Best of our wild blogs: 1 Mar 11

RMBR Facebook Page
from Raffles Museum News

A self-guided walk along Sungei Ulu Pandan - Home of the Kingfishers
from Encounters with Nature in Singapore

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology: New animals named after Singapore!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

New mangrove slug named after Singapore
from wild shores of singapore

Large-billed Crow takes ceram palm fruit
from Bird Ecology Study Group

from The annotated budak

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 59(1)
from Raffles Museum News

Host-parasite arms races and eff mimicry through avian eyes – Dr. Martin Stevens (Dept of Zoology, University of Cambridge) from Raffles Museum News

How to Use Freecycle@Work to Promote the Reuse of Unwanted Items in Your Company from Green Business Times

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Shark's fin: Marine group rebuts trader's claim

Straits Times Forum 1 Mar 11;

SEAFOOD trader Sineurope's managing director Melvin Foo is wrong when he asserts that shark's fin sold here must be landed along with the body of the shark, to prevent a practice known as live shark finning, where fishermen slice the fin off the fish and dump it back into the water ('That predatory hunger for shark's fin'; Feb 5).

The dried fins we have in Singapore are imported from a number of places, including Hong Kong, Indonesia and Taiwan, where live finning is still very much a practice. Finning is also happening in neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand, and in India.

Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed 17 per cent of the world's 1,044 shark species as being threatened with extinction, only three shark species are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) for trade protection.

Under Singapore law, traders must own a licence and declare every consignment of fish imported, exported or transhipped for official approval. For Cites-protected species, regulated trade is allowed only for certified traders.

While Europeans consume shark meat, the amount of fins originating from such markets is only a percentage of fins that are imported into Singapore.

Singapore has no specific law to ensure that shark's fin sold here must be landed along with the shark bodies.

The issue of shark's fin does not merely pivot on the cruelty of live finning, but on marine sustainability as well, especially when we remove a slow-breeding species from the wild which is also a prime predator, acting as the pillar of support for our marine ecosystem.

Contrary to popular belief, shark's fin was never a part of Chinese tradition but started as a fad - that is, a previously fashionable dish served at functions as a show of wealth. Shark's fin originated as an emperor's dish, inaccessible to commoners, and was popularised only in the past 30 years.

In such a short span, the shark population has plunged by more than 80 per cent for some species.

Because Singapore is the world's second largest trader of fins, we can make a positive difference in shark conservation.

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Founder, Project: FIN

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Environment and economy go together: PUB chief

Maxie Aw Yeong Business Times 1 Mar 11;

ECONOMIC progress and environmental development must always go hand in hand, and this is especially important for a small country like Singapore, said Tan Gee Paw, chairman of Public Utilities Board (PUB).

Describing the relationship between economic development and the environment as 'both a partnership and a conflict', Mr Tan said: 'If we do not take care of the environment, the economical side (of Singapore) will stagnate.'

Mr Tan was speaking to professionals from the public service, private sector, and also academics at a dialogue conducted by the Centre for Liveable Cities.

There are two factors that have been driving PUB, Mr Tan said. One is the critical role that the environment plays in Singapore's progress and the other is environmental public health.

'These are the two basics that have not changed since then,' he said.

Environmental public health, he emphasised, is of utmost importance to a densely-populated country like Singapore, as it is difficult to seal off an area should there be a break-out. 'Environmental public health is the only safeguard against infectious disease,' he said.

During the dialogue, Mr Tan also spoke about how long-term planning is of importance to any country, regardless of current economic situation. If adequate planning is not done, it will lead to problems later on, he said.

'Long-term planning must come upfront - you are in a better position to take advantage when the economy blooms,' he said.

'You have to do it from day one,' he added.

Mr Tan was asked about the flash floods that occurred at Orchard Road last year. He replied: 'All we can do is to minimise flooding. No one can predict great storms 100 per cent.' He added: 'PUB will always have flood alleviation programmes for areas that are flood-prone.'

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Singapore Green Plan 2012: Six green targets met

Esther Ng Today Online 1 Mar 11;

SINGAPORE - With less than a year to go, the targets in six key areas set out in the Singapore Green Plan 2012 have been reached, with the recycling rate here an exception.

The 58-per-cent figure last year comes close, though, to the goal of 60 per cent.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim disclosed yesterday the current state of green after Member of Parliament Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang) had requested for an update on the plan launched in 2002.

In the area of water consumption, the daily domestic consumption per person was 154 litres, just surpassing the target next year of 155 litres per day.

Also, 30 per cent of Singapore's water is from non-conventional sources such as NEWater, exceeding the target of 25 per cent.

As for public health, the average annual incidence of dengue was about 5,800 cases between 2006 and last year, compared to some 14,000 cases reported in the 2005 epidemic.

Dr Yaacob added that air quality has remained in the "good" range of the Pollutant Standards Index for at least 85 per cent of the time since 2003, which also meets next year's target. ESTHER NG

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Singapore Budget: More carrots needed to go green

Amresh Gunasingham Straits Times 1 Mar 11;

THE lack of sweeteners in Budget 2011 to address green issues here came in for scrutiny from two MPs yesterday.

Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang) said that the sole green carrot in the Budget - extending a tax rebate scheme for car buyers who opt for green vehicles by another 12 months - was insufficient to address Singapore's sustainability needs over the next few decades.

He made several suggestions on how this could be addressed, calling, for example, for tax incentives and funds to be channelled towards transportation, housing and educational causes.

Dr Teo also had a radical idea: providing free public transport to wean Singaporeans off car use. He suggested, for example, that free bus services linking town centres, schools or shopping malls in housing estates could be provided by the state.

'This will encourage more people to use public transport... thus reducing our carbon footprints,' he said, adding that such options are used in major cities to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

Praising the $4.7 million top-up in the Budget for school advisory committees to help needy Singaporeans, he said additional funds could also be allocated to provide students with free school bus rides. This would free up public transport for adults.

Buildings, which are large energy guzzlers here, were another area he touched on. Although the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has the Green Mark scheme which serves as a guide for new buildings to be equipped with green features, he noted that many older buildings were still inefficient energy users.

Since 2008, all new buildings here have had to observe minimum energy consumption standards. But despite this, just 8 per cent of all buildings have been 'greened' since the Green Mark scheme was introduced in 2005.

Dr Teo called for tax incentives to get building owners to upgrade their buildings to meet BCA's Green Mark standard.

More could also be encouraged to construct rooftop gardens, a move that has gained increasing traction here in the last few years as a way to green up the expanding concrete jungle.

He also touched on education, pointing out that many schools and community organisations struggled for funds to put in place programmes that help to raise environmental awareness among the youth.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC), chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, noted that there was a lack of financial incentives for businesses in the green industry.

He said this went against the wider push to coax more firms into the nascent sector here.

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Indonesia Plans To Develop Riau Islands As Farm Project Supplier To Singapore

Bernama 27 Feb 11;

TANJUNGPINANG, RIAU ISLANDS, FEB 27 (Bernama) -- The Indonesian government is planning to develop Riau Islands province as the main supplier of farm products to Singapore, Antara news agency reported.

"Singapore needs thousands of tonnes of vegetables, fruits and other farm products. Why don't we supply (the commodities) from here which is only 45 minutes (from Singapore)?" President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at a working meeting with a number of ministers and Riau Islands provincial government officials here Sunday.

To that end, the president instructed a number of researchers from the Bogor-based Institute of Agriculture (IPB) to study the types of farm products suitable for cultivation in Riau Islands.

He also asked the local government officials to make a plan for special farm land to develop key farm products.

The head of state further reminded all parties of the need to pay attention to environmental conservation efforts in implementing regional development.

"Look at Singapore where buildings are flourishing. Here we still have many green areas with tourist sites," the president said.

He said the development of farm estates and tourist resorts in Riau Islands might push up the number of tourist arrivals in the region.

Among the ministers attending the meeting were Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta, Industry Minister M.S. Hidayat, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, Transportation Minister Freddy Numberi, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Fadel Muhammad, and Agriculture Minister Suswono.

The others were Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Hatta Rajasa, Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik, Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and Minister/State Secretary Sudi Silalahi.

Also present were Head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) Gita Wirjawan and Chief of the National Economic Committee Chaerul Tanjung.


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How Species Save Our Lives

Richard Conniff The New York Times 27 Feb 11;

When adding up the benefits from three centuries of species discoveries, I’m tempted to start, and also stop, with Sir Hans Sloane. A London physician and naturalist in the 18th century, he collected everything from insects to elephant tusks. And like a lot of naturalists, he was ridiculed for it, notably by his friend Horace Walpole, who scoffed at Sloane’s fondness for “sharks with one ear, and spiders as big as geese!” Sloane’s collections would in time give rise to the British Museum, the British Library, and the Natural History Museum, London. Not a bad legacy for one lifetime. But it pales beside the result of a collecting trip to Jamaica, on which Sloane also invented milk chocolate.

We still scoff at naturalists today. We also tend to forget how much we benefit from their work. Since this is the final column in this series about how the discovery of species has changed our lives, let me put it as plainly as possible: Were it not for the work of naturalists, you and I would probably be dead. Or if alive, we would be far likelier to be crippled, in pain, or otherwise incapacitated.

Large swaths of what we now regard as basic medical knowledge came originally from naturalists. John Hunter, for instance, was a colorful London physician, a generation or two after Sloane, and his passion for animals made him a model for Dr. Dolittle. (He may also have been the original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for his nighttime work sneaking cadavers in by the back door.) While others were only dimly beginning to contemplate the connection between humans and other animals, he made detailed flesh-and-blood comparisons, discovering, among other things, how bones grow and what course the olfactory nerves travel.

Hunter, now regarded as the father of modern surgery, came out of a Scottish tradition that treated the study of nature as essential for developing a doctor’s observational skills, and he drilled this attitude into his students. Among them was Edward Jenner, a country doctor who spent 15 years studying cuckoos (perhaps one reason he later got labeled a quack). But this research, combined “with Hunter’s insistence on finely honed observation and cogent presentation, helped prepare Jenner’s mind for his great work,” according to science historian Lloyd Allan Wells. That work was the development of the world’s first vaccine, for smallpox. Establishment physicians balked. But Jenner’s bold idea would lead in time to vaccines against countless other deadly diseases, from yellow fever to polio. He thus gets credit (with a faint nod to the cuckoo) for saving more lives than anyone in the history of medicine.

You may perhaps be thinking that chocolate milk, Dr. Dolittle, and cuckoos make a very curious case for the importance of species. But our debt to the naturalists also takes more conventional form: Roughly half our medicines come directly from the natural world, or get manufactured synthetically based on discoveries from nature. The list includes aspirin (originally from the willow tree), almost all our antibiotics (from fungi that evolved in nature, not a Petri dish), and many of our most effective cancer treatments. I can remember a pale girl in second grade going off to die of lymphoma or leukemia; children with those diseases almost always died then. Now they routinely live, because of drugs developed from the Madagascar rosy periwinkle, a flowering plant. Many patients with lung, breast, uterine, and other cancers also now recover because in 1962 a botanist named Arthur S. Barclay collected samples of the Pacific yew tree, leading to the development of the anticancer drug Taxol. For those who think natural resources should stand or fall based on their current cash value, yew trees would have been basically worthless in 1961. But today, according to industry analysts IMS Health, Taxol is a $1.7 billion-a-year product.

Beyond giving us powerful new drugs, discoveries from the natural world also frequently open our eyes to the unsuspected workings of our own bodies. One of the more obvious effects of being bitten by the South American pit viper, Bothrops jacara, says the Harvard pediatrician Aaron Bernstein, is that “your blood pressure drops to the floor, and then you drop to the floor.” So kill all the vipers, right? On the contrary, says Bernstein, a co-author of the 2008 book “Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity.” The study of a key enzyme from this snake’s venom revealed a new mechanism for controlling human blood pressure. ACE inhibitors, the direct result, are now our most effective remedy for hypertension and congestive heart failure, and certainly save more lives than these snakes ever killed.

Likewise, rapamycin, also known as Sirolimus, developed from a soil fungus on Easter Island, suppresses immune response through a pathway previously unknown to medicine. It’s now widely used for organ transplants and as a coating on heart stents. By itself, that might not make anyone run around with an “I ♥ Fungi” bumper sticker. But consider this: A 2009 paper in Nature reported that mice dosed with rapamycin experienced a 28 to 38 percent increase in subsequent lifespan—and these mice were 60 years old (or the mouse equivalent) to start with. So Baby Boomers, are we starting to feel the fungal love?

Given the untapped potential of the natural world, you might think governments and drug companies would be racing to save species and screen them for other such extraordinary powers. In fact, says James S. Miller, vice president for science at the New York Botanical Garden, “only a tiny percentage of the world’s plants have been screened,” and even those “have only been screened against a small fraction of the diseases for which they could be effective.” Instead, pharmacologically-active compounds developed over millions of years and found effective in the world’s harshest laboratory—nature—routinely vanish, as the species in which they evolved go extinct.

There’s one final way we owe our lives to naturalists. The absence of epidemic disease is now so completely taken for granted that it’s hard to imagine we ever lived otherwise. But malaria once routinely killed people from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. Yellow fever epidemics swept down like the wrath of God on cities as far north as Boston. In the nation’s worst outbreak, in 1878, one in eight residents of New Orleans died, and everything south of Louisville, Ky., was “desolation and woe.” All that changed in the miraculous 1890s, when researchers suddenly identified the causes of yellow fever, typhus, plague, dysentery and, above all, malaria. In each case, the solution depended on having precise knowledge—both taxonomic and behavioral — of the species involved, from microbial organisms to mosquitoes. As Patrick Manson, the father of tropical medicine (and a great Scottish naturalist), once put it, the study of the origins and causes of disease “is but a branch of natural history.”

It’s worth remembering all this now because some scientists say we are on the brink of a new era of epidemic diseases, with H.I.V., SARS, H1N1, and Ebola merely the ominous harbingers. New diseases are emerging because logging roads are reaching into the remotest habitats. Some scientists also think that deforestation is stripping away our biological buffer — the natural community of animals and plants that would normally dilute the effect of a disease organism and prevent it from spilling over to humans.

It’s hard to accept that you and I may be vulnerable. Our brief century of freedom from disease has given us the delusion that we are separate from nature, somehow hovering above the world in which we live. So we no longer think it worthwhile to spend our money studying the species around us (better to search for life in outer space). And we accept the loss of forests and wetlands, not thinking that it may translate in time to the loss of our own families and friends. When the new wave of emerging diseases comes washing up on our doorsteps, we may find ourselves asking two questions: Where are the naturalists to help us sort out the causes and cures? And where are the species that might once have saved us?

But why wait? Why not ask those questions now?

POSTSCRIPT: The natural world ought to be a source of pleasure and consolation. So I’ve avoided pushing the conservation message too hard in this series. But I also hope readers are wondering what they can do in their own lives to slow the loss of species. Fortunately, a lot of the changes we can make to help the environment also help with our own economic struggles. Here’s a baker’s dozen of ideas. I invite readers to add their suggestions:

1. Reduce meat in your diet and stick to sustainable fisheries. (Find a pocket guide for your region.)

2. Buy less stuff, or buy it used.

3. Favor companies and countries that value the environment. (But beware of greenwashing. BP used to tout itself as environmentally aware.) Check the green rankings of top companies.

4. Add up your annual energy consumption (including air travel, gasoline, electricity, and heating fuel) and set a program to cut back by five percent a year. Be clever and you may hardly notice. Start by making a one degree change in the thermostat, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. (Some energy audit programs will do it for you and you will spend less for the service than you will save in utility costs in the first year alone.)

5. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. The exercise will do you good (and you might see an interesting bird or bug on route).

6. Get acquainted with some of our weird, delightful fellow species. Any book by Gerald Durrell, for instance, “My Family and Other Animals,” is a fine place to start,

7. Learn to identify 10 species of plants and animals in your own neighborhood, then 20, and onward.

8. Stop using lawn pesticides and fertilizers. They contaminate nearby waterways. For the same reason, don’t dump old prescriptions down the toilet.

9. Reduce water use, particularly for lawns; it depletes a limited resource, sometimes directly damaging habitat.

10. Plant trees, and since maintaining them is the hard part, stick around to be a tree steward.

11. Lobby public officials to do smart things like installing more sidewalks, limiting carbon emissions,
and investing in conservation of threatened species.

12. Adopt a species that needs help and actively support its conservation. Groups exist focused on tigers, rhinos, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, frogs, and so on.

13. Encourage your local zoo to focus on species conservation.

Many thanks to the readers of Specimens. The entire eight-part series can be read here.

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Mekong River survey finds 67 new fish species

Bangkok Post 1 Mar 11;

Sixty-seven new fish species have been discovered in the lower Mekong River in an inaugural survey conducted by a team of biologists over the past five years.

Scientists from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam found over 500 species overall in the first phase of the Mekong freshwater fish survey, which started in 2006, to create an inventory of fish species found in the lower Mekong countries.

The surveyed areas were the Moon River in Thailand, the Mekong River section passing through Laos, the Tonle Sap lake and river system in Cambodia and the Mekong estuary in Vietnam.

The five-year Diversity of Fishes in the Mekong and Chao Phraya study is supported by Japan's Nagao Natural Environment Foundation.

A Thai member of the research team, Wichian Magtoon, dean of science at Srinakharinwirot University, said the fish species database would help support a better understanding of the Mekong ecological system.

The inventory would also help monitor the impact of development projects, especially dam construction, on the Mekong fish population.

The researchers found 540 fish species, including 67 that were new to them and 21 that are pending identification.

"We might find more fish species during the second-phase survey," Mr Wichian said.

Bounthob Prazaysombath, a researcher at the National University of Laos, said his team found 237 species, 56 of which are indigenous to Laos.

"The study lets us know what we have right now," Mr Bounthob said.

"Moreover, our next generation can learn about the fertility of the Mekong."Kenzo Utsugi, a research scientist at the Nagao Natural Environment Foundation, said it was estimated that there were more than 1,000 fish species in the Mekong River.

He urged governments to take more care of the Mekong. Each government has different methods of river management but they should share the same goal of protecting it from losing ecological biodiversity.

Prachya Musikasinthorn of Kasetsart University, who was in charge of the fish species survey in the Chao Phraya River, said 216 fish species were estimated to live in the river and four species of these were pending verification.

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Eco-engineering hopes for amphibians' future

Mark Kinver BBC News 28 Feb 11;

An international team of researchers have tabled a range of engineering ideas that could help protect amphibians from future climate change.

The animals are particularly vulnerable to changes to habitat and temperature ranges, with many species also having a very limited distribution.

The scientists plan to test their ideas to see which ones are the most suitable and cost effective.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

"One of the things that has dominated research, certainly as far as climate change is concerned, is impacts," explained Luke Shoo, from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland.

"I think we are getting to a stage where a lot of managers, and researchers are demanding some sort of solution.

"What we have tried to do here is bring together a whole load of people and pooled together thoughts on the possible options."

Dr Shoo added that the study had identified a range of potential useful management interventions.

"But so far many of these are poorly tested, and they might be expensive or only work in small areas or under specific situations," he told BBC News.

Logging on

One of the possible solutions was to create "micro-habitat shelters". For example, this could included forestry operators leaving a pile of dead wood, rather than clearing an entire area, so it offered protection to amphibians from drying out and temperature stress.

"You end up with strong populations," Dr Shoo explained.

He added that there was a precedent for this kind of intervention in conservation. For example, in order to encourage healthy reptile populations, scientists have gone into overgrown areas and reduced the canopy to allow more of the warmth from the Sun to reach the ground.

"Essentially, we will be doing this in reserve," he suggested. "We will be sheltering and reducing exposure in order to protect amphibians."

Dr Shoo said that amphibians had a tough upbringing; "They have to deal with an aquatic life-stage, and also have a terrestrial adult stage.

"So you need an environment where you can get the eggs and the tadpoles, then you have to have to have an environment that allows them to survive physiologically as adults."

The next stage for the project was to go out and test some of the ideas highlighted by the working group.

"We can then see if they work and get some idea of cost and whether it is possible to scale them up over a larger area," he said.

The team were also looking to establish a web portal that would allow researchers to submit examples and studies of trails, and the outcomes of those tests.

Dr Shoo said: "We will then be able to get a better sense of what has worked, and we hope to ho that quite quickly."

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Critically Endangered Javan Rhinos and Calves Captured on Video

WWF 28 Feb 11;

Dramatic new video footage of two critically endangered Javan rhinos and their calves was released today by WWF-Indonesia and Indonesia’s National Park Authority.

The footage, from a motion-activated video camera in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, is a huge boost to efforts to save this almost extinct species that is threatened by poaching, disease, and the possibility of a tsunami or volcanic eruption.

“The videos are great news for Javan rhinos and prove that they are breeding in Ujung Kulon,” said Dr. Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at WWF-US. He warned, however, that the survival of the species is still far from certain. “There are no Javan rhinos in captivity—if we lose the population in the wild, we’ve lost them all,” Dinerstein said, pointing out that an eruption by nearby volcano Anak Krakatau could easily wipe out all life on the peninsula where the rhinos are concentrated.

Possibly the rarest mammal on Earth

The Javan rhino is possibly the rarest mammal on the planet with as few as 40 left. Once numerous throughout Southeast Asia, its population is now likely isolated to Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia. This small population size makes it extremely vulnerable to any threat, including poaching for its horn, which is traditionally believed to have medicinal properties.

The video trap, installed by WWF-Indonesia and Ujung Kulon National Park Authority, captured images of the rhinos and their calves between November and December of last year in the dense tropical rainforests of Ujung Kulon National Park on the island of Java. WWF is working with Ujung Kulon National Park authorities, International Rhino Foundation, Indonesia Rhino Foundation, Asian Rhino Project, IUCN/SSC Rhino Specialist Group and local communities to protect this species from poaching, monitor the remaining rhinos, and establish a new population by relocating several individuals.

Conservation efforts have increased dwindling populations in the past

“Fifty years of conservation experience has taught us that saving Javan rhinos is possible through population management and proper protection,” said Dr. Barney Long, head of Asian species conservation at WWF-US. “We’ve done it before—helping rhino populations rebound in Africa and South Asia—and we can do it again in Indonesia.”

Dinerstein added, “The recovery of the white rhino in South Africa is the most successful example of international wildlife conservation for a highly endangered species. With less than 50 left in a single reserve in 1900, there are currently around 20,000 alive in nine countries. Examples like this give us hope that in 10 or 20 years through translocation and proper protection we can begin to witness a Javan rhino rebound.”

You can support the Javan rhino

WWF has established an emergency fund to support the establishment of a Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area into which a handful of rhinos will be moved.

Visitors to can learn more about the species and donate directly to a fund that will establish the conservation area and monitor the several individual rhinos that will populate it later this year. Establishing a new population is an essential buffer against a potential tsunami and an outbreak of disease and/or poaching.

The first video, recorded in November, shows a mother and male calf walking steadily towards the video trap, munching leaves. At one point the calf turns away from the camera and wags its tail to swat a fly. The second family made its video debut in December in a 30-second video that shows a larger female calf, approximately one year old, walking with her mother.

There is hope for the future of the species

“It’s such a joy to see these healthy calves calmly ambling through the dense tropical forest,” Long said. “It gives me hope for the future of the species and it’s moments like these that make all of the hard work of Indonesia’s dedicated field staff worthwhile.”

Dramatic new video footage of two critically endangered Javan rhinos and their calves was released today by WWF-Indonesia and Indonesia’s National Park Authority.

Javan Rhinos and Their Calves Caught on Film
The Jakarta Globe 28 Feb 11;

Two Javan rhinos and their calves have been caught on film by WWF Indonesia and Ujung Kulon National Park Authority.

The videos of the endangered species were recorded from November to December 2010.

A clip from the first video, which was recorded in November 2010, shows a mother and her male calf walking toward the camera. Several more videos of the family were obtained.

Another rhino family was documented in December 2010. The 30-second video shows a calf that is larger than the previous calf walking with its mother. The calf has been identified as a one-year-old female.

The videos prove that there are Javan rhinos breeding in Ujung Kulon National Park, Banten — which comes as good news after three Javan rhinos were found dead in the national park last year.

“The videos showing these two calves are important because they provide us with substantial information about the population dynamics of Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon National Park,” said Agus Priambudi, the head of the Ujung Kulon National Park Authority, on Monday. He said the calves would help stablize the rhino population in Ujung Kulon at 50.

“These videos also provide us with some feedback about Javan rhino survey and monitoring systems, and we believe this information is important in ensuring the survival of the endangered species.”

This month Ujung Kulon National Park Authority took over management of the video camera traps in the park. Between 2001 and 2010, the video camera traps were jointly managed by the authority and WWF Indonesia.

“WFF is ready to support the management of video camera traps by the national park authority,” said Adhi Hariyadi, the project leader of the WWF Indonesia-Ujung Kulon Program. “We are more than willing to hand over survey methods and any information we have to ensure effective management in the future.”

After successfully identifying 14 rhino births within the last 10 years using camera traps, the study will now focus more on the habits, genetic diversity and diet of the Javan rhino, among other things.

“The documentation of a female calf is a breath of fresh air for us, and for Javan rhino conservation in general, as the majority of calves previously identified were male,” Adhi said.

Hope as rare rhino calves filmed in Indonesia
Yahoo News 28 Feb 11;

SERANG, Indonesia (AFP) – Hidden cameras have captured proof that Javan rhinos are breeding in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park, the last redoubt for the endangered mammals, conservationists said Monday.

Footage of two adults with two calves was taken in November and December last year by cameras hidden in the jungle of the rhino sanctuary on the southwestern tip of Java island, environmental group WWF said.

"This is fantastic news because before these camera trap images surfaced, only 12 other Javan rhino births were recorded in the past decade," WWF-Indonesia Ujung Kulon programme chief Adhi Hariyadi said.

"The population in Ujung Kulon represents the last real hope for the survival of a species that is on the brink of extinction."

The video clip show two females with their calves, one a female aged about a year and the other a younger male. They enter a small clearing in the jungle and appear to approach the hidden camera.

Environmentalists had believed there were only about 40 Javan rhinos left in the wild, but the camera data have led them to believe there could now be up to 50.

Of five rhino species, three including the Javan are critically endangered, mainly due to the growing demand for rhino horn.

The horns are ground into powder and used in traditional Chinese and other Asian medicines, although they have no scientifically proven medicinal value.

Ujung Kulon National Park authority chief Agus Priambudi said the new footage would help conservationists protect the last wild Javan rhino population.

A handful of Javan rhinos are also believed to exist in Vietnam but conservationists say those individuals, if they are still alive, are not a sustainable population.

"The camera enables us to know the position of the rhinos, their sex and whether there are pregnant rhinos among them. It's very important for the breeding process and conservation efforts," he told reporters.

"It will also help us to protect them from poaching... By knowing exactly where the rhinos usually roam, it's easier for our rangers to provide security for them."

Conservationists celebrated the discovery of the calves but warned that Ujung Kulon's rhino population remained extremely vulnerable.

Threats include poachers, habitat loss due to illegal clearing, disease from livestock that wander into the park from surrounding paddocks, tsunamis triggered by earthquakes and eruptions from the nearby Anak Krakatau volcano.

"We know that Ujung Kulon sits on a hot spot due to the active volcano, Anak Krakatau, and on plates with high seismic activity," WWF's Hariyadi said.

"The risk of extinction due to natural disaster is quite high."

With these threats in mind, officials are preparing to move up to five female and three male rhinos to another forest sanctuary on Java.

"We're really careful about executing the project and we're involving many experts," Hariyadi said.

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Nepal police arrest 'most wanted' rhino poacher

Yahoo News 28 Feb 11;

KATHMANDU (AFP) – Nepalese police have arrested an alleged mastermind poacher on suspicion of killing 16 endangered rhinos over several years, officers in Kathmandu said Monday.

Kajiman Praja, 32, was held on Saturday along with four female family members in Waling, 260 kilometres (160 miles) west of the capital, after a tip-off from the WWF conservation group.

"He is our 'most wanted' poacher and his family was involved in rhino poaching in Chitwan National Park," Rajendra Singh Bhandari, chief of the police's Central Investigation Bureau, told AFP.

Bhandari said Praja's two wives, a sister and a sister-in-law were also involved in the racket. Police accused him of killing a total of 16 rhinos in past six years.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says the global population of greater one-horned rhinos in 2007 was just 378 in Nepal and 2,200 in India.

Wildlife experts say many rhinos in Nepal fell prey to poachers during the 10-year Maoist rebellion that ended in 2006.

The animal's horn is highly valued as an aphrodisiac in China, with each one fetching as much as $14,000 on the international black market.

Rhino poaching in Nepal carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.

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Indonesia: Man Arrested for Online Sale of Body Parts from Endangered Animals

Farouk Arnaz Jakarta Globe 28 Feb 11;

Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry in conjunction with the National Police have arrested a man for allegedly possessing body parts from protected species, including tigers, for sale.

Rafles D. Pandjaitan, director of forest protection and investigation at the ministry, told the Jakarta Globe that Abi Kossim Makki, 43, was arrested at his home in West Jakarta last week and was being detained at National Police headquarters.

Pandjaitan said investigators had seized the fur and teeth of tigers, a bear’s head, a deer’s antlers and a crocodile’s penis worth millions of rupiah.

He said, for example, that a tiger’s tooth, which could be used to make a ring or pendent, could sell for Rp 5 million ($570).

Pandjaitan said Makki sourced the animal parts from other collectors or directly from hunters in Sumatra or Kalimantan.

He faces charges that carry a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine of Rp 200 million.

Makki, who sold the body parts on the Internet, was caught in a sting operation.

Indonesia arrests trader over rare animal parts
Yahoo News 28 Feb 11;

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesian police have arrested a man for allegedly selling body parts from protected species online, including tiger skins and crocodile genitals, an official said Thursday.

Police detained the man last week in western Jakarta and confiscated animal parts including a bear?s head, deer antlers and a crocodile?s penis, conservation official Darori told AFP.

"He was also selling skins, claws, teeth and even the whiskers of the endangered Sumatran tiger as souvenirs," he said.

"He sold the parts online to foreign buyers. We don't know how much he sold them for but they can fetch millions of rupiah (hundreds of dollars)," he added.

The suspect, who faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted of illegal trading, might be a part of global network of dealers in wildlife parts, Darori said.

There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, according to conservationists.

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Amur tigers in population crisis

Victoria Gill BBC News 28 Feb 11;

The effective population of the critically endangered Amur tiger is now fewer than 14 animals, say scientists.

Approximately 500 Amur tigers actually survive in the wild, but the effective population is a measure of the genetic diversity of the world's largest cat.

Very low diversity means any vulnerability to disease or rare genetic disorders is likely to be passed on to the next generation.

So these results paint a grim picture for the tiger's chance of survival.

The findings are reported in the journal Mammalian Biology.

The Amur tiger, or Siberian tiger as it is also known, once lived across a large portion of northern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southernmost regions of eastern Russia.

During the early 20th Century, the Amur tiger was almost driven to extinction, as expanding human settlements, habitat loss and poaching wiped out this biggest of cats from over 90% of its range.

By the 1940s, just 20 to 30 individuals survived in the wild. The new study has identified that this recent "genetic bottleneck" - when the breeding population of tigers was so critically low - has decimated the Amur tiger gene pool.

A more genetically diverse population of animals has a much better chance of survival; it is more likely, for example, to contain the genetic resistance to a variety of diseases and less likely to succumb to rare genetic disorders, which can be "cancelled out" by healthy genes.

'Worryingly low'

Scientists in Russia, Spain and Germany worked together to analyse DNA samples from 15 wild Amur tigers in the Russian Far East.

They took blood samples from the animals and screened them for certain "markers" - points in the DNA code that show that an animal had parents that were genetically very different from each other.

The results revealed evidence of the genetic bottleneck during the tigers' recent history, when the variety of genes being passed on dramatically reduced.

Genetically speaking, the Amur tiger has not recovered from this.

"Our results are the first to demonstrate a quite recent genetic bottleneck in Siberian tigers, a result that matches the well-documented severe demographic decline of the Siberian tiger population in the 1940s," the researchers wrote in the paper.

"The worryingly low effective population size challenges the optimism for the recovery of the huge Siberian cat."

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Blueprint to conserve forests in Selangor

Jade Chan The Star 1 Mar 11;

THE Selangor government will be embarking on two initiatives, one of which is to create a blueprint to conserve the forests in Selangor, said state executive councillor Elizabeth Wong.

“The blueprint aims to address issues like encroachment and forest fires and the need for more effective conservation of all forest reserves, including the Kuala Langat South Forest Reserve,” she said, adding that the mechanisms are expected to be ready in about three months.

“We hope to get the public involved by creating a sense of ownership, like getting them to adopt a certain part of a forest or receiving a certificate for planting a tree.”

Wong, who oversees the Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment portfolio, was speaking after launching the World Wetlands Day 2011 celebration at the Raja Musa Forest Reserve co-organised by the Selangor Forestry Department and Global Environment Centre.

World Wetlands Day marks the 40th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention — an inter-governmental treaty that embodies the commitment of its member countries to maintain the ecological character and plan sustainable use of all wetlands.

“The blueprint will also look into ways of implementing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) — a carbon credit exchange programme that has been successfully carried out in Indonesia,” said Wong.

“We want to encourage the public and local community to help in forest conservation and teach them about the importance of caring for the forests for their own socio-economic livelihood.”

“We will also be working with NGOs and corporations to create a stronger trust system to better protect the forests and raise funds for the initiative.”

She cited Bridgestone, one of the event’s sponsors, as an example.

“Bridgestone pledged to adopt 20ha of the Raja Musa Forest Reserve today for three years,” said Wong.

“As part of its pledge, Bridgestone said it would contribute RM1 from each tyre sold towards the conservation of the forest.”

In conjunction with the UN International Year of Forests, Wong said the state government would table an amendment to the National Forestry Act (Selangor) 1984 to enable the public to be consulted in the event any forest reserve was degazetted.

“Once the amendment is vetted through by the state legal adviser, we hope to have it ready to be tabled at the first state assembly sitting for this year at the end of next month,” said Wong.

“This move would allow the public to know first-hand if a forest reserve is degazetted and give their feedback on the matter.

“Selangor is the first state to pioneer such an initiative. In fact, the National Land Council encourages the forestry departments to have this kind of policy.”

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Iconic North America pines may vanish: study

Yahoo News 28 Feb 11;

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The narrow, towering lodgepole pine trees that populate North America's western forests may disappear in the coming decades due to climate change and attacking beetles, a study said Monday.

The trees are tough and adaptable, particularly in areas prone to wildfires and bitter cold, but warmer, dryer seasons and pests are combining to kill off the trees in growing numbers, US and Canadian researchers say.

By the year 2020 the trees in the Pacific Northwest will have declined about eight percent, and then "continued climatic changes are expected to accelerate the species' demise," said the study in the journal Climatic Change.

"By 2080, it is projected to be almost absent from Oregon, Washington and Idaho," it said.

The tall, straight trees were once harvested for making American Indians' teepee tents and have been used widely in building poles and fences, as well as providing habitat for large animals in the wild.

"For skeptics of climate change, it's worth noting that the increase in vulnerability of lodgepole pine we've seen in recent decades is made from comparisons with real climatic data, and is backed up with satellite-observations showing major changes on the ground," said Richard Waring of Oregon State University.

"This is already happening in some places," Waring said. "Bark beetles in lodgepole pine used to be more selective, leaving the younger and healthier trees alone.

"Now their populations and pheromone levels are getting so high they can more easily reach epidemic levels and kill almost all adult trees," he said.

However, the lodgepole pine is expected to survive in the upper elevations of Yellowstone National Park and a handful of other locations, the study said.

The research was funded by NASA and the Natural Sciences Engineering and Research Council of Canada.

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Sometimes Invasive Species Are Good

Brandon Keim Wired Science 28 Feb 11;

Invasive species are the stock villains of conservation biology, disrupting ecosystems and throwing native populations into disarray. But in certain cases, they’re actually quite beneficial, and perhaps it’s time to recognize that.

In California, for example, native butterflies feed on non-native plants. In Puerto Rico, alien trees help restore abandoned pastures to a condition suitable for native plants. Even the much-maligned zebra mussel helps filter toxins from lakes.

“We predict the proportion of non-native species that are viewed as benign or even desirable will slowly increase over time,” write ecologist Martin Schlaepfer of the State University of New York and colleagues in a paper published Feb. 22 in Conservation Biology.

According to Schlaepfer’s group, biologists are often biased against invasives, and decline to notice or report instances of beneficial invasions.

They support their unorthodox perspective by reviewing dozens of papers on plants and animals introduced, accidentally or otherwise, outside their historical ranges. A variety of underappreciated invasive roles are described: providing ecosystem services, replenishing human-damaged regions, and generally helping to sustain some semblance of natural health even as many ecosystems struggle to survive.

Schlaepfer and colleagues admit to a certain bias of their own. “Negative roles listed here are not exhaustive and include only those that directly oppose the listed positive roles,” they write. “Many of the non-native species listed have other negative effects on conservation objectives.”

Their goal, however, isn’t to do a conclusive analysis of the pros and cons of invasives, but to encourage a more open-minded consideration of benefits — and not just cost — for species often described in militarized, even xenophobic terms.

After all, many now-beloved native creatures were once invasives. Among them are dozens of honeybee species introduced to North America since the 16th century. Far from declaring war on bees, people now worry that these invading aliens might vanish.

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China Minister Warns Pollution, Waste Imperil Growth

Chris Buckley PlanetArk 1 Mar 11;

China faces acute environmental and resource strains that threaten to choke growth unless the world's second-biggest economy cleans up, the nation's environment minister said in an unusually blunt warning.

In an essay published on Monday, Zhou Shengxian also said his agency wants to make assessing projected greenhouse gas emissions a part of evaluating proposed development projects.

That could give China's Ministry of Environmental Protection more sway in climate change issues, an area dominated by agencies whose main interest is shoring up industrial growth.

Zhou set environmental worries at the heart of China's next phase of economic development -- a theme in focus at the country's annual parliament session starting on Saturday.

"In China's thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humanity and nature has never been as serious as it is today," Zhou said in the essay published in the China Environment News, his ministry's official newspaper.

"The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the deterioration of the environment have become serious bottlenecks constraining economic and social development."

Zhou's words highlight the policy struggle in China between stoking growth and taming pollution and resource consumption. On Sunday, Premier Wen Jiabao also said the country should aim for slower, cleaner growth.

"This is a crucial time for deciding policy, so he's trying to bring more urgency to getting more teeth for his ministry by making people grasp the huge challenges," said Yang Ailun, the head of climate and energy for Greenpeace China, an advocacy group, speaking of Zhou's essay.

Chinese officials often promote the need to maintain fast economic growth to pull hundreds of millions of citizens out of hardship. But Zhou said prospects for growth could be threatened unless smoggy skies, polluted rivers and reckless exploitation of mine reserves are taken much more seriously in setting policy.


"If we are numb and apathetic in the face of the acute conflict between humankind and nature, and environmental management remains stuck in the old rut with no efforts in environmental technology, there will surely be a painful price to pay, and even irrecoverable losses," said Zhou.

China is now the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and other human activities that scientists say are causing global warming. It is the world's biggest polluter and biggest consumer of resources across a range of other measures.

In 2009, nearly 20 percent of the length of China's monitored rivers and lakes had pollution worse than Grade 5, making the water officially unfit for even irrigating crops, according to government statistics.

To double the size of the economy between 2000 and 2020 and keep environmental conditions at levels met in 2000, China will have to improve its efficiency in using resources by 4 to 5 times compared to 2000 levels, said Zhou, citing findings of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China has repeatedly promised to clean up distressed rivers and lakes and smog-filled skies. But it often fails to match rhetoric with resources and the will to enforce those vows.

A researcher from the Ministry of Environmental Protection's own policy institute said China would remain focused on industrial growth for many years yet and "more patience is needed to achieve green development."

"Pursuing economic growth will remain China's development goal and task for a long time to come," the researcher Yu Hai wrote in the latest issue of Environmental Protection, the ministry's Chinese-language policy journal.

In January, more than 200 children living near battery plants in eastern China showed elevated levels of lead in their blood -- the latest such outbreak to prompt an outcry.

"Voices across society urging concern for environmental health are rising, and this is having a negative effect on social harmony and stability," said Zhou.


To counter such threats, he proposed strengthening his ministry's ability to monitor and curb pollution, including taking a bigger role in greenhouse gas emissions.

Chinese greenhouse gas and climate change policy are dominated by the National Development and Reform Commission, a powerful agency also charged with guarding industrial growth.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection will establish a "risk assessment system for atmospheric pollutants and climate change," and will study how to embed climate change issues into environmental protection goals and assessment, said Zhou.

That will include assessing projected greenhouse gas emissions from proposed new projects, such as factories.

"The Ministry of Environmental Protection can use this tool to get more say in climate and energy policy," said Yang, the Greenpeace China analyst, referring to Zhou's proposals.

(Editing by Ken Wills and David Fogarty)

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Severe Weather, Forecasting Could Prompt Force Majeure Rethink

David Fogarty PlanetArk 28 Feb 11;

Worsening weather and better forecasting methods could push the mining sector to change force majeure provisions in supply contracts and sharpen how blame is allotted when storms or floods disrupt regular business.

Climate scientists predict global warming will trigger greater extremes of weather such as more intense droughts, cyclones and bushfires. For miners and other resource firms that means more disruption to coal, iron, bauxite and gold operations, but many weather events are foreseeable.

Recent deadly floods and cyclones in Australia occurred during the monsoon season that meteorologists said months in advance would be above average because of the strong La Nina weather pattern that usually brings heavy rains and storms to he country's north and east.

"If it is true that some of these floods were foreseeable, there is going to be an argument whether that was in fact a force beyond the expectation of either party," said Robert Milbourne, a mining and resources lawyer for global law firm Norton Rose.

That meant a rethink of provisions under force majeure, which is defined as a force greater than the parties had contemplated and allows for suspension or termination of obligations during an unforeseen event.

"Going forward it is critical that people rethink the terms of force majeure provisions. In my view, it needs to be considered, at least for commodity contracts, a commercial term," Milbourne, a former senior counsel for Brazilian miner Vale, told an industry seminar in Singapore on Friday.

Milbourne, based in flood-hit Queensland state in Australia, pointed to the abundance of private weather forecasters as well as services from the government bureau of meteorology that companies can use to better predict bad weather and impacts on their operations and staff.

Yet not all companies were using these services, placing them at greater risk of disruption and loss of revenue, he said.


He said if extreme weather events become more foreseeable, that could drive changes to the way contracts define responsibility under force majeure provisions of suspension, termination as well as allocation of goods and services for partial disruption.

"If you had a termination event, once you get your mines back up and running, you are going to sell it (commodity) at the higher price.

"But if you simply have a suspension you have to deliver at that pre-event price.

"To me that is a $1-billion question for the Queensland economy and it hasn't really been adequately discussed," he said. The recent floods led to 16 coal mines in Queensland covering total annual capacity of 94.3 million tons to declare full or partial force majeure.

"This is really a commercial term, that everybody should be more aware of, the variations in how force majeure can be implemented."

Allocation was another and a disaster could mean a company being able to deliver only some of its goods or services.

"You get to choose if you're the service provider who gets that good or service. And that is an incredible financial power, who gets it, who doesn't.

"Most contracts never address that issue and it really has not been thought about by most commercial parties.

"Rather than allowing the mining or service provider to have that discretion, it is a simple thing you can do putting in a contract to allow for priority allocation."

More extreme weather events also had implications for directors and regulators, such as legal consequences of foreseeable bad weather.

"If severe weather is more foreseeable, then directors are going to be charged with more obligation to prepare accordingly. These should not automatically be viewed as acts of god. These are things that people need to understand can happen, are happening and almost certainly are going to happen again."

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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