1 Tahrcountry Musings: December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sports and Wildlife Conservation – Project Worthy of Emulation

The project launched by Wildaid, the conservation organization, in association with Ecuador´s premier soccer team Seleccion Nacional and Norlop JWT is proving to be a tremendous success. Sports is directly helping the cause of conservation. Soccer celebrities Alex Aguinaga, Johny Baldeon, Ivan Hurtado, Ulises de la Cruz, Edwin Villafuerte, and Técnico Luis Fernando Suarez have agreed to act as spokespersons. The immediate aim is Shark Conservation. Over-fishing, over-consumption of shark products and wasteful practices such as finning and needless bycatch are threatening Sharks in Ecuador.

At the fag end of 2005 Tahrcountry call up on Sportspersons worldwide to contribute their mite for conservation of endangered species.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Monkeys Have Accents

Research by Japanese scientists over an eight-year period has thrown up fascinating facts about monkeys. It has revealed that Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata), can acquire different accents based on where they live. Until now humans were considered to be the only primates able to mimic each other's vocalizations.Groups living far apart had acquired distinct accents.The finding, the first of its kind, will appear in the January 2006 edition of the German scientific journal Ethology

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Female Gorillas and Menopause

A new study of gorillas at 17 U.S. zoos has thrown up surprising facts about Gorillas. Female gorillas reach menopause just like human women do. The researchers are quite excited by the significant parallels found between gorillas and human females in their life stages. The findings could aid our understanding of the physiological changes that occur at menopause, including diseases linked to the onset of menopause.

WWF Wildfinder study creates world's most comprehensive database of of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Scientists have long debated whether it is more effective to focus on areas with endemic species or on areas with many species overall. A paper published in the latest issue of journal Nature, sheds new light on this debate. The paper authored by scientists from WWF and the University of Virginia comes to the conclusion that conserving places with many endemic species will also conserve overall species richness. As part of the study titled Wildfinder,
the authors created the world's most comprehensive database of the distributions of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. For the first time, geographic information for 26,000 species can be found in one place.

Gorilla conservationist Dian Fossey remembered

Rwandans are commemorating the 20th death anniversary of Dian Fossey. The ceremonies were held in the Volcanoes National Park, where she had had her research base. It has never been established who killed her in her jungle cabin in 1985.She spent two decades working among Rwanda's rare mountain gorillas. Only about 700 gorillas survive in the remote range of volcanoes spanning the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A third of them live in Rwanda.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Russia's Indigenous People Fear the Worst

Nanai, Russia's Indigenous People in the Far East village of Dzhari are a worried lot. Potentially cancer-causing nitrobenzene and other poisons spewed into their river by a chemical plant explosion in China last month is expected to arrive in the village any time now. A shamanic legend holds that when fish disappear from the Amur River, so will the Nanai from the face of the earth. The Nanai eats fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Top Environment Award for Ecosystem Assessment

The 2005 Zayed International Prize for the Environment, awarded for 'scientific and or technological achievement in environment' went to 1,300 biodiversity experts from 95 countries for their work on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), whose final report was completed earlier this year. The award was set up in 1999 by the crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in memory of the environmental commitments of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The international jury that awarded the prizes described the MEA as a "landmark study on the condition of the world's ecosystem services from fisheries and freshwaters up to the carbon capture of the world’s forests". The prizes will be presented in Dubai on 6 February 2006.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Thousands of Miles across Asia in search of baby food

A Frigate bird named Lydia has made a record, by flying non-stop for 26 days and covering nearly 2,500 miles - across Indonesian volcanoes and some of Asia's busiest shipping lanes, in search of food for her baby. Scientists at Christmas Island National Park tracked the trip with a global positioning device. Though the journey was a record for a frigate bird, it falls short of the top trip among birds monitored by scientists. The record is a 46-day round-the-world trip by a Grey-headed Albatross.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Scientists discover well preserved bones of dodos

A team of Dutch and Mauritian scientists led by Dutch geologist Kenneth Rijsdijk has discovered well-preserved bones of about 20 dodos at a dig site in Mauritius. Researchers believe the bones are at least 2,000 years old. The discovery has been hailed as a breakthrough by the scientific world. DNA samples from the dodo bones could revolutionize understanding of how the birds lived. Dodo took its name from the Portuguese word for "fool" for its apparent lack of fear of armed hunters. The bird was hunted to extinction within 200 years of Europeans landing on Mauritius.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Journal Science proclaims evolution the breakthrough of 2005.

The journal Science on Thursday proclaimed evolution the breakthrough of 2005. According to the editors 2005 stands out as a banner year for uncovering the intricacies of how evolution actually proceeds. Path breaking research has shown that there is a mere 4 percent difference between human and chimpanzee DNA. Other breakthroughs in the journal's Top 10 include research in planetary exploration, the molecular biology of flowers, the violent ways of neutron stars, the relationship between genetics and abnormal human behavior, the new field of cosmochemistry, a protein that controls the flow of potassium ions to cells, fresh evidence of global warming, an engineering approach to molecular biology and superconductivity.

Panama - Environmentalists Oppose Jungle Power Plan

A plan by Panama and Colombia to link power grids via Panama’s Darien Gap have the environmentalists and indigenous groups worried. The project will require cutting a path of at least 40 meters wide through virgin rainforests. The Darien Gap hosts more than 900 different species of mammals and birds, and over 2,000 plant species. It is also one of the world's most unspoiled wildernesses. Kuna Indians who inhabit the area has the apprehension that this will also impact their livelihood. The environmentalists have urged the Government to abandon this project, which will have serious impacts on this delicate environment.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Quarter-Century of Giant Panda Protection

WWF and Chinese researchers are celebrating 25 years of giant panda conservation. 25 years of work has moved giant pandas from the brink of extinction to a solid foundation for survival. According to the results of a survey conducted by WWF and China's State Forestry Administration, there are nearly 1,600 pandas in the wild now.

Stranded Whales Rescued off New Zealand

Volunteers and conservation officials refloated more than 100 pilot whales stranded on a beach near New Zealand’s South Island on Wednesday. Conservation officials washed them with water to keep them cool and prevent their skin from drying and then herded the whales out to sea. New Zealand, which has 41 whale species in its waters, has a high rate of strandings because of its long coastline and sometimes shallow waters.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

South Asian experts meet to protect endangered Elephants

75 elephant experts from five South Asian countries have met in a two-day meeting in southern Bangladesh in an effort to Protect Endangered Elephants. The conference was jointly sponsored by the Washington-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Nairobi-based organisation for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants. The meeting adopted policies and programmes for the conservation of endangered elephants. Asian elephant numbers across Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Combodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, are now 60,000, down from 150,000 two decades ago.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tracking Pygmy Elephants in Borneo

Five Pygmy elephants collared by WWF and Malaysia's Wildlife Department in Sabah, with support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service are being tracked by the same satellite system used by the US military to track vehicle convoys in Iraq. The pygmy elephants were determined by WWF in 2003 to be a likely new subspecies of Asian elephant but very little is known about them, including how many there are. They are found only on the Northeast tip of Borneo, mainly in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Since elephants live in matriarchal societies, WWF collared only adult female elephants so that each elephant collared represents a whole herd’s movements. The Sabah Wildlife Department described the study as very important and the results could be used to assist the department in preparing Sabah’s elephant conservation plan.

Kofi Annan Awarded $1 Million UAE Environment Prize

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been awarded the United Arab Emirates' $1 million Zayed environment prize established in honour of the UAE's late President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan. The jury mentioned Annan's efforts "to catalyse political and public opinion to an understanding that the environment is a fundamental pillar of sustainable development". Previous winners include former US President Jimmy Carter and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Rabbit decline threatens endangered Iberian Lynx

Myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease, combined with habitat loss and over-hunting, have brought rabbit numbers in Spain and Portugal to as low as 5% of population estimates 50 years ago. The Iberian Lynx, whose diet consists of 80-100% rabbits, has seen its own numbers fall to little more than 100 adults, according to the latest official figures, partly due to rabbit decline. The Iberian Imperial Eagle, another rabbit specialist predator has declined to around 150 pairs. At least 39 predator species rely partly or exclusively on the rabbit, and rabbits are also important for many invertebrate and plant species. Rabbit expert Andrew Smith, Chairman of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) LagomorphSpecialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN said it was now vital to recover rabbit populations in Spain and Portugal.

Extinct Mammoth DNA decoded

A team of researchers - from Germany, the UK, and the US has decoded DNA of extinct Mammoth. Mammoths lived in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America between about 1.6 million years ago and 10,000 years ago during the Pleistocene epoch. The results show that the Mammoth was most closely related to the Asian rather than the African elephant. The findings have been published in online edition of Nature.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Kenya's Maasai Protest Against export of wild animals to Thailand

During last month's visit by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Kenya had agreed to ship 175 assorted wild animals for a tourism project in Thailand. Now Maasai tribesmen are protesting against the Kenyan government deal to export wildlife to Thailand. Masais say they would even take up weapons to defend the animals. The protesters appealed to President Mwai Kibaki to overturn the government's decision to send wild animals to Thailand. A petition signed by 15,000 people was also sent to the Government.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tsunami - sourcing timber from Indonesia’s depleted forests threatens ecosystem

With the major reconstruction phase about to begin in Aceh following the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people in the region, WWF has warned that sourcing timber from Indonesia’s already depleted forests would result in further tragedy for the people of Aceh. Deforestation in Indonesia has been blamed for landslides and flash floods that have killed hundreds of people in recent years and left thousands homeless.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Healthy Corals fared best against Tsunami

Status report, released by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the CORDIO programme(Coral Reef Degradation in the Indian Ocean ), indicates that the healthy coral reefs were better able to withstand the force of the December 2004 Tsunami, and may have offered increased protection to adjacent coastal areas.“Reefs continually degraded by over-fishing, coral mining, dynamite fishing and land-based pollution are more susceptible to future natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, creating a vicious circle of reef destruction and huma suffering,” says Jerker Tamelander, IUCN-CORDIO Marine Coordinator for South Asia and one of the report’s authors.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Philippine Eagle-Owl born in captivity - A world's first

The Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc, Philippines, has successfully bred in captivity the threatened and endangered Philippine Eagle Owl( Bubo philippensis ). This is the first time ever that a Philippine-Eagle Owl has been born in captivity. Philippine Eagle Owl is on the critically endangered list. Very little is known about the breeding biology of this bird.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Shell oil platform in Russia's Far East driving Western Pacific grey whales to extiction

Western Pacific grey whales are highly endangered. Only about a 100 remains. An oil platform, constructed by Royal Dutch Shell in the Russian Far East, is disrupting the feeding patterns of the last remaining population. This has enraged the conservationists. They have called for an immediate halt to this deleterious project that would spell doom of Western Pacific grey whales

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Arctic seas highly polluted – Killer Whales tell it all

Killer whales are found throughout arctic Norway, including Svalbard and the Barents Sea. Blubber samples taken from killer whales in Tysfjord, as part of the research carried out by the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) has shown that Norwegian killer whales are the most toxic mammals in the Arctic. The blubber was full of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and even a flame retardent often used on carpets. Killer whales are regarded as indicators of the health of our marine environment. Whales are particularly vulnerable to contaminants because they feed at the top of the food chain and therefore accumulate contaminants from the species they prey on. The study clearly shows that the arctic seas are not as clean as they should be.

794 species on the brink of extinction

A study conducted by scientists working with the 52-member Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) has identified 794 species on the brink of extinction. The list includes the Bloody Bay poison frog of Trinidad and Tobago, the monkey-faced bat of Fiji, the ivory-billed woodpecker in the United States, the cloud rat of the Philippines, the Spatuletail, a hummingbird limited to one Peruvian valley and Mexico's volcano rabbit. 595 sites have been identified. Only one-third of the sites are known to have legal protection. It is worth mentioning that almost 800 species have become extinct since 1500.The study is published in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (www.pnas.org)

Monday, December 12, 2005

New Books - Tigerland: And Other Unintended Destinations — Eric Dinerstein

In this fascinating book Eric Dinerstein, now chief scientist for the World Wildlife Fund–U.S chronicles his field studies of majestic and endangered animals and plants - Tigers in Nepal,threatened tropical-dry forests of New Caledonia, the lions and rhinos of the miombo region of East Africa and the bison of the U.S. Great Plains. He also writes about the need for balance between conservation and economic development.

Shearwater Books, 2005, 288 p., hardcover, $25.95. -
ISBN: 1559635789

Endangered Animals Given Conservation Boost

The just concluded eighth conferences of the parties to the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS), has given a boost to the conservation of the Mediterranean population of the Short-beaked common dolphin, Henderson’s petrel, the Basra reed warbler; the Large-eared free-tailed bat or Giant mastiff bat; the Strange-tailed tyrant; the Basking Shark and the Saffron-cowled blackbird. Governments and delegates also backed a seven-point plan to improve knowledge and understanding of avian flu as it relates to wild migratory birds.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Elephant prompts United States government security warning.

A United States government security warning has further fueled fearsome reputation of Mutware, an elephant in Akagera National Park, Rwanda. The elephant has terrified visitors and destroyed vehicles. US citizens have been advised, "to exercise extra caution" in Akagera.

Fiji – Efforts on to save Vesi

Vesi (Intisia bijuga) a high-value native timber, is being overexploited and facing extinction on the island of Kabara as a result of commercial logging and wood carving trade. The tree is of great cultural and economic significance. There is hardly any regeneration going on. To reverse this trend, WWF and the government of Fiji have set up the first tree nursery on Kabara, which will enable the community to collect and nurture Vesi seedlings. A reforestation programme is on way. The idea is to develop a community-based forest reserve.

CRISTAL - A new tool to help communities and projects in reducing climate change impacts

CRISTAL (Community-based Risk Screening Tool - Adaptation and Livelihoods) was tested in the World Conservation Union’s field project in the Inner Delta of the NigerRiver in Mali, the widest continental wetland in West Africa and an area of remarkable biological diversity. The tool is being developed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the International Institute for
Sustainable Development, the Stockholm Environment Institute-Boston Center and Intercooperation. The aim is to get a thorough understanding of the links between livelihoods and climate change impacts, and thereby help communities and project managers to maximise opportunities to adapt to climate change

Friday, December 09, 2005

Switzerland - Return of the Brown Bear

After a 100-year gap, bears may be coming back to Switzerland. The first brown bear was sighted in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. This has generated lot of excitement. The bear is believed to have come from Trentino region of Italy. Their comeback is a sign that the overall alpine environment has improved. Bear populations were once found in healthy numbers throughout Switzerland

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Researchers Decode Dog Genome

Researchers at Broad Institute in Cambridge have decoded the dog genome. Tasha, a female boxer was selected for the experiment. Researchers chose to sequence Tasha's genome because boxers are quite inbred. Tasha being a female, the scientists did not have to bother with a Y chromosome, whose long palindromic regions make work a bit tedious.The findings have been reported in the latest issue of journal Nature .

New Transboundary Protected Area

Lake Skadar, the biggest lake in the Balkans will become a new transboundary protected area between Albania and Montenegro covering almost 900 km2. Lake Skadar hosts some of the most important bird habitats and migratory areas of the region. 250 recorded bird species, including the Dalmatian pelican and golden eagle, and 45 fish species inhabit the lake

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Claude Martin hands over reins at WWF International

After 34 years of service to conservation and WWF, Claude Martin has stepped down as Director General of WWF International. At the WWF Board meeting held in Gland on Monday Martin handed over the reins to his successor Jim Leape.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wasps Could Replace sniffer Dogs

Trained wasps could in the immediate future replace dogs for sniffing out drugs and bombs. A species of non-stinging wasps known as Microplitis croceipes can be trained in only five minutes and are just as sensitive to odours as dogs. Dogs require up to six months of training for the same job. U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist Joe Lewis and University of Georgia agricultural engineer Glen Rains are at the helm of research. The researchers believes that Wasp Sniffers could be available for sale in three to five years

'New mammal' discovered in Borneo woods

A research team led by biologist Stephan Wulffraat has discovered a new mammal in the dense central forests of Kayan Mentarang National Park,Borneo. The animal is bigger than a domestic cat, dark red, and has a long muscular tail. Two images have been caught on infrared cameras. Efforts are on to capture the new species in a live trap so it can be properly studied.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Japan - Green tax supported

A poll by Environment Ministry in Japan indicates that, majority of Japanese would accept the idea of an environment tax on the carbon produced by burning fossil fuel. The ministry and environmentalists have long urged the introduction of such a tax, which would help curb energy use and reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, But the Japanese business houses are against any such move. A tax of 2,400 yen (US$19.92) per ton of carbon emitted from fossil fuels would cost each household roughly 2,100 yen a year.

Creating a “Digital Earth” – a new Conservation initiative to integrate

Very few attempts have been made to integrate taxonomic and geographic (or geospatial) data, and effectively put these assets to work for conservation, The “digital earth” idea is a new initiative to address this challenge, presented at the 11th meeting of SBSTTA, the technical body of the Convention on Biological Diversity currently taking place in Montreal, Canada. In partnership with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and in conjunction with theWorld Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), an advanced geographic model – “digital earth” - will be applied to the challenge of integrating widely disparate biodiversity data and geospatial information. This will be available on demand and in real time.

Endangered species and flawed research

In the latest issue of the journal Conservation Biology UC Davis conservation biologists, professors Tim Caro, John Eadie and Andrew Sih examine the research practice of using surrogate animals to predict what is endangering another species. The authors say population disturbances affect common and rare species in different ways and advocate making every possible effort to examine the target species directly before resorting to substitute species.
Flagship substitutes are often chosen because they are biologically similar to the troubled species or can be used to develop a predictive model.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

China – Environmental Chief gets the axe

The chemical spill that has seriously polluted the country's northeastern Songhua River in China has set the heads rolling. China's cabinet has approved the resignation of Xie Zhenhua, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). Xie is the highest-ranking official to be removed from office for an environmental incident in China.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

World’s largest Wildlife law enforcement network launched

Southeast Asian countries have launched the world’s largest wildlife law enforcement network in an effort to tackle growing illegal wildlife trade. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be known as ASEAN-WEN, for ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network .will promote cross-border cooperation, information exchanges, cooperation between national environmental and law enforcement officials, and training for wildlife trafficking agencies.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Early birds had Dinosaur Feet,new Study reveals.

A 150 million-year-old fossil of Archaeopteryx,found in Germany's Bavaria region, strengthen theories that birds descended directly from dinosaurs. The first known bird had feet like a dinosaur. The creature could hyperextend its second toe in a dinosaur-like way. The discovery was made by Gerald Mayr of the Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg in Frankfurt, Germany, and colleagues at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Changes in Bird Song patterns gives warning of habitat fragmentation

Reserch byDr Paola Laiolo and Dr José Tella, of the Estación Biológica de Doñana in Seville shows that birds in Spain and Morocco are having trouble hearing and copying each other's songs because of the way their habitat has been broken up, Habitat fragmentation has led to the birds living in more isolated groups and only learning songs from their closest neighbours. Researchers fear that this will lead to genetic erosion. Increase in agricultural land, forest plantations and roads have contributed to the fragmentation. Dr Laiolo and Dr Tella believe that their song matching technique could be used in other places to measure how fragmented a habitat has become.

330 million years Tracks of Extinct, Giant Scorpion discovered in Scotland

Martin Whyte, a geologist working at the University of Sheffield has discovered Tracks made 330 million years ago by a six-legged water scorpion bigger than a human, in Scotland. This is the largest terrestrial track of a walking arthropod to be discovered so far. According to Whyte the now extinct giant scorpion had at least three pairs of appendages of different lengths. The report appears in the current issue of the journal Nature.