Best of our wild blogs: 25 Mar 16

Nesting of the Grey-headed Fish Eagles at Little Guilin
Singapore Bird Group

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Doctor: Even cooking mussels may not remove biotoxins

Doctors: Contaminated mussels from Australia can cause diarrhoea and vomiting
ZACHARY SOH The New Paper 24 Mar 16;

Squeezing lime juice on your shellfish may make it tastier, but don't count on it to kill the bacteria in your food.

Its acidity does not make your seafood any more hygienic to eat, said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, 45, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

He was dispelling some myths about shellfish, following the recall of some batches of mussels from Australia.

The Food Standards Australia and New Zealand had warned that some batches of Spring Bay Australian mussels had been contaminated with a biotoxin which causes diarrhoeic shellfish poisoning.

Yesterday, The New Paper spoke to Dr Leong Hoe Nam and Dr Leong Choon Kit, 49, a general practitioner at Mission Medical Clinic, to better understand the dangers of consuming such shellfish.

Apart from the lime juice myth, another myth, said Dr Leong, the specialist, is that cooking the shellfish will make it safe.

He said: "Cooking may reduce some of the biotoxins in the shellfish, but not all of them, as some are heat stable. Even if you cook them a thousand times, it will not work.

"A biotoxin is a poisonous substance produced by a living organism. In this case, it is a toxin from the algae the mussels feed on.

"However, mussels in particular have more biotoxins than other kinds of shellfish as the toxins from the algae remain in them."

There is always a small amount of biotoxins in mussels, he added.

"A person (who eats them) will be fine as long as the amount does not cross his threshold," he said.

The contamination may be due to an increased amount of algae that produces more biotoxins.

"The mussels are at the mercy of the surrounding ecology," he said.

"The algae they eat may produce more biotoxins than other strains of algae. It is an uncontrolled situation with many environmental factors."

He added that these toxins can affect the intestines and even the central nervous system.

"In most cases, it can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, which leads to dehydration. In more severe cases, the toxins can affect the brain and lead to paralysis," he said.

"In extremely rare cases, it may even cause death."

He added that for mild cases, drinking water to replenish the fluids lost from diarrhoea and vomiting is essential.

However, for severe cases, one might need to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous rehydration for one or two days.

His advice? "Everything in moderation. If you are older or have a poorer immunity, eat less shellfish.

"The person who eats 20 mussels in one day may feel sicker than the person who just ate two."


Dr Leong, the GP, said most of the patients he sees for shellfish food poisoning are people who have just come back from overseas trips.

"They may have eaten seafood that was not freshly cooked. Some of them even have fever and blood in their stools."

He advised those who suspect they have shellfish toxin poisoning not to self-medicate, but to see their nearest GP.

"For most cases, it can be easily treated with proper hydration and antibiotics. But make sure to inform your doctor of any travel history."

The GP said that exercising universal precaution is important for frequent travellers.

He said: "I always tell my patients, 'When you are overseas, and your seafood is not freshly cooked in front of you, do not eat it.'"


The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) announced on Monday that selected batches of mussels from Australia have been recalled.

They had been contaminated with a biotoxin that may cause illness if consumed.

The affected products are the 1kg blue packets and 2kg yellow packets with use-by dates of March 24, 25, 26 and 27.

Also affected are the 1kg net bags with use-by dates of March 22, 23 and 25.

AVA advises those who have consumed the affected products to seek medical advice if they have concerns.

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New S$250m Outward Bound Singapore campus to be built on Coney Island

The new campus will be part of a new National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan, and is expected to be ready around 2020, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat says.
Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: In recognition that for the country’s youths to thrive, they need a sense of adventure, resilience and to challenge themselves to be their best, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a new National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan.

In his Budget statement in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 24), Mr Heng said that to help students develop these attributes, the Government will expand outdoor adventure education for all students through the Masterplan.

As part of the Masterplan, he announced a new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus to be built on Coney Island. It will cost about S$250 million and is expected to be ready around 2020, he added.

“Many more youths will have the chance to go for an expedition with OBS. These activities will help them build confidence, and develop camaraderie with students across different schools,” Mr Heng said.

Like the OBS campus on Pulau Ubin, the campus on Coney Island will be “rustic and blend in with the rest of the island”, he added.

The island will also remain open for everyone to enjoy, and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Education will provide more details later, the Minister said.

- CNA/kk

Second OBS campus to be built on Coney Island by 2020
KELLY NG AND AMANDA LEE Today Online 24 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — A second Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus will be built on Coney Island by 2020, as part of a new National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan to expand outdoor adventure education to all students.

Expected to cost about S$250 million, the campus will give more young people a chance to go for outdoor expeditions with OBS.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament on Thursday (March 24): “To thrive, our young people need a sense of adventure, resilience, and to be ready to challenge themselves to be their best … Activities (on the new campus) will help them build confidence, and develop camaraderie among students from different schools.”

The rest of Coney Island, previously known as Pulau Serangoon, will remain open to the public. More details will be shared by the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth at a later date.

Right now, OBS operates a 9ha campus on Pulau Ubin.

Coney Island, one of the remaining undeveloped islands in Singapore, is located between the north-eastern coast and Pulau Ubin.

Development plans for the island include reclamation and a link to the Punggol housing estate. Last October, the rustic Coney Island Park, managed by the National Parks Board, was opened to the public.

Educators and parents TODAY spoke to welcomed the move.

Homemaker Adrienne Li felt such outdoor programmes will help her Primary 5 son, who attended a two-night leadership camp recently.

“He learnt to be more responsible like taking care of his belongings and learning how to pack things by himself,” said Mdm Li, 38.

Finance executive Karen Wong, 47, who has a Secondary 4 child, added: “Nowadays, our children are quite protected by their parents and family, but with more outdoor programmes, it can teach them teamwork.”

Clerk Madeline Ang, 43, who has two children aged nine and 13, hopes the outdoor programme on Coney Island will not only teach children life skills but also enable them to learn more about nature.

Punggol View Primary School principal Kelvin Tay said the outdoor education will provide students with a “richer experience”.

“It helps to build their character through various activities (hosted on Coney Island)… students can (also) be close to nature,” he added.

For example, at his school, under the Programme for Active Learning for Primary 2 students, trash is scattered around the school garden to allow students to identify and collect the litter. This can help students learn how to keep the environment clean and green, Mr Tay said.

A teacher who declined to be named said the new OBS campus will provide more opportunities for students to “develop holistically in the non-academic areas, while schools continue to provide a strong ground for academic excellence”.

“The new OBS campus would provide the students with the much-needed breath of fresh air, with challenges that can safely nudge them beyond their comfort zone, in a safe and controlled manner,” said the 28-year-old.

CLARIFICATION: In an earlier version of this story, it was reported that Outward Bound Singapore currently operates a 240-ha campus on Pulau Ubin. OBS has clarified that the campus is 9-ha.

CORRECTION: We previously referred to Outward Bound Singapore as Outward Bound School. We are sorry for the error.

Keep Outward Bound Singapore campus out of Coney Island
Straits Times Forum 29 Mar 16;

The news that there is going to be a new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus built on Coney Island ("$250m Outward Bound campus for Coney Island"; last Friday) is extremely disappointing.

I believe that I speak for many a resident in the area in describing the elation we felt when Coney Island was opened to the public last year.

The island is rustic, untouched by development and, simply, nature at its best.

This is something that is rare in Singapore - understandably so, given our constant need for more space for man-made endeavours.

Most of our parks already have numerous man-made touches which may make them more comfortable, but ironically, nature by itself does not always have comfortable and modern amenities.

OBS already has two campuses in Pulau Ubin, just across from Coney Island.

Unlike Pulau Ubin, the latter is not big enough for one part to be built up into a campus and the other to remain truly untouched.

So, perhaps expansion within Pulau Ubin could be considered instead.

Yes, students, and indeed all Singaporeans, need to experience and learn through the outdoor experience.

But often, the crux of that lies in experiencing the true reality of untouched nature rather than through a built-up campus.

I truly hope that the authorities will leave Coney Island true to its natural self and not turn it into yet another "developed" nature spot.

Alternative possibilities for the expansion of OBS should be considered.

Aishworiya Ramkumar (Dr)

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Malaysia: Cloud seeding may not work to diminish heatwave

The Star 25 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for cloud seeding to curb hot and dry weather conditions caused by El Nino has yet to be finalised, says Science Innovation and Technology Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau.

As of now, the SOP on cloud seeding says that such operations would only be done when there is haze and the air quality reaches unhealthy levels.

“We have received many requests and recommendations to carry out cloud seeding.

“But, we have to consider El Nino as a whole.

“If we do cloud seeding today, the weather will still be hot and dry tomorrow, and the same problem will recur,” he said at Menara Matrade here yesterday.

Tangau also said the SOP required that cloud seeding be approved by a special committee chaired by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Shahidan Kassim.

However, the worry of more hotter days are now diminishing because the heatwave has weakened and El Nino will slow down by June.

Tangau added that six places in the country had recorded temperature levels of between 37ºC and 39ºC as at 4pm yesterday.

The highest was Batu Embun, Pahang (37.8ºC); followed by Chuping, Perlis and Temerloh, Pahang (37.7ºC); Alor Setar (37.6ºC); Lubok Merbau, Kedah (37.4ºC); and Seberang Prai (37ºC).

Tangau was at Menara Matrade to present prizes to the winners of the 2015 Malaysia Design Competition and the 2015 MRM-IBag Design Competition.

The competition by Malaysia Design Council and organised by the ministry serves as a platform for young local designers to display their creativity in generating new ideas and concepts.

Dengue dips in dry spell
VEENA BABULAL New Straits Times 24 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the intensifying heat, the prolonged dry spell has brought about a positive effect — a dip in number of dengue cases.

Deputy director-general of Health Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, who confirmed the decline in cases to the New Straits Times, said “outdoor breeding places were drying up”.

Dr Lokman said dengue cases had dropped for the three weeks running up to March 19.

He said 2,247 cases were recorded in the 11th week of the year, while 2,556 and 2,719 cases were recorded in the 10th and ninth week of the year, respectively.

The eighth week recorded 2,885 cases from 2,785 the week before, based on data on the Health Ministry’s National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre’s Facebook page.

“This (trend) is expected to continue until the end of next month or early May, coinciding with the pattern of rainfall.

But we are preparing a strategy to prevent a rise in cases expected in June,” he said.

In its latest statement, the ministry said 32,925 dengue cases had been recorded up to the 11th week of this year, an increase of 2,035 cases (6.6 per cent) compared with the same period last year.

“There have been 82 deaths this year compared with 98 for the same period last year,” the statement read.

Seven deaths were recorded nationwide last week, with two in Selangor, Federal Territories and Putrajaya (2), Johor (2) and Perak (1), compared with 16 deaths the week before. The outbreak peaked in the fourth week of the year, with 3,750 cases.

The ministry also noted 202 hotspots, with Selangor topping the list with 151 hotspots, followed by Johor (37), Perak (6), Federal Territories and Putrajaya (4), Terengganu (2) and Penang (1).

The ministry said it was monitoring and conducting prevention and control activities to reduce the number of cases.

“We hope communities keep their surroundings free of Aedes breeding sites.

Fogging will be done in areas where dengue patients reside.

This is important so that adult mosquitoes that carry the virus can be killed and prevented from spreading the disease.”

Depressing yields for farmers
New Straits Times 24 Mar 16;

CHUPING: The hot and dry weather brought about by the El Nino phenomenon since early this year has caused losses for small-scale fruit and vegetable growers in Perlis and Kedah.

Among those affected by the extreme weather were farmers growing corn, cucumber, mango, pomelo and watermelon.

Farmer Muhd Solihin Mat, 22, said half of the corn plants in his 0.863ha field had failed to produce fruits. “Usually, we would harvest the corn after 70 days.

This time however, even after more than 70 days, half the plants have yet to produce any fruit. “The stalks and leaves are thin and small.

I have been growing corn for about five years and have never encountered such a situation before.

“I think the corn plants’ growth was stunted by the dry spell.”

Solihin said that despite the depressing yield, wholesale prices for grade A corn remained at 50 sen per crop, grade B (30 sen) and grade C (RM20 per 30kg sack). “There is little demand for corn.

Hence, the prices have remained the same despite the situation.”

Azman Zakaria, 44, who grows pomelo and has a stall in Changlun, Kedah, said he was forced to import the fruit from Thailand as his trees had failed to produce enough fruits.

“If I do not import the pomelo fruit from Thailand, I would not have enough fruits to sell at my stall.

“The problem is that, since the value of the ringgit has weakened, the cost to import the fruit has increased, and I am forced to sell the fruits at between RM12 and RM15 each compared with local pomelo, which is priced at between RM8 and RM10 each.

“Apart from that, each pomelo, which usually lasts up to 10 days in normal weather, spoils after only five days now.”

Cucumber farmer Mokhtar Ismail, 53, said he also experienced a decrease in production since February.

“I used to be able to collect about 300kg of cucumber per day from my farm, but in the last two weeks, I could only get about 250kg.

“The growth of the cucumber plants seems to be stunted while their lifespan has been reduced to less than two months.”

Mokhtar said due to the limited supply of cucumber, wholesale prices had increased to RM1.50 per kg from 50 sen and 80 sen per kg previously.

Mokhtar, who also owns a harumanis mango farm, said the production of the aromatic fruit may also be affected this season as many of his plants were experiencing premature falling of its fruits, especially in the past three weeks.

“Some of the harumanis fruits only last for up to two or three weeks.

“I fear that if this situation continues, we may suffer great losses as I do not think the retail price of harumanis can go much higher than the existing RM35 to RM45 per kg.”

As for Mohammad Ridzuan Yusof, 34, who manages a watermelon farm, he said the quality of his watermelons was affected while some of his plants had died earlier this month.

The dry spell has led to a reduction in the production of grade A watermelons by about 60 per cent.”

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Malaysia: Water situation critical in Sabah

RUBEN SARIO The Star 25 Mar 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s water supply will reach critical levels if an El Nino induced drought stretches beyond July, said Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

Pairin said water resources at most districts were sufficient for another three months.

“Taps are running dry at dozens of villages dependent on gravity feed system from springs or streams that have dried up.

“We are getting them help,” he said.

Pairin, the state Infrastructure Development Minister, said the Water Department was now deploying its tankers as well as privately owned ones, to send water to villages.

Among the worst hit were the communities at the nation’s northernmost Banggi island off Kudat and Sebatik island in the east coast.

Pairin said the department was prepared to send water by barge to both islands if necessary.

Other districts hit by the drought where water needed to be sent in by trucks include Pitas in the north and Kuala Penyu in the west coast, he said after visiting the Kasigui water intake point at Penampang near here.

He said his ministry was looking at other measures to overcome the water shortage, including cloud seeding, which was expensive and unreliable as well.

He said other options being considered include using desalination plants.

The state government was also looking at whether the contaminated water at the massive Mamut copper mine open pit could be treated and used.

“There’s about 20.6mil cubic metres of water in that pit. That’s a lot of water.

“Now, if we can only find a way to treat that acidic water,” he said.

Over the long term, he said the construction of a RM400mil water supply dam would begin in the east coast Tawau district later this year.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said separately that the Sabah Cabinet had discussed the state’s preparedness for a water supply emergency if the drought persisted.

The chief minister has directed State Secretary Tan Sri Sukarti Wakiman to activate the disaster relief committees at the districts to quickly respond to any situation, he said after opening a fisheries conference here.

Kota Kinabalu water crisis averted
The Star 24 Mar 16;

KOTA KINABALU: People living in the city and neighbouring Penampang and Putatan need not worry about water rationing, at least until May.

Water Department deputy director Teo Chee Kong said that though the Kasigui intake plant, which supplies water to the three areas, is at 25 milion litres per day (mld), which is slightly less than half its maximum supply capacity of 55mld, they have brought in another 25mld from the Madsiang intake.

He said the Madsiang intake, which normally supplies water to the Moyog area, will contribute 25mld and be complemented with 150mld from the Babagon dam.

“Therefore, the amount of water for Kota Kinabalu, Penampang and Putatan is at 225mld,” he said during an inspection of the Kasigui water intake plant on the Moyog River near here on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Teo said the water shortage which occurred over the past few days was because of pollution and not insufficient supply.

“There were high levels of ammonia present in the Moyog River and our plant could not filter the pollution,” he said.

“The maximum level of ammonia which the intake plant can treat is 0.5mg per litre. However, the level of ammonia in the Moyog River exceeded that level, which is why the Kasigui intake had to be shut down,” he said.

Teo said the Water Department and other agencies have taken measures to reduce the pollutant level in the river to normalise water supply and conserve water in the Babagon dam as a measure against drought.

Penampang District Officer Luvita Koisun, who was also present at the inspection, hoped that the weather will improve.

“The dry season has caused several gravity water feeds in some villages to dry up,” she said, adding that a disaster operations room has been set up to ensure the supply of clean water to the affected villages.

The villages affected are Kampung Babagon, Kampung Timpangoh Laut, Kampung Kolopis, Kampung Kibabaig and Kampung Minintod.

“We are using tankers to supply water to these villages," she said, adding that the Civil Defence Department and the Water Department are assisting in the relief efforts.

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Elusive Marbled Cats Secretly Photographed in Borneo

Laura Geggel, Yahoo News 24 Mar 16;

The marbled cat, an arboreal specialist, is often found in trees. It gets its name from its unique marbled-patterned …

A secret photo shoot deep in the forests of Malaysian Borneo is helping researchers determine just how many marbled cats — rare, tree-climbing felines — live in the region, according to a new study.

Marbled cats (Pardofelis marmorata) are extremely elusive creatures. To get a better idea of the cats' stomping grounds, the researchers placed camera traps in eight forests and two palm oil plantations in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, they said.

After four months of secret, motion-triggered infrared photography, the researchers found that marbled cats are most numerous in the lowlands where the forest is undisturbed. However, they did find a few cats in selectively logged areas.

"We show that marbled cats can still survive in logged forests," said study lead researcher Andrew Hearn, a doctoral candidate at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. "This lends further weight to the argument that such disturbed forests are important to the conservation of biodiversity and should be preserved wherever possible."

Little is known about the cats, which are named for their marble-patterned fur. They live in dense tropical forests, and are rarely seen, except for the odd camera-trap sighting. Perhaps that's because the species is listed as "near threatened," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list, largely due to habitat loss and poaching.

In the new study, the researchers used the surreptitiously taken photos to identify individual cats and estimate the species' population density and distribution. They found that the lowland Danum Valley Conservation Area had about 19.5 cats per 39 square miles (100 square kilometers). Tawau Hills Park had fewer — about seven cats per 39 square miles. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which was selectively logged from 1969 to 1989, had an estimated density of about 10 cats per 39 square miles.

The marbled cat has a furry and long tail, which it often holds horizontally while walking, the rese …
These estimates provide "tentative evidence" that undisturbed, lowland hill forests have the highest densities of marbled cats, Hearn said. Other areas, including disturbed lowlands and undisturbed highlands, had lower densities of the cats, he said.

The camera traps didn't record any marbled-cat sightings within the plantations, although one cat was spotted walking along the forest-plantation boundary, the researchers added. They also photographed cubs in the Tabin North, Tawau and Ulu Segama forests.

The results of this exhaustive study suggest that the marbled-cat population may be somewhat higher in northern Borneo than it is elsewhere, but more studies are needed to verify this, Hearn said. For instance, researchers could use camera traps in other places in which the cats are found in the Indomalayan ecorealm, a region extending from eastern India and Nepal to Yunnan province, China; and throughout mainland Southeast Asia to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. [Photos: In Images: The Rare Bay Cat of Borneo]

But enforced regulations could increase the number of Borneo's marbled cats even more. Although poaching is illegal, the researchers found used shotgun cartridges in seven of the eight forests. However, they didn't come across any evidence that poachers are shooting marbled cats, the scientists wrote in the study.

Laws governing logging and forest conservation may also help preserve the population of marbled cats, Hearn said.

"We provide further evidence that logged forest may still be used by these cats, and should be preserved," he said.

The study was published online today (March 23) in the journal PLOS ONE.

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Deforestation threatens Vietnam's rare monkey

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 16;

KON TUM: After trekking the leech-ridden jungle from dawn to dusk for days on end, exhaustion was starting to show on the conservation team’s sweaty faces and damp gear.

Midway into a 10-day field assignment in Vietnam, the team had no more than two good photographs of the critically endangered grey-shanked douc to show on their long-range cameras. They needed a lot more.

Such is the elusiveness of the rare monkey - even the experts have a hard time trailing it.

The grey-shanked douc can only be found in the remote forests of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Until the recent discovery of a new population of 500 doucs by a survey team from Fauna & Flora International, the species was believed to have as few as 800 remaining in the wild.

Visible snare lines and the absence of gibbons and larger mammals in the jungle point to heavy hunting in the past, said Mr Jonathan Eames, who leading a photography and book project on the primate.

“But we were told local people don’t like to hunt them because the meat is bitter,” he said.


With soulful, almond-shaped eyes and a golden face framed by creamy white whiskers, the grey-shanked douc is a poster child for primate conservation.

Vietnam has more critically endangered primates than any other country in the region. Out of its 25 primate species, 11 are on the verge of extinction and several of them can be found only in Vietnam.

While they are hunted for traditional medicine, bush meat and the illegal pet trade, deforestation remains their biggest threat. The forests they rely on are disappearing fast, destroyed by logging and land clearance for agriculture, roads, and hydropower plants.

A 2015 government report said the Central Highlands lost 14 per cent of its forest cover in seven years, a testament to the rapid forest loss accompanying Vietnam’s stellar economic development.


The environmental dilemma is evident on the road leading to the grey-shanked douc’s home deep in the primeval forests of Kon Tum province.

Concrete roads now link isolated ethnic villages to nearby towns and cities, and at the same time, connect virgin forest and their precious timber and wildlife to the market.

Billboards on the roadside and on large trees remind locals: “Protecting the forest means protecting our livelihoods.” In Vietnam, laws protect endangered species and forests, but suffer from poor enforcement.

According to the rules, there is one ranger in charge of every 1,000 hectares of forest, but in reality each ranger has to patrol more than 10,000 hectares, says Bui Thai Tung, a deputy director at a district-level forest protection department. “We’re spread too thin,” he said.


At dusk, the conservationists and their local guides got ready for another night in the jungle, rolling out their mosquito-netted hammocks and fastening them to tree trunks.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working with local authorities on a conservation plan, including developing ecotourism around the newly-discovered douc population and an adjacent ethnic village.

Benefits go beyond protecting one species. Primate conservation requires safeguarding its forest habitat, which means protecting all the flora and fauna in the area, FFI biologist Nguyen Van Truong told Channel NewsAsia.

The implications of failure are equally tremendous. Found nowhere else on the planet, scientists like Truong fittingly called the grey-shanked douc Vietnam’s monkey. “If one primate disappears here, the whole world loses it.”

- CNA/xq

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Japan whaling fleet returns from Antarctic hunt with 333 whales

Reuters Yahoo News 25 Mar 16;

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's whaling fleet returned on Thursday from its Antarctic hunt after a year-long suspension with a take of more than 300 whales, including pregnant females.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean should stop, prompting it to call off its hunt that season, although it said at the time it intended to resume later.

Japan then amended its plan for the next season to cut the number of minke whales it aimed to take by two-thirds from previous hunts.

Its fleet set out in December despite international criticism, including from important ally the United States.

The final ships of the four-vessel whaling fleet returned to Shimonoseki in southwestern Japan on Thursday, having achieved the goal of 333 minke whales, the Fisheries Agency said.

Of these, 103 were males and 230 were females, with 90 percent of the mature females pregnant.

"The number of pregnant females is consistent with previous hunts, indicating that the breeding situation of minke whales in the Antarctic is healthy," the agency said in a statement.

Japan, which has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its culture, began what it calls "scientific whaling" in 1987, a year after an international whaling moratorium took effect.

The meat ends up on shop shelves, although most Japanese no longer eat it.

Japan intends to take nearly 4,000 whales over the next 12 years as part of its research program and has repeatedly said that its ultimate goal is the resumption of commercial whaling.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Japan fleet returns from Antarctic whale hunt
A Japanese whaling fleet returned home Thursday from its annual Antarctic hunt, the government said, a trip that angered environmentalists and nations opposed to the slaughter.
Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 16;

TOKYO: A Japanese whaling fleet returned home Thursday from its annual Antarctic hunt, the government said, a trip that angered environmentalists and nations opposed to the slaughter.

The ships had set sail for the Southern Ocean in December, with plans to kill 333 minke whales, despite a worldwide moratorium and opposition led by Australia and New Zealand.

Japan insists it is carrying out scientific research.

The 2015/16 hunt came after a hiatus prompted by a 2014 ruling by the United Nations' International Court of Justice, which said the annual hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as science.

The fleet arrived early Thursday at Shimonoseki port in western Japan, an official at Japan's Fisheries Agency said, but declined immediately to provide further details, including on the size of the catch.

Despite the moratorium and opposition from usually-friendly nations, Japan persists in hunting whales, using a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling that allows for research.

Tokyo claims it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting, and says it has to kill the mammals to carry out its research properly.

However, it makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on dinner tables and is served up in school lunches.

In response to the ICJ ruling, Japan's 2014-15 mission carried out only "non-lethal research" such as taking skin samples and doing headcounts.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-World War II years when the country was desperately poor.

But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they "never" or "rarely" eat whale meat.


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