Best of our wild blogs: 11 Feb 12

Hermit crabs galore at Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Banded Woodpecker cooling off @ bukit brown
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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In the soup over shark

Straits Time 11 Feb 12;

I could not agree more with Sumiko Tan's You're What You Eat (LifeStyle, Feb 5).

I never order shark's fin when I dine out. But when it is served at a wedding, why let it go to waste? Just eat it, I love how the soup tastes.

I am all for it if wedding dinners do away with the dish.

But people who give others a hard time at wedding dinners that do serve it are just being unreasonable.

Of course, they can argue that it is a demand and supply situation.

Still, getting people to stop serving it at weddings will take time as serving shark's fin is a tradition.

Andy Tan Hong Wei

I am ambivalent about shark fin's soup, but what gets my goat is when I am not given a choice.

These days, it seems that just because you scream louder and beat your chest harder, the rest will capitulate.

To me, it is all about maintaining our Chinese traditions.

I would still like to eat shark's fin during Chinese New Year and weddings. I want to have a choice.

Anna Lim

Unlike Sumiko Tan, I am more direct on the hypocrisy of it all.

I understand the arguments but, until we are clear on people's positions on geese, cows and chickens, it is unbearable that some are taking positions - and being rude to others - going on limited information.

I wonder what people will say if a famous scientist's research finds that weekly shark's fin consumption is lifeenhancing.

Kevin Kwek

I am very much against the eating of shark's fin, but I understand where Sumiko Tan is coming from.

However, my belief is in moderation. I only think of conservation. I will not eat anything that is endangered. For example, I would not mind eating crocodile meat if the reptiles were bred for food.

Similarly, pigs and chickens are bred for our consumption and there is a constant supply that does not affect the ecosystem. This is fine.

The problem is that sharks, much like crocodiles, are apex predators. They are at the top of the food chain. They moderate the number of fish.

If you take away the apex predator in an ecosystem, the food chain will crumble. There will be too many fish that will eat too much plankton. Once there is no more plankton, coral reefs will slowly die.

And this will increase the ocean's temperatures and lead to global warming. Taking away sharks has a direct effect on the environment.

However, if sharks can one day be bred for eating and the populations in the wild are left alone, I am definitely going to get myself a few good bowls.

Ryan Sim

You're what you eat
I won't order shark's fin soup myself. But if I'm served a bowl, I'll take it because it's rude not to
Sumiko Tan Straits Times 5 Feb 12;

I've never regarded shark's fin soup as a delicacy because I was force-fed it as a child.

My father, you see, didn't believe in half-measures. When he was interested in something, he'd go the whole hog.

For a while in the 1960s, his dream was to create the most beautiful black orchid in Singapore, so for years he and my mother mixed tiny seeds in bottles of agar-agar culture to come up with new orchid hybrids.

He then got into cultivating bonsai, which he turned into a business.

Another time, he was seized with the idea that there was a market for old typewriters, and so imported dozens from Sri Lanka. He had to sell them for a song when this business idea came to naught.

Shark's fin soup was another of his life-long obsessions.

He loved it and wanted to eat it every day, so he got my mother to learn to cook the dish, which is usually served on special occasions in restaurants and is expensive.

He would set off before dawn to the then-Kangkar wholesale fish market in Upper Serangoon where he got our supply of fish and, when the craze hit him, shark's fin.

Making the soup was painstaking work.

If the fins hadn't come already cleaned, my mother would have to do this, and carefully, for you didn't want any of those precious slithery strands to slip down the sink.

She'd then line a bamboo basket with raw pig's skin and place the fins in the middle. Chinese wine and lots of coriander were added and the pig's skin folded over to form a sort of giant samosa.

On top of that bundle she'd arrange fresh pig's trotters and chunks of chicken. All this was put into a steamer and slowly cooked for hours.

The shark's fin - softened and rid of the fishy smell - was then set aside while the rest of the by-now gelatinous ingredients were mixed with Chinese ham, crab meat and soya sauce to form a tasty broth.

Growing up, I had shark's fin soup coming out of my ears. At any one time, we'd have pots of it in the fridge where it would have turned into jelly and had to be heated up.

My father believed shark's fin was nutritious and would make us strong, and so he forced us to eat it.

While I didn't dislike the dish - the fins are tasteless but the soup is flavourful - I developed something of a phobia for it.

Those days, no one batted an eyelid about eating shark's fin soup. The Chinese have for centuries revered shark's fin as a delicacy and it was served as a treat - a symbol of respect, honour and prosperity.

Today, no one can escape the bad press surrounding it.

Anti-shark's fin soup advocates cite two main reasons the dish should be banned.

One is cruelty. Fishermen, they say, perform 'finning' where the coveted fins of the sharks are hacked off and the rest of the fish, sometimes still alive, thrown back into the sea to sink and die.

The other is the environment. They say the killing of sharks for their fins is depleting the world's shark population with some species almost extinct, and this has dire effects on the ocean's eco-system.

I would never order a bowl of shark's fin soup for myself.

But this is not so much because of the anti-shark's fin lobby, although I am sympathetic to its argument about protecting the environment. It is because I'm still tired of it, given how much I'd consumed when I was young.

But if I am served a bowl of shark's fin - like at my recent Chinese New Year's Eve reunion dinner - I will take it.

I'll take it because it is there.

I'll take it because the soup is tasty.

I'll take it because it will be a sheer waste of money to leave it untouched to be then thrown away.

Mostly, though, I'll take it because it will be rude to my host if I don't.

If someone had honoured me by serving the treasured dish, I don't believe I should be so ungracious as to reject it, and in front of other people too. Why make him lose face?

A friend said he so dislikes people who give others a hard time at wedding dinners that serve shark's fin soup that he'll deliberately eat extra portions.

'If they're really all that compassionate, they should stop eating meat too. Killing cows and chickens is also cruel,' he said.

Indeed, where does one draw the line as an 'ethical consumer'?

At shark's fin? But what about shark meat? It's been used in the West for fish and chips and such.

Is it okay for sharks to be killed for their meat but not their fins? Isn't any form of 'killing' traumatic to the animal? Why limit it to finning?

How about foie gras? It must be horrible to be a goose and force-fed just so that your liver becomes enlarged and deliciously fatty and buttery when eaten.

Feedlot cattle? Can't be nice to be packed in a pen with thousands of others, fattened up with an unnatural diet, then killed for food.

Factory-farmed chicken that have been debeaked? Same thing.

Bluefin tuna? They're becoming endangered because of over-fishing.

My sister tries to eat only 'humanely raised' and 'humanely killed' animals. She feels less bad if they had been killed in as least a painful method as possible.

But she admits it's not all altruistic. She believes animals that are highly stressed have stress hormones and their meat isn't healthy to the human body.

But isn't 'humanely killed' a contradiction?

In my world view, animals - unless they have been domesticated - were created to be killed by humans for food.

And if you've watched documentaries, you'll know animals in the wild are vicious. They rip apart and kill each other all the time, whether for food or to protect themselves or their young.

It's all part of nature and the cycle of life, so why are some people so hung up about what animals might be 'feeling'?

A friend, who reviews food, describes herself as an 'equal opportunity eater'. She eats almost anything as it is her job to do so, and because she doesn't think one species deserves more sympathy than another.

She recently had dinner and was served a roast piglet. She showed me an iPhone photo of it and, my goodness, we both agreed, it was the cutest little piggy ever.

It had been roasted to a rosy hue, had a round little head and its eyes were closed, as if it were sleeping. Totally angelic.

She ate it.

It's a pig.

It's meant to be eaten.

There are some things I would never eat - dog meat, snake, frog, turtle, pigeon, oysters, chicken feet, insects and gooey stuff such as sea cucumber.

But this has more to do with how they make my stomach turn than with ethical reasons.

To each his own, I always say.

We are ultimately what we eat, or don't eat, and we live with our conscience.

What gets my goat is when ethical consumers adopt a holier-than-thou attitude and hector anyone who is not like them.

And so, at the risk of receiving their vitriol, I'll admit it again: If served shark's fin soup, I'll eat it.

Maybe, as a friend pointed out, I also represent a generational divide.

I straddle my father's generation that regarded shark's fin as a cultural and culinary treasure, and today's young that thinks the dish is barbaric.

I have good memories of it and want to remain loyal to it, yet I also don't want to be flamed for not hating it. It is an uncomfortable position.

But if I have to choose between ranting about cruelty to sharks and hurting the feelings of someone who had served me the dish because he wanted only the best for me, I will keep quiet and eat up my shark's fin soup, anytime.

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Tiger skins, elephant ivory and bones seized in Malaysia

TRAFFIC 10 Feb 12;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 10th February 2012—Eight Tiger skins, elephant tusks and bags of bones were seized in northern Malaysia, according to a statement released today by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The items were found after a dozen officers from Malaysia’s wildlife department, Perhilitan, raided a house following a tip-off in the early hours of Friday morning in Kota Setar in the northern district of Kedah.

One local man was arrested and taken away for questioning. A second house was also raided as part of the investigations, although no animal parts were discovered there.

Among the goods confiscated were 8 Tiger skins, 9 elephant tusks, one deer horn and 22 bags containing animal bones. The bones are to be sent away for identification and forensics analysis.

“TRAFFIC warmly congratulates the wildlife department on this important seizure,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC South-East Asia.

“However, it is vital thorough investigations are undertaken of all seized items to determine their origin, who was behind trafficking in them, and where the buyers are, so that they can be brought to book.”

The confiscation of elephant tusks could mark a shift in Malaysia’s involvement in the illegal ivory trade. Prior to 2011, Malaysia was considered a transit country in the flow of ivory from Africa to Asia, but in January 2012, 450 kg of ivory was seized in Port Klang, with Malaysia as its final destination.

Under Malaysian law, anyone convicted of possession of parts of totally protected wildlife, such as Tiger skins, faces a maximum fine of MYR100,000 (USD33,000) or up three years in jail or both, for each offence.

“The government has regularly warned its citizens about the penalties for anyone caught dealing in protected wild animal parts,” said Krishnasamy.

“Now is the time to back up those warnings—if anyone is convicted in this case, they should feel the full force of the law. A small fine is just a slap on the wrist and sends completely the wrong message: laws are there to be obeyed.”

Tiger skins and elephant tusks seized
Isabelle Lai The Star 11 Feb 12;

PETALING JAYA: Tiger skins and elephant ivory tusks were among wildlife parts seized by the Wildlife and Natural Parks Department (Perhilitan) in a successful bust.

A team of 12 Perhilitan officers from Kedah raided two houses in Mukim Tokai, Pendang, and Kota Sarang Semut, Kota Setar at around 3.15am yesterday.

The team seized eight tiger skins, nine elephant ivory tusks, 22 plastic bags suspected to be filled with wildlife bones and a tusk suspected to be from a barking deer.

“The seized items were taken from an unnumbered house in Lot 30, Kampung Sungai Dedap, Kota Sarang Semut in Kota Setar,” Perhilitan said in a statement.

It warned that the act of keeping wildlife parts was illegal and offenders could be prosecuted under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

“Owning tiger skins, elephant ivory tusks and wildlife bones without a permit is illegal and offenders can be fined up to RM100,000, jailed up to three years or both for each offence,” it said.

Perhilitan said a male suspect had been detained and remanded at the Kota Setar police station for further investigation.

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic hailed the bust as very significant.

“It is shocking to learn he had in his possession all these parts from protected animals.

“Further investigation to determine where these items were obtained from and who else was involved is crucial,” said Traffic South-East Asia senior programme officer Kanitha Krishnasamy.

She said the arrest of this individual with nine ivory pieces was an excellent opportunity for intelligence-led investigations to crack down on the illegal ivory trade.

Malaysia has seized more than six tonnes of ivory worth millions of ringgit in the last seven months, most of which were transshipped.

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Overfishing 'costs EU £2.7bn each year'

Mark Kinver BBC News 10 Feb 12;

Overfishing of EU fisheries is costing £2.7bn (3.2bn euros) a year and 100,000 jobs, a report has said.

The research, by the UK-based New Economics Foundation, said a third of Britain's fish consumption could be met if stocks were allowed to recover.

Separate research suggests that half of fishermen would not be willing to give up their livelihoods.

Last week, a report said there were reasons to be optimistic that fisheries could recover from past exploitation.

"Overfishing is bad for the economy," said report author Rupert Crilly, environmental economics researcher for the foundation's Ocean2012 initiative.

"With the stroke of pen, European fisheries ministers are wiping out millions of pounds and thousands of jobs each year by allowing overfishing to continue."

The report, Lost at Sea, concluded that the restoring 43 of the continent's fish stocks to their "maximum sustainable yield" (largest annual catch that can be maintained over the long-term) would result in an additional 3.5m tonnes of fish reaching markets, "enough to meet the annual demand for almost 160m EU citizens".

It added: "Overfishing is the single most destructive force in the marine environment.

"It has made the fishing industry economically vulnerable and caused coastal communities to crumble. Instead of rebuilding (fish) stocks, the industry has become heavily subsidised by the taxpayer.

"This is a losing battle. In just these (43) sample stocks, the cost of overfishing is five times higher than the value of EU subsidies."

It warned that the proposed reforms to the 27-nation bloc's Common Fisheries Policy did not go far enough to address the problem.

"Restoring fish stocks is within politicians' power, and in the current economic climate, the stakes are higher than ever," Mr Crilly said.

Global problem

Last week, the Prince of Wales launched a report by his think-tank, International Sustainability Unit (ISU), that looked at a way to put fisheries around the globe on a sustainable footing.

The report, Fisheries in Transition, concluded that by regulating the catch in a sensible way, fishermen were able to make more money for less effort, allowing the stock to be safeguarded against exploitation.

"We recognise that there is no 'one size fits all', solution - every fishery is different," said Charlotte Cawthorne, ISU marine programme manager, speaking at the report's launch.

But, she added, three things were essential: scientific understanding of the ecosystem, funding for the transition, and sound management.

A study published this week in the journal Plos One said that half of the fishermen in developing nations would not be willing to give up their livelihoods, regardless of declining catches.

"We found that half of fishermen questioned would not be tempted to seek out a new livelihood, even if their catch declined by 50%," said co-author Dr Tim Daw from the University of East Anglia.

The survey carried out by an international team of researchers questioned almost 600 fishermen in Africa and Asia about how they would respond to declining catches.

"Surprisingly, fishermen in the more vibrant and developed economies were less likely to give up their trade, despite having more economically fruitful opportunities open to them," explained fellow co-author Joshua Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australia.

"This is the reverse of the common belief that poor communities are less likely to adapt than wealthy ones," Dr Cinner added.

"We suspect that this may be in part due to the perverse impacts of subsidies in more developed countries encouraging people to stay in the fishery which would otherwise not be profitable."

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