1 Tahrcountry Musings: February 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Excellent Example of Public and Private Sector Participation in Conservation

Goldman Sachs has announced the gift of a sprawling wilderness area in Chile to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The 272,000 hectares has old growth forests ,unique grasslands, rivers and wetlands teeming with wildlife. The guanaco, a member of the camel family, is the region’s signature animal. Other wildlife includes Magellanic woodpeckers, Firecrown Hummingbirds, and the Culpeo Fox. The reserve is home to around 700 plant species, including several types of moss, which are unique to these islands.

Goldman Sachs, the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund, and WCS are establishing a formal Alliance to make conservation meaningful for the area. Ecotourism, will be promoted to support conservation objectives and to provide benefit to local communities.

It was in February 2002, that Goldman Sachs acquired the area as part of distressed assets of the Trillium Corporation, a US company that owned the Chilean lands. Trillium had planned to use the land for logging. This was opposed tooth and nail by Chilean environmentalists. Goldman Sachs initially wanted to sell the area for a profit. The bank considered selling the land but realized it would face the same opposition as Trillium had. So it chose the prudent option to salvage the situation. It gave the land away as gift to WCS. Lot of deliberation was done before the Goldman Sachs Charitable Fund determined that WCS is ideally suited to manage the reserve and protect the key ecological features of this land. Goldman Sachs has pledged around $12m of its own money to ensure the land's protection for years to come. In this process Goldman Sachs has enhanced its green credentials. A case of killing two birds with one shot. The end beneficiary is conservation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reptile Smuggling Attempt Foiled in Australia - A Guest Post

According to an Australian news site, a man was arrested for attempting to smuggle 44 native reptiles out of Australia. The 24-year old Sydney man was apprehended by Customs and Border Protection as he made his way through Sydney International Airport. One of the more valuable specimens in the seizure was an Albino Carpet Python, worth more than $20,000.
It is estimated that only 100 of these very rare snakes still exist in the world.
Authorities found the snakes in the man's checked bags when they went through x-ray screening before his scheduled flight to Bangkok, Thailand. The reptiles were hidden in socks, small cloth bags and other articles of clothing. All of them were alive when they were seized.
The reptile menagerie included: 24 Shingleback Lizards, 16 Bluetongue Lizards and four snakes. In addition to the Albino Python, there were also three Black-headed pythons, which are extremely endangered as well. Before it left the tarmac, the man was removed from the plane and charged by Customs and Border Protection with attempting to export native species without a permit.
The reptiles are all very valuable on the black market, with a combined estimated worth of $160,000 and $200,000. None of the reptiles were harmed during their short trip and have been taken to the Sydney Wildlife World where they were examined by veterinarians and are receiving care and proper nutrition.
Wildlife smuggling is a serious offense and authorities will push maximum penalties to help curtail the practice. The man, from Bonnet Bay in Sydney, is out on bail but must appear in Downing Centre Local Court on March 24, 2009. He faces a maximum penalty of $110,000 and/or 10 years in jail is mandated under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Though this is a heartening example of increased awareness by border and customs agents regarding this issue, demand for rare species continues unabated in much of the world and authorities are left playing catch up. And because it is easy for almost anyone to smuggle many different types of (valuable) wildlife undetected, supply remains high and black market profits skyrocket.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of the online courses. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12@gmail.com

Monday, February 23, 2009

Alarm Bell Rings for Asian Box Turtles

According to a new report by the wildlife trade-monitoring network TRAFFIC Unregulated trade, at 10 to 100 times legal level, has caused Southeast Asian Box Turtles almost to vanish from parts of Indonesia. The turtles are used for meat and in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Major consumers are Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Malaysia. Box turtles are also in demand as pets in the US, Europe and Japan.

The study noted 18 traders operating in Java, Sulawesi, Sumatra and Kalimantan dealing illegally in Southeast Asian Box Turtles. Each trader was handling on an average 2,230 turtles. Indonesia’s official annual export quota for this species is 18,000 turtles per year. The trade is ten times the official export quota. TRAFFIC says this is a conservative estimate. It could be as high as 100 times. At this rate the turtle would be wiped out across Indonesia in no time at all.

Weak enforcement of existing laws is a key problem. Non-inspection of shipments, falsification of CITES export permits, and lack of training amongst enforcement officers compound the problem. The report recommends better training and more cooperation between Indonesian enforcement authorities and those in importing countries to tackle illegal wildlife trade

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reducing the world's mercury- Hope in the horizon

Reducing the world's mercury has been a contentious issue so far. Mercury pollution is a problem of global magnitude. On an average, three times more mercury now falls out of the sky than before the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. Increasing mercury concentrations are now being found in a number of fish-eating wildlife in remote areas. Mercury exposure may lead to population declines in birds and possibly in fish and mammals.

After protracted negotiations United Nations environment ministers meeting in Nairobi has overcome seven years obstacles and have committed to reducing the world's mercury. Formal negotiations will get under way later this year. The treaty will have under its ambit procedures to reduce the supply of mercury and its use in products, such as the thermometers, and processes, like plastics production and paper making. Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, which are responsible for about half of the world's mercury pollution will also be curtailed.

Mercury can travel thousands of kilometers from its original source,. It damages the central nervous system. It is especially dangerous to pregnant women and babies

United states is coming to the forefront of the initiatives. A welcome change under Obama administration.Bush administration had blocked international efforts to limit mercury.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tropical rainforests: New study reveals tropical rainforests absorb 20% of carbon emissions annually

The latest issue of journal Nature has a nice paper on tropical rainforests and its utility in acting as carbon sink. S.L. Lewis et al reports that undisturbed tropical forests are absorbing nearly a fifth of carbon dioxide released annually by the burning of fossil fuels. According to Lewis this is akin to receiving a free subsidy from nature. The paper is the outcome of analysis of 40 years of data from rainforests in the Central African country of Gabon, data from African rainforests and previously published data from the Americas and Asia.

It has been estimated that tropical forests of Africa alone sequestered more than a billion metric tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide each year during the past four decades.

The calculation is that humans emit 32 billion tons of carbon each year in to the atmosphere. Tropical forests of the world sequester 8.5 billion tons of this carbon every year. 8.5 billion tons is dissolved in oceans. Soils and other types of vegetation absorb the balance. This leaves 15 billion of the 32 billion tons emitted by humans each year in the atmosphere.

The paper highlights the importance of rainforest conservation. This initiative should be a combined venture of the nations around the world. It has been suggested by many scientists that rich polluting countries should transfer a major chunk of resources to countries with tropical forests to reduce their deforestation rates. The deforestation is mainly in pursuance of the avowed policy of development. It is big logging companies that hog the major benefits

The end beneficiary of rainforest conservation is not the country with tropical forests alone. The benefits percolate to entire humanity. Global warming has given an added impetus to the urgent need.

Lewis the principal investigator is an ecologist at the University of Leeds in England.
The paper: S.L. Lewis et al. Increasing carbon storage in intact African tropical forests. NATURE| Vol 457| 19 February 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Asian Elephants – Threat from Vietnam

Illegal wildlife trade has always been a threat to wildlife. Here comes some alarming news for Asian elephants. Booming illegal ivory prices in Vietnam is posing a serous threat to elephants across South East Asia, according to a new market analysis report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade-monitoring network. Vietnam is emerging as a conduit and transit point for illegal ivory. Establishments dealing in carved ivory are dime a dozen there. Worked ivory is increasingly being sold directly to buyers through middlemen or on the Internet. TRAFFIC also found evidence of widespread smuggling of live Asian Elephants and their ivory from Myanmar. Most of the products find their way to China and Hong Kong. Not more than 1,000 elephants are believed to survive in Lao PDR, while in Viet Nam, fewer than 150 exists.

Ivory prices are the highest in the world in Vietnam, with tusks selling for up to USD1500/kg. Small, cut pieces are selling for up to USD1863/kg. Trade in ivory was outlawed in Viet Nam in 1992, but a major loophole exists in the legislation, which permits shops to sell ivory in stock dating from the prohibition. This gives an avenue to some shop owners to restock illegally with recently made carved ivory. Smugglers from other Asian countries also might be misusing this proviso with local abetment. Around 4,000 tonnes of illegal wildlife products are estimated to pass through Vietnam every year.

The report recommends that Viet Nam should comply with its obligations under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), This includes reporting of ivory seizures, tightening of national regulations and their enforcement, prosecution of offenders, and seizure of ivory for sale in retail outlets. The report also recommends better training for wildlife law enforcement officers and continued participation in the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN).

The matter requires urgent intervention from other SE Asian countries. It is not a matter to be looked in to by Vietnam alone. ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) needs to be strengthened and given more teeth. Time to act is now. Prevarication would bring in the death knell of elephants across SE Asia.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Australian Bushfires- Threat to wildlife

International media has written volumes about the human suffering following the devastating bushfires of Australia. But the plight of wildlife seems to have been overlooked by many of them. The loss of wildlife and their suffering is staggering and indescribably horrid.

According to my contacts in Australia over a million wild animals have lost their life. To compound the loss many of them happen to highly endangered, found nowhere else in the world. According to wildlife experts of Australia some of the endangered animals are highly specialized, living in a small geographical area. They apprehend that bushfires may have completely destroyed some of these habitats, with the result that some species could have been completely wiped out. Helmeted Honeyeater has been given as an example. Less than 50 individuals were though to be alive. Endangered plant species also have been at the receiving end of the fury of fires.

Sure, human suffering should get first hand treatment, but the suffering of the denizens of the wild also needs to be addressed. Australia alone may not be able to do the needful, given the magnitude of the problem. Organizations like WWF should come forward and mobilize international support for the ailing denizens of the wild.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fishermen come to the rescue of Dolphins

This happened in Philippines and is sure to warm the cockles of the heart of wildlife enthusiasts. Fishermen have rescued about 200 dolphins, which became stranded in shallow waters near Manila.

Surprisingly this species of dolphins are called melon-headed whales. They travel in large pods of several hundred. Fishermen used their boats to guide the mammals out to deeper waters. The townspeople lend a hand clapping, hooting and splashing to frighten the dolphins away. Three dolphins were found dead. Two of the three dead dolphins had damaged eardrums One of the reasons for the mass beaching could be major underwater earthquake. In such a contingency eardrums are damaged and they become disorientated and float to the surface.

The Melon-headed Whale (Peponocephala electra) also called many-toothed blackfish and electra dolphin), is closely related to the Pygmy Killer Whale and Pilot Whale. It has a body shaped like a torpedo. The Melon-head weighs about 10-15 kilograms. An adult grows up to 3 meters long and weighs in excess of 200 kilograms. Lifespan is 20 to 30 years.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Here is yet another reason to protect the rainforests

Scientists have isolated Isolongifolenone, a natural compound found in the Tauroniro tree (Humiria balsamifera) of South America, which has been found to be an amazingly effective deterrent of mosquitoes and ticks. The product has been found to be as effective or even more than DEET, a potent and widely used synthetic insect repellent that works by blocking the aroma of human sweat. Isolongifolenone can be easily synthesized from inexpensive turpentine oil feedstock. Aijun Zhang of the USDA’s Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory led the research

Tauroniro is found in rainforests in the Guianas, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Brazilian Amazon. This brings in sharp focus the need to protect the rainforests, which is getting a shabby treatment worldwide.

Although rainforests make up only about six percent of the Earth's surface, they account for at least 50 percent of all the species of organisms on our planet. Rainforests are referred to as the Earth's lungs. Our lungs take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide while the plants take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface but now they cover a mere 6% and are fast disappearing at an alarming rate. More than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. One hectare may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants. We are losing 137 plants, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. This works out to 50,000 species a year. Estimates of species in the rainforests are only a guestimate. It varies from 2 million to 100 million species. Others put it at somewhere near 10 million. Against this backdrop only 1.4 million of these species have actually been named.
121 prescription drugs sold worldwide are derived from plant sources. You must be familiar with Vincristine, extracted from the rainforest plant, periwinkle. This is one of the world's most powerful anticancer drugs. Scientists have tested less than 1% of the tropical trees and plants for medicinal properties. A goldmine is waiting to be tapped.

The rich bounty includes the wild relatives of, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, sugar cane, tumeric, coffee, potatoes, rice, guavas, pineapples, mangoes, tomatoes, corn, avocados, and coconuts. This is only a short list.

Rainforest destruction spells doom for the indigenous people also. An estimated ten million Indians lived in the Amazonian Rainforest five centuries ago. Today there are less than 200,000. It is estimated that in Brazil alone, European colonists have destroyed more than 90 indigenous tribes since the 1900's. Rich tradition nurtured over thousand of years has gone down the drain.

The other day Barry my ecologist friend from UK was pointing out to me that a single pond in Brazil can sustain a greater variety of fish than is found in all of Europe's rivers. He also spoke about the recent discovery of 10 new frogs from the Western Ghats of India, one of the 35-biodiversity hotspots of the world. Yes, we are losing forests before we get a chance to study them properly. They hold enormous promise for our future well-being. The possible benefits are mind-boggling. Before signing off I would like to put here a small example. Harvard's Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson over a decade ago put it like this. “Rainforest land converted to cattle operations yields the landowner $60 per acre; if timber is harvested, the land is worth $400 per acre. However, if medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, rubber, chocolate, and other renewable and sustainable resources are harvested, the land will yield the landowner $2,400 per acre”. Let us hope that wiser counsel would prevail over short-term gains advocated by our politicians in their scramble for “development”

Friday, February 06, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

Earth Hour is a global WWF climate change initiative intended to drive home the implications of climate change. Individuals, businesses, governments and communities around the globe have been invited to turn out their lights for one hour on Saturday March 28, 2009 at 8:30 PM to show their support for action on climate change. The event began in Sydney in 2007, when 2 million people switched off their lights. In 2008, more than 50 million people around the globe participated. In 2009, Earth Hour aims to reach out to 1 billion people in 1,000 cities. The message is this - The only way to truly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to take the pressure off climate change, is through an international treaty on climate pollution and the only way that will happen is if politicians around the world become convinced that climate change is an issue that concerns people, one that will make them change the way they live, spend and vote.

For Earth Hour 2009 the lights will be turned off for one hour at 8.30pm on 28 March. 377 cities around the globe have already committed. This is double the number of countries that participated in 2008. More countries will follow suit in the days to come. Earth Hour 2009 will also see the lights go out on some of the most recognized landmarks on the planet, including Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Table Mountain in Cape Town, Merlion in Singapore, Sydney Opera House, CN Tower in Toronto, Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and the world’s tallest constructed building Taipei 101. 2009 is a critical year for action on climate change, with the world’s leaders due to meet at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December to sign a new deal to supersede the Kyoto Protocol.

The organizers are planning to make the event the greatest voluntary action the world has ever witnessed.
India will join in Earth Hour 2009 in the global fight against climate change. As one of the most pressing challenges facing mankind today, climate change is in no way less alarming than the evident threat of terrorism that the nation is currently reeling under. Lights will be dimmed on buildings and pivotal landmarks and monuments throughout the city centres on 28th March 2009 and thousands of people in several cities of India will be coming together to celebrate, in candlelight, the Earth Hour campaign
For more information please contact:

Andrew Sedger
Earth Hour Global
T: +61 2 8202 1224 / M: +61 (0) 438 387 792
E: asedger@wwf.org.au

Billy Gentle
Earth Hour Global
T: +61 2 8202 1243/ M: +61 (0) 410 161 789
E: bgentle@wwf.org.au
Go ahead and join the global initiative.

Posted with inputs from WWF