Beahrs ELP Blog

From Innocent Freedom to Captive Hell: Abduction of Baby Elephants from the Wild

by Vimukthi Weeratunga1, Sri Lanka, ELP 2014

Elephants and their young, much like a human parent and child, have a deep emotional and binding relationship. Baby elephants depend on their mothers and members of the herd for sustenance, security and comfort, until they are five to seven years old, just like children. Now, imagine if someone were to snatch your child away from you? Imagine your heartbreak from loss, abandonment and grief. Unimaginable, isn’t it?

Abducting playful baby elephants from their mothers is an unimaginable wildlife crime that adds another threat to elephants in Sri Lanka.

Abducting playful baby elephants from their mothers is an unimaginable wildlife crime that adds another threat to elephants in Sri Lanka.

During the past several months, around 50 baby elephants have been forcefully taken away from their mothers. These babies have been abducted from their wild habitats after their mothers had been slaughtered in the process. Almost all these baby elephants have been found injured, starved and cruelly tied to trees, holed up in tiny, dirty enclosures with every one of them frightened and traumatized. One baby elephant was overdosed with tranquilizers by its abductors and now laid pathetically paralyzed from its neck downwards. Another could not put its foot down after being beaten and tortured in the process of its abduction.

The stories go on…

As advocates of the lives and safety of elephants in our country, we are doing all that is possible to protect baby elephants and their mothers. For the past several months, numerous baby elephant abduction rackets have been reported to us. It is believed that baby elephants are isolated from their mothers and then captured and transferred to different locations for sale. They are then sold after obtaining illegal registration documents. This is a very lucrative business and a single baby elephant can be sold for between 10-15 million Sri Lanka Rupees (USD $100,000-$150,000).

The illegal capture of a baby elephant attempy in Galgamuwa area in the central part of the country. Vigilance of nearby villagers saved this baby from the abductors.

The illegal capture of a baby elephant attempy in Galgamuwa area in the central part of the country. Vigilance of nearby villagers saved this baby from the abductors.

Elephants are a protected species under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO). Section 22A of the FFPO, as amended, states that no person can illegally capture and keep an elephant. The Registration and Licensing of Tusker and Elephant Regulation, 1991, clearly outlines the process of domestic elephant regulations, not only for elephant owners but also for officials who have the power to register and issue a license for domestic elephants. Any action in illegal registrations is directly in violation of not only the above-mentioned Ordinance and Regulation, but also in violation of the Public Property Act. Asian Elephants listed as an endangered species in the National and Global Red Lists due to their value in terms of ecological and cultural attributes is immense. Therefore, the illegal capture of these animals carries the highest penalty.

A wild captured baby elephant was confiscated by the Wildlife Official at Mirigama. Note the tranquilization patch on its rump area.

A wild captured baby elephant was confiscated by the Wildlife Official at Mirigama. Note the tranquilization patch on its rump area.

As concerned citizens who care about our gentle giants in this country, please come forward and join hands with us. For this, we need your support to make a voice against this unimaginable wildlife crime. Please consider this to be your contribution towards helping save our elephants. The lives of baby elephants deserve more than inhumane abduction, cruelty, torture and trauma.

1 Vimukthi is a Wildlife & Fisheries Biologist, graduated with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Wildlife & Fisheries Biology and minoring in Earth Information Science Technology from the Oregon State University, Oregon, USA. He also has received trainings from Wildlife Institute of India on wildlife management. He was selected for the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program course at the University of California, Berkeley. Vimukthi is working as an Operations Director of Environmental FOundation Ltd. Before he joined EFL, he was Head of the Biodiversity and Species Program of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sri Lanka Country office for 5 years. Vimukthi continues to work for the environmental sector, providing technical assistance to both NGOs and the Government, to support conservation of Sri Lanka’s unique biological heritage.

Composting and waste recycling for organic smallholder farming in Tunisia

by Khaled Sassi, Tunisia, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.

In Tunisia, during the last years the area converted to organic agriculture has increased from 300 ha in 1997 to 403,000 ha in 2010 (DGAB, 2010), this development needed a huge quantity of organic matter in order to maintain and enhance soil fertility as required in organic regulations. Crops fresh residues cannot be incorporated directly into the soil and only animal manures from organic or extensive livestock systems can be used freshly without exceeding a quantity equivalent to 170kg of nitrogen/ha/year. Also chicken manure presents a great ecological problem; it cannot be incorporated into the soil in the fresh state because it contains pathogens and high levels of nitrogen.

The use of fresh manure can also lead to increased weed problems because it may contain seeds. Porter (2000) indicates that potential problems related to nutrient management, such as nutrient overloading, nutrient losses and high salt levels have been associated with the direct application of manure. Finally, animal manure from intensive livestock system is allowed, but only after composting.

Despite the importance of compost in organic systems, most organic smallholders do not know control composting and the development of this innovative technique of local waste recycling remains in the early stages.

Organic farming is based on a holistic viewpoint, the support of biological processes, the equilibrium of the agro-ecosystem and the enhancement of structure and soil fertility with compost. Composting is an efficient way to recycle various organic matter sources. It is an aerobic biological process, allowing the decomposition and degradation of organic material and is characterized by different parameters such as moisture, aeration, temperature, and carbon/nitrogen ratio.

It is in this context that I plan to launch research and development work. It consists to characterize several types of compost in order to provide the most efficient compost to hundreds of organic farmers. The results of this innovative work will have an impact on improving smallholder incomes, since this technique of waste recycling is very economical and improves the crop production and the management of natural resources.

At the end of this work, each smallholder farmer will be able to install his own composting project with optimal conditions of expertise in a context of sustainable environmental development. Policy makers and national programs of waste management could also be inspired by this new innovation.

Pesticides and Farm Worker Safety

by Michelle Nay, Switzerland, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.
Today 35-40% of the harvest is lost due to pests. One dollar spent on pesticides will save approximately four dollars of crops. These facts make it evident how profitable investing in pesticides is. However, pesticides have an impact on the health of farmworkers and their families, who are highly exposed to these toxins.

The CHAMACOS project, on which our lecturer Asa Bradman is working, aims at assessing the health of mothers and children of Salinas, one of California’s main agriculture production areas. They are also working towards increasing awareness among farmworkers for the effect of pesticides on health. The goal is to reduce exposure of farm workers and the take home exposure.

Children suffer most from exposure to pesticides because they eat, drink and breathe more per kg body weight. Further, they have lower enzyme levels to break down toxic compounds, they spend the most of the time crawling and are fed by breast milk that can be contaminated by metabolites of pesticides. All of this above has the effect that children of farm workers or located close to agricultural production areas show higher percentage of abnormal neonatal reflexes, decreased mental development and various other health issues.

Substances covering crops such as pesticides easily stick to exposed body parts or clothes, as we found out through an in class experiment where we circulated chalk covered potatoes and apples. After everyone observed the given object we checked with UV light how much of the substance remained on our skin through the brief contact. In a farm, the dermal and take-home exposure of pesticides can be very high, but there are easy ways to lower exposures such as proper hand washing, wearing gloves, contaminated clothes storage at work and increased waiting time before workers can go into the field after spraying.

Doctor Dia Mountaga, one of the ELP participants, worked on a project on health impacts of pesticide use in Senegal. The problem there is that most farmers are not trained on how to use pesticides. They usually don’t wear protective clothes and use too much pesticide, so much so that it drains off to the river. The water of the river is then used for drinking, bathing, doing laundry and for irrigation.

There are no guidelines on pesticide use and some substances that are prohibited in other countries can be available through the informal market. Inappropriate labeling or storage of pesticides can sometimes lead to confusion. For example, it can happen that pesticides are stored in the reach of children, or bottles of pesticides are mistaken for water bottles. Further, the health workers are usually not trained to deal with toxicological emergencies.

To make pesticide use safer, education is essential. There are various ways to reduce exposure, but another way to tackle the problem of exposure would be to minimize pesticide use in the field. This could be achieved through a more diverse farming system so that specialized pests cannot spread well or through integrated pest management. This lowers the expenses for pesticides and more importantly, increases the health of farm workers and their families.

Current Situation of Indigenous Peoples and Natural Resources in Myanmar

by Myo Ko Ko, Myanmar, ELP 2014
Written on July 21, 2014.

Myanmar, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia bordered by Laos, Thailand, China, Bangladesh and India. One third of the country’s total perimeter of 1,930 kilometers (1,200 miles) forms an uninterrupted coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Myanmar’s population of over 60 million makes it the world’s 24th most populous country and at 676,578 square kilometers (261,228 square miles), it is the world’s 40th largest country and the second largest in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar’s diversity encompasses over 100 different ethnic groups. The country is divided into seven mainly Burman-dominated divisions and seven ethnic states. While the majority of Burmans consider themselves to be indigenous, it is the marginalized indigenous groups referred to as “ethnic nationalities,” including the Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Karenni, Chin, Kachin and Mon, that are commonly considered to be indigenous.

Myanmar is home to a wealth of biodiversity, including large forests and unique animal species. Many local communities in Myanmar are critically dependent on these forest resources for their survival, but have been excluded from decisions concerning the protected areas they depend on. This situation is slowly changing.

On the other hand, a major share of Myanmar’s natural resources is located in the ethnic areas inhabited by ethnic and indigenous peoples. Ethnic and indigenous peoples reportedly comprise 30 to 40% of the population and live on 60% of the available land. In many cases they depend on natural resources for their traditional livelihoods and maintain their natural resources in a sustainable way according to their indigenous knowledge and customary laws. The recent opening of Myanmar to foreign investors and the reforms to attract private sector investments in the agribusiness and natural resource extraction sectors presents a major challenge for the livelihoods of indigenous communities. In particular, during the process of rapid economic integration of Myanmar’s borderlands into the global economic system, indigenous people’s practices of customary laws and use of local common natural assets are mostly disregarded. Indigenous peoples are increasingly driven off their common land and further marginalized. Traditional practices are further eroded due to development intervention over which they have little control.

Myanmar is heavily dependent on natural resources and for decades the military governments exploited natural resources with almost complete disregard of the socio-economic impact on the local population. Concessions were granted to unethical international partners to extract timber, jade and mineral resources without even basic transparency of earnings. Due to this poor record, the Revenue Watch Institute ranked Myanmar as having the worst resource governance among 58 countries studied.

Resource rich ethnic states have been targeted for predatory resource extraction, which has served to perpetuate the animosity towards successive military governments. While the latest 2010 estimate puts the national poverty headcount at 26%, rates are far higher among many of the minority groups. It is noteworthy that three out of the four poorest areas are ethnic minority states. The incidence of poverty in Chin State alone is almost three times the national average. This suggests a vicious cycle whereby conflict holds back development and under-development in itself feeds a sense of relative deprivation.


Better Resilience, Better Life: An Interview with Noura Abdi Farah

by Jiawen Fang, China, ELP 2014
Written on July 14, 2014.

As a student majoring in urban planning, especially focusing on poverty and slums, I had great interest in Noura Abdi Farah’s work during the poster session (Reducing the Urban Poor’s Vulnerability to Housing Risks). Therefore, I carefully studied her poster, and interviewed her about her education background, work experience and how this project works.

Fig. 1 See Noura in a different "smile".

Fig. 1 See Noura in a different “smile”.

Education background and work experience with both focus and diversity
Noura obtained her Master’s degree in Environment and Development from University of Lorraine, France in 2012. She is now working hard to apply for a PhD program about the forced migrations and climate change in Africa.

The focus of her education and work experience is the goal of helping the poor live a better life. Since poverty is such a complicated problem, Noura chooses one certain aspect – risk management. When asked why she chose this aspect, Noura smiled and answered with a simile, “What I am doing is like a cushion which slows down the negative impact of natural and social disaster on poor people.” She noticed the vulnerability and the lack of resilience of poor people in this fast changing world, but risk management is neglected to a large extent. Therefore, she decided to make her own contribution in a different, but effective, way.

With her interest in risk management, Noura has done a lot of work both academically and practically. Academically, she did some research on disaster risk management on water resources in the city of Rio and its resilience if faced with disasters in 2012. This research is based on the real water vulnerability of the city of Rio and she tried to see this practical problem in an academic perspective, with more systematic thinking using a set of theories. She believes that it’s necessary to take time and think over some problems in a theoretical framework, which would help come up with new, effective ways to work out the puzzle. In terms on practical work experience, Noura is now the professional consultant for the World Bank of the vulnerability, urban risks and disaster risk management issues. She also worked as the consultant at the Djiboutian Executive Secretariat for Disaster Risk Management (SEGRC) when she was in France.

Having realized the importance of diversity in urban planning and risk management, Noura has been trying her best to broaden her view and learn various skills. What I really admire about her is that she cans peak four languages fluently, French, English, Arabic and Portuguese. With the language advantage, she has worked in Djibouti, Brazil and France, which in turn, gives her practical field experience that drives various accomplishments in providing relevant assistance, support and research on development and disaster risk reduction issues during various phases of a project. In addition, Noura once prepared the RIO+20 conference by working for the UNISDE, which provided her a great opportunity to learn about the cutting edge technology and innovative ideas on environmental problems in a global perspective, especially concerning poor people.

The goal and effort to reduce the urban poor’s vulnerability to housing risks

Fig. 2 Poor Housing in Djibouti

Fig. 2 Poor Housing in Djibouti

Noura never forgets to make her own contribution to her homeland, working as a World Bank consultant. Now, World Bank is a major source of financial and technical support to Djibouti, where the poorest 20% of the population lives in temporary, informal housing without electricity or drinking water. What makes matters worse is that Djibouti is vulnerable to a wide range of natural and manmade hazards, including flashfloods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes, pollution, conflicts and security issues. Noura told me that poverty, low-tech and ineffective development, and vulnerability to frequent disasters would form a vicious cycle that sets great barriers to development. One of the most effective ways to lift this curse is to improve the vulnerability, allowing the poorest of the population to access basic services, lifelines and essential facilities. The urban resilience to disasters or any other big changes will minimize losses and keep the economic development in a stable environment, increasing the effectiveness and sustainability of the socio-economic system (see Fig. 3). Therefore, now World Bank has been providing the technical assistance to the Ministry of Urban Planning, Housing and Environment and enforces the vulnerability reduction policies for the poor.

Fig. 3 The vicious cycle and virtuous cycle based on the urban resilience

Fig. 3 The vicious cycle and virtuous cycle based on the urban resilience

With a strong theoretical basis and various work experience, Noura is leading the analysis of constraints impeding the development of a well-functioning housing market that consequently affects house access for the poor. To put risk management into practice, a technical guide will teach people how to achieve the quality and safety standards in self-construction. Noura, as well as her colleagues, are busy preparing the dissemination of the analysis report.

Overall, Noura’s work has renewed my understanding of urban poverty in the perspective of resilience to big changes. Urban planning is not only about planning land use, it is more like an organic system organization, with resilience as the core of its dynamic.

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