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Current Affairs 17 September 2022

CONTENTS

  1. Cheetah
  2. Eastern Economic Forum
  3. What are the Big Seven cats?
  4. Eklavya model residential schools
  5. Green Fins Hub

Cheetah In India


Context:

Over 70 years after it went extinct in India, the cheetah will return to the country.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What caused the extinction of cheetahs in India?
  2. Why is the cheetah being brought back?
  3. How was Kuno National Park chosen for the translocation?
  4. What are the future plans to increase cheetah population in India?
  5. About Cheetah
Details:
  • Eight African cheetahs from Namibia — five females and three males between the ages of 4-6 years — will be flown 8,000 km over the Indian ocean to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where they will be released as part of India’s Rs 90-crore Cheetah Introduction project.
  • This is the first time in the world that a large carnivore will be relocated from one continent to another.

What caused the extinction of cheetahs in India?

  • The cheetah in India has been recorded in history from before the Common Era. It was taken from the wild for coursing blackbuck for centuries, which is a major contributor to the depletion of its numbers through the ages.
  • However, the final phase of its extinction coincided with British colonial rule. The British added to the woes of the species by declaring a bounty for killing it in 1871.
  • Major reasons for the extinction of the Asiatic cheetah in India.
    • The consistent and widespread capture of cheetahs from the wild (both male and female) over centuries
    • Its reduced levels of genetic heterogeneity due to a historical genetic bottleneck resulting in reduced fecundity and high infant mortality in the wild.
    • Its inability to breed in captivity.
    • Sport hunting.
    • Bounty killings.
  • It is reported that the Mughal Emperor Akbar had kept 1,000 cheetahs in his menagerie and collected as many as 9,000 cats during his half century reign from 1556 to 1605.
  • As late as 1799, Tipu Sultan of Mysore is reported to have had 16 cheetahs as part of his menagerie.
  • It is recorded that the last cheetahs were shot in India in 1947, but there are credible reports of sightings of the cat till about 1967.

Why is the cheetah being brought back?

  • The aim behind the translocation is not only to restore India’s ‘historic evolutionary balance’, but also to develop a cheetah ‘metapopulation’ that will help in the global conservation of the animal.
    • While attempts to relocate cheetahs to India began in 2009, it was only in 2020 that the Supreme Court of India finally gave the green signal for such efforts.
  • As it is a flagship species, the conservation of the cheetah will revive grassland-forests and its biome and habitat, much like Project Tiger has done for forests and all the species found in these forests.
  • Project Tiger has also resulted in the conservation of 250 water bodies found in India’s 52 Tiger Reserves.
  • The Cheetah Project is likely to have a similar impact.
  • The translocation project has also helped conservation efforts in Africa, in particular South Africa.
South African cheetah:
  • The South African cheetah population had dwindled two decades ago, before the conservation programme ensured that the numbers increased – of the global cheetah population of 7,000, 4,500 belong to South Africa.
  • The cheetah is believed to have originated in South Africa and spread across the world through land connectivity.
  • In the Kalahari, the cheetah was once critically endangered due to poaching and hunting. But now, with healthy female cheetahs producing five to six cubs each, South Africa is rapidly running out of space for its cheetah population.

How was Kuno National Park chosen for the translocation?

Lion relocation project
  • Six sites, which had been previously assessed in 2010 for the translocation of the Asiatic Lion, were re-assessed by WII in 2020.
  • Of these six sites, Kuno, which had been monitored since 2006, was found to be ready to receive the cheetah immediately, as it had already been prepared for the Asiatic Lion. Both animals share the same habitat – semi-arid grasslands and forests that stretch across Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
  • The upgradation of sites required investment on a large scale in terms of reducing anthropogenic pressures through relocation of villages, mitigating infrastructure (roadways and railway) and prey augmentation for the cheetah through translocation of blackbuck, chital, chinkara and wild boar, among other animals.
  • In Kuno National Park, because of the lion relocation project, the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department had already relocated 24 of the 25 villages and declared it a national park, which led to “remarkable recovery in its habitat, prey abundance and reduction of human impact”, according to the assessment carried out by WII in 2020.
    • Only one village – Bagcha, with a population of 148 – remains on the fringes of the forest.
Climatic conditions
  • In Sheopur district, where Kuno is located, rainfall levels, temperatures, altitude, and conditions are similar to conditions in both South Africa and Namibia.
  • The leopard and striped hyena are currently the only larger carnivores within the national park, the single lone tiger having returned to Ranthambore in 2019-20.

What are the future plans to increase cheetah population in India?

  • Over the coming 15 years, the Indian government will acquire two to four cheetahs from Africa, with the process undertaken at an interval of one to four years, to establish a breeding cheetah metapopulation of 35-40 in the country.
  • Once the population in Kuno National Park has adapted and is flourishing, the Indian government will expand the efforts to reserves in other parts of the country as well.
  • Cheetah can also live in a wide range of habitats, which includes the most prominent semi-arid grassland, but also coastal scrubs, wooded savannah, Montane habitat, snow deserts and rugged semi-arid areas.

About Cheetah:

  • The cheetah is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
  • The cheetah is also the world’s fastest land mammal that lives in Africa and Asia.
African Cheetah
  • IUCN status – Vulnerable
  • CITES status – Appendix-I of the List. This List comprises of migratory species that have been assessed as being in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.
  • Habitat – Around 6,500-7,000 African cheetahs present in the wild.
  • Physical Characteristics – Bigger in size as compared to Asiatic Cheetah.
Asian Cheetah
  • IUCN Status – Critically Endangered.
  • CITES – Appendix 1 of the list
  • Habitat – 40-50 found only in Iran.
  • Physical Characteristics – Smaller and paler than the African cheetah. Has more fur, a smaller head and a longer neck. Usually have red eyes and they have a more cat-like appearance.

-Source: Indian Express


Eastern Economic Forum


Context:

Recently, Russia hosted the seventh Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) Vladivostok. The four-day forum is a platform for entrepreneurs to expand their businesses into Russia’s Far East (RFE).

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Eastern Economic Forum?
  2. Who are the major actors in the Forum?
  3. What does the EEF aim for?
  4. Will India be able to strike a balance between the EEF and IPEF?

What is the Eastern Economic Forum?

  • The EEF was established in 2015 to encourage foreign investments in the RFE.
  • The EEF displays the economic potential, suitable business conditions and investment opportunities in the region.
  • Agreements signed at the EEF increased from 217 in 2017 to 380 agreements in 2021, worth 3.6 trillion roubles.
  • As of 2022, almost 2,729 investment projects are being planned in the region.
  • The agreements focus on
    • Infrastructure,
    • Transportation projects,
    • Mineral excavations,
    • Construction,
    • Industry
    • Agriculture.

Who are the major actors in the Forum?

China
  • China is the biggest investor in the region as it sees potential in promoting the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the Polar Sea Route in the RFE.
    • China’s investments in the region account for 90% of the total investments.
  • Russia has been welcoming Chinese investments since 2015; more now than ever due to the economic pressures caused by the war in Ukraine.
  • The Trans-Siberian Railway has further helped Russia and China in advancing trade ties.
  • The countries share a 4000-kilometer-long border, which enables them to tap into each other’s resources with some infrastructural assistance.
  • China is also looking to develop its Heilongjiang province which connects with the RFE.
  • China and Russia have invested in a fund to develop northeastern China and the RFE, through collaborations on connecting the cities of Blagoveshchensk and Heihe via a 1,080 metre bridge, supplying natural gas, and a rail bridge connecting the cities of Nizhneleninskoye and Tongjiang.
South Korea
  • South Korea has also been gradually increasing its investments in the region.
  • It has invested in shipbuilding projects, manufacturing of electrical equipment, gas-liquefying plants, agricultural production and fisheries.
  • In 2017, the Export-Import Bank of Korea and the Far East Development Fund announced their intention to inject $2 billion in the RFE in a span of three years.
Japan
  • Japan is another key trading partner in the Far East.
  • In 2017, Japanese investments through 21 projects amounted to $16 billion.
  • Under Shinzo Abe’s leadership, Japan identified eight areas of economic cooperation and pushed private businesses to invest in the development of the RFE.
  • Japan seeks to depend on Russian oil and gas resources after the 2011 meltdown in Fukushima which led the government to pull out of nuclear energy.
  • Japan also sees a market for its agro-technologies which have the potential to flourish in the RFE, given similar climatic conditions.
  • However, the momentum of trade that existed with Shinzo Abe was lost with the leadership of Yoshihide Suga and Fumio Kishida.
  • The trade ties between Japan and Russia are hindered by the Kuril Islands dispute as they are claimed by both countries.
India
  • India seeks to expand its influence in the RFE. During the forum, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed the country’s readiness in expanding trade, connectivity and investments in Russia. India is keen to deepen its cooperation in energy, pharmaceuticals, maritime connectivity, healthcare, tourism, the diamond industry and the Arctic.
  • In 2019, India also offered a $1 billion line of credit to develop infrastructure in the region.
  • Through the EEF, India aims to establish a strong inter-state interaction with Russia.
  • Business representatives of Gujarat and the Republic of Sakha have launched agreements in the diamond and pharmaceuticals industry.

What does the EEF aim for?

  • The primary objective of the EEF is to increase the Foreign Direct Investments in the RFE.
  • The region encompasses one-third of Russia’s territory and is rich with natural resources such as fish, oil, natural gas, wood, diamonds and other minerals.
  • The sparse population living in the region is another factor for encouraging people to move and work in the Far East.
  • The region’s riches and resources contribute to five per cent of Russia’s GDP.
    • But despite the abundance and availability of materials, procuring and supplying them is an issue due to the unavailability of personnel.

Strategic significance of EEF for Russia

  • The RFE is geographically placed at a strategic location; acting as a gateway into Asia.
    • The Russian government has strategically developed the region with the aim of connecting Russia to the Asian trading routes.
  • With the fast modernisation of cities like Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita and more, the government aims to attract more investments in the region.
  • Russia is trying to attract the Asian economies in investing and developing the far east.
  • The Ukraine war is a worrying issue as it affects the economic growth of the country.
  • However, Russia believes that it can survive the economic crisis and the sanctions with the help of China and other Asian powers.
  • Although, the EEF is an annual gathering, the forum comes at an opportune time for Russia who is dealing with the impact of the sanctions.
  • Moreover, the coming together of countries like Myanmar, Armenia, Russia, and China seems like the forming of an anti-sanctions group in the international order.

Will India be able to strike a balance between the EEF and IPEF?

  • The US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) and the EEF are incomparable based on its geographic coverage and the partnership with the host-countries.
  • India has not shied away from investing in the Russia-initiated EEF despite the current international conditions.
  • At the same time, India has given its confirmation and acceptance to three of the four pillars in the IPEF.

-Source: The Hindu


What are the Big Seven cats?


Context:

The cheetah, which is being re-introduced to India from Africa, is not to be confused with the leopard, which too has spots that look somewhat similar. Here’s a list of members of the ‘cat’ genus Panthera, Puma, and Acinonyx.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Panthera
  2. Lion
  3. Jaguar
  4. Leopard
  5. Snow leopard
  6. Puma
  7. Acinonyx
Panthera

Tiger (Panthera Tigris)

Size: 75-300 kg | Status: Endangered

  • Jim Corbett’s “large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage”, the solitary and strongly territorial tiger is the largest of all wild cats and also the earliest Panthera member to exist.
  • Primarily a forest animal, they range from the Siberian taiga to the Sunderban delta.
  • The national animal of India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and South Korea, the tiger was voted the world’s favourite animal ahead of the dog in a 2004 Animal Planet global online poll.
Lion

Lion (Panthera Leo)

Size: 100-250 kg | Status: Vulnerable

  • Native to Africa and Asia, the lion is the most social cat, and lives in groups called prides.
  • They prefer open forests such as scrubland, and adult males have a prominent mane.
  • The lion is arguably the most widely recognised animal symbol in human culture — be it the Ashoka pillar in Sarnath, the main entrance to Buckingham Palace, or the 20th Century Fox and MGM logo.
Jaguar

Jaguar (Panthera Onca)

Size: 50-110 kg | Status: Near Threatened

  • The largest cat in the Americas, the Jaguar has the strongest bite force of all wild cats, enabling it to bite directly through the skull of its prey.
  • Melanistic (black) Jaguars are common and are often called black panthers.
  • Jaguar was a powerful motif in the Mayan and Aztec civilisations.
Leopard

Leopard (Panthera Pardus)

Size: 30-90 kg | Status: Vulnerable

  • Similar in appearance to the Jaguar with a rosette patterned coat, the leopard was described by Jim Corbett as “the most beautiful of all animals” for its “grace of movement and beauty of colouring”.
  • The most adaptable of all big cats, they occupy diverse habitats at all altitudes across Africa and Asia.
  • Like black jaguars, melanistic leopards are called black panthers.
  • In some African cultures, leopards are considered to be better hunters than lions.
 Snow leopard

Snow leopard (Panthera Uncia)

Size: 25-55 kg | Status: Vulnerable

  • The ghost of the mountains, this smokey-grey cat lives above the snow line in Central and South Asia.
  • The most elusive of all big cats, it cannot roar, and has the longest tail of them all — which comes in handy for balance while hunting along the cliffs, and also gives warmth when wrapped around the body.
  • The snow leopard is the state animal of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh.
Puma

Closely related to the domestic cat, this genus has only one extant species, the cougar.

Cougar (Puma concolor)

Size: 40-100 kg | Status: Least Concern

  • The cougar is the second-largest cat in the Americas. (The Jaguar is the largest.)
  • Cougars are also called ‘mountain lion’ and ‘panther’ across their range from the Canadian Yukon to the Southern Andes. Concolor is latin for “of uniform colour”.
  • The Incas designed the city of Cusco in the shape of a cougar.
Acinonyx

This is a unique genus within the cat family, with only one living member, the cheetah.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Size: 20-70 kg | Status: Vulnerable

  • The fastest land mammal, the cheetah is the only cat without retractable claws — the grip helps it accelerate faster than any sports car (0-100 km/hr in 3 seconds). Cheetahs are not aggressive towards humans, and they have been tamed since the Sumerian era.
  • They don’t breed well in captivity — picky females play hard to get.
  • Cheetahs are not really big, and they hunt during the day to avoid competing with other big cats.

-Source: Indian Express


Eklavya Model Residential Schools


Context

Despite sanctioning record numbers of Eklavya model residential schools for tribal students since 2014 and setting up of the National Education Society for Tribal Students (NESTS) to manage these schools in 2018, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has so far been unable to fix the teacher shortage faced across 378 of such schools that are currently functional.

Relevance:

GS II- Vulnerable Sections

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Eklavya Model Residential Schools
  2. Objectives of EMRS
  3. Features of EMRS

About Eklavya Model Residential Schools:

  • EMRS started in the year 1997-98 to impart quality education to ST children in remote areas in order to enable them to avail of opportunities in high and professional education courses and get employment in various sectors.
  • Across the country, as per census 2011 figures, there are 564 such sub-districts out of which there is an EMRS in 102 sub-districts.
  • As per revised 2018 scheme, every block with more than 50% ST population and at least 20,000 tribal persons, will have an EMRS by the year 2022.
  • These schools will be on par with Navodaya Vidyalayas and will have special facilities for preserving local art and culture besides providing training in sports and skill development.
Objectives of EMRS:
  • Comprehensive physical, mental and socially relevant development of all students enrolled in each and every EMRS. Students will be empowered to be change agent, beginning in their school, in their homes, in their village and finally in a larger context.
  • Focus differentially on the educational support to be made available to those in Standards XI and XII, and those in standards VI to X, so that their distinctive needs can be met,
  • Support the annual running expenses in a manner that offers reasonable remuneration to the staff and upkeep of the facilities.
  • Support the construction of infrastructure that provides education, physical, environmental and cultural needs of student life.
Features of EMRS
  • Admission to these schools will be through selection/competition with suitable provision for preference to children belonging to Primitive Tribal Groups, first-generation students, etc.
  • Sufficient land would be given by the State Government for the school, playgrounds, hostels, residential quarters, etc., free of cost.
  • The number of seats for boys and girls will be equal.
  • In these schools, education will be entirely free.

-Source: The Hindu


Green Fins Hub


Context:

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has launched the Green Fins Hub, a global digital platform to give sustainable marine tourism a ‘major boost’.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Green Fins Hub
  2. Membership of Green Fins Hub

Green Fins Hub

  • The Green Fins Global Hub will be a first-of-its-kind online support system to motivate scuba operators to improve their daily environmental practices at scale.
  • It aims to help diving and snorkeling operators worldwide to make simple, cost-efficient changes to their daily practices by utilizing tried and tested solutions.
  • It would also help them keep track of their annual improvements and communicate with their communities and customers.

Membership of Green Fins Hub

  • It will host two types of membership. One would be digital membership available for diving, snorkelling and liveaboard operations globally.
  • Throughout every year of membership, operators will receive environmental scores based on a detailed online self-evaluation and progress made on their action plans.
  • The Certified Members will continue to be assessed annually and trained in person at their operation.
  • The platform will be for operators around the world to raise industry needs, discuss environmental issues and share lessons and ideas with like-minded industry leaders, non-profits and governments.

-Source: Down to earth


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