Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wildlife in Kashmir


Once upon a time (this is not really a fairy story) Kashmir was one of the great places to visit. During the era of the British Raj it was a major tourist destination and for the avid fisherman the state offered some of the very best fishing in the world. It has been assort of pipe-dream for me to dip a line in those waters, but for twenty or more years it has been no more than a pipe-dream as Kashmir is also the core of the long-standing border dispute between India and Pakistan.

There is one possible benefit to the near-war status of the region where it is estimated that since the 1989 full-blown rebellion against Indian rule blew up over 47,000 people have been killed. Hunters and poachers have hardly dared to set foot in the region.

If two recent reports are anything to go by wildlife in general and Himalayan black bears in particular may have had some measure of protection.

In a Reuters report of Nov 17th by Sheikh Mushtaq that you can find here it seems as if several wildlife species have shown marked increases in population size. Mushtaq quotes Kashmir's wildlife warden, Rashid Naqash as stating that
“Rare birds like the black partridge and pheasant have increased in thousands while more Asiatic black bear, leopards, musk deer and hangul, a rare red deer, now roam the disputed Himalayan region's pine forests.”
Most spectacular is the claim that the population of black bears has jumped from 700-800 to something over 2,500 in twenty years. This would mean that the population has increased by 7% a year.
A more focused report available here comes from Yahoo news and also quotes Rashid Naqash. In this case he is reported to have said that only 300 of the bears inhabit the region. He also told the reporter that three bears have been fitted with GPS collars and that three more are to be collared soon.
"This is the first time in India that Himalayan black bears have been fitted with a GPS collar."

Naqash is also quoted as saying that the collars could also help prevent bear attacks in the region, which are certainly a serious threat to the local villagers. Wild bears have killed more than two dozen people in the past four years and left 150 injured. For those who love nature stories told with the utmost skill this account is very reminiscent of the wonderful stories of naturalist Jim Corbett. If you don’t know them, try & find one such as Maneaters of Kumaon ( and give it a read. I was hooked at once and have all his writings.

Naqash also made a claim that seems to be more hope than reality when he stated
"We can always monitor their movements and sound an alert once they start moving towards the human habitations."
While three, or even six bears may be monitored, what about the 294 others or, if
Mushtaq’s numbers are to be believed it would be another 2494!

Something seems to smack of the fairy story element, or maybe the editors have made a mess of what would seem to be an encouraging report.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Of Moose And Men


I am starting on a new book about work in Canada. The title is Of Moose and Men and here is a short extract from one of the chapters. The scene takes place in Alberta when I had been asked to examine a pet moose that had recently delivered a calf and was not well. The moose (Petruska) had complete trust in her owner but when I approached to about 50 metres in my attempt to examine her...

Petruska let out a loud snort as she set off at a full charge and then I could hear her breath as she crashed through the underbrush, her hooves pounding on the hard ground. It became a sort of Mexican stand-off. Petruska looked at me between the fortunately thick branches of the spruce and tried to get at me, first by stamping her feet, much as she would in killing a predator, and second by trying to move around the tree to get a clearer run. Of course there was nothing I could do about the stamping except be glad that it was occurring twenty-odd feet from me, but I could and did move around the tree to make sure that we remained at exactly opposite sides. Not that she came round all the way. That would have put me between her and her calf, which would been quite unnatural as she presumably viewed me as some sort of predator that was going to get the most precious thing in her world.

Ring-around-the-roses is now a children’s game derived from the grim days of the black death. Ring-around-the-spruce-tree played by me and an irate mother moose intent on reducing me to a thin layer of pulverized flesh on the ground is quite another. While she was determined to protect her new calf, I was keen to protect myself.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Giraffes in Niger


Wildlife in Niger has been in serious trouble form poachers and hungry people for many years. One species that has been extirpated from the region is the scimitar-horned oryx, seen here in Texas and most of the world’s remaining members of this species now reside in North America. Indeed several exist on private game ranches. In the late 1980s I visited one such ranch in Texas where a philanthropic oil man had give over a large chunk of his land to their propagation. One of our party asked him “Why don’t you send some back to Niger?"

His reply – “Why would I? Everyone and his brother has an AK47. The animals would not last a month.”

So, the recent story from the BBC webs site about the resurgence of the West African giraffe in Niger is all the more remarkable.

As the reporter Martin Plaut writes
“From a herd of 50 animals, careful conservation supported by Niger's government has seen their numbers rise to around 200.”

Mind you this is still only a fraction of what once was an enormous number of these remarkable animals that roamed right across the region all the way to the Atlantic coast.

As I wrote in my blog of December 31, 2008 there are now five recognized species of giraffe. You can see four of them in that blog, but I have never seen the West African species, the rarest of all. My only chance to do so would have been in northern Cameroon in 1996, but I was fully engaged in an elephant collaring project with New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. If you would like to read how very difficult this project was you can do in chapters 10 & 11 of The Trouble With Lions.

The good news in this BBC story is that the giraffes have been seen within 60 km of the country’s capital city Niamey and the government has banned all hunting in the hope that the animals will help with the tourist trade.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Furadan in the USA


A recent story out of the state of Missouri caught my eye because it involved the prosecution and sentencing of a man from Raymondville for using Furadan (Carbofuran) to kill wildlife. The story appeared on Nov 3rd & 4th in the on-line newspaper the Springfield News-Leader, which you can find here.

I have posted in Furadan a few times before, all to do with African wildlife, and in doing so was under the mistaken belief that the stuff was banned in North America. In Africa it has been used to deliberately kill lions and to capture huge numbers of birds. You can read about that in the blogs of March 15 & 30, May 29 and June 13 & 18.

This case is interesting because the culprit, one Eric Bryant, carried out the offense in January this year. He had treated some deer meat with the poison in an effort to control coyotes. In six weeks had killed at least three domestic dogs, several coyotes, a gray fox, a skunk, a red-tailed hawk and three American crows. These creatures were found by federal agents, and there is of course no way of knowing how many other animals perished.

My own yellow lab, Caesar, would be just as susceptible as any other dog, maybe even more so given his breed's tendency to eat anything he finds.

This just goes to show that the poison can kill a wide range of species. It acts by disrupting nerve conduction. The stuff is highly toxic to humans, and as little as a quarter tea-spoon can be fatal.

Because it is such an effective pesticide, and kills insects on contact, it is much favoured by crop producers. Farmers who apply it must do so in closed systems and one wonders how much risk the drivers of modern tractors, with their efficient air conditioners, are running. Can Furadan in a mist be brought back into the cab and create a hazard for the driver?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hunting and meat from stores


A couple of weeks ago the writers group of which I am a member met and reviewed some of our work. Most of the group write in the world of science fiction & fantasy, but two of us write outside that genre. One is a mystery writer, and then there's me, writing in creative non-fiction.

I have related in my published work that I am a hunter, and have been for many years. For the last 30 years my wife & I have not purchased meat, except bacon (a little difficult to hunt). We get ultra low-fat meat, and what fat there is has only 3-omega fatty acids. Some members of the group could not understand that I have spent a career trying to work on wild animals in many corners of the globe and then go hunting.

To me it is simple. I get good food, I know where it comes from and I can control how it is processed. Cost is not an issue. By the time I have purchased licenses, filled my truck with gas and paid for ammunition I probably spend more than I would at the butchers shop or supermarket. I also get great enjoyment being outside in the countryside or sitting in a canoe casting a line.

It is obvious that there is a huge disconnect between my approach and that of some urban dwellers. We know that many inner-city folks have no idea that milk comes from cows, but then one of my group sent me this.
Where did this writer come from? Does she or he eat chickens, steaks of sausages? Or is this a case of an elaborate spoof. Sadly, I doubt it