Best of our wild blogs: 20 Oct 12

Strange clams at the Northern Expedition Day 5
from wild shores of singapore

Arrivals of the migrant shorebirds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Lather and buzz
from The annotated budak and Tuned out

Field Assistant Vacancy
from Raffles Museum News

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ACRES to appeal against dolphins being sent to RWS

Alvina Soh Channel NewsAsia 19 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: Animal rights groups in Singapore and the Philippines have appealed to the Philippine court to prevent 25 dolphins from being exported to Singapore's Marine Life Park.

A 72-hour protection order has been lifted, but the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) is still fighting to prevent the export of the dolphins to the marine park in Sentosa.

The temporary environment protection order was issued last week after some animal rights groups in the Philippines filed a civil suit.

The order barred the shipment of dolphins caught in the waters of Solomon Islands to the Marine Life Park.

The court had earlier decided on this on the grounds that doing so would cause irreparable damage to the dolphins, which are currently kept at Ocean Adventure Park in Subic.

ACRES is requesting for the judge who lifted the temporary environment protection order to step down.

Chief executive of ACRES, Louis Ng, said: "We're also going to ask that the judge recuse herself. She stated in the courts that these dolphins are pets. You can't say that these dolphins are pets, because they are wild animals.

"We're hopeful that the courts will review this case, follow the recommendations of the first judge who reviewed the scientific literature available and realise that this trade is unsustainable."

ACRES is also launching a website to build public support for its campaign to send the dolphins back to the Solomon Islands.

The animal rights group has proposed that the dolphins spend about 20 months in Solomon Islands getting used to their natural habitat before they are released into the wild.

In response, Resorts World Sentosa said it has spent "considerable time educating ACRES on facts" about its facility, animal care and intent.

It added that it will spare no effort and time in ensuring that the marine animals get the best care possible.

RWS added, "We urge ACRES to focus on areas where it can constructively contribute to marine conservation."

- CNA/cc

Motion to block export of RWS dolphins to Singapore filed
Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 19 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE - A Motion for Reconsideration has been filed in the Philippines to block the export of 25 wild-caught dolphins by Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to Singapore today, according to the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES).

The motion was filed by the Earth Island Institute and the Philippine Animal Welfare Society.

The parties also requested that the judge who lifted the temporary environment protection order be recused over comments she made that "dolphins are pets".

Chief executive of ACRES Louis Ng spoke to reporters this morning at the launch of ACRES new campaign to stop the import of the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins by RWS.

The website entitled highlights information such as why their capture could lead to the endangerment this rare species of dolphins.

ACRES hopes to rehabilitate the dolphins and eventually release them to their natural habitat in the Solomon Islands.

"If RWS is really committed to marine conservation, this is the right thing to do," said Mr Ng.

Animal rights groups in Philippines resist export of wild dolphins to RWS
David Ee Straits Times 19 Oct 12;

Environmental and animal rights groups in the Philippines are refusing to concede defeat in their fight to prevent 25 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins from being re-exported to the Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).

They plan to file an appeal today for the courts to re-consider their decision not to extend the 72-hour "temporary environmental protection order" granted last Friday, according to local animal rights group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres). The protection order expired on Wednesday, paving the way for the dolphins to leave the Philippines.

Acres executive director Louis Ng was speaking to reporters this morning at the launch of Acres new campaign to draw public attention to the plight of the dolphins.

Its website features a video that highlights the depletion of the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin in the Guadalcanal region of the Solomon Islands. Members of the public can also send personal appeals directly to RWS from the site.

Philippine activists defiant on dolphins
RWS reiterates that import meets regulations; care will be taken of marine animals
David Ee Straits Times 20 Oct 12;

ENVIRONMENTAL and animal rights groups in the Philippines are refusing to concede defeat in their fight to prevent 25 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins from being sent to the Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).

Yesterday, they appealed to the courts there to reconsider the decision not to extend the "temporary environmental protection order" they had secured on Oct 12. The protection order expired on Wednesday, paving the way for the dolphins to leave the Philippines for Singapore.

Their appeal received backing from Singapore animal rights group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), which has opposed RWS' exhibiting the dolphins at the park, which opens in December.

The dolphins, which were originally from the Solomon Islands, will only go on show next year.

Yesterday, Acres executive director Louis Ng contended that RWS' compliance with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) was "flawed".

At a press conference, Acres said that RWS' action had contributed to the depletion of the dolphin population in the Solomon Islands.

It cited a scientific study carried out by the Solomon Islands' government between 2009 and last year which found that 108 dolphins had been exported from the islands since 2003. This was unsustainable, said the report.

It also said that if the population is not to be depleted, no more than one dolphin could be removed from the Guadalcanal area of the islands every five years. This is where RWS' dolphins come from.

RWS imported 27 dolphins between 2008 and 2009. Two died from a bacterial infection while being held in Langkawi, Malaysia. Mr Ng yesterday launched a new Acres campaign to draw public attention to the dolphins.

RWS yesterday declined to say when the dolphins are expected to leave the Philippines. It reiterated that it has fully adhered to Cites regulations, and has spent considerable time educating Acres on facts about its facility, animal care and intent.

"We want to move on to the matters at hand. We urge Acres to focus on areas where it can constructively contribute to marine conservation, rather than engage in online antics to encourage netizens to harass or heckle us and our Facebook fans."

It added that RWS has and will continue to exercise utmost care for all the marine animals at the park. It is also run by experts and marine specialists who are animal lovers themselves.

"They collectively represent over 300 years of experience working in more than 60 reputable zoological facilities globally. Such reassurances have been repeatedly communicated to Acres on numerous occasions."

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City in a garden? Yes, we can...

Straits Times Forum 20 Oct 12;

I THANK Mr Chia Yong Soong ("What works in the forest may not work in a garden"; Tuesday) for his interest in the Bird Ecology Study Group's list of plants and the birds they attract ("Matching trees and birds"; Oct 6).

I would like to reiterate that it is a list compiled from seven years of contributions by birdwatchers interested in bird behaviour. As in any list, it is just a guide that planners need to use with prudence and care. Having said that, let me go into specifics.

The common mahang is a tree of disturbed forests and forest edge, not of the rainforest proper. As such, the birds it attracts need not necessarily be exclusively forest species.

In any case, our extensive park connectors can grow this tree, thus allowing for easy movement of woodland birds into parks that grow the tree.

The tree will also attract urban birds like the yellow-vented bulbul, scarlet-backed flowerpecker and brown-throated sunbird that feed on the nectar and fruits. So there is always the possibility that it will attract more than the 20 species of birds that we document.

Another concern of the writer is the possibility of the tree being used as a roosting site for starlings and mynahs. Birds roost in trees with dense canopies that are grown near food centres and in areas surrounded by tall buildings. Trees in such locations provide some shelter from the weather as well as from predators. So, it is not the species of the tree but where it is grown that attracts roosting birds.

For example, the angsana, a favourite roosting tree along Orchard Road, when grown away from tall buildings, is mostly devoid of roosting birds.

As to the ants scare, the common mahang harbours tiny, harmless ants that live within the hollows of young shoots. These ants mostly emerge when we roughly handle these shoots, and even then they do not swarm over our hands nor drop on to people standing below the tree.

The statement that lizards and butterflies have their own niches and are not readily adapted to an unfamiliar habitat is a fallacy. In the case of native species, given the food source, they will definitely be around. In the case of exotic species, many that arrived became more successful than the local species. An excellent example here is the changeable lizard that is native to countries as far south as the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia.

It was introduced into this country and is currently found all over our urban parks and gardens.

And many of our roadside plants have been introduced from faraway countries and have since adapted to our local conditions and are attracting their complement of local bird and other faunal species.

Singaporeans have, through the years, come to appreciate nature. However, many have yet to have an emotional connect with nature in our Garden City.

There are still people who demand that a tree be cut if its branches grow near their windows for fear of insects moving into their homes.

And I have even met many children who panic when a butterfly flutters near them.

We need to work towards exposing our children, not to mention adults, to the wonders of the biodiversity in our Garden City, otherwise they may not appreciate it when we fully become a City in a Garden.

Wee Yeow Chin (Dr)

Bird Ecology Study Group

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Chinese medicine proves disastrous for manta rays

Sydney Morning Herald 20 Oct 12;

THEY are the gentle giants of the ocean, weighing as much as 1400 kilograms. But an emerging market in Chinese medicine for gill rakers is threatening global populations of giant manta rays.

Now, amid increasing international efforts to curb the decline, the federal government will today protect the species - found predominantly in the tropical waters of northern Australia - under national environment law.

Under the protections, the giant ray will be listed as a migratory species, making it an offence to take, trade, keep, or move the species from Commonwealth waters. Fishers will now also have to report any interactions with a giant manta ray as is the case with other protected species such as dugongs and whale sharks.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said while Australia's populations of giant manta rays were fairly secure, globally the species' numbers have declined 30 per cent. Last year, the giant manta ray was listed as threatened under the international Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature also rates the species as vulnerable to extinction due to overfishing.

''The giant manta ray is a highly migratory species - with some being known to travel more than 1000 kilometres - and threats often arise outside of protected areas,'' Mr Burke said.

''For this reason, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and our national environment law are an excellent way to achieve international co-operation and co-ordination to better protect the species.''

An investigation last year found the main driver of the manta ray's decline is rapidly increasing demand from Chinese and other markets for gill rakers - thin filaments that rays use to filter food from water - to be dried and boiled as medicines.

The group's report found gill rakers were fetching on average $US251 a kilogram in Guangzhou in southern China, where 99 per cent of the world's product is sold. Targeted fishing of rays occurs predominantly in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Peru and China.

The report says local traders are spruiking gill rakers as a way to boost the immune system, while others claim it can treat ailments like chickenpox and even cancer.

Murdoch University manta ray researcher Frazer McGregor said the increasing affluence of the Chinese market was driving demand in animal products and the manta ray had been affected. He said the danger to the species was intensified by its slow rate of reproduction.

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U.S. officials to visit Indonesia for palm oil emissions talks

Michael Taylor and Yayat Supriatna Reuters 19 Oct 12;

JAKARTA | Fri Oct 19, 2012 4:21am EDT

(Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will visit Indonesia next week, officials said on Friday, in what may prove a crucial step in the battle to meet green standards and open up a potentially huge market for the world's top palm oil producer.

Indonesia is seen as a key player in the fight against climate change and is under intense international pressure to curb its rapid deforestation rate and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands.

A recent blow to the Southeast Asian palm oil industry, which supplies more than 90 percent of world supplies of the edible oil, came in late January when it failed to meet greenhouse gas saving standards to qualify for the U.S. renewable fuels program.

The U.S. EPA said palm oil converted into biofuels in Indonesia and Malaysia cut up to 17 percent of climate warming emissions, falling short of a 20 percent requirement to enter the world's largest energy market.

Next week an EPA delegation will visit a palm oil plantation in Riau province, opposite Singapore on Sumatra island, and then meet the Indonesian agriculture minister in Jakarta, Gamal Nasir, director general of plantation at the ministry told Reuters.

"The visit is very important for both the EPA, American people and the Indonesian government and its people," Nasir added. "This is a good step to prove what EPA claims and Indonesia argues.

"We will be open up to them and prove our arguments in the field."

A senior spokeswoman at the EPA said that the group had been invited and would visit Southeast Asia next week, but was unable to give any further details.

Palm industry figures, including the Indonesian Palm Oil Board (IPOB) are due to be part of next week's EPA visit. The IPOB declined to comment.

In the last few years, Indonesia has seen rapid growth in production of palm oil, with output this year expected to be between 23 million and 25 million tonnes, with around 18 million tonnes exported.

In 2012, palm oil estates will sprawl across 8.2 million hectares of Indonesian land, and is expected to rise about 200,000 hectares each year for the next decade.

Green groups have been critical of expansion in the palm sector.

Plantation expansion is projected to pump more than 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2020, an amount greater than all of Canada's current fossil fuel emissions, a study by Yale and Stanford University researchers said last month.

Plantation expansion in Kalimantan alone is projected to contribute 18-22 percent of Indonesia's 2020 CO2-equivalent emissions, the study added.

For their part, Indonesian government officials and palm industry figures have lobbied the U.S. government on the issue.

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed off on a two-year forest moratorium in May last year, although critics say breaches still occur.

Although the U.S. is not a large palm oil market at present, with India, China and Europe the top buyers, this could change in the future, say Indonesia-based traders.

Both Malaysia and Indonesian government officials have agreed to work together to improve the palm industry's record on environmental issues.

(Additional reporting by David Fogarty in Singapore; Reporting by Michael Taylor and Yayat Supriatna; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Shark finning hitting Persian Gulf sharks hard

Michael Casey Associated Press Yahoo News 20 Oct 12;

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Armed with a clip board and wearing bright yellow waders, Rima Jabado looked the part of a government inspector at the Dubai fish market as workers sawed the fins off hundreds of dead sharks from Oman and bagged them for export to Asian restaurants.

But the 33-year-old Lebanese-Canadian doctoral student was not chatting with fisherman on the market's slippery floors and jotting down notes to monitor the lucrative and largely unregulated trade that has decimated stocks of certain sharks, but rather to document what species are being caught in the waters across the Persian Gulf.

"The government will not react unless we give them actual data," said Jabado, as she raced to take genetic samples from the sharks before their carcasses were carted off and fins auctioned to the highest bidder.

"The problem is that I'm the only one doing research. There is not enough being done in the UAE and the region," she said. "We know shark populations are depleting around the world so we are kind of racing against time to see what is going on."

Fishermen across the globe kill as many as 70 million sharks each year for their fins, which can sell for $700 a pound (450 grams), while the soup prized for Chinese banquets and weddings can cost $100 a bowl. The fin trade has devastated several species including hammerheads, oceanic whitetip, blue, threshers and silky and contributed to 181 shark and ray species being listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as threatened with extinction.

The trade is legal, though efforts are being made to ban the practice of "finning" — hacking the fins off of sharks and throwing the rest overboard, often while they are still alive. Four years ago, under international pressure, the UAE joined the growing number of countries banning the practice.

Spain is top among 82 countries that export fins, mostly to Hong Kong and other Asian markets, followed by Singapore and Taiwan, according to Sonja Fordham, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Shark Advocates International. The United Arab Emirates is ranked fourth mostly because it is a regional hub for the trade in sharks coming predominantly from Oman but also from Yemen, Iran and Africa.

The trade thrives in the Persian Gulf, as it does worldwide, shark conservationists said, mainly because there aren't enough people out there like Jabado. The fast-talking Jabado, who favors a white bandanna, black T-shirt and trousers when she is in the field, is the only person in the UAE assessing shark numbers.

Governments in the region have until now largely ignored sharks in favor of more commercial fish species like grouper.

They have almost no data on the numbers and species of sharks that can be found from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Oman, often lack the laws that would curb the trade and don't have the money or the political will to enforce the laws they do have on the books, such as bans on shark fishing.

"In an ideal world what we would have is every population of every shark monitored so we know how many adults there are," said Nick Dulvy, a Canadian researcher who is the co-chair of IUCN's Shark Specialist Group that is tasked with determining which species are endangered.

The challenges were laid bare at a shark conservation workshop in the UAE this month. Governments from across the Persian Gulf sent representatives and all offered testimony of just why their country wasn't doing more to protect sharks.

Kuwait talked of protecting two shark species but admitted enforcement of its ban on shark fishing was weak and that government inspectors and fishermen couldn't even identify them. Saudi Arabia claimed it banned the export of fins in 2008 but had no answers as to why its fins continue to turn up in Hong Kong markets. Oman sent a government team with no experience with sharks while Bahrain and the UAE admitted they lacked sufficient data to determine whether sharks were overfished in their waters.

"Our hands are tied because of insufficient data," Mohammed Tabish, a fisheries specialist with the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, told the conference. "It's all collected in general form and includes no species specific data which makes it difficult to take the necessary actions for particular species."

Yemen and Somalia, whose sharks routinely turn up in Dubai's market, are typical of countries with bigger problems. Both have thriving shark fisheries — Yemen ranks sixth in exporters to Hong Kong and is one of the few countries that consume sharks domestically.

Yemen has no laws protecting sharks while Somalia lacks the means to enforce the laws it has on the books due to a lack of funds, its long-running civil war and fledging government.

"If you go to the Somalia coast at night, you will see thousands of ships fishing illegally, mostly for sharks and lobster," Ahmed Shaikh Mahmoud Osman, wildlife director for Somalia's Ministry of Fisheries and Environment, said of the boats which come primarily from Asian countries. "We need fishing boats to safeguard the coast. We also need renewal of formal laws to stop criminals and greedy business people who come to our coast and smuggle our resources."

Dulvey, Fordham and Jabado encouraged the region's governments to start collecting data and using it to draw up management plans which can include quotas and outright bans on endangered shark species.

Until now, no governments in the Gulf have quotas on shark fishing nor have any national shark conservation plans. The UAE, Bahrain and Qatar do, however, give protection to sawfish — a shark-like ray species that is the most threatened marine species in the world.

Fordham also said Oman and Yemen could join the UAE in requiring that sharks are landed with their fins attached — rather than processed at sea — which helps with enforcement and makes it easier to collect scientific data.

"Overall a lot more needs to be done to insure sustainability of shark population, especially species that are exceptionally vulnerable," Fordham said.

Oman and Yemen have promised to develop shark conservation plans while Oman and Abu Dhabi have started doing stock assessments of several shark species — the first step in developing a management plan.

For the most part, though, the job of data collection is left to Jabado, who for the past two years has visited fish markets across the UAE 180 times, identifying shark species, sex ratio and abundance among other things. From that, she has concluded there are 30 shark species in the waters off the coast of the UAE and 37 coming in from Oman — about two-thirds which are listed by the IUCN as near threatened or endangered including several hammerheads.

She also has interviewed more than 100 fishermen and spent more than 100 hours on boats tagging sharks in the Persian Gulf. She has only caught five sharks herself in that time, confirming what 82 percent of the Emirati fishermen she interviewed have said: Shark numbers are down and those caught are much smaller.

"They say that 15 years ago, you looked at sunset in Dubai and could see fins," Jabado said. "They used to catch monstrous sharks, sharks bigger than a bus. They don't see those sizes anymore."

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Madagascar: Possible Palm Extinction Threatens Livelihoods

AllAfrica 19 Oct 12;

Johannesburg — Eighty-three percent of Madagascar's palm species - which are a vital source of both food and building materials - are threatened by extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) latest Red List of Threatened Species, published on 17 October.

Madagascar hosts 192 species of palms unique to the island. They are used by communities for constructing houses - providing both thatching and timber - as well for crafting everyday utensils and making medicines.

William Baker, chair of the IUCN's palm specialist group and head of palm research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, in Kew, London, told IRIN that palm hearts are a "substantial" source of nutrition throughout the world.

"For people living in remote, rural communities, palm hearts are a highly valued food source - and they are free. I don't know if there is a connection to declining sources of food, but in remote areas with inadequate soils or agricultural practices, palm hearts are an important supplement," he said.

Palm hearts are low in fat, provide fibre, and are a source of protein, potassium, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc.

Habitat loss

"Our perception is that palm utilization is now unsustainable for many species, and this is compounded by ongoing habitat loss due primarily to slash-and-burn agriculture. Whereas once palm exploitation must have been sustainable, the balance has now tipped as pressure increases on a decreasing area of habitat and remaining palms. So we are in a nasty feedback cycle of people threatening palms, and diminishing palms threatening livelihoods," Baker said.

Poverty rates in Madagascar have been on the rise since 2009, when twice-elected president Marc Ravalomanana was deposed by Andry Rajoelina with the backing of the army. More than three quarters of the country's 20 million people now live on less than US$1 a day, according to government figures, up from 68 percent before the coup d'etat. In rural areas, poverty rates are estimated at more than 80 percent.

Threatened and endangered

One species of palm, Ravenea delicatula is considered by IUCN to be "critically endangered". It is "known from just one site, but the site is not protected and it is being threatened by local people clearing the forest to cultivate hill rice, and by miners looking for minerals and gems such as rubies."

The recently identified Tahina Palm (Tahina spectabilis), also known as the Suicide Palm, has joined the threatened species list for the first time, with only 30 known mature palms growing in the wild.

"The majority of Madagascar's palms grow in the island's eastern rain forests, which have already been reduced to less than one quarter of their original size and which continue to disappear," Baker said.

"The figures on Madagascar's palms are truly terrifying, especially as the loss of palms impacts both the unique biodiversity of the island and its people," Jane Smart, IUCN's biodiversity conservation global director, said in statement. "This situation cannot be ignored."

The depletion of Madagascar's palms is "likely to have a significant effect on an ecological network. Degradation of forests by logging and so on is a real problem for palms because they are vulnerable when establishing and most will germinate and mature only under a forest canopy," Baker said.

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Brazil: Saving endangered monkey helps forest

Juliana Barbassa Associated Press Yahoo News 20 Oct 12;

SILVA JARDIM, Brazil (AP) — Three tiny flaming orange monkeys crouched on a tree branch, cocking their heads as if to better hear the high-pitched whistles and yaps that came from deep within the dense green foliage. Then they answered in kind, rending the morning with their sharp calls and cautiously greeting each other in the forest.

That the cries of Brazil's endangered golden lion tamarins should fill the air at all on a recent afternoon was cause for celebration, the result of one of the world's most inspired species restoration efforts. In fact, that campaign has transformed the lush forest where the monkeys live and has become a model widely cited for saving other animals.

"There is no question in my mind that the golden lion tamarin is one of the best examples of international collaboration anywhere in the world," said Russell Mittermeier, president of environmental group Conservation International and chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's group on primates. "I cite it every couple of weeks. This is how you do this kind of thing."

Saving the squirrel-sized monkeys, which sport a lush coat and foot-long tail, became a passion for everyone from international animal aid groups to Brazilian conservationists. It also brought in people living in the area, from well-off landowners to farm workers, who learned how to make a living from growing the trees that the monkeys depend on to survive, researchers said. Its population has grown from just hundreds four decades ago to 1,700 in Rio de Janeiro state.

Now the tamarin is in the running for mascot in Brazil's 2016 Olympics, and the next step to ensuring its survival might be helped along by another Olympic project: the state's promise to plant 24 million trees, enough to absorb the greenhouse gases generated by the vehicle traffic, construction and other activities of the games. That would help further restore the swath of species-rich Atlantic forest that once covered much of Brazil's coast, and ensure the tamarin population has enough room to thrive.

"It's an ambitious goal, and it won't be easy," said Marcia Hirota, of the environmental group the SOS Mata Atlantica Foundation, aimed at restoring the forest. "It's a challenge, but Rio has already cut down on deforestation. With this kind of public policy, Rio can become an example for other states that are in a more critical situation."

For centuries, the little golden monkeys had been exported as pets and as exhibits in zoos around the world, with even Louis XV's chief mistress buying one for the French court. Its popularity became key to its survival: Even as the species faced threats in Brazil, enough monkeys were living abroad in places like in the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo to usher in its rebound. Rio state is the only place in the world where the tamarins live in the wild.

The first push to save the tamarins began in the early 1970s, when a Brazilian researcher found their once-teeming numbers dwindling as cities and farms ate into the forest.

Once the alarm was sounded, researchers in Brazil and abroad began working together on a labor of love that would consume decades. Their first goal: learning how to encourage the monkeys to mate.

The rescuers then turned to their most challenging task — reviving the forest, which covers Brazil's most populated region, and gradually reintroducing the monkey into the wild, explained Mittermeier, who has been part of the effort since he was a student in the early 1970s.

Even in the first few years, the effort broke new ground: The Poco das Antas biological reserve in Rio state, set up to preserve the tamarin's habitat, was the first of its kind in the nation. It provides the most stringent form of protection possible, setting aside public land but closing it off to visitors, to be used only for research and education. When the reserve began in 1974, roughly 100 tamarins lived in the area. Now there are 250.

By 1983, researchers started introducing the golden monkeys into the wild only to watch with heartbreak as the naive zoo-bred animals met tragic deaths because they failed to recognize panthers and other predators or find shelter or food. Nearly three decades later, the population has multiplied in all of Rio state, with each tamarin an expert in identifying the 150 types of fruits, berries, shoots and insects it can survive on, said Andreia Martins, field coordinator for the Golden Lion Tamarin Association. The association is the main Brazilian group working to save the monkeys.

"If you're lost in the forest, follow the tamarin," she said. "They'll always find food."

The next step should be within reach: raising the golden lion tamarin's population to around a sustainable level of 2,000 or more.

The main obstacle, the sheer lack of habitat, is where the Olympics come in.

Brazil's coastal Atlantic forest is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. About 2,200 different birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, including 60 percent of the country's threatened species, make their home in this jungle, one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and also one of the most threatened.

The monkey is an umbrella species whose protection ensures that dozens of other species in the region have a chance of survival, including the endangered maned three-toed sloth and the wooly spider monkey.

People depend on it as well. The Mata Atlantica forest, as it is known in Brazil, encompasses the nation's biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and about 70 percent of the country's population. Seven of Brazil's 10 biggest cities depend on its rivers and springs for water and electricity generation.

That kind of development has reduced the luxuriant jungle to 8 percent of its original 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares). About 80 percent of the land is privately owned, and it's expensive, much of it taken up with ranches and farms.

Conservationists say the monkeys need about 61,800 acres (25,000 hectares) of protected, interconnected forest for the species to thrive on their own. So far, they only have 40 percent of that required land to live on.

Expanding the forest comes with own challenges, first off finding quality seeds from the diversity of plants in the region and then sprouting those seeds into healthy shoots.

The rescuers have recruited people living in the forest, many of them former field workers who used to harvest vegetables, and trained them to recognize native trees, select seeds and monitor their growth, creating seven small-scale nurseries set up by locals.

For Marlene de Oliveira and her sister, the nursery business was a godsend. After decades of back-breaking work harvesting manioc root, they're now the proud owners of a sturdy wood-frame, mesh-walled nursery near the reserve for which their shoots are destined. In their first year, they produced 14,000 shoots of dozens of species.

The county where the de Olveiras work has become the nation's leader in private reserves, with 22. The landowner voluntarily grants the legal protection, but once a plot gets the designation, it's binding: The forest can never be cut down, even if the ground under it is sold.

"I used to think this was a funny idea, planting trees," said de Oliveira, through a wide, gummy grin from which most teeth were missing. "I used to wonder, why not plant food? What good is this to anyone? Now I see it's good for the monkeys, and good for everyone."

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