Best of our wild blogs: 6 Apr 17

Open for registration – Jane’s Walk feat. Love MacRitchie (6 May 2017)
Love our MacRitchie Forest

HSBC Intertidal Walks
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Malaysia: Deforestation likely behind deadly Sabah mudslide, says expert

BRANDON JOHN New Straits Times 5 Apr 17;

KINABATANGAN: Deforestation may be the primary cause of the devastating mudslide that occurred here last Saturday, said Universiti Malaysia Sabah geologist Professor Dr Felix Tungkol.

He said there were two major mudslides that resulted in the debris flow that has so far claimed five lives.

"The first one was clogged up, producing a temporary dam that later broke under pressure, causing a second, more potent landslide to occur.

"Such disasters are common here," he said, explaining that excessive clear-cutting of trees to make way for oil palm plantations could result in severely weakened soil in the area.

An aerial survey drone had been deployed by UMS earlier to map out the area's geographical properties.

The survey has also confirmed a possible source of the mudslide as a water catchment found further upstream.

Meanwhile, Deputy Sabah Fire and Rescue Department director Zuraidah Latip said those catchment systems were critical for the local communities as a source of clean water.

"However, due to poor construction standards and heavy logging in the area, in addition to heavy rain, it may have caused the catchment to overflow."

The mudslide on Saturday had resulted in the destruction of a worker's quarters in Tongod and swept away a family of 11 downstream.

Three of the victims survived, while six bodies have been found since today.

The operation, entering the fifth day today, will continue the search for two more missing victims at Sungai Pinangah.

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Malaysia: One of last three Sumatran rhinos in Sabah suffering life-threatening infection

Stephanie Lee The Star 5 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's hope of keeping Sumatran rhinos alive and well in the state is quickly fading, with one of the last three animals there suffering a life-threatening infection.

Sabah Wildlife Department Director Augustine Tuuga said an abscess was found in the upper jaw of Puntung, a female rhino under the care of the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

"The abscess has not responded to drainage and antibiotic treatment and we are now worried about sepsis, an infection that can spread through the body quickly and cause death," he said.

He said they were very concerned as there were signs that the infection had spread.

Tuuga said Sabah was home to three out of last few tens of the critically-endangered Sumatran rhino, with the rest found in Indonesia.

All three Malaysian rhinos are being cared for by the Borneo Rhino Alliance, a non-governmental organisation contracted by Sabah Wildlife Department.

"We are putting all our hopes on Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin to cure Puntung," Tuuga said, adding that the veterinarian had cared and treated the female rhino from day one.

Puntung was captured in 2011 and plans to mate her with Tam, a male Sumatran rhino, were unsuccessful after it was found she had a severe array of cysts lining her uterus which were resistant to treatment and thus made her unable to bear a pregnancy.

"We estimate that Puntung is around 25 years old. Sumatran rhinos have a life expectancy of around 35 years," Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director Datuk John Payne said.

"The loss of Puntung now would be a tragedy, because she potentially has a few years of egg production left," he added.

Sabnah wildlife officials captured another female rhino in 2014, and in vitro fertilisation has been attempted to create rhino embryos.

This was done by Professor Thomas Hildebrandt and his team of specialists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, Professor Cesare Galli of Avantea laboratories in Italy, and Professor Arief Boediono of Institut Pertanian Bogor.

If successful, embryos could be offered to Indonesia for implantation into surrogate rhino females in Sumatra.

One of last three remaining Sumatran Rhinos in Sabah 'critically ill'
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 5 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: One of the last remaining Sumatran Rhinos in Malaysia is critically ill.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the rhinoceros, named Puntung, has an abscess inside her upper jaw and not responding to antibiotic treatment.

“It is a grave concern because there are signs that the infection is deep and likely has spread even deeper.

"We are worried about sepsis, an infection complication that can spread quickly through the body and rapidly cause death," he said in a statement, adding that Puntung had been sick since last week.

Sabah is home to only three out of the last few critically-endangered Sumatran rhino. The remaining numbers are in Indonesia.

Puntung, another female rhino Iman and male Kertam are being cared by a non-governmental organisation, Borneo Rhino Alliance, at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu.

Puntung was captured in 2011. It was subsequently established that she was the last remaining wild rhino in the Reserve.

The department had tried to mate Puntung and Kertam in a managed and fenced facility. However, it was later found that Puntung’s uterus was lined with a severe array of cysts which was untreatable.

Since 2014, with the capture of Iman from Danum valley, efforts have been directed towards trying to create rhino embryos through in-vitro fertilisation.

If successful, the fertilised embryos will be inserted into surrogate mother rhinos of the same species in Sumatra.

Borneo Rhino Alliance executive director Datuk John Payne said the life expectancy of the species could reach up to 35 years.

"We estimate that Puntung is around 25 years old. Her loss would be a tragedy because she potentially has quite a few years of egg production left."

Dire straits: Malaysia could lose Puntung, one of its last three Sumatran rhinos
Rescuers have resorted to handfeeding Puntung, one of the last remaining Sumatran rhinoceros, as it has shown no signs of recovery.
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 8 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Rescuers have resorted to handfeeding Puntung, one of the last remaining Sumatran rhinoceros, as it has shown no signs of recovery.

It was reported on Wednesday that Puntung has an abscess inside her upper jaw and she was not responding to antibiotic treatment.

Sabah Wildlife department director Augustine Tuuga said the mammal has been sick the past week, and spends most of the time wallowing. She has not been eating much in the past few days.

“When Puntung leaves her wallow at night, she will be handfed with some browse, bananas and mangoes in the forest paddock, up to midnight.

“The veterinarian said she was more perky today but only ate 5kg of browse last night,” he said when contacted today, adding that average daily consumption of browse should be around 15kg but in this instance, even 5kg of browse is fine as it will be able to sustain Puntung for about 38 hours.

Puntung, along with another female rhinoceros, Iman, and a male rhino, Kertam, are being cared for by the Borneo Rhino Alliance at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu.

The team had also initially plan to conduct an x-ray scan on Puntung’s wound but this could only be done if she was in her enclosure. As she has taken to spending her time wallowing, the team can only wait.

They had also spotted intermittent bleeding on her left nostril yesterday. Her infection is believed to be deep and could spread further, which might lead to sepsis and eventually death.

Augustine added they have been in constant communication with experts experienced in managing dental and facial damage for rhinos to discuss on the best course of treatment for Puntung.

“Augmentin (a type of antibiotic) treatment and dextrose fluid are still continued besides supplements being added in her food.

“Other types of antibiotic such as Amoxyclav and Enroflaxacin were discussed as an alternative but we are concerned about the lack of studies on the effects of these drugs on rhinos.”

Puntung’s condition is a grave concern for many as she is one of the last rhinos in Malaysia. In Indonesia, only a handful of Sumatran rhinoceros are left.

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Malaysia: Kuala Sala fishermen enjoy phenomenal cockles, mussels catch

ADIE SURI ZULKEFLI New Straits Times 5 Apr 17;

YAN: More than 200 coastal fishermen in Kuala Sala here are enjoying an extraordinary windfall after landing more than a tonne of cockles and mussels daily.

The unusual catch, collected from Pulau Bunting waters near here, has turned the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board (LKIM) jetty here into a sort of carnival with customers making a beeline to buy them at a bargain of between RM1 and RM4 per kilogramme.

On normal days, the jetty attracts only suppliers and fishmongers.

Besides the fishermen, the women here are also earning extra income by sorting out the cockles and mussels before they were sold.

LKIM spokesman acknowledged that their catches was higher than usual this year.

He said normally, cockles are found in waters near Pulau Bunting while mussels in waters near Jerlun, Kuala Tebengau and Kuala Kangkung.

"However, it is quite extraordinary that a lot of mussels are found in the area known to be the main habitat for cockles," he said when met at the jetty.

Fisherman Khalil Abdul Razak, 45, said it was normal for them to land more cockels and mussle between February and May but this year, they are enjoying an unusual windfall.

He said besides being sold for local market, the catches are also being exported to Thailand.

"Things are merrier than usual as consumers are buying directly from us due to the abundant supply," he said.

Kedah Fishermen Association (Nekad) chairman Ahmad Rudin Hussin said besides Kuala Sala, Kuala Kedah is also another location where fishermen land their cockles and mussels catches.

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Indonesia: Forty million people in Indonesia live in landslide-prone areas

The Jakarta Post 5 Apr 17;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) warned on Tuesday that people should remain alert for more landslides in the country as about 40 million citizens, 17 percent of the population, live in landslide-prone areas.

BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said several areas have limestone under the surface, making it easier for the ground to erode during a downpour.

As of April 2, the agency recorded 251 landslides across Indonesia, making it the most frequent natural disaster in the first months of 2017.

“They live there because they don’t have any choice,” Sutopo said. Poverty was one of the reasons why is it so hard to relocate the people, he added.

Although local governments might find safer areas for the people to live, most of the people living in the areas refused to move since they made their lving in the vicinity, mostly as farmers.

To make things worse, the BNPB could only install about 200 early warning systems across Indonesia.

“Ideally we should have more than 100,000 early warning systems so people can be removed before the landslides happen,” Sutopo said.

“When it comes to a natural disaster, it becomes everyone's problem,” Sutopo said.

A landslide struck Ponorogo, East Java, on April 1, killing at least three and displacing 200 people. Until today, 25 remain missing as they are buried under 50 meters of mud. (hol/wit)

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India: Coral bleaching reported from Enayam

T.Nandakumar THIRUVANANTHAPURAM The Hindu 5 Apr 17;

An underwater survey by the Friends of Marine Life, a local NGO, has revealed bleaching of corals off the coast of Enayam in Kanyakumari district, confirming warnings from the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that warming waters in the tropical Pacific and Indian oceans would lead to widespread coral bleaching across the world this year.

Freedivers working for FML have recorded discoloration due to heavy bleaching of hard corals in the Enayam area. Several types of corals were also found to be disease-ridden. Last month, NOAA had warned that heat stress and warming ocean waters had triggered the longest, most widespread and most damaging coral bleaching event on record at the global level.

“Coral colonies are rarely found in deep waters with heavy currents. The Enayam coast, just 20 km south of Thiruvananthapuram is an exception,” says independent researcher Robert Panipilla who coordinated the project for the FML.

The survey conducted as part of an underwater biodiversity assessment revealed the presence of 14 varieties of hard corals know as Cnidarians, three types of soft corals and five varieties of Zoanthidae, apart from black corals, Hydrozoa and Gorgonian sea fans.

The species have been documented and the data are to be published on the FML website soon. “For centuries, the freediving community at Enayam has been closely observing and conserving the marine biodiversity in the region. The study was taken up in response to their request to document the rich biodiversity,” Mr. Robert said.

Last year, scuba divers working for the FML at Kovalam and Enayam had come across Snowflake Coral (Carijoa riisei), an alien invasive species with the potential to wreak havoc on the marine ecology. Several colonies of the fast growing species had been reported from barnacle clusters on the rocky reefs in both locations.

“Despite the warning, marine research institutions in the country have done nothing to address the threat,” says Mr.Robert. FML, he said, would take the initiative for documentation, protection and conservation of marine biodiversity in the region with the help of local communities.

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Climate change impacting ‘most’ species on Earth, even down to their genomes

Three recent studies point to just how broad, bizarre, and potentially devastating climate change is to life on Earth. And we’ve only seen one degree Celsius of warming so far.
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 5 Apr 17;

Climate change is rapidly becoming a crisis that defies hyperbole.

For all the sound and fury of climate change denialists, self-deluding politicians and a very bewildered global public, the science behind climate change is rock solid while the impacts – observed on every ecosystem on the planet – are occurring faster in many parts of the world than even the most gloomy scientists predicted.

Given all this, it’s logical to assume life on Earth – the millions of species that cohabitate our little ball of rock in space – would be impacted. But it still feels unnerving to discover that this is no longer about just polar bears; it’s not only coral reefs and sea turtles or pikas and penguins; it about practically everything – including us.

Three recent studies have illustrated just how widespread climate change’s effect on life on our planet has already become.

“It is reasonable to suggest that most species on Earth have been impacted by climate change in some way or another,” said Bret Scheffers with the University of Florida. “Some species are negatively impacted and some species positively impacted.”

Scheffers is the lead author of a landmark Science study from last year that found that current warming (just one degree Celisus) has already left a discernible mark on 77 of 94 different ecological processes, including species’ genetics, seasonal responses, overall distribution, and even morphology – i.e. physical traits including body size and shape.

Woodland salamanders are shrinking in the Appalachian Mountains; the long-billed, Arctic-breeding red knot is producing smaller young with less impressive bills leading to survival difficulties. Marmots and martens in the Americas are getting bigger off of longer growing seasons produce more foodstuffs, while the alpine chipmunks of Yellowstone National Park have actually seen the shape of their skulls change due to climate pressure.

Life is proving just as strange under our new climate regime when it comes to genetics. Pink salmon genetics are evolving for earlier migrations – with fewer salmon encoding their genes for earlier migrations. In making its way north, the southern flying squirrel has begun hybridising with the northern flying squirrel. The water flea has seen its genetics change over just a few decades to respond to higher water temperatures.

But the fact that so many species are undergoing genetic changes doesn’t mean they are successfully adapting to our warmer world.

“In many instances genetic diversity is being lost due to climate change, not just in nature but also in resources that human’s depend on such as crops and timber,” Scheffers said. “It is important to not confuse species responses and adaptation as an indicator that everything will be okay.”

Scheffers and his colleagues’ findings are furthered by a study in Nature Climate Change this February that found that 47 percent of land mammals and 23 percent of birds have already suffered negative impacts form climate change. In all, nearly 700 species in just these two groups are flagging under climate change, according to this research.

We now have evidence that entire ecosystems, some the size of entire states within the USA, are changing.
Brett Scheffers
“There has been a massive under-reporting of these impacts,” co-author James Watson with the University of Queensland said in a press release, pointing out that the IUCN Red List only considers seven percent of mammals and four percent of birds as threatened by climate change and severe weather. The IUCN often drags behind the latest science – many species wait decades for an update while most species on Earth have never been evaluated.

In worst-case scenarios, species are simply vanishing.

A third study – this one in PLOS Biology – found that more than 450 plants and animals have undergone local extinctions due to climate change. Local extinction, as its name implies, doesn’t mean the species are gone for good, but that they vanish from a portion of their range. For example, the barren ground shrew has seen its range constrict aggressively as its tundra home warms.

“If global warming continues, species that cannot change or move quickly enough may go globally extinct,” the study’s author, John Wiens with the University of Arizona, said.

Such global extinctions have already happened. Last year, scientists discovered that the Bramble Cay melomys – an Australian rat-like rodent – went extinct recently (it was last seen in 2007) due to rising seas inundating its tiny coral island.

It’s the first mammal confirmed to be pushed to extinction entirely due to climate change – or one could say our fossil fuel addiction.

Wiens’ study also found that local extinctions were happening more in the tropics than in temperate areas. This is worrying since the tropics hold the vast bulk of the world’s biodiversity, with many tropic species still unstudied and even undiscovered by scientists.

But changes are rippling even beyond single extinctions.

“We now have evidence that entire ecosystems, some the size of entire states within the USA, are changing in response to climate change,” said Scheffers. He pointed to kelp forests that he said “are dying” and being replaced by rocky, less-productive ecosystems.

Made up of giant brown algae, kelp as tall as trees provide essential nurseries for fish, protect coastlines against worsening storm surges, store vast amounts of carbon, and provide homes for species like sea otters. But warming waters combined with ocean acidification is taking its toll.

And Scheffers expects more “ecosystem shifts,” as scientists describe them, in the future. Cloud forests are at risk of becoming high altitude grasslands, coral reefs of becoming algal-dominated ecosystems, and Arctic sea ice – open ocean.

“Given what we are seeing now, just imagine what will happen to all these species when temperatures increase by four of five times that amount,” said Wiens.

If global society doesn’t kick its fossil fuel addiction – and quick – scientists estimate that temperatures could rise 4-5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Such a rise would be not so much catastrophic, but apocalyptic.

“One thing that is certain is that this global response to climate change points to an increasingly unpredictable future for humans,” Scheffers said.

More than half of the world’s humans today live in cities – but that won’t make any of us immune to the changes going on in nature. According to Scheffer’s research, humans will see a drop in productivity of various crops or timber species, a drastic loss in marine fisheries, a potential rise in new diseases as well as disease spreading to places they’d never been before. Meanwhile, declines in coral reefs, kelp forests and mangroves could lead to more lives lost in climate-fueled storms. Loss of global biodiversity will also have knock-on effects in societies around the world, from less productive ecosystems to impacts we simply can’t predict today.

“I was not surprised,” Scheffers said of his research. “But I was alarmed. The extent of impacts is vast and has impacted every ecosystem on the Earth.”

Is all this alarmist? Sure. But it’s high time we set off the alarms – they should have started ringing in the 1980s and been deafening by the early 1990s.

Does all this imply nothing can be done? Of course not.

“Governments and large organisation can invest and commit to reducing carbon emissions and protecting natural ecosystems that increase resilience to climate change not only for nature but for people as well,” Scheffers said. “These include large areas of connected forests which cool local and regional climate, pristine coral and oyster reefs that not only provide food but reduce storm surges, and well managed watersheds that will maintain adequate fresh water.”

Wiens agreed, but added that “there also needs to be more, bolder, large-scale efforts to reduce the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.”

A number of companies have already produced technologies that do just that: they pull carbon out of the atmosphere. But to date, lack of money and support have delayed rolling out such devices en masse.

Meanwhile, the researchers agree that the Paris Agreement – the only global agreement to tackle climate change – must be protected.

“Wisdom comes from combining truth with beliefs. There is a global scientific consensus around climate change and its impacts on nature and humans. It is truth that climate change will have devastating impacts on human health and quality of life,” Scheffers said, noting that the Trump Administration’s current flirtation with pulling out of the Paris Agreement “is not only an unwise decision but a dangerous decision.”

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