Best of our wild blogs: 8 Feb 12

Mangrove Pitta handling crabs
from Bird Ecology Study Group

bathing collared kingfisher @ chek jawa - Jan2012
from sgbeachbum

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18 endangered dolphins spotted off Borneo: WWF

Angela Dewan (AFP) Google News 7 Feb 12;

JAKARTA — Conservation group WWF said it spotted 18 critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in Indonesian waters off Borneo island Tuesday and called for greater protection of the species' habitat.

The tail of a critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin spotted off the coast of Borneo's West Kalimantan (AFP/WWF-INDONESIA/SYAHIRSYAH)

There is little data on the Irrawaddy dolphin -- which resembles the common bottlenose dolphin but has no beak and a snub dorsal fin -- and no comprehensive survey has been conducted to measure its global population.

"In the past, locals and fishermen reported seeing the dolphins, but we have never recorded them until now," WWF conservation biologist Albertus Tjiu told AFP.

Over five days a research team surveyed 260 kilometres (160 miles) along the coast of West Kalimantan, on Indonesia's half of Borneo island, and spotted the species travelling in small groups.

The sightings show that the dolphins' habitat is still intact, despite degradation by hundreds of pulp and charcoal plantations by the coast, Tjiu said.

The team also encountered three Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins that live in the same type of ecosystem.

The two dolphin species live in biodiverse mangroves -- estuaries of dense tropical trees or shrubs that grow along coastal sediment, resembling muddy swampland.

Mangroves have a distinct vegetation that, like peatland forests, can take thousands of years to fully form.

"We call on all businesses operating in the area to act sustainably to conserve the mangroves. We expect to discover more dolphins when we finish the study," Tjiu said.

Critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins have been recorded in the Mekong River in Cambodia; the Ayeyawardi River in Myanmar and the Mahakam River of East Kalimantan.

Populations of Irrawaddy dolphin in other areas are categorised as vulnerable.

In 2009, biologists recorded the world's biggest Irrawaddy dolphin population of around 6,000 in Bangladesh. Prior to that it was believed only hundreds existed.

Irrawaddy dolphins, like many other marine species, often die entangled in fishing nets and in crab traps, as well as from electric fishing.

Mangroves, which also offer natural flood protection from rising sea levels, are under threat of unsustainable agriculture and climate change.

Indonesia is home to some of the most biodiverse forest and marine ecosystems. Rampant land conversion for paper and palm oil plantations, among others, has destroyed swathes of land, particularly in Kalimantan.

Rare Irrawaddy dolphins found in Indonesian waters
WWF 7 Feb 12;

Jakarta, Indonesia - Vulnerable Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) have been discovered for the first time in West Kalimantan, a part of Indonesian Borneo that best known for its dense tropical forests and rich wildlife.

WWF-Indonesia and the Regional Office for Marine, Coastal & Resources Management Pontianak (BPSPL) found the rare dolphins while conduicting a study in the narrow straits and coastal waters of the Kubu Raya and Kayong Utara regencies in the western part of Borneo.

“The presence of Irrawaddy dolphins in West Kalimantan waters was previously unknown, so we are excited with the results of this preliminary study and hope this will help reveal information on the population and distribution of this unique species,” said Albertus Tjiu, WWF-Indonesia’s Conservation Biologist, and one of the study’s lead scientists.

The team also encountered a group of Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) in the area, showing strong scientific evidence of the rich biodiversity in Kalimantan waters, which originate in the highlands of the Heart of Borneo.

Conservation challenges

“The results of this study indicate the importance of protecting the dolphins’ habitat, from the origins of the rivers in the Heart of Borneo, to the lower rivers of the island, including waterways of Batu Ampar mangroves and nypah forests, the narrow straits and the coastal areas of Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan,” Albertus Tjiu said.

But he also cautions that the continued growth of charcoal production in West Kalimantan is threatening the area’s mangrove forests, one of the dolphins key habitats. Over one hundred small and medium-sized charcoal producers are now operating in Kubu Raya, and additional threats from increased boat traffic in waterways and forest conversion are posing further challenges to the growth of the species.

“WWF calls on all companies that operate in West Kalimantan waters to apply sustainable practices in their business, and with regards to this dolphin study, to carefully look at their wood supply to help avoid the destruction of mangrove forests,” said Albertus Tjiu.

How many dolphins?
With a global population of around 6000 individuals, Irrawaddy dolphins are found in many of Southeast Asia’s estuaries and mangrove areas. Close to 5,800 of the vulnerable dolphins live in the costal waters of Bangladesh along the Bay of Bengal, and the nearby Sunderbarns mangove forests. The remaining population is scattered throughout Southeast Asia and can be found in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and the northeastern coast of Australia.

Irrawaddy dolphins are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, but in some areas - including the Mekong River, the Ayeyawardi River and the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan - the species is listed as critically endangered.

“Kubu Raya and Kayong Utara waters are located downstream from the Heart of Borneo in West Kalimantan. Conservation of forests in the Heart of Borneo is considered critical to ensure the proper protection of the Irrawaddy dolphins fresh water habitat in the lower reaches of the river,” said Tri Agung Rooswiadji, WWF-Indonesia’s Fresh Water Conservation Program Coordinator. “As a unique species that live in fresh, salt and brackish waters, this mammal serves as an indicator of the healthiness of the water ecosystem in the area,” Tri Agung added.

“The dolphin survey we conducted in Kubu Raya and Kayong Utara waters is only a preliminary survey, and we are hoping to continue studying the species in other rivers in the upper parts such as in Kapuas, Sejenuh and Mendawa river, “ said Tri Agung. “With comprehensive information on the population and habitat of the dolphin, it is expected that the future policy on the protection of the species can be identified and implemented,” he added.

Kris Handoko, Head of Conservation at the Regional Office for Marine, Coastal & Resources Management Pontianak (BPSPL) said, “We are very supportive of this study. We will continue working with WWF-Indonesia and other relevant partners on monitoring the dolphins as well as identify other actions to enhance the species protection.”

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Orangutan 'exterminators' on trial in Indonesia

(AFP) Google News 7 Feb 12;

TENGGARONG, Indonesia — Three Indonesians and a Malaysian went on trial Tuesday for killing endangered orangutans and other protected primates as a means of pest control at a palm oil plantation on Borneo island.

Prosecutors said the plantation manager, Malaysian national Phuah Chuan Hun, and his employee Widiantoro paid two men between 2009 and 2010 to kill the primates.

The plantation employees and the two killers, Imam Muhtarom and Mujianto, were charged with killing endangered species and all face five years in jail.

"The two men were paid one million rupiah ($111) for each orangutan and 200,000 rupiah ($22) for other monkeys," prosecutor Suroto told the Tenggarong district court.

The plantation, in East Kalimantan province on Indonesian Borneo, is a subsidiary of the publicly listed Malaysian-owned Metro Kajang Holdings.

"The two used a 4.5-millimetre calibre airsoft gun to shoot the orangutans out of trees before their six hunting dogs chased them," Suroto said.

They would then hit the orangutans afterwards with rocks or wooden sticks before tying them up with rope to take photographs as evidence, he said.

Police arrested the four men in November after photos of them with their prey, including long-nosed monkeys found only on Borneo, circulated around the community.

The men were charged with killing one baby and two adult orangutans, but police said earlier that at least 20 had been killed based on receipts of from the company amounting to 25 million rupiah ($2,775).

Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

They are faced with extinction from poaching and the rapid destruction of their forest habitat, driven largely by palm oil and paper plantations.

The trial will resume next week.

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Indonesia: Can the jungle law save orangutans?

Panut Hadisiswoyo and Gunung Gea, Medan Jakarta Post 7 Feb 12;

There have probably been at least 2,800 confiscations of illegally kept orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra since the early 1970s. In the same period, millions of hectares of orangutan forest have also been destroyed for plantations and other uses, and thousands of orangutans killed, starved and burned to death in the process.

This species cleansing has occurred despite the fact that the orangutan has been legally protected in Indonesia since 1924. Quite simply, in the last 40 years the number of legal cases brought against pet keepers, traders and orangutan killers can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

There was a case in November 2006 of people shooting a Sumatran orangutan (62 times with an air rifle) that had been released at the edge of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi in October 2004. Six villagers received six-month jail sentences, but later the prison term was extended to eight months. Leuser, the orangutan in question, is now residing at a quarantine center run by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) near Medan, in North Sumatra. He still has 48 air rifle pellets in his body and is blind in both eyes due to pellets lodged there.

There were also two prosecutions in June 2010 of people trading orangutans illegally in West Kalimantan. The seller was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined Rp 1 million (US$110). The buyer received a meager one month and 15 days in prison. A third person involved managed to evade prosecution altogether.

Yet, seemingly all of a sudden, a number of legal actions in support of orangutan conservation are finally hitting the headlines.

Many people will have seen recent articles in the media concerning the brutal killing of orangutans on an oil palm plantation in East Kalimantan, where they were slaughtered en masse for a bounty paid by the Malaysian company PT Khaleda Agroprima Malindo (PT KAM). For each orangutan killed, workers were allegedly paid Rp 1 million. This is an extremely shocking and disturbing case, but it is also an open secret that such practices are commonplace on new plantations.

An article on Dec. 9, 2011 in The Jakarta Post showed how the remains of more slaughtered orangutans were found in a concession belonging to PT Sarana Titian Permata II, part of the Wilmar International group, in Central Kalimantan. But no one there has yet been arrested or charged.

While the PT KAM case has attracted media attention, very few people are aware of an ongoing trial related to orangutans in Kabanjahe, North Sumatra. It concerns Julius, a 4-year-old male Sumatran orangutan confiscated in Mardinding, Karo regency, in July 2011. Forestry police arrested a man, identified by his initial as S, who was transporting Julius and offering him for sale. Unfortunately, however, the alleged “owner” of the orangutan, identified as R, has not yet been arrested or charged.

The law relating to protected species is actually simple. Law No. 5/1990 on the Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystems states clearly that keeping, injuring, capturing, trading and transporting protected species are criminal offenses, carrying sentences up to five years in jail and a Rp 100 million fine.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if Julius’ case in North Sumatra will be taken seriously by the three judges and the prosecutors. If not, and the defendant is acquitted, e.g. on some minor technicality, it really will reinforce the prevailing impression among conservationists that the Indonesian authorities, and society in general, really aren’t interested in protecting their country’s unique and exceptionally rich biodiversity.

Besides Law No. 5/1990, there are several other regulations that support orangutan conservation, which also seem to be routinely flouted and ignored. The Spatial Planning Law No. 26/2007, and its subsequent Government Regulation No. 26/2008, established the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra as a National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection. Presidential Instruction No. 11/2011 prevents the issuance of any new plantation and concession permits in primary forests and peat lands.

As the Leuser Ecosystem is home to around 80 percent of all the remaining Sumatran orangutans in the world, and as the peat swamps of Aceh province have the highest density of orangutans anywhere in the world, effective enforcement of these two laws alone would be an important step for orangutan conservation.

And so to another case currently making the news, in which it is claimed that a new permit issued for an oil palm plantation in the Tripa peat swamp forests on the west coast of Aceh, within the Leuser Ecosystem, is illegal, and that its issuance constitutes a criminal act or felony on the part of Aceh governor and a number of other key individuals involved in the process.

The Tripa peat swamp case actually consists of several different legal initiatives. A consortium of concerned NGOs has challenged the legality of the new permit in the Court of Civil Administration in Banda Aceh. Meanwhile, representatives of the communities living directly in Tripa, already fed up with losing their livelihoods, lands and lifestyles due to the destruction wreaked so far, have reported the governor of Aceh, who issued the permit, the company that received it, PT Kallista Alam, and a number of others at the National Police headquarters in Jakarta. They claim the issuance of the permit is a clear contravention of the National Spatial Planning law.

If these Aceh cases were to fail, the orangutan population in Tripa, recognized by the United Nations-backed Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) as critical for the survival of the species, will continue to be devastated and ultimately be destroyed completely.

Perhaps for the first time, and long overdue, we finally seem to be seeing some clear sustained developments in law enforcement pertaining to conservation in Indonesia. But, it is probably too early to draw any solid conclusions.

Furthermore, even if convicted, the deterrent effect of these cases still depends on appropriate punishments being meted out. If sentences are too short or fines too little, it will once again bring into question the seriousness of those involved in enforcing the law in environmental and conservation cases.

Panut Hadisiswoyo and Gunung Gea are respectively chairman and vice chairman of FOKUS (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Forum).

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Malaysian Department mulls 'crocodile net' ban

New Straits Times 8 Feb 12;

JITRA: The use of "crocodile nets", which have been found to be a threat to marine life may be banned, said Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Wira Mohd Johari Baharom.

He said the Fisheries Department had been directed through a circular to carry out a study on the enforcement of the ban.

"A crocodile net traps fish, including small ones," he said, when met at a gathering by the National Rice Agency with the Siamese community at Kampung Kota Giam here yesterday.

According to Johari, the crocodile net -- a dragnet that is modified to expand its width and length -- would stay afloat when it was dragged. It was used at night by fishing boat operators in Kedah to avoid being intercepted by the authorities.

He said many boat operators in Kedah had been found using such nets since last year to haul tonnes of small fishes or "fish fertiliser".

"The fish fertiliser is used to make fish food. The ministry will ask fish breeders to find other food sources for their fish." Bernama

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Ancient Seagrass Holds Secrets of the Oldest Living Organism On Earth

ScienceDaily 7 Feb 12;

It's big, it's old and it lives under the sea -- and now an international research collaboration with The University of Western Australia's Ocean's Institute has confirmed that an ancient seagrass holds the secrets of the oldest living organism on Earth.

Ancient giant Posidonia oceanica reproduces asexually, generating clones of itself. A single organism -- which has been found to span up to 15 kilometres in width and reach more than 6,000 metric tonnes in mass -- may well be more than 100,000 years old.

"Clonal organisms have an extraordinary capacity to transmit only 'highly competent' genomes, through generations, with potentially no end," said Director of UWA's Oceans' Institute Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte.

Researchers analysed 40 meadows across 3,500 kilometres of the Mediterranean sea. Computer models helped demonstrate that the clonal spread mode of Posidonia oceanica, which as all other seagrasses can reproduce both sexually and asexually, allows them to spread and maintain highly competent clones over millennia, whereas even the most competent genotypes of organisms that can only reproduce sexually are lost at every generation.

"Understanding why those particular genomes have been so adaptable to a broad range of environmental conditions for so long is the key to some interesting future research," Professor Duarte said.

Seagrasses are the foundation of key coastal ecosystems but have waned globally for the past 20 years. Posidonia oceanica meadows are now declining at an estimated rate of five per cent annually.

"The concern is that while Posidonia oceanica meadows have thrived for millennia their current decline suggests they may no longer be able to adapt to the unprecedented rate of global climate change."

The genus Posidonia occurs only in the Mediterranean and Australian waters.

The findings have been published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Western Australia.

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Harder to breathe easy in Asia?

Nicholas Fang and Henrick Tsjeng Today Online 8 Feb 12;

Even as the smoke clears after this year's Lunar New Year festivities, governments around the region are feeling the heat over rising air pollution and concerns over clean air, or the lack of it.

The setting off of fireworks on the eve in Beijing led to sharp rises in airborne particles early on the first day of the New Year. And while this was soon cleared by favourable air currents, pressure is mounting for the government to get tough on air pollution.

In January, over 150 flights to and from the Chinese capital were cancelled or delayed as thick smog blanketed the city. International organisations list Beijing as among the most polluted cities in the world. This is mainly due to its growing energy consumption - still largely fuelled by coal - and car usage.

Calls for action are getting louder, not just from within environmental circles but also among ordinary people. In China, such vocal demands put a dent in the government's own legitimacy.

Beijing's decision to release data on PM2.5 - air-borne particles 2.5 micrometres in diameter or less - from Jan 21 was a significant step forward for the Chinese authorities. Previously, they had only released levels of airborne particles equal to or less than 10 micrometres in diameter, or PM10.

PM2.5 consists of dust or emissions from vehicles, coal combustion, construction work and factories. These fine particles penetrate deeper into lungs and other organs, increasing the risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular ailments and respiratory disease. In China alone, hundreds of thousands die prematurely each year due to air pollution.

Hong Kong is also planning to have new objectives for its air quality by 2014. However, these targets have been criticised as being the same as those put out in 2009 for public consultation and for being weaker than even those in mainland China.

In other parts of Asia, the problem is also intensifying. A recent survey ranked India as having the worst air in the world. New Delhi was held up as a showcase for air pollution control 10 years ago, but recent government figures have shown that particulate matter has increased over the past three years.

Some of the pollution can be attributed to dust that blows in from the Rajasthan desert and the country's construction boom. Observers say the rapid rise of diesel-powered vehicles on Delhi's roads is another major contributing factor.

There has been research correlating heightened PM2.5 levels and increased use of diesel vehicles. Economists say the trend towards technology such as diesel is harmful to the health of not only the people but also the region's economy. A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong last year revealed that almost half of its members knew of professionals who had left the city due to air pollution.

Singapore has relatively lower levels of air pollution, achieved through rigorous emission regulations, energy efficiency improvements and the usage of cleaner energy sources like natural gas. Even so, the country is not immune from rising concerns over air quality.

There have been recent calls for the National Environment Agency (NEA) to include PM2.5 as part of the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which still cites PM10 levels. The NEA says it has been monitoring PM2.5 levels since 1998, and is reviewing the air quality standards for Singapore and the public provision of more timely information on air quality, including PM2.5.


Singapore is also prone to being affected by smoke haze blowing in from fires in parts of Indonesia every year, typically during the dry season between August and October, although it can strike at other times of the year depending on weather conditions.

The year 2010 saw some of the worst haze in recent times, with the PSI going above 80 for four days in a row in October and at times breaching the "unhealthy" level of 100. This year's Ministerial Steering Committee Forum on transboundary haze pollution is set to take place in Brunei Darussalam; Singapore is likely to continue to be an active participant in such meetings.

And continued action is what it needs. In 2010, Singapore had a PM2.5 level of 17 microgrammes (mcg) per cubic metre. This is above the World Health Organization's aspirational guideline of 10mcg, as well as the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources' goal of 12mcg by 2020.

The new measures implemented by other Asian cities are commendable but overly reactive. The smog choking the region's cities shows that Singapore can ill-afford to wait until the air has deteriorated to take even greater action. Instead, it must take a deep breath and focus on proactively maintaining and improving its clean air policies to avoid similar air pollution woes in the future.

Nicholas Fang is the director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).
Henrick Tsjeng is a researcher at the SIIA.

Vietnam among top 10 countries for worst air pollution 6 Feb 12;

Vietnam is among the top 10 countries with the worst air pollution, according to a study released during this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

Vietnam's Air (Effects on Human Health) ranking was 123rd among the 132 countries surveyed.

India has the world's worst air pollution, beating out China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, according to the study.

Vietnam's water supply (Effects on Human Health) was ranked 80th of the 132 surveyed.

In terms of overall environment, Vietnam, the study ranked Vietnam 79th.

The Environmental Performance Index is conducted by the environmental research centers of Yale and Columbia universities with assistance from dozens of independent scientists. The study uses satellite data to measure the concentration levels of air pollution.

The EPI ranks countries according to 22 performance indicators spanning ten policy categories designed to reflect facets of both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality.

The categories are environmental burden of disease, water (effects on human health), air pollution (effects on human health and ecosystems), water resources (ecosystem effects), biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and climate change.

According to the 2012 EPI, Switzerland leads the world in terms of addressing issues of pollution and the challenge of managing natural resources.

Meanwhile, Malaysia was ranked the best performer among Southeast Asian nations, at 25th.

In 2010, Malaysia was ranked 54th among 261 countries, whereas Singapore was 28th; however, the city-state dropped to 52nd on the latest index.

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Plantings Of Biotech Crops Grow Globally In 2011: Report

Carey Gillam PlanetArk 8 Feb 12;

The United States remained the primary backer of biotech crop technology in 2011, but adoption spread internationally as the total global planted area of genetically modified seeds grew 8 percent from a year ago, according to a report issued Tuesday.

Roughly 160 million hectares, or 395.2 million acres, were planted with biotech crops in 2011, up 8 percent from 2010, said the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) in its annual report on biotech seed use.

The biotech crops were planted by 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries, up from 15.4 million farmers in the same number of countries in 2010. (A full copy of the report can be found here:

"I was a little surprised that the growth was as strong as it is," said Clive James, chairman of the ISAAA board of directors. "Millions of farmers around the world in both industrial and developing countries are adopting the technology."

ISAAA is a not-for-profit organization aimed at promoting crop biotechnology applications, which are the subject of controversy, particularly in Europe, where they are largely banned. Critics say there is evidence of human health dangers and environmental problems connected to genetically modified crops, though the technology companies who develop them and supporters say they are proven safe.

U.S. farmers have embraced the technology, and most of the U.S. corn and soybeans are genetically altered. Corporate biotech leaders, like Monsanto, have crafted crops that tolerate dousings of herbicides, and crops that are designed to resist pests, effectively creating their own insecticide.

The technology is becoming increasingly popular in Brazil and Argentina, China, India and South Africa, said James.

But the United States has by far the largest area of planted genetically altered crops. According to the ISAAA, U.S. farmers planted 69 million hectares, or 170.43 million acres, with biotech crops in 2011; followed by Brazil with 30.3 million hectares, (75 million acres) and Argentina with 23.7 million hectares (59 million acres).

U.S. plantings were up 3 percent from 2010.

While the United States boasts biotech corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugarbeet, alfalfa, papaya and squash, in Latin America biotech crops are so far limited to soybeans, corn and cotton.

India had 10.6 million hectares (26.2 million acres) planted to cotton in 2011 and Canada had 10.4 million hectares (25.7 million acres) planted to canola, corn, soybeans and sugarbeet.

All other countries had less than half that amount, with China having the next largest planting area for biotech crops with 3.9 million hectares (9.6 million acres) planted in 2011.

While biotech crops remain highly controversial in Europe, six European Union countries -- Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Romania -- planted 114,490 hectares of biotech corn in 2011, up from 23,297 hectares in 2010.

Biotech crops are accepted for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment in 60 countries, including major food importing countries like Japan, which do not plant biotech crops, the ISAAA said.

The global value of biotech seed alone was $13.2 billion in 2011, with the end product of commercial grain from biotech maize, soybean grain and cotton valued at $160 billion or more per year, according to the ISAAA.

(Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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