Best of our wild blogs: 23 Feb 12


Baby spider conch on oil-slicked Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Crested Goshawk caught a myna
from Bird Ecology Study Group

6 years of seagrass monitoring!
from Nature rambles

Instructor/Lecturer level in Environmental Biology, NUS
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

What can the Internet do for Biodiversity? Let's study COMMENSALS!! Some biology can't be studied from samples! from The Echinoblog


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Malaysia: Wildlife smuggler Anson Wong freed

5-year jail sentence by High Court is excessive, says judge
V. Anbalagan New Straits Times 23 Feb 12;

PUTRAJAYA: CONVICTED wildlife smuggler Anson Wong Keng Liang walked out a free man yesterday after serving 17 months and 15 days of his five-year jail sentence imposed by a High Court.

The Court of Appeal yesterday allowed his appeal and ruled that the sentence imposed by the High Court was excessive.

"We understand he was in jail for more than 17 months and hope this will serve the interests of justice," said judge Datuk Low Hop Bing, who led a three-man bench.

Low said the High Court imposed the maximum custodial sentence of five years without taking into account that Wong had pleaded guilty.

"This maximum sentence is usually reserved for special cases," he said, adding that Wong's plea of guilt at the first instance was a mitigating factor.

"The court also provides a discount when a person pleads guilty."

Wong, 52, was charged with exporting without licence 95 boa constrictors. He was at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport when the snakes were found in his suitcase on Aug 26, 2010.

Low said the High Court erroneously considered irrelevant factor that the snakes were "tortured" when kept in a suitcase.

On Sept 6, 2010, the magistrate's court sentenced Wong to six months' jail and fined RM190,000 after he pleaded guilty.

On Nov 5, 2010, the High Court imposed a five-year jail term and revoked the fine.

Earlier, lawyer Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who represented Wong, said Wong was a wildlife trader, but in this case, he did not have a licence to export the snakes.

"It is an offence, but Wong has become a punching bag due to adverse media reports."

Wildlife trader wins appeal to walk free
The Star 23 Feb 12;

PUTRAJAYA: International wildlife trader Anson Wong Keng Liang (pic) was freed after the Court of Appeal here allowed his appeal to reduce his jail sentence for illegally exporting boa constrictor snakes without a permit.

Justice Datuk Wira Low Hop Bing, chairing a three-member panel, reduced Wong’s jail term from five years to 17-and-a-half months.

The panel, also comprising Court of Appeal judges Datuk K.N. Segara and Datuk Azahar Mohamed, held that the 17 months and 15 days’ jail term which Wong had served from Sept 7, 2010, until yesterday served the interests of justice.

The court allowed Wong’s appeal to set aside a Shah Alam High Court’s decision in enhancing his jail term from six months imposed by the magistrate’s court on him to five years’ jail.

“The appellant (Wong) walks out of this court today a free man in view of the custodial sentence he served,” said Justice Low yesterday.

Justice Low said the High Court, in enhancing Wong’s jail term, had erroneously considered certain facts such as the squeezing of the 95 boa constrictor snakes into a small bag, thereby torturing the snakes.

He said the High Court judge had also erroneously considered two venomous rhinoceros viper snakes (found in Wong’s bag) that were not stated in the charge against Wong and the fact that Wong was greedy in profit-making.

Low said the charge against Wong was exporting the 95 boa constrictor snakes without a permit, therefore any other considerations would be outside the ambit of the charge which warranted the Court of Appeal’s intervention.

He said the High Court did not make any reference to Wong’s guilty plea.

“It is trite law that Wong’s plea of guilt is a mitigating factor. It is trite law that the fact Wong was the first offender is another mitigating factor,” he said.

The panel affirmed the High Court’s decision in setting aside the RM190,000 fine imposed by the Sepang Sessions Court as it was beyond the ceiling of RM10,000.

On Jan 24 last year, the 53-year-old trader obtained leave from the Court of Appeal to appeal against the decision of the High Court on Nov 4 last year which had enhanced his jail term from six months to five years.

On Sept 6 last year, the Sepang Magistrate’s Court sentenced Wong to six months’ jail and fined him RM190,000 after the Penangite pleaded guilty to illegally exporting the endangered species without a permit at the KL International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang at 8.50pm on Aug 26 last year.

Wong was at KLIA on transit from Penang to Jakarta when the snakes were found in his suitcase.

The High Court imposed the five-year jail term on Wong after allowing the prosecution’s appeal for a heavier sentence. The court, however, set aside the RM190,000 fine.

Malaysia’s ‘Lizard King’ Wildlife Trafficker Freed From Jail
Jakarta Globe 23 Feb 12;

A Malaysian appeal court on Wednesday freed a wildlife trafficker known as the “lizard king” who had been caught trying to smuggle boa constrictors, overturning a lower court’s sentence.

Anson Wong was arrested in August 2010 at Kuala Lumpur airport as he tried to smuggle 95 of the endangered snakes to neighboring Indonesia.

The Malaysian, who is in his 50s, was sentenced to six months in jail later that year. Prosecutors appealed the verdict at the high court, but it extended the sentence to five years.

But Judge Low Hop Bing, sitting at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, the administrative capital south of Kuala Lumpur, overturned the sentence on Wednesday and ordered Wong’s immediate release

“The high court did not make any reference that the appellant had pleaded guilty in the lower court,” Low said.

“[It] also erroneously considered irrelevant factors like that the 95 snakes were kept in a small bag and were being tortured,” he added.

Low said the jail term was thus adjusted to 17-and-a-half months, which Wong had already served.

Wong refused to speak to reporters when leaving the courtroom but his lawyer Shafee Abdullah said he felt vindicated.

“Some have pressured the courts to whack my client so he becomes a whipping boy; this is not fair,” he said.

However, wildlife activists were outraged at the decision.

“Wong cruelly stuffed live animals into a bag for profit and now he’s free to do it again,” Shenaaz Khan, president of the Malaysian Animal Welfare Society, told AFP.

After his arrest in 2010, Malaysia revoked all his wildlife trading permits and ordered the seizure of all his animals, including two tigers and a crocodile.

Despite efforts by Southeast Asian authorities to crack down on animal smuggling, the practice still persists in the region, posing a threat to endangered species, activists say.

Agence France-Presse


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Malaysia: Pangolins rescued in mid-sea op

The Star 23 Feb 12;

MALACCA: More than 60 pangolins from across the Straits of Malacca were saved from ending up in restaurants here.

Enforcement officers from the State Customs Department managed to thwart the attempt to smuggle the 67 pangolins into the country in a mid-sea operation close to the shores of Pulau Besar here.

Two Indonesian men, aged 33 and 34, were detained and their speedboat seized during the operation at 11.30pm on Tuesday.

The animals were handed over to the State National Park and Wildlife Department (Perhi-litian).

Malacca’s Perhilitan director Abdul Rahim Othman said the two men were transporting the animals from Bengkalis in Indonesia.

“We believe a local wildlife trader was going to buy the pangolins before distributing them to restaurants here and other parts of the country,” he said, adding that the boat was heading towards Merlimau shores before it was intercepted.

Abdul Rahim said a preliminary probe revealed that the pangolins, weighing between 900g and 9kg, had a market value of about RM70,000.

“The price in the local market is between RM350 and RM3,150 depending on the weight,” he said.

Abdul Rahim said the pangolins had been transferred to the Malacca Zoo before a court order is obtained to release them into the wild.

Pangolin smuggling bid foiled
Hanis Maketab New Straits Times 23 Feb 12;
67 animals saved from the pot

MALACCA: STATE Customs officials foiled an attempt to smuggle 67 live pangolins into the country on Tuesday night.

Two Indonesian men, in their early 30s, were detained off the waters of Pulau Besar near Merlimau after the Customs' marine unit checked their boat and found the pangolins stored in three compartments.

The men did not have identification or travel documents.

State Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) officers collected the pangolins and transported them to Malacca Zoo yesterday.

It is believed that the pangolins were to be sold to restaurants that served exotic meat.

State Wildlife director Abdul Rahim Othman said while it was possible that the pangolins could have been smuggled in to be sold to restaurants, it was more common for them to be smuggled out to nearby countries using Malaysia as a transit point.

"We believe poachers would have sold the pangolins for RM300 each to middlemen, who would then sell them to restaurateurs for RM300 per kg."

The pangolins were worth about RM80,000.

Pangolins, known scientifically as manis javanica, are a protected species.

Rahim said the two men would be charged for possession of more than 20 pangolins.

If convicted, they can be fined not more than RM100,000, or jailed not more than three years, or both.

Malacca Zoo director Ahmad Azhar Mohammed said the zoo had not had pangolins for some time because of their diet.

"Pangolins are difficult to keep in captivity as their diet consists of insects such as ants and termites, which are hard to get in large quantities.

"However, once the case has been resolved, we will release them back into the wild."


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Malaysia: Rescued tapir succumbs to infection

The Star 23 Feb 12;

MALACCA: An injured Malayan tapir which was rescued earlier this month died due to a virus infection.

It is learnt that the tapir died at the Malacca Zoo shortly after it was rescued on Feb 1.

A source said the tapir could have also suffered depression after it strayed from its natural habitat at Asahan Forest Reserve, some 40km away from where it was rescued.

The 200kg male tapir, found with its left hind leg severed, was rescued after it caused panic among 300 villagers in Bukit Katil.

State Wildlife and National Park rangers took several hours to rescue the tapir.

The source said an autopsy found virus infection in several vital organs of the tapir.

“The infection could have spread due to the injury and caused several of the organs to fail,” the source said.

The Star had earlier reported that the injured tapir could have been the victim of hunters who wanted its meat.

State Housing, Local Government and Envi-ronment Committee chairman Datuk Mohd Yunos Husin said unlicensed hunters were often seen entering the secondary jungle surrounding the Kampung Tun Abdul Razak village in search of the endangered species.


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Malaysia: More gaharu trees being felled in Penang forest

Josephine Jalleh The Star 23 Feb 12;

GEORGE TOWN: The illegal felling of gaharu (agarwood) trees appears to be continuing unabated despite extensive media coverage and the state government’s declaration of a crackdown against the thieves.

The latest incident involves several gaharu trees in Gambier Hill near Island Park here.

Gurdial Singh, 52, a veteran runner with the Penang Hash House Harriers, came across around 20 felled trees, several of which were gaharu trees, on Tuesday while setting the trail for a run for his group.

“The trees were all from one area, not scattered in the jungle.

“I think they were felled about a week ago, looking at the condition and colour of the wood,” he said yesterday, adding that he believed the trees were felled with a chainsaw.

Gurdial said he also found gunny sacks, lunch packs, plastic bags and water bottles in the vicinity.

He said the area had been green and shady when he passed it last December.

“This place is about a 90-minute walk from the entrance along Jalan Tembaga off Jalan Mesjid Negri,” he said.

Sunday Star had reported on Feb 12 that local syndicates with foreign connections were allegedly felling the highly-valued gaharu trees in the rainforest near the Penang Botanic Gardens and in several other places.

The oil extracted from the agarwood is used for medicine and perfume, and fetches a handsome price in the Middle East.

Gurdial highlighted the matter to the newspaper after he encountered chopped gaharu trees while running in the jungle.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Commi­ttee chairman Phee Boon Poh said yesterday that there would be joint operations with the police to tackle the situation, as it was a serious matter.

“The Chief Minister (Lim Guan Eng) has a special task force comprising the relevant agencies to probe further into the illegal activities in the forest,” he said, adding that he would soon issue a press statement about the joint operations.

State Forestry Department assistant director Azahar Ahmad said he would also get his team of officials to investigate.

He added that the public could also contact the department’s 24-hour hotline at 04-826 2716 if they had any information on illegal activities in the forest.

The public can also call 04-650 5250, 017-590 9909 or 016-931 8059 to report illegal felling.

Agarwood $cent hard to resist
Josephine Jalleh The Star 23 Feb 12;

GEORGE TOWN: The illegal felling of gaharu (agarwood) trees appears to be continuing unabated despite extensive media coverage and the state government’s declaration of a crackdown against the thieves.

The latest incident involves se-veral gaharu trees in Gambier Hill near Island Park here.

Gurdial Singh, 52, a veteran runner with the Penang Hash House Harriers, came across around 20 felled trees, several of which were gaharu trees, on Tuesday while setting the trail for a run for his group.

“The trees were all from one area, not scattered in the jungle.

“I think they were felled about a week ago, looking at the condition and colour of the wood,” he said yesterday, adding that he believed the trees were felled with a chainsaw.

Gurdial said he also found gunny sacks, lunch packs, plastic bags and water bottles in the vicinity.

He said the area had been green and shady when he passed it last December.

“This place is about a 90-minute walk from the entrance along Jalan Tembaga off Jalan Mesjid Negri,” he said.

Sunday Star had reported on Feb 12 that local syndicates with foreign connections were allegedly felling the highly-valued gaharu trees in the rainforest near the Penang Botanic Gardens and in several other places.

The oil extracted from the agarwood is used for medicine and perfume, and fetches a handsome price in the Middle East.

Gurdial highlighted the matter to the newspaper after he encountered chopped gaharu trees while running in the jungle.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Commi­ttee chairman Phee Boon Poh said yesterday that there would be joint operations with the police to tackle the situation, as it was a serious matter.

“The Chief Minister (Lim Guan Eng) has a special task force comprising the relevant agencies to probe further into the illegal activities in the forest,” he said, adding that he would soon issue a press statement about the joint operations.

State Forestry Department assistant director Azahar Ahmad said he would also get his team of officials to investigate.

He added that the public could also contact the department’s 24-hour hotline at 04-826 2716 if they had any information on illegal acti-vities in the forest.

The public can also call 04-650 5250, 017-590 9909 or 016-931 8059 to report illegal felling.


Crooks smell money in gaharu
Josephine Jalleh The Star 24 Feb 12;

GEORGE TOWN: The gaharu (agarwood) resin, whose oil extract is much sought after in the Middle East, can fetch lucrative prices of up to RM20,000 per kg, according to a university academician.

The oil extract taken from the resin produced from the aquilaria malaccensis tree, would cost several thousands of ringgit, depending on its grade and quality, said Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Biological Sciences lecturer Prof Baharuddin Salleh.

“Why is it expensive? I’m not able to answer that.

“It is the same when people ask why gold is expensive,” he said yesterday.

He added that the oil extract was usually used in perfumes, medicines and sometimes by wealthy Arabs to wash their clothes and linen.

“Other parts of the tree have its uses as well – the leaves are used in drinking tea and the remnants of the wood are used to make joss sticks,” he said, adding that the Middle Eastern countries imported gaharu oil and the wood mainly from Vietnam, Thailand, Myan­mar, Indonesia as well as some from Malaysia.

Baharuddin was responding to a series of reports in The Star regarding the illegal felling of gaharu trees in Penang, the latest incident being at Gambier Hill.

This was despite the state government’s declaration of a crackdown against the thieves.

Local syndicates with foreign connections were allegedly felling the highly-valued gaharu trees in the rainforest near the Botanic Gardens as well as several other areas.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Commi­ttee chairman Phee Boon Poh had said that there would be joint operations with the police to tackle the situation, as it was a serious matter.

Baharuddin said the aquilaria malaccensis tree was widely available in Malaysia, but there was a lack of awareness about its potential.

“Malaysia is actually behind other neighbouring countries which are more advanced in the gaharu industry.

“There are not many gaharu plantations in Malaysia as it is still in the early stages, but the future of gaharu is bright,” he said.

Penang MACC director Datuk M. Samarajoo said they would initiate investigations if there was information or report on corruption (related to the illegal felling).

The public can call the state Forestry Department at 04-826 2716, 04-650 5250, 017-590 9909 or 016-931 8059 to report illegal felling.

More gaharu trees found felled
The Star 5 Mar 12;

GEORGE TOWN: Five more trees, believed to be gaharu (agarwood), have been found felled in the jungle behind the Mar Vista Resort and near Chee Seng Garden in Tanjung Bungah.

Gurdial Singh, 52, a veteran runner with the Penang Hash House Harriers, said he came across the felled trees in jungle area behind the buildings when running with other Hashers at around 5pm on Saturday.

“Some of the trees are 1m in diameter. They were also chopped into pieces.

“I think they were felled about a week ago,” he said yesterday.

Since November, Gurdial has seen felled trees, mostly of the gaharu species, while running in the jungle with other Hashers at various locations on Penang island.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh, when asked whether the affected area was state-owned or private land, asked Gurdial to check with the state Forestry Deprtment.

Sunday Star had reported on Feb 12 that local syndicates with foreign connections were allegedly felling the highly-valued gaharu trees in the rainforest near the Penang Botanic Gardens and in several other places.

The oil extracted from the agarwood is used for medicine and perfume, and fetches a handsome price in the Middle East.

Gurdial highlighted the matter to the newspaer after he encountered chopped gaharu trees while running in the jungle near the Gardens.

The Penang Forestry Department then formed two teams to track down those responsible for poaching gaharu trees in state forest reserves.


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Malaysia: Kuching Wetland National Park to be important tourist draw

Jonathan Chia Borneo Post 23 Feb 12;

KUCHING: In its effort to promote eco-tourism, the state government through the Ministry of Tourism is intensifying efforts to promote Kuching Wetland National Park (KWNP) as an important destination for local and international tourists.

The 6,610-hectare KWNP is located about 15 kilometres from the city in an area formerly known as Sarawak Mangrove Forest Reserve (SMFR). In 2002, the area was gazetted as a totally protected area and was recognised as a Ramsar wetland end of last year.

The state government in 2008 commissioned Universiti Malaysia Sarawak to conduct a multidisciplinary assessment of KWNP aimed at establishing a comprehensive description of the physical, biological and human environment of the area.

The exercise also included the assessment of threats and opportunities and developing a management plan for the park in accordance with the requirement of a totally protected area and as a Ramsar site.

According to the officer-in-charge of the Ramsar project Suliman Jamahari, from the state Forest Department, the recognition of KWNP as a Ramsar wetland made it the fifth wetland to be listed in the country and the first to be listed in the state.

Suliman said KWNP fulfilled four out of the nine criteria required before it could be listed as Ramsar Wetland, namely the beauty and maintenance of the mangrove system and that it supports the lifestyle and breeding of animals that are becoming extinct.

“The third criteria that KWNP fulfilled is that it is a breeding sanctuary for crocodiles as according to a survey, this (KWNP) area has the most population of crocodiles — estimated to be about 317,” he stated during a special media tour to KWNP in conjunction with World Wetland Day which was themed ‘Wetland Tourism, A Great Experience’.

Suliman highlighted that the highest concentration of crocodiles were found in and near the confluence of upper Sungai Sibu and Lobak Matang at
Sungai Lemidin, Sungai Semariang, Lobak Kilong and Sungai Gelugor-Enggang, which suggested that estuarine crocodiles use these areas as breeding ground.

“Besides being a sanctuary for crocodiles, the fourth criteria that KWNP fulfilled is that it is also the breeding ground for fish,” he said.

Suliman said from observation and by mist-netting method 104 species of birds from 41 families had been recorded at KWNP.

“The lesser adjutant stork is listed as vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while five other species are listed as near-threatened. Seven species of birds are totally protected and 38 species are protected by Wildlife Protection Ordinance,” he added.

Suliman also said three species of primates such as proboscis monkey, silvered langur and long-tailed macaque were recorded in KWNP.

“Proboscis monkey is endemic in Borneo, listed as endangered by IUCN, listed under Appendix 1 and CITES and totally protected by Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998,” he added.

He stated that other mammals recorded at KWNP included wild pigs, bats, plantain squirrel, common tree shrew, otters and Irrawaddy dolphins.

In terms of vegetation, Suliman said a total of 64 species were recorded in KWNP, of which 14 species were major mangroves, four species were minor mangroves and five species were mangrove associates.

“The mangrove forest plays a major role in protecting the river banks against wave action, provides breeding grounds for fish and serves as their food source as well as a source of food and refuge for wildlife. The endangered proboscis monkeys in
KWNP consume almost exclusively ‘perepat’,” he further explained.

Besides being the breeding sanctuary and habitats for animals, he said KWNP is also home to about 8,000 residents of seven villages — Kampung Telaga Air, Kampung Sibu Laut, Kampung Sungai Aur, Kampung Temenggong, Kampung Pulau Salak, Kampung Semariang Batu and Kampung Mersat.

“Most of the villagers in these seven villages depend on KWNP for their daily needs,” he added.

The launching of the state-level World Wetland Day will be held this Saturday at Sungai Lemidin.


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New iridescent lizard species found in Cambodia

AFP Yahoo News 23 Feb 12;

A new species of lizard with striking iridescent rainbow skin, a long tail and very short legs has been discovered in the rainforest in northeast Cambodia, conservationists announced Wednesday.

A handout photo released by Conservation International shows a new lizard species at Ratanak Kiri province, some 600 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh. (AFP Photo/Gabor Csorba)

Scientists named the skink Lygosoma veunsaiensis to honour the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area in Rattanakiri province where it was found, Conservation International (CI) said in a statement.

The lizard was discovered in 2010 in the remote and little-explored rainforest area during biological surveys led by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in partnership with CI, the group said.

"These creatures are difficult to find because they spend so much of their life underground', said Neang Thy, a Cambodian national working for FFI and the first herpetologist to see the new skink.

"Some similar species are known from only a few individuals. We were very lucky to find this one," said Neang Thy.

The new species is unusual because it has very short limbs and a tail that is much longer than its main body. Its skin has a refracting quality to the scales that creates a rainbow-like effect in sunlight, the group said.

The lizard was the third new species in the last two years to be found in Veun Sai, following the discovery of a new type of bat and a gibbon.


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Indonesia: For Hungry Elephants, the Next Meal Could Be Poison

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 22 Feb 12;

Nunukan, East Kalimantan. A parade of hungry elephants has been ransacking villages for food in the Tulin Onsoi subdistrict of Nunukan, East Kalimantan, destroying farms and angering residents who are threatening to kill the protected animals.

Villagers said the elephants appeared to be starving and had ruined their crops, including corn, coconuts, bananas and palm fruit.

“They destroyed our farms and ate our plants,” said Umar, a resident of Sekilan village in Tulin Onsoi.

Subdistrict head Santifil Oslo said that the elephants were hungry and, unable to find any more food in their habitat, had been running wild.

He said the forest where elephants used to live had been razed by palm oil plantations and mining companies.

“The elephants are too big to sustain themselves eating the companies’ plants, so they look outside their habitat and attack the villages, which still have many small trees,” Santifil said.

Umar demanded the government handle the elephants because they had caused big losses since 2007.

The residents, Umar said, plan to put poison on their land so that when the elephants eat them, they will no longer be a problem.

“The government should force the elephants back to the forests. If not, we will poison them to death,” he said.

An increase in the scale of operations of mining and palm-oil companies, which frequently slash and burn the forest for their sites, has caused the island’s forested areas to dwindle.

World Wide Fund for Nature East Kalimantan coordinator Wiwin Efendi said his organization was cooperating with the province’s Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) to help the villagers force the elephants back to the forests without hurting the animals.

He said they would make a cannon from a iron pipe that could create a loud sound meant to scare the elephants away.

“We’re adopting the tool from Riau province in Sumatra, which faces similar problems,” he said.

“They can drive away elephants successfully.”

According to Wiwin, there are only around 40 elephants left within the subdistrict.

The WWF has reported that huge areas of forested land on the island have been lost, leading to a decline in the number of endemic species. The organization said the losses could be attributed to increased illegal logging and forest fires.

While the report categorized the populations of Borneo elephants and orangutans as fair, pygmy elephant populations were on the wane.

Their dwindling habitat means the endangered animals can now only be found in East Kalimantan and Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak states, according to the WWF’s report.

The WWF added that the province’s population numbered between 30 and 80 pygmy elephants, far fewer than the estimated 1,500 animals in Sabah.

Similar elephant raids on villages have also occurred in Sumatra, where the elephants face even worse conditions. The WWF predicts that they will be extinct on the island within about 30 years.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has changed its classification of the Sumatran elephant from “endangered” to “critically endangered” on its list of threatened species, the WWF said.

The organization also attributed the decline largely to habitat deforestation and conversion for agricultural plantations. The IUCN said it had changed the classification because the creature, the smallest Asian elephant, had lost nearly 70 percent of its habitat and half of its population in a single generation.

Despite the elephant’s protected status under Indonesian law, 85 percent of its habitats are not safeguarded as they are situated outside officially protected areas.


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Twelve percent of marine species in tropical eastern Pacific threatened


IUCN 23 Feb 12;

Twelve percent of marine species surveyed in the Gulf of California, the coasts of Panama and Costa Rica and the five offshore oceanic islands and archipelagos in the tropical eastern Pacific are threatened with extinction, according to a study by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and its partners. Main threats to the region’s marine flora and fauna include over-fishing, habitat loss and increasing impacts from the El Nino Southern Oscillation.

Released this week, the study is the first IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ assessment available for all known species of marine shore-fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, corals, mangroves and seagrasses in a major marine biogeographic region. The analysis identifies specific geographic zones where conservation efforts are needed most, including around the mouth of the Gulf of California and the coastlines of Panama and Costa Rica, while also identifying the nature and location of the greatest dangers to marine life.

“Understanding species vulnerability to major threats is paramount for determining how species and marine environments are likely to respond to one or more simultaneous threats,” says Beth Polidoro, Research Associate, IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit, and lead author of the study. “Identification of threatened species and patterns of threat in the tropical eastern Pacific region can help guide local and regional marine conservation priorities for biodiversity conservation, as well as serve to inform policy.”

In recent years, at least 20 marine species have gone extinct around the world, and more than 133 local populations of marine species have suffered a similar fate. These include the disappearance of the endemic Galapagos Damselfish (Azurina eupalama) during the events of El NiƱo from 1982-1983. Drastic declines have also been documented across several marine groups, including many populations of commercial fish, coral reef fish, reef-building corals, mangroves, and seagrasses. Two commercial marine fish, the Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) and the Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas) are listed as Critically Endangered, and were once common in the waters of southern California and the Gulf of California, Mexico. Both species are extremely desirable for human consumption but have limited ability to cope with severe over-fishing because they have long life spans and the large groups they form when spawning are often targeted by fishers—reducing the chances of rebuilding sustainable populations.

“Saving threatened species is the single most important thing we can do to safeguard ocean health, which benefits millions of people that depend on thriving and productive oceans,” says Scott Henderson, Regional Director of Marine Conservation at Conservation International and co-author of the study. “This new study is a monumental scientific effort which gives governments and support organizations the information needed to focus conservation dollars on the species, places and problems that need help the most.”

The findings reinforce that conservation action is needed for both marine species and the geographic areas where they are most threatened. For example, the creation of a marine protected area around Clipperton Island in the eastern Pacific Ocean should be a high priority, as it has one of the highest proportions of threatened species in the tropical eastern Pacific, and is the only one of the five oceanic islands and archipelagos in the region that lacks complete governmental protection. Legislation to limit mangrove removal from important fishery nursing grounds along the coasts of Costa Rica and Panama is also vital, according to the study. Additionally, better data collection, reporting and monitoring for both targeted and by-catch fisheries species should be an urgent priority for the improvement of marine conservation efforts throughout the region.

“There are tangible steps that we can take to curtail the risk of extinction of species in the tropical eastern Pacific,” says Tom Brooks, NatureServe’s Chief Scientist. “For example, for the few fishery species that are threatened, we must work towards better management on both local and regional scales. We can make a difference, but first we must collect and use the valuable data available.”


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Australian government may have misled UN on reef: WWF

Petrina Berry 9News 23 Feb 12;

A conservation group has questioned whether the government ignored its own science to mislead a UN agency about the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

A monitoring mission from the UN educational and cultural arm, UNESCO, will visit Queensland in March over concerns about gas-related port developments and other potential threats to the reef.

UNESCO last year rebuked the federal government for failing to tell it about approvals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

It expressed "extreme concern" about the Queensland and federal governments' backing of LNG processing plants at Curtis Island off Gladstone.

The federal government has made a submission to UNESCO ahead of next month's visit, saying the reef is being sustainably managed.

The submission also says the reef has not been "compromised" by the LNG projects and related dredging at Gladstone, inside the World Heritage area, where sick marine life has been found.

The World Wildlife Fund says the submission has contradicted the government's own science.

"It has really shocked us that the government would present the reef in such (favourable) terms when the government's own science shows the reef is in serious trouble," WWF national manager Nick Heath told AAP.

He said the government had failed to acknowledge its own 2009 outlook report that warned of 'catastrophic damage' to the reef.

"At the very least, has the government got the science wrong? Or is the government trying to mislead an international investigation into the impact LNG proposals, and accumulative risks, have on the reef?"

Mr Heath said recent research published in a scientific journal found the reef's coral had declined by up to 50 per cent since the 1960s.

A quarter of that damage had occurred since the reef was declared a World Heritage site in 1981, the research found.

He said 1000 turtles had washed up on Queensland beaches over the past year and fishing nets were killing rare marine species.

The Queensland government has been unable to rule out industrial development and dredging as the cause of a great number of fish and other marine life with external and internal sores and cloudy eyes at Gladstone.

The federal government's submission said "enormous management improvements" had been made since the reef's World Heritage listing.

"It is supported by a network of island national parks and effective field management," it says.

But the government's most recent outlook report on the reef, from 2009, said loss of coastal habitats from coastal development and the effects of fishing and poaching were "priority issues reducing the resilience" of the reef.

It also said coral reef habitats were gradually declining, especially inshore as a result of poor water quality and the compounding effects of climate change.

And it noted important species such as dugong, marine turtles, seabirds and some sharks had "declined significantly".

On Saturday, the federal and state governments and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said a joint assessment would be undertaken to ensure future development along the Queensland coast was properly planned and the reef's World Heritage values protected.

Comment was being sought from federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.


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