Best of our wild blogs: 26 Nov 11

Post-exam activities for undergraduate students
from Otterman speaks

Breezy day for tracking through to Lost Coast
from Psychedelic Nature and wild shores of singapore

Slug-filled Weekend
from Pulau Hantu

'Weather can't decide to be sunny or rainy' day on Cyrene
from Psychedelic Nature

An introduction to raptors of Southeast Asia
from Habitatnews

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo – calls
from Bird Ecology Study Group

1,000 engaged with biodiversity in Singapore @ Yishun Pond Rejuvenated
from Toddycats!

Lynn Margulis - an appreciation
from The Biology Refugia

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RWS’ actuations suggest it has something to hide

Philippine Daily Inquirer 25 Nov 11;

This is in response to the letter of Lim Soon Hua, director for communications of Resorts World Singapore or RWS. (Inquirer, 11/22/11)

We beg to disagree that the method RWS used to obtain the dolphins conforms to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) requirements. In fact, the export of dolphins from the Solomon Islands was put under the Review of Significant Trade in the Animals Committee of CITES in 2008 due to the issue of sustainability.

In that meeting in 2008, the Solomon Islands government committed to stopping the export of dolphins if it was proven to be unsustainable. This September 2011, the government of the Solomon Islands announced that all dolphin exports will be banned starting January 2012, an admission that the past dolphin hunts have been largely unregulated and unsustainable.

It is also doubtful that the facility where the dolphins are being kept is truly a “well-established facility.” The Ocean Adventure Park which houses the dolphins has had four out of its five false killer whales die in just a few years of operation. All four false killer whales were all juveniles and died before they were sexually mature.

Moreover, Ocean Adventure Park has been sued for violating the Environmental Impact Statement System of the Philippines (Presidential Decree 1586) as well as the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act 8485)—a well-established facility, indeed!

As for the 25 dolphins from the Solomon Islands, none of the government officials from the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Bureau of Animal Industry-Animal Welfare Division (BAI-AWD) can verify their current condition based on our meetings with these two agencies. In fact, both the BFAR and BAI-AWD have not inspected the dolphins in their facility and could not even tell us if all 25 dolphins are alive.

If the animals are really being given the best care, then why are their enclosures off-limits to the public? Why were members of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society of Singapore (ACRES), Earth Island Institute (EII) and the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) not allowed to see the animals as they were being trained last Nov. 14? It is clear that Ocean Adventure and Resorts World Singapore have something to hide, and it is spelled C-R-U-E-L-T-Y.

regional director,
Earth Island Institute,;

ANNA CABRERA, director,
Philippine Animal Welfare Society,

Dolphins bound for Singapore park not endangered
Philippine Daily Inquirer 22 Nov 11;

We are disappointed that you did not seek our comment before publishing the story, “Set dolphins free, group urges gov’t.” (Inquirer, 11/13/11) Please allow us to provide the background about our dolphins and address some assumptions made.

The species of dolphins that will be housed at our Marine Life Park (MLP) in Singapore is not classified as endangered. Neither are they threatened with extinction. While dolphins in the wild face daily survival tests, there are well established international regulations pertaining to controlled wildlife collections of particular species intended for well-run zoological facilities. We strongly abide by such regulations.

We reiterate that the acquisition of our Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins followed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) requirements. CITES regulates the trade of animals to protect wildlife species from extinction. The movement of marine animals, including dolphins, is governed by the United Nations Environment Programme which upholds the policies of CITES.

Our animals are in good health and given the best care in a well-established facility in the Philippines.

Allow me to correct another misrepresentation in the article: there is no known instance of a dolphin committing suicide verified by any scientific study or necropsy. Suicide is a human act. Projecting human-like intention onto another species is anthropomorphism and has no factual basis.

Dolphins in zoological parks and aquariums live almost twice as long as their counterparts in the wild. They thrive and reproduce well in state-of-the-art facilities that are equipped with medical technologies adapted to give the best care available for their health and welfare.

There will always be divergent views about animals in zoological environments. We respect that. We believe that well-run zoological facilities provide strong and inspiring messages to visitors and can make a tangible difference to animal conservation. Caring for living animals comes with great responsibility. If done correctly, animals can thrive in human care and provide vital conservation and research opportunities.

We were deeply saddened by our loss of two dolphins that succumbed to a water-borne bacterial infection called melioidosis. No expense or effort was spared to save them. Today, the MLP team is involved in melioidosis research to curb this infection which afflicts animals in the wild as well as humans.

MLP has begun to contribute to marine conservation even before its opening. We are a participant in the third veterinary training workshop specializing in treatment techniques for stranded marine mammals. We have also contributed a portable inflation pool to the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network which works directly with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources on marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation.

—LIM SOON HUA, director for communications, Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway, Singapore 098269

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Shark's fin still on menu for many

Demand for dish remains high here despite growing global opposition, say businesses
Straits Times 26 Nov 11;

MOST Singaporeans are still saying yes to shark's fin soup, despite a growing movement worldwide to stop the hunting of sharks for their fins.

Businesses say the demand for shark's fin, usually cooked in a thick broth, remains high - especially for special occasions like wedding banquets.

On Monday, upmarket Hong Kong hotel chain Peninsula Hotel Group joined a growing movement to halt shark hunting by announcing that it will stop serving shark's fin from Jan 1.

A check with 10 hotels here, including the Marina Mandarin and The Fullerton Hotel, found that all serve shark's fin soup during banquets, but also provide other soups when requested.

The reason they gave was that drinking shark's fin soup is a tradition in Chinese culture.

A spokesman for the Amara Singapore said: 'Our hotel serves shark's fin as we cater to a large proportion of local guests as well as wedding couples who follow tradition. The demand for shark's fin is still very high as the population in Singapore is mainly Chinese.'

Only about one in 10 newlywed couples asked for alternatives to shark's fin soup, he said.

However, the hotels noted that compared with five years ago, more customers were saying no to shark's fin.

Restaurants also cited the continuing demand as the reason they continue to serve shark's fin.

'We are famous for our shark's fin,' said Mr Andrew Tjioe, chief executive of the Tung Lok Group of restaurants. 'We will lose business if we stop selling it. As long as it remains legal, we will continue to serve it.'

At least one hotel here, the Fairmont Singapore, has stopped serving shark's fin completely. It has also removed Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna - which are also overfished - from its menu.

Since last year, the Singapore Marriott has reduced the number of shark's fin dishes it serves from 12 to seven. It has also stopped running promotions on those items.

Resorts World Sentosa has also taken shark's fin off its menu, but will still serve the dish if requested.

So far, these three hotels said, customers have responded positively to their moves.

Ms Jennifer Lee, founder of Project: Fin, which aims to reduce the consumption of shark's fin through the education of both consumers and businesses, said more Singaporeans now know about the plight of the sharks.

'Awareness has definitely grown, but it is slower than in places like Hong Kong and China,' added Ms Lee.

She noted that a survey published in April found that 80 per cent of respondents in Hong Kong no longer minded not having shark's fin soup at wedding banquets. In China, retired basketballer Yao Ming's support has given the movement a boost.

But in Singapore, imports of shark's fin have nearly doubled since 2003 to about 2,500 tonnes this year, up from 1,300 tonnes eight years ago.

Hong Kong imports about 9,000 tonnes of shark's fin every year.

Ms Candice Huang, who had a shark's fin-free wedding banquet in March last year, convinced her mother that her family would not appear 'cheap' if they did not serve the soup.

'She was worried that the elders would not like it, but after tasting the abalone broth, they were impressed,' said the 28-year-old marketing communications manager.

'And it was just as expensive as the shark's fin soup,' she added.


Mock fins, such as those made from seaweed gelatin or jelly

Fish maw in broth

Double-boiled ginseng and herbs in chicken stock

Abalone broth

Buddha Jumps Over The Wall

Braised lobster soup

Double-boiled soup with black truffle

Removing shark's fin from the menu
Straits Times Forum 9 Dec 11;

I COMMEND The Straits Times for highlighting an issue that has become one of the most critical threats to the sustainability of our oceans' fishes ('Shark's fin still on menu for many'; Nov 26).

Through our awareness campaign, Save Our Sharks, more than 15,000 consumers have pledged not to consume shark's fin.

The demand for shark's fin in Asia is driving sharks to the brink of extinction. In 1996, only 15 species were considered threatened. By last year, the number had soared 12 times, with more than 180 species listed on the endangered list. The real cost goes beyond the survival of sharks. Sharks play a pivotal role in securing the marine eco-balance, tying our fate closely to theirs.

When sharks become extinct, this irreversible change will cause populations of other fishes to go unchecked, exhausting the supply at the start of the food chain. Soon, other fish stocks that are essential to our survival will be depleted.

Both the supply and demand ends of the chain are vital links in preventing the bankruptcy of our oceans. We applaud businesses like Cold Storage and the Peninsula Hotel Group, which have taken the lead to ban shark's fin.

The change in mindset remains the biggest challenge, especially among the Chinese who perceive shark's fin soup as deeply rooted in tradition.

Keeping this tradition has come at the expense of our planet. If we continue to ignore the signs, even the very tradition we are trying to upkeep will meet its end. Let us consider the long- and not short-term cost.

After all, is it worth giving up the ocean for a single fish?

Elaine Tan (Ms)

Chief Executive Officer

WWF Singapore

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President Tony Tan visits Chek Jawa

Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 25 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Friday visited the Chek Jawa Wetlands for a first-hand look at its unique biodiversity.

Accompanied by his family and members of several nature groups, Dr Tan had a mini lesson on the area's marine life.

They explored the sandy beaches, the mangrove swamps as well as the seagrass lagoon.

There was even time for a brief stopover at Pulau Ubin, on their way back, for some coconuts with his grandson.

Chek Jawa is famed for its natural heritage, and several ecosystems can be found in the same place.

- CNA/al

Exploring nature with the family
Straits Times 26 Nov 11;


President Tony Tan Keng Yam, his wife Mary Tan and their grandson being given a tour of Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin by 14-year-old Choo Yi Feng yesterday.

The President was visiting the wetlands with National Parks officials like Pulau Ubin assistant director Robert Teo, tour groups and volunteers.

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Hotel New World opened one volunteer's eyes

Move to promote volunteerism as a way of life through video and exhibition in *Scape park
Cheryl Ong Straits Times 26 Nov 11;

BY HER own admission, Rohayah Abdul Rahman, 41, has the spirit of volunteering in her blood.

She was just 12 when her father signed her up to help in the neighbourhood civil defence branch.

Four years later, when Hotel New World in Serangoon Road collapsed suddenly, trapping 50 people in the rubble, she was already an avid volunteer in a Bedok civil defence group.

She was at the disaster site for days, carrying chunks of rubble so that civil defence officers could focus on looking for survivors.

She said: 'It made me see that what I was doing as a volunteer wasn't for nothing, that even my simple act could make someone's life better.'

Seventeen people were rescued, 33 died.

Now a mother of two teenage boys, the soft-spoken service quality officer with transport operator SMRT is still giving her time and energy to grassroots activities; at work, she helps to organise SMRT's blood donation drive, which is held five times a year at MRT stations.

Her dedication to volunteerism, along with that of other volunteers, is captured in a video produced by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) to mark International Volunteers' Day (IVD) today.

NVPC chairman Stanley Tan said he hopes the event will help people see that volunteering can be part of one's lifestyle in the way the spirit has taken hold in Madam Rohayah's life.

'IVD aims to raise the message of volunteerism as a way of life. But we don't want it to be a campaign; we want it to be a natural movement, a part of your belief system.'

Besides the video, now on YouTube, the NVPC has set up an exhibition in *Scape in Orchard Link to introduce members of the public to ways they can help.

A booth stationed there will collect pledges of interest in volunteering in any one of 40 organisations, including Lions Befrienders and the Singapore Association for Mental Health.

Visitors will also get a taste of what it is like to live in a one-room flat that comes with bed, clutter and bed bugs - the living conditions of people whose lives could be touched by the work of volunteers who, for example, clean up these homes.

Another exhibit is a replica of a house cloaked in complete darkness, to give visitors a feel of what it is like to be blind. Those entering this exhibit are, in a reversal of roles, led by visually handicapped guides.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) also have exhibits to show the work they do and how their volunteers contribute to their cause.

Volunteerism here reached an all-time high last year. Figures from the NVPC indicated that nearly a quarter of the people here volunteer their time in one cause or another.

At the official opening of IVD today, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing will tour the exhibits at *Scape.

A 'Fire Pitch' session will be held, at which non-profit organisations will promote their causes to representatives from companies looking for charities to adopt.

Established in 1999, NVPC is a first-stop centre and networking agency that promotes volunteerism here. It matches non-profit organisations with companies and public-sector bodies which can help them financially or with manpower, and raises awareness of charities through events and research on volunteerism and the charity sector.

The centre also administers seed money for start-ups or existing organisations which need funds to get community programmes off the ground.

Rope in 2 volunteers each, S'poreans urged
Acting MCYS Minister Chan Chun Sing shares hope of fostering greater numbers of volunteers
Straits Times 27 Nov 11;

For the spirit of volunteerism to grow here, all every volunteer has to do is to rope in two people each.

Those are the sums of Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, who shared his hope of fostering more do-gooders yesterday.

'Everybody just go and reach out to two more volunteers, and we will be in good state,' he told The Sunday Times at an International Volunteer Day event organised by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre at *Scape in Orchard Road.

Still, he added that it is not just about increasing the pool of volunteers, but about the quality of the experience, as volunteering has a positive impact on a giver's life.

Lower-income families are in greater need of support from volunteers. And not just in the way of financial help, but to have role models and mentors to guide them, he said.

'Like they say, there's no point in giving the fellow a fish. It's better to teach the fellow how to fish.'

He said that it was a good sign that many who go overseas to volunteer also contribute locally. He added that for those who are not able to do such work overseas, there are plenty of opportunities to help others here as well.

The event, Walk With Me, which was held for the first time last year, also had several booths allowing visitors to learn about the lives of wheelchair- bound, visually impaired and schizophrenic people.

Mr Chan, who tried navigating obstacles in a wheelchair, also thanked volunteers from non-profit organisations by handing out ice cream to them.

At a separate event in line with International Volunteer Day, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, chairman of the Home Team Volunteers Network, expressed hope that the number of Singaporeans involved in volunteerism would grow from the current 25 per cent of the Republic's population.

'Who knows? Forty, 50 per cent is not an unrealistic target, so I want to be proud of that,' he said at the inaugural Home Team Volunteers Day held at HomeTeamNS@Bukit Batok.

There are more than 16,000 volunteers who augment the manpower of Home Team agencies such as the Singapore Police Force and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. They come from 60 volunteer schemes, and include voluntary special constables and prisons volunteers.

International Volunteer Day will be celebrated on Dec 5.

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Aceh Chief Sued Over Plantation In Forest

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 25 Nov 11;

Banda Aceh. A leading environmental group is suing Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf for allegedly approving a permit for an palm oil plantation inside a protected peat forest.

T.M. Zulfikar, executive director of the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said on Thursday that his organization filed suit at the Banda Aceh State Administrative Court a day earlier.

He said the suit arose from Irwandi’s decision on Aug. 25 to issue a permit to palm oil company Kallista Alam for a concession inside the Tripa peat swamp in Nagan Raya district.

“The permit signed by Irwandi is for the conversion of 1,605 hectares of protected forests in the Tripa peat swamp into a palm oil plantation, destroying forests and peatlands protected by prevailing laws that forbid any new permits on primary forests and peatlands,” Zulfikar said. “By issuing the permit and violating these laws, the governor could face up to five years in prison.”

Zulfikar said he believed that Irwandi had been pressured by interest groups to approve the plantation permit.

“Sources in the provincial administration have stated that this ‘uncharacteristic’ signing of the permit suggests Irwandi was under heavy pressure to sign it,” he said. “That it was issued shows the governor didn’t really understand what he was signing.”

Zulfikar said that Walhi and other nongovernmental organizations filed the lawsuit to have the permit revoked. He added that they went to the court only after earlier pleas to the governor were ignored.

Kamaruddin, the lead lawyer for the NGOs, said that in addition to the lawsuit, they had also filed a criminal complaint against Irwandi with the National Police on Wednesday.

He added that because the permit was for a concession in a peat forest, it clearly went against a two-year moratorium adopted in May on new permits for primary and peat forests.

The moratorium, formalized under a presidential decree, is part of an agreement between Indonesia and Norway in which the Scandinavian country has committed $1 billion to help Indonesia meet its carbon emissions reduction target.

Kamaruddin said the governor had also breached the 2008 National Spatial Planning Law, which designates the entire Leuser Ecosystem Area a protected zone. “For that reason, issuing a plantation permit within the area is a criminal offense,” he said, adding that Irwandi could be charged with abuse of power.

He said the affair brought into question Indonesia’s commitment to honoring the terms of its agreement with Norway.

Irwandi and the provincial administration’s legal affairs head, Makmur Ibrahim, did not respond to a request for comment from the Jakarta Globe.

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Australia: Coral Sea to be home to world's largest marine park

Reuters 25 Nov 11;

CANBERRA, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Australia moved to set up the world's biggest marine park on Friday to protect vast areas of the Coral Sea off the country's northeast coast and the site of fierce naval battles during World War Two.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the park would cover almost 1 million square km -- an area the size of France and Germany combined -- and would help protect fish, pristine coral reefs and nesting sites for sea birds and the green turtle.

"The environmental significance of the Coral Sea lies in its diverse array of coral reefs, sandy cays, deep sea plains and canyons," Burke said. "It contains more than 20 outstanding examples of isolated tropical reefs, sandy cays and islands."

The new park would also cover ships sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea, a series of naval engagements between Japanese, American and Australian forces in 1942, considered the world's first aircraft carrier battle.

Three U.S. ships were known to have sunk in the northeastern area of the Coral Sea, the USS Lexington, the USS Sims and the USS Neosho, Burke said.

The government will finalise what limits will be imposed on the Coral Sea marine park, which will be within Australia's economic zone, in 90 days.

The world's largest reserve currently was established by Britain last year around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which includes coral atoll The Great Chagos Bank. (Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Paul Tait)

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The shark, a predator turned prey

Pierre-Henry Deshayes AFP Yahoo News 25 Nov 11;

Sharks may strike terror among swimmers at the beach but the predators are increasingly ending up as prey, served up in fish-and-chips shops, sparking concern among environmentalists.

The great white shark, the one that most frequently comes to mind, is a protected species -- though that hasn't prevented its stocks from declining -- but tens of millions of other sharks are caught each year by fishermen.

Why are they in such demand? Their fins are the main ingredient in shark fin soup, a prestigious dish in traditional Chinese cuisine, and even in Europe shark meat is often served to consumers, usually without their knowledge.

"People don't realise they're eating shark because it's not called shark, but they are," Sonja Fjordham, the head of Shark Advocates International, told AFP on the sidelines of an international conference this week on migratory species in Bergen, Norway.

The name can be misleading: "rock salmon" often sold in fish and chips shops in Britain, Australia and elsewhere is actually a small type of shark called spiny dogfish.

Ecologists' main concern is the practice known as "finning", when fishermen cut the fins off of sharks and then throw the fish back in the water, usually still alive and leaving them to a certain death by drowning, suffocation, blood loss or to be devoured by other fish.

In Asia, where shark fin soup is a sign of status and social standing, a fin can cost several hundred dollars (euros).

"It's as if you cut the arms and the legs off of a person. It's just a torso. Without fins, they can't swim, they can't breathe, they can't eat, they just sink to the bottom," explains Rebecca Regnery, the deputy director of the Humane Society International.

Finning, which is often carried out on by-catches but also targetted ones, weighs heavily on species that have slow reproduction patterns.

Bans on the practice exist in many countries but are often ignored.

In a bid to help put an end to the practice, the European Commission recently proposed to tighten its legislation by requiring boats fishing in EU waters and EU-based ships fishing anywhere in the world to "unload sharks with the fins attached to their bodies."

"Banning finning is a no-brainer because it's such a huge waste," said Fjordham.

However, she added, "not finning alone is not going to save the sharks. We need to reduce the catches."

At the top of the food chain, sharks are indispensable for keeping the oceans' ecosystems in check. Scientists don't even dare consider the consequences if the animals were to disappear entirely, a fate faced by 20 percent of shark species, according to Fjordham.

Palau, a small archipelago in the Pacific, has set a good example, making the most of its shark population by creating a sanctuary that has become a popular ecotourist site.

Diving with sharks now accounts for eight percent of Palau's gross domestic product (GDP), each animal bringing in 1.9 million dollars throughout its lifetime, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.

Palau remains however an isolated example. Elsewhere, the trend is alarming.

The giant manta ray, a cousin of the shark, has also fallen victim to a similar fate: prized in Asia, it is turned into a powder used in traditional Chinese medicine.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Association, catches of manta rays have more than tripled in recent years, from 900 tonnes in 2000 to 3,300 tonnes in 2007.

In Bergen on Friday, the UN Convention on Migratory Species added giant manta rays to its lists of protected species.

Manta rays could generate some 100 million dollars in ecotourism revenue worldwide each year, according to experts.

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Creativity needed to reduce demand for endangered species

WWF 25 Nov 11;

Efforts to reduce the demand for parts and products from endangered species must effectively address the attitudes, motivations and behaviours that drive this demand if they are to be successful.

New and innovative approaches must also be developed for the different groups that can influence the consumer demand for tigers, rhinos and other endangered wildlife species.

Thinking laterally

These were the conclusions from more than 20 participants from diverse professional backgrounds—including advertising and marketing, social research, behavioural economics, public health and wildlife trade—who met at a workshop in Hong Kong this week.

Their task was to develop new strategic approaches to address the complex challenges of increasing effectiveness of messages on demand reduction for consumption of tigers and other endangered wildlife species in China and Vietnam.

Economic boom increases appetite for widlife products

In the past decade, the economic boom in countries such as China and Vietnam has fuelled an appetite for the consumption of wildlife products, such as other Asian big cats, elephants, rhinos, pangolins and marine species such as sharks, humphead wrasse and marine turtles.

This demand has been a main cause for the drastic decline in populations of these species, resulting in, for example, wild tiger numbers plummeting to only 3,200 in increasingly small pockets of forest, grassland and swamp in 12 countries in Asia and the Russian Far East.

“Efforts in the past to curb this demand have obviously fallen short of dissuading consumers, and the trade continues,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, which convened the meeting.

Understanding and addressing motivations

“Efforts now really need to focus in on the underlying social motivations that drive people to buy these products—whether it is as a symbol to show off their success or social status, or as a gift to impress their peers or business partners.”

The meeting outlined designs for approaches to address the different motivations of various target groups such as businessmen, high-level government officials, youth and local village communities.

“Clearly, a multi-layered strategy and diverse set of actions is needed to influence some very different motivations and groups of people. Reducing demand for endangered species cannot have a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The results of the meeting will be compiled into a strategic document aimed at supporting national and international efforts at curbing demand for endangered wildlife. This includes the Global Tiger Recovery Programme which was launched by the World Bank-led Global Tiger Initiative in a summit of heads of state of tiger range countries in St Petersburg exactly 12 months ago.

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