Miami: More than 200 black bears were killed in the first day of an authorised hunt in Florida, a state where hunting the animals was banned for 21 years, officials said.
A total of 207 bears were killed on Saturday, the first day of the seven-day season, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, said on Sunday.
Hunters killed nearly two-thirds of the maximum of 320 black bears authorised by the FWC for the entire state of Florida in just one day.
The limits were reached in two of the four districts approved for hunting in the first day of the hunt and no more bears would be allowed to be killed in those areas.
Hunting will continue on Sunday in the southern and northern parts of the state.
Environmentalists and animal rights groups oppose the planned hunt, which the FWC justified on the grounds that black bears had become a nuisance in many areas, attacking people and pets, and scavenging for food around homes.
The FWC said hunting would be allowed for at least two days, with officials evaluating the results on the third day before deciding whether to continue or call off the one-week hunt.
Officials estimate that about 3,100 bears live in Florida, with the animals moving into areas where they did not have a presence in the past.
Some 1,900 hunters obtained permits from the FWC, raising concerns among environmentalists that the hunt would get out of control.
The permits, which allow hunters to kill only one bear, cost just $100 for Florida residents and $300 for non-residents.
The hunt will stabilise Florida’s bear population, which was nearly wiped out in the 20th century and has recovered from about 300 animals in 1974 to 3,100 today, making the big predators a conservation success story, the FWC said.
Conservation groups and animal rights organisations criticised the hunt but were unable to keep the 1994 ban on bear hunting in place.
The head of UNAIDS says the global community is at a “defining moment” in the effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.
“This midpoint is important for us to reflect on what was not working,” Michel Sidibe told VOA, noting this year marks the halfway point to agreed global targets. “It’s about how to deal with vulnerable communities, fragile society.”
According to 2016 data, 36.7 million people globally are living with HIV. There were nearly 2 million new infections and 1 million AIDS-related deaths.
But the good news is there has been success in expanding access to critical anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which reached nearly 21 million people in 2016, leading to a reduction by one-third in global AIDS-related deaths.
Eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission through childbirth and breast-feeding also has become a real possibility by 2030. This was considered a dream just a few years ago, Sidibe said.
“Today, we are seeing after six years that we reduced by almost 61 percent the infection among children — the transmission from mother to child,” Sidibe said. “But we still have 39 percent of babies born with HIV. We want to stop that and we are working very closely with countries who are lagging behind to make sure we have a catch-up plan.”
Know your HIV status
The UNAIDS executive director says one of the most critical factors in ending the epidemic is making sure people are tested and know their HIV status. This requires lifting taboos and making testing more widely available.
“We need to reduce the price of self-testing; we need to go to community levels, family levels, to reach people where they are,” he said. “The family-centered approach and also community-based approach will become central to what we will do in the future, if we want to reach those millions of people who don’t know their status.”
A recent United Nations report on the AIDS response found that at the end of 2016, some 70 percent of people living with HIV knew their status, and 77 percent of them were accessing ARV therapy. Once on those treatments, 82 percent had suppressed the virus to undetectable levels in their systems. That is not a cure. HIV still remains in their body, but it greatly reduces the likelihood of transmission to a partner.
While there have been significant successes, progress is uneven, especially for women and adolescent girls. This is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where females aged 15-24 accounted for 23 percent of new infections in 2016, compared to 11 percent for their male counterparts.
Sidibe says women and young girls face unique challenges, including cultural norms, child marriage and early pregnancies.
“It’s something which we need to address at not just a peripheral level, we need to deal with poverty, to deal with violence against women, to change the laws, to make sure we give them services,” he said.
In order to stop new HIV infections, other vulnerable populations also need a scaled-up response, including intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Working with at-risk groups and spreading awareness of the importance of condoms and single-needle use for drug addicts are all crucial to the fight against HIV.
Next month, thousands of experts, activists and people living with HIV/AIDS will meet in Amsterdam for the International AIDS conference. Special attention will be focused on the need to reach key populations, including in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, where epidemics have grown. (IANS)