Saving Saudi Arabia’s vultures

This video says about itself:

4 June 2008

This bearded vulture has developed an incredibly cunning method of eating carcass bone marrow – although patience is a virtue as this bone breaking technique can take seven years to perfect! Another amazing nature video from the wild African desert. From the BBC.

From BirdLife:

Saving the vultures of Saudi Arabia

By Dr. Mohammad Shobraq, 21 Dec 2016

An overview of the vulture species that nest in Saudi Arabia, the threats they are facing and what BirdLife is doing to help them.

Vultures are one of the most threatened families of birds in the entire world and their decline has been shockingly rapid. Some species in Africa and the Indian subcontinent have declined by over 95% in the last few decades, a rate faster than even that of the Passenger Pigeon or Dodo.

The biggest driver of these declines is human impact; either by poisoning (either intentional or otherwise) or from persecution. As a result, many old world vultures are now Critically Endangered – meaning they are at risk of going extinct in our lifetimes.

And while vultures may not be the most sympathetic-looking of birds, these efficient scavengers are vital in preventing the spread of disease, locating and picking clean carcasses before disease spores can develop. Thus, their demise leads to economic, social and environmental problems.
How do vulture declines affect humans?

Vulture populations are currently collapsing at an unsustainable rate across Africa and the Middle East, largely due to poisoning – either as an unintentional consequence of farmers lacing cattle carcasses with poison to deter predators from livestock, or more intractably, intentionally, as poachers poison elephant carcasses to kill vultures, as the sight of circling vultures overhead alerts authorities to the poachers’ illegal activities.

Their decline mirrors that of an earlier decline of vultures on the Indian subcontinent, which occurred due to widespread use of a veterinary drug, diclofenac, which proved toxic to vultures. What subsequently happened in the Indian subcontinent should serve as a reminder to humanity of the importance of vultures to the ecosystem.

In this region, poisoning saw vulture numbers plummet from approximately 40 million in the nineties to up to about 10,000 individuals in 2003, which led to an increase in poverty and unemployment in India, where villagers used to clean the bones by feeding bone tissue to vultures, then grinding them and selling them once again as Calcium powder for the agriculture industry.

In addition to this, the disappearance of the vultures led to health problems due to an increase in the numbers of stray dogs, which moved in to take the place vacated by vultures in the food chain.

A study has estimated that the numbers of stray dogs surged by 5.5 million between 1992 and 2003. This rise in numbers led to a spread of rabies in rural areas until it became one of the most deadly diseases in India in recent years, with the number of dog bite casualties reaching about 40 million cases between 1992 and 2006. This in turn led to the increase of funds spent on covering health and social problems.

It is estimated that the associated health costs absorbed by the Indian government as a result of the decline of vultures between 1993 and 2006 amounts to US$34 billion.

In Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, the number of vultures have declined significantly. Of the five species recorded in the region, all are threatened; some at a local level, the rest on a global scale.

Lappet-faced Vulture

The Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus is one of the species that nests in the kingdom; but unlike the others, which lay their eggs on mountain slopes, the Lappet-faced Vulture builds its nests on trees. The kingdom contains the largest number of Lappet-faced Vultures of all the countries in its range in the region. Recent studies show that this species has disappeared from the Levant and its numbers have decreased in some areas of the eastern Arabian Peninsula – therefore it is now categorized as Endangered. The Lappet-faced Vulture has a powerful beak, which can cut the skin of dead animals.

Griffon Vulture

The Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus nests in mountain slopes along the Sarawat Mountains (Western Arabian Peninsula) and the mountains of Aja and Salma (Ha’il Region) and Tuwaiq Mountain (Plateau of Nejd). Additionally, migratory flocks arrive from Central Asia, Palestine and Iraq.

Egyptian Vulture

The Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus is also locally known as Al Alia by the people of the desert, and it has an old Arabic name, Al Anouk. Although it is known to nest in the kingdom. some migratory flocks arrive in order to spend the winter there, and some of them pass by the country during their journey to reach their wintering areas in Africa.

Bearded Vulture

Numbers of the Bearded Vulture Gypaetys barbatus have decreased in recent years and it is now endangered at the regional level (the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant). It may no longer nest in the kingdom.

Cinereous Vulture

The fifth species, Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, is a migratory bird that arrives in autumn to spend the winter in Saudi Arabia.

Why are vultures declining?

To identify the causes of the deaths of vultures in the world, I would like to start mentioning the main reason, which drew the world’s attention to this issue, behind the decline in numbers of these birds in the Indian continent which was the use of human medicine to treat animals.

Studies carried out by biologists and veterinary doctors showed that the cause of the deaths, after analyzing many samples of dead vultures, was the use of the Diclofenac by livestock owners used to ease the pain of the cattle. When cattle dies, vultures feed on them, leading to kidney failure and death. The use of Diclofenac is now banned in India.

Unfortunately, despite the knowledge of this problem in many countries, the medicine is still used in European vulture-range countries such as Italy and Spain.

There is a strong opposition by environmental organizations, including BirdLife, to stop the use of this medicine to protect European vultures populations.

As previously mentioned, poisoning is also a major threat to vultures. In Africa, some large farm owners put poison in carcasses to kill lions and hyenas – vultures then swoop in to feast on the carcass and are also killed.

In recent years, illegal elephant and rhinoceros poachers have started poisoning animal carcasses in order to kill vultures. Vultures use their incredible sight to swiftly recognize the location of fresh carcasses, and the sight of circling vultures can alert the guards of the poachers’ location.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, scientific studies conducted by researchers from the Saudi Wildlife Authority indicate that a huge number of deaths of vultures come as a result of poisoning.

Another reason that has led to the deterioration of the number of vultures in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world is pesticide spraying. Vultures, despite their stomachs’ impressive ability to digest the tissue of the animal that has died as a result of viral or bacterial diseases, are vulnerable to the toxic chemicals used in insect eradication. Deaths of Griffon Vultures have been recorded in Saudi Arabia in regions where pesticides are used to control populations of desert locust.

Other causes of the deterioration are disturbances to nesting sites, especially those that nest in trees like the Lappet-faced vulture.

Compounding these issues, vultures are late bloomers; the Egyptian vulture doesn’t reach maturity until it is three, and others reach it at the age of 11 years, such as the Lappet-faced Vulture. It also tends to only lay one egg at a time, so it can take struggling vulture populations a long time to bounce back even after rigorous conservation work.

The incubation period for the chick lasts between 9-12 months, meaning that the reproductive period, for certain types such as the Lappet-faced Vulture, requires a significant effort by the parents. Therefore, the inconvenience of nesting disturbances can affect the reproduction of these birds and might lead in lack of production thus resulting in a decrease in their numbers.

Finally, another threat is poorly-planned powerlines, windfarms and roads, which result in the death of thousands of vultures across Europe and Asia every year.

BirdLife will continue to work together with key organizations to develop a multi-species action plan for vultures that defines clear conservation and management actions for all threatened vultures.

Saudi man jailed for pro-women’s rights stance

This video says about itself:

20 January 2013

In Saudi Arabia, women protesting detentions are arrested, sparking more protests. CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom reports. In Saudi Arabia, a group of women protesting against detentions are arrested, sparking outrage and more protests.

From France24:

27 December 2016 – 13H59

Saudi jailed for call to end male control over women

RIYADH (AFP) – A Saudi man has been jailed for one year for calling for an end to the Muslim kingdom’s guardianship system that gives men wide controls over women, local media said Tuesday.

The man, who was also fined 30,000 riyals ($8,000) by a court in the eastern city of Dammam, was convicted of “inciting to end guardianship of women” in statements he posted on Twitter and in public posters, the Okaz daily said.

He was arrested while putting up posters in mosques in Al-Hasa district calling for an end to the globally unique system that subjects women in the ultra-conservative kingdom to male control.

During questioning, police found out that the man was also behind a wide online campaign to end the guardianship, the paper said.

The defendant admitted pinning up the posters in several mosques, saying he solely launched an “awareness campaign” after finding that some “female relatives were facing injustice at the hands of their families,” the daily said.

Thousands of Saudis signed in September a petition urging an end to the guardianship system following a Twitter campaign which the court claims was launched by the defendant.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.

Under the guardianship system a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother, must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities.

Activists say that even female prisoners have to be received by the guardian upon their release, meaning that some have to languish in jail or a shelter beyond their sentences if the man does not want to accept them.

‘God, rid us of men!’ from feminist song Shocking and Delighting Saudis: here.

UN human rights watchdog orders Saudi Arabia to stop stoning children. People over 15-years-old in the Kingdom are tried as adults and can be executed: here.

Britain and Saudi war on Yemen

This video from the USA says about itself:

UK Fuels Carnage in Yemen Through Political and Military Support to Saudi Arabia

23 December 2016

Theresa May‘s apologetics for arming Saudi Arabia reflects the arms industry‘s role in shaping British foreign policy, says Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

British Theresa May and Arab absolute monarchs

This video from Britain says about itself:

Yemen: Britain’s Unseen War

30 September 2016

Krishnan Guru-Murthy reveals the catastrophic effect of a Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen – which uses British-supplied weapons – with millions of people consequently facing starvation.

By Solomon Hughes in Britain:

May and her Tory pals toady up to the Gulf sheikhs

Friday 23rd December 2016

The PM has been sucking up to some odious characters from the Gulf Co-operation Council, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

ON her recent visit to the Middle East Theresa May showed her Tory government intends to creep and crawl to the autocracies of the Gulf, no matter how backward and repressive they are. Because they’ve got oil and money.

May can do this without too much trouble partly because, in the background, there is a flow of money and friendship between her back-bench MPs and the sheikhs.

May went to address the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in December. This is the alliance of all Arab rulers along the Persian gulf.

The GCC is made up of undemocratic, backward sheikhdoms — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Elections, human rights and even political parties are strangers in the lands of the sheikhs. And May told them they could stay like that as long as the money flows.

She was the first ever British prime minister to address the GCC directly. She came to their inner circle to talk sycophantically.

May told the sheikhs gathered in Bahrain that “just as Gulf security is our security, so your prosperity is also our prosperity.”

She means that her British government will stick with the sheikhs as long as the oil money flows. They can continue dropping bombs on Yemen, chopping off heads, shooting “Arab Spring” protesters: we will supply them with arms as long as the oil and money flow.

When May told the GCC: “We will succeed through our continued commitment to the rules-based order on which our prosperity has been built,” she meant rules written by medieval monarchies, rules that repress and exploit, are fine as long as there is money to be made.

But don’t expect many “freedom-loving” Tories to complain about May’s message to the Gulf dictators. Because her whole party is linked by money to the sheikhdoms.

Just a month before May’s speech there was an expensive jolly for Tory MPs in the Gulf arranged by a sheikh’s lobbyist employing one of their own ex-ministers.

Tory MP for Bristol North West Charlotte Leslie, Tory MP for Mid Sussex Nicholas Soames and Tory MP for Stratford-on-Avon Nadhim Zahawi all went on a “parliamentary delegation” to Dubai to “gain a deeper understanding of the important strategic links between Dubai and the UK.”

The four-day trip cost £4,313 per person for “accommodation and transportation,” so this was a luxury junket to one of the United Arab Emirates. It was paid for by Falcon and Associates International Ltd.

Falcon & Associates is a PR firm owned by the sheikhs of Dubai, which is why it sounds like a cross between an episode of Game of Thrones and a Management Consultancy.

Falcon was established by the emir of Dubai to run Dubai’s abortive bid for the 2020 Olympics. The emir kept the company going to “work to positively influence the conversation about Dubai and the UAE as a place of opportunity for business, culture and lifestyle.”

This is how the conversation should really go: Dubai is an absolute monarchy with no democratic rights and a bad reputation for abusing foreign workers who build and service the city state.

But Falcon have an “in” with the Tories. Former Foreign Office minister Hugh Robertson stood down at the last election and promptly stepped into a new job doing PR for the repressive Middle Eastern government.

Until 2014 he was responsible for the Middle East and counter-terrorism. In 2015 he became head of the London office and director of international relations for Falcon and Associates.

So he used to help run the British government. Now he has used his “democratic” CV to get a job working for the undemocratic sheikhs.

And his firm has become very good at rounding up Tory MPs and sending them on expensive PR jaunts to the Gulf.

So while Prime Minister May is smiling at the sheikhs, her backbenchers are being shipped out on comfortable trips abroad by the same absolute monarchs and former Tory ministers.

British government helps torture in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain

This video says about itself:

No End to Torture in Bahrain

22 November 2015

Bahraini security forces are torturing detainees during interrogation. Institutions set up after 2011 to receive and investigate complaints lack independence and transparency.

Human Rights Watch has concluded that security forces have continued the same abuses the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) documented in its November 2011 report. The commission was established after the fierce repression of pro-democracy demonstrators in February and March of that year. Bahraini authorities have failed to implement effectively the commission’s recommendations relating to torture, Human Rights Watch found.

By Steve Sweeney in Britain:

Britain: ‘Complicit in Rights Abuses by Torture States’

Thursday 22nd December 2016

British police provide training to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – Techniques used to identify and arrest people who are then tortured

BRITAIN was accused of complicity with the death penalty yesterday after a report revealed that police and security training is provided without safeguards to countries that torture and execute children.

International human rights organisation Reprieve suggested that there may have been a cover-up and demanded an end to support for death penalty states after freedom of information (FOI) requests revealed that officers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been trained in Britain without the required human rights checks being conducted.

Assessments are necessary before support and training is given to those states where arrests could lead to the death penalty.

Official guidance on the provision of overseas security and justice assistance said it should meet “our human rights obligations and values” and, before assistance is given, requests should also be considered by the International Police Assistance Board.

However Reprieve claims that its FOI requests found that no such assessments had been done by the UK College of Policing, which conducted the training.

The National Police Chiefs Council came under fire in June for continuing to provide training to Saudi police despite identifying a risk that “the skills being trained are used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured or subjected to other human rights abuses.”

In November, the council said the publication of this information had been a mistake and it would not release similar documents in the future.

Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia use the death penalty and have tortured people involved in anti-government or pro-reform protests.

In Saudi Arabia, Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher were all children when they were arrested for their involvement in demonstrations calling for reform. They are currently on death row awaiting execution.

In Bahrain, police officer Mohammed Ramadan faces the death penalty for having told interrogators while under torture that he had attacked other officers after joining a pro-democracy protest.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman claimed the government continues to raise concerns over the cases cited by Reprieve with the respective governments and that it “opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in all countries.”

“The British government consistently and unreservedly condemns torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and it is a priority for us to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs.”

On the case of Mr Nimr and the two others convicted while they were juveniles, she said: “We expect that they will not be executed. Nevertheless, we continue to raise these cases with the Saudi authorities.”

But Maya Foa, who heads Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “At best this is incompetence, at worst a cover-up; either way, the result is that this training risks rendering the UK complicit in the death penalty.

“It is shocking that neither Police Scotland nor the UK College of Policing hold any information about what human rights assessments were undertaken before this training went ahead.

“The conclusion is that once again, the UK’s policy on the death penalty has been ignored. Support to police forces in death penalty states such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain must be suspended until they can show real progress — starting with scrapping the death sentences handed down to children and political protesters.”

The Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We are rightly proud of the British model of policing and it is not surprising that there is an international appetite to learn from the best.”

Britain has a long history of involvement in Bahrain, with many British citizens having served in top roles with its internal security services.

The most notorious was Ian Henderson, a colonial officer in Kenya and head of various police agencies in Bahrain from 1966 to 1998. He presided over torture and was accused by opposition groups of “masterminding a ruthless campaign of repression.”