1 Tahrcountry Musings: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

World Experts Adcocates Judicious Utilization of Groundwater

The International Symposium on Groundwater Sustainability, which has just been concluded in Alicante, Spain has advocated greater care of groundwater reserves, increasingly threatened by overconsumption. Underground water constitutes about 94% of all accessible fresh water. Two billion people depend directly upon water stored underground for drinking water. Overuse is having detrimental impacts for people, livelihoods and ecosystems. Ground water also provides a critical supply for many ecosystems,ecosystems dependent on groundwater. The upcoming 4th World Water Forum (Mexico, March 2006), will be a forum to discuss the modalities for judicious utilization of groundwater.

Monday, January 30, 2006

WWF and Honda join forces to save Sumatran rhinos

WWF and Honda Motors have decided to work together to protect the endangered Sumatran rhino, the most endangered of all the rhino species found only in Malaysia and Indonesia. Fewer than 300 Sumatran rhinos exist in the world. The project will focus mainly on increasing efforts to protect the Sumatran rhino’s habitat and reduce poaching through close cooperation with local communities and organizations. Honda Malaysia has pledged to contribute about US$1 million to the Rhino Rescue project. The other partners in this noble venture are Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Perak State Park Corporation, the Sabah Wildlife Department.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chimp Antibodies For Fight Against Smallpox

Chimps are helping human beings in the development of new vaccines against small pox. The current vaccine against smallpox blocks infection by the smallpox virus variola by targeting it with another virus, vaccinia. vaccinia can produce severe side effects in a small minority of people and couls even be fatal. A team led by Dr Robert Purcell, at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been working on those taken from the bone marrow of chimpanzees because of their close similarity to human forms. Chimps produced particularly powerful antibodies in response. A hybrid human/chimp version that is powerful has been developed. These potent antibodies can also provide instant protection after exposure to the virus. This vaccine also carried a lower risk of complications.
Protecting wildlife has myriad spin-offs, which we are frittering away by failing to protect wildlife and its habitat. We are foreclosing the future benefits in our mad race for development.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Nations with wild populations of Asian elephants back elephant action plan

The three-day gathering of Nations with wild populations of Asian elephants convened by the Malaysian government, and facilitated by IUCN, the World Conservation Union, has come up with agreement on the best way to protect the remaining elephant populations. The consensus was that transboundary cooperation was necessary to protect the creatures' dwindling habitat. It is the first time that all the 13 countries are coming together. Elephants are found in 13 countries, from Bangladesh to Vietnam.The wild population of Asian elephants is estimated at 30,000 to 50,000.There are about 100 in Vietnam and more than 20,000 in India. The need of the hour is to strike a balance between the needs of elephants and burgeoning human population.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Ethiopian Red Fox in Trouble

An endangered species of red fox found only in Ethiopia is in trouble. Dogs accompanying livestock are bringing rabies which is endangering the Fox. Over the past two months five out of a population of 200 red foxes have died in Bale Mountains National Park. There are fewer than 500 red foxes left in Ethipia.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Environmental performance - New Zealand Ranks First

New Zealand ranks first in the world in environmental performance according to the pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) produced by a team of environmental experts at the environment school at Yale University and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The 16 indicators used to rank nations are: child mortality, indoor air pollution, drinking water, adequate sanitation, urban particulates, regional ozone, nitrogen loading, water consumption, wilderness protection, ecoregion protection, timber harvest rate, agricultural subsidies, overfishing, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and CO2 per Gross Domestic Product. Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom are ranked two to five respectively. The lowest-ranked countries are Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger. Full report is available at http://www.yale.edu/epi

Benefits of Coral Reef Protection

A report, produced by UNEP with the International Coral Reef Action Network and the World Conservation Union says costs of safeguarding the world's fast-disappearing coral reefs and mangroves are small compared to the benefits they provide to humanity. The report estimated that intact coral reefs were worth $100,000-$600,000 per sq km a year and a sq km of mangroves $200,000-$900,000 a year. Benefits from coral reefs and mangroves arise from fisheries, timber and fuelwood, tourism and shore protection. By contrast, the cost of protecting a sq km of coral reef or mangroves in a marine park was just $775 a year. The survey indicated that costs of building a concrete breakwater in the Maldives to replace a damaged reef had been $10 million per km. Time to think about coral reef and mangrove conservation seriously.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

World’s Smallest Fish

Maurice Kottelat and Tan Heok Hui, who are researchers at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore, have discovered the world's tiniest fish. The fish lives in peat wetlands on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra and in the Malaysian part of Borneo.When fully grown, it is the size of a large mosquito. The fish distant cousin of the carp has been given the name Paedocypris progenetica. The previous record holder was a marine fish of the Western Pacific called the dwarf goby (Trimmatom nanus), which comes in at 8mm at sexual maturity. The habitat of this fish is disappearing very fast, and the fate of the species hangs in balance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Decline of Orangutan populations linked to human activity

New genetic evidence indicates that the collapse of Orangutan populations is linked to human activity. The crash during the past 200 years, coincides with deforestation in the area. The study was conducted in the forests of Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Malaysia. By collecting the Orangutans' hair and faeces, the researchers were able to extract DNA to create genetic profiles.Professor Bruford a conservation biologist at Cardiff University says it may even be necessary to move Orangutans around to prevent inbreeding.

Monday, January 23, 2006

UK- Massive Culling of Grey Squirrels Planned

A massive cull of grey squirrels has been planned across Britain in an attempt to halt declining numbers of the endangered native red population. Grey squirrels were introduced to Britain from North America in the 19th Century. Grey squirrels seriously threaten woodland management through damage to trees and by squeezing out red squirrels. Biodiversity minister Jim Knight said the aim was not to completely eradicate the greys, which have a population estimated at more than two million - outnumbering red squirrels by 66 to one, but to reduce numbers over the next three years.

Sad News - Thames Whale Does Not Survive Rescue Attempt

All attempts to save the Thames whale failed. It died as marine specialists escorted it on a barge down the Thames toward the sea. The mammal suffered breathing problems and muscle spasms when it convulsed and died. Tony Woodley, a director of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) group said that despite the sad outcome, the decision to move the whale - costing the group about £100,000 - was correct and they had given it their "best shot".

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Whale spotted in central London

A Northern Bottle-nosed Whale(Hyperoodon ampullatus),which is usually found in deep-sea waters, has been seen in upstream Thames. The Whale has crashed into an empty boat causing slight bleeding. Rescuers have been trying to keep the seven-tonne whale away from the riverbanks. Specialist equipments like inflatable tubes are in place to help the stranded animal. All efforts are concentrated on to persuade it to swim back in to the sea.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment publishes full technical reports

The four “foundation” reports of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) have been released. These 500-800 page reports examine Current State and Trends; Scenarios; Policy Responses; and Multi-Scale Assessments. A summary report was also released. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was a four-year long global assessment of the consequences of ecosystem change for human well being and the options for responding to those changes, which involved 1,300 leading international scientists from 95 nations.

Greenpeace Leaves Dead Whale At Embassy

The Japanese embassy in Berlin has received a 20-ton dead fin whale, compliments of Greenpeace. Greenpeace was protesting against whale hunting by Japan in the name of animal research. "We want to show Japan how nonsensical whale-hunting is, and show them they must stop killing whales", said a Greenpeace spokesman. Environmentalists have been blocking Japanese whale hunters in the Antarctic since December.

New Animal Species Found in California Caves

Twenty-seven new species of spiders, centipedes and scorpion-like creatures have been discovered in the dark, damp Cavesin Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks of California. The species are yet to be named. While it is extremely rare to find new mammal or bird species on the surface, caves still have a bonanza for the scientists. Jean Krejca, a consulting biologist with Austin, Texas-based Zara Environmental led the three-year exploration. Park officials are framing appropriate conservation policies.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Canada Forges Ahead to Protect its Rich Natural Heritage

Canada’s protected area agenda had three major achievements this past three months. The protection of the world’s largest freshwater lake, the doubling in size of Canada’s smallest national park, and the creation of a new national park, supported by the Inuit people. Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, will be the first area protected under Canada’s 2002 National Marine Conservation Areas Act. St. Lawrence Island National Park, Canada’s smallest national park will be doubling in size, through the acquisition of new lands. The third major achievement is the creation of Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve. - The first national park to be established in Labrador (Eastern Canada).

Drought - Kenya’s Wildlife at Risk

A severe drought is threatening Kenya's wildlife, which is straying out of protected areas in search of water, risking conflict with villagers. Kenya has 59 sanctuaries, reserves and national parks. The worst affected parks were Tsavo National Park in the southeast and the popular Maasai Mara National Reserve in the southwest. According to the United Nations lack of rains in many parts of East Africa, including Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia has left around 6 million people on the brink of starvation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Kenya - British environmentalist shot dead in Rift Valley

Well-known British environmentalist and wildlife photographer Joan Wenn Root was shot and killed on Friday at her home in Kenya's central Rift Valley.Nothing has been stolen and the motive for the killing is not yet known. She made several acclaimed films in the 1960s, 70s and 80s documenting Kenya's stunning wildlife and landscape. She was also very active in trying to preserve Lake Naivasha, the Rift Valley's only freshwater lake.

World's biggest fish getting smaller

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the world's largest fish are getting smaller according to researchers of Australian Institute of Marine Science. Whale sharks are caught for food in some East Asian countries and Australian researchers suspect the unbridled fishing is causing a decline. In the last decade the average size of shark is down from seven metres to five metres. Under the IUCN Red List of threatened species, Whale sharks are categorised as "vulnerable" to extinction and they have been added to CITES list of species threatened by international trade. Efforts are on to ensure better protection to this threatened species.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Periyar Tiger Reserve

I had a wonderful time in Periyar Tiger Reserve. Park - people interface through Ecodevelopment Committees is working wonders for the overall development of the Park. People residing on the periphery who once used to view the park authorities with Suspicions are now partners in the management of the Park. Periyar Foundation the apex body of the Ecodevelopment Committees is taking deep roots after the initial hiccups. The entire scenario is emerging as a worthwhile model worth emulating for other parks in India.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Out of Station

I will be out in the field in Periyar Tiger Reserve from 14th to 16th where I have no access to the internet. Consequently the next update will be on 17th.

New Caledonia - Forest Fires Ravaging endangered forests and wildlife

Forest fires, which have been blazing for nearly two weeks, have engulfed more than 4000 ha in New Caledonia. Several rare plant species have been wiped out. New Caledonia represents a fragment of the ancient super-continent Gondwana. Isolated for approximately 80 million of years, New Caledonian's tropical forest ecosystems are among the most unique on earth. 80 per cent of the 3000 plant species are found nowhere else. French disaster teams had to be rushed in to quell the fire.

China – New Clues to the Evolution of Mammals

Discovery of a small fossilised animal that walked like a platypus but looked like a shrew is providing important new clues to the evolution of early mammals. The discovery was made by paleontologists Gang Li and Zhe-Xi Luo in the province of Liaoning in northeast China. The insect-eating mammal lived alongside dinosaurs some 125 million years ago. Measuring 10 to12 centimetres long and weighing 15 to 20 grams, the shrew like creature had a thick coat of fur. The animal has been given the name Akidolestes. Akidolestes strengthens the case of Asia being the place where the main mammal groups first originated. Details appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ants Offer First Example of Formal Teaching in Non-human Animals

Professor Nigel Franks and Tom Richardson from Bristol University have come up with the first proof of teaching in non-human animals - ants showing each other the way to food. The findings appear in the latest issue journal Nature. According to the researchers the ant leaders slowed down if the follower got too far behind. If the gap got smaller, they then speeded up. Professor Frank added, “teaching involves the teacher modifying its behaviour in the presence of a naive observer at some initial cost to itself. This is to our knowledge the first example of formal teaching in non-human animals"

Pain killer endangering the survival of vultures

There is disturbing news for vultures in India. A study, led by Dr Deborah Pain on behalf of the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, published in Biology Letters, is pointing accusing finger at the drug Diclofenac. Diclofenac used to treat inflammation in cattle has been blamed, for the rapid decline of Indian vulture populations. The drug is destroying the kidneys of birds feeding off carcasses of dead, treated animals. The researchers fear that more distantly related birds may be equally endangered, and that substitutes for diclofenac might be similarly toxic. Disappearance of vultures, the scavengers, could damage the quality of the environment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Surprising - In Bacterial Diversity, Amazon is a 'Desert'; Desert is an 'Amazon’

The first ever-continental scale genetic survey of soil bacteria has come up with surprising results. The diversity of soil bacteria in the otherwise species-rich Amazon is a more like a desert, while the arid desert is teeming with bacteria. The reason for this is the fact that the primary factor that seems to govern the diversity of soil bacteria is soil pH. Thus, the acidic soils of topical forests harbour fewer bacterial species than the neutral soils of deserts. The reserchers are Noah Fierer from the University of Colorado, and Robert Jackson from the Duke University. According to the researchers "The number of bacterial species in a spoonful of soil is likely to exceed the total number of plant species in all of the United States.". The findings appear in the Early Online Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Finland Develops New Fully Recyclable Paper

VTT, Technical Research Centre of Finland and the universities of Helsinki and Joensuu have developed a new fully recyclable paper from potato starch. The paper is 20 to 30 per cent lighter. The new process will reduce the environmental impacts of paper products. However, the production costs of the new raw materials are high at the moment.

2008 declared as International Year of Planet Earth

The United Nations General Assembly, meeting in New York, has proclaimed the year 2008 to be the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth. The activities will span 2007-2009.
Thrust areas will be
• Reduce risks for society caused by natural and human-induced hazards
• Reduce health problems by improving understanding of the medical aspects of Earth science
• Discover new natural resources and make them available in a sustainable manner
• Build safer structures and expand urban areas, utilizing natural subsurface conditions
• Determine the non-human factor in climatic change
• Enhance understanding of the occurrence of natural resources so as to contribute to efforts to reduce political tension
• Detect deep and poorly accessible groundwater resources
• Improve understanding of the evolution of life
• Increase interest in the Earth sciences in society at large
• Encourage more young people to study Earth science in university

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Africa Lions in Peril

African Lions are in dire straits. Lions have lost 80 percent of their historic range in the last century. Threatened everywhere in Africa, they are in real bad situation in the densely populated west. The predator is doing far better in the east and south of the continent than elsewhere. The estimates are that there are between 23,000 to 40,000 lions in Africa. Of that, only 2,000 to 4,000 are in west and central Africa and the rest in East and Southern Africa. In West most of the lion populations were small and isolated. Small numbers meant that the populations were vulnerable to disease outbreaks and other sudden impacts.

Madagascar on way to Triple its Nature Reserves

Madagascar, world's fourth largest island, is known to have at least 10,000 plant species, 316 reptiles and 109 bird species. Three quarters of Madagascar's plant and animal species are found nowhere else. At a World Parks Congress in South Africa, September 2003, President Marc Ravalomanana had pledged to boost the island's protected forests and wetlands to 6.0 million hectares from its then 1.7 million hectares. The plans are cruising along promised lines. The newly established Makira Protected Area - one of the country's five new protected areas,now forms along with existing Masoala National Park the largest contiguous tract of rain forest under protection on the island. Involvement of local communities is a key feature in all the newly established protected areas.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Five Species of Deepwater Fishes Assessed as Critically Endangered

Using the criteria of the World Conservation Union’s Red List, Jennifer A. Devine of Memorial University Newfoundland in Canada, has assessed the status of the roundnose grenadier ( Coryphaenoides rupestris); the onion-eye grenadier ( Macrourus berglax); the blue hake ( Antimora rostrata), the spiny eel ( Notacanthus chemnitzi) and the spinytail skate ( Bathyraja spinicauda) as critically endangered. The relative abundance has plummeted. Over fishing and highly destructive fishing methods, particularly bottom trawling, have been the main cause of this decline. Human use of the high and deep seas will be on the political agenda at the United Nations from 13-17 February and at the Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP8) in Curitiba, Brazil from March 20-31.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Return Of The Predator Fish and the Effect On The Coral Reef

The return of a top predator in a Bahamas marine reserve is proving beneficial to coral reefs there. The finding is the result of a study by Peter Mumby, a marine biologist and
Dan Brumbaugh, a senior conservation scientist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York.The study area was the Bahamas' Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park..
They found that while the reserve has allowed Nassau grouper to flourish, large species of parrotfish have thrived as well. Parrotfish are crucial to the health of coral reefs, because they are one of the few creatures that graze on seaweed. Left uneaten, the seaweed suffocates the corals and prevents reef growth. The sea urchins were the only other species known to eat the seaweed

Friday, January 06, 2006

DNA Analysis Offers New Insight In To Cat Evolution

The latest issue of journal Science has interesting info about cat evolution. The study by Warren E. Johnson and Stephen J. O'Brien is based on DNA analysis of the 37 living species. Their new family tree is based solely on changes in DNA, with the fossil record. Johnson-O'Brien team has been able to reconstruct a series of at least 10 intercontinental migrations by which cats colonised the world. Chris Wozencraft, an authority on the classification of carnivorous mammals, says the new cat family tree generally agreed with one that he had just published in Mammal Species of the World.

Brazil Honours British Botanist

Jimmy Ratter who has worked with Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden for more than 45 years, has been awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Brazil.The award is in recognition of the work he has done to preserve the Brazilian Cerrado. He is the first from the UK to be awarded this prestigious title. The Cerrado is a type of tree savanna with more than 5000 species of plants, many of which are unique to Brazil. Mr Ratter has published more than 80 works, half of them about the Brazilian Cerrado

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Carpathian Mountain Protection Plan off the block

The seven-nation environmental plan to protect the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe came into force on Wednesday. The plan aim to protect wildlife in the Carpathians from Romania to the Czech Republic, preserve the cultures of about 18 million people in the region and promote forestry, mining and tourism without spoiling the environment. The Carpathian region is a refuge for brown bears, wolves, bison, lynx, eagles and some 200 unique plant species. Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro are the participant states.

Forest Fires Threaten Rare Species in New Caledonia

Forest fires raging through rainforests in New Caledonia are wiping out rare plant species. Several plant species are being wiped out. A species of palm exclusive to New Caledonia is under threat. The damage to the rainforests also brings danger to the fauna. cagou, a bird native to New Caledonia is under threat.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

International caviar trade banned

CITES the convention for trade in endangered species, which represents 169 countries, has banned International caviar trade. The ban was imposed for scientific reasons and to stop poaching in Caspian Sea. Sturgeon is suffering serious population decline.

New Mammal Named After Chocolate Giant Cadbury

Tom Rich, now curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, led a dig at Dinosaur Cove from 1984 to 1994 in an effort to find dino fossils. Rich promised a Kilo of chocolate for every dino jaw dug up. Lot of chocolate was distributed. Quite certain that a mammal bone wouldn't be found, Rich promised a cubic meter of chocolate to anyone who came up with a specimen. By 1994 Dinosaur Cove the work was over. But there remained lot of specimens to be identified. One of the fossils turned out to be a mammal bone, from an early echidna. This was a specimen new to science. Tom Rich had to make good his promise. A cubic meter is lot of chocolate.Cadbury factory in Melbourne came to his rescue. Because there was no way of knowing who had actually found the bone, Rich invited all of the volunteers who had participated in the Dinosaur Cove dig to the presentation of chocolate. It was a chocolate galore. Naming a newfound animal species is largely the prerogative of the scientist who discovered the creature. Presto the species was named Kryoryctes cadburyi . Details appear in the December issue of the Journal of Mammalian Evolution.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"Bigfoot" Fever Grips Malaysia

The whole of Malaysia is agog with news of “Bigfoot” the mysterious ape in Johar. An indigenous man claimed he saw a 10-feet-tall ape standing on two legs beside a river in the heavy rainforest in Johor State. One newspaper has published a picture of a large but vague impression of a big footprint in mud. Park Rangers are scouting the area to spot the mystery creature.Sceptics however say it is a publicity stunt meant to lure more visitors to the area. The latest remake of the movie "King Kong" has added fuel to the news circulating Malaysia.

Monday, January 02, 2006

UN launches International Year of Deserts and Desertification

The United Nations has launched its International Year of Deserts and desertification programme.The aim of this programme is to raise global public awareness of the advancing deserts, of ways to safeguard the biological diversity of arid lands covering one-third of the planet and protecting the knowledge and traditions of the 2 billion people affected by the phenomenon. Launching the programme UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "I look forward to working with Governments, civil society, the private sector, international organizations and others to focus attention on this crucial issue, and to make every day one on which we work to reverse the trend of desertification and set the world on a safer, more sustainable path of development."

USA - Species Rediscovered in Protected Areas and Wildlife Refuges

Seven species thought to have been extinct or extirpated in the United States were rediscovered in Protected Areas and Wildlife Refuges in 2005. The most prominent of these was the ivory-billed woodpecker, sighted for the first time in 60 years in Arkansas' Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. Others in the list are The least Bell's vireo, The Cahaba pebblesnail, cobble elimia and Nodulose Coosa River snail, The Mount Diablo buckwheat, and The California dissanthelium.