Best of our wild blogs: 21 Feb 12

from The annotated budak

Micro Movements in the Pasilobus
from Macro Photography in Singapore

spotted wood owls @ pasir ris - Jan2012
from sgbeachbum

Little Bronze Cuckoo in Courtship Feeding
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sharing Sisters Islands with Asia Pacific Breweries
from wild shores of singapore

Nature Ramble by Dr Ho at Bukit Brown
from Rojak Librarian

Matang: Romanticising the Mangroves (2)

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"Complete makeover of Johor seafront sites facing Singapore"

Malaysia, Johor: A seafront of opportunity
The Star 21 Feb 12;

Stretching 25km to the east and west of the Johor Causeway, the IIWC integrated master plan will see a complete makeover of Johor Baru and seafront sites facing Singapore.

JOHOR BARU: A special website and telephone line will be set up for po­­tential investors in Iskandar Water­front Holdings Sdn Bhd (IWH).

IWH director Datuk Lim Kang Hoo said the groundwork had been done, especially along the Danga Bay area, adding that this will be the best time for people to invest in the area.

“We are opening up to Malaysian and foreign investors,” he told a press conference at the Danga Bay of­­fice here yesterday.

Lim said that those looking for investment opportunities could visit their office in Danga Bay, but said a website and special phone line would also be set up to entertain potential investors.

“We have done the main groundwork, including spending millions on land reclamation work.

“There are plenty of opportunities and these include the setting-up of hotels, service apartments or condominiums along the area,” he said.

Another IWH director Johar Salim Yahaya said Johoreans could benefit from the project and hoped that more people would come forward soon.

Last week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced a RM200mil facilitation fund to kick-start the Iskandar Integrated Water­front City (IIWC) project in Danga Bay.

The allocation will help transform Danga Bay into a premier waterfront destination with features such as a cruise ship terminal, marina, fisherman’s wharf and tower blocks to house commercial offices, hotels, ex­­hibition and convention centres, and residential properties.

Stretching 25km to the east and west of the Johor Causeway, the IIWC integrated master plan will see a complete makeover of Johor Baru and seafront sites facing Singapore.

The development, to be launched in phases over 25 years with a gross development value of RM80bil, will be a public-private partnership invol­ving the Government and IWH.

IWH is a special purpose vehicle created as the master developer and planner of a 1,200ha site within Is­­kan­dar Malaysia.

To date, IWH has attracted local investor Dijaya Corporation Bhd, which is investing RM3.8bil in a high-end mixed development pro­­ject spread over 15ha.

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Singapore ranked last of 150 in overall health

Taking the Earth’s pulse: UBC scientists unveil a new economic and environmental index
The University of British Columbia 20 Feb 12

Singapore – a country that looks good economically – ranked last out of the 150 countries sampled. Despite recording a surplus of 28 per cent of GDP in 2007, “its ecological deficits are the worst in the world,” says Sumaila.

A growing world population, mixed with the threat of climate change and mounting financial problems, has prompted University of British Columbia researchers to measure the overall ‘health’ of 150 countries around the world.

Encompassing both economic and ecological security, high-income countries were ranked among the least healthy overall. Many countries in South America performed well, offering future generations better financial, food, water, and energy security.

The top five performing countries are Bolivia, Angola, Namibia, Paraguay, and Argentina, while the bottom five performers are Jordan, the Republic of Korea, Israel, Kuwait, and Singapore.

“We hear that countries are suffering financially every day in the news,” says Rashid Sumaila, director of the UBC Fisheries Centre, “but that only tells half the story. Piling up ecological deficits is just as concerning as piling up financial deficits – both have consequences for future generations.”

Sumaila is presenting his work at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Feb. 20.

N.B. Sumaila is participating in an AAAS symposium at 9:45 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 20 at the Vancouver Convention Centre in Room 206-207. Photos of Sumaila are available at: Twitter hashtags: #AAASmtg and #UBC

Using data collected between 1997 and 2007, researchers from the UBC Fisheries Centre and the Global Footprint Network created what they call the Eco2 Index.

Economic figures for the Eco2 Index come from the World Bank and take into account financial deficits, national debt and Gross Domestic Product. Ecological figures come from the Global Footprint Network and measure resource consumption and waste produced by a country in comparison to its carrying capacity as expressed in locally available resources such as agricultural land and energy.

Globally over the course of the decade, the index shows that scores fell steadily, caused by growing ecological deficits in many countries.

According to Sumaila’s ranking, many high-income countries such as Japan, the United States, several European nations and the oil-rich Middle East, performed the worst – mostly due to high ecological deficits.

Singapore – a country that looks good economically – ranked last out of the 150 countries sampled. Despite recording a surplus of 28 per cent of GDP in 2007, “its ecological deficits are the worst in the world,” says Sumaila.

Spurred by the desire for higher short-term consumption, low and middle-income countries are following the lead of high-income nations, liquidating their ecological and economic capital.

Sumaila says, “our actions today may have even greater consequences later on. It is concerning that both our financial and our ecological security are deteriorating.”

Canada, Australia, parts of southwestern Africa and South America were among the top performers in Sumaila’s rankings, due to large ecological surpluses.

“The Eco2 Index should help countries in planning for the future – they can use this information to identify what they need to work on, whether that’s financial or ecological productivity,” says Sumaila.

Global Footprint Network

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Earth Hour HQ to relocate to Singapore

Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 12;

SINGAPORE: Climate change movement Earth Hour is moving its global headquarters from Sydney, Australia to Singapore.

It is expected to move to Singapore in May.

Earth Hour started as a one-city campaign in Sydney in 2007.

By 2011, the movement has spread to 5,251 cities and towns, reaching some 1.8 billion people in 135 countries.

The global movement encourages individuals, businesses and communities to switch off lights for one hour on the last Saturday of March every year.

Earth Hour executive director and co-founder Andy Ridley said Singapore offers the level of connectivity and opportunity the campaign needs to move forward.

He said: "Great for business, great for communications, brilliant for digital. And it's got great people who can work for us.

"To move to Singapore in a geographical sense makes total sense - Earth Hour is growing really big in India and in China and in Indonesia, as well as Latin America and the (United) States. So many reasons to move here.

"Sydney is the most beautiful city and we'll be sad to move from there but it's a long way away from the rest of the world."

Earth Hour's Singapore headquarters is expected to lead the campaign's outreach to businesses.

It will join some 135 international non-profit organisations currently using Singapore as a global base.

A key objective of Earth Hour is to get people to go "beyond the hour" in their commitment to environmental protection.

This year's Earth Hour takes place on 31 March, at 8.30pm.

The Singapore event will be on Orchard Road, and organisers are hoping for a 6,000-strong turnout.

- CNA/al/wk

Earth Hour moving HQ to Singapore
Republic well placed to drive campaign forward, says green movement
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 21 Feb 12;

EARTH Hour, a global climate change movement, is making Singapore its home.

The agency, which is behind the annual event that encourages people to switch off their lights for an hour on the last Saturday evening of March, is moving out of its global headquarters in Sydney to come to these parts by May. And it will be

hiring people here to fill its ranks.

The group has eight members, four of whom will move here. It plans to recruit four full-timers here and more temporary staff for its events.

Earth Hour executive director and co-founder Andy Ridley said in a press conference at Ion Orchard yesterday that Singapore is well placed to move the campaign forward.

'Sydney is the most beautiful city and we'll be sad to move from there, but it's a long way from the rest of the world,' he said. 'Moving here makes total sense geographically.'

He added that Singapore is great for business and communications, and brilliant for digital work. It also has 'great people who can work for us', he said.

Earth Hour started in Sydney in 2007. By last year, it had spread to more than 5,000 cities and towns across 135 countries, rapidly gaining traction in India, Indonesia, China, Latin America and the United States.

Its Singapore headquarters is expected to lead its outreach to businesses.

A key objective of the movement is to get people to go 'beyond the hour' in protecting the planet.

Its offices will be at Tanglin International Centre, located on the former grounds of the Ministry of Education in Kay Siang Road.

The building, now a dedicated space for non-profit groups, is already home to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The Singapore Environment Council and Fauna & Flora International are expected to move in this year.

About 135 international non-profit organisations are now using Singapore as a regional or global base.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) aims to get 150 such international non-profit groups from all sectors here by 2015, creating 2,500 jobs in the process.

Mr Goh Chee Kiong, the EDB's director of clean technology, said at the press conference that Asia will play an increasingly major role in the 'global sustainability landscape' and Singapore will help to implement green initiatives in the region.

This year's Earth Hour takes place on March 31 at 8.30pm. The Singapore event will be in Orchard Road and organisers are hoping for a 6,000-strong turnout.

The campaign theme, revealed yesterday, is 'I Will If You Will'. It is aimed at encouraging people to make longer-term green pledges.

Former model and WWF Singapore's official Earth Hour ambassador Nadya Hutagalung, for example, has pledged to dive with sharks off southern Australia alongside Mr Ridley if 10,000 people pledge not to use plastic bags and straws for the rest of the year.

Earth Hour sinks roots in Singapore
Liau Yun Qing ZDNet Asia 20 Feb 12;

SINGAPORE--Earth Hour, part of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), has moved its global operations from Sydney, Australia, to Singapore due to the country's advantage as a business hub.

Andy Ridley, executive director and co-founder of Earth Hour, said Singapore will act as the global headquarters for Earth Hour, which has over 70 offices around the world, and the team of eight members from its Sydney office will relocate here.

"We were looking for a city with a certain attitude to take Earth Hour to the next step," he explained during a press briefing here on Monday, adding that Singapore not only has the organizational skills and talent but as a business hub, it was ahead of the other candidates Earth Hour had in mind.

Goh Chee Kiong, director of cleantech at Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), who was also at the briefing, welcomed the move, saying that the country strives to be the "hub" for non-profit organizations. There are currently 135 such organizations that have sited their regional or global offices here, he noted.

Ridley also debunked the idea that Asia-Pacific countries are not as involved with the green initiative. He noted that participation from emerging countries, especially those from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) region, has been "massive".

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Angler killed by lightning strike: Coroner

He had taken shelter under a tree and had fishing rod with him
Khushwant Singh Straits Times 21 Feb 12;

TWO dispatch riders decided to spend their day off on a Saturday last year to fish on Coney Island.

When it started raining at 2pm, they sought shelter under a tree 20m from the shoreline. A little while later, one of the two felt a sharp pain and lost consciousness.

When he came round, he was unable to move his body and had difficulty breathing. The other angler, Mr Tan Guan Yin, 40, was lying motionless nearby and was unresponsive to attempts to rouse him.

His friend Eng Yang Huat, 41, used his cellphone to call a fellow angler for help at 5pm. The friend drove down and managed to find him, before seeking help from the Lorong Halus Power Station Depot. A staff member there called for an ambulance.

Paramedics could not detect any pulse on Mr Tan and he was declared dead. Mr Eng was semi-conscious and taken to Changi General Hospital. He has since recovered.

Yesterday, State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid agreed with police findings that Mr Tan was killed by lightning while out fishing on Nov 19 last year.

Police sergeant Eddie Kong said at the inquiry that Mr Tan and Mr Eng had their fishing rods with them and were standing near other fishing equipment.

They had also taken shelter under a tree when the thunderstorm hit Coney Island that afternoon.

Investigations revealed that Mr Tan, a bachelor who lived alone in a three-room flat in Yishun, was an introvert. His brother had introduced him to fishing and it quickly became his favourite pastime.

On that Saturday, Mr Tan and Mr Eng had parked their motorcycles at the end of Lorong Halus in Pasir Ris at about noon. They crossed over at low tide and climbed a series of wave breakers and a metal railing that cordoned off the shoreline of Coney Island.

They also disregarded notices that warned against trespassing on state land.

The court heard that given that Singapore is one of the lightning capitals of the world, a knowledge of safeguards can save lives.

The coroner said it would be good for people to be aware of defensive measures, such as not holding metal objects and not seeking shelter under tall trees during a thunderstorm.

Singapore has an average of 186 days of lightning a year and each sq km of land here can be struck up to 16 times a year.

The Republic has an average of 0.35 lightning death per million people each year, compared with 0.2 in Britain and 0.6 in the United States.

The months of April, May and November are the most lightning-prone because of the intense inter-monsoon weather conditions.

Precautions to take during a thunderstorm

If you are in the open:

Do not stay on high ground.

Seek shelter in a building or vehicle. If that is not possible, seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a thick growth of small trees and crouch into a ball on the ground.

Do not ride on a bicycle, motorcycle or golf cart.

Spread out if you are in a group.

Avoid holding metal objects and standing under tall trees or standing near metal fences, pipes and rails.

Avoid using the telephone, electrical appliances and electronic equipment.

Head for shore if you are in open water.

If you are at home:

Avoid taking a shower or bath, as plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity;

Avoid using a corded telephone unless it is an emergency; cordless and cellphones are safe to use.

Unplug electrical appliances, including air conditioners. Power surges caused by lightning can damage these items.


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Malaysia: Langkawi poachers 'a threat to leaf monkeys'

Illegal hunting rampant
Sharanjit Singh New Straits Times 21 Feb 12;

A troop of dusky leaf monkeys perched atop tree branches in Langkawi. (Inset) a bullet-riddled carcass of a dusky leaf monkey hanging head down with its tail wrapped around a branch. MSN Langkawi pix
1 / 2

THE heart-wrenching picture tells it all. It shows the lifeless bullet-riddled body of a dusky leaf monkey (langur) hanging head down with its stiffened tail wrapped around a tree branch.

The female primate was allegedly shot dead by local villagers at the foot of a hillside at Pantai Tengah here as it was foraging for food, with its babies in tow.

An expatriate, who has made Langkawi his home for many years, related how he had been been hearing gunshots almost daily and finally decided to check it out one evening in late January.

The foreigner, who wished to be known only as Mike, said he was shocked when he stumbled upon three men, one of whom was armed with a new 16-gauge shotgun, dragging two injured baby langur with tree roots tied around their neck.

"The baby langur were screaming and the men were shocked to see me.

"I grabbed the baby langur after they told me that the animals were pests and caused damage to their newly-planted rubber sapplings."

Mike said the men allowed him to take the babies which he later sent to a veterinary clinic on the island.

One of the babies died on the same day while the second one is now being cared for by an animal lover.

The killing of the langur, also known as "spectacled leaf monkey" for the unmistakable white patches around their eyes, has sparked concern that hunting the species, which is totally banned in Langkawi, is becoming rampant on the island.

Residents claimed to have heard gunshots in areas like Pantai Tengah and Pantai Kok, despite a hunting ban on the island, which has been declared a national eco-park.

Local conservationist Irshad Mubarak, also known as Junglewalla, said the authorities could easily track down the culprits as there were only a handful licensed firearms holders on the island.

"They are either private licence holders or Rela members so I don't see why they cannot be tracked down.

"I hope there will be more enforcement as the fruiting season has started in Langkawi. More langur may be killed when they start raiding the fruit orchards," said Irshad.

Malaysian Nature Society Langkawi chairman Eric Sinnaya said they had recently teamed up with relevant departments including the Langkawi Development Authority, the district council and the Wildlife and National Parks Department to form a conservation team.

"By next month, the team can help identify and nab the culprits."

Meanwhile, Kedah Wildlife and National Parks department director Rahim Ahmad said they were investigating the allegation but had yet to detain any suspects.

"We have stepped up surveillance and enforcement in areas where the hunting activity is said to be taking place."


THE dusky leaf monkey, which is also known as the spectacled langur or spectacled leaf monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus), is a species of primate found mainly in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.

IT is a shy, interesting-looking creature with large white circles around each eye, giving these little primates the appearance of sporting eyeglasses.

IN addition to white circles around each eye, the it also has white skin surrounding its mouth and a creamy white colour around its stomach.

ALTHOUGH the adult dusky leaf monkey is typically grey, or brown in colour, the babies are born bright orange.

DUSKY leaf monkeys typically live in troops that have an average of 10 to 17 animals.

DURING the day, the troop will splinter into smaller groups to forage through the trees.

DUSKY leaf monkeys prefer to feed on young leaves, although it will also eat fruits, preferably unripe, and flowers.

AT night, the monkeys will regroup, and then bed down for the evening in the trees.

PREDATORS of this species include snakes and large birds of prey.

HUMANS also hunt these monkeys and loss of habitat has become a problem for the dusky leaf monkey.

CURRENTLY, these monkeys are listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

Probe into Langkawi monkey shootings, department urged
New Straits Times 23 Feb 12;

GEORGE TOWN: Conservationists are urging the authorities to act quickly to save the near-threatened dusky leaf monkeys, which are being killed indiscriminately in Langkawi.

TRAFFIC Southeast Asia deputy regional director Chris R. Shepherd said the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) should investigate the shootings of the monkeys.

"It was disturbing to read news of the monkeys being shot.

"Perhilitan must investigate if the killing of the monkeys is limited to locals, or if there are people from outside the island hunting the animals for sport."

He added an investigation was also needed to determine if locals were collecting young monkeys after killing the parents.

He said the investigation should find out if the monkeys weretraded illegally as pets.

Shepherd said the killings pointed to the need for better monitoring and management of people with gun licences and permits in Langkawi.

He said if investigations revealed that it was simply a case of dealing with an agricultural pest, then Perhilitan, as well as agricultural and land planning authorities, should engage locals to find solutions.

"Surely, Langkawi's wildlife deserves better protection. The island is a well-known eco-tourism destination and it does not bode well for its reputation if visitors are greeted by protected species hanging, dead, from trees."

He said people who had information of illegal hunting and trade of dusky leaf monkeys, or other protected species, should call the MYCAT wildlife crime hotline at 019-3564194.

The New Straits Times on Monday reported that dusky leaf monkeys were being killed in Langkawi, where the hunting of animals is prohibited. Residents said gunshots could be heard in Pantai Tengah and Pantai Kok.

Kedah Perhilitan director Rahim Ahmad said the department had stepped up surveillance and enforcement in areas where hunting was said to be taking place.

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Malaysia: Last hope for rhinos

Tan Cheng Li The Star 21 Feb 12;

Sumatran rhino numbers have plunged so low that if captive breeding is not done now, the species might well tip over the brink.

SHE has difficulty moving and hobbles pitifully around her enclosure in a special sanctuary in Sabah. Her left forefoot is just a stump – it was caught in a snare when she was a calf. So they named her Puntung, Malay for “stump”.

Her handicap had prevented her from actively foraging for food, which explains her skinny frame – the lines of her rib cage show through her torso.

At the rhino sanctuary, Puntung gets plenty of veterinary care from Dr Jorg Junhold (left), director of Germany’s Leipzig Zoo, and veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin. Her left foreleg, probably caught in a snare, has lost all its hooves.

“With only three good legs, she can’t move far in the forest. She can’t reach for a lot of food, she can only browse. She has lacerations on her neck and hind leg and is badly scarred, indicating how tough a time she must have had in the forest,” says veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin.

Thankfully, Puntung, a female Sumatran rhinoceros, is now safely esconced at Borneo Rhino Sanctuary, a 4,500ha sprawl of forest within Tabin Wildlife Reserve, some 45km from Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah.

Late last year, news of her capture made headlines all over the world. She was trapped on Dec 18 in another part of Tabin and on Christmas Day, airlifted by helicopter to the sanctuary. In her new home, she is showered with attention. She has her own paddock and workers feed her with leaves from different trees and occasionally shower her with water to keep her cool.

All that pampering is with a purpose – Puntung is to be nursed back to health so that she can mate with Tam, short for Kretam, a male rhino at the sanctuary. The pair promises wildlife biologists another shot at breeding the critically-endangered species in captivity; it is a last-ditch attempt to save a species which is staring at extinction.

The Sumatran rhinos (or Asian two-horned rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) are dying out as their habitat has dwindled, they are shot for their horns and increasing isolation hinders their breeding. Surveys of known rhino strongholds Taman Negara, Royal Belum State Park and Endau-Rompin National Park in recent years showed no evidence of rhinos, causing some within the wildlife conservation fraternity here to believe that the animal is all but poached out in Peninsular Malaysia.

In Sabah, the population is down to less than 40, which makes the state our only hope of preventing local extinction of the species. (The only other place which harbours the species is Sumatra, which has an estimated population of 150.)

The loss of the rhino is not a modern-day occurrence. They were already being hunted in the 1900s. Vetting old newspapers on Sabah, wildlife biologist Dr Junaidi Payne finds that rhinos were routinely hunted in the early 1900s, during which 20 rhino horns were exported annually. From the 1960s to the 90s, the hunt continued as people still coveted rhino horns as folk remedies, plus there was an added threat – loss of rhino habitat as forests were cleared for timber and conversion to human settlements, farms and plantations.

Today, major deforestation has slowed down somewhat, so loss of habitat is no longer the main threat to rhinos, according to Payne. Rather, it is their dwindling numbers and isolation which prevent breeding, stifling any possibility of expanding the population. Which is why a group of wildlife conservationists has formed the Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) to spearhead a captive breeding programme at Tabin, as a last recourse for the species.

“The problem now is that most remaining rhinos are infertile and too old to breed, and too scattered to meet and breed,” says Payne, executive director of Bora. “Most are solitary, just living out their lives. When a species declines to such low numbers, the only way to boost numbers and birth rate above death rate may be to bring some individuals together to increase the prospects for breeding. “Some people say the way to protect them is in the wild. We did that in the 80s, but the numbers still went down. Clearly (just) protecting and monitoring rhinos is a recipe for witnessing their extinction. So, there is only one priority, which is to make them breed.”

In the case of Puntung, she is unlikely to breed in the wild as monitoring work since 2007 shows that she never leaves her 15sqkm territory and no males venture there either; hence a decision was made in late 2009 to trap her.

Unsuccessful mating

Catching endangered wild animals to breed them in captive conditions is controversial but Payne points out that that was exactly how and why the African and Indian rhinos did not go extinct in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nonetheless, wariness lingers over the practice as past attempts, thwarted by poor husbandry and uncertainties, saw little success.

Between 1984 and 1994, 40 rhinos were captured in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah under an International Union for Conservation of Nature-led rhino rescue project. The animals ended up in European and American zoos, and in breeding facilities in their home states.

Most, however, fared badly in captivity and died from various diseases and old age. (In hindsight, the experts 30 years ago did not know enough about the rhino’s nutritional needs and reproductive health. In the wild, rhinos eat some 200 species of leaves, some of which contain compounds which bind iron. In captivity, the diet is not as varied, leading to iron accumulation and eventually, diseases.)

Of the 40 rhinos, only one pair, in Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, the United States, bred and produced three babies. The animal keepers there got the care and the diet right and so, were successful. One of the captive-bred males, Andalas, was returned to Indonesia in 2007 to join three other females at the rhino sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra. The female, Ratu, is now pregnant and due to deliver in July, having miscarried twice before.

In Peninsular Malaysia, captive breeding efforts at the Sungai Dusun Rhino Conservation Centre in Selangor saw no success and ended abruptly in late 2003 when all five remaining rhinos died over a span of 18 days from bacterial infection caused by unkempt conditions. In August 2006, the sole captive male rhino in Sabah then was killed by a falling tree branch at the breeding centre located within the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, Sandakan. This left the female rhino, Gelogob, without a mate. The breeding programme was doomed until 2008, when Tam was found in an oil palm plantation and trapped.

Past failures in captive breeding were partly because the biology of wild rhinos had conspired against them. Many of the captive rhinos had reproductive pathology associated with long non-productive periods. Many were too old and not fertile, and the females had cysts in their ovary tracts while the males had low sperm count. Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian Dr Senthilvel Nathan explains: “When animals are sexually inactive and have not mated, their hormonal system is affected, they get reproductively unsound.”

Such is the tragic story of Gelogob, the sole survivor of the 1984-1994 capture programme. She was fertile in 1994 and showed signs of having given birth but by the time Tam was trapped and paired with her, Gelogob was no longer in her prime and her pregnancy did not come to term. Today, she is too old to breed and treatment to promote ovulation has not worked.

Breeding science

At the new rhino sanctuary in Tabin, however, wildlife biologists are optimistic about current breeding efforts as advances in reproductive science mean more options are available. Fussed over by attentive staff, Puntung has piled on over 7kg since her arrival and now weighs close to 500kg. Her enclosure is separated from, but is next to Tam’s, so that they can get familiar with each other’s scent. Puntung now has her own 1,000sqm paddock and this will slowly be enlarged to include the forested area where she can roam. She will be given time to get used to her new environment, before any breeding attempts can start.

Dr Zainal keeps a close watch over Puntung. Her blood is being tested for progesterone levels to determine her reproductive health. “I’m quite certain that her reproductive system is healthy as she’s young, around 10 to 12 years old,” says the Bora field manager. Enclosures are also sanitised – even the pellets fed to the rhinos are tested for fungus – to prevent a repeat of past mishaps of captive rhinos dying from infections triggered by unhygienic conditions.

Three to four months of blood sampling will be needed before the Bora team can decide on the most suitable breeding method to employ, either natural means or advanced reproductive methods such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilisation. Ultrasound scans will enable Zainal to know when the animals are in heat and can be brought together to mate.

But there is a potential snag: Tam’s virility appears to be on the decline. “Tam is producing semen but in small amounts and not of good quality,” says Zainal. “This could be due to many factors. We’re doing electro-ejaculation, and this will give various results as you’re forcing the animal to ejaculate. The best is ejaculation through natural means. He used to give good semen in 2009 and then it fluctuated; it could be due to stress or age (Tam is about 20 years old).”

To beef up chances of success, foreign experts experienced in breeding rhinos are lending their expertise. Dr Jorg Junhold, director of Germany’s Leipzig Zoo, says artificial insemination was first successfully used for elephants eight years ago and can be tried out on rhinos. The zoo has a long history of keeping African rhinos and has bred the black rhino. “In principle, there are a lot of parallels in the keeping of different species of rhinos, which is why Leipzig Zoo is partnering and funding the project here, so we can add our experience to keeping rhinos.”

Will it make a difference?

There is also a plan to cryopreserve sperm from Tam for possible impregnation of captive female rhinos from either the peninsula or Sumatra. (In the past, all three rhino range states worked independently of each other, due to a belief that the Sabahan population is a sub-species. This has since been disputed based on DNA work and scientists now agree that rhinos from all three sites should be managed as one conservation unit.)

But even if Tam and Puntung were to produce an offspring, would it make any difference to the survival of the species in the wild? Will it be enough to rejuvenate the dwindling population? With their already small numbers, the slow-breeding rhinos – they have a gestation period of 15 months and a birth-interval of three years – are unlikely to reproduce fast enough to repopulate their own kind.

Payne disagrees: “There are a few fertile rhinos left, so they can be saved if brought together. People say they’re so inbred, is it worthwhile? Several species including the American bison, African and Indian rhinos and Arabian onyx got very, very low in numbers because of people slaughtering them in the late 19th century. Those went down to tens, less than a hundred. But people got together and put them in paddocks and the animals bred and those species are still alive. They may be inbred but they’re still there.”

Recent months have seen dismal news about the world’s rhinos: in October, the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam, its last range in mainland Asia (the last Javan rhino in Peninsular Malaysia was shot in 1932). Shortly after, in November, the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced the extinction of the western black rhino in Africa.

It also warned that a sub-species of the white rhino in central Africa, the northern white rhino, is teetering on the brink of extinction and has been listed as “possibly extinct in the wild”. The Sumatran rhino appears to be heading down the same path, if we do not act fast enough.

“This species is on the edge of extinction,” says Payne. “There is a chance to save an animal that started off millions of years ago, but that chance will be lost within this decade if sustained action is not taken now.”

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Malaysia: RM60m to build viaducts for tiger crossings

Nicholas Cheng and Kanyakumari Damodaran New Straits Times 21 Feb 12;

These are in addition to earlier six similar wildlife-friendly projects costing RM110m

The 123km highway links Grik in Perak with Jeli in Kelantan, crossing the Main Range.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Tan Sri Joseph Kurup said although the cost was high, experience showed the idea worked and these viaducts would be built in Perak.

He said the viaducts would provide safe passage for animals as part of the ecological linkages at the Belum-Temenggor Priority Tiger Landscape and the Greater Taman Negara.

These projects are in addition to earlier approved projects worth RM110 million for creating six wildlife-friendly viaducts in Terengganu and Pahang.

Although several core tiger habitats had been designated as protected areas, as part of the effort to double the wild tiger population by 2020, Kurup said many tigers were found outside these areas.

Also, extensive land use created fragmented forests which led to fragmented tiger populations and conflict issues from encounters between tigers and humans.

The Central Forest Spine Master Plan intends to create a contiguous network of forests in the backbone of the peninsula.

"For Malaysia, the tiger is part of our national symbol and its conservation is important as it occupies the top position in the animal food chain and its conservation will mean a healthier bio-diversity," Kurup said when launching the Cross-Sectoral Executive Forum on Mainstreaming Tiger Habitats yesterday.

Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director-general Datuk Rasid Samsudin said the mainstreaming of tiger habitats into the national plans had already started showing promising results.

"Perhilitan now manages around 15,000ha of ecological corridors around the wildlife viaducts in Terengganu," he said.

During the forum, World Bank's programme director of Global Tiger Initiative Keshav Varma urged government agencies and the private sector to consider how their polices and programmes could affect wildlife.

He also praised the Malaysian government for balancing the use of natural resources with the protection of tigers and other wildlife. "If the Malaysian model is adopted, the future prospects for tigers and other species will improve markedly."

Tigers, which are the largest cats in the world, have already lost 95 per cent of their habitats throughout Asia. Their numbers have dwindled to around 7,000.

The four main tiger states are Pahang, Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu.

They cover 90 per cent of the tiger habitats, with an estimate showing there are 450 to 500 tigers, indicating that Malaysia has the largest known tiger population in Southeast Asia.

The 123km highway links Grik in Perak with Jeli in Kelantan, crossing the Main Range.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Tan Sri Joseph Kurup said although the cost was high, experience showed the idea worked and these viaducts would be built in Perak.

He said the viaducts would provide safe passage for animals as part of the ecological linkages at the Belum-Temenggor Priority Tiger Landscape and the Greater Taman Negara.

These projects are in addition to earlier approved projects worth RM110 million for creating six wildlife-friendly viaducts in Terengganu and Pahang.

Although several core tiger habitats had been designated as protected areas, as part of the effort to double the wild tiger population by 2020, Kurup said many tigers were found outside these areas.

Also, extensive land use created fragmented forests which led to fragmented tiger populations and conflict issues from encounters between tigers and humans.

The Central Forest Spine Master Plan intends to create a contiguous network of forests in the backbone of the peninsula.

"For Malaysia, the tiger is part of our national symbol and its conservation is important as it occupies the top position in the animal food chain and its conservation will mean a healthier bio-diversity," Kurup said when launching the Cross-Sectoral Executive Forum on Mainstreaming Tiger Habitats yesterday.

Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director-general Datuk Rasid Samsudin said the mainstreaming of tiger habitats into the national plans had already started showing promising results.

"Perhilitan now manages around 15,000ha of ecological corridors around the wildlife viaducts in Terengganu," he said.

During the forum, World Bank's programme director of Global Tiger Initiative Keshav Varma urged government agencies and the private sector to consider how their polices and programmes could affect wildlife.

He also praised the Malaysian government for balancing the use of natural resources with the protection of tigers and other wildlife. "If the Malaysian model is adopted, the future prospects for tigers and other species will improve markedly."

Tigers, which are the largest cats in the world, have already lost 95 per cent of their habitats throughout Asia. Their numbers have dwindled to around 7,000.

The four main tiger states are Pahang, Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu.

They cover 90 per cent of the tiger habitats, with an estimate showing there are 450 to 500 tigers, indicating that Malaysia has the largest known tiger population in Southeast Asia.

RM170mil for tiger corridor
Isabelle Lai The Star 21 Feb 12;

PETALING JAYA: The Government has allocated RM170mil to build wildlife-friendly viaducts that are vital in linking fragmented tiger populations and reducing conflict with humans, said Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Tan Sri Joseph Kurup.

He said these included viaducts along the East-West Highway in Perak costing RM60mil in addition to earlier approved projects in Terengganu and Pahang costing RM110mil.

The viaducts will allow safe passage across highways for wildlife, including tigers and elephants, between conservation corridors such as the Greater Taman Negara and Belum-Temengor Priority Tiger Landscape.

“This is an ambitious yet strong commitment from the Government to strive to double the wild tiger population by 2022,” he said in his speech before launching the Cross-Sectoral Executive Leadership Forum on Mainstreaming Tiger Habitats here yesterday.

Despite the high cost, Kurup said it was possible to build these viaducts through early intervention during the planning stage of infrastructure development.

He said Malaysia would continue to ensure tiger conservation efforts were part of mainstream state and district-level programmes through its Central Forest Spine master plan and National Tiger Conservation Action Plan.

Malaysia was one of 13 countries that took part in the International Tiger Summit in 2010 in St Petersburg, Russia, to address the threat of tiger extinction and highlight the animals as the face of biodiversity.

Keshav Varma, the World Bank programme director for the Global Tiger Initiative, said the Malaysian Government had been “extremely forward-looking” in finding a balance between using its natural resources and protecting wildlife, including accommodating the needs of tigers and other species amid development.

“If the Malaysian model is adopted, the future prospects for tigers and other species could improve markedly,” he said.

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute director Steven Montfort said tiger conservation could be achieved by working together with all parties involved.

Read more!

Malaysia: Search for elusive sun bear

New Straits Times 21 Feb 12;

JERANTUT: The state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has intensified efforts to catch a sun bear in Felda Gelanggi 2 near here as it could shed light on one of the animals found dead in the area last week.

State Perhilitan director Khairiah Mohd Shariff said not much information could be derived from the dead bear as its carcass was highly decomposed.

She said it was difficult to confirm the cause of death or sex of the dead bear.

"Earlier reports show that they are a pair but we have yet to catch the other animal although a trap has been set in the area."

The carcass of the sun bear was discovered by two Felda settlers in their oil palm smallholding in Felda Gelanggi 2 on Feb 13.

Baba Madon, 65, and Shaharuddin Shamsuddin, 40, had a week earlier chanced upon the pair of rare bears when harvesting oil palm fruits.

Baba said one of the bears had fallen into a ditch in the smallholding and it looked like it was pregnant.

He said the skinny bear managed to crawl out of the ditch before moving into the jungle.

Perhilitan said the population of the totally-protected species had been declining steadily.

Read more!

Malaysia: Paying to conserve the forest

Natalie Heng The Star 21 Feb 12;

Paying for ecosystem services – more people are up for it than you think, if the right conditions are put in place.

WOULD you pay to stop logging and poaching in the Belum-Temengor forest? That question was posed to 1,300 households in Kuala Lumpur and the suburbs and rural outskirts of Selangor, to determine the use value of the 300,000ha of forest reserves in upper Perak.

From the answers given, it appears that some Malaysians are a generous lot when it comes to shielding Belum-Temengor, one of the richest forested areas in the country – they are willing to pay a mean amount of RM4 to protect it against logging, and RM3 against poaching.

The survey was conducted as part of the Conservation Of Biological Diversity Through Improved Forest Planning Tools Project (CBioD Project) and implemented by the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM).

Investigations into the recreational use and watershed values of Belum-Temengor were also conducted. All these studies are being used to develop tools for the economic valuation of goods and services.

To maintain accuracy, an immense amount of time and effort went into designing the survey, which was contracted out to PE Research. Participants were made to understand the costs and benefits of two scenarios: one where Belum-Temengor is protected from logging and poaching, and one where it is left as status quo (Belum-Temengor are forest reserves which are earmarked for logging, and the wild flora and fauna there are currently heavily poached).

They were informed on the benefits of logging the place such as potential employment and timber revenues for the state government and the costs (soil erosion, reduced water quality, potential flooding and species extinction).

The respondents had to consider how much they could actually afford to pay each month. Some are willing to fork out as much as RM15 to ensure that the forest remains intact.

However, 9% of the respondents do not want to pay anything. Using the mean amount people were willing to pay (RM4 against logging and RM3 against poaching), the aggregate amount added up to RM441,554,169 per year (based on the total of 1,736,200 households in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor in 2009).

With state revenue from logging estimated at RM31,977,703 per year, and the cost of enforcement against logging and poaching at about RM11,766,000 per year, this means that there is ample funds for protecting the reserve. And even if only Kuala Lumpur and Selangor participated in the scheme, more than enough money would be generated to protect wildlife, reduce the risk of flooding and also safeguard water sources.

The survey specifically excluded Perak because it looked purely at passive values (no direct usage of the resources) and to avoid bias (Perakians might have a vested stake in the forest reserves, for example, as employees of logging companies or as operators of resorts there).

Lead CBioD international collaborator Jeffrey Vincent says funding limitations prevented extension of the study to other states. Nevertheless, looking at the data they analysed, he says an increased sample size will not make any statistical difference in terms of results.

Raising the money

To raise the money needed to protect Belum-Temengor, the survey offers an interesting suggestion: through charges to the monthly water bills of households and businesses.

This can work since there is a tangible link – the forest acts as a water catchment capable of providing emergency supplies to states like Selangor during times of water shortage. The money can be used to compensate the state government for the loss of timber revenue and to set up a forest management programme.

The survey results promise to be a useful tool for decision-making at policy level. It has been shown that conservation decisions can be improved if there is information on the total economic value of alternative management options.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) conservation advisory committee chair Tan Chin Tong says copies of the report will be distributed to the communities around Gerik in Perak, the nearest town to Belum-Temengor, to raise more awareness on the types of value the forest holds.

“Generally, when people think about the value of the forest, they tend to associate this with logging income,” he says.

He says MNS has regular meetings with the Perak Government and hopes to communicate the report findings at the next opportunity.

Likewise, CBioD project national project director Dr Shamsudin Ibrahim says FRIM will explore the possibility of presenting the findings to the Economic Planning Unit. “In principle, I think such a plan could work.”

Certain elements are crucial; these include an effective communication campaign to explain how the scheme will work and benefit people.

“Education is important, payment for ecosystem services is something new in our society,” says Shamsudin.

Read more!

Indonesia: Bleak Forecast for the Future of E. Kalimantan Orangutans

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 20 Feb 12;

Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. Orangutans in Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan face a bleak future unless urgent measures are taken to stop wildlife poaching and illegal logging in the ostensibly protected area, park officials warned on Monday.

Asep Sugiatna, the head of the national park, said the main threat to the orangutans there came from poachers who often killed the endangered apes while hunting deer.

He also said they were being killed off by workers at the various logging concessions and palm oil plantations operating on the peripheries of the park, who viewed the animals as pests.

“It’s these two problems that pose the greatest threat to the continued existence of the orangutans in the park,” Asep said.

Park officials estimate there are around 2,000 orangutans inhabiting Kutai National Park. However, Asep said his office only had 20 forest rangers to patrol the 198,600-hectare park.

“It’s nowhere near enough,” he said.

“Just 20 people to guard nearly 2,000 square kilometers of forest? That’s why we need to work with the local people. It helps in terms of monitoring and protecting the forest.”

The park straddles the districts of East Kutai and Kutai Kartanegara, where at least two palm oil companies have been accused of slaughtering dozens of orangutans and other primates deemed to be pests.

Earlier this month, authorities uncovered more grisly evidence of this kind of practice when they found an orangutan corpse in the East Kutai area of the park.

The body had two gunshot wounds to the head, while the arms had multiple slashes believed to have been caused by a machete.

Dr. Yaya Rayadin, an orangutan researcher at Mulawarman University in Samarinda, the provincial capital, said the recent spate of killings indicated a failure on the part of the authorities to enforce the protection of the species and the sanctity of the national park.

“The authorities are fearful of saving orangutans whose habitat overlaps with logging, mining and palm oil concessions,” he said. “If this keeps up, pretty soon the orangutan population here will diminish.”

Read more!

Indonesia: Again, tiger injured after being illegally trapped in Bengkulu

Antara 20 Feb 12;

Bengkulu, Sumatra (ANTARA News) - An injured sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) was rescued after it was found illegally trapped in Air Rami industrial forest, North Bengkulu, Sumatra Island.

This follows a similar incident that took place in Lebong District, Bengkulu last month.

It is understood that the tiger was trapped on February 12, only to be discovered on February 15, in the forest, around 180 km from Bengkulu City, Amon Zamora, the chairman of the Bengkulu Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said, on Monday.

BKSDA officers evacuated the tiger after walking for three days to reach the location.

The tiger was given medical treatment and two of its toes had to be amputated by a team of vet surgeons.

The tiger is expected to be moved to Bengkulu City for further treatment.

In January, a sumatran tiger injured in a trap in Bengkulu and transferred to Bogor for treatment, died during surgery at the Safari Park Veterinary Hospital in Cisarua.

The endangered animal, which had sustained serious injuries after falling into the trap in the protected Gedang Hulu Lais forest, died while being treated in intensive care by a team of doctors.

Local residents, who had found the trapped animal, apparently tried to kill it with spears.

But the tiger survived the assault and was rescued and evacuated to Bengkulu city by BKSDA personnel and police.


Editor: Ade Marboen

Read more!

‘World Bank in Tiger Territory – No Greenwashing’

Marwaan Macan-Markar interviews Keshav Varma, director, Global Tiger Initiative
IPS News 20 Feb 12;

BANGKOK, Feb 20, 2012 (IPS) - When World Bank president Robert Zoellick steps down in June, the tiger will lose an ally who worked to prevent the decimation of Asia’s iconic animal by a voracious demand for its bones and parts in newly affluent China.

Under Zoellick’s watch, the Washington-based financial powerhouse launched the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) - focusing on an animal that roams 13 countries - as a symbol of its commitment to protect the planet’s biodiversity and thwart the illegal wildlife trade.

"There was a need for urgent, concentrated action to protect the tigers," says Keshav Varma, head of the GTI. "There was a decline both in the number of tigers and in their habitats." Launched in June 2008 the GTI provided a powerful platform to "bring the tiger range countries into the forefront of conservation."

These countries, with Russia at one end and Indonesia at the other, are home to 3,200 wild tigers. They are a fraction of the 100,000 striped, majestic beasts that existed in the early 20th century in the tiger range that includes India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan as also China, Burma, Cambodia,Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The Bank’s efforts have given these countries prominence in the efforts to save the tiger, Varma said, in an interview on the sidelines of a meeting here of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Q: The Bank has said that it sees the tiger as the face of biodiversity. Is this still the case four years after the GTI was launched?

A: Yes, because they are an iconic indicator of the pressure biodiversity is facing. Through the eyes of the tiger you come to know what is happening in remote areas. We have seen tiger habitats reduced to the borders of countries, or where development and urbanisation have completely destroyed or fragmented their habitat. So, if it were not for the tigers you would not know what is happening to the forests.

Q: What do you bring to the table that is new to helping the tiger range countries?

A: Six countries have been assured resources – 100 million dollars in concessional lending – by the Bank and GEF (Global Environmental Facility) with 65 million dollars in grants. We have also launched a multi-donor trust fund for another 30 million dollars. And we have created partnerships with the Smithsonian to train park rangers in modern management.

Q: Are you saying that park management was ignored till the Bank stepped in?

A: It was something where attention was not being paid before. The parks have to be managed according to modern, scientific systems. There has to be a management of information. This is a weak link in this whole area. And what has also prevailed is that people in these countries are better trained in forestry than wildlife management.

Park ecology is not being monitored properly. We have taken initial steps by training 300 people in tiger range countries.

Q: That may boost the Bank’s commitment as a conservationist, but your critics in civil society see this foray into a new territory as ‘greenwashing,’ since the Bank’s funds to build roads, dams and large infrastructure projects have caused untold environmental damage?

A: No, no, it is not greenwashing. We are conscious of the environment and environment sustainability is an important issue for the Bank. This is not new. It has been bank territory before. We have lent 20 billion dollars for biodiversity projects and some of these were directed towards conservation of wildlife.

Since launching the GTI, it has affected the way we do business within the Bank. There is much awareness on how we plan infrastructure projects. For instance, there is a rural road programme in India, and they are coming to the GTI and are coordinating their work to ensure that the roads do not adversely impact habitat.

There is a filter in terms of environmental impact analysis, where you are taking a much closer look at how our programmes do not impact the environment. We also conduct evaluations based on that; definitely, there is a greater amount of consciousness in the Bank. So the GTI has become a bit of a catalyst in terms of reassuring better awareness.

Q: Since Asia is the testing ground for the GTI, China does come into the picture, given the large number of tiger farms it has. Conservationists estimate that nearly 5,000 tigers have been bred in captivity to feed the trade in tiger products. Is the Bank calling for such farms to be closed?

A: Our position is that tiger farms help the market commercialisation of tiger parts. The Bank is prepared to offer assistance to countries to phase them out. In the interim, they need to be better regulated and better managed. There are definitely a lot of tiger farms and tiger parts are commercially produced in the region. China is not the only place.

Q: Is your concern about tiger farms shared by the tiger range countries?

A: Some countries are concerned that tiger farms are getting out of control and may ask GTI for assistance. They are aware about the surge in demand for tiger parts due to the emergence of a richer class in Asia and the illegal trade being more aggressive and better organised.

Read more!

New Species of Bat Discovered in Vietnam

ScienceDaily 20 Feb 12;

A distinctive echolocation frequency led to the discovery of a new species of bat within the genus Hipposideros. Although this bat is similar to the species Hipposideros armiger, differences in acoustics, size, and DNA between these bats led to the identification of the new species. This new member of the bat community, which has been found in two locations in Vietnam, has been given the scientific name Hipposideros griffini.

The current article of the Journal of Mammalogy reports on findings from a survey of bats in Vietnam over a span of three years. Eleven of 308 bats of the Hipposideros genus that were captured and handled for study displayed differing characteristics from all known taxa of Hipposideros and represent a new species.

Captured bats were measured for features such as forearm length, ear height, nose-leaf width, tooth row length, and body mass. Tissue samples were taken for genetic analysis. Recordings were made inside a flight tent, in front of caves, and under forest canopies, identifying calls of bats when they left their roosts and when they were foraging. Researchers used software for bat call analysis that can display color sonograms and measure frequencies.

The H. griffini bat has a smaller overall body size than its close cousin, H. armiger, and variations in the skull and teeth. Differences also appeared in the mitochondrial DNA collected from these bats. The echolocation frequencies of the new species range from 76.6 to 79.2 kHz, which is higher than frequencies of several H. armiger subspecies, which range from 64.7 to 71.4 kHz. Additional evidence shows that these two species are occupying the same geographical region yet have retained their separate identities.

H. griffini is named after the late Professor Donald Redfield Griffin of Rockefeller University in New York. Griffin was a leader in and essential contributor to bat echolocation research, which was key to identifying H. griffini as a new species. The proposed common name for this bat is "Griffin's leaf-nosed bat."

The new species was found at Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam and in Chu Mom Ray National Park, situated on the mainland more than 600 miles (1,000 km) to the south. H. griffini joins about 70 other species within the genus Hipposideros.

Journal Reference:

Vu Dinh Thong, Sebastien J. Puechmaille, Annette Denzinger, Christian Dietz, Gabor Csorba, Paul J. J. Bates, Emma C. Teeling, Hans-Ulrich Schnitzler. A new species of Hipposideros (Chiroptera: Hipposideridae) from Vietnam. Journal of Mammalogy, 2012; 93 (1): 1 DOI: 10.1644/11-MAMM-A-073.1

Strange New Leaf-Nosed Bat Found in Vietnam
Nose projections may help species catch prey.
Christine Dell'Amore National Geographic News 24 Feb 12;

A new species of bat whose face bristles with leaf-like protrusions has been discovered in Vietnam, a new study says.

When scientists first spotted Griffin's leaf-nosed bat in Chu Mom Ray National Park in 2008, the animal was almost mistaken for a known species, the great leaf-nosed bat, said Vu Dinh Thong, of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi.

Still, Vu Dinh and his team, thinking there was a chance the bat might in fact be new to science, used nets to catch some of the docile animals.

"While captured, some similar body-sized bats, i.e. [the] great leaf-nosed bat, reacts very angrily," he said by email. "But Griffin's leaf-nosed bat seems quite gentle."

The team did, however, have to contend with some vexing creatures—the "unbelievably high" number of leeches that take over Chu Mom Ray during rainy season, he said.

"It seems the leeches tried their best to capture us while we were trapping bats," Vu Dinh said.

"Fortunately, we won."

New Bat Still a Mystery

The team recorded the captured bats' sonar frequencies and took tissue samples from a few specimens.

The results revealed that the bat issues calls at a different frequency from the great leaf-nosed bat, which hinted that the newfound specimen is a new species. Genetic results confirmed the species—named Hipposideros griffini—is genetically distinct, according to the study, published recently in the Journal of Mammalogy.

So far, "absolutely little is known" about H. griffini, Vu Dinh said. Like all leaf-nosed bats, the newfound mammal has strange, leaf-like projections on its nose that may aid in echolocation—sending out sound waves and listening for echoes bouncing off objects, including prey.

(See "'Whispering' Bat Evolved to Trick Prey.")

The bat was also found in only two national parks, though further research may uncover more habitats for the creature, Vu Dinh said.

"This finding also suggested that Vietnam would be home to a highly diverse bat fauna, and that some species living within the country are not discovered."

Read more!

Myanmar: Rare monkey facing extinction

Ei Ei Toe Lwin Myanmar Times Volume 31, No. 615 February 20 - 26, 2012

A RECENTLY discovered species of monkey is threatened with extinction and conservation programs should be expanded as soon as possible, environmental researchers said last week.

A program to survey the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey population has been launched in Kachin State, along with an education campaign to reduce hunting and wildlife trafficking. However, experts say more needs to be done to protect the species, which is so rare that researchers have never seen a live individual.

“We are conducting an education program to conserve the snub-nosed monkey and assess its population status. We estimate there are about 330,” said U Ngwe Lwin, project manager of the Myanmar Primate Conservation Program.

He said wildlife trafficking and logging were a major threat not only to the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey but also other endangered species in northern Myanmar.

“There has been an increase in hunting and illegal wildlife trafficking to the Chinese market. The skull of a monkey costs US$10 or $20 in the [Chinese] market. Today, it is also easier for hunters to sell these pieces because logging companies build roads to transport logs to the Chinese border,” he said.

“It is difficult for our team to conduct conservation activities in this area on its own. We need to increase cooperation with other organisations.”

The project will be implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, local authorities and communities.

The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was discovered in March 2010 when a joint team comprising members of the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF) photographed an individual using camera traps placed in the high, forested mountains of Kachin State.

“We got information about this monkey in 2009 when conducting the [environmental impact assessment] for the Myitsone hydropower project but we could not do a survey because we didn’t have the time or expertise,” BANCA chairman Dr Htin Hla said. “So when we arrived back in Yangon we discussed the survey with the FFI and it was launched in March 2010 as a part of the Myanmar Primate Conservation Program.”

“I was extremely excited to finally see a photo of this rare and endangered snub-nosed monkey in the wild. We need to quickly protect this species from extinction as there are many threats, such as hunting and habitat loss, related to its close proximity to the China border,” he said.

“We have to take practical action as soon as possible. If not, we will lose a priceless species.”

A study of the new species of snub-nosed monkey appeared in the October issue of the American Journal of Primatology. According to the survey, the species has black fur, prominent lips and wide upturned nostrils that fill with water when it rains, causing the monkeys to sneeze. It differs from other snub-nosed monkey species found in Vietnam and China and has not been found outside Kachin State.

Mr Frank Monberg, Asia director for program development at FFI, said in a statement released on January 10 that the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was critically endangered and very rare.

“The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was described by science in 2010 from a trophy collected from a local hunter. As yet no scientist has seen a live individual,” Mr Monberg said.

On February 29, the FFI and ministry will jointly hold a workshop in Nay Pyi Taw to draft a conservation action plan for the snub-nosed monkey in Myanmar.

U Ye Htut, deputy director of the ministry’s Forest Department, said that stopping wildlife trafficking was essential for safeguarding the species’ future.

“We are ready to cooperate with the conservation team to conserve the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey. It is difficult for our ministry to control wildlife trafficking on its own. We do not have enough staff and face transportation difficulties. Additionally, we can’t open checkpoints at the border [with China] in these areas,” he said. “So at this workshop we plan to invite international organisations and experts and hope to get technical and financial assistance.”

There are fives species of snub-nosed monkey, with three found in China and one in Vietnam.

“We will invite snub-nosed monkey conservation experts from China and Vietnam to share their experience with us,” said U Ngwe Lwin.

Read more!

Australia To Assess Development Pressure On Barrier Reef

PlanetArk 20 Feb 12;

Australia will carry out a comprehensive assessment of development pressure on the Great Barrier Reef to help preserve the world's largest coral reef system, ministers said Saturday.

The assessment will take into account how development along Australia's northeast coast is affecting the reef, Environment Minister Tony Burke said in a joint statement with the Queensland state government.

In 2010, part of the reef was damaged when a Chinese-owned coal ship, the Shen Neng 1, ran aground on it.

The assessment would be the largest of its type ever conducted in Australia and would examine planning applications for rapidly developing Queensland, they said.

The state is an important exporter of commodities as well as a major tourist destination. The reef is one of its main tourist attractions and is visible from space.

"Rather than always dealing with one application at a time this allows an assessment of the region as a whole," Burke said in the statement. "That gives us an opportunity to take into account the cumulative impacts and any indirect impacts such as increased shipping movement."

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt said it was a chance to take a long-term view of how best to manage the reef.

"It is up to us to protect this extraordinary place for generations to come," he said.

Queensland state environment minister Vicky Darling said the assessment would "ensure development is well-planned and systems are in place to protect the area's World Heritage values."

The assessment will be discussed next month with a delegation from U.N. body UNESCO, she said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

Assessment Could Streamline Great Barrier Reef Coastal Development
Environment News Service 20 Feb 12;

CANBERRA, Australia, February 20, 2012 (ENS) - The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the core of the world's largest reef, will be assessed to ensure future development along Queensland's coast is sustainable and the reef's unique natural values are protected, the Australian and Queensland governments said Saturday.

The two governments have signed a new agreement with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that all three parties say will be the most comprehensive and complex strategic assessment ever carried out in Australia.

The assessment is being conducted at the request of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which designated the 34.8 million hectare (134,633 square mile) World Heritage Site in 1981.

On the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area contains a huge diversity of species, including 1,500 species of fish, about 360 species of hard coral, 5,000 species of mollusc and more than 175 bird species. It is an important breeding area for humpback and other whale species.

The site includes feeding grounds for the endangered dugong and nesting grounds of world significance for two endangered species of marine turtle, the green and the loggerhead, as well as habitat for four other imperiled species of marine turtle.

At least four port developments, either being planned or now underway, could put the reef at risk. One plan is to take coal-seam gas from Queensland's more than 4,000 wells to Curtis Island, off Gladstone in the World Heritage Area for processing and export. To serve giant LNG tankers and expand its coal loading capacity, Gladstone Ports Corporation is now engaged in the largest dredging operation ever attempted inshore of the Great Barrier Reef. Dredging spoil will be dumped at sea within one kilometer (.6 mile) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

One of the world's largest coal ports, Hay Point, near Mackay, is slated for a massive port expansion with dredging and dumping that could harm the reef. Port Alma, at the mouth of the Fitzroy River near Great Keppel Island, wants to expand. And Bathurst Bay, north of Cooktown, could host a new coal loading facility in the reef's pristine northern area.

The World Heritage Committee fears these expansions will mean more shipping through the reef, increasing the likelihood of groundings and oil spills.

During the strategic assessment, state and federal environmental planning issues will be covered in a single process that provides a big-picture study under a national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The outcome of the assessment will be a streamlining of development approvals say Commonwealth and state officials. Once a development program has been endorsed under the EPBC Act, individual projects will not need any further approval under national environmental law if done in accordance with the approved program.

"Rather than always dealing with one application at a time, this allows an assessment of the region as a whole," said Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke.

"That gives us an opportunity to take into account the cumulative impacts and any indirect impacts such as increased shipping movement," said Burke. "In short, it is a better way to protect one of the world's greatest treasures, and I'm glad it's started."

Queensland Environment Minister Vicky Darling welcomed the agreement, saying the assessment would benefit the environment and local communities and would also benefit industry through streamlining of government review processes.

"This strategic assessment enables us to work hand-in-hand with the Commonwealth Government to ensure development is well-planned and systems are in place to protect the area's World Heritage values," Darling said.

The present Queensland government headed by Premier Anna Bligh "has a record of safeguarding Queensland's spectacular coastline and environment," said Darling. "I expect the assessment will confirm the effectiveness of the range of existing protections this government has already put in place."

Premier Bligh Thursday released a study that shows the state government's reef protection program is having a positive effect on the reef. Tabling the Reef Protection Package Impact Statement 2012 in Parliament, the premier said said her government had recognized the scientific consensus that over-fertilization, over-grazing and pesticide runoff were harming the reef.

In 2009, the Bligh Government passed the Barrier Reef Protection Amendment Act, which aimed to reduce pesticide and fertilizer pollution of Reef waters by 50 percent by 2013 and sediment pollution by 20 percent by 2020.

"Farmers and industry deserve credit for their efforts not to exceed the optimum application rate for nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers. On this basis our initiatives have permanently reduced the main pollutant of nitrogen runoff from cane farms by 14 percent," said Bligh.

Environment Minister Darling said, "In the last three decades, we have worked tirelessly and delivered landmark reforms to protect the biodiversity of this spectacular part of the world through major initiatives such Wild Rivers legislation, Queensland Coastal Plan, Great Barrier Reef regulations and expanded green zones in marine parks."

"The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's favorite playgrounds, is a $5 billion asset for our economy and supports more than 60,000 jobs for Queensland," said Darling. "We have a record of protecting its unique biodiversity and we are going to ensure it stays that way for future generations."

"The assessment will also help answer any questions the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has and we will be discussing the assessment further with the delegation visiting in early March," she said.

GBRMPA Chairman Russell Reichelt said the strategic assessment is an opportunity to take a long-term view of managing the Great Barrier Reef.

"The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world and it has rich diversity," Dr. Reichelt said. "It is up to us to protect this extraordinary place for generations to come."

"Considerable management effort has gone into building the resilience of the Reef, which means it is in a far better position to withstand threats to its health," said Reichelt. "We welcome the opportunity to work closely with Queensland on a sustainable plan for managing impacts from both onshore and offshore activities."

An alliance of national and Queensland environmental groups urged that the assessment cover, "the cumulative and synergistic impacts of development projects" such as minings, resorts, aquaculture, urban areas and ports, state development areas, and especially shipping and commercial tourism.

"The impacts of potential development must be overlayed on existing reef health and the likely impacts of climate change to determine what is ecologically sustainable and permissible in a World Heritage Area," said the Queensland Network of Community Environmental and Conservation Organisations. The alliance of 18 groups issued their statement on the assessment in December in advance of the next Queensland election, to be held on March 24.

"The strategic assessment must be run as an open and transparent process, in the form of a Public Commission of Inquiry," the groups say. They want to ensure that no new projects will be approved "until the strategic assessment has been completed and the World Heritage Committee's concerns have been resolved to their satisfaction."

The groups say the strategic assessment must include the full length of the reef coastline and the full area of reef catchments. They want the assessment to take into account: Port Plans, Water Resource Plans, Coastal Management Plans, Regional Plans, Local Area Plans, State Marine Parks management plans, GBRMPA Management Plans, State Planning Policies and the State Infrastructure Plan.

The environmental groups say the Queensland government should introduce World Heritage Legislation that meets Queensland's 2010 Intergovernmental Agreement obligations by enshrining the protection and management sections of the World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines in Queensland law, including the requirement that all World Heritage Areas have their own management plans.

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Australia: Squeezed Into Smaller Spaces, Koalas Now Face Deadly Disease

The koala, one of Australia’s most treasured creatures, is in trouble.
Karen Barrow New York Times 20 Feb 12;

Faced with habitat loss, climate change and bacterial disease, koalas are being pushed into smaller and smaller regions of the country. In Queensland, the vast state in Australia’s northeastern corner, surveys suggest that from 2001 to 2008, their numbers dropped as much as 45 percent in urban areas and 15 percent in bushland.

And while climate change and habitat loss are affecting many other uniquely Australian animals, too — from birds and frogs to marsupials like wombats, wallabies and bandicoots — it is a bacterial infection that is worrying many scientists about the fate of the koala.

“Disease is a somewhat silent killer and has the very real potential to finish koala populations in Queensland,” said Dr. Amber Gillett, a veterinarian at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in Beerwah, Queensland.

The killer is chlamydia, a class of bacteria far better known for causing venereal disease in humans than for devastating koala populations. Recent surveys in Queensland show that chlamydia has caused symptoms in up to 50 percent of the state’s wild koalas, with probably even more infected but not showing symptoms.

The bacteria — transmitted during birth, through mating and possibly through fighting — come in two different strains, neither the same as the human form. The first, Chlamydia pecorum, is causing a vast majority of health problems in Queensland’s koalas; the second, C. pneumoniae, is less common.

Unlike C. pecorum, the pneumoniae strain can jump to other species, but so far there is no evidence that it has spread from koalas to humans or vice versa.

Chlamydia causes a host of symptoms in koalas, including eye infections, which can lead to blindness, making it difficult for them to find scarce eucalyptus leaves, their primary food source. The bacteria can also lead to respiratory infections, along with cysts that can make female koalas infertile.

The epidemic has been particularly severe in Queensland, where nearly all koalas are infected with koala retrovirus, said Dr. Gillett. This retrovirus is an H.I.V.-like infection that suppresses the koala’s immune system and interferes with its ability to fight off chlamydia.

“In southern koala populations, where koala retrovirus is much less prevalent, normal immune functions tend to result in fewer cases of chlamydia,” Dr. Gillett said.

Treating chlamydia in wild koalas is a challenge, she said. The disease is so devastating that only a small percentage of the animals can be treated successfully and returned to the wild. And infected females often become infertile — a condition that cannot be reversed, so future population growth is affected as well.

There is no treatment available for koala retrovirus, but researchers are working to test a vaccine that would help prevent further spread of chlamydia infection in Queensland’s koalas.

A study published in 2010 in The American Journal of Reproductive Immunology found that this vaccine is both safe and effective in healthy female koalas. Further work is being done to test it in koalas that are already infected.

Peter Timms, a professor of microbiology at the Queensland University of Technology who is leading the effort to test the chlamydia vaccine in koalas, is hopeful that there will be another trial this year to test the vaccine in captive male koalas, followed by wild koalas. If all goes well, plans can be set in motion to distribute the vaccine more widely.

“It’s going to be impossible to vaccinate all wild koalas,” he said.

In Australia, there is no national plan to save the koala; it is up to each region to establish management plans for its koala population. Therefore, once the vaccine is shown to be completely safe and effective, Dr. Timms suggests targeting specific, threatened populations where capturing and releasing koalas would be practical, like those bordered on all sides by housing developments and roads.

Dr. Timms is also working on a single-dose form of the vaccine to make it more feasible to vaccinate wild koalas.

Another possibility would be to make vaccine distribution a routine part of treatment for the thousands of koalas brought into care centers every year after they are injured by cars or dogs, Dr. Timms said.

While it is a combination of problems that are affecting the wild koala population, many experts believe this vaccine would be an important step in helping koalas survive longer. It may buy enough time to give researchers a chance to solve some of the other problems facing Australia’s koalas.

“In situations where you combine habitat pressure, domestic dog attacks and car hits with severe chlamydial disease, the outcome for koalas is devastating,” Dr. Gillett said.

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Rio+20 Summit And ASEAN: Towards A Green Economy

Paul P.S. Teng Eurasia Review 20 Feb 12;

Rio de Janeiro will host the third Earth Summit, or “Rio+20″, in June this year – 20 years after the first Earth Summit in 1992. At Rio+20 all governments will be asked to re-dedicate themselves to the goal of a “green economy”. How will ASEAN respond to this significant event and its challenges?

TWENTY YEARS after the first Earth Summit in 1992 – officially called the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – preparations are underway to convene the third such meeting in the same city where it all began, Rio de Janeiro. The high-powered conference on 20-22 June 2012, which follows the second summit in Johannesburg in 2002, is also referred to as the Rio+20, because it is 20 years after the first Earth Summit in the Brazilian city. Hoping to attract most of the world’s heads of state and government, Rio+20 will focus on the “green economy” and on creating an “Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development”.


Rio+20 is crucial for ASEAN and East Asia. The proposals to be adopted will affect current development approaches and policies in ASEAN as well as the ASEAN Plus 3 countries covering China, Japan and South Korea. Regional preparatory meetings have been taking place as part of the build-up to Rio+20. At the national level, ASEAN delegates to Rio+20 need to become more familiar with the complex, inter-related issues so that the region’s viewpoints are adequately reflected in the deliberations at Rio de Janeiro.
Rio+20 and ASEAN

The World Resources Institute (WRI), an international environmental think-tank based in Washington D.C., has argued that for too long, nations have used a dominant economic growth model based on increasing GDP above all else. While this has improved incomes and reduced poverty for hundreds of millions of people, it has also been accompanied by significant and potentially irreversible social, environmental and economic costs. In the ASEAN region, pockets of poverty persist among the 600 million people while significant environmental degradation has occurred to coastal waters, coastal ecosystems and rainforests as a result of disruptions to the ecosystem.

WRI has also noted that the gap between the rich and poor has risen in more than two-thirds of countries worldwide, including ASEAN member states. The question that begs to be asked in policy circles is whether this GDP-fostered development model will generate the benefits to address all three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social. While the number of millionaires has multiplied in the ASEAN Plus 3 region, there has also emerged a disadvantaged lower socio-economic class that can trigger social instability. Civil disturbances caused by food insecurity and unsustainable farming practices has occurred in recent years. There is a deeper appreciation today that the Earth is reaching its limits in the use of water, land and other natural resources.

The environmental and social costs of current economic growth models are becoming more and more apparent. Economic growth on its own is not enough if it leads to poverty and environmental degradation. ASEAN can avoid the pitfalls of a development model solely focused on economic growth. Rio+20 advocates sustainable development based on a “green economy” – one that simultaneously promotes sustainability and economic growth. To forge a global consensus on this goal, a raw draft of a future common position – the “zero” document – has been released for all stakeholders to fill in their preferred lines of action. As ASEAN participates in Rio+20, what positions will its representatives take on the many priority issues proposed for adoption in the “zero” document?
Reinforcing a movement towards a “Green Economy”

Several countries in the ASEAN Plus 3 region have demonstrated leadership in addressing some of the issues to be tabled at Rio+20. There are new sources of growth that are environmentally sustainable. One example is clean energy. South Korea has adopted a national green growth strategy which accounts for two per cent of its GDP to invest in green sectors such as renewable energy and clean technology. China invests more than any other country in renewable energy. Its total installed wind capacity grew 64 percent in 2010, driven by a national policy that sees clean energy as a major market in the near future, and one in which China wants to be a leader.

Singapore’s “City in a Garden” approach to urbanisation exemplifies a small, resource-limited city-state striving to balance the three pillars of sustainable development with proper land-use planning; promotion of green corridors and mass transport; and measures to limit vehicle usage and rationalise water use. Singapore is also part of a global consortium to address urban food security matters. A scorecard of ASEAN nations however, shows varying progress in implementing the targets from the first Earth Summit of 1992, among which are sustainable agriculture, fisheries, and food security.
How to do more

The Rio+20 Summit will be asking all nations to re-dedicate themselves to a greener form of sustainable development. It will call for the strengthening of regional and sub-regional mechanisms to promote sustainable development. It will also propose the formation of national sustainable development councils in countries where there are none to improve coordination and cross-sectoral synergies. However, most developing economies, including ASEAN’s, are concerned that the process of transiting to a green economy may come at a cost – it will hinder economic growth and efforts to reduce poverty, because short-term disruptions are likely.

Rio+20 will be urging the international community to increase its support for developing countries and to develop new financing instruments for building green economies. Transitioning to a green economy will require a fundamental shift in thinking and acting on growth and development; production of goods and services; and consumer habits. Ultimately, today’s policies must take into account a longer-term planning horizon because sustainability requires time to achieve, and the courage to start.

Paul Teng is a Senior Fellow (Food Security) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Centre for Non Traditional Security (NTS) Studies and Professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University. He was a resource expert at the Asian Regional Workshop on Sustainable Agriculture, Biotechnology and Biosafety, held on 10-12 January, Bangkok, to prepare for Rio+20.

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