Best of our wild blogs: 11 Apr 17

The common plan civet is NUS’ Campus in a Rainforest: Species of the Month, Jan 2017!

Water Security & Safety and its Economics (by FOSG Ltd)
Water Quality in Singapore

Common Snakehead (Channa striata) @ Tampines Quarry
Monday Morgue

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Malaysia: Algae worsening water quality at Sembrong Dam

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 11 Apr 17;

KLUANG: The water quality at the Sembrong Dam here continues to deteriorate due to the presence of high levels of blue-green algae, which is believed to have been caused by excessive farming around the area.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Resource Sustainability Research Alliance dean Prof Dr Zulkifli Yusop said based on a recent study conducted in the area, the presence of blue-green algae had reached 99% of the total algae population.

“This level is too high.

“This is due to ‘eutrophication’, which happens when too much nutrients from agriculture and farming waste seep into the water.

“When the situation worsens, it will deplete the oxygen level and adversely affect aquatic life.

“The thick layer of algae will also block sunlight, which is the source of energy for plankton and fish,” he said, adding that the lake would then turn green.

Asked about the effects on health, Dr Zulkifli said studies done abroad on water contaminated with blue-green algae indicated possible health risks.

“But I believe that our water regulatory authorities such as Bakaj (Johor Water Regulatory Body) and SAJ (Syarikat Air Johor) are closely monitoring the situation and doing their best to only supply clean water to the public,” he said in an interview.

Dr Zulkifli said more effort should be made to ensure that the lake is rehabilitated as raw water supply is a major issue in the state.

“We need to look forward about preserving our water sources. We cannot look at the Sembrong dam as merely for flood mitigation.”

He blamed the poor water quality at the Sembrong Dam on extensive farming around the area.

“The use of fertilisers in agriculture must be controlled.

“There are no laws in Malaysia to ensure good agricultural practices, only guidelines,” he said.

He suggested a buffer zone be demarcated around the water source and agricultural waste be treated before being released into the river.

When contacted, a SAJ spokesman said they are doing their best to address the algae problem, including using LG Sonic to kill the algae at the water extraction point.

“We have also released more than 80,000 lampam fish fry to eat up the algae,” he said.

He assured consumers that public health is SAJ’s priority and it only channels water that has been treated and is safe for consumption.

Agriculture firms to lose contracts if they break the rules
NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 12 Apr 17;

KLUANG: Agriculture companies which do not adhere to farming regulations around the Sembrong Dam will face tough action, including having their concession agreement terminated.

This includes those who encroach on the dam’s buffer zone or use excessive pesticides.

Agriculture, Agro-based Indus­tries, Entrepreneurship Develop­ment and Cooperatives Committee chairman Ismail Mohamed said besides the Kluang Modern Farming project, other contributors to pollution were oil palm plantations, housing areas and animal-rearing farms within the huge catchment area.

“Based on the water samples collected each year, the water quality has been deteriorating due to many activities around the dam,” he said.

Kluang Modern Farming, he said, had since taken measures to address the problem, which included stopping all farming activities along the dam’s buffer zone, channelling all water from the farms into retention ponds and building proper drainage.

On the use of pesticides, he said the Agriculture Department had been carrying out surveillance and advising the farmers to follow good farming practices.

“We have also conducted tests to ensure that their produce conforms to the chemical residual levels set by the Health Ministry,” he added.

The Sembrong Dam, a major water source for 120,000 people in the Kluang district and parts of the Batu Pahat district, is surrounded by oil palm plantations, farming and the 3,480ha Kluang Modern Farming.

The dam, which was built for flood mitigation in 1984 and is managed by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage, has been providing water for consumption since 1990.

The Star reported yesterday that the water quality at the Sembrong Dam continued to deteriorate due to the presence of high levels of blue-green algae, which is believed to have been caused by excessive farming around the area.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Resource Sustainability Research Alliance dean Prof Dr Zulkifli Yusop said based on a recent study in the area, the algae had reached 99% of the total algae population, posing a health hazard.

Meanwhile, State Health, Envi­ron­ment, Education and Informa­tion Committee chairman Datuk Ayob Rahmat said he would get the Health Department to immediately collect water samples for testing.

“We are concerned as we do not want to cause any health risks to the public,” he said.

He added that the state government had previously come up with strategies to overcome the problem, such as ordering a pig farm to close and ensuring that the cattle farms in the area adhered to the strict regulations.

“There was a suggestion to fence up the dam, but it involves tens of millions of ringgit,” he said.

Asked about the modern farming project, Ayob said it was a federal project and needed to be closely monitored to prevent the situation from worsening.

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Malaysia signs water resources MOU with China

Bernama New Straits Times 10 Apr 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: It is timely Malaysia and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on water resources today, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said cooperation between the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry (NRE) and the Water Resources Ministry of China, was previously via a committee set up by the United Nations in 1968 known as the Typhoon Committee.

“The MoU is now a formal cooperation between the two countries in water resources and it is the best opportunity for Malaysia to acquire expertise from China.

“Among the technology and expertise which could be shared by both countries via the MoU is integrated water resources management, conservation and protection of water resources, adaptation to climate change, flood control and drought management,” he told a press conference after signing the MoU with China’s Water Resources Minister, Chen Lei.

According to him, the sharing of expertise and technology would ensure sustainable socio-economic development with more environmentally friendly management of water usage to combat the effects of climate change.

"The MoU also serves as a platform for technical and research cooperation between agencies in water resources management and research of both countries," he added.

Wan Junaidi said Malaysia was actually not facing water shortage but its water distribution infrastructure needed improvement.

"Integrated water management should be established throughout the country in the administration at central level to district level to ensure water distribution reaches all parties," he said.

However Wan Junaidi said financial constraints were among the problems faced by the Drainage and Irrigation Department in the effort to put integrated water management in the country in place.

The matter differed from China which has huge financial resources to manage water, he said before attending a meeting with Chen Lei.

"China has the budget to manage water. Funding for water projects is usually provided interest-free.

"As such, we need to review the budget allocation so that we could channel water to all parties and develop integrated water management," said Wan Junaidi who is also the Santubong MP.

He also proposed banks create special funds or loan programmes for interested infrastructure companies to develop the water management infrastructure in Malaysia.

He said the government had approved about RM1.8 billion for NRE and 80 per cent was allocated to DID.

"So you can see how large is the budget needed to improve our water management," he added.

The MoU signing ceremony was held in conjunction with the four-day working visit of Chen Lei to Malaysia beginning Saturday.

The minister from China also visited the SMART Tunnel control centre accompanied by Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Dr Hamim Samuri for a first hand look of the facility. -- Bernama

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Malaysia: African rhino horns worth RM13.6mil seized at KLIA

NADIRAH H. RODZI The Star 11 Apr 17;

SEPANG: The KLIA Customs Department foiled an attempt to smuggle in some RM13.6mil worth of African rhinoceros horns, making it the first and biggest such haul in the country.

Its director Datuk Hamzah Sundang said 18 horns, weighing about 51.44kg, were seized from a package that was flown in from Mozambique in a Qatar Airways flight.

“We acted based on a tip off. The shipment transited in Doha, prior to its arrival at our air cargo warehouse at the free trade zone at about 5.40pm last Friday,” he told a press conference yesterday.

Hamzah said the horns could be of African rhinos, given the origin of the package.

The shipment’s final destination was marked as Nilai, Negri Sembilan.

“Initial investigations found that the package was declared as ‘Obra De Arte’ (objects of art in Portuguese). The address in Nilai was also fake,” he said.

It is an offence to import the horns unless a permit is issued by the Wildlife and National Parks Department.

Asked what the horns were for, he said it could be for medicinal purposes.

No arrest has been made so far.

The case is being investigated under Section 135 (1)(a) of the Customs Act 1967 for smuggling prohibited goods.

A person convicted would be liable to a fine of not less than 10 times the amount of the Customs duty or RM50,000, whichever is lower, and not more than 20 times the Customs duty or RM100,000, whichever is higher, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.

Malaysia seizes big shipment of rhino horns at airport
AFP Yahoo News 10 Apr 17;

Sepang (Malaysia) (AFP) - Enforcement officials in Malaysia have seized 18 rhinoceros horns imported from Mozambique, weighing 51.4 kg and worth 13.7 million ringgit ($3.1 million), a senior customs official said Monday.

Airport customs director Hamzah Sundang said officials acting on a tip-off discovered the horns in a wooden crate at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport cargo terminal last Friday.

The haul is the latest indication that Malaysia has become an Asian transit hub for the illicit ivory and rhino horn trade.

The crate, listed as containing art objects, was imported from Mozambique on board a Qatar Airways flight which transited in Doha before arriving in Malaysia, Hamzah said in a statement.

Hamzah said the destination was listed as being in the town of Nilai in Malaysia's southern state of Negri Sembilan but it was a false address.

Rhino horn has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is also carved into highly prized libation cups.

Under Malaysian law, it is an offence to import rhino horns without a licence.

In April last year Malaysia destroyed 9.5 tonnes of elephant ivory that it had seized over the years, in a move intended to deter smugglers who have long used the country as a trans-shipment point.

Malaysia has previously announced in parliament that 4,624 ivory tusks were confiscated between 2011 and 2014.

Ivory from African elephants is typically smuggled to Asia where it is carved into ornaments.

Hamzah also said 2.12 kg of ketamine worth 94.4 million ringgit was confiscated at the airport's budget terminal from a foreigner who arrived last Wednesday from Chennai in India.

"During an X-ray of the man's bag, we found white crystals which we believe was ketamine," he said.

Hamzah said the case was being investigated under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 which carries a mandatory death penalty upon conviction.

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Malaysia: Rhino Puntung showing improvement, but authorities aren't celebrating yet

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 10 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department is not in the mood to celebrate just yet, although its critically-ill Sumatran rhino, Puntung, is showing signs of improvement.

Puntung, one of only three Sumatran rhinos left in Malaysia, had suffered from a potentially dangerous abscess on her upper jaw two weeks ago.

Her condition reportedly showed signs of improvement over the weekend.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung had shown worsening symptoms of loss of appetite, intermittent bleeding from her left nostril and very passive behaviour on Thursday and Friday.

“Normally, she wo consume about 30 kilograms of fresh leaves and twigs daily.

“She ate very little over those two days, and spent most of the daytime lethargic in her wallow,” he said in a statement, adding that they had thought there was no hope left when intermittent bleeding was spotted on her left nostril.

On Saturday, Puntung became more active and the bleeding also stopped.

Augustine, however, said the department remains cautious on her condition despite the recovery signs.

The abscess poses grave concerns as the infection could cause sepsis and eventually death.

The loss of Puntung, would prove to be a catastrophic loss to the future of the species as at 25-years-old, she still has a few years of egg production left to be used for in-vitro fertilisation.

Puntung, along with female rhino, Iman, and male, Kertam, are being cared for by non-governmental organisation Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lahad Datu.

Bora Executive Director Datuk Dr John Payne said a combination of constant attention, antibiotics, fruits and various supplements may have turned Puntung's situation around.

Meanwhile, the sanctuary's manager and veterinarian Dr Zainal Zainuddin said Puntung’s stubborn nature had made their job of treating her more difficult.

“We have been trying to take an X-ray for the past four days but she is irritated not only by pain but by our attention, not least the injections.

“We are in frequent contact with specialist rhino veterinary surgeons in South Africa, but they need to see the radiograph before we can decide how to proceed.”

S. African rhino specialists sought to save ailing Puntung
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 10 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah veterinarians are seeking the help of South African rhino specialists to save Puntung, one of the three surviving Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia.

“We are in frequent contact with specialist rhino veterinary surgeons in South Africa, but they need to see her radiograph before deciding how to proceed,” Sabah Rhino sanctuary manager Dr Zainal Zainuddin said on Monday.

He said that Puntung was stubborn by nature and it has been difficult to X-ray her for further analysis of the abscess in her jaw.

“Whenever we try to get an X-ray, Puntung becomes irritated from the pain and injections as well as the attention focused on her,” he added.

Dr Zainal said heavy rain over the past four days did not help the situation, as Puntung’s paddock had become a big mud pool.

Puntung remains very ill from an abscess deep inside her upper jaw, but is showing signs of improvement.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung’s recovery is by no means certain but he is cautiously optimistic.

“We are ready for any development and any outcome,” he said.

After the initial alert over her condition on April 5, it was found that Puntung suffered considerably over next two days.

“Normally, she will consume about 30kg of fresh leaves and twigs daily. She ate very little over those two days, and spent most of the day lethargic. There was intermittent bleeding from her left nostril. We really thought there was no hope,” Tuuga said, adding that the bleeding stopped on Saturday and she became more active.

Datuk Junaidi Payne, the executive director of Borneo Rhino Alliance – the non-governmental organisation tasked with caring for the rhinos at Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve – said a combination of constant attention as well as antibiotics, fruits and supplements might have turned the situation around.

Vets struggling to treat rhino
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 11 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Veterinarians are seeking the help of South African rhino specialists to save ailing Puntung – one of the last three surviving Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia – which is suffering from an abscess deep inside her upper jaw.

But first, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary has to obtain a radiograph of her and she has not been cooperating.

“Whenever we try to get her X-rayed, Puntung becomes irritated because of the pain and injections, as well as the attention focused on her,” the sanctuary’s manager Dr Zainal Zainuddin said.

He added that the rhino specialists in South Africa need to see the image to analyse the abscess before they decide how to proceed.

Heavy downpour over the past four days did not help with the situation as well when rain converted Puntung’s enclosed paddock into a big muddy pool.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung’s recovery is by no means certain but he was cautiously optimistic.

“We are ready for any new development, and any outcome,” he said.

Puntung’s condition was made public on Wednesday, and she suffered further for the next two days before getting better.

“Normally, she consumes about 30kg of fresh leaves and twigs daily but she ate very little over those two days, and was mostly lethargic in her wallow.

“There was intermittent bleeding from her left nostril. We really thought there was no more hope,” Tuuga said, adding that Puntung eventually became more active and the bleeding stopped by Saturday.

Datuk John Payne, executive director of Borneo Rhino Alliance, the non-governmental organisation tasked with managing the rhinos at Borneo Rhino Sanctuary in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, said a combination of constant attention, antibiotics, fruits and various supplements might have helped.

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Indonesia: BMKG Detects 15 Fire Hot Spots in Sumatra

Jakarta Globe 10 Apr 17;

Jakarta. Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, or BMKG, said on Sunday (09/04) it has detected 15 hot spots indicating forest and land fires on the island of Sumatra.

"The hot spots were detected in four provinces," BMKG Pekanbaru head Sugarin said.

The agency's Terra and Aqua satellites detected four fire hot spots in Jambi, two each in West Sumatra and South Sumatra, and seven in Riau.

"[In Riau] there are four spots in Indragiri Hulu, two in Pelalawan and one in Kampar," Sugarin said.

Out of the seven hot spots in Riau, four are from forest fires, he added.

On a brighter note, light to medium intensity rain is still expected to fall in most parts of Riau until the end of April, before proper dry season starts in May, Sugarin said.

The fire-prone season is expected to last until September this year.

"From May to September, the wind will move from south to north. If there's fire, smoke and haze will reach Malaysia and Singapore," Sugarin said.

Riau's administration announced an emergency alert on haze from forest and land fires in January this year.

The Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BPBD, said over 300 hectares of land in Riau were destroyed by fire in the first quarter of this year.

A task force established to stop forest fires has increased patrols and built canals in the province to prevent new fire hot spots.

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Indonesia: Kendari has attractive mangrove ecotourism areas

Otniel Tamindael Antara 11 Apr 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Three mangrove ecotourism areas of Lahundape, Purirano, and Bungkutoko along the coast of Kendary Bay in the Indonesian province of Southeast Sulawesi have now become leading tourist destinations in the city of Kendari.

Kendari municipal government has recently inaugurated the three mangrove ecotourism areas, and this time they continue to attract a lot of visitors from the city of Kendari and beyond almost every day.

Seeing the increasing number of visitors to these three areas of the mangrove ecotourism, the Kendari municipal government is now involving the local communities in managing the areas.

According to Asrun, the mayor of Kendari, the local communities are involved in the management of Lahundape, Purirano, and Bungkutoko mangrove ecotourism areas so that they can also have a sense of belonging, and to participate in keeping these areas from encroachment of irresponsible parties.

"We involve local communities in the conservation and management of mangrove forests so that they may also have the sense of responsibility and participate in preserving the area from encroachment by the irresponsible parties," Asrun remarked in Kendari on Sunday.

The mayor of Kendari reiterated that Lahundape, Purirano, and Bungkutoko are mangrove ecotourism areas along the coast of Kendari Bay that involve local communities in managing the mangrove trekking areas.

According to him, people who are involved in the mangrove trekking management of more than 35 hectare will get a big profit from parking revenues from tourists who visited the mangrove forests.

"We hope the mangrove ecotourism areas should not be encroached upon, so they must be properly controlled with the involvement of local communities," Asrun affirmed.

The local government of Kendari City is making every effort to preserve mangrove forests as the laboratories of nature.

Asrun remarked that mangrove trees are not foreign to the people of the city. Mangroves have lot of benefits, as they maintain environmental balance and serve as a natural laboratory.

"Therefore, let us continue to preserve these mangrove forests," Asrun said, adding that mangrove forests are also spread in numerous areas in the city of Kendari, in the villages of Tondonggeu, Sambuli, Purirano, Korumba, Lahundape, Anggoeya, and around the island of Bungkutoko.

Especially in Bungkutoko Island, the mangrove forests are being developed into mangrove trekking area for educational tourism by coordinating with the local communities.

This small island, located just at the mouth of Kendari Bay and off the coast of Kendari city, is surrounded by white sandy beaches and very dense mangrove forests with many different species of birds.

With its beautiful beaches, abundant native wildlife, and pristine waters, Bungkutoko Island has long been a favorite destination for visitors and local residents alike.

On the island of Bungkutoko, there are numerous pristine mangrove forests, where tourists enjoy trekking.

Tourists who come to this island will have the opportunity to explore the mangrove forest ecosystem, to fish, and to enjoy the variety of flora and fauna.

In addition to Bungkutoko Island, all the mangrove forests along the coast of Kendari will also be preserved, because they have a lot of benefits for humans and the environment.

In the meantime, Kendari Regional Legislative Assembly (DPRD) member Heny Handayani Lantjita has called on the Kendari city administration to also involve investors, in addition to local communities, in managing the mangrove trekking area.

"By involving investor in managing the Bungkutoko mangrove trekking area, the local revenue earned from the management of the region can be greater," she underlined.

Further, Heny added that by involving professional investors, the mangrove trekking area will become a favorite ecotourism destination on the island.

She highlighted that besides mangrove tourism, underwater tourism is also attracting visitors to the island of Bungkutoko.

"Tourists who come to the island can also go surfing, diving, and snorkeling," she stated.

She noted that underwater ecosystems and mangrove forests around the island can be the mainstay attractions in Kendari, because Bungkutoko island ecosystem is relatively good compared to other small islands there.

Spending just a day or two on the Bungkutoko Island will not be enough for visitors to enjoy the hospitality of the local community and their interesting culture and traditions, and to relish the beauty of nature at sunrise.

In addition to the natural panorama of the coast, the underwater world of Bungkutoko Island, with various types of coral reefs, species of fish and other marine biota, is extremely appealing.

Therefore, the Kendari city government is making every effort to develop the 500-hectare island of Bungkutoko as a tourist attraction by promoting it through a variety of tourism activities aimed at domestic and foreign tourists.

Besides Bungkutoko Island, tourist attractions that can be managed optimally to boost local revenue include Nambo beach and Bokori Island.

Bokori is one of the small islands with its scenic beauty, warm waters, and white sandy beaches. It is an ideal getaway in Southeast Sulawesi Province for tourists and local residents to unwind.

Hence, the Southeast Sulawesi provincial government is committed to promoting the marine tourism at Bokori Island in the province, according to local Tourism and Creative Economy Office Chief Zainal Koedoes.

"As part of our commitments to develop Bokori Island into a tourist destination in the province, we will soon establish the Technical Implementation Unit Service (UPTD) to manage the tourism sector," Zainal remarked.(*)

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Thailand: Dugong numbers off Trang up again despite smaller seagrass areas

Khanitta Sitong The Nation 11 Apr 17;

THE NUMBER of dugongs in the sea off Trang has risen to a decade high of 169, according to a recent survey of the “sea cow” population by the Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Centre.

Centre director Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, who headed the expert team that carried out the survey from March 24 to 30, said if the authorities could keep the dugong fatality rate at under five deaths a year the population would grow to at least 200 dugongs in four years.

The experts took gyroplane trips and used a drone to count and determine the approximate number of dugongs in an effort to conserve thes rare mammals. This year’s tally of 169 is a gradual increase from 160 dugongs in 2016, 145 in 2015, and 135 in 2014.

The latest aerial survey found more than 10 pairs of dugong mothers and calves – a positive sign that joint efforts to conserve them have made progress.

Kongkiat thanked local fishing communities for helping by not using dangerous fishing gear. However, the team still found one dugong with its tail entangled in a seine fishing net – the same one spotted last year – near Koh Libong, he said.

The dugongs’ habitat also seemed to shrink; a large number of them were found further into Koh Libong’s dugong sanctuary zone, as the Koh Mook and Haad Chaomai National Park areas now see higher volumes of fishing boats and tourist boats, |he said.

Thailand’s last and largest dugong herd was in the seagrass fields around Koh Libong, which have shrunk sharply, from 12,173 square rai in 2006 to 7,306 square rai in 2011. These fields have been decimated by large cargo ships that ply the main shipping route near the island as well as increased sediment levels.

The drop in seagrass meadows, plus fishermen’s use of dangerous tools, have contributed to the dugong herd’s decline.

From 1998-2010, the number of dugongs off Trang was up to 200 but that declined to 150 in 2011, then 135 in 2012 and the lowest total of 125 in 2013.

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Saved: the endangered species back from the brink of extinction

Human activity has put wildlife around the world at risk, but many creatures are now thriving thanks to conservationists
Robin McKie Observer The Guardian 8 Apr 17;

The saiga antelope makes a strange pin-up for the conservation world. With its odd bulbous nose and spindly legs, it is an unlovely looking creature – particularly when compared with wildlife favourites such as the polar bear or panda.

But the survival of Saiga tatarica tatarica is important, for it gives hope to biologists and activists who are trying to protect Earth’s other endangered species from the impact of rising populations, climate change and increasing pollution. Once widespread on the steppe lands of the former Soviet Union, the saiga has suffered two major population crashes in recent years and survived both – thanks to the endeavours of conservationists. It is a story that will be highlighted at a specially arranged wildlife meeting, the Conservation Optimism Summit, to be held at Dulwich College, London, this month and at sister events in cities around the world, including Cambridge, Washington and Hong Kong. The meetings have been organised to highlight recent successes in saving threatened creatures and to use these examples to encourage future efforts to halt extinctions of other species.

According to the summit’s organisers, there still are reasons to be cheerful when it comes to conservation, although they also acknowledge that the world’s wildlife remains in a desperate state thanks to swelling numbers of humans, climate change and spreading agriculture, which is destroying natural habitats. A recent report by WWF and the Zoological Society of London indicated that these factors have caused global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles to decline by 58% since 1970, and that average annual decreases have now reached 2%, with no sign yet that this rate will slow down.

“It is certainly true that biodiversity across the planet is plummeting but we have to ask what the situation would look like if there were no protected areas, if there was no Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and no anti-poaching patrols in Africa,” said Mike Hoffman, of Zoological Society of LondonZSL, one of the summit’s organisers.

“The answer is straightforward: it would be a lot worse. The trouble is that the public usually only hears the bad news. Successes get forgotten. As a result, people think there is nothing they can do about wildlife extinctions and that is not true. If it was not for conservation the world would be in a much worse state than it is at present.”

This point is backed by EJ Milner-Gulland, professor of biodiversity at Oxford University, who first developed the idea of the Conservation Optimism Summit. “We have got to change our ways and celebrate our successes if we are going to protect endangered creatures. If we are too gloomy about saving wildlife, young people will think there is nothing they can do and that would be tragic – and wrong.”

The troubled tale of the saiga antelope provided a crucial example of the successes that could be achieved, she said. Twenty-five years ago there were more than a million saiga – which grow to about 4ft in length –grazing over vast areas of steppe lands. However, after the Soviet Union’s breakup, authority and policing collapsed in many of its former states, and local economies disintegrated, while saiga horn became increasingly popular as a traditional medicine in nearby China. The result was a wave of uncontrolled hunting and poaching that caused the saiga’s population to crash. By 2000, there were fewer than 50,000.

A creature that was once ecologically stable was suddenly hurtling towards extinction. “I saw it happen in front of my eyes,” said Milner-Gulland, a world expert on the species. “It was a complete disaster. This was a species that no one knew about or cared about and it was heading for extinction. It could have made us utterly despaired. But it didn’t. My colleagues and I decided something should be done.”

Conservationists lobbied to have the species labelled as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and major NGOs started to pour money into projects to save the saiga. UN conservation rules were enacted and the governments of former Soviet states began to take protective measures. Large areas of Kazakhstan were marked as conservation zones. Slowly saiga numbers recovered until there were around 300,000 by 2014 – when the next disaster struck. A mysterious bacterium swept through herds that year and in a few weeks more than 200,000 saiga had died.

“It could have been the final blow. However, this time we had a network of people who cared about the saiga,” said Milner-Gulland. “We had sources of funding. We had governments who were committed to saving the saiga. As a result, we have already halted that recent drop in saiga numbers and expect we will soon be able to bring them back up again.”

The saga of the saiga’s survival is important, for it shows that although the saving of species is hard, relentless work, it can nevertheless be effective. “The crucial point about any conservation project is that you never stop. You never give up,” said Richard Young, head of Conservation Science at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. “It can take 30 years of sustained effort before you turn things round but it can be done.”

Young pointed to the success of the Durrell trust and other conservation groups in saving the echo parakeet. By the 1980s, only a dozen of these vividly plumed birds – which are unique to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean – were left in the wild. Once widespread across the island, Mauritius’s echo parakeet population had been devastated by the destruction of the dense forests in which it lived and the introduction of feral predators that included the mongoose.

The echo was heading for extinction until an urgent rescue programme was launched. “Conservationists dealt with the invasive predators, they erected carefully designed nest boxes to protect the echo, launched captive breeding and release programmes, and provided food when the birds faced starvation,” Young told the Observer. “They kept that up for decades. It was an incredible effort but it was worth it. There are now hundreds of echo parakeets in Mauritius. When you go for a walk in a forest there you can see these stunning, vocal birds everywhere you go. They are a fantastic symbol of what is possible in conservation.”

The echo parakeet’s story is not widely known outside conservation circles. By contrast, the giant panda remains one of the best known of all the planet’s threatened species and has been adopted as the official symbol of WWF. It is also a conservation success story as was demonstrated last September when it was officially moved off the red list of “endangered species” and put on the “vulnerable species” list after it had been brought back from near extinction by determined conservation work by the Chinese government.

Spreading agriculture had seriously depleted the panda’s bamboo food source and so protected reserves were established. As a result, by 2014 the giant panda’s population had risen by 17% in a decade to reach 1,864 animals in the wild. Last week, the Chinese authorities announced they now planned to go even further and would combine existing reserves into a single giant panda preserve that would be three times the size of America’s Yellowstone national park.

“It will be a haven for biodiversity and provide protection for the whole ecological system,” said Hou Rong, director of the Chengdu research base for giant panda breeding.

Local initiatives

Other successes have been achieved with simpler approaches. Consider the issue of ghost fishing, which occurs when fishing nets are lost or dumped at sea. The old net gets snagged on a reef or a wreck and traps fish that die and in turn attract scavengers which get caught in the same net. Tens of thousands of turtles, seals and other marine creatures are believed to perish this way every year. Worse, a ghost net can continue to wreak destruction for decades and they are now considered to be among the greatest killers in our oceans.

One of the worst areas for ghost fishing is the Philippines where, in 2012, Interface, a manufacturer of commercial carpet tiles, set up a remarkable project in collaboration with the ZSL called Net-Works. Local people are encouraged to gather their old nets before they are discarded and to sell them, through Net-Works, so that they can be recycled into yarn to make carpet tiles. In several areas, the scheme has brought about significant reductions in the number of ghost nets and made money for local people.

“We’ve cleaned up a major source of pollution and helped local communities make a modest income from conservation activities,” said Nicholas Hill, one of the founders of Net-Works. Now the project has expanded to the shores of Lake Ossa, in Cameroon. Nets dumped there have trapped and killed the lake’s young manatees. Their removal, and subsequent sale as a source of carpet tiles, has again boosted local conservation activities and helped protect the manatee.

A similar tale is provided by Kirsten Forsberg, whose Planeta OcĂ©ano organisation began work in 2012 to try to save the giant manta ray, which was being dangerously overfished in the Pacific Ocean off South America. Although mantas can measure more than three metres in length, they mainly eat microscopic organisms. “Ecuador had legal protection but there was none for Peruvian waters and the mantas were migrating into these, where they were being caught and consumed locally,” Forsberg told the Observer last week.

For a creature that typically produces a single pup every five years or so, this depletion was serious and was causing numbers to plummet. Forsberg and colleagues began collaborating with fishermen, schools and communities and began pressing the government to ban all manta fishing. At the end of 2015 they succeeded and a ban was imposed for Peruvian waters. Last year, Forsberg was made a Rolex laureate for this work and plans to use her prize money to help local fishermen diversify into tourist trips for divers wanting to see manta rays. “Manta ray watching is a tourist industry that is now worth millions of dollars a year,” she said. “It’s a perfect substitution.”

Closer to home, conservationists point to their success in saving the large blue butterfly in Britain, where it became extinct in 1979 but which has been reintroduced from reserves in the rest of Europe and is now established in parts of south-west England. Similarly, in several Middle Eastern nations the Arabian oryx, which was wiped out in the wild in the 1970s, has been successfully reintroduced using animals bred in zoos and private preserves. Conservationists are planning to follow up this success with a programme aimed at establishing a population in Chad of a sister species, the scimitar horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild.

Such success stories and ambitious plans are worth keeping in mind for the planet still faces an avalanche of threatened extinctions over the coming decades. Indeed, humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that scientists last year recommended that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared.

We are dumping plastics in the oceans, draining wetlands, melting ice caps and destroying forests. Everywhere you turn, the world is being changed by humans and the consequences for wildlife are grim. Fish, mammals and reptiles are being pushed towards extinction. And while conservationists can claim successes, there is still a vast amount that needs to be done.

“The real question is: if conservation works, why are things continuing to get worse?” asked Hoffman. “There are two alternative explanations. One is that we are doing the wrong thing. The second is that we are doing the right thing, but we are not doing enough of it. All the evidence suggests that the latter is the right one. When we tackle a conservation problem we tend to get it right. Our approaches may not always be perfect and may need improvement in efficiencies, but the real point is that we are simply not doing enough. We know what to do but we are under-resourced and understaffed.”

One recent paper suggested that it would cost around $80bn to achieve a significant improvement in the state of the world’s wildlife. “That sounds a lot but it is only 20% of what the world spends on soft drinks,” said Hoffman.

It remains to be seen how long the world will wait before it realises what it is losing and begins to stump up funding on that level. It may never do so, of course. In the meantime, calls for conservation action mount.

One particularly exciting prospect is offered by the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial only found in the wild on the Australian island. “Since the 1990s, its population has been devastated by a facial tumour that has spread through the species and threatened its viability in the wild,” said Hoffman. “However, about a month ago there was a breakthrough where scientists demonstrated Tasmanian devils could be treated so that their immune systems could start to fight the cancer. It would require major interventions – capturing and treating animals – to do the trick but it is a very hopeful development.”

Conservationists’ success in saving the saiga is a reminder of what can be achieved, though there also is a final twist. The antelope has a Mongolian subspecies that until recently had a population of around 12,000. However, scientists discovered a few months ago that thousands of Saiga tatarica mongolica have recently been killed by a viral infection known as goat plague, which has spread to the Mongolian saiga from domestic goats and sheep.

“We are expecting the mortality rate to be up to 80% of the whole population,” said Milner-Gulland. “In fact, all of Mongolia’s unique fauna is at risk, including the Mongolian gazelle and goitred gazelle and also carnivores that hunt them, like snow leopards. The disease is also likely to spread through Kazakhstan and neighbouring countries over the next few years, putting other saiga populations at risk.”

A straightforward but expensive solution is available, however. “There is an effective vaccine that could halt the disease in livestock but it would be an expensive and logistically difficult operation,” said Milner-Gulland.

“The Mongolian government is now considering how best to control the outbreak and conservation organisations like WWF and the Saiga Conservation Alliance are mounting a response. And of course, we have had success in the past. So there is hope.”

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Greenhouse gas effect caused by mangrove forest conversion is quite significant


CORVALLIS, Ore. - Clear-cutting of tropical mangrove forests to create shrimp ponds and cattle pastures contributes significantly to the greenhouse gas effect, one of the leading causes of global warming, new research suggests.

A seven-year study, led by Oregon State University and the Center for International Forestry Research, spanned five countries across the topics from Indonesia to the Dominican Republic. The researchers concluded that mangrove conversion to agricultural uses resulted in a land-use carbon footprint of 1,440 pounds of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere for the production of every pound of beef; and 1,603 pounds of released carbon dioxide for every pound of shrimp.

"On a personal scale, this means a typical steak and shrimp cocktail dinner produced through mangrove conversion would burden the atmosphere with 1,795 pounds of carbon dioxide," said J. Boone Kauffman, an ecologist at Oregon State University who led the study.

"This is approximately the same amount of greenhouse gases produced by driving a fuel-efficient automobile from Los Angeles to New York City."

The findings are published online today in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The results were derived by the researchers through development of a new measurement - the land-use carbon footprint - by measuring the amount of carbon stored in the intact mangrove forest, the greenhouse gas emissions rising from conversion, and the quantity of the shrimp or beef produced over the life of the land use.

Mangroves represent 0.6 percent of all the world's tropical forests but their deforestation accounts for as much as 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from all tropical deforestation, Kauffman said.

"What we found was astounding," said Kauffman, a senior research professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences. "It's a remarkable amount of carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere when you convert these mangrove forests to shrimp ponds or pastures. And the food productivity of these sites is not really very high."

Mangroves are a group of trees and shrubs that live in tropical coastal intertidal zones. There are about 80 different species of mangrove trees. All of these trees grow in areas of waterlogged soils, where slow-moving waters allow fine sediments to accumulate. In these environments, mangroves sequester significant quantities of carbon that is stored for centuries.

Rates of deforestation of mangroves have been dramatic over the past three decades. They are disappearing at the rate of about 1 percent per year. Conversion to shrimp ponds is the greatest single cause of mangrove degradation and decline in Southeast Asia.

The study was conducted on 30 relatively undisturbed mangrove forests and 21 adjacent shrimp ponds or cattle pastures. The sites were in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia and Mexico. Shrimp ponds were sampled in all countries except Mexico, where the predominant land use was conversion to cattle pastures.

The decline in carbon storage from mangrove conversion to shrimp ponds or cattle pastures exceeded the research group's previous estimates.

"These forests have been absorbing carbon for the last 4,000 or 5,000 years and now through deforestation they have become significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions," Kauffman said. "Because they store so much carbon that is released as greenhouse gases when deforested they are important sites for protection in order to mitigate or slow climate change."


Collaborators on the study were researchers at Counterpart International in Arlington, Virginia; Universidade Juarez Autonoma de Tabasco Villhermosa in Mexico; the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica; the Center for Climate Change Studies at the University of Mulawarman in Indonesia; Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia; and the Center for International Forest Research in Indonesia.

Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Council for Economic Development and Counterpart International.

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