Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jun 12

Clean up Pasir Ris on World Ocean Day!
from wild shores of singapore

Oriental Pied Hornbills in urban Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Catching up with the Festival of Biodiversity
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

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Malaysia: Farmers of the forests

Aneeta Sundararaj New Straits Times 2 Jun 12;

With a number of threats looming, it is vital to document the hornbills’ deversity and ecological requirements, writes Aneeta Sundararaj

THE beautiful Belum-Temengor Forest Complex in Perak is one of the last refuges in Peninsular Malaysia for large mammals such as the Asian Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Malayan Sun Bear and Malayan Tiger, says Yeap Chin Aik, 36, Head of Conservation for the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS). The forest complex also showcases the world’s largest seasonal congregations of hornbills that make daily evening pilgrimages to the roosting sites south of Temengor during certain times each year.

Describing this enigmatic bird, Yeap adds: “Hornbills are unique because they nest in tree holes. They cannot make these holes themselves and rely on ‘excavators’ like woodpeckers for this.” They are also known as “farmers of the forests” because they play a crucial role in maintaining the forests’ ecosystem. “They are what’s called ‘frugivorous’, which means that hornbills feed on fruit like figs.”

Through dispersal and germination of the seeds from the fruit, hornbills influence the survival rate of several tropical forests tree species and keep the forests as functional as possible.

MNS conservation programme manager Maye Yap, 43, adds that: “Hornbills are very special. When you first go into the forest, it’s very quiet. But when these hornbills begin to flap their wings, the sound can be very loud. During the local migration period, when they can be seen in the hundreds or thousands, the sound these hornbills make can be overwhelming and...” She pauses then adds: “It’s magnificent.”

A sad note enters the discussion when Yeap points out that these hornbills are under threat. “There are generally three kinds of threat: loss of forests, degrading of forests and, being hunted. In Peninsular Malaysia, the hornbills face loss and degrading of the forests. In East Malaysia, they face all three,” he says. The threat to the hornbills’ habitat is mainly due to timber extraction. “Logging often targets the large, old trees, which are the prime nesting trees for hornbills.”

“The problem,” says Yeap, “is that no one champions these hornbills. In Europe, you’ll probably find someone who’s championing a snail. Here, with our wealth of biodiversity and exotic wildlife like marble cats and clouded leopards, hardly any animals have someone to champion them.”

Recognising such threats, MNS’s conservation programme aims to document the hornbills’ diversity and investigate their ecological and conservation needs in the forest complex. Since 2008, MNS has invited the public to support its work in monitoring these hornbills under a specific programme called the “Hornbill Volunteer Programme”. During the programme, volunteers venture into the forests and live amongst the Orang Asli in their kampung.
There are two packages that volunteers can choose from: opt for the first package and you’ll stay for three nights and four days in forest complex. The second package is a trip into the forest that lasts four nights and five days. “A huge part of the proceeds we receive from this programme go back to the Orang Asli people and the kampung,” says Yap.

Keep in mind that for the duration of your stay in the forest, there’ll be no water and no electricity. “This means that for many volunteers, who are 80 per cent urban folk, there’s no Internet and no phone. By 7.30pm, everything is quiet. And they have to do their washing in the river.” Hardships aside, every day you’re in the forest complex, you’ll take part in the daily flight census of the hornbills (once in the morning and once in the late afternoon) and collect relevant data.

In the years since this programme started, data collected by MNS has provided much food for thought. For instance, the number of hornbills recorded fluctuates. “One year, we had thousands. The next year, barely 100. Then next year, the numbers were up again. Why is this so?” asks Yeap. “Maybe, it’s because they’re changing their flight plan. Or the trees are not fruiting.”

Although no conclusions can yet be made, Yeap adds: “Having some data is better than having nothing.”

The magnitude of the challenge in collecting data is further emphasised when Yeap explains that these forests are difficult terrain. “You can view the hornbills in flight about five minutes away from the kampung. If you want to see where they nest, you have to go further into the jungle and hike up a very steep gradient. Also, we rely on the Orang Asli when we’re there and they are losing the knowledge that their ancestors had.”

Notwithstanding the challenges and hardships inherent in this programme, the response of past volunteers has been encouraging. “For many, the experience in the forest complex has been life-changing,” says Yap. She shares some of the many comments MNS has received which range from, “... being disconnected from handphone, email and FB was actually quite therapeutic” to “the simplicity of life... and the sheer joy of beginning and ending each day with the counting of the Hornbills, observing their flight pattern and eating behaviour mid-air”.

The last word lies with one volunteer whose words underscore the fact that if the current threats to conservation efforts are not addressed, the impact on the hornbill populations in the forest complex could be devastating and irrevocable: A greater awareness of our rich natural heritage, its vulnerability to human intrusion and the need to protect it.

Ultimately to see Temengor Forest Reserve declared a state park (and logging stopped, we saw barges ferrying logged timber a few times a day) and to have really eco-friendly tourism implemented (during our stay there we discovered that boat houses for tourists were lighting up fireworks, with carbide explosion for entertainment. The Orang Asli told us that this has been going on weekly for years). If possible, there should also be exposure to schoolchildren to be involved some way in the programme. After all, they are our future.

Types of hornbills

GLOBALLY, there are 54 species of hornbills. Thirty-one are found in Asia and Malaysia supports 10 species, namely:

• Black Hornbills
• Oriental Pied Hornbills
• Bushy-crested Hornbills
• White-crowned Hornbills
• Wreathed Hornbills
• Wrinkled Hornbills
• Plain-pouched Hornbills
• Great Hornbills
• Rhinoceros Hornbills
• Helmeted Hornbills

Be a volunteer

FANCY doing something different for the school holidays in August and September? If so, do become a volunteer for a programme run by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) aimed at conservation efforts for the globally threatened hornbills. This adventure will take you into the heart of the beautiful Belum-Temengor Forest Complex in Perak.

What: MNS’ Hornbill Volunteer Programme for 2012

When: Aug 3 to Sept 28

Contact details: Maye Yap (Conservation Programme Manager)

Malaysian Nature Society, JKR 641 Jalan Kelantan
Bukit Persekutuan
50480 Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: (60)3-2287 9422
Fax: (60)3-2287 8773

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India: Rare Dugong population is on decline

Times of India 2 Jun 12;

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation has suggested that a study should be taken up with the help of deep sea scuba divers to estimate the exact population of Dugong along the India coast.

The population of this rare sea cow is on a decline along the Indian coast.

The Dugong population off the coast of Lakshadweep Islands seems to be extinct as there have been no recent sightings in the region. Officials also said that Dugongs were common in Andaman & Nicobar Islands during the British era, but populations steeply declined later due to poaching and habitat destruction. Dugongs are reported in Ritchie's Archipelago, North Reef, Little Andaman, Camorta and Nicobar Islands. However, large populations are no longer seen and numbers are believed to have been falling since the 1950s.

Officials said that observations made by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute and various other organizations in India have revealed that the dugong populations all over India are declining. At present, it seems that the largest population of dugongs in India is in Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay region followed by Andaman and Nicobar Islands, although the population size is presumed to be very small.

The 2004 tsunami had damaged much of the dugong habitats in the Nicobar regions. Dugong population in Gulf of Kutch is also endangered.

A senior officer said that among the decline of Dugong population was mainly because of vessel strikes, habitat loss and degradation, disease, chemical pollutants, hunting, and incidental drowning in nets.

Dugongs are vulnerable to anthropogenic pressures as dependent only on sea grasses in coastal areas which now have been seriously damaged by fishing, trawling, and dredging. Dugongs have also been hunted for their meat, oil, hide, bones and teeth.

Officials said that the feeding grounds, sea grass beds are highly degraded due to change in the fishing technology. With mechanized boats replacing the non-mechanized boats for fishing in the shallow water there has been a degrading of the sea grass beds and destroying their habitats. Moreover, water pollution and siltation have also hampered this unique dugong habitat.

Officials said that the there was a need to identify other important and potential dugong habitats in the country and to bring them under the Protected Area Network for better conservation planning.

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Warming gas levels hit 'troubling milestone'

Seth Borenstein Associated Press Yahoo News 31 May 12;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The world's air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant.

Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn't quite a surprise, because it's been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.

So far, only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will follow soon.

"The fact that it's 400 is significant," said Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. "It's just a reminder to everybody that we haven't fixed this and we're still in trouble."

Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and most of it lasts about 100 years in the air, but some of it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the Industrial Age, levels were around 275 parts per million.

For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

It's been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.

Until now.

Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They've been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.

So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.

Globally, the average carbon dioxide level is about 395 parts per million but will pass the 400 mark within a few years, scientists said.

The Arctic is the leading indicator in global warming, both in carbon dioxide in the air and effects, said Pieter Tans, a senior NOAA scientist.

"This is the first time the entire Arctic is that high," he said.

Tans called reaching the 400 number "depressing," and Butler said it was "a troubling milestone."

"It's an important threshold," said Carnegie Institution ecologist Chris Field, a scientist who helps lead the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "It is an indication that we're in a different world."

Ronald Prinn, an atmospheric sciences professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said 400 is more a psychological milestone than a scientific one. We think in hundreds, and "we're poking our heads above 400," he said.

Tans said the readings show how much the Earth's atmosphere and its climate are being affected by humans. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high of 34.8 billion tons in 2011, up 3.2 percent, the International Energy Agency announced last week.

The agency said it's becoming unlikely that the world can achieve the European goal of limiting global warming to just 2 degrees based on increasing pollution and greenhouse gas levels.

"The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400 ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world's political leaders — with a few honorable exceptions — are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis," former Vice President Al Gore, the highest-profile campaigner against global warming, said in an email. "History will not understand or forgive them."

But political dynamics in the United States mean there's no possibility of significant restrictions on man-made greenhouse gases no matter what the levels are in the air, said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow of the libertarian Cato Institute.

"These milestones are always worth noting," said economist Myron Ebell at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. "As carbon dioxide levels have continued to increase, global temperatures flattened out, contrary to the models" used by climate scientists and the United Nations.

He contends temperatures have not risen since 1998, which was unusually hot.

Temperature records contradict that claim. Both 2005 and 2010 were warmer than 1998, and the entire decade of 2000 to 2009 was the warmest on record, according to NOAA.

NOAA's global monitoring lab:

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