Monthly Archives: July 2008

INO at Singara (a rejoinder to the rejoinder!)

My take on the India Neutrino Observatory has apparently upset a number of people opposed to the INO, as you might see from the comments on my response to the Hindu article and the INO’s rejoinder; the tone of some comments is unlike anything I have seen in the brief history of this blog, too! I’ve even had a friend warn me that I am on thin ice – although what that means is not clear! In re-reading what I wrote, I can’t quite figure out where that thin ice is, and why I should be worried about whatever lurks underneath! For merely writing what I thought of the project on my blog? Nevertheless, I welcome further comments, because the more we talk about these issues, and the more we get past name-calling, the more likely are we to find a solution – and I should remind those upset with me that while I have some sympathy towards my physicist colleagues, and curiosity about what they might discover at an INO, I have placed the burden of protecting the environment (and proving that they can indeed do so) squarely on the INO’s shoulders! And I have not ruled out forcing the INO to shut down or go elsewhere – although I suspect similar issues will arise wherever they go in India, so the core environmental concerns will need to be addressed no matter where they go.

Now an organization called the Nilgiri Biosphere Alliance has posted a detailed response to the INO scientists’ rejoinder. This is a more considered critique than the screed in the original Hindu article, and the issues raised cannot be easily brushed aside by the INO, so I hope they jump in to establish further dialog. For it seems to me that there is a real problem of a lack of communication between physicists, biologists, and local conservationists on the issues.

I do stand corrected on the status of Mudumalai – it apparently is now a Tiger Reserve, having recently been notified as such; Project Tiger clearly needs to update its website and map to reflect this! Knowing the rich wildlife (esp. megafauna) of the area, and having spent some happy moments watching elephants (and some exciting moments being charged by them) near Masinagudi, I am happy that Mudumalai will now get greater attention and resources under Project Tiger. I am also apprehensive about the talk of relocating people because of the tiger reserve notification, but that’s another story unrelated to the INO. And here I still have some questions to which I would appreciate answers from anyone who knows more:

  • What, exactly, is the legal status of the TNEB-leased land (under PUSHEP) that is the proposed site of the INO tunnel excavation, under the new Tiger Reserve?
  • Where is the INO site in relation to the new Tiger Reserve boundaries, and how does that impact whether an activity like the INO tunnel-digging may or may not be permitted there?
  • If the site is within the Tiger Reserve, and will have unmitigatedly disastrous environmental consequences as feared by many, surely it ought to be easier to shut it down, no?
  • Has anyone initiated any legal steps, using any tiger reserve notification, to probe further into, or stall, the INO?

Meanwhile, I am also still waiting for any physicist to respond to the concerns I raised in my initial post on this subject. I hope they do, for I would like to hear from them. How about sharing that EIA report to begin with?

A temporary reprieve for the Gray Wolf in the Northern Rockies

gray_wolf.jpgDid you know that since late last february, when the US Fish & Wildlife Service (under the Bush administration) decided to remove the Gray Wolf population in the Northern Rockies from the Endangered Species List, over 100 of these animals have been slaughtered? That’s roughly one gray wolf killed per day because some people (esp. those in power) in Wyoming, Idaho, & Montana are afraid that the big bad wolves will slaughter their cattle and sheep. I would be very surprised if the wolves, which were reintroduced to the area in 1995 after earlier extirpations, actually killed anywhere near 100 livestock animals during the same period! Yet, in this developed nation – which considers itself the leader of the free world, one of the richest and most powerful – this big sky country region of c.842782 sq. km (325400 sq. miles) with a total population of under 3 million people cannot find a way to coexist with some 1500 wolves! The same wolf which people from all over the world come to see (and spend money seeing) in places like Yellowstone National Park; the same wolf which plays a significant part in Native American lore and spiritual life; and the very same wolf which has co-evolved with the regional ecosystem as a top predator – that very poor beast now cannot find room in a vast region simply because our species occupies the land at a density of barely 3.6 people/sq. km!!

REALLY??!! Give me a fracking break!!

Can you imagine what this glorious nation would have done if it had India’s population density (329 people/sq. km) sharing its land with Tigers, Elephants, Leopards, Bears, Lions, and Wolves (to name just a handful of the megafauna that threaten agriculture, livestock, and human lives back home)? How many of these species would have survived into the 21st century?

And yet, many of my American colleagues won’t hesitate to lecture (in their Conservation Biology classes) about the horrors of human population growth and how it is the ultimate cause of biodiversity loss, with India being a prime example, of course! Heck, I’m sure many in India bemoan population growth too, as the root cause of biodiversity loss. And so many of us in India too turn to the US for advice, leadership, and, of course, funds to help conserve our megafauna. What’s wrong with this picture?

While I don’t pretend to know the answer to the above puzzle, it was refreshed in my mind by this court decision which (at least temporarily) reinstates the Gray Wolf’s endangered species protections:

Gray wolves in the northern Rockies regained endangered-species protections Friday when a federal judge in Montana granted a preliminary injunction to environmentalists, who had challenged the wolves’ delisting.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials announced in February that gray wolves would be removed from the endangered species list after what they termed a successful 20-year effort to reestablish the wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Environmentalists sued.

The judge’s ruling nullifies plans by Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to hold wolf hunts this fall.

In a strongly worded 40-page order issued late Friday, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy of Missoula, Mont., called the wolves’ delisting arbitrary and capricious, and said it “demonstrated a possibility of irreparable harm” to the species.

The wildlife service “provides no new evidence or research to support its change of course,” Molloy wrote. “Congress does not intend agency decision-making to be fickle. When it is, the line separating rationality from arbitrariness and capriciousness is crossed.”

The injunction will “ensure the species is not imperiled,” reinstating endangered species protections while the case continues to be litigated, the judge wrote.

But there is a loophole, which may allow the slaughter to continue:

But his order also will trigger a federal rule that was modified in January to allow the wolves to be killed if they threaten “property.” That allows ranchers to shoot wolves when they believe their livestock are at risk.

Wildlife officials said the rule was revised so that states or ranchers could deal with wolves that were affecting livestock if delisting was tied up in court.

The reprieve may be temporary, of course, because the case is still ongoing, and both federal and state wildlife agencies are reportedly disappointed with this injunction, promising to pursue other legal avenues!

“At this point in time, the court hasn’t seen the administrative records, they haven’t seen the briefs on the case, there is a lot of legal work to be done and a lot of information the court isn’t even aware of,” said federal biologist Ed Bangs, who led Fish and Wildlife’s wolf-recovery effort. “So the fact that the injunction ruling went against our position is disappointing, but it’s not too surprising.” That information could be presented as the case progresses.

In granting the injunction, Molloy pointed to the recovery criteria cited by the wildlife service in 1994. Those criteria include “genetic exchange between subpopulations” — crossbreeding among scattered groups of wolves — so the species would be genetically viable in the long term.

“Genetic exchange has not taken place” and is in fact rare, the judge wrote. He cited a 2007 study commissioned by the wildlife service itself.

“Genetic exchange that has not taken place between larger subpopulations under [Endangered Species Act] protections is not likely to occur with fewer wolves under state management,” Molloy wrote.

State officials expressed disappointment over the order and said they would examine legal options. Bangs said the government would consider an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Wonderful, isn’t it, when a judge seems to interpret issues of population and genetic viability better than a federal biologist charged with protecting the endangered species in question?! Is there another political story behind that, I wonder?

So the Gray Wolf is not out of the woods just yet, but there may be hope (I hope) if the political winds change in this country next January – even the wolves must be holding their breaths for that to happen, no? Maybe… but what about changing the mindset of people so that they become willing to share this planet with some of these other species?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind…

… and shining from the sun, and rumbling ‘neath the earth! The challenge is to harvest some of all that energy in the blowing wind, the shining sun, and the rumbling earth – just enough to power all of American’s energy needs – and to get there within the next 10 years! Imagine if we could have heard this challenge (which likens itself to Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon in 10 years, fulfilled in just over 8) issued from the White House! Would CNN then have dared ask if the man issuing the challenge was still relevant? Instead, we got this.

UPDATE: Video excerpts of the speech are now available:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idlJDcr669o&rel=0&hl=en]

Audio of the complete speech is available at NPR where you can also listen to an hour long discussion of the subject from Talk of the Nation.

Is Al Gore coming out to call for more offshore drilling too?

Wonder what Nobel Laureate Al Gore is up to now? Well, and email I received today tell me he is about to throw down the gauntlet and “issue a major challenge, essentially pressing the “reset” button on how we think about energy and climate, and how we can create prosperity in America.“. The email came from the We campaign. What could they mean, by getting us all excited like that? What challenge is he bringing us? Could it be offshore drilling?!

I guess we’ll find out when he gives a major speech to be given in Washington DC tomorrow. Since I am so far from DC, and am not sure whether the mainstream media will carry it (is anybody in the mainstream media paying much attention to Gore anymore? especially since he stayed out of the Democratic primary race?) I’ll probably have to wait for the video to appear on the We website. I’m thinking: this had better be good, coming in the middle of a presidential campaign season turning increasingly disappointing; so I am bracing for more disappointment, but curious nonetheless, for Gore, at least, seems to have risen beyond politics lately (or has he?). What should one call this state I’m in? Cautious optimism? No… hopeful pessimism? How about hopeful cynicism? We shall see! Meanwhile, I have the press release below the fold, if you want details:

**MEDIA ADVISORY**

For immediate release: July 14, 2008

Press contact: Gabe Roth, 202-295-0125, groth@gloverparkgroup.com

Gore to Lay Out Unprecedented Challenge on Energy and Climate

Address Will Set National Goal for Clean Energy Future

Washington, DC – Former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore will outline his bold vision for the future of America’s energy needs at D.A.R. Constitution Hall this Thursday, July 17. The speech will be hosted by the “We” Campaign, a fast-growing organization focused on solutions to the climate crisis.

The speech will offer a new way of thinking about our energy production and consumption and a new sense of what is possible when we choose to work together. It will propose a means of tapping America’s innovative skills to build a more secure energy future.

Who: Former Vice President Al Gore

What: A discussion on the future of America’s energy needs

Where: D.A.R. Constitution Hall – 1776 D St., NW, Washington, DC

When: Thursday, July 17 at 12:00 p.m. EDT:

Media should plan to arrive at least an hour before the speech begins.

Additional notes for broadcast media:

Pre-set: 10 a.m.-12 p.m. EDT

Final access: 12 Noon EDT

Press entrance: D Street entrance (between 17th St. and 18th St.)

Throw: 60 feet

Satellite truck parking: Directed on site

Cable run: 350 feet

Power, mult box to be provided on riser

About the “We” Campaign:

The “We” Campaign is a commercial-scale organizing and mobilizing effort using paid advertising, grassroots partnerships and online activation to build strong support for solutions to the climate crisis. The scale of the campaign is unprecedented: it is on track to be the largest public policy advocacy campaign ever and expects to reach 10 million members within three years. “We” is the work of the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit group founded by Al Gore, who currently serves as the chairman of the bipartisan board of directors. For more information, please visitwww.wecansolveit.org.

More carnivals, including a new one

I hope you are enjoying reading the Oekologie carnival hosted right here. If you are hankering for even more good blog reads, here are a couple more carnivals for you:

The 136th edition of the Carnival of the Green is up at AIDG.

Unprotected Text is doing the Grand Rounds, 4.43.

And Bora introduces a brand new heavy-weight carnival with the first edition of The Giant’s Shoulders hosted at A Blog Around the Clock. This new monthly carnival is definitely one to keep your eyes on because it is focused entirely on blog posts about classic papers. And the first one is fantastic, with posts going all the way back to Vesalius (1543) – how cool is that!!

Reconciliation Oekologie: Special Summer 2008 Double Issue Carnival (#17)

Welcome to the summer 2008 edition of Oekologie, the monthly blog carnival of ecology and environmental science. And for those of you on edge because you didn’t get your Oekologie fix last month, this is a special double-issue! As such, you might get extra helpings of your (current or soon to become) favorite blogger’s writings for I am also relaxing the one-post-per-blog rule.

I often get asked what Reconciliation Ecology is all about, as a discipline. My one-line response is at the top right of this blog, while some graduate students have subjected themselves to the entire semester-length graduate seminar version! I’ve also written a draft essay on the subject I might post to this blog one of these days. For now let me share this visual illustration I came up with for a talk some time ago, to describe the framework of my thinking about ecology, and demarcate this carnival’s layout:

To me, Reconciliation Ecology requires thinking about and studying processes occurring throughout this framework (within each interacting circle in the above diagram, and at their intersections), across ecological and evolutionary time scales, and, ultimately, applying what we learn to help reconcile our species’ boundless creative and destructive energy with all the other lifeforms we share this precious planet with. So, with that framework, and those signposts, in mind, you are now free to virtually stroll about this carnival as you please. And, of course, feel free to wander off the carnival grounds entirely, to explore other corners of this blog, if you haven’t been in this neck of the blog-o-woods before!

Natural Variation

My experience of nature through my childhood and youth was strongly shaped, more than anything else, by that incredible weather phenomenon, the Indian Monsoon. Growing up outside Bombay, I loved to watch the massive phalanx of dark clouds pour forth across the sky, darkening the world even as we sweated in the stifling summer heat soon after our final exams were over, waiting for that first cloudburst. And for that first rain, we had license to go running (and dancing!) out in the streets soaking in the downpour, an annual ritual that I very much miss in the temperate aridity of the American southwest. That, and mangos! Later, in college, monsoon was the favorite season to go hiking in the Sahyadri mountains, when one didn’t have to worry about getting too hot or having to carry water, and the joy of soaking one’s bare feet in the soft mud of the mountain trails and sliding up and down waterfalls more than made up for having to eat wet sandwiches! Now, as I endure a heat wave in central California, I have to thank Pankaj at-crossroads for sharpening my longing for the monsoon and its renewal powers, with his evocative words, and images of the monsoons in the Andaman Islands.

Meanwhile, here in America, Kevin Zelnio lauds the coolness of the US Senate in granting legal recognition to soil as a natural resource!! About time, some of you may say, even as others like Kevin and me scratch our heads and go “hmmm… never quite thought of that!. This led some folks over on Ecolog-L to immediately ask: can we now have a Clean Soil Act please, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts? That would be cool – but how on earth does one set any standards for a natural resource like soil which varies so damn much from place to place?

Interactions make individuals: genetics, physiology, behavior

To start us off at the small scale of the gene, 96well pushes at the boundaries of what might be appropriate for this carnival (but heck, its a carnival, so boundaries must be stretched, right? and these are really brief posts!) by pointing to new approaches for heavy metal detection with reporter genes, and goes on to urge researchers excited about detecting endocrine disruptors using mammalian cell reporter gene assays to stop with the new cell lines and focus instead on studying interactions in vivo – now that’s something we ecologists understand!

Shaheen Lakhan shares an article from Brain Blogger (which Lakhan edits) on Multiple Sclerosis, which turns out to have “a variety of seemingly independent factors associated with its development. In addition to the usual suspects – genetics, sex, and poor health habits such as smoking – MS is also linked to what appear to be unrelated and uncontrollable factors such as birth place and birth month.” Aren’t gene-environment interactions cool? I don’t suppose one could easily do controlled transplant (or common-garden) experiments to sort out these interactions in the case of MS in humans, but the article does point to case studies of immigrant families like mine as throwing much light – but also kicking up some dust – in the study of this disorder. But what’s up with that birth month correlation?!

Moving on to whole organisms, we have Delson Roche’s photo-essay on the <a href="http://delsonclicks3.blogspot.com/2008/07/spot-billed-pelican.html"
>Spot Billed Pelican, followed by two thoughtful and informative articles from the urban wildlife watcher DN Lee: on the flight mechanics of Flying Squirrels (must be nice to live in a city with those, no?) and on watching Fireflies in the backyard.

Mama Joules points out the importance of being right side up for young (as in embryonic) organisms of all sorts, from plants to crocodiles, who cannot right themselves if someone plants them upside down, to frogs who can figure out gravity! Cool, huh?! She also shares some thoughts on how some wild animals are attracted to humans at feeding time, even as others prefer to hunt their own prey.

Interactions within populations & between species

Ever wonder about the population genetics underlying all those diverse dog breeds? Head over to Greg Laden’s blog for a detailed commentary on a recent PLoS paper about dog genetics.

Spidery action speaks louder than words in Amila Salgado’s amazing slideshow, but he does fall back on words to describe the butchery of beautiful Shrikes on Mannar Island in NW Sri Lanka, which shares interesting biogeographic affinities with Deccan fauna of southern India (a region dear to my own heart for having spent a decade chasing warblers and lorises within it).

In other late-breaking (and I mean really laaate) predator-prey news, Jennifer Pinkley of the Infinite Sphere gives us a nice overview of research (in light of another recent paper in PLoS) on the huge question: What killed the mammoths?.

The other big class of interspecies interactions is, of course, parasitism, and here we have a report from Shaheen Lakhan on clinical trials on a new vaccine for the H5N1 bird flu, even as the Indian Council of Indian Council of Agricultural Research is proposing a research center to breed avian-flu resistant poultry at a new research center to be located on some uninhabited islands in the Andamans!

Meanwhile, Jennifer Pinkley went looking for a mysterious fungus that is now killing off large numbers of bats in the eastern US, by giving them White Nose Syndrome. Is this the start of another global epidemic? And are humans, somehow, responsible?

Interactions make communities & ecosystems

Before we get into the more serious trouble caused by our own species, how about a little break, with some nature travelogues? I’ve been sent some nice ones from India: an ode to picturesque Talawe by k.v.subramanian; and Arunava Das’ travelogue written on the basis of real life experience at Nagerhole National Park, Coorg, Karnataka, India.

Adding to my longing for a monsoonal hike, Amila confesses to peak-dodging while describing various wonderful critters he encountered in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, “the only wilderness area in Sri Lanka with attitudinally-graded rain forests ranging from lowland rain forests-up to 1,000m, sub-montane forests from 1,000-1,500m & montane aka cloud forests above 1,500m”. Now I’ll have to go visit some day! (and an aside to Amila: yes, I did enjoy the Mendis magic, painful as it was to watch the Indian crickets dance in that unpredictable rain; but do you have to rub it in? :-))

Getting back to more sciencey news, James Millington shares the Michigan UP Seedling Experiment, a post about some recent fieldwork in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: “One of the main issues we will study with our integrated ecological-economic landscape model is the impact of whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) herbivory on tree regeneration following cutting.”

And Jeremy Cherfas presents some News from the front at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, which should be your key stop for agricultural ecology news.

Planetary interactions.

Over at Deep Sea News, Peter Etnoyer tells us about satellite-tagging studies of endangered Hawksbill Turtles, while Kevin Zelnio alerts us that the world’s oceans are being taken over by Hydromedusa in a Ninja style stealth invasion! Yikes!!

Malcolm McCallum, editor of Herpetological Conservation & Biology is so alarmed by his calculation that global amphibian extinctions are currently occurring at a rate 211 times the background extinction rate, and so keen to make sure the world knows about it that he share’s someone else’s blog post on the subject even though they don’t cite his paper with the original calculation!

if that doesn’t bring you down, how about Phil for Humanity’s cheerful declaration that natural Evolution is Dead in this human-dominated world?! And to round off on the reality checks for Americans, he tosses in the suggestion that the American Independence Day, 4th of July, is by far the most polluting day of the year!

In an Earth Week post at Guadalupe Storm-Petrel Barn Owl addresses a specific kind of pollution, by organochlorine contaminants, and how they end up in Sea Lions and Seals.

Lisa Spinelli then brings up everybody’s favorite planetary interaction in an article entitled Global Warming: Fact or Fiction = Democrat or Republican, saying, “Forget that scientific research totally supports it, and the rest of the world is trying to find ways to combat it: In the United States, global warming is debatable.” Sad, but true, although the tide may have turned. And Phil for Humanity is there too, urging us to accept that global warming is ruining the earth, and that “No, we cannot stop global warming”, so we better buck up and start finding other ways of doing business. Of course, Al Gore thinks we can solve it, and is apparently about to toss us an “Unprecedented Challenge on Energy and Climate” this thursday (according to an email to bloggers from the “We” campaign)!

Human interactions sculpting the world

If you think that planting trees on a global scale is one sure-fire good thing any individual can do to save our planet, you must pause to read Mike Bergin’s historical account of the ecological havoc wreaked by National Arbor Day (sorry this one got missed in the shuffle, Mike – but better late than never, right?). You can’t just go planting trees willy-nilly wherever you are, surely!

But setting aside Protected Areas will save other species, right?! Well, don’t get your hopes up too high on that one either, for Jeremy Cherfas argues the perils of protected areas at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. At the same time, laments Prashanth, your life may be even worse if you are a poor forest dwelling human on the edge of one of these protected areas, especially in the tropical developing countries. Tigers vs. people is the classic conflict in India, and in the midst of it have jumped some physicists hunting for neutrinos, as I observed last week. Now it is Science vs. Tiger, and the drama never ends!

Lest you collapse in complete despair, however, Amy L. offers at least some modicum of control over our own habitat (if you can afford it) with suggestions for Creating a Butterfly Garden. And Sarah chimes in with tips on organic weed control methods for your garden.

Interactive solutions: finding ways to reconcile

First off, Kevin Zelnio argues in favor of keeping scientific information available freely on the internet because that too helps conservation! The onus is on us scientists to keep pushing on that front. Meanwhile we better start using the good information that is already available.

What else can we do to reconcile our human “development” with biodiversity conservation so that we leave some room for other organisms on this shared lonely planet, and also improve our own habitats and lives?

We could start by reading Samir Bhardwaj’s environmental parable “The Yellow Rubber Ducks Now Live Down on the Farm“. Then read Spencer Tweedy’s <a href="http://spencertweedy.com/blog/2008/06/03/a-new-look-at-trash/"
>new look at trash. And consider taking Timothy Morton’s premise that the catastrophe has already happened as your starting point! That just might free you from the paralysis of overwhelming despair, so you can start tackling the real problems. Watching Wall*E might help you get going too, either with renewed hope or anger!

Whatever you choose to do, you’ll have to start by getting past your dependence on fossil fuels. Even airlines are finding new ways to cut corners to save on gas money, says Ave Maria. You can go one better: dream about the new E85 Ethanol Vehicles, the 100 m.p.g. car, or others using plain water as fuel, and whatever you do, listen to Vikram Bhatt and stave off the temptation to buy one of the new Tata Nanos just launched in India!

If you like lists to keep your efforts organized, then let’s go by the numbers:

1. SpiKe suggests 7 ways we can stop wasting food and help save the Earth.

2. Heather Johnson gives us 8 ways to save energy around the house; and,

3. Victoria E presents 10 ways to Green Your Pet!

Remember that sometimes, we can also simply let nature push back at us, and enjoy Jeremy Bruno’s sense of peace.

Finally, whatever you choose to do, keep some perspective about your place in the grand scheme of the universe and try not to get too full of yourself! And, like this carnival’s founder, realize that there is more to life than blogging!

I hope you enjoyed this special double issue of Reconciliation Oekologie. Join us again, perhaps by <a target="_blank"
title=”Submit an entry to “oekologie””
href=”http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_809.html”
>submitting your own blog article to the next edition of Oekologie which will be hosted by Seeds Aside.

Peace!

An image of Chawri Bazar in Old Delhi, captured by Raghu Rai in 1972

Malthus’ ghost haunted Old Delhi so…

An image of Chawri Bazar in Old Delhi, captured by Raghu Rai in 1972

INDIA. Old Delhi. Chawri Bazar. 1972. by Raghu Rai

Four decades ago two young American men took a seminal trip (one walked, the other took a taxi) through the teeming bazaars of Old Delhi in India. The sensory overload of what was (and still is) a typical morning commute for a Delhiite awakened something profound in both young men, who went on to write about the experience famously in ways that resonate till this day.

Idealistic Youth #1:

“As we crawled through the city, we encountered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming… People, people, people.”

Idealistic Youth #2:

“Small animals were not the only beings in great abundance. So were people. Along one long sidewalk, I saw hundreds of wooden shelves about the size of a refrigerator lying on their sides. Each served as home for at least one person. Even less fortunate souls lay on the grass or in the brown dirt with a tattered blanket serving as their only shelter. Some had only rags to protect themselves from the elements. About a block from the YMCA, an old man grunted as he squatted and defecated in the gutter. A little further on, a bony couple engaged in mechanical sexual intercourse while two children sat beside them, taking little notice of their parents as they played in the dust. Millions in India live out their lives on the public streets awash in the dried mud. There they are born, and there they bathe, eat, sleep, excrete and copulate. As attested by the teeming population, the one thing they seem to do best is breed.”

Can you guess who the famous authors of these passages are?

All right, let me give you just the names – and see if you can identify who wrote which passage above: Paul Ehrlich and David Duke.

Yes, that Ehrlich and, indeed, that Duke. Can you tell me, before clicking on the links, who wrote what above?

Surely the ghost of Thomas Malthus must’ve been actively patrolling those alleys of Old Delhi back in those days, seeking out idealistic young white tourist souls to pounce upon! And yet, how different the paths that ghost led them down…

All this, brought to my mind by this essay in the latest Current Biology, commemorating and reflecting upon one of these men’s seminal book published 40 years ago.

“Moot” indeed – that must be the key word in this report

The mind… it boggles!! At the ambition of India’s Central Zoo Authority:

Govt moots captive breeding for tigers

New Delhi, July 13: In addition to the tiger relocation programme in Sariska Reserve in Rajasthan, the government has chalked out an innovative plan for captive breeding of “pure stocks” to increase the population of the majestic striped cat.

The plan is the fallout of a recent census which revealed that the tiger population in the wild has reached an alarming low of 1,500 animals only.

Towards realising the plan, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has recently identified six zoos in New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Chhatbir, Chennai and Bhopal as coordinating centres to raise at least 100 physically, genetically and behaviourally healthy endangered species.

“No doubt the tiger relocation in Sariska Reserve has been a first major step towards tiger conservation measures besides declaring tiger reserves for the animal’s protection in the country. But as exigency measures, it has been decided to augment the depleting population of the stripped animal in zoos.

Such managed zoo populations will serve as a ‘genetic reservoir’ in case of future need to supplement wild tiger populations or reintroduce tigers in areas from where they have vanished,” B R Sharma, member secretary of CZA said.

Besides tigers, at least 50 other critically endangered wild species with less than few hundreds or less than 2500 individuals left in the wild will also be raised in the protective environment.

“And given that the number of stripped animal has declined to as low as 1,500 as estimated by Wildlife Institute of India and the predators’ crucial position in the ecosystem, its breeding is high on our agenda. The reservoir will help sustain their population in forests as well in zoos,” Sharma said.

There are around 255 captive tigers in various zoos across the country monitored by the CZA, an autonomous body of the Environment Ministry that will fund the project.

Only “pure stock” tigers whose single sub-species ancestry can be traced back through written records will be included in conservation breeding programmes, he said.

“At least 25 tigers having known lineage generation from each identified zoo will be bred with the opposite sex and the cubs will be reared under the guidance of experts for future exigencies.

“Though in the past, release of endangered animals like red panda in Darjeeling in the wild have been successfully conducted, no similar experiments have been tried so far with the tiger,” Sharma said.

For genetic fingerprinting of the animals, assistance from laboratory for conservation of endangered species (Lacones) in Hyderabad will be taken.

World wildlife bodies such as world association of zoos and aquariums, conservation breeding specialist group (CBSG)/ SSC/IUCN have also been requested to be engaged in the activity, Sharma said.

Some of the other endangered species to be bred are snow leopard, clouded leopard, asiatic cheetah, golden cat and pangolin.

[From Zee News – plan for tiger population]

This is what it all comes down to??!! After 35 years of Project Tiger, heck – 25 years of my alma mater, the Wildlife Institute of India which was set up to (among other things) “build up a body of scientific knowledge on the wildlife resources of the country“, not to mention dozens of graduate dissertations, research reports, books, and papers published on the behavioral ecology of the wild tiger (and a few even on those other 50 or a 100 species casually mentioned in the above report), the only way out now is for us to build a version of the frigging Noah’s Ark to save our tigers (and other wildlife)??

Or is the title of the news report telling a different story? Surely this ark must be moot, if the government mooted it, no? For the verb form of “moot” (meaning “put forward for discussionaccording to ye olde Oxford) must surely take on a different meaning when the Indian bureaucracy moots something, as in “render it moot (adj. deprived of practical significance : made abstract or purely academic“? For who else knows more about depriving something of practical significance? As for purely academic… well, the literature on re-wilding captive-bred mega-carnivores (from what little I know of it) also, surely, tends to make this project moot?

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