Best of our wild blogs: 4 Jun 11

Changi underwater garden with seahorses!
from wild shores of singapore

Life History of the Malayan Sunbeam
from Butterflies of Singapore

Lornie Trail Part 2
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Highlighting the importance of the ICCS safety guidelines
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Videography: The way to go in studying birds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Culling stray cats not the way: Khaw

More humane approach possible if responsible owners spay their cats, he says
Kimberly Spykerman Straits Times 4 Jun 11;

NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday weighed in on the long-standing war between people bothered by stray cats and those who love them and seek to protect them.

His stand: Culling of cats in HDB estates is not the way to go.

He wrote on his blog, Housing Matters, that he has asked the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to review its practice of culling stray cats.

He has also roped in his Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin to work with the AVA, animal welfare groups and residents to 'forge a compassionate and mature approach to this problem'.

Last year, about 5,100 stray cats were put down. The year before, the figure was 5,400 and in 2008, it was 6,800.

The minister wrote the post following a Meet-the-People session, during which a resident cried to him about her pet cat, which she said had been picked up by the AVA and could be culled.

The AVA said it does not have her cat, but if someone turns it in, it will return the animal to her.

Acknowledging that stray cats are a source of complaints in HDB estates, Mr Khaw said culling can be avoided if enough cat lovers are willing to 'own the problem' by being responsible pet owners and sterilising their cats.

Sterilised cats are known to be more docile, besides being unable to reproduce and add to the stray population.

An animal lover, Mr Khaw said in his post that he has pets and - 'to walk the talk' - is a vegetarian to boot.

His online comments cheered animal activists, who have long lobbied for a more humane approach to containing the population of stray cats here.

Volunteers from the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) round up strays for spaying, while the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) gives out vouchers for free spaying to members of the public and animal welfare groups.

CWS vice-president Veron Lau said the society had appealed to the AVA and to MPs to manage stray cats more humanely, so 'Mr Khaw putting a stamp on it assures us that this is going to happen'.

Culling is merely a quick-fix which does not get to the root of the problem - irresponsible pet owners, she said. 'If you don't deal with the human issues through proper education and penalties, the chances of cats creating a nuisance are very great. Even if you get rid of those cats, people will do the same to a new generation of cats,' she added.

SPCA executive officer Deirdre Moss, describing Mr Khaw's endorsement of sterilisation as 'very progressive', said: 'It's a positive step forward for animal welfare, and we're encouraged by his thoughts and compassionate approach.'

The AVA, responding to Straits Times queries, said it would review its approach to the management of stray cats in consultation with animal welfare groups.

It emphasised that it does not actively catch strays. Rather, town councils, responding to complaints, call in pest management firms, which follow AVA guidelines on the handling of these strays. The AVA also loans cat traps to the public.

Tampines GRC MP Masagos Zulkifli confirmed that although the town council works with the CWS on the issue, it 'has no choice' but to call pest control if CWS cannot send someone over and the town council has to answer to a resident who is upset, for example, because his new car is scratched. He said: 'If Mr Khaw has a better solution, we would welcome it and definitely give it a try.'

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan said he will work with the animal welfare groups to see how the strays can be managed, and how policies can be tweaked to meet the needs of the different groups.

'Of course, strays do cause issues like soiling of the estate, and there are health and hygiene issues. The concerns of residents are valid, but how do we reconcile looking after their welfare while going about this in a more humane way?'

The animals could be re-homed instead of culled, he suggested, adding that these strays could 'become pets and a source of joy'.

He would know. His wife kept two or three stray cats, though they have since died; he still has two pet terrapins.

Asked why the Government is tackling this issue now, he said it was time to relook the issue through fresh lenses.

A related issue is that current HDB regulations actually forbid cats to be kept in flats because they are difficult to confine. They also shed fur, soil public areas and caterwaul during the mating season.

The CWS has been pushing for the keeping of cats in HDB flats to be made legal, as long as they are sterilised.

HDB to look into the possibility of allowing cats in flats
Amanda Feng Today Online 4 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - The Government will look into the possibility of allowing cats in HDB flats, Minister of State (National Development and Manpower) Tan Chuan-Jin told MediaCorp yesterday.

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan was responding to MediaCorp's queries following National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan's blog post yesterday on encouraging cats to be sterilised instead of being culled.

Adding that BG (NS) Tan will help him tackle the issue - given the former's interest in this area - Mr Khaw said he would like the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to "seriously consider reviewing its culling programme for cats".

Mr Khaw noted that killing the cats was not the best solution. The right thing to do is for cat lovers to own the problem and to eliminate problems caused by irresponsible behaviour, he added.

When contacted last night, BG (NS) Tan said that allowing cats to be kept in HDB flats was one of the issues they were looking into.

According to the HDB's website, flat owners "are not allowed to keep cats in HDB flats, as it is generally difficult to confine cats within the flat premises". It added: "Nuisance caused by cats such as shedding of their fur, defecating/urinating in public areas or even the caterwauling sounds that they make can cause a lot of disturbance, which affects the environment and disrupts neighbourliness in our housing estates."

Cat Welfare Society vice-president Veron Lau welcomed BG (NS) Tan's comment but she said the society would like to work with HDB and AVA to educate people to be responsible cat owners.

Last year, the AVA put down 5,100 stray cats.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) executive director Deirdre Moss said it was "already very happy" that Mr Khaw brought up sterilisation as an option instead of culling.

Said Ms Moss: "In addition to this good news, we are overjoyed that (BG Tan) has agreed to look into allowing cats to be kept as pets in HDB flats. It's very encouraging that the minister is promoting kindness to animals." AMANDA FENG

Cat adoption one way to curb stray issues
Lynda Hong Channel NewsAsia 5 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: Sterilisation is just one of the many ways to curb the stray cat problem in HDB estates, said Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

Brigadier-General (BG) Tan, who is also a Member of Parliament (MP) for Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC), said this on the sidelines of a community event held on Sunday in his constituency.

BG Tan cited his town council's partnership with the Cat Welfare Society, as a way that other town councils and the rest of Singapore could adopt to solve the cat problem.

He said Marine Parade Town Council has been working with Cat Welfare society on sterilising and relocating strays to home owners keen on keeping cats as pets.

He also noted many emails on the issue would be considered when formulating policies on solving the stray cat problem.


'Sterilisation of cats is just part of many issues'

Lynda Hong Ee Lyn Today Online 6 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - Sterilisation is just one of the many ways to curb the stray cat problem in HDB estates, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday.

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event, the MP for Marine Parade cited his town council's partnership with the Cat Welfare Society, as a way that other town councils and the rest of Singapore could adopt to solve the cat problem.

Brigadier-General Tan said Marine Parade Town Council has been working with the society on sterilising and relocating strays to home owners keen on cats as pets.

He also noted that many emails on the issue will be considered when formulating policies on solving the stray cat problem. He said: "I think sterilisation of cats is just one part, there are many, many different issues. So that's something I look forward to work with the stakeholders and see where we can go from here."

On Friday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had raised in his blog the issue of the usual practice of culling cats to control the stray cat population.

He roped in Brig Gen Tan to work with the AVA, animal welfare groups and residents to "forge a compassionate and mature approach to this problem".

The number of stray cats put down dipped to the lowest in three years to 5,100 last year. LYNDA HONG

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Company & director guilty of environmental violations

Satish Cheney Channel NewsAsia 3 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE : A.N.A Contractor and its director, Tan Boon Kwee, have pleaded guilty to offences under Singapore's environmental laws.

They included disposing industrial waste, namely wood chips, at 91 Jalan Lekar in Lim Chu Kang, when constructing Singapore's first wildlife centre for the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES).

The company and Tan were slapped with a total of 67 charges under the Environmental Public Health Act as well as the Environmental Protection and Management Act.

The prosecution went ahead with 43 charges, with the rest taken into consideration.

Sentencing will take place on June 28.

The dumping of woodchips onto the site had also led to the discharge of wastewater into the Kranji Reservoir.

ACRES said it would take about six months to complete the wildlife centre - but only after the contamination is removed.

It is hoping that A.N.A. Contractor will be made to remove the contamination, which it said would cost some S$4.8 million.

The centre is meant to house animals rescued from illegal wildlife trade as well as injured native animals.

ACRES said while the case has affected morale over the years, the society will soldier on.

Louis Ng, executive director of ACRES, said: "When we first came up with the idea of opening the rescue centre in Singapore, a lot of people were sceptical - a lot of people told me 'Look, Louis, if you can get this going, pigs will fly'.

"And if you realise, at our reception (area), we have a flying pig model there to show people that pigs can fly in Singapore. We've always remained optimistic that we can overcome this. We've hung on for three-and-a-half years now. If it takes another three-and-a-half years, we'll continue to persevere on."

- CNA/al

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Biodiversity faces a 'perfect storm'

More human activity, less funds may mean more hidden species dying out
Grace Chua Straits Times 4 Jun 11;

NEARLY a third of all amphibian species could be lurking, as yet undiscovered, in high-biodiversity areas, conservation researchers reckon.

That is more than 3,000 species of amphibians, as well as some 160 species of land mammals which are not yet known to science.

But they are likely to be in more danger of extinction from habitat loss, small habitat and population sizes, and other human activity than those which have been discovered.

The work was carried out by a team of scientists from Singapore, the United States and Mexico. Their findings were published online last month by the Proceedings Of The Royal Society B, a top biology research journal.

Lead author Giam Xingli, 29, explained that undiscovered species may provide important ecosystem services that are yet unknown.

For example, some frogs produce anti-microbial agents which can lead to the development of better anti-microbial drugs for humans, or they can help control insects that carry disease.

The Princeton University doctoral student and National University of Singapore (NUS) alumnus told The Straits Times: 'While it is not possible to know every single species, we need to know as many species as possible so we can start to think about how to conserve them.

'If we don't do that, many species may go extinct without us knowing about them.'

The research focused on amphibians and land mammals as the researchers, who include NUS conservation ecologists Navjot Sodhi and Brett Scheffers and Stanford University ecologist Paul Ehrlich, have more experience with these groups of animals.

In subsequent PhD work, however, Mr Giam plans to estimate undescribed fish diversity in South-east Asia, and study the impact of plantation agriculture on freshwater fish ecology.

The researchers based their calculations on a mathematical model that included known species, when species were discovered and where.

The more scientific exploration in an area, the lower the proportion of species in that area left undiscovered.

At the same time, more human activity such as agriculture meant more species could have gone extinct without anyone noticing.

As it turns out, the tropical forests of South and Central America, Africa and South and South-east Asia are probably home to the greatest proportion of undescribed amphibian and land-mammal species. Tropical forests are very rich in biodiversity to begin with, and are harder to explore for science or development.

But there are some noteworthy patterns. For example, the study revealed that more than half of the amphibians in Australasian tropical moist forests, such as the Sulawesi Islands, the Moluccas and Papua, remain to be discovered.

'The percentage figure is greater than areas commonly thought to be storehouses for undescribed biodiversity such as the Neotropics,' Mr Giam noted, perhaps because the Neotropics (South and Central America) are better explored by humans and have more human activity that could lead to extinctions.

The paper's authors bemoaned the fact that 'the 'perfect storm' for biodiversity loss is upon us'. Universities and funding agencies, they said, are devoting fewer resources and less funds to finding and describing new species, while at the same time, high-biodiversity natural areas are 'being altered in ways that will drive many of these species to extinction'.

They recommended taking steps to protect remote, unexplored tropical areas to preserve the hidden biodiversity that survives there.

'Today's 'hidden' biodiversity need not vanish without a trace. It is up to us to try to prevent such a tragedy,' they wrote.

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Malaysia: Animal liberation gone bad?

Winnie Yeoh The Star 3 Jun 11;

THEY are supposed to be free when released in the liberation pond.

But the 700-odd resident tortoises at Penang’s Kek Lok Si Temple Liberation Pond appear far from being ‘liberated’, according to the Penang Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

“To put it mildly, they are living in horrendous conditions,” said its honorary secretary Dr G.S. Gill.

He claimed SPCA had received numerous complaints from local and foreign tourists that the tortoises’ living conditions were ‘deplorable.’

“They are living in extremely overcrowded conditions with one clambering over the other and eating the thrown vegetables which rot within the enclosure.

“It produces a stench. This, by itself, is an act of cruelty being inflicted on these creatures,” he said after checking the pond yesterday.

Dr Gill said tourists visiting the pond had expressed deep disappointment at the conditions under which the tortoises were being kept in captivity.

“In as much as there are religious sentiments for the release of tortoises, any right thinking person would not like to subject these lovely creatures of God through such a fate.

“We cannot be silent and seen to be condoning this activity anymore,” he said.

He added that SPCA strongly urged the public to refrain from releasing tortoises into the pond to suffer such a fate in cruelty.

“A similar situation existed at Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling many years ago and we were able to resolve it by talking to the temple authorities and having those tortoises from the well released into river,” he added.

A check at the pond showed that many tortoises were clambering over one another on a slab of cement built in the pond as well as under the bridge.

Scattered leaves of kangkung (water convolvulus), thrown by tourists to feed them, were spotted on the water’s surface while a number of eggs were seen at the bottom of the pond.

Algae had also grown on the shells of some of the tortoises.

Student Tan Kah Yee, 19, from Kajang, said the pond looked ‘uncomfortable’ for the tortoises seen stacking up over one another.

“The water seems dirty and I wonder if they are fed enough food,” she said.

However, Australian Nigel Douglas, 41, who brought his three sons to the pond for the first time, said the tortoises’ living conditions could not be bad as they did not seem to be dying.

“It looks a bit unsightly but it’s surely hard to keep the place clean when you have so many of them.

“Maybe they (the tortoises) like it this way as I can see several bigger ones. They must have been here for a very long time,” he added.

Kangkung seller Loh Kok Boon, 53, who has been looking after the tortoises for over 40 years, claimed he changed the pond’s water once every two days.

“I can’t ensure that the water will be crystal clear. If each of the 700 tortoises was to pang sai (defecate) twice a day, there will be 1,400 pieces of sai (faeces),” he said.

Loh said the water might look murky but it did not stink.

“Not only devotees are releasing tortoises but pet owners who get bored of them would also leave them here,” he added.

Loh explained that the tortoises would gather in groups in certain parts of the pond as they knew tourists would feed them there.

“We will feed the tortoises at night when there are fewer people around,” he said.

Temple trustee Datuk Steven Ooi said they were aware of the overcrowding issue but could not prevent devotees from releasing tortoises into the pond.

“We will release the tortoises into the wild from time to time,” he said, adding that some tortoises would be relocated to a bigger pond which was expected to be ready next year.

Ooi said the new site at the foothill and the existing stream there would form part of the pond to provide a bigger and more natural setting for the reptiles.

For Buddhists, releasing animals is a traditional practice and it is seen as a gesture of compassion and a repentance for one’s sins.

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Thailand: Bleaching takes toll on 'rainforests of the sea'

Bangkok Post 4 Jun 11;

Veteran marine biologist Niphon Phongsuwan has expressed deep concern over the health of coral reefs in the Andaman Sea after they suffered their most severe bleaching on record last year.

Mr Niphon, a coral expert at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre, recently stressed that the situation with coral reefs -- often called the "tropical rainforests of the sea" -- in the Andaman Sea was dire. This was because bleaching had caused heavy damage to local reefs.

The phenomenon, which is caused by warmer ocean temperatures, has also devastated reefs in some areas of the Gulf of Thailand.

"It has yet to be assessed if any of those [bleached corals] which have died will ever grow back," Mr Niphon said.

"Recovery will take no less than four to five years."

More than 80% of the coral in the marine national parks in the Andaman Sea is believed to have been bleached since April 2010, according to the Marine and Coastal Resources Department.

However, Mr Niphon said a recent survey found that coral bleaching in several areas off the Andaman coastline is showing signs of easing.

He noted that if the seawater and underwater environment are not polluted, then bleached corals would have a chance to recover.

He called on all parties to take part in conserving coral reefs and also sea grass which is a source of food and provides a habitat for marine life.

Mr Niphon said coral reef-related tourism sometimes posed a direct threat to the corals and general marine biology.

Many shallow-water reefs had been destroyed by careless swimmers and snorkellers who stepped on them. Strict measures must be enforced to prevent tourist boat operators from discharging untreated waste water into the ocean.

Mr Niphon said many people were unaware or not educated enough about the fragility of coral reefs and their importance to the marine ecosystem.

When sea water receded from Phuket beaches such as Rawai, Nai Yang and Bangtao and underwater reefs emerged, some people tried to catch marine animals such as octopuses living among the branches of the corals. This sometimes broke the coral into pieces.

He warned people to leave the coral alone or they could harm the reef ecosystem.

Even dead coral lying on beaches should not be picked up as it is home to sea worms and other tiny living species which are invisible to the human eye. The marine scientist also urged those who wanted to create an artificial coral reef by dumping man-made objects to consult with his agency beforehand.

He said the objects must be strategically placed at appropriate locations to ensure they helped protect or revive natural reefs rather than harming them.

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Nepal's first collared tiger poisoned

WWF 3 Jun 11;

Kathmandu, Nepal -- A Bengal tiger fitted with a GPS tracking collar and translocated from Nepal's Chitwan National Park to Bardia National Park has been killed, according to Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation officials.

Authorities believe the tiger, which was the first ever collared in Nepal, died after eating the flesh of a cow deliberately laced with poison. Three men suspected of involvement in the death have been arrested.

“Namo Buddha’s unfortunate end underscores the fact that efforts to protect Nepal’s tigers are a serious challenge and such efforts now need to be further strengthened and consolidated,” said Anil Manandhar, Country Representative of WWF-Nepal.

“While many may now question the inherent use of the collar, it must be mentioned that it was because of the collar that officials were informed almost immediately of the incident and could nab three persons whose involvement was suspected.”

The charred remains of the tiger’s GPS tracking device was found near where it had last been geolocated. The animal’s body has not been recovered.

The tiger, discovered injured near Chitwan last year, was rehabilitated in captivity before being released into Bardia in January by WWF and Nepalese officials as part of a range expansion program.

“While this incident has been a turnaround to our conservation plans, it is in no way a deterrent to keep investing in people, science and technology to help protect wild tigers,” Manandhar said.

Rare wild tiger killed in Nepal
Yahoo News 3 Jun 11;

KATHMANDU (AFP) – A rare wild tiger, nursed back to health by Nepalese vets after being injured, has been killed by poachers, a wildlife official said on Friday.

The adult male tiger, which had been fitted with a collar carrying a GPS tracking system that allowed scientists to monitor its adaptation back into the wild, was killed two weeks ago, the official said.

Tikaram Adhikari, a warden at Bardia National Park in Nepal's southern plains where the endangered animal was released, said the tiger, was last captured by the tracking system on May 9.

"For two days following that, we could not locate it. Then, early this week, we found out it had been killed by poachers," he said.

"The tiger was moving towards human settlements. After seeing it, the poachers offered the animal pieces of poisoned beef. It died after consuming the food," Adhikari said.

The tiger had been named Namobuddha by park authorities.

Four locals have been arrested on suspicion of poaching, Adhikari said.

The tiger was captured by wildlife officials after being injured and wandering into a tourist resort in southern Nepal.

It was released into Bardia national park as it was an ideal home for the animal because it of its vast size, available prey and relatively low levels of poaching, authorities said.

Using the tracking system, "we were hoping to gain valuable insights into its movement and habitat," Adhikari said.

"But after this incident we feel that saving the wild tigers will be more challenging."

The project was part of Nepal's efforts to double its population of Royal Bengal tigers, which once roamed the country's southern plains in large numbers but have been depleted by poaching and the destruction of their habitat.

A WWF survey carried out in 2008 found just 121 adult tigers of breeding age in the country.

Experts say poverty and political instability in Nepal have created ideal conditions for poachers who kill the animals for their skin, meat and bones, which are highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine.

The WWF says tigers worldwide are in serious danger of becoming extinct in the wild. During the last 100 years, their numbers have collapsed by 95 percent, from 100,000 in 1900 to only around 3,200 tigers, its says.

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Philippines launches suit in reef plunder

Yahoo News 3 Jun 11;

MANILA (AFP) – The Philippines on Friday began legal action against traders accused of plundering corals and marine turtles in a case that officials said may have destroyed large tracts of precious reefs.

The customs bureau said it filed a complaint, asking the justice department to file criminal charges against four businessmen it accused of shipping the items to the port of Manila, where they were confiscated last month.

"The Bureau of Customs has lowered the boom on the rapists of the ocean," it said in a statement.

Wildlife police have said they seized 163 stuffed hawksbill and green turtles, more than 21,000 pieces of black corals, 7,340 trumpet and helmet shells and 196 kilograms (430 pounds) of sea whips.

The items are all threatened species that cannot be legally gathered, collected, traded or transported, they said.

President Benigno Aquino's government had condemned the environmental plunder and vowed to step up marine patrols to prevent a repeat.

The corals and turtles were apparently stolen from the pristine waters of the Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea off the main southern island of Mindanao, according to Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

Undeer the Philippine fisheries code and a wildlife resources conservation law, their gathering and export are punishable by up to two years in prison.

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Bid to save sandpiper at risk of extinction in Russia

Matt Walker BBC Nature 3 Jun 11;

Conservationists have embarked on a mission to save one of the world's rarest birds, the spoon-billed sandpiper, from extinction.

Fewer than 200 pairs of spoon-billed sandpipers were thought to exist in 2009, and since then, the population has thought to have declined by a quarter each year.

So a specialist team of bird experts are flying to the sandpiper's home in northeast Russia to collect and incubate eggs and set up a captive breeding population.

The captive population of spoon-billed sandpipers will be housed in Moscow Zoo for quarantine purposes, then moved to a specially built unit at the headquarters of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, UK.

The emergency mission is being undertaken by the WWT and Birds Russia, working with colleagues from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), BirdLife International, ArcCona, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force and Moscow Zoo.

Experts fear that, without intervention, the spoon-billed sandpiper could be extinct within ten years.

The count of 200 pairs in 2009 is an upper estimate and there may have been as few as 120 pairs at that time.

Surveys since suggest that the counted population is falling by 26% a year, with juveniles having a particularly low rate of survival.

Spoon-billed sandpipers (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) are a small Arctic wading bird, sporting a bill shaped like a spoon.

"This adaptation, entirely unique to its family, makes it one of the most weird and wonderful bird species on the planet," says Dr Geoff Hilton, Head of Species Research at the WWT.

The BTO's shorebird expert, Dr Nigel Clark, agrees: "There is only one wader that eats with a spoon and we need to try everything we can to save it from extinction."

The bird divides its time between northeast Russia and the Bay of Bay of Martaban, Myanmar (Burma) and the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh.

Travelling between, they migrate over 8,000km (4,970 miles) on a journey that may pass through Japan, North Korea, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India.

Unsustainable levels of subsistence hunting, particularly within the wintering areas in Myanmar and Bangladesh, are thought to be driving the species's decline.

Degradation and reclamation of the inter-tidal mudflats along many countries in Asia is exacerbating the problem.

No spoon-billed sandpipers currently exist in captivity.

Currently the team are in Russia waiting to locate and collect eggs from the breeding grounds.

They will construct an incubation facility out on the tundra where they will hatch the chicks before transferring the fledged young via sea and air back to Moscow Zoo for quarantine.

"It is absolutely clear that the spoon-billed sandpiper cannot be saved without action to reduce the threats to the wild population, but it is going to be difficult to achieve a turnaround quickly enough to avert extinction. Creating a captive population now may buy us some time," says Dr Hilton.

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Rainforest basin nations agree to tackle deforestation

Yahoo News 3 Jun 11;

BRAZZAVILLE (AFP) – The 32 countries sharing the world's three largest rainforest basins agreed Friday to cooperate in tackling deforestation and called on industrialised nations to help finance their efforts.

The agreement came in a declaration at the end of a first meeting in the Congolese capital Brazzaville of experts from the Congo Basin in Central Africa, South America's Amazon Basin and the Borneo-Mekong Basin in South-East Asia.

The three basins represent 80 percent of the world's rainforests and two-thirds of its biodiversity, according to experts.

Participating nations agreed in a declaration to "put forward their common interest in the framework of different multilateral forums" and to "adopt concrete measures to promote dialogue and cooperation between countries."

Nations acknowledged "the links between deforestation and forest degradation as well as socio-economic issues such as sustainability and poverty reduction."

The declaration also called on the international community to "support their efforts" and help provide "long-term and transparent financing for a durable forest management."

Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso said the agreement would help provide "a new dynamism... of solidarity between the basins."

Congo and other African basin countries have been pushing for a permanent structure to coordinate efforts but had to settle for the declaration recognising "the need to put in place a platform for promotion and cooperation between the countries of the three forest basins."

The idea of a permanent structure ran up against opposition from some heavyweight nations at the meeting, such as Brazil.

"It was premature," the head of the Brazilian delegation, Paulino Franco de Carvalho, told AFP, adding that there was no need for a "new bureaucracy" when other institutions for international cooperation already exist.

Thorny mission to preserve world's forests
Patrick Fort Yahoo News 2 Jun 11;

BRAZZAVILLE (AFP) – Third World countries and notably those of the Congo basin face an uphill challenge in looking after their forests while allowing for population growth and development.

The debate is a primary theme being discussed this week at a meeting in the Congolese capital Brazzaville of some 500 experts from the Congo Basin in Central Africa, South America's Amazon Basin and the Borneo-Mekong Basin in South-East Asia.

These areas make up 80 per cent of the globe's rainforests and contain two-thirds of its biodiversity.

"It's out of the question to renounce development; our goal is the well-being of our people," Etienne Massard, a special advisor to Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba, told AFP before the debates began on May 28. "On the other hand, we have really to think about our actions and our strategy in order not to mortgage our future."

Mette Loyche Wilkie, head of forestry in the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, raised linked issues: "By 2050 we need to increase the production of agriculture by 70 percent in order to feed the world. It's clear we have to increase the productivity of agriculture. That is possible to a large extent, but there will also be an expansion of agriculture at the expense of forest."

Wilkie said this needed to happen in the right places.

"It is a matter of having an integrated land use planning where you decide which forest to keep, which forest to maintain as permanent, which forest you protect in terms of protected areas to protect biodiversity, in which forest you allow production of wood, and in some cases which forests you set aside for conversion because it is clear that in some countries, you need to cut down trees to establish a new harbour, new roads, new housing, and in some cases agriculture."

Mario Boccucci of the UN Environment Programme defended a "green economy" in which he emphasised the "important social dimension in terms "of livelihood, people."

"That's the concept of a green economy. Look at your larger economy so you can identify ways to maximize the social economic and environmental outcomes of your development. (...)

"What we are looking here is ways to catalyse different kind of economy. An economy that will still deliver economic growth, export revenues, still create jobs. But that does it without clearing forest.

As an example, Boccucci cited Indonesia's plans to make oil palm a future viable industry, for which they need land. "The plan is to get the land from the forest, but Indonesia has potentially a lot of land that is already degraded that can be used for plantations."

Boccucci insisted that the status of land needs to be clarified by the state, because it is "too risky" for the private sector to invest millions of dollars on land that is under dispute or occupied.

Gaston Foutou, head of conservation in the Congolese Ministry of Forest Economy, argued that "the population must at once feel the impact of forest production and the protection of ecosystems."

"We can't develop without cutting down forest," he said. "If I need a table or a chair, I have to be able to cut wood. What we need is a viable policy for the rational and sustainable exploitation of the forest. And that it's profitable for people."

Officials are expected to sign a joint statement on tropical forests, climate and sustainable development ahead of a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa later this year and the Earth Summit 2012, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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China's drought: Is the Three Gorges Dam to blame?

No clear answers yet as Chinese officials keep airing opposing views
Grace Ng, Straits Times 4 Jun 11;

BEIJING: A top Chinese environment official insisted yesterday that the worst drought in 60 years across central and southern China is caused by a lack of rain and not the controversial Three Gorges Dam.

'We believe that (the drought) is primarily caused by prolonged lower rainfall,' said Mr Li Ganjie, Vice-Minister for Environmental Protection, in a terse response to a question about whether the world's largest hydroelectric project has contributed to the latest dry spell.

His comment, made at a press conference on China's environmental issues, is the latest and supposedly most authoritative in a series of conflicting official statements on whether the dam is to blame for severely depleted downstream lakes.

The 183m-high dam, which provided 84 billion kilowatt hours of electricity last year, has been widely criticised for changing the levels of regional water tables.

Besides exacerbating the shortage of water downstream, critics say, it inflicted a huge ecological impact on fish and plant populations while displacing 1.4 million people.

On Thursday, a Chinese official admitted that the planners of the dam had failed to anticipate its impact in lowering water levels in two of the country's largest freshwater lakes. This raised the risk of them drying up during droughts.

Mr Wang Jingquan, who works for an agency affiliated with the Yangtze River Water Resources Committee, told local newspaper Xinmin Evening News that the reservoir behind the dam, which stored water from the river, cut off supply to the two lakes.

'We failed to think of all the impact that the dam might bring about when designing the dam,' said Mr Wang.

His comments come two weeks after China's Cabinet admitted that there were 'urgent problems' linked to the dam, including the negative impact on downstream water supplies.

It vowed to restore order and address these issues within the next eight years. But in subsequent days, various newspapers cited local officials claiming that the dam is not at fault and is instead helping to alleviate the drought.

Among them was Mr Liu Xuefeng, an official at the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, who said on Thursday that the dam has played an important role in increasing the downstream flow of the Yangtze River.

He told the Beijing Daily that from May 20 to 24, the dam accelerated its discharge rate to 10,000 cubic metres per second, and even higher - to 12,000 cubic metres per second - on May 25.

'The drought would have been more severe without the dam,' he said.

Local media has also weighed in on the debate, with People's Daily Online columnist Li Hong lauding the State Council for acknowledging the dam's possible problems.

Financial magazine Caijing argued that the high-profile government project is indeed not a key cause of the drought, but the Chinese public has blamed it anyway to vent their anger over the government's failure to control environmental problems. China's massive development projects, many driven by state giants, have taken a huge toll on its environment, sparking public concern and social unrest.

Last week, protests erupted in Inner Mongolia over damage to traditional pastureland caused by coal mining. Local herders have raised animals there for centuries.

Vice-Minister Li said yesterday that the government will limit development projects in Inner Mongolia and other environmentally vulnerable areas.

'If local enterprises had indeed breached environmental-protection laws, I believe the local government and environmental authorities will certainly mete out serious punishment,' he added.

He also vowed to clamp down on heavy metal pollution from mines and other factories, which has led to entire villages being struck by lead poisoning.

While some of China's environmental indices such as air quality in cities improved last year, the country's 'overall environmental situation is still very grave', Mr Li noted.

'We have entered a period where sudden incidents impacting the environment or pollution accidents are occurring frequently.'

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Tropical 'hotspots' may get too warm to farm

Marlowe Hood Yahoo News 3 Jun 11;

PARIS (AFP) – Climate change is on track to disrupt lifeline food crops across large swathes of Africa and Asia already mired in chronic poverty, according to an international study released Friday.

More than 350 million people face a "perfect storm" of conditions for potential food disaster, warns the report by scientists in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Temperature increases projected by UN climate scientists could, by 2050, shorten growing seasons below critical thresholds, worsen weather variability, and render many regions dominated by subsistence farming unsuitable for key crops.

If these areas have a history of persistent food shortages to begin with, the mix could be lethal.

"We are starting to see much more clearly where the effect of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty," said Patti Kristjanson, a scientist at CGIAR's Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFCS).

Farmers know from experience how to cope with fickle weather patterns by changing planting schedules and moving livestock.

But rapid and major climate shifts may force them to use "entirely new crops or new farming systems," and many may not be able to adapt, Kristjanson said.

The 100-page study identifies potential food crisis "hotspots" by overlaying three kinds of data onto global and regional maps.

One identifies areas likely to heat up beyond optimal conditions -- or even outright tolerance -- for major crops, including rice, maize (corn) and beans.

Average maximum temperatures during growing seasons, for example, are poised to rise above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) across parts of west and southern Africa, India and China by 2050.

In some agricultural zones growing seasons may be shortened by at least five percent, and in others year-on-year variation in rain will likely to exceed 21 percent, both considered viability thresholds for certain crops, the study found.

To assess potential impacts, agricultural density and current food insecurity are also taken into account.

"When you put these maps together, they reveal places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous," said Polly Ericksen, a scientist at CGIAR's International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi.

Even in rich nations, climate-related impacts can be highly disruptive -- French livestock farmers, reeling from the most severe spring drought in more than a century, are culling herds for lack of feed.

But in much of Africa and Asia, where farmers are already struggling to meet basic needs, "survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields," Ericksen said.

Scientists are working furiously to breed new strains of staple grains that will be able to resist future warming, but some regions may have to shift to new crops altogether to meet nutrition needs, the researchers said.

"The window of opportunity to develop innovative solutions that can effectively overcome these challenges is limited," said Philip Thornton, a scientists at CCAFS and co-author of the study.

"Major adaptation efforts are needed now if we are to avoid serious food security and livelihood problems later."

Climate to wreak havoc on food supply, predicts report
Jennifer Carpenter BBC News 3 Jun 11;

Areas where food supplies could be worst hit by climate change have been identified in a report.

Some areas in the tropics face famine because of failing food production, an international research group says.

The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) predicts large parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will be worst affected.

Its report points out that hundreds of millions of people in these regions are already experiencing a food crisis.

"We are starting to see much more clearly where the effects of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty," said Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist with the CCAFS initiative that produced the report.

A leading climatologist told BBC News that agriculturalists had been slow to use global climate models to pinpoint regions most affected by rising temperatures.

This report is the first foray into the field by the CCAFS initiative. To assess how climate change will affect the world's ability to feed itself, CCAFS set about finding hotspots of climate change and food insecurity.

Focusing their search on the tropics, the researchers identified regions where populations are chronically malnourished and highly dependent on local food supplies.

Then, basing their analysis on the climate data amassed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the team predicted which of these food-insecure regions are likely to experience the greatest shifts in temperature and precipitation over the next 40 years.
Mapping hunger

By overlaying the maps, the team was able to pinpoint which hungry regions of the tropics would suffer most.

With many areas in Africa predicted to become drier, countries such as South Africa which predominately farm maize have the option to shift to more drought resistant crops.

But for countries such as Niger, in western Africa, which already supports itself on very drought resistant crop varieties, like sorghum and millet, there is little room for manoeuvre, explains Bruce Campbell, the director of CCAFS.

"West Africa really stands out as problematic. Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali. They are already dependent on sorghum and millet.

"In many places in Africa you are really going to need [a] revolution in farming systems," he says.

"We need everything we can lay our hands on," said Sir Gordon Conway, professor of international development at Imperial College London.

Governments are aiming to limit the average increase in temperature to 2C by the end of the century, he explained. But if temperatures continue to follow their current trajectories "we are on for a 3-4C increase", Sir Gordon explained.

If this was correct "things get very alarming", the professor said.

Professor Martin Parry, a visiting professor at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, who co-chaired one of the working groups in the IPCC's last climate assessment, responded to the report by saying he thought that CGIAR, the parent body to the CCAFS, had been slow to move into the field of climate change as a key area of research. But he added that this step was very welcome.

But he cautioned: "This gives us a better local picture of where the most vulnerable areas might be… but it doesn't make strong enough connections between the changes in the weather and its impacts on yields."

This made it difficult to plan for adaptations, Professor Parry told BBC News.

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