No chimp, thanks
Bush meat vendors in Ouesso, a city in the Republic of Congo, report that an Ebola outbreak raging through the area has changed people’s eating patterns. Ebola, a viral disease that causes severe internal hemorrhaging and is fatal to 90 percent of the people who contract it, is normally found in wild primates, often hunted for meat in Central Africa.
With the outbreak in full swing, Congolese people are eating fish, beef, or chicken, rather than chimpanzees, monkeys, or other primates. By mid-March, nearly 100 people had died in the outbreak, as had a shocking number of local great apes. Environmentalist Pierre Agnangoye told ENS that of 800 gorillas that once lived in the Odzala Pack and the Lossi Sanctuary, just 200 are left.
The big dry
Drought has hit hard this season in Africa. Pastures in South Africa are withering and turning brown. Farmers in the Port Elizabeth area are trucking in loads of feed they can normally grow on their own lands. Alexandria Farmers’ Association Chairman Morrice Lavin told the East Cape News that there was very little food left in the pastures, and nearby farms are going on the auction block. “Liquidations are coming,” he said. South African farmers are saying the drought is the worst in 80 years.
Farther north, UNICEF says that Ethiopian women and girls are suffering sexual abuse after being forced from their homes by the drought currently gripping the Horn of Africa.
The Ethiopian government says the drought there has affected 11 million people. Thousands are forced from their homes in search of food or employment. UNICEF warns that as women or young girls have few options under such circumstances, they are often taken advantage of in return for support.
What do we want? Hot chocolate! When do we want it? Now!
The only continent where no wars have ever been fought has seen multiple anti-war protests so far this year. Dozens of people demonstrated in January and March at McMurdo Station, a US facility. Even the South Pole’s Amundsen-Scott Station saw small demonstrations on New Year’s Day and on February 15, a day on which millions of people around the world marched to oppose war in the Middle East. “We were only five rallying, probably the smallest protest in the world,” South Pole resident Paolo G. Calisse said.
The cost of war
A special report in the March 15 issue of New Scientist holds frightening predictions for the fate of the environment in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq. As we go to press, the US Defense Department claims that oil wells are being set afire in the Basra region; the New Scientist points out that similar fires in Kuwaiti oilfields set by the Iraqi army acidified rain for months, and caused a pall of smoke that darkened noontime skies in Kuwait City. In the previous Gulf War, 60 million barrels of petroleum spilled into hellish “lakes” that covered almost 20 square miles, and which have poisoned 40 percent of Kuwait’s groundwater. Similar spills in the important wetlands near Basra—part of the Tigris-Euphrates Delta complex—could prove devastating to an already critically endangered landscape. After the first war, Saddam dug massive canals to divert the wetlands’ water, thus displacing the marsh residents who opposed his regime. Nine-tenths of the marshes have dried up; the remainder lies on the route US forces are taking to Baghdad.
Meanwhile, heavy armored vehicles are already tearing up the fragile cryptogamic crust that holds the desert soils in place: damage from the 1991 war has loosed new dunes that threaten to smother Kuwait City. And many Iraqis say they still suffer the effects of depleted uranium (DU) used in US ordinance. DU bursts into hellish flames on impact, spreading fine radioactive dust into the environment.
They take conservation seriously in Manipur
The underground Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) in Manipur, northeastern India, sent a harsh warning to illegal hunters of the locally revered sangai by shooting two poachers in the legs in February. The RPF aims to protect the sangai, or brow-eyed deer, from extinction.
The poachers had chopped sangai meat in their possession when apprehended by locals. They were handed over to police, indicted, and granted bail before the RPF guerrillas got hold of them.
Same old dam story
In other news from Manipur, protest marked the reported signing of a memorandum of understanding between the provincial government and NEEPCO (North Eastern Electric Power Corporation) to build the Tipaimukh Dam, which would flood more than 100 square miles of the rural homeland of the tribal Zeliangrong to generate power for city-dwellers in the Barak Valley. The 525-foot-tall dam would be built near the border of Manipur and neighboring states Assam and Mizoram, in a major seismic zone. 15,000 people would be displaced by the reservoir.
The cost of war, part 2
Afghanistan’s wetlands and birdlife are bearing the brunt of war and drought. Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, Afghan Minister of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment, told environment ministers attending a Nairobi meeting of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council that 99 percent of the country’s wetlands have dried up since 1998. The findings come from UNEP’s Afghanistan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment report, launched in Kabul.
The internationally significant Sistan wetlands on the Iranian border are almost completely dry. The Helmand River, the main tributary of the wetlands which drains 31 percent of Afghanistan’s land area, has run as much as 98 percent below its annual average in recent years.
Four years of drought have compounded problems caused by mismanagement of the river basin’s dams and irrigation schemes during two decades of conflict.
Without a stable source of water, much of the natural vegetation of the Sistan basin has died. The Iranian side of the Sistan wetland was designated a Ramsar site—a globally important wetland—in 1975. At that time, half a million waterfowl of 150 species were counted on the Hamouni-e-Puzak wetland, two-thirds of which is in Afghanistan. The count included eight globally threatened migratory birds, such as the Dalmatian pelican and marbled teal.
In central Afghanistan, the UNEP assessment team found the national waterfowl and flamingo sanctuaries at Dasht-e-Nawar and Ab-e-Estada were also completely dry.
A Valentine for Lake Cowal
Protesters entered the offices of Australia’s National Parks and Wildlife Service in Sydney and gave Valentine’s Day cards to Director General Brian Gilligan. The cards asked that no permit be granted to Canadian mining company Barrick Gold to destroy Lake Cowal, the largest natural lake in New South Wales, held sacred by local Aboriginal people. Barrick would scar the site with an open-pit cyanide leach gold mine. Similar protests occurred outside offices in Alstonville, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Port Macquarie, and Queanbeyan.
At the Sydney event, Neville “Chappy” Williams, traditional Wiradjuri owner of Lake Cowal, said: “The area is rich in artifacts. Some are as old as the pyramids of Egypt. Lake Cowal is our Dreaming Place and our sacred site. It is Wiradjuri’s past, present and future.”
GM-free in Oz
The Labor government in New South Wales (NSW) vowed March 3 to ban commercial release of genetically modified food crops if it was re-elected.
NSW is the second Australian state (after South Australia) to propose a ban. Tasmania and Western Australia are debating a stronger ban on all GM crops. Without a ban in NSW, the Federal Gene Technology Regulator could OK commercial release of some GM crops—especially canola—as early as April. Australia’s winter oilseed canola planting season begins April 25. Warren Truss, Australia’s Agriculture Minister, said that a NSW ban on GM canola would hurt national trade, but conceded the state has a legal right to enact such a ban. On March 22, the Labour party won a resounding victory in New South Wales.
Every year, thousands of sporting events take place in Switzerland, most of them accompanied by endless traffic and mountains of waste. The Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape and the Swiss Olympic Association created the “Prix Ecosport” to address the problem. Presenters of events with more than 500 participants who take environmental concerns into consideration and come up with creative solutions will be rewarded. The winner will receive 50,000 Swiss francs (about $35,000): advice and information will be offered free of charge to every candidate.
may be the first North American mammals to fall victim to climate
change. Related to rabbits, American pikas (Ochotona princeps) live in
rocky, high-elevation habitats in the western mountains of North
Pikas are particularly vulnerable to global warming because they live on cool, moist mountain tops. As temperatures rise due to increasing emissions of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases, pikas may well find themselves trapped in increasingly small islands of livable habitat, with no ability to migrate northward.
Goldman Prizes awarded
The 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize winners were announced and feted at a ceremony in San Francisco, California on April 14. The Goldman Prize, given annually to grassroots environmental heroes from around the world, includes an award of $125,000, and has been called the “Nobel Prize for the Environment.”
The 2003 winners: Forest protection activist Odigha Odigha of Cross River State, Nigeria, won unprecedented protections for Nigeria’s last remaining rainforests, including a statewide logging moratorium. Von Hernandez organized campaigns against dioxin-spewing waste incinerators in the Philippines, culminating in the world’s first nationwide incinerator ban. Peruvian community organizer Maria Elena Foronda Farro ran a campaign to clean up Peru’s fishmeal industry, which dumps untreated industrial waste into streams. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo is the principal architect behind the campaign to stop Spain’s National Hydrological Plan from damming and re-routing the country’s last remaining free-flowing rivers. Australian Aboriginal elders Eileen Kampakuta Brown and Eileen Wani Wingfield are campaigning to block construction of a nuclear waste dump in their desert homeland. Julia Bonds of West Virginia is leading the campaign to stop mountaintop removal coal mining, which is ravaging communities throughout Appalachia, turning river valleys into mining waste dumps, driving up asthma rates and forcing whole communities to abandon their homes. Look for more information on 2003’s Goldman Prize winners in the Autumn 2003 EIJ.
Amid florid language and dark mutterings of political payback, the US Senate voted 52-48 to block a move to add opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling to the congressional budget memo.
The tactical maneuver listed the sale of oil-drilling leases in the Alaskan refuge as a source of $2 billion in revenue for the fiscal year 2004 budget.
California Senator Barbara Boxer led opponents of drilling, displaying huge photos of the flower-bedecked coastal plain before the Senate vote. Republican environmentalist Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island provided eloquent commentary as a former visitor to ANWR, calling the refuge “the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”
Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican senator who chairs the Senate appropriations Committee, was equally evocative. “I’m mad enough to eat nails right now,” Stevens said after the vote. “I just don’t like it when people don’t keep their word to me.” Before the vote, Stevens had threatened to retaliate in his committee against Senators who voted against drilling. “People who vote against this today are voting against me—and I will not forget it,” he said.
Oh, the few manatees
A Florida appeals court upheld state rules in March protecting endangered manatees from high-speed boats.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s rules require boats to slow down in Brevard County. Boaters and boat manufacturers had claimed there were few manatees in Brevard County, and that the speed limits were thus unnecessary. However, large numbers of manatees have been spotted in Brevard County by aerial surveys conducted by state marine researchers, including a record 790 in 1999. Since 1976, at least 191 manatees are believed to have been killed by boats in Brevard, more than in any other Florida county.
Some of the world’s rarest cacti grow in the Chihuahuan Desert, home to a quarter of the globe’s 1,500 cactus species. But demand for rare specimens by collectors and landscapers is depleting desirable species. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of World Wildlife Fund, says that some cactus populations are threatened if harvesting isn’t regulated.
“If we don’t reduce the demand for wild plants, especially cacti, from the Chihuahuan Desert, we run the risk of jeopardizing populations and losing species,” says TRAFFIC botanist Christopher Robbins.
Invading invertebrates booting out native bugs
New Zealand’s insect world is changing. Wildlife biologists say that new invertebrate arrivals are displacing—or eating—New Zealand’s native invertebrates. “Introduced invertebrates pollute and dilute the native fauna much as weeds do in a forest,“says Otago Museum entomologist Brian Patrick, who warns that organisms introduced to eat the invaders could further harm the environment.
“Introduced ants and wasps are the rats and stoats of the insect world,” adds Auckland-based Peter Maddison, entomologist with Forest and Bird, the Kiwi equivalent of the US Audubon Society. “New Zealanders did not worry about deer at first, until they became an obvious problem. We need to make sure we don’t repeat those mistakes,” urges Maddison.
“In Auckland you are more likely to see South African preying mantis than our native species,” says Forest and Bird’s Geoff Keey, “and the katipo spider has found its way onto the threatened species list because a South African spider has aggressively overtaken its natural territory.”
Chilean sea bass in trouble
Activists have urged South American countries to work together on conservation and sustainable use goals for the fishery and trade in Patagonian toothfish, sold in the US as “Chilean sea bass.”
Current estimates predict total collapse of the fishery within five years and possibly as soon as two years. Toothfish are caught with longlines, a practice that has a high by-catch rate—often killing albatross and other seabirds. Chile is the world’s largest producer of toothfish products. Around 80 percent of Chile’s and Argentina’s toothfish catch, worth up to $130 million a year, is exported to Japan and the US. Uruguay has boosted its catch from 163 tons in 1997 to 5,000 tons in 2001. Almost all of that catch is taken in high seas areas beyond Uruguay’s national waters. Brazil and Peru plan to expand into the fishery in the near future.
Peru copper smelter faces fines
Peru’s Energy and Mines Ministry has given Southern Peru Copper Co. until June to plan an overhaul of its aging, polluting smelter on the coast south of Lima, or face stringent fines. SPCC must capture 92 percent of the sulfur emitted from its Ilo smelter, which last year processed about 1.3 million tons of copper concentrate.
SPCC’s majority stockholder (54.2 percent) is Mexican mining firm Grupo Mexico, through its ASARCO subdivision. Phelps Dodge and Cerro Trading each hold 14 percent of SPCC. Last year, ASARCO was blocked from selling its interest in SPCC to its parent corporation, Americas Mining Corp. The rather confusing transfer, touted as a debt restructuring move, was lambasted by environmentalists as an attempt to to avoid liability for environmental cleanup bills. Grupo Mexico owes the US millions of dollars for cleanup of mining and smelter sites.
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