28 December 2010

Birding | Twitching in Punjab

We went to my dad's old village, Preetnagar today for my great grandfather's death anniversary. I took the trip to the countryside as another birding opportunity - there's always things to see in the Punjabi mustard and wheat fields :) Plus it saved me from some awkward interaction in broken Punjabi with people I didn't know I was related to.

I've just realised a pretty basic trick for amateur birding - why bother trying to identify the bird when it's in front of you when you can just take a picture and zoom in on it later and take all the time with your book that you need? I'm probably really late in figuring out how much easier it is that way...although if the bird's far and your zoom isn't brilliant then it's a bit difficult. I'm struggling to figure out which wagtails I got (if they even are wagtails).

Saw the basic stuff - red-vented bulbul, cattle egret, pond heron, black-winged stilt, jungle babbler, Eurasian hoopoe, white-throated kingfisher, black drongo, red-wattled lapwing and some exciting things - spotted owlet (been wanting to see an owl for ages now) and some lifers - white-breasted waterhen, white wagtail and some others which I'm still busy identifying.. Oh and, quick follow up on my doubts from the previous post on birding in Harike Pattan - they are bank mynas, not common ones, keen to get a good photo :)

Anywho I'm very chuffed with today's finds, totally wasn't expecting them :)

spotted owlet - total fluke :D

white-breasted waterhen
funny and mysterious little one

indian pond heron
(because of BIO1004S I was even curious about what the worm may have been :S)

pretty little cattle egret

Eurasian hoopoe doing odd things

Off to cross the border into Lahore tomorrow :)

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26 December 2010

Harike Pattan | A day of Amritsari birding

I'm home in Amritsar for the week, got here last night and forced the family up to Harike Pattan today. My dad knows the man who's in charge of WWF's work in Punjab so we got to go with him along with the two researchers currently stationed at Harike.

It's the largest wetland in northern India (806 square km apparently), just downstream of the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej river. Going to a wetland in Punjab, a part of me was scared of what I might see, the amount of pollution in this state is disgusting. At the actual confluence, you can see the difference in the water of the two rivers so clearly, the Beas is brown and the Sutlej black and putrid with industrial and urban waste. But apart from that, the wetland is in surprisingly good condition. There are some areas where because of the pollution, the area is choked with water hyacinths. Hopefully they'll clear it up soon, would be nice if they didn't have to call in the army to do it this time. Unfortunately we didn't see any Indus river dolphins or smooth-coated otters but the bird life there is fantastic. Being new to birding, trying to identify and record them was quite overwhelming for me. But I tried (and asked the researches to help with a lot of them). All the migratory species have been late in arriving this year (all over India), but even then, I had enough to excite me. Quite irritated that there's some we couldn't identify..

little cormorant

Eurasian spoonbill flock

white-throated kingfisher 

purple swamphen

3 pied kingfishers, little cormorant & a pond heron

List for the day (including the common/urban ones):
- common myna
- grey heron
- indian pond heron
- cattle egret
- great egret
- pied kingfisher
- little egret
- white-throated kingfisher
- pariah kite
- indian cormorant
- rose-ringed parakeet
- red-vented bulbul
- house crow
- jungle babbler
- greylag goose
- bar-headed goose
- asian koel
- greater coucal
- purple swamphen (moorhen)
- common coot
- black-winged stilt
- pied avocet
- river lapwing
- river tern
- pallas's fish eagle
- little cormorant
- purple heron
- black-headed ibis
- eurasian spoonbill
- black drongo
- bank myna (still not sure if it wasn't just a common one, but definitely looked different)

All in all a good day of birding :)

Time to watch the new season of Austin Stevens :)

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23 December 2010

Species Conservation | Flagship Failures

Firstly, rhino poaching in South Africa. I've been hearing stories but I didn't realise just how bad it was. Last year just under 200 rhinos were killed, this year it's gone up to over 310. That's almost a rhino a day. Go sign up and add your voice to the fight against rhino poaching in South Africa. I'm not going to lie, there's a story on that site called Turning in Circles that made me cry a little today.

Then there's the continued classification of the polar bear as "threatened". The fight against this started when Bush was still president but the Obama Administration is sticking the decision to keep the bears' status as merely "threatened". Apparently, the polar bear's situation isn't dire enough to classify it as "endangered" just yet. Ultimately this means less protection for the bear under US law and it means less incentive to check emissions and the effects of climate change on the Arctic. Really irresponsible decision. They're calling it an anti-science decision, apparently the government's own studies show that there's an 80% chance of two thirds of the world's polar bears going extinct in the next 40 years.

But in lighter polar bear news, it's not over just yet for them - it's been suggested that soon the damage done to the Arctic ice will be irreversible, making the bears bound for extinction. But according to some new models we haven't reached that tipping point just yet and if emissions are curbed soon, the Arctic and it's bears have hope. See more on the BBC's Polar Bears Could be Saved by Emissions Cuts.

Should this not be true, they'll move further South which would still lead to extinction, genetically at least, as they may start hybridising with grizzly bears to form (wait for it) pizzly bears! Or grolar bears, your pick. Apparently this isn't a likely scenario for just the bears though, there could be several potential hybrids of different seal species, narwhals and beluga whales, etc. - National Geographic is calling the onset of these new hybrid species the "Arctic Melting Pot" Ultimately though, it means the original species will be bred out of existence leaving us with these hybrids that have the wrong gene pools for their environments and are poorly adapted to survive. Just a more interesting form of extinction really...

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21 December 2010

Happy Days in the Amazon

Good news for a change, even though as always, I do have lots of depressing things to share. But today's an optimistic posting day. There's also a list of the top 10 environmental stories of 2010 on the site I got it from :)

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20 December 2010


Currently sitting in a freezing office on an exceptionally cold Delhi winter morning, listening to Sigur Ros (typical, yes) in one ear and listening to WWF-India happenings in the other. It is cold. Bhavna's away in Mumbai for a bit this week which means not much work or responsbility for me :/ A lot of time to kill between little jobs. Maybe I'll catch up on finishing the South African part of my life list - one of my current little missions. The other mission I'm on is to start building a collection of nature documentary DVDs. I really need to stop getting so excited about it, but I can't help it, they keep doing marathons on TV. Have you SEEN Nat Geo's Great Migration series? It's magnificent. There's truly nothing better than stunning HD wildlife footage. It reminds me of when DStv was just launching HD and they had that one HD channel with these amazing mini-documentaries (if you ever get the chance, watch this one called Beavers. I don't think I need to explain what it's about). Anyway, I'll start my collection with the basics - David Attenborough's Planet Earth :) Oh and I need my own genuine copy of 11th Hour with the extra features and all.

Aside from that I'm currently concerned about the future of my degree. I've passed first year (including chem = miracle), but the options for 2nd and 3rd year are too much to narrow down. I think I'm only majoring in EGS for the sake of the label and being able to go into climate related work later on. Otherwise in terms of what I'd like to do, I'd be better off with Applied Biology or Ecology and Evolution. Choices choices. I'm probably ok for 2nd year (apart from this one terrible EGS to do with urbanisation in a South African context. I really don't enjoy human geography :/), but if I did even half of the courses that appeal to me for 3rd year it would probably mean 1 or 2 extra years at UCT. And all this is not even counting honours :S

Back to WWF though, I realised that in my Interning post I forgot to mention the Earth Hour meeting. Basically the start of WWF-India's planning committee for their Earth Hour 2011 campaign. This year WWF's going from just the 60 to 60+ - going beyond the hour. So you switch off your lights and do something else to make a difference. After the meeting I had to put a slide on Earth Hour into my powerpoint. While doing a bit of research I found that the Top Gear host (I always forget his name, something Clarkson), is such a skeptic that he turned on all the appliances in his house during the hour. He reckons Earth Hour's a totally pointless exercise that makes no difference whatsoever to the cause of climate change awareness and mitigation. Douche of note.

Anyway, now I must research which non-CDP signatory companies in India have undertaken footprint mapping :) If there's any advice I have for office interns, it's simple - be a beast with google, it gets you far. (And maybe have access to otherwise restricted online resources/journals thanks to your university, always a bonus - shot Kyran)

Oh and did I mention I want to one day be a WWF CEO? Just saying. Dreaming big is always nice and WWF-India's CEO Ravi Singh is cool.

I'll leave you with a little inspiration, reminds me of this one bit in Inconvenient Truth when Al Gore goes all motivational.

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17 December 2010

Species Conservation | One of those "Save the Tiger" moods

I thought I'd start the post off with that pretty little portrait before the real stuff begins, ease you into it...kind of. Apologies in advance for my knack for finding and posting the most depressing tiger pictures, but it's got to be done.

This one's of a group of Bengal tigers at a tiger farm in China. It's a terrible practice that reminds me a lot of the canned lion hunting that happens around Africa. Facilities in China have bred over 5000 tigers in captivity. The whole logic behind the farms is that if you can breed the tigers yourself, then it shouldn't be illegal to sell tiger products because it's not like they're from animals that have been poached illegally. It's a terrible concept and all it does is encourage the demand for tiger products. Contrary to what they say, it's really not a solution to the poaching and extinction of tigers in the wild - that's going to continue, tiger farming or not. This is just China's version of a win-win scenario - a load of shit really. Not to mention the fact that it's all done so inhumanely.

A couple of pictures of injured captive Sumatran tigers - an almost extinct subspecies with fewer than 400 left in the wild. This one did this to himself by rubbing his face against the bars, he was one of the few Sumatran tigers left in the wild till he was captured. It was thought that he killed 5 people.

And she was injured while being caught by villagers.

But I'll end the gore with some beautiful tiger photos. Some happy tigers (the top one is of Sumatran tigers and the bottom is a Siberian) in the wild :)

Back to my recent post about captive breeding, in-situ vs. ex-situ conservation etc. I finally decided to give the idea of tigers in the Karoo a chance and had a look at the website of Tiger Canyons near Bloemfontein. I haven't yet formed an opinion on it... I think the concept of bringing them to a country where they can have a chance to breed and hunt and behave almost like they're in their natural habitat isn't a totally bad idea. If you can prove that they can survive in a completely different country, then why not give them a chance somewhere where they have the space to be wild animals with less human conflict. Sure it's not their natural habitat and it's not right for a tiger, it's a glorified zoo in some senses, but if they can deal with it, I suppose it is better than southeast Asia - reduced conflict, no population pressure. I just don't see the point of establishing a population in Africa. Also when going through the Q&A bit, I'm not so sure this guy's going about it correctly. The way he thinks isn't quite right. Especially the fact that he seems to think ex-situ conservation is the only option for tigers and that they have no hope in India - even I think that's way extreme. It's like he heard about Sariska and Panna's stories and decided India's no longer a safe place for it's national animal. Angers me a little. Also it's extremely worrying that even these tigers are under threat from poachers... anyway, I don't know. It's definitely a worthy initiative but not if it's just gonna be another zoo. A zoo accessible to poachers at that. Also for god's sake, having a white tiger is purely a tourist attraction. They have no conservation value. I will say this though - the idea of a Bengal tiger hunting eland, blesbok and impala is definitely intriguing (I was going to post a picture I saw on the site yesterday but can't find it anymore :S).

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15 December 2010


I got my little intern card (it's got a tiger on it!) and letter today, so now that it's official, why not write a little post on what I'm up to at WWF-India :)

I was here for a week this time last year, like a mini-internship orientation thing so I kind of knew the basics of the place already but this time I'm here for all of December and January so it'll be intense. My whole idea was that I was going to come here and work on and learn about really exciting conservation projects and tigers and wildlife and all that fun stuff. WWF has been my dream for god knows how long so I've had this glorious image of it in my head and this idea that I'd get a behind-the-scenes look at their conservation projects and make a difference, etc. Not so much. I was a little disappointed about WWF not being as glamourous as I imagined. I was put in the two divisions of the organisation which I would have otherwise probably put on the top of my list of areas to avoid - Conservation Alliances and Business & Industry. As with any internship though, after a couple of weeks I opened my mind a little and realised it's actually quite interesting. It was the same with MSA - got there and thought what the hell am I doing with a bunch of consultants that do work on granting mining rights and basic assessment reports. Sure enough it turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life, I've never learnt so much. Everything I learnt there has been so relevant and applicable to things that I've done since - stuff about environmental legislation and whatnot, great internship.

Back to WWF though - last year I did a little work for Conservation Alliances but I mostly just got a bit of a briefing of all the different divisions so it was a great foundation to start on. Of course it got my hopes up for this time around because I thought I might be able to go to a fun division with field work.. Anyway, when I started I was with Conservation Alliances again for a bit and then I got put in Business & Industry. The first couple of days was again very much a "why am I here" sort of experience. That said, there's only two other people I work with, Megha and Bhavna Prasad and I like them both a lot so that makes it better :) I wish I could have Bhavna as a boss forever, she's brilliant, a great teacher and so sweet. Most of the work I've been doing has been your typical intern-y work - research, proof reads, powerpoints, etc. But when it comes to the actual meetings it's really interesting. Most of the work they do at B&I is to do with the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) and Climate Savers programme - which is yet to be properly launched at WWF-India. So it's great to get a perspective on how they actually try to sell the concept of clean business to all these companies. I guess it's great because I'm learning about things like corporate sustainability and all, which are actually so interesting but I probably wouldn't have ever otherwise gotten the chance to learn about them or bother to look into myself. Anyway, I'll update as I go along. Haven't got much general stuff to say right now :) For now I've just decided I'll stay as long as I can and be as involved as possible, because even if it's boring intern work, there's a lot to learn and it's WWF - just being in an office full of tiger posters, panda logos and conservationists is enough of an honour. Plus I'm in the same office as the Programmes Director so just eavesdropping on her is a learning experience :P

And yeah, I had to add in a picture.

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05 December 2010

Literally a conversation on conservation

I don't know how I'm going to put this in a single blog post, and in the process of writing it, it's become something completely different to what I intended. Essentially, I think it's about the meaning of conservation. I guess it's somewhat about my own personal journey in terms of understanding all this. I got into a lovely little discussion over it yesterday - it may have been via Facebook commenting but it was the kind of discussion that gets you thinking. I used it as proof and reassurance to my dad that my education at UCT hasn't been a waste so far, that I am actually learning :P
Firstly I want to bring up a few cases of single species conservation programs that I've come across and been inspired by, starting with the story of the Kihansi spray toad. My own story with this species started in September 2006. It was my first year at AISJ, I was in grade 10, and I decided to join the school's JOMUN (Johannesburg Model United Nations) programme. I joined the Environment Committee of course, and one of the issues we were debating on that year was the implementation of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). In line with this topic, on the first or second day of the conference, we had a guest speaker come in and talk to us about the CBD and projects that have been undertaken globally to conserve biodiversity - one of these being the Kihansi spray toad. Now that I think about it, I think the speaker might have incidentally been from the World Bank. To be honest, at the time, it didn't really phase me. But that JOMUN conference was the beginning of me actually doing something about my passion for the environment. Prior to that, the only action I took was helping some stray dogs in Delhi. A few years later, the Kihansi spray toad came back to me in the form of an extremely depressing article that declared the Kihansi spray toad officially extinct in the wild, in spite of efforts to salvage the population. At first I thought, why does this frog sound so familiar? Once it dawned on me, I spent a couple of days being seriously upset about it, the Kihansi spray toad became somewhat of a symbol of species conservation to me. The toad got some tears out of me until a friend cheered me up by reminding me of the fact that this is just one failure, and that there are always success stories too (coupled with an article on peregrine falcons making a return to Manhattan skies :D). Another year later and I found the Kihansi spray toad's very own success story of rehabilitation. It's this little amphibian's story on which I base a lot of my passion and belief in single species conservation.
Recently I've been coming across more of these stories of perseverence in single species conservation efforts, and good lord do they cheer you up when all you read otherwise is stories about failing climate negotiations and shark finning. One of these was about efforts to make barn owls prevalent in the UK again (not so much a success story, I just love the commitment), the other one which I saw yesterday was about giant panda captive breeding finally meeting some success (which triggered the facebook debate). The fight to save giant pandas has been running for decades, mostly being fought in zoos around the world. If there's a global symbol of single species conservation efforts - it's the panda. After all, it is WWF's logo - probably one of the world's only widely recognised brands for conservation. Maybe it's my obsessive personality speaking, but I've always felt that single species conservation holds huge importance in the "saving the planet" field. And sure enough, I'm currently sitting in a WWF office with walls covered in red panda, tiger and Gangetic dolphin posters. But in the last year and a half, a combination of increased maturity, lots of free time after graduating, reading, studying at UCT and meeting people like Kyran and Nick (two of the most opinionated biologists you'll ever meet) has forced me to rethink my views on what the world should be like. I've gotten into heated debates with people, been pissed off at lecturers teaching us that conservation has to be big thinking rather than at the species level or about how maybe elephant culling is one of the only viable management strategies, struggled with academics and where my passions lie, what I want to later specialise in, the list goes on... At the same time I've also become addicted to Whale Wars in the past year and I confess, I've been pretty brainwashed by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and for now, I still stand by my little dream to one day volunteer in the Southern Ocean on the Steve Irwin.

So that was quite the sidetrack. The point is, I've really struggled with my understanding of what conservation should mean and what that should translate to on the ground, in the field and in policy-making. I obviously know that single species isn't the way to make a difference (unless it's a keystone species with an important ecological niche), it's the entire ecosystem that you want to protect. But I can't help still being a strong advocate of captive breeding endangered populations, etc. Being from India, I guess it's because of our own species in danger of extinction that I feel this way - the tiger, Asiatic lion, red panda, leopards (snow, clouded, Indian), Indus and Ganga river dolphins, rhino, olive ridley turtles - and those are just our flagship ones.

The question now is how do you develop the right model to conserve an ecosystem, establish a protected area, and protect all the species in that range? How do you then incorporate that model into policy decisions? It's so easy to criticise existing systems, but how do you change them so that they're actually doing what they set out to do, what they should be designed to do? How do you find the funding to do it all? How do you make policy makers worldwide understand the need for this proper system? To provide funding for it? How do you make it so that conferences like these UN Biodiversity Summits actually make a difference and aren't just numbers on paper for delegates to negotiate without understanding? I could go on with these somewhat cynical questions, unfortunately, I have no real answers for them (yet). It's an area with so much scope for research, funding, implementation and appreciation since it's probably one of the most rewarding areas.
Here's a concept I hadn't heard of till yesterday (thank you Kyran), paper parks:
"Many protected areas are only protected in writing and have little to no real protection. Numerous studies indicate that 80 to 90% of existing protected areas lack proper enforcement and management operations to ensure that the plants, animals, and ecosystems within them are truly protected – essentially defeating the purpose of protecting the area in the first place. Even worse, many conservation organizations to continue to push for the creation of new protected areas often at the expense of existing protected areas. Fighting Paper Parks employs direct action against this problem by applying funding and resources directly to enforcement and management operations in the world’s most important protected areas." - fightingpaperparks.org

It sounds almost like a conservation conspiracy theory. I'm looking into it more now and I'm finding so many little organisations like Fighting Paper Parks that talk about this "silent crisis". What I really want to look into is paper parks in India. Because the term "park" gets thrown around a lot here... maybe the model works, like I said it's easy to criticise an existing model - but I was shocked to discover that most of what we call Corbett National Park is in fact just a "buffer zone" as opposed to "core area". It's great that access to the core area is prohibited, but the fact remains that this buffer zone is a bunch of villages and towns. Being an Indian who's lived abroad her whole life and doesn't know Indian conservation issues very well, I'll stop my criticism there because no other country has to deal with population pressure like we do (though the fact that we have to in the first place is bad enough), but I personally find the concept of a buffer zone extremely counter productive if you're talking about saving tigers and forested areas. Anyway, enough cynicism because I'm losing the point here. I guess I've decided that this is one area I'd like to work on and find answers for.

This post hasn't answered any questions , I guess it just elucidated the problem and where I've decided my passions (at least currently) lie. It does also set the stage for one of my main interests - trying to fix India's conservation model, maybe even by borrowing from the South African model, which I think is quite successful for the most part from what I know of it.

More Kihansi spray toad articles:


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04 December 2010

If ever there were a person who defines the word bastard.

If there's any single post on this blog that I'd want people to have a look at, this one would be a strong contender. I came across this on the Guardian's environment blog, this particular post written by George Monbiot. I was just going to copy paste the link but to make it count for more, I've put the whole article here. It makes for brilliant reading and it uncovers a whole new level of evil, fraudulent, bastardly behaviour by a man who went against everything he should have stood for in the name of money and personal gain. I said in the previous post that there are few things that anger me like the illegal wildlife trade, well this is one of them. I had a swearing fit when I first read it. It's sickening.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Patrick Moore:
I don't often find myself praising Tesco, but – deep breath – here goes. This summer it did something brave and good. It de-listed a supplier: not on its usual commercial grounds but for ethical reasons. This was not an easy decision. The company in question is a huge concern, whose political and economic connections make Tesco look like a corner shop. Its produce is cheap. But Tesco made the right call. It seems to me that Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) could make a fair claim to being one of the most destructive companies on the planet.
APP is part of the Sinar Mas conglomerate, a Chinese-Indonesian company owned by a fantastically rich dynasty called the Widjajas. Founded in 1962, it grew during the regime of Indonesia's dictator General Suharto into one of Asia's most powerful companies, with interests in palm oil, coal, property and banking. It has been the focus of criticism from human rights and environmental groups for years. But now it is a company with an urgent mission.
In 2001, APP defaulted on loans amounting to an amazing $13.9bn (£8.8bn). Most companies would have gone under. But some of the debt was picked up by Indonesian taxpayers, while around half was restructured. Its critics claim it is clearing its debts by clearing the rainforest.
The forests of Sumatra are disappearing faster than any others. Those that remain have the highest diversity of plants on earth. Many of their large mammals – such as the tiger, orangutan, elephant and clouded leopard – are in danger of extinction. The clearance there affects everyone, because it exposes one of the world's largest deposits of peat. When the peat is exposed and drained, it begins to oxidise, making carbon dioxide. Forest clearance is the reason why Indonesia now has the third-highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, after the US and China.
The environment group WWF alleges that APP is responsible for "more natural forest clearance in Sumatra . . . than any other company". Since the 80s, it claims, APP has cleared more than 1m hectares. In July this year, a group of NGOs in the Sumatran province of Riau published a devastating investigative report about APP's activities. Among the forestswhose destruction the NGOs alleged were areas inside a biosphere reserve that APP claims to be protecting, as well as other places critical to tiger conservation.
In 2003, APP announced it would stop turning rainforests into pulp by 2007, switching exclusively to plantation wood. But the NGOs' report alleged it was flagrantly breaking that promise.
WWF maintains that APP is threatening the forests in which the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan has, at great expense and trouble, been reintroduced. This year, Greenpeace followed logs cut in critical tiger habitats to the company's pulp mills. It published photos with GPS readings of the deforestation there. Maps published by the Indonesian forest ministry show that many of the areas from which APP companies claimed to be extracting plantation fibre contain no harvestable plantations.
In 2003, Human Rights Watch detailed a series of attacks on people whose lands were ceded by the government to one of the companies in the APP group. The attacks, it says, were carried out by Indonesian police and by the company's own enforcers.
APP has always denied the allegations and insisted that it is environmentally responsible, acting in the interests of indigenous peoples. APP did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.
While expansion might help APP to clear its debts, its alleged activities are also driving away customers. In 2008 the office supplies company Staples decided that buying paper from APP presented a "great peril to our brand". Office Depot, Carrefour, Gucci, H&M, Hugo Boss, Volkswagen, Fuji Xerox, Ricoh, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer and Tesco are among many large companies that have come to the same conclusion. In March this year, 35 Indonesian NGOs sent an open letter to APP's remaining customers, asking them to dissociate themselves from the company. Greenpeace followed with a similar plea this summer.
So what do you do if your brand is turning toxic? You hire the Canadian public relations consultant Patrick Moore. Moore runs a company based in Vancouver called Greenspirit Strategies, which has developed "sustainability messaging" for logging, mining, lead-smelting, nuclear, biotech, fish-farming and plastics companies. He is a clever rhetorician, skilled at turning an argument round. He is seen by some environmentalists as the most brazen of the spin doctors they face.
He has described clear-cut logging as "making clearings where new trees can grow in the sun". He has suggested that sea lice (which spread from farmed salmon to wild fish, often with devastating effects) are "good for wild salmon", as the fish can eat the larvae. He has justified gold-mining operations that have caused devastating spills of sodium cyanide by arguing that "cyanide is present in the environment and naturally available in many plant species". But his greatest asset to the companies he represents is this: Patrick Moore was one of the founders and leaders of Greenpeace.
In 1971 he was a young, idealistic PhD student with an afro and a Sgt Pepper moustache, fiercely opposed to US plans to test H-bombs in the Aleutian islands. He was chosen to join the inaugural voyage of a small group called The Don't Make a Wave Committee. It planned to sail an old halibut boat to the test site. The crew renamed the boat the Greenpeace. When the committee changed its clunky title, it took the same name.
Moore became one of Greenpeace's most articulate and effective spokespeople, leading campaigns against nuclear warships, whaling and seal clubbing. He became head of the Greenpeace Foundation, which later turned into Greenpeace Canada, and he was a director of Greenpeace International. Then, in the 80s, it all went horribly wrong. Moore claims he fell out with Greenpeace over scientific issues. Greenpeace maintains that he left after his autocratic style lost him the votes he needed to stay on the board. In either case, in 1986 he left Greenpeace and started a fish-farming business on Vancouver Island. In 1991 he wound it up after the price of salmon halved. Moore then made two moves that came to define his later career. He joined the board of the Forest Alliance of British Columbia, a group set up by logging companies to fight the greens trying to prevent the clear-cutting of ancient forests; and he set up the first of his consultancy businesses. In 2001 he founded Greenspirit Strategies with two of the public relations experts he had worked with at the Forest Alliance.
He has done well. He tells me: "I make less than the average corporate lawyer but consider myself successful" – for someone who started his career as an academic. He has homes in the city of Vancouver, in a fishing village on Vancouver Island and in Baja, California. His services have been widely used not only by controversial companies, but also by the media, for which he writes articles and gives interviews attacking environmental groups and their campaigns. While he is invariably billed as a co-founder of Greenpeace, I have come across only two instances in which viewers or readers are told that he works for companies with an interest in the issues he's discussing.
Moore denies that he is at war with the green movement. At one point in our correspondence he asserted: "I do not attack environmentalists, show me an example." It happened that on the same day he had sent an email to the green group GMWatch, in which he told them: "You are a bunch of murdering bastards." When I pointed this out to him, he told me: "I made an exception for murdering bastards . . . Besides which it was not against any particular person but rather at the whole lot of the murdering bastards."
Moore was the obvious man for APP to turn to in its struggle with Greenpeace and other groups. It commissioned Greenspirit Strategies to spend 10 days "reviewing APP operations in Indonesia", in order, says Moore, to "determine if the company is behaving in an environmentally responsible manner". His report was published a fortnight ago. It is a fascinating document.
Far from damaging the rainforest, Moore and his fellow investigators decided, APP is "engaged in world-class sustainable forest management". In fact, without APP's operations, "Sumatran tiger habitat would likely be further endangered", as APP's forest concessions act as a "buffer" between forests where tigers live and "human encroachment". It is cutting down only "degraded" forests, where removal of the trees is "necessary to make room for plantation fields".
The deforestation there is being caused, the report says, not by APP, but mostly by peasants "illegally encroaching on forests in search of better livelihoods". By employing Indonesian people, APP is reducing deforestation, as more employment means less poverty, which means less pressure to move into the forest. Criticism of Indonesia's pulp industry, Moore alleges, is the result of "western colonial powers" trying to prevent Indonesia from modernising its economy.
The evidence accumulated by environmental groups tells a different story. It suggests APP is clearing tracts of the very forests that Moore's report says it is protecting. Far from preventing people from encroaching on the forest, green groups claim that APP is accelerating it, by building roads into previously inaccessible areas. Even so, detailed mapping of commercial concessions, supported by satellite images and ground-level photography, strongly suggest that it is pulp companies, not peasant farmers, who are mostly responsible for deforestation in these places. WWF says APP classifies as "degraded" any forest it wants to cut down. As for relieving poverty, APP is accused of exacerbating it by pushing local people off their land and persuading the government to pick up its debts.
But the claims it makes are not the only odd features of Moore's report. It says it is an "inspection" of APP's operations. But Moore's company is not a monitoring firm, and the two people he took with him are experts not in tropical ecology or Indonesian law, but public relations. In his 43-page report, there is not a single source or reference cited (Greenpeace's latest investigation of APP, by contrast, is 40 pages long and contains 304 references).
But most damning is this. Moore has claimed that "people don't pay me to say things they've written down or made up. They pay me to tell them what I think." He insists that "APP has not shaped our conclusions or imposed its opinions". But sections of his report have been copied from a PR brochure produced by APP earlier this year. In some places APP's text is reproduced verbatim; elsewhere it appears to have been paraphrased. Facts and figures in its brochure are repeated unchallenged. When I asked Moore about this, he didn't deny cutting and pasting, but replied: "It does not follow that if we use language from APP's reports it is then impossible to evaluate their practices and programmes."
Whatever its merits, the "inspection" did the job. The Washington Post has repeated some of Moore's claims about APP on its website, without questioning them or explaining that he was paid by APP. Moore tells me that his report is now "in the hands of everyone in the paper trade". His credentials as a co-founder of Greenpeace, with a PhD in ecology lend it a weight it might not otherwise possess.
But it seems to me that he cannot play this card for ever. There will come a point at which his credibility as a "leading environmentalist" runs out. He too will become a toxic brand, likely further to taint a company trying to clear its reputation. But for now the work keeps rolling in.

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Species Conservation | Freeland Foundation

This is a post dedicated to awareness on the illegal wildlife trade in 2010, the International Year for Biodiversity. One of the most lucrative businesses in the world, after drug, human and arms trafficking. If it continues at its current rate, we'll be left with nothing and the world's ecosystems will collapse. There are few (if any) things in the world that anger me more.

It's also dedicated to the brave individuals across the globe who help fight the heartless poachers stripping the worlds forests and oceans of their wildlife. I've always had immense respect for organisations like TRAFFIC and Wildlife Alliance who do so much great work at the grassroots and make a real and tangible difference to our biodiversity. If you haven't seen Crime Scene Wild on Animal Planet (not sure if they still show it, if not, hunt (excuse the pun) for it). I recently discovered another organisation, the Freeland Foundation, formed by Wildlife Alliance and Crime Scene Wild's Steve Galster - a hero of mine ever since I saw his underground investigation of the trade in shark fins in Southeast Asia. This post is also to help spread their message :)

This post feels a bit cheesy.

(pictures from the Guardian and Freeland websites)

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