Best of our wild blogs: 4 Apr 12

Why we need to talk about the birds and the bees
from Otterman speaks

Places - Creatures at Home

Dead fish patrol at Pasir Ris
from wild shores of singapore

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker nesting at Pasir Ris
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Philippines: 'We didn’t know touching whale sharks was wrong'

Cebu Daily News 3 Apr 12;

CEBU CITY, Philippines–The small coastal barangay of North Granada in Boljoon town, southern Cebu, pleaded ignorance after being heavily criticized for mishandling a whale shark that was stranded there.

Photo from Stop Whale Shark Feeding in Oslob, Cebu, Philippines facebook page

Carinn Lestolis, the 18-year-old girl photographed sitting on top of the whale shark, said she was frightened by the outpouring of anger and online bashing, especially comments about her using the fish as a “surf board.”

“Nahadlok ko nga ma-priso, nasakitan sad ko sa mga gisulti sa mga tawo sa Facebook about nako (I’m afraid of going to jail. I was hurt by what Facebook users said about me),” Lestolis told Cebu Daily News.

Lestolis, her cousins and neighbors were among those posing as they gathered around the animal.

Several of them hung on to the body of the 10-foot whale shark, whose tail was tied with a rope.

Fisherman Pablo Trapero told Cebu Daily News the whale shark had gotten caught in their fish nets so they dragged the nets to the shallows to untangle the animal and set it free.

Before releasing it, though, local residents got excited and swarmed around.

Lestolis said this took place outside their house.

“We didn’t know it’s wrong to touch them. All we know was that they shouldn’t be harmed,” a teary-eyed Lestolis said in Cebuano.

She said riding on the back of the whale shark was just harmless fun for them.

“We got excited and happy when we saw the whale shark, so we posed with it and posted it on Facebook,” Lestolis said.

She said she balanced on the back of the whale shark for about two minutes to strike a pose.

The whale shark is called tuki by local residents in south Cebu and is also known as butanding.

Lestolis said she already deleted the photo album and is thinking of deleting her Facebook page after the incident.

North Granada barangay councilor Pedro Lestolis, Carinn’s father, said he was in the area when the incident occurred.

He said they didn’t know that handling the whale shark that way was wrong.

Under Republic Act 9147, an Act for the conservation and Protection of Wildlife Resources and Habitats, it is illegal to maltreat or kill endangered species, like the whale shark.

The penalty is three to six months in jail with a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 for maltreating an endangered species. A longer prison term and higher fine is slapped for killing and destroying them.

The photo that circulated online was from the Facebook profile of a neighbor, barangay treasurer Liza Sesaldo.

Many mistook her for being the girl riding the whale shark.

Sesaldo said she was hurt by the critical comments online and from radio commentaries about the photos, which Cebu Daily News carried on its front page yesterday.

“I was harassed by their comments,” Sesaldo said.

The whale shark in the photographs was trapped in the fishnets of 61-year-old Granada resident Pablo Trapero.

At 5 a.m. last Saturday, he said they were surprised when they couldn’t lift the nets, which are usually left at sea overnight, only to find a whale shark caught in it.

“We had to bring it to the shore so we can tear the nets,” Trapero told Cebu Daily News.

He said whale sharks often get trapped in their nets, but could usually free themselves.

Trapero said they had to tie the whale shark’s tail to keep it still.

He said it took them two hours to release the whale shark 100 meters from the shore.

Trapero said local residents crowded around the whale shark after the nets were removed near the shore. He said they led the fish back to the open sea at 8 a.m.

Boljoon Mayor Teresita Celis met with residents yesterday to verify the incident, which she had first denied had happened at all.

Celis said she only knew about it yesterday morning when her employees showed the photographs on Facebook.

“I was really infuriated,” Celis said.

When Cebu Daily News first asked Celis about the photos last Sunday, she denied the photos were taken in Boljoon because fishermen don’t feed it, like those in the next town of Oslob, which has enjoyed a tourist boom from promoting “whale shark interaction” in the water.

Celis yesterday said her town plans to pass an ordinance that will penalize the touching or riding of whale sharks.

“I assure you, it won’t happen again. There will be no second time. If it will happen again, we will penalize them,” she said.

Celis said she was worried about negative online feedback over the Facebook posts.

She said she warned local residents yesterday that if it happens again, she’ll have them jailed.

In the meantime, she said they would intensify an information campaign about the whale sharks since their area in south Cebu is part of the migratory path of the animals.

Oslob town has enjoyed a tourism boom in recent months, with foreign and local visitors paying P300 each to ride a paddle boat not far from the shore to see whale sharks approach fishermen who hand feed them krill, while tourists swim near it or watch from boats.

Regional Director Andres Boholst of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Central Visayas (BFAR-7) said the people who touched and rode on the whale shark couldn’t be penalized, unless an ordinance is approved and enforced by the local government unit.

“Whale sharks are naturally friendly, so they would not inflict harm,” he said.

In Oslob, rules about “no touching” and “no feeding whale sharks” are told to visitors in an outdoor tent used as a briefing area while fishermen who have becom guides belong to a association accredited with the Oslob municipal government.

Boholst said riding and touching the whale shark may give it ailments.

Their huge tail can also harm persons who approach it.

He said a person should at least be five feet away from the whale shark for safety.

Regional Director Rowena Montecillo of the Department of Tourism in Central Visayas (DOT-7) also went to the barangay to check the report of whale shark abuse that has circulated around the world because of the Internet.

“This happened because the people are unaware (about how to handle whale sharks),” Montecillo said.

Still the DOT-7 chief said the incident also showed that the public is concerned about the whale sharks.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said the Facebook photos clearly showed a state of ignorance.

“This should be taken up by the mayor concerned,” she said.

Earlier this year, Garcia issued an executive order for the creation of the technical working group (TWG) to craft guidelines for whale shark watching in Oslob town. /Candeze R. Mongaya, Reporter with Correspondent Carmel Loise Matus

Whale sharks in Oslob wounded, marine biologists say 3 Apr 12;

MANILA, Philippines – The girl in the controversial “whale shark in surfboard” photo may have admitted that the incident took place in Boljoon, Cebu, but it seems that nearby Oslob town is not yet off the hook.

Marine biologists in Oslob said whale sharks in the area have fresh wounds, which could have been obtained through close contact with boatmen and tourists.

They also noted how some policies on whale shark watching are not followed in the area, and asked government agencies to do their part in protecting the marine animals, which are locally called butanding.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) earlier expressed alarm as some people use whale sharks as surfboards, as seen in a photo that has gone viral on social networking sites.

David David, a researcher at WWF, said the group has been reminding residents in Oslob on how to properly conduct whale shark interactions for tourists, but there are still a number of violations.

Fishermen in Oslob have been feeding whale sharks with baby shrimp for decades, making them rise to the surface to the delight of tourists.

Tourists, however, are barred from feeding or swimming with the whale sharks.

DOT defends girl in whale shark photo

The Department of Tourism (DOT), meanwhile, urged the public to stop criticizing Carelle Listones, the girl who was photographed riding a whale shark.

Director Rowena Montecillo of DOT Region VII said that instead of dishing out negative comments on social networking sites, Filipinos must focus on spreading the word on how to properly interact with whale sharks.

Listones apologized for her actions on Monday after getting flak from Filipino netizens over her photo.

In an interview, she said she was not aware that riding atop whale sharks is not allowed. – With reports from Reno Tallada and Jun Niño, ABS-CBN News

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Indonesia: Loris trade not so slow

TRAFFIC 3 Apr 12;

Jakarta, Indonesia, 3rd April 2012—Despite global efforts to halt the growing demand for slow lorises as exotic pets, the primates continue to be offered for sale, with 50 individuals found in Jakarta’s animal markets over the past fortnight.

Although totally protected under Indonesian law, slow lorises were also observed for sale in shopping malls and at a flora and fauna exhibition, designed to raise awareness of Indonesia’s rich biodiversity.

Only a week ago, 30 were seen on sale during a single visit to Jati Negara market, where slow lorises are openly sold on a daily basis.

Ranking high on the cute-and-cuddly scale, slow lorises have long been in demand as exotic pets. The problem gained international prominence after a 2009 YouTube video of a slow loris being tickled went viral.

Several international and local groups have subsequently launched online campaigns petitioning for the removal of such videos.

A recent BBC documentary on the Slow Loris of Indonesia fronts a renewed call to educate consumers and end the illegal trade in the animals.

Nevertheless, slow lorises are still a common sight in wildlife markets in some Southeast Asian countries, particularly those in Indonesia, where markets such as Jati Negara are found in most major centres.

Other markets in Jakarta, such as the well known Pramuka Market, are also major centres for illegal wildlife trade.

“The authorities need to clean up these markets and Indonesia’s reputation as a major centre of illegal wildlife trade,” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“The openness of the slow loris trade highlights the fact that having one of the region’s best wildlife protection laws and promising to protect species is not enough—there must be stronger enforcement in Indonesia and the public should stop supporting the illegal wildlife trade,” says Shepherd.

There are three slow loris species in Indonesia and trade is a major threat to all. The Greater Slow Loris Nycticebus coucang and the Bornean Slow Loris N. menagensis are listed by the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable, and the Javan Slow Loris N. javanicus, is listed as Endangered.

“Indonesia has an amazing array of unique wildlife and it is time real action is taken to protect it,” says Shepherd.

Illegal Trade of Protected Loris Still Rife in Jakarta
Ulma Haryanto Jakarta Globe 4 Apr 12;

Despite its protected status, slow loris sales are still rampant in Jakarta, activists warned on Wednesday.

A two-week field survey by wildlife monitoring group Traffic last month at Jatinegara market in East Jakarta found 50 of the small primates being sold openly, including 30 in a single visit.

“The authorities need to clean up these markets and Indonesia’s reputation as a major center of illegal wildlife trade,” Chris. Shepherd, deputy regional director of Traffic Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

“The openness of the slow loris trade highlights the fact that despite having one of the region’s best wildlife protection laws and promising to protect species, there must be stronger enforcement in Indonesia and the public should stop supporting the illegal wildlife trade.”

Pramudya Harzani, from the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, told the Jakarta Globe that such trades are being made openly in several markets in the capital.

“We recently received an e-mail from someone who saw stalls set up in the Blok M area [South Jakarta] with baby slow lorises and baby owls for sale,” he said.

According to him there are two or three lorises captured from the wild, transported, and sold in Jakarta every day.

“Collectors buy lorises from the hunters for Rp 20,000 to Rp 60,000 [$2.20 to $6.60] per head depending on the season and sell them again for Rp 100,000 to Rp 300,000,” Pramudya explained. “The price could go higher if the seller dyed the lorises with peroxide or other colors and tell potential customers that it’s a rare species.”

Most lorises that are brought to Jakarta came from West Java, Lampung and South Sumatra.

“They are usually put in fruit crates or boxes, and the collectors hire old women to transport them via land since the police would be less likely to arrest them if they got caught,” Pramudya said.

Along the way, 10 percent of the animals die out of dehydration or stress.

“Another 10 percent also die in the market because of too much exposure to sunlight or bad food,” he explained. Lorises are nocturnal animals.

“The sad thing is these lorises die anyway after about four months, mostly because of infection caused by the pulling of their teeth,” he added. Hunters do this so that the animals will not scare buyers.

Pramudya also said that even though all three species of slow lorises are protected under the 1990 Law on Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems, and capturing and trading them carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to Rp 100 million, the trade is still rampant.

Lorises are found only in South and Southeast Asia.

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Sumatran Wildlife at Risk: Animal Activists

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 3 Apr 12;

Banda Aceh. The unbridled destruction of Sumatra’s forests over the past 20 years is the main reason for the 44 percent decline in the Sumatran elephant population during that period, wildlife activists said on Monday.

Donny Gunaryadi, the elephant program coordinator at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesia program, said the wild elephant population on the island had dropped from around 5,000 in 1992 to just 2,800 today.

“The high rate of habitat destruction, land use changes and increased threats from poaching and conflicts with humans are all factors in the decline of the population of this protected species,” he said.

Sunarto, the species conservation program coordinator at WWF Indonesia, said it was crucial to conserve the region’s remaining forests in order to ensure the survival of wildlife such as the Sumatran elephant and tiger.

“The opening up of forested areas that are of prime importance to tigers and elephants must be halted immediately,” he said. “It is also high time that land use policies for forested areas began incorporating ecological considerations to prevent human-animal conflicts.”

The activists were speaking at a workshop in Banda Aceh organized by the Indonesian Elephant Conservation Forum (FKGI), in cooperation with the WCS, WWF and Fauna-Flora International.

Participants at the event all agreed on the importance of stemming habitat loss from illegal logging and clear-cutting of forests, which also threatens other species indigenous to Sumatra.

Satellite imagery of the change in forest cover in Sumatra’s lowland areas shows that 8 million hectares were wiped out between 1990 and 2000, Sunarto said.

That, he continued, coupled with the fact that much of the natural habitat of elephants and tigers fell outside of protected areas, meant the risks to the already critically endangered species was only increasing. “That’s why I believe that the protection of the elephant and tiger’s habitat is the most important factor in saving the species,” he stressed.

“There also needs to be more stringent enforcement against the illegal clearing of forests, poaching and selling of wildlife.” In order for any elephant conservation program to prove effective, Sunarto said there needed to be an action plan and strategy supported by all stakeholders, particularly the government.

Also crucial was a push for a “win-win solution” that would boost conservation without impinging on the economic development of forest communities.

Donny said there was an urgent need to get the message across to the Forestry Ministry.

“Our hope is that conservation efforts for the Sumatran elephant will be better coordinated and managed after this workshop,” he said.

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Multinationals vow to boycott Asia Pulp and Paper after outcry over illegal logging

The companies will suspend purchases from Asia Pulp and Paper after evidence emerged of illegal logging in Indonesia
Fiona Harvey 2 Apr 12;

Several multinational companies have vowed to boycott the huge forestry conglomerate, Asia Pulp and Paper, after a public outcry after evidence emerged of illegal logging by APP in Indonesia, that is damaging the habitat of rare animals such as the Sumatran tiger.

Pressure has been growing on APP, its suppliers and customers, since the Guardian revealed last month evidence of illegal logging that had resulted in the chopping down of large numbers of a protected tree species, known as ramin, which grows in some of the last remaining bastions of the critically endangered tiger in south-east Asia.

A year-long Greenpeace investigation uncovered clear and independently verified evidence to show that ramin trees from the Indonesian rainforest had been chopped down and sent to factories to be pulped and turned into paper. The name ramin refers to a collection of endangered trees, protected under Indonesian law, growing in peat swamps in Indonesia where the small number of remaining Sumatran tigers hunt.

The three large companies – all household names – have now said they will suspend purchases from APP, either permanently or until they can be satisfied that the paper and associated products are being produced sustainably. They are Danone, the food giant whose brands include Cow & Gate, Actimel and Volvic; Xerox, the IT and printing supplies company; and a branch of the Collins publishing group. The Guardian understands that other companies are also considering whether to take similar action on the issue.

Danone said: "In view of the questions raised about APP, and as a precautionary measure, Danone group has decided to suspend all purchases from this supplier wherever possible under law, until the situation has been clarified and confirmed by independent stakeholders. This suspension will apply to all group subsidiaries in all affected countries."

The company, which uses APP for about 1.5% of its cardboard packaging, amounting to about 7,500 metric tonnes, will suspend purchases from APP from June.

Xerox confirmed a longstanding ban on purchasing from APP, after an investigation revealed that at least one of the company's subsidiaries had been using APP as recently as last year. Xerox said: "While at one time APP was a Xerox supplier, our corporate direction has been to cease doing business with APP on a global basis. This direction was put in place years ago and is based on our stringent paper sourcing guidelines. While we have confirmed that no Xerox branded products have been sourced from APP since implementing our ban in 2002, we have uncovered that a Xerox European entity bought and resold APP branded paper as recently as 2011. This was against the company's purchasing protocols. The activity has since ceased, corrective actions have been taken, and we are reinforcing our policy — banning any purchase of paper from APP."

Collins Debden, the diary publisher, said: "In response to customer and market demands, Collins Debden does not procure raw material originating from Asia Pulp & Paper."

APP said it was "committed to ensure that its operations, control systems and chain of custody process is in accordance with Indonesian law. The Ministry of Forestry has issued public statements regarding the investigation process for the Ramin issue, and therefore APP will provide update on the matter once the process is completed."

In a statement in response to the original report, the company said it had rigorous standards in place to prevent any illegal material entering its supply chain, but added: "No system in the world, no matter how rigorous, is 100% failsafe."

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "Having been exposed for destroying the rainforests and using internationally protected ramin wood in Indonesia, APP are now paying the price for their poor environmental policies. The only way APP can stop losing customers is to become a responsible supplier of paper and packaging products."

Chopping down ramin trees is illegal under Indonesian law dating back to 2001, because of their status as an endangered plant species. But Greenpeace alleges that its researchers found ramin logs being prepared to be transported for pulping when it tested logs in lumber yards belonging to the paper giant Asia Pulp and Paper, on nine separate occasions over the course of a year, and sent them to an independent lab to be tested. Out of 59 samples, 46 tested positive as ramin logs.

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Indonesia: Appeal likely in palm oil dispute

Michael Bachelard Sydney Morning Herald 4 Apr 12;

THE courts in Aceh have failed to protect a carbon-rich peat forest and critically endangered orang utans from the actions of a palm oil company which Jakarta acknowledges has acted illegally.

After five months of detailed argument, the three-judge court sitting in Banda Aceh threw the case out on jurisdictional grounds, saying the complainants from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) should first have sought mediation with the company.

The lawyer for the complainants, Kamaruddin, said the judges had used the wrong legislation - the environmental law, not administrative law - to make their determination, and said an appeal was likely.

And Riswan Zein, a representative of environmental group Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, said if the judges were going to insist on mediation, they should have mentioned it earlier in the case, which started last October.

The case began when Aceh's then governor, Irwandi Yusuf, signed a permit in August last year to allow Indonesian palm oil giant PT Kallista Alam to set up a plantation in the environmentally sensitive Tripa peat swamp, seven hours south of Banda Aceh.

Detailed maps presented to the court showed that the concession was part of the Leuser Ecosystem, which is protected from development under Indonesia's 2008 national planning law.

The area is one of the last redoubts of the endangered Sumatran orang utan.

Sumatra-based landscape protection specialist Graham Usher told The Age that the company had begun actively clearing the swamp by burning, which is also illegal under Indonesian law.

A spokesman for Mr Irwandi, who is running for re-election as governor in Monday's Aceh poll, said he respected what the environmental groups had done in bringing the case.

Without resiling from his decision to issue the permit, he said he would "sit down and talk" with the complainants.

Last year Indonesia's secretary-general of the Ministry of Forestry, Hadi Daryanto, told the Jakarta Post that the PT Kallista Alam permit was "clearly a violation because the area in question is a peat forest".

The permit also appears to breach Indonesia's international responsibilities under the REDD+ project, under which Norway has promised to pay the country $US1billion to protect its peat forests as a way of addressing climate change.

Mr Kamaruddin said yesterday the verdict put that payment under threat.

Environmental groups say that, in the last 21 years, about 70 per cent of Tripa's original forest and its orang utan population have been destroyed.

Late last month, another rash of peat forest in the area was burned and drained, prompting a coalition of environment groups to claim that, unless authorities stopped the illegal action, the local population of the Sumatran orang utan "could be extinct in a matter of months, even weeks if a prolonged dry spell were to set in" and fuel the fires.

The orang utan population is estimated at several hundred, of which the environment groups estimate 100 may have died in the fires of recent weeks.

Indonesia Court Refuses to Rule on Important Aceh Peat Swamp Case
Jakarta Globe 4 Apr 12;

Banda Aceh, Indonesia. A court in Aceh in western Indonesia on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit brought by conservationists challenging further development of peat swamp forests they say will threaten the few remaining orangutans who live there.

Indonesia’s largest environmental group, Walhi, wanted the court to revoke a license granted by the Aceh provincial government to palm oil company Kallista Alam. The license allows the company to convert 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of the Tripa peat swamp forest into a palm oil plantation.

Three other palm oil companies already operate in the forest. The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program has said that orangutans could disappear from Tripa by the year’s end if palm oil companies keep setting land-clearing fires there.

The Tripa forest — which in the early 1990s was home to around 3,000 Sumatran orangutans — today has just 200. There are 6,600 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, and the Tripa forest has the densest population in the world.

Walhi filed a lawsuit against the head of the Aceh government, Gov. Irwandi Yusuf, arguing that the license given to Kallista Alam would cause environmental destruction and loss of habitat for the endangered species.

But a three-judge panel at the Banda Aceh Administrative Court said it had no authority to rule on the case because the parties involved hadn’t tried to solve the case outside of court.

“Walhi’s complaint could not be accepted,” presiding judge Darmawi said. “We suggest the parties resolve the case outside the court first.”

The pronouncement means the parties could attempt mediation, but Walhi’s lawyer, Kamaruddin, said the group will instead appeal to the high court.

Aceh’s government and Kallista Alam welcomed the judges’ decision.

“It gives us confidence that the issuing of the license has been done in accordance with procedure,” said Saifullah, a provincial government official.

Firman Azwan Lubis, a lawyer representing Kallista, said the company’s application for the license was legal and “based on comprehensive studies about environmental impacts.”

Beside the lawsuit, people living around Tripa also have asked police to investigate whether any environmental crimes were committed in connection with the issuing of a license to Kallista.

Associated Press

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Surveillance, penalties needed to halt rhino poaching: conservationists

Yara Bayoumy Reuters 3 Apr 12;

NAIROBI, April 3 | Tue Apr 3, 2012 5:06pm EDT

(Reuters) - Better surveillance and stiffer penalties must be imposed to combat rhino poaching in Africa, which if left unchecked could see the species become extinct in the wild by 2025, regional conservation officials said on Tuesday.

The world's rhino population has declined 90 percent since 1970, conservationists estimate. On the African continent, there are some 20,150 white rhinos that are near threatened and 4,840 black rhinos that are critically endangered.

"We've certainly reached a tipping point in rhino populations. There is no way that our national populations can sustain the level of poaching," Pelham Jones, chairman of the South Africa Private Rhino Owners Association, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conservation summit in Nairobi.

"What I've seen in the past is that many politicians ... have solidly got their heads in the sand ... The attitude of saying that there is no crisis is a statement of denial. There is a crisis," Jones said.

Last year, 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone, a 33 percent increase compared to the year before, driven by high demand from Asian countries where the rhino horn is purported to cure cancer. Scientists have widely dismissed the assertion.

South Africa is home to more than 90 percent of Africa's rhino population.

The price of rhinoceros horn has soared to $50,000 per kg, higher than the price of gold, the summit, hosted by the African Wildlife Foundation, said.


Julius Kipng'etich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, said prevention was key, but if rhino were killed the poachers must be hunted down and investigations carried out.

Kenya has already killed six poachers so far in 2012 hunting for elephant, buffalo and rhinos, compared to an average of six poachers per year over the past three years.

The two-day summit brought together representatives from Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe as well as the United States.

The summit called for more advanced communication technology, vehicles and helicopters to help anti-poaching units as poachers resort to more sophisticated methods to kill rhinos.

In 2009, nearly 70 percent of illegally killed rhinos were shot, but methods such as the use of poison and immobilising drugs are now being used to avoid detection.

The conference also recommended harsher penalties be imposed on the illegal trade coupled with improved detection by using sniffer dogs at airports.

"And then of course ... the consuming countries must be educated because the myths around rhino horn is just ridiculous," Kipng'etich said.

Rhino poaching has surged since 2007, in part as a growing affluent class in countries such as Vietnam and Thailand spend more on rhino horn for traditional medicine.

Rhino horn has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, where it was ground into a powder and often mixed with hot water to treat a variety of maladies including rheumatism, gout, high fever and even devil possession.

"When you talk about rhino horn, what drives it? It used to be an aphrodisiac. But because Viagra came, that has now been dropped. (Now they say it cures) cancer, you see how the criminals change tune?" Kipng'etich said. (Editing by Richard Lough)

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Heat Stress May Help Coral Reefs Survive Climate Change

ScienceDaily 30 Mar 12;

A team of international scientists working in the central Pacific has discovered that coral which has survived heat stress in the past is more likely to survive it in the future.

The study, published March 30 in the journal PLoS ONE, paves the way towards an important road map on the impacts of ocean warming, and will help scientists identify the habitats and locations where coral reefs are more likely to adapt to climate change.

"We're starting to identify the types of reef environments where corals are more likely to persist in the future," says study co-author Simon Donner, an assistant professor in UBC's Department of Geography and organizer of the field expedition. "The new data is critical for predicting the future for coral reefs, and for planning how society will cope in that future."

When water temperatures get too hot, the tiny algae that provides coral with its colour and major food source is expelled. This phenomenon, called coral bleaching, can lead to the death of corals.

With sea temperatures in the tropics forecast to rise by 1-3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the researchers say coral reefs may be better able to withstand the expected rise in temperature in locations where heat stress is naturally more common. This will benefit the millions of people worldwide who rely on coral reefs for sustenance and livelihoods, they say.

"Until recently, it was widely assumed that coral would bleach and die off worldwide as the oceans warm due to climate change," says lead author Jessica Carilli, a post-doctoral fellow in Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation's (ANSTO) Institute for Environmental Research. "This would have very serious consequences, as loss of live coral -- already observed in parts of the world -- directly reduces fish habitats and the shoreline protection reefs provide from storms."

Caralli and Donner conducted the study in May 2010 in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, near the equator. Kiribati's climate is useful for testing theories about past climate experience because its corals are pounded by El Niño-driven heat waves, while corals on the islands farther from the equator are less affected.

The researchers analyzed coral skeletal growth rates and tissue fat stores to compare how corals from different regions responded to two recent coral bleaching events in 2004 and 2009.

Donner has conducted field research in Kiribati since 2005 and will return this year to conduct follow-up research with the local government. He says the findings suggest that Marine Protected Areas -- conservation areas designed to protect marine life from stressors like fishing -- may be more effective in areas with naturally variable water temperatures.

The research delivers mixed news for Australia's Great Barrier Reef, because the reef stretches over such massive distances; some areas have stable temperatures and some do not. The findings support previous laboratory and observational studies from other regions, suggesting they can be widely applied.

Planning is now underway for potential future studies of coral in areas of the world that have not experienced significant historical changes in water temperatures.

"Even through the warming of our oceans is already occurring, these findings give hope that coral that has previously withstood anomalously warm water events may do so again," says Carilli. "While more research is needed, this appears to be good news for the future of coral reefs in a warming climate."

Journal Reference:

Jessica Carilli, Simon D. Donner, Aaron C. Hartmann. Historical Temperature Variability Affects Coral Response to Heat Stress. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (3): e34418 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034418

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Melting Arctic May Redraw Global Geopolitical Map

Peter Apps PlanetArk 3 Apr 12;

This year's frenzy of oil and gas exploration in newly accessible Arctic waters could be the harbinger of even starker changes to come.

If, as many scientists predict, currently inaccessible sea lanes across the top of the world become navigable in the coming decades, they could redraw global trading routes -- and perhaps geopolitics -- forever.

This summer will see more human activity in the Arctic than ever before, with oil giant Shell engaged in major exploration and an expected further rise in fishing, tourism and regional shipping. But that, experts warn, brings with it a rising risk of environmental disaster not to mention criminal activity from illegal fishing to smuggling and terrorism.

"By bringing more human activity into the Arctic you bring both the good and the bad," Lt Gen Walter Semianiw, head of Canada Command and one of Ottawa's most senior military officers responsible for the Arctic, told an event at Washington DC think tank the Centre For Strategic and International Studies last week. "You will see the change whether you wish to or not."

With indigenous populations, researchers and military forces reporting the ice receding faster than many had expected, some estimates suggest the polar ice cap might disappear completely during the summer season as soon as 2040, perhaps much earlier.

That could slash the journey time from Europe to Chinese and Japanese ports by well over a week, possibly taking traffic from the southern Suez Canal route. But with many of those key sea routes passing through already disputed waters believed to contain much of the world's untapped energy reserves, some already fear a rising risk of confrontation.

There are fledging signs of growing cooperation -- the first ever meeting of Arctic defense chiefs in Canada later this month, joint tabletop exercises on polar search and rescue operations organized through the Arctic Council. But growing unease is also clear.

Norway and Canada, for example, have spent recent years quietly re-equipping its military and moving troops and other forces to new or enlarged bases further north.

Having largely withdrawn most of its forces from the region in the aftermath of the Cold War, officials and experts say the United States is now only just rediscovering its significance.

But for now, Washington has no concrete plans to build even a single new icebreaker -- in part because experts estimate the pricetag for a single ship could be as high as $1 billion.

For the first time, some officers worry the United States is losing its foothold as new rivals such as China prepare to muscle in.

"We are in many ways an Arctic nation without an Arctic strategy," United States Coast Guard Vice Adml Brian M Salerno told the same Washington DC event.


The United States has yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which most countries use as the basis for discussing thorny Arctic territorial issues.

Arctic experts point to at least nine separate disputes within the region, from disagreements between the United States and Canada over parts of the Northwest passage to fishing conflicts that also drag in China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and others.

Russia in particular is seen to be keen to assert its presence in a region in which it has long been the dominant power.

It operates almost all of the world's 34 or so icebreakers -- albeit many of them ageing Cold War-era vessels, some powered by nuclear reactors that Western experts say could be a major danger in their own right.

Perhaps just as importantly, its navy continues to view the Arctic as its backyard, vital not just for natural resources essential to maintaining Moscow's economic clout but also the hiding ground for its ballistic missile-carrying nuclear submarine fleet.

But its greatest advantages may be simply demographic.

"They have cities in the Arctic, we only have villages," says Melissa Bert, U.S. Coast Guard captain and currently a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "We simply need more of a presence there."

Western military strategists have long worried that -- if economic woes or unrest at home prompted Russia towards a more bellicose foreign policy -- it could escalate regional tensions.

Norway and Russia in particular have long had awkward relations over the Svalbard islands, broadly internationally agreed to be Norwegian but with a growing population of Russian emigres.

This year, Oslo announced it was creating a specialist "Arctic battalion", explicitly linked to a similar move by Russia's military just across their shared border.


Some of the most awkward choices, however, will be faced by the Arctic's least powerful states.

NATO member Iceland raised eyebrows after its 2008 financial implosion when it approached Russia for a bailout, prompting suggestions it might be willing to offer use of a former US airbase and port facilities to Moscow.

Ultimately, it turned instead to the International Monetary Fund and European Union. But similar questions were raised again last year after a Chinese businessman offered to buy a large area of rural Iceland for what he said was a leisure project and golf course.

While he always denied any links to the Chinese government, the sale was ultimately blocked by Icelandic officials citing security concerns.

Greenland, one of Europe's largest countries but with one of its smallest populations -- less than 57,000 people -- could face particular challenges.

As its territory opens up more for exploration and mineral extraction, it could find its population swelling rapidly, driven by an influx from Asian investor-countries, notably China.

Nevertheless, some experts believe that if handled properly, the opening of the Arctic could benefit many if not all countries in the northern hemisphere.

"I see the Arctic as ultimately more of a venue for cooperation than confrontation," says Christian le Miere, senior fellow for maritime affairs at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies. "China, Northern Europe, Russia will all benefit in particular from the new sea routes. The only real losers will be countries much further south that cannot take advantage."

For U.S. Coast Guard captain Bert, having spent much of her career in the north, the greatest real enemies remain the vast distances, harsh climate and lack of resources.

Even with the icecaps gone for some of the year, icebergs will still drift through shipping lanes and harsh storms and poor maps provide ever present danger.

"I don't worry about a war in the Arctic," she says. "But I do worry that we're not prepared to deal with a major disaster there. No one is, but as more people go there, it becomes much more likely."

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