Photo from CITES
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) held their Conference of the Parties for the 16th time at the beginning of this month in Bangkok. As an international agreement between governments, CITES ensures that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. So, in simple terms, CITES is where global wildlife decisions are made. The Conference of Parties only meets every two to three years. Attended by both representatives from member states and observers this is the organization’s opportunity to discuss current problems and successes. This year’s meeting, however, was extra special because it was also the first global meeting of wildlife enforcement networks, covering topics of regional enforcement capacity and cooperative response to threats posed by wildlife criminal networks. Wildlife crime is transnational organized crime (TOC), just like human-trafficking, the drug cartel, or the mafia. And, fighting this type of crime proves to be quite difficult, as it is with all TOCs, not only because of the level of organization within the network itself, but due to poor country to country enforcement communication and differences in laws and regulations guarding wildlife. For example, the legal hunting season for wolves in Canada is April –September while, the much shorter hunting season in the United States, may not begin until October. And, due to close hunting seasons and close proximity, an illegally hunted animal could be transported to another continent “legally” if regulations in one country or the other are not strictly followed.
Photo from The Verge
Conservation genetics is making an appearance in the fight against wildlife crime as well. Using forensic techniques, biological samples can not only identify a species, but also what region it may have come from. This month, CITES passed a measure which requires all 178 member countries to submit seized ivory for DNA testing. This is all part of a renewed effort to crack down on the criminal networks behind elephant poaching, which has doubled since 2007 and more than tripled over the past 15 years. Using specific genetic patterns which correlate to regions where African elephants exist, the technique, developed by Dr. Sam Wasser at UDUB (WOOF!), can pinpoint the seized ivory to within 165 miles of its place of origin, enabling them to locate the source of illicit trade. Although the technique isn’t perfect, requiring large samples of at least 500 kilograms ivory, all involved are optimistic about these beginning efforts to bring poaching to an end.
And on a side not, if Hilary were to try running for President again, this would be a good reason to support her:
"Secretary Clinton’s ‘Call for Action’ on illegal wildlife trade"
My cousin Annie, who goes to UCSB, did a video project asking UCSB students to read the ingredients on the back of the 5-hour Energy bottle. If she gets 2,000 views in 72 hours she will get an automatic "A". Help her out by viewing the video below!
Update (March 15, 2013): She got an A! It took less that 72 hours for the video to surpass the 2,000 view mark. And, the words of the creator herself, "Thank you everyone for the support and helping me to get over 2000 views! Now everyone go out and drink an XS :) "
What is the Sequester?
The exact definition is a general cut in government spending. But, what exactly is a “general” cut when the reason there are going to be “general” cuts is due to the government’s inability to make decisions on where to make cuts in the first place? “General” refers to cuts across the board where the bureaucrats are not allowed to decide where to make the cuts, causing cuts of the useless as well as the vital (CBSNews, 25Feb13).
I don’t typically like to get involved with politics because nothing good ever come of it. However, yesterday, word around campus was that today, March 1st, with the start of the sequester, congress is cutting funds to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA, essentially killing the advancement of science in the United States. There are still private organizations which provide funds for science, but those are few and far between. NIH and NSF provide billions of dollars to scientific research annually. Billions of dollars is a lot of money so you may think, why can’t we take away just a few million from them and put it somewhere else? Well, because it actually doesn’t make that much of a difference in regards to the US budget but does make a HUGE impact on scientific discovery. The $37 billion annual budget of NIH is less than 1% of the US budget. The 10% cut to NIH from the sequester totals a savings of 0.08% in the US budget (Forbes, 14Jan13). 80-85% of projects submitted to NIH this year are going to have to be turned down because of this cut. One of those projects could be a life changing medical discovery. Is 0.08% worth it?
I tried looking up the Sequester without NIH as the focus and all I managed to find was that the failure to stop automatic spending cuts is a blame game. Republicans say it’s Obama’s fault while Obama points the finger at the Republican Congress. This isn’t junior high, guys. Get your heads out of your asses and start spitballing ideas as to how to get out of this mess.
In my opinion, the first thing that should be cut is the salaries of these politicians (like this whimsical meme suggests), not because we will get a lot of money from it, but because it will put a fire under their butts to do what they are being paid to do. You don’t get money unless you make some decisions. What are these politicians doing anyways? Raising money for their next campaign? Fraternizing with lobbyists? The budget seems to have been one of the biggest issues for quite some time, so, whatever they ARE doing, it's not what they should be doing. They need to set some priorities and start making some compromises, and those compromises shouldn’t be cuts to the sciences!
Without science there’s no innovation, discovery or progress. The US is already falling behind in the sciences.
Stop holding us back!
I am a biologist and my life is crap!