samples and asked them to identify which concessions they came from. They got it right 92% of the time – that’s a great score.’ 

This study demonstrates that genetic analysis has great potential for use in forensic testing of tropical hardwood. 

‘But a lot needs to be done before these tests can be used as evidence in court,’says lead researcher Pieter Zuidema. ‘We need to collect timber samples from a much larger area and our analyses and labs will have to meet strict criteria. We can’t do that on our own, so we are collaborating in a worldwide network of researchers, labs and authorities.’

Monday, February 26, 2018

Malaysia elephant sanctuary trumpets effort to cut human-animal conflict

Yahoo – AFP, M Jegathesan, February 25, 2018

Selendang lost part of its leg after it was caught in a snare trap and has been
fitted with a prosthetic limb (AFP Photo/Manan VATSYAYANA)

A herd of elephants tramp through jungle before lumbering into a river under the watchful gaze of their keepers, training at a Malaysian sanctuary for their vital work in reducing human-animal conflict.

The sanctuary in Kuala Gandah, central Malaysia, is an area of secluded rainforest where "mahouts" -- as the keepers are known -- care for a 26-strong group of endangered Asian elephants.

A handful were rescued after suffering injuries or being orphaned, but most of them have been domesticated and trained to aid the National Elephant Conservation Centre's effort to help elephants who become embroiled in conflicts with humans.

They accompany a highly-trained team on their missions to find and subdue fellow pachyderms whose habitats have been encroached on, and are putting themselves and villagers at risk.

Since the centre started operations about 30 years ago, its staff have relocated more than 700 wild elephants, taking them away from inhabited areas and deep into the jungle.

Malaysia is home to vast tracts of rainforest and a kaleidoscope of exotic wildlife, from elephants to orangutans and tigers, but the numbers of many rare species have fallen dramatically in recent decades.

Some have been hunted for their body parts that are then sold on the black market, but a growing number are falling victim to human-animal conflict -- which happens when rapid expansion of plantations or development of settlements encroaches on animals' natural habitats.

Mahouts care for a 26-strong group of endangered Asian elephants at the
sanctuary (AFP Photo/Manan VATSYAYANA)

Many elephants in Malaysia have been injured or killed after coming into contact with humans when they wander onto the country's ubiquitous palm oil plantations, or enter settlements and eat crops.

Villagers and plantation workers sometimes target them, viewing them as pests and not realising they are endangered and protected by law.

One elephant among the herd at the 30-acre (12-hectare) sanctuary, Selendang, lost part of its leg after it was caught in a snare trap, and has been fitted with a prosthetic limb.

On a recent visit to the centre, a dozen of the resident elephants marched in single file with their trunks swinging as their mahouts put them through the paces during a morning workout.

They emitted trumpeting sounds before splashing into a river, where the mahouts scrubbed their bellies and trunks.

There are believed to be some 1,200 wild Asian elephants in peninsular Malaysia, down from as many as 1,700 in 2011.

"If their remaining habitat faces rapid deforestation, I think before the end of the century, there will be no more wild elephants left," warned Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, a Malaysia-based elephant expert.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Spotted hyena returns to Gabon park after 20 years: researchers

Yahoo – AFP, January 20, 2018

Spotted hyenas have been spotted in Gabon for the first time in 20 years

Libreville (AFP) - A spotted hyena has been sighted in a Gabon national park for the first time in 20 years, conservationists said Friday, the latest large predator to have returned to a region where many had gone locally extinct.

The Bateke Plateau National Park lies close to Gabon's border with the Republic of Congo.

Its forests and grasslands once teemed with wildlife, including many large mammal predators, but the ecosystem was decimated by decades of poaching.

Officials said a spotted hyena had been caught on camera traps in the park for the first time in two decades giving hope that more large mammals might return after years of conservation efforts.

The sighting comes two years after a lone male lion was photographed by camera traps after returning.

"The return of these large carnivores is a great demonstration that the efforts of our rangers and partners are having a positive effect on Bateke wildlife," professor Lee White, director of Gabon's National Parks Agency said in a press release.

The spotted hyena was so unknown in recent memories that when researchers showed local park rangers the photographs from the camera traps they did not know the species.

But village elders in communities north of the park instantly recognised the hyena, researchers said.

The sightings are a far cry from when researchers first set up their camera traps in 2001.

That year all they photographed in Bateke was a lone antelope and multiple poachers crossing into the park from the Republic of Congo.

The lion first spotted in 2015 has since made the park his home. But he has yet to be joined by any others.

"This lion... has been continuously photographed during his three-year reign of the park, but remains alone, calling for a mate," the researchers said.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Stray dogs 'murdered' in Russian World Cup cities: MPs

Yahoo – AFP, Jan 11, 2018

The World Cup will be held in 11 Russian cities this summer, from the enclave of
Kaliningrad in the West to Yekaterinburg in the East (AFP Photo/Mladen ANTONOV)

Moscow (AFP) - Stray dogs are being killed in Russian cities set to host the 2018 World Cup as authorities follow orders to get thousands of feral animals under control, Russian MPs claimed Thursday.

"We have received many appeals from animal rights activists and just caring citizens saying mass shooting and euthanasia of stray animals is taking place in a number of World Cup-host cities," the head of the Russian lower house's environmental protection committee Vladimir Burmatov told Parlamentskaya Gazeta newspaper.

Packs of stray dogs are a common sight in Russian cities, fuelled by public reluctance to sterilise pets, and some can be aggressive or beg for food.

Last month first deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko estimated there are some two million stray animals in the host cities and urged them to solve the problem humanely.

Burmatov said his committee had sent an official letter to sports minister Pavel Kolobkov warning of "mass destruction of homeless animals" in host cities, and asking him to ask the regional authorities to use "humane methods without causing death or mutilating or injuring the animals."

Burmatov called for stray dogs to be placed in temporary holding centres and sterilised, saying this would be no more costly than killing them and would improve Russia's image.

"These troubling signals must stop, our country's reputation is at stake. Because we're not savages carrying out mass killings of animals on the streets, throwing their bloodied bodies into vans and driving them round the city.

"For the same money you can easily carry out catching, vaccination and sterilisation and accommodating the animals in holding centres," Burmatov said.

In response to the letter sports minister Kolobkov said he had told the host cities to use humane methods in order to avoid a negative public reaction, Parlamentskaya Gazeta newspaper reported.

The World Cup will be held in 11 Russian cities this summer, from the enclave of Kaliningrad in the West to Yekaterinburg in the East.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

.Britain's May, in U-turn, won't push for end to fox hunting ban

Yahoo – AFP, January 7, 2018

British Prime Minister Teresa May, reneging on a campaign promise, said she
would not seek a vote to overturn a 2004 ban on fox hunting. (AFP Photo/Leon NEAL)

London (AFP) - British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday she will ditch an election pledge for a vote on reversing the fox-hunting ban following a public backlash.

"On this issue of fox hunting, what I can say is that there won't be a vote during this parliament," she told BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"I've never fox hunted, but I've not changed my view on that," added May, who is a supporter of the sport.

"But as prime minister my job isn't just about what I think about something, it's actually about looking at what the view of the country is, I think there was a clear message about that."

The manifesto of May's Conservative Party for last year's general election contained a pledge to hold a free vote on overturning the 2004 law banning the use of dogs to hunt foxes and other wild mammals in England and Wales.

The opposition Labour Party focused heavily on the issue during campaigning, helping it to score a shock upset in depriving May of her majority.

The subject received extra attention on December 26, Boxing Day, when hundreds of British hunting groups met across the country on the busiest day in the hunting calendar.

Britain still allows trail hunts, which let packs follow a route rather than an animal, and drag hunting, in which hounds track artificial scents.

Critics argue that dogs still chase and kill live animals on these hunts, with organisers claiming the kills are accidental.

Hunters claim they comply with the law.

The U-turn is likely to anger parts of May's rural base, who see the ban as an imposition of urban values on their way of life.

Ann Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance -- a rural life lobby group which claims to have around 100,000 supporters -- wrote in the Daily Telegraph last month that some lawmakers had admitted their opposition to fox hunting was an element of "class warfare".

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called the sport "cruel and barbaric".

Friday, December 29, 2017

Cambodian cops ruffle feathers by eating 92 fighting cocks

Yahoo – AFP, December 28, 2017

Cambodian netizens cried foul over the court order to kill the seized cocks

Cambodian police ruffled feathers on Thursday after they killed -- and ate -- 92 roosters that were seized earlier this month during a raid on an illegal cockfighting ring allegedly run by a relative of premier Hun Sen.

The birds were rounded up by police after they shuttered the two rural cockfighting dens on December 4 and arrested Hun Sen's nephew-in-law Thai Phany.

Thai Phany, a Cambodian-Australian citizen, was charged with running an illegal gambling operation -- a rare legal move against a member of Hun Sen's powerful family.

But while the raids were welcomed in a country teeming with official corruption, a court order to slaughter all 92 birds set off a flurry of criticism Thursday as netizens cried foul over the animals being given a harsher sentence than the people involved.

Scores of people were initially detained in the police raid, but most have since been released after receiving light suspended sentences, according to local media.

"Warrant to kill chickens! Where are the chicken owners, aren't they freed?" Hing Soksan wrote on Facebook, where photos of the slaughter have been circulating.

"The court's achievement by the end of 2017: death sentence for 92 fighting cocks," another Facebook user quipped about a justice system many decry as toothless against the graft underpinning Hun Sen's authoritarian regime.

Roeun Nara, Kandal province's deputy police chief, confirmed that the birds were killed on Wednesday following a warrant from the provincial court.

"We gave the chickens to our forces to eat," he told AFP, brushing off the online criticism.

The court document, seen by AFP on Thursday, said the slaughter was ordered "to prevent the offense from happening again and to speed up the investigation proceedings."

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Korea dog meat campaigners accused of barking up wrong tree

Yahoo – AFP, Jung Ha-Won, December 27, 2017

South Koreans are believed to consume about one million dogs a year as a
summertime delicacy (AFP Photo/JUNG Yeon-Je)

Namyangju (South Korea) (AFP) - Barking at their rescuers, labradors, beagles and mongrels desperately scrambled out of rusty cages in South Korea: saved from the dinner plate by a deal with dog-meat farmer Kim Young-Hwan.

In the face of falling demand, Kim agreed to close his establishment in exchange for compensation from US-based Humane Society International (HSI). The dogs are bound for a new life in adoptive homes in the West.

He is the 10th canine-meat farmer to accept such an offer in three years. The exact sums are confidential, but each deal requires hundreds of thousands of dollars once adoption costs are included.

"This business is doomed... I wanted to quit before it's too late," Kim said.

The 56-year-old had 170 dogs at his farm in Namyangju, north of Seoul.

"The price has plummeted in recent years," he told AFP. "I'm barely making ends meet these days. Plus I've been harassed by animal rights groups all the time. It's such a hassle."

The push by animal rights activists, including many overseas groups, to outlaw dog meat consumption in the South has sparked mixed reactions and accusations of Western hypocrisy.

Dogs are seen in cages at a dog farm during a rescue organised by the Humane
 Society International (HSI) in Namyangju on the outskirts of Seoul (AFP Photo/
JUNG Yeon-Je)

'Lambs or rabbits'

South Koreans are believed to consume about one million dogs a year as a summertime delicacy, with the greasy red meat -- which is invariably boiled for tenderness -- believed to increase energy.

The tradition has declined as the nation increasingly embraces the idea of dogs as pets instead of livestock, with eating them now something of a taboo among young South Koreans.

Nevertheless, activists have stepped up campaigns to ban dog consumption, with online petitions urging boycotts of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics over the issue and protests in Seoul.

Such lobbying has provoked angry debates over what many describe as cultural double standards.

"I don't eat dogs, but I am disgusted by those who preach that only animals deemed cuddly enough or friendly enough by Westerners deserve to live," read one online comment.

One fifth of the South's 50 million people own pets, mostly dogs and cats, said another netizen, but for many of the rest, dogs were "no more special than lambs or rabbits".

The push by animal rights activists, including many overseas groups, to outlaw dog 
meat consumption in the South has sparked accusations of Western hypocrisy
(AFP Photo/JUNG Yeon-Je)

Similar debates have emerged in other Asian nations where dogs are eaten.

China's most notorious dog meat festival in the southwestern town of Yulin has drawn crowds despite international outrage, with sellers saying the criticism has actually encouraged more people to eat canines.

Taiwan banned dog meat consumption in April to mixed reaction, with some deeming it unfair to single out certain species under what was mocked as the "cute animal protection law".

Polls show South Korean public opinion is divided.

According to a survey this year 70 percent of South Koreans do not eat dogs, but far fewer -- about 40 percent -- believe the practice should be banned.

It also found 65 percent support raising and slaughtering dogs in more humane conditions.

There is currently no law on how to treat or slaughter canines in the meat trade in South Korea. But while farmers have urged Seoul to include dogs under livestock welfare regulations, animal rights groups oppose doing so, seeking complete abolition instead.

Suffer and love

At Kim's rundown farm, dogs sat behind tarnished brown rusty bars, their bowls filled with soupy scraps.

Housed in pairs, they spent up to a year in cages about two square metres and reeking of excrement before being sent to slaughterhouses.

Kim had 170 dogs at his farm in Namyangju, north of Seoul (AFP Photo/JUNG Yeon-Je)

Senior HSI director Kelly O'Meara said no animals should endure such awful conditions, and dogs in particular had "a special place" for people as they are often pets.

"That has certainly been the case in the West, but in Asia we see more and more people having dogs as companion animals too," she told AFP.

Each such farm closure -- one of HSI's most expensive initiatives -- is broadcast live online.

But Ahn Yong-Geun, a food and nutrition professor at ChungCheong University in Cheongju, questioned whether such organisations would condemn larger-scale beef or pork industries -- which have lobbying power and broad public support -- "in the same angry, aggressive fashion".

"The activists won't get as much excitement from donors about a pig rescue project or a cow rescue project, although these animals have just as much capacity to suffer and love as dogs," said Ahn, a vocal critic of the push to ban dog meat.

Wendy Higgins, director of international media at HSI, said the group encouraged people to "reduce and replace meat in their diet" but admitted rescue campaigns for animals such as cattle or pigs were not common.

Even so campaigns against cruelty in dog farming could "make people widen their circle of compassion for other animals in animal agriculture too", she added.

For his part farmer Kim will not be raising any other animals for meat -- he is banned from doing so under the deal with HSI.

"The social atmosphere has changed," he said, adding: "Eating dog is seen as if it's a crime these days."

Related Article:

An animal rights collective, known as Dog Meat Free Indonesia Coalition,
together with world-renowned celebrities launched a global campaign to stop
the trade in dog meat on Thursday (02/11) at Hotel Gran Mahakam in South
Jakarta, in light of recent disturbing findings of animal cruelty in the Southeast
Asian country. (Photo courtesy of Dog Meat Free Indonesia Coalition)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Brigitte Bardot, announcing book, slams Macron on animal rights

Yahoo – AFP, December 26, 2017

Brigitte Bardot, pictured in 1974, has long fought for animal rights and will release
a book next month (AFP Photo)

Paris (AFP) - French screen icon Brigitte Bardot will next month publish a book on her decades-long campaign for animal rights, she told AFP on Tuesday, taking a swipe at President Emmanuel Macron on the issue.

The 83-year-old star of "And God Created Woman" said the book, titled "Larmes de Combat" (Tears of Combat), will come out on January 25.

It will be "the record of my existence, of my fight on behalf of animals and the deep expression of my disgust".

"It will be the full record of my view of things, of society, of the way we are governed, of the way we treat animals in my country," said Bardot, known in France by her initials "BB".

She said she was "fed up" with what she called Macron's lack of support for animal rights.

"This government has got off to a very bad start," Bardot said. "Macron has no compassion for animals and nature."

Bardot slammed the 40-year-old president for holidaying with his family this month at Chambord, a hunting chateau in the Loire Valley.

"He congratulated hunters in front of their game while it was still warm," she said by telephone from Saint-Tropez. "It's scandalous and very inappropriate."

Bardot's publisher, Plon, described the upcoming book as "an original reflection, both calm and outraged at the same time, on her existence and the meaning of her fight."

The 1956 film "And God Created Woman", directed by Bardot's first husband Roger Vadim, propelled her to stardom but she retired less than two decades later, in 1973, when she was 39.

Bardot withdrew to a secluded home on the outskirts of Saint-Tropez on the Riviera.

Crusading against bullfights, hunting, and all forms of cruelty to animals, she is rarely seen in public except to press home her campaigns.

The former actress will publish an open letter in the Paris daily Le Parisien on Wednesday as her Brigitte Bardot Foundation launches its latest campaign against fur.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Nepal's last known two dancing bears rescued: officials

Yahoo – AFP, December 24, 2017

Two rescued bears are transported from a police station in Nepal's southern
Rautahat district to the Parsa Wildlife Reserve, as seen in a photo taken on
December 20, 2017 and released by World Animal Protection (AFP Photo/Handout)

Kathmandu (AFP) - Nepali authorities have rescued the country's last known "dancing bears", officials said Sunday, in a major step towards ending the medieval tradition of abuse of the beasts for entertainment.

The Himalayan nation banned the practice of performing bears back in 1973 but the tradition, an occupation for some street performer communities, lingered on in parts of its southern region.

Police and animal charities said they spent more than a year hunting the captors of the two sloth bears before they were traced to the Rautahat district near the border with India on Tuesday.

"We received information that they were in our area and managed to rescue the bears," district police chief Yagya Binod Pokharel told AFP.

Dancing bears are captured and bought as cubs and taught to dance on their hind legs. Their snouts are pierced with a heated rod so they can be controlled by the tug of a rope or chain.

Animal activists said the rescued bears -- 19-year-old male Rangila and Sridevi, a 17-year-old female -- showed signs of trauma such as cowering, pacing and paw-sucking.

"We are thrilled that the last two known Nepali dancing bears have been rescued from their lifetime of suffering... our hard effort and dedication has helped to bring an end to this illegal tradition in Nepal," said Manoj Gautam of the Jane Goodall Institute of Nepal, which worked with the police and World Animal Protection to rescue them.

The bears were located by tracking the owners' mobile phones.

The bears are being cared for by the Parsa Wildlife Reserve, Nepal's largest such reserve.

Dancing bears on the Indian subcontinent date back to the 13th century, when trainers belonging to the Muslim Qalandar tribe enjoyed royal patronage and performed before the rich and powerful.

In neighbouring India, the practice came to an end in 2012, decades after an official ban in 1972.

Sloth bears, a critically endangered species, are found in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. But shrinking habitats and rampant poaching have reduced their numbers, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The IUCN has put them on its red list of threatened species and their total estimated population is 20,000.

They can grow up to 1.8 metres (six feet) tall and weigh up to 140 kilograms (310 pounds).

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Oman opens sprawling oryx reserve to ecotourists

Yahoo – AFP, Khaled Orabi, December 23, 2017

The Arabian Oryx only clung to existence thanks to a programme to breed them
 in captivity and in the early 1980s a batch of 10 were released into Oman's
Arabian Oryx Sanctuary (AFP Photo/KARIM SAHIB)

Haima (Oman) (AFP) - The Gulf sultanate of Oman is looking to carve itself a new niche in ecotourism by opening up a sanctuary for one of the desert's most fabled creatures -- the Arabian oryx.

Once extinct in the wild, the rare member of the antelope family famed for its elegant horns has been dragged back from the precipice in a sprawling reserve fenced off for decades from the public.

That changed last month when authorities for the first time officially opened the sanctuary to visitors -- part of a broader bid by Oman to boost tourism as oil revenues decline.

On a recent outing, wildlife rangers in SUVs patrolled the sandy plains of the reserve in central Oman's Haima province, spotting groups of grazing oryx and other indigenous species.

For years, the main goal has been a basic one -- ensuring the oryx can survive by focusing on "helping the animals here reproduce and multiply", said sanctuary spokesman Hamed bin Mahmoud al-Harsousi.

But now, as numbers have ticked up from just 100 some two decades ago to almost 750 today, the authorities began eyeing another role for the reserve.

"There has been more interest in its tourism potential -- to take advantage of its uniqueness and rare animals," Harsousi told AFP.

'Arabian unicorn'

The story of the Arabian oryx -- sometimes referred to as the Arabian "unicorn" due to its distinctive profile -- is one of miraculous survival.

Hunted prolifically, the last wild member of the species was killed in Oman by suspected poachers in 1972.

The Arabian Oryx only clung to existence thanks to a programme to breed them
 in captivity and in the early 1980s a batch of 10 were released into Oman's 
Arabian Oryx Sanctuary (AFP Photo/KARIM SAHIB)

The species only clung to existence thanks to a programme to breed them in captivity and in the early 1980s a batch of 10 were released into Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.

Since then, regenerating the oryx has been an often precarious process.

The Omani sanctuary sprawls over 2,824 square kilometre (1,100 sq miles) of diverse terrain -- from flat plains to rocky slopes and sandy dunes.

Its own fate has been nearly as tortured as that of the oryx it houses.

In 2007, the sanctuary became the first place ever to be removed from UNESCO's World Heritage list as the government of Oman turned most of it over to oil drilling.

On guard against poachers

Now, as oil prices have plunged over the past few years, it is the wildlife once again that has become an increasing priority for the authorities.

Harsousi puts the current number of Arabian oryx in the sanctuary at 742 and says that other species are flourishing there too.

"In the past three years, we have been able to increase the number of the Arabian gazelle, known as sand gazelles, from 300 to about 850," he added.

In addition to the animals, there are 12 species of trees that provide a habitat for diverse birds.

Oman has been on a push to transform itself into a tourist draw -- pitching its beach resorts to luxury travellers and desert wilderness to the more adventurous.

Officials in the sultanate told AFP that a major tourism plan would be announced within a matter of weeks.

Those working at the oryx sanctuary hope that it can help play a lead role in luring visitors to the country.

But there are also fears that greater openness could see the return of an old foe -- hunters.

With that in mind security is being kept tight, said Abdullah Ghassab Obaid, a wildlife guard at the reserve.

"Thirty guards and a police patrol are working to provide security in the reserve to prevent any infiltration."