Best of our wild blogs: 15 Mar 13

How many Oriental Pied Hornbills can Singapore support?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sunday March 17 tour
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Crowd Sourcing: Make no bones about it
from Through the Eyes of the Leopard Cat

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'Less trash, pay less' scheme to be tested

Project involving over 1,400 homes aims to cut waste, boost recycling
Grace Chua Straits Times 15 Mar 13;

THROW away less trash, and get to pay less.

The Government is piloting "save-as-you-reduce" schemes in Punggol, Bartley and Yuhua, to see if they help cut household waste and get residents to recycle more, said Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu yesterday.

"If we find that households are reducing their waste, we can consider passing back some of the savings so there's a direct relationship between their behaviour and their pocket."

The domestic waste generated in Singapore has been rising faster than population growth.

And the overall waste this country produces has grown from 5.97 million tonnes a year since 2008 to 6.9 million tonnes in 2011 - which roughly equals the weight of 275,000 fully loaded garbage trucks.

In the same year, 59 per cent of Singapore's total waste was recycled, but the National Environment Agency hopes this figure will hit 65 per cent by 2020.

There are already schemes to encourage recycling. From last year, new public waste collection contracts must include the supply of one recycling bin for each HDB block. And from next year, large hotels and shopping centres have to report how much waste they generate and what their targets are to reduce and recycle it.

Although few details were available on how the new scheme will be implemented, the Government is hoping the 11-month "save-as-you-reduce" trial, which starts next month for more than 1,400 households, will also make a mark.

HDB residents in the targeted estates pay between $4.82 and $6.08 a month for trash services, while the cost for landed properties ranges between $17 and $20.

Mr Andrew Tan, 29, a civil servant who lives in a house off Braddell Road, said the scheme would make him think twice about throwing things out rather than recycling them.

Punggol HDB resident Daphne Maia Loo, a 29-year-old social media manager, wondered if people would stop reducing their waste if the financial incentive was later removed.

She said: "How are we going to inculcate a habit of reduce, reuse and recycle if we only go for short-term solutions and instant-gratification programmes?"

Ms Fu, who was speaking at the Eco-Products International Fair at Marina Bay Sands' convention centre yesterday, also said that from next year, television sets being sold must bear labels showing how energy-efficient they are. Air-conditioners, refrigerators and clothes dryers already carry such labels.

From next year too, clothes dryers and general lighting must meet minimum energy-efficiency targets.

Save-As-You-Reduce waste disposal pilot to launch in April
Louisa Tang Today Online 15 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to encourage recycling and reduce waste, the Government is currently exploring the feasibility of charging households based on how much waste they dispose of.

Speaking at the Eco-products International Fair yesterday, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said a Save-As-You-Reduce pilot will be carried out with selected households in the Punggol and Bartley areas, and at the first HDB Greenprint precinct at Yuhua.

A usage-based pricing waste disposal system will allow households to “directly reap the benefits of reducing waste”, said Ms Fu, who also revealed that the Government would be extending water and energy-efficiency labelling to more appliances to help households save on utility bills.

Presently, occupants of flats, landed residential properties and hawker/market stalls pay a flat monthly refuse collection fee, regardless of their waste disposal habits. Only trade premises are levied fees based on their volume of waste disposal.

Besides enhancing the recycling infrastructure, such as with more recycling bins, Ms Fu said “it’s important for the consumers to see how the behaviour affects them personally” by providing incentives.

Countries like Japan and the United States already charge households based on the volume or weight of waste disposed. The pilot will begin in April and end in February next year, during which its effects on waste disposal patterns will be monitored.

Meanwhile, the Government is tweaking the Mandatory Energy Labelling Scheme (MELS), Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) and Mandatory Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (MWELS). Changes include adding television to the MELS list from next year, while the National Environment Agency will tighten MEPS standards for air conditioners and refrigerators this September. Louisa Tang

Energy efficiency labelling to be extended to more appliances
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 14 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE : The government is extending water and energy efficiency labelling to more appliances, and is looking into more mandatory efficiency standards for them.

Grace Fu, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said: "It is important for us to first of all give our consumers the necessary information about how energy-efficient products can help them to save energy costs in the long run.

"At the same time, by regulating the type of product that is being sold, we hope that we can bring in more energy-efficient products so that it will bring down the costs for consumers."

Ms Fu was speaking at the Eco-products International Fair on Thursday.

From September, air conditioners and refrigerators sold in Singapore will have to meet stricter energy efficiency standards.

From next year, television sets will come with labels showing how energy-efficient they are, while clothes dryers and lighting must meet performance standards.

Washing machines will also have to meet a minimum water efficiency standard of one tick from April next year.

This will help consumers and businesses make informed choices and enjoy cost-savings from energy and water consumption over time.

Households will be encouraged to recycle, with more bins and collections.

The government is also considering a usage-based pricing waste disposal system.

"Save-As-You-Reduce" pilot projects will be conducted in the Punggol and Bartley areas.

They will involve a small number of HDB blocks, condominiums and landed properties, as well as the first HDB Greenprint precinct in Yuhua.

During the pilot projects, residents will be updated on how much they have recycled and thrown away.

- CNA/ms

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Turtle shell smuggler jailed

Tham Yuen-c Straits Times 15 Mar 13;

A WOMAN from Seychelles was jailed for three months yesterday for trying to smuggle 60kg worth of shells harvested from endangered Hawksbill sea turtles into Singapore.

Barne Florence Flossy Beryl, 48, who had pleaded guilty, came to Singapore with her son about two weeks ago with two suitcases packed full of the shells. They are commonly used in making jewellery and household items like trays, as well as medicine.

The shells, estimated to be worth $10,000, were discovered by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers at Changi Airport, who found the "dense items" packed inside the bags rather unusual.

When the bags were opened, the officers found that they were stuffed with the shells.

Beryl told the officers she had been asked to carry them by a person in Seychelles named "Michel", who also told her that a "Mr Choo" from Singapore would arrange to pick up the goods from her.

Experts from Wildlife Reserves Singapore later ascertained that the shells were from Hawksbill sea turtles, found only in the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

The species' population has fallen by about 80 per cent worldwide in the last 10 years, landing it in an international convention that bans trade and the over-exploitation of certain animals and plants.

Since Singapore recognises the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, by smuggling the shells into Singapore, Beryl contravened the country's Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act.

In pushing for a deterrent sentence, the prosecuting officer submitted that some 60 turtles would have been killed to yield the "staggering" amount of shells, which are known for their beauty. Not only that, but the shells had also been reduced to their scutes - hard, keratin layers - to evade detection. Foil was also used to line the bags.

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Website to help neighbours share household items

Founder hopes the lending and borrowing will help to rekindle kampung spirit
Sue-ann Tan And Cheng Jingjie Straits Times 15 Mar 13;

A CASUAL chat which resulted in Mr Moh Hon Meng inviting his neighbour round to use his sewing machine has led to an idea which could see many more Singaporeans sharing their resources.

The website goes live today, providing an online platform for residents of condominiums and Housing Board flats to help one another out.

Residents who live in blocks within 200m of one another are grouped together with other households that set up an online inventory. Users who sign up to the site will be able to approach those who have something they need to borrow.

Mr Moh, 44, the chief executive officer of Estatebuzz, a company that helps to set up social websites, received a $20,000 grant from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre's Jump Start Fund. The centre's chief executive officer Laurence Lien said: "We support this initiative because it promotes neighbourly cooperation and interdependence. Ultimately, we hope to create a giving nation where individuals take ownership to do more good within the communities."

Estatebuzz's first website was, which has attracted 11,000 users since it was set up a year ago. Through, Mr Moh hopes to rekindle the "kampung spirit" among Singaporeans.

Invoking the Chinese proverb that close neighbours are better than distant relatives, he said: "Sometimes even though we are willing to help, we don't know what our neighbours need. This website provides the communication tool."

He hopes that through the ripple effect of sharing, residents can create a support network and widen their social circles.

Mr Moh acknowledged that the system does have some potential problems - such as people who damage or do not return items - but he said that residents will have to settle the issues on their own, "as neighbours do".

The website suggests a list of 24 items that neighbours can share, such as sports equipment, household appliances, books and DVDs. There are also six services proposed for sharing, such as help with Internet issues and changing light bulbs.

Another service, "pool-to-buy", has exclusive deals that allow households in need of the same services or goods to buy in bulk to cut costs.

Mr Moh hopes that by the end of the year, 160 blocks will have five to six households each that have managed to pool the list of suggested items and services and register them on the website. He has also planned a "food pooling" party in June.

Residents expressed mixed opinions on the sharing initiative.

Student Liew Shuo Ren, 19, who lives in Bukit Batok, said: "It takes more to promote neighbourliness. We're more self-sufficient and less sociable than in the past."

Mr Wong Zhi Rong, 27, a security officer from Bishan, said: "I will try it. It will allow us to make more friends. There will be more communication and it will be good for everyone."

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CITES: ‘Gang of eight’ on ivory probation and landmark shark ban upheld

Matt McGrath BBC News 14 Mar 13;

The worst offending countries in the ivory trade have been given a strict deadline to reduce their involvement or face sanctions.

The decision taken at the final meeting of the Cites conference in Bangkok is meant to compel countries like China and Thailand to tougher action.

But some campaigners say Cites is failing to protect elephants and want more urgent action.

Data indicates that 17,000 elephants were killed by poachers in 2011.

This is the most up-to-date information available for areas monitored by Cites.

In its final session here in Bangkok, delegates approved a decision to demand a clear set of targets for reducing the trade in ivory from the countries deemed the worst offenders.

The “gang of eight” countries include the supply states, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, plus the consumer states of China and Thailand. The group also includes three countries - Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines - which are important in the transit of ivory.
Resource issue

The meeting heard that six of the eight countries had now come up with action plans.

The standing committee of Cites also agreed that if the actions described in those plans were not completed then sanctions against the offending country, or countries, could be taken from July 2014.

Secretary General of Cites, John Scanlon, explained that the deadline was real.

“The eight states are prepared to do more and be measured against that," he said. "There is also a recognition that a failure to take action, [may see] the standing committee consider compliance measures. And the ultimate sanction under our convention is a trade suspension."

But the lumping together of the eight countries as worst offenders has upset several of the countries.

Speaking in the final session, Patrick Omondi, the spokesman for Kenya’s delegation, drew a major distinction between the actions being taken by source and consumer countries.

“The demand reductions strategies (in Thailand and China) are totally different from what we are supposed to be doing. Ours depend on resources.”

If you give me screens to screen tonnes of containers we’ll screen all containers passing through Mombasa airport. If you give me 50 more sniffer dogs, we’ll be sniffing every animal part that passes through,” he added.

Thailand’s legal domestic market has been highlighted at this meeting as being a particular source of concern. It is believed that criminal gangs take advantage of this loophole to launder ivory from African elephants into Asia.

At the start of the meeting, the Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra accepted that her country needed to change its laws.
'Trinket choice'

The conference also discussed other measures in the fight against elephant poaching.

The delegates decided to require countries that make seizures of ivory to send samples for DNA analysis to established facilities.

They also asked countries with stockpiles of ivory to give up-to-date information on the scale of these holdings. Many experts fear that ivory from these stockpiles is being diverted into the markets.

Jason Bell from the International Fund for Animal Welfare agreed that these steps would help.

“These developments will not stop the current poaching crisis that is killing up to 25,000 elephants per year, but they will help and they should save some elephants,” he said.

But many campaigners were unimpressed by the Cites stance. A group of 10 conservation and welfare organisations issued a statement saying they were outraged by what they term as “the failure of Cites to stop the poaching”. They want a much tougher approach taken, especially with respect to China.

“China could end the killing by immediately closing its domestic ivory markets and severely punishing citizens engaged in illegal ivory trade," said Steve Itela, director of Youth for Conservation.

“But it chooses ivory trinkets for a luxury market over live elephants,” he added.

Landmark shark ban upheld at conservation meeting
Matt McGrath BBC News 14 Mar 13;

Pro-shark fishing nations have narrowly failed to overturn a landmark protection deal struck at the Cites conservation conference in Bangkok.

Japan and China tried to block trade regulations on three critically endangered shark species by re-opening the debate in the final session.

But delegates refused the request by a wafer-thin majority and the shark ban was upheld.

The decision is being seen as a landmark win for animal conservation.

Campaigners say it is a truly historic day for the species, in which science triumphed over politics.

On Monday, the decision to increase protection for oceanic whitetips, porbeagle and hammerhead sharks had only scraped past the two-thirds majorities required by a handful of votes.

Campaigners had been extremely worried that China and Japan, the main opponents of the measures, would be able to muster the one-third support needed to re-open the debate and block the ban.

In a tense session here in the conference centre, they failed by just over 1%.
'Major step'

UK environment minister David Heath, who had just arrived in Bangkok, told BBC News that this was a great day for the Convention.

"I’m absolutely delighted. I think this is a major step forward today. What we saw was member states across the board say 'we are not going to be diverted from our path'," he said.

The proposals will not ban the fishing of these sharks but it will mean that for the first time, the international trade in them will be regulated.

Similar attempts at previous meetings of Cites had ended in failure. What seems to have made the difference here in Bangkok was the unity of Latin American nations, who all stood behind the proposals.

Hesiquio Benitez from the Mexican delegation told BBC News that this decision was good for sharks and for those communities that make their living from the sea.

"It's important to know that this is not prohibiting trade for domestic markets, it is not against the fisheries communities. It is to have more control, to have better assessments in the populations," he said.

Campaigners who had worked for decades to get these species listed in Appendix II of Cites said it was a landmark day.

The Appendix lists species which may become threatened with extinction unless trade is closely controlled.

"This is an historic day for marine conservation," said Glenn Sant from Traffic International.

"Shark populations are in freefall, but have been thrown a lifeline today - Cites has finally listened to the scientists," he said.

Sharks, rhinos and elephants among wildlife trade summit winners
IUCN 14 Mar 13;

A historic vote to improve the sustainability of the international trade of eight species of sharks and rays that are listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is among the key decisions taken at the CITES wildlife trade summit closing today in Bangkok.

Other decisions taken at the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) include strengthening measures to reduce poaching and illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, which have increased dramatically in recent years.

“The decisions taken at CITES will help secure the survival of many threatened species in the wild,” says IUCN Director General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “We are delighted to see that the scientific expertise on the biology, conservation and trade of species provided to the Convention by IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and TRAFFIC was key in supporting evidence-based decision making at the Bangkok meeting.”

The conference saw a record number of countries vote to regulate the international trade in the Oceanic Whitetip Shark, three hammerhead species, the Porbeagle shark and the two existing species of manta rays. Parties also voted to ban the international commercial trade in the Critically Endangered Freshwater Sawfish.

The rising demand for shark fins, shark meat, gill plates, and aquarium animals is seriously threatening the survival of these species, according to IUCN. Up to 1.2 million Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, which are fished for their large and distinctive fins, pass through the markets of Southeast Asia every year and over 4,000 manta rays are harpooned for their gills.

“This is a historic step towards better protection of these marine species,” says Nick Dulvy, Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Shark Specialist Group. “Now, after nearly two decades of slow and fragmentary progress, Parties agreed that CITES can complement existing national fisheries measures to ensure that global trade is sustainable and legal.”

To tackle rising levels of poaching of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and illegal ivory trade, Parties agreed on improved measures for the regulation of the global illegal ivory trade, including the development of country-specific actions. Support was also re-affirmed for the global monitoring systems that underpin decision-making under the Convention, as well as the African Elephant Action Plan.

Conservation of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) was also addressed, including greater recognition of the illegal trade in live elephants and advancing the development of an Asian Elephant Conservation Strategy with all Asian elephant range states by November 2013.

The conference identified significant range, transit and consumer states most affected by illegal rhino horn trade as well as a process of reporting back on specific urgent actions to be taken by those countries.

According to the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, poaching of African rhinos increased by 43% between 2011 and 2012 and illegal rhino horn trade continues to pose a serious threat to rhinos worldwide.

Delegates in Bangkok also agreed on tighter controls of international trade in timber species in Madagascar, such as rosewood (Dalbergia spp.) and ebony (Disopyros spp.) and adopted measures to reduce the impact of trade on some species of tortoise and freshwater turtles to increase their prospects for survival.

Other decisions taken at the meeting include actions relating to a number of crocodile and snake species, a renewed focus on monitoring of the trade in pangolins and continued commitment to sustainably manage the Humphead Wrasse fishery – an Endangered, coral-dwelling species that was one of the first commercially fished species to be addressed under CITES.

“Some of the decisions made in this meeting will be challenging to implement,” says Richard Jenkins, UK Manager of IUCN’s Global Species Programme. “However, there is real hope now that international trade in sharks and shark products, as well as the other species addressed here, will become more sustainable and their conservation status subsequently improved.”

Governments start to rein in ivory and rhino horn trade, give sharks and timbers better protection at wildlife trade meeting
WWF 14 Mar 13;

Bangkok, Thailand - A critical wildlife trade meeting closed Thursday with decisions from world governments to regulate the international trade in several species of sharks and timber, and to start taking action against countries doing little or nothing to stop the illegal ivory and rhino horn trades.

Countries, on the final day of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), capped the historic two-week meeting by deciding for the first time to initiate a process requiring countries most implicated in illicit ivory trade to clamp down on smuggling.

Governments mandated China, Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Uganda, Tanzania and Viet Nam – the countries of highest concern in terms of their failure to clamp down on large-scale illegal ivory trade - to submit time-bound plans to deal with the problem in two months, and make progress before the next CITES meeting in summer of 2014.

Under CITES rules, failure by those countries to take action could lead to a compliance process potentially resulting in sanctions being initiated. The treaty allows CITES to issue a recommendation that governments taking part in the treaty stop trading with non-compliant countries in the 35,000 species covered under the convention, from orchids to crocodile skins.

“After years of inaction, governments today put those countries failing to regulate the ivory trade on watch, a move that will help stem the unfettered slaughter of thousands of African elephants,” said Carlos Drews, WWF’s head of delegation at CITES. “The gains made to better protect species here in Bangkok are a major milestone.”

“But the fight to stop wildlife crime is not over,” Drews said. “These countries will now be held accountable to these pledges, and must step up the urgency in dealing with the global poaching crisis that is ravaging our wildlife.”

The decisions to better regulate the ivory trade this week came after Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on the opening day of the meeting announced she would shut down her country’s ivory markets. The prime minister’s pledge came after more than 1.5 million people signed petitions by WWF, Avaaz, and actor and conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio asking her to end the trading of ivory in Thailand.

Governments also extended better protection to threatened rhinos by pledging to work against organized crime syndicates that are smuggling rhino horn through the black market by increasing penalties. In addition, countries adopted a plan to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products like rhino horn, which is believed wrongly to be a miracle cure in Viet Nam.

Nearly 700 South African rhinos were killed by poachers last year, and nearly 150 have died thus far in 2013. Up to 30,000 elephants are lost to poaching every year.

Governments also reaffirmed the stronger protections for three species of hammerhead sharks, in addition to porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetips, and two species of manta rays. The sharks and manta rays were listed on CITES Appendix II, seeking to regulate their international trade at sustainable levels.

“This is an historic moment, where science has prevailed over politics, as sharks and manta rays are being obliterated from our oceans,” Drews said. “This decision will put a major dent in the uncontrolled trade in shark meat and fins, which is rapidly destroying populations of these precious animals to feed the growing demand for luxury goods.”

“These timely decisions to have trade in sharks and manta rays regulated by CITES show that governments can muster the political will to keep our oceans healthy, securing food and other benefits for generations to come – and we hope to see similar action in the future to protect other commercially exploited and threatened marine species, both at the national and international level,” Drews said.

Negotiators also voted to ramp up trade regulations for several species of rosewood and ebony, which have been subjects of dangerous levels of illegal logging leading to deforestation, especially in Madagascar.

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Mediterranean and Black Sea sharks risk extinction

FAO 14 Mar 13;

14 March 2013, Rome - Shark populations in the Mediterranean and Black Sea have dropped dramatically over the last two centuries and now risk extinction, with serious implications for the region's entire marine ecosystem and food chains, according to a new FAO study.

"Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea have declined by more than 97 percent in number and ‘catch weight' over the last 200 years. They risk extinction if current fishing pressure continues," the study found.

In the Black Sea, although information is scarce, catches of the main shark species have also declined to about half of catches in the early 1990s.

"This loss of top predators could hold serious implications for the entire marine ecosystem, greatly affecting food webs throughout this region," it added.

The study, Elasmobranchs of the Mediterranean and Black Sea: Status, Ecology and Biology, was undertaken by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, one of several FAO regional bodies working in the fisheries sector.

Critically endangered

It found that cartilaginous fish species, such as sharks and rays, "are by far the most endangered group of marine fish in the Mediterranean and Black sea where 85 species are known to occur. Of 71 species assessed in the Mediterranean Sea in 2007, 30 (42 percent) were found to be threatened, including 13 percent critically endangered, 11 percent endangered and 13 percent vulnerable. Another 18 percent were categorized as near-threatened.

Cartilaginous fish have skeletons made of cartilage, rather than bones. Within that group, sharks, rays and skates are scientifically termed Elasmobranchs. Their biological characteristics, including low fecundity, late maturity and slow growth make them more vulnerable than bony fish, as their regeneration rates are slower.

Issues such as "overfishing, wide use of non-selective fishing practices and habitat degradation" are therefore affecting these species more than others.

In general sharks and rays have not been deliberately targeted in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, but caught accidentally. Annual aggregated reported landings in the Mediterranean and Black Sea currently amount to some 7 000 tonnes, compared to 25 000 tonnes in 1985 - an indication of the severity of their decline.

At the same time, however fishing activities targeting sharks are intensifying due to rapidly increasing demand for shark fins, meat and cartilage.

Habitat disturbance

This is compounded by extensive damage to, or disturbance of, their habitats, caused by shipping, underwater construction and mining or by chemical, sound and electromagnetic contamination.

Among the most recent measures adopted by the Commission to protect sharks and rays is the prohibition of ‘finning' (removal of fins at sea and discarding of carcass) and the reduction of trawl fishing within 3 nautical miles off the coast to enhance protection of coastal sharks.

The Commission has also recommended Mediterranean and Black Sea countries to invest in scientific research programmes aimed at identifying potential nursery areas and to consider time and area closures to protect juveniles of sharks and rays from fishing activities.

Other initiatives undertaken by the Commission have included the organization of several meetings and courses aimed at better understanding these species and their habitats and creating a background of Regional knowledge to guide GFCM Members in developing national plans to protect these key species.

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Florida rescuers struggle to save manatees hit by deadly algae

Saundra Amrhein PlanetArk 15 Mar 13;

Virginia Edmonds, standing in shallow water, used her legs to slowly nudge an ailing young manatee to one side of a treatment pool. A half dozen other female members of a manatee rehabilitation team hovered close by - one with a syringe - waiting for the signal.

"OK!" Edmonds called, as the others jumped in and threw a mat over the manatee to try and hold it still.

The 545-pound (247-kg) mammal bucked, thrashed, rolled and tossed the women off before they could inject an antibiotic; just one minor challenge in an effort to rescue and treat members of this endangered species that are dying in record numbers from an algae bloom.

The so-called Red Tide algae bloom has killed a total of 181 manatees so far this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

That figure already surpasses the highest number of Red Tide manatee deaths on record - 151 in 1996 - and experts expect the number to keep rising through the spring.

"We'll probably have Red Tide victims several more months," said Dr. Larry Killmar, head of animal science and conservation at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, which is home to the manatee rehab team.

So far 12 rescued manatees have been brought in for treatment from Red Tide poisoning.

"We're not even getting a chance to work on many of them," Killmar said of the large number of deaths. "If we can get them early enough, we can save them."


The problem, Killmar and other experts note, was Florida's warm winter, which appears to have sparked an earlier-than- normal algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico along a 70-mile (112-km) swath of southwest Florida's coast, home to a large share of the state's estimated 5,000 manatees.

The naturally occurring algae that blooms into Red Tide carries toxins that are usually inhaled by manatees when they come up for air, typically every 20 minutes. But now they animals are also ingesting the toxins when they eat, after the Red Tide saturated sea grasses the manatees graze on, Killmar said.

The toxins spark seizures and paralyze the manatees, which struggle to breathe or surface for air - causing them to drown.

Most of the victims have been found in coastal rivers in the area of Fort Myers.

"Most are passed out when they come in," said Edmonds, the animal care manager of Florida mammals at Lowry Park Zoo. After they are brought in by a rescue team from the wildlife conservation commission, the manatees immediately receive an injection of the anti-toxin atropine and the first of three possible antibiotic injections.

For the past few weeks, staff members in the zoo's manatee hospital stood in shallow pool waters around the clock to help keep the manatees' heads above water.

"One woke up in 15 minutes," Edmonds said. Others take hours, possibly depending on the length of time they were exposed to Red Tide.

To make room for more critical care patients, two recovered manatees were sent to Sea World last week and three other Red Tide survivors are headed to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park this week.

The animals cannot be released back into the wild until the Red Tide dissipates because they will migrate back to the same area and become sick once again.

Meanwhile, the others will stay at the zoo's manatee hospital with several other resident patients recovering from a mixture of ailments, including boat strikes, which are one of the biggest killers of manatees.


They manatees will be monitored and continue to get follow-up antibiotic injections like the one Edmonds and her team were trying to administer to a feisty 2-year-old male manatee on Wednesday.

About 20 zoo spectators had gathered to watch the unexpected display, holding up cameras and placing toddlers on their shoulders to see.

"I want to help," 9-year-old Ben Arnett of Englewood, Florida, whispered to his brother, 11-year-old Josh, an aspiring marine biologist.

Normally it is against state law to touch, chase, harass and - in one recent notorious case that unleashed public outrage and brought criminal charges - to ride manatees. But now fast-thinking residents are playing a critical role in saving them - holding their heads above the water until rescuers arrive.

The state released a hotline number for residents to call if they see a distressed manatee. "If they didn't have people in the public trying to help," said Lee Ann Rottman, the zoo's animal curator, "those manatees wouldn't make it."

(Editing by David Adams, Eric Walsh and Dan Grebler)

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Southern California coast sees deluge of sick sea lion pups

Dana Feldman PlanetArk 15 Mar 13;

Sick and malnourished sea lion pups are stranding themselves on Southern California beaches in some of the largest numbers seen in over a decade, perplexing scientists and leading one care facility to declare itself near capacity.

Officials at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, California, have said they are in emergency mode.

The last time they saw such an onslaught of the mammal pups this early in the year was 1998, when an "El Nino" weather pattern warmed the waters off the California coast.

Fish migrated away from shore, which forced adult sea lions to swim farther to chase them and made it harder for mother sea lions to care for their young.

Animal rescuers believe adult sea lions are again foraging deeper into the ocean this year, but the reasons are unclear. What has been evident is the poor health of the many sea lion pups stranding themselves on beaches.

"As of a month ago, there were high numbers but in a less critical state - now we have high numbers in a critical state," Keith Matassa, executive director of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, told Reuters.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center, located about 45 miles south of Los Angeles, took in 12 sea lion pups on Saturday, which was the largest number of admissions in a single day in the center's 42-year history.

Officials at the facility, the only one of its kind in Orange County, said they were caring for over 90 sea lions on Wednesday. "We're not at max capacity but we're reaching a critical state," Matassa said.

Pacific Marine Mammal Center's busy season is normally from April through August, which coincides with when most of the mammals are born. Last year in March, the facility was caring for only 10 sea lions, which was an average number.

Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in Los Angeles also has seen many sea lion pups in need of care and is housing over 100 of the mammals, said director David Bard.

Christine Sephenson, 24, and her friend Raeann Rodriguez, 30, were walking along the sand in Laguna Beach on Wednesday when they almost tripped over a sick pup and called the center to have it picked up.

"He had wounds all over and was coughing and could barely open his eyes," Stephenson said. "You could see his ribs, he was crying."

Back at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, several emaciated pups, with visible rib cages, lay in bundles in temperature-controlled rooms as veterinarians cared for them.

When the pups first arrive, they are put on a formula that includes dehydration remedy Pedialyte and sweetener Karo syrup. As the mammals get more healthy, fish is blended into their diet. It takes two to four months for the pups to get well.

"We're a hospital so not all patients will make it through," Matassa said.

A necropsy is performed on any animal that does not survive, as part of the effort to understand what is ailing the pups this year. "Even in death they can give us a lot of answers as to what's going on," Matassa said.

Spike in Sick Sea Lions Along Calif. Coast Puzzles Scientists
Megan Gannon Yahoo News 4 Apr 13;

Sickly, emaciated sea lion pups have been turning up on California's coastline in unusually high numbers since January — with live strandings nearly three times higher than the historical average.

Officials say the strandings have intensified this month, and they're starting to investigate the possible causes, while marine mammal rehabilitation centers in the area have been overwhelmed with starving, hypothermic and dehydrated pups.

The problem is most pronounced in Los Angeles County, where 395 sea lion strandings have been reported this year as of March 24, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During the same period in 2012, just 36 strandings were reported.

Stranding rates are also high in Orange County, where 189 sickly sea lions have come ashore, compared with 20 last year. And in San Diego County, strandings stood at 214, compared with 32 last year.

Last week, NOAA declared an "unusual mortality event," from January to the present and has launched an investigation, which will involve testing blood and tissue samples from both live and dead sea lion pups for bacterial, viral and other infectious agents as well as radioactive traces. [Photos: World's Cutest Baby Wild Animals]

Officials from the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times that they are treating about 100 animals and have seen as many cases since January that they would normally see in a year.

The goal is to get these sea lions healthy and rehabilitated so that they can be safely released back into the wild. But sometimes the animals strand themselves again and again and then go on to become research subjects.

Take Ronan, for example, a California sea lion that stranded three times before she was taken in to the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She made headlines this week when researchers published the results of a study that showed the sea lion had learned how to headbang to songs like the Backstreet Boys' "Everybody." Ronan might be the first non-human mammal to prove she can dance.

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New Zealand suffering biggest drought in 30 years

Nick Perry Associated Press Yahoo News 15 Mar 13;

CARTERTON, New Zealand (AP) — Dairy farmer John Rose has sent more than 100 of his cows to the slaughterhouse over recent weeks as a severe drought browned pastures in New Zealand's normally verdant North Island.

He had to thin his herd so the remaining 550 cows have enough to eat, and he's supplementing their diet with ground palm kernel as the grass in his fields withers.

"We try and make sure they've got water and shade during the day and do the best we can for them," he said. "It's very hard to remember when the last rainfall was."

The drought is costing farmers millions of dollars each day and is beginning to take a toll on New Zealand's economy. On Friday, the government officially declared its most widespread drought in at least 30 years.

Parts of the North Island are drier than they've been in 70 years and some scientists say the unusual weather could be a harbinger of climate change. There has been little significant rainfall in the northern and eastern parts of the country since October.

Still, some are finding the dry, sun soaked days a boon. Vintners call the conditions perfect. And city dwellers are reveling in eating lunch outdoors or spending evenings at the beach in a Southern Hemisphere summer that never seems to end.

Farmers estimate the drought has so far cost them about 1 billion New Zealand dollars ($820 million) in lost export earnings with the damage rising daily as they reduce their herds, which in turn reduces milk production.

Farming, and dairy cows in particular, drives the economy in the island nation of 4.5 million and the drought is expected to shave about a percentage point off economic growth.

New Zealand's last significant drought was five years ago and also cost farmers billions of dollars.

Bruce Wills, president of farming association Federated Farmers, said North Island slaughterhouses are processing about 40 percent more cows and sheep this year as farmers reduce their herds. The increased numbers and lighter weight of the animals has resulted in plummeting prices, he said.

North Island farmers are also sending stock to the South Island, which hasn't been so affected. Wills said farmers have sent 1.5 million lambs and other stock on ferries to the South Island to graze or be slaughtered there.

"One of the challenges with a drought is that the impact can go on for a number of years," he said. "We'll have a lower lambing percentage next year because there hasn't been enough feed this year," he said of the impact on animal fertility.

The official government designation of a drought provides farmers some financial relief through increased government funding of rural groups and tax breaks. Farmers facing serious financial hardship will also be eligible to apply for temporary unemployment benefits.

"It's a very serious problem," said lawmaker David Shearer. "It's obviously affecting farmers, but the other part is it's also going to flow through to our rural communities — the retail shops and the businesses."

Bill English, the country's finance minister, said that despite the economic difficulties caused by the drought, he believes the government can still maintain its goal of returning the national budget to surplus by the year beginning July 2014. The country was sent into the red after the 2008 global financial crisis.

James Renwick, a climate scientist at Victoria University of Wellington, said New Zealanders should expect more summers like the current one due to global warming. He said the dry subtropical weather that helps forms deserts in places like Africa and Australia is expanding toward the world's poles.

He said the risk of drought in New Zealand will keep increasing and water resources will become more stretched. He said that in certain places, dairy cows, with their reliance on abundant water, may not be as viable in years to come but that other more drought-resistant crops and species could replace them.

"We may need to change our approach to farming," Renwick said. "Whatever the climate is, there's always something you can do."

Like, perhaps, growing grapes.

"The weather for us is stunningly good," said Philip Gregan, the chief executive of New Zealand Wine, an association representing grape growers and winemakers. "We're getting warm, dry, cooler nights. It's the perfect recipe for fully ripe fruit with fabulous flavors."

Gregan said winemakers across the country are expecting an excellent vintage as the annual grape harvest begins.

New Zealand's sauvignon blanc is well-regarded internationally, but the industry remains small when compared to farming. Winemaking accounts for about 1.2 billion New Zealand dollars ($1 billion) in exports while farming accounts for about 25 billion New Zealand dollars ($20.6 billion).

The sunny weather in the capital city Wellington has been drawing thousands of tourists and office workers to the waterfront.

Simon Edmonds, who owns the waterfront cafe Tuatua, said late summer business is up 30 to 40 percent over the same time last year. But, he said, locals seem to have become so accustomed to sunny days this year that they're not arriving in the same numbers as they did on fine days in previous years.

"People can't go out and buy lunch every single day," he said.

Some relief may come with rain in the forecast on Sunday — although one dousing won't be nearly enough to undo the drought.

For Rose, the dairy farmer, the end of the golden weather can't come quick enough.

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Environmental threats could push billions into extreme poverty, warns UN

UN's 2013 human development report urges action on climate change, deforestation and pollution before it is too late
Claire Provost 14 Mar 13;

The number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to tackle environmental challenges, a major UN report warned on Thursday.

The 2013 Human Development Report hails better than expected progress on health, wealth and education in dozens of developing countries but says inaction on climate change, deforestation, and air and water pollution could end gains in the world's poorest countries and communities.

"Environmental threats are among the most grave impediments to lifting human development … The longer action is delayed, the higher the cost will be," warns the report, which builds on the 2011 edition looking at sustainable development.

"Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress. The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action," said the UN.

"Far more attention needs to be paid to the impact human beings are having on the environment. Climate change is already exacerbating chronic environmental threats, and ecosystem losses are constraining livelihood opportunities, especially for poor people. A clean and safe environment should be seen as a right, not a privilege."

The British prime minister, David Cameron, and US president Barack Obama have both made eradicating extreme poverty a key plank in their respective development agendas.

The proportion of people living under $1.25 a day is estimated to have fallen from 43% in 1990 to 22% in 2008, driven in part by significant progress in China. As a result, the World Bank last year said the millennium development goal to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 had been met ahead of schedule.

Thursday's report says more than 40 countries have done better than previously expected on the UN's human development index (HDI), which combines measures of health, wealth and education, with gains accelerating over the past decade. Introduced in 1990, the index aims to challenge gross domestic product and other purely economic assessments of national wellbeing. Norway and Australia are highest in this year's HDI, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger are ranked lowest.

Some of the largest countries – including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey – have made the most rapid advances, it says, but there has also been substantial progress in smaller economies, such as Bangladesh, Chile, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda and Tunisia. This has prompted significant rethinking on routes to progress, says the report: "The south as a whole is driving global economic growth and societal change for the first time in centuries."

The report points to cash-transfer programmes in Brazil, India and Mexico as examples of where developing countries have pioneered policies for advancing human development, noting how these efforts have helped narrow income gaps and improve the health and education prospects of poor communities. The presence of proactive "developmental states", which seek to take strategic advantage of world trade opportunities but also invest heavily in health, education and other critical services, emerges as a key trend.

The rise of China and India, which doubled their per capita economic output in fewer than 20 years, has driven an epochal "global rebalancing", argues the report, bringing about greater change and lifting far more people out of poverty than the Industrial Revolution that transformed Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. "The Industrial Revolution was a story of perhaps 100 million people, but this is a story about billions of people," said Khalid Malik, lead author of the report.

The report singles out "short-sighted austerity measures", inaction in the face of stark social inequalities, and the lack of opportunities for citizen participation as critical threats to progress – both in developing countries and in European and North American industrial powers. "Social policy is at least as important as economic policy," Malik told the Guardian. "People think normally you're too poor to afford these things. But our argument is you're too poor not to."

He said more representative global institutions are needed to tackle shared global challenges. China, with the world's second largest economy and biggest foreign exchange reserves, has only a 3.3% share in the World Bank, notes the report, less than France's 4.3%. Africa, with a billion people in 54 nations, is under-represented in almost all international institutions. "If institutions are not seen as legitimate, people don't play, or don't play nice," Malik said.

Developing countries now hold two-thirds of the world's $10.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, including more than $3tn in China alone, and nearly three-quarters of the $4.3tn in assets controlled by sovereign wealth funds worldwide, notes the report, adding: "Even a small share of these vast sums could have a swift measurable impact on global poverty and human development."

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