Best of our wild blogs: 10 Aug 11

Mok Ly Yng celebrates with “Singapore ND 2011: Topographical Map” from Otterman speaks

110809 Semakau forest
from Singapore Nature

National Day at Semakau with otter!
from wild shores of singapore

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Malaysia: ‘Language skills only for apes that cannot live in the wild’

Muguntan Vanar The Star 10 Aug 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Teaching language skills to orang utan should only be considered for those that cannot be rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

A Sabah-based conservationist Dr Marc Ancreanz said it was more important to help displaced orang utan go back into the wild to increase their population.

“Teaching communication skills, yes, but only for those that cannot be rehabilitated,” said Dr Ancreanz, who heads the Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project helmed by the French non-governmental organisation Hutan.

Dr Ancreanz was commenting on The Star report quoting scientist Dr Francine Neago's plan to set up an orang utan language study centre in Sarawak to teach language skills to the primate via a computer programme.

Dr Ancreanz said teaching communication skills like sign language to the orang utan was possible as other great apes gorillas and chimpanzees had already been taught to communicate with humans.

“Previous studies have shown that the intelligent great apes are able to learn language skills like sign languages but they cannot speak because they do not have larynx.”

Teaching orang utan that could not be rehabilitated or those living in captivity was apt as they get bored easily, he said.

“Teaching them communication skills may create some activity for them to experiment with.”

According to local Sabah conservationists, Dr Neago had approached them about setting up a similar project in Sepilok about five years ago but they had turned her down.

Dr Neago is hoping to acquire a piece of land on which to set up the centre.

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Wildlife groups boycott Sri Lankan elephant census

Bharatha Mallawarachi Associated Press Yahoo News 9 Aug 11;

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Wildlife groups will boycott Sri Lanka's first census of elephants because they fear the count is a "smoke screen" for capturing and domesticating the animals.

The Wildlife Department said it will go ahead with the count starting Thursday aimed at gathering information on the population and helping prepare conservation policies.

About 20 wildlife groups had agreed to deploy about 200 volunteers to help the department count the animals. But they announced Tuesday they were withdrawing their support after Wildlife Minister S.M. Chandransena was quoted as saying 300 young elephants will be captured and handed over to Buddhist temples after the census.

"This is actually a smoke screen to capture wild elephants when they are young, specially tuskers and basically take in them for domestication," said Rukshan Jayawardene, chairman of Wildlife Conservation Forum.

He feared that most of these animals will not end up in temples, but "will end up in private residences working long hours."

Costumed and decorated pachyderms are used in Buddhist ceremonies as they parade through streets carrying the sacred relics of the Lord Buddha. They are also ridden by tourists and used to carry heavy weights, such as in the logging industry.

Chandrasena could not be reached for comment. But the head of the Wildlife Department H.D. Ratnayake denied plans of capturing and taming wild elephants and said the department will go ahead with the census.

Elephants will be counted for three days as they come to drink from water holes, reservoirs and tanks. The population is believed to be between 5,000 and 6,000, about half the numbers of the last count a century ago.

More recent counts were limited because of the quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009.

Elephants are endangered in Sri Lanka. They are increasingly entering villages in search of food, and around 250 are killed every year, mostly by farmers protecting people or their crops.

About 50 people die in elephant attacks each year, too.

Activists fear that capturing and removing more elephants from their habitat would further reduce elephant population.

Most tamed elephants die early due to lack of proper food, loss of habitat and working very hard, said Shantha Jayaweera, another wildlife activist.

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Russian forests burn for second successive year

Lack of funding and equipment hampers efforts to prevent and extinguish fires despite pledges and threats from Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev
Alexandre Billette Guardian Weekly 9 Aug 11;

Only a year ago Russia was overwhelmed by an exceptional heat wave, triggering hundreds of fires that destroyed thousands of hectares of woodland. Burning peat bogs around Moscow stifled the city in a thick cloud of bitter smoke.

Now, Russia is burning again. Since the beginning of this year more than 1m hectares of forest have gone up in flames, or are still burning, outstripping the disastrous record of 2010. But the affected areas are more sparsely populated and far fewer people have been evacuated.

The far north of Russia is among the areas that have suffered the most. During the last week of July, Arkhangelsk and the Komi republic had temperatures exceeding 35C. More than 80 fire outbreaks were reported.

The far east has suffered too. At the beginning of August about 50 fires were raging, especially around Khabarovsk, Yakutsk and the island of Sakhalin. Southern Russia has not escaped: several villages have been evacuated around Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd, where temperatures rose above 40C in July.

In a country that is 97% forest or woodland, fires are an inevitable hazard. But the scale of last year's disaster drew attention to the poor job the Russian authorities were doing to prevent and combat fires.

In 2006 Vladimir Putin, the former president and current prime minister, took the job of supervising woodland out of the hands of 80,000 federal foresters and transferred responsibility to local authorities. Endemic corruption and inadequate regional budgets seriously jeopardised forest inspections and fire prevention.

Last autumn the federal government agreed to a bigger budget for monitoring forest fires, and launched a massive scheme to deal with the peat bogs in the Moscow area. After being drained during the Soviet era so the peat could be used as fuel, they have been left untended for decades.

But the administration's efforts have not been equal to the task. In April President Dmitry Medvedev attacked bureaucrats who announced that plans to flood the peat bogs would be delayed. In a meeting broadcast on television, he said: "If you fail to control the fires ... you'll all be going to fight them in the peat bogs with your own hands."

Fortunately the peat bogs have not so far given any trouble this year. But despite reassurances from the emergency situations minister, the lack of equipment, human resources and funds is often obvious.

Greenpeace claims that the government is playing down the situation. "Official reports indicate 93 hectares of land on fire in the Amur area; in fact it is more like 50,000 hectares, as can be seen from satellite images," says an NGO spokesperson.

The Russian authorities have not so far asked for outside assistance. More than 5,000 fire-fighters have already been deployed, backed by 800 specialist units, some equipped with aircraft. Current, more favourable, weather conditions may make life easier, with temperatures dropping to more usual levels all over Russia.

This story originally appeared in Le Monde.

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