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South Africans have started illegally breeding big cats to be shot by big-game “hunters” in what locals are calling “canned hunts.”

In December, Limpopo game wardens confiscated six lions from an illegal breeding project on a private game farm. One lion had a black mane; cat shooters will pay huge sums of money for the privilege of killing black-maned lions.

Fanie Coetzee, head of law enforcement for Limpopo’s nature conservation department, summed up the burgeoning market in an interview with the South African newspaper The Daily News: “It’s become like a sausage machine.

“Breeding lions in captivity is legal, but because of canned hunting, we don’t promote it. Very few captive-bred lions can be returned to the wild, so what is the purpose of breeding them? These breeding projects continue to promote canned hunting of lions,” Coetzee said.

The Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism has called for a moratorium on the hunting of captive-bred lions until a national policy is established.

—The Daily News, 12/9/2003

Oily money
Nigeria’s Federal High Court said in December that ExxonMobil must pay 1.4 billion naira (about $10 million US) to communities in Bayelsa and Rivers states as restitution stemming from a 1998 oil spill from a Mobil pipeline in Akwa-Ibom State. The communities sued Mobil and its Nigerian subsidiary in 1998, and their separate suits were later consolidated.

In the suits, plaintiffs asked the court to compel Mobil to pay for the destruction of creeks, streams, channels, and other wetlands and the living things therein.

Justice Abdullahi Mustapha agreed that the spill was a result of Mobil’s negligence, and that the company failed to alert the plaintiffs of the danger from materials used to clean up the spill. The judge observed that Mobil did not take urgent steps to clean up the spilled oil, even though it was quickly alerted. He added that the company did not install booms, which would have checked the spread of the spill.

—This Day (Lagos), 12/8/2003

Flowers vs. fish
Farms raising cut flowers for export to Europe are being blamed for depletion of the wildlife in Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. Locals say the farms contribute to pollution and falling water levels.

About three dozen such farms, in which carnations, roses, and other popular florists’ items are grown in large plastic greenhouses, have been set up around the lake in the past decade. Kenya’s horticultural industry brings more than $60 million into that country’s economy each year.

Lake Naivasha is a wildlife hotspot, home to giraffes, zebras, antelopes, a once-thriving fishery, and more than 400 bird species.

Tens of thousands of people rely on the lake and its watershed for their livelihoods. Fishermen accuse the flower farms of killing fish stocks through pesticide runoff and the use of giant pumps for irrigation. The pumps deplete the water, while sucking up young fish and eggs. Meanwhile, excess fertilizer from the farms contributes to the spread of the invasive water hyacinth, a destructive exotic plant that spreads rapidly and outcompetes native plants for space and sunlight.

The flower farms aren’t the only problem facing the lake: the local human population has grown sevenfold in the last two decades, from 50,000 to 350,000. Sewage and other urban runoff add their pollutant load to the beleaguered waters. Meanwhile, deforestation in the Naivasha basin means that more silt runs into the lake.

—AllAfrica.com, 12/2003


Japanese river may win reprieve
A major Japanese dam project may not materialize as concessioners start to reconsider their participation. Completion of the project, initially slated for 2000, has already been pushed back to 2008.

Saitama Prefecture, which would have been a major consumer of water from the proposed Tokura Dam on the Katashina River, notified the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in December that it planned to abandon the project. Saitama would have paid more than a sixth of the cost of the project, currently estimated at ¥180 billion ($1.6 billion US). Construction of the dam has not yet started, but ancillary facilities such as roads have been built.

The Katashina is a tributary of the Tone River, which flows into the Pacific.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was also considering withdrawing from the project at press time.

The dam, at 158 meters, would be the third tallest in Japan. Its reservoir would hold up to 92 million cubic meters of water. The project, inaugurated in 1992, was to provide water for Tokyo and the surrounding countryside.

—Japan Times, 12/7/2003

Put the “ban” in Bangladesh
Several hundred farmers and their supporters marched in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh, protesting use of agricultural pesticides.

Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of people die each year from pesticide poisoning. Among the most gruesome of these deaths are the recurrent suicides among Indian and Bengali farmers, who ingest pesticides in despair over the increasingly dire economic conditions facing the subcontinent’s agricultural sector. The Bangladesh Daily Star estimates two hundred thousand such suicides annually.

The rally was organized by Unnayan Bikalper Nitinirdharoni Gobeshona (Policy Research for Development Alternatives, UBINIG) in observance of “International No Pesticide Use Day.”

Bangladesh is a sort of refuge for banned pesticides, including the deadly Aldrin and Endrin. Use of such pesticides is technically banned in Bangladesh, but enforcement of the ban has proven extremely difficult.

Still, there is hope for alternative agricultural methods. Around 150,000 Bengali farmers are working with UBINIG to grow crops without using chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

—Daily Star, 12/6/2003


Tasmanian tumors
Devil Facial Tumor Disease has killed half the wild population of Tasmanian devils, and shows signs of spreading to more of the species’ range. Biologists haven’t figured out whether the tumors, which start around the animals’ mouths and faces and spread throughout the body, are caused by an infectious agent; some suspect a retrovirus.

“The thing which seems clear is that there is a suppression of the animals’ immune system for dealing with cancer, but the pathologists say we might be years away from finding the answer,” said Nick Mooney, a Tasmania state wildlife management officer.

Weakened animals typically die within three to five months after tumors appear. From an estimated 150,000 in the mid-1990s, the wild population has dropped to 75,000. Devils are native only to this southern Australian island. Only about 120 of them are alive in captivity, all but one in Australia.

Androo Kelly, who breeds devils at Trowunna Wildlife Park in Mole Creek, said, “What we may be seeing now is a nasty manifestation of a cancer which is environmentally induced, possibly due to overpopulation or stress from population density.” The disease has been most prevalent among older males and appears to be spread in part when devils bite each other around the mouth and face during group feeding. Kelly is hoping to add to his breeding stock population of 55 devils as “insurance.” But he and other researchers doubt that the disease, if infectious, will wipe out the species. “As the animals become rarer, the rate of transmission falls and the population recovers,” Mooney said.

Warner Brothers, franchiser of the cartoon character Taz, has expressed interest in helping with the crisis, said state Environment Minister’s aide Tony Scott.

—Agence France-Presse, 10/30/2003


Climate tax
An independent British think-tank is proposing a tariff on exports from climate change “rogue nations.”

The New Economics Foundation wants the European Union (EU) to tax imports from countries that have not signed the Kyoto climate change agreement to counter the competitive advantage such nations enjoy as energy costs increase. Chief among the nations that have not signed the Kyoto Protocol is the United States. Russia has indicated it may likewise decline to adopt the accord.

New Economics Foundation spokesman Andrew Simms told BBC Radio that EU countries would be justified if they adopted strict tariffs to counter “the free ride America is getting. There are very few signals the United States understands—they do understand economic signals.

“There is only a certain amount of time people can go around behaving like teenagers who don’t have to care about anybody else,” Simms continued. “We are about half a century away from being ecologically and economically bankrupt because of global warming.”

Kyoto nations have agreed to cut emissions of six climate-altering gases to 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. This is about a twelfth the size of the cuts some climatologists fear will be necessary to stop runaway climate change by mid-century.

The protocol will become law when 55 countries have ratified it. The agreement faces collapse without ratification from Russia.

—BBC, 12/6/2003


Organic food goes to college
In the spring of 2003, the University of Montana in Missoula began exploring the possibility of purchasing locally grown food with its $2.5 million annual food budget.

On May 8, four environmental studies graduate students at UM made their vision of large-scale local food purchasing a reality with a well-attended breakfast entitled Montana Mornings. This tasty breakfast featured fresh food grown in Montana, and officially launched the Farm-to-College program. Two graduate students, Crissie McMullan and Shelly Connor, have been hired by UM Dining Services to research options for increasing the university’s local food purchases. McMullan’s and Connor’s progress to date includes switching all 10 Dining Services locations to using locally processed and regionally grown safflower oil, exploring a major contract to purchase Montana wheat products, and creating a specialty “Farm-to-College” retail section in the campus store, featuring local food ranging from produce to pasta, beef jerky, and cheese.

“The Farm-to-College program shows UM’s dedication to the state and local economies,” McMullan says. “We re-circulate money within the community and support local farms.”

The Farm-to-College program is based on the premise that food shipped from large corporations like Kraft or Sysco must travel thousands of miles, and is produced for storage, not taste. However, food grown nearby—on small, privately-owned farms—can often be eaten the same day it is harvested. Supporting local food producers helps maintain the disappearing ranches and farms.

Local growers and producers are enthusiastic about the potential for selling their food to a local venue with a large budget; it guarantees a reliable income for struggling farmers, and provides the 13,352 UM students with a direct, healthy food source. “We’re building relationships with all types of Montana agriculturalists, especially many of the small growers near Missoula,” Connor says. “There are tons of possibilities for buying local in this state, all of which encourage sustainable community development.”

—Brianna Randall

No snow job
It may sound like a joke, but some climatologists are wondering whether Minnesotans might see warm winters from now on.

Of course, “warm” is a bit of a relative term here. What’s raising concern is that Minnesota’s legendary hard winters are softening to somewhere around Indianapolis’ standards. Spring has been coming earlier to the North Woods. Minneapolis and Saint Paul experienced not a single subzero February day in 1998, 1999 or 2000, and March has been even warmer, with more rain than snow. Winter clothing retailers and auto body shops in the Twin Cities are feeling an economic pinch as a result of the less icy weather.

But don’t throw away those Sorel boots just yet, Minnesotans. Ross Carlyon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says the warming trend may have more to do with normal statistical fluctuation than with global climate change, and that future winters may not be quite as warm as those at the end of the last century. “You can’t sustain peaks very long,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “If you look at the records, they all come down hard.”

—Minneapolis Star Tribune, 12/8/2003

We stand on guard for trees
Canada’s boreal forest is closer to being protected now that a coalition of industry, native communities, and environmental groups has agreed on a commitment to conserve forests covering more than half of Canada. The conservation agreement, covering 600 million hectares, may be the largest in the world.

About half the forest would be protected from any logging or energy exploration. The other half would be open to such development under strictures to be determined.

—Globe and Mail, 12/1/2003

After his smashing successes pushing the PATRIOT Act, covering up an unseemly statue of topless Justice, and interfering with states’ rights (when those rights involve medical marijuana or right-to-die laws), US Attorney General John Ashcroft has set his sights on environmentalists. Our whale-saving colleagues at Greenpeace ran afoul of Ashcroft’s Department of Justice last year after two activists boarded a boat carrying wood illegally exported from the Amazon, and hung banners over the side that read “President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging.” For that act, Greenpeace has been charged with violating an obscure 19th-century “sailormongering” law, prohibiting unauthorized persons from boarding a boat before it’s moored.

An amicus brief filed in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way contains the best and most succinct description of the case we at EIJ have seen:

“The evil which [the sailormongering law] is intended to prevent and remedy is apparent, and in this district notorious. For instance, lawless persons, in the interest or employ of what may be called ‘sailor mongers,’ get on board vessels bound for Portland as soon as they get in the Columbia River, and by the help of intoxicants, and the use of other means, often savoring of violence, get the crews ashore, and leave the vessel without help to manage or care for her. The sailor thereby loses the wages of the voyage, and is dependent on the boarding house for the necessaries of life, where he is kept, until sold by his captors to an outgoing vessel, at an enormous price…

“This statute is thus a product of the lawless shipping days of the 19th century, when sailors were lured from their vessels by promises of liquor and loose women. Its application to an internationally recognized nonviolent environmental and political action group of the 21st century raises a red flag of suspicion that the government has targeted Greenpeace not for sailormongering, surely an absurd proposition, but for its political speech.”

—TomPaine.com, 12/2003


Peruvian activists defend dolphins
As many as 3,000 dolphins are killed each year in Peru for human consumption, according to one estimate.

“The killing of dolphins in Peru is the product of poverty,” says Stefan Austermühle, executive director of Mundo Azul.

In February 2003, 10 dolphins were slaughtered on Pulpos Beach, about 20 miles south of Lima. In the following months, members of Mundo Azul found the remains of slaughtered dolphins on several other beaches near the capital. The National Police of Peru plan to arrest illegal meat dealers in several ports along Peru’s coastline.

“Only an economic alternative for the local fishermen will stop the killing,” Austermühle says. “This alternative is ecotourism.” While in other countries whale watching has become a major tourist industry, Peru’s marine tourism is limited to the Ballestas Islands. Here tourism generates between seven and nine million dollars of local income annually, according to a 2001 Mundo Azul study. “Sadly, this tourism is absolutely unmanaged. There is no monitoring of environmental impact, nor do the tourism operators keep any minimum distances from the sea lions and marine birds,” comments Austermühle. “This tourism in fact is an additional threat to the species.”

Mundo Azul wants to create a scientific baseline for sustainable ecotourism and dolphin conservation between Lima and the fishing port Cerro Azul in the south. “The most important element of this strategy, however, will be to directly involve local fishermen as guides or ferry captains,” says Austermühle.

—Mundo Azul, 12/02

Major gold project implodes in Peru
The Peruvian government found that Canadian mining company Manhattan Minerals failed to meet criteria necessary for digging a proposed open-pit gold mine on the site of the village of Tambogrande, a town of 16,000 residents.

“Now the area’s farming economy can flourish without the immediate threat of mine waste contaminating precious water supplies,” said Payal Sampat of Mineral Policy Center.

Manhattan staked its future on the controversial Tambogrande gold mine proposal, which has been opposed by local residents concerned about water contamination and effects on the area’s agricultural economy.

“Manhattan and other Canadian mining companies are always saying they respect their host communities. But obviously they have to be forced to do so,” said Jamie Kneen of Mining Watch Canada.

The Tambogrande proposal gained renown in June 2002, when 93 percent of voters in a community referendum voted against opening the area to gold mining.

Residents have been united against the project since it was first proposed in 1999, due to concerns about mine waste endangering the San Lorenzo Valley’s water supplies and rich agricultural economy. The area’s agricultural production, employing 15,000 locals, is valued at approximately $2 billion. Residents also opposed Manhattan’s plan to relocate 1,500 families in order to make way for the enormous open-pit mine.

A three-day strike was held last month by locals to express opposition to the project. The strike ended in a massive rally attended by 10,000 people in the main square of Tambogrande.

In order to retain its ownership option in the project, Manhattan was required to demonstrate by December 2003 its possession of $100 million in assets and an operating plant with processing capacity of at least 10,000 tons per day.

“This case offers valuable lessons for the mining industry and reveals that poor industry practices are not a thing of the past,” said Jose de Echave of Peru’s CooperAcción. “The population’s conviction in defense of its rights, buttressed by national and international solidarity, prevented Manhattan from developing a project that would have trampled on human rights.”

Tambogrande’s story builds on a trend of developing communities’ demanding prior informed consent before multinational mining companies can start mining. For example, residents of a community in Argentina’s Patagonia region held an overwhelming public vote in March against a gold mine proposed by US-based Meridian Gold.

—Mineral Policy Center, 11/2003

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