Best of our wild blogs: 14 Feb 13

Happy Year of the Snake!
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

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Unique Calls Reveal New Owl Species in Indonesia

Douglas Main Yahoo News 14 Feb 13;

A new species of owl has been found on an Indonesian island, identified by its unique birdsong. It had escaped scientific detection for so long partially because it looks very similar to a related species.

While on a field expedition in 2003, two members of a research team on opposite ends of the Indonesian island of Lombok independently realized that the owl's calls were unique, according to a PLOS ONE study published today (Feb. 13).

That's quite a coincidence, especially considering that ornithologists didn't think Lombok was home to a unique species of owl despite years of study in the region, said George Sangster, study co-author and a researcher with the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

The new species has been dubbed the Rinjani scops owl, with the scientific name Otus jolandae. It is locally common in the foothills of Mount Rinjani, a large volcano on Lombok, living at altitudes up to 4,430 feet (1,350 meters), according to the study.

"I did not expect to find a new species, and certainly not one that is this common," Sangster told OurAmazingPlanet. "It is a wake-up call for ornithologists: there is still much to learn, and new species can reveal themselves even if you are not looking for them, and in places where no one expected to find something new."

To verify that the species was unique, researchers played this new birdsong to a group of Moluccan scops owls, a related and more widespread species. They didn't respond to the calls. In the area where the unfamiliar songs were heard, however, local Lombok owls responded by whistling back and approaching the speaker the songs were played from, according to the study. A closer comparison of the new bird and the related species revealed subtle body differences — Rinjani scops owls have slightly different coloration and are slightly smaller, the study noted. DNA analysis confirmed it was a new species, Sangster said.

Owls are nocturnal and they use songs to communicate and identify one another. When owls' songs are significantly different, it's a good sign that they may be a different species, Sangster said.

Based on field work, studies of museum specimens and previous research, the scientists think this owl is likely unique to Lombok. Residents of nearby islands were unfamiliar with recordings of the owl, the only exception being one man who ended up being an immigrant from Lombok, the study found.

The owls are known to locals as "burung pok," which is "an onomatopoeic name reflecting the song note of the bird, which may be transcribed as 'pok' or 'poook,'" the authors wrote in the study. [Listen to the owl's call.]

While there are more than 250 known species of owls worldwide, there are undoubtedly many species yet to be discovered, according to the study.

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Malaysia: 14 face rap over land clearings

Hariz Mohd New Straits Times 14 Feb 13;

LOJING PROJECT: Developers carry out projects without EIA reports

KUALA LUMPUR: FOURTEEN errant developers have so far been taken to court for flouting environmental rules in Lojing, Kelantan.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said the developers -- nine of whom had carried out projects without submitting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports -- had to be taken to task for damaging the environment.

He said the environment authorities found that massive damage had been done to the rich flora and fauna in the Lojing area because of unlawful land development work.

"Of the 14 cases, nine developers had failed to come up with EIA reports while the other five had EIA reports, but had failed to follow its mitigation plans.

"We are monitoring the situation and will not hesitate to take action against any other developer who fails to adhere to the law," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

Uggah was commenting on rampant land clearing activities in Lojing, which neighbours the famous tourism spot of Cameron Highlands in Pahang.

The minister said approval of any land development project rested with the state government.

He said while projects on land, with an area of 50ha and above, required an EIA, which is enforced by the Environment Department, projects on smaller land areas were under the local authorities.

"EIA serves as a guideline to see the impact of a proposed land development project on the environment, thus enabling the authorities to come up with a mitigation plan.

"This way, we can ensure that the environment is not damaged or polluted. But, for works on areas smaller than 50ha, the local authorities are in charge of monitoring the projects and ensuring that they don't damage the environment."

Last week, the NST reported rampant jungle clearing, hill cutting and river pollution covering massive areas had been carried out. An aerial survey revealed that huge swathes of highland had been stripped bare of trees, with signs of recent clearings.

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Indonesia: Aceh Governor Wants to Allow More Logging in Protected Forests: Report

Hayat Indriyatno Jakarta Globe 13 Feb 13;

Spatial zoning proposals for Aceh indicate that the province’s governor is seeking to open up more than 52,000 hectares of protected forest there to logging, a conservation group warns.

In a report published on Tuesday, the group Greenomics Indonesia found that the spatial plans proposed by Governor Zaini Abdullah would change the status of vast tracts of protected forest to production forest.

“The report reveals that there are five large blocks of [protected] forest — each more than 2,000 hectares in area — that have been identified for the sole purpose of felling so as to meet timber needs of more than 21,000 hectares, equivalent to 30 percent of the total area of Singapore,” the report said.

“In addition the report reveals that there are two blocks of [protected] forest that are also relatively large which have been proposed for conversion into production forest. The principal function of production forest is to produce timber, which is of course done through logging… These two blocks extend to more than 31,000 hectares.”

Satellite image analysis shows that all the affected blocks, spanning the districts of Gayo Lues, Southwest Aceh, Aceh Jaya and Nagan Raya, currently enjoy good forest cover, which Greenomics noted was the obvious reason that they were being targeted for logging.

However, the group also noted that the spatial zoning proposals were subject to approval by the central government, and called on authorities in Jakarta to reject the plans.

“The motivation needs to be quickly nipped in the bud by the Forestry Ministry. Otherwise it could lead to the legalization of destructive practices in the protection forests of Aceh,” the report said.

Elfian Effendi, the Greenomics executive director, contrasted Zaini’s proposals with a speech given by the governor in December in which he stated that the “greediness of humans destroys forests… so it destroys the balance of nature.”

“However, after seeing the proposals sent by the governor of Aceh, I have no option but to conclude that what he said was nothing more than empty rhetoric, rather than a commitment to protecting Aceh’s forests,” Elfian said.

“If the governor is sincere about protecting the province’s forests, then he will withdraw his destructive proposals immediately.”

Greenomics acknowledged that its report only focused on the impact of the spatial planning proposals on large tracts of forest of more than 1,000 hectares. Smaller blocks are also thought to be affected, given that the Aceh legislature proposed last month the conversion of nearly 72,000 hectares of protected forest for logging, plantation and mining concessions.

Aceh’s forests, which make up 55 percent of the province’s land area, are home to critically endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger and Sumatran orangutan, and include large tracts of peatland whose destruction would result in the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

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Indonesia: Carbon Trading Windfall From REDD Still Far Off, Official Says

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 12 Feb 13;

Malinau, East Kalimantan. The Malinau district administration has acknowledged that it will take some time before the economic benefits emerge from a carbon sequestration project that begun there two years ago.

Apriansyah, the head of conservation at the district forestry office, said on Monday that the process of accounting for and trading the carbon sequestered in the Kayan Mentarang National Park was lengthy and very complex.

The administration is working with the German government on a reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) scheme involving 15 villages on the periphery of the park.

“The essence of the project is to empower the local communities so that they are no longer dependent on the forest for their livelihoods, which will prevent deforestation,” Apriansyah said.

“This project will then open the door to the prospect of carbon trading.”

The REDD scheme at Kayan Mentarang is aimed at sequestering 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide over a five-year period.

Apriansyah said that while the payments from selling the carbon would only come several years down the line, local communities were already benefiting from training programs aimed at improving their environmental awareness and stewardship of the forest.

However, environmental groups have criticized the effectiveness of the planned carbon trading scheme in helping slow overall global carbon emissions.

Fathur Roziqin, the deputy director of the East Kalimantan chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said that developing countries like Indonesia with abundant forests stood to benefit very little from the scheme.

“Carbon trading isn’t the best way to tackle the problem of global warming because it encourages the privatization of state forests, which in the long term leads to the marginalization of forest communities,” he said.

He also said it would be difficult to monitor the management of forests used as carbon sinks in the trading scheme, given the inherent lack of transparency in the forestry sector.

Fathur added that it was unfair to prevent the around 5,000 residents practicing subsistence forestry around Kayan Mentarang from making a living simply to offset the emissions of companies and consumers in wealthier countries.

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