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Panthera leo persica

Panthera leo persica

Yesterday I posted an eBulletin about a terrific victory in India.

There are only 400 Asiatic Lions left in the world and they all live in and around Gir National Park in the State of Gujarat. ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta was concerned, because with all the lions living in one place, an epidemic could wipe out the entire population.

ELAW’s science team provided Ritwick with numerous scientific studies that support the idea of separating populations to prevent disease outbreaks from devastating entire populations (in some cases, species).  Ritwick used this information to win a landmark Supreme Court ruling that will help save the lions.

He wrote this week that the Court ordered the government to re-locate part of the lion population to the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary and adjoining forest in the State of Madhya Pradesh:

“I am happy to share with you the Judgment of the Supreme Court of India on protection of the Asiatic Lion and other endangered species. It has been a 7-year legal fight at the Supreme Court.  On many different occasions I sought help from the ELAW network on various scientific and legal issues concerning re-introduction of species.  I received lots of input, which became part of our submissions. Thanks for all your help and support!”

Ritwick says the ruling not only directs the translocation of the Asiatic Lion from the state of Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, but expands the meaning of the right to life to include the protection and conservation of wildlife.  The judgment also calls for the reinterpretation of the Principle of Sustainable Development “in a manner which is more eco-centric.”

Ritwick is an attorney at the EIA Resource and Response Centre. Together with his colleagues in India, he helped host the 2012 ELAW Annual Meeting, held in Goa.

Congratulations Ritwick on this hard fought victory for the lions!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

A stone-crushing until near Kaziranga
Photo: Urmimala Bhattacharjee

ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta is winning the battle to protect Kaziranga National Park!  Last week, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) found that the Ministry of the Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the government of Assam were failing to protect the park from polluting industries.  The park, which sits at the eastern edge of the Himalayas, was declared a National Park and Tiger Reserve under India’s Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. In 1996, the MoEF declared the area around the park to be a ‘No Development Zone.’ Despite these protections, several quarries, stone-crushers, and brick kilns have been operating illegally around the park, threatening tigers, rhinos, elephants, buffalo, swamp-deer and other wildlife.  Ritwick brought the case on behalf of a local resident who was concerned that government officials were simply acting as mute spectators while dozens of illegal and unregulated industries sprang up in the no development zone.

In its ruling, the NGT ordered the MoEF and government of Assam to close or relocate most of the polluting facilities and enforce pollution regulations for the few facilities that were allowed to stay because they were constructed before the no development buffer zone was established.   The NGT imposed a fine on both entities for failing to protect the park.  The fine will be placed in a fund designated for the conservation and protection of Kaziranga National Park.

The NGT also had this to say about Ritwick’s work:

“Before parting, we feel it necessary to express our appreciation to Shri Ritwick Dutta, Learned Counsel for the Applicant for the endeavourance made and pain taken by him to place different records and datas before this Tribunal to substantiate rampant violation of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 at Kaziranga National Park as well as inside the No Development Zone.”

Congratulations Ritwick!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Adrian on the ferry to Puerto Barrios

We were flying from Placencia to Punta Gorda in Southern Belize.  Domestic flights in Belize are an incredible treat – and over the years I have enjoyed learning to recognize certain estuaries, towns and other features of the coastal landscape as if they are old friends.  Local advocates use the opportunities of the flights to identify developments that may compromise coastal ecosystems.  But on this day, what we saw was cause for celebration.  As we passed over the Placencia Lagoon, Adrian Vernon of the Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development (PCSD)  beamed as he grabbed for his cell phone to tell folks on the ground that PCSD’s work had paid off, once again.

“The manatees are back!  I see FIVE resting behind Drunken Caye!”

Adrian’s roots are deep in Placencia – his great great grandfather — an Irish Admiral in the Royal Navy and a commissioned pirate, was one of the first to settle the peninsula in the 1770s.  Adrian’s family spread across Belize, but some stayed put in Placencia – and became anchors in the community there.  Adrian grew up playing among the mangroves in the Placencia Lagoon, which he says are like “botanical amphibians, with one foot on land and the other in the sea.” Manatees and other wildlife were abundant.

In the last few decades, the world has discovered Placencia.  Although the village of Placencia itself still feels like a sleepy place, resort developers recognize the potential profits of developing this sparsely populated Caribbean paradise for tourism.  Developments currently proposed would nearly double the population of the peninsula.  This scale of development threatens not only the lifestyle and culture of the local people, but also seriously jeopardizes fragile ecosystems.  Sedimentation from dredging and filling to “make land” in the Placencia Lagoon has literally choked out some species.  Excess nutrient discharge from shrimp farms also suffocates plants, and changes critical habitat.

Shrimp farms in Belize

Adrian and colleague Tim Smith persuaded four large shrimp farms to stop discharging directly to the lagoon, and instead to plant mangrove buffers between their ponds and the lagoon.  Mangroves naturally filter the nutrient waste from the shrimp farms  out of the water.  As a result, native seagrass has re-colonized the lagoon, and the manatees, dependent on seagrass for their survival, are back!

Well done!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

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