Animal welfare advocates have filmed some of the wild elephants captured in Zimbabwe last year to feed the live wildlife trade
Last year more than 30 young elephants were captured from the wild in Zimbabwe and flown by plane to China. The elephants — some reported to be as young as three — were dispersed to a number of zoos throughout the country, including the Shanghai Wild Animal Park, the Beijing Wildlife Park and the Hangzhou Safari Park, according to conservationists.
But what are their lives like now?
photo courtesy of Wiebo
This week, 12 of the calves went on show at the Shanghai park. The Weibo page for the zoo says their average age is four. The photos there were reviewed by Yolanda Pretorius, vice-chair of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group of South Africa, who commented: “Overall their body condition seems to be slightly below average but it does not look as if they are starving. One of the elephants has temporal gland secretions and I am not sure whether this is a good or bad sign. In the wild, elephants mostly secrete from their temporal glands when they get excited.”
Meanwhile, recent photos and video said to show some of the elephants currently in Hangzhou reveal the animals behind bars and walking on concrete floors. The images were obtained by the animal welfare advocate Chunmei Hu, former secretary general of the Chinese Green Development and Endangered Species Fund.
The video has been reviewed by elephant experts, including Joyce Poole, co-founder of the Kenya-based Elephant Voices and renowned specialist on elephant behavior. “They appear rather listless,” she says. “Perhaps waiting for something, but without much attention…. Their housing is totally unstimulating. They look like sad, locked-up little kids.”
Aside from these snippets of evidence, there is little information on the conditions faced by these once-wild elephants. There is no official figures for how many elephants were sent to each zoo, although conservationists believe seventeen of the calves ended up in Shanghai, fifteen in Beijing and six in Hangzhou.
“It is heart wrenching not knowing the current fate of these animals,” says Iris Ho, wildlife campaign manager at Humane Society International. “It’s like knowing that someone — or children in this case, since they are baby …more
EPA chief fails to explain what data prompted his decision to allow continued use of the toxic pesticide, environmental groups file suit
The US Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump may have stepped into the brave new world of alternative facts.
Last November, after several years of study, the EPA had announced that the insecticide chlorpyrifos poses an unacceptable risk to humans, especially children, when its residue is found in fruits, vegetables, and drinking water.
Photo by Malcolm Carlaw
The finding cited a 2014 Columbia University study and other research showing that young people have suffered diminished cognitive abilities and reduced IQ after chronic exposures. This led the EPA to recommend a ban on all agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos — by far the most heavily used insecticide in the US with 4 to 8 million pounds applied annually.
On a pounds per acre basis, the heaviest applications of chlorpyrifos in the US have been on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where several large agribusiness have been conducting open-air experiments on genetically modified seeds. (Read my in-depth report, “The Ghost in the GMO Machine.”)
But on March 31 — the day the ban was scheduled to take effect — new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt determined that chlorpyrifos isn’t dangerous after all and rejected the ban.
Chlorpyrifos is part of a class of chemicals, known as organophosphates, that was developed before World War II as a nerve gas that could halt neurotransmissions in a soldier’s brain. Chlorpyrifos kills bugs by disrupting their brain functions in a similar way.
The Columbia study of pregnant women reported an association between the level of chlorpyrifos residue found in fetal cord blood and neurodevelopmental problems in fetuses and children. An EPA scientific advisory panel that reviewed the study in April 2016 concluded that “there is evidence for adverse health outcomes” at even very low exposure levels. EPA scientists said that the risks that young children face from exposure to food residues of chlorpyrifos alone are 14,000 percent higher than the level they believe — or believed until a few days ago — is safe.
The only significant change at EPA since it issued the preliminary finding last year has been the appointment of Pruitt, a noted climate science skeptic, to its top job. Since the inauguration, Pruitt has been denouncing EPA regulations, especially its Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era measure designed to fight climate …more
Retail giant is sourcing its Suli brand tuna from Mexican fishing fleets that harass and kill marine mammals, says nonprofit
Investigations by the nonprofit International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) have revealed that, in its Costa Rican locations, Walmart has been selling its own brand of canned tuna that has been caught using fishing methods that harass and kill dolphins. These practices make Walmart’s tuna brand — called Suli — dolphin-deadly, though Suli tuna cans carry a misleading seal claiming that the tuna is dolphin safe.
Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library
For reasons that remain unclear, in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, tuna and dolphins often swim and congregate together. (This is unique to the region: Tuna and dolphins don’t frequently congregate elsewhere.) Because dolphins are easier to spot from the surface of the water than tuna, tuna fishermen in the region often target dolphins, chasing entire pods into their enormous purse seine nets so that both tuna and dolphin are caught together. This practice is dolphin-deadly: Many dolphins drown or die of stress during the capture process, including young calves who become separated from their mothers during high-speed chases. In some cases, fishermen get into the water and wrangle the dolphins out of the nets, but these individuals are still traumatized, may be injured and bleeding, and are vulnerable to any predators that may be lingering about.
Mexican tuna fleets, owned by millionaire businessmen — with the strong support of their government, which has objected to the US Dolphin Safe tuna label since it was implemented — employ these dolphin-deadly methods of fishing in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Walmart’s Suli brand of tuna, sold throughout Costa Rica, is sourced from the Mexican tuna industry.
“In 2014 alone, according to observers reporting to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, a minimum estimate of 975 dolphins were observed being killed by tuna fishermen by chasing and netting dolphins,” says David Phillips, director of IMMP, referring to number of dolphins counted on fishing boats in the Eastern Tropical Pacific on fleets owned by Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. “This figure is likely a drastic underestimation of the actual number of dolphins killed.”
In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to mislead consumers, on its Suli label, Walmart includes a blue dolphin seal with the words: “Tuna caught under dolphin protection standards” in Spanish. The cans also note that the …more
A conversation with “ice stupa” creator Sonam Wangchuk
The spectacular arid Himalayan region of Ladakh, which lies northwest of India’s capital New Delhi, has seen a pronounced decline in snowfall and warmer and earlier springs in recent decades. This means the snow melts before the short growing season, reducing the amount of water farmers can access over the summer. To help farmers overcome this water shortage, Sonam Wangchuk, a local environmental engineer, is creating small artificial glaciers, or “ice stupas,” by freezing stream water vertically in the form of huge ice towers, or cones, of heights ranging from 15 to 50 meters. These ice towers look very similar to the local Buddhist shrines and can be built right next to the villages where the water is needed.
photo by Lobzang Dadul
Wangchuk was among five people from across the globe who bagged an award for enterprise in November 2016 following this innovation. He says the ice stupas or “small glaciers” need very little effort and investment and can be created for all the villages that need water for agriculture and other uses in early summer. He says that, fortunately or unfortunately creating artificial glaciers will be an occupation and enterprise of the future given the impacts of climate change.
Athar Parvaiz: Could you describe how did the idea of storing water in ice stupas strike you?
Sonam Wangchuk: Ladakh is a cold high-altitude desert in the Great Himalayan mountain ranges where people especially the farmers face acute water shortages during the early crop-growing period between April and May. Global warming and shrinking glaciers has made things worse and has left little water available to farmers.
I truly believe that access to water in the desert landscapes around many high-altitude towns and villages of Ladakh could be improved if the huge seasonal outflows of glacial water could be frozen in a way that it melts gradually in spring to be available to the villagers when they need the water, the most.
I was inspired by the experimental work of a fellow Ladakhi engineer, 80 year old Aba Chewang Norphel. Aba Norphel had created flat ice fields at heights of 4,000 meters and above. But villagers were reluctant to climb that high to maintain them. It was a tantalizing situation: a logical water supply solution was available, but faced challenges.
So, I …more
This past month, the Trump administration made speedy work of environmental deregulation
The United States is only 72 days into Donald Trump's presidency, and is already witnessing drastic changes to environmental policy and regulation. With so much information out there, it is too easy for important changes to get lost in the shuffle. Here are some of the biggest environmental changes from just the past month.
Photo by Rich, Flickr
Budget cuts to environment-focused government agencies — In the 2018 budget blueprint released in mid-March, the Trump Administration outlined large cuts to agencies that regulate environmental policy and protection in the US. Major cuts included funding for the Interior Department, which would see its lowest budget in 21 years, and for the Environmental Protection Agency, which would have its funding cut to the lowest level ever, according to a New York Times report. The budget is now in Congress’s hands, where it will be voted on by the committees that oversee spending for different agencies. Congressional Democrats, along with many Republicans, have made clear their opposition to the blueprint.
Dismantling the Clean Power Plan — Earlier this week, Trump signed an executive order that begins the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan. The CPP is the signature climate policy of the Obama administration, aimed at helping the US meet its emissions reduction targets outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement by closing coal-fired power plants and scaling up clean energy production. The executive order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to review and rewrite the plan. The agency will almost certainly face legal challenges.
Coal leasing on federal land — The same order that targets the Clean Power Plan also addresses a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, instituted last year. Trump’s executive order, issued on March 28, made it possible for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to lift the moratorium. Zinke promptly did so on March 29. He also issued a directive for the Department of the Interior to abandon a review of the federal coal leasing program, which began in 2015.
Fracking deregulation — President Trump’s far-reaching March 28 order also addresses fracking regulations issued in 2015. The order directs the Interior Department to reanalyze the rule, which regulates many aspects of fracking, including the design of wells …more
Supreme Court nominee has a sparse record when it comes to environmental cases, but many public interest groups are worried
Next week, the Senate is expected to vote on whether to put Judge Neil Gorsuch on the highest court in the United States. If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill a Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia more than a year ago, a seat that senate Republicans blocked President Obama from filling last year. And a seat that will likely shape the court for decades to come. So, in a tumultuous political time, one in which environmental policies are under attack in Washington, what exactly would a Gorsuch confirmation mean for the environment?
Photo by Geoff Livingston
The answer is, well, a little tricky. Gorsuch, currently a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado, doesn’t have an extensive record when it comes to environmental law. By virtue of geography, those environmental cases that have come before him generally have had more to do with public lands than, say, federal regulations pertaining to fuel efficiency standards or power plant emissions, issues that are generally litigated in DC.
Based on those cases that have come before him, however, many environmental advocates are worried.
Denise Grab, a senior attorney with the New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, agrees that there could be some cause for concern for public interest groups, particularly with respect to procedural issues.
“One of the potential biggest concerns for environmental groups who are looking at [Gorsuch’s] record are some of his rulings on standing and other procedural rulings,” Grab says. “He has in previous cases required an atypically high bar” for environmental groups to have their cases heard.
Standing is a legal principle that requires a person or group to show they are sufficient impacted by the issue at hand to bring a suit in the first place. It requires showing some kind of concrete injury. Some kinds of injury are easy to establish — damage to your property causes economic harm, for example. Harm suffered due to lack of enforcement of the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act is less straightforward, though environmental groups routinely, and successfully, make the case.
Gorsuch has also argued against the right of public interest groups to intervene in cases, a common practice that allows environmental organizations to join the defense when government regulations are being challenged. The …more
Pending Nebraska permit could prove a deal-breaker; Environmentalists and Indigenous groups promise direct action, legal resistance
On March 23, ironically almost 27 years to the day following the historic Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, Donald Trump issued a presidential permit to Canadian company TransCanada for its controversial Keystone XL pipeline, formally restarting a fight over the pipeline that first kicked off when it was first proposed in 2008.
Photo by Jow Brusky
Those opposing the pipeline had scored a major victory in November 2015 when President Obama rejected the project saying it wouldn’t help the economy or increase the United States’ energy security. A change in leadership, however, has fueled a move away from clean energy and fighting climate change and to the embrace of a fossil fuel-driven economic agenda.
After campaigning on the issue and subsequently loading his government with climate change deniers and a former oil company executive, it was little surprise that President Trump turned back the climate clock to revisit Keystone XL. Just four days after taking office, he signed an executive order fast tracking Keystone XL, giving secretary of state and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson 60 days to make a decision on the pipeline.
The 1,179-mile long pipeline is expected to transport 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to an existing pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska, from where the crude will be moved to it refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
However, it’s unlikely that work on the pipeline will begin anytime soon. The project faces further battles on a number of different fronts, including opposition from environmentalists and Indigenous groups based on their treaty rights, court challenges to the secretary of state review, as well as at the grassroots resistance in the state of Nebraska.
“The President approved it this morning and turned to the CEO of the Canadian company supposed to build it and asked, ‘When does construction start?’” Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental group 350.org, said during a March 23 teleconference. “And the answer to that is never. This is going to be fought at every turn.”
The argument against the pipeline can be broken down to a few simple words: too much risk for too little reward. (The …more