April 26, 2007

China to lift ban on tiger parts sale???

China's tiger farm lobby wants sale ban lifted
IANS[ MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2007 11:00:47 AM ]

KATHMANDU: India and Nepal are likely to be great jeopardy with the news that China's powerful tiger farm lobby is stepping up pressure on the government to lift its 14-year-old ban on the sale of tiger parts, wildlife experts have warned.

"Fifty years ago, China had the highest number of wild tigers," says Susan Lieberman, director of WWF International' s Global Species Programme. "Today, the number has come down to about 20, which are increasingly moving towards the Russian forests in search of safety."

Traditionally, China has been the biggest consumer of tiger bones, hunting down the big cats for their bones, which the Chinese believe have medicinal qualities.

Though the Chinese government banned the trade in tiger parts in 1993, wildlife experts say new illegal markets are opening in the communist republic with restaurants, boutiques and gift shops advertising tiger meat dishes, fur robes and even wines said to have been made by dipping tiger carcasses in rice wine.

In a bid to circumvent the ban, individuals with and without government funding began establishing tiger farms in China. Some tiger products available in China claim they used tigers that died of natural causes in the farms. Currently, over 100 tiger farms, which have nearly 5,000 captive tigers, have begun pressuring the government afresh to lift the ban.

This month, the Global Tiger Forum, an inter-government group comprising countries with tiger populations, met in Kathmandu to plan its strategies where an official from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China began lobbying for lifting the ban.

"There is considerable need for tiger bone to cure diseases like rheumatic arthritis," says Jia Qian, the official. "Legalisation of the use of farmed tiger bone may meet the market demand and significantly reduce illegal trade by cutting down its price."

However, 30 organisations around the world, which have united under the International Tiger Coalition to oppose the lobbying, say tiger farming will boost poaching of the big cats since many consumers think the wild tiger's potency can't be found in the tame ones.

Between 1999 and 2005, nearly 650 kg of tiger and leopard bones were seized from China, India and Nepal.

Since both India and Nepal are not traditional consumers of tiger or leopard bone or skin, it is assumed that the caches were intended for China. This month, the smuggling of precious red sandalwood from India to China via Nepal exposed the existence of a well-organised international smuggling network with the security and customs officials of all three countries on its payroll.

"If China lifts the ban on tiger trade, Nepal and India's wildlife will be endangered," says Lieberman.

"Instead of lifting the ban, the law enforcement agencies of countries sharing a border need to collaborate and share information to curb smuggling."

Source: http://economictime s.indiatimes. com/News/ International_ _Business/ Chinas_tiger_ farm_lobby_ wants_sale_ ban_lifted/ articleshow/ 1942156.cms

Laurie Baker, I salute!

Master Builder

The moral origins of Laurie Baker’s art

Amrith Lal

Laurie Baker, who passed away in Thiruvananthapuram a few days ago, is relevant for a world that is threatened by global warming. His futuristic vision of India, encapsulated in his buildings and ideas of architecture, emphasised efficiency in the use of materials and energy, improvisation and adaptation of local craft and artisanal traditions, and the needs of millions of homeless. The hundreds of houses, churches and public buildings he designed and constructed offer a rare example of an equitable and sustainable architecture.

Baker has spoken about the influence of a Quaker upbringing and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi in his life. In an autobiographical essay, he recalled how Gandhi took fancy to the Chinese shoes he had made of cut waste clothes when they met the first time. Gandhi invited him to come and work in India after the war. One can deduce from the encounter that Baker shared some of Gandhi’s economic ideas even before they had met in person. The Quaker roots had inculcated in him an appreciation of labour and austerity.

One does not know if Baker shared Gandhi’s interest in the British philosopher, John Ruskin. However, there is an imprint, conscious or otherwise, of Ruskin in Baker’s work, especially the ideas expressed by the former in his writings on the Gothic. Ruskin suggests three rules to test the desirability of a product: One, never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which invention has no share; two, never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but only for some practical or noble end; three, never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, except for the sake of preserving records of great works. These, we can see, formed the core of Baker’s work ethic.

The contribution of Baker to Gandhian praxis is similar to that of the economist J C Kumarappa. Unlike with Kumarappa’s formulations on the village industries, Baker’s ideas found a wider audience. As in the case of Kumarappa, it was Gandhi who gave a political orientation to Baker’s professional skills. Baker’s experiences within the Quaker community may have prepared the ground for him to relate to Gandhi and understand science in moral categories. His pacifism was also shaped by the belief that the science which disrupted the order of life negatively ought to be shunned. He was always supportive of campaigns that sought to expose the false science of our times. He wrote with equal passion on the need for an essential architecture and the immorality of a nuclear bomb. The aesthetic and wholesomeness of his buildings and concepts were a reflection of his philosophy of life. In the essay,Architecture and the People,Baker summed up his work practice in four points. One, he had a clear idea of his clients and their needs. To him, they did not exist as social and economic categories; they were not high income groups or tribals, but people with names and personalities. He once said that he could recall the names of all those for whom he had built houses. Two, no one has the right to waste money, materials and energy in a country like India. Three, people have the ‘‘inherent and inherited ability’’ to know what good architecture is. Architects, he felt, could and should learn from ordinary people. Four, design has to be organic; it has to be transferred from the field to the drawing table and not the other way. He wrote that, ‘‘good or bad design, or good or bad taste has little to do with colour, or form, or texture, or costliness — but that has only to do with honesty and truth in the choice of materials and the method of using them’’. His concepts of architecture and design were not utilitarian; he only reiterated that utility and aesthetics can comfortably coexist.

There is a fundamental critique of the way knowledge is currently understood, acquired, valued and practised in Baker’s work. He did not respect the hierarchies implicit in the use of modern knowledge. He acknowledged traditional wisdom and was constantly learning and adapting it in his work practices. The divide between thought and manual labour was for him a false one. He designed his buildings in such a way that they would ‘‘fit in with the local styles and not be an offence to the eyes of the people’’. The housing projects Baker undertook for the poor were in sharp contrast to the government housing projects. His homes were lived in whereas the sarkari concrete huts ended up being used as cattle sheds and storehouses.

In one sense,Baker was a lucky man.Gandhian ideas of social and economic reconstruction were on the retreat by the time Baker began to build. Baker’s low-cost architecture was in sharp contrast to the promise of big science. However, he found a powerful backer in C Achyuta Menon, the communist leader and chief minister of Kerala, and the Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram when he settled in Kerala in the 1960s.

The Baker model of a low-cost housing revolution to address the needs of the poor found a lot more takers among a moneyed elite in the later years. The joke about the upwardly mobile Malayalee seeking a Baker model house with an exorbitant budget explains the complex nature of his acceptance among people. People may have only bought in to the form of his architecture, and not the vision behind it. A construction company offered tributes to him with a frontpage ad in a leading Malayalam daily on the day his death was reported. Of course, the master builder would have smiled at the irony.

Text Source: TOI Editorial , A'bad Edition, 21 April, 07.

Of architectural truths and lies

Pictures of his works are arbitarily placed.

Laurie Baker

When I am designing a new building, there are a few basic principles that guide me.

The first, of course, is that I want to get to know my client and what is in his mind. If he merely wants to show off or flaunt his wealth, I don't take him on. Otherwise, I enjoy getting to know him (or her, a family, an institution or even a Government department).

If it is to design a house, I want to know the client's eating habits. Do they all eat together at regular times? Or is it a smash-and-grab affair? I also want to know about the bedroom. Do they merely use it to sleep in? Or does he do his writing in one cor ner (like me) and his wife do her sewing or embroidery in another corner?
I always want to see, right at the beginning of our association together, their building site. Not only do I want to know what sort of a site it is (is the land level or sloping?) and what trees there are, but I also ask whether they desire a good view, a garden and whether they keep animals. I want to know about the water supply and from which direction the breeze and rain come from. And I have to always keep in mind that it is they who are going to use the building and not me.

Then I have my own principles, which I am unwilling to abandon. I dislike falsehood and deceit. A building should be truthful. As a typical example, I can think of many "big" buildings, say, in the Thiruvananthapuram Central road.

One building that immediately comes to my mind is three or four storeys high - it is a reinforced concrete frame structure, and between the columns and beams there are windows and brick-work. The bricks are plastered and painted all over. The front of the building, facing the main road, is covered all over with bits of flat stone, to look like crazy paving. So the whole building is actually deceitful - it is a concrete-and- brick structure, but neither material is visible.

I am, of course, asked what I would have done for such a structure. First of all, I would not have used a reinforced concrete frame structure. I would have used brick, and this is perfectly capable of carrying four storeys. Brick has a variety of colours, and I would want it to be seen and not covered over with plaster and paint. If the client must have his crazy paving, I would have put it on the ground.

I rarely build high-rise buildings. Once I did one - the library at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram. Eight-storeyed, it did need a frame structure. This is visible and forms part of the design. Brick was the obvious wall-making material. So between the concrete, everything is brick. After 25 years, the building is still clean and looks new, with no stains and dirt as is invariably seen on plastered walls after a very short time.

On the subject of material, I would like to mention what I consider as one of the most foolish architectural lies that anyone can imagine - build a brick building, then plaster it all over and paint bricks on the plaster to make it look like a brick building! How stupid can we be! There are several such prominent buildings in Thiruvananthapuram.

My next principle is to use locally-available material. If the area makes good bricks, use them. If I want to build in an area full of laterite or stone, I would use it. This is not only economical, but the building would also look as though it belongs; it would not sport an imported look.

Also connected with local material is the whole aspect of local traditional plans, designs and building techniques, which have evolved over hundreds of years. Unsatisfactory design and usage have been abandoned and ideal material and designs have, by trial and error, remained and coped with the local terrain, climate and cultural patterns of living. So why abandon these for expensive, unsuitable energy-intensive material, merely to look "modern"?

In Kerala we have fierce sun and heavy rain. So the typical logic al, effective roof is a huge umbrella to protect the interior and the walls. This is just pure common sense. So I don't want to leave off the overhanging roof, the kind that our ancestors built, for the sake of "looking modern".

As far as buildings are concerned, we are a poor country. There are probably between 40 and 50 million families here without homes. So to me it is not only foolish but wicked to waste material. So one of my main principles is to avoid waste. Plaster costs approximately 10 per cent of the cost of a "normal" building and once plastered, your client is committed to an annual expenditure for upkeep and painting.

Plaster may be necessary in a few areas, for example in a bathroom or a kitchen. But not all over both sides of every wall. So why go on doing it everywhere all the time? Windows are costly, a gate is just as effective in a corridor or staircase. Do you need all the doors that are usually built into a house (each one, which necessitates unnecessary use of timber and paint, costing several thousand rupees)? In a master-bedroom with its attached bathroom, is the door necessary? Do you have to lock yourself in the bathroom? Wouldn't a curtain be adequate?

The other big principle is to avoid as much as possible energy-intensive material (that is, material that requires a lot of fuel in their manufacture) . India just does not have enough "energy" (i.e., fuel). Our coal is concentrated in the East and is not plentiful for the whole country. Iron ore, we have mountains of it, but we don't have enough fuel to convert it into all the steel we use. We have very little oil and have to import it from the Gulf.

Cement uses a lot of energy to be produced from limestone and calcium, whereas lime from the same basic material and with an ultimate strength as good as cement, uses almost no fuel at all. We all cry out about the destruction and depletion of our forests for timber. Forests can be replaced, but not the iron ore and the limestone. So which is the more "eco-friendly" ?

Source: http://www.hinduonn et.com/folio/ fo9908/99080300. htm

India-Northeast-Rhinos Poaching

Wildlife authorities at a national park in India's northeastern state of Assam have sounded a maximum alert with poachers killing six endangered one-horned rhinos since January, including two this month, officials Monday said.

"Six rhinos poached in about 100 days, including two of the beasts killed in the past week, is a matter of grave concern. A security alert has been sounded," park warden Utpal Bora said.

The 430 square-kilometer (166 square-miles) park, 220 km east of Assam's main city of Guwahati, is now home to the single largest population of the one-horned rhinoceros.

As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the worlds estimated 2,700 such herbivorous beasts lumber around the wilds of Kaziranga -- their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target for poaching.

"We are certain that the recent cases of hunting the rhinos for their horns were done at the behest of a very organized international poaching syndicate who has pumped in lot of funds to attract shooters to kill the animals," the warden said.

"We have mobilized all the resources available and have stepped up security in the park. The local villagers have joined us in our fight against poaching," another park ranger said.

Organized poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities, besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of South Asia.

Rhino horn is also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.

Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering, rhino horn sells for up to 1.5 million rupees per kilogram in the international market.

The fresh incidents of poaching come at a time when park authorities believed the endangered one-horned rhinos were charging back from the brink of extinction.

"There was a time when poachers slaughtered about 50 rhinos annually in the early 1990s. But things have slowed down in recent years due to stepped up vigil and now all off a sudden we see a spurt in poaching again," Bora said.

Five rhinos were poached last year, while seven were killed in 2005.

According to government estimates about 500 of the beasts were killed by poachers during the past two decades.

Source: http://www2.irna.ir/en/news/view/line-16/0704167270184913.htm

April 14, 2007




"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't
matter, and those who matter don't mind."

-Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)





"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't
matter, and those who matter don't mind."

-Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

April 08, 2007

An hymn to Morning

An Hymn To The Morning

ATTEND my lays, ye ever honour'd nine,
Assist my labours, and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbers pour the notes along,
For bright Aurora now demands my song.
Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies,
Which deck thy progress through the vaulted skies:
The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On ev'ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather'd race resume,
Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.
Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display
To shield your poet from the burning day:
Calliope awake the sacred lyre,
While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire:
The bow'rs, the gales, the variegated skies
In all their pleasures in my bosom rise.
See in the east th' illustrious king of day!
His rising radiance drives the shades away--
But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong,
And scarce begun, concludes th' abortive song.

Phillis Wheatley

April 05, 2007

Trawling Industry threatens Turtle Nestings

Not so shocking & anger inviting piece of news.

Trawling, Industry Threaten India Turtle Nesting

April 04, 2007

By Simon Denyer, Reuters

DEVI, India -- The scattered carcasses of dead turtles bake on the hot sand. Scraps of the white shells of turtle eggs surround a hole where stray dogs have dug up a nest. Until a decade ago, this beach on India's east coast used to witness one of nature's most spectacular sights -- the mass nesting of tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles on a single night.

Not since 1995 has that happened. These days just a handful of turtles come to the beach at Devi to nest, and its status as one of three main nesting sites for the Olive Ridleys in India's coastal state of Orissa is under threat.

Orissa is one of the few remaining mass nesting sites for the Olive Ridleys in the world. But the situation on its other beaches is not much better, with turtles falling victim to government neglect and rapid industrialisation. Fewer turtles than normal arrived this year at the nearby beaches of Gahirmatha, where a marine sanctuary has failed to check illegal fishing by trawlers, and the construction of a large port nearby presents a major environmental threat.

No mass nesting has yet been seen on the southern beach of Rushikulya, and time is running out if that beach is not to witness its third "no-show" in just over a decade. At the same time more than 8,000 carcasses have been washed ashore since November, most caught and drowned in the nets of trawlers fishing too close to the shore, conservationists say. "Because of an increase in human activity in the sea and along the coast, the very survival of Orissa's sea turtles is at stake," said Biswajit Mohanty of the Society of Orissa.

Greenpeace says more than 120,000 turtles have been washed up dead on Orissa's shores in the past 12 years, most caught in the nets of trawlers which the law says should not be there. Total deaths may have been significantly higher. The trawlers also scatter the turtles as they gather in offshore waters to nest, and rampant trawling is thought to be a major reason for the demise of Devi.

But although turtles enjoy the same level of protection under Indian law as tigers, Mohanty said there was simply no enforcement or political will to protect them. A single gill net was found to contain 265 dead animals a few years ago. "Boats are seized, nets are seized, but then they are released after a couple of months," he said. "Not a single conviction has taken place."

Other factors are at work too. The forest department may unwittingly have contributed to the demise of Devi when they planted casuarina trees on the beach in a bid to protect nearby villages from cyclones. That narrowed the beach and made much of it unsuitable for nesting. Natural erosion of the beach at Rushikulya, steepening the incline, may have discouraged landings this year.

But at Devi, traditional fishermen hate the trawlers every bit as much as Mohanty. They say their catch has fallen sharply since trawlers came and is worth perhaps half what it was five years ago, while more expensive fish like pomfret and hilsa have all but vanished. They eagerly show Reuters how easily their flimsy nets rip, showing they present no danger to the turtles, unlike the multi-fibre nets of the industrial boats. "We want the turtles to remain, because wherever there are turtles there are fish," said 32-year-old Jagabondhu Behra.

This is evidence, Greenpeace says, that it is not a question of pitting people against turtles. Some areas like Gahirmatha need to be protected to allow fish stocks room to recover, but in other areas a balance can be struck. In 2004 the Supreme Court recommended that trawlers be kept at least 20 km (12 miles) away from nesting beaches, but traditional fishermen be allowed closer to shore.

The rules, which strike a balance between conservation and livelihood concerns, are supported by Greenpeace but ignored by trawlermen. "There is no reason to subscribe to the defeatist attitude that the problem cannot be tackled unless either turtles or fishermen are sacrificed," said Sanjiv Gopal of Greenpeace.

Challenged on the subject, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said he was unaware that laws meant to protect turtles were not being enforced. The response failed to impress campaigners who say they have been petitioning him on the subject for years. Yet there is another and potentially even more serious threat to the Olive Ridleys' future in Orissa.

The state, one of India's poorest, is rushing to industrialise and exploit its vast mineral wealth. Plans are advanced to open seven new ports, including what could become the biggest on the east coast at Dhamra, just 12 km (7 miles) from the Gahirmatha sanctuary. Oil exploration has also begun off the coast, before studies have been completed of the effects on turtle migration. This year just 140,000 turtles nested at Gahirmatha, Mohanty said, compared to 230,000 the year before. "We are very convinced turtles will eventually abandon the nesting beach," he said. "They are never going to adapt to that level of disruption."

Source: Reuters
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April 01, 2007

Tiny animal halts billion dollar mine


Tiny animal halts billion dollar mine

Michael Perry

Sydney: A blind spider-like animal has stopped development of a multi-billion-dollar iron ore mine in Australia. This is after an environmental body rejected the project fearing that the tiny cavedweller would become extinct.

Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) rejected the proposal by Robe River — a unit of mining giant Rio Tinto — to develop the iron ore mine near Pannawonica in the Pilbara region after the company unearthed troglobites there, which measure just 4 millimetres (0.16 in) in length.

A troglobite is an animal that lives only in the dark parts of caves. It has adapted to life in total darkness and may have no eyes or pigmentation, using feelers to explore its way through the dark.

Troglobites are unable to live outside their pitch-dark world due to risk of death from exposure to ultraviolet light. Even short term exposures to sunlight can be fatal.

“Extensive research and sampling conducted by the proponent has identified a number of new species of troglobitic fauna,” EPA chairman Wally Cox said. An EPA report into the project found 11 species of troglobites in the area and said mining would extinguish at least five of them. The EPA judged that a proposed mining exclusion zone at the site would be inadequate to protect the tiny animal or aboriginal heritage in the area. “There is also concern over the long term structural stability of the landform post-mining,” said the EPA report. Rio Tinto said it would appeal against the decision. “It is a significant project, so we will appeal,” a spokesman said, adding, “This decision is a part of being in the mining business. We support the EPA process in general.”

Robe River already mines iron ore in nearby areas in the Robe River Valley. It currently produces 32 million tonnes per annum of ore, but the existing deposit will be exhausted by 2010. The new iron ore mine, with an expected life of 10 years, is planned as a replacement mine and is predicted to produce 220 million tonnes.