Best of our wild blogs: 4 Aug 12

Changi's best seagrass meadows being buried?
from wild shores of singapore and Checking up on Changi's rocky shores

Argyreia ridleyi
from The Total Vascular Flora of Singapore Online

Black-naped Oriole’s 50 Different Calls
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

Situation Dire for Threatened Javan Rhino, Researcher Finds

ScienceDaily 3 Aug 12;

Peter de Groot (Biology) hopes his recent finding confirming the extinction of the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam pushes the public to protect the last remaining group of these prehistoric creatures living in Indonesia.

"We still have a chance to save the species but before we do anything, we have to determine the profile of the remaining group," he says.

Dr. de Groot, Peter Boag (Biology) and colleagues confirmed the demise of the Javan rhinoceros population living in Vietnam by analyzing animal dung collected with the assistance of special dung detection dogs. Using genetic tools developed at Queens and Cornell, they determined only one Javan rhinoceros was living in Vietnam in 2009. That rhinoceros was found dead the following year.

Drs. de Groot, Boag and other researchers are now working to save a group of 29 Javan rhinoceroses currently living in a tiny area called Ujon Kolong in Indonesia. They will use the rhinoceros feces collected by fellow researchers to determine the age, sex and pedigree of this group. This research will provide a direction to try to save the remaining population of one of the most threatened large mammal species in the world.

This work is part of Drs. de Groot and Boag's ongoing initiative to develop genetic tools that can assist in the conservation and management of all rhino species in Africa and Asia. Through the integration of non-invasive field data collected with the help of local indigenous knowledge and with collaborators in the US , France, Africa and Asia they are developing inclusive methods to accurately monitor and conserve our shared natural heritage.

This work has been funded largely by NSERC, WWF, IRF (International Rhino Foundation) and the USFWS.

Dr. de Groot's research was published in Biological Conservation.

Journal Reference:

S.M. Brook, P. van Coeverden de Groot, C. Scott, P. Boag, B. Long, R.E. Ley, G.H. Reischer, A.C. Williams, S.P. Mahood, Tran Minh Hien, G. Polet, N. Cox, Bach Thanh Hai. Integrated and novel survey methods for rhinoceros populations confirm the extinction of Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus from Vietnam. Biological Conservation, 2012; 155: 59 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.06.008

Read more!

Bat virus offers insight into deadly Nipah, Hendra

Tan Ee Lyn Reuters Yahoo News 3 Aug 12;

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A virus that is very similar to the deadly Nipah and Hendra viruses has been discovered in fruit bats in Australia and researchers are hoping it can help them find ways to fight those highly dangerous cousins.

The Nipah virus kills 40-75 percent of the people it infects while the Hendra virus, which normally affects horses, kills more than 50 percent of the people it infects.

But the newly discovered Cedar virus, with 90 percent of its genes identical to those of Hendra and Nipah, failed to cause any disease when researchers injected it into rats, guinea pigs and ferrets, they wrote in a paper published on Friday in the journal PLoS Pathogens (Public Library of Science).

They are now comparing the DNA of all three viruses to tease out genes that are responsible for the deadliness of the Nipah and Hendra, said lead author Gary Crameri, at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

"We have already done genetic analyses and identified those things that are different between Hendra/Nipah and the Cedar," Crameri said in a telephone interview.

"Our plan now is to genetically engineer these viruses so we can take some parts of the Hendra genome that don't appear in Cedar but play some role in how deadly they are, put them into Cedar and then do infection trials with the new hybrid virus and see if it is as deadly."

Researchers hope to home in on the rogue genes to find cures for Nipah and Hendra, which are also found in bats.

"There is no secret that the pathogenicity of the Hendra and Nipah lie in their genes and this will help us narrow down some of the options. From there, we can start to think about therapeutic approaches, new drugs that we can use to target these viruses so that when people get infected, we can treat them, something we don't have now," Crameri said.

Bats are a natural reservoir for many viruses, including highly pathogenic ones like rabies, Ebola, SARS, Hendra and Nipah. Although Cedar appears not to cause any disease in the few animal species that researchers tested the virus on, it is not known if it causes disease in people.

A Nipah outbreak in 1998 killed at least 105 pig farmers in Malaysia and one abattoir worker in Singapore. There have been numerous outbreaks since in Bangladesh and India.

While the cases in Malaysia and Singapore were due to contact with infected pigs, the South Asian outbreaks were mostly due to consumption of raw date palm juice that had been contaminated with urine or droppings from infected fruit bats.

The Hendra virus kills 75 percent of the horses it infects. While it rarely jumps from horse to people, four of the 7 human cases recorded since 1994 in Australia have resulted in death.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

Read more!

Amazon deforestation falls again

Data from satellite images shows 23% reduction in deforestation from August 2011 to July 2012 against the previous year
Adam Vaughan 3 Aug 12;

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has fallen again in the past 12 months, according to preliminary data published by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research.

The reduction follows the passing of Brazil's Forest Code in April, which green campaigners say weakened forest protection measurements, despite a partial veto by president Dilma Rouseff of the most controversial elements.

Data from satellite images shows a 23% reduction in deforestation from August 2011 to July 2012 against the previous year, with 2,049 sq km being cleared compared with 2,679 sq km in the previous 12 months.

The figures, published on Thursday, mark the continuation of a long-term trend that has seen clearance rates in the Amazon fall by about three quarters since peak deforestation in 2004.

Brazil's environment minister, Izabella Teixeria, said: "This is a great result, which makes us want to work even harder to tackle illegal deforestation."

But the figures from the Real Time Deforestation Detection System (Deter), may be revised upwards later after work by the separate Prodes project, which provides Brazil's official annual deforestation figures. The Deter early warning system is relatively low resolution and can only detect deforestation larger than 25 hectares and can miss deforestation masked by cloud cover.

Official figures published in June showed that annual deforestation was at a record low in the 12 months before 31 July 2011.

The Brazilian government also announced that R$100m (£31m) from the country's Amazon Fund will be given out in coming weeks to local projects that are shown to be maintaining the rainforest. Carlos Nobre, secretary for research and development policies and programmes at the ministry of science and technology, said: "Lasting reduction in deforestation requires more than enforcement and control."

Brazil also hopes to launch a new satellite in 2013 to help monitor clearing of the world's largest rainforest, which is home to millions of species and is one of the world's biggest stores of carbon.

Greenpeace Brazil said in a statement that the new data showed that "it is possible to achieve zero deforestation in Brazil".

Read more!