UNITED STATES As we reported in the spring 2005 AWI Quarterly, using an aircraft to hunt down wildlife is illegal in most places—but not in Alaska. There, the cruel practice is a state-supported form of predator control. A controversial aerial gunning program was launched to increase moose and caribou populations for hunters, which has caused the slaughter of approximately 550 wolves over the past three years.
In January, the targeted wolves were granted temporary reprieve when a state judge found the program to be illegal because the Alaska Board of Game had failed to adequately address certain regulatory requirements regarding its justification. However, immediately after the decision was reached, the board held an emergency meeting in an effort to address the deficiencies found by the court. As a result, the program's suspension was lifted.
Opponents waged an appeal to try and stop the aerial hunt from continuing but were unsuccessful, as the court refused to review its decision. While alternative legal avenues are being explored, aerial wolf gunning is taking the lives of hundreds of wolves in Alaska.
Please contact the state's Division of Tourism to indicate that you will not spend your tourist dollars in Alaska until the aerial wolf gunning is banned permanently.
Alaska Travel Industry Association
2600 Cordova Street, Ste. 201
Anchorage, AK 99503
TIBET At an annual gathering in India attended by over 125,000 Buddhist devotees in January, the Dalai Lama made an impassioned plea for wildlife: "I am ashamed and don't feel like living when I see all those pictures of people decorating themselves with skins and fur." He was describing the traditional dress of Tibetans, which in the last 50 years has become increasingly trimmed with furs. In his closing comments, His Holiness instructed everyone to "neither use, sell [n]or buy wild animals, their products or derivatives." Heeding his words, Tibetans have set ablaze thousands of animal pelts. Chinese authorities subsequently banned the mass bonfires, seeing these actions as a sign of the people's allegiance to their country's exiled leader. But the burnings still continue, though less conspicuously. "What's happening now in Tibet," the Dalai Lama said, "is about compassion for all living things."
KENYA and UGANDA Reports of elephants killing people or destroying villages for no apparent reason are on the rise, leading some researchers to believe that an "elephant breakdown" is occurring all over Africa, with young, orphaned elephants suffering from something akin to post-traumatic stress syndrome. Joyce Poole, research director at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya and a key scientist in this debate, told New Scientist, "they are certainly intelligent enough and have good enough memories to take revenge," adding that when elephants are shot as a solution to human-elephant conflicts, little thought is given to "the very real possibility of stimulating a cycle of violence." Since poaching and culling in Uganda and other places in Africa and Asia have decimated elephant populations, gone are the tight matriarchal groups in which young elephants forge strong bonds that last a lifetime. The older bulls are also gone. In their places are herds run amok—"teenage mothers" who have raised a generation of juvenile delinquents.
INDONESIA Living in a time when we hear so much about lost species, it's refreshing to learn that dozens, if not hundreds, of new species of frogs, butterflies, mammals, flowers and birds were discovered earlier this year by an international team of scientists in the remote mountain rainforests of Western New Guinea. Many rare species were also sighted, among them tree kangaroos, spiny anteaters and long-beaked echidnas, as well as male bowerbirds performing elaborate courtship rituals. One scientist is reported to have said that the "dawn chorus" of birds was the most fantastic he had ever heard. The most remarkable find was the Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise, thought to have become extinct in the 19th century when their feathers were coveted for women's hats.
MALAYSIA A three-year genetic study published in January in the journal PLoS Biology analyzed DNA from the hair and feces of 200 orangutans in Borneo. Their research shows that the population has declined up to one hundred fold since the late 19th century, due mostly to human deforestation occurring within the past several decades. Researchers conclude that the major threat to the long-term survival of orangutans is linked to the expansion of palm oil plantations. Ninety percent of the world's palm oil comes from Borneo and Sumatra, the only remaining habitats of the orangutan.