Best of our wild blogs: 6 Apr 16

Five animals that might be affected by the Cross Island Line soil investigation works
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Collared Kingfisher fledglings at PRP
Singapore Bird Group

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New dengue cases spike after 6 weeks of decline

The number of dengue cases reported in Singapore rose to 378 last week, up from the 306 cases reported in the previous week, according to the National Environment Agency.
Channel NewsAsia 5 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: The number of new dengue cases in Singapore rose to 378 in the week ending Apr 2, after a six-week decline which saw the number of reported cases falling to 306, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.

Another 34 cases were reported between Apr 3 and 3.30pm on Apr 4.

A total of 6,373 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. Four people have died of the disease so far – a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh, a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok and a 73-year-old woman who lived in Hougang.

“The number of weekly reported dengue cases is still high for this time of the year,” the NEA said in an advisory on its website. “The majority of mosquito breeding is still being found in homes, such as in domestic containers, flower pot plates and trays.”

The Ministry of Health and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

This is due to factors such as warmer conditions brought about by the El Nino weather phenomenon, faster breeding and maturation cycles of the Aedes mosquito population and a change in the main circulating dengue virus, said both agencies at a joint media briefing.

The biggest cluster of dengue cases is now located in Serangoon North Avenue 1, together with Hythe Road, Kensington Park Drive and Worthing Road. A total of 94 cases have been reported in the area, including four in the past fortnight.

- CNA/cy

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Malaysia: Water reserves at six dams nationwide stand at 30 per cent and below

AZURA ABAS New Straits Times 5 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Raw water reserves at six dams in four states now stand at 30 per cent or below as of March 31, following the current hot and dry weather.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Johnity Ongkili said the six dams were Timah Tasoh in Perlis; Gemencheh in Negri Sembilan; Lebam and Layang in Johor, as well as Milau and Babagon in Sabah.

"My ministry together with the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry have formed a special committee to monitor the water level at all dams nationwide.

“Although the raw water reserves at these six dams are at 30 per cent and below, there is no water rationing exercise so far," he told reporters after the launch of the 3rd International Sustainable Energy Summit (ISES) 2016 here today.

On the progress of the Langat 2 water treatment plant, Ongkili said the construction progress stands at 60 per cent, and is scheduled to be completed by 2016.

It was reported that the Selangor government would build two water treatment plants to ensure there would be enough water supply as Langat 2 would only be completed within three years.

The two plants, costing RM800 million, are Semenyih 2 with a capacity of 100 million litres per day, and the Labohan Dagang plant in Kuala Langat with capacity of 400 mld.

Heatwave drying up dams
The Star 6 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Six dams are under close watch as water reserves reached critical level due to the hot and dry spell.

The dams are Timah Tasoh in Perlis, Gemencheh in Negri Sembilan, Sungai Lebam and Sungai Layang in Johor as well as Milau and Babagon in Sabah.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said reserves at the dams were at the 30% level.

There was no water rationing exercise yet because it was up to the state governments to make the call,” he said.

“If the water operator and state government find there is a need for water rationing, they will communicate to us through our regulator Span (National Water Services Commission).

“Span will then advise us. It does not just depend on the water level but also on how much water the operator can process,” Dr Ongkili told reporters after launching the Third International Sustainable Energy Summit here yesterday.

On Langat 2, Ongkili said the project was 60% complete and expected to be finished in 2019.

The project is to ensure long term water supply in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Water level in Kedah dams still sufficient
MASRIWANIE MUHAMADING New Straits Times 5 Apr 16;

SIK: The water level in four dams in Kedah, namely Ahning, Beris, Muda, and Pedu are still at safe level and are capable of providing sufficient water supply for domestic, industrial and agriculture use in the state.

Housing and Local Government, Water Supply and Energy resources committee chairman Datuk Badrol Hisham Hashim gave his assurance that the people of Kedah would continue to receive clean water supply despite the prolonged dry spell.

"The water level in all four dams in the state have dropped due to the dry spell brought about by the El Nino phenomenon. However, they are still at a safe level.

“Currently, the water level at the Ahning dam is about 77.92 per cent full, Beris dam at 55.6 per cent, Muda dam at 49.5 per cent while Pedu is about 78.2 per cent.

"Syarikat Air Darul Aman Sdn Bhd (Sada), the Kedah Irrigation and Drainage Department, and the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that consumers would be able to continue to enjoy clean water supply," Badrol said during a visit to the Beris dam today.

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Malaysia: Haze in Sabah improves with fires under control

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 6 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The haze situation in Sabah has improved, as more fires are brought under control.

Schools that had been closed since Monday, will reopen today.

Worst hit Beaufort continues to see festering fires particularly from the nearly burned out 4,000ha peat swamp at Binsuluk Forest Reserve which was also spreading to neighbouring oil palm plantations in the district about 100km from here.

Nearly 10,000ha of different types of vegetation including oil palm plantations have been destroyed by fires spreading from the peat swamp area, Beaufort district officer Mohd Shaid Othman said.

He said the hour-long rainfall on Tuesday was not enough to put out big and small fires in the district, although the unhealthy conditions had improved slightly.

The Department of Environment mobile station in the Beaufort/Papar area showed the Air Pollutant Index (API) at a moderate level of 95 as of noon yesterday from its very unhealthy level of 298 three days ago.

Sabah Education Department deputy director Maimunah Suhaidul said a total of 83 primary and secondary schools with over 20,000 students in Beaufort, Kuala Penyu and Papar would reopen today.

Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said the Binsuluk reserve had been more or less wiped out by fires.

About 8,000 ha of the 12,000 ha forest reserve had been wiped out by fires in the 1997 El Nino dry spell and the remaining area was wiped out by peat fires this time around.

The API in Kota Kinabalu and surrounding areas in the west coast remained moderate, though the air remained hazy, with the API hovering around 60.

Visibility in Kota Kinabalu was 2.5km yesterday, though flights were not disrupted.

The El Nino induced dry spell, which entered its third month, has seen continuing efforts to provide water to over 300 villages in 22 districts after gravity water feeds, wells and traditional water sources from streams dry up.

200ha of Binsuluk forest reserve still burning - Wan Junaidi
BERNAMA New Straits Times 6 Apr 16;

PUTRAJAYA: A 200ha jungle area in the Binsuluk Forest Reserve in Beaufort, Sabah is still burning, says Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said a 20ha area outside the Klias Forest Reserve in Beaufort was also reported to be still burning.

About 80 per cent of the fires in the Kimanis/Bongawan and Jalan Membakut/Bongawan forest areas, covering 300ha and 200ha, respectively, had been doused, he said.

“The fire which destroyed 50ha of jungle at the Padas Damit Forest Reserve has also been totally put out,” he said in a statement today on the status of forest fires in Beaufort, Sabah.

Wan Junaidi said the fires were triggered by activities of farmers who carried out open burning which had spread to the forest reserves. -- Bernama

Schools in Papar, Beaufort & Kuala Penyu to finally reopen following improved air quality
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 5 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: All schools in Papar, Beaufort and Kuala Penyu will reopen tomorrow following improved air quality in the districts.

Sabah Education deputy director Maimunah Suhaibul said the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings are currently at moderate level, with a reading of 95 as of this morning.

She said the latest reading are well below the 200 mark, which is the standard requiring schools to be closed.

"I have directed the district education officers to inform schools to operate as usual tomorrow.

"Based on a two-day weather observation (by the Department of Environment), the API reading is likely to be stable," she said in a statement.

Eighty three schools in the three districts were ordered to close for two days following unhealthy air quality.

The haze was caused by farmers' land-clearing activities, with fires spreading to 220 ha of forest reserves at the Beaufort district.

Fire and Rescue Department personnel took eight days to put out the fire.

Haze in south western Beaufort improves, schools set to reopen
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 5 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The haze situation in south western Beaufort area improved further Tuesday and schools are set to reopen Wednesday.

Sabah Education Department deputy director Maimunah Suhaidul said that schools, which were closed for the last two days, would be reopened after the Air Pollutant Index dropped to a healthier 95 level from the "very unhealthy" level of 300 three days ago.

"The situation has improved and all schools which were ordered close in the affected area since Monday will open on Wednesday,’’ she said in brief statement.

A total of 83 primary and secondary schools with over 20,000 students in Beaufort, Kuala Penyu and Papar were closed for two days since Monday following severe unhealthy levels due to localised fires in the south western Beaufort area.

When contacted on Monday, Beaufort district officer Mohd Shaid Othman said that an hour of rain late Tuesday evening did not help to put out the fire in the Beaufort area.

"It was heavy but not enough to put out the big and small fires in our district. May be a good six hour rain will help,’’ he said, adding that some low lying areas in the town was hit by flash floods.

Shaid said they were inspecting various areas affected by the fires that has wiped out large tracts of farming land and also the Binusluk Forest Reserve where peat fires continue to simmer.

Kota Kinabalu air pollutant index reading was put at 66 at 11am Tuesday.

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Malaysia: Dengue cases to spike between June and August -- Health Ministry

AWAINA ARBEENew Straits Times 5 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Dengue cases are expected to spike between June and August this year, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

He said this was due to the improved weather conditions by the middle of this year.

"Hot and dry weather doesn't mean that mosquito breeding sites have dried up as well.

"Mosquitoe eggs can survive for up to six months even in dry conditions," he said.

"We predict a resurgence of dengue in June, July and August when heavier rainfall is expected," he said at the Allied Against Dengue programme launch today.

The programme, organised by GlaxoSmithKline, along with the Malaysian Medical Association, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society and Guardian, was a partnership in an effort to tackle dengue from prevention to management.

Subramaniam said, beginning April 11, the ministry will embark on a massive enforcement programme in preparation for the potential spike in dengue cases.

Dengue spike alert
LOSHANA K. SHAGAR The Star 6 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: A possible spike in the number of dengue cases is expected between June and August.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said this was based on a comparison with last year’s pattern of reported dengue cases.

“Last year’s pattern revealed that cases peaked in February, then tapered off until June, and peaked again between then and August.

“This year there was a spike in dengue cases in February, so we are looking at a possible resurgence in cases come June,” he said at the Allied Against Dengue programme launch.

The programme by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) together with the Malaysian Medical Asso­ciation, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society and Guardian aims to empower healthcare providers, organisations and committees to tackle dengue in a holistic manner.

Dr Subramaniam said an estimated 120,000 dengue cases were reported last year, with 87 fatalities.

As of March, 37,000 cases had been reported for this year, the bulk of them in February alone.

In preparation for the potential spike in cases, Dr Subramaniam said the ministry would carry out a massive enforcement programme against those allowing mosquitoes to breed from April 11 onwards.

“If we do not crack down on the errant parties, the dengue rate may be even higher than it was last year,” he said.

Dr Subramaniam noted that Aedes mosquito eggs could last up to six months without water.

They would hatch once a water source, usually rainwater, was available.

The Health Ministry is also hoping to increase the number of blood donations by urging shopping centres and other buildings to set up permanent donation suites on their premises.

Dr Subramaniam said this was imperative since 80% of the donations received by the National Blood Bank were from its mobile unit.

“And now, the first ever blood donation suite in Mid Valley Megamall has brought in over 3,000 blood bags since its inception in October last year.

“This is a good initiative, and I hope other malls and workplaces will collaborate with the National Blood Bank to have similar centres,” he said at the launch of the blood donation suite in Mid Valley Megamall yesterday.

The shopping centre’s management, IGB Reit had offered a shoplot for this purpose, rent free.

“The suite is operated by trained staff from the blood bank and the Health Ministry, so there is nothing to fear,” said Dr Subramaniam.

He observed that awareness of blood donation had increased over the years, with more people stepping forward to give blood.

A total of 183,819 blood bags had been collected last year, of which 1,526 had been from the blood donation suite, which is open every day from 10am to 9pm and located on the highest floor of the mall, near the Mid Valley Exhibition Centre.

Possible spike in dengue cases expected
LOSHANA K. SHAGAR The Star 5 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: A possible spike in the number of dengue cases is expected between June and August.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said this was based on a comparison with last year's pattern of reported dengue cases.

"Last year's pattern revealed that cases peaked in February, then tapered off until June, and peaked again between then and August.

"This year there was a spike in dengue cases in February, so we are looking at a possible resurgence in cases come June," he said at the Allied Against Dengue program launch Tuesday.

The program by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) together with the Malaysian Medical Association, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society and Guardian aims to empower healthcare providers, organisations and committees to tackle dengue in a holistic manner.

Dr Subramaniam said an estimated 120,000 dengue cases were reported last year, with 87 fatalities.

As of March, 37,000 cases had been reported this year, the bulk of them in February.

In preparation for the potential spike in cases, Dr Subramaniam said the ministry would embark on a massive enforcement program from April 11 onwards.

"If we do not crack down on the errant parties, the dengue rate may be even higher than it was last year," he said.

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Malaysia: More research needed on groundwater reserves, says Wan Junaidi

SUZANNE LAZAROO The Star 5 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Groundwater reserves are a viable alternative source of water, but more research must be done before extraction can be carried out, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Jaafar.

He said this in the Dewan Rakyat, in a written response to Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad (BN-Mersing).

Dr Abdul Latiff had asked about untouched groundwater reserves, which could be used, especially in the event of a drought.

According to Wan Junaidi, a study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) in 1982 showed that Malaysia had groundwater reserves of 5 trillion m³.

“We need to conduct comprehensive studies on 189 groundwater basins, before extensive extraction can be done throughout the country,” he added.

Under the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Minerals and Geoscience Department Malaysia (JMG) conducted studies on two groundwater basins, at Sungai Kelantan Utara and Sungai Langat.

“The department found that in the Kelantan Utara basin, 509,000m³ can be safely extracted per day, with 125,000 m³ currently being used daily. In the Sungai Langat basin, 45,000m³ can be safely extracted daily, and 19,000 m³ is already being used per day,” he said.

Under the 11th Malaysia Plan, JMG will run groundwater assessments on five basins: Lembangan Sungai Muda in Kedah, Lembangan Sungai Selangor in Selangor, Lembangan Sungai Kedamaian-Tempasok in Sabah, Lembangan Sungai Pahang in Pahang and Lembangan Sungai Miri in Sarawak.

This research project is expected to run for five years, from 2016 to 2020.

It was reported that the Ministry would soon table a new law to standardise water management processes nationwide. The new law would include recommendations for states to gazette all water catchments and sources.

‘Rethink provision of free water to all’
The Star 7 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: State governments should rethink giving free water to every home and instead limit it to certain households, said Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

The Natural Resources and Environment Minister called on the Penang and Selangor governments to review their decision as dams continue depleting due to the heatwave.

Giving free water “does not serve its real purpose” except to the benefit of a few, he said after launching the Asia Water Resource 2016 Expo and Forum yesterday.

On Sunday, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said despite incurring a cost of RM1.1bil for providing 20 cubic metres of free water to households in Selangor, the programme would go on.

Wan Junaidi said it was important for the state governments to understand the concerns of the Federal Government on national water security.

He said the authorities need to better gauge how water was being used in the country.

Such a study could also look into water usage in various industries, he said.

“We are engaging with the National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia and the Malay­sia External Trade Development Corporation on whether industries can be encouraged to store water for their own use.

On the National Water Resources Bill, he said the Ministry was in the midst of gathering the views and suggestions of every state on it.

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Indonesia: Deforestation Destroyed Habitat of 51 Tigers in Sumatra Since 2001

Edo Karensa Jakarta Globe 5 Apr 16;

Jakarta. Deforestation in the Bukit Tiga Puluh area in Sumatra has destroyed the natural habitat of at least 51 tigers since 2001, according to a joint study by the scientific journal, Science Advances, released on Tuesday (05/04).

The study found that more than 67 percent of the forest, located in the provinces of Riau and Jambi, has been cleared, mostly for agricultural commodities, such as palm oil plantations.

Palm oil development remains an ongoing threat in Indonesia, with more than 4,000 square kilometers of forest habitat having been allocated for oil palm concessions.

The study, titled "Tracking changes and preventing loss in critical tiger habitat" involved researchers from the University of Minnesota, Resolve, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Rainforest Alliance, Stanford University and the World Resources Institute (WRI).

It showed that nearly 8 percent, or almost 79,000 square kilometers, of forested habitat was lost globally between 2001 and 2014.

The study found that forest loss was lower than expected in tiger habitats, suggesting that there is more than enough habitat remaining to achieve the international commitment of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022 (in an initiative known as "Tx2"), with additional conservation investment.

However, the study also found that forest clearing activities since 2001 have resulted in the loss of habitat globally that could have supported an estimated 400 tigers.

Habitat loss and poaching have pushed the current global tiger population to less than 3,500 individuals.

"Now it is time to use the data to take action. If we can use that information to respond faster to threats, we can ensure that tigers will survive for future generations," said Crystal Davis, director of Global Forest Watch at the WRI.

However, the study also showed that tiger populations can rebound quickly when habitat and prey are abundant and if hunting activities are controlled.

Nepal and India have reported 61 percent and 31 percent increases in their tiger populations, respectively, since conservation initiatives, such as the transnational Terai Arc Landscape, which was implemented in both countries. The Terai Arc Landscape is composed of 14 Indian and Nepalese trans-border protected ecosystems covering parts of the lowlands and nearby foothills of the Himalayas.

Anup Joshi, a research associate at the University of Minnesota, said the figure showed that tigers can potentially recover from the edge of extinction if the authorities made the right forest management choices.

"We are seeing this already in areas like the border between Nepal and India, where forest cover is recovering with the help of communities, and tigers are coming back in a big way," Anup said.

The study was the first to examine tree cover changes systemically across all 76 tiger conservation landscapes using high- and medium-resolution satellite data. Global Forest Watch and online environment monitoring platform Google Earth Engine, along with analysis from the University of Maryland, provided the forest change data for long-term analysis.

Global Forest Watch provides monthly and in some cases weekly tree cover loss alerts that can empower park rangers and communities to monitor and protect tiger forest habitats, even at the scale of a single forest corridor used by a roaming tiger male.

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Indonesia: Lake Limboto is safe haven for migratory birds

Antara 5 Apr 16;

Gorontalo (ANTARA News) - Lake Limboto in Gorontalo Province is a safe haven for migratory birds as it has been visited by long-distance flyers from around the world, an observer stated on Tuesday.

Therefore, it is necessary to spread awareness in the society and across the world on the importance of Lake Limboto as a temporary habitat for migratory birds, an observer of biodiversity of the Wildlife Conservation Society Iwan Hunowu noted here on Tuesday.

To achieve the goal, the local forum called Gorontalos Biodiversity Forum has registered Gorontalo as one of the participants to commemorate World Migratory Bird Day to shed light on the illegal hunting of migratory birds at Lake Limboto.

"We want to invite the society and government in an effort to save Lake Limbotos ecosystem and its role as a safe haven for migratory birds," Hunowu remarked.

A media campaign, bird watching, workshops to spread awareness, and an international video competition on bird migration will be some of the events held to mark World Migratory Bird Day.

"We will start the event on May 10, 2016, with a bird-watching activity involving journalists, society members, children, and observers," Hunowu pointed out.

The forum has also uploaded a video, which showcases the story of migratory birds in Lake Limboto as part of its online campaign.

Based on observation, Gorontalos Biodiversity Forum has identified some 35 species of migratory birds visiting Lake Limboto.

Most of the long-distance visitors belonged to the species of shorebirds such as the Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva), pin-tailed snipes or pintail snipes (Gallinago stenura), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola), marsh sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis), and sharp-tailed sandpiper (Calidris acuminata).

A photographer of Gorontalos Biodiversity Forum Rosyid Azhar had taken a picture of a bird, which bore a tag of the Victorian flag of Australia, at Lake Limboto in August, last year.

"I uploaded the photo and received a response from an Australian birdwatcher, saying that the bird had been tagged," Azhar revealed.

Roger Standen from the Australasian Wader Study Group confirmed that the observed bird had migrated from Victoria, Australia, and had travelled a distance of 4,795 kilometers across the ocean to reach Lake Limboto.

Bird migrations at Lake Limboto peak during the period between August and November.

However, the very survival of Lake Limboto is threatened as it is gradually getting shallower due to constant sedimentation, increase in the population of water hyacinths, and large number of houses being built along the banks of the lake.

(Reporting by Debby Hariyanti Mano/Uu.A059/INE/KR-BSR/A014)

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Indonesia: Sumatran rhino dies weeks after landmark discovery

AFP Yahoo News 5 Apr 16;

A critically endangered Sumatran rhino has died weeks after its chance discovery on the Indonesian part of Borneo island was hailed as a landmark conservation success, an official said Tuesday.

The rare rhino was caught in a pit trap last month in East Kalimantan province in an area close to mining operations and plantations, where it was struggling to survive.

It was the first physical contact environmentalists had made with a Sumatran rhino on Indonesian Borneo in more than 40 years, after it was assumed the animal was long extinct.

However Najaq, as the female rhino was known, succumbed to a leg infection after her health deteriorated in recent days, Indonesia's environment ministry confirmed.

"The death of this Sumatran rhino proves they exist on Borneo, so we will continue protecting them," Tachrir Fathoni, a senior official at the environment ministry, told AFP.

A post-mortem examination is being conducted to determine the official cause of death, he added.

Environmentalists discovered in 2013 that the Sumatran rhino was not extinct on Indonesian Borneo -- as had long been thought -- when hidden cameras captured images of the animals.

Conservationists had heralded the capture of the rhino in March as an exciting discovery, and expressed disappointment at the tragic turn of events.

"This is a very valuable lesson that shows saving a rhino can be very difficult, and needs the support of experts," said WWF Indonesia head Efransjah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

There were once Sumatran rhinos all over Borneo but their numbers have dwindled dramatically, with poaching and the expansion of mining and plantation operations considered the main reasons for the decline.

The Sumatran rhino is the only Asian rhino with two horns, and are covered with long hair. It's estimated there are less than 100 left in the wild.

Critically endangered Sumatran rhino dies weeks after discovery 6 Apr 16;

A critically endangered Sumatran rhino found was found dead on Tuesday in West Kutai, East Kalimantan, just weeks after its existence was discovered in March.

The death of the 10-year-old female rhino, called Najaq, is suspected to be due to septicemia caused by a leg wound that turned septic after the rhino was caught in a snare in September 2015, said a team of veterinarians from the Forestry and Environment Ministry, World Wild Fund (WWF) Indonesia, Taman Safari Indonesia, the Indonesian Rhino Foundation (YBI) and the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB).

The team suspected that shreds of the nylon snare had remained in Najaq’s leg, causing an infection, according to a press statement.

A postmortem examination may be conducted to determine the exact cause of death.

Najaq was first caught on camera in late October 2015 with her left leg entangled in a snare. The team searched for and captured Najaq on March 12 and removed the snare from her leg and treated her with antibiotics and vitamins, the statement said.

The team also consulted international rhino experts from Australia Zoo, Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, and US-based Cornell University.

As Najaq’s condition started to improve, so too did her appetite, team member Muhamamd Agil said. However, the infection on her leg worsened and her health deteriorated until she died early Tuesday morning.

"She responded positively to the treatment given by the team of doctors. But her wound was severe and became infected," Agil said on Tuesday.

The director general of natural resources and ecosystem conservation at the Environment Ministry, Tachrir Fathoni, said Najaq's death was a lesson learned in the protection of rhino populations in West Kutai.

"Najaq's death shows that Sumatran rhinos still exist in Kalimantan, whereas we thought it there were none left here," he said.

Another lesson learned was the need to be extra careful in managing the conservation of Sumatran rhinos, which have unique behaviors, YABI executive director Widodo Ramono said.

West Kutai Regent Ismail Thomas expressed concern over Najaq's death and vowed to facilitate programs to protect rhinos in the area.

WWF Indonesia survey team first identified Najaq from footprints found in West Kutai in 2013. A camera trap confirmed her existence by capturing footage of her wallowing in mud in mid-2013. Previously, the team of researchers assumed Najaq to be 5 years old from her body measurement.

However, a dental check confirmed that Najaq was 10 years old.

The Sumatran rhino is one of two rhino species in the archipelago. Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, with a population of less than 100, mostly on mainland Sumatra. (rin)

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Thailand: Waters off Koh Yung closed due to coral bleaching

The Nation 5 Apr 16;

Officials at Hat Nopparat Thara - Mu Koh Phi Phi National Park in Krabi have told all boat operators to refrain from entering the waters off Koh Yung - next to Phi Phi Island - after the area was closed to let coral reefs recover from bleaching and the “effects of tourism”.

Park head Sarayuth Tanthien said Tuesday the move followed a National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department committee meeting to adjust the management of national park territory. The meeting resulted in a resolution to "close" Koh Yung, which suffers from rising sea temperatures and coral bleaching, as well as deterioration due to tourism impacts, he said.

Sarayuth said coral reefs to the island's west and north were under threat while reefs to the east and south had already been degraded by tourism activity and needed a break to recover.

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Scientists net virus behind tilapia die-offs in Israel, Ecuador

Discovery points the way to protecting a fish that feeds multitudes
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health ScienceDaily 5 Apr 16;

An international scientific team has identified and characterized a novel virus behind massive die-offs of farmed tilapia in Israel and Ecuador, which threatens the $7.5 billion global tilapia industry. A new paper describes tilapia lake virus (TiLV) and provides information needed to fight the outbreak.

An international scientific team led by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Tel Aviv University has identified and characterized a novel virus behind massive die-offs of farmed tilapia in Israel and Ecuador, which threatens the $7.5 billion global tilapia industry. A paper in the journal mBio describes tilapia lake virus (TiLV) and provides information needed to fight the outbreak.

Known in its native Middle East as St. Peter's fish and thought to be the biblical fish that fed multitudes, tilapia provides inexpensive dietary protein. The world's second most farmed fish, tilapia is also the basis of aquaculture employment in developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. (The United States is the leading tilapia importer globally.) Since 2009, Israel has seen precipitous declines in tilapia, with annual yields plummeting as much as 85 percent--highly unusual considering the fish is known to be relatively resistant to viral infections. Similar die-offs have been seen in Ecuador and Colombia.

The scientists used high-throughput sequencing to determine the genetic code of the virus from tissue taken from diseased fish in Israel and Ecuador. This process would normally be sufficient to identify the culprit, but in this case, the resulting DNA sequences didn't match any known virus, with the exception of a small genetic segment, that only remotely resembled a virus associated with the reproduction of influenza C.

Undeterred, the researchers employed other tools from their scientific tackle box, providing ample evidence that the genetic material was the same as the implicated virus dubbed TiLV. They used mass spectroscopy to characterize the proteins in cells growing the virus, which matched those they expected to see based on the genetic sequence. By analyzing the structure of viral DNA, they went on to observe 10 gene clusters with complementary endpoints, suggesting a circular form associated with a common type of viral reproduction involving a protein called a polymerase.

Finally and conclusively, healthy fish were exposed to TiLV cultured in a laboratory, resulting in disease that matched with what was seen in those countries: in Israel, the fish had swollen brains; in Ecuador, liver disease. In the coming weeks, the researchers will publish on the link between the TiLV and an outbreak of disease among tilapia in Colombia.

"The TiLV sequence has only minimal similarity in a small region of its genome to other viruses; thus, the methods we typically use to identify and characterize viruses through sequencing alone were insufficient," says first author Eran Bacharach, a molecular virologist at Tel Aviv University.

"It appears to be most closely related to a family of influenza viruses called orthomyxoviruses; however, we still don't understand much about its biology," adds Nischay Mishra, associate research scientist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia's Mailman School.

Importantly, the findings provide the genomic and protein sequences necessary for TiLV detection, containment, and vaccine development.

"We are shifting our focus now to implementing diagnostic tests for containment of infection and to developing vaccines to prevent disease," says Avi Eldar of the Kimron Veterinary Institute in Bet Dagan, Israel.

The team of 18 researchers represent five institutions in four countries: the Center for Infection and Immunity and the New York Genome Center in the U.S., Tel Aviv University and Kimron Veterinary Institute in Israel; the University of Edinburgh, Scotland; and St. George's University, Grenada, West Indies.

"The New York Genome Center was excited to join in characterizing this novel virus and contribute to this important environmental and globally impactful research," says Toby Bloom, the Center's deputy scientific director.

"Gumshoe epidemiology, molecular gymnastics and classical microbiological methods were required to link this new virus to disease," says Ian Lipkin, senior author, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School. "Resolution of this mystery was only possible through the concerted efforts of this talented group of international collaborators."

While best known for identifying viruses behind human disease, the Center for Infection and Immunity, pinpointed the virus beyond a disease that decimated salmon farms in Europe in 2010. They have done similar work with seals, sea lions, and Great Apes.

The Scary Thing About a Virus That Kills Farmed Fish
Zika and Ebola get all the headlines, but pathogens that threaten livestock and crops could be even more dangerous for humans.
Avi Eldar The Atlantic 6 Apr 16;

In 2005, fishermen pulled out 316 tons of tilapia, a tasty freshwater fish, from the Sea of Galilee in Israel. But four years later, the catch had fallen to just 8 tons. This wasn’t just another story about overfishing, though: Throughout the country, in the summer of 2009, farmed tilapia were also dying en masse.

“Farmers lost 20 to 30 percent of the fish in their ponds, and it was spreading from one pond to the next,” recalls Avi Eldar, a state-employed fish vet, who was called to investigate. The enigmatic die-offs didn’t fit any known parasite, toxin, bacterium, or virus. “We couldn’t diagnose the problem. We suspected that there was a new bug in town.”

Whatever the new infection was, it was only killing tilapia, without harming other fish. That’s a small consolation, though. Tilapia are thought to be the fish that fed multitudes in the New Testament, and they play the same role in the 21st century. Being large, tasty, quick to grow, and phenomenally easy to farm, they’re the core of a 7.5 billion dollar aquaculture industry that provides a critical source of protein for the developing world. Even America, the world’s leading tilapia importer, consumes 225,000 tons of the world’s 4.5 million ton stock.

The point is: “dying en masse” aren’t words you want to hear in relation to tilapia.

With help from Eran Bacharach from Tel Aviv University, Eldar eventually discovered that the tilapia’s woes were caused by a brand new virus, which he called tilapia lake virus, or TiLV. When his team injected it into healthy fish, they reproduced the same symptoms seen in the dying ones: sluggish behavior, reddened skin, and inflamed eyes and brain. And when these infected fish shared water with healthy ones, they passed on their disease, killing off more than 80 percent of their neighbors in a few days.

The mystery may be solved, but the threat isn’t over. Even before anyone knew it existed, TiLV had already spread around the world, triggering similar tilapia die-offs in Ecuador and Colombia. It’s also utterly unlike any virus that we know of, hinting at an entire world of related viruses that could potentially harm our food supplies.

We should be deeply concerned about such threats, but we’re not. By contrast, diseases that affect us directly, such as swine flu, Ebola, and Zika, saturate our headlines, prompt panicked talks of pandemics, and intense quests to develop vaccines and cures. But diseases don’t need to infect humans to screw us over: They can also take out the plants and animals that we eat.

“It’s a matter of food security,” says Ian Lipkin from Columbia University, one of the world’s foremost virus-hunters. “There’s no major investment in the infectious diseases of fish, and that’s an error. The losses can be substantial.”

Lipkin helped Bacharach and Eldar to sequence the genetic material of their new virus, and what he found was very strange. The virus’s genome was split into ten different clusters, none of which matched any known viruses. “There really wasn’t anything that we could pinpoint that told us what this was,” he says. One small segment of the new virus, if you squint at it just right, looks a little like part of influenzavirus C, which causes cold-like symptoms in humans—but the resemblance is remote. “It’s like forcing a square peg into a round hole,” says Lipkin.

Don’t be surprised if other similar pegs start turning up. “Now, as people begin looking at possible infectious diseases, they’ll now be able to access sequences that weren’t available when we began looking,” says Lipkin. I’ll predict that we’ll find many more diseases due to viruses that look more similar to TiLV than to previously known viruses.”

This has happened to him once before. In 1990, he showed that a bizarre horse illness called borna disease was the work of a virus that, like TiLV, was totally unlike any other. Scientists have since found many members of this family—the bornaviruses—and all because of that initial study. Find one new trunk of the viral family tree, and suddenly a whole spray of branches comes into focus.

In the meantime, Lipkin also suspects that he hasn’t heard the last of TiLV. His team has confirmed that the same virus kills tilapia in Ecuador and Colombia. It seems to hit livers in South America, and brains in the Middle East, but it’s definitely the same contagion in both continents. And if it’s in two, it’s probably in more. Birds might carry it from one place to another when they feed on infected fish. People might do the same thing as they carry starter cultures to new farms. Either way, “I think it’s a matter of time before the thing is ubiquitous,” Lipkin says. “Now, what to do about it?”

Isolating any infected animals is a decent short-term measure, but the future lies in vaccines. Lipkin thinks that he might be able to immunize the tilapia against the new virus by injecting them with a protein found on its surface, thereby training their immune systems to recognize the invader before it invades. “You can inject it into very young fish,” he says. “You won’t get them all, but the fish are cheap.” Vaccines aren’t, so Lipkin and Eldar are looking for industry partners to help them develop one.

Meanwhile, other threats loom. In 2010, Lipkin’s team identified a new reovirus that was killing farmed salmon in Norway and the U.K. Schmallenburg virus, a midge-borne disease that causes stillbirths and deformities in livestock, was identified in 2011 and has spread through western Europe. Older foes, such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease virus which infect poultry, are showing up as new strains and variants.

“These agents don’t simply appear,” says James Casey from Cornell University. “They are already there and we make the conditions that cultivate them for emergence. Start by crowding the species. This results in stress. Lastly, add greed, market conditions, and ineffective biosecurity. It’s like a broken record.” On top of that, we have animals and crops that are bred for specific characteristics, so any incipient infection can find huge numbers of equally susceptible hosts. “You’ve got everything, the tinder and the fuel,” says Lipkin. “If the right agent finds its way to that milieu, you have a conflagration.”

The same applies to plants. Potato blight, a fungal disease, destroyed Ireland’s economy in the 1840s, sending a wave of migrants to North America and creating lasting political tensions with England. Today, a new, virulent, and pesticide-resistant strain called Blue-13 is spreading through Europe. As I wrote for Aeon in 2013, “around 90 percent of the world’s calories come from just 15 types of crops, most of which are highly inbred monocultures planted over sprawling acreage. These monocultures skew the evolutionary arms race in favor of pathogens, and create the conditions wherein old threats can easily evolve into new virulent strains.”

If we aren’t careful, we could court disaster, in part because these plagues of agriculture are less attention-grabbing than those of our own bodies. And yet, they affect the very things that fuel, feed, and form our bodies. Pestilence and famine are apocalyptic horsemen that ride together.

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