Best of our wild blogs: 9 Jan 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [2 - 8 Jan 2012]
from Green Business Times

Berlayar Creek fishing check walkabout 08Jan2012
from sgbeachbum

Grey Pansy In Danger @ Seletar Wasteland
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Blue-tailed Bee-eater catching insects from a perch
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Signs of dugongs at Chek Jawa
from wild shores of singapore and TeamSeagrass

Four-lined Tree Frog
from Monday Morgue

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Malaysia: Monitor lizards heading for extinction

R.S.N. Murali The Star 9 Jan 12;

MALACCA: Frequent hunting of Malacca’s giant monitor lizards, allegedly for their skin and meat as well as their body liquid for aphrodisiac purposes, could drive the reptile to extinction.

“Fifteen years ago, these reptiles could be easily spotted lazing along the river bank of scenic Malacca River. Now, they are hard to come by,” said city councillor Ronald Gan Yong Hoe.

“In some countries, monitor lizards are protected under Endangered Species Acts. We hope the state government will move to conserve our local reptiles,” the member of the Malacca Historic City Council said.

“If nothing is done, the extensive poaching of this reptile could lead to its extinction,” he said.

Gan said the local monitor lizards, known locally as biawak, are large water monitor species (varanussalvator) capable of growing up to three metres long and 25 kilos in weight.

He said that apart from their skin and meat, the reptlie was sought for a liquid from its body that was commonly believed to increase sexual prowess in both men and women.

Gan said the reptile’s thick and leathery skin was used for clothing accessories, such as bags and belts, while its meat was said to have healing powers for ailments such as asthma and pneumonia besides increasing sexual prowess.

He said that besides poaching, the reptiles were often exposed to other risks, such as being hit by vehicles when crossing roads.

On a more positive note, Gan said a father and daughter from Australia, who dubbed themselves as Biawak Dundees, were rescuing and treating injured monitor lizards here.

Gan added that following a proposal by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, the state government has made lizard- watching one of the features of the Malacca River cruise.

Meanwhile, mayor Zainal Abu said poaching activities along the river bank has declined due to continuous patrols by the council’s enforcement officers.

However, he added, there could still be some hunting upstream and it was up to the state Wildlife and National Parks Department to curtail such activity.

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Malaysia: Captured female rhino a victim of poachers

Ruben Sario The Star 9 Jan 12;

KOTA KINABALU: A captured female Sumatran rhinoceros has some bones on her front left foot missing.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Lau­rentius Ambu said this meant that Puntung was likely caught in an illegal wildlife trap when she was young.

“This makes her survival a true miracle,’’ he said, adding that Puntung was captured in late 2011 because years of monitoring revealed that no other rhino had come into her range.

“This is symptomatic of many other species of wildlife in Sabah as their habitats are fragmented and there is a lack of linkage between them.

“This increases the level of threats to wildlife as access to fragmented areas for poachers is not difficult,” he said.

In this regard, he said the department had been continually calling for corridors and linkages to be made between fragmented forest with significant wildlife.

“The state government is playing its part but what we need is action from the private sector now.

“We want them to put aside land for corridors or patches of forest,” he said.

Laurentius has been advocating a multi-stakeholder approach to conservation in the state, with governmental agencies working together with NGOs, universities and the private sector.

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Tourist boats interrupt dolphins’ daily life

ECOS Magazine Science Alert 9 Jan 12;

Most humans love to interact with wildlife, especially with charismatic animals such as dolphins. While contact with these creatures is often a unique and incredible experience for us, it is important to realise that ‘watching’ activity can have an adverse effect on the dolphins themselves.

In cases where human–wildlife interactions turn into large-scale tourism industries, research shows that these activities can negatively impact wildlife by, for example, disrupting resting or feeding. Wildlife tourism therefore needs regulations aiming to ensure both a healthy wild population of animals and satisfactory wildlife encounters for humans.

The legislation for dolphin-watching in Australia is bound to a regulatory framework that addresses how boats must behave around pods of dolphins. For example, boats are required to remain a minimum distance away from dolphins; this varies depending on whether dolphin calves are in a pod. The regulations also dictate how boats may approach dolphins, e.g. boats must not cut dolphins off. However, management agencies responsible for a given area can adapt the boating regulations to their local circumstances.

My research as a PhD student at Macquarie University has focused on the impact of dolphin-watching vessels on the behaviour of a resident population of around 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the Port Stephens–Great Lakes Marine Park (PSGLMP), New South Wales. Commercial dolphin-watching tours started here in the early 1990s, and up to 15 boats can operate per day. The tours are restricted to the eastern embayment of the marine park (an area of around 50 km²). Around 70 per cent of the dolphin population live in this area, and so human-wildlife interactions are intensified for the majority of the dolphin population in the marine park.

In Port Stephens, industry had requested an exemption to allow closer approaches to dolphin pods. My aims were to investigate the impacts of dolphin-watching vessels on dolphin behaviour in the PSGLMP, how boat distance affected dolphin behavioural changes, and whether implemented speed restriction zones were an appropriate management tool.

My research showed that dolphins changed their behaviour dramatically when dolphin-watching vessels approached them. Dolphins stopped resting, and spent considerably less time feeding in the presence of dolphin-watching vessels. This may alter dolphins’ energy expenditure and in the long term may affect the health of individual animals, their reproductive success and ultimately the population.

The behavioural changes were exacerbated when boats approached closer, or when the number of boats increased. Dolphins used speed restriction zones less during intense boat traffic, which indicates that the zones as currently specified by the Marine Parks Authority NSW do not effectively minimise boating impacts.

The good news is, however, that a long-term study of abundance in Port Stephens by a fellow student at Macquarie University, Caroline Waring, does not indicate the population is declining.

Based on these findings, I recommended to the Marine Parks Authority NSW management that regulations in the PSGLMP should more closely cohere with national dolphin-watching regulations. The national regulations insist on a greater distance from the dolphins and include a stricter framework for the approach of dolphin-watching vessels. I also recommended that the location, size and accompanied regulations of speed restriction zones should be revised.

The findings of this study are not only important for the management of the local marine park, but will be relevant to all similar industries that must ensure benign and viable dolphin tourism activities. However, we have to keep in mind that we cannot expect to have a panacea regarding these issues. Each population of animals is likely to react differently to human interactions.

Resident populations of dolphins that depend on a limited home range and use only a small area as their habitat are most likely to be encountered by humans several times a day. Because of this, they may react completely differently to disturbance than migratory species, such as humpback whales, which on a single migration are unlikely to encounter more than one or two boats during their entire journey. Disturbance by tourism vessels may be very different for dolphins that have a much larger home range and might shift to different areas with similar resources.

Many people may now think, ‘Hang on, whenever I see dolphins in the wild, they are happily jumping and riding the waves around the boat! How can they be adversely affected by these encounters?’ This is a very legitimate question. For one thing, every individual dolphin is different – similar to humans, some of who are more curious or playful than others. And secondly, dolphin populations vary considerably. Some, such as the Port Stephens’ dolphins, are small and live in a very small area, in which case they may be subject to repeated interactions on a daily basis; others range in much larger areas, and so interactions with each individual in the population are much less frequent.

The research in the PSGLMP showed that dolphins actively avoided approaching dolphin-watching vessels. However, dolphins reacted very differently towards sailing or other recreational boats. This may be due to their ability to distinguish between different engine noises; thus, they may recognise dolphin-watching vessels by their sound.

More important, however, is that dolphin-watching vessels behave very differently towards dolphins. Recreational boaters may be on a straight line going from A to B. In this case, curious individuals of the pod travelling the same direction may join boats for a while, as they can reduce their energy expenditure by riding in the generated pressure wave of the boat. Dolphin-watching vessels instead try to approach the animals directly, and may approach them from angles that are perceived as threatening to dolphins, especially those caring for offspring. Dolphins may perceive such encounters similarly to predation risk and try to avoid them by horizontal or vertical movements away from the source of risk.

It is vitally important to have appropriate management procedures and legislation in place where interactions with wildlife are potential threats to animal populations, and is our responsibility to act accordingly during these interactions. The choice of the right tourism operator may play an important role in a satisfactory experience for the visitor. Operators who are knowledgeable and responsible while interacting with wildlife will respect regulations regarding those encounters, guaranteeing the sustainability of their industry and the viability of a healthy population of the targeted species.

Andre Steckenreuter is a PhD researcher at the Graduate School of Environment, Faculty of Science, at Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW. This article summarises key findings of three recent research papers:

Steckenreuter A, Harcourt R, Möller L (2011). Distance does matter: close approaches by boats impede feeding and resting behaviour of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Wildlife Research 38: 455-463.

Steckenreuter A, Harcourt R, Möller L. (2012). Are Speed Restriction Zones an effective management tool for minimising impacts of boats on dolphins in an Australian marine park? Marine Policy 36: 258-264.

Steckenreuter A, Möller L, Harcourt R. (In press). How does Australia’s largest dolphin-watching industry affect the behaviour of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins? Journal of Environmental Management.

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Fisherman's gold: Shark fin hunt empties west African seas

Fran Blandy (AFP) Google News 8 Jan 12;

SAINT LOUIS, Senegal — Retired fisherman Sada Fall is upbeat. His two sons are returning from sea with a boatload of "gold", as he calls shark fins, whose value has near-obliterated the ocean's top predator in these seas.

Fall, 62, walks along the beach in this fishing village in the north of Senegal, his blue-grey boubou flapping in the dry, dusty wind, a bright red flowered umbrella shielding him from the scorching sun.

"This is the great shark cemetery," he says waving his hand dramatically across the beach where dried hunks of shark meat are piled up, filling the air with a musty, acrid odour as suffocating as the heat.

Colourful painted pirogues line the beach where children play and sheep wander around. A giant pelican is curiously tethered to one of the crumbling houses.

Saint Louis is one of the biggest shark landing sites in Senegal and one of scores along the west African coast where the predator is quickly disappearing.

Fall's sons have been gone for two weeks deep into Mauritanian waters for a voyage which, including food, water, fuel and salt to pack the fish, can cost more than 500,000 CFA (750 euros/$1,000).

Spurring these fishermen on is the insatiable Asian appetite for shark fins, which make their way onto ostentatious dinner tables in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

"The fins don't stay here, they are worth a lot of money," says Fall.

He explains that when a boat lands, amidst the chaos of bartering and buying shark meat to be dried, smoked and sold in the region, the fins are swept away by intermediaries to Dakar, and treated very carefully.

"The fins are gold, sometimes we keep them in our own living room - with the air conditioning on," he laughs.

Often the intermediaries will meet with Asian businessmen in a Dakar hotel to hand over the booty.

"You bring the bags, go into the hotel, hand over the bag, they hand over the money."

Mika Diop, a biologist and coordinator of the Sharks sub-regional Action Plan (SRPOA-Sharks) says that depending on the size and species of the fin involved, they sell for up to 100,000 CFA (150 euros) per kilogram (2.2 pounds).

But it is the men further up the chain who benefit the most, as many fishermen don't realise exactly how valuable their product is. Some restaurants charge more than $100 for a bowl of sharp fin soup.

"We catch them, but I couldn't afford a small bowl of soup," says Fall

Many fins are also exported fraudulently through normal channels classified as dried fish, says Diop.

In West Africa, shark fishing began in the 1970's, booming in the nineties due to rising demand from Asia for shark fins, according to a report entitled "30 Years of Shark Fishing in West Africa" co-authored by Diop in 2011.

Since 2003, shark catches have plummeted. This is not good news but a sign that there are less to catch.

These days fishermen can spend up to 20 days at sea, heading as far west as Cape Verde or south to Sierra Leone in search of their gold, with what Diop bemoans as an often "mercenary mindset".

Diop explains that sharks are particularly vulnerable because it can take more than 10 years for them to reach sexual maturity and their fertility rate is very low, making recovery from overfishing all year round near impossible.

"On average the weight of the fin represents only two percent of the total weight of the animal, so you can see the massacre needed to keep up with the demand for shark fins," he tells AFP.

In Saint Louis, Fall finally gets a phone call from his pirogue. Days of bad weather have hampered fishing and even the good days have yielded no sharks. The boat is now expected the following day.

A fisherman for more than 30 years, he has seen first hand the worrying drop in shark numbers.

"We are obliged to catch small sharks. We know its not good but if one person doesn't, the next will...

"It brings in a lot of money, so we don't see the importance of the shark. We earn and we will keep on earning until the sharks disappear," he says sadly.

The shark fishing report talks of days when hammerhead sharks up to six metres long (20 feet) and one-tonne sawfish were caught in these waters.

The sawfish -- printed on the back of Senegalese bank notes -- hasn't been seen since the early 1990s in coastal waters from Mauritania to Sierra Leone, except for Guinea-Bissau.

According to the report, the value of sharks landed annually in 2008 in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde is estimated at 8.5 million euros ($11 million).

Diop's shark project has published an identification guide for fishermen and has helped west African nations put legislation in place, most importantly to ban "finning". In Senegal this legislation is still in the pipeline.

Finning is the practice of cutting of the shark fin while at sea, and tossing the rest of the shark back into the ocean to face a cruel death by suffocation or blood loss. Despite the laws, it still continues.

If shark-hunting, in Senegal and the world over, is not brought under control, Diop and other experts predict dire results for a marine ecosystem regulated by the predator for some 400 million years.

A report by the Pew Environment Group in June 2011 estimates some 73 million sharks are caught annually and 30 percent of species are threatened with extinction.

The fisherman Sada Fall becomes anxious and harder to get hold of. The "big shark guy around here" -- his distributor -- has left back to Dakar after hearing the fishing trip has not gone well.

Three days after the boat was supposed to land it reaches shore just after midnight. With no sharks caught, it quickly refuels and heads out again for several more gruelling, and expensive, days in search of fisherman's gold.

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