Best of our wild blogs: 14 Aug 11

FAQ on the Dinosaur Project
from Raffles Museum News

Exciting plans for the Mega Marine Survey!
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Green Volunteers August update
from The Green Volunteers

Bronze Mannikin drying after a bath
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Life History of the Common Birdwing
from Butterflies of Singapore

Sharing Changi with Dr Dan and Debby
from wild shores of singapore and the Hantu Blog.

A Fall from Freedom
from MarineBio Blog

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Purchase of 3 dinosaurs at risk

Less than $2m of immediate $8m needed raised as new deadline looms
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 14 Aug 11;

The deadline set by its sellers has come and gone, but the money to buy three dinosaurs for Singapore's upcoming natural history museum is still not in the bag.

Since it embarked on an intense race to raise $12 million for the fossils from Wyoming in the United States a month ago, the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research has managed to collect only $1.89 million through several donors and public donations through its online portal.

It has since negotiated an extension of the deadline - originally July 31 - with its American sellers and now has one to two months to raise the rest of the money.

The immediate task is to collect $8 million first to secure the three dinosaurs. The remaining $4 million, to be used for transport and to mount the exhibits, can be raised later.

Last month, the museum, which is part of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences, announced that it was in a bid to buy a family of three dinosaurs.

The two adults and one baby were found together between 2007 and last year in Ten Sleep, a small town in Wyoming, and are more than 80 per cent complete, which is rare for dinosaur discoveries.

The trio are diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, among the biggest animals to have walked the earth. Two of them measure 24m in length each while the baby dinosaur is 12m.

The first large donor to come on board was Siloso Beach Resort in Sentosa, which approached the museum after reading a report of the planned acquisition in The Sunday Times a month ago.

It has pledged $500,000. The eco-hotel's executive director, Mr Kelvin Ng, said the hotel's staff all support the effort.

'We need to learn about the history of the earth. If we don't learn from the past, what are we going to do with our future?' he said, adding that the exhibits will bring in researchers and visitors.

'If a small company like us can do it, why not others?'

Three other private donors have also put money on the table. One of them is an unnamed donor who first gave $10 million to the museum when it was raising its building fund last year. This donor has pledged $1 million.

Another two - a private trust fund and a company - have pledged $250,000 and $100,000 respectively.

Dr Lee Seng Gee, the eldest son of the late Singapore philanthropist Lee Kong Chian, and his wife Della have also pledged to donate a yet-to-be determined sum, as has their DSLee Foundation. The foundation's director, Mrs Mary Hoe-Tan, said: 'We are confident that our contribution will put Singapore on the world map and be a lasting educational legacy for generations to come.'

Since news of the fund-raising broke, more than 70 individuals have also donated through the museum's online portal, amounting to $40,000.

Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum, concedes that raising funds to buy the dinosaur bones has been a bigger challenge than when it raised $46 million to build a dedicated new museum last year.

'Public sentiment over building the museum was almost unanimous because that is seen as our natural heritage,' he said.

'But dinosaurs are a bit different. People will say: Our history has nothing to do with dinosaurs.'

He argued that for Singaporeans to learn about how evolution works and to get young people excited about science, nothing beats having dinosaurs in its exhibitions.

If successful, they will be the star attraction at the new 7,500 sq m Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum which will open at NUS in 2014.

The museum will also showcase the current Raffles Museum's collection of 500,000 specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, crustaceans, insects, molluscs and other invertebrates.

The fund-raising team is still reaching out to potential donors. Some have asked about the possibility of naming rights. Prof Ng said the museum will explore the option with them if the donation is substantial.

What happens if it fails to raise the money needed?

'If we fail, the country would have lost a great opportunity to bring in something of great educational value,' said Prof Ng.

More about the dinosaur donation drive:

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Australia's Great Barrier Reef 'at risk from pesticide'

Nick Bryant BBC News 13 Aug 11;

Agricultural pesticides are causing significant damage to the Great Barrier Reef, according to a new Australian government report on water quality at the site.

The report says some farmers must be more careful with their chemicals.

It found that nearly one-quarter of horticulture producers and 12% of pastoral farmers were using practices deemed unacceptable by the industry.

The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage-listed natural wonder.
Sugar cane criticism

In recent years, it has been coral bleaching caused by climate change that has damaged the Great Barrier Reef, but the first Australian government report on water quality there has found that agricultural pesticides are posing significant risks.

Pesticides have been found up to 60km (38 miles) inside the reef at toxic concentrations known to harm coral.

The heavy flooding and a cyclone that ripped through northern Queensland earlier in the year are thought to have made things worse, by flushing pollutants out to sea.

The report said many horticulture producers were using practices considered unacceptable, and that the sugar cane industry in the wet tropics of northern Queensland was particularly to blame.

However, the agriculture industry has said the findings are based on old data, and that there has been a significant change.

The government agrees that farmers have been using more environmentally friendly methods, but says those improvements had been undermined by Cyclone Yasi.

There have been calls from conservationists to limit the use of pesticides and to ban certain weed killers.

But sugar cane producers have argued that there are no alternatives to adequately protect their crops.

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Aung San Suu Kyi: China's dam project in Burma is dangerous and divisive

The leader of Burma's pro-democracy opposition joins chorus of alarm over China's plan to build dams on Irrawaddy river
Jonathan Watts 12 Aug 11;

Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's pro-democracy opposition, has called for a halt to a massive Chinese hydropower project on the Irrawaddy river that has alarmed environmentalists and added to a long-running conflict between tribal militias and the government in Rangoon.

The Nobel laureate stepped into the fray on Thursday with a personal statement calling for greater protection for Burma's most important river, which is threatened by logging, pollution and the construction of a cascade of at least seven dams, a project managed by China Power Investment.

The biggest of them – the 3,600MW Myitsone Dam – is already under construction on the Irrawaddy despite fierce opposition from the Kachin Independence Organisation, which recently broke a 17-year-ceasefire after warning that it would fight to block the project.

The China Gezhouba Group is building the dam on the confluence of the Mali and N'Mai rivers in Kachin state, one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots.

Once completed, it will flood the rainforest with a reservoir the size of New York city and displace 10,000 people, mostly Kachin people, as well as submerging cultural heritage sites central to Kachin identity, according to International Rivers.

The Burma Rivers Network, an NGO which represents communities along the river, said China's massive hydropower investments had widened the gulf between the government – which wants to benefit from cross-border electricity sales – and Kachin independence groups, which fear the dams will bring environmental, cultural and social disruption.

The environmental group has released what it says is a leaked environmental assessment jointly commissioned by the Burmese and Chinese authorities that recommends scrapping the project because it would cause immense damage to biodiverse ecosystems as local livelihoods as well as posing great risks in the event of an earthquake.

These concerns were reiterated by Aung San Sui Kyi, who said the dam was dangerous and divisive. "Since the commencement of the Myitsone project, the perception long held by the Kachin people that successive Burmese governments have neglected their interests has deepened," she said in her statement. "We would urge that in the interests of both national international harmony, concerned parties should reassess the scheme and cooperate to find solutions that would prevent undesirable consequences and thus allay the fears of all who are anxious to protect the Irrawaddy."

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Elephant and rhino poaching 'is driven by China's economic boom'

The ivory trade has doubled in Guangzhou and Fuzhou, a study has found, adding to fears for Africa's elephant and rhino populations
Greg Neale and James Burton The Observer The Guardian 14 Aug 11;

Elephant poaching in Africa and Asia is being fuelled by China's economic boom, according to a study of the ivory trade.

Authors of the new report found that the number of ivory items on sale in key centres in southern China has more than doubled since 2004, with most traded illegally. The survey comes amid reports of a dramatic rise in rhino poaching across Africa, and a spate of thefts of rhino horns from European museums and auction houses.

Based on the results of their survey, the ivory researchers are calling for China to tighten its enforcement of ivory trading regulations, saying that such a move is vital to reduce the number of elephants that are killed illegally. The report is published on the eve of a meeting in Geneva of the Cites organisation, which is responsible for controlling trade in endangered wildlife species.

Esmond Martin, a Kenya-based expert on the ivory and rhino-horn trade, and his colleague Lucy Vigne surveyed ivory carving factories and shops in Guangzhou and Fuzhou in January. In Guangzhou, they found that the volume of ivory goods on sale had doubled since 2004. But while some of the ivory they found being carved or sold was being traded legally – including an increasing number of prehistoric mammoth tusks imported from Russia – most lacked legally required documentation, and many traders were unregistered.

In Guangzhou, of 6,437 items on sale, 61% were being traded illegally. Martin said that some traders admitted having illegal ivory, or pretended that newly carved items were old. "This suggests official inspections and confiscations have not taken place in most shops," says the survey, which was commissioned by two British wildlife charities, Elephant Family and the Aspinall Foundation, as well as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in the US state of Ohio.

The international trade in elephant ivory was banned in 1990, but in recent years some auctions of tusks from elephants that have died naturally, or which had been confiscated from poachers, have been permitted in a small number of African countries. Chinese traders bought 62 tonnes of ivory in 2008 from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

Supporters of the sales say that the proceeds can fund conservation, but opponents say that any legal trade risks encouraging poaching. Martin said : "It is shocking that the retail ivory trade is not better controlled in southern China. China continues to be the largest importer of illegal ivory in the world, mostly from Africa, but also from endangered Asian elephants. Inspections of shops would not take much money nor manpower and would cut down this illegal trade significantly if carried out effectively. Such law enforcement is urgent to reduce elephant poaching."

There has also been a dramatic surge in rhino poaching across Africa. The price of rhino horn has soared in the far east where it is used in alternative medicine as a cure for everything from nightmares to dysentery. In South Africa alone, where horn is worth more per gram than cocaine, the monitoring network "Traffic" reported that 333 rhinos were killed last year, and 193 in the first six months of this year. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached.

There have also been more than 20 thefts from museums and auction houses in Europe, including three in Britain, with others in Germany, Belgium, Italy and Sweden. The Natural History Museum in London has now replaced its rhino horns with fakes, while the Horniman Museum in south-east London has removed its collection entirely. One British theft was from Sworders auction house in Essex in February, when the mounted head of a black rhino was taken the day before it was to be sold. Guy Schooling, the managing director of Sworders, said that there was a break-in two weeks before the auction, but thieves went away empty handed. When they returned a second time, "they yanked the head off the wall and bolted, leaving a considerable amount of damage in their wake".

In May, a head was stolen from the Haslemere Educational Museum in Surrey. The museum has now removed all rhino exhibits from display. The most recent theft occurred last week at Ipswich Museum, when a popular exhibit "Rosie the Rhino" had its horn stolen overnight.

The sharp increase in European thefts was described by Detective Constable Ian Lawson of the Metropolitan Police's Arts and Antiques Unit as "an extraordinary series of events". There had been an "unheard of" number of robberies from museums this year, he said, involving more than one gang. "But we do believe a significant amount of thefts across Europe are being committed by a group of Irish travellers," he said.

Most stolen horn is sent abroad, police believe. In October last year, a Lancashire man, Donald Allison, was jailed for twelve months as he tried to smuggle two horns into Asia. They turned out to have been taken from the body of a rhino at Colchester Zoo. Ten horns were also seized at Shannon Airport in Ireland in 2009.Antique horns are particularly prized, Lawson said, because they "tend to be larger than wild rhino horns".

Schooling said that the rise in price has been driven by changes in European law, making rhino horn much harder to sell legitimately. It is now illegal to sell rhino horn trophies and mounted horns in the UK. Stuffed rhino heads can still be sold, but each sale must be approved by Defra. One such head was the subject of a bidding war between Chinese herbalists when it was auctioned off in March. It eventually fetched £35,000.

Schooling described the new law as a "poorly thought-out" and "politically expedient" piece of legislation. "If you reduce the supply [of horn] and the demand is the same, then the price will go up," he said.

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