Best of our wild blogs: 1 May 11

An Eagle's Tale: Saving an Injured White Bellied Sea Eagle
from Butterflies of Singapore

Pacific Reef Egret in pursuit of Little Egret
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sea cucumbers at HortPark exhibition
from Urban Forest

First visit to Terumbu Pempang Laut
from wonderful creation

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Malaysia: Perak rare earth pact cancelled

Simon Khoo The Star 30 Apr 11;

IPOH: The memorandum of understanding between the Perak State Development Corporation (PSDC) and a Hong Kong firm to conduct a feasibility study to explore and mine rare earth minerals in Bukit Merah has been revoked with immediate effect, Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir said.

He said the state government had instructed PSDC to cancel the MoU because the project could pose a threat to the safety and well-being of the people.

“We have directed PSDC to inform the firm concerned CVM Minerals Limited that the MoU will no longer be valid and both parties have no problem over the decision.

“The state government is firm in not issuing any licence for projects that are sensitive in nature and detrimental to the people's health.

“As far as we are concerned, the matter is closed. I hope no one will politicise the matter,” he said.

In a filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Friday, CVM Minerals executice chairman Goh Sin Huat said the firm was notified by PSDC that the Perak Government would not issue any permit or licence to mine rare earth minerals.

“Therefore, the company will no longer pursue the project.

“The company would like to inform that it has withdrawn the application for the rare earth exploration permit submitted on April 18 and after further deliberation, PSDC and the company have mutually agreed to terminate the non-legally binding MoU dated April 18,” the filing stated.

Dr Zambry said the cancellation of the MoU was not due to pressure from Opposition parties but solely after taking into consideration the safety and health of the people.

Perak Health, Local Government and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon said the matter should serve as a lesson to other government-linked companies not take act without prior consultations with the state government.

“The signing of the MoU put us in a bad light and created unnecessary public anxiety. This must not be repeated in the future and I hope all GLCs will take heed and be more tactful in future dealings involving projects sensitive in nature,” he said.

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Indonesia launches oil palm green product campaign in Europe

Antara 30 Apr 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government has through the agriculture ministry launched an oil palm green product campaign in Spain and France to anticipate negative issues about the commodity relating to the environment.

Agriculture Minister Suswono said here on Saturday the oil palm green product campaign was designed to convey information and communicate the policy and efforts to develop the national oilpalm industry by paying attention to the principle of sustainability.

When visiting Madrid and Paris, the Indonesian delegation conveyed concern and objection against the negative views of NGOs on the development of palm oil and the importing countries`s rules that led to a negative impact on Indonesian palm oil export.

"The campaign was held in the forms of seminars and meetings with the related officials of Indonesia, Spain and France," the minister said.

In a meeting with the Spanish minister for Environment, village and fisheries affairs as well as the French Agriculture minister,

Minister Suswono said, he conveyed the Indonesian government commitment in the implementation of the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil System and concern on the environmental criteria listed in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) that has potential as a Non-Tariff Barrier in the trade.

"The French government can understand the concern of Indonesia and expects to obtain input from the results of research on palm oil which can be used as an evaluation of policies related to the use of palm oil in the country," Suwono said.

In addition to Spain and France, Indonesia will also conduct the similar campaign to the United States on May 23.

"We will explain clearly about the development of oil palm in Indonesia," Suswono cited, adding that his office will also hand Orangutan to the U.S. government in order to show the government`s attention to wildlife-related development of oil industry.

At present, the land used for oil palm development in Indonesia is only about six percent out of the country`s forest area that reached 137 million hectares.

Oil palm plantations contribute about 45-46 percent of carbon emissions reductions.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Hanoi speeds up cleaning of Hoan Kiem Lake to save legendary turtle

VietNamNet Bridge 30 Apr 11;

The Hanoi authorities have instructed relevant agencies to accelerate the dredging of the Hoan Kiem Lake to finish the task before May 7, 2011.

The dredging and cleaning of the lake must be finished quickly to serve the treatment of the legendary turtle.

According to experts, the turtle is now healthy and it doesn’t need to live in its “sanatorium” anymore. However, Dr. Bui Quang Te, chief of the turtle treatment group, said that the turtle cannot return to its natural environment right now because the lake is not cleaned yet. However, if the turtle lives in cage for a long time, its skills to live naturally may be affected.

Te said the latest tests of Hoan Kiem Lake’s water showed that the water contained a lot of bacteria, fungi, toxic algae, etc.

“Putting the turtle back into the lake when the water is still polluted, means that the treatment for the Hoan Kiem turtle will become useless. We have asked the Hanoi authorities to urgently clean the lake,” Te said.

The turtle can return to its natural environment in two weeks. However, just a small area of Hoan Kiem Lake has been cleaned.

Dr. Nguyen Viet Vinh, a member of the turtle treatment group, said that if the legendary turtle lives in the cage for a long time, it would be familiar to the cage and to the food supplied by man. The turtle is highly possible tamed.

“The most important task right now is cleaning the Hoan Kiem Lake,” Dr. Vinh emphasized.

“Though the turtle lives in the clean tank, it still lacks natural substances in mud, which can make new diseases for the turtle. In addition, the turtle can be shocked when it returns to the natural environment,” Vinh added.

The cleaning of Hoan Kiem Lake project consists of dredging mud, pumping clean water into the lake and preventing restaurants around the lake to discharge waste water into the lake.

The funding for this project is provided by four private companies, totaling VND8 billion ($400,000).

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Caterpillar Fungus Making Tibetan Herders Rich

Profitable medicinal fungus a cash cow in rural communities.
John Roach National Geographic News 27 Apr 11;

Harvesting of a parasitic fungus that grows high on the Tibetan Plateau in China is infusing hordes of cash into rural communities, scientists say.

The fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, takes over the bodies of caterpillar larvae then shoots up like finger-size blades of grass out of the dead insects' heads.

Known as yartsa gunbu—or "summer grass winter worm"—by Chinese consumers, the nutty-tasting fungus is highly valued for its purported medicinal benefits, for instance, as a treatment for cancer and aging and as a libido booster. Far away in the booming cities of Beijing and Shanghai, demand for the fungus has soared.

"Medically, it seems to deliver," according to Daniel Winkler, a fungus researcher and head of Eco-Montane Consulting in Seattle, Washington.

"Even the whole thing that it's an aphrodisiac—yes, it might really help."

Some Chinese grind up the fungus and sell it as a powder, and others use it whole as a garnish—and therefore a display of wealth.

"When you want to impress your business partner, you stuff some kind of fowl with it to show that money doesn't really matter to you, because you just stuffed your goose with $100 worth of mushrooms," Winkler said.

In Tibet and other Himalaya regions of Nepal and Bhutan, yak herders who harvest the fungus are getting rich from fungus sales.

By one account, the value of caterpillar fungus shot up 900 percent between 1997 and 2008, said Winkler, who has studied the phenomenon.

Nomadic yak herders now ride motorcycles, own apartments in the city, send their kids to schools, and pay someone else to do their village chores, he said.

In Search of Fungal Gold

To keep up with demand, rural harvesters spend about four weeks each spring stooped over on grassy slopes, pick axes in hand, searching for fungal gold.

Harvesters pluck the package—caterpillar larva and parasitic fungus—whole from the ground. Over the course of a month, a prolific harvester can earn more than enough cash to live on for an entire year. In rural Tibet, the fungus accounts for at least 40 percent of people's cash income.

In Yunnan Province, caterpillar fungus sales account for 60 to 80 percent of annual household cash income, which is used to pay for school, food, refrigerators, motorbikes, and livestock, according to Michelle Olsgard Stewart, a doctoral student in geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The surge in value of the fungus has also prompted more people to participate in the annual harvest, said Stewart, who is researching the fungus.

"Households will now send three to five individuals up to harvest, whereas in the past they might have sent one to two," she said.

Fungus Harvests Spark Deadly Disputes

In some parts of the fungus' range, such as China's Qinghai Province, disputes over access to pastures where the species grows turn lethal each year—a sign of the economic importance the fungus now holds, Stewart notes.

The disputes tend to erupt where rights to traditional grazing lands are fuzzy or where the government steps in and sells permits to outsiders.

For example, in July 2007, eight people were shot to death in a gun battle over prime fungal turf in Yushu, close to the border with Tibet, the Guardian newspaper reported.

In Yunnan Province, where Stewart works, there haven't been any deadly conflicts, perhaps because "they seem to have pretty clear rules over who can access which harvest areas," she said.

Given the value of the fungus, Eco-Montane's Winkler noted it's remarkable how few people get killed in conflicts over its harvest.

In markets where the fungus is bought and sold, traders routinely walk around with bags full of several thousand dollars' worth of the product. "You couldn't do that in the U.S.," he said.

Caterpillar Fungus Still Plentiful

Though the scientists are concerned the fungus will be overharvested, data collected so far suggests it's still plentiful.

"I went into this thinking, Wow, people are really going to start noticing this huge decline," Stewart said. "I really haven't seen that response in harvests yet."

The number of fungi picked per person has dropped, but buyers told Stewart that they haven't noticed a decline in yartsa gunbu available for purchase.

These observations fit with Winkler's data, which show that enough fungi are left in the ground to release spores, which invade the next generation of caterpillar larvae.

"The larvae is apparently not really impacted by the collection, and the fungus still seems to get enough spores out," said Winkler, who published a study about fungus harvesting in 2010 in the international version of the German journal Geographische Rundschau.

Hints of a fungus decline surfaced in 2008, when Yang Darong, an ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, circulated a report suggesting caterpillar fungus had declined to just 3 to 10 percent of its numbers 20 years prior.

Winkler noted that Darong's report lacks baseline data from field plots or government figures to support its conclusions. (Darong did not respond to a request for an interview.)

But Winkler and others want to obtain their own data on the fungus' presence so that they can begin to address questions about the sustainability of the harvest—especially given its new role in the market economy on the Tibetan Plateau.

Even without a lot of hard data, "one has to be totally worried about [the harvest's] intensity," Winkler said. "How long can you keep it up on that level?"

For the time being, Winkler is proposing a plateau-wide harvest season, which he plans to pitch this spring on a research trip to Tibet.

His idea is to encourage harvesters to stop picking as the fungi reach maturity, leaving enough in the ground to spread their spores.

But when he talks to the collectors, "I'm prepared to hear that there is nothing to worry about."

Fungus Collapse Wouldn't Devastate Herders

Should a collapse occur, Winkler and Stewart fear the consequences could be devastating for the herders' economy. While other sources of cash income such as construction and mining are available in the region, nothing is nearly as lucrative as caterpillar fungus.

To Stewart, the prospect of a crash in the caterpillar-fungus trade is worrying, but she thinks a decline would instead be gradual enough for communities to adapt without completely losing their ties to the market economy.

"It's important to realize that it's not a binary event—you have it or you don't," she said.

"There would likely be gradual changes over time. And even if the market prices dropped significantly, there would still be some. So there would be a slow transition, not a point where harvesters have to suddenly find another form of income."

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Alien Giant Tortoise Helps Restore Ecosystem Yahoo News 30 Apr 11;

Rather than wreaking havoc on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean -- as alien species can sometimes do -- a giant tortoise appears to be helping to restore the native ecosystem.

Wildlife scientists introduced Aldabra giant tortoises -- which can reach up to 661 pounds (300 kilograms) -- to an island, called Ile aux Aigrettes, off the coast of the island nation of Mauritius. By 2009, 19 adult giant tortoises called the island home. The tortoises were to replace the role of their extinct kin. [Extinct Giant Tortoises Could Be Revived]

Before humans first arrived on Ile aux Aigrettes, various giant tortoises lived there, as did giant skinks -- a type of lizard -- and, most likely, flightless dodo birds. The disappearance of these animals affected other things living on the island, in particular the native ebony trees, which have been devastated by people hunting for firewood.

The giant tortoises and the skinks ate the fruit of these trees, spreading the seeds. Without these fruit-eaters around, the trees could no longer disperse; young trees only grew directly below the adults.

Worldwide, invasive species are considered one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, so, the idea of replacing an extinct creature with a foreign one is controversial. It has been done elsewhere with the new species often closely related to the one being replaced.

For example, the North American peregrine falcon was re-established from seven subspecies from four continents, and yellow crowned night herons have been introduced to Bermuda to replace extinct herons and to control pesky land crabs. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, conservation scientist Josh Donlan has suggested that the Pleistocene ecosystems of North America be reconstituted with large African mammals -- horses, camels, tortoises, lions, elephants and cheetahs -- thus protecting these species from the threats they face in their natural range.

Replacing extinct giant tortoises with another giant tortoise on an uninhabited island is a much simpler prospect, for a number of reasons, according to Christine Griffiths, a research associate at the University of Bristol and the lead author of a study on the tortoise experiment, done in collaboration with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

Isolated islands often lack predators, meaning a shorter food chain to consider, and the giant tortoises are easy to find and remove if they were to become a problem, Griffiths said.

Initially, researchers were concerned that the new arrivals might eat a great deal of the native plants. In 2000, the first four Aladabra tortoises arrived, and later several others followed. They were kept in pens where surveys indicated that there were no significant problem with native plants, and, in late 2005, 11 were allowed to roam free.

Now, few ripe fruits remain under the ebony trees, and dense patches of seedlings have appeared in the areas most heavily used by the tortoises. Griffiths and other researchers found that seeds that had passed through a tortoise’s gut germinated better than other seeds. And, it turns out, the tortoises eat a lot of the non-native plants.

While the re-introduction appears successful so far, it remains to be seen if the tortoise-dispersed ebony seedlings will develop into adult trees that reproduce, write Griffiths and her colleagues in a recent issue of the journal Current Biology. A similar project is under way on Mauritius’ Round Island.

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UK's Dirty Dozen invasive species named

The most damaging invasive species clogging up Britain’s waterways have been ‘named and shamed’ by conservationists in an effort to save native wildlife.
Louise Gray The Telegraph 28 Apr 11;

British Waterways identified 12 speciesknown as the ‘Dirty Dozen’ that are suffocating plants and fishes in rivers and ponds across the country.

Most of the plants were introduced to the country from the far East as ornaments for people’s gardens including floating pennywort, water fern, Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed, Australian swamp stonecrop and Himalayan balsam. But they are now pests that suck the oxygen out of ponds, drown out other plants and can even break up concrete.

Introduced creatures include American Signal Crayfish that is driving out the smaller native white claw crayfish. Zebra mussels that travelled on the bottom of ships and zander fish from Russia are harming aquatic life, while Chinese mitten crabs are invading ponds and rivers.

Red-eared Terrapin were introduced from the US via the pet trade while mink was brought over for fur. Both are killing native species.

Chris John, British Waterways national ecologist, asked people to get rid of the species in their own ponds and rivers so they do not spread further or report sightings to the authorities.

“In their native countries these particular species are kept in check by nature, where they are part of an adapted system of predators,” he said. “However, here they have no natural predators and so often quickly outcompete other plants, animals and fish, causing serious problems for wildlife, as well as choking up boats, the towpath and other 200-year old heritage structures such as locks and bridges.

“The destruction of suitable places for wildlife to live is the biggest threat facing Britain’s nature today, these species add to this problem by taking more than their fair share of space, water and sunlight. I am therefore asking people to help us by disposing of these plants and animals safely and carefully selecting alternative plants for their gardens, ponds and aquariums.”

The Dirty Dozen plants and animals are:

Japanese Knotweed

Australian Swamp Stonecrop

Giant Hogweed

Himalayan Balsam

Water Fern

Floating Pennywort

American Signal Crayfish

Zebra Mussel



Red-eared Terrapin

Chinese Mitten Crab

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A Delicacy on Chinatown Plates, but a Killer in Water

Liz Robbins and Jeffrey E. Singer The New York Times 29 Apr 11;

The walls in the basement of a building in Brooklyn’s Chinatown were whitewashed, and boxes of cleaning supplies were stacked on the red tile floor. But beneath the disinfectant smell, the unmistakable odor of fish lingered as the flimsiest calling card of a former tenant.

That tenant, Yong Hao Wu, sold fish until October for his Howei Trading Company out of this shop on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park. Mr. Wu is now out of business and under arrest because the authorities have accused him of illegally importing thousands of live snakehead fish.

In China, the snakehead is a sweet, meaty staple harvested in farms, and when boiled into soup, it is reputed to possess remarkable healing properties. But once outside of its natural river habitats in China, Korea and Russia, it is a rapidly reproducing predator with such a voracious appetite it can wipe out entire schools of fish and destroy an ecosystem.

That the snakehead has been illegal to import into the United States since 2002 when it was found in a pond in Maryland has not diminished its demand — and perhaps has only fueled it. The fish, which has also been illegal to possess in New York State, has been sold in other markets like Boston and is also available through the Internet, officials with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service said.

On Thursday, the authorities caught one of the fishmongers.

Officials arrested Mr. Wu, 43, after an investigation that followed the seizure of 353 live snakeheads on the eve of the 2010 Chinese New Year, at Kennedy International Airport. Surveillance cameras led them to Howei Trading company in Sunset Park, where officials found a tank filled with 82 more snakeheads.

Mr. Wu was arraigned on Thursday night, charged on felony commercialization of wildlife and importing fish dangerous to indigenous fish populations. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.

Mr. Wu was released on his own recognizance, a spokesman for the Queens district attorney said, and his next court date is May 13.

Mr. Wu’s lawyer, Melody Glover, did not return messages.

The authorities said Mr. Wu had declared 3,889 imports as “Chinese black sleeper fish,” but he later admitted that they were, in fact, snakeheads. If the freshwater fish escapes its tanks, or is intentionally released, it can slither to water on land for three days. It has been found in rivers and lakes across the country.

But while the authorities and Chinese residents say there is an underground market for live snakeheads, a quest on Friday to find the fish in Brooklyn was fruitless and infused with a whiff of mystery.

“The flavor is absolutely the best,” insisted a 60-year-old man who gave his name as Zhu. He was traveling on a private bus from the Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, to Sunset Park. “I’ve never tried it in the U.S., but it’s common and abundant in China. I’ve made it.”

The snakehead was the talk of Chinatown since all the Chinese-language newspapers had articles about Mr. Wu’s arrest, and even featured photos of the fish’s razor-sharp teeth.

Many shoppers and store owners nodded that they knew all about the snakehead, but did not want to talk about it. Some said they had not seen it in Chinatown for a long time, years even.

As skittish as people were in talking about the fish, they would speak even less about Mr. Wu.

Records show that he had most likely lived in New York since 1987, and had filed for bankruptcy in 1997. He had worked in food- and fish-related businesses in the New York area. His address listed by the authorities was a housing project in Coney Island.

His former commercial landlord, Mui Tang, 60, said she kicked him out last October because he did not pay rent. The shop is now a pharmacy that has not yet opened.

Some well-meaning residents suggested several restaurants that might be known to sell the banned fish. The trail led to one restaurant on Eighth Avenue that had tanks inside the front window. When asked about the fish, which goes by various names within the Chinese dialects, the waitress nodded that they had it.

A soup made from the fish, which was not listed on the menu, would have cost $36, she said.

She took a net and snared a slippery creature, flopping in a pail, and said a final decision had to be made within minutes or it would die. This was not a snakehead, as Joshua Newhard of the Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed when sent a picture.

It is traditionally prepared as “one fish, two ways”: stir-fry the body and cook the head, tail and bone for soup.

One fish, two ways. A delicacy in China, a killer in the United States.

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