Best of our wild blogs: 17 Aug 12

25 Aug (Sat) NUS PEACE Animal Welfare Symposium

Bountiful Buttons at East Coast Park
from wild shores of singapore

Lawn rangers
from The annotated budak

Progress in the study of birdsounds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Indonesia: Hot Spots Located In 129 Locations In Riau

Ahmad Fuad Yahya Bernama 16 Aug 12;

JAKARTA, Aug 16 (Bernama) -- Hot spots have been detected in 129 more locations in Riau island, Indonesia.

The worst hit district was Pelalawan with 43 hot spots detected in its forests, according to Aristya Ardhitama, the analyst at Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency's monitoring station in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau.

Ardhitama said the resulting haze had affected the visibility range for flights passing the island.

"The worst was on Tuesday when the range was below 1 kilometre. However, flight activities at Sultan Syarif Kasyim II Airpot in Pekanbaru have not been affected so far," he said.

He added that the haze situation in Riau was expected to prolong a few more weeks.

The hot spots also have contributed to the haze situation in other parts of Southeast Asia including Malaysia.


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Great white shark should be on endangered list: environmentalists

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 17 Aug 12;

Great white sharks swimming off the California coast should be protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, according to a trio of environmental groups that contend there are fewer than 350 of the animals in these western coastal waters.

Commercial fishing by U.S. and Mexican vessels is the primary threat to great white sharks in this area, the scientific petition by the groups Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards said.

The request for federal protection was filed Monday with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, with a second petition to be filed this week under California's Endangered Species Act, Geoff Shester of Oceana said in a telephone interview.

Until last year, there was no way to tell how many great white sharks lived off the coast of California, Baja California and Mexico, Shester said on Wednesday.

In 2011, two studies of this population of great white sharks in the Pacific found it to be genetically distinct and isolated from other groups of these creatures around the globe, he said. The studies estimated there are fewer than 350 adult and sub-adults in these waters.

Although there is no way to know how many sharks were in the area previously, it is known that their main prey - California sea lions, harbor seals and elephant seals - were depleted by human exploitation in the 1700s and 1800s, according to Shester.

While the seal and sea lion populations have rebounded, it will probably take great white sharks longer to do so, because this species grows slowly and most great whites do not reproduce until the age of 10 years and have few young.

The low estimate for the great white shark population off the West Coast makes the group inherently vulnerable, said Shester, Oceana's California program director.

A total population of 350 means there are probably fewer than 100 breeding females, he said. This would make it challenging for the great white shark population to rebuild.

If this group of sharks went extinct, he said, other groups would survive, but these animals would be gone from the North American West Coast for centuries or millennia, because this population does not commingle with other groups.

"These are iconic top predators that are basically keeping the entire food web of our ocean in check," Shester said. "They regulate populations of seals and sea lions and that benefits entire ecosystem including our fisheries. Ultimately the loss of top predators like sharks could have disastrous consequences for oceans and coastal economies that depend on it."

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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Poachers pose new threat to Bengal tiger cubs

Anis Ahmed and Azad Majumder PlanetArk 16 Aug 12;

Royal Bengal tigers have been under threat from habitat destruction, illegal trade for body parts, natural calamities and angry villagers, but their cubs are now facing a new danger -- poachers.

Three frail tiger cubs lying in an iron cage in a Dhaka zoo are the first live cubs to be recovered from poachers, who had planned to smuggle the animals out of the country.

"(Tigers) come out of the woods in search of food in the villages, and often get caught and killed," said a forest ranger in the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh, who asked not to be identified.

"Now, the poachers have expanded their illegal trade by catching and smuggling cubs that are easier to trap and safer to move away."

There are an estimated 300 to 500 majestic Royal Bengal tigers in the 10,000 square km (6,213 miles) Sundarbans forest, which stretches across part of Bangladesh and India and has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The numbers of the striped cats, which usually weigh over 200 kg (440 pounds) when fully grown, have been falling steadily.

Residents of a Dhaka high rise building found the squeaking and grunting cubs in June when the animals were trying to climb from the ground floor. Special security forces took the cubs to a private zoo, where keepers fed them with bottled milk and put them on display.

But due to health problems and stress from the throngs of visitors, the cubs were taken to a specially designed home in Dhaka's Botanical Garden where they are being fed food imported from China.

The recovery of the live cubs was a wake-up call for conservationists who had been unaware of illegal trade in tiger cubs. Adult tigers are prized for their skins and their body parts are used in traditional Asian medicine.

"We have had reports of tigers being killed by poachers. But this was the first time we saw that they were captured alive," said Reaj Morshed, programme officer at the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh (WTB).

Security forces arrested a man and his mother for collecting the cubs and keeping them until the animals could be smuggled out of the country. Each cub was priced at 2 million taka($24,400).

Since the rescue the government has tightened laws for smuggling tiger cubs and imposed a seven-year sentence and a fine of 500,000 taka fine.

Sundarbans forest guards will also be equipped with new guns and trained to curb poaching and smuggling.

Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad, the country representative for the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), believes the new law is a step in the right direction.

"Previously we didn't have a stringent law to deal with this, but now I think with the law in force and increased awareness on the part of the people, protection will be easier," he said.

But not everyone agrees.

"This country had plenty of laws to govern the forests but they were never strictly enforced," said Mohammad Badiuzzaman, at a nearby village. "Mere talking of laws and launching of plans will do little to help save the forest and its inhabitants."

(Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir; editing by Elaine Lies)

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Food crisis strengthens EU biofuel critics, may hasten deal

Barbara Lewis and Ivana Sekularac PlanetArk 16 Aug 12;

Drought-stricken crops and record-high grain prices have strengthened critics of the European Union biofuel industry, adding fears of a food crisis to their claims that it does not ultimately reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The renewed anxiety adds to pressure on the EU's executive Commission to forge a deal this year to help ensure that EU biofuels do not clash with food production or the environment.

Such an agreement would remove some of the uncertainty that has hung over the multi-billion euro bioenergy industry during years of debate.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization last week called for a suspension of U.S. ethanol quotas as a response to the impact of the worst U.S. drought in more than half a century on corn supplies and prices.

Ahead of a U.S. election, immediate change is unlikely. [ID:nL6E8JDC1V] But the polemic highlights concerns that EU goals also stoke commodity volatility because they exaggerate inelasticity of demand.

"The U.S. situation should be a warning for the EU that our inflexible biofuel mandate can lead to food price volatilities, especially as we are currently converting 65 percent of our vegetable oils into biodiesel," Nusa Urbancic, program manager at campaign group Transport and Environment, said.

In the European Union, far more than in the United States, the raison d'etre of biofuel is to lower carbon emissions. Urbancic and many other campaigners doubt it achieves that.

"Science has also shown that biodiesel can be worse for the climate than conventional oil, once indirect impacts on forests and peatlands are included," she said.

Action plans drawn up by EU member states predict that bioenergy, including biomass for power generation and biofuel for transport, will provide more than 50 percent of the EU share of renewable energy as part of 2020 climate goals.

Use of biodiesel - dominant in Europe, while ethanol prevails in the United States - is expected to double by 2020 to 19.95 million metric tons (21.99 tons) of oil equivalent (mtoe) from around 10 mtoe in 2010.

The EU already has enough refining capacity at more than 22 million metric tons to cope with the projected doubling in biodiesel demand, according to Rabobank.

But it faces daunting challenges in coming up with the investment and technology needed to move to feedstock, such as weeds, grass and waste stems, leaves and husks, that would take the pressure off grain supplies for food.

It also needs to find inputs that would no longer result in the clearing of environmentally-sensitive forests and wetlands to plant fuel crops, an issue known as indirect land use change (ILUC).

"When you look at the cost of it, the future is not bright. That's a very complicated field," Thomas Mielke, head of global oilseed research group Oil World, said.

The costs of moving to new feedstocks are hard to specify because of variables including volatile commodity prices.

"You can compare it with iPad; when it first came out, the price was much higher. But now the price has come down because of large-scale production," Rabobank analyst Justin Sherrard said.


The European Commission has said it opposes anything that inflates food prices. [ID:nL6E8IQEL7] What it hasn't worked out is how to ensure that its own biofuel policy does not have that distorting effect.

EU sources have said the Commission will attempt to get agreement before the end of the year on how to measure ILUC. [ID:nL5E8G2FAJ]

The aim is to clarify the impact of biofuel policies on displacing food crops or driving unwelcome environmental change.

Talks have so far failed to deliver a clear way of assessing the full climate impact of using biodiesel made from European rapeseed and imported palm oil and soy beans, which scientists say do not prevent climate change and could accelerate it.

For now, Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has opposed raising a target of deriving 10 percent of transport fuel from biofuels, as part of an overall goal to get 20 percent of energy from renewables by 2020.

For an industry keen for investment certainty, that means such policy predictability as there is expires in 2020.

Apart from biofuels, bioenergy includes biomass, most commonly made up of wood pellets, for power generation.

It too has been overshadowed by criticism of its environmental credentials. [ID:nL6E8IRJNR] But some say it has become a better economic bet than biofuels.

"I think the debate is shifting away from ethanol, and the focus is more and more on biomass opportunities that are profitable and less contentious," Tenke Zoltani, investment manager at Islan Asset Management in Geneva, said.

Drax Group Plc, operator of Britain's largest coal power station, has said it was moving forward with its plans to become a mostly biomass-fuelled generator.

At the same time, commodities giant Cargill opened in June a new starch-based ethanol plant in Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands.

(editing by Jane Baird)

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