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India to release eight captive-reared vultures with tracking devices

In the first event of its kind in South Asia, the government of Nepal and national and international conservation organisations released critically endangered white-backed vultures in the wild on November 9, 2017.

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captive-reared vultures

Pinjore (Haryana), Nov 11 : Eight captive-reared critically endangered white-backed vultures are set to take wings early next year for the first time in India since the vulture conservation centre near here was set up in September 2001.

The Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre on the edge of the Bir Shikargaha Wildlife Sanctuary is a joint project of Haryana and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) with the British government’s Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species Fund to investigate the massive decline of three critically endangered Gyps species of vultures in India.

Six captive-bred vultures and two rescued from the wild will be tagged with a 30-gram device for satellite telemetry each with a battery backup of three-four years and this will help understanding their behaviour and survival instincts in the wild, BNHS Principal Scientist Vibha Prakash told IANS here.

He said the vultures would be released most probably by March-April next year in the Bir Shikargaha sanctuary where the BNHS is working to declare it as vulture safe zone, which extends transboundary into Himachal Pradesh where the wildlife awareness among the villagers is quite high.

“If any of the released vulture die or get injured, we can recover them. Satellite telemetry will help us to know the cause of death and prevent other vultures dying from that cause.”

The satellite tags will also be useful in discovering whether the captive-bred birds behave normally in the wild with other closely-related species.

In the first event of its kind in South Asia, the government of Nepal and national and international conservation organisations released critically endangered white-backed vultures in the wild on November 9, 2017.

India is home to nine species of vultures. Three of these species, the white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures, underwent catastrophic population declines of greater than 90 per cent in the mid-1990s. The birds are now listed as critically endangered.

The vulture, a nature’s scavenger, cleans the environment of animal carcasses. Villagers rely on them to dispose of cattle carcasses.

The reason, say biologists, for bringing the vultures to the brink of extinction in South Asia mainly to the extensive use of diclofenac in treating cattle.Vultures that consumed the carcass of animals treated with diclofenac died with symptoms of kidney failure. The Indian government banned its veterinary use in 2006.

BNHS scientist Prakash said “if there is no toxicity-related death of these eight birds in two years, then we will go for release of 20-25 birds each year”.

“We are planning to introduce 100 pairs each of the three species of white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed in the wild in the next 10 years. Before that, findings from the first proposed release batch will be crucial in the future programmes.”

The long-billed and slender-billed vultures will be released in Madhya Pradesh and Assam, respectively.

Officials admit the flight to freedom of these endangered vultures is still caught in red-tapism in the Haryana Forest Department, which has been authorised to procure 10 platform terminal transmitters or satellite telemetries through global bidding.

“These birds have been shifted to the pre-release aviary for over a year and a half. Twice their release was postponed last year. The only hurdle is the procurement of satellite telemetries and that too is bogged down by bureaucratic delays,” an official, requesting anonymity, told IANS.

“The birds are now two to four years old and this is the best age group for their release. The delay in their release will definitely delay the vulture reintroduction programme,” he added.

Prior to this release, two captive Himalayan griffon vultures were released in the wild in June 2016 from the Pinjore centre on an experimental basis.

Both birds were wing-tagged and leg-ringed for identification, but not tagged with satellite transmitters.

It was part of Asia’s first Gyps Vulture Reintroduction Programme under which the captive-bred birds were to be introduced in the wild.

The team managed to monitor one released bird for a day before it disappeared, while the second bird was tracked for almost a month and never sighted again.

The Pinjore centre, Asia’s first centre of its kind, houses 289 Gyps species vultures; 198 of them bred at the facility that is funded by the central government.

Two such conservation and breeding centres are in Rani in Assam and Rajabhatkhawa in West Bengal.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected] )

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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