The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado in ‘Benetton’s stolen lands’

Two months after the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado it is becoming increasingly clear that the 28-year-old, who was participating in a protest with indigenous Mapuche people in the province of Chubut, was taken by the Gendarmerie. Eyewitnesses have stated that they saw members of the security force beating and carrying a person away in one of their vehicles.

The Macri government has consistently defamed and refused to meet his family. They have even gone so far as to claim that he has likely gone into hiding to make the police look bad, and launched raids on Mapuche communities on the pretext that he may be hiding there, which he was not

Worryingly, in a country where the military dictatorship killed around 30,000 people from 1976-1983, the Argentinian government has refused to call this case what it is: a forced disappearance by the military police. Instead, they have done their upmost to resist conducting a proper independent investigation, and have chosen to invest in criminalising and further defaming both the Mapuche community and Santiago’s family.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and a United Nations committee, have all called for urgent action from Argentine President, Mauricio Macri. And on 1st September tens of thousands of people marched on the Argentinian capital to demanding to know the whereabouts of Santiago Maldonado. This marked the first disappearance of Macri’s premiership.

A minister with an agenda

Disturbingly, Security Minster Bullrich has persistently refused to hold the police to account. Indeed, it has been a feature of her tenure to place the police as beyond reproach, and ignore all evidence of misconduct against them.

Patricia Bullrich has said that the unrest in the South of Argentina is due primarily to an organisation called the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (RAM). She has claimed that the security forces have “completely confirmed” that RAM is being financed by an English organisation.

We have found ourselves in a storm of controversy over this, as Argentinian media outlets have astutely identified our organisation, Mapuche International Link (MIL), as the only plausible candidate that Bullrich could have been referring to. The accusation that we are funding a group that Argentina labels a terrorist organisation is as serious as they come.

And yet it is also completely laughable, as our organisation is run entirely by volunteers who have been affected by, or are sympathetic to, the repression that Mapuche people continue to face in Chile and Argentina. And yet despite our repeated requests, Patricia Bullrich, has failed to either produce evidence against us or retract her accusation.

From our perspective, Bullrich’s accusations are not particularly harmful to us. They have given us an opportunity to explain to sympathetic sections of the Argentinian media outlets the work that we do, and draw further attention to the historical injustices that shape indigenous people’s experiences in Argentina to this day. However, while we are ostensibly the targets of Bullrich’s claims, the real victims are the indigenous Mapuche who live in Argentina.

Bullrich has used these allegations to fuel anti-British sentiment among Argentines, who still recall the Falkland Islands conflict. These accusations have served as a way of inciting racism towards indigenous Mapuche people, who have now been painted by sections of the far right as collaborating with foreign powers in order to undermine Argentine sovereignty.

Instead of addressing the structural, historical and political causes of unrest in Argentina, the far-right, with Bullrich as their new icon, have been able to conveniently explain away unrest as simply the result of foreign interference. The political tactic of blaming outsiders for internal strife is as old as they come, and Bullrich likely has one eye on Argentina’s upcoming elections later this month.

The missing color of Benetton

Santiago Maldonado was taking part in a protest with the indigenous Mapuche Pu Lof community of Cushamen on the day that he was disappeared. The Pu Lof community has been in dispute with the Benetton company, which owns large swathes of indigenous ancestral land. Benetton is the largest land owner in Argentina, owning around 2 million acres. 

Much of the land was acquired in 1991 when the government sold off large amounts of state-owned and indigenous land to multi-national companies. The sell-off was done without consultation of indigenous people, in direct contravention of article 17, section 2 of ILO Convention 169, which Argentina delayed ratifying until 2000.

Benetton claim that they have been reluctantly dragged into this conflict, however they have been quick to employ the services of the local Gendarmerie to violently remove families from land under dispute. Land that the Mapuche have lived on for centuries.

The Mapuche conflict with Benetton has been long and is ongoing. However, the violence towards the Mapuche has been escalating in recent months. On January 10th, 2017 Argentinian armed forces opened fire on Mapuche in the Chubut region, who were reclaiming ancestral lands currently in the hands of Benetton. Around 200 Gendarmes attacked the community of Lof en Resistencia, Cushamen, which comprises fewer than two dozen adults and five children.

The attack left many community residents injured, two seriously. The armed forces then ransacked the main house, and arrested at least ten members of the community. There have been reports of harassment and physical abuse of women and children. Amnesty International have condemned the police actions.

The hypocrisy in Benetton’s business practices is hugely dispiriting. On the one hand, they cynically exploit the notion of a world of multicultural and ethnic harmony for profit, as reflected in their ‘United Colors of Benetton’ tagline.

Yet while profiteering on this image, they are simultaneously investing in land that was illegally and immorally seized from indigenous communities – depriving them of the basic means of subsistence and their ancestral homes. Their political and economic power has given tacit support to the violent evictions of Mapuche families from disputed lands, the latest incident resulting in the sinister disappearance of Santiago Maldonado.

From these actions, it is clear that the Mapuche are the missing colour of Benetton.

Looking forward

Patricia Bullrich’s contempt in neglecting indigenous people’s legitimate land claims by dismissing their resistance as instigated by foreign agitators and terrorists may well prove fatal to her party’s chances at the upcoming elections. Her slow and lacklustre response to the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado has generated outrage and may well bolster opposition parties, some of whom have reacted with the sense of urgency that his disappearance quite rightly requires.

On the two-month anniversary of his disappearance, it is important to continue the fight for Santiago’s return. And international pressure is building on this issue.

While we keep up this struggle, it is of upmost importance to remember the cause he was campaigning for when he was taken away: the disenfranchised Mapuche in Argentina. If we are to move forward in addressing the unrest in Argentina, then we must to look backwards with honesty to the causes of that unrest.

Mapuche people have long been the victims of the Argentinian state violence. In 1879 thousands of Mapuche were massacred in the ‘Conquest of the Desert’. The land that they had resided on and defended for centuries was violently seized. This is but one of a series of atrocities that have characterised the Argentinian and Chilean states relationship with Mapuche people.

The colonial history of the region has yet to be put to rest. It is only through engaging in consultation with Mapuche self-organised structures, and recognising the legitimacy of their claims to ancestral lands, that Argentina can move forward. Politicians behaving in the way that Patricia Bullrich has done do nothing to further that reconciliation.

This Author

Atus Mariqueo-Russell is the public relations officer of Mapuche International Link. He is a postgraduate philosophy student at Birkbeck University, and a former Green Party of England and Wales council candidate. He tweets at: @AtusMariqueo

Carole Concha Bell is the press officer of Mapuche International Link. She is a postgraduate creative writing student at Anglia Ruskin University. You can find her blog here. She tweets at: @nextgenchileans

 

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The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado in ‘Benetton’s stolen lands’

Two months after the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado it is becoming increasingly clear that the 28-year-old, who was participating in a protest with indigenous Mapuche people in the province of Chubut, was taken by the Gendarmerie. Eyewitnesses have stated that they saw members of the security force beating and carrying a person away in one of their vehicles.

The Macri government has consistently defamed and refused to meet his family. They have even gone so far as to claim that he has likely gone into hiding to make the police look bad, and launched raids on Mapuche communities on the pretext that he may be hiding there, which he was not

Worryingly, in a country where the military dictatorship killed around 30,000 people from 1976-1983, the Argentinian government has refused to call this case what it is: a forced disappearance by the military police. Instead, they have done their upmost to resist conducting a proper independent investigation, and have chosen to invest in criminalising and further defaming both the Mapuche community and Santiago’s family.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and a United Nations committee, have all called for urgent action from Argentine President, Mauricio Macri. And on 1st September tens of thousands of people marched on the Argentinian capital to demanding to know the whereabouts of Santiago Maldonado. This marked the first disappearance of Macri’s premiership.

A minister with an agenda

Disturbingly, Security Minster Bullrich has persistently refused to hold the police to account. Indeed, it has been a feature of her tenure to place the police as beyond reproach, and ignore all evidence of misconduct against them.

Patricia Bullrich has said that the unrest in the South of Argentina is due primarily to an organisation called the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (RAM). She has claimed that the security forces have “completely confirmed” that RAM is being financed by an English organisation.

We have found ourselves in a storm of controversy over this, as Argentinian media outlets have astutely identified our organisation, Mapuche International Link (MIL), as the only plausible candidate that Bullrich could have been referring to. The accusation that we are funding a group that Argentina labels a terrorist organisation is as serious as they come.

And yet it is also completely laughable, as our organisation is run entirely by volunteers who have been affected by, or are sympathetic to, the repression that Mapuche people continue to face in Chile and Argentina. And yet despite our repeated requests, Patricia Bullrich, has failed to either produce evidence against us or retract her accusation.

From our perspective, Bullrich’s accusations are not particularly harmful to us. They have given us an opportunity to explain to sympathetic sections of the Argentinian media outlets the work that we do, and draw further attention to the historical injustices that shape indigenous people’s experiences in Argentina to this day. However, while we are ostensibly the targets of Bullrich’s claims, the real victims are the indigenous Mapuche who live in Argentina.

Bullrich has used these allegations to fuel anti-British sentiment among Argentines, who still recall the Falkland Islands conflict. These accusations have served as a way of inciting racism towards indigenous Mapuche people, who have now been painted by sections of the far right as collaborating with foreign powers in order to undermine Argentine sovereignty.

Instead of addressing the structural, historical and political causes of unrest in Argentina, the far-right, with Bullrich as their new icon, have been able to conveniently explain away unrest as simply the result of foreign interference. The political tactic of blaming outsiders for internal strife is as old as they come, and Bullrich likely has one eye on Argentina’s upcoming elections later this month.

The missing color of Benetton

Santiago Maldonado was taking part in a protest with the indigenous Mapuche Pu Lof community of Cushamen on the day that he was disappeared. The Pu Lof community has been in dispute with the Benetton company, which owns large swathes of indigenous ancestral land. Benetton is the largest land owner in Argentina, owning around 2 million acres. 

Much of the land was acquired in 1991 when the government sold off large amounts of state-owned and indigenous land to multi-national companies. The sell-off was done without consultation of indigenous people, in direct contravention of article 17, section 2 of ILO Convention 169, which Argentina delayed ratifying until 2000.

Benetton claim that they have been reluctantly dragged into this conflict, however they have been quick to employ the services of the local Gendarmerie to violently remove families from land under dispute. Land that the Mapuche have lived on for centuries.

The Mapuche conflict with Benetton has been long and is ongoing. However, the violence towards the Mapuche has been escalating in recent months. On January 10th, 2017 Argentinian armed forces opened fire on Mapuche in the Chubut region, who were reclaiming ancestral lands currently in the hands of Benetton. Around 200 Gendarmes attacked the community of Lof en Resistencia, Cushamen, which comprises fewer than two dozen adults and five children.

The attack left many community residents injured, two seriously. The armed forces then ransacked the main house, and arrested at least ten members of the community. There have been reports of harassment and physical abuse of women and children. Amnesty International have condemned the police actions.

The hypocrisy in Benetton’s business practices is hugely dispiriting. On the one hand, they cynically exploit the notion of a world of multicultural and ethnic harmony for profit, as reflected in their ‘United Colors of Benetton’ tagline.

Yet while profiteering on this image, they are simultaneously investing in land that was illegally and immorally seized from indigenous communities – depriving them of the basic means of subsistence and their ancestral homes. Their political and economic power has given tacit support to the violent evictions of Mapuche families from disputed lands, the latest incident resulting in the sinister disappearance of Santiago Maldonado.

From these actions, it is clear that the Mapuche are the missing colour of Benetton.

Looking forward

Patricia Bullrich’s contempt in neglecting indigenous people’s legitimate land claims by dismissing their resistance as instigated by foreign agitators and terrorists may well prove fatal to her party’s chances at the upcoming elections. Her slow and lacklustre response to the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado has generated outrage and may well bolster opposition parties, some of whom have reacted with the sense of urgency that his disappearance quite rightly requires.

On the two-month anniversary of his disappearance, it is important to continue the fight for Santiago’s return. And international pressure is building on this issue.

While we keep up this struggle, it is of upmost importance to remember the cause he was campaigning for when he was taken away: the disenfranchised Mapuche in Argentina. If we are to move forward in addressing the unrest in Argentina, then we must to look backwards with honesty to the causes of that unrest.

Mapuche people have long been the victims of the Argentinian state violence. In 1879 thousands of Mapuche were massacred in the ‘Conquest of the Desert’. The land that they had resided on and defended for centuries was violently seized. This is but one of a series of atrocities that have characterised the Argentinian and Chilean states relationship with Mapuche people.

The colonial history of the region has yet to be put to rest. It is only through engaging in consultation with Mapuche self-organised structures, and recognising the legitimacy of their claims to ancestral lands, that Argentina can move forward. Politicians behaving in the way that Patricia Bullrich has done do nothing to further that reconciliation.

This Author

Atus Mariqueo-Russell is the public relations officer of Mapuche International Link. He is a postgraduate philosophy student at Birkbeck University, and a former Green Party of England and Wales council candidate. He tweets at: @AtusMariqueo

Carole Concha Bell is the press officer of Mapuche International Link. She is a postgraduate creative writing student at Anglia Ruskin University. You can find her blog here. She tweets at: @nextgenchileans

 

competitive sports sports competitions bodybuilding competitive bodybuilding bodybuilding competions athletics competitions competitive athletics image consultants trainers coaches coach trainer Gurgaon Haryana NCR INDIA food supplements health supplements dietary supplements sports nutrition Gurgaon Haryana INDIA sports supplements nutraceuticals nutra nutra supplements nutraceuticals supplements health food sports food sports diet health diet nutritionists dieticians athletes athletics sports Gurgaon Haryana NCR INDIA

New study: Europe provides more than €112 billion in fossil fuel subsidies




Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

Joe Ware

28th September, 2017

With 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuel reserves needing to be left in the ground, it’s disturbing to discover that European nations are forking out 112 billion euros each year in fossil fuel subsidies, JOE WARE reports


We only have a finite amount of atmospheric carbon budget remaining and in the interest of being fair about it the vast majority of this should be reserved for the developing nations whose people live in poverty.

Rich countries, the nations first to industrialise like the UK and its European neighbours, have had their turn at the carbon buffet and they need to at least leave what remains for those that need it most.

So it seems rather perverse to learn that European countries, including the UK, are handing over a whopping 112 billion euros each year to prop up and support the production and consumption of fossil fuels.

Tax-payers’ money

A new report by the Overseas Development Institute and Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe has for the first time gathered detailed information on the support provided to fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal from 11 European countries and the EU between 2014 and 2016.

Regarding the UK, the largest producer of oil and gas in the EU, the study revealed that the Government has slashed taxes for oil and gas production in the North Sea to the tune of £665 million last year, cut VAT on power consumption – the equivalent of a £3.6 billion subsidy and given financial support to the transport sector totalling £7.4 billion including tax breaks on diesel which contributes to dangerous air pollution.

Lead author of Phase-Out 2020: Monitoring Europe’s fossil fuel subsidies, Shelagh Whitley, Head of Climate and Energy at ODI, said: “The air pollution crisis in cities across Europe and the recent diesel emissions testing scandal have rightly led to increased pressure for governments to act, yet our analysis shows European countries are providing enormous fossil fuel subsidies to the transport sector.

“This study shows how governments in Europe and the EU continue to subsidise and finance a reliance on oil, gas and coal, fuelling dangerous climate change and air pollution with tax-payers’ money.”

In the age of Trump European leaders have been keen to burnish their green credentials. European governments and the EU have pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 and to phase out emissions from fossil fuels by the second half of this century as part of the Paris Agreement. But this report shows that while delivering positive rhetoric with one hand they are propping up dirty energy projects with the other.

Sustainable energy transition

In the UK, although the North Sea oil and gas industry accounted for £2.1 billion in Government revenues as recently as 2014 it is now a drain on the economy due to low oil prices, tax cuts and the government taking a large share of decommissioning costs.

Government subsidies for consuming already known fossil reserves, most of which must not be burned, is bad enough but financial inducements from the state to explore for new resources is surely madness. The report authors show that the UK and France provided 253 million euros per year in public finance between 2014-16 to discover new fossil fuel resources.

And it’s not just national government’s using taxpayers’ money to fund generous bonusses for the fossil fuel industry, the report authors found that the European Union itself dished out an average of 4 billion euros every year between 2014-2016 in fossil fuel subsidies through its budget, development and investment banks and funds.

Wendel Trio, director of CAN Europe, said: “The 4 billion euros spent by the EU on fossil fuels, most of which goes to gas infrastructure, locks Europe into fossil fuel dependency for the decades to come. This violates the Paris Agreement’s requirement to make finances work for the climate.

“In addition, the fact that over 2 billion euros a year is provided by EU Member States to support coal-fired power, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, is unacceptable. The EU must stop subsidising fossil fuels. Instead, the scarce resources of the EU budget and the EU’s development and investment banks should serve higher climate ambitions by financing the clean and sustainable energy transition.”

With Trump in the White House it is vital that international climate leadership is provided by European nations. This report reveals the extent to which their warm words ring hollow. If they want to be taken seriously they should start to do as they have promised and bring the dirty reality of fossil fuel subsidies to an end.

This Author

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid and a New Voices contributor for the Ecologist. He’s on twitter at @wareisjoe.

 

Survival of world’s largest butterfly no longer dependent on a wing and a prayer

The world’s largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, has been given a new lifeline with a pioneering project led by the Sime Darby Foundation (SDF) and the recently created Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust (SBBT).

The initiative sees the creation of a state-of-the-art captive breeding and release programme for the severely endangered Ornithoptera alexandrae species in the remote heart of Papua New Guinea. 

The birdwing is under threat from encroaching agriculture, logging and illegal trade, despite having been officially recognised as under threat for more than four decades, and protected under Papua New Guinea’s national laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Remaining forest areas

The butterfly lives in densities of less than 10 females per square kilometre, and is confined to pockets of suitable habitat, themselves a mere fraction of the palm oil producing area around Popondetta in the northern (Oro) province of Papua New Guinea. 

A new state-of-the-art laboratory will be built at the New Britain Palm Oil Limited’s Higaturu palm oil estate, which will be staffed by a dedicated expert entomologist and a number of technicians. The lab will be funded by the Sime Darby Foundation in Malaysia.

The captive breeding and release programme, coupled with habitat enrichment and protection of remaining forest areas around the oil palm plantations, will pioneer a new approach to the butterfly’s conservation. 

Cultivating the vines

The Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust was registered as a not-for-profit organisation earlier this year to focus on the swallowtail group of butterflies – with the giant birdwing being the first priority. Although financially independent of the palm oil industry, the trust’s founders have worked closely with senior industry figures to build this innovative programme. 

Forest surveys will identify the best existing and new sites for the release programme, which must include the butterfly’s food plant, the Dutchman’s Pipe Vine (Aristolochia dielsiana). Butterfly habitats can be enriched with cultivated vines and integrated along the margins of oil palm estates, creating a mosaic of newly available habitat and greater biodiversity.

The conservation partnership has the full support of the Oro Provincial Government, which uses the iconic Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing as its mascot. Gary Juffa, the governor, argues the initiative will benefit local landowners, who will be involved in cultivating the vines, enriching damaged habitats and creating facilities for tourists and naturalists to visit the forests and see the spectacular butterflies in their natural setting. 

Future generations

Tun Musa Hitam, the chairman of SDF, said the foundation is confident that the project will have an indelible, sustainable impact on the conservation of the biggest and one of the rarest butterflies in the world.

“The project in collaboration with NBPOL will not only strive to conserve the butterfly, but also aims to retain the butterfly’s natural habitat and support the livelihood of the local community.

“We are confident that this conservation project will ensure the survival of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing for future generations with the expertise and support of the distinguished scientists behind the UK-based SBBT. 

Save whole ecosystems

He added: “It will also make a difference in the local community by enabling them to be part of the ecological project. This way, the local community is kept engaged in all efforts of conserving the endangered species which is a precious icon of their province, making this project even more meaningful.”

Henry Barlow, the chairman of NBPOL and a patron of SBBT, said the conservation project takes all aspects into account to ensure the project’s viability: habitat protection, a breeding programme and community development.

“We can see how the Orangutan, tiger and giant panda conservation campaigns, when linked with habitat protection, can save whole ecosystems and the thousands of species that live there, including the iconic species that we love to see.

Equally magnificent

“This butterfly is equally magnificent, and there are many unexplored ways in which research and operations in palm oil estates can help create a mosaic of natural refuges to enhance conservation and biodiversity,” he added. 

Dr Simon Lord, the chief sustainability officer at the Sime Darby Group, argued that as the group’s operation in Papua New Guinea is accredited by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, it aims to lead the industry in preventing damage to endangered wildlife. 

“We are delighted to help protect this magnificent butterfly. We are convinced that with this investment, we can reverse the decline of this superb species in our care, and demonstrate what can be achieved with some lateral thinking,” he said.  

Win-win relationships

Dr Mark Collins, the chairman of SBBT and former director of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said that sustainable conservation requires high quality, practical, on-the-ground conservation, with local communities and business working in partnership. 

Collins is co-author of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book, which drew international attention to the problem facing these butterflies more than thirty years ago. 

He said: “We need to create win-win relationships. Everyone loves butterflies – they are flagship species and can bring back a feel-good factor to those working in the palm oil sector, to local people and as an attraction for eco-tourists,” he said.

Make all the difference

Charles Dewhurst, a SBBT Trustee and entomologist, is amongst those providing scientific guidance to the project. He said: “I am convinced that this project will work.

“It has the advantage not only of being co-located at the heart of the problem, but also has support from all quarters. This sort of cooperation will make all the difference.”

Dewhurst is co-author of a newly published book, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly: A Review and Conservation Proposals. Sales of the book will benefit the trust’s work.

 

Can religion help save the planet’s wildlife and environment?

Dekila Chungyalpa visited Bodh Gaya, a religious site associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in Bihar, northwestern India in 2007. It is here where Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment and where Chungyalpa experienced an epiphany of her own that would create an unbreakable bond between religion and nature conservation.

The Sikkim-born conservationist was here to attend a talk on compassion towards animals given by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual head of one of the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

Chungyalpa aspired to be a vegetarian but failed consistently at each attempt. Then when the 17th Karmapa asked his audience to consider not eating meat for one meal, or a day, or a week and more, it was a revelation. She suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, became a vegetarian. Not only was it a spiritual awakening but also an intellectual one.

Live in harmony

“I experienced first-hand how a religious leader could, with only a few words, influence thousands of people to change their behavior. It opened up a whole new way of approaching conservation, which had simply not occurred to me before”, says Chungyalpa, an associate research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Two years later, Chungyalpa founded and ran the pioneering faith-based conservation program, Sacred Earth: Faiths for Conservation, at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Valuing all life on Earth is at the heart of today’s environmental ethos. Trying to live in harmony with nature is one of its basic tenets. Every religion has scriptures that expound such a view.

For example, in Genesis in the Bible, God speaks to Noah and tells him that he now establishes a covenant between himself and every living creature on the ark.

Similarly, in the Koran, there is specific mention that all animals, including creatures that fly with wings, are precious to Allah. Hinduism also has a deep reverence for nature, for different wild animals who have symbolic power and subscribe to the Dharmic law of Ahimsa, non-violence, as a way of life.

Plans for conservation

The roots of nature conservation in the United States are deeply spiritual. In 1903, John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club, convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to create the US Protected Area system, with the argument that this would protect the ‘creation of God’.

He saw nature and biodiversity as the best evidence of there being a benevolent God and that faith based argument helped established Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier National Parks. 

In recent years, the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) has pioneered the development of conservation projects based around the fundamental teachings, beliefs and practices of the world’s major religions.

It was the brainchild of HRH Prince Philip, then president of the World Wildlife Fund, who invited the leaders of the five major world religions to discuss how could help save the natural world.

In 2012, the Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent conference was hosted by the ARC in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was a celebration of the many faith groups across Africa who was launching their long term plans for conservation.

A spiritual faith

During the conference, fifty African religious leaders representing different faiths and nationalities announced a joint partnership to denounce the massacre of elephants and rhions and wildlife trafficking generally.

And, earlier this year, the Religion and Conservation Biology working group of the Society for Conservation Biology established the inaugural Assisi Award during their 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology, Cartagena, Columbia.

The award acknowledges organisations and individuals whose work demonstrates that faith-based conservation is contributing significantly to the common global effort of conserving life on Earth. 

Most people are religious. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of people in the world embrace a spiritual faith (there are some two billion Christians, 1.34 billion Muslims, 950 million Hindus and two hundred million Buddhists). 

In addition, many of the world’s most important nature conservation sites are also sacred. But these places also face overwhelming threats, including deforestation, pollution, unsustainable extraction, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Such threats not only endanger the integrity of ecosystems but also leave the people who live there impoverished and vulnerable.

Wildlife declines

While religion can be a God-send in the battle to conserve nature, tens of thousands of wild animals have been poached (some to the brink of extinction) to satisfy our religious devotion.

African elephant ivory are carved into religious artifacts such as saints for Catholics in the Philippines and elsewhere. They are also crafted into Islamic prayer beads for Muslims and Coptic crosses for Christians in Egypt as well as amulets and carvings for Buddhists and Taoist in Thailand, and in China-the world’s biggest ivory-consumer. 

Rhino horn also has its importance to Islam. In the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, the horn continues to be coveted by Muslim men, although imports were banned in 1982.

The material, whose luster increases with age, is used for the handles of curved daggers called ‘jambiya,’ which are presented to 12-year old Yemeni (jambiya are considered a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion, and are used for personal defense). Yemeni men place great value on the dagger handles, which are commonly studded with jewels.

The elephant is revered in Buddhism (it is the symbol for Thailand). And, there is a pan Asian belief that ivory removes bad spirits. In China, religious themes are common in carved ivory pieces. Chinese Nouveau rich are frantically collecting ivory in the form of Buddhist and Taoist gods and goddesses.

Eco-Buddhism

Furthermore, Buddhist monks in China perform a ceremony called kaiguang, the opening of light, to consecrate religious icons, just as some Filipino priests will bless Catholic images made of illegal ivory for their followers. 

WWF’s Sacred Earth program successfully targeted conservation initiatives in different priority places such as the Mekong, East Africa and the Amazon. 

The Himalayas was also another conservation priority area for the Sacred Earth Program (Chungyalpa’s childhood was spent exploring the wilderness of western Sikkim, an ecological hotspot in the lower Himalayas).The Buddhist monasteries and nunneries are in some of Asia’s most fragile and ecologically important landscapes. 

The Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas are the water towers of Asia. They contain the world’s largest reserve of freshwater outside the north and south poles. This area gives rise to many of the great rivers in mainland Asia including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween and Yangtse.

The combined human population in these basins is over 1.5 billion, almost 20% of the world population. At the same time, the region is also immensely vulnerable to climate change with temperatures in Tibet rising by 0.4 degree centigrade per decade-double the global average!

Senior monks

The combination of these factors means that as glaciers melt and monsoon patterns change due to climate change, over a billion people are at risk of experiencing face crop failures, water shortages, power losses, floods, and droughts at much higher frequencies.

“The awareness of protecting life and living environment in Buddhism is one of the main basic laws which were set out by the Buddha,” says Khenpo Chokey, a senior monk at Pullahari Monestry in Nepal, which runs several conservation and environment-friendly initiatives including tree planting, vegetable gardening and waste management.

Buddha taught the concepts of interdependence cause and effect (karma) and doing the right thing (dharma).The ‘Thripitaka’ (Three Baskets of Buddha’s teachings) the Buddha expressed his views on environmental protection.

In the Vinaya (rules laid down by Buddha) all forms of plants are to be protected and trees must not be cut. Monks and nuns observe the Rain Retreat during which they stay within the monastery/nunnery compound to minimize stepping on insects and sprouting grass. 

As the then director of the WWF Sacred Earth programme, Chungyalpa was asked by Ogyen Trinley Dorje to collaborate with his senior monks to create a set of environmental guidelines for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and centers in the Himalayas.

All monasteries are vegetarian

“The guidelines were unique in that they presented the science and solutions for major environmental threats facing the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau within the philosophical framework of Buddhism”, says Chungyalpa.

These efforts has resulted in the establishment of KHORYUG, an association of over 50 influential Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries across the Himalayas (www.khoryug.info) (stretching from Ladakh in northwest India all the way to Bhutan).

These monasteries/nunneries, under the auspices of the 17th Karmapa, eventually developed their own conservation projects that directly engage Buddhist monastics: these included organic farming, rooftop water harvesting, reforestation, river clean ups.

Their efforts are having an impact. For example, there is the annual plantation of over 25,000 indigenous tree saplings locally, as well as a shift to solar energy as the primary source of water heating and kitchen facilities in twenty-one of the monasteries.

In addition, all Khoryug institutions are plastic-free and segregate waste for recycling. All of them have community clean up days where they clean public areas once a month. All monasteries are vegetarian partly due to Buddhist principles and partly due to climate change. 

Climate disaster management

More importantly, the last three years of training has resulted in a group of monks and nuns who are qualified to become trainers themselves and who now lead training conferences for other monastics and local community members on the topics of climate change, disaster management, and community emergency response team training. 

For example, Rumtek monastery – the largest monastery in the state of Sikkim – carried out their own 5 day climate disaster management training conference last year, with representation from over 75 percent of monasteries of different lineages attending. 

In addition, KHORYUG has put out three publications during this period: “Environmental Guidelines:, “108 Things You Can Do” and, most recently, Disaster Management Guidelines”

This Author

Curtis Abraham is a freelance writer and researcher on African development, science, the environment, biomedical/health and African social/cultural history. He has lived and worked in sub-Saharan Africa for over two decades but is originally from Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York.

 

Survival of world’s largest butterfly no longer dependent on a wing and a prayer

The world’s largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, has been given a new lifeline with a pioneering project led by the Sime Darby Foundation (SDF) and the recently created Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust (SBBT).

The initiative sees the creation of a state-of-the-art captive breeding and release programme for the severely endangered Ornithoptera alexandrae species in the remote heart of Papua New Guinea. 

The birdwing is under threat from encroaching agriculture, logging and illegal trade, despite having been officially recognised as under threat for more than four decades, and protected under Papua New Guinea’s national laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Remaining forest areas

The butterfly lives in densities of less than 10 females per square kilometre, and is confined to pockets of suitable habitat, themselves a mere fraction of the palm oil producing area around Popondetta in the northern (Oro) province of Papua New Guinea. 

A new state-of-the-art laboratory will be built at the New Britain Palm Oil Limited’s Higaturu palm oil estate, which will be staffed by a dedicated expert entomologist and a number of technicians. The lab will be funded by the Sime Darby Foundation in Malaysia.

The captive breeding and release programme, coupled with habitat enrichment and protection of remaining forest areas around the oil palm plantations, will pioneer a new approach to the butterfly’s conservation. 

Cultivating the vines

The Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust was registered as a not-for-profit organisation earlier this year to focus on the swallowtail group of butterflies – with the giant birdwing being the first priority. Although financially independent of the palm oil industry, the trust’s founders have worked closely with senior industry figures to build this innovative programme. 

Forest surveys will identify the best existing and new sites for the release programme, which must include the butterfly’s food plant, the Dutchman’s Pipe Vine (Aristolochia dielsiana). Butterfly habitats can be enriched with cultivated vines and integrated along the margins of oil palm estates, creating a mosaic of newly available habitat and greater biodiversity.

The conservation partnership has the full support of the Oro Provincial Government, which uses the iconic Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing as its mascot. Gary Juffa, the governor, argues the initiative will benefit local landowners, who will be involved in cultivating the vines, enriching damaged habitats and creating facilities for tourists and naturalists to visit the forests and see the spectacular butterflies in their natural setting. 

Future generations

Tun Musa Hitam, the chairman of SDF, said the foundation is confident that the project will have an indelible, sustainable impact on the conservation of the biggest and one of the rarest butterflies in the world.

“The project in collaboration with NBPOL will not only strive to conserve the butterfly, but also aims to retain the butterfly’s natural habitat and support the livelihood of the local community.

“We are confident that this conservation project will ensure the survival of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing for future generations with the expertise and support of the distinguished scientists behind the UK-based SBBT. 

Save whole ecosystems

He added: “It will also make a difference in the local community by enabling them to be part of the ecological project. This way, the local community is kept engaged in all efforts of conserving the endangered species which is a precious icon of their province, making this project even more meaningful.”

Henry Barlow, the chairman of NBPOL and a patron of SBBT, said the conservation project takes all aspects into account to ensure the project’s viability: habitat protection, a breeding programme and community development.

“We can see how the Orangutan, tiger and giant panda conservation campaigns, when linked with habitat protection, can save whole ecosystems and the thousands of species that live there, including the iconic species that we love to see.

Equally magnificent

“This butterfly is equally magnificent, and there are many unexplored ways in which research and operations in palm oil estates can help create a mosaic of natural refuges to enhance conservation and biodiversity,” he added. 

Dr Simon Lord, the chief sustainability officer at the Sime Darby Group, argued that as the group’s operation in Papua New Guinea is accredited by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, it aims to lead the industry in preventing damage to endangered wildlife. 

“We are delighted to help protect this magnificent butterfly. We are convinced that with this investment, we can reverse the decline of this superb species in our care, and demonstrate what can be achieved with some lateral thinking,” he said.  

Win-win relationships

Dr Mark Collins, the chairman of SBBT and former director of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said that sustainable conservation requires high quality, practical, on-the-ground conservation, with local communities and business working in partnership. 

Collins is co-author of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book, which drew international attention to the problem facing these butterflies more than thirty years ago. 

He said: “We need to create win-win relationships. Everyone loves butterflies – they are flagship species and can bring back a feel-good factor to those working in the palm oil sector, to local people and as an attraction for eco-tourists,” he said.

Make all the difference

Charles Dewhurst, a SBBT Trustee and entomologist, is amongst those providing scientific guidance to the project. He said: “I am convinced that this project will work.

“It has the advantage not only of being co-located at the heart of the problem, but also has support from all quarters. This sort of cooperation will make all the difference.”

Dewhurst is co-author of a newly published book, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly: A Review and Conservation Proposals. Sales of the book will benefit the trust’s work.

 

Can religion help save the planet’s wildlife and environment?

Dekila Chungyalpa visited Bodh Gaya, a religious site associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in Bihar, northwestern India in 2007. It is here where Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment and where Chungyalpa experienced an epiphany of her own that would create an unbreakable bond between religion and nature conservation.

The Sikkim-born conservationist was here to attend a talk on compassion towards animals given by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual head of one of the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

Chungyalpa aspired to be a vegetarian but failed consistently at each attempt. Then when the 17th Karmapa asked his audience to consider not eating meat for one meal, or a day, or a week and more, it was a revelation. She suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, became a vegetarian. Not only was it a spiritual awakening but also an intellectual one.

Live in harmony

“I experienced first-hand how a religious leader could, with only a few words, influence thousands of people to change their behavior. It opened up a whole new way of approaching conservation, which had simply not occurred to me before”, says Chungyalpa, an associate research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Two years later, Chungyalpa founded and ran the pioneering faith-based conservation program, Sacred Earth: Faiths for Conservation, at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Valuing all life on Earth is at the heart of today’s environmental ethos. Trying to live in harmony with nature is one of its basic tenets. Every religion has scriptures that expound such a view.

For example, in Genesis in the Bible, God speaks to Noah and tells him that he now establishes a covenant between himself and every living creature on the ark.

Similarly, in the Koran, there is specific mention that all animals, including creatures that fly with wings, are precious to Allah. Hinduism also has a deep reverence for nature, for different wild animals who have symbolic power and subscribe to the Dharmic law of Ahimsa, non-violence, as a way of life.

Plans for conservation

The roots of nature conservation in the United States are deeply spiritual. In 1903, John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club, convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to create the US Protected Area system, with the argument that this would protect the ‘creation of God’.

He saw nature and biodiversity as the best evidence of there being a benevolent God and that faith based argument helped established Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier National Parks. 

In recent years, the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) has pioneered the development of conservation projects based around the fundamental teachings, beliefs and practices of the world’s major religions.

It was the brainchild of HRH Prince Philip, then president of the World Wildlife Fund, who invited the leaders of the five major world religions to discuss how could help save the natural world.

In 2012, the Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent conference was hosted by the ARC in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was a celebration of the many faith groups across Africa who was launching their long term plans for conservation.

A spiritual faith

During the conference, fifty African religious leaders representing different faiths and nationalities announced a joint partnership to denounce the massacre of elephants and rhions and wildlife trafficking generally.

And, earlier this year, the Religion and Conservation Biology working group of the Society for Conservation Biology established the inaugural Assisi Award during their 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology, Cartagena, Columbia.

The award acknowledges organisations and individuals whose work demonstrates that faith-based conservation is contributing significantly to the common global effort of conserving life on Earth. 

Most people are religious. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of people in the world embrace a spiritual faith (there are some two billion Christians, 1.34 billion Muslims, 950 million Hindus and two hundred million Buddhists). 

In addition, many of the world’s most important nature conservation sites are also sacred. But these places also face overwhelming threats, including deforestation, pollution, unsustainable extraction, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Such threats not only endanger the integrity of ecosystems but also leave the people who live there impoverished and vulnerable.

Wildlife declines

While religion can be a God-send in the battle to conserve nature, tens of thousands of wild animals have been poached (some to the brink of extinction) to satisfy our religious devotion.

African elephant ivory are carved into religious artifacts such as saints for Catholics in the Philippines and elsewhere. They are also crafted into Islamic prayer beads for Muslims and Coptic crosses for Christians in Egypt as well as amulets and carvings for Buddhists and Taoist in Thailand, and in China-the world’s biggest ivory-consumer. 

Rhino horn also has its importance to Islam. In the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, the horn continues to be coveted by Muslim men, although imports were banned in 1982.

The material, whose luster increases with age, is used for the handles of curved daggers called ‘jambiya,’ which are presented to 12-year old Yemeni (jambiya are considered a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion, and are used for personal defense). Yemeni men place great value on the dagger handles, which are commonly studded with jewels.

The elephant is revered in Buddhism (it is the symbol for Thailand). And, there is a pan Asian belief that ivory removes bad spirits. In China, religious themes are common in carved ivory pieces. Chinese Nouveau rich are frantically collecting ivory in the form of Buddhist and Taoist gods and goddesses.

Eco-Buddhism

Furthermore, Buddhist monks in China perform a ceremony called kaiguang, the opening of light, to consecrate religious icons, just as some Filipino priests will bless Catholic images made of illegal ivory for their followers. 

WWF’s Sacred Earth program successfully targeted conservation initiatives in different priority places such as the Mekong, East Africa and the Amazon. 

The Himalayas was also another conservation priority area for the Sacred Earth Program (Chungyalpa’s childhood was spent exploring the wilderness of western Sikkim, an ecological hotspot in the lower Himalayas).The Buddhist monasteries and nunneries are in some of Asia’s most fragile and ecologically important landscapes. 

The Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas are the water towers of Asia. They contain the world’s largest reserve of freshwater outside the north and south poles. This area gives rise to many of the great rivers in mainland Asia including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween and Yangtse.

The combined human population in these basins is over 1.5 billion, almost 20% of the world population. At the same time, the region is also immensely vulnerable to climate change with temperatures in Tibet rising by 0.4 degree centigrade per decade-double the global average!

Senior monks

The combination of these factors means that as glaciers melt and monsoon patterns change due to climate change, over a billion people are at risk of experiencing face crop failures, water shortages, power losses, floods, and droughts at much higher frequencies.

“The awareness of protecting life and living environment in Buddhism is one of the main basic laws which were set out by the Buddha,” says Khenpo Chokey, a senior monk at Pullahari Monestry in Nepal, which runs several conservation and environment-friendly initiatives including tree planting, vegetable gardening and waste management.

Buddha taught the concepts of interdependence cause and effect (karma) and doing the right thing (dharma).The ‘Thripitaka’ (Three Baskets of Buddha’s teachings) the Buddha expressed his views on environmental protection.

In the Vinaya (rules laid down by Buddha) all forms of plants are to be protected and trees must not be cut. Monks and nuns observe the Rain Retreat during which they stay within the monastery/nunnery compound to minimize stepping on insects and sprouting grass. 

As the then director of the WWF Sacred Earth programme, Chungyalpa was asked by Ogyen Trinley Dorje to collaborate with his senior monks to create a set of environmental guidelines for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and centers in the Himalayas.

All monasteries are vegetarian

“The guidelines were unique in that they presented the science and solutions for major environmental threats facing the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau within the philosophical framework of Buddhism”, says Chungyalpa.

These efforts has resulted in the establishment of KHORYUG, an association of over 50 influential Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries across the Himalayas (www.khoryug.info) (stretching from Ladakh in northwest India all the way to Bhutan).

These monasteries/nunneries, under the auspices of the 17th Karmapa, eventually developed their own conservation projects that directly engage Buddhist monastics: these included organic farming, rooftop water harvesting, reforestation, river clean ups.

Their efforts are having an impact. For example, there is the annual plantation of over 25,000 indigenous tree saplings locally, as well as a shift to solar energy as the primary source of water heating and kitchen facilities in twenty-one of the monasteries.

In addition, all Khoryug institutions are plastic-free and segregate waste for recycling. All of them have community clean up days where they clean public areas once a month. All monasteries are vegetarian partly due to Buddhist principles and partly due to climate change. 

Climate disaster management

More importantly, the last three years of training has resulted in a group of monks and nuns who are qualified to become trainers themselves and who now lead training conferences for other monastics and local community members on the topics of climate change, disaster management, and community emergency response team training. 

For example, Rumtek monastery – the largest monastery in the state of Sikkim – carried out their own 5 day climate disaster management training conference last year, with representation from over 75 percent of monasteries of different lineages attending. 

In addition, KHORYUG has put out three publications during this period: “Environmental Guidelines:, “108 Things You Can Do” and, most recently, Disaster Management Guidelines”

This Author

Curtis Abraham is a freelance writer and researcher on African development, science, the environment, biomedical/health and African social/cultural history. He has lived and worked in sub-Saharan Africa for over two decades but is originally from Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York.

 

Survival of world’s largest butterfly no longer dependent on a wing and a prayer

The world’s largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, has been given a new lifeline with a pioneering project led by the Sime Darby Foundation (SDF) and the recently created Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust (SBBT).

The initiative sees the creation of a state-of-the-art captive breeding and release programme for the severely endangered Ornithoptera alexandrae species in the remote heart of Papua New Guinea. 

The birdwing is under threat from encroaching agriculture, logging and illegal trade, despite having been officially recognised as under threat for more than four decades, and protected under Papua New Guinea’s national laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Remaining forest areas

The butterfly lives in densities of less than 10 females per square kilometre, and is confined to pockets of suitable habitat, themselves a mere fraction of the palm oil producing area around Popondetta in the northern (Oro) province of Papua New Guinea. 

A new state-of-the-art laboratory will be built at the New Britain Palm Oil Limited’s Higaturu palm oil estate, which will be staffed by a dedicated expert entomologist and a number of technicians. The lab will be funded by the Sime Darby Foundation in Malaysia.

The captive breeding and release programme, coupled with habitat enrichment and protection of remaining forest areas around the oil palm plantations, will pioneer a new approach to the butterfly’s conservation. 

Cultivating the vines

The Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust was registered as a not-for-profit organisation earlier this year to focus on the swallowtail group of butterflies – with the giant birdwing being the first priority. Although financially independent of the palm oil industry, the trust’s founders have worked closely with senior industry figures to build this innovative programme. 

Forest surveys will identify the best existing and new sites for the release programme, which must include the butterfly’s food plant, the Dutchman’s Pipe Vine (Aristolochia dielsiana). Butterfly habitats can be enriched with cultivated vines and integrated along the margins of oil palm estates, creating a mosaic of newly available habitat and greater biodiversity.

The conservation partnership has the full support of the Oro Provincial Government, which uses the iconic Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing as its mascot. Gary Juffa, the governor, argues the initiative will benefit local landowners, who will be involved in cultivating the vines, enriching damaged habitats and creating facilities for tourists and naturalists to visit the forests and see the spectacular butterflies in their natural setting. 

Future generations

Tun Musa Hitam, the chairman of SDF, said the foundation is confident that the project will have an indelible, sustainable impact on the conservation of the biggest and one of the rarest butterflies in the world.

“The project in collaboration with NBPOL will not only strive to conserve the butterfly, but also aims to retain the butterfly’s natural habitat and support the livelihood of the local community.

“We are confident that this conservation project will ensure the survival of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing for future generations with the expertise and support of the distinguished scientists behind the UK-based SBBT. 

Save whole ecosystems

He added: “It will also make a difference in the local community by enabling them to be part of the ecological project. This way, the local community is kept engaged in all efforts of conserving the endangered species which is a precious icon of their province, making this project even more meaningful.”

Henry Barlow, the chairman of NBPOL and a patron of SBBT, said the conservation project takes all aspects into account to ensure the project’s viability: habitat protection, a breeding programme and community development.

“We can see how the Orangutan, tiger and giant panda conservation campaigns, when linked with habitat protection, can save whole ecosystems and the thousands of species that live there, including the iconic species that we love to see.

Equally magnificent

“This butterfly is equally magnificent, and there are many unexplored ways in which research and operations in palm oil estates can help create a mosaic of natural refuges to enhance conservation and biodiversity,” he added. 

Dr Simon Lord, the chief sustainability officer at the Sime Darby Group, argued that as the group’s operation in Papua New Guinea is accredited by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, it aims to lead the industry in preventing damage to endangered wildlife. 

“We are delighted to help protect this magnificent butterfly. We are convinced that with this investment, we can reverse the decline of this superb species in our care, and demonstrate what can be achieved with some lateral thinking,” he said.  

Win-win relationships

Dr Mark Collins, the chairman of SBBT and former director of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said that sustainable conservation requires high quality, practical, on-the-ground conservation, with local communities and business working in partnership. 

Collins is co-author of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book, which drew international attention to the problem facing these butterflies more than thirty years ago. 

He said: “We need to create win-win relationships. Everyone loves butterflies – they are flagship species and can bring back a feel-good factor to those working in the palm oil sector, to local people and as an attraction for eco-tourists,” he said.

Make all the difference

Charles Dewhurst, a SBBT Trustee and entomologist, is amongst those providing scientific guidance to the project. He said: “I am convinced that this project will work.

“It has the advantage not only of being co-located at the heart of the problem, but also has support from all quarters. This sort of cooperation will make all the difference.”

Dewhurst is co-author of a newly published book, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly: A Review and Conservation Proposals. Sales of the book will benefit the trust’s work.

 

Can religion help save the planet’s wildlife and environment?

Dekila Chungyalpa visited Bodh Gaya, a religious site associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in Bihar, northwestern India in 2007. It is here where Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment and where Chungyalpa experienced an epiphany of her own that would create an unbreakable bond between religion and nature conservation.

The Sikkim-born conservationist was here to attend a talk on compassion towards animals given by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual head of one of the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

Chungyalpa aspired to be a vegetarian but failed consistently at each attempt. Then when the 17th Karmapa asked his audience to consider not eating meat for one meal, or a day, or a week and more, it was a revelation. She suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, became a vegetarian. Not only was it a spiritual awakening but also an intellectual one.

Live in harmony

“I experienced first-hand how a religious leader could, with only a few words, influence thousands of people to change their behavior. It opened up a whole new way of approaching conservation, which had simply not occurred to me before”, says Chungyalpa, an associate research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Two years later, Chungyalpa founded and ran the pioneering faith-based conservation program, Sacred Earth: Faiths for Conservation, at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Valuing all life on Earth is at the heart of today’s environmental ethos. Trying to live in harmony with nature is one of its basic tenets. Every religion has scriptures that expound such a view.

For example, in Genesis in the Bible, God speaks to Noah and tells him that he now establishes a covenant between himself and every living creature on the ark.

Similarly, in the Koran, there is specific mention that all animals, including creatures that fly with wings, are precious to Allah. Hinduism also has a deep reverence for nature, for different wild animals who have symbolic power and subscribe to the Dharmic law of Ahimsa, non-violence, as a way of life.

Plans for conservation

The roots of nature conservation in the United States are deeply spiritual. In 1903, John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club, convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to create the US Protected Area system, with the argument that this would protect the ‘creation of God’.

He saw nature and biodiversity as the best evidence of there being a benevolent God and that faith based argument helped established Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier National Parks. 

In recent years, the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) has pioneered the development of conservation projects based around the fundamental teachings, beliefs and practices of the world’s major religions.

It was the brainchild of HRH Prince Philip, then president of the World Wildlife Fund, who invited the leaders of the five major world religions to discuss how could help save the natural world.

In 2012, the Many Heavens, One Earth, Our Continent conference was hosted by the ARC in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was a celebration of the many faith groups across Africa who was launching their long term plans for conservation.

A spiritual faith

During the conference, fifty African religious leaders representing different faiths and nationalities announced a joint partnership to denounce the massacre of elephants and rhions and wildlife trafficking generally.

And, earlier this year, the Religion and Conservation Biology working group of the Society for Conservation Biology established the inaugural Assisi Award during their 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology, Cartagena, Columbia.

The award acknowledges organisations and individuals whose work demonstrates that faith-based conservation is contributing significantly to the common global effort of conserving life on Earth. 

Most people are religious. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of people in the world embrace a spiritual faith (there are some two billion Christians, 1.34 billion Muslims, 950 million Hindus and two hundred million Buddhists). 

In addition, many of the world’s most important nature conservation sites are also sacred. But these places also face overwhelming threats, including deforestation, pollution, unsustainable extraction, melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Such threats not only endanger the integrity of ecosystems but also leave the people who live there impoverished and vulnerable.

Wildlife declines

While religion can be a God-send in the battle to conserve nature, tens of thousands of wild animals have been poached (some to the brink of extinction) to satisfy our religious devotion.

African elephant ivory are carved into religious artifacts such as saints for Catholics in the Philippines and elsewhere. They are also crafted into Islamic prayer beads for Muslims and Coptic crosses for Christians in Egypt as well as amulets and carvings for Buddhists and Taoist in Thailand, and in China-the world’s biggest ivory-consumer. 

Rhino horn also has its importance to Islam. In the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, the horn continues to be coveted by Muslim men, although imports were banned in 1982.

The material, whose luster increases with age, is used for the handles of curved daggers called ‘jambiya,’ which are presented to 12-year old Yemeni (jambiya are considered a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion, and are used for personal defense). Yemeni men place great value on the dagger handles, which are commonly studded with jewels.

The elephant is revered in Buddhism (it is the symbol for Thailand). And, there is a pan Asian belief that ivory removes bad spirits. In China, religious themes are common in carved ivory pieces. Chinese Nouveau rich are frantically collecting ivory in the form of Buddhist and Taoist gods and goddesses.

Eco-Buddhism

Furthermore, Buddhist monks in China perform a ceremony called kaiguang, the opening of light, to consecrate religious icons, just as some Filipino priests will bless Catholic images made of illegal ivory for their followers. 

WWF’s Sacred Earth program successfully targeted conservation initiatives in different priority places such as the Mekong, East Africa and the Amazon. 

The Himalayas was also another conservation priority area for the Sacred Earth Program (Chungyalpa’s childhood was spent exploring the wilderness of western Sikkim, an ecological hotspot in the lower Himalayas).The Buddhist monasteries and nunneries are in some of Asia’s most fragile and ecologically important landscapes. 

The Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas are the water towers of Asia. They contain the world’s largest reserve of freshwater outside the north and south poles. This area gives rise to many of the great rivers in mainland Asia including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween and Yangtse.

The combined human population in these basins is over 1.5 billion, almost 20% of the world population. At the same time, the region is also immensely vulnerable to climate change with temperatures in Tibet rising by 0.4 degree centigrade per decade-double the global average!

Senior monks

The combination of these factors means that as glaciers melt and monsoon patterns change due to climate change, over a billion people are at risk of experiencing face crop failures, water shortages, power losses, floods, and droughts at much higher frequencies.

“The awareness of protecting life and living environment in Buddhism is one of the main basic laws which were set out by the Buddha,” says Khenpo Chokey, a senior monk at Pullahari Monestry in Nepal, which runs several conservation and environment-friendly initiatives including tree planting, vegetable gardening and waste management.

Buddha taught the concepts of interdependence cause and effect (karma) and doing the right thing (dharma).The ‘Thripitaka’ (Three Baskets of Buddha’s teachings) the Buddha expressed his views on environmental protection.

In the Vinaya (rules laid down by Buddha) all forms of plants are to be protected and trees must not be cut. Monks and nuns observe the Rain Retreat during which they stay within the monastery/nunnery compound to minimize stepping on insects and sprouting grass. 

As the then director of the WWF Sacred Earth programme, Chungyalpa was asked by Ogyen Trinley Dorje to collaborate with his senior monks to create a set of environmental guidelines for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and centers in the Himalayas.

All monasteries are vegetarian

“The guidelines were unique in that they presented the science and solutions for major environmental threats facing the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau within the philosophical framework of Buddhism”, says Chungyalpa.

These efforts has resulted in the establishment of KHORYUG, an association of over 50 influential Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries across the Himalayas (www.khoryug.info) (stretching from Ladakh in northwest India all the way to Bhutan).

These monasteries/nunneries, under the auspices of the 17th Karmapa, eventually developed their own conservation projects that directly engage Buddhist monastics: these included organic farming, rooftop water harvesting, reforestation, river clean ups.

Their efforts are having an impact. For example, there is the annual plantation of over 25,000 indigenous tree saplings locally, as well as a shift to solar energy as the primary source of water heating and kitchen facilities in twenty-one of the monasteries.

In addition, all Khoryug institutions are plastic-free and segregate waste for recycling. All of them have community clean up days where they clean public areas once a month. All monasteries are vegetarian partly due to Buddhist principles and partly due to climate change. 

Climate disaster management

More importantly, the last three years of training has resulted in a group of monks and nuns who are qualified to become trainers themselves and who now lead training conferences for other monastics and local community members on the topics of climate change, disaster management, and community emergency response team training. 

For example, Rumtek monastery – the largest monastery in the state of Sikkim – carried out their own 5 day climate disaster management training conference last year, with representation from over 75 percent of monasteries of different lineages attending. 

In addition, KHORYUG has put out three publications during this period: “Environmental Guidelines:, “108 Things You Can Do” and, most recently, Disaster Management Guidelines”

This Author

Curtis Abraham is a freelance writer and researcher on African development, science, the environment, biomedical/health and African social/cultural history. He has lived and worked in sub-Saharan Africa for over two decades but is originally from Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York.

 

Survival of world’s largest butterfly no longer dependent on a wing and a prayer

The world’s largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, has been given a new lifeline with a pioneering project led by the Sime Darby Foundation (SDF) and the recently created Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust (SBBT).

The initiative sees the creation of a state-of-the-art captive breeding and release programme for the severely endangered Ornithoptera alexandrae species in the remote heart of Papua New Guinea. 

The birdwing is under threat from encroaching agriculture, logging and illegal trade, despite having been officially recognised as under threat for more than four decades, and protected under Papua New Guinea’s national laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Remaining forest areas

The butterfly lives in densities of less than 10 females per square kilometre, and is confined to pockets of suitable habitat, themselves a mere fraction of the palm oil producing area around Popondetta in the northern (Oro) province of Papua New Guinea. 

A new state-of-the-art laboratory will be built at the New Britain Palm Oil Limited’s Higaturu palm oil estate, which will be staffed by a dedicated expert entomologist and a number of technicians. The lab will be funded by the Sime Darby Foundation in Malaysia.

The captive breeding and release programme, coupled with habitat enrichment and protection of remaining forest areas around the oil palm plantations, will pioneer a new approach to the butterfly’s conservation. 

Cultivating the vines

The Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust was registered as a not-for-profit organisation earlier this year to focus on the swallowtail group of butterflies – with the giant birdwing being the first priority. Although financially independent of the palm oil industry, the trust’s founders have worked closely with senior industry figures to build this innovative programme. 

Forest surveys will identify the best existing and new sites for the release programme, which must include the butterfly’s food plant, the Dutchman’s Pipe Vine (Aristolochia dielsiana). Butterfly habitats can be enriched with cultivated vines and integrated along the margins of oil palm estates, creating a mosaic of newly available habitat and greater biodiversity.

The conservation partnership has the full support of the Oro Provincial Government, which uses the iconic Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing as its mascot. Gary Juffa, the governor, argues the initiative will benefit local landowners, who will be involved in cultivating the vines, enriching damaged habitats and creating facilities for tourists and naturalists to visit the forests and see the spectacular butterflies in their natural setting. 

Future generations

Tun Musa Hitam, the chairman of SDF, said the foundation is confident that the project will have an indelible, sustainable impact on the conservation of the biggest and one of the rarest butterflies in the world.

“The project in collaboration with NBPOL will not only strive to conserve the butterfly, but also aims to retain the butterfly’s natural habitat and support the livelihood of the local community.

“We are confident that this conservation project will ensure the survival of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing for future generations with the expertise and support of the distinguished scientists behind the UK-based SBBT. 

Save whole ecosystems

He added: “It will also make a difference in the local community by enabling them to be part of the ecological project. This way, the local community is kept engaged in all efforts of conserving the endangered species which is a precious icon of their province, making this project even more meaningful.”

Henry Barlow, the chairman of NBPOL and a patron of SBBT, said the conservation project takes all aspects into account to ensure the project’s viability: habitat protection, a breeding programme and community development.

“We can see how the Orangutan, tiger and giant panda conservation campaigns, when linked with habitat protection, can save whole ecosystems and the thousands of species that live there, including the iconic species that we love to see.

Equally magnificent

“This butterfly is equally magnificent, and there are many unexplored ways in which research and operations in palm oil estates can help create a mosaic of natural refuges to enhance conservation and biodiversity,” he added. 

Dr Simon Lord, the chief sustainability officer at the Sime Darby Group, argued that as the group’s operation in Papua New Guinea is accredited by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, it aims to lead the industry in preventing damage to endangered wildlife. 

“We are delighted to help protect this magnificent butterfly. We are convinced that with this investment, we can reverse the decline of this superb species in our care, and demonstrate what can be achieved with some lateral thinking,” he said.  

Win-win relationships

Dr Mark Collins, the chairman of SBBT and former director of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, said that sustainable conservation requires high quality, practical, on-the-ground conservation, with local communities and business working in partnership. 

Collins is co-author of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book, which drew international attention to the problem facing these butterflies more than thirty years ago. 

He said: “We need to create win-win relationships. Everyone loves butterflies – they are flagship species and can bring back a feel-good factor to those working in the palm oil sector, to local people and as an attraction for eco-tourists,” he said.

Make all the difference

Charles Dewhurst, a SBBT Trustee and entomologist, is amongst those providing scientific guidance to the project. He said: “I am convinced that this project will work.

“It has the advantage not only of being co-located at the heart of the problem, but also has support from all quarters. This sort of cooperation will make all the difference.”

Dewhurst is co-author of a newly published book, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly: A Review and Conservation Proposals. Sales of the book will benefit the trust’s work.