Tag Archives: ceremonies

Poachers target rare bird’s ‘ivory’ beak in Southeast Asia

Some call it “ivory on wings,” part of the bill of a critically endangered bird in Southeast Asia that is sought by poachers and carved into ornaments for illegal sale to Chinese buyers.

The helmeted hornbill isn’t getting as much attention as the beleaguered African elephant at a global wildlife conference this week in South Africa.

But the killing of elephants by the tens of thousands for their tusks is intertwined with a surge in the slaughter of the rare bird whose beak part is a coveted substitute for ivory.

“It’s all part of the rising demand for ivory,” said Richard Thomas, spokesman for TRAFFIC, a conservation group based in Britain.

Poaching of the helmeted hornbill has soared since around 2010, particularly in Indonesia. The timing roughly coincides with an increase in elephant poaching that has caused a sharp drop in elephant populations. Last year, the helmeted hornbill was designated as critically endangered on an international “red list” of threatened species.

Delegates are discussing protections for elephants, helmeted hornbills and other vulnerable wildlife at a meeting in Johannesburg of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES . The 12-day meeting of the U.N. group, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5.

The helmeted hornbill is a bird of lore, featuring in an ancient belief that it sits by a river between life and death. Its feathers have been used in traditional ceremonies. During breeding, the female is sealed into a nest, relying on the male to provide food.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

In a CITES document , Indonesia asked for more collaboration among law enforcement agencies from countries where helmeted hornbills live, as well as “end market” nations — a reference primarily to China.

China, the world’s main ivory consumer, has already said it plans to close its domestic ivory market.

A large lump on top of the beak of the helmeted hornbill is made of keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn and other animal and human parts. It has a red tinge is softer than elephant ivory, making it an attractive material for carvers who have fashioned belt buckles, snuff boxes, pendants and images of Chinese deities from it over many centuries.

The upper part of the bill, also known as a casque, is solid, unlike the hollow casques of other hornbill species. Its price on the illegal market is higher than that of elephant ivory. A casque weighs up to 350 grams (0.7 pounds); the average weight of an elephant tusk is five kilograms (11 pounds), though a big male’s tusk can weigh 10 times as much.

At least 2,170 heads and bill parts of helmeted hornbills were confiscated from the illegal trade in Indonesia and China between 2012 and 2014, TRAFFIC said.

Investigators found helmeted hornbill products being sold openly in Laos, a major transit point for wildlife traffickers that borders China, according to a TRAFFIC report released this month. Sale locations included a luxury hotel and convention center in central Vientiane, the capital, it said.

Indonesia said it has arrested more than 20 people in the helmeted hornbill trade and sentenced most of them. Penalties include up to five years in jail and a heavy fine.

On Saturday, rangers in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park arrested a suspected helmeted hornbill poacher with a rifle and silencer, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, a group based in New York. The suspect had just entered the forest and did not have any bird parts.

“This species needs to be on people’s radars,” said Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation at WCS.

Illegal logging in Indonesia is shrinking the habitat of the helmeted hornbill. Conservationists fear poachers will focus on the Malaysian population once supply dries up in Indonesia.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.
The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.


Inauguration Day: There’s an app for that

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced the first smartphone app for official inaugural events.

“This inauguration is a celebration of the American people,” said Steve Kerrigan, president and CEO of the PIC. “That’s why we’ve designed our app to make sure folks across this country don’t miss a moment of history. Whether you’re in Washington, D.C., or any other part of the nation, there are plenty of ways to be involved in the inauguration through this app.”

The app encourages users to serve their communities, offering the ability to look up National Day of Service events around the country.

Users can filter the type of event they are interested in, whether it’s focused on education, health, community resilience, economic development, veterans and military families, faith or the environment.

Once users find the right event for them, they can RSVP and see how many others in their community plan to attend the event.

App users also will be able to find their way to official inaugural events using the maps feature. The maps include essential information such as event access points, portable toilet locations, and viewing screen locations.

“This is the first official smartphone app built for a presidential inauguration,” said Nate Lubin, digital director at the PIC. “We wanted to build a tool that will enable us to reach new people in new ways. This app does just that.”

Other app features include: the full schedule of official events, blog content highlighting aspects of the inauguration, news about official events and access to official photography and video content.

The app also syncs with Facebook, Twitter email and texting.

The PIC app is available for iPhones and Android devices.

It also is available for the iPad.

To download the app go to http://action.2013pic.org/page/s/official-app. 


Tight security, protests expected at inauguration

Tea party fervor has surged and waned in the past four years. Occupy encampments are long gone from parks in the nation’s capital. And the crowd for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration figures to be significantly smaller than the record-breaking turnout of 2009.

But spectators can still expect the customary tight security long associated with the event – not to mention protesters for assorted causes.

City and federal officials are implementing measures intended to prevent calamities, such as a terrorist attack, and to address more mundane concerns, such as slow-moving security lines and cold weather. Flight restrictions are in place in the skies over Washington, with extra security on the city’s waterways. Spectators will be limited in where they may drive and what they may bring. The Secret Service, the lead law enforcement agency for the Jan. 21 event, isn’t revealing specific precautions, though tactics in the past have included trained counter-snipers, bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance cameras with feeds streaming into a command center.

“We have a very robust, but standard, package that we put together for something like this. There is not any tool that any of the agencies have that will not be employed,” said U.S. Senate Sergeant At Arms Terrance Gainer, who is involved in the planning.

Inauguration preparation is a constant balancing act of ensuring airtight security while simultaneously moving massive crowds around the city. Officials say they’re determined to correct some of the logistical headaches of 2009, when some visitors complained of slow-moving, chaotic lines outside security gates and thousands of people with tickets to the swearing-in were left waiting in a tunnel below the National Mall. This year, organizers say, spectators will encounter more magnetometers to speed security lines, along with more _ and earlier _ signs to get people to their destinations.

“Our biggest concern is making sure that folks can get from wherever their buses are to the events they want to see, and back,” said Chris Geldart, director of the District of Columbia’s homeland security and emergency management agency.

City officials are expecting between 600,000 to 800,000 inauguration spectators, far fewer than the 1.8 million people who packed the Mall for the inauguration four years ago. But many of the security measures and restrictions will look familiar. Roads around the U.S. Capitol, the Mall and the White House will be closed to vehicles, with parking restricted and bridge traffic diverted in some locations. Some Metrorail stations will be closed, others probably packed. Backpacks, large signs, bicycles, glass containers and weapons are forbidden along the parade route. And anyone who wants to see the swearing-in ceremony from the U.S. Capitol grounds needs a ticket.

Included in the crowd will be those looking to experience history, but also organized demonstrations, an Inauguration Day fixture. In 2009, a smattering of protest groups lined the parade route but no major incidents were reported. Four years earlier, demonstrators against President George W. Bush jeered his motorcade during the inaugural parade and some tried to rush a security gate blocks from the White House. Police briefly locked down the area, trapping some 400 to 500 spectators.

Many of the demonstrators this year aren’t necessarily conventional Obama administration opponents, but nonetheless say they feel let down by his first term. The protesters’ causes vary from abortion to military drone strikes to the nation’s unemployment rate.

Participants in one demonstration, the Arc of Justice Coalition, will meet at Meridian Hill Park about 1 1/2 miles north of the White House and march toward the parade route while criticizing the Obama administration’s use of unmanned drones to attack targets abroad and the “influence of corporations in our lives,” said Malachy Kilbride, one of the organizers.

“What a lot of us are concerned about is that the only people who are opposing Obama are on the right,” Kilbride said. “The point is that Obama is being criticized from the progressive liberal left side also.”

Kilbride said the demonstration could draw a few thousand people, but the group didn’t plan on causing trouble.

The ANSWER Coalition, a peace and social justice organization, is staging a separate demonstration at Freedom Plaza, along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route.

“We’ll be highlighting the fact that such a vast (percentage) of the national treasury goes to wars and militarism rather than to meet human needs, so we’re going to be demanding jobs and justice _ not war and occupation,” said Brian Becker, the group’s national coordinator.

District of Columbia officials, including Mayor Vincent Gray, plan to use their viewing stand along the parade route to draw attention to the local government’s lack of budget autonomy and congressional representation. Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro wouldn’t reveal exactly how the officials plan to get their message across.

“What better venue to demonstrate it? This is exactly the type of place that it should be demonstrated in – this grand pageant of democracy,” Ribeiro said.

An Ohio-based anti-abortion group, Created Equal, is staging a demonstration with several dozen protesters, also on the parade route, executive director Mark Harrington said.

“He’ll swear to protect the rights of future pre-born children while at the time same defending the injustice of abortion,” Harrington said of Obama.

Though the anticipated crowd will be smaller than 2009, Gainer said security plans are equally vigilant this year. There’s never been an assassination attempt at any inauguration, and there’s no specific or even generalized threat that officials are aware of this year, he said.

“The biggest security concern is there’s some state-sponsored threat or individual threat, but we’re kind of concerned about that every day over here,” Gainer said. “I don’t want to say the inauguration is a routine security event for us. But in our business, it’s pretty close to business as usual.”

Gainer acknowledged, however, “What we have learned over these years is this is an attractive nuisance” for people looking to cause problems.

LGBT band invited to march in inaugural parade

An LGBT band, along with spouses of servicemembers in the Armed Forces, college and military bands, service dog trainers and a drill team from Chicago are among the diverse groups invited to participate in next month’s inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has started sending out invitations to groups nationwide to march behind Barack Obama from his swearing in at the Capitol to the White House on Jan. 21.

The first wave selected includes the marching band from Miami University of Ohio, the alma matter of GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan where first lady Michelle Obama spoke during the final weekend of the campaign. Also selected was the Virginia Military Institute, a traditional performer in inaugural parades.

Others include Military Spouses of Michigan, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association of St. Louis, Chicago’s South Shore Drill Team and marching bands from Little Rock Central High School and Washington’s Ballou Senior High School.

“The talented groups chosen to participate in the inaugural parade reflect the spirit, values, and diversity of our great nation,” Obama said in a statement.

The application process was run by the military, beginning in October before the election and continuing through the end of last month. The Joint Task Force – National Capital Region is charged with supporting inaugural ceremonies and reviewed about 3,000 online applications to make sure they met minimum requirements before presenting about 300 applicants to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for final selection.

The process included members of military bands reviewing video and audio files of performances to judge the skill of marching bands, musical acts and drill teams. Other applicants included floats, silent marching groups, dancers and other performers.

“As you can imagine, everybody wants to participate,” Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.

More than 20 groups were invited Tuesday, with the committee still reviewing applications and planning to continue to invite others on a rolling basis to represent all 50 states.

Among those chosen in the first wave was Canine Companions for Independence, a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides free assistance dogs to people with disabilities. “We couldn’t be more excited,” said Susan Lee Vick, the group’s national director of development. She said their marching team may include puppies in training and graduate teams of veterans and their animals, because supporting wounded warriors is a major focus. “We feel that marching in the parade gives us a chance to really express our commitment and that value.”

Committee officials say they don’t have a specific target size for the parade, but about 130 groups with close to 15,000 participants were selected in 2009. This time organizers say the parade is expected to be smaller, keeping with plans to downsize the overall size of the event from his historic first inauguration, when a record 1.8 million people packed the National Mall.

Inaugural parades are a time-honored tradition following the president’s swearing in, beginning with the local militias that accompanied George Washington from his Virginia home to New York, where his inauguration was held in 1789. Thomas Jefferson charted the modern day route in 1805 when he rode a horse to the White House after being sworn in for his second term, followed by a spontaneous procession of local workers and a Marine Band. President Dwight Eisenhower had the longest parade in 1953, lasting about five hours, compared with about two hours for more recent events. President Jimmy Carter walked along Pennsylvania Avenue during his parade, which has since become traditional practice for the presidents as they begin their new terms.

The parade shuts down one of Washington’s main thoroughfares, and involves the temporary removal of all street lights along the Pennsylvania Ave. route.

Costs of the parade are covered by the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s fundraising. Participants must pay their own travel costs to attend, but the committee said it is trying to help them find affordable accommodations at a time when many Washington hotels are booked or charge inflated rates.

Obama begins his second term at noon on Sunday, Jan. 20, and is planning a private swearing in at the White House with limited press coverage. His public inauguration will be on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Monday, Jan. 21, since the ceremony is not traditionally held on Sundays.

Obama is kicking off the inaugural weekend by asking Americans to participate in a National Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 19. He plans to end the festivities with a special prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

“The beginning of President Obama’s second term will be marked by the acknowledgement and celebration of the role of people of faith in American life,” Presidential Inaugural Committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant said in a statement Tuesday announcing the prayer service. “President Obama’s own faith has played an integral role in his life, his commitment to service and his presidency, and this important tradition will celebrate the values and diversity that make us strong.”

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has yet to announce details of some other inaugural events, including the number of official balls the president plans to attend. Organizers have said there will be fewer parties than the 10 Obama had four years ago and that they will all be held at the Washington Convention Center.

On the Web…

Updated list of invited participants: http://2013pic.org/about/parade 

Augustana College to allow same-sex ceremonies

Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., will now allow same-sex ceremonies on campus.

College president Steven Bahls has sent out an email announcing his decision to allow same-sex ceremonies after a recommendation from campus chaplain Richard Priggie.

Priggie tells WNIJ Radio (http://bit.ly/TvIroB ) that several gay couples expressed interest in having a ceremony. He says that led him to request the president’s approval.

The school is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. According to the email, the church left it up to Bahls to decide whether or not to open the campus to same-sex ceremonies.

Couples who wish to have a ceremony at the college’s Ascension Chapel must be affiliated with Augustana. Illinois allows civil unions, and couples also can hold “rites of marriage” or “blessings of unions” by a pastor.