Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jul 12

Bivalve Big Picture: Bivalve Workshop Day 4
from wild shores of singapore

Butterfly Show & Tell
from The Green Volunteers

Yellow-crested Cockatoo family feeding on papaya
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Grassroots green plan off to a flying start

Bukit Timah group's Firefly Park part of bid to improve neighbourhood
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Jul 12;

THE Firefly Park off Clementi Avenue 4 opened only last week but it is already bustling with residents jogging, walking their dogs and practising taiji.

The space is one highlight of the Bukit Timah Green Plan that was distributed as a brochure to residents last week.

The plan may be the first to be put up entirely by grassroots groups in the Bukit Timah division of the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC to improve the neighbourhood.

In the case of Firefly Park, residents' committees were consulted on the 1.2ha facility's design.

Other proposals in the plan's first phase: a large community garden between Clementi Avenue 4 and Clementi Avenue 6; more green spaces in Toh Yi Drive such as a rooftop garden; and tree-planting, a fitness station and running track at the Mayfair Park estate off Dunearn Road.

Though some of these were planned earlier, Bukit Timah citizens' consultative committee chairman Kenneth Yap said it was decided to group them together in the Green Plan.

'We thought it would be better to plan it a bit more centrally instead of leaving everything to chance,' he added.

The plan has its roots in the Mayfair Park neighbourhood, a quiet estate bordered by Rifle Range Road.

In 2005, residents there worked on roadside gardens in what is now considered the first Community In Bloom project, a National Parks Board scheme to encourage community gardening.

They are now hoping to build a green link to nearby Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, said Mayfair Park Neighbourhood Committee chairman Balasupramaniam Krishna, 66, also known as Mr Bala.

Ms Sim Ann, grassroots adviser and Member of Parliament for the division, said the neighbourhood committee was invited to propose a division-level plan for Bukit Timah. 'I am very glad they took the ball and ran with it.'

But will it be a good fit for larger, more diverse neighbourhoods and get new residents of upcoming Build-To-Order blocks involved?

Mr Yap and Mr Bala said they will seek ideas from everyone.

In the plan's second phase, grassroots committees want residents to suggest ideas.

'We want people to come forward and ask, 'There's a green patch here, can we plant here?' Then we can help them with planning and getting the approvals,' said Mr Yap, 37, a civil servant.

It can be tricky, he added, to strike a balance between giving people ownership of a space so that they can tend to it and seeing that the space remains open to all.

For instance, a garden behind one Clementi preschool has a low wall around it, which marks out the space, but does not stop people from walking in.

And residents do not always get what they want from the authorities, said Mr Bala.

For instance, residents wanted to put planter boxes around the upgraded Bukit Timah market but the National Environment Agency said people might use them to discard litter.

'So they planted a few bushes instead. It's not really what we want, but it's a start, and we are going to go on and try to improve it,' he said.

Other community movements have also sprouted to protect the neighbourhood or natural landscape.

The Save Joo Chiat Work Group helped rid the district of sleaze in 2004.

In recent months, residents of Dairy Farm and Chestnut estates, and Pasir Ris, have lobbied for the preservation of patches of woodland.

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Emergency protocol works, says NParks

Straits Times Forum 28 Jul 12;

WE THANK Mr David Lim for his feedback ('Nature reserve should have basic emergency facilities'; Tuesday) and have clarified the matter with him.

Our rangers patrol the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve daily, and they are equipped with first aid skills to render quick assistance to our visitors when the need arises.

For emergencies, visitors should call NParks' 24-hour helpline number 1800-471-7300, the police, or the Singapore Civil Defence Force for immediate assistance.

The helpline number is also indicated at the visitor centre and on more than 20 signboards located within the nature reserve.

These channels of contact have been effective, for example, when our officers rendered prompt assistance to find hikers who got lost.

Wong Tuan Wah
Director, Conservation
National Parks Board

Nature reserve should have basic emergency facilities
Straits Times Forum 24 Jul 12;

RECENTLY, I was at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It had been drizzling and the terrain was a little slippery.

I chanced upon a small group of people, one of whom had sprained her ankle. She was in pain, and it took her nearly an hour to get to the main road. It would normally take a reasonably fit person about five minutes to scale this section.

I descended to the ranger station to inquire whether one of its vehicles could be used to help her.

To my disappointment, a staff member said the information and help counter had been removed a while back, and in any case, vehicles that used to be stationed at the nearby nursery had been permanently moved elsewhere. I was advised to call for an ambulance if the situation was serious.

I am disappointed at the lack of facilities for emergencies.

There was a time when I could meet rangers patrolling the common paths, but that is not the case now.

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve attracts several visitors on weekends, and an accident happening there can turn life-threatening, depending on the time taken to render assistance.

Perhaps the National Parks Board might want to deploy its resources to develop more visitor-friendly protocols at the reserve.

David Lim

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Malaysia: Ban turtle egg sale, state urged

Ling Poh Lean and A. Azim Idris New Straits Times 28 Jul 12;

BAD NAME: Terengganu has become a trading hub, says conservationist

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Terengganu government should not delay in imposing a ban on the trading of turtle eggs to avoid giving the state and the country a bad name.

In making the call, Turtle Conservation Centre co-founder Professor Chan Eng Heng said tourists would usually buy the eggs out of curiosity and the state was already famous for the wrong reason.

"If this continues, it will give a very bad name not only to the state, but also the country as we will be seen to have failed in efforts to protect the endangered species."

She noted that while the egg collection was banned in many major turtle nesting beaches, traders could still get the supply from smaller beaches and by smuggling from other states.

Chan said some traders in the state were smuggling the eggs via post from Sabah, where turtle eggs trading was banned.

"The eggs from Sabah are smuggled in from the Philippines, where such trading is also banned. Terengganu has become the hub for the eggs trading," she added.

Turtle eggs are widely available in Terengganu's markets, selling for between RM25 and RM30 per pack of 10 eggs. Chan also said they were now concentrating on educating the public not to eat turtle eggs.

"As long as there is demand, the trading will still go on in the black market even if the state government decides to impose a ban."

She said the centre had held turtle workshops in schools and at private functions to educate the public, especially the younger generation on ways to save the turtles.

WWF-Malaysia, in a statement, said in line with its reputation as a "turtle state", the state government could only be commended if it chose to take the lead in banning the trading of turtle eggs.

However, it considered the state government's effort to gazette Rantau Abang beach as a turtle sanctuary as commendable. But it also felt that allowing the sale of turtle eggs was inconsistent to the aims of safeguarding the state's icon.

Several traders at Pasar Payang bazaar in Kuala Terengganu had agreed not to sell the eggs if the government declared it illegal.

A trader, who only wanted to be known as Rofizah, said although the eggs were a good source of income, she would not break the law. The 52-year-old, who has been trading at the bazaar for more than 10 years, sells the Olive Ridley sea turtle eggs for about RM30 per packet of 10.

"Many of our customers come as far as Singapore to buy the eggs. That is what attracts many people to our stalls."

A check by the New Straits Times at the bazaar revealed at least one in 10 stalls offered packets of turtle eggs for between RM15 and RM50 each depending on the quantity and where the eggs were obtained.

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Johor Malaysian Nature Society Wants Action Plan To Deal With Destruction Of Mangrove Forests

Bernama 27 Jul 12;

JOHOR BAHARU, July 27 (Bernama) -- The Johor Nature Society (MNS) wants the authorities to activate a comprehensive action plan to tackle the serious destruction to mangrove forests in the state.

Its chairman, Vincent Chow, said the MNS detected serious damages to the mangrove forests, which were essential to the marine ecosystem, in several parts on the west coast such as in Muar and Batu Pahat.

"This is much regretted because the mangrove forest is not only important for the marine ecosystem but it is also a natural defence against huge waves and tsunamis," he told Bernama Friday.

He said strong waves would cause erosion on the coastal fringes where mangrove forests had been depleted.

According to Chow, the destruction of mangrove forests along the coast of Johor was due to timber thefts by foreign sydicates and farming and aquaculture activities.


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Refineries at Johor: Taiwan outsourcing Pollution to Malaysia?

Asia Sentinel 27 Jul 12;

A long-running saga has come to the end for a US$12.8 billion attempt by the Kuokuang petrochemical company , which is owned by Taiwan's 43 oercebt state-controlled CPC Group, to build a refinery for the production of petrochemical products such as ethylene, benzene, toluene and xylene. It is the victim of environmental protest. The government instead is now seeking to export its environmental problem to Malaysia.

In early July, the state-run oil refiner CPC Corp, without fanfare, signed an investment agreement with Malaysia's Johor state government to build the integrated refinery and petrochemical plant in the village of Pengerang, Johor. Preceding the move was close to a decade of fierce environmental protest in Taiwan, forcing the island's government to choose between major business interests on the one side and nature and health on the other.

In April 2011, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou opted for the latter, and last month an obviously upbeat Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced that an undisclosed Taiwan-based petrochemicals firm had agreed to invest in a new integrated complex in the south of the country.

But for Taiwan's manufacturing industries, which need the plant to ensure smooth supply for the production chain, the Malaysia twist augurs the emergence of an acceptable solution. But it may be another case for Malaysia, where equally fierce environmental protest has stalled a US$850 million rare earth processing plant being built by Australia’s Lynas Corp. near the east coast city of Kuantan and made the plant a potent political issue.

There is little doubt that Kuokuang's implementation would help drive the Malaysian economy and aid in Najib’s effort to build a regional petrochemical hub in its quest to compete with Singapore. However, the Taiwanese must ask themselves whether their economy can cope with the precedent of environmentalists driving out a major infrastructure operation that is clearly needed by the rest of the island’s business community.

According to interviews with analysts in Taipei, confidence is the prevailing mood, along with a certain amount of satisfaction at having cleaned up what was previously one of Asia’s most polluted environments.Ta

“It won't hurt. Taiwan is now still a developing country but is well on its way to becoming like a member state of the EU,” said Winston Dang, former minister of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). “Taiwan must invest in the people's brains in this transitional period, not in high-polluting industries.”

And Hu Sheng-Cheng, an economist and former minister of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, predicted that if Kuokuang's Johor plant does materialize, the Taiwanese government will demand that a certain share of the products be shipped back to Taiwan, thereby ensuring that raw materials will make it to the island's downstream manufacturers. The government would furthermore speed up the upgrading of Taiwan’s own petrochemical industry, he said.

A weak point in the outsourcing scheme is the loss of jobs, however, Hu said, adding that “Taiwan's petrochemical industry is a major employer. The government better come up with subsidies to make up for the jobs leaving.”

He then pointed out that if the Johor plant doesn't come into being, Taiwan may well find itself in a dilemma, as even China has lost its enthusiasm for accepting Taiwan's polluters.

During his ministerial stint from 2007 to 2008, it was the EPA's Dang who killed Kuokuang's initial plans to build its refinery and naphtha cracker in Mailiao in Taiwan’s Yunlin County. His veto led the company to propose building it in Changhua County's Dacheng, which later became the scene of intense protests that eventually drove the project off the island all together.

The 2,000 hectares of Changhua's rare and pristine wetlands, the natural habitat of the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin near them and last but not least the predicted significant increase of air pollution, which environmentalists say would produce particles fine enough to invade even the smallest airways, led to the emergence of a powerful civic movement that decisively frustrated Kuokuang's plans.

Students and locals teamed up with academics, the media and opposition lawmakers, turning the white dolphin into the alliance's icon. After a health risk assessment report came up with the bizarre finding that the plant if built would shorten life expectancy island-wide by 23 days, about the entire Taiwanese public was in.

That then-Premier Wu Den-yih of the ruling Kuomintang was caught on record stating that the “dolphins should be smart enough to swim elsewhere” obviously did the investors no good. With presidential and legislative elections then looming, President Ma eventually withdrew support from the project.

“That was good news for the local communities – they would have got many more cancer cases but only 2 percent of the taxes Kuokuang would have paid,” said Dang.

The story, Dang said, shows that major development projects that come along with heavy pollution and high energy consumption are no longer feasible on the island.

But are they welcome in Malaysia?

While Malaysia’s Najib was obviously encouraged by winning the plant, there already have been indicators that in Pengerang an environmental storm has begun brewing. Last month saw hundreds of residents rallying against the Kuokuang project, claiming that it would bring severe pollution of air, land and sea, along with land seizures from reluctant villagers and would require relocation of residents, the town's Mandarin school as well as a graveyard containing nearly 3,000 tombs. Also the recent developments surrounding the Lynas case inevitably comes to mind.

In addition an enthusiastic group of Taiwanese environmentalists, who last year fought it out to the end for the Changhua dolphins, has since been spotted at Pengerang beach, fraternizing with their local counterparts.

But Yang Yungnane, director of Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University's Research Center for Science & Technology Governance, is cautiously optimistic that the case is about to be settled to the liking of the government of Malaysia and Taiwan as well as the business world.

“There might be a risk if local environmental groups are strong enough to make the protest getting recognition from the Malaysian public,” Yang said. “But the likelihood that the project passes is higher than it being rejected.”

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Indonesia: Whale rescue hampered by onlookers

(AFP) Google News 27 Jul 12;

JAKARTA — Rescuers in Indonesia fought Friday to help a sperm whale stuck in shallow waters to return to sea, as their efforts were hampered by local residents arriving on boats and driving it back to shore.

The 11-metre (36-feet) whale has been stuck near Pakis Jaya beach in West Java since Wednesday, said Benvika, a rescuer from the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, which is leading the rescue bid.

"We almost set it free a few times yesterday, but the noise from the engines of dozens of boats bringing in local residents confused and disoriented the creature, and it couldn't swim out to sea," he told AFP.

"It is still breathing normally but losing a lot of energy," he said by phone from the beach, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of the capital Jakarta.

"It seems to have difficulty moving its tail, and we have to work quickly to save its life," he said, adding 16 divers were involved in the rescue effort.

Local residents were paying the equivalent of half a US dollar each for boat rides close to the whale, he said.

Some had jumped off the boats and onto the whale on Wednesday, causing wounds to its body, Benvika said.

Before rescuers arrived fishermen had also tried to crudely pull the animal back to sea, also hurting it in the process, he said, adding the whale was covered with blisters on is back.

Up to 30 boats carrying tourists had converged around the whale at one time, he added.

He said volunteers were stopping boats setting sail from the Pakis Jaya beach, but were unable to intercept vessels arriving from neighbouring coastal villages.

Trapped Sperm Whale Dies After Being Set Free By Animal Activists
Ulma Haryanto Jakarta Globe 30 Jul 12;

A sperm whale that was trapped for days in shallow waters off West Java died on Sunday shortly after rescue workers were able to return the whale to deeper waters.

The 11-meter (36-feet) sperm whale became stranded in shallow water near Pakis Jaya beach on Wednesday. The large whale attracted the attention of onlookers and fishermen, who injured the whale and hampered early rescue efforts, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (Jaan) said. But after four days, the crews were able to turn the whale to deeper waters.

“The whale was set free at 4 p.m. [on Sunday], it looked tired because [it was] stranded for so long, but we saw that it was still able to swim,” Benvika, of Jaan, said on Monday.

But at 6:30 p.m., Benvika heard that the whale had washed ashore in Muara Gembong, West Java, an hour-and-a-half boat ride Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok.

“We sent a team back immediately and this morning another team was dispatched to coordinate the removal of the carcass,” Benvika said.

The organization was unsure why the animal repeatedly returned to shallow water.

“It could have been suicidal, or underwater drilling activities could have confused his sonar and navigation,” Benvika explained.

The whale carcass will likely be towed to sea and detonated. The whale is listed as a protected species under the 1990 Environmental Law.

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Philippines: Plea to stop feeding whale sharks

Cris Evert B. Lato Inquirer Visayas 27 Jul 12;

CEBU CITY—A photograph of a wounded “butanding” or whale shark has gone viral on social networking sites.

The butanding turned out to be “Fermin,” one of the whale sharks that regularly approach the bancas to be fed by fishermen and tourists in the waters off Oslob town, 117 kilometers south of Cebu City.

According to marine researchers, Fermin suffered deep cuts that might have been caused by boat propellers, renewing calls to stop the practice of feeding the whale sharks, which has become a major tourist attraction in Oslob.

The practice doesn’t only diminish the whale sharks’ ability to hunt for food, but it also puts them at risk of getting hurt like what happened to Fermin.


Dr. Alessandro Ponzo, president of the Italian marine research organization Physalus, said Fermin was seen on June 20 in the water off Barangay Tan-awan, Oslob town, with “very deep propeller cuts on the head.”

Physalus initiated the Large Marine Vertebrates Project (Lamave) in the Philippines in 2010. The project pushes for conservation of marine animals through education and research, and works with government agencies to reach out to communities and the private sector. It started its marine research efforts in Bohol province and later expanded to the neighboring provinces of Negros Oriental and Cebu.

Lamave researchers are in Oslob to check on Fermin. Samantha Craven, Lamave’s principal investigator on the Oslob Whale Shark Project, said Fermin suffered 11 cuts including a wound that cut across his left eye. They could not yet tell the extent of the damage to the eye.

She said sharks were fast healers so they continue to monitor Fermin’s healing. “People should know that it is wrong to treat the wounds of wildlife with our medicines. A lot of them are allergic to our medicines and that may cause harm and slow down the healing process,” said Craven, a marine biologist who is half-Filipino and half-British.

Craven said Fermin was last seen in the waters off Oslob on July 16. When he returned on July 20, local fishermen said Fermin was not feeding and had several scars across his face.

Fermin or Shark P-382 is the first whale shark identified in December 2011 by marine biologist Elson Aca, World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines’ project manager.

Fermin’s presence along with six other whale sharks in the waters off Oslob have enticed tourists to visit the southern Cebu town to interact with the “gentle giants.” Local fishermen with some tourists on board paddle boats and feed the whale sharks with baby shrimps, locally called “uyap,” as they swim around the designated interaction area, which is about 30 meters from the shoreline.

Interaction is between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. so the whale sharks can “rest.” Motorboats are not allowed in whale watching.

Whale shark feeding has become a major tourism attraction and income-earner of Oslob, a fourth-class municipality with a population of about 26,000 based on the 2010 census.

But the practice has long been opposed by Aca and Lamave researchers because it disrupts the whale sharks’ natural feeding behavior.

In his open letter to the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Aca said scientists studying whale sharks in the Philippines were concerned about the possible changes in behavior of these whale sharks in Oslob that are now accustomed to feeding.

He said discussions about Oslob’s new tourist attraction didn’t focus on the whale sharks but only on the activity’s tourism potential.

“Whale sharks exhibited head scratches and scrapes from bumping into feeder boats. In addition, they have been observed to seemingly associate bubbles from divers and snorkelers with food,” he said in his letter.

“While this behavior is already accepted and understood by the fishermen of Oslob (who are not allowed to use motorboats to protect the whale sharks), it might pose a different situation once these migratory whale sharks move outside of Oslob,” he added.

In the case of Fermin, Aca said the whale shark’s usual approach of bumping the boat from behind might be seen as an aggressive behavior by other fishermen, causing them to turn on their motors and leave. Fermin might be hit by the propeller causing the wounds, Aca said.


Whale sharks are classified as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are also listed in both Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and the Convention on Migratory Species.

Aca said the whale shark was also protected in the Philippines under Republic Act No. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, and Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code.

“There surely is some kind of overlapping task between these agencies but instead of pointing to each other and/or claiming responsibilities, it is always beneficial if both can work together to achieve a certain goal,” he said.

Physalus’ Lamave project has identified over 60 whale sharks in the interaction area of Tan-awan, Oslob. Ten of them are seen daily, an increase from the six seen last April.

In its statement, Lamave said the number of propeller scars on the sharks in Oslob had increased since June although not as grave as what happened to Fermin.

They also expressed concern over the intent of neighboring municipalities like Moalboal, which is currently discussing an ordinance for whale shark interaction with intent to feed.

Spread of feeding

Craven said Fermin was the first of the whale sharks to obtain serious injury but this number could increase as sharks continue to develop the behavior of associating boats with food.

“The spread of feeding activities to other municipalities would exponentially increase the number of sharks learning this behavior, and thereby exposing a greater proportion of the whale shark population in the Visayas to serious injury,” Lamave said in its statement.

Craven said they would continue to work with the local community to raise awareness and education about marine life. “There is still not enough education and awareness about the butanding. A lot of people still call them whales. There has to be a collaborative effort among all people to make this more sustainable,” said Craven.

Propeller-Slashed Whale Shark Highlights Ecotourism Danger
Stephanie Pappas LiveScience 30 Jul 12;

A whale shark nicknamed Fermin who has become a popular tourist attraction in the Philippines has been slashed across the face by a boat propeller, marine biologists report.

The gentle giant — whale sharks can grown more than 40 feet (12 meters) long but eat mostly tiny plankton — is a common sight in the tourist area in Tan-awan, Oslob, a resort town in Cebu. In this area of ocean, boat operators are allowed to feed whale sharks, bringing them near their boats so tourists can see the enormous fish close up.

The practice is a popular one, but marine biologists are concerned. Not only does feeding sharks teach them to associate boats with free meals, said Samantha Craven, a scientist with the Philippines Large Marine Vertebrates Project, it also seems to dissuade the sharks from their natural migrations.

"If these sharks reach sexual maturity and don't migrate to breeding grounds, they are effectively removed from the population and would no longer be adding to the numbers of genetic diversity of their species, which is listed as 'vulnerable to extinction' by the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature]," Craven told LiveScience. [Gallery: The Mysterious Lives of Whale Sharks]

A whale shark injury

Fermin is one of six whale sharks that has been feeding from the tourist boats nearly daily since late March, according to the Large Marine Vertebrates Project. The group, part of the nongovernmental organization Physalus, is the only one doing research in this area of the ocean.

Most days, a dozen or more sharks show up, Craven said, but Fermin is one of the most regular boat visitors. Between July 17 and July 19, though, Fermin disappeared. When he returned on July 20, his face was scarred with 11 deep cuts, one right across his left eye.

Whale sharks are vulnerable to propeller cuts because they're difficult to see when they swim just below the surface, Craven said. But most whale sharks that have been hit show scars on their backs or fins, indicating they've been run over. Fermin's injuries are different.

"Fermin's scars are at the front of his face, indicating contact was made head-on, as if he actively approached the boat," Craven said. [See images of Fermin's Injuries]

The grisly wounds likely came from a small propeller boat. No motor boats are allowed within the Tan-awan feeding area, and it is not clear where Fermin had his run-in. It's likely, however, that he approached a boat looking for food and came away with an injury instead.

The whale sharks that feed at Tan-awan all sport odd calluses around their mouths where they rub against the boats as fishermen drop shrimp meals into the water, Craven said. But recently, more troubling marks have been showing up.

"Since June, we have seen an increase in smaller propeller scars on the regular sharks," Craven said. "None as severe as Fermin, but I worry that it is a matter of time."

The ethics of shark feeding

Strict rules govern the interactions between humans and sharks in the Tan-awan feeding area. No more than six tourists and four scuba divers may approach one shark at a time, and no one may touch the sharks. Only members of the local fisherman's association are allowed to feed the animals.

The rules are good ones, Craven said, but they're broken "on a daily basis." The situation pits conservation against education and tourism dollars.

"I do believe that increased education and awareness about whale sharks is important, but this is a high price to pay, when more sustainable options are already proven," Craven said. "Even if there was a way to feed the sharks without creating an association of food with boats and people, we are still preventing them from migrating."

Whale shark researcher Jennifer Schmidt, a biologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said she felt "sick to her stomach" when she saw the photographs of Fermin's injuries. Properly regulated ecotourism that allows divers to swim alongside naturally feeding sharks doesn't seem to disrupt these threatened animals' behavior, Schmidt said. But feeding the sharks appears to be a recipe for disaster.

"I was in Oslob in April, and I saw the situation there — boats, many boats, and
sharks and swimmers and even divers all in an extremely chaotic mix," Schmidt said. "It was only a matter of time before either a shark or a person was injured, and unfortunately as long as this activity continues more sharks will be injured, even killed."

Fermin's future

Since his disappearance and injury, Fermin has returned to the feeding area almost daily, Craven said. His wounds appear to be healing, but he usually has his eye rolled back. Whale sharks commonly roll their eyes back to protect them, but Craven said it's not clear whether Fermin is rolling back his eye because of pain or because scar tissue is hindering his ability to move his eye muscles.

"I think we have to wait to see how the wounds heal, and see how the eye is over the next two weeks before we will know more," Craven said.

The popularity of Tan-awan's whale shark feedings has spurred the nearby town of Moalboal to look into allowing similar interactions in their stretch of coastline. One Philippine senator has proposed banning whale shark feeding nationally, Craven said, but it is uncertain if it will be approved.

"I think this industry is so lucrative that one shark with a bad propeller cut is not enough to stop it locally," Craven said. "It will only stop if there is regulation from national law, coupled with education on the ground as to why it is bad, and what alternative activities can be run."

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Vietnam's tiger farms are called trafficking hubs

Mike Ives Associated Press Google News 27 Jul 12;

AN BINH, Vietnam (AP) — Nineteen tigers prowl outdoor cages the size of dormitory rooms, nibbling frayed wire fences and roaring at a caretaker who taunts them with his sandal.

It looks like a zoo, but it's closed to the public. The facility breeds tigers, but has never supplied a conservation program with any animals nor sold any to zoos.

Conservationists allege that Vietnam's 11 registered tiger farms, including this one, are fronts for a thriving illegal market in tiger parts, highly prized for purported — if unproven — medicinal qualities.

Nonsense, says manager Luong Thien Dan. He says the farm in southern Binh Duong province was created simply because its management has a "soft spot" for the big cats, and that it's funded privately by a beer company.

"At first we just kept them as pets, but when they started to breed, we got excited and wanted to expand their population," Dan said during a tour of the farm, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion per year in Southeast Asia alone and includes tigers, rhinos and other lesser-known animals.

The conservationists say the loosely regulated farms are used to "launder" illegally caught wild tigers, which they say are mixed in with stocks of legitimately bred animals, and that products from their carcasses are later sold on the black market.

The conservation group WWF this week ranked Vietnam as the worst country for wildlife crime in its first such survey of how well 23 countries in Asia and Africa protect rhinos, tigers and elephants. The Switzerland-based group focused its report released Monday on countries where the threatened animals live in the wild or are traded or consumed. Vietnam's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment on the WWF report.

However, the government has commented on the tiger farms, saying in a 2009 report that they are aimed at breeding tigers for "future reintroduction programs." No captive tiger has been successfully introduced to a wild population anywhere in the world.

Some proponents of wildlife farms argue that they can ease the pressure on wild populations by lessening the demand for poached animals.

But in Asia, such farms are largely unregulated and create "an avenue for trade in something that you shouldn't be trading in," said Vincent Nijman, a wildlife trade expert at Oxford Brookes University in England.

Vietnam is now being accused of becoming a key driver of an illegal trade that spans continents. Advocacy groups say the government's support for captive wildlife facilities — especially tiger farms — suggests that although it professes wildlife conservation, it actually is helping to drive threatened animals toward extinction.

China, which the Washington-based Brookings Institution calls the "world's largest market for illegal trade in wildlife," finished the second worst in WWF's ranking, but received praise for recent efforts to police the illegal trade in ivory and tiger products. In 2010, Chinese authorities required the country's two largest tiger farms to place microchips in live tigers and keep track of the carcasses of animals that die.

In neighboring Vietnam, however, the prime minister's decision in 2007 to legalize tiger breeding farms on a pilot basis has "undermined" the government's wildlife enforcement efforts, the WWF wildlife crime report said.

It added that captive tigers now appear to be a "substantial proportion" of the world's illegal tiger trade. Tiger bone paste — which some Vietnamese say is an effective pain killer — can fetch a few hundred dollars per ounce ($1,000 per 100 grams) on the black market.

The 35-page WWF report comes on the heels of a controversy in May, when international environmental officials and wildlife advocates learned that Vietnam's agriculture ministry had proposed allowing parts of tigers that die in captivity to be made into traditional medicine on a pilot basis.

An official at the ministry, Do Quang Tung, denied critics' charges that the proposal was designed to effectively legalize trade in tiger products, and an official at Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's office told the AP earlier this month that Dung had rejected the proposal.

The global population of wild tigers has dropped precipitously over the last century, from about 100,000 to fewer than 3,500. According to the wildlife advocacy group TRAFFIC, at least 200 tiger carcasses were seized from the illegal trade worldwide last year. Vietnam is one of 13 countries with wild tigers, but they number less than 50 in Vietnamese territory, according to government figures.

Wildlife advocates say Vietnam's tiger farms have high mortality rates and cannot possibly sustain their reported populations without sourcing smuggled tigers, which they say often enter the country via its mountainous border with Laos — a country ranked the third worst offender on WWF's wildlife crime report.

According to Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 49 of the 112 tigers living on the 11 registered tiger farms were born in captivity.

Tiger farm manager Luong Thien Dan said tigers at his farm typically die after fighting or when mothers neglect to breastfeed cubs, and that all dead tigers are cremated under supervision from local authorities.

He told the AP that he couldn't recall how his farm acquired its first cubs, nor how many tigers have died since the farm opened.

Dan says the farm covers expenses — raw meat runs about 150 to 200 million dong ($7,200 to $9,600) per month — with profits that his cousin, Ngo Duy Tan, earns as a beer keg manufacturer. The rusty tiger cages sit on Pacific Beer Company's 7,000 square meter (75,000 square foot) property, across a parking lot from silver brewing tanks and a giant pile of malt.

Farm management hopes to open an ecotourism park to showcase its tigers, but Dan said the farm's future is uncertain because it has only a temporary permit from the prime minister. Dan said he would welcome a government move to legalize the selling of tiger parts for use in traditional medicine.

"It would be good for society and for us," he said.

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Seven nations face CITES sanctions over endangered species

Associated Press Google News 27 Jul 12;

GENEVA (AP) — Seven nations may lose their ability to legally trade tens of thousands of wildlife species after U.N. conservation delegates agreed Thursday to penalize them for lacking tough regulations or failing to report on their wildlife trade.

The suspensions against the seven nations — Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay, Nepal, Rwanda, Solomon Islands and Syria — were approved by consensus among the delegates and would take effect Oct. 1.

They would prevent the countries from legally trading in any of the 35,000 species regulated by the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said Juan Carlos Vasquez, a spokesman for the U.N. office that administers the treaty.

Delegations to the weeklong meeting of CITES, a treaty overseen by the U.N. Environment Program in Geneva, agreed to trade suspensions against Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Paraguay and Rwanda based on their lack of national laws for regulating the lucrative wildlife trade.

The Geneva meeting's attendees also agreed to trade suspensions against Guinea-Bissau, Nepal, Rwanda, Solomon Islands and Syria based on their failure to adequately report what they are doing to regulate wildlife trade, as they are required to do under the CITES treaty.

To avoid the sanctions, and the prospect of losing millions of dollars in commerce, the seven must now draw up the required legislation or submit their missing annual reports to CITES by Oct. 1.

According to CITES, about 97 percent of the species it regulates are commercially traded for food, fuel, forest products, building materials, clothing, ornaments, health care, religious items, collections, trophy hunting and other sport. The other 3 percent are generally prohibited.

CITES estimates the regulated global wildlife trade is between $350 million and $530 million a year, or almost $2.2 billion over the five years from 2006 to 2010. During that time, logging of big leaf mahogany alone accounted for $168 million in trade. By volume, American black bears, South American grey foxes, Senegal parrots and Malaysian box turtles were among the most traded.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates that commercial trade in wildlife has risen sharply from around $160 billion a year in the early 1990s. But the multibillion-dollar illegal trade in wildlife is a growing problem, and environmentalists say a big reason is nations' failure to enact stiff penalties for traffickers or enforce wildlife laws already on the books.

The delegates are expected to consider on Friday a more controversial topic: a call to resume the legal ivory trade as a way to stop the recent rise in elephant poaching in Africa.

That proposal, put forward in a CITES-commissioned report, would set up a centralized system to allow for the sale of ivory from elephants that either died naturally or as a result of trophy hunting, or were considered a threat or culled for ecological reasons.

It is the first time such a proposal has been made since a global ban on ivory went into effect in 1989. That ban mostly halted widespread poaching, but in the past decade the problem has worsened owing mainly to an Asian appetite for ivory chopsticks, statues and jewelry.

The rise in rhino poaching also is on the agenda.

Experts rank wildlife smuggling among the top aims of criminal networks, along with drugs and human trafficking. CITES says wildlife crime remains poorly studied, but it says international estimates of the scale of illegal wildlife trade range from between $16 billion and $27 billion a year.

Tiger parts, elephant ivory, rhino horn and exotic birds and reptiles are among the most trafficked items. To fight it, CITES has formed a consortium with Interpol, the U.N. office on drugs and crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization.

Casey reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

CITES bares teeth, but can it bite?
WWF 27 Jul 12;

Geneva - A week’s long meeting of the CITES Standing Committee ended today. The committee governs the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) between full-scale meetings of the Conference of the Parties.

The decisions taken are racheting up pressure on a number of countries to be held accountable over their failure to deal with rampant poaching and illegal trade, but no sanctions or punitive measures were agreed.
Earlier this week WWF reported that many countries are failing to protect threatened species like rhinos, tigers and elephants.

African countries identified as the main sources of illegal ivory in trade, plus Asian and East African transit countries and the two countries with the largest illegal ivory consumer markets—China and Thailand—were given until the end of the year by the Standing Committee to provide written reports of what progress they have made in tackling the illicit trade.

Failure to do so could ultimately result in a suspension of all trade in CITES-listed species with the country concerned, but the CITES Parties have so far avoided taking such action.

Thailand, for example, had already been called upon to submit such a report, and did so at this meeting. WWF and TRAFFIC considered their report vague and non-committal, and joined others in calling for a timetable for the legislative changes needed to close a gaping loophole that allows ivory from illegal sources to be laundered into the Thai marketplace.

“With elephant poaching and illegal trade in ivory reaching new heights, we should not be shy about using CITES trade suspensions as an international tool to prevent a full-blown elephant crisis,” said Tom Milliken, who co-authored the report on the status of elephants to the meeting.

The report highlighted that up to 23% of Central Africa's elephant populations are being killed each year. This was further evidenced by the massacre of more than 30 elephants in Chad whilst the CITES meeting was taking place. Meanwhile, Central African governments revealed a new plan at the meeting to combat poaching and illegal trade in the region.

“The new Central African plan is warmly welcomed, but it is critical that the plan is rapidly implemented because time is running out for the elephants of this region,” said Colman O Criodain, WWF’s wildlife trade specialist.

At a side-event on the forthcoming on-line version of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), managed by TRAFFIC on behalf of the CITES Parties, was demonstrated. The new internet-based system provides much improved facilities for data collection and analysis, and will be formally launched later this year.

The country at the centre of the rising demand for illegal rhino horn—Viet Nam—was similarly instructed to report on what progress it had made in curbing rhino horn demand, and has until 3 September to report. In particular, Viet Nam will need to explain what measures have been implemented to prevent illegal import and trade in rhino horn, how the black market in rhino horn is being targeted in the country, and what is being done to discourage rhino horn use.

“Viet Nam is the principal driver of rhino horn trafficking, and as such, has an international obligation to curb the demand for horn, implement national trade controls and help end rhino poaching in Africa,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s rhino expert.

The Standing Committee also instructed CITES’ Rhino Working Group to focus on actions needed to reduce demand for rhino horn and was tasked with developing a demand reduction strategy, taking into account the outputs of the experts’ meeting convened by TRAFFIC and WWF in November last year on messaging to reduce consumer demand for tigers and other endangered wildlife species.

For tigers, the spotlight fell on the Global Tiger Recovery Programme agreed in St Petersburg in November 2010. A number of tiger range States had failed to report to the committee, even though obliged to do so.
“It’s disappointing that some of the countries fortunate enough still to be home to wild tigers simply aren’t adequately motivated to let others know what they are doing to protect them,” said O Criodain.

The illegal trade in tiger parts was also on the agenda, with TRAFFIC highlighting its work on reducing demand for tiger products, while China reaffirmed its commitment to the ban on trade in tiger parts, but made no firm statements about phasing out existing tiger farms.

After a number of years in the spotlight, the Solomon Islands finally announced a ban on the manifestly unsustainable trade in live dolphins for trade. Its announcement came hot on the heels of TRAFFIC revelations into the use of alleged “captive-breeding” to circumvent CITES regulations on trade in wild birds from the island archipelago.

Finally, an important breakthrough is on the cards over how CITES deals with species caught on the high seas. Debate has raged for almost 20 years over when so-called “Introduction from the Sea” actually takes place and therefore which regulatory authority should be involved. Despite misgivings expressed in some quarters, there is now an agreed text that needs to be endorsed at the next full Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP16), which takes place in March 2013, in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Evidence for climate extremes, costs, gets more local

Alister Doyle | Reuters Yahoo News 27 Jul 12

OSLO (Reuters) - Scientists are finding evidence that man-made climate change has raised the risks of individual weather events, such as floods or heatwaves, marking a big step towards pinpointing local costs and ways to adapt to freak conditions.

"We're seeing a great deal of progress in attributing a human fingerprint to the probability of particular events or series of events," said Christopher Field, co-chairman of a U.N. report due in 2014 about the impacts of climate change.

Experts have long blamed a build-up of greenhouse gas emissions for raising worldwide temperatures and causing desertification, floods, droughts, heatwaves, more powerful storms and rising sea levels.

But until recently they have said that naturally very hot, wet, cold, dry or windy weather might explain any single extreme event, like the current drought in the United States or a rare melt of ice in Greenland in July.

But for some extremes, that is now changing.

A study this month, for instance, showed that greenhouse gas emissions had raised the chances of the severe heatwave in Texas in 2011 and unusual heat in Britain in late 2011. Other studies of extremes are under way.

Growing evidence that the dice are loaded towards ever more severe local weather may make it easier for experts to explain global warming to the public, pin down costs and guide investments in everything from roads to flood defenses.

"One of the ironies of climate change is that we have more papers published on the costs of climate change in 2100 than we have published on the costs today. I think that is ridiculous," said Myles Allen, head of climate research at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute.

"We can't (work out current costs) without being able to make the link to extreme weather," he said. "And once you've worked out how much it costs that raises the question of who is going to pay."

Industrialized nations agree they should take the lead in cutting emissions since they have burnt fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases, since the Industrial Revolution. But they oppose the idea of liability for damage.

Almost 200 nations have agreed to work out a new deal by the end of 2015 to combat climate change, after repeated setbacks. China, the United States and India are now the top national emitters of greenhouse gases.

Field, Professor of Biology and Environmental Earth System Science at the University of Stanford, said that the goal was to carry out studies of extreme weather events almost immediately after they happen, helping expose the risks.

"Everybody who needs to make decisions about the future - things like building codes, infrastructure planning, insurance - can take advantage of the fact that the risks are changing but we have a lot of influence over what those risks are."


Another report last year indicated that floods 12 years ago in Britain - among the countries most easily studied because of it has long records - were made more likely by warming. And climate shifts also reduced the risks of flooding in 2001.

Previously, the European heatwave of 2003 that killed perhaps 70,000 people was the only extreme where scientists had discerned a human fingerprint. In 2004, they said that global warming had at least doubled the risks of such unusual heat.

The new statistical reviews are difficult because they have to tease out the impact of greenhouse gases from natural variations, such as periodic El Nino warmings of the Pacific, sun-dimming volcanic dust or shifts in the sun's output.

So far, extreme heat is the easiest to link to global warming after a research initiative led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Meteorological Office.

"Heatwaves are easier to attribute than heavy rainfall, and drought is very difficult given evidence for large droughts in the past," said Gabriele Hegerl of the University of Edinburgh.

Scientists often liken climate change to loading dice to get more sixes, or a baseball player on steroids who hits more home runs. That is now going to the local from the global scale.

Field said climate science would always include doubt since weather is chaotic. It is not as certain as physics, where scientists could this month express 99.999 percent certainty they had detected the Higgs boson elementary particle.

"This new attribution science is showing the power of our understanding, but it also illustrates where the limits are," he said.

A report by Field's U.N. group last year showed that more weather extremes that can be linked to greenhouse warming, such as the number of high temperature extremes and the fact that the rising fraction of rainfall falls in downpours.

But scientists warn against going too far in blaming climate change for extreme events.

Unprecedented floods in Thailand last year, for instance, that caused $45 billion in damage according to a World Bank estimate, were caused by people hemming in rivers and raising water levels rather than by climate change, a study showed.

"We have to be a bit cautious about blaming it all on climate change," Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office's Hadley Centre, said of extremes in 2012.

Taken together, many extremes are a sign of overall change.

"If you look all over the world, we have a great disastrous drought in North America ... you have the same situation in the Mediterranean... If you look at all the extremes together you can say that these are indicators of global warming," said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengabe, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

(Additional reporting by Sara Ledwith in London; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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