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THE GLOBAL WAR AGAINST ANIMALS

by HOMERO ARIDJIS

from REFORMA, Sunday, January 13, 2002

While scientists are warning that the glaciers in Antarctica are getting thinner and in the last ten years have lost up to 45 meters of their thickness, Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa may lose its snowcap by 2015, and parts of the Greenland icecap are melting by up to 45 centimeters per year, phenomena that point to global warming of the atmosphere. In this age of the globalization of commerce, prostitution, organized crime and terrorism, what is also occurring on several fronts is the global war against animals.

Pollution or destruction of habitat and the traffic of fauna are decimating the populations of many species throughout the whole world, in face of the indifference of societies and without governments doing anything to stop it. On the contrary, in the name of desarollo (development) governments are the main promoters of that depredation, as is the case of Vicente Fox with the Escalera Nautica in Baja California (a scheme planned by the Federal Tourist Agency, FONATUR, to construct a string of marinas all along the Baja coast), and of the new airport in Texcoco, which has been the habitat for thousands of years of migratory birds, and against which, refusing to have their lands expropriated, the inhabitants of San Salvador Atenco have mobilized, as has, legally, the municipality of Texcoco and the government of the Distrito Federal (Federal District of Mexico City).

The conflicts of humans have caused numerous victims in the animal world, as was recently the case of migratory birds that traveled from Siberia to Afghanistan, and the losses caused by the dispute between India and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, Sheragha Omar, Director of the Kabul Zoo - whose principal building and ancient aquarium were destroyed by bombing - is remarkable for his care for the animals in time of war. Sheragha Omar devotedly kept alive Marjan, a one-eyed lion, the only resident of the lion's den. "He's as old as I am. The lion is 45 and I'm 48. The poor animal has no mate. He's aging fast, traumatized by his contacts with death." The lion lost his eye when the Russians left Afghanistan in the nineties. Then a gorilla jumped into his den to impress his friends. The lion ate him. Next day, the reckless man's brother, applying the Muslim code of vengeance, threw a grenade at him causing him to lose an eye. When the bombers and the Taliban are gone, the Director of the zoo in Kabul will remain in the annals of lonely heroism.

But it is not always like this: there exists an enormous amount of aggression against animals. In China the repugnant practice of extracting bile from black bears continues in the so-called "Bile Factories". Hundreds of bears are stuffed in cages and tubes and valves are implanted in their insides to be milked twice daily for their bile, which is used in the treatment of fever, liver ailments and burning eyes. Experts in traditional Chinese herbal medicine assure us that there are [other] herbs that have the same medical powers. In the decade of the nineties the infamous Chinese industry came to have up to 10,000 bears in cages on 480 farms. The inhumane conditions of these factories are so horrific that last December, in the factories of Diachum and Dianye, several black bears reached the point of gnawing on their own legs to relieve the pain. In Futo, Japan, the annual festival consists of fishermen rounding up hundreds of dolphins to kill them afterwards with lances and knives. In Africa, the killing of rhinoceros continues. In Kenya, where there are only 460 left, a little while ago four of them, three adults and one baby, were killed to get their horns, which are sold in Asia as aphrodisiacs.

At the beginning of January, in the U.S., it was discovered that traffickers in tigers had acquired several felines for the sole purpose of sacrificing them to sell their organs. As is the case in the extermination of bears and rhinoceros, tigers are killed for their skin, their meat, skulls and teeth, in order to satisfy the demand of collectors with no conscience, and to obtain products for traditional Chinese medicine. The penises, which are thought to have aphrodisical properties, are consumed in soups. This infamous market in one century has lowered the world population of tigers from 100,000 to 5,000. According to the World Wildlife Fund, in the last decade, a quarter of the tiger population has been killed by traffickers.

The annual fires in Brazil and Indonesia - nearly always deliberate -, and the recent ones in New South Wales, Australia, have caused massive death of fauna. Animal experts have estimated that hundreds of thousands of mammals, birds and reptiles died in the recent fires in Australia and that few survived. The fire wiped out the habitat of the koala bears, who were trapped in the trees, and numerous kangaroos were burnt to death. People's behavior was exemplary, caring for, feeding and comforting the survivors. The forest conflagrations were the first environmental tragedy of the twenty- first century.

A new study of satellite images taken between 1993 and 2000 has shown that Mexico is losing its forest lands twice as fast as was previously estimated, making it the country with the second highest rate of deforestation in the world, divested of some 500,000 hectares per year, through fires, logging and the expansion of farms and ranches, as was revealed by Victor Lichtinger, the Director of SEMARNAT (Mexican Environmental Ministry). In three years 1.2 million acres have disappeared. Brazil has the highest rate of deforestation, followed by our own country and Indonesia. "The situation is doubly critical, because the loss of forests is not just a matter of plants, but loss of fertility, water retention, oxygen production," Lichtinger pointed out. To this list of evils, we would add the most serious and substantial loss of animal habitat. According to SEMARNAT, among the states most affected by logging are Campeche, which has lost 100% of its forests, Tabasco, Veracruz, and Nayarit. To that list one should add the names of Chihuahua, Michoacan, Durango, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and, above all, the Lacandonian Rainforest and the forest of the Chimalapas. The unbridled logging of the forests surrounding the Popocatepetl and Ixtac Cihuatl volcanoes, and the devastation of Ajusco have increased the possibility of the disappearance of the teporingo or zacatuche, a rabbit endemic to the volcanic environment.

However, in Mexico some positive steps have been taken. Last November SEMARNAT carried out two operations and confiscated 2,917 cubic meters of wood, that filled about 300 trucks, and they closed 15 sawmills in the Monarch butterfly region. Also, The Monarch Fund, which has 6 million dollars, began paying ejido inhabitants and owners of private lands to conserve trees in the zone of the Monarch butterflies. Bill Calvert, a Monarch specialist, announced that this season of the Monarchs will be one of the biggest and most spectactular in many years. Likewise, the new law passed by the D.F. for the Protection of Animals forbidding animal sacrifice in the presence of minors, in other words their attendance at bullfights, has angered bullfighting promoters. In Moscow, the mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who ordered the closing of the market for exotic pets, forbade in August an exhibition of Portuguese bullfighting, deeming it "an unacceptable display of violence".


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