Best of our wild blogs: 3 Mar 13

Civet shopping at CBD?
from Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Life History of Arhopala major major
from Butterflies of Singapore

Mud lobster sighting and 8 new wild boar piglets at Chek Jawa
from Peiyan.Photography and wild shores of singapore

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CITES meeting to deal with species 'extinction crisis'

Matt McGrath BBC News 2 Mar 13;

New plans to protect elephants, rhinos and other species will be discussed at a critical meeting that begins in Bangkok on Sunday.

Delegates will review the convention on the international trade in endangered species (CITES).

Around 35,000 animals and plants are at present protected by the treaty.

But with a global "extinction crisis" facing many species, this year's meeting is being described as the most critical in its history.

The CITES agreement was signed in Washington in March 1973 in an attempt to regulate the burgeoning trade in wild flora and fauna.

It entered into force in 1975 and experts say that legitimate global imports of wildlife products are now worth more than $300bn (£200bn) a year.

The convention works by licensing commercial trade in species.

The process is meant to be governed by the scientific evidence of threat against an animal or a plant.

However, as CITES consists of government delegations, its decision-making is rooted in the political and economic interests of member countries.

In Bangkok, delegates from some 178 countries will face some critical decisions.
Secret votes

The first one they will have to grapple with is the issue of secret ballots.

Many critics argue that CITES delegations sometimes hide behind the secret ballot process when they want to avoid being seen putting commercial interests ahead of conservation.

Many campaigners are hoping that the meeting will vote to restrict the use of secret voting in order to set a more open tone for the meeting.

"CITES ought to be a transparent body - but secret ballots have become easier to implement at the behest of certain parties who don't want their vote to be known," Mark Jones from Humane Society International told BBC News.

"We are supportive of increased transparency so that parties can be held to account," he added.

Delegates will have to deal with 70 proposals for amending the rules relating to specific species. Elephants will feature heavily as the global demand for ivory is driving poaching to unprecedented levels.

But many campaigners see Thailand as being one of the biggest contributors to the trade, as it is legal there to sell ivory taken from native elephants. Criminals are believed to use this loophole to sell stocks of ivory from African elephants as well.

The Thai government is now under pressure to take action.

"After years of failing to end this unfettered trade, Thailand should grab the spotlight and shut down these markets that are fuelling the poaching of elephants in Africa," said Carlos Drews of environmental group WWF.

Campaign groups are seeking to have sanctions imposed on Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria to try and stem the flow of ivory.
Bear wars

Another issue that is dividing both country delegations and welfare campaigners is the status of polar bears, a situation the BBC reported on last December.

The US is proposing that all trade in bear parts be banned - a move which is stridently opposed by Canada and Russia. Around 400 bears a year are killed for this purpose.

Dan Ashe is the director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and head of the American delegation at CITES.

"While we recognise that the bear-parts trade is not the factor that is driving the polar bears to extinction... we believe that the commercial trade in bear parts should cease."

On rhinos, Kenya is proposing that there should be a moratorium on the export of trophy horns from South Africa and Swaziland, which are currently exempt. Again there are divisions on the best approach.

Some environmentalists believe the trophy hunting has helped the rhino population to recover by bringing in revenue from tourism.

Other researchers are calling for the legalisation of the rhino horn trade as they blame the current ban for increasing the rewards from poaching. Last year 668 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa, and more than 100 have died so far this year.

Several species of shark are also likely to get additional protection this time round according to campaigners, as new reports indicated that over 100 million a year are being killed in commercial fisheries.

One of the most interesting aspects of this meeting is the emerging political alliance between the world's two biggest economies - the US and China are co-sponsoring proposals to restrict trade in Asian turtles and tortoises.

According to Dan Ashe, that is a significant move.

"It is the first time we have ever made a joint proposal with China - that bodes well for a future partnership emerging between US and China."

And as well as trying to save different species, the US will be pushing forward with proposals for passports for musical instruments.

Many are made from rare types of wood that require a permit to go from country to country. It is one proposal that likely to have widespread support.

The meeting runs until 14 March.

How CITES works

The Convention assigns animals and plants to different categories depending on the level of threat they face:

Appendix I covers animals and plants in which all international commercial trade is prohibited except in rare circumstances. In this category are 530 animal species including tigers, white rhinos and gorillas.

Appendix II is much bigger. Trade is allowed in these animals and plants but strictly controlled by permit. Over 4,460 animals and 28,000 plants are in this grouping, including polar bears and some shark species.

Appendix III includes species that are protected within the borders of a member country. There are 290 species in this group, including the two-toed sloth.

Nations to meet on illegal wildlife trade
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 3 Mar 13;

More than 2,000 delegates from 177 countries gather in Bangkok today to decide the fate of dozens of wild species killed for human consumption, including elephants, sharks and polar bears. Ironically, the meeting's host Thailand faces trade sanctions over its failure to curb the ivory trade.

The two-week Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) will see furious arguments and hard bargaining over the numbers of these species that can be killed - or in the case of ivory, over the regulation of the trade.

Some 70 proposals have been tabled, to increase or decrease the level of protection for endangered species.

Enforcement will also be an issue. Ivory is particularly controversial. Cites has come under fire for allowing the one-off sale of African ivory stocks to China in 2008. That triggered an unprecedented slaughter of elephants as poached ivory has been laundered into the legal market. Well over 50,000 elephants have been killed over the last two years - by armed gangs and militias, some operating from helicopters - in the African bush to feed the voracious market. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and its affiliate Traffic which monitors trade and enforcement in endangered species, have called for trade sanctions on China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Thailand, for not taking adequate steps to crack down on the illegal trade.

Traffic's director for South-east Asia William Schaedla wrote in an e-mail: "Thailand has so far done a great job cleaning up illegal ivory in the weeks before international delegations arrive.

"Unfortunately, for more than a decade, Thailand has failed to meet the most basic requirements for tracing and controlling ivory sales."

Ms Mary Rice, an ivory specialist with British-based Environmental Investigation Agency, told The Sunday Times that China, as the biggest end-user of ivory, should be sanctioned.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has said her government will consider a demand to ban the ivory trade altogether.

A similar issue is rhino horn, worth thousands of US dollars per kg because of its supposed medicinal properties. Last year, 668 wild rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in Africa alone - and scores in India and Nepal.

Much of the fighting over how many of a species it is acceptable to kill, or over enforcement, centres on questions of money or culture - or both. And politics is an inevitable third aspect.

The United States, for instance, has proposed raising the level of protection for polar bears; Canada does not agree because native Inuits traditionally hunt polar bears, selling around 400 skins a year.

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Pygmy Elephants Under Threat From Development in Indonesia

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 1 Mar 13;

Nunukan, East Kalimantan. Pygmy elephants, already on the brink of extinction, face further threat, with the development of their habitat in Nunukan given preliminary approval. But the results of an assessment of the project’s impact on the environment may yet bring it to a halt.

The area around Tulin Onsoi may soon be developed as rubber and silk tree plantations after two companies — Borneo Utara Lestari and Intracawood — obtained preliminary permission to develop the area into a forestry plantation (HTI).

Before either company can begin to develop the area, both must first obtain an environmental impact analysis (Amdal) in order to gain final approval.

Wiwin Effendy, coordinator of the East Kalimantan branch of WWF Indonesia, said an analysis conducted by WWF showed that 66 percent of the land proposed for development by Borneo Utara Lestari were areas of elephant habitation, while the entire area proposed by Intracawood was elephant habitation.

Wiwin said the development should not be approved, as it could result in the elephants’ extinction. He also said that approving the HTIs would undermine the government’s commitment to protecting Indonesian elephants, as stipulated under a Forestry Ministry decree.

He said conflicts between elephants and humans in Nunukan had increased since 2005 when several oil palm plantation companies began development in the area. He added that conflicts were likely to increase with further development.

“The issue of an HTI permit in an elephant habitat would bring a negative impact for the local people. Wild elephants would face food scarcity and consequently look for food at people’s homes and this will create conflict,” he warned.

WWF Indonesia has called on the regional government to halt the operation and revoke the permits.

Studies conducted by WWF Indonesia and East Kalimantan BKSDA (Natural Resources Conservation Agency) over the past five years estimated that there were only 20 to 80 pygmy elephants left in the area and that extinction was likely without efforts by the government and other stakeholders to preserve their habitat.

Kalimatan elephants are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as on the brink of extinction.

Ilay, a local cultural figure in Sungai Tulid, criticized the regional government for issuing the permit. He said the Dayak Agabag tribe in Tulin Onsoi called the elephants “grandmother” and considered the animal holy.

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Killer heat waves and floods linked to climate change

Stephen Leahy Science Alert 2 Mar 13;

Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.

Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.

Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere, said lead author Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.

Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics.

When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.

“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”

This unnatural pattern is due to human heating of the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels, according to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, this heating of the atmosphere is wildly uneven. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global temperature rise of 0.8C and that affects the Rossby waves and is slowing the jet stream.

“(Our research) complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study.

IPS previously reported research showing the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice and rapid warming of the region was affecting weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.

The unprecedented expanse of ice-free Arctic Ocean has been absorbing the 24-hour sun over the short polar summer. The heat in the water must be released into the atmosphere if the ice is to re-form in the autumn.

“This is like a new energy source for the atmosphere,” Jennifer Francis, a researcher at Rutgers University, told the Guardian.

Major declines of Arctic summer sea ice as in 2011 and 2007 have been linked to colder winters in the UK and northern Europe, Francis said. The record ice loss in 2012 has been followed by a cold and stormy winter over much of Europe.

“The jet stream is clearly weaker,” said Francis. That means weather systems, be it rain or dry conditions, are slow to move on and last longer. Ultimately, this can result in “blocking” events, such as the conditions that produced the terrible heatwave in western Russia during the summer of 2010 and floods in Pakistan, she said.

Last summer, Greenland experienced a similar blocking anti-cyclone, resulting in a record surface melting of its ice sheet. “Blocks act like a traffic jam, slowing down weather patterns elsewhere,” Francis said.

Scientists are surprised by how extreme these changes have been with a relatively small amount of warming. That has prompted some to speak out politically to urge emission reductions. On Monday, a group of Canadian and U.S. scientists pleaded with the Canadian government to stop the expansion of the Alberta tar sands oil projects and take real steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Canada ranks 58th out of 61 countries according the 2013 Climate Change Performance Index.

“The Canadian government has no credible plan for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, much less reducing them,” Danny Harvey, a University of Toronto climate scientist, said in a statement.

Canada needs “across-the-board deep reductions”, Harvey said. “Continued expansion of the oil sands operations runs counter to this imperative.”

The tar sands, also called oil sands, are responsible for about 300 million tonnes of CO2 a year (production and consumption) — more than most countries. The industry, supported by the Canadian and Alberta governments, hopes to triple this amount.

In recent weeks, they have been heavily lobbying the new Obama administration to get approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. If President Obama approves it, Keystone XL will bring 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil south from Alberta to the U.S. gulf coast every day for many years.

That decision is expected in a few weeks.

Last December, at the U.N. climate conference in Doha, Qatar, Schellnhuber declared: “The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”

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Elephants Vanish in Congo Reserve

Megan Gannon Yahoo News 1 Mar 13;

The Okapi Faunal Reserve was thought to be a safe haven for forest elephants in the otherwise conflict-stricken eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. But a new report finds that unabated poaching has sent the population into serious decline. Just 1,700 elephants are left inside the reserve, and that number could be zero within 10 years, conservationists warn.

A lucrative black-market trade in ivory drives the hunt for elephants in the region. In the last 15 years, 75 percent of the Okapi population, or 5,100 animals, have been killed, and in the last five years, the population has declined 37 percent, according to a Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) survey.

WCS officials say the numbers are surprisingly grim because the Okapi Faunal Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering more than 5,000 square miles (14,000 square km), is considered the best protected conservation area in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Before a civil war broke out in the region in the late 1990s, the WCS counted about 6,800 forest elephants in the reserve. In 2007, after the war officially ended, the WCS's elephant count was down to 2,700.

Since then, park rangers have reduced the number of elephants killed in the reserve each year from 400 to 170, but conservationists warn that instability in the Ituri region could spell more trouble for the animals. In one unsettling incident last June, armed attackers descended on the park headquarters, killing park rangers and villagers and looting the park's offices before setting them ablaze. [Elephant Images: The Biggest Beasts on Land]

The WCS says it's working with the country's wildlife department (the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, or ICCN) to keep the reserve secure.

"We salute our partners at ICCN for their dedication and commitment to protect wildlife under the most difficult circumstances," James Deutsch, executive director for the WCS's African programs, said in a statement. "We remain stalwart in our partnership with them and will continue to work in their country to protect elephants and the landscapes where they live. We urge the international community to support the DRC in the fight against the threat of extinction of the forest elephant."

On the other end of the ivory trade, the WCS says more work is needed to plug the demand for ivory, especially in East Asian countries like China.

The forest elephant is a subspecies of the African elephant, which is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In addition to poaching, the massive mammals are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation.

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Australia's Summer Is Hottest on Record

Stephanie Pappas LiveScience Yahoo News 1 Mar 13;

Australia's summer of 2013 is the hottest on record so far, the country's Bureau of Meteorology announced today (March 1).

The country's average temperature this summer has been 83.5 degrees Fahrenheit (28.6 degrees Celsius), 2 degrees F (1 degree C) above normal. That breaks the previous summer temperature record, set in the summer of 1997 to 1998, by 0.18 degree F (0.1 degree C).

Summertime in the Southern hemisphere runs during wintertime in the Northern hemisphere. Australia defines the season based on the meteorological definition, in which summer begins on Dec. 1 and ends on the last day of February.

A widespread and prolonged heat wave drove temperatures up for three weeks in January, with the hottest temperature during that period peaking at a whopping 121.3 degrees F (49.6 degrees C) in Moomba in South Australia. That heat wave contributed to massive wildfires, with 130 burning in New South Wales alone as of Jan. 8.

Records were also set in Sydney, which hit 114.4 degrees F (45.8 degrees C), and Hobart in Tasmania, which got up to 107.2 degrees F (41.8 degrees C). According to the Bureau, of the 112 locations used for long-term climate monitoring, 14 had their hottest day on record during the summer of 2012-2013. [The Harshest Environments on Earth]

The country also experienced the highest recorded number of consecutive days the average maximum daily temperature exceeded 102. 2 degrees F (39 degrees C). That occurred over seven days between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8, beating out 1973's record of four days.

With all the heat came little moisture. Summer rainfall was at its lowest since 2004-2005, with Victoria recording its driest summer since 1984-1985.

Australia didn't swelter alone. December and January were the hottest on record for land areas in the Southern Hemisphere. Temperatures in Patagonia, Chile, were more than 7.2 degrees F (4 degrees C) above normal in January, while much of southern Africa reported its hottest temperatures on record that month.

Australia's hot summer and dangerous wildfires echo the pain of previous years. In February 2009, a heat wave hit the province of Victoria, bringing scalding temperatures and no moisture for weeks. On Feb. 7, about 400 wildfires burned through Victoria, killing 173 people and earning the date the moniker "Black Saturday."

Meanwhile, other parts of the world have experienced their own miserable summers. The first five months of 2012 were the hottest on record for the contiguous United States, and things only got worse in July, when a heat wave tied or set daily records in every state. In total, the month set 2,755 highest maximum temperatures and 6,171 highest minimum (nighttime) temperatures.

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