1 Tahrcountry Musings: October 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pesticides, fertilizers, the villain behind the frog Decline

A field survey led by Jason Rohr of the University of South Florida has come up with the finding that chemical Atrazine in fertilizers is the villain behind the decline of frogs in US. Atrazine harms the amphibians' immune defenses against infection. The effects of this chemical is boosted in the wild by phosphate fertilizers. Runoff from fertilizers into ponds encourages the proliferation of snails which acts as a natural host to the flatworm parasite. The flatworms, called trematodes, cause limb malformations, kidney damage and sometimes death in several species of frog. Atrazine is manufactured by a Swiss-based company, Syngenta

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wildlife photographer of the year

Photo credits:BBC

A picture of elusive snow leopard((Uncia uncia) on a night prowl taken by photographer Steve Winter has won this years prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 award. The competition is run by BBC Wildlife magazine and London's Natural History Museum. The work involved incredible patience, working in temperatures below -40C and use of 14 remote cameras in 45 locations in the Ladakh region of India for 13 months.
It was tough task for the jury to select the winner. They had to sift through 32,350 entries.

This is the specifications used by Steve Winter
Canon EOS Rebel XT + 10-22mm lens at 16mm; 1/200 sec at f16; ISO 100; waterproof camera box + Plexiglass tubes for flashes; Trailmaster 1550-PS remote trigger

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

World facing ecological "credit crunch"

The Living Planet Report produced by WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network warns that the world is headed for an ecological "credit crunch”. We are living beyond what the earth can sustain, making us "ecological debtors". Up to $4.5 trillion worth of resources are destroyed forever each year. World’s future prosperity, is in danger with clear cut impacts on costs for food, water and energy. United States and China leaves the biggest impact. They account for nearly some 40% of the global footprint. Per person United Arab Emirates have the largest ecological footprint, While Malawi and Afghanistan have the smallest. According to WWF International if our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles. It is high time we gave serious thought to our profligate ways. Right now we are embroiled in economic meltdown and in the process tend to forget the grave danger posed by ecological "credit crunch". The report is a timely reminder.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Deutsche Bank says climate change and economic slump has portents of green opportunities

I was reading the latest report from Deutsche Bank entitled 'Investing in Climate Change 2009 – Necessity and Opportunity in Turbulent Times'. I found it very interesting. The report says economic slump need not be a complete damper. It has portents of green opportunities which have to be tapped. Mark Fulton, head of climate change investment research at Deutsche Bank opines that "The current economic downturn presents governments with an historic opportunity to 'climate proof' their economies as they upgrade infrastructure as a core response to the economic downturn," He goes on to add “climate change is shifting away from costs and risk towards the question of how to capitalize on exciting opportunities," Climate change industries present a vast new field for creation of new technologies and jobs. In the energy sector alone 45 trillion dollars would be required between now and 2050 to develop clean technologies. According to Deutsche Bank this presents a low carbon industrial revolution scenario. For investors the regulated market holds promise of enormous secular growth. Projects supported by Government policies are more trustworthy according to Deutsche Bank.

The report provides a compendium of analytical framework that investors can utilize to get a grasp of climate change opportunity. Log on to Deutsche Bank site if you want to read the full report. For an executive summary click here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Indonesia reneges on promises to international community

Indonesia had assured the recently concluded World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, its commitment to protect the natural forests and ecosystems of Sumatra in deference to the wishes of the international conservation community. But the words ring hollow now. Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has built a 45-kilometre, logging highway through prime Sumatran tiger habitat. The road passes protected areas, proposed protected areas and deep peat areas. Draining or disturbance of the deep peat soils under forests results in massive emissions which has global significance. The clearing in the past has disturbed wildlife and resulted in increased human – wildlife conflicts.
If Indonesia waits for some more time there is a golden opportunity coming up. The financial mechanisms for avoided deforestation which is on the anvil could result in countries like Indonesia getting more from investors for forest preservation than forest destruction. Indonesian environmentalists have appealed to current and future buyers and investors of APP not to have any business with APP. Staples Inc of United States, Ricoh and Fuji Xerox Groups of Japan, Metro Group of Germany and Woolworths of Australia have already heeded to their call.

Friday, October 24, 2008

EBay ban on ivory trade

EBay announcement of worldwide ban on the sale of ivory has been welcomed by conservationists worldwide. The new policy will be effective from December, and will be enforced from January with diligence. The EBay announcement came just hours after the release of the report "Killing with Keystrokes“by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). IFAW had found over 49000 elephant ivory listings on the auction site. Over 70 percent of all endangered species products listed for sale on the Internet occur in the United States. The volume of trade in endangered species products in the U.S. is around 10 times the trade from U.K. and China, the next two leading countries. Interpol page on wildlife crime indicates that illegal wildlife products are worth billions of dollars every year worldwide. Even though elephants are protected under the International Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), death rate of elephants from poaching is on the rise. More than 20,000 elephants are mercilessly slaughtered every year in Africa and Asia.
I was talking to prominent elephant conservationist Dr Easa the other day. According to him this is positive step, but much more needs to be done. Those who are determined to sell and buy will try and find ways to bypass the ban. So a close watch has to be continuously maintained.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Electric eels study inspires invention of new biomedical devices.

Here is yet another example of how study of wildlife can benefit man. Benefits from study of wildlife are a cornucopia waiting to be tapped in future. Scientists who have studied electric eels feel that the cells electric eels use to shock predators and prey can be mimicked and engineered to power implanted biomedical equipments. The researchers are from Yale University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Electric eels channel the output of thousands of specialized cells called electrocytes to generate electricity. The scientists have deciphered the mechanism of how natural electric eel cells work. Electric eel produces electric charges powerful enough to stun a person or kill small fish.The artificial cells deliver better performance than the real ones and can generate electric potentials of up to 600 volts.
You would be surprised to know that an electric eel is not an eel at all. It belongs to a family of bony fish known as knifefish. The scientific name is Electrophorus electricus. It is the only member of the family Electrophoridae.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Madagascar community leader gets Paul Getty conservation award

Here is something that is sure to fire your enthusiasm about nature conservation. You need not have degrees in conservation to espouse the cause of nature conservation. Ordinary folks can very well do it. What is needed is will and commitment. The prestigious Paul Getty award for 2008 has gone to dedicated Madagascar community leader Roger Samba, with no formal training in conservation. The award honours outstanding contributions to international conservation and carries a $200,000 prize. The award recognizes today's leaders in conservation and also helps develop conservation leadership for tomorrow by establishing graduate fellowships in the name of the winner and J. Paul Getty. Samba was responsible for organizing the world's first community run no-take zone for octopus, a local species of critical economic importance to the community.
For generations, the indigenous semi-nomadic Vezo people of Andavadoaka, Madagascar (Samba's hometown) have depended on artisanal fishing activities for their livelihoods. Their culture and tradition was intimately interwoven with it. In recent years unsustainable tourism and an increase in international fishing vessels and burgeoning population was creating a resource crunch.
Samba created a plan for empowering local communities to take up management of coral reefs and the region's fragile marine biodiversity. Alternative livelihood and environmental education initiatives were simultaneously launched. The project was so successful that eight neighbouring villages formed their own protected areas for octopus in order to reap similar benefits. Here is a shining example of how economic development can inspire and benefit from the conservation of natural resources.
Samba will use his award to establish fellowships for students pursuing masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral degrees in conservation-related fields at a university of his choice in Madagascar.
Well done Samba. You are indeed a shining example for the whole world.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sound pollution affecting wildlife

I was disturbed to read some of the latest findings on how sound pollution is threatening the existence of wildlife.
Have you tried to hail someone amidst the cacophony of blaring sounds? It is pretty tough on your vocal cord. Exactly the same thing is happening to birds calling out for its mates. Biologist Henrik Brumm of the Free University of Berlin has found that male territorial nightingales in Berlin had to sing five times as loud in an area of heavy traffic. Henrik is sure that this could be affecting their vocal musculature and he wonders what is going to happen in future if the noise levels keep going up.
Bernie Krause, a bioacoustics expert has collected over 3,500 hours of sound recordings from the wild. Bernie calls it Soundscapes. In the early recordings each animal had its own niche, its own acoustic territory, akin to an orchestra. Noise from airplanes, automobiles and other blaring sounds produced by man has affected this perfect scenario. At least 40 percent of those natural symphonies have become radically altered.
Extraneous sounds can mask some of the quieter yet important sounds of nature like footfalls and breathing. It is these sounds that that predators latch on to, to catch prey. The prey uses it to escape predators.
So the whole equation of nature is undergoing changes due to man’s inexorable drive for progress. We have the danger signals. It is time to do something about it at least in areas near wildlife reserves.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Indigenous people demand say in conservation schemes.

Gone are the days when you could ride roughshod over the indigenous people. They are slowly becoming vociferous.
Indigenous rights groups are meeting in Oslo this week to voice their demands. They say discussions on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is doomed for failure unless they are based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities. In places where indigenous land rights have not been clearly defined, the whole process could be used to evict forest people from lands upon which they have been living for generations. The apprehension is that this would open floodgates of land grabs and evictions by parties seeking to capitalize on carbon payments. Indigenous peoples are concerned about how these new investments could affect their access to the forests, but here is an opportunity to create sustainable livelihoods for forest people and safeguarding biodiversity if the whole process is handled with sang-froid.
The meeting in Oslo will come up with ideas of how the rights of indigenous people can be respected under "forest carbon" schemes. The choice of Oslo for the meeting is deliberate. Norwegian government has pledged to spend up to 3 billion Norwegian kroner ($500 million) annually to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical countries. Participants of Oslo conference have proposed the formation of independent bodies to advise and monitor the UN Convention on Climate Change to ensure that the rights forest people are put in place. They demand that Indigenous peoples must be accepted as full and fair participants in all parleys.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Internet use good for the brain of the elderly

This blog usually concentrates on matters relating to wildlife and environment affairs. Here is something of great interest that goes beyond my usual realm. I thought this piece of news about the good effects of use of internet on elderly persons is a germane bit of information. It is sure to bring cheer to senior citizens.

A University of California team led by Professor Gary Small has found that searching the web stimulated centres in the brain that controlled decision-making and complex reasoning. Professor Gary Small says that browsing the internet may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults improving brain function. This also enhances brain circuitry in older adults. The study was based on volunteers aged between 55 and 76. The study appears in the latest issue of American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Happy surfing senior citizens.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sumatran Muntjac rediscovered

When a lost species is rediscovered it sends waves of joy to the conservationists. Here is a piece of news from Indonesia that will warm the cockles of your heart. Sumatran muntjac (Muntiacus montanus) a species thought to have been extinct and not seen in the wild since 1930 has been rediscovered. A team working for Fauna & Flora International and the Kerinci-Seblat National Park Tiger Protection rescued it from a hunter's snare on an anti-poaching patrol in Sumatra's Kerinci-Seblat National Park.The team also managed to take photographic proof of the rescued deer; the first ever photographs of a live specimen. The species was first discovered in 1914. IUCN has listed the species in its Red List as "data deficient".

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mammal species are at risk of extinction

World’s denizens of the wild are disappearing at a faster rate than previously calculated. Nearly a quarter of the world's land mammal species are at risk of extinction according to an extensive survey of global wildlife, conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 1,700 experts in 130 countries took part in this massive exercise. At least 1,141 of the 5,487 known species of mammal are threatened. 188 have been listed in the "critically endangered" category. Among the critically endangered species is the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), with only 84 to 143 adults remaining. One in three marine mammals is also threatened. The survey, has been published by the journal Science

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Critical health risks from plastic

Latest research is throwing fresh light on Critical health risks from plastic. A special section in the October 2008 issue of Environmental Research, "A Plastic World" provides startling new information. Plastic has "endocrine disrupting chemicals" that can block the production of the male sex hormone testosterone (The villain is phthalates used in PVC plastic), mimic the action of the sex hormone estrogen (Here the villain is bisphenol A or BPA used in polycarbonate plastic), and interfere with thyroid hormone (The villain brominated flame retardants or PBDEs used in many types of plastic). The chemicals are also contaminating the oceans and causing considerable harm to aquatic wildlife. It is now imperative that new products with less impact on environment and human health have to be developed. The dangers signals have been broadcast.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Brazilian Air force comes to the rescue of penguins

I was fascinated to hear the news about Brazilian Air force coming to the rescue of stranded penguins.
Every year penguins fly towards north from the colder waters near Patagonia in search of food. This year they have traversed distances hitherto unreported. The birds are thought to have made a journey of more than 3,000km. Hundreds of birds have been washed up on the coast of Brazil. This has puzzled the scientists. Penguin migration is closely linked to their need for food, and the altered pattern of journey suggests that something has gone awry with their normal fish supply. There has also been evidence that they are eating fish that are not part of their usual diet. Reasons could be changes in water temperatures and ocean currents or man-made pollution. Scientists are raking their brains to find out the exact cause.
Hundreds of birds were completely exhausted by their long journey. It is here that the air force came to the rescue. They were flown this week in a Hercules plane down to the southern tip of Brazil, where they are being released into the ocean

Thursday, October 02, 2008

All is not lost for Amphibians

All recent reports about amphibians worldwide had projected a bleak future for them. One in three amphibians worldwide are threatened with extinction.200 species have already been lost since the 1980s.Last week Zoological Society of London stated that 50 percent of Europe’s amphibians will go extinct by 2050. Against this backdrop discovery of three new frog species and the rediscovery of one thought to be extinct provide a whiff of respite. Conservationists worldwide are elated.
The new species were discovered in the Upper Pastaza Watershed in Ecuador. The region harbours 28 orchids and 190 plant species that are found no-where else. Other rare inhabitants include mountain tapir, the red-brocket deer, and the spectacled bear.