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Archive for May, 2007

Whaling ban continues

05.31.2007

 

International Herald Tribune

International commercial whaling ban is upheld

Thursday, May 31, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: The International Whaling Commission passed a resolution affirming a 21-year ban on commercial whaling remains in place and is still relevant.

The move Thursday, the final day of the commission’s annual meeting, essentially snubbed a symbolic resolution narrowly passed last year that the ban was meant to be temporary and is no longer needed.

The IWC also was scheduled later Thursday to revisit Japan’s contentious request to allow four coastal communities to hunt minke whales.

This year’s resolution also noted there should be no change in restrictions prohibiting the international trade in meat and other parts of large whales regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

Supporters said it was critical to send that message to the 171-member convention, which begins a 12-day meeting in Amsterdam on Sunday to consider revising the list of thousands of plants and animals whose trade is regulated.

With several new anti-whaling members attending the IWC meeting this year, pro-whaling factions fell short of last year’s slim majority. But they lobbied hard against the resolution, saying it would fuel already tense relations between pro- and anti-whaling nations.

“CITES should make decisions based on their own criteria, not our politics,” said Iceland delegate Stefan Asmundsson.

Without a consensus, the resolution passed 37-4, with Iceland and 25 other nations declining to participate.

Also on Thursday, the commission passed Greenland’s revised proposal to increase its aboriginal quota of minke whales to 200 as well as hunt fin and bowhead whales. Greenland, a semiautonomous Danish territory, originally wanted to also add humpback whales, but met adamant opposition from critics who noted that the huge humpbacks and bowheads have low reproduction cycles.

 



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Ban on wildlife may fuel trade

05.31.2007

 

Ban on selling wildlife may fuel trade

 

By MICHAEL CASEY, AP Environmental WriterWed May 30, 11:41 PM ET

Banning the trade in endangered wildlife can actually result in increased trade in the animals and their parts, a report published Thursday said.

The finding, reported in the journal Nature, is likely to fuel debate among conservationists who disagree over how to best curb the trade in endangered species.

Signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES are due to gather in the Hague starting June 3 to consider revising the list of thousands of plants and animals whose trade is banned or regulated. The parties to CITES meet every three years.

“The most severe restriction that CITES can enforce is an explicit ban on commercial trade of wild species threatened with extinction,” Philippe Rivalan, a researcher at the University Paris Sud, wrote in the Nature commentary. “We report here concerns that such bans can themselves lead to an increase in trade of vulnerable species.”

Conservationists can recommend that CITES bans the trade in a particular endangered species. But because CITES can take between 240 and 420 days to actually implement the ban, the volume of trade in that species actually tends to rise during that period as traders try to beat the time limit.

Once the ban is imposed, prices can spiral upward.

The price of rhino horns on the South Korean market, for example, increased by 400 percent in the two years after CITES banned the trade in the items and the poaching of black rhinos rose. The study did not say when the ban was imposed.

“At the very least, our findings suggest that CITES authorities will need to use extra vigilance in controlling permits during transition periods and in adhering to quotas,” Rivalan wrote.

Rivalan said CITES should work to speed up the listing process, so that conservation measures could be put in place before a species numbers drop to the point where a trade ban is necessary, he said.

A spokesman for the CITES Secretariat could not be immediately reached for comment.

Susan Mainka, a senior coordinator of the World Conservation Union’s global program, disagreed with suggestions that implementation delays always result in a spike in illicit trade.

“For some species such as elephants, there has been a long string of listing proposals since 1989 that have not generated similar responses in illicit trade,” she said.

___

On the Net:

Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature

 

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Limbless lizard found in India

05.31.2007

 


Zoologist: New limbless lizard in India

 

By ASHOK SHARMA, Associated Press WriterTue May 29, 4:52 PM ET

An Indian zoologist says he found a new species of limbless lizard during a recent field study in a forested area in the country’s east.

The 7-inch long lizard looks like a scaly, small snake, and “It prefers to live in a cool retreat, soft soil and below stones,” said Sushil Kumar Dutta, head of the zoology department of the North Orissa University in the eastern Indian town of Baripada.

“The lizard is new to science and is an important discovery,” Dutta told The Associated Press on Monday. “It is not found anywhere else in the world.”

Modern limbless lizards are not snakes, Dutta said.

For one thing, snakes have evolved skulls that allow them to swallow whole prey that is much larger than their heads. Lizards, in contrast, have to bite and chew their prey.

The new lizard was found 10 days ago during a field study in the forested region of Khandadhar near Raurkela in Orissa state, about 625 miles southeast of New Delhi, said Dutta, who led a team of researchers from “Vasundhra,” a non-governmental group, and the university.

“Preliminary scientific study reveals that the lizard belongs to the genus Sepsophis,” he said, adding that “The new species will be scientifically described at a later stage after accumulation of more data.”

While modern snakes and lizards are derived from a common evolutionary ancestor, they belong today to two entirely separate groups of animals, or orders. Snakes, over millennia, gradually lost their limbs and developed their characteristic forms of locomotion.

The limbless lizards have lower eyelids and very small ear openings. They lack the flexibility that allows snakes to coil their bodies.

Also, snakes can move in a zigzag manner. However, the lizards move straight, Dutta said.

The lizards have small scales around their bodies, but the scale pattern on their heads is different from what the snakes have, Dutta said.

Other limbless lizards belonging to different families have been found in India’s Nicobar island, in the northeast, and in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states, he said.

The closest relatives of the new species are found in Sri Lanka and South Africa, Dutta said.

Another species of the same genus, “Sepsophis punctatus,” was found in 1870 from the Golconda hills in Andhra Pradesh, said Varadi Giri, a scientist at the Bombay Natural History Society, who was not part of the team that found the lizard.

Giri said Dutta is a reputed zoologist and his claim appears legitimate.

“But for an independent confirmation, one has to wait for the publication of the finding in a reputed science magazine,” he said.

 

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Great apes “facing climate peril”

05.30.2007

Great apes ‘facing climate peril’

Great apes are facing an “inevitable crisis” arising from climate change, a leading conservationist has warned. Dr Richard Leakey said that growing pressure to switch from fossil fuels to biofuels could result in further destruction of the animals’ habitats.

The chair of WildlifeDirect called for immediate action and proposed financial incentives to save forests from destruction as one possible solution.

He said: “Climate change will undoubtedly impact everything we know.”

  The implications for biodiversity are there for all to see
Dr Robert Leakey

The great apes - gorillas, chimps, bonobos and orangutans - are already under threat from habitat destruction, poaching, logging and disease.

The Great Apes Survival Project (Grasp), a United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) initiative, has warned that great apes are at risk of imminent extinction unless drastic action is taken.

Palm oils

In advance of a talk at the UK’s Royal Geographical Society, Dr Leakey told journalists that climate threats now had to be added to the mix.

The former director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service said: “I am concerned about the pressures on the land as a result of changes to the climate, but also the pressures on the land in terms of people’s reaction to climate change and the shift away from fossil fuels to biofuels.”

He said that “great swathes” of forest had already been destroyed in South Asia to make way for palm oil plantations, and this had had a dramatic impact on orangutans, which currently number 50,000.

Palm oil is used in vegetable oil, soaps, shampoos, industrial substances, but it has also been proposed as an alternative to fossil fuel.

Dr Leakey said the growing pressure to turn to biofuels such as palm oil could place the great apes’ habitat in further peril.

He added: “People shrug their shoulders and say what are poor countries to do if they cannot exploit their natural resources, and I can understand this, but it is not sustainable the way it is going.

There is also evidence that deforestation would further drive climate change itself by raising the amount of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Dr Leakey said.

New incentives

Dr Leakey suggested “biodiversity credits” could be a possible solution.

“Being paid for not cutting down indigenous forests and getting credit for that is a further step that builds on the idea of getting paid for planting new forests,” he explained.

“It does seem that we cannot stop development, but it does also seem that perhaps we can stop development where critical species are threatened, and perhaps there could be a price added to that.”

He said that there could be creative ways to solve the problems that climate change could bring, but added that it was crucial that action was taken now.

Dr Leakey told journalists: “Could the great apes go because of climate change? Yes. Possibly not within our lifetime, but what about in 100 or 200 years?

“Climate change is measurable and is happening at rate that is almost unprecedented from what we know in previous history, and the implications for biodiversity are there for all to see.”

Richard Leakey is a palaeo-anthropologist, responsible for extensive fossil finds related to human evolution, and renowned Kenyan conservationist. His parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, were prominent palaeontologists, finding and excavating key sites around Africa.

Published: 2007/05/30 15:03:08 GMT

© BBC MMVII

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Animals with attitude make evolutionary sense

05.30.2007

From AFP:

Animals with attitude make evolutionary sense

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U.S. to Study Protection for Alaska Loon

05.30.2007

U.S. to Study Protection for Alaska Loon

May 30, 2007 — By Dan Joling, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for a rare loon that breeds in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve has been accepted for review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Conservationists hope an eventual listing of the yellow-billed loon will curb petroleum development in the 23-million acre reserve that covers much of Alaska’s western North Slope.

The petition was filed three years ago by the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Resource Defense Council, Pacific Environment and other U.S. and Russian scientific and conservation organizations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it will publish its determination Wednesday in the Federal Register that the yellow-billed loon may merit protections.

The finding requires the agency to solicit public comment, carry out a status review of the species, and if merited, issue a proposed rule to protect the loons later this year.

The yellow-billed loon breeds in tundra wetlands in Alaska, Canada and Russia, and winters along the west coasts of Canada and the United States.

Petroleum development through leasing ordered by President Bush could reduce its numbers, said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The yellow-billed loon is one of the rarest and most vulnerable birds in the United States, yet the Bush administration’s plan to ‘protect’ it is to approve oil drilling in its habitat,” Cummings said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 16,500 yellow-billed loons in the world, including 3,700 to 4,900 that breed in Alaska. More than 75 percent of the Alaska breeders nest in the petroleum reserve. Smaller numbers breed on the Seward Peninsula and on St. Lawrence Island.

President Warren Harding created the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in 1923 as an emergency oil supply for the Navy. Current leasing plans come from a presidential directive guiding the Department of the Interior to foster oil and gas development there.

The Bureau of Land Management two weeks ago halted planning efforts for oil and gas development in the 9.2-million acre Southern Planning area, one of three planning areas, due to public opposition and the impracticality of development. The southern area is the primary calving area for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, yellow-billed loons nest exclusively in coastal and low-lying Arctic tundra, always near permanent, fish-bearing lakes.

The large-bodied birds have low reproductive success and depend on high annual adult survival to maintain population levels. Individual birds must live many years before they can reliably replace themselves with offspring that survive long enough to breed, according to the agency.

The agency’s finding, called a 90-day finding despite the filing of the original petition in March 2004, is based on scientific information provided by the conservation groups.

They cite threats including destruction and modification of habitat due to development and pollution and lack of regulatory protection.

Birds that breed in Alaska spend winters off the coast of Russia and face drowning in fishing nets, plus threats from petroleum development in the Sea of Okhotsk, Cummings said.

Yellow-billed loons do not recover easily from population declines, are susceptible to disturbance and may be vulnerable to habitat loss, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Inundation of their freshwater breeding areas by saltwater levels rising because of global warming is another threat, Cummings said. However, oil and gas development in nesting areas is foremost in the petitioners’ minds.

“Industrializing the Arctic is not the way to protect a rare bird,” he said.

——

On the Net:

Alaska Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://alaska.fws.gov/

Center for Biological Diversity: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org

Natural Resource Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org/

Source: Associated Press

Contact Info:

Website :

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Greenland slipping away

05.30.2007

 

Greenland Continues to Slip-Slide Away

 

Andrea Thompson
LiveScience Staff Writer
LiveScience.com
Tue May 29, 2:15 PM ET

The icy mega-island of Greenland is slipping away faster than before, as it experienced more days of melting snow in 2006 than it does on average, new satellite observations show.

Satellite sensors taking daily observations of the ice since 1988 revealed that Greenland’s melting days have progressively increased and melting has increasingly take place at higher altitudes.

“The sensors detected that snowmelt occurred more than 10 days longer than the average over certain areas of Greenland in 2006,? said study team leader Marco Tedesco, of the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, managed by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Areas along Greenland’s western, southeastern and northeastern coasts witnessed the largest number of melt days in 2006.

More melting days could mean faster glacial flow and therefore more water pouring from the ice sheets into the ocean.

“The melting snow produces liquid water that will potentially influence sea levels,? Tedesco said. “And some of the liquid water will drain into glaciers through cracks and vertical passages, called moulins, reaching the bedrock below and lubricating the ice sheet.?

Previous studies have shown that melt water below ice sheets can speed their journey to the sea, where ice bergs calve, or break off, from the sheets, and potentially contribute to rising sea levels. A warming climate could ramp up the process even more.

The melting could cause less of the sun’s radiation to bounce back into the atmosphere, because snow that melts and refreezes absorbs more sunlight than dry snow. If more radiation is absorbed, polar temperatures could rise even more than they have already and are predicted to continue doing as a result of global warming.

Top 10 Surprising Results of Global Warming Video: Greatest Warming Seen at High Latitudes Images: Glaciers Before and After Original Story: Greenland Continues to Slip-Slide AwayVisit LiveScience.com for more daily news, views and scientific inquiry with an original, provocative point of view. LiveScience reports amazing, real world breakthroughs, made simple and stimulating for people on the go. Check out our collection of Science, Animal and Dinosaur Pictures, Science Videos, Hot Topics, Trivia, Top 10s, Voting, Amazing Images, Reader Favorites, and more. Get cool gadgets at the new LiveScience Store, sign up for our free daily email newsletter and check out our RSS feeds today!

 

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Poisonous snakes found in mail

05.15.2007

 

Poisonous snakes found in mail

Tue May 15, 9:22 AM ET

South African environmental inspectors discovered 10 poisonous snakes smuggled in video cassette cases when they searched a suspicious package at a post office, officials said on Monday.

Working on a tip-off, the inspectors seized the package from the Czech Republic and opened the cases to find live albino monocle cobras, Arabian saw-scaled vipers, Namibian spitting cobras and Australian Taipans, reputed to be the most poisonous snake on earth.

“All the snakes confiscated are venomous with no anti-venom available in South Africa,” the Gauteng provincial environment department said in a statement.

A criminal case has been opened and the authorities in the Czech Republic and Australia are helping with the investigation, the statement said.

“A potentially deadly tragedy has been averted. You can well imagine what would have happened had the fragile container been broken and the snakes let loose,” Gauteng provincial environment chief Khabisi Mosunkutu said.

Department spokesman Jacques du Toit said the snakes had all been transferred to safekeeping in the Pretoria zoo and were likely ultimately destined for collectors.

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Sacred Thai cows predict abundant harvest

05.15.2007

EcoSnake Echoes takes note of all animal and wildlife related topics.  It’s a way for us all to get to know ourselves and the world better and maybe help both people and wildlife…   

Sacred Thai cows predict abundant harvest

Thu May 10, 2:07 AM ET

Sacred Thai oxen nibbled on rice, maize and grass in an ancient fortunetelling ceremony Thursday, which royal soothsayers said predicted a bountiful harvest this year.

The cattle, draped in ornate mantles, ploughed a small section of a field near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, in a ceremony presided over by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The oxen were then offered bowls of seven types of food or drink — whisky, grass, sesame seeds, beans, rice, maize and water. Soothsayers then forecast the upcoming season depending on what the animals eat or drink.

“There will be sufficient water, so we will have an abundant harvest of rice. The sacred oxen chose to eat paddy rice, maize and grass, so they predict plentiful food crops,” one of the government’s top farm officials, Soraphol Tharapat, reported to the prince during the ceremony.

Thailand is currently the world’s largest rice exporter and is expected to export 8.5 million tonnes of rice this year.

The royal ceremony is designed to raise farmers’ morale at the beginning of the planting season and has been a tradition for more than 700 years.

Copyright May 10, 2007, Agence France Presse

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