Best of our wild blogs: 8 Mar 12

Raffles Museum Toddycats at Singapore World Water Day @ Lor Halus Wetland (Sat 24 Mar 2012) from Toddycats!

“Uhh can I take the next boat home?”
from Nature rambles

First Marine Biodiversity Expedition (7 Mar 2012)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Birds of the bamboo swamp
from The annotated budak

Civet sighted near Rifle Range Road!
from Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

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No more neglected areas as NEA takes over public cleaning

AsiaOne 7 Mar 12

SINGAPORE - The National Environmental Agency (NEA) will be taking over the cleaning of all public areas, except for public housing estates, which will remain under the domain of town councils.

Currently, multiple agencies are involved in the cleaning of common public areas, resulting in some areas falling through the cracks.

This is not an optimal arrangement, said Senior Minister of State (Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources) Grace Fu in today's parliamentary session.

Thus, NEA will be integrating the cleaning functions of public areas under a new Department of Public Cleanliness (DPC) within NEA.

The current arrangement sees NEA overseeing the cleaning of public areas such as roads, while water agency PUB takes charge of cleaning drains, the National Parks Board takes care of parks, and the Land Transport Authority cleans footpaths.

All these functions will start being integrated into the new department's domain in phases, beginning April 1, to end by 2016.

The high number of public cleaning contracts, currently at 29, is also to be reduced through contract integration to achieve higher operational efficiencies, Ms Fu said.

The performance of contractors will be supervised through web-based camera systems monitoring litter prone areas, she added.

DPC will also be setting up a call centre for public feedback. Members of the public can call 1800-600-3333 or email from April 1 onwards.

Ms Fu added that cleaning firms may have to be licensed in the future, as it would set minimum standards that companies must adhere to.

At the moment, NEA has a voluntary accreditation scheme. The Government has said it awards cleaning jobs to accredited companies as an example.

NEA to set up public cleanliness dept
Channel NewsAsia 6 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: A new Department of Public Cleanliness (DPC) will be set up within the National Environment Agency, aimed at integrating the cleaning functions of public areas. This will be done in phases from April 1, 2012.

Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, Grace Fu, said the department is set up to better manage cleaning contracts, improve service standards and to improve responsiveness to public feedback.

Ms Fu said: "The DPC will ensure public areas are well-cleaned, and progressively integrate existing contracts to achieve higher operational efficiencies. It will also improve on the supervision of contractors' performance by, for example, using web-based remote camera systems to monitor litter-prone places."

A one-stop call centre will be set up within the DPC to provide a single point of contact on issues pertaining to public cleanliness.

From April 1, 2012, the public can give their feedback via the new hotline 1800-600-3333 or email

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Malaysia: Carry out studies on 'toxic' shark fins says expert

Shankar Ganesh New Straits Times 7 Mar 12;

Professor suggests that marine food sources be tested for poison

KUALA LUMPUR: The Fisheries Department and other relevant authorities should carry out studies to see if shark fin soup could pose a significant health risk for degenerative brain diseases.

Local fisheries expert Professor Datuk Dr Mohamed Shariff Mohamed Din said this was necessary because a recent study by scientists from the University of Miami showed high concentrations of BMAA in shark fins.

BMAA is a neurotoxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans, including Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS).

Prof Sharif, from Universiti Putra Malaysia, said that most of the shark fins consumed in Malaysia were imported from various sources.

"First, the smaller fishes eat these cyanobacteria, then the bigger fishes eat the smaller ones and this goes on until they end up in the sharks. So, the cyanobacteria containing BMAA moves up the food chain and it finally ends up in humans.

"It is best that efforts are taken to keep our waters free of pollution as most of the problems are the direct result of it."

He said there had been records of similar cyanobacteria blooms off the coast of Borneo, but they were not as frequent as in the waters of Western nations.

He said that efforts to check on marine health issues in the nation were frequently bogged down by funding problems.

"We need to carry out more studies on the existence of neurotoxins, mercury and other harmful substances that may have found their way into our marine food sources."

Shark fins were primarily derived through finning, a practice where the fins are removed at sea and the rest of the mutilated animal was thrown back in the water and left to die.

There had been various figures as to the number of sharks killed every year, but it was estimated to be in the region of 70 million sharks.

The global movement to ban shark finning had been gathering momentum recently and several states in the United States had recently either banned, or were in the process of banning shark fin trade.

The University of Miami's findings, published in the Marine Drugs Journal last month, suggested that consumption of shark fin soup and cartilage pills might pose significant health risk for degenerative brain diseases.

Scientists from the university tested seven shark species from South Florida for the study.

They were the blacknose, blacktip, bonnethead, bull, great hammerhead, lemon and nurse sharks. Most of these species could also be found in Malaysian waters.

The cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA was detected in the fins of all the species examined, although with varied concentrations.

BMAA could be transferred from cyanobacteria in the lower levels of marine food chain like crustaceans and smaller fishes to the marine apex predator, which was the shark.

With the worldwide prevalence of Alzheimer's disease estimated to quadruple in 2050, by which time, one in 85 persons worldwide would be living with the disease.

The study also concluded that until more was known about the possible link of BMAA to Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, it might be prudent to limit exposure of BMAA in the human diet.

Read more: Expert: Carry out studies on 'toxic' shark fins - General - New Straits Times

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Malaysia: Storks in flight a sight to excite

Ling Poh Lean and Emilia Gazali New Straits Times 8 Mar 12;

"For example, there are storks from Singapore that fly to Johor on a daily basis. By mid-morning, they reach Johor from Singapore, feed there and fly back to Singapore at night."

Spotting the endangered species these days is a blessing

DUE to their dwindling population, one can consider himself lucky to see a storm's or milky storks out in the open.

Malaysia Nature Society president Professor Dr Maketab Mohamad said the public should not be alarmed if they saw storks flying by. In fact, they should be excited.

"Storks, or any other bird for that matter, are mobile and they move from one place to another in search of food and shelter.

"So, members of the public have the chance to see them in the open," he said when responding to a New Straits Times' picture on Tuesday which featured several storks perching atop some nests on a Pulai tree near Taman Emas, Batu Pahat in Johor.

He said the society had always been monitoring the birds' movements.

"For example, there are storks from Singapore that fly to Johor on a daily basis. By mid-morning, they reach Johor from Singapore, feed there and fly back to Singapore at night."

He said one of the storks favourite locations was Kuala Gula, Perak, known for its largest stand of mangrove ecosystem in the peninsula.

Johor Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director Siti Hawa Yatim believed that the storks spotted on the Pulai tree were not "newcomers".

"Back in 1990s, there were storks spotted breeding in that area. So, I think the storks have been there all this while."

The two common types of storks that could be spotted in the country were storm's stork (Ciconia stormi) and milky stork (Mycteria cinerea).

Storm's storks have been listed as endangered species in the red list category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while milky stork is rated as a vulnerable species, or almost endangered.

Siti Hawa said the birds could also be spotted in some of the residential areas in Batu Pahat.

She added that though some could be spotted in public areas, the locals would not harm the birds.

"Sometimes, you can see the birds on trees in some residential areas here.

"We do know of some residents who are very passionate about these birds.

"They will go the extra mile to tell other residents and visitors that storks are endangered species and the birds should not be disturbed."

Senior lecturer of Biological Science Centre of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Mohamed Hifni Baharuddin, said for the past few years, he observed that the storks' population had dropped.

"There has been a significant decline in the number of storks and as such, they have been listed as an endangered species."

Call for in-depth study on different storks in country
New Straits Time 10 Mar 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: More studies should be done before more milky storks are released into the wild.

Johor Malaysian Nature Society chairman Vincent Chow said reports on milky storks' dwindling population had been highlighted in recent years but to date, the information on the different types of storks was still unclear.

"While we are happy with the release programme by Zoo Negara, many environmentalists feel that the zoo should share the information with the public.

"Every detail should be made public and they should be transparent.

"While it is good to have such a programme, we want to know more about it, not just the results.

"Based on my observation, there is a possibility of inter-breeding between the different types of stocks which could have resulted in hy-brid species.

"But no one has looked into this possibility. How can we proceed with conservative work when we do not even know which storks are facing extinction?

"We only know the number of the birds in the zoos and the estimated number in the wilderness.

"No one has really carried out an in-depth study to find out whether milky storks or tinted storks are really rapidly decreasing."

Conservative work, he said, should involve collaboration from various quarters, not just the zoo alone.

"The public should be kept informed of such projects. Most importantly, the government must also get involved."

"This is because such programme requires not just a large amount of money, but also expertise and commitment," he said.

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New Species of Deep-Sea Catshark Described from the Galapagos

ScienceDaily 7 Mar 12;

Scientists conducting deep-sea research in the Galapagos have described a new species of catshark, Bythaelurus giddingsi, in the March 5 issue of the journal Zootaxa. The new shark is approximately a foot long and has a chocolate-brown coloration with pale, irregularly distributed spots on its body. The spotted patterns appear to be unique to each individual. John McCosker of the California Academy of Sciences collected the first specimens of this new catshark while diving to depths of 1,400 -- 1,900 feet aboard the Johnson Sea-Link submersible.

"The discovery of a new shark species is always interesting, particularly at this time when sharks are facing such incredible human pressure," said McCosker, Chair of Aquatic Biology at the Academy and lead author on the paper. "Many species have become locally rare and others verge on extinction due to their capture for shark-fin soup. The damage to food webs is dramatic, since sharks provide valuable ecological services as top-level predators -- when they disappear, their niche is often filled by other species that further imbalance ecosystems. Most deepwater shark species are not very susceptible to overfishing; however, since this catshark's range is restricted to the Galapagos, its population is likely limited in size, making it more susceptible than more widely distributed species."

The California Academy of Sciences sent its first scientific expedition to the Galapagos Islands in 1905 and has since organized dozens of return trips. As a result, the Academy is now home to the world's most comprehensive collection of scientific specimens from these famous islands. Most Academy field work in the Galapagos today focuses on the marine environment, where dozens of new species have been discovered in recent decades. In the 1990s, McCosker made a series of dives inside the submersible Johnson Sea-Link to explore the marine life on the islands' steep volcanic slopes and sandy bottoms. Submersibles allow scientists to explore a vast part of the Galapagos that was not accessible to Charles Darwin or earlier Academy scientists. It was during two such dives in 1995 and 1998 that McCosker collected the seven specimens used to describe B. giddingsi. Using research collections at the Academy and elsewhere as a basis for comparison, Academy Research Associate Douglas Long and Smithsonian Institution scientist Carole Baldwin worked with McCosker to confirm that the specimens did indeed represent a new species.

McCosker's marine research in the Galapagos was the subject of a 1996 Discovery Channel documentary called Galapagos: Beyond Darwin. The new shark is named in honor of award-winning filmmaker Al Giddings, who filmed and produced the Discovery Channel project and many more natural history films. McCosker's deep-sea research in the Galapagos is also highlighted within the Academy's Islands of Evolution exhibit, which opened in 2008.
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Journal Reference:

john E. McCosker, Douglas J. Long and Carole C. Baldwin. Description of a new species of deepwater catshark, Bythaelurus giddingsi sp. nov., from the Galápagos Islands (Chondrichthyes: Carcharhiniformes: Scyliorhinidae). Zootaxa, 2012

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China Gambles On Cambodia's Shrinking Forests

Andrew R.C. Marshall and Prak Chan Thul PlanetArk 8 Mar 12;

It was once the unspoiled jungle home for tigers, elephants, bears and gibbons. But today Botum Sakor National Park in southwest Cambodia is fast disappearing to accommodate a much less endangered species: the Chinese gambler.

"This was all forest once," says Chut Wutty, director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, an environmental watchdog based in the capital, Phnom Penh, gesturing across a near-treeless landscape.

"But then the government sold the land to rich men."

He means Tianjin Union Development Group, a real-estate company from northern China, which is transforming 340 sq km (130 sq miles) of Botum Sakor into a city-sized gambling resort for "extravagant feasting and revelry," its website says. A 64-km (40-mile) highway, now almost complete, will cut a four-lane swathe through mostly virgin forest.

National parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Cambodia, an impoverished country known for its ancient temples and genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, could soon vanish entirely as deep-pocketed Chinese investors accelerate a secretive sell-off of protected areas to private companies, warns Chut Wutty and other activists.

The land sales also point to another trend: the expansion of Chinese economic interests in Southeast Asia's undeveloped frontiers, which comes at a delicate time as tensions simmer over China's sovereignty claims in the disputed South China Sea and the United States vows to re-engage with the region.

Last year, the Cambodian government granted so-called economic land concessions to scores of companies to develop 7,631 sq km (2,946 sq miles) of land, most of it in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, according to research by the respected Cambodia Human Rights and Development Organization (ADHOC).

The area of concessions granted has risen six-fold between 2010 and 2011, partly a reflection of booming Indochina trade as China's economic influence spreads deeper into Southeast Asia.

Foreign conservation groups in the country have remained silent about the sell-off for fear of wrecking their relationship with the government of mercurial Prime Minister Hun Sen. But Cambodians dislodged from concession areas are starting to find their voices.


Fishing families in Botum Sakor say that Union Group is using strongarm tactics to relocate them deep inland.

"It's been my land since my grandparents' generation," says Srey Khmao, 68, from Thmar Sar. "I lived peacefully there until Union Group threatened the villagers and told them to remove their belongings."

Such protests could ratchet up anti-Chinese sentiment in Cambodia, where China is both the largest foreign investor and source of foreign aid. That aid, often in the form of no-strings-attached infrastructure projects, has made Hun Sen less reliant on Western donors, who generally demand greater transparency and respect for human rights.

It has also eroded the influence of foreign conservation groups in Cambodia, many of whom work in the same protected areas now being sold off. Their criticism has remained muted for fear Hun Sen will do what he did to British environmental watchdog Global Witness in 2005, and kick them out.

"The days of donor-dependency are over," says a foreign conservationist working in Cambodia, who asked not to be identified. "Much more money is coming into this country through direct investment, especially from Chinese companies, so the carrot-and-stick incentive that NGOs (non-governmental groups) might have had 10 years ago isn't as powerful these days."

Land-grabbing, illegal logging and forced evictions have long been common in Cambodia. But by granting land concessions, the government has effectively legalized these practices in the country's last remaining wilderness, say activists.

Companies from Cambodia, Vietnam and other countries are also exploiting the land sell-off, mainly to develop rubber plantations and other agribusinesses. But the most lucrative projects -- mining for gold and other minerals -- are dominated by the Chinese, says the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.


Cambodia's 2001 land law forbids economic land concessions greater than 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres). But China's Union Group won a 99-year lease thanks to a 2008 royal decree which carved out 36,000 hectares (89,000 acres) from Botum Sakor and redefined it.

In the same year, a contract was signed by Minister of Environment Mok Mareth and the chief of Union Group's board of directors Li Zhi Xuan. The company was granted a further 9,100 adjoining hectares last year to build a hydroelectric dam.

Union Group has big ambitions for the area, including a network of roads, an international airport, a port for large cruise ships, two reservoirs, condominiums, hotels, hospitals, golf courses and a casino called "Angkor Wat on Sea," according to the contract and its website.

It will sink $3.8 billion into its Botum Sakor resort, a figure quoted to rights groups in February by Bun Leut, governor of coastal Koh Kong province. It covers an area almost half the size of Singapore. People in the area say it will be called either "Seven-headed Dragon" or "Hong Kong II."

"Those are just rumors. It hasn't been named yet," says Cheang Sivling, a Chinese-speaking Cambodian manager for Union Group's road-building operations.

The four-lane highway, built at a cost of about $1.1 million a mile, is part of a system of roads Union Group will run across Botum Sakor, adds Cheang Sivling.

This alarms Mathieu Pellerin, a researcher with the Cambodian human rights group Licadho, who notes that newly built roads give logging operators greater access and could accelerate the destruction of forests.

"Botum Sakor is melting away," he says.

The worksites along the highway house a number of Chinese engineers, and are guarded by Cambodian soldiers.

Access to the resort area itself is blocked by a provincial park ranger who, when Reuters tried to pass, threatened to radio for back-up from military police, who along with the police routinely provide security for big concessionaires.

"This is China," he says firmly.

Nearby, at the picturesque seaside village of Poy Jopon, people were preparing to leave after signing away their property to Union Group -- under duress, they say.

"I'm upset, but there is nothing I can do about it," says Chey Pheap, 42, a grocery store owner. "This is the way society works." He and the remaining villagers will soon be moved to houses some 10 km (six miles) inland. When asked to describe the new area, one of Chey Pheap's neighbors says: "No work, no water, no school, no temple. Just malaria."

Nhorn Saroen, 52, was among hundreds of families who have already been moved from another fishing village, called Kom Saoi. "We were told it was Chinese land and we couldn't cut down a single tree," he says. "Some people refused to leave. Their land was taken and now they have nothing."

He was provided with a house in a purpose-built village far inland, robbing him of his main livelihood: fishing. The houses surrounding Nhorn Saroen's are deserted. Many families cannot make ends meet in the remote area and have moved away, he says.

Passing just behind his house was a moat which delineated Union Group's land. It was three meters deep (10 ft) and twice as wide, and ran for many kilometers. For the villagers, it symbolized China's power and remoteness.

"Even though we hate the Chinese, what can we do?" says Nhorn Saroen.

Union Group's website praises Cambodia for its "sound public order" and "simple and honest" people. Allegations of forced evictions are "a problem between the Cambodian government and its people," says a company spokeswoman, who declined to be identified.

Union Group obeyed Cambodian laws and worked closely with the Chinese government, she adds. Its road network was welcomed by people in the area. "Residents said they finally saw real roads and cars," she says. "In this regard, I think we have contributed to Cambodia."

She confirmed that Union Group is spending "billions" of dollars on the project.


The government granted a record number of economic land concessions in 2011, says Pellerin, but keeping track of them is impossible. Information on hard-to-reach concessions or the firms leasing them is not systematically maintained.

The government's contract with Union Group is "shocking," says Pellerin. "Cambodia is giving away 36,000 hectares to a foreign entity with little if any oversight or obvious benefit to the people."

As part of that contract, Union Group deposited $1 million with the Council for the Development of Cambodia, but pays no fees for the first decade of its lease.

Leasing protected areas generates minimal money, insisted Sem Saroeun, director general of finance and administration at the Ministry of Environment. The government charged even deep-pocketed Chinese firms a mere $1 per hectare per year.

"This is a voluntary price and the funds go to the protection and conservation of the environment," he says. New anti-graft laws prevent additional under-the-table payments, he adds.

But Seng Sok Heng of Community Peace Network, a group which helps track land concessions for the pro-transparency website Open Development Cambodia, says the government is charging up to $10 per hectare per year, and that additional bribes were common.

Environment official Sem Saroeun said he didn't know the total area leased out by the government, but added that concessions were only granted on land surrounding protected areas. "The core areas are still protected," he says.

But this claim is upended not only by Reuters' trip to fast-shrinking Botum Sakor, but also by satellite images and research by groups. Maps produced by Licadho show huge leaseholds at the heart of wildlife sanctuaries such as Boeng Per and Phnom Aural, while 19 concessions have swallowed up almost all of Virachey national park on Cambodia's remote border with Laos and Vietnam.


With Chinese investors fanning out across fast-growing Southeast Asia, festering resentment over land-hungry projects could spell trouble for Beijing, especially after the United States signaled last year that it would strengthen economic and diplomatic influence in the region.

A new generation of Chinese multinationals is facing pockets of resistance in a region they once dominated without question.

Myanmar's reformist government apparently bowed to popular discontent by cancelling a $3.6 billion Chinese-led dam project in September, marking a turning point in relations with its giant neighbor. A similar movement opposes trans-Myanmar pipelines that will transport oil and gas to China.

Through all this, Cambodia has been a reliable ally for China. Foreign direct investment from China was $1.19 billion in 2011, almost 10 times that of the United States, estimated the government's Council for the Development of Cambodia, which Hun Sen chairs.

China has also been generous with aid, pledging more than $2 billion since 1992, mostly in soft loans, according to Finance Minister Keat Chhon in February.

This "blank cheque diplomacy" threatened to "erode donor efforts to use assistance to promote improved governance and respect for human rights," a U.S. diplomat said in a cable released last year by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks.

"There is a growing sense -- and this is not unique to Cambodia -- that Chinese investors and employers are problematic," says Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. "At the same time, it's not as if the Cambodian government is stepping up to defend its own citizens."

Hun Sen has publicly praised China for placing no conditions on its aid, but the U.S. diplomat noted in the cable that Chinese companies had been rewarded with non-transparent "access to mineral and resource wealth."

And land: leaseholds offer potentially strategic locations for expanding Chinese interests. Union Group's vast concession has easy access to both the Gulf of Thailand -- the traditional backyard of U.S. military ally Thailand -- and the hotly contested South China Sea.

For activist Chut Wutty, Union Group's activities smack of colonisation. "You think after 99 years that this land will be returned to Cambodia? You think they'll kick the Chinese out? No way. It's forever."

(Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel)

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Bats in northern Australian town prompt disease warning

BBC News 7 Mar 12;

A town in northern Australia has been invaded by more than 250,000 bats, prompting warnings of a potentially fatal disease related to rabies.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) warned residents in Katherine to stay away from the fruit bats, which could carry the Australian Bat Lyssavirus.

The disease can be transmitted to people if they are bitten or scratched.

Authorities have closed down the main sports ground in the town 300 km south of Darwin in the Northern Territory.

The colony of fruit bats - little red flying foxes - arrived in the town late last month. In recent days numbers have begun to fall but large numbers continue to roost on the outskirts of town, reports the BBC's Phil Mercer.

The bats could be attracted to the area by native flora, or driven to the area because of habitat destruction or changing climatic conditions, John Burke, a senior wildlife ranger, told the BBC.

''Obviously in the town area there's a lot of exotic plant species that are fruiting and flowering throughout the year,'' he said. ''So it's more like a drive-through, I suppose, a drive-through take-away.''

CDC Director Vicki Krause told Australian media that the virus was carried in bat saliva.

Some victims have died but that is rare, our correspondent adds, and a vaccination is available.

If bitten, people should wash the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention as soon as possible, Dr Krause said. Vaccinations were effective if given immediately, she added.

Experts say the presence of so many flying foxes in the Northern Territory town only takes place two or three times each decade.

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Niger rare giraffe population makes a comeback

AFP Yahoo News 8 Mar 12;

The last West African giraffes, now living in the wild only in southwestern Niger, are making a comeback with numbers standing at 310 last year, the environment ministry said here Wednesday.

Only 50 of them, their lowest number, was recorded in 1996.

The 'giraffa camelopardalis peralta', distinguished by its light-coloured spots and found only in the Sahel, was nearly extinct when a campaign was launched to protect it from poachers.

"Efforts deployed by the government to protect the giraffes have borne fruit as their population has increased from about 50 in 1996 to 310 in 2011," the ministry said quoting the result of the latest census.

The giraffes -- 146 males and 164 females -- live in the vicinity of Koure, a little over an hour by road from the capital Niamey.

The Association to Safeguard the Giraffes of Niger (ASGN), a non-governmental organisation which works along with the French zoo of Doue La Fontaine, has set up community projects in the area to encourage the local population to preserve the giraffes.

They have offered seed to farmers, dug wells, and granted interest-free micro-loans to women to help them set up small businesses.

Two giraffes were killed by poachers in 2010, but highway traffic, especially at night, is even more of a threat to the animals.

The ASGN attempted in 2010 to keep track of the giraffes by way of satellite-radio transmitters attached to their necks, but these had to be removed after several animals developed problems wearing them.

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Cheetah struggling to reproduce due to climate change, scientists warn

The world's fastest animal has developed abnormal coils in its sperm as a result of warmer temperatures
Gitonga Njeru 7 Mar 12;

The world's fastest animal, the African cheetah, is losing its ability to reproduce because of climate change, according to Kenyan researchers.

Scientists with the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and the Kenya Wildlife Service have discovered that the animal, Acinonyx jubatus, has developed abnormal coils in its sperm as a result of warmer temperatures, affecting the big cat's ability to reproduce. The warmer temperatures are also affecting its feeding habits, they say.

Risky Agwanda, head of mammology section at NMK, said: "Climate change has contributed to defects of the cheetah sperm. Many have abnormal coils, low sperm counts, as well as extremely low testosterone levels. Change in climate has made the survival of the gazelle difficult to survive and as a result, the cheetah has had to switch to other diets, also affecting its ability to reproduce effectively.".

He added that the animal, that can accelerate from 0-100kph in three seconds, has a sperm count 10 times lower than the domestic cat.

"Cheetahs love to prey on Thomson's gazelles, they have a very high protein content compared to other herbivores and the population of the gazelle has been on a rapid decline due to poor climate conditions and human activities.

"We have studied a large number of the cheetahs. As a result, it preys on other herbivores such as the zebra which do not have a high nutritional content. We discovered that the gazelle diet can actually help maintain the good health of the cheetah sperm if the animal has not yet been negatively affected by poor climate," explained Agwanda.

There are currently only 1,000 cheetahs in Kenya according to figures from the Kenya Wildlife Service. In the early 1980s, there were more than 5,000 cheetahs in Kenya.

As gazelle numbers continue to decrease due to drought, conservation efforts of the cheetah could be badly affected. The gazelles are also crossbreeding with other herbivores, reducing their protein content further, Agwanda said.

Scientists have never discovered any reproductive health deficiencies in other big cats, which they say can adapt more to climate change compared to the cheetah.

"The genetic make-up of the animal is more sensitive as compared to the other big cats. The cheetahs have weak genes," said Agwanda.

Mordecai Ogada, a fellow cheetah researcher at the National Museums, says that also another problem threatening the survival of the animal is conflict between humans and wildlife, resulting in damage to to the cheetha's habitat. Ogada added that cheetah numbers have also declined because of poaching for their skin, which fetches a high price on the black market.

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Entire nation of Kiribati to be relocated over rising sea level threat

The low-lying Pacific nation of Kiribati is negotiating to buy land in Fiji so it can relocate islanders under threat from rising sea levels.
Paul Chapman, The Telegraph 7 Mar 12;

In what could be the world's first climate-induced migration of modern times, Anote Tong, the Kiribati president, said he was in talks with Fiji's military government to buy up to 5,000 acres of freehold land on which his countrymen could be housed.

Some of Kiribati's 32 pancake-flat coral atolls, which straddle the equator over 1,350,000 square miles of ocean, are already disappearing beneath the waves.

Most of its 113,000 people are crammed on to Tarawa, the administrative centre, a chain of islets which curve in a horseshoe shape around a lagoon.

"This is the last resort, there's no way out of this one," Mr Tong said.

"Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages."

Mr Tong said the plan would be to send a trickle of skilled workers first, so they could merge more easily with the Fijian population and make a positive contribution to that country's economy.

"We don't want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go," he told the state-run Fiji One television channel.

"They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens.

"What we need is the international community to come up with an urgent funding package to deal with that ambition, and the needs of countries like Kiribati."

The land Kiribati wants to buy is understood to be on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island.

Mr Tong's proposal is the latest in an increasingly desperate search for solutions.

Last year he suggested the possibility of constructing man-made islands like oil rigs for people to live on.

His government has launched an Education for Migration programme, aimed at upskilling its population to make them more attractive as migrants.

Kiribati youngsters study for degrees at the University of the South Pacific, which is based in the Fijian capital of Suva and jointly owned by 12 Pacific island countries.

Dr Alumita Durulato, a lecturer in international affairs at the university, said: "They are already preparing quite well.

"They have educated their youth to be able to survive in the new lands that they want to go to.

"They are going to leave behind their culture, their way of life and lifestyle, which is a little bit different from ours in Fiji."

Tarawa lies 1,400 miles from Suva and some i-Kiribati, as the islanders are known, hold concerns about whether their culture would survive after the population moves, especially if those who leave first are mainly the young.

A member of the Commonwealth, Kiribati was known as the Gilbert islands until independence from Britain in 1979.

The islands were first named after Thomas Gilbert, a British naval captain who navigated the archipelago in 1788, Kiribati being the local pronunciation of "Gilbert".

The total land area is 313 square miles and none of the coral atolls rises more than a few feet above sea level.

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