Best of our wild blogs: 25 Aug 12

Green Drinks: Seagrass & Aqua Republica
from Green Drinks Singapore

Ubin Wayang Schedule 2012
from Pulau Ubin Stories

Looking with luck
from The annotated budak

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New natural history museum coming to fruition, thanks to fortunate events

Destiny achieved: A journey of discovery
Peter K.L. Ng The Straits Times 25 Aug 12;

IT HAS been four years since the National University of Singapore (NUS) started on its odyssey to raise funds for a new natural history museum for Singapore. In 2014, the Raffles Museum of colonial vintage (and glory) will finally be reinstated as the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in the university.

It has been a very surreal voyage for me - and while the journey is far from over, a moment of reflection is perhaps timely. After all, I have just been part of one of the most remarkable chapters in the museum's long and illustrious history. This is a museum envisioned almost 190 years ago to show the people of Singapore how rich the region's biodiversity was. It saw that hope almost extinguished in the early 1970s, was given a reprieve towards the end of the millennium, and in two short years will have come full circle when it is resurrected.

The Greeks believed that the Fates decide the course of all human affairs. As a scientist and a cynic, I refuse to believe in the hand of Fate. How can I? The scientific method frowns on destiny as an explanation for human events. But logic aside, it is very hard for a person not to harbour a nagging suspicion that the three sisters of the Moerae have intervened somewhere, somehow.

Any objective person reviewing the history of the museum cannot help but be surprised by the number of "lucky breaks" it has had. That said, eloquent American politician William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) once commented: "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved." The events that have led to the new museum bear testament to the truth of his words.

The idea for a museum was first planted by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1823, but he did not manage to see his brainchild (he died in 1826). Formally established in 1874 as the Raffles Library and Museum, it became a powerhouse of zoological research until independence. It survived a crippling war from 1940 to 1945, coming out "miraculously" unscathed.

In 1970, when the powers-to- be ordered the zoological collections to be ditched in the name of economic pragmatism, a small band of heroes and heroines led by the late Roland Sharma at the then University of Singapore ignored executive orders and salvaged the hundreds of thousands of priceless specimens.

They took custody of them despite the lack of resources, until such time when the world saw the light. They held the line even though capitulation would have been easier. The world changed - as it always does - and the collections became part of NUS when it moved to Kent Ridge in the mid-1980s. The museum became the "reinvented" Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in 1998 when the university wanted more research and education out of it, and added a tiny public gallery to cater for the public. And when Singapore's Renaissance man, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, discovered that this century-old collection was still intact in early 2005, he cajoled the university authorities into seeing if it could form the basis of a natural history museum for the country.

This was when I got tossed into the deep end. When the dean of the Faculty of Science, Professor Lee Soo Ying, asked me to helm the museum in 1998, I leapt at the chance. My mission was simple - raise its research profile. Having used the museum's collections for over a decade, it was something I could not say no to. When Tommy threw the challenge at NUS in 2005, the then dean of science, Professor Tan Eng Chye (he is provost today), acted decisively.

In late 2005, with funding from NUS and American entrepreneur Frank Levinson, five staff visited successful American museums to understand what it takes to make a natural history museum work. Three "must-haves" arose from this trip: good corporate governance; a good endowment plan; and dinosaurs! So much for the theory. While NUS is a well-governed establishment, it certainly had no endowment and no dinosaurs. A new natural history museum? No way.

Fast forward to Museum Day 2009. With forward planning and good press support, we were inundated with visitors - thousands of people crowding into a 200 sq m gallery sited behind a small building deep in the bowels of NUS. The visitors growled - tough to find, hard to get to, gallery too small, too little displayed - complaints galore. But there was one common denominator - they all loved the place and echoed Tommy's hope: Bring back Singapore's natural history museum!

The press picked it up and took up the call. Then the Fates took over. Enter an anonymous donor who read about the museum, put $10 million on the table in December 2009 to get the vision going. Enter a new university president, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, who realised the museum's potential and set aside prime land at NUS for the project. But Chorh Chuan was a realist - he knew we needed more money to build a museum.

Enter the return of a "prodigal son", Professor Leo Tan, who had just retired as director of the National Institute of Education and rejoined NUS as its director of special projects - just as we embarked on fund raising. A man with an amazing network of like-minded people after three decades of public service, Leo had raised funds for all manner of national projects. But this was one he particularly savoured - he was a student when he saw his professors save the collections in 1970. To resurrect the museum would close the circle.

Enter senior government officers who mulled over how to help - and some very influential men did help in ways that cannot be formally documented. The Singapore Totalisator Board chipped in with $10 million, and thousands of smaller donors and members of the public added $1 million.

Next came the Lee Foundation, which has a long history of supporting local endeavours; it saw the museum's collection as a national treasure that belonged to the people and should never have been given up in the first place. It made up the difference needed to make the dream a reality - $25 million. Leo was true to his pedigree. In a short six months, he and his band of "merry men and women" raised the additional $36 million needed to build a new museum.

I watched in amazement as a surprised Chorh Chuan happily gave the go-ahead for the new museum. Mind you, this was accomplished in the aftermath of the 2009 financial meltdown! As this was mainly donated money, the Government provided matching funds to the university - the museum now has an endowment.

Early last year, three dinosaurs were offered to the museum. The sellers wanted a good home for these scientifically valuable specimens and were prepared to accept less money if all three could be kept together. We agreed.

Over the next few months, I again watched in amazement as Leo and his team raised the necessary $8 million to acquire and set up exhibits centred on the dinosaurs. In the span of 11/2 "crazy" years, NUS had fulfilled all three requirements envisioned in 2005 for a good museum - governance, endowment and dinosaurs.

As a witness to these developments, all I can say is that I was dumbfounded by the series of events, all unconnected, but yet had to line up in almost perfect symmetry for things to have happened the way they did. That it happened at all defies logic. Just as amazing was what a "few good men (and women)" accomplished in a short time. The efforts of Leo and his team are unprecedented. To have raised such large sums of money in 18 months from so many people and organisations has almost no parallels in Asia; certainly none in Singapore. Until this exercise, philanthropy had been a powerful tool for charitable causes, the arts or medicine, but never for science on this scale. They had finally put the means on the table for a new natural history museum to be built for Singapore. There is now no turning back. The Fates have spoken.

The writer is director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, NUS.

By Invitation features leading writers and thinkers from Singapore and the region.

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Prof Leo Tan on building the new Singapore natural history museum

Prof stresses importance of not saying 'no'
Kezia Toh Straits Times 25 Aug 12;

BUILDING a museum is not quite what one would expect a university lecturer to do.

But Professor Leo Tan gamely took on the task, helming a team to raise $46 million in just six months to build the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore.

When it is completed in 2014, the 7,500 sq m museum will house three much-touted dinosaur fossils from Wyoming in the United States.

It is no mean feat, but that is not the most difficult thing the 67-year-old has had to do.

The marine biologist by training has also had to take on the role of administrator in his previous roles heading the Science Centre and the National Institute of Education.

Yesterday, Prof Tan stressed the importance of not accepting - and not saying - "no", during the Fullerton-St Joseph's Institution Leadership Lecture series at Fullerton Hotel.

Even though he was "reluctantly thrust" into some jobs during his career, he learnt to make the best of them by first ensuring that his staff found their jobs fulfilling. He told the audience: "When you say yes, you get to learn new things and skills you think are not useful for your current job, but actually, the things you do outside of your current job teach you how to do your... job better - this is the paradox.

"So don't refuse when somebody comes to you with an offer that doesn't seem attractive... meaningful or relevant to you, because it will become relevant as you move along the chain."

Prof Tan, who graduated from St Joseph's Institution in 1963, is also president and fellow of the Singapore National Academy of Science.

The lecture series, now in its second instalment, features former SJI boys who have played significant roles in Singapore's development. Previous speakers included Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, former foreign minister George Yeo and National Kidney Foundation chairman Gerard Ee. The next speaker will be retired senior judge Richard Magnus.

Yesterday's event saw 150 guests and students, including representatives from community and business groups, and professional associations.

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Malaysia: Orang utan gain in Sabah move to protect forests

New Straits Times 25 Aug 12;

PRAISED: NGOs welcome re-gazetting of 183,000ha site as protected forest

THREE Sabah-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have expressed their support for the move by the Sabah Forestry Department to re-gazette 183,000 ha of heavily logged Class 2 Commercial Forest into Class 1 Protection Forest, which makes it a protected area.Responding to an announcement recently that the department had decided to convert the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve and the northern part of Gunung Rara Forest Reserve into a protected area, the scientific director of HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme, Dr Marc Ancrenaz, said: "This re-gazette will serve to secure habitat for Malaysia's largest orang utan population, as well as for a wide range of biological diversity".

"HUTAN has been assisting in surveys and monitoring of orang-utans in this area for the past few years, so we are especially pleased to see this move by the state government," said Marc in a joint statement, here, yesterday.

Founder of LEAP (Land Empowerment Animals People) Cynthia Ong said in the same statement that nationally and regionally, Sabah was emerging as a leader in pushing the boundaries in management of natural ecosystem services, and for treating forests as stores of water, carbon and biodiversity rather than just as timber sources.

"We still have major problems and issues to address, but this is the sort of change that we do want to see."

Also in the same statement, Datuk Junaidi Payne of Borneo Rhino Alliance said the main merit of this plan was to make it more difficult for any government in the future to convert the lowland parts of these forest reserves to oil palm plantations.

"Which is what will otherwise happen.

"Oil palm grown on accessible lowland soils yields the best returns to company shareholders over any other land used outside towns, as well as the highest taxation potential to the state government, on a per hectare per year basis.

"That is fine, but companies are not obliged to pay for the adverse impacts such as lower water quality, lost carbon or lost biodiversity, or for the opportunity costs to other industrial sectors." Bernama

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Indonesia: Some 500 forest fire hotspots detected in Central Kalimantan

Antara 25 Aug 12;

Sampit, C Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - At least 500 forest fire hotspots were detected in Central Kalimantan on Saturday, a local official said.

"Most of the hotspots are found in East Kotawaringin, notably 76 hotspots, and then in Pulang Pisau District with 70 hotspots," Andreas Dodi of the Central Kalimantan Nature Resource Conservation Agency, said here Saturday.


Editor: Suryanto

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Malaysia: Young coral reef growing healthily

Ivan Loh The Star 25 Aug 12;

THE pilot project to conserve coral reefs at Mentagor Island, near Pangkor, continues to show positive signs of growth.

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) communication officer Aaron Tam said the coral nubbins were still alive and were in good condition.

“The young corals are growing at an average rate of 2.01cm, reaching adulthood and will continue to grow at the same rate.

“And despite battling strong currents, all the coral nubbins are hanging on strongly,” he told The Star.

In October 2011, a frame measuring 3 sqm with Acropora corals was transplanted by RCM with the help of several snorkelling guides onto the seabed near Mentagor.

A check by RCM, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to conserve coral reefs, earlier this year, discovered that the project was successful with a 100% survival rate.

Tam said RCM had also used a frame with a new design and had transplanted the existing corals onto it in June.

“It definitely had a positive impact on the survival of the nubbins,” he said, adding that the old frames were too bulky, creating a lot of water resistance when the currents were strong.

“For some reason, the currents in Pangkor are a lot stronger than what we get in the east coast.

“Fortunately for us, it has not affected the growth of the corals,” he added.

Tam said the new frame, made from PVC pipes, provided the coral nubbins with a smooth and secure surface for them to attach themselves to.

“Each frame holds up to 28 nubbins and are held up by legs that are driven into the bottom floor to keep them in place.

“There are pre-drilled holes in the frames which allow us to secure the nubbins onto the frames with cable ties,” he said, adding that RCM would continue to experiment on how to create a better frame to house the corals.

“Once we are absolutely sure we have got the right designs to withstand the currents in Pangkor, we will extend the project to include more frames onto the seabed,” he added.

Tam also said the nursery at Pangkor Laut Resort had been moved to Mentagor.

“When we set up the Safe Snorkelling Zone (SSZ) near the island, we transplanted all the nurseries there,” he said, adding that the snorkelling guides had started to take tourists to the zone.

“We want to reduce the pressure on Pulau Giam, which was the only snorkelling site available before the SSZ was set up near Mentagor,” he said.

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Oslo urges Brazil, Indonesia to keep forest protection

Alister Doyle Reuters 24 Aug 12;

(Reuters) - Norway's environment minister on Friday urged Brazil and Indonesia to avoid backtracking on policies to protect tropical forests, saying up to $2 billion in aid promised by Oslo hinged on proof of slower rates of forest clearance.

Norway, rich from oil and gas, has promised more cash than any other donor nation to slow rainforest clearance from the Amazon to the Congo. Protecting forests slows climate change, since plants soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas.

Environment Minister Baard Vegar Solhjell, whose country is failing to meet goals for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, said he was closely following debate in Brazil that might brake what he called a "huge success story" in slowing deforestation.

Oslo has promised up to $1 billion each to Brazil and Indonesia, the two main beneficiaries of a forest initiative worth 3 billion Norwegian crowns ($514.75 million) a year to help combat global warming.

"It is important that they (Brazil) follow policies that mean that they continue reducing deforestation in future," he told Reuters. "We are paying for actual results."

President Dilma Rousseff in May vetoed elements of a new law passed by Congress that would relax the forest cover farmers must preserve on their land. "We don't know what is going to happen" after the veto, Solhjell said.

Other policies under Rousseff have slowed, for instance, the new areas of forest set aside as protected land.

Norway has transferred slightly less than $100 million to projects in Brazil from a total of $425 million set aside for the nation in the years 2008-11, he said. The rest of that total is still to be assigned to projects.

Of the up to $1 billion promised to Brazil, up to $575 million is yet to be set aside. However a weakening of forest protection would mean a lower payout, Solhjell said.


He also said Indonesia had made a "big step forward" with a moratorium on forest clearance in 2011 as part of the deal with Norway, despite wide criticism that illegal logging continues.

"They (Indonesia) need to develop from this initial phase into a phase of actual reductions" of deforestation, he said. "The big money will be connected to actual results." Norway helps about 40 nations protect forests.

According to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, the world lost a net 5.2 million hectares (12 million acres) of forests a year in 2000-10 - totaling an area the size of Costa Rica - down from 8.3 million a year in the 1990s.

Slower deforestation rates in Brazil and Indonesia and forest plantings in China, India and other countries helped brake losses, it said. Norway says that 17 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions are caused by deforestation.

Some environmentalists say Norway is poorly placed to lecture other nations about their environmental policies when it has not lived up to its own.

Solhjell said Norway was failing to meet its domestic plans for deep cuts in emissions as part of efforts to avert warming that a U.N. panel of experts says will bring more floods, dust storms, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

He said it was impossible even to say if Norway's emissions had peaked. "My friend who is a historian says it is easier to talk about the past than the future," he said.

In 2011, emissions were 5.6 percent above 1990 levels at 52.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide - the highest year so far was 2007 with 55.5 million. Norway is the world's number eight oil exporter and number two gas exporter by pipeline.

Norway has set aside 2 billion crowns to buy carbon emissions rights under the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. deal for slowing global warming, to meet a self-imposed goal of cutting emissions by 9 percent below 1990 levels in 2008-12, he said.

He said that Norway was planning extra measures, such as higher carbon taxes on its oil and gas industry, to meet its target of a cut in emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, deeper than almost any other rich nation.

($1 = 5.8280 Norwegian krones)

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Thailand’s coral reefs 50% gone: Phuket marine biologist

Phuket Gazette 25 Aug 12;

PHUKET: With coral reef systems in Thai coastal waters at a “crisis” level, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) has vowed to step up his department’s efforts to mitigate the damage caused by the fishing industry and other human factors.

“Currently, our natural coral reefs are not half of what they used to be – we are in a crisis,” said PMBC director Pinsak Suraswadi on Tuesday.

“The areas that have been most seriously affected are those that are regularly exposed to human activity, such as off tourist destinations along the coast,” he added.

Though the entire region is in trouble, the Gulf of Thailand is at greater risk than the Andaman coast, he said.

“Abundant and beautiful coral reefs are now only found in national parks, such as the Surin Island and Similan Island reserves. In these places the coral is still world class."

“Closing National Parks has definitely been helpful in giving the corals time to recover from the pressure humans exert on the ecosystem,” he said, in reference to the annual closure from May through November.

The PMBC is attempting to prevent damage to coral reefs caused by the fishing industry through a variety of programs. One such program, established in Songkhla, involves the purchase of used fishing equipment in order to discourage fisherman from throwing rubbish, such as old netting, into the sea, he explained.

“Everyone can get involved in preserving our marine environment; it’s not just the responsibility of the government. Changes made in our daily lives, such as using less soap and fewer plastic bags, can really make a difference,” he said.

Mr Pinsak also made a push for the establishment of more artificial reefs in order to reduce the pressure on natural reef systems.

“It will reduce the effect the diving tourism industry has on the natural reefs. Artificial reefs, such as scuttled ships, will provide new diving destinations,” he said.

Mr Pinsak pointed out that the PMBC had recently become involved with the “Green Fins Project”, which encourages tourists to wear life jackets and keep their feet away from corals when snorkeling.

“Also, we ask tourists not to chase turtles in order to photograph them or feed marine animals,” he added.

Mr Pinsak made it clear that coordination and cooperation between all those concerned was necessary to prevent further degradation.

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Cambodia creates safe zones for Mekong dolphins

(AFP) Google News 24 Aug 12;

PHNOM PENH — The Cambodian government on Friday said it will limit fishing in a zone in the Mekong River to protect critically endangered freshwater dolphins.

The Irrawaddy dolphin conservation area will cover a 180-kilometre-long (110 miles) stretch of river from eastern Kratie province to the border with Laos, the government said after the measure was approved in the weekly cabinet meeting.

Fishing will still be allowed inside the zone but the use of floating houses, fish cages and gill nets will be banned as they risk endangering the dolphins.

The government estimates there are between 155 and 175 Irrawaddy dolphins left in Cambodia's stretch of the Mekong River, while WWF last year put the figure at just 85.

The newly created zone "will serve the eco-tourism sector and sustainably preserve dolphins," the statement said.

Entanglement in gill nets is seen as the leading cause of death in adult Irrawaddy dolphins, according to conservation group WWF. The animals also suffer from high calf mortality rates, the cause of which remains unclear, and from habitat degradation.

Acting WWF-Cambodia country director Michelle Owen said the creation of the protection zone was "welcome news" that "demonstrates the commitment of the Cambodian government to conserve this iconic and endangered species".

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin has been listed as critically endangered since 2004, according to WWF.

Irrawaddy dolphins are also found in coastal areas in south and southeast Asia, in the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar and in the Mahakam river in Indonesia.

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Freshwater species in Indo-Burma region under threat

IUCN 22 Aug 12;

An assessment of 2,515 described freshwater species in the Indo-Burma region by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and partners has revealed that 13% of these species are threatened with extinction. The report comes at a time when large scale hydrological development is underway, or is proposed, throughout this region which is known for its exceptionally high diversity of freshwater species.

This IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ assessment details the locations and status of all described species of freshwater fish, molluscs, odonates, crabs, and selected families of aquatic plants within each of the 1,082 individual river or lake sub-catchments across the region. As the most comprehensive assessment yet of freshwater species in this global biodiversity hotspot, it provides valuable information that can help mitigate and minimize the impact of ongoing and future hydrological developments throughout the region.

“Freshwater species are incredibly important to livelihoods and economies in the Indo-Burma region,” said Robert Mather, Head of IUCN Southeast Asia. “There are more than 1,780 known freshwater fish species in this one hotspot with the majority of threatened species found along the mainstream Mekong River and the central and southerly parts of the Chao Phraya River. Globally, this exceptionally high level of fish diversity is only surpassed by the Amazon and Congo river systems, and it supports the world’s largest inland capture fishery.”

With regard to freshwater fish and their obvious benefits to people it is critical that monitoring focuses on the diversity of species and not only on the biomass and productivity of fisheries as is the current practice in most cases. The currency for measuring fish biodiversity is species, not kilograms, dollars, or catch per unit of effort. Without this change in approach, many species, in particular those of limited commercial importance are likely to decline or disappear unnoticed.

Hydrological developments such as the construction of dams and river clearance for navigation are the greatest immediate cause of concern, but pollution, exploitation and habitat loss also threaten freshwater species across the region. Hydrological modifications are most often incompatible with species conservation in inland waters and may lead to significant increases in the number of species assessed as threatened - a number of which are likely to go extinct. For example, freshwater molluscs such as Lacunopsis globosa are highly specific in their habitat requirements, being almost entirely dependent upon river rapids for their survival.

“If current plans for the construction of hydroelectric dams proceed as proposed, over the next decade the proportion of fish species threatened by dams is predicted to increase from 19% to 28% and the proportion of mollusc species impacted by dams is likely to increase from 24% to 39%,” said William Darwall of the IUCN Global Species Programme. “There is still time for the information in this IUCN report to help large scale developments - particularly in the energy and water sectors - to proceed in a sustainable way with reduced impact on freshwater species and the dependent livelihoods.”

The majority of current protected areas in the Indo-Burma region have been developed according to the conservation needs of terrestrial habitats and species, but this report highlights the need for conservation areas specifically targeting freshwater species and identifies potential sites for their protection at the catchment scale.

Issues involving freshwater species and conservation will be discussed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Republic of Korea, from 6 to 15 September 2012.

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Bear bile farming poses ongoing threat to wild bear conservation

TRAFFIC 24 Aug 12;

Kuala Lumpur 24th August 2012—According to experts, the existence of bear bile farms has not reduced the pressure on wild bear populations. Instead, confiscation records indicate that cubs are routinely taken from the wild, especially from Southeast Asia, to stock bear farms, which supply much of the medicines and products in demand throughout Asia.

The issue of bear farms will be on the agenda at next month’s IUCN World Conservation Congress in Korea after a motion to phase out commercial bear bile farming was tabled for debate at the meeting.

“The term ‘farm’ is a misleading one, as it implies the bears are being bred and that the trade may be sustainable” says Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and co-chair of the trade expert team of the IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group. “This is absolutely not the case and wild bears continue to be sourced for the extraction of bile.”

Rising prices of wild cubs on the black market indicate a high demand. At the same time, surveys have found that that farms in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam show low success in breeding bears. Breeding records on Chinese farms are not available to corroborate the claim that they are self-sustaining. There is little evidence to support claims that farms relieve pressure on wild bear populations, given bear populations are in decline in the bear-farming countries in Southeast Asia and China.

Bile is used as a medicine for specific illnesses, and has a long history in Chinese culture. Consumer demand for wild-sourced bear bile continues to drive poaching with many consumers believing wild bile is more potent and pure.

Within a decade of farms opening in Lao PDR, demand for wild bear bile skyrocketed, and poachers have taken bears to supply not only this lucrative market, but also to supply farms.

“These facilities are a source of products entering the global black market and are a major driver behind the poaching of wild bears.” says Shepherd. “Such facilities have no demonstrable positive impact on bear conservation.”

The motion before IUCN highlights how bile farming has created a much wider market of consumers who consider this product an essential “tonic” to promote and maintain good health, rather than a medicine to fight illness.

A 2011 report by TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, Pills, Powders, Vials and Flakes: the bear bile trade in Asia (PDF, 1 MB), found bear bile extraction facilities to be a major source of illegal products entering the international market, in violation of national laws, and the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The motion to phase out farming of bears for their bile has been submitted for consideration and debate at the coming IUCN World Conservation Congress. Motions are central to IUCN’s governance system and an important means by which Members can influence future directions in the conservation community and seek international support for conservation issues. If adopted by a majority of voting Members, they may take the form of resolutions or recommendations that guide conservation policy and action.

More than 1,000 resolutions have been adopted to date. 173 motions have been entered before the forthcoming Congress that will convene in Jeju, South Korea, on 6th September.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is the world’s largest and arguably most important conservation event. Held every four years, it aims to improve how the natural environment is managed for human, social and economic development.
Leaders and experts from government, the public sector, non-governmental organizations, business, UN agencies and social organizations discuss, debate and decide solutions for the world’s most pressing environment and development issues. Next month there are expected to be 6,000 to 8,000 delegates from 150+ countries in attendance.

More about the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress

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Australia: Cassowaries still threatened after Yasi

Patrick Caruana AAP The Australian 24 Aug 12;

NORTH Queensland's iconic cassowary could be facing a worse problem than the devastation of a category five cyclone.

Cyclone Yasi proved far more fatal to cassowaries than it was to humans, as last year's terrible storm ravaged the rainforest home of the large, flightless birds.

The discovery of dead cassowaries prompted a strong and impressive response from the community - food stations and recovery centres were established, while animals hospitals nursed chicks back to health.

But cassowaries, which are listed as endangered, are also being killed by dogs and cars.

Nowhere is this more clear than at the beautiful Mission Beach, in the centre of the Cassowary Coast, where car strikes have killed a number of birds in recent months.

Local jewellery maker and environmental campaigner Liz Gallie says the developments in the region have changed the character of the area and its friendliness to cassowaries.

"I've watched with horror as land has been cleared around the area," she tells AAP.

"They've got 1700 blocks of land which are ready for development."

Mission Beach was directly in the path of Yasi and the town still has not recovered from the impacts of the storm.

Ms Gallie says she is concerned the cassowary will be just an afterthought in the eagerness to rebuild the town.

"People want to develop Mission Beach - it's a beautiful place," she says.

"The tourist operators are screaming out to build a marina, rather than focusing on ways of getting us back as a village and a community where we can feel comfortable."

Cassowary Coast mayor Bill Shannon says the council is determined to look after the species for which the area is named.

"It has a huge effect on the planning laws, especially in Mission Beach," he says.

"It's built into the planning scheme - there's a lot of work done on fences and spacing between land. Even the intensity of the development is affected."

Mr Shannon says there are efforts to warn drivers in known cassowary habitats.

"Unfortunately, most of the speeding drivers who hit cassowaries are locals," he says.

One of the main problems in understanding the seriousness of their plight is that the birds are exceptionally good at hiding from humans and tend to wander alone across vast areas.

CSIRO cassowary expert Dr David Westcott says conventional survey techniques have proved completely inadequate for counting the birds.

"The really tricky question for management is the number of cassowaries in the wild and working out if it is declining," he says.

"Two guys did a study in the late 1980s looking at the extent of cassowary activity and their best guess was between 1500 and 4000 birds - that's a very rough number with lots of qualifications.

"In other words we've got some pretty rough estimates, and they're very old and we haven't done a lot about it since."

Dr Westcott said his team was trying to develop novel ways of establishing a clearer picture on numbers.

"We have developed a method where we can identify individual birds from their dung - which is what we encounter most often when we do our surveys," he says.

"So when you have three, four or five piles of dung, it's not clear how many birds are responsible - this method allows us to turn that into better data about how many birds are in the area."

Dr Westcott says he has mixed views about the future of the cassowaries.

"They exist largely in the well-protected areas of the Daintree and the Wet Tropics World Heritage zones, so from that perspective I'm optimistic."

"However, what we don't know is what the populations are within those areas, and there are plenty of examples from around Australia and the world where there are protected animals declining and going extinct for reasons we don't understand.

"We could have a situation where cassowaries are going extinct, and we would have no idea, and we do have no idea."

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Bats threatened by climate change

Matt Walker BBC News 24 Aug 12;

Climate change threatens the future of a significant number of bat species.

Bats have already suffered due to changing temperatures, according to a study published in Mammal Review.

That change is "alarming" say the report's authors, but worse is expected as temperatures rise further.

The foraging and feeding, roosting, range sizes and reproduction of bats will all be affected, while extreme weather and disease will also impact many bat species, they say.

More than one in five mammal species are bats, which are considered ecologically and economically important, due to their ability to pollinate and disperse the seeds of a great many plants.

Mathieu Lundy, Hayley Sherwin and Ian Montgomery of Queens University, Belfast, UK reviewed the scientific literature for observed impacts that climate change has had on bat species.

They then looked to see how many of the bat species living across Europe and North America might be impacted by further temperature rises.

They found numerous examples of how bats will be affected.

For example, climate change is expected to impact the foraging ability of bats.

Firstly bats, particularly lactating females, may have to fly further to drink. Bats are more vulnerable to dehydration than other mammals of a similar size, especially in arid areas, as they lack specific adaptations to retain water and it evaporates at a high rate from the large surface area of their wings.

Aerial-hawking bats, which take insects on the wing, may also have to travel further to find food.

The researchers write that 38 of the 47 species of European and North American bat species investigated would be at risk from these factors.

Bats may also wake more quickly from hibernation or torpor, as temperatures increase. Free-living greater horseshoe bats spend less time in torpor, a form of sleep that helps animals conserve energy, when the outside temperature warms. Captive eastern red bats, and other species of wild tree-roosting bats do similar.

Eleven species that roost in caves or trees are at risk.

Bat reproduction is unlikely to be impacted, say the authors. It is an area that needs more study, they say, but warmer climates may even benefit females by allowing them to give birth and wean their young earlier, leaving more time for the mothers to store fat reserves in preparation.

Although bats can fly, and thus move greater distances than terrestrial mammals, rising temperatures may also severely impact the range size of many species.

In Australia, for example, grey-headed flying foxes now live in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, despite historical records suggesting it was once too cold for them there.

For many bat species that already live at high latitudes and altitudes, however, climate change will leave them with nowhere to move to.

Extreme weather events triggered by climate change, such as a higher frequency of drought and heat waves, could also wipe out local bat populations: over 30,000 flying foxes, one the largest types of bat, died during 19 episodes of extreme temperature in Australia, the study's authors report.

Perhaps worst of all, these risk factors are not mutually exclusive, and may combine to affect species.

All the bat species examined by the researchers that are currently listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as "Near threatened", "Vulnerable" or "Endangered" will fare worse as a result of climate change, they say.

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FAO “bat manual” aims to reduce disease risk, highlight benefits

Lifting the veil of mystery surrounding bats
FAO 24 Aug 12;

24 August 2012, Rome - Few animals have suffered more from negative publicity than the bat. Nature's only winged mammal is frequently depicted in folklore and films as destructive, unhealthy and unattractive. Increasing concern about the bat's potential for spreading disease to other animals and humans has contributed to the suspicion that often surrounds the animal.

A manual published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization aims to help countries minimize the risks to public health, while protecting the vital role that bats play in agriculture and the environment.

The guide, "Investigating the Role of Bats in Emerging Zoonoses: Balancing Ecology, Conservation and Public Health Interest," is a hands-on reference to bat history, biology, monitoring, handling, and disease screening. The text is especially relevant as diseases transmitted by bats appear to be on the rise for various reasons.

Agricultural expansion and the use of natural resources are encroaching on bat-occupied territories, leading to increases in the interaction between bats, livestock and people. Understanding the changes that affect these populations is critical to addressing the risks, and limiting the exchange, of viruses between species.

The publication is designed for use by epidemiologists, wildlife officials, farmers, livestock veterinarians, zoologists, and any number of different professionals who might come into contact with bats. It was written by veterinarians, wildlife biologists, virologists, and disease experts, and includes field techniques for studying bats and infectious agents that do not cause disease in bats, but which can cause other animals or humans to become sick.

Natural allies in farm production

"Bats really are natural allies to the environment. They pollinate plants, spread seeds, and some species can devour about 25 percent of their body weight in insects. These benefits far outweigh their potential for transmitting disease. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that development, demographics, and consumption of natural resources are bringing people, livestock and bats into closer and more frequent contact with one another. This increases the risk that bats can transmit potential pathogens and associated diseases to other animals and people," said Scott Newman, FAO wildlife veterinary epidemiologist, and co-author of the guide.

In the Philippines, the pollination provided by bats is crucial to maintaining ecosystems like the Subic Bay Forest Watershed Reserve. Government ministries responsible for Health, Agriculture and Wildlife have worked together to protect bat habitats while monitoring them to protect pigs and humans from disease spread.

Disease transmission

The bat manual is part of a broader effort by FAO and its partners to build awareness of the importance of wildlife to agriculture, ecosystems, and animal and human health.

In Malaysia and Bangladesh, fruit bats have been known to transmit Nipah virus, a previously unknown, contagious and deadly disease which was first recorded in pigs and humans in the 1990's. Disease studies showed that bats directly infected pigs in Malaysia, while in Bangladesh, humans picked up the virus primarily by ingesting date-palm sap that had been contaminated by bat excretions.

In Latin America, vampire bat-variant rabies causes a significant number of human deaths each year. In Southeast Asia and Africa, bats are being evaluated for the role they play in Ebola outbreaks.

Fruit bats from the order Pteropodidae are the animal reservoirs for Ebola, which can cause a deadly hemorrhagic disease in humans and other mammals. Outbreaks of Ebola in human populations are relatively rare, but mortality rates can reach up to 90 percent.

"It's important to realize that, while bats may pose a risk to human health, in most cases, disease exposure from bats is usually a result of human activity. This means that we can study bats and learn healthier ways to share our farms, forests and communities with them," Newman added.

"The new guide supports countries in their efforts to improve management of bats' natural habitats while ensuring the health of humans, livestock and other wildlife species."

Balancing act

FAO's new manual looks at these concerns within a One Health approach. One Health is a framework that addresses zoonotic diseases by using a multi-disciplinary perspective to understand and monitor the connections between different species and their agro-ecological habitats, with the aim of protecting the health of all.

"FAO has started using the bat manual for capacity development in keeping with the One Health concept, specifically in the Field Epidemiology Training Programme for Veterinarians (FEPTV). We plan to distribute this manual to our member countries in Eurasia, Africa and the Americas," says Newman.

The new manual will also be used in regional disease-monitoring projects being implemented by FAO and partners in Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The projects will study how the interface between wildlife, livestock and humans can affect the spread of Henipah, Lyssa and Corona viruses - all pathogens capable of causing illness and death in domesticated animals and humans.

Investigating the Role of Bats in Emerging Zoonoses: Balancing Ecology, Conservation and Public Health Interest" was produced, in part, with financial support from the government of Australia, APHCA, and technical and in-kind support from various partners.

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Oil slick threatens popular Sri Lanka tourist resorts

BBC News 24 Aug 12;

Armed forces in Sri Lanka are preparing to clean beaches in case an oil slick from a sunken cargo ship contaminates its western coast, officials said.

The Cypriot-flagged Thermopylae Sierra sank on Thursday in bad weather, releasing an oil slick about 10km (six miles) long.

Some of the oil has already washed up at the resort town of Negombo and is threatening local fisheries.

The vessel had been moored off the west coast for three years over a cargo row.

The Disaster Management Centre said a long stretch of the west coast centred on the capital was at risk.

This includes Mount Lavinia, a popular tourist resort south of the capital, Colombo, and Negombo, the first beach resort opened for tourism in the early 1970s.
Rusting ship

"Much of the furnace oil in the ship had been pumped out, but we were told about 70 tonnes of fuel remained in its tanks and that is causing a slick," the centre's director, Sarath Kumara, told the AFP news agency.

He added that the slick was about 20km off the western coast but could get washed ashore if the heavy monsoon weather intensifies.

"We have arranged small units of volunteers to clean up a coastal stretch of over 50km," Mr Kumara said. "We have not experienced anything like this before."

A thin strip of oil about 200m (655ft) long has already hit Negombo's shoreline, the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo reports.

The rusting vessel was impounded on Sri Lankan court orders after a dispute over its cargo of steel piping.

A recent court order prevented the ship from being towed to the east coast.

'Manageable' oil slick reaches Sri Lanka capital
(AFP) Google News 25 Aug 12;

COLOMBO — An oil slick from a rusting cargo vessel that sank in bad weather reached the coast of Sri Lanka's capital on Saturday and threatened a beach resort popular with foreign tourists, officials said.

Coast conservation officials insisted that the spill -- about 10 kilometres (six miles) long -- was "manageable" and could easily be cleaned up, and there were no immediate signs of it affecting wildlife or fish.

However, a thin layer of oil was seen off the coast of Negombo, navy sources said. One of the first tourist resorts that developed in the early 1970s, Negombo is popular with foreign holiday makers.

"We can see a thin layer of oil off the coast, but it has not reached the coast yet," said the navy official in the resort, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the capital Colombo.

Earlier in the day, a patch of oil reached the coast of Wellawatte, an area of Colombo popular with local swimmers, the coast conservation department said.

"The spill is manageable and the leak from the sunken ship had stopped from last night," Coast Conservation Department chief Anil Premarathne told AFP. "About 10 or 15 people would be enough for this clean-up."

However, the national Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said it had mobilised 500 volunteers, including soldiers and police, in case of serious damage to the coastline.

The rusting 15,000-tonne Thmothrmopolyseara, a Cyprus-flagged carrier, went down late Thursday after remaining anchored outside a Colombo harbour since 2009 following a dispute over its cargo of steel, local officials said.

DMC director Sarath Kumara said much of the 600 tonnes of oil from the ship had been pumped out before it sank.

The vessel had been detained by Sri Lankan courts following litigation over the cargo of steel, valued at over $300 million, according to local media reports. It was not clear who owned the vessel.

Sri Lanka's merchant shipping authority director Ajith Seneviratne said they had been ready to tow the ship away to a salvage yard in the island's east but were prevented by a court order.

Sri Lanka says oil spill 'contained'
(AFP) Google News 26 Aug 12;

COLOMBO — An oil slick from a sunken cargo vessel has been contained and is no longer a threat to beach resorts popular with foreign tourists, Sri Lankan authorities declared on Sunday.

The rusting ship went down in bad weather on Thursday night outside a Colombo harbour and had threatened a 50-kilometre (30-mile) stretch of coastline including resorts at Mount Lavinia and Negombo.

The spill -- which was about 10 kilometres (six miles) long -- had reached the shores of the capital Colombo.

"We have contained the remaining oil slick and chemicals are being used to get rid of it," Coast Conservation Department chief Anil Premarathne told AFP, cautioning: "We would remain vigilant for a few days more."

The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said volunteers, including security personnel, had cleaned up thin layers of furnace oil which washed ashore in several places on Saturday in and around the capital.

"The environmental damage is much less than what was initially feared," DMC director Sarath Kumara told AFP. "The worst is over and the leaks from the sunken ship have stopped."

Foreign holiday makers were seen in the sea at Mount Lavinia and Negombo, just outside the capital, on Sunday. Neither resort had been affected.

The 15,000-tonne Thmothrmopolyseara, a Cyprus-flagged carrier, had been outside the Colombo harbour since 2009 following a dispute over its cargo of steel, local officials said.

The vessel had been detained by Sri Lankan courts following litigation over the cargo valued at over $300 million, according to local media reports.

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