Best of our wild blogs: 21 Dec 11

111220 Venus Drive
from Singapore Nature

Our Resident Poster Boy Hard at Work
from Raffles Museum News

from The annotated budak

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Clean-up at the museum

Conservator Kate Pocklington repairs animal specimens from the Raffles Museum's collection
grace chua Straits Times 21 Dec 11;

The pair of orang utans, one male and one female, had languished in the closet for years - their hides drying, cracking and splitting down the seams.

Not till museum conservator Kate Pocklington arrived at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research were they retrieved from storage, surprising even the museum's project manager, who had not even known they were there.

Ms Pocklington, 25, who is here till the end of the month, is stitching up, glueing together and touching up the primates, which are part of the museum's collection. The taxidermist, biologist, chemist and artist is helping the Raffles Museum repair and spruce up its collection before its big move to the future Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore campus in 2014.

The collection of about half a million specimens, including mammals such as the rare Golden Babirusa pig, birds, fish and other aquatic creatures has been shunted from pillar to post over the years.

It was once housed at the then-Raffles Museum, which was renamed the National Museum of Singapore after independence.

Some years later, however, when the Government changed the museum's focus, the collection was dented on its journey between the Science Centre, the then-University of Singapore, Nanyang University's library building and finally, its present location in a modest corner of the NUS science faculty.

Now, Ms Pocklington is fixing the specimens most in danger of deteriorating further, whether from shrinkage and cracking, fungal attacks or being ravaged by insects.

Nothing seems to faze her. At the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where she has been based for the last four years, she has picked apart tiny birds with corroded wires in their legs and a leatherback turtle that caved in and was stuffed with newspaper. 'You can still get bites from snakes that have been preserved in jars, if you catch your hand on the fangs,' she says.

The Briton, who comes from the agricultural flatlands of Lincolnshire, said growing up 'in the middle of nowhere' sparked her fascination with all creatures alive and dead. 'There was a lot of roadkill. And once I found this bird that was naturally mummified,' she said.

Her father runs a haulage company and her mother does crafts, but an aunt had a taxidermy collection and her grandfather was a butcher - so perhaps the attraction to meat runs in the family.

At the University of Lincoln, she did a degree in conservation and restoration, which trains students to assess an art or museum object, stabilise it and repair it for display. She was drawn to the science and natural history aspect of conservation. The discipline is different from taxidermy, which involves preserving and mounting fresh specimens, though her business card says 'mild taxidermist'.

'People are always asking, but I don't want to do people's pets,' she said.

In between restoring large mammal specimens, she also goes through jars of crabs and fish, checking for deterioriation, and has given the museum advice on how to store its birds better (lower temperature and relative humidity).

When the Lee Kong Chian museum opens, it will feature 150 to 200 specimens on display with a focus on South-east Asian biodiversity, said Dr Tan Swee Hee, its project manager.

Ms Pocklington's next project: replacing a tiger's ears, whiskers and claws, and making several spare sets of replica claws for when the claws are stolen.

She has worked on rhinoceros heads, whose horns are also prone to being stolen, thanks to the black market for traditional medicines.

Asked if she ever senses a conflict between protecting animals in the wild and collecting specimens for science, she said: 'For science research, it's important so that we can see how things change.'

For instance, the Raffles Museum has a specimen of a cream-coloured giant squirrel, a large tree squirrel now thought extinct here. So collecting live animals is out of the question if they are endangered. She said: 'If you want to get an orang utan now, you have to wait until one dies naturally. I think it's important that we keep preserving, but it's also important to look after what we have.'


Where: Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, National University of Singapore

When: Weekdays, 9am to 5pm, closed on weekends and public holidays

Admission: Free. Bookings for one-hour school or corporate tours must be made at least seven days in advance. Tours start from $50 for school groups

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Rare Wildlife Caught By Camera Traps in Thailand Yahoo News 21 Dec 11;

Camera trap video footage filmed in the forests of Thailand confirms that anti-poaching work there is paying off, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The footage — taken by camera traps from several locations across Thailand's Western Forest Complex over the last year — shows rare glimpses of tigers, Asian elephants, gaurs, sun bears and many other species. Highlights include a tigress and her cubs feeding on an animal carcass, leopards marking their territory with scent, wild pigs nursing their young and Asian elephants mating.

"The video represents a huge payoff for the government of Thailand, which has invested considerable resources in protecting wildlife and preventing illegal hunters from plundering the country's natural heritage," said Joe Walston, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Program.

The camera trap footage shows that populations of tigers and their prey have stabilized in the large core area of the Western Forest Complex. This core spans 7,000 square miles (18,000 square kilometers), an area larger than Connecticut. The region is home to 125 to 175 tigers, according to recent estimates. The complex also contains one of the largest elephant populations in Southeast Asia.

The footage also captured rare and elusive species such as clouded leopards and banteng (a wild cattle species). [See camera trap images.]

Every year, the Wildlife Conservation Society works with the Thai government to train and equip several hundred park rangers that patrol and protect the region's wildlife and capture poachers.

Earlier this year, those park rangers captured poachers possessing a cellphone that contained images of a dead tiger. The poachers insisted the tiger was killed in another country, but the camera trap's identification software and records proved that the tiger was from Thailand's forests. The evidence was used to refute the false testimony and arrest the poachers.

Thailand serves as a training ground for guards from other Asian countries seeking to protect their own resources. The Wildlife Conservation Society collaborates with the Thailand government to train enforcement staff from China, Nepal, India, Myanmar, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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INTERPOL leads crackdown on illegal wildlife markets in Asia

Interpol 19 Dec 11;

BANGKOK, Thailand ‒ International wildlife crime networks in Asia have been dealt a blow after a recent operation coordinated by INTERPOL against the illegal trade in endangered species resulted in raids, arrests and investigations across the region.

Supported by INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme, Operation Stocktake (1-12 December) saw enforcement agencies from India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand inspect markets, restaurants and shops to identify those selling and trading endangered wildlife alongside legal products, including the sale of wildlife meat for human consumption.

India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau carried out searches in 37 shops, arresting 10 suspects who now face criminal proceedings for trading items such as ivory and leopard claws. A number of birds were recovered as evidence along with marine animals such as sea-cucumbers and shells.

Officers from the Specialized Crime Department of Indonesia National Police coordinated the operation from Jakarta. East Kalimantan Regional Police arrested four suspects believed to be responsible for the killing of orangutans, and recovered firearms and what are believed to be orangutan bones.

In Malaysia, officers from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks inspected 21 shops and restaurants, resulting in four persons facing charges for possession of protected species. One restaurant was caught selling porcupine, civet and wild boar meat.

Officers from the Thailand Police Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division focused their efforts on Bangkok's Chatuchak Market, a known hub for illegal wildlife trafficking. Investigators are developing and studying intelligence gathered during the operation and investigations continue.

“This operation demonstrates the strength of the INTERPOL global network in coordinating operations against transnational crimes such as wildlife trafficking. Working with its 190 member countries, INTERPOL helps combat crimes which are a threat to global environmental security and human health,” said INTERPOL’s Acting Executive Director for Police Services, Bernd Rossbach.

All four countries involved in Operation Stocktake uncovered offences of transnational crime and are working with INTERPOL to pursue international leads.

Justin Gosling, INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Officer based in Bangkok, Thailand, said that Operation Stocktake was a strong beginning to a series of actions targeting regional wildlife markets which are not only a threat to wild species and their welfare, but also represent a danger to public health through the potential spread of zoonoses, diseases which can be spread from animals to humans.

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Indonesia: Extreme Protest Spreads Against Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper

Ezra Sihite Jakarta Globe 20 Dec 11;

Another ten islanders from Riau province have sewn their mouths shut during an ongoing hunger strike against Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper outside the House of Representatives in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Isnadi Esman, coordinator of the group of dozens of protesters from Padang Island, said a total of 18 people had sewn their lips together to highlight the House’s failure to act against RAPP for the last two years.

“We demand [the government] halt the operation of RAPP on Padang Island and revoke the decision of the Ministry of Forestry in 2009 to issue a concession for an industrial plantation forest,” Isnadi said.

He said RAPP had been granted 41,000 hectares of land on the island, which totaled 110,000 hectares.

The protest began on Monday.

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Guide reveals Amazon's biological bounty

Mark Kinver BBC News 20 Dec 11;

The UN has co-produced a study that lists scientific details of Amazon plant species that can be harvested for economic or medicinal purposes.

It is estimated that 80% of people in developing nations depend on non-wood forest products, such as fruit, for nutrition and medicine.

The publication aims to help bridge the gap in knowledge between scientists and local people, the authors have said.

The publication coincides with the end of the International Year of Forests.

The 353-page book, Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life - co-produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor) and People and Plants International (PPI) - profiles a range of species that offer communities a range of uses.

Fruits of the forest

"Some 80% of people living in the developing world rely on non-wood forest products," explained Eduardo Rojas-Briales, FAO's assistant director-general for forestry.

"The new book provides comprehensive information on fruits and plants, and is a perfect example of how to make our knowledge accessible for poor people to help them maximise the benefits from forest products and services, and improve their livelihoods," he added.

It is estimated that about a quarter of people in developing nations are "functionally illiterate".

In order to overcome this, the book's authors have attempted to communicate as much information as possible in pictures, drawings and numbers.

"Making this book required the collaboration of 90 Brazilian and international researchers willing to present their research to rural villagers in alternative formats, including jokes, recipes and pictures," said Tina Etherington, an FAO publications manager.

"In addition, a number of farmers, midwives, hunters and musicians contributed their valuable insights and experience."

UN book highlights benefits of Amazon plants and foods to improve livelihoods
UN News Centre 20 Dec 11;

A United Nations book released today aims to provide people in the developing world with accessible knowledge of Amazon plants and foods they can use to improve their livelihoods.

The book, Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life, is written in easy-to-grasp language and incorporates the folklore and customs of rural villagers so they can easily put the book’s recommendations into practice.

“Some 80 per cent of people living in the developing world rely on non-wood forest products such as fruits and medicinal plants for their nutritional and health needs,” said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General for Forestry at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“This new book provides comprehensive information on Amazon fruits and plants, and is a perfect example of how to make our knowledge accessible for poor people to help them maximize the benefits from forest products and services and improve their livelihoods.”

FAO estimates that 25 per cent of people in developing countries are functionally illiterate, and that in rural areas this figure can be of up to 40 per cent. The layout of the book takes this into account and allows readers who lack formal education to extract knowledge using pictures and numbers.

“Some 90 Brazilian and international researchers who were willing to present their research to rural villagers in alternative formats – including jokes, recipes and pictures – collaborated in the production of this book,” said Tina Etherington, who managed the publication project for FAO’s forestry department.

Ms. Etherington also highlighted that farmers, midwives, hunters and musicians contributed insights and their experiences to the publication, making it an “innovative way of presenting science and how those techniques can be transferred to other areas in the world.”

Some of the foods spotlighted in the publication that provide nutrients, minerals and anti-oxidants that keep the body healthy include the Buriti palm fruit, which contains the highest known levels of vitamin A of any plant in the world and the açaí fruit, which is hailed as a “superfood” for its high antioxidant and omega fatty acid content.

The publication was co-produced by FAO, the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and People and Plants International, and was unveiled in a ceremony in Rome marking the end of the International Year of Forests.

The Amazon is the largest contiguous tropical forest remaining in the world, with 25 million people living in the Brazilian Amazon alone. However, deforestation, fire and climate change could destabilize the region and result in the forest shrinking to one third of its size in 65 years.

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Prawns Bring New Life To Flooded Bangladesh Fields

Nita Bhalla PlanetArk 21 Dec 11;

PUTIA VILLAGE, Bangladesh (AlertNet) - For six months of the year, Bangladeshi rice farmer Raj Mia and his wife suffered as the annual monsoon rains flooded their fields, leaving them unable to feed their five children.

"For months, we had to find some other way to make money, like manual labor or breeding cheap fish like tilapia," said Raj, 48, standing by his submerged farm in the mud-and-thatch village of Putia, 60 km east of Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

"It was a struggle as we didn't earn much."

Raj, like millions, lives on the flood plains of Bangladesh, a region increasingly battered by climate change-produced cyclones and rains which inundate swathes of farmland, perpetuating poverty for millions.

But now, Raj has new hope from an unlikely source: prawns.

Last year, he and other farmers in the Comilla district began breeding the crustaceans, along with the usual fish, in their flooded fields, boosting their incomes almost six-fold and learning business skills to help them sell in markets.

"We earned 80,000 taka ($1,038) this year," says Fatuma Begum, Raj's wife. "It's changed our lives ... we have been able to send our children to school."

An initiative introduced by the Centre for Community Development Assistance (CCDA), a microfinance charity, has spread across the district. Some 250 families now live off freshwater prawn culture half the year, and cultivate rice when the water levels recede on the same land for the other half.

"By providing people with small loans and necessary training, our project introduces high value fish like prawns to local farmers and helps them use their land more effectively," said CCDA Executive Director M.A. Samad, adding that the pilot scheme is now being replicated by authorities in other flood-prone areas.

"This will develop business entrepreneurs, improve livelihoods and help lift many of these flood-hit communities out of poverty."


Bangladesh is one of the most flood-prone countries in the world. It is the drainage basin for rivers that start in the snowy Himalayan mountains of India, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, including the massive Ganges and Brahmaputra, and criss-crossed by some 250 other rivers.

A few, such as the Meghna, swell to up to 8 km (5 miles) wide during the monsoon season, from June to September.

As a result, most of Bangladesh is a flood plain -- good arable land often at high risk of being submerged.

With 70 percent of the nation's 160 million people dependent on the land, and climate change threatening more extreme weather, it faces an upward struggle to improve food security.

Experts say microfinance, such as the prawn farming scheme funded by the United Nations' International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), may be a key source of help.

"Smallholder farmers are the backbone of the rural economy -- but they are bearing the brunt of climate change... The current speed and intensity of climate change are outpacing their capacity to adapt," said Thomas Rath, IFAD's Bangladesh program manager.

Rath said access to financial services in rural areas allows the poor to manage household cash flows, start new agricultural activities and set up small businesses, resulting in higher earnings and reducing the impact of climate change.

Projects like the one in Comilla bring microfinance to life.

Fishermen cast vast nets from rickety wooden boats in the middle of the lake-like flooded fields surrounding dusty village roads, pulling in a plentiful catch of prawns and other fish. The prawns fetch around 1,500 taka ($19) per kg and are sold domestically.

Villagers point to the visible improvement in their lives which they attribute to the prawn farming, such as the construction of toilets and more children in school.

But the loans, around 50,000 taka ($650) to start such businesses, are not cheap. They carry an interest rate of 26 percent -- up to three times higher than a personal loan from banks, and prompting criticism from social activists.

Lenders like the CCDA argue that high interest rates are justified, citing the costs of making and collecting door-to-door payments in remote rural areas on millions of tiny loans. It is still the best option for rural poor, they add.

Borrowers acknowledge the high rates, but also know their lives are better.

"Now I work too and sell the prawns in the market," said Fatuma, gazing out onto her flooded fields. "We've managed to build a better house as a result of the money we've earned."

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Texas Drought Kills As Many As Half A Billion Trees

Jim Forsyth PlanetArk 21 Dec 11;

The massive drought that has dried out Texas over the past year has killed as many as half a billion trees, according to new estimates from the Texas Forest Service.

"In 2011, Texas experienced an exceptional drought, prolonged high winds, and record-setting temperatures," Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway told Reuters on Tuesday. "Together, those conditions took a severe toll on trees across the state."

He said that between 100 million and 500 million trees were lost. That figure does not include trees killed in wildfires that have scorched an estimated 4 million acres in Texas since the beginning of 2011. A massive wildfire in Bastrop, east of Austin in September that destroyed 1,600 homes, is blamed for killing 1.5 million trees.

The tree loss is in both urban and rural areas and represents as much as 10 percent of all the trees in the state, Carraway said.

"This is a generational event," Barry Ward, executive director of the nonprofit Trees for Houston, which supports forestry efforts, told Reuters on Tuesday. "Mature trees take 20 or 30 years to re-grow. This will make an aesthetic difference for decades to come."

He said the loss will affect the state in many ways. For example, there is increased fire danger because all the dead trees are now fuel, Ward said.

Scattered rain and snow has only recently put a dent in the historic drought. The one-year period between November 1, 2010 and October 31, 2011 was the driest in the state's history, according to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. Along with the drought has come punishing hot weather. The National Weather Service said the months of June through August in Texas were the hottest three-month period ever reported by any state in American history.

The drought and heat caused many trees to go into dormancy in the middle of the summer as a self-preservation measure, leaving them without adequate nourishment, said forester Clay Bales of the Texas Forest Service.

Officials say the dead trees include all types, from pine to deciduous trees, and the carnage is seen all across the state.

The Texas Forest Service says aerial mapping will be used in a more in-depth study in the spring, to see whether any of the trees that have gone into early dormancy may bounce back. But with 63 million acres of forest land in the state, it could take as much as 10 years to get a real inventory of the damage from the drought.

Forest Resource Analyst Chris Edgar said that trees and forests are amazingly resilient.

"Loss of trees due to adverse weather conditions is something that is a part of the natural process of the forest," said Edgar, who works for the Texas Forest Service.

One of the worst areas of die-off occurred in the part of east Texas known as the Piney Woods, he said. That is one of the country's leading producers of wood and paper products. It is still unclear what the long-term damage may be to that industry, which is one of the largest agricultural employers in the state.

Carraway said that what Mother Nature has damaged, Mother Nature can repair.

"Assuming the rainfall levels get back to normal, I certainly see the forest being able to recover," he said.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)

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