Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jan 18

Celebrating World Wetlands Day!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Diving with (once) extinct animals
Hantu Blog

Read more!

Singapore is building Arctic research laboratories

The Arctic 24 Jan 18;

Singapore is interested in taking part in Arctic projects and fundamental research, because climate change in this region influences the situation in the other regions of the world, Sam Tan, Singapore's Minister of State for Manpower, told RIA Novosti on the sidelines of the Arctic Frontiers 2018 conference.

In 2013, Singapore received observer status at the Arctic Council and has kept an eye on developments in this region since then.

Sam Tan said his country was greatly interested in Arctic projects, because everything that is taking place in the Arctic has an effect on the rest of the world. If ice in the Arctic continues to melt rapidly, water will inundate the rest of the world. Although it is situated away from the Arctic, Singapore could be left underwater by a natural disaster, Sam Tan said in his speech at the conference. He added that more efforts must be put into Arctic research.

Several Arctic research laboratories are being built in Singapore, as well as a deep-water pool where ocean conditions are simulated for the study of marine systems, the minister said. Singapore is also implementing other research projects, for example, on Arctic migratory birds and oil spill prevention.

Sam Tan said that Singapore was closely cooperating with the embassies of Finland, Canada and Norway. Singapore was the first to host the Arctic Frontiers Seminar Abroad, because they want people to learn more about the Arctic so as to be able to engage in a constructive dialogue.

Over 3,000 delegates from 35 countries are attending the 12th Arctic Frontiers international conference in Tromso, Norway. The main theme this year is Connecting the Arctic.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sea gypsy jailed three years for possessing turtle meat

stephanie lee The Star 25 Jan 18;

KOTA KINABALU: A Sea gypsy (Bajau Pelau) was sentenced to three years’ jail and fined RM60,000 for possessing turtle meat and shell.

Karan Dati, 35, will be required to serve another year in jail if he failed to pay the fine.

He was handed the sentence after he pleaded guilty before Tawau Sessions Court judge Awang Krisnada Awang Mahmud on Thursday (Jan 25).

He was charged under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment Act after being caught with four slices of green turtle meat and shell at about 1.30pm on Jan 14 at Pulau Karindingan off Semporna district.

Karan was nabbed while on his boat by Maritime officials, who suspected he was illegally hunting the protected species.

Authorities also found tools in the boat which they suspect were used to hunt turtles.

Another man who was with Karan was also being investigated under the Immigration Act. Both were found to be undocumented.

Sabah Wildlife Department official Abdul Karim Dakog prosecuted.

Karan could have been fined up to RM250,000 and jailed up to five years for the offence.

Read more!

Sabah Wildlife Department thrilled to hear Indonesia will send Sumatran rhino sperm

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 25 Jan 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Wildlife Department welcomes the news of the Indonesian government agreeing to send the semen of a Sumatran rhinoceros for its Advanced Reproductive Technology programme, said director Augustine Tuuga.

"This has been agreed during the Technical Expert Meeting between Indonesia and Malaysia, held in October last year in Jakarta.

"Hopefully the Memorandum of Agreement for the cooperation in Sumatran rhinoceros conservation between the Indonesian and Malaysian governments will be signed soon to allow for the establishment of a joint working group," he said in a statement, adding that the agreement will also pave the way for the full implementation of the cooperation.

Augustine was responding to a report by an online portal a quoting senior official of Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry, hinting that the sperm of Andalas, their captive-bred rhinoceros, might be sent to Malaysia this year.

The plan is to fertilise Andalas' sperm with viable egg of Malaysia's only female rhino, Iman, who is being kept at Tabin Wildlife in Lahad Datu under the care of Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA).

If the fertilisation takes place, the embryo will be sent back and implanted in one of the female rhinoceros at the Indonesian sanctuary.

Meanwhile, BORA head John Payne was quoted as sharing the same sentiment as Augustine on the plan that could boost rhinoceros births.

He had said that there is an increased urgency to step up the captive-breeding programme for the species.

The country lost another female rhino, Puntung, last year in June due to skin cancer. Iman is currently suffering from uterus cancer since last month and has shown slow recovery.

Ensuring the rhinos stay alive
stephanie lee The Star 27 Jan 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is hopeful that the Sumatran rhino has a chance of survival with Indonesia agreeing in principle to send a rhino semen sample.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the Indonesian government has somewhat agreed to send a sample for the Advanced Reproductive Technology programme.

He said this was agreed during the Technical Expert Meeting held in Jakarta from Oct 18 to 20 last year.

“Hopefully, the memorandum of agreement for the cooperation in Sumatran Rhinoceros Conservation between Indonesia and Malaysia will be signed soon to allow for the setting up of a joint working group,” Tunga told reporters yesterday.

Ministry of Environment and Forestry head of conservation Wiratno said they considered all aspects of the request by the Malaysian Government and had submitted their views to the environment minister.

“If approved, the plan would be to combine the sperm from Andalas, a captive-bred rhino at the SRS with viable eggs from Iman, Malaysia’s last known female rhino,” he said.

However, Iman would not carry the fertilised eggs, as she is still recovering from a burst uterine tumour.

Tuuga said a surrogate rhino from Indonesia would most probably carry the fertilised eggs.

“This collaboration is vital for the survival of this species,” he said.

He said although Iman was unwell, they were lucky to have harvested healthy eggs from her previously.

“We hope she recovers soon so that we can harvest more eggs,” Tuuga said.

Iman is slowly on the road to recovery.

Sabah seeking more information on Indonesia's offer for advanced reproductive programme
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 3 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will obtain further detail on Indonesia’s recent offer to provide the semen of its Sumatran rhinoceros for an advanced reproductive programme.

Sabah Tourism, Cultural, and Environmental Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said although it was just an announcement, getting it done is important.

“I am very cautious because the expression of intention and getting it done are two different things.

“I hope it is confirmed. We thank the Indonesian government for the offer and I will ask my officers to get detail on what are they actually offering,” he said after launching the Lasik service and #LoseTheGlasses campaign at Gleneagles Hospital, here.

Masidi was commenting to the announcement by Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Ministry that the sperm of their captive-bred rhinoceros - Andalas - might be sent to Malaysia this year for its Advanced Reproductive Technology programme.

The plan is to fertilise Andalas’ sperm with viable egg of Malaysia’s only female rhino, Iman, which is being kept at Tabin Wildlife in Lahad Datu under the care of Borneo Rhino Alliance.

If the fertilisation takes place, the embryo will be sent back and implanted in one of the female rhinoceros at the Indonesian sanctuary.

While welcoming announcement, Masidi stressed the health condition of Iman needed to be examined.

“We must remember Iman has health problem. There may be an offer but whether Iman can be fertilised or not is another issue we need to look into.

“All I can say is we need to look at this matter as a global issue and not just our country and Indonesia’s issue.

“Afterall, if the whole rhinocerous is gone then it is not just a lost to Malaysia but the world. This hasto be a global effort to save the rhino species,” said Masidi.

In June last year, Malaysia lost a female rhino, Puntung, due to skin cancer.

Iman is currently suffering from uterus cancer since last month and has shown slow recovery.

Read more!

Indonesia: Four illegal logging suspects arrested in conservation forest

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 25 Jan 18;

The Merbau Police have arrested four suspected illegal loggers during an operation in Kudap village, Tasik Putri Puyu district, Meranti Island regency in Riau province.

They are Munir, 50, a resident of Tanjung Padang village; Bunari, alias Ibun, 36, and Khaironi, 17, both residents of Dedap village; and Marhalim, alias Alim, 43, a Kudap village resident.

Merbau Police chief First Insp. Roemin Putra said the suspects were arrested as they processed wood in a conservation forest area that belonged to timber giant Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper‘s (RAPP) concession area.

“We received information on illegal logging activities from RAPP two days ago. Following up their report, we dispatched 10 personnel to the location. As soon as the team arrived at the location, they apprehended the perpetrators while they were processing natural wood they had taken from the forest,” Roemin said on Thursday.

Based on the preliminary results of the police’s investigation, it is known that the suspects had cut logs – with a diameter of around 75-centimeter each – into two pieces to make it easier for them to transport the wood out of the forest.

“Every day they loot the forest and process the logs with two chainsaws, a handsaw, a hammer and an axe. We have confiscated them all,” Roemin said. Various types of wood, such as geronggang, meranti, ramin and balam were seized as evidence.

Roemin said the suspects had admitted to stealing the wood for economic motives. They sold the logs to nearby residents to fulfill their daily needs. (nmn/ebf)

Read more!

Indonesia: Two protected raptors released into natural habitat

Bambang Muryanto The Jakarta Post 25 Jan 18;

The Yogyakarta chapter of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA Yogyakarta), together with several other conservation institutions, have released two raptors—the elang ular bido (crested serpent eagle) and alap-alap sapi (spotted kestrel)—into forests surrounding Mount Tumpeng in Jatimulyo village, Kulonprogo regency, Yogyakarta.

“The two protected species were handed over by their owners to BKSDA Yogyakarta,” said the agency’s head, Junita Parjanti, on Thursday.

She further said the spotted kestrel was handed over to the BKSDA in 2013, followed by the crested serpent eagle a year later. The two raptors later underwent a rehabilitation process at Wildlife Rescue Center Jogja in Pengasih, Kulonprogo.

“We named the female crested serpent eagle Rahayu,” said Junita.

She said Mount Tumpeng was chosen as the release site because its forests were mostly preserved and food sources were available for the raptors. Mount Tumpeng is part of the Menoreh limestone mountain, which is heavily forested.

“We will continue to monitor these two raptors after their release,” said Junita.

Jatimulyo village head Anom Sucondro said the natural environment in the bird-friendly village was beautiful and blessed with high biodiversity.

“We had issued Village Regulation No. 8/2014 on environmental conservation,” he said

Those who take part in activities harmful to the environment, such as poaching or poisoning, are issued a warning and undergo the legal process upon repeated violations.

“The two raptors spent one week in a rehabilitation cage before they were released to adapt to their new habitat,” said Wildlife Rescue Center Jogja spokesperson Rosalia Setiawati. (ebf)

Read more!

Indonesia: Saving Sumatran rhinos through art

A. Kurniawan Ulung Jakarta Post 25 Jan 18;

In a painting of a sad-eyed Sumatran rhino, a tag depicting the word “Life” was attached to his horn, illustrating the heart-rending situation where this iconic species is still hunted because of the false belief that its horn has medicinal value or to show off someone’s success and wealth.

The Life painting, created by Reza Mustar, was one of the artworks displayed during a recently completed art exhibition titled “Sumatran Rhinos Art Exhibition: Indonesia’s Hidden Treasure,” held at the National Library of Indonesia in Jakarta over three days.

Initiated by the Sumatran Rhino Conservation Consortium, or Tim Badak, the exhibition displayed the work of 10 artists with the aim of raising people’s awareness about Sumatran rhinos, which are on the brink of extinction for many reasons, including poaching and habitat encroachment.

With a short life expectancy of between 35 and 40 years, the conservation of Sumatran rhinos is difficult. It is estimated that there are only 100 Sumatran rhinos currently living in their habitat in Sumatra. They are scattered around the Way Kambas National Park (TNWK), the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (TNBBS) in Lampung and the Gunung Leuser National Park (TNGL) in Aceh.

It is possible that the future generation might only have a chance to see the two-horned hairy rhinos in the form of statues if stronger action to save their population is not taken immediately.

As the smallest of the rhino family, Sumatran rhinos weigh about 600 to 900 kilograms and grow to a height of nearly 140 centimeters at the shoulders and 180 to 250 cm in length. Their reddish-brown skin is covered in short, dark and stiff hair to help keep mud caked to their bodies to protect them from insects.

Sumatran rhinos have two smooth horns, an anterior horn that can grow up to 25 cm and a posterior horn of around 10 cm in length. They are used not only to break branches and to dig for water, but also to defend territory and to guide and defend calves from predators.

The agile mammals can run quickly and climb mountains easily and negotiate steep slopes and riverbanks. Through her colorful painting, entitled Rhino Chooros, illustrator Citra Marina wanted people to treat the rhinos as their friends.

“Despite their robust look, the rhino is actually a gentle creature, which likes to spend its time wallowing in mud,” she said.

In the painting, with “You are My Dear, Rhino Chooros” written on the canvas, a cute and cheerful Sumatran rhino was seen mingling with Choo Choo, a half-dog, half-fox character that Citra created to represent herself.

“After researching, I just know that the rhino is like me, [someone] who tends to be reclusive and shy. The more I learn about this species, the more I care for and love it,” she said.

For her, Sumatran rhinos are unique because they are helpful and happy-go-lucky. They are also known as the “Gardeners of the Forest” because they eat more than 100 species of native forest plants and they contribute to increasing biodiversity by dispersing seeds through their habitat.

In her watercolor illustration series, entitled The Love of Mother and Daughter, Naela Ali portrayed the love of Ratu and her 18-month-old baby, Delilah, — two Sumatran rhinos living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in the TNWK in Lampung.

She illustrated how Ratu and Delilah were always together and how the mother kept a close eye on the calf to protect her. Naela expressed the hope that with the power of her mother, Delilah could increase optimism about a better life for the Sumatran rhino.

The birth of Delilah in May 2016 was celebrated across the archipelago given the difficulty in breeding Sumatran rhinos in captivity. Rhinos usually give birth once in every three to five years. The name Delilah itself, which means gift from God, was given by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to express his gratitude.

A strong message against poaching can be seen in artist Mochtar Sarman’s Love Me. Visitors wearing a pair of 3D glasses were able to find two hidden texts in the painting — “Love Me” and “Dicerorhinus sumatrensis,” the scientific name of the Sumatran rhino.

He said he painted his painting in red to depict the splash of blood of hunted rhinos.

“This is the painting of a rhino’s face targeted by poachers,” he said.

In April 2016 in West Kutai, East Kalimantan, Sumatran rhino Najaq was found dead from septicemia caused by a leg wound after her left leg was entangled in a snare.

In June 2017, Puntung, a Sumatran rhino, was due to be euthanized as a way to end her suffering in her battle against squamous cell cancer. The story of Puntung as a fighter went viral because she survived poachers’ attempts when her foot was cut off, according to the Borneo Rhino Alliance. She later fell pregnant, but tragically lost her baby, — a complication that resulted in cysts in her uterus. But, she still fought on until her condition began to decline.

Although the Sumatran Rhinos Art Exhibition is over, the artworks can still be accessed as they are due to be auctioned until Feb. 7 on website as a way to raise funds to be donated for the conservation of Sumatran rhinos.

Noviar Andayani, the country director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the six members of Tim Badak, said the exhibition was aimed at attracting the attention of young people.

“Today’s generation is expected to develop and practice pro-environmental behavior, such as not being too consumerist so that we do not need to sacrifice our tropical forest, which is actually home to our rare animals, including Sumatran rhinos,” she said.

Read more!

Billions of pieces of plastic on coral reefs send disease soaring, research reveals

A major new study estimates 11bn pieces of plastic contaminate vital reefs and result in infections: ‘It’s like getting gangrene,’ scientists warn
Damian Carrington The Guardian 25 Jan 18;

Billions of pieces of plastic pollution are snagged on coral reefs, sending disease rates soaring, new research has revealed. The discovery compounds the damage being done to a vital habitat that already faces an existential threat from the warming caused by climate change.

Scientists examined 125,000 corals across the Asia-Pacific region, home to half the world’s reefs, and found 89% of those fouled by plastic were suffering disease. On plastic-free reefs, only 4% of the corals were diseased.

The work is highly significant because it is the first to examine the impact of plastic on disease in any marine organism and also the first to produce a large-scale estimate of how much plastic pollutes the sea floor. Coral reefs in the region are contaminated with 11bn pieces of plastic, the research indicates.

At least 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year and it now pollutes even the remotest corners. Microplastics, formed when plastics are broken up, can be mistaken for food by sea creatures and early studies have shown this causes harm.

The scientists who conducted the new study did not set out to research plastic but were confronted by it across the regions they surveyed. The correlation between plastic pollution and high rates of disease was very striking and the researchers think sharp plastic fragments cut the coral organisms, while plastic fabrics smother them and block out light and oxygen.

“Corals are animals just like me and you – they become wounded and then infected,” said Joleah Lamb, at Cornell University in the US, who led the new research, published in the journal Science. “Plastics are ideal vessels for microorganisms, with pits and pores, so it’s like cutting yourself with a really dirty knife.”

During dives Lamb found objects from plastic chairs to baby nappies to a Nike-branded quick-dry towel: “I saw a big white Nike swoosh, right there where the disease was and thought, ‘oh gosh, this is not great’.”

She said that once a coral is infected, disease usually spreads across the colony: “It’s like getting gangrene on your toe and watching it eat your body. There’s not much you can do to stop it. If a piece of plastic happens to entangle on a coral it has a pretty bad chance of survival.”

Coral reefs are not only a wonder of the natural world, home to myriad spectacular creatures, but they are also vital for at least 275 million people who rely on them for food, coastal protection from storms and income from tourism. The scientists said it is “critical” to cut plastic pollution.

The international team of scientists examined corals spread across 159 reefs off the coasts of Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia between 2011 and 2014. They found plastic snared on a third of the individual specimens, with the problem much worse on Indonesian reefs than on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where plastic waste is better managed.

The diseases particularly associated with plastic were skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease. Corals with complex branching structures, which provide crucial “nursery” niches for young fish, were eight times more likely to have entangled plastic.

The scientists were only able to record items of plastic more than 5cm in length, so did not assess the impact of microplastics. Lamb also warned: “There are a lot of other pollutants [such as toxic chemicals] in the water that are probably just as bad as plastic – you just can’t see them.”

Prof Terry Hughes, at James Cook University in Australia and not part of the study team, said: “I’d never thought of bits of plastic as a vector of disease spread from the slime that coats them, but the study shows convincingly that corals entangled in plastic are 20 times more likely to be infected.”

Earlier in January, a team led by Hughes published work warning that repeated bleaching events are now “the new normal” due to global warming and pose a fatal threat to reefs. “The new study shows that remote reefs have much less plastic and disease. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to hide from global warming, and even the most pristine reefs are vulnerable to bleaching,” he said.

Prof Alasdair Edwards, at Newcastle University, UK, and also not involved in the new study, said the combined impact of plastic-related disease and climate change could be very serious: “Warming oceans are still the major threat to corals, but this paper shows that in areas more affected by humans, as exemplified by plastic debris, the chance of corals recovering from mass-bleaching and mortality events may be severely compromised. Corals need all the help they can get.”

Lamb said the one hopeful aspect of the plastic pollution problem was that people can take direct action: “The take-home message for individuals is to be more considered about the amount of single-use plastics you are using and think about where your plastic goes. These little things do matter.”

The researchers also estimated that the plastic pollution tarnishing coral reefs in Asia-Pacific will soar by 40% by 2025 to 16bn pieces, unless action is taken. The true number is likely to be higher, as China and Singapore were not included in the analysis.

A 'marine motorhome for microbes': Oceanic plastic trash conveys disease to coral reefs
Cornell University Science Daily 25 Jan 18;

For coral reefs, the threat of climate change and bleaching are bad enough. An international research group led by Cornell University has found that plastic trash -- ubiquitous throughout the world's oceans -- intensifies disease for coral, adding to reef peril, according to a new study in the journal Science.

"Plastic debris acts like a marine motorhome for microbes," said the study's lead author, Joleah Lamb, a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell. She began collecting this data as a doctoral candidate at James Cook University in Australia.

"Plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals," Lamb said. "Plastic items -- commonly made of polypropylene, such as bottle caps and toothbrushes -- have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria. This is associated with the globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes."

When plastic debris meets coral, the authors say, the likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent -- a 20-fold change. The scientists estimate that about 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on reefs across the Asia-Pacific region, and that this will likely increase 40 percent over the next seven years.

Coral are tiny animals with living tissue that cling to and build upon one another to form "apartments," or reefs. Bacterial pathogens ride aboard the plastics, disturbing delicate coral tissues and their microbiome.

"What's troubling about coral disease is that once the coral tissue loss occurs, it's not coming back," said Lamb. "It's like getting gangrene on your foot and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your whole body."

Lamb and colleagues surveyed 159 coral reefs from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand, visually examining nearly 125,000 reef-building corals for tissue loss and disease lesions. The number of plastic items varied widely, from 0.4 items per 100 square meters (about the size of a two-bedroom Manhattan flat), in Australia, to 25.6 items per 100 square meters in Indonesia. This is significant given that 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste are estimated to enter the ocean in a single year, Lamb said.

The scientists forecast that by 2025, plastic going into the marine environment will increase to roughly 15.7 billion plastic items on coral reefs, which could lead to skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease.

"Our work shows that plastic pollution is killing corals. Our goal is to focus less on measuring things dying and more on finding solutions," said senior author Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "While we can't stop the huge impact of global warming on coral health in the short term, this new work should drive policy toward reducing plastic pollution."

Coral reefs are productive habitats in the middle of nutrient-poor waters, Harvell said. Thanks to the symbiotic relationship between corals and their solar-powered algae, "this miracle of construction creates the foundation for the greatest biodiversity in our oceans," she said. "Corals are creating a habitat for other species, and reefs are critical to fisheries."

Said Lamb: "This study demonstrates that reductions in the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean will have direct benefits to coral reefs by reducing disease-associated mortality."

Journal Reference:

Joleah B. Lamb, Bette L. Willis, Evan A. Fiorenza, Courtney S. Couch, Robert Howard, Douglas N. Rader, James D. True, Lisa A. Kelly, Awaludinnoer Ahmad, Jamaluddin Jompa, C. Drew Harvell. Plastic waste associated with disease on coral reefs. Science, 2018 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar3320

Read more!