Best of our wild blogs: 15 Nov 12

Surprises on Labrador
from wild shores of singapore

Volunteer opportunities as Field Assistants for Honours Field Projects. Dec 2012 – Mar 2013 from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Orthoptera in the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves (Part 2): Suborder Ensifera from Raffles Museum News

Escaped the rain with special finds at Semakau
from wonderful creation

osprey @ SBWR - Nov2012
from sgbeachbum

Plant-Bird Relationship: 12. Agavaceae, Amaranthaceae, Araceae, Araliaceae and Avicenniaceae from Bird Ecology Study Group

Job: P/T Outreach Coordinator, “Mapping Nature, Mapping Memories In Tanglin Halt” (immediate) from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Mangroves under threat from shrimp farms - UN

* Intact mangroves worth more than fish farms
* Mangroves support sealife, slow climate change
* Around a fifth of mangroves lost since 1980
Alister Doyle Reuters 14 Nov 12;

OSLO, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Valuable mangrove forests that protect coastlines, sustain sealife and help slow climate change are being wrecked by the spread of shrimp and fish farms, a U.N.-backed study showed on Wednesday.

About a fifth of mangroves worldwide have been lost since 1980, mostly because of clearance to make way for the farms which often get choked with waste, antibiotics and fertilisers, according to the study.

Intact mangroves were almost always more valuable than shrimp farms, said its authors, who drew on forestry and conservation expertise from several U.N. organisations.

Mangroves - trees and shrubs that grow in salty coastal sediment - can be found in 123 nations in the tropics and sub-tropics and cover an area slightly larger than Nepal. They are nurseries for wild fish stocks, sources of wood for building and serve as buffers to storm surges.

They absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning of fossil fuels, and store it in their roots. And their growth can help counteract the effects of rising sea levels as it elevates coastlines.

"There is an opportunity for many countries to go for restoration of mangroves," Hanneke Van Lavieren, lead author of the study at the U.N. University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNWEH), told Reuters.

"Mangroves can be seen as a key ecosystem for food security in the world," she said.


Many of the shrimp farms are in southeast Asian nations. World production surged to about 2.8 million tonnes in 2008 from about 500,000 two decades earlier, mostly in China, Thailand and Indonesia.

The fish farmers are often encouraged by subsidies to expand, even though other lucrative businesses depend on mangroves for their own survival.

Wild prawns caught off Australia's Northern Territories and Queensland, for instance, rely on mangroves to grow and are one of the country's most valuable fisheries, earning almost $72 million a year, the report said.

Protecting almost 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of mangroves in Vietnam cost about $1 million but saved more than $7 million on dyke maintenance, it said.

Countries such as Australia and Brazil had been good at preserving their mangroves while nations including Indonesia, China and Vietnam had lost big tracts and projects to restore them needed more support.

Zafar Adeel, head of UNWEH, suggested that people could also choose to avoid buying shrimps raised in farms.

"We as consumers internationally play a big role," he said. "For the first time in human history about half the global population is living in coastal areas. The stresses are going to be higher." (Reporting By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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Indonesia: Banks and funds put on notice on Asia Pulp and Paper deforestation

Banks and funds put on notice on Sumatra pulp mill investment risk
WWF 14 Nov 12;

Banks and other financial institutions have been asked for assurances they will not provide investment support to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) plans for additional pulping capacity in already massively deforested Sumatra.

A letter to financial institutions, signed by 60 environmental and social non-governmental organisations, highlights that APP’s record on keeping promises to investors is as bad as its record on keeping to a series of commitments to abandon its assault on native forests housing critically endangered Sumatran tigers and elephants.

“We believe that potential investors should be as concerned with APPs practices as the major companies no longer buying paper and packaging materials from the company,” said WWF International Forest Programme director Rod Taylor.

“If potential reputational risk is not enough, alarm bells should ring over the company’s default on nearly $US14 billion of debt in 2001 and the company’s current conduct in US courts over meeting obligations to some of its former investors.”

APP’s new mill would produce between 1.5 and 2.0 million tonnes per year of bleached hardwood pulp, making it the largest single pulp line in the world. Respected Sumatra NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest has estimated that APP and supplier companies have already pulped more than two million hectares of natural rainforests in Riau province Sumatra alone.

The letter highlights APP's failures to honor environmental covenants given during restructuring of some of its debt and to the continuing loss of major customers (such as Disney, Hasbro, Mattel, Unilever, Nestle, Danone, Xerox, Mondi) as a result of concerns about its deforestation practices, community conflict and business and reputational risks to buyers.

“Indonesia is a potentially promising place to conduct investment in pulp and paper, with its humid climate and year-long sunlight which enables pulp wood to mature much quicker compared to subtropical countries, unfortunately this is being brought into disrepute by the destructive practises of APP which continues to rely on natural forest clearing for its pulp supply,” said WWF Indonesia’s Conservation Director, Nazir Foead.

The letter to banks and other financial institutions

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Vietnam may evict bears from 'protected' park land

Mike Ives Associated Press Google News 14 Nov 12;

TAM DAO, Vietnam (AP) — Bears, some of them blinded or maimed, play behind tall green fences like children at school recess. Rescued from Asia's bear bile trade, they were brought to live in this lush national park, but now they may need saving once more.

The future of the bears' sanctuary has been in doubt since July, when a vice defense minister ordered the nonprofit group operating the $2 million center not to expand further and to find another location. U.S. politicians and officials in other countries are among those urging the military to back off.

The defense official wrote, without elaborating, that the Chat Dau Valley is of strategic military interest, but environmentalists allege that vested interests have urged an eviction. They point to documents showing that the daughter of the park's director is involved in a proposed ecotourism venture that wants to lease park land.

Conservation groups say the dispute in Tam Dao National Park is emblematic of conflicts brewing across Vietnam's protected areas. When developers want the land, they say, environmental safeguards disappear.

Vietnamese laws adhere to international environmental standards, but in practice are "minor considerations" in land-use and infrastructure-planning decisions, the World Bank said in a report last year.

Vietnam is among the most biologically diverse countries on earth, comprising less than 1 percent of the world's land but about 10 percent of its species. But the report noted that its protected areas are suffering from deforestation and habitat loss.

"It doesn't matter if the forests are protected by law or not," said Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director of People and Nature Reconciliation, one of Vietnam's few locally based conservation groups. If officials and community groups are not vocal enough, "then the private sector will try (to get) wealthier and wealthier."

Conservationists cite the example of northern Ba Be National Park, where pollution from ore mining is said to threaten a freshwater lake that has received accolades from an international environmental convention. Scientists and hundreds of residents have protested that the pollution is causing the lake's water quality to deteriorate, state media reported last year. A local Communist Party official also has called for a probe into what the state-run Vietnam News Agency calls "rampant deforestation" by loggers inside the park.

Elsewhere, a proposal to develop two hydropower plants in Cat Tien National Park in the south has triggered opposition because the dams would inundate forests.

"It took generations to establish and maintain our national parks," said former park director Tran Van Thanh, who is calling for the proposal to be scrapped. "It would be a waste if we have to surrender parts of our forests for economic development."

Vietnam first established protected lands in the 1960s, and the network has grown to include 30 national parks and scores of other protected areas spanning forests and wetlands. But experts say local development agendas often trump larger conservation goals as officials sell off protected territory for mines, hydropower dams and infrastructure or real estate projects.

Tensions between conservation and development have only increased over the last decade in Vietnam. Land developers have become wealthy, powerful and ambitious on the back of rapid economic growth. Protected areas are typically under the control of local officials, who receive little funding for conservation and view the areas as potential sources of revenue.

"Vietnam is at a real crossroads where it has to make some hard decisions about whether or not it values biodiversity conservation," said Pamela McElwee, a professor of human ecology at Rutgers University who conducts research in Vietnam's protected areas. "The majority of folks working in the protected-area system are genuinely dedicated ... but they're facing really powerful interests."

Vietnam's poor enforcement of environmental laws is adding to international criticism of its ruling Communist Party, which is castigated for its human rights record and its handling of a sagging economy.

Ten conservation groups, several foreign embassies and U.S. politicians have written to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in recent weeks urging him to not close the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, which lies 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of the capital, Hanoi.

They were alarmed by Vice Defense Minister Do Ba Ty's July letter to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. He directed the center not to expand further and to find an alternate site in partnership with local officials. He wrote that the Chat Dau Valley is of "strategic importance to national defense."

"The expansion of the bear rescue center in this valley will have direct impact on military projects," the letter said, according to a copy given to the Associated Press by the sanctuary's nonprofit operator, Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation. The letter did not explain why the land was of strategic importance.

Seven Democratic U.S. representatives urged Dung to protect the sanctuary in a Nov. 5 letter. "The claim that the land is an area of national defense significance is questionable," they said, noting that the bear center has operated since 2005 and the park has welcomed tourism since 1996. The lead signer was Rep. Sam Farr of California.

Animals Asia says an eviction would leave 104 rescued bears homeless and waste its $2 million investment, which was funded entirely by international foundations, corporations and private donors. It says after an initial trial period, the prime minister in 2008 approved its plan to build facilities on about 11 hectares (27 acres) inside the roughly 39,000-hectare park, and that the center has so far expanded to half those 11 hectares.

The group rescued bears that were being used to produce bear bile, which has historically been used in China and other Asian countries to treat fevers, pain, inflammation and other ailments. Bears are typically captured in forests and transported to farms, where the green bile is sucked from their gall bladders in a painful process that sometimes kills them.

In recent weeks, Animals Asia has waged a public relations campaign alleging park director Do Dinh Tien has a personal stake in an ecotourism venture proposed for the park by the Hanoi company Truong Giang Group.

Animals Asia's Vietnam director, Tuan Bendixsen, said he believes the ecotourism project would be built on the undeveloped half of the bear center's 11 hectares. Documents show the company in March sent a team of surveyors to evaluate that parcel and other park land for development.

"He wants to take half the land, and he can't get it, and that's why he's creating all this trouble for us," Bendixsen said of the park director.

In September 2011, Do Dinh Tien asked the agriculture ministry to approve separate plans by three companies, including Truong Giang, to develop ecotourism in Tam Dao's national park, according to documents given to the AP.

Documents show that days earlier, Truong Giang had asked Tien for permission to lease 48 hectares of land in Tam Dao for an "ecological tourism and entertainment project." Truong Giang's registration papers list Tien's daughter, Do Thi Ngan, as one of its four shareholders.

Ngan and officials at the agriculture and defense ministries declined to comment.

In an interview, Tien declined to discuss his daughter's relationship to the company, saying he has not yet discussed the matter with her. But he insisted he has never lobbied for the company's interests.

"From my perspective, the bear center can go ahead if it follows procedures," Tien said recently at park headquarters. "But I can't speak for the Ministry of Defense."

State media say the agriculture ministry is working with the central government to resolve the dispute. The prime minister has final say over the bear center's fate.

National Assembly Deputy Duong Trung Quoc was quoted by online newspaper Vietnamnet Wednesday as saying evicting the bear center could anger the international community.

"It would do harm to our country's image," he said.

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Expedition to Count Endangered Chinese Porpoises Yahoo News 14 Nov 12;

How many finless porpoises are left in China's Yangtze River? An expedition is under way to count how many of these endangered animals survive in the heavily polluted waterway.

There are less than 1,800 of the animals in the wild, mainly in the central and lower reaches of the 3,915-mile (6,300 kilometers) Yangtze River and two large adjoining lakes, Dongting and Poyang.

Two recent surveys found that populations of the endangered animal, the only freshwater finless porpoise in the world, had plummeted in Dongting Lake. Numbers in Poyang, however, remained relatively stable — 450 porpoises were counted there, the WWF, which is helping to organize the expedition, reported.

Nevertheless, estimates suggest the animal could go extinct within 15 years if major steps aren't taken to address the porpoise's plight. It's most threatened by water pollution, sand dredging, strikes by boat propellers and electro-fishing, a technique that stuns fish — and porpoises — by sending an electric current into the water, according to the WWF.

The expedition comes six years after a similar trek along the Yangtze that failed to find any surviving Baiji dolphins, a close relative of the finless porpoise that was subsequently declared functionally extinct.

"We are not optimistic about the estimated results in the mainstream investigation at this moment," said Wang Ding, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Hydrobiology, in the statement.

"As a symbol of the Yangtze ecosystem, the status of the finless porpoise is a reflection of the health of the Yangtze River," added colleague Wang Kexiong. "It has already lost the Baiji dolphin, and cannot bear losing the Yangtze finless porpoise."

The expedition will cover a 1,055-mile (1,700 km) expanse of the Yangtze. Preliminary results will be announced in mid- to late December, and the complete report will be released in March 2013.

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The beasts from Brazil: country aims to clone endangered species

Scientists set to clone species including jaguars, anteaters and wolves for zoos, but project is likely to concern conservationists
Jonathan Watts and agencies The Guardian 14 Nov 12;

Brazilian scientists are preparing to clone and hybridise jaguars, collared anteaters, maned wolves and other endangered species in an effort to ease pressure on creatures in the wild.

The project is being designed to supply zoos, but it appears likely to generate unease among conservationists who are already concerned that rare animal farming generates market demand and distracts from the more important task of habitat protection.

For the past two years, researchers at the agricultural research agency Embrapa and the Brasilia Zoological Garden have gathered somatic cells and spermatozoa from eight threatened species, including grey brocket deer, bison, coati, black lion tamarins and bush dogs, according to local media.

In the next stage, they plan to apply for permission from the government to conduct experiments on the 420 samples they have collected with the ultimate aim of reproducing the animals.

Cloned, hybridised and captive-bred animals have little or no genetic value and could potentially weaken wild populations if they are mixed.

The scientists behind the project say, however, that their goal is captive breeding and public shows rather than replenishing wild populations.

"The cloning is specifically for zoos. We don't want it to become a conservation technique," Carlos Frederico Martins, a researcher with Embrapa, told the Guardian. "The idea is to test cloning technology so the zoo has its own repository of animals, which will avoid the need to take species from their natural habitat."

Until now, almost all of the samples have come from the Cerrado savannah in Brazil, but researchers say they will build up their collection of genetic stock from a wider area and range of species, including exotic species such as African elephants and giraffes. In addition to cloning, they plan to conduct tests on semen alteration and embryo production.

He previously told the IPS news agency that the first animal to be cloned was likely to be the maned wolf, though there is as yet no timetable.

The agency has experience of cloning since 2001, though until now it has mainly focused on livestock such as cows and horses.

Brazil is not the first country where similar techniques are being considered for endangered animals. In recent years, there have been reports that US scientists are trying to clone South African black-footed cats, Indian researchers are working on wild buffalo, the Chinese on the giant panda and the Japanese on whales and even the long extinct woolly mammoth.

Conservationists have previously criticised captive-breeding programmes – particularly in the case of tigers, Asiatic black bears and giant pandas – for commercialisation, fostering complacency about rare species, undermining habitat protection and providing an excuse for the resumption of banned trades in animal parts.

Additional research by Carolina Massote

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Rat kill in Galapagos Islands targets 180 million

Gonzalo Solano Associated Press Yahoo News 15 Nov 12;

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — The unique bird and reptile species that make the Galapagos Islands a treasure for scientists and tourists must be preserved, Ecuadorean authorities say — and that means the rats must die, hundreds of millions of them.

A helicopter is to begin dropping nearly 22 tons of specially designed poison bait on an island Thursday, launching the second phase of a campaign to clear out by 2020 non-native rodents from the archipelago that helped inspire Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The invasive Norway and black rats, introduced by whalers and buccaneers beginning in the 17th century, feed on the eggs and hatchlings of the islands' native species, which include giant tortoises, lava lizards, snakes, hawks and iguanas. Rats also have depleted plants on which native species feed.

The rats have critically endangered bird species on the 19-island cluster 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Ecuador's coast.

"It's one of the worst problems the Galapagos have. (Rats) reproduce every three months and eat everything," said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a specialist with the Nature Conservancy involved in the Phase II eradication operation on Pinzon island and the islet of Plaza Sur.

Phase I of the anti-rat campaign began in January 2011 on Rabida island and about a dozen islets, which like Pinzon and Plaza Sur are also uninhabited by humans.

The goal is to kill off all nonnative rodents, beginning with the Galapagos' smaller islands, without endangering other wildlife. The islands where humans reside, Isabela and Santa Cruz, will come last.

Previous efforts to eradicate invasive species have removed goats, cats, burros and pigs from various islands.

Pinzon is about seven square miles (1,812 hectares) in area, while Plaza Sur encompasses just 24 acres (9.6 hectares).

"This is a very expensive but totally necessary war," said Gonzalez.

The rat infestation has now reached one per square foot (about 10 per square meter) on Pinzon, where an estimated 180 million rodents reside.

The director of conservation for the Galapagos National Park Service, Danny Rueda, called the raticide the largest ever in South America.

The poisoned bait, developed by Bell Laboratories in the United States, is contained in light blue cubes that attract rats but are repulsive to other inhabitants of the islands. The one-centimeter-square cubes disintegrate in a week or so.

Park official Cristian Sevilla said the poison will be dropped on Pinzon and Plaza Sur through the end of November.

A total of 34 hawks from Pinzon were trapped in order to protect them from eating rodents that consume the poison, Sevilla said. They are to be released in early January.

On Plaza Sur, 40 iguanas were also captured temporarily for their own protection.

Asked whether a large number of decomposing rats would create an environmental problem, Rueda said the poison was specially engineered with a strong anti-coagulant that will make the rats dry up and disintegrate in less than eight days without a stench.

It will help that the average temperature of the islands is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), he added.

The current $1.8 million phase of the project is financed by the national park and nonprofit conservation groups including Island Conservation.

The Galapagos were declared protected as a UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 1978. In 2007, UNESCO declared them at risk due to harm from invasive species, tourism and immigration.

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

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