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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 145314 times)
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« Reply #315 on: Mar 02, 2013, 07:53 AM »

German villagers unafraid of ‘Big Bad Wolf’

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 1, 2013 7:11 EST

Thirteen years after wolves returned to an east German village, its residents have not only overcome age-old fears to live peacefully alongside the predator but even come to enjoy the benefits of its presence.

Nestled in the forested Saxony countryside in the land that bore the storytelling Brothers Grimm, Rietschen boasts a human population of just 3,700 but also the vast majority of the wolves registered in Germany.

“Rietschen has lived with the wolf longer than anywhere else in Germany. Its presence here has now become normal,” said Vanessa Ludwig, a biologist at the region’s official wolf information office that monitors the animal.

With its vast pine forests and lakes, rich fauna, deer and boar as well as a huge military training site, the Lausitz region, about 200 kilometres (124 miles) south of Berlin, drew the grey wolf back.

Undeterred by the noise of diggers at nearby coal mines or military shots, 13 of the 19 packs — classed as a pair of wolves having had at least one cub — or wolf pairs currently registered in Germany live in this region.

But it wasn’t always the case.

All but extinct in Germany in the mid-19th century, the fortunes of the wolf changed when it became one of the species protected under the 1979 Bern Convention, which Germany and most of Europe has ratified.

Nowadays, Europe has nine wolf population zones, including in Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania, east and southeastern France, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.

When, however, in 2000, images of a pair together with their cub crossing into Germany from Poland were shown on television, fears harking back to the image of the fairytale figure, the Big Bad Wolf, were aroused.

“Everyone has heard the story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and the Big Bad Wolf. It stays with you,” Jana Endel, a ranger from the information office, said, recalling heated community meetings about the wolf’s return.

“People feared they would reproduce,” she said, adding most were unaware that the animal leaves its parents between the ages of one and two to go in search of its own territory elsewhere.

“We had quite simply forgotten how to live with the wolf,” she commented.

To allay fears, the information office and their counterparts from the LUPUS observatory of wild fauna organised hundreds of meetings to pass on information.

– ‘Wolf Town’ –

Today locals are aware that wolves pose no danger to humans — no one in Rietschen has been attacked by one of the animals in 13 years.

Sheep and goats have on the other hand fallen prey, with around 50 attacked in the region in 2012.

But, paradoxically, a farmer who lost 33 animals in two attacks in 2002 helped calm the waters by passing on his expert knowledge and experience in security matters to others, Endel said.

Farmers also benefit from subsidies to erect electric fences.

Having come to be known as “Wolf Town”, Rietschen has reaped the benefits of its association with the animal too, using it as a marketing tool to attract tourists who track wolves on foot or by bicycle.

“The wolf has brought us more than it has damaged us,” mayor Ralf Brehmer said.

Nevertheless, even if the wolf is no longer the main talking point among villagers, it still has opponents. “Some hunters complain that they eat their game,” he added.

And some desire their pelts to the extent of killing the animals for them, with three such cases reported in the region since 2000 where the perpetrators have not been tracked down.

While the wolf population remains on its guard, few people can boast to ever having come across one of them. “That would be like having all six numbers come up in the lottery!” the mayor said.

But the wolf makes its discreet presence felt by what has to be cleaned up from the pavements of Rietschen the morning after its night-time prowls.

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« Reply #316 on: Mar 02, 2013, 09:16 AM »

European Union cracks down on illegal timber trade

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 1, 2013 16:30 EST

The European Union is cracking down on the timber trade in an effort to curb illegal logging, blamed for a host of ills from social upheaval to environmental and economic damage.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said Friday that new rules effective from Sunday would affect everyone in the trade by barring illegally harvested timber from its huge internal market of some 500 million people.

“Illegal logging has severe economic, environmental and social impacts: it is associated with deforestation and climate change, it can undermine the efforts and livelihoods of legitimate operators, and it can also contribute to conflicts over land and resources,” it said in a statement.

The new regime covers both imported and domestically produced timber and timber products — from paper and pulp to solid wood and flooring.

When timber first comes to market, the owner must apply “due diligence” to ensure the wood is legally sourced.

Traders who buy or sell timber already on the market are required to keep adequate records so it can be traced back to check the country of origin, supplier and compliance with national rules.

The commission said the new regulations would back up US and Australian efforts and complement bilateral accords with the world’s six main timber producers — Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), Ghana, Liberia and Indonesia.

Global trade in primary timber products was worth more than 108 billion euros in 2011, of which 35 percent was accounted for by the EU, according to Commission figures.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #317 on: Mar 03, 2013, 08:11 AM »

Droughts and floods 'will be common events in Britain'

Environment Agency calls for urgent action to prepare for extreme weather events

Robin McKie   
The Observer, Saturday 2 March 2013 19.49 GMT   
Britain faces increasingly extreme weather conditions and urgently needs to improve its anti-flood defences and preparations for severe drought, says the Environment Agency.

Its stark conclusion follows detailed analysis of weather patterns, river levels and flooding events in 2012, which revealed that some areas suffered record levels of drought before facing some of the worst flooding ever.

Last year, flooding was recorded on 20% of days and drought on 25% of days, with rivers such as the Tyne, Ouse and Tone going from their record lowest flows to record highest in four months.

"It was an extraordinary year and it serves as a warning for the country that we face a future in which there are likely to be more and more extreme weather events," said Lord (Chris) Smith, the agency's chairman. "We need, very urgently, to prepare plans to deal with these extremes."

In early 2012, the Environment Agency issued a series of warnings about desperately low levels in rivers, reservoirs and groundwater aquifers. The previous year was one of the driest on record, and reservoirs and boreholes were at record lows for that time of year. In winter, they should have been full and the agency warned that only a downpour lasting weeks could avert a serious summer drought.

Britain got its downpour, but it lasted months, with previously parched fields turned into quagmires and more than 8,000 homes flooded. "We saw environmental damage caused by rivers with significantly reduced flows, hosepipe bans affecting millions and farmers and businesses left unable to take water from rivers," said Smith. "But we also saw the wettest year on record in England."

A dramatic illustration of the extraordinary changes in weather is revealed by water flow measurements in the Tyne. In March, flow was 28% of its long-term average for that time of year. By June, after months of heavy rain, the flow hit 406%. Similarly, at the Gold Bridge gauging station on the Ouse in East Sussex, flows went from 28% of their average figure in March to 310% in July.

Smith said such wildly fluctuating figures indicated the desperate need to plan for feast and famine over water levels. In the case of drought management, more farmers needed to be encouraged to build small reservoirs, while agreements allowing some companies to abstract water from rivers indefinitely would have to be changed. "We simply cannot have those types of agreements any more, and we are now pressing to limit them," said Smith.

New figures from the Met Office suggest that Britain could experience a severe short-term drought – such as the one in 1976 – every 10 years. Previous estimates put this figure at one in 50 years. With the population of London and the already water-stressed south-east of England set to grow by 23% by 2035, the problem of a serious lack of water is becoming acute.

Although anti-flooding defences were installed last year in Nottingham and Keswick and 93 defences are due to start construction this year, Smith said far more measures would be needed. "It is money well spent. For every pound you spend on defences, you save £8 in damage caused by flooding."
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« Reply #318 on: Mar 03, 2013, 08:12 AM »

Conservationists descend on Thailand as wildlife conference kicks off

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 2, 2013 18:00 EST

Global conservationists will converge in Bangkok for the start of key endangered species talks on Sunday, as host Thailand faces pressure to curb rampant ivory smuggling through its territory.

The plight of elephants and rhinos — threatened by poaching networks driven by insatiable demand for tusks and horn from Asian nations — are set to dominate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which lasts until March 14.

Host nation Thailand, seen as a hub for traffickers of all endangered species, is facing particular pressure over its ivory market.

Activists say criminals exploit a legal trade in Asian elephant tusk to sell illicit stocks of African ivory and conservation groups the World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC have called on the Thai government to ban all ivory trade in the country.

“After years of failing to end this unfettered trade, Thailand should grab the spotlight and shut down these markets that are fuelling poaching of elephants in Africa,” said Carlos Drews, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

Since coming into force in 1975, CITES has placed some 35,000 species of animal and plants under its protection, controlling and monitoring their international trade.

The 177 countries who have signed up to the convention — and must undertake measures to implement its decisions at home — will also consider growing calls for the greater regulation of the shark fin trade.

Similar proposals to protect a number of shark species — whose fins are prized in Asia — have previously failed in the face of opposition from a group of Asian countries concerned about their fishing industries.

Humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and conservationists are warning that dozens of species are under threat.

“We are now the predators. Humans have mounted an unrelenting assault on sharks, and their numbers are crashing throughout the world’s oceans,” Elizabeth Wilson, manager of global shark conservation at Pew Charitable Trusts.

CITES, which on Sunday celebrates 40 years since its inception in 1973, is also looking to strengthen protection for multiple plant species, including Madagascar ebony and rosewood, from a host of countries.
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« Reply #319 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:21 AM »

March 3, 2013

U.S. and Russia Team Up in Bid to Aid Polar Bears


MOSCOW — With relations between Russia and the United States increasingly frosty because of entrenched disagreements over Syria, child adoptions, missile systems and other issues, the two countries have quietly joined forces to help polar bears.

Russia and the United States, two of the five countries where polar bears live, are now the main allies pushing for greater protection for the bears under a global treaty on endangered species, which is being reviewed this week at a conference in Bangkok.

“It really seems that both countries were willing to put aside their differences in order to work together to help save the polar bear,” said Jeffrey Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Russia’s decision to cooperate with the United States not only defies a recent wave of anti-Americanism here, but it also reverses Moscow’s opposition to a similar American proposal at the endangered species conference three years ago. The impetus for this shift may be the increasing danger to polar bears and the return to the presidency of Vladimir V. Putin, who often expresses his personal affection for wildlife and has declared 2013 to be the “Year of the Environment” in Russia.

Mr. Putin, as prime minister, traveled to the Arctic in April 2010, and in one of his highly publicized encounters with animals he was photographed tagging a bear with a collar fitted with a global positioning device. He has taken a direct personal interest in government preservation programs and has scheduled a major conference on polar bears to take place here in Moscow this fall.

Scientists and wildlife conservation groups say the world’s polar bear population, estimated at 20,000 to 25,000, is in grave peril because of climate change, which is depleting ice levels, and increased hunting and trade in skins and parts.

“We call this current situation catastrophic, because polar bears are now impacted from all sides,” said Nikita Ovsyannikov, the deputy director of Russia’s polar bear preserve on Wrangel Island, in the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska.

“Both our countries recognize the danger, and they understand that measures have to be taken,” Mr. Ovsyannikov said by telephone from the conference in Bangkok.

The American-Russian proposal would grant polar bears the highest level of protection under the treaty, called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, by banning international commercial trade in skins, furs and other items made from bears. And it is one of the most contentious issues at this week’s conference.

Two other countries — Canada and Denmark, representing Greenland — oppose such a ban, setting the stage for a showdown that could hinge on the position of Norway, the fifth country where polar bears live, which has not yet announced publicly how it plans to vote.

The European Union, which controls the largest bloc of votes at the treaty conference, has put forward two alternative proposals to improve protections for polar bears without formally shifting its status and banning commercial trade. The United States is opposing those alternatives.

Daniel M. Ashe, the director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said he was optimistic that the American-Russian proposal would succeed. “Russia has been strongly supportive,” Mr. Ashe said by telephone from Bangkok, where he is leading the American delegation.

A similar proposal by the United States was voted down at the last conference on the treaty in 2010. Then, Russia and Norway voted no.

Only Canada, which has the world’s largest polar bear population, still permits overseas trade in bear skins and parts. Other countries have imposed export restrictions while setting their own limits on domestic hunting and sales — an issue that requires delicate negotiations with native communities that rely on bears for food, skins and other subsistence needs.

Climate change, which is depleting ice levels at a record pace, presents a double threat to polar bears — eliminating their natural habitat, while driving them closer to areas inhabited by people, making them easier to hunt. Increased industrial activity in the Arctic, including oil and gas exploration, poses additional dangers.

Mr. Ovsyannikov said that even in sanctuaries, scientists were observing a general weakening in the polar bear population, including lower reproduction rates and higher mortality.

“The situation of polar bears is getting more and more similar to the story of the Great Auk,” said Mr. Ovsyannikov, referring to the Arctic bird that became extinct in the mid-19th century. “We start thinking and start discussing what actions we have to take when it is too late.”
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« Reply #320 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Australian climate on ‘steroids’ after hottest summer

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 3, 2013 23:53 EST

Australia’s weather went “on steroids” over a summer that saw an unprecedented heatwave, bushfires and floods, the climate chief said Monday, warning that global warming would only make things worse.

The Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed the three summer months ending February 28 were the hottest season ever recorded in Australia, leading the government’s Climate Commission to label it the “Angry Summer” in a new report.

“The Australian summer over 2012 and 2013 has been defined by extreme weather events across much of the continent, including record-breaking heat, severe bushfires, extreme rainfall and damaging flooding,” the report said.

“Extreme heatwaves and catastrophic bushfire conditions during the ‘Angry Summer’ were made worse by climate change.”

The agency’s chief commissioner Tim Flannery said the summer had been one of extremes, and was in some ways like an athlete who improves their baseline performance by taking steroids.

“The same thing is happening with our climate system,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“As it warms up we’re getting fewer cold days and cold events and many, many more record hot events. So it is – in effect it’s a climate on steroids is what we’re seeing.”

Australia experienced its hottest ever average national maximum temperature on January 7 of 40.30 degrees Celsius (104.5 Fahrenheit), while 44 sites, including Sydney and Hobart, recorded all-time high temperatures in the summer.

The report said there have only been 21 days in 102 years where the average maximum temperature for the whole of Australia has exceeded 39 Celsius and eight of these happened in the summer just gone.

The Climate Commission said it was “highly likely” that extreme hot weather would become even more frequent and severe in Australia, and around the globe, over the coming decades.

In addition to the heatwave, Australia also experienced dangerous bushfires in several states, including New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania where more than 100 homes were lost in January.

Later that month, ex-tropical cyclone Oswald brought extreme rainfall over the east coast to Queensland and New South Wales, resulting in severe flooding in many areas.

Flannery said many communities, such as those in flood-prone parts of Queensland which were still recovering from an epic 2011 deluge, were experiencing a sense of exhaustion from dealing with weather events.

“And we’re seeing the actual costs now of inaction, of global inaction to deal with this problem,” he said.

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« Reply #321 on: Mar 04, 2013, 07:59 AM »

U.N. report: Nearly 3,000 wild great apes killed or ‘stolen’ each year

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 4, 2013 7:25 EST

Almost 3,000 great apes are killed or captured in the wild each year because of rampant illegal trade, according to a new UN report released Monday that voiced fears for their survival.

More than 22,000 great apes are estimated to have been lost to the illicit trade between 2005 and 2011, according to the study by the UN Environment Programme, which oversees the Great Apes Survival Partnership (Grasp).

“This trade is thriving and extremely dangerous to the long term survival of great apes,” said Grasp coordinator Doug Cress, describing the illegal trade as “sophisticated, ingenious, well financed, well armed”.

“At this rate, apes will disappear very quickly,” he said.

Capturing a single chimpanzee alive can require killing 10 others, said Cress.

“You cannot walk into a forest and just take one. You have to fight for it. You have to kill the other chimpanzees in the group,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a major conference on endangered species in Bangkok.

The fate of captured gorillas was even more bleak as they die quickly from stress, he added.

International trade in chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas — the three African species of great apes — as well as orangutans, the only Asian species, is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) whose member countries are gathering in the Thai capital this week.

But in reality great apes are sold as exotic pets for wealthy individuals who see them as status symbols, bought by “disreputable zoos” and exploited by the entertainment and tourist industries, the report said.

“Great apes are used to attract tourists to entertainment facilities such as amusement parks and circuses. They are even used in tourist photo sessions on Mediterranean beaches and clumsy boxing matches in Asian safari parks,” it said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #322 on: Mar 04, 2013, 08:04 AM »

March 3, 2013

In Trafficking of Wildlife, Out of Reach of the Law


HONG TONG, Laos — On an obscure and bumpy dirt road not far from the banks of the Mekong River, the compound of Vixay Keosavang stands out for its iron gates and cinder-block walls topped with barbed wire, a contrast to the rickety wooden stilt houses nearby in the shade of rubber trees.

A security guard who opened the gate recently said tigers, bears, lizards and many endangered anteaters called pangolins were inside. He called his boss and handed the cellphone to a reporter seeking permission to enter the compound.

Mr. Vixay (pronounced wee-sai), who spoke politely in a mixture of Thai and Laotian, denied that there were any animals inside or that he was in the wildlife business.

“There’s nothing there,” Mr. Vixay said of the compound, which is a five-mile drive to the nearest paved road. “Who told you about it?”

Mr. Vixay is notorious among investigators and government officials in several countries fighting to cut off syndicates operating a thriving trade in endangered animals that spans continents and has led to the slaughter of elephants in Africa, the illegal killings of rhinoceroses and the decimation of other species living in Asia’s jungles.

Mr. Vixay, says one investigator, is the “Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking.”

Interviews with government officials in five countries and a review of hundreds of pages of government and court documents compiled by a counter-trafficking organization provide strong evidence that Mr. Vixay, a Laotian, is a linchpin of wildlife smuggling operations.

South African authorities prosecuting a case of rhinoceros horn smuggling say one of Mr. Vixay’s companies, Xaysavang Trading, perpetrated “one of the biggest swindles in environmental crime history,” circumventing the law by hiring people to pose as hunters, who are allowed to kill a limited number of rhinos as trophies. In a separate case, Kenyan officials tied the company to the smuggling of elephant tusks for the ivory trade.

But the bulk of Mr. Vixay’s wildlife trading operations, investigators say, is the “laundering” of animals.

The ruse, the documents suggest and investigators say, involves smuggling animals from other countries into Laos and then exporting them — with Laotian government paperwork — under the pretense that they were bred there in captivity and therefore, in many cases, could be sold legally.

The case is especially frustrating to those outside Laos, who say Mr. Vixay appears untouchable as long as he remains in his home country, where, they say, officials have refused to do a thorough investigation despite the reams of evidence presented to them. And without stopping him, wildlife officials and investigators say, they have little hope of breaking down a business empire that they say connects the African savanna to the Asian jungles and ultimately to customers of ivory and traditional medicines in Vietnam and China.

“He is the single largest known illegal wildlife trafficker in Asia,” said Steven Galster, the executive director of Freeland, a counter-trafficking organization that has been trailing Mr. Vixay for eight years. “He runs an aggressive business, sourcing lucrative wild animals and body parts wherever they are easily obtained. Every country with commercially valuable wildlife should beware.”

Freeland has been instrumental in building a case against Mr. Vixay, and was the source of the vast majority of the documents reviewed for this article, including business contracts and Laotian customs documents that attest to the scale of his operations. Founded in Bangkok more than a decade ago, Freeland is staffed by current and former law enforcement officials from Britain, the United States, Thailand and a number of other Asian countries, and is financed partly by the American government.

The nonprofit organization, which works closely with government officials in Africa, Asia and the United States, also provided entree for The New York Times to some of those officials. The Times interviewed authorities from Thailand, China, South Africa, Laos and Vietnam.

The booming trade in exotic wildlife has been fueled by rising wealth in China and Vietnam and the demand there for things like the scales of the pangolin, which are consumed in the unproven belief that they help lactating mothers.

Mr. Vixay, who is in his 50s, has met this growing demand for animals like snakes, lizards and turtles from his base in the impoverished countryside of Laos, a thinly populated country bordering Vietnam and China and known for its widespread corruption.

For years, the inner workings of his syndicate remained somewhat opaque to the Thai investigators trailing him. But in 2011, for the first time, a part of Mr. Vixay’s operations was exposed by the arrest and trial of a Thai man who says he was his deputy, Chumlong Lemtongthai, thousands of miles away in South Africa after an investigation of a rhino-horn smuggling operation.

One of the tip-offs for the authorities was Mr. Chumlong’s choice of fake hunters: petite Thai women who turned out to be prostitutes. Thai officials who intercepted some of the rhino horns from South Africa could not believe the women had actually bagged the animals.

“It’s a very, very big gun,” one officer said when questioning Mr. Chumlong, according to a video recording by a representative of Freeland who was at the interview.

Questioned by Laotian officials after a query from South African authorities, Mr. Vixay said he “had no idea about suspects arrested in South Africa.” But Thai investigators discovered a photo on Mr. Chumlong’s computer that showed him posing with Mr. Vixay, and a certificate at Mr. Chumlong’s office outside Bangkok that said he had been appointed a representative of Mr. Vixay’s company.

Evidence at the trial, which included airway bills showing that some rhino horns from the hunts were shipped to one of Mr. Vixay’s addresses in Laos, raised hopes among investigators that his business would be severely disrupted, if not dismantled.

But more than a year and a half after the arrest of Mr. Chumlong, who has since drawn a 40-year sentence in South Africa, Mr. Vixay remains a free man.

An operative in the smuggling operation arrested in South Africa, Puntitpak Chunchom, suggested a possible reason, telling investigators that Laos was a perfect base for Mr. Vixay because he was untouchable in the country.

“He is so well protected that nobody can arrest him in Laos,” Mr. Puntitpak said, according to a transcript of an interview by Thai authorities.

Freeland has obtained official Laotian documents that show Mr. Vixay’s company is authorized to breed rare and endangered animals and to sell them within Laos and across borders.

But documents suggest he is also trading in endangered animals or animal parts from other countries, which for some species is always prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In other cases, the United Nations treaty allows some trade, but only if the animals are bred. (Laos became a signatory to the treaty in 2004.)

A single sales contract from 2009 obtained by Freeland suggests the large volume of animals that Mr. Vixay trades in. Xaysavang Trading, Mr. Vixay’s company, agreed to sell 70,000 snakes, 20,000 turtles and 20,000 monitor lizards to a Vietnamese company in a deal worth $860,000.

Experts say the sheer volume of animals is evidence of laundering. Breeding 20,000 of the species of turtle that Mr. Vixay’s company commonly sells — the yellow-headed temple turtle — could take a decade, according to Doug Hendrie, an adviser at Education for Nature, a group in Vietnam that conducts investigations into wildlife crime.

In recent years, Thai authorities have intercepted a number of trucks carrying turtles, tiger cubs, tiger carcasses, pangolins and snakes headed for Mr. Vixay’s businesses on the other side of the Mekong River, according to Freeland.

In addition, 280 kilograms of ivory — more than 600 pounds — seized by the Kenyan wildlife police was addressed to Mr. Vixay’s company.

An item on the seizure on the Kenya Wildlife Service Web site ends with this entreaty, “Kenya’s outcry is to totally stop the bloody elephant trade.”

Laotian authorities admit that animal smuggling is a problem but say the evidence against Mr. Vixay is not sufficient to investigate him further.

“We found nothing there,” said Bouaxam Inthalangsi, a top Laotian official in the forestry department.

But when pressed about the voluminous evidence against Mr. Vixay, Mr. Bouaxam hinted at obstacles. Enforcing the law was “difficult,” he said.

“It’s about influence,” he said. “Trafficking syndicates have links to influential people — this is the main problem.”

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« Reply #323 on: Mar 04, 2013, 08:08 AM »

Thailand's prime minister pledges to outlaw domestic ivory trade

Yingluck Shinawatra's announcement on opening day of Cites wildlife summit offers hope in war on elephant poaching

Damian Carrington, Sunday 3 March 2013 16.03 GMT   

A major victory has been won in the war against the illegal slaughter of elephants, which claimed 25,000 animals in 2012, after Thailand's prime minister pledged to outlaw her nation's legal domestic ivory trade. Thailand is the key place where illegal ivory from Africa is laundered into products destined for the world's biggest market in China.

Yingluck Shinawatra's announcement on Sunday came on the opening day of the world's biggest wildlife summit in Bangkok. The two-week meeting of the 178 nations that form the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) faces bitter battles over improved protection for polar bears and ending "trophy" hunting for rhinos. It aims to tackle the trade in shark fins, in which 100m sharks are killed each year.

"Elephants are very important for Thai culture," said Shinawatra, who made the statement after she received a petition from 1.5 million people around the world. "Unfortunately, many have used Thailand as a transit country for the illegal international ivory trade.

"We will work towards amending the national legislation with the goal of putting an end to ivory trade. This will help protect all forms of elephants including Thailand's wild and domestic elephants and those from Africa."

Selling trinkets produced from ivory from Thailand's 2,500 remaining elephants is legal. There are 67 authorised ivory vendors, but market surveys have found ivory in more than 250 shops, where African ivory is passed off as Thai.

There were 1.3m African elephants in 1979, but poaching has reduced the population to as few as 400,000. Officially there is a total ban on international trade in ivory, but there is a rampant black market, fuelled in places by organised crime and terrorist groups including the Lord's Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and al-Qaida's al-Shabaab in Somalia.

"We're thrilled that Prime Minister Shinawatra has pledged to end ivory trade in her country. But she now needs to ensure that it takes place as a matter of urgency, because the slaughter of elephants continues," said Carlos Drews, the head of WWF's delegation to Cites.

Philip Mansbridge, the CEO of Care for the Wild, was more cautious in his welcome. "We were disappointed by the lack of a clear commitment to banning the domestic trade. We don't feel it has gone far enough."

He added: "Poaching isn't just a problem for Kenya, South Africa or wherever the animals are. It's a problem for the rest of the world because the scale of poaching means that it has become a national security issue."

Thailand, along with Nigeria and Congo, may face trade sanctions if Cites member nations do not feel they are doing enough to tackle the illegal ivory trade.

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« Reply #324 on: Mar 05, 2013, 05:25 PM »

Australian woman says dolphins saved her and her dog from drowning

A woman who fell from a cliff into the sea while trying to rescue her dog said Tuesday that a pod of dolphins saved her life. According to Perth’s Channel 7 News, Karyn Gitsham was walking her dogs on the beach at Carrickalinga, on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, as she does every morning, when one of them got into trouble.

Ramsey, a 5-year-old Cocker Spaniel, ran into the water chasing seagulls, but began to struggle against the tide and couldn’t make it back to shore. Gitsham followed him along the shoreline, scrambling up a cliff face to keep him in sight.

Then, the retired police officer lost her footing.

“I just remember falling and I’m in the water and the waves were just pounding me up against the rocks and I could see him out there trying to get back in,” she said.

Dog and owner struggled to stay afloat as help arrived from an unexpected quarter.

“I remember going under and coming back up I saw a fin, and I saw him, and thought ‘Oh great, it’s a shark,’” she said. “And then I saw another fin then I realised they were dolphins. These dolphins just formed this horseshoe and were guiding him in, pushing him in.”

Soon enough, Gitsham herself was being herded toward shore by the ring of dolphins.

“The dolphins came around me and pushed me into a massive, big boulder,” she said.

Gitsham described the rescue as miraculous, but insisted that she won’t be taking risks with the dogs’ safety in the future. From now on, she said, both dogs will take their morning walks on leashes.

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« Reply #325 on: Mar 06, 2013, 06:44 AM »

India's villagers reap visible benefits from solar electricity scheme

Energy NGO Teri has revolutionised 500,000 lives through a scheme that uses solar LED lanterns to provide cheap power
India's rush for industrialisation may be stymied by a lack of power for its factories, but, barely noticed, solar electricity is being taken to thousands of villages in one of the most ambitious grassroots projects ever attempted.

Five years ago an estimated 400 million people lived with rudimentary, low-quality kerosene lamps, providing poor, polluting and often dangerous light. A further 100m homes were nominally connected to the grid but had intermittent power, often at times when no one wanted it.

But in five years, thanks largely to a single NGO that has not sold one lamp, 500,000 more homes have been provided with cheap, decentralised electricity via powerful solar LED lanterns using the latest batteries and panels.

Teri, India's leading energy research institute, launched its Lighting One Billion Lives initiative in 2007. After a slow start – only four villages signed up in the first year – it has taken off. More than 2,000 villages now have "charging stations", each offering 50 or so long-lasting, high-quality solar lanterns that double up as mobile phone chargers.

Teri does not make, distribute or sell the lamps. Instead, it acts as a combined social, developmental and technical enterprise. Its scientists and designers work closely with more than 20 manufacturers to improve the quality and reliability of the lamps, and bring down their cost, while other teams work with villages, NGOs and banks to identify people to run the charging stations. Teri helps to set up repair shops, trains people and provides technical support.

"We are trying to improve the quality of the lamps and build up the chain of local entrepreneurs. We helped seed and catalyse the market," says Ibrahim Rehman, director of Teri's social transformation division.

"People were paying about $1 a month for kerosene lamps, so we had to have an economic model which allowed people to pay about the same as they did before. At the start, the lanterns used to cost about $100 each but now they are down to $15-$30. The batteries used to last one year; now they last three."

People can buy them on microcredit, but in the villages most rent them for a few pence a day. Teri itself, NGOs, businesses, Bollywood film stars and individuals partly or completely sponsor a village to have lanterns, after which a local villager runs the operation as a business, renting them out for no more than they used to pay for kerosene. Villagers drop the lamps to the charging station in the morning and the lights are charged when they return in the evening.

"People were suspicious to start with but now they are queueing to put their names down for them," says Rehman, who estimates that 500,000 homes have now been provided with light, with numbers increasing exponentially. At this rate, in 10 more years, most Indian villages will have light.

"The benefits are visible," says Dhairya Dholakia, area convenor for the project. "People have bright, clean, non-polluting light. There's a clear health benefit. Education is also improved – because children can continue their studies later – and so are livelihoods. All these villages now have 'entrepreneurs' running the solar charging stations. They are earning money."

The lanterns are welcomed, he says. Craftsmen can work later, shops can stay open longer, births are easier to monitor and people have more possibilities to earn money.

"Energy is the missing MDG [millennium development goal]. It is the underlying development goal that fuels so much other development. It has so many co-benefits," says Jarnail Singh, a Teri researcher who visits many of the villages and has seen how clean light raises people's development ambitions. "When people have lighting they realise they can have refrigeration, can keep their food and products long term," he says.

Increasingly, Teri is setting up "micro grids", where 10 or more houses or shops may be linked to a single solar array. Each house will then have two power points, making the result similar to being connected to the grid. Here, the entrepreneur pays for the equipment, but householders pay for the connection.

India is pursuing electrification remorselessly, but business and the cities are given preference and it is expected to be many years before the grid reaches the remotest places – if it does so at all.

Teri is now expanding the scheme to Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan and African countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

"Merely transplanting technological solutions from the developed world … can lead to a mismatch," says Rajendra Pachauri, director general of Teri, who is also the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "However, there are huge benefits from south-south co-operation [like this] because the cultural context and complexity of the challenge across different developing countries have a great deal in common."


Solar-powered lamp-post provides ray of light for Mali

An Italian architect has transformed life in the Mali village of Sanogola by designing a portable, locally manufactured light
Momodou Keita, town chief of Sanogola, a small village 300km north of Bamako, Mali's capital, stands proudly beside the community's solar-powered lamp-post – a shiny, blue, enamel-coated construction of welded bicycle parts and water pipes. "Ten villages now want these lamps," he announces with pride from inside his traditional Malian mud-walled compound. "Now we have electricity and it helps us so much," he says.

Solar technology is spreading throughout countries across Africa and it is getting cheaper and more efficient. The searing rays of sunlight coupled with the lack of electricity grids on the continent make this renewable form of energy a no-brainer. But what makes Foroba Yelen, or Collective Light – the name given to the lamp-posts by the women of the area – so different is that it was designed specifically for the Malian communities who would end up using it, earning funding from the University of Barcelona for winning a special mention in the City to City Barcelona FAD (El Foment de les Arts i el Disseny/Support for Art and Design) award, a competition recognising initiatives that transform communities across the world.

Italian architect Matteo Ferroni spent three years studying villages in rural Mali, where close to 90% of the population have no access to electricity. He wanted to design a light that villagers could manufacture for themselves, so went on to study how welders in nearby Cinzana built donkey carts, the traditional mode of transport that is still widely used today. He used their expertise, along with parts that could be found in any small village in the country, and came up with a design that would "work for the people, not the manufacturers".

"Wherever we need the lamp to be, we just move it," says Assitan Coulibaly, the town chief's wife, gesturing to her son who proceeds to rock the lamp-post gently backwards on to its built-in wheel and trundle it around the yard. "Children can do that. Elders can do that. Everyone can do that," she says with a smile. And they make money from renting the lamp-posts out to other communities too, adds Keita. "When other villages need light for any occasion they borrow it and go for the ceremony and bring it back," he says. "They have to pay to know the value of the lights."

Ferroni noticed how people in rural areas did not follow western night and day sleep patterns. Instead, they wake and sleep depending on circumstances, and it was often the women who would work through the night using costly and often dangerous paraffin lanterns to finish jobs, such as grinding shea nuts, maize or millet, to sell the following day. "The light is a tool to help women who carry out most of the work in the villages," he says. "If they can do extra work at night, they can bring in more money for the family and in turn improve the education and health of their children."

The lamp-posts have become much more than just a source of light for the community of Sanogola. They are enhancing their lives economically, socially and educationally, creating a space for the people of the village to use in whatever way they desire. And 62 more were delivered to communities in the surrounding areas in December. "This light is the equivalent of the shade of the tree in the daytime," says Ferroni.

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« Reply #326 on: Mar 06, 2013, 08:09 AM »

Mad Max: Fury Road sparks real-life fury with claims of damage to desert

Filmmakers accused of riding roughshod over ancient ecosystem in Namibia, endangering lizards and rare cacti

Nastasya Tay in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 March 2013 20.09 GMT      

The filming of the latest Mad Max action feature in the world's oldest desert has caused a major outcry, with environmentalists accusing filmmakers of damaging Namibia's sensitive ecosystem.

The Namibian government was delighted when the director George Miller chose to shoot his post-apocalyptic sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron, in its country, bringing in 370m Namibian dollars (£27m) to the economy, employing about 900 local staff, and paying 150m Namibian dollar in taxes.

The film, the fourth Mad Max feature, was shot in the Dorob national park, in the Namib desert, along southern Africa's Atlantic coast. Scientists estimate the area to be between 50m and 80m years old.

A leaked environmental report claims film crew damaged sensitive areas meant to be protected, endangering reptiles and rare cacti.

The independent researcher appointed to write the report, the ecological scientist Joh Henschel, says public consultation prior to filming was insufficient.

"It all happened without an environmental impact assessment," he said, "so it's difficult to assess the extent of the impact without a baseline."

Henschel said the decision to grant permission to film was made before the country's newest enviromental legislation was promulgated. This, he says, which would have prohibited it.

He said the film crews had driven over untouched areas of the desert, and then tried to erase their tracks by sweeping the area smooth.

"They are doing the best of what they can do under the circumstances, but they can't undo the damage done, to the environment and their reputation," he said.

Henschel said the film studio had hired a scientific team of its own to deal with the situation.

The government-run Namibia Film Commission is concerned the negative publicity will damage its the lucrative film industry.

Florence Haifene, the commission's exec utive secretary, said all the environmental requirements had been met. "We don't want a bad image painted of our country, especially when the allegations are unverified and untrue," she said.

In response to reports about the alleged damage, the commission placed a full-page advertisement in a state-owned newspaper denying the claims.

The coastal watchdog Nacoma (the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management Project) said the leaked report had been commissioned by the government in response to complaints during filming, but that it was just a draft that still needed to be finalised.

"[The leak] has been a bit of an embarrassment. It's difficult and premature to make judgments," said the co-ordinator Rob Brady. "It's still being reviewed by other scientists."

Brady said other films had been filmed in the same area before it was designated a national park. "But unfortunately," he added, "this is a type of film that is quite destructive, racing vehicles and such over different sites."

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« Reply #327 on: Mar 06, 2013, 03:16 PM »

Hungary Destroys All Monsanto GMO Corn Fields
February 10, 2012

Hungary has taken a bold stand against biotech giant Monsanto and genetic modification by destroying 1000 acres of maize found to have been grown with genetically modified seeds, according to Hungary deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development Lajos Bognar. Unlike many European Union countries, Hungary is a nation where genetically modified (GM) seeds are banned. In a similar stance against GM ingredients, Peru has also passed a 10 year ban on GM foods.

Planetsave reports:

Almost 1000 acres of maize found to have been ground with genetically modified seeds have been destroyed throughout Hungary, deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development Lajos Bognar said. The GMO maize has been ploughed under, said Lajos Bognar, but pollen has not spread from the maize, he added.

Unlike several EU members, GMO seeds are banned in Hungary. The checks will continue despite the fact that seed traders are obliged to make sure that their products are GMO free, Bognar said.

During the investigation, controllers have found Pioneer Monsanto products among the seeds planted.

The free movement of goods within the EU means that authorities will not investigate how the seeds arrived in Hungary, but they will check where the goods can be found, Bognar said. Regional public radio reported that the two biggest international seed producing companies are affected in the matter and GMO seeds could have been sown on up to the thousands of hectares in the country. Most of the local farmers have complained since they just discovered they were using GMO seeds.

With season already under way, it is too late to sow new seeds, so this year’s harvest has been lost.

And to make things even worse for the farmers, the company that distributed the seeds in Baranya county is under liquidation. Therefore, if any compensation is paid by the international seed producers, the money will be paid primarily to that company’s creditors, rather than the farmers.

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« Reply #328 on: Mar 07, 2013, 06:50 AM »

March 7, 2013

Proposal to Ban Trade in Polar Bear Parts Is Rejected


BANGKOK — A proposal to ban the international trade in polar bear parts was rejected Thursday at a major international conference on wildlife trade, highlighting the difficulties of reaching a global consensus on protecting many kinds of endangered wildlife.

The decision on whether to upgrade the protective status of polar bears was one of the most high-profile issues being debated at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, in Bangkok.

Others include proposals to afford protection to three species of sharks, manta rays, fresh water sawfish and various types of timber.

The polar bear proposal had been put forward by the United States, but faced opposition from Canada, Greenland, and Norway, all of which have polar bear populations. A compromise proposal by the European Union that included export quotes and tagging to help control illegal trade also was rejected.

“We are obviously disappointed that the CITES membership failed to give greater protection to polar bears by limiting permissible trade in polar bear pelts and other body parts,” David J. Hayes, a deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said in an emailed statement.

Polar bear populations have come under severe pressure as melting sea ice has shrunk their habitats. At the same time, soaring prices for polar bear hides also have led to increased hunting, said Dan Ashe, head of the U.S. delegation at the CITES meeting.
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« Reply #329 on: Mar 07, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Supreme court may force UK to act on air pollution

UK may be on verge of new pollution law, with case regarding obligations to EU being heard by lords on Thursday

John Vidal   
The Guardian, Thursday 7 March 2013      

The supreme court could force the government to take steps to urgently reduce dangerous air pollution in many British cities to meet European limits, following a landmark hearing this week.

The case, to be heard by five law lords, coincides with government warnings that toxic air pollution has been at "high" levels across much of England and Wales this week, including London, York, Manchester, Liverpool, Swansea, Bristol and other cities.

ClientEarth, a group of campaigning lawyers that has brought the case, will say that the government has a legal duty to comply with EU timescales and its plans to reduce pollution are woefully inadequate.

It will say that the government has known that air pollution from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates now kill as many people each year in Britain as obesity and road accidents combined. The EU legislation was passed into European law in 1999 and Britain should have complied by 2010. However, it has refused even to apply for an extension until January 2015.

Government lawyers are expected to argue that Britain is under no legal obligation to meet air pollution time limits set by Brussels and that it is impossible to meet the targets.

The case is considered legally important because it could allow the government to delay the implementation of many other EU environment laws and directives, including those concerning river and beach water quality, waste and carbon emissions.

The UK accepts that under its current air-quality plans, London will not meet its legal limit to reduce NO2 pollution until 2025. Most other urban regions and cities, including Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and and Glasgow, will not comply until 2020.

However, the government argues that it is taking action. "The UK's air-quality plans on nitrogen dioxide are being challenged this week by ClientEarth in the supreme court, having been upheld in the high court and court of appeal. Our air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and most of the UK meets EU air-quality limits for all pollutants. Our plans for nitrogen dioxide set out all the important work being done to meet EU standards in the shortest possible time," said a spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

But this was rejected by ClientEarth. "The fact that the government's plans won't achieve compliance with air-quality standards until 2025 is a disgrace. It thinks that laws that are in place to save lives are "red tape". That's why they are refusing to act to tackle air pollution, while at the same time they are lobbying the EU to get the laws weakened," said Alan Andrews of

Clinet Earth.

"The government is on the wrong side of the science, and on the wrong side of the law. We need the supreme court to step in and force it to live up to its legal and moral duty to protect us from air pollution," he said.

Simon Birkett, director of environment group Clean Air in London, said: "London and the UK are suffering their fourth serious smog episode this year, with many monitors popping 'very high 10/10' air pollution. If the supreme court does not require action, the European commission must. Long-term exposure to invisible air pollution is the biggest public health risk after smoking."

According to Defra's website, "moderate to high" levels of air pollution will continue to hang across much of England due to dry and still weather conditions heightening local pollution. It blames heavy traffic and pollution blown over from Europe and the Sahara.

"We encourage people to take sensible precautions based on the levels of air pollution in their region and their health, such as reducing or avoiding strenuous activity and ensuring they have access to their usual medication, such as asthma inhalers," said a spokesman.

The judges are expected to reserve judgment for several days.John Vidal

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