Best of our wild blogs: 27 Nov 13

City in a Reef: my feedback on the Draft Master Plan 2013
from wild shores of singapore and on Singapore's artificial shores: Reefs! and Mangroves! and Seagrasses!

Javan Myna caught by a Plantain Squirrel
from Bird Ecology Study Group

cuckoo @ east coast parkway, singapore 24Nov2013
from sgbeachbum

Butterflies Galore! : Malay Lacewing
from Butterflies of Singapore

The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement No. 28 - Methods for detecting and surveying tropical carnivores from Raffles Museum News

Mangrove ecosystems being obliterated in Myanmar
from news by Rhett Butler

Not all mangroves are created equal: new map reveals carbon storage hot-spots from news by Tiffany Roufs

Consumer report uncovers why people buy rhino horn news by Tiffany Roufs

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Have We Saved the Sharks?

Reports of dramatic declines in shark fin soup consumption may be too good to be true
David Shiffman Scientific American 26 Nov 13;

“In China victory for wildlife conservation as citizens persuaded to give up shark fin soup.” This October 19 headline in the Washington Post was one that marine conservationists had been waiting decades to read—and the story inside delivered, reporting a 50 to 70 percent decrease in consumption of the delicacy over the last two years in China. Demand for shark fin soup is one of the largest drivers of the global shark overfishing crisis that has resulted in one in six species of sharks, skates, and rays being evaluated as Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Given that demand for shark fin soup comes overwhelmingly from China, the reported decrease in consumption there would mean a major reprieve for sharks. But a closer look at the situation suggests that all is not as it seems.

Shark fin dealers attribute the reported steep decline in demand to conservationist’s campaigns in Asia aimed at educating consumers and distributors about the environmental cost of the prized dish. Indeed, many conservation nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been educating the public in China about the environmental cost of shark fin soup: San Francisco-based NGO WildAid utilizes Chinese celebrities such as basketball star Yao Ming to educate people about the inhumane and unsustainable fishing methods that support shark fin soup; SharkSavers, a New York City–based organization, has a “Finished with Fins” campaign that aims to get hotels and restaurants to voluntarily remove the soup from their menus. Another environmental campaign, led by Hong Kong–based activist and photographer Alex Hofford, is working to get airlines to refuse to carry shark fins into Hong Kong. Shark fin dealers have blamed this operation—which so far has led to full bans in transporting shark fin from Emirates, Asiana Airlines, Korean Airlines, Qantas and Air New Zealand—for decreased sales. “We want to put a stranglehold on the supply chain of shark fin imports to Hong Kong. And create noise,” Hofford says. “And it’s working.”

Cultural changes among young people are often cited as a reason for declining consumption. A survey of Hong Kong residents run by the Hong Kong–based Bloom Association, a conservation NGO, found that “66 percent said they were uncomfortable with the idea of eating an endangered species, and more than three quarters said they would not mind if it was removed from [wedding] banquet menus.”

Some conservationists attribute the reported declines in shark fin soup consumption to government attempts to curb public perception of luxury usage among government officials. The Hong Kong government’s own, more recent policy, motivated both by conservation and similar efforts to not appear extravagant, has yet to make an impact.

But could any of these factors really account for such a rapid decrease in shark fin soup consumption in China? Many experts interviewed for this piece were skeptical. For every hotel or restaurant that has taken the “I’m Finished with Fins” pledge, hundreds have not. Hofford reported that his campaign has yet to hear back from 21 airlines. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of shark fins are transported into China by sea, not air (although Hofford did note that the shipping company Evergreen Line is no longer transporting shark fin. Government officials make up only a small portion of the soup-eaters, so a change in their dining habits cannot explain such a decline either. And the same Bloom survey that found that many citizens would not mind if shark fin soup were removed from banquet menus also found that 89 percent of Hong Kong citizens had eaten the soup in the last year. Additionally, shark fin trade expert Shelley Clarke of Sasama Consulting said, “a China-led antismuggling campaign from October 2011 to March 2012 that was said to have effectively shut down the international trade,” probably only temporarily curbed consumption.

Customs data do show a significant decline in unprocessed shark fin imports into Hong Kong in recent years. Historically, most fins were imported into Hong Kong before being shipped to mainland China for processing and distribution. If this were still the case, then reduced imports into that port would in fact be indicative of overall reduced consumption. Changing economic conditions in China, however, are likely to have altered this supply chain (pdf). Clarke says, "the historical pattern of shark fins being imported by Hong Kong traders and then shipped over the border for processing has been shifting gradually toward direct import into the mainland since the early 2000s.” If many more fins than usual are simply being imported directly into China, then reduced imports into Hong Kong do not necessarily mean reduced consumption.

In 2012, in accordance with the Brussels-based World Customs Organization guidelines, Hong Kong changed their customs codes for shark fins. A report in the South China Morning Post mentioned that in 2012 “a large quantity of fins were recorded against a previously rarely used code and omitted from the total figure reported.” This reclassification could easily be at least part of the reason for a reported drastic reduction in reported shark fin imports.

The best available evidence, then, fails to support the claim that shark fin soup consumption in China has declined 50 to 70 percent in the last two years. But even if demand for the soup does eventually fade away, that shift will not assure the survival of sharks. The shark overfishing crisis is multifaceted and has arisen from a lack of management for many shark fisheries, inconsistent and incomplete regulations between fishing nations, and too many sharks of many species being killed for a variety of reasons including meat, cartilage and liver oil as well as incidental bycatch. Many scientists, conservation activists and fisheries managers continue to work on the larger, more complex problems facing sharks and, despite encouraging progress, they are not yet ready to declare “mission accomplished.”

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Australia under fire for failing to protect threatened animals

Ecologist says Australia has a 'dreadful' track record in planning, monitoring and responding to threats to endangered species
Oliver Milman 26 Nov 13;

Australia is failing to protect its endangered species due a “dreadful” track record in planning, monitoring and responding to threats, a group of leading conservationists has warned.

A paper published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment states that monitoring is a “critical part” of effective species conservation, but that “many species are being monitored until they go extinct”.

“Management intervention should be triggered when it becomes apparent that a monitored species is in decline,” the paper said. “Most conservation monitoring programs lack pre-planned interventions and a clear statement about how the information derived from monitoring will help to conserve the species.”

Professor David Lindenmayer, an ecologist at the Australian National University and one of the paper’s authors, told Guardian Australia that the conservation situation in Australia was “dreadful” when compared to other countries.

“In the vast majority of cases, we don’t even do the monitoring,” he said. “We roll out billion dollar environmental programs and don’t even measure whether they are successful or not.

“Both sides of politics have been completely derelict in this area. There isn’t enough monitoring as it’s the last thing to get funding and the first thing to get cut. When it is done, it’s done unbelievably badly and there are no trigger points to intervene.”

According to Lindenmayer’s study, of 122 recovery plans for 191 Australian species, only five made reference to monitoring programs with defined interventions to prevent an animal becoming extinct.

The failure to properly deploy these trigger points – for when population or habitat shrinks, or if disease is introduced – has led to the extinction of the Christmas Island bat, as well as the virtual wiping out of the quokka, greater glider and several species of Queensland-dwelling frogs.

Elsewhere in the world, a failure of monitoring and intervention has placed severe threats upon the Sumatran rhino and Iberian lynx, as well as the extinction of the west African black rhino.

“We need to take action and do it early, otherwise these animals end up in captive breeding programs which are often a colossal waste of money,” said Lindenmayer.

“In the case of the Leadbeater’s possum in Victoria, there are maybe 2,000 left and the trajectory has been distinctly downwards for some time. Around five years ago was the time to log the forests less as it was a severe threat that was robustly shown with science. But nothing has been done.

“People think monitoring is expensive, but it only need be 5% to 10% of the conservation budget. We don’t have to monitor everything – we can do it smartly, in a well-targeted way.”

Australia has one of the worst extinction rates for mammals in the industrialised world, with the Department of Environment currently listing 188 species as endangered or critically endangered.

The Coalition government has said it wants a more “business-like” approach to species conservation, pledging to introduce a threatened species commissioner to stem the flow of losses.

A spokesman for Greg Hunt, the environment minister, told Guardian Australia there was a “lack of focus on outcomes around threatened species” under the previous Labor government.

“It has been frustrating to see numerous plans on threatened species that have sat on the shelf to gather dust,” he said.

“The ultimate goal of implementing a threatened species commissioner is to reduce the number of species on the threatened species list by targeting areas where we can make a difference.”

Lindenmayer said it was “too early to judge” whether the Coalition would improve matters, but added that the threatened species commissioner role needed clout for it to succeed.

“If you’re the threatened species commissioner, you’re going to have to tell the Victorian government to log the central highlands far less and not put cattle in alpine grazing areas,” he said. “You’ll also have to tell the Tasmanian government to control sugar gliders, because they are chewing their way through swift parrots.

“You will need to be able to say these things as that’s what the science tells us. The role will need to be endowed with the balls to take on whatever state and territory and ensure that changes are made.”

Experts: do more to save species
CEED Science Alert 27 Nov 13;

Three leading Australian environmental scientists have called for a substantial change to the way the world responds to wildlife that is going extinct.

In a paper provocatively entitled “Counting the books while the library burns”, the researchers produce evidence that many wildlife programs round the world are monitoring species to the point of extinction – often without taking the necessary action to save them.

Professor David Lindenmayer and Dr Maxine Piggott of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the Australian National University, and Assoc. Professor Brendan Wintle of CEED and the University of Melbourne warn in the journal Frontiers of Ecology that some conservation programs are standing by and watching species die out.

Their work, funded through Australia’s National Environmental Research program (NERP), highlights the growing challenge of saving almost 20,000 endangered animals, birds and reptiles from extinction – and proposes a new action plan.

“Of the 63,837 species assessed worldwide using the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria, 865 are extinct or extinct in the wild and 19,817 are listed as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable to extinction,” the researchers say. “Since the start of the 21st century alone, at least 10 species of vertebrates are known to have gone extinct, although this is likely to be a substantial underestimate.”

Prof. Lindenmayer says that monitoring is vital to effective conservation, to understand the ecology as well as the numbers of a species – but monitoring alone is not enough, especially if it shows the species is in decline.

The team’s study cites 34 cases – mainly mammals and amphibians – from all around the world where the species became locally or totally extinct while it was being monitored. Examples include the Channel Island Fox, the Vancouver Island Marmot, the West African Black Rhino and the Christmas Island Pipistrelle bat.

They also used the case of Booderee National Park, in NSW, where the greater glider – which was originally quite common, underwent a disastrous decline and disappeared totally in 2007. This followed the local extinction of the yellow-bellied glider in the same park in the 1980s.

“The original monitoring plan for Booderee did not include trigger points for action – maybe because of lack or resources or uncertainty over why these animals were becoming extinct. But on the basis of this experience we feel it is possible to include triggers in many future conservation monitoring programs,” Prof. Lindenmayer says.

The team is now recommending a new approach be adopted globally:

• All conservation monitoring programs should contain well-defined trigger points for pre-planned action
• Management intervention should occur when it becomes clear that a monitored species is in decline
• Conservation science should document and learn from cases where there was a failure to save a species.

“We have drawn attention to some cases where a species was monitored passively until it suffered local, regional, or global extinction due to the absence of a pre-planned intervention program,” the team say.

“This is not meant as a criticism of ecological or conservation monitoring, since these are critical for understanding the ecology of a species, determining its threat status, and evaluating conservation options. However, our analysis indicates that many existing conservation monitoring programs are not as effective as they could be at collecting information and prompting relevant actions.”

In future, they recommend, all monitoring programs should be designed to trigger specific management action designed to save the species at risk.

The Environmental Decisions Hub is funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program (NERP). The Hub’s research aims to assist Australian governments in their environmental management and decision making.

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David Cameron to tackle illegal wildlife trade with global summit

Fifty heads of state invited to London summit, which will aim to halt surging demand for elephant and rhino products
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Damian Carrington 26 Nov 13;

David Cameron will host the highest level global summit to date on combating the illegal wildlife trade in London.

The summit next February, to which 50 heads of state have been invited, aims to tackle the $19bn-a-year illegal trade in endangered animals, such as elephants and rhinos, by delivering an unprecedented political commitment along with an action plan and the mobilisation of resources.

The Prince of Wales and his son the Duke of Cambridge, who will both attend the summit, have previously highlighted the strong links between wildlife poaching, international criminal syndicates and terrorism and threats to national security. "We face one of the most serious threats to wildlife ever, and we must treat it as a battle – because it is precisely that," said Prince Charles in May.

Elephant ivory and rhino horn are worth more than illegal diamonds or gold, and the proceeds have used by rebel groups in African countries, such as al-Shabaab in

Somalia and the Lords resistance army in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Heads of state from many African countries are expected to attend and the countries where the products are sold, including China and Vietnam, will be represented, though the level of representation is not yet finalised.

The summit will be chaired by foreign secretary William Hague and environment secretary Owen Paterson. In September, Hague called the illegal trade "absolutely shocking" and said it was an "issue that affects us all." Paterson visited Kenya this month and saw elephants killed by poachers. He will visit China with Cameron next month.

The level of wildlife crime has soared in recent years, driven by demand form the rapidly expanding middle classes in Asia who value tiger, elephant and rhino products as status symbols.

In South Africa 13 rhinos were killed in 2007, but the tally to date in 2013 is 860. 2012 was the worst year for ivory seizures, with the equivalent of the tusks of 30,000 elephants confiscated.

There have also been efforts to tackle the popularity of shark fin soup in Asia, which is one of the reasons that around 100m sharks are killed annually.

Wildaid, a group that uses donated advertising to change public attitudes, has run a campaign on state TV in China featuring movie star Jackie Chan and basketball legend Yao Ming. against shark fin soup.

Prince Charles and William also visited London Zoo on Tuesday for a meeting with the conservation alliance United for Wildlife, whose seven member organsiations include the zoo, WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The royals discussed how new technology, such as drones, is being used to fight poaching, and toured the zoo's new tiger enclosure.

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Red List for Birds 2013: Number of Critically Endangered birds hits new high

Martin Fowlie BirdLife International 26 Nov 13;

The number of bird species listed as Critically Endangered has reached an all-time high with the release of this year’s Red List for birds by BirdLife International.

White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi, a secretive and unobtrusive sub-Saharan bird, is the latest species to join the growing list of those on the very edge of extinction. Destruction and degradation of its high altitude wet grassland habitat, including wetland drainage, conversion for agriculture, water abstraction, overgrazing by livestock and cutting of marsh vegetation, have driven it to this precarious state. Urgent action is now needed in both Ethiopia and South Africa to better understand the species’ ecology and to address these threats and save it from extinction.

“Almost 200 species of bird are now in real danger of being lost forever”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “They are being hit on multiple fronts. Habitat loss, agricultural changes, invasive species and climate change are the principle threats. Without these problems being addressed the list will continue to grow.”

Critically Endangered is the highest risk category of the IUCN Red List of threatened species, comprising those that are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola has declined catastrophically over recent years due to uncontrolled trapping in its wintering grounds in southern China and South-East Asia. This once-common species, which was listed as Least Concern as recently as 2000, has been uplisted three times in the past decade alone, and is now considered Endangered – just one step away from becoming the next addition to the Critically Endangered list.

However, there is also good news and real signs that conservation action works.

Two species of albatross - one of the most threatened of the planet’s bird families – are now considered to be at a lower risk of extinction after increases in their populations.

“Black-browed and Black-footed Albatrosses have both been downlisted to lower Red List categories”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Officer. “There is still some way to go, but this gives us great hope for turning around the fortunes of other albatrosses.”

“Bycatch in fisheries is the main threat, and efforts are underway in many longline and trawl fleets worldwide to reduce the numbers killed. If we can keep this up, there is real hope that the Black-browed and Black-footed Albatross will set a trend for the future.”

On the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, two species – Rodrigues Fody Foudia flavicans and Rodrigues Warbler Acrocephalus rodericanus – have also been downlisted as a result of conservation action. Habitat protection and reforestation, spurred by the need for watershed protection, have been key to the recovery of these species, aided by the recent absence of catastrophic cyclones. Although much reforestation has involved exotic trees, native ecosystem rehabilitation has been started at some sites. These are fenced to exclude grazing animals and woodcutters, exotic plants removed and native species replanted, and there has been an accompanying public awareness campaign.

“This year’s Red List is a mix of good and bad news, but once again it shows that conservation groups around the globe are succeeding in saving species and preventing extinction – and these committed efforts now need to be greatly scaled up”, concluded Dr Bennun.

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