Indian government relocates villagers away from tiger reserve

The village of Umri in Rajasthan, India, is no more.

The entire population of 82 families, some 350 people, has been relocated because the village stands inside the Sariska tiger reserve, the BBC reports. The move aims to protect the local tiger population, which is rebounding after being wiped out by poachers several years ago. This reflects a gain in tiger population nationwide after stronger efforts against poaching and mitigation efforts with local human populations.

Tigers are feared by the villagers, who not only worry for themselves but their livestock. Often villagers will hunt or try to poison tigers that come into their neighborhood. Humans also compete with tigers for land and wildlife.

Umri is the second village to be moved and all eleven villages in the reserve will eventually be relocated. The Indian government says the villagers are being compensated with free land, livestock, up to one million rupees ($20,241), and are being relocated as close as possible to their old homes.

The case highlights the problems facing conservationists worldwide. Human needs have to be balanced with those of the endangered animals, and doing that can be a tricky business. Relocating villages is a difficult and expensive task, and what will be done with the two national highways that pass through the park remains to be seen.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

African governments doing more to stop poaching of endangered species

This year in Africa, the fight between law enforcement and poachers of endangered species has flared into a war.

In the first two months of 2011, nine poachers were shot dead in South Africa. Despite this, poaching is up. In that nation alone, 333 rhinos were killed in 2010, and there have been 309 rhinos poached so far this year. It looks like the illegal hunters are set to break a grisly record.

Now South Africa is holding talks with Vietnam to reduce the demand for rhino horn, which some Asians use as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for cancer. Sometimes the horns are kept whole as curios or for religious rituals, as this 1930s photo of a Tibetan monk from the Bundesarchiv shows. The two governments are working on a plan to fight organized syndicates that trade in animal parts.

South Africa isn’t the only country seeing trouble, and isn’t the only country fighting back. In Zimbabwe, poachers have been poisoning water holes so they can kill animals silently and avoid detection by park guards. At least nine elephants, five lions, two buffaloes, and several vultures are known to have died.

Meanwhile, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to sign a treaty to cooperate across their borders to stop poaching of mountain gorillas and other species. The treaty also sets up joint research and education about the region’s diverse flora and fauna.

India’s Kaziranga National Park has world’s highest tiger population

Zoologists studying at Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India, have declared that it has the greatest density of tigers in the world–32.64 per 100 square kilometers, in fact. By way of comparison, Corbett Tiger Reserve, which is in the number two slot, has “only” 19.6 per 100 square kilometers.

Park officials say there’s such a healthy population because of the large amount of tasty wildlife such as deer and buffalo for the tigers to eat, as can be seen in this amazing slide show from the BBC. Less edible for tigers but equally interesting to visitors are the rare Indian Rhinos, of which two-thirds of the world’s population live in the park.

Kaziranga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular destination for safaris. Visitors can ride an elephant through forest and grassland in order to spot the diverse population of animals and birds.

It’s wise to remember that wildlife is truly wild. Back in April a Dutch tourist was trampled to death by a wild elephant at Kaziranga. The park also has large numbers of King Cobra, the longest venomous snake in the world. Acting with caution and listening to your guide will keep you safe from most dangers, however.

Saving elephants in Chad

Central Africa is one of the last regions with a sizable population of African elephant, but their numbers are only a fraction of what they used to be. In Zakouma National Park in Chad there are an estimated 600 elephants. Twenty years ago there were 40,000.

Zakouma takes up 3,000 square kilometers of savanna in southern Chad and has populations of elephants, giraffes, lions, cranes, and other animals. It’s the number one tourist destination in the country and the government is trying to preserve the wildlife for the sake of the tourist industry

Nomadic tribes passing through the region hunt the elephants with AK-47s. Ivory sells for about $40 a kilo in Chad, a country where the average annual income is $530. In other words, one good tusk is worth a year’s wages. The ivory is exported to more developed nations for jewelry or folk medicines, especially China.

Armed guards patrol the park, but it’s a huge area to cover and poachers won’t hesitate to murder them if they get in the way. Ten guards have been killed defending the elephants. Now there are about seventy guards in the park and they’ve been given new training and weapons. The Wildlife Conservation Society helps out by monitoring the elephant populations, and giving monetary support and air reconnaissance. Like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Niger, an NGO and the government of a developing country are working together to save some of Africa’s most amazing wildlife. I hope they succeed. My four-year-old loves elephants and I want them to still be around when he’s my age.

Photos of the park and conservation efforts can be seen here.

Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda popular with tourists

Visiting the former home of a famous person is pretty common. Tourists flock to Elvis’ Graceland and who wouldn’t love a look inside the creepy world of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch? But exploring the former compound of a Colombian drug lord….well that seems a little less likely. Yet aparently Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles, located outside of Bogota, Colombia, is a hit with tourists.

Though Escobar was shot to death sixteen years ago, he lives on in infamy in the country. Tourists who have an affinity for over-the-top tacky “narco-deco” style or who can’t resist a look at Escobar’s lavish estate (which is now owned by the state) can visit the compound for about $10 US. The ranch is considered an “anti-crime museum” and sells replica guns and fake Escobar mustaches.

The compound is being re-purposed as an eco-tourism park, though many of the eccentric features added by Escobar remain. Nearly 30 hippos still wander the property, which includes Jurassico Park – a park featuring life-size models of dinosaurs – plus a go-kart track and private landing strip.

The compound also features horseback riding and hiking trails around the large property, butterfly and bird sanctuaries and a wildlife reserve.