Best of our wild blogs: 18 Jan 12

Why do Scorpions Glow Under UV light?
from Macro Photography in Singapore

fireworm fished @ labrador 17Jan2012
from sgbeachbum

Pond Herons foraging
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Fauna of the Native Garden @ HortPark
from Raffles Museum News

An Un-bear-able trade
from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation

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Shangri-La stops selling shark's fin

Straits Times 18 Jan 12;

SHANGRI-LA Hotels and Resorts yesterday announced that it was stopping the sale of shark's fin at its 72 properties worldwide, with immediate effect.

The Hong Kong-based chain will also halt the sale of bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass by the end of the year. But banquet bookings made before yesterday will be honoured, it said.

The announcement came two weeks after FairPrice and Carrefour supermarket chains said they would halt the sale of shark's fin, joining Cold Storage, which stopped the practice last September.

Among hotels, the Fairmont Singapore was one of the first to stop serving shark's fin completely. It has also removed Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna - which are also overfished - from its menu.

Other hotels, such as Amara Singapore and The Fullerton, still serve shark's fin soup during wedding banquets but provide alternatives when asked.

To encourage customers to hold shark's fin-free wedding banquets, luxury resort Capella Singapore is giving wedding couples one night's free accommodation and a certificate of acknowledgement for their contribution to conservation.

Ms Priscilla Chua, its senior director of catering and conference services, said many couples who are environmentally conscious are pressured by their elders into serving shark's fin soup.

She added: 'We hope to alleviate this familial pressure by offering a further incentive of presenting the certificate to the couple during the dinner.'

In recent years, consumption of shark's fin - considered a delicacy in traditional Chinese culture - has been a controversial issue. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, six species of shark are considered critically endangered.

Shangri-La hotels take shark fin soup off the menu
The resort company's move, coming just ahead of the Chinese new year festivities, is a huge boost to the campaign to protect decimated shark stocks by banning the dish
Jonathan Watts 18 Jan 12;

The campaign to reduce the demand for shark fins achieved its greatest victory to date on Wednesday when the Shangri-la hotel group announced that it would no longer serve the dish, which is decimating populations of the ocean predator.

The resort company, which operates 72 hotels, took the step just days before the Chinese spring festival, the main season for shark fin soup consumption at banquets in Hong Kong and the mainland.

It is estimated that between 26 million and 73 million sharks are killed each year to supply this billion-dollar industry. Almost a third are consumed during Chinese new year.

But conservationists' efforts to reduce demand have gained pace and prominence in the past year, particularly since WildAid international ambassador and basketball star Yao Ming spoke out against shark fin soup.

In November, the Peninsula hotel became the first traditional hotel in Hong Kong – the centre of the trade – to remove the dish from its restaurants. It was followed by 112 companies who signed up to a "Say No" initiative to remove shark fin from corporate banquets.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts has now gone a step further by unveiling a "sustainable seafood policy" that also includes a commitment to phase out the use of other endangered marine species, including Bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass.

The company had previously taken shark fin off its restaurant menus, but offered the dish on demand.

The move was welcomed by conservationists as a sign that some major corporations are starting to take sustainability more seriously.

"This is very significant. Two leading hotel groups have now sent a very strong message to the food and beverage industry and the wedding industry. I don't see why others don't follow suit," said Bertha Lo of the Hong Kong Shark Foundation.

However, there is still a long way to go. The foundation's recent survey of 64 leading Hong Kong hotels found that 98% served at least one endangered marine species. Almost all included shark fin, which is particularly popular at wedding banquets. Very few had policies for sustainable seafood sourcing.

Conservationists said corporate social responsibility programmes had improved in recent years to include energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions, but still usually neglected impacts on wildlife.

"We are seeing announcements one by one, but it is not enough just to stop serving shark fin," said Stanley Shea of Bloom Association, a Hong Kong-based NGO. "Hotels also need to put in place public policies on sustainable seafood sourcing."

The government in Hong Kong has yet to act, although surveys by the Bloom foundation suggest that 88% of consumers want the authorities to prevent sales of products that involve killing threatened species.

It is believed the mainland could move faster than the territory – as it has done with air pollution. But most hotels in Chinese cities will continue to serve shark fin as a traditional part of the festivities to usher in the year of the dragon on 23 January.

Among them is the Grand Hyatt in Beijing, which was offering a new year special spring festival banquet of 888 yuan (£91.50) per person, including shark fin soup. Outside of the holiday season, it offers the soup alone from 468 yuan (£48) to over a thousand yuan. "It depends on the type of shark. We have all types," a restaurant employee said.

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Singapore To Showcase Achievements In Balancing Rapid Urban Development

Singapore to take part in Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea
Channel NewsAsia 17 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore will showcase its achievements in balancing rapid urban development with environmental sustainability at the International Exposition Yeosu Korea which will be held from May 12.

The three-month long expo is expected to attract up to eight million domestic and international visitors.

The 712 square metre Singapore Pavilion aims to convey how Singapore balances growth and development with environmental sustainability through four segments: waste management, nature conservation, urban planning and water management.

The Environment and Water Resources Ministry will lead a multi-agency project committee to manage the Singapore Pavilion.

Project Director Eng Tiang Sing said, "We are very excited to participate in Expo 2012. Besides being an excellent platform to showcase and promote Singapore to a sizeable international audience, we hope Singapore's development story can be an useful case study to some of the world's rapidly growing cities in finding ways to create a healthy and attractive environment despite their urbanisation.

"This exposition also presents a good opportunity to foster closer people-to-people relations between Singapore and the Republic of Korea, and cultivate a deeper understanding of each other's environmental practices, lifestyles and cultures."

- CNA/cc

Singapore To Showcase Achievements In Balancing Rapid Urban Development
Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah Bernama 17 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE, Jan 17 (Bernama) -- Singapore will showcase its achievements in balancing rapid urban development with environmental sustainability at the International Exposition Yeosu Korea 2012 (Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea) from May 12 to Aug 12 in Yeosu, South Korea.

The Environment and Water Resources Ministry said the exposition is expected to attract up to eight million domestic and international visitors.

The 712 square-metre Singapore Pavilion will be housed within the International Pavilion, together with exhibitions from more than 100 other countries.

Themed "Paradox-ity: City of Contrasts", the Singapore Pavilion aims to convey how Singapore balances growth and development with environmental sustainability through four main content segments: waste management, nature conservation, urban planning and water management.

A multi-agency project committee led by the ministry has been formed to manage the Singapore Pavilion.

Participating government agencies include Trade and Industry Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry, National Development Ministry, Environment and Water Resources Ministry and Transport Ministry.

Building and Construction Authority, National Parks Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Environment Agency and Public Utilities Board, Singapore Tourism Board and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore are also participating.

Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea is an international exposition hosted by the Bureau International des Expositions (the inter-governmental organisation in charge of Expositions).


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Malaysia: A New High for the Hawksbills of Melaka

WWF 17 Jan 12;

2011 ended on an optimistic note for the Hawksbill turtles in Melaka. 568 nestings were recorded along Melaka's coastline last year, the highest ever for the state. This number is comparable to the nestings recorded in the Sabah Turtle Islands, the premier nesting site for the hawksbills in Malaysia.

This positive development is a culmination of hard work and perseverance displayed by everyone involved. Patrolling teams which consistently monitored key nesting beaches were the key to securing more egg clutches than ever before for incubation. During the peak nesting season of April to September, patrolling was carried out every day from sunset to sunrise, and at times covered a cumulative distance of approximately 40km. The team comprised of WWF-Malaysia’s staff, Daily Paid Assistants, local youth, interns and volunteers.

In addition, the teams worked closely with the staff of the Department of Fisheries and licensed egg collectors in safely transferring the eggs at Pulau Upeh, Kem Terendak-Tanjung Bidara and Padang Kemunting-Pasir Gembur to the hatchery.

The patrols also extended to Balik Batu beach this year where in the past, many egg clutches have been poached. Committed and continuous engagement with the local communities also greatly facilitated safe and effective beach patrols.

The success of this year’s monitoring programme would not have been possible without the generous funding from the Malaysian public and WWF –Netherlands. With this support, this critically endangered Hawksbill population now has a good chance of bouncing back

By: Lau Min Min, Team Leader Malacca Turtle Conservation WWF-Malaysia

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US bans import of Burmese pythons

AFP Yahoo News 18 Jan 12;

The United States announced Tuesday it is banning the import of Burmese pythons and three other species of giant constrictor snakes due to the danger they pose to local wildlife.

The formal ban on importing or transporting across state lines the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda and the northern and southern African pythons will take effect in about two months, said the Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the decision, the four big snakes are considered "injurious wildlife" and the ban aims to halt their spread in the wild. People who own them as pets would not likely be affected by the new restrictions.

"Burmese pythons have already caused substantial harm in Florida," said FWS director Dan Ashe, noting that they have preyed on endangered Key Largo wood rats while other pythons have eaten endangered wood storks.

"By taking this action today, we will help prevent further harm from these large constrictor snakes to native wildlife, especially in habitats that can support constrictor snake populations across the southern United States and in US territories."

US authorities have spent millions of dollars in the Florida Everglades due to the threat posed by the big snakes, "an amount far less than is needed to combat their spread," the FWS added.

Five other non-native snakes remain under consideration for listing as "injurious," including the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.

The Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on Earth and are native to southeast Asia, including Myanmar, also known as Burma.

U.S. Clamps Ban On Pythons, Yellow Anaconda
Tom Brown PlanetArk 18 Jan 12;

The United States announced a ban on Burmese pythons on Tuesday, after years of unsuccessful efforts to eradicate the giant snakes from the Everglades National Park in Florida.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has championed the ban, said it would take effect within about 60 days and make it illegal to import the snakes or transport them across state lines.

Salazar announced the measure at a news conference at a flood control pumping station in a corner of the Everglades just outside Miami, where he was joined by Florida Senator Ben Nelson and two senior park and Florida Wildlife Commission officials as they held aloft a recently captured 13-foot (4-meter) python.

"The action were taking today is a milestone in the protection of the Everglades," Salazar said.

Biologists say most pythons in the Everglades are thought to have been released there by their owners once they realized that the "pets" can grow from just a foot to 12 feet long within their first two years of life.

In addition to the Burmese python, which has become one of the most notorious invasive species in U.S. history, the ban affects the yellow anaconda and northern and southern African pythons.

Invasive species in subtropical parts of Florida include dragon-like Nile Monitor lizards and raccoon-sized African rats.

But Burmese pythons, which are native to southeast Asia, have become the stuff of legend in the Everglades since they were first sighted in the wildlife haven in the mid-1970s.

With their razor-sharp teeth, they have been known to eat practically anything that moves in the park, from small mammals to large wading birds. Last year, a 15.7-foot (4.8-meter) Burmese was found with a huge bulge from a recently consumed 76-pound (34-kg) deer.

Compounding eradication problems, however, the bone-crushing snakes have also bred in the wild in the savanna and steamy swamps of the Everglades.

One of the creatures was aggressive enough to try devouring a 6-foot (1.8 meter) alligator in the park in 2005. The alligator was believed to have been dead already and the snake also died trying to digest it.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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La Nina 'linked' to flu pandemics

Richard Black BBC News 16 Jan 12;

La Nina events may make flu pandemics more likely, research suggests.

US-based scientists found that the last four pandemics all occurred after La Nina events, which bring cool waters to the surface of the eastern Pacific.

In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they say that flu-carrying birds may change migratory patterns during La Nina conditions.

However, many other La Nina events have not seen novel flu strains spread around the world, they caution.

So while the climatic phenomenon may make a pandemic more likely, they say, it is not sufficient on its own - and may not be necessary either.

La Nina is the cold cousin of El Nino - the two collectively making up the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

"Certainly ENSO affects weather and precipitation and humidity around the world," said Jeffrey Shaman from Columbia University in New York.

"But the effects are very varied around the world - there's no coherent picture."

Nevertheless, the last four pandemics - the Spanish Flu that began in 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, the Hong Kong Flu of 1958 and the swine flu of 2009 - were all preceded by periods of La Nina conditions.

What pandemics have in common is that they all feature novel strains of the virus to which people have not developed immunity.

Typically these are created when two existing strains infecting an animal such as a bird or a pig exchange genetic material.

The link to La Nina events is not clear. But recent research has shown that some wild birds' patterns of flights and stopovers during migrations, or moulting times, differ between El Nino and La Nina years.

"Our best guess is this brings together birds [in La Nina conditions] that don't otherwise mix, and that allows the genetic reassortment to take place," Professor Shaman told BBC News.

Yet the fact that many other La Nina periods have not been followed by a pandemic indicate that other factors must also be involved.

If the swine flu pandemic of 2009-10 was part of this pattern, the crossing of viral strains must have had something to do with birds as well as pigs.

As wild migratory birds will sometimes visit farms and as domestic flocks of ducks or chickens often live alongside pigs, especially in developing countries, this is quite feasible.

Professor Shaman cautions that the link is far from being firm enough that it could be used as a tool to forecast pandemics.

But the monitoring of birds, pigs, people and the genetics of the influenza virus have all been stepped up in response to recent outbreaks of both swine flu and bird flu.

And this, he believes, should in time show whether the theory is correct.

"Now we can look at viral gene flow in a number of birds, pigs and people - and we might be able to get something more statistically robust, to get a better sense of the mechanisms."

Flu Pandemics Linked to Ocean's Cooling Cycle
Wynne Parry Yahoo News 19 Jan 12;

Flu pandemics have been linked to fluctuations in climate, and new research connects the world's four most recent pandemics to the cyclical cooling of the Pacific Ocean near the equator.

The connection? Changes in ocean temperature affect migrating birds, which are major contributors to the spread and mixing of flu viruses.

An earlier study had linked flu pandemics to ocean warming, rather than cooling, but public health researchers Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University and Marc Lipsitch of Harvard University dispute these findings, saying this analysis relies on flawed data, such as records of older pandemics and climate fluctuations, which are less precise and reliable.

The researchers found that the four flu outbreaks that swept the world in the past 100 years — in 1918, 1957, 1968 and 2009 (in this last instance, the H1N1 "swine flu") — followed a fall or winter when sea-surface temperatures sank abnormally low. This cooling is associated with La Niña, a phase in a larger climate pattern. La Niña is the cool counterpart to El Niño, which is marked by unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific; both alter weather patterns around the globe.

There are three types of influenza viruses. One of them, type A, is naturally carried by wild aquatic birds. Type A viruses, which include swine flu, can infect not only people but other mammals, such as pigs and dogs, as well as other birds, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The long flights and many stopovers made by migratory birds turn these viruses into globe trotters and allow them to mix with each other. This process, called re-assortment, occurs when an animal or person carries multiple strains of the virus that swap genetic information. It can lead to the emergence of new viruses that are potentially capable of causing pandemics. "We know that pandemics arise from dramatic changes in the influenza genome. Our hypothesis is that La Niña sets the stage for these changes by reshuffling the mixing patterns of migratory birds, which are a major reservoir for influenza," said Shaman in a press release issued by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Previous research showed the El Niño/La Niña climate pattern affects the health and behavior of migratory birds, including their population density and flight and stopover patterns, the researchers noted in their study.

The researchers note that the 2009 pandemic is believed to have arisen from swine flu viruses. It is possible birds carried one or more of the ancestors of the 2009 pandemic virus, they write Monday (Jan. 16) in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their results contradict earlier research that showed a link between flu pandemics and moderate to strong El Niño events.

Flu isn't the only misery that has been linked to fluctuations in this climate cycle. Past research has connected El Niño to civil conflict, and La Niña to drought that gripped Texas, Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico.

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