Best of our wild blogs: 1 Mar 12

Living in a Cage
from My Itchy Fingers

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Vol. 60 (1)
from Raffles Museum News

Job: 1-year Full-time Research Assistant for data collection and management
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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New green corridor an opportunity for all

Straits Times Editorial 1 Mar 12;

THE Round Island Route, a seamless green corridor that will link heritage areas, coastal spots and rustic greenery, is very much a new aspect of Singapore's unfolding tapestry. On gaining independence in 1965, the country faced the task of surmounting monumental economic, security and social challenges. Hence the Government's relentless emphasis on growing the economy through industrial development, attracting investments, education, skills development; efforts at promoting social cohesion; developing the military and the like. So successful was the strategy that Singapore became a synonym for development. That ongoing process has meant new housing estates, more roads and highways, a shining business district, attractive shopping malls, a rail system - all representations of the pinnacle of material achievement and aspirations for a city that is global in its reach. But aspirations have also increasingly broadened to include softer aspects. Like making the city more lively and liveable; creating green and other spaces for rest and recreation - despite the needs and demands of economic development in a land-scarce country.

The importance of this cannot be over-estimated. Green spaces the world over invite and encourage people to step out of work and home routines, foster social contact, and have the important effect of improving emotional well-being. For a country enjoying higher living standards, these are intangibles that contribute to a higher quality of life. The Round Island Route is but the latest initiative which demonstrates that economic development does not mean unrelenting industrialisation and urbanisation. It offers Singaporeans more avenues for recreation and relaxation; excitement at the ability to explore less-seen corners of the island; and will provide links to heritage areas. It will bring the benefits of being able to recharge body and mind, opportunities for families to bond more closely through outings, and create a sense of community over and above that which comes from living in housing estates. But for the initiative to prove its worth, Singaporeans must make use of the opportunities on offer. Community and sporting events can be held along its route; neighbourhoods can volunteer to take ownership of sections and give emphasis to features that are unique to that part of the island.

The scope for involvement is limited only by the imagination of those who are interested and willing to play a part. The route - more than three times the length of Singapore - will connect more than 3.5 million residents. It would be a pity if it were to end up as the preserve of a few. All Singaporeans should take up the opportunity to get outdoors, and to get involved.

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Indonesia: Stopping Orangutan Poaching a Matter of Enforcing the Law

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 29 Feb 12;

Last December, wildlife activists discovered that the family of a military officer in Aceh was keeping a baby orangutan as a pet.

“When we tried to confiscate it, the family wouldn’t allow it,” Panut Hadisiswoyo, founding director of the Orangutan Information Center, told the Jakarta Globe in a recent interview.

When they checked back a few days later, the OIC team discovered that the regional military headquarters in Medan knew about the issue, even though the law does not allow people to own orangutans.

“This is proof of just how difficult it is to enforce wildlife protection laws,” Panut said.

“The authorities don’t consider orangutans to be important, so there’s very little being done to follow up on cases of people trading in them.”

Orangutans that live with humans are either captured as they’re driven out of their ever-shrinking habitats, which are increasingly under siege by logging and plantation interests, or specifically targeted by poachers for sale into the illegal wildlife trade.

Only 20 to 35 of the animals are seized from human owners each year, according to the OIC. When found out, the owners are only admonished.

The threat is particularly acute for the Sumatran orangutan, which is listed as critically endangered. Only around 6,600 of them are left in the wild, mostly in the Leuser forest ecosystem that straddles North Sumatra and Aceh.

Bornean orangutans are more numerous, with 45,000 of them left in their habitat. Still, the species is listed as endangered.

For illegal traders, however, the days of acting with impunity might be coming to an end, as highlighted by a recent case in Kabanjahe, North Sumatra.

On Feb. 9, the Kabanjahe District Court sentenced Samsul, a local resident, to eight months in prison and fined him Rp 7 million ($780) for conspiring to sell an orangutan stolen from the Gunung Leuser National Park, a protected part of the Leuser ecosystem.

The punishment was lighter than the one-year sentence and Rp 10 million fine sought by prosecutors, and far more lenient than the punishment proscribed under the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law.

But that the case even went to court, Panut said, was a huge breakthrough.

“On one hand, it’s a big concern because the law stipulates a maximum sentence of 10 years and fine of Rp 100 million,” he said.

“But on the other hand, it’s a relief because this is the first time ever that a court has tried someone for the illegal trade of Sumatran orangutans.

“This marks an important milestone for conservation in Indonesia and in Sumatra. [The sentence] may be lenient, but we hope people will become aware of this forest crime and that it will have a deterrent effect.”

He said he hoped authorities would follow up on the case and go after the people Samsul was dealing with.

Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, also welcomed what seemed to be a step forward for the state.

“It’s just fantastic, although a bit late,” he said.

“I hope that Sumatra’s law enforcement [officials] can really enhance their enforcement efforts to prevent the extinction of the species.”

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Unlocking the Secrets of Sea Turtle Migration

ScienceDaily 29 Feb 12;

Sea turtles have long and complex lives; they can live into their 70s or 80s and they famously return to their birthplace to nest. But new research suggests this isn't the only big migration in a sea turtle's life.

"We're starting to realize that developmental migrations -- ones that sea turtles make before they mature -- are even more amazing," says Dr. Peter Meylan, professor of natural sciences at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. "They only do it one time, but it can be much longer than the reproductive migrations they do as adults and may involve tens of thousands of kilometers."

Meylan has been tagging and tracking sea turtles with his wife, Anne Meylan of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute, and Jennifer Gray and other colleagues from the Bermuda Aquarium. They have compiled the results of long-term capture programs in Caribbean Panama (17 years) and Bermuda (37 years) in a summary paper, "The Ecology and Migrations of Sea Turtles: Tests of the Developmental Habitat Hypothesis," in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.

"Bermuda is a place where young turtles go to grow up," Meylan says. "They arrive there after living out in the ocean. In Bermuda waters they grow from about the size of a dinner plate to the size of a wash tub, and then move on to different, adult habitats."

For example, some green turtles hatched in Costa Rica were spending their "growing up" years thousands of kilometers away in Barbados, North Carolina and Bermuda before heading off to spend their adulthoods near Nicaragua.

Young turtles have already survived hatching from their untended eggs, escaped hungry predators on their rush to the ocean, and have avoided marine predators once there. This research points to developmental migrations as another vulnerable time for sea turtles.

"Tag-return data from this study suggest that this may be another dangerous time for these turtles, and protection as they move into their adult foraging ranges could be a productive objective of policy change for effective marine turtle conservation," says Meylan.

Journal Reference:

Meylan, Peter A. (Peter Andre); Meylan, Anne Barkau.; Gray, Jennifer A. The ecology and migrations of sea turtles. 8, Tests of the developmental habitat hypothesis. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, no. 357,

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India: Olive Ridley turtles start mass nesting in Odisha

The Times of India 29 Feb 12;

BERHAMPUR: Setting aside all speculations, the Olive Ridley sea turtles started their annual mass nesting on Wednesday near Rushikulya river mouth in Odisha's Ganjam district.

Over 1000 female Olive Ridley, an endangered species, climbed the shore and laid eggs in the sandy beach, about 50 km from here.

The marine creatures, however, selected the two-km long stretch from Purunabandh to Podampeta this time as suitable place to lay eggs. This new rookery is just near the traditional rookery of Gokharakuda to Podampeta, which is now submerged.

Wildlife experts had earlier expressed doubt about mass nesting as the four-km long site of the rookery was submerged due to the diversion of the river Rushikulya. The experts are now excited as the turtles started to lay eggs in the new site, just near the traditional rookery.

The mass nesting of the Olive Ridley was followed by sporadic nesting in the rookery, considered as the second largest after Gahiramatha. "The mass nesting started in time and we expected to continue the phenomenon for next some days," Divisional Forest Officer, Berhampur AK Jena.

The entire area was divided into 30 sectors. Forest personnel and local volunteers were deployed in each sector. Wildlife activists and forest officials provide protections to the eggs in absence of their mother turtles. After laying eggs, the female turtles go into deep sea without waiting to see the hatchels, which generally emerge 45 days of the nesting.

"People in the area are cooperating with the forest personnel to protect the eggs," said Rabindra Nath Sahu, secretary of Rushikulya Sea Turtles Protection Committee.

Several research scholars from Wildlife Institute of India ( WII) and Indian Institute of Science ( IISc) also thronged the nesting site to witness the unique phenomenon.

Besides the river Rushikulya mouth and Gahiramatha, the Devi river mouth in Odisha coast is also the famous mass nesting sites for the Olive Ridley.

The sea turtles, however are yet to be started mass nesting in other two sites, sources said.

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India: State confirms coking coal killed Sewri mangroves

Snehal Rebello, Hindustan Times 1 Mar 12;

Coking coal, which is soft bituminous coal, is heated to produce
coke — a hard, grey, porous material — used to blast furnaces for extracting iron from the iron ore, steel-making and power generation.

On Wednesday, a team led by deputy conservator of forest GT Chavan inspected the site, which is located on Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) land.

Chavan said: “The coal stored in the open is entering the mangroves and leaching into the ground resulting in their death. We were told that new mangrove saplings don’t survive beyond six months.”

He is expected to submit a report to the MbPT commissioner and suburban collector today.

Environmentalists had earlier told HT that the damage was most likely caused due to pollution caused by coking coal stored a few metres away from the site. In 1996, the port trust with help from the Bombay Natural History Society had developed the site as a Sewri Mangrove Park.

Damage to mangroves and carrying out non-forestry activities near mangrove areas is prohibited by HC orders. The Sewri mangroves are yet to be declared as protected forests and transferred to the forest department as per a Bombay HC order.

“Unlike other trees, roots of the mangroves are above the ground. If coal particles get into these roots, the trees will not survive. There is a possibility that the residue may have blocked the water channels resulting in mangrove deaths,” said Rakesh Kumar, director, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Worli.

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Caribbean Hit Hard by Sargassum Seaweed Invasion

Desmond Brown IPS News 29 Feb 12;

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua, Feb 29, 2012 (IPS) - When scientists speak of the Sargasso Sea, which occupies part of the Atlantic Ocean, there is usually little mention of things drifting out because of the immobile currents.

That is until now. Over the past few weeks, seaweed from the Sargasso Sea has been making its way towards the Caribbean, washing up en masse on beaches as surrounding currents change with weather and temperature patterns.

It's a situation that is posing serious problems for local ecosystems and critical industries such as tourism and fishing.

"It's the first time in history that I or anyone in the fishermen association have seen so much sargassum weed invading our shores," Gerald Price, communications officer for the Antigua and Barbuda Fishermen Association, told IPS.

He said the seaweed was clogging the engines of most of the boats used by the fishermen.

While it the cause remains unclear, the Antigua Fisheries Division notes that "strong and unusual currents from recent storms have probably brought the mass of seaweed from the Sargasso Sea to the Caribbean.

"It is anticipated that the masses of seaweeds could increase as more tropical storms are predicted for this hurricane season," it adds.

Changing currents and more powerful storms due to climate change are one possibility. Another is rising ocean temperatures, and the resulting effects on the growth rates of different marine species.

Vince Best, an environmental scientist and lecturer at Antigua State College, told IPS, "It is possible that climate change could be indirectly responsible for the proliferation of this particular weed which is currently affecting many global coastlines.

"Increased temperatures and the associated effects may be the precursor which is somehow affecting the overall physiology of the various species of this weed causing, maybe, excessive growth; hence the excessive amounts of the weed seen in aquatic environments."

The species being observed is a brown, macro-algae called Sargussum fluitans (sargassum seaweed), a free-floating algae found on the open sea surface and known to occur in this region. It is often found in association with Sargasso weed (Sargassum natans) that is native to the Caribbean.

"It's hard to tell the real reason why the sargassum weed is washing up on shores in the Caribbean without some kind of technical assessment," Sandra Prescod Dalrymple, environmental resource management specialist with ESP Consultants (Caribbean) Inc. told IPS.

"It could be as a result of strong winds that cause strong wave action, winter swells or a combination of things."

Regardless of the cause, she noted that that the effects are both immediate – such as flies and other vermin, putrid scent, and inconvenience for beach users – as well as long term, and that there could be serious health issues if the situation is not dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

"The tourism industry will be impacted since tourists usually come to the region primarily for its sea and sand," Dalrymple said, adding that "other longer term impacts could be seen in beach erosion since seaweed usually protects the beach by absorbing wave energy thereby reducing the impacts of waves on the ocean."

Marine environmentalist Eli Fuller urged governments to quickly develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem.

"A lot of the Sargasso weed is caught up in the regular currents bringing them back to Antigua, and we have found out that the west coast of Africa has it much worse than we do here in Antigua.

"I saw a photograph of Sierra Leone that showed that they have a serious problem with the weed. It's an event, this is a historical event which is unfolding," he added.

The Antigua and Barbuda government has been urging citizens to be cautious, assuring them in the process that there was no immediate health risk associated with the sargassum weed.

"The unusually large mats of algae in bays and on beaches could disrupt recreational, fishing and boating activities, disrupt the movement of marine turtles coming to beaches to lay their eggs, cause fishing gear and vessels to become entangled or obstruct general vessel traffic," the government said in a statement.

"The general public is advised that while this new invasion is a nuisance, it poses no immediate threat to human health but all must exercise due care and caution if working continuously and directly within its environs. The sulphurous odour associated with it is primarily a result of decaying processes once the weed becomes stagnant in an area and is allowed to die."

Price explained that the impact was also severe in the tourism sector after the sargassum weeds washed ashore, creating a "nasty stink" and driving tourists away from the beaches in a country which promotes itself as having 365 beaches – one for each day of the year.

The upscale St. James's Club Resort and Villas located on a 100-acre peninsula on the southeastern coast of Antigua was forced to close its doors for several weeks late in 2011 as management devised ways to cope with the sargassum weed that has overtaken many beaches on the east and southeast coasts.

The hotel's vice president, Alex Debretto, said the resort has employed more than two dozen people to clear the beaches.

Apart from Antigua and Barbuda, the seaweed has also affected other Caribbean islands, including Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Bartholomew.

Dalrymple warns that while it's important to remove the seaweed, countries also have to be careful since grazers rely on these plants for food and in turn provide sustenance for other creatures in the food chain. In addition, she said that these plants provide natural habitats for many living organisms and these too would suffer.

"One could see a decline in near-shore fisheries but this depends on the extent of the damage and the ability of the seagrass beds to recover after such events," she said, adding "as such, the implications could differ depending on the coastal characteristics of the particular area and the state of the fisheries and seagrass beds prior to the event."

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South Africa's Kruger Park officials arrested for rhino poaching

AFP Yahoo News 1 Mar 12;

South Africa's Kruger National Park on Wednesday said four staff members, including a field ranger, have been arrested for rhino poaching, which has killed 43 of its animals so far this year.

The four were arrested after two freshly killed rhino, which had been shot and dehorned, were found in a south-western section of the giant park where the officials were stationed and which has lost 11 animals since January.

"It is a very sad day for South Africa to find out that the unscrupulous and revolting hands of the poaching syndicates have stretched as far as to taint the hands of those trusted with the great responsibility of being guardians of our natural heritage," said national parks chief David Mabunda.

Those arrested included a field ranger, two field guides and a traffic cop who is the second to be arrested for rhino poaching. Another field ranger is at large, park spokesman William Mabasa told AFP.

Rhino poaching has claimed 80 of the giant animals in the first two months of this year alone in South Africa -- against a total of 83 lost in all of 2008.

A record 448 were killed last year, with Kruger bearing the brunt of the bloodbath. The tourist hotspot lost 252 rhinos to poaching despite the deployment of soldiers last April to crack down on the problem.

The animals' distinctive horns are hacked off to be smuggled to the lucrative Asian black market, where the fingernail-like substance is falsely believed to have powerful healing properties.

Officials have arrested 50 people on poaching charges so far this year.

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