Best of our wild blogs: 18 Oct 11

Juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips at Pulau Hantu
from Pulau Hantu

Boxed in
from The annotated budak

Swimming sea anemone and more at Changi!
from Nature rambles

Oriental Magpie Robins – Father & Son or Brothers?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Stingray and hornbills
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Sharing Singapore wild photos on international resources
from wild shores of singapore

Old trees necessary for nesting animals
from news by Jeremy Hance

Read more!

Singapore committed to climate change fight: Tan Chuan-Jin

Gwendolyn Ng my paper AsiaOne 18 Oct 11;

The floods afflicting Bangkok show how South- east Asian countries, including Singapore, are highly vulnerable to climate change, said Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, yesterday.

Mr Tan said it is important for the region to tackle global warming, as the phenomenon could lead to adverse effects on the environment, economy and society.

He said: "Today, we are already experiencing the effects of global warming. It is not simply about the melting of polar (ice) caps or the long-term increase in temperature.

"The immediate impact, to some degree, is already being felt," he said, citing the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, like droughts and storms, afflicting parts of the world.

Citing an example of how climate change impacts food supply, he said that the flood damage to agricul- tural land in Thailand is expected to increase food prices, especially that of rice.

He added: "The ripple effects of a disruption to Thailand's rice production are quite significant, given that it is the world's biggest rice exporter."

Mr Tan was speaking at the Forests, Biodiversity and Climate Change in South-east Asia conference at the Singapore Management University.

Organised by the Institute of South-east Asian Studies, the conference aims to raise awareness on environmental conservation.

It is also supported by partners such as the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS), which is under the Prime Minister's Office.

Mr Tan reiterated Singapore's commitment to combating the challenges of climate change, highlighting the nation's efforts, such as pledging to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and making buildings here eco-friendly.

His stand echoes that of the addendum to the President's address released by NCCS last week, which stated that it aims to reduce carbon emissions by increasing use of less carbon-intensive fuels, and improving energy conservation and efficiency.

Mr Tan also noted that many international environmental non-profit organisations have made Singapore their regional base, and there are more to come, such as Birdlife International, and Fauna and Flora International.

He said that such organisations choose Singapore as their pan-Asian base because of its pro-business environment, accessibility to the Asia-Pacific region and the large pool of international talent.

"We welcome environmental non-profit organisa- tions to leverage on our strengths to further their work...and it's important to support this," said Mr Tan.

Read more!

Culling wildlife not a permanent answer

Straits Times Forum 18 Oct 11;

MR PAUL Chan called for the culling of monkeys as a punishment for misbehaviour ('Cull monkeys if over-population is the problem'; Oct 10).

While it is important for wild animals to keep their distance, Mr Chan's sentiments do not consider the complexities of the problem.

Although culling is often a necessary part of managing human-wildlife conflict, it should be used as a last resort. Its biggest flaw is that it is a temporary measure. Rather, one should ask why these monkeys have turned so bold in the first place. And that boils down to people who deliberately feed them.

Despite the abundance of garbage bins, a great deal of littering occurs in our parks. Much of the trash consists of food wrappers and packaging, which only allows monkeys to discover that human food is tasty and should be sought out.

Culling will not offer a permanent answer. There must be greater enforcement against people who ignore the rules and continue feeding the monkeys. Garbage bin design must be improved to prevent monkeys from accessing their contents.

The greatest tool is education. Park visitors must behave responsibly to minimise the risk of conflict. For example, as many monkeys now associate plastic bags with food, one should conceal food and drinks.

When eating within the park, check that there are no monkeys watching, and finish a meal quickly. The forest is not a place for a leisurely picnic.

Keep a respectable distance between oneself and a monkey. All too often, a crowd will gather around a monkey to take photos and approach it while talking loudly, hollering to their companions or squealing in delight.

Should a monkey get up and approach a person, the best course of action is to walk away slowly and calmly.

The parks and forests are not solely for our enjoyment; they are the habitats of a great number of species, and we must know that we are encroaching on the monkeys' domain rather than the other way round.

We must be pragmatic and accept that occasional clashes between man and monkey cannot be eliminated without the total eradication of either species.

Ultimately, resolving human-wildlife conflict is more about altering human behaviour and attitudes than it is about reducing the risk of attack by wild animals.

Ivan Kwan

Read more!

All Shell plants yet to resume operations

Ronnie Lim Business Times 18 Oct 11;

ALMOST three weeks after the Bukom fire, Shell has yet to restart all the production units it shut down for safety reasons.

Force majeure also remains on the oil giant's product supplies to some customers, BT understands.

Shell had shut its hydrocracker and thermal gas unit, as well as three crude distillation units (CDUs) which form the backbone of its 500,000 barrels per day Bukom refinery, due to their proximity to a 32-hour fire which started on Sept 28.

It is unclear if Shell had also shut its new petrochemicals cracker there or just reduced its output.

And just last week, it began restarting some of the units, but did not specify which.

Reuters cited sources saying that Shell has restarted a second CDU at reduced rates, a week after partially restarting the first.

When asked yesterday whether all the units have since been restarted, a Shell spokesperson said: 'We can confirm that some operations have continued, and some operations will resume at the site, but we are unable to comment on operational specifics.'

As for whether force majeure had been lifted yet, the spokesperson said: 'We confirm that force majeure has been declared on some of our customers. We continue to be in discussions with our customers to address their supply of product needs and to minimise any potential impact to them.'

Force majeure (FM) is a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstances beyond the control of the parties occur.

Shell had declared FM on feedstock supplies including to Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore (in which it has a 25 per cent stake) as well as Ellba Eastern (where Shell has a 50 per cent stake), with supply disruptions also reported at Shell Eastern Petrochemical Corporation's new monoethylene glycol plant on Jurong Island.

PCS was not available for comment. But an Ellba spokesperson told BT yesterday that Shell's FM remains on supplies of feedstocks like ethylene.

Ellba has, however, managed to secure other sources of feedstock to keep its styrene monomer and propylene oxide (SMPO) plant running on Jurong Island.

Reflecting the production disruptions at Bukom, even as Shell starts to bring back its plants onstream, an oil trading source said: 'Shell last week was still looking around to buy products like diesel and jet fuel, but may pull back (from doing so) this week.'

Explaining why Bukom is taking a while to resume normal operations, he said: 'They probably want to be more careful in their restarting process, so that they don't cause another fire.'

Another trader said he understood that there has not been much cargo, if at all, loaded from Bukom so far this month, with most Shell cargo 'novated' or designated to other parties. The term novated means to replace an old obligation with a new one.

Asked whether Shell had started to estimate the damage caused by the fire, the Shell spokesperson said: 'It is too early to assess this, but the damage was limited to pump house 43 and the network of pipes. The process units are not damaged.'

Shell restarts 2nd crude unit at fire-hit Singapore plant
* 2nd CDU of 110,000-bpd capacity operating at 75 pct
* 35,000-bpd hydrocracker to restart in next 2-3 days
* Alternative delivery for clean products key to restart
Yaw Yan Chong Reuters 17 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell Plc has restarted a second crude distillation unit (CDU) at reduced rates at its fire-hit Singapore refinery, a week after the first was partially restarted, three industry sources with direct knowledge of the matter said on Monday.

It is also expected to restart its distillate-making hydrocracker at the 500,000 barrel-per-day plant, Shell's largest, within the next 2-3 days, they added.

"We can confirm that some operations have continued and some operations will resume at the site, but we are unable to comment on operational specifics," said a Shell spokesman in response to queries on the restart.

The sources said the 110,000-bpd CDU, which began restart operations last Sunday and will reach stable operating levels in 2-3 days, is expected to run at a reduced rate of around 75 percent.

The CDU operations will facilitate the restart of the 35,000-bpd hydrocracker, which was shut due to its proximity to the fire but was undamaged, as well as provide more feedstocks, mainly heavy kerosene, for Shell's ethylene cracker.

With the second CDU partially operating, the refinery is currently running at about 40 percent capacity as its largest 210,000-bpd capacity CDU has been functioning at about 50 percent capacity for around a week.

A third CDU, of 110,000-bpd capacity, and some other smaller secondary units are still shut in the aftermath of the more than 30-hour blaze that largely crippled the plants capability to deliver clean oil products, such as gas oil, jet fuel, gasoline and naphtha.


"Shell is slowly trying to get the CDUs and the main secondary units back up at reduced rates, primarily to yield products that are high margin, such as base oils and lubricants, as well as petrochemicals," one of the sources said.

"The key to this is to create an alternative, but stable, delivery system, that bypasses the damaged area, of transporting the products into storage or onto tankers. This is possible because the major units are largely undamaged."

The restart of the plant's operations is moving in line with the stage-by-stage construction of the delivery system, and the third CDU is also expected to be operational at partial levels in about a week, the sources said.

The plant is expected run at reduced rates over the next 2-3 months as the replacement delivery system is gradually put in place, while runs are slowly ramped up, amid repairs to the Pump House area where the fire occurred.

Full repairs to the damaged area are expected to take about a year, the sources said.

"So enough lines have to be built to allow the plant to operate at an efficient level of production, possibly even run at full, maybe in about a month or so from now," one source said.

Shell has also resumed loading for some of the affected products, mainly gas oil, which saw its first loading, post-fire, about a week ago.

It also sold 150,000 barrels of 0.5 percent sulphur gas oil, for loading over Oct. 27-31, over the end-of-day pricing window last Wednesday.

The sale was on the back of agreements that the oil major had with counterparties to buy back most of the 1.5 million barrels of distillate cargoes that it had declared force majeure upon.

Shell is a major supplier of distillates and gasoline to the region, with its refinery producing 6.5-7.0 million barrels per month, of which gas oil is about 4.5 million barrels, and another 4.0-4.5 million barrels of gasoline, with about 90 percent of the refinery's output exported.

Partial restart of Shell's Singapore plant hits snag
* Malfunctioning furnace delays base oil production by about 10 days
* CDU's partial restart unaffected, runs at below 50 pct
* Light distillate feed to ethylene cracker delayed by a few days
Yaw Yan Chong Reuters 11 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Oil major Shell's partial restart of its 500,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) Singapore refinery has a hit a snag that will result in a delay of about 10 days before it could start producing high-margin base oils, industry sources said on Tuesday.

The problem is due to a malfunctioning furnace in its Lube Oil Complex (LOC), but the restart of the largest of its three Crude Distillation Units (CDUs), with 210,000-bpd capacity, is unaffected. The unit is running at a reduced operating rate of about 50 percent.

When asked to comment, a Shell spokesman said the company does not comment on operational matters.

"The restart was primarily driven by the very strong processing margins for lubricants. Base oil is used as the feed to produce lubes, but trading margins for base oil are too good for them to cannibalise the trading barrels," a refining source said.

About 360,000 tonnes of base oil is produced from a 30,000-bpd secondary unit per year, which cracks long-residue from the CDU, yielding distillates and base oil, which is then fed into the lubricants plant.

The sources said that both the unit and the plant, which collectively makes up the LOC, were also shut down in the aftermath of the fire that had crippled the plant's capability to deliver clean oil products, such as middle distillates, naphtha and gasoline, from its process units into storage and onto tankers.

During the restart, it was discovered that the furnace, which is part of the LOC, was damaged and required repairs that would take about 10 days, they added.

"Sometimes, units and equipment get damaged during a full shutdown process. In this case, it wasn't that critical because the CDU restart went ahead and there was no need to stop the unit," another source said.

"This is probably because the volumes of yield produced could be stored during that period before being fed into the unit."


There was another technical problem of the light distillate yield meeting the feedstock specifications of the ethylene cracker that the product was to be fed into, and it will take a day or two to solve, the sources said.

The feedstock will then be supplied to the 800,000 tonnes-per-year (tpy) cracker, part of a larger chemical complex that also includes a 750,000-tpy monoethylene glycol (MEG) plant, to keep the complex running, at lower operating rates, instead of having to be shut.

The restart, nearly two weeks after the fire broke out and ahead of an anticipated 1-month timeframe, was made possible when a temporary line was built to deliver the clean oil products into storage without having to pass the area that had been damaged by the fire.

The CDU is expected to be kept steady at the reduced operating rate for an extended period of time, while investigations into the cause of the fire and repair work continue, the sources said.

Other major units, including the other two CDUs of 110,000-bpd each, a 35,000-bpd hydrocracker and the Fluid Catalytic Cracker (FCC) either remain shut or are operating at low levels, although all were undamaged by the fire.

Despite the earlier-than-expected restart, the sources said it would still take 3-6 months for the entire plant to resume normal operations.

Investigations, both by the oil major and Singapore's Manpower Ministry, are ongoing.

"We have commenced investigations and are working with the Ministry of Manpower as we establish the cause of the fire. We hope to apply any learnings from these findings to avoid such an occurrence in future," the Shell spokesman said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Call to abandon the plan for Malacca bird park

The Star 18 Oct 11;

SAHABAT Alam Malaysia (SAM) is unequivocally opposed to the plan for the largest bird park in Southeast Asia sited at the Botanical Gardens in Ayer Keroh Malacca when zoos and animal establishments in Malaysia are widely known and reported to be in an appalling state.

State governments, councils and individuals may aspire to have the largest, biggest or grandest zoos and aviaries but do they know, or care, about the basic care and welfare of animals and their requirements?

Judging from the past, the lack of ability to run zoos or bird parks may cause many of the birds to be reduced to a spectacle of abuse or neglect, and many may die.

The question everyone or every animal welfare group should ask is where, and how, are the birds to be sourced. Sourcing for 6,000 birds from 300 species to fill the largest aviary will fuel the trade in live birds that not only enriches the pockets of traders and poachers, but may cause more than half of those caught to die as a result of the birds being packed into crates and transported over long distances.

These profiteers have little concern for wastage of bird life and can literally get away with murder.

The other question we need to ask is why undertake to house such a huge collection of birds knowing that space would be shockingly inadequate.

The Malacca government needs to recognise that animals and birds have a basic need for the appropriate amount of space, and no amount of behavioural enrichment can compensate for the spatial needs of the birds.

SAM fails to see the need for an aviary in the middle of a botanic garden. The botanic garden itself is good enough to be a major tourist attraction with its wide variety of plant species, considering the immense beauty and variety that the plant kingdom offers.

The garden is also a place which attracts native birds. It can be an idyllic oasis for free-roaming birds in the centre of the city.

Constructing an aviary within the gardens is a cruel attempt to bring nature to people where we can see birds in flight and chirping away, when in reality the birds are living under captive conditions only to be displayed for man’s amusement.

Life in captivity can never be adequate for the fulfillment of any species or individual, since the best habitat for animals is in their natural environment. All species are born free, and detention or isolation, whether of birds or humans, is an expression of cruelty and inhumanity.

This brings to mind the question of staffing and a host of other issues:

> Will the staff be experienced and qualified to care for the different exotic birds that have special needs?

> Will the bird park have the ability or expertise to manage and train inexperienced staff?

> What will be the level of veterinary care and hygiene standards?

> Are resources available to upgrade exhibits?

> Will the bird park be able to keep up with a variety of environmental enrichment?

> Will it have the expertise for managing such a large and diverse aviary?

SAM calls on the Malacca government to abandon its plan for the establishment of the largest bird park in Southeast Asia.

SAM would also urge the Natural Resources and the Environment Ministry and the Department of Wildlife to stop the issuing of new licences for upcoming zoos and to continue monitoring all existing zoos in order to reform the wild animal industry.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

Read more!

Indonesia: residents kill Sumatran tiger

Antara 17 Oct 11;

Padangpariaman, West Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Residents in Sikuliek village, Nagari Sungai Buluh, Batang Anai sub-district, Padangpariaman regency of West Sumatra, shot dead a Sumatran Tiger (Panthera Tigris Sumatrae).

The wild animal had to be shot dead by the pig hunters as it entered one of the pig traps, Batang Anai sub-district head Syofriyon said here Monday.

He said according to reports from the Nagari authorities, the animal was found by the residents to have entered one of the pig traps on Saturday 4 kilometers from the nearest homes.

"For fear, the residents and pig hunters shot dead the intruding and apparently hungry tiger without first notifying nor discussing it with the nagari and sub-district authorities," he said in a tone of regret.

The killing of the tiger came to the attention of the local people and authorities only on Sunday.

He said that in Padangpariaman, it had been a local tradition that a caught or trapped tiger needs to be given special ceremonies before deciding what to do with it.

In the meantime, Batang Anai police chief Ajunct Police Inspector Ali A Nazar said that the tiger or what was left of it was still missing without trace.

He and the West Sumatra natural conservation agency (BKSDA) were still trying to find out what had really happened.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Read more!

Elephants run amok in jambi oil palm, rubber plantations

Antara 17 Oct 11;

Muaratebo, Jambi (ANTARA News) - Tens of elephants have been running amok in oil palm and rubber plantations in Koto VII Sub-district, in Tebo District, Jambi Province, Sumatra, since Friday (Oct 14).

The elephants destroyed hundreds of hectares of oil palm and rubber plantations at Teluk Kayu Putih, Tanjung, Kuamang and Aur Cino villages, Tanjung Village Head Safarudin, said here on Monday.

They attacked the plantations in the evening, Safarudin said.

Local villagers have been constantly on guard for the last three weeks to protect their plantations from the herd of elephants but they could not prevent the animals` destruotive behavior.

They reported the elephants` attacks to the Tebo district administration and the provincial natural resource conservation agency (BKSDA).

Tebo district administration and BKSDA personnel did come to Tanjung village but they only checked the damages, he said.

The rubber and oil palm plantations are located around 15 km from Tanjung village. Earlier this year, a local villager was killed by a herd of elephants.

Conflicts between Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) and humans have increased over the past few years claiming lives among both humans and elephants but mostly among the giant animals. (*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Read more!

Australia: 10-year bird status update reports major declines but some hope

ECOS Magazine Science Alert 18 Oct 11;

Birds Australia, Charles Darwin University and CSIRO Publishing launched The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. The Action Plan is the third in a series produced at the start of each decade. It analyses the status of all the species and subspecies of Australia's birds to determine their risk of extinction.

Based on the latest research and consultation with leading ornithologists and conservation biologists around the country, the result is the most authoritative account yet of the status of Australia's birds. The publication also includes recommendations on conservation action.

This Action Plan lists 27 taxa as Extinct, 20 as Critically Endangered, 60 as Endangered, 68 as Vulnerable and 63 as Near Threatened as at 31 December, 2010. Of bird taxa known to have been present or to have occurred regularly in Australia when Europeans settled in 1788, 2.2 per cent are Extinct and a further 11.8 per cent are threatened.

The research was supported by an Australian Research Council linkage grant to Charles Darwin and Queensland Universities. BirdLife International, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Biosis also provided support.

‘At one level this book describes a tragedy,’ said Dr Graeme Hamilton, CEO of Birds Australia, ‘That in the 200 short years since Europeans arrived in Australia we have so diminished our natural capital that 234 Australian birds are either Extinct, threatened with extinction or Near Threatened, is a national disgrace’.

But this is not a book of lost causes. It is a call for action to keep the extraordinary biodiversity we have inherited and pass the legacy to our children. Every one of Australia's threatened birds can be saved.

‘We do not need to lose any more Australian birds,’ said Barry Baker, President of Birds Australia. ‘This book describes the populations of species at greatest risk and outlines ways we can turn them around.’

There is much reason to hope. We would have lost far more had there not been enormous effort over the last few decades. After all, it is only 20 years since all the information available on Australia’s threatened birds was compiled in the first Action Plan for Australian Birds.

The status of some birds has improved over the last two decades as a result of dedicated conservation management. Some may not have improved their lot but at least they are holding their own. Many, however, are continuing to decline and a distressing number are new to the list.

Since the 2000 Action Plan was released, the conservation status of seven taxa will be downlisted (improved) as a result of effective conservation management. But for the same period, 39 taxa have been uplisted to a more threatened category because they are faring worse than they were a decade ago. This includes four taxa that are now Critically Endangered.

‘Sadly, over the last decade, threatened species conservation appears to have gone out of fashion with government policy makers and public funding bodies’. According to Dr Hamilton, instead of species conservation, emphasis is being placed on landscapes without the necessary attention to the precious detail those landscapes contain.

‘We at Birds Australia do not share that view,’ he said. ‘We, like the majority of the public, believe that a vital role for conservation agencies is the prevention of species loss.

Most of the additions to the list in 2010 are migratory waders, numbers of which have plummeted, largely due to reclamation or degradation of habitat along their migratory pathways in East Asia.

Most threatened or extinct taxa continue to be on islands. Introduced predators and habitat destruction have taken a heavy toll. At sea, despite progress in developing and implementing mitigation techniques, all albatross taxa and several petrels continue to be threatened by high rates of mortality associated with fishing.

On the mainland, land clearance and habitat fragmentation will continue to cause species declines for decades as biodiversity pays its extinction debt. Grazing by domestic and feral herbivores, and changes in fire management are also major threatening processes.

Read more!

Far more bluefin sold than reported caught: report

Marlowe Hood (AFP) Google News 18 Oct 11;

PARIS — More than twice as many tonnes of Atlantic bluefin tuna were sold last year compared with official catch records for this threatened species, according to a report released on Tuesday.

This "bluefin gap" occurred despite enhanced reporting and enforcement measures introduced in 2008 by the 48-member International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which sets annual quotas by country, it said.

Trade figures showed that real catches of bluefin in 2009 and 2010 totaled more than 70,500 tonnes, twice ICCAT's tally for those two years, according to the report compiled by Washington-based Pew Environment Group.

"The current paper-based catch documentation system is plagued with fraud, misinformation and delays in reporting," said Roberto Mielgo, a former industry insider and author of the report. "Much more needs to be done."

Before 2010, ICCAT systematically set fishing quotas substantially higher than the recommendations of its own scientific committee, which had warned repeatedly that stocks were in danger of crashing.

In 2010, the target quota -- 12,900 tonnes for fish caught in the Mediterranean and Northeastern Atlantic -- fell for the first time within the panel's recommended range.

But the new report implies the industry has circumvented the catch limits and tougher compliance measures.

"This (catch) gap exists mainly because of loopholes in the ranching industry," Mielgo told AFP.

He referred to the practice of netting young wild tuna in the Mediterranean and then corralling them for fattening, a system he helped to pioneer.

"Essentially, more bluefin tuna are harvested from the ranches than initially reported when they are first transferred there."

About 70 percent of the bluefin caught in the Mediterranean are netted by industrial purse-seine vessels with vast, sack-like nets that encircle tuna as they gather to spawn.

The Pew study says that reported catch for bluefin tuna from 1998 to 2010 was 395,554 tonnes.

By comparison, market figures for this period show 491,265 tonnes, leaving leaving a gap of nearly 100,000 tonnes worth some two billion euros (2.7 billion dollars) at wholesale prices.

These figures do not include what experts say is a sizeable black market in bluefin, along with fish that has been mislabeled as another species.

Japan consumes 80 percent of the gleaming fatty fish, with American appetites accounting for another nine percent.

Pew and other environmental groups have called for the swift implementation of electronic tagging of fish to replace paper-based records, which they say are vulnerable to fraud.

A new electronic system "should include a real-time reporting requirement and central database, which would allow information from ranches and vessels to be cross-checked instantly," said Lee Crockett, head of Pew's bluefin task force.

ICCAT has committed in principle to such measures, but the timetable for implementation and funding have yet to be settled.

This year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the reference agency for species conservation, declared Atlantic bluefin tuna to be "endangered" and "susceptible to collapse under continued excessive fishing pressure".

Read more!

Trafficking of baby gorillas poses new threat to endangered species

DR Congo authorities say they are powerless to combat trade in which poachers demand up to $40,000 an animal
David Smith 17 Oct 11;

A surge in trafficking of baby gorillas is posing a fresh risk to the endangered species in the Democratic Republic of Congo, wildlife officials have warned.

Poachers demanding $40,000 (£25,350) for one of the animals were caught by park rangers earlier this month in an undercover sting operation.

It was the fourth such incident since April, making this a record year for the poachers trying to feed a growing black market caught with baby gorillas.

Mountain gorillas are critically endangered, with around 790 remaining in the world - about 480 in the Virunga volcanoes conservation area (shared by DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda) and just over 300 in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Eastern lowland gorillas are more numerous but largely outside protected areas and still in decline.

Emmanuel de Merode, director of Virunga national park, said: "We are very concerned about a growing market for baby gorillas that is feeding a dangerous trafficking activity in rebel controlled areas of eastern DRC.

"We are powerless to control the international trade in baby gorillas, but our rangers are doing everything they can to stamp it out on the ground." Merode added: "Four baby gorillas seized in less than a year is unusually high … [but] it's only the tip of the iceberg, as we only manage to catch a small proportion of the offenders because the wildlife service is under-resourced in Congo."

An infant gorilla was rescued on 6 October when a team of park rangers went undercover posing as potential buyers in the town of Kirumba, near the western border of the park.

Dressed in civilian clothes, they made contact and agreed a price for the one-and-a-half-year-old male eastern lowland gorilla that poachers were hiding in a small backpack. Rangers arrested the three poachers once they had possession of the gorilla.

Christian Shamavu, the leader of the operation, said: "It's very likely that the mother and other gorillas were killed because it's very difficult to take a baby gorilla from its family. The poachers will never admit to this, though."

Baby eastern lowland gorillas were confiscated from poachers in DR Congo in April and June, and Rwandan police recovered a baby mountain gorilla as poachers attempted to smuggle it over the border in August.

The animals suffer physical anguish during the process. Dr Jan Ramer, a vet with Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project (MGVP), partners with Virunga national park, said: "Many of these infants are injured from ropes around their hands, feet or waist, and some are quite ill, which is not surprising as they are generally in close contact with their human captors, extremely stressed, and with very poor nutrition."

But the newest orphan gorilla, named Shamavu after the ranger who rescued him, appears to be in good condition, Ramer added. "He appears to be quite healthy other than some parasites and dry skin."

The market price for infant gorillas can reach $40,000, but officials say they lack the resources or jurisdiction to investigate where the gorillas are headed or who is behind the trafficking.

International experts said they believe the route lies east. Ian Redmond, chairman of the conservation group the Ape Alliance, said: "We think the Middle East is a likely source of demand, wealthy animal collectors and a tradition of giving big gifts to curry favour … and maybe wealthy Russians, but there is little hard evidence.

"What we do know is that just the rumour that someone is looking to buy a baby ape can be enough for penniless hunters to think: 'I could get one of those and sell it for $$$$!' And in eastern DRC, once one is captured it is likely to be smuggled eastwards through either Rwanda or Uganda, the traditional trade routes for all goods in that area."

A report on ape trafficking by Karl Ammann, an investigative film maker, claimed that dozens of gorillas and hundreds and chimpanzees have been taken from Cameroon via Nigeria to Egypt.

Emmanuel de Merode added: "Surveillance is the key, at the borders, in the towns, along the roads. The local community are the best surveillance system, if they are on our side.

"A lot more could be done with respect to international trade, especially in the market countries where there is demand for baby gorillas. There, it's a question of enacting legislation and enforcing. As far as I know, very little has been done that's effective with respect to baby gorilla trafficking."

Read more!

Tuvalu drought could be dry run for dealing with climate change

Tiny nation is suffering from severe La Niña pattern but its problems run deeper with the risk of being swallowed whole by the Pacific Ocean
Toby Manhire 17 Oct 11;

A light, taunting shower of rain fell in Funafuti recently. It lasted minutes, with the slightest film of moisture quickly burned away by the bright sun, dashing the hopes of this crowded, parched atoll.

Funafuti and the other eight tiny islands that comprise the Pacific nation of Tuvalu, home to slightly more than 10,000 people, have not seen substantial rainfall since last November.

The government, which declared a state of emergency at the end of last month, says the dry spell is unlikely to break until January.

The drought is chiefly attributed to La Niña, the climate phenomenon which unleashes extreme weather across large parts of the Pacific region.

But the crisis has also been linked to climate change, with rising sea levels imperilling the islands' freshwater lens – the layer found beneath coral islands – and leaving many Tuvaluans anxious over the viability of their country.

Climate change is part of the curriculum at Nauti primary school, where the subject has an obvious resonance. "The pupils talk about it and we discuss it and what it means," says the headteacher, Fanoiga Falasa.

The view among the students is that man-made climate change is testing the tenability of the country, says Falasa, sitting in his office on the edge of the school's large courtyard.

In better years a playing field would grow there; today it is a square of desert, all dust and clumps of arid lawn.

"Some of them are happy, thinking [climate change] might lead to an overseas trip," he says. "Some of them feel sad because they might lose their identity, their culture, their home."

Do they feel angry? "In some ways, yes, because of the bigger countries and what they contribute to climate change. We are a small country, and we are the ones who suffer."

He adds: "I would be very sad if we had to leave our country. Our ancestors are here. We would lose a lot."

The highest point on Tuvalu, which lies halfway between Australia and Hawaii, is less than five metres above sea level. Most of it is less than a metre above. From the air Funafuti appears as a sliver of unattached coastline. The atoll curls around a large lagoon, the widest stretch from one coast to the other measuring barely 400 metres. There are no streams or rivers. The land, unsuitable for farming, allows few crops to grow.

There is very little room for error. Should sea levels rise this beautiful, tiny country – the land area of all nine islands combined is 26 sq km (10 sq miles), 15 times smaller than the Isle of Wight – will become uninhabitable, swallowed whole by the Pacific Ocean.

In the memorable words of Saufatu Sapo'aga, a former Tuvaluan prime minister, climate change for this country is "no different to a slow and insidious form of terrorism".

The big powers have left their mark on Tuvalu in other ways, too. The massive airstrip that runs the spine of Funafuti is out of all proportion to the land that surrounds it. The runway, built in the second world war by US forces, used materials from a series of "borrow pits" dug deep into the earth, puncturing the freshwater lens. The pits remain open wounds, filled with a useless mix of natural water, salt water and piles of waste. On the water's edge are dozens of misshapen shacks that house the country's poorest people: a toxic, dystopian contortion of an island paradise.

Around the corner from the primary school the Tuvalu hospital is limiting admissions to try to cope with the water rationing. Its taps ran dry last Wednesday, and emergency reserves were called in from the temporary desalination plant installed early that week by the New Zealand Defence Force as part of a response co-ordinated with an Australian contingent and the Red Cross.

The hospital faced an outbreak of gastroenteritis two weeks ago, and it is prepared for a spate of waterborne diseases, says Dr Puakena Boreham. "It is not a public health crisis at the moment, but it will be if it gets worse," she says.

"We expect there may be skin problems soon, because people are not bathing as usual."

Sitting on a wooden bench in the hospital reception room, a pregnant Fakatau Teulub is waiting for her seven-month checkup. It will be her fourth child. It is "hard, very hard" for her household to get by on the ration of two buckets of water a day, she says.

In temperatures of around 30C, 40 litres is barely enough for drinking and cooking for Teulub, her children and her husband, a fisherman. Hardly a drop is left for bathing, for washing clothes and dishes. The family's livestock, two pigs and two chickens, go thirsty.

Teulub would emigrate in a heartbeat, she says. "We're dying to move, but we don't have the money."

Roy Lameko, 62, has seen droughts come and go, but "nothing as bad as this". He, his wife and son have not washed clothes for weeks. They all bathe in the sea. "We keep a cup of water to rinse afterwards."

Lameko, who is hanging pieces of tuna to dry on a washing line outside his house, says that with the few crops the islands rely on – coconuts, breadfruit and pulaka (or swamp taro) – failing, people are being forced to dig into any savings to purchase expensive imported foods.

Lameko has two other children, both of whom live in Auckland and who send money back monthly to Tuvalu. Will they return? "I don't know. They want us to go there, but the problem is money," Lameko says and laughs. "That's our only problem: money and water."

The Tuvalu government has long called for industrialised countries to drastically curb carbon emissions, and to compensate parts of the world that are bearing the brunt of climate change.

Like the equally low-lying Maldives in the Indian Ocean, Tuvalu is a symbol of the human price of climate change. Tuvalu's 2008 environment act obliges ministries to "raise the level of understanding throughout the world about the implications of climate change".

"We believe that this [current crisis] is indeed the facts of climate change," Pusinelli Laafai, chairman of Tuvalu's national disaster committee, tells journalists who travelled to Tuvalu aboard an NZ Defence Force aircraft carrying aid. "We think [industrialised countries] have an obligation to help us, if not to restore what was damaged or taken away, at least to assist us in some sense, to mitigate the effects of what they have done," he says. "That is what we ask."

Laafai is confident, however, that the nation-state will not come to an end or have to relocate. "In the long term we will stay here I think," he says. "And we will try to cope. We'll manage somehow, even if it's difficult and expensive."

Over at the water distribution point next to the government-owned desalination plant, Nelly Semiola says he is going nowhere, although he understands that many of his friends and compatriots want to escape the droughts, remoteness, poverty and fragility.

"I want my life to be here," he says. "I grew up here. I got married here. So if what's coming is coming, that's OK. If we survive, we survive. If we die, we die."
Dotcom economy

Tuvalu's GDP is so tiny – about $37m (£23m) – that a line item on the budget measures the sale of national stamps and coins to collectors.

But that income has been boosted by a digital windfall, thanks to the .tv top-level domain name it controls thanks to its name ("Tuvalu" translates as "group of eight", the number of inhabited islands).

Royalties from the sale of the domain name, which by 2010 was used by about 110,000 sites, could reap Tuvalu as much as $40m over a decade.

Funds largely paid for the 2002 tar-sealing and lighting of the roads on Funafuti but the investment has been criticised by some as contributing to the water problem, because of the lack of drainage from the roads.

Laafai, who is also permanent secretary for home affairs, says the benefits of the sealed road outweighed any drawbacks.

Read more!

Sea levels will continue to rise for 500 years

University of Copenhagen EurekAlert 17 Oct 11;

Rising sea levels in the coming centuries is perhaps one of the most catastrophic consequences of rising temperatures. Massive economic costs, social consequences and forced migrations could result from global warming. But how frightening of times are we facing? Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute are part of a team that has calculated the long-term outlook for rising sea levels in relation to the emission of greenhouse gases and pollution of the atmosphere using climate models. The results have been published in the scientific journal Global and Planetary Change.

"Based on the current situation we have projected changes in sea level 500 years into the future. We are not looking at what is happening with the climate, but are focusing exclusively on sea levels", explains Aslak Grinsted, a researcher at the Centre for Ice and Climate, the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Model based on actual measurements

He has developed a model in collaboration with researchers from England and China that is based on what happens with the emission of greenhouse gases and aerosols and the pollution of the atmosphere. Their model has been adjusted backwards to the actual measurements and was then used to predict the outlook for rising sea levels.

The research group has made calculations for four scenarios:

A pessimistic one, where the emissions continue to increase. This will mean that sea levels will rise 1.1 meters by the year 2100 and will have risen 5.5 meters by the year 2500.

Even in the most optimistic scenario, which requires extremely dramatic climate change goals, major technological advances and strong international cooperation to stop emitting greenhouse gases and polluting the atmosphere, the sea would continue to rise. By the year 2100 it will have risen by 60 cm and by the year 2500 the rise in sea level will be 1.8 meters.

For the two more realistic scenarios, calculated based on the emissions and pollution stabilizing, the results show that there will be a sea level rise of about 75 cm and that by the year 2500 the sea will have risen by 2 meters.

Rising sea levels for centuries

"In the 20th century sea has risen by an average of 2mm per year, but it is accelerating and over the last decades the rise in sea level has gone approximately 70% faster. Even if we stabilize the concentrations in the atmosphere and stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we can see that the rise in sea level will continue to accelerate for several centuries because of the sea and ice caps long reaction time. So it would be 2-400 years before we returned to the 20th century level of a 2 mm rise per year", says Aslak Grinsted.

He points out that even though long-term calculations are subject to uncertainties, the sea will continue to rise in the coming centuries and it will most likely rise by 75 cm by the year 2100 and by the year 2500 the sea will have risen by 2 meters.

S. Jevrejevaa, J.C. Mooreb, A. Grinsted, Sea level projections to AD2500 with a new generation of climate change scenarios:

Read more!

Climate change 'grave threat' to security and health

Richard Black BBC News 17 Oct 11;

Climate change poses "an immediate, growing and grave threat" to health and security around the world, according to an expert conference in London.

Officers in the UK military warned that the price of goods such as fuel is likely to rise as conflict provoked by climate change increases.

A statement from the meeting adds that humanitarian disasters will put more and more strain on military resources.

It asks governments to adopt ambitious targets for curbing greenhouse gases.

The annual UN climate conference opens in about six weeks' time, and the doctors, academics and military experts represented at the meeting (held in the British Medical Association's (BMA) headquarters) argue that developed and developing countries alike need to raise their game.

Scientific studies suggest that the most severe climate impacts will fall on the relatively poor countries of the tropics.

UK military experts pointed out that much of the world's trade moves through such regions, with North America, Western Europe and China among the societies heavily dependent on oil and other imports.

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, climate and energy security envoy for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), said that conflict in such areas could make it more difficult and expensive to obtain goods on which countries such as Britain rely.

"If there are risks to the trade routes and other areas, then it's food, it's energy," he told BBC News.

"The price of energy will go up - for us, it's [the price of] petrol at the pumps - and goods made in southeast Asia, a lot of which we import."
Coffee climate

A number of recent studies have suggested that climate impacts will make conflict more likely, by increasing competition for scare but essential resources such as water and food.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, for example, recently warned that climate change "will increase the risks of resource shortages, mass migration and civil conflict", while the MoD's view is that it will shift "the tipping point at which conflict occurs".

Alejandro Litovsky, founder of the Earth Security Initiative, said that even without the increasing effect of conflict, prices of essential goods were bound to rise.

"From the year 2000 onwards, we have been seeing commodity prices climb, and this is not likely to stop," he said.

"It is primarily driven by resource scarcity, and the trends suggest that depletion of these natural resources is unlikely to be reversed in the near future without drastic interventions."

He also said that degradation of natural resources such as forests and freshwater was removing much of the resilience that societies formerly enjoyed.

Last week, multinational coffee house Starbucks warned that climate change threatened the world's coffee supplies in 20-30 years' time.
Compromised by carbon

The military officers at the meeting also emphasised the interest that armed forces have in reducing their own carbon footprint.

In Afghanistan, for example, fuel has to be delivered by road from Pakistan.

By the time it reaches its destination, it can cost 10 times the pump price. And the convoys are regularly targeted by opposing forces.

Several officers admitted that armed forces were "the gas-guzzlers of the world" - and while that was sometimes necessary in operations, reducing fossil fuel use and adopting renewables wherever possible made sense from economic and tactical points of view.

Rear Admiral Morisetti recalled that when commanding an aircraft carrier, it took a gallon of oil to move just 12 inches (30cm), while as many as 20 tonnes per hour were burned during a period of intensive take-off and landing.

"You can do that [with oil prices at] $30 a barrel, but not at $100 or $200," he said.
Health gains

On the health side, doctors warned of a raft of impacts, particularly in developing countries.

Hunger and malnutrition were likely to increase, and some infectious diseases were likely to spread, they said.

Poorer societies could expect to see an unholy symbiosis between the two, with under-nourished people more prone to succumb to infections.

Tackling carbon emissions, by contrast, would bring a range of health benefits, they argue in their statement.

"Changes in power generation improve air quality.

"Modest life style changes - such as increasing physical activity through walking and cycling - will cut rates of heart disease and stroke, obesity, diabetes, breast cancer, dementia and depressive illness.

"Climate change mitigation policies would thus significantly cut rates of preventable death and disability for hundreds of millions of people around the world."
No cause for optimism

As the UN summit in South Africa approaches, the statement here calls on the EU to increase its ambition and pledge to reduce emissions by 30% from 1990 levels by 2020, rather than the current target of 20%.

Currently, there does not appear to be political consensus for such a move within EU governments, however.

Additional recommendations are that developing country governments should analyse climate threats to their health and security, and that all governments should stop construction of new coal-fired power stations without carbon capture and storage (CCS) - which, as commercial CCS systems do not exist, would as things stand amount to a complete ban.

Without urgent action, carbon emissions could rise to levels that should cause major alarm, said Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London.

Already, he noted, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen to about 380 parts per million [ppm] - whereas in the millions of years before the pre-industrial era, it fluctuated between about 180ppm during Ice Ages and about 280ppm in the warm interglacial periods.

"If we don't do something, then at the rate we're going, carbon emissions will continue to accelerate, and the atmospheric concentration is not going to be 450ppm or 650ppm by the end of the century, but 1,000ppm," he said.

"That is 10 times the difference between an Ice Age and an interglacial; and you have to be a pretty huge optimist to think that won't bring major changes."

Read more!