June 03, 2007

Mumbai abloom with rare palms


Date:03/06/2007
URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2007/06/03/stories/2007060300932200.htm

— Photo: PTI

A Talipot palm in Mumbai.

Mumbai: One of the world's largest palm trees, the Talipot, or Corypha umbraculifera, is abloom in different parts of Mumbai. They have flowered at the St. Francis d'Assissi Church compound in Borivali, Mazgaon, Goregaon, Vile Parle and at the Jijamata Udyan, the local zoo.

"This species... needs around 50 or 60 years... to bloom," plant taxonomist Dr. Suchandra Dutta said here on Saturday. "According to calculations... they produce about 12 million flowers, which contain more than 500 kg of seeds."

Once it bears fruits, the plant dies. It gradually uses up all the nutrient reserves accumulated in the trunk over the decades.

The Talipot is monocarpic, flowering only once when it is 30 to 80 years old. It takes about a year for the fruits to mature. There will be thousands of round yellow-green fruits, measuring to 3-4 cm in diameter. Each will have a single seed.

The flower is native to the Malabar coast and Sri Lanka, and is Sri Lanka's national tree. — PTI

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May 15, 2007

Whale shark in danger

THE SPECIAL REPORT: Veraval: caught in a net

Whale shark in danger

D P Bhattacharya

Ahmedabad, May 12: ONLY a few months ago, fishermen in the coastal areas of Gujarat had pledged never to kill the whale shark again. But their harpoons are out again and once more they are ready for the hunt. That they had once ripped open their nets to release the "big fish", they remember.

The cry of "save the whale shark" rings only somewhere in the distance, muffled by a dire need for money.

More than Rs 90 crore as diesel subsidy for boats has been lying pending with the Gujarat State Fisheries Department for three years now. Money, the fishermen say, they could use after they gave up hunting the whale shark, which was sure to fetch a high price in the market.

"We had promised Murari Bapu not to hunt the whale shark," says Jitubhai Kuhada, president of Veraval Samast Kharva Samaj. "But if the government does not take steps to improve our condition, we'll have to apologise to Bapu and begin killing whale sharks again," he says.

While earlier, fishermen could get diesel at subsidised rates, they have been getting the fuel at full market rate for the last three years now, says Kishan Varidum, president of Shree Akhil Gujarat Machhimar Khamandal and Shree Kharva Sanyukta Machhimar Boat Association. "We had been promised that we would be paid later," says Varidum.

"We are yet to get a part of the money for 2005-06 and the entire amount meant for 2006-07, which comes to Rs 91 crore," he says, "On paper, they have declared quite a few schemes, but none has percolated to the fishermen..."

"A whale shark fetches as much as Rs 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh. It is way more expensive for us to let it go. Once a whale shark is caught we have to go to a forest official for verification and then release it. This costs us more than Rs 30,000," says Vasram Solanki, president of Bedia Koli Samaj Boat Association. "The Forest department gives us Rs 25,000 to release a whale shark, but even that money takes a lot of time to come".

Meanwhile, sources claim that clandestine killing of whale sharks is still on. "A few sharks are being hunted even now, though discreetly. But gathering evidence is difficult," they say.

Says P N Roychoudhury, Principal Secretary, Forest and Environment: "We have rewarded a few fishermen, who cut their nets to release whale sharks. But if they find the reward inadequate, it is really unfortunate... If worse comes to worse, the department will intensify vigil along the coastline and tie up with Coast Guards to keep a tab on fishermen. Cases where sharks are harmed will be dealt with a firm hand."

Gujarat Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Bhupendrasinh Chudasma assured that he will look into the matter of subsidy and expedite the release of money. "We want to pay them as early as possible but the money comes from the Centre," says Chudasma.
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May 06, 2007

Polo Forest Reserve - Volunteer Training Camp

Hii,

I'm just back from the camp.... it was hell fun for me. What I learnt?

Lots of eco-games,
Teaching tactics,
Handling kids/participants of all ages(i'm not perfect with BIG ppl....i like kids),
Organisational Setup,
Volunteer Responsibilities,
lot lot lot more....

What I need to do?

Document it all. So, I'll be putting a link here on the blog to another blog or an additional note where I will document all this stuff. Only way I can achieve this would be going through the timetable all over.... gonna be a helluva job... but still gotta do that.... as its a must for the future use of the knowledge and its conversion into wisdom....

and i'll do tht.... i'm a bit more disciplined now??

may be yes. thanks to the super-strict, sturdy, moustached guy called Mayur Mistry(with a stick in his hand....lol). jokes apart, i'm greatly happy after the learning experience with Mayurbhai.

April 26, 2007

China to lift ban on tiger parts sale???

China's tiger farm lobby wants sale ban lifted
IANS[ MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2007 11:00:47 AM ]

KATHMANDU: India and Nepal are likely to be great jeopardy with the news that China's powerful tiger farm lobby is stepping up pressure on the government to lift its 14-year-old ban on the sale of tiger parts, wildlife experts have warned.

"Fifty years ago, China had the highest number of wild tigers," says Susan Lieberman, director of WWF International' s Global Species Programme. "Today, the number has come down to about 20, which are increasingly moving towards the Russian forests in search of safety."


Traditionally, China has been the biggest consumer of tiger bones, hunting down the big cats for their bones, which the Chinese believe have medicinal qualities.


Though the Chinese government banned the trade in tiger parts in 1993, wildlife experts say new illegal markets are opening in the communist republic with restaurants, boutiques and gift shops advertising tiger meat dishes, fur robes and even wines said to have been made by dipping tiger carcasses in rice wine.


In a bid to circumvent the ban, individuals with and without government funding began establishing tiger farms in China. Some tiger products available in China claim they used tigers that died of natural causes in the farms. Currently, over 100 tiger farms, which have nearly 5,000 captive tigers, have begun pressuring the government afresh to lift the ban.


This month, the Global Tiger Forum, an inter-government group comprising countries with tiger populations, met in Kathmandu to plan its strategies where an official from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China began lobbying for lifting the ban.


"There is considerable need for tiger bone to cure diseases like rheumatic arthritis," says Jia Qian, the official. "Legalisation of the use of farmed tiger bone may meet the market demand and significantly reduce illegal trade by cutting down its price."


However, 30 organisations around the world, which have united under the International Tiger Coalition to oppose the lobbying, say tiger farming will boost poaching of the big cats since many consumers think the wild tiger's potency can't be found in the tame ones.


Between 1999 and 2005, nearly 650 kg of tiger and leopard bones were seized from China, India and Nepal.


Since both India and Nepal are not traditional consumers of tiger or leopard bone or skin, it is assumed that the caches were intended for China. This month, the smuggling of precious red sandalwood from India to China via Nepal exposed the existence of a well-organised international smuggling network with the security and customs officials of all three countries on its payroll.


"If China lifts the ban on tiger trade, Nepal and India's wildlife will be endangered," says Lieberman.


"Instead of lifting the ban, the law enforcement agencies of countries sharing a border need to collaborate and share information to curb smuggling."

Source: http://economictime s.indiatimes. com/News/ International_ _Business/ Chinas_tiger_ farm_lobby_ wants_sale_ ban_lifted/ articleshow/ 1942156.cms

Laurie Baker, I salute!






Master Builder

The moral origins of Laurie Baker’s art

Amrith Lal

Laurie Baker, who passed away in Thiruvananthapuram a few days ago, is relevant for a world that is threatened by global warming. His futuristic vision of India, encapsulated in his buildings and ideas of architecture, emphasised efficiency in the use of materials and energy, improvisation and adaptation of local craft and artisanal traditions, and the needs of millions of homeless. The hundreds of houses, churches and public buildings he designed and constructed offer a rare example of an equitable and sustainable architecture.

Baker has spoken about the influence of a Quaker upbringing and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi in his life. In an autobiographical essay, he recalled how Gandhi took fancy to the Chinese shoes he had made of cut waste clothes when they met the first time. Gandhi invited him to come and work in India after the war. One can deduce from the encounter that Baker shared some of Gandhi’s economic ideas even before they had met in person. The Quaker roots had inculcated in him an appreciation of labour and austerity.

One does not know if Baker shared Gandhi’s interest in the British philosopher, John Ruskin. However, there is an imprint, conscious or otherwise, of Ruskin in Baker’s work, especially the ideas expressed by the former in his writings on the Gothic. Ruskin suggests three rules to test the desirability of a product: One, never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which invention has no share; two, never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but only for some practical or noble end; three, never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, except for the sake of preserving records of great works. These, we can see, formed the core of Baker’s work ethic.

The contribution of Baker to Gandhian praxis is similar to that of the economist J C Kumarappa. Unlike with Kumarappa’s formulations on the village industries, Baker’s ideas found a wider audience. As in the case of Kumarappa, it was Gandhi who gave a political orientation to Baker’s professional skills. Baker’s experiences within the Quaker community may have prepared the ground for him to relate to Gandhi and understand science in moral categories. His pacifism was also shaped by the belief that the science which disrupted the order of life negatively ought to be shunned. He was always supportive of campaigns that sought to expose the false science of our times. He wrote with equal passion on the need for an essential architecture and the immorality of a nuclear bomb. The aesthetic and wholesomeness of his buildings and concepts were a reflection of his philosophy of life. In the essay,Architecture and the People,Baker summed up his work practice in four points. One, he had a clear idea of his clients and their needs. To him, they did not exist as social and economic categories; they were not high income groups or tribals, but people with names and personalities. He once said that he could recall the names of all those for whom he had built houses. Two, no one has the right to waste money, materials and energy in a country like India. Three, people have the ‘‘inherent and inherited ability’’ to know what good architecture is. Architects, he felt, could and should learn from ordinary people. Four, design has to be organic; it has to be transferred from the field to the drawing table and not the other way. He wrote that, ‘‘good or bad design, or good or bad taste has little to do with colour, or form, or texture, or costliness — but that has only to do with honesty and truth in the choice of materials and the method of using them’’. His concepts of architecture and design were not utilitarian; he only reiterated that utility and aesthetics can comfortably coexist.

There is a fundamental critique of the way knowledge is currently understood, acquired, valued and practised in Baker’s work. He did not respect the hierarchies implicit in the use of modern knowledge. He acknowledged traditional wisdom and was constantly learning and adapting it in his work practices. The divide between thought and manual labour was for him a false one. He designed his buildings in such a way that they would ‘‘fit in with the local styles and not be an offence to the eyes of the people’’. The housing projects Baker undertook for the poor were in sharp contrast to the government housing projects. His homes were lived in whereas the sarkari concrete huts ended up being used as cattle sheds and storehouses.

In one sense,Baker was a lucky man.Gandhian ideas of social and economic reconstruction were on the retreat by the time Baker began to build. Baker’s low-cost architecture was in sharp contrast to the promise of big science. However, he found a powerful backer in C Achyuta Menon, the communist leader and chief minister of Kerala, and the Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram when he settled in Kerala in the 1960s.

The Baker model of a low-cost housing revolution to address the needs of the poor found a lot more takers among a moneyed elite in the later years. The joke about the upwardly mobile Malayalee seeking a Baker model house with an exorbitant budget explains the complex nature of his acceptance among people. People may have only bought in to the form of his architecture, and not the vision behind it. A construction company offered tributes to him with a frontpage ad in a leading Malayalam daily on the day his death was reported. Of course, the master builder would have smiled at the irony.


Text Source: TOI Editorial , A'bad Edition, 21 April, 07.

Of architectural truths and lies

Pictures of his works are arbitarily placed.

Laurie Baker


When I am designing a new building, there are a few basic principles that guide me.

The first, of course, is that I want to get to know my client and what is in his mind. If he merely wants to show off or flaunt his wealth, I don't take him on. Otherwise, I enjoy getting to know him (or her, a family, an institution or even a Government department).

If it is to design a house, I want to know the client's eating habits. Do they all eat together at regular times? Or is it a smash-and-grab affair? I also want to know about the bedroom. Do they merely use it to sleep in? Or does he do his writing in one cor ner (like me) and his wife do her sewing or embroidery in another corner?
I always want to see, right at the beginning of our association together, their building site. Not only do I want to know what sort of a site it is (is the land level or sloping?) and what trees there are, but I also ask whether they desire a good view, a garden and whether they keep animals. I want to know about the water supply and from which direction the breeze and rain come from. And I have to always keep in mind that it is they who are going to use the building and not me.

Then I have my own principles, which I am unwilling to abandon. I dislike falsehood and deceit. A building should be truthful. As a typical example, I can think of many "big" buildings, say, in the Thiruvananthapuram Central road.

One building that immediately comes to my mind is three or four storeys high - it is a reinforced concrete frame structure, and between the columns and beams there are windows and brick-work. The bricks are plastered and painted all over. The front of the building, facing the main road, is covered all over with bits of flat stone, to look like crazy paving. So the whole building is actually deceitful - it is a concrete-and- brick structure, but neither material is visible.

I am, of course, asked what I would have done for such a structure. First of all, I would not have used a reinforced concrete frame structure. I would have used brick, and this is perfectly capable of carrying four storeys. Brick has a variety of colours, and I would want it to be seen and not covered over with plaster and paint. If the client must have his crazy paving, I would have put it on the ground.

I rarely build high-rise buildings. Once I did one - the library at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram. Eight-storeyed, it did need a frame structure. This is visible and forms part of the design. Brick was the obvious wall-making material. So between the concrete, everything is brick. After 25 years, the building is still clean and looks new, with no stains and dirt as is invariably seen on plastered walls after a very short time.

On the subject of material, I would like to mention what I consider as one of the most foolish architectural lies that anyone can imagine - build a brick building, then plaster it all over and paint bricks on the plaster to make it look like a brick building! How stupid can we be! There are several such prominent buildings in Thiruvananthapuram.

My next principle is to use locally-available material. If the area makes good bricks, use them. If I want to build in an area full of laterite or stone, I would use it. This is not only economical, but the building would also look as though it belongs; it would not sport an imported look.

Also connected with local material is the whole aspect of local traditional plans, designs and building techniques, which have evolved over hundreds of years. Unsatisfactory design and usage have been abandoned and ideal material and designs have, by trial and error, remained and coped with the local terrain, climate and cultural patterns of living. So why abandon these for expensive, unsuitable energy-intensive material, merely to look "modern"?

In Kerala we have fierce sun and heavy rain. So the typical logic al, effective roof is a huge umbrella to protect the interior and the walls. This is just pure common sense. So I don't want to leave off the overhanging roof, the kind that our ancestors built, for the sake of "looking modern".

As far as buildings are concerned, we are a poor country. There are probably between 40 and 50 million families here without homes. So to me it is not only foolish but wicked to waste material. So one of my main principles is to avoid waste. Plaster costs approximately 10 per cent of the cost of a "normal" building and once plastered, your client is committed to an annual expenditure for upkeep and painting.

Plaster may be necessary in a few areas, for example in a bathroom or a kitchen. But not all over both sides of every wall. So why go on doing it everywhere all the time? Windows are costly, a gate is just as effective in a corridor or staircase. Do you need all the doors that are usually built into a house (each one, which necessitates unnecessary use of timber and paint, costing several thousand rupees)? In a master-bedroom with its attached bathroom, is the door necessary? Do you have to lock yourself in the bathroom? Wouldn't a curtain be adequate?

The other big principle is to avoid as much as possible energy-intensive material (that is, material that requires a lot of fuel in their manufacture) . India just does not have enough "energy" (i.e., fuel). Our coal is concentrated in the East and is not plentiful for the whole country. Iron ore, we have mountains of it, but we don't have enough fuel to convert it into all the steel we use. We have very little oil and have to import it from the Gulf.

Cement uses a lot of energy to be produced from limestone and calcium, whereas lime from the same basic material and with an ultimate strength as good as cement, uses almost no fuel at all. We all cry out about the destruction and depletion of our forests for timber. Forests can be replaced, but not the iron ore and the limestone. So which is the more "eco-friendly" ?


Source: http://www.hinduonn et.com/folio/ fo9908/99080300. htm

India-Northeast-Rhinos Poaching


Wildlife authorities at a national park in India's northeastern state of Assam have sounded a maximum alert with poachers killing six endangered one-horned rhinos since January, including two this month, officials Monday said.

"Six rhinos poached in about 100 days, including two of the beasts killed in the past week, is a matter of grave concern. A security alert has been sounded," park warden Utpal Bora said.

The 430 square-kilometer (166 square-miles) park, 220 km east of Assam's main city of Guwahati, is now home to the single largest population of the one-horned rhinoceros.

As per latest figures, some 1,855 of the worlds estimated 2,700 such herbivorous beasts lumber around the wilds of Kaziranga -- their numbers ironically making the giant mammals a favourite target for poaching.

"We are certain that the recent cases of hunting the rhinos for their horns were done at the behest of a very organized international poaching syndicate who has pumped in lot of funds to attract shooters to kill the animals," the warden said.

"We have mobilized all the resources available and have stepped up security in the park. The local villagers have joined us in our fight against poaching," another park ranger said.

Organized poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac qualities, besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach ailments and other diseases in parts of South Asia.

Rhino horn is also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.

Profits in the illegal rhino horn trade are staggering, rhino horn sells for up to 1.5 million rupees per kilogram in the international market.

The fresh incidents of poaching come at a time when park authorities believed the endangered one-horned rhinos were charging back from the brink of extinction.

"There was a time when poachers slaughtered about 50 rhinos annually in the early 1990s. But things have slowed down in recent years due to stepped up vigil and now all off a sudden we see a spurt in poaching again," Bora said.

Five rhinos were poached last year, while seven were killed in 2005.

According to government estimates about 500 of the beasts were killed by poachers during the past two decades.

Source: http://www2.irna.ir/en/news/view/line-16/0704167270184913.htm

April 14, 2007

http://seabed.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/wallpaper2.tmpl?issue_id=20070401&week=1&priority=2

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matter, and those who matter don't mind."

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http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/04/070406-oldest-fish.html

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"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't
matter, and those who matter don't mind."

-Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

April 08, 2007

An hymn to Morning

An Hymn To The Morning

ATTEND my lays, ye ever honour'd nine,
Assist my labours, and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbers pour the notes along,
For bright Aurora now demands my song.
Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies,
Which deck thy progress through the vaulted skies:
The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On ev'ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather'd race resume,
Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.
Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display
To shield your poet from the burning day:
Calliope awake the sacred lyre,
While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire:
The bow'rs, the gales, the variegated skies
In all their pleasures in my bosom rise.
See in the east th' illustrious king of day!
His rising radiance drives the shades away--
But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong,
And scarce begun, concludes th' abortive song.

Phillis Wheatley

April 05, 2007

Trawling Industry threatens Turtle Nestings

Not so shocking & anger inviting piece of news.

Trawling, Industry Threaten India Turtle Nesting

April 04, 2007

By Simon Denyer, Reuters

DEVI, India -- The scattered carcasses of dead turtles bake on the hot sand. Scraps of the white shells of turtle eggs surround a hole where stray dogs have dug up a nest. Until a decade ago, this beach on India's east coast used to witness one of nature's most spectacular sights -- the mass nesting of tens of thousands of Olive Ridley turtles on a single night.

Not since 1995 has that happened. These days just a handful of turtles come to the beach at Devi to nest, and its status as one of three main nesting sites for the Olive Ridleys in India's coastal state of Orissa is under threat.

Orissa is one of the few remaining mass nesting sites for the Olive Ridleys in the world. But the situation on its other beaches is not much better, with turtles falling victim to government neglect and rapid industrialisation. Fewer turtles than normal arrived this year at the nearby beaches of Gahirmatha, where a marine sanctuary has failed to check illegal fishing by trawlers, and the construction of a large port nearby presents a major environmental threat.

No mass nesting has yet been seen on the southern beach of Rushikulya, and time is running out if that beach is not to witness its third "no-show" in just over a decade. At the same time more than 8,000 carcasses have been washed ashore since November, most caught and drowned in the nets of trawlers fishing too close to the shore, conservationists say. "Because of an increase in human activity in the sea and along the coast, the very survival of Orissa's sea turtles is at stake," said Biswajit Mohanty of the Society of Orissa.

Greenpeace says more than 120,000 turtles have been washed up dead on Orissa's shores in the past 12 years, most caught in the nets of trawlers which the law says should not be there. Total deaths may have been significantly higher. The trawlers also scatter the turtles as they gather in offshore waters to nest, and rampant trawling is thought to be a major reason for the demise of Devi.

But although turtles enjoy the same level of protection under Indian law as tigers, Mohanty said there was simply no enforcement or political will to protect them. A single gill net was found to contain 265 dead animals a few years ago. "Boats are seized, nets are seized, but then they are released after a couple of months," he said. "Not a single conviction has taken place."

Other factors are at work too. The forest department may unwittingly have contributed to the demise of Devi when they planted casuarina trees on the beach in a bid to protect nearby villages from cyclones. That narrowed the beach and made much of it unsuitable for nesting. Natural erosion of the beach at Rushikulya, steepening the incline, may have discouraged landings this year.

But at Devi, traditional fishermen hate the trawlers every bit as much as Mohanty. They say their catch has fallen sharply since trawlers came and is worth perhaps half what it was five years ago, while more expensive fish like pomfret and hilsa have all but vanished. They eagerly show Reuters how easily their flimsy nets rip, showing they present no danger to the turtles, unlike the multi-fibre nets of the industrial boats. "We want the turtles to remain, because wherever there are turtles there are fish," said 32-year-old Jagabondhu Behra.

This is evidence, Greenpeace says, that it is not a question of pitting people against turtles. Some areas like Gahirmatha need to be protected to allow fish stocks room to recover, but in other areas a balance can be struck. In 2004 the Supreme Court recommended that trawlers be kept at least 20 km (12 miles) away from nesting beaches, but traditional fishermen be allowed closer to shore.

The rules, which strike a balance between conservation and livelihood concerns, are supported by Greenpeace but ignored by trawlermen. "There is no reason to subscribe to the defeatist attitude that the problem cannot be tackled unless either turtles or fishermen are sacrificed," said Sanjiv Gopal of Greenpeace.

Challenged on the subject, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said he was unaware that laws meant to protect turtles were not being enforced. The response failed to impress campaigners who say they have been petitioning him on the subject for years. Yet there is another and potentially even more serious threat to the Olive Ridleys' future in Orissa.

The state, one of India's poorest, is rushing to industrialise and exploit its vast mineral wealth. Plans are advanced to open seven new ports, including what could become the biggest on the east coast at Dhamra, just 12 km (7 miles) from the Gahirmatha sanctuary. Oil exploration has also begun off the coast, before studies have been completed of the effects on turtle migration. This year just 140,000 turtles nested at Gahirmatha, Mohanty said, compared to 230,000 the year before. "We are very convinced turtles will eventually abandon the nesting beach," he said. "They are never going to adapt to that level of disruption."

Source: Reuters
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April 01, 2007

Tiny animal halts billion dollar mine

EXTINCTION THREAT

Tiny animal halts billion dollar mine

Michael Perry

Sydney: A blind spider-like animal has stopped development of a multi-billion-dollar iron ore mine in Australia. This is after an environmental body rejected the project fearing that the tiny cavedweller would become extinct.


Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) rejected the proposal by Robe River — a unit of mining giant Rio Tinto — to develop the iron ore mine near Pannawonica in the Pilbara region after the company unearthed troglobites there, which measure just 4 millimetres (0.16 in) in length.


A troglobite is an animal that lives only in the dark parts of caves. It has adapted to life in total darkness and may have no eyes or pigmentation, using feelers to explore its way through the dark.


Troglobites are unable to live outside their pitch-dark world due to risk of death from exposure to ultraviolet light. Even short term exposures to sunlight can be fatal.


“Extensive research and sampling conducted by the proponent has identified a number of new species of troglobitic fauna,” EPA chairman Wally Cox said. An EPA report into the project found 11 species of troglobites in the area and said mining would extinguish at least five of them. The EPA judged that a proposed mining exclusion zone at the site would be inadequate to protect the tiny animal or aboriginal heritage in the area. “There is also concern over the long term structural stability of the landform post-mining,” said the EPA report. Rio Tinto said it would appeal against the decision. “It is a significant project, so we will appeal,” a spokesman said, adding, “This decision is a part of being in the mining business. We support the EPA process in general.”


Robe River already mines iron ore in nearby areas in the Robe River Valley. It currently produces 32 million tonnes per annum of ore, but the existing deposit will be exhausted by 2010. The new iron ore mine, with an expected life of 10 years, is planned as a replacement mine and is predicted to produce 220 million tonnes.


REUTERS

March 29, 2007

Chernobyl-based birds avoid radioactive nests

Chernobyl-based birds avoid radioactive nests



00:01 28 March 2007 NewScientist.com news service Catherine Brahic






The nest boxes were all in the Red Forest, a few kilometres from Chernobyl’s reactor 4 which exploded in 1986 .





The nest boxes were mounted on trees, between 1.5 m and 2 m above the ground. Pied flycatchers (B) were more picky about avoiding nest boxes with higher levels of background radioactivity than great tits (A) .




Birds in Chernobyl choose to nest in sites with lower levels of background radioactivity, researchers discover, but how they can tell remains a mystery.



Anders Møller at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France, and Tim Mousseau at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, US, erected more than 200 nest boxes in the Red Forest, about 3 kilometres away from the nuclear reactor that exploded in 1986.



Using these artificial nests, they studied at the nesting habits of two species of birds – the great tit Parus major and the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca – between 2002 and 2003.



Moller and Mousseau wanted to see if either species would differentiate between nesting sites that had high and low levels of background radioactivity. The patchy distribution of background radioactivity in the area (due to the fact that radioactive material from the explosion did not settle uniformly) meant the nest boxes could be in very similar locations, with similar food supplies, but have widely varying levels of background radioactivity. Levels at some nest sites were as much as 2000 times natural levels elsewhere in the world.



Deformed sperm



The researchers found that both species had a definite preference for nest boxes with low radioactivity, with the pied flycatcher seemingly more sensitive than the great tit (see chart, bottom right).



Previous research done by Mousseau and colleagues (Trends in Ecology and Evolution, DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2006.01.008) showed that higher radioactivity results in lower levels of antioxidants and also deformed sperm in barn swallows around Chernobyl. It therefore makes sense for birds to avoid more radioactive sites.



"It is not entirely clear exactly how the birds are able to tell which boxes are most contaminated", says Mousseau, adding that determining this will be very difficult without experimental manipulations.



Wildlife boom



A spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds told New Scientist that the study is interesting, but points out the unexpected benefits of the Chernobyl explosion. Reports show that the large human exclusion zone around the site has led to a boom in animal populations, including eagles, wolves and bears.



"Whatever effect the radioactivity is having, it seems to be less of a threat than human activities, such as agriculture," said the spokesperson.



"There have been few rigorous scientific analyses of background radiation and the natural abundance of species," responds Mousseau. "But every rock we turn over, every survey we do, we find some previously unreported effect of background radiation."



Immigrant influx



Mousseau believes that the reports of sustained animal populations around Chernobyl mask fluctuations within the populations.



He says studies he has carried out looking at where the barn swallow populations in Chernobyl come from suggest that "the populations are mostly sustained by immigrant birds", rather than birds returning to their nesting sites as they normally would.



So an overall picture showing constant population size could hide the fact that the local population is dwindling but being constantly replenished by neighbouring ones.



Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society: B (DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.0005)

Source URL: http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn11473?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=dn11473

March 27, 2007

Rare species spotted in JNU's biodiversity park

New Delhi, March. 25 (PTI): The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) here has of late got a strange occupant that is catching the attention of zoologists.

A palm civet, an endangered species more commonly known as 'musang', was first spotted in the campus by Surya Prakash of the varsity's Life Sciences Department.

Prakash, who spotted the species last Friday, said it was interesting to find the animal in the national capital.

"I spotted the animal during the day, though it is a nocturnal creature, but what is more interesting is to find it in Delhi. It's an endangered species and Delhi is not listed in the places where it is found," he told PTI.

According to the Wildlife Institute of India, the palm civet is found in parts of Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Assam and Andhra Pradesh.

"The JNU campus is full of fruit trees and has human habitation. This is the natural habitat for the palm civet and that could be the precise reason why it was found here," Prakash said.

Of late, the university has found a place in the capital's listed birding destinations. Its lush green campus is home to 125 species of birds and 40 species of butterflies.

Some rare species of birds that can be spotted there are Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Sirkeer Malkoha, Golden Oriole, Black Francolin, Alexandrine Parakeet, Plum Headed Parakeet, Yellow Crowned Woodpecker and Flameback White Capped Bunting Horned Owl.

http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/001200703251121.htm

March 26, 2007

Butterflies' migration to halt Taiwan's traffic

By The Associated Press



TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan will cordon off part of a highway to create a safe passage for a massive seasonal butterfly migration in the coming days, an official said Saturday.
The milkweed butterflies — which are indigenous to the island off China and have distinct white dots on purple-brown wings — migrate in late March from southern Taiwan to the north, where they lay eggs and die.




Milkweed butterflies migrate in late March from southern Taiwan to the north, where they lay eggs and die. Taiwanese officials are going to great lengths to ensure safe passage this year.

The young butterflies then fly south every November to a warm mountain valley near the southern city of Kaohsiung to escape the winter cold.



Conservationists say Taiwan has about 2 million milkweed butterflies.



To protect the migrating butterflies, a 600-yard stretch of highway in southern Taiwan's Yunlin County will be sealed off in the coming days as the migration peaks, said Lee Tai-ming, head of the National Freeway Bureau.



Authorities will set up nets to make the butterflies fly higher and avoid passing cars, Lee said.
He said they will also install ultraviolet lights to guide the insects across an overpass.
Taiwan began the laborious task of tracking down the butterflies' 180-mile migration paths in recent years.



Taiwan originally had more types of milkweed butterflies, but the largest became extinct decades ago when they were routinely caught and made into specimens for sale.



Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

March 09, 2007

Sounds like Sci-Fi.... No! Its Nature's Wonder

Sea squirt fragment regenerates entire body


01:00 06 March 2007
From New Scientist Print Edition.

Rowan Hooper


Salamanders have a cool trick if they lose their tail: they simply grow a new one. Yet they are some way off the top of the league when it comes to such running repairs. Some creatures can regenerate an entire body from mere fragments of the old one.

It was thought that only simple beasts such as jellyfish and sponges have this talent. Now sea squirts (Botrylloides leachi), the closest invertebrate relative to vertebrates, have been found to do it, too.

Inhabiting shallow coastal waters, sea squirts form colonies of genetically identical individuals. Ram Reshef and Yuval Rinkevich of the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and colleagues took fragments of blood vessels from the animals and watched under a microscope.

Out of 95 fragments they examined, 80 underwent whole body regeneration (WBR). Cells first grouped into hollow spheres, then cell layers in-folded and organs developed until after two weeks an adult sea squirt had grown, capable of sexual reproduction.


“To think that even one attached blood vessel survives storm damage and regenerates the entire colony,” says Reshef. “What an advantage this provides!”

In other animals, the signals that trigger WBR are transmitted from a central point, but in sea squirts they arise from multiple locations. Reshef suggests the discovery may help illuminate regeneration abilities that have been lost or suppressed in vertebrates.

Journal reference: PLoS Biology (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0050071)

Survival of the fittest, physically? or mentally?

'Chastity belts' block rival sperm in female spiders
12:12 06 March 2007
NewScientist.com news service
Roxanne Khamsi


Some male spiders up-and-leave right after sex for good reason – they risk being eaten by their female partners if they linger too long. In the process of making a swift exit, many leave part of their genitalia inside their mates.

Now a new study reveals that detaching part of the genital organ is not a means to help the male escape a murderous attack. Instead, the abandoned genitals act as "chastity belts" and block the entry of sperm from competitors into the female.

Gabriele Uhl at the University of Bonn, Germany, and colleagues watched wasp spiders (Argiope bruennichi) mate. During the act, a male must insert one of its two sperm-carrying organs, known as pedipalps, into the female’s genital openings. After delivering the sperm, the tip of the pedipalp becomes stuck inside the female, forming a plug in her reproductive tract.
To find out if leaving behind part of the pedipalp helped the males escape death, researchers compared the damage to this organ during first-time sexual encounters with damage sustained in subsequent encounters.

Evolutionary benefit

The experienced males monitored in the experiment had mated once before and only had a single remaining pedipalp intact. These males would enjoy no evolutionary benefit from surviving after mating a second time because they have generally lost both of their pedipalps at this point, and can therefore no longer inseminate females.

According to Uhl, if detaching the pedipalp did offer a survival benefit, one would expect to see it happen more among virgin males, which could mate again, than experienced males, which could not. But the researchers found an equal amount of pedipalp damage among these two groups.
They therefore concluded that detachment of the pedipalp tip cannot significantly enhance a male spider’s chance of escaping attack by his mate.

Uhl’s team also found that a pedipalp tip left inside a female affected how long she copulated for in subsequent encounters. Normally virgin females mate for about 16 seconds, but those with a pedipalp plug mate for only half as long.

This is important because female spiders are more likely to deliver the offspring of those males with which they copulate longest, Uhl says.

She concludes that the pedipalp plug acts as a chastity belt to prevent sperm from competing spiders from entering the females. Uhl's group has also found other types of wasp spiders with a similar "plugging mechanism".

Journal reference: Behavioral Ecology (DOI: 10.1093/beheco/ar1074)

Source URL :http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11319?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=dn11319

March 04, 2007

Save a life by donating your baby's cord blood

BY LAURAN NEERGAARD
Posted Monday, February 26, 2007
Source URL :http://www.dailyherald.com/health/story.asp?id=285342

Flyers in upscale doctors' offices portray it as the hot new baby-shower gift: a registry where friends and family chip in almost $2,000 to start privately banking a newborn's umbilical cord blood, just in case of future illness.

That idea of biological insurance is a long shot that most mothers-to-be can safely ignore, say new guidelines from the nation's pediatricians that urge more parents to donate their babies' cord blood - so that it might save someone's life today.

The guidelines come as the government begins setting up the first national cord-blood banking system, aiming to prevent some 12,000 deaths a year - if public banks can compete with marketing-savvy private companies that now house the bulk of the world's preserved cord blood.

Cord blood is rich in stem cells, the building blocks that produce blood - and the same stem cells that make up the bone-marrow transplants that help many people survive certain cancers and other diseases. But cord blood has some advantages: These younger stem cells are more easily transplanted into unrelated people than bone marrow is, and they can be thawed at a moment's notice, much easier than searching out a bone-marrow donor.

There should be plenty for both private and public banking, says an optimistic Dr. Elizabeth Shpall of the public M.D. Anderson Cord Blood Bank. After all, cord blood from most of the nation's 4 million annual births is thrown away.

Chief hurdles: Improving consumer awareness - and the small number of hospitals that allow donations.

Her own work illustrates the industry's stark socio-economic contrasts: At Houston's Ben Taub General Hospital, Shpall finds the mostly Hispanic mothers-to-be not only unable to afford private banking - few have even heard that cord blood has a medical use.

Armed with a $3 million federal grant to improve much-needed minority donations, she is working with Spanish-language TV and radio programs that in a few months will begin telling Houston moms about their cord blood choices, and which hospitals allow donations.

Her message: "Unless you have a family member with cancer, it's unlikely you would ever need it, and you would be doing a service to humanity to donate it."

Today, about 50,000 cord blood donations are stored in more than 20 public banks around the country. The new National Cord Blood Inventory aims to triple that number, enough that virtually anyone who needs stem cell treatment could find a match - especially minority patients who today seldom can as most bone marrow donors are white.

Private banks have an estimated 400,000 units stored.

What's the controversy? Deciding who really needs to store a child's own cord blood for later use. Private storage costs $1,500 to $1,900 up front, and about $125 a year thereafter, although some offer special programs for lower-income families.

Guidelines published last month by the American Academy of Pediatrics say:

• Parents should consider private storage only if an older sibling has cancer or certain genetic diseases that cord blood is proven to treat.

• Everyone else should consider donating their child's cord blood. The odds that a child would need an infusion of his or her own cord blood later in life are slim, between one in 1,000 and one in 200,000.

Private banks vehemently disagree, arguing that as scientists learn more about stem cells, the blood could create personalized treatments for heart disease or other more common killers.

"That's still considered very experimental," counters Dr. Mitchell Cairo of Columbia University Medical Center, who co-authored the new guidelines.

Also, doctors don't even know if cord blood remains usable after being stored for decades.

Still, last month Illinois doctors reported the first apparent success in treating a child's leukemia with her own cord blood - something usually impossible because that blood so often carries the cancer-triggering genetic defect.

The report has expectant parents calling Advocate Hope Children's Hospital to ask if they, too, should store their babies' cord blood, says Dr. Ammar Hayani, who performed the transplant only after genetic testing showed that patient's cord blood was defect-free.

"It's probably overadvertised by some of these companies as this biological insurance. That's probably overdramatization of its potential," says Hayani, who advises parents of the pediatric academy's guidelines. "But I think parents need to know" both sides' arguments, he says.

About 11 states have recently passed legislation to try to increase the information that expectant parents receive about their cord blood choices: store it, donate it or discard it.

It's no different than how families choose between public or private schools, says Steve Grant of Cord Blood Registry, which began offering the baby-gift option last year after noticing grandparents putting up the money.

"The competitive nature seems misplaced to me," he says. "Family banking is not in any way detracting from the ability to build a public system."

Flyers in upscale doctors' offices portray it as the hot new baby-shower gift: a registry where friends and family chip in almost $2,000 to start privately banking a newborn's umbilical cord blood, just in case of future illness.

That idea of biological insurance is a long shot that most mothers-to-be can safely ignore, say new guidelines from the nation's pediatricians that urge more parents to donate their babies' cord blood - so that it might save someone's life today.

The guidelines come as the government begins setting up the first national cord-blood banking system, aiming to prevent some 12,000 deaths a year - if public banks can compete with marketing-savvy private companies that now house the bulk of the world's preserved cord blood.

Cord blood is rich in stem cells, the building blocks that produce blood - and the same stem cells that make up the bone-marrow transplants that help many people survive certain cancers and other diseases. But cord blood has some advantages: These younger stem cells are more easily transplanted into unrelated people than bone marrow is, and they can be thawed at a moment's notice, much easier than searching out a bone-marrow donor.

There should be plenty for both private and public banking, says an optimistic Dr. Elizabeth Shpall of the public M.D. Anderson Cord Blood Bank. After all, cord blood from most of the nation's 4 million annual births is thrown away.

Chief hurdles: Improving consumer awareness - and the small number of hospitals that allow donations.

Her own work illustrates the industry's stark socio-economic contrasts: At Houston's Ben Taub General Hospital, Shpall finds the mostly Hispanic mothers-to-be not only unable to afford private banking - few have even heard that cord blood has a medical use.

Armed with a $3 million federal grant to improve much-needed minority donations, she is working with Spanish-language TV and radio programs that in a few months will begin telling Houston moms about their cord blood choices, and which hospitals allow donations.

Her message: "Unless you have a family member with cancer, it's unlikely you would ever need it, and you would be doing a service to humanity to donate it."

Today, about 50,000 cord blood donations are stored in more than 20 public banks around the country. The new National Cord Blood Inventory aims to triple that number, enough that virtually anyone who needs stem cell treatment could find a match - especially minority patients who today seldom can as most bone marrow donors are white.

Private banks have an estimated 400,000 units stored.

What's the controversy? Deciding who really needs to store a child's own cord blood for later use. Private storage costs $1,500 to $1,900 up front, and about $125 a year thereafter, although some offer special programs for lower-income families.

Guidelines published last month by the American Academy of Pediatrics say:

• Parents should consider private storage only if an older sibling has cancer or certain genetic diseases that cord blood is proven to treat.

• Everyone else should consider donating their child's cord blood. The odds that a child would need an infusion of his or her own cord blood later in life are slim, between one in 1,000 and one in 200,000.

Private banks vehemently disagree, arguing that as scientists learn more about stem cells, the blood could create personalized treatments for heart disease or other more common killers.

"That's still considered very experimental," counters Dr. Mitchell Cairo of Columbia University Medical Center, who co-authored the new guidelines.

Also, doctors don't even know if cord blood remains usable after being stored for decades.

Still, last month Illinois doctors reported the first apparent success in treating a child's leukemia with her own cord blood - something usually impossible because that blood so often carries the cancer-triggering genetic defect.

The report has expectant parents calling Advocate Hope Children's Hospital to ask if they, too, should store their babies' cord blood, says Dr. Ammar Hayani, who performed the transplant only after genetic testing showed that patient's cord blood was defect-free.

"It's probably overadvertised by some of these companies as this biological insurance. That's probably overdramatization of its potential," says Hayani, who advises parents of the pediatric academy's guidelines. "But I think parents need to know" both sides' arguments, he says.

About 11 states have recently passed legislation to try to increase the information that expectant parents receive about their cord blood choices: store it, donate it or discard it.

It's no different than how families choose between public or private schools, says Steve Grant of Cord Blood Registry, which began offering the baby-gift option last year after noticing grandparents putting up the money.

"The competitive nature seems misplaced to me," he says. "Family banking is not in any way detracting from the ability to build a public system."

March 02, 2007

Taming the wild

Tough GM salmon lose their nerve in the 'wild'


Some genetically modified fish appear to undergo a personality change when they leave laboratory conditions for a more natural environment, according to new research.


Transgenic fish that behave ferociously in a bare tank, appear meek under more natural conditions, meaning it will not be easy for biologists to predict the ecological consequences of escaped GM animals.


Salmon genetically engineered to overproduce growth hormone can put on up to 25 times the weight of wild salmon and could provide "aqua-culturists" with a faster way to raise fish to market size.


However, lab tests suggested that transgenic fish are more aggressive predators than wild salmon, raising concerns that they could harm native fish if they escape into the wild.
Stream tanks


Fredrik Sundström and colleagues at Canada's Center for Aquaculture and Environmental Research, Fisheries and Oceans, in Vancouver, tested whether the GM fish would have the same superiority in more natural conditions.


When they raised the fish in stream tanks complete with gravel, large rocks, logs and natural food items, they found that the GM fish still grew a little faster and ate a little more than unmodified fish, but their advantage was much smaller than when the fish lived in a simple metal tank and ate food in pellet form.


That does not mean escaped GM fish would not cause ecological damage, says Sundström, only that biologists will need to work harder to answer the question. “You can’t use fish reared in the lab to predict what will happen in nature,” he says.


Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0608767104)

February 20, 2007

Evolving Thoughts: Evolution and the conservation of biodiversity

hershal_pandya@yahoo.com has forwarded you a post from ScienceBlogs.com


Evolution and the conservation of biodiversity

A paper out in Nature 15 February, uses a novel technique devised by one of the authors, Dan Faith, called Phylogenetic Diversity (PD), to assess the biodiversity and conservation value of endangered species and regions in terms of how unique they are in evolutionary history.

Continue reading "Evolution and the conservation of biodiversity"

February 19, 2007

Let's fReShEn uP

Its been long since we talked of actual activism,
So that we may do.

Its been long since we sowed,
So that we may reap.

Its been long since we planted a kid,
Whose tender leaves quiver in wind,
Who has immense faith in us,
That we will shelter it against storm.

Let's Freshen Up!

February 14, 2007

The migrating butterflies


Source:


The Hindu (http://www.hinduonnet.com/2007/02/11/stories/2007021101161800.htm)


The migrating butterflies


Nivedita Ganguly



An interesting annual phenomenon under study


VISAKHAPATNAM:
The iridescent, velvety wings flutter around in swarms: the seasonal visitors are here again. For a few years now, during the period December-February, a throng of butterflies have made their appearance in pockets of Visakhapatnam district. Environmentalists and nature-lovers are monitoring the phenomenon.


"We have been observing this peculiar behaviour of the crow and tiger butterflies," says Prof. M. Rama Murty of the Dolphin Nature Club, a founder-member of the biodiversity park at the RCD Government Hospital here.


A recent study by environmental organisations showed that the "tiger" and "crow" butterflies have a tendency to migrate in large groups from the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats during certain periods of the year. Such arrivals have been observed also in Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore in Karnataka; Palakkad and Kannur in Kerala; Coimbatore, Udhagamandalam, Vellore and Chennai in Tamil Nadu, and Tirupati, also in Andhra Pradesh. It has been witnessed also in some wildlife sanctuaries.


The insects migrate in clusters and for a specific period remain rooted to a spot, where they copulate. "Interestingly, migration of butterflies is different from that of birds since the ones that return are not the original butterflies," says Mr. Murty. The long-distance migration can be attributed to a combination of climatic factors, food availability and breeding habitat preferences.


"The most obvious cause for migrations is a rapid expansion of the population of one or more species in an area leading to reduced food supply," Mr. Rama Murty says.
The migration route is yet to be determined. The groups consist of over 20 species .
The migration of the North American Monarch butterfly from Canada and northern United States to Mexico in autumn and the return journey in spring is well known. In India, larger-scale migrations occur in the Western Ghats. "In southern India, butterfly migrations have been documented in the Palni Hills and places like Assam and Rajasthan. Twenty-two species are known to migrate, travelling south in October during the rainy season," says Prudhvi Raj of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun.


But why do the butterflies flock to only certain plants? "The males, on emerging from their pupae, lack certain chemicals essential to the process of courting females. Butterflies need pyrrolizidine alkaloids for the production of these sexual pheromones and these are obtained from plants such as Crotalaria, Heliotropium and Senecio subdiscoideus," says Mr. Raj.
Some action patterns are observed, including `mud-puddling', wherein the butterflies land on wet mud and suck salt and other minerals and nutrients from the soil.

Copyright: 1995 - 2006 The Hindu
Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the consent of The Hindu

February 01, 2007

Snakes eat poisonous toads and steal their venom



Toads on the Japanese island of Ishima seem to be losing their evolutionary battle with snakes. Most snakes, and indeed most other animals, avoid eating toads because of the toxins in their skin. Rhabdophis tigrinus snakes, however, not only tolerate the toxins, they store the chemicals for their own defensive arsenal.

Deborah Hutchinson at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, US, and colleagues, found that snakes on Ishima had bufadienolide compounds – toad toxins – in their neck glands, while those snakes living on the toad-free island of Kinkazan had none.

The snakes are unable to synthesise their own toxins, so they can only have derived bufadienolide compounds from their diet. Hutchinson’s team confirmed this by feeding snake hatchlings either a toad-rich or a toad-free diet. Toad-fed snakes accumulated toad-toxins in the nuchal glands on the back of the neck; snakes on a toad-free diet did not.

“Rhabdophis tigrinus is the first species known to use these dietary toxins for its own defence,” says Hutchinson.

Fight or flight

What is more, when attacked, snakes on different islands react differently. On Ishima, snakes stand their ground and rely on the toxins in their nuchal glands to repel the predator. On Kinkazan, the snakes flee.

“Snakes on Kinkazan have evolved to use their nuchal glands in defence less often than other populations of snakes, presumably due to their lack of defensive compounds,” says Hutchinson.
Moreover, baby snakes benefit too. The team showed that snake mothers with high toxin levels pass on the compounds to their offspring. Snake hatchlings thus also enjoy the toad-derived protection.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas0610785104)

SOURCE URL

January 31, 2007

Congratulations to the Virgin Mother - Komodo Dragon

Baby komodo dragon photo

January 22, 2007

Chester, England, United Kingdom

The product of a virgin birth, this baby komodo dragon is one of five hatchlings that made their appearance at the Chester Zoo in England this week.

Their mother, Flora, never had a mate and instead reproduced asexually (Read "Virgin Birth Expected at Christmas—By Komodo Dragon" [December 2006].)

This marked the second recorded incidence of asexual reproduction in a female komodo dragon, the other having taken place in April 2006 at the London Zoo.

Two more of Flora's eggs have yet to hatch.


January 30, 2007

Rhinos Back To Wild

IFAW Releases Rhinos Back To Wild in India

(Assam, India – 30 January 2007) – IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare, www.ifaw.org) and its partner, WTI (Wildlife Trust of India), today announced the successful release of two one-horned Asian rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) back to the wild in India with support from Assam Forest Department.

The rhinos, female calves nicknamed Manasi and Roje, were rescued from the floodwaters that annually spill over the banks of the Brahmaputra River. The pair, both three years old, were rescued in the summer of 2004 and rehabilitated at the Centre for Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC). CWRC is located near Kaziranga National Park, in North East India, and was founded in 2001 through a collaboration between WTI, IFAW and the Assam Forest Department. CWRC was one of India's first multi-species rehabilitation centres and is designed to care for a variety of animals until they are capable of surviving release back into the wild.

"The rhinos will wear radio collars for post release monitoring," said Dr. Ian Robinson, who heads up IFAW's Emergency Relief team. "We want to do everything possible to assure a successful transition back to the wild for these animals."

The rhinos were translocated from CWRC, via an overnight convoy, to Manas National Park and released at an event attended by more than 100 onlookers, wildlife experts, and dignitaries including Abhajit Rabha, Director of Manas National Park and Ritesh Bhattacharjee, Field Director of the Manas Tiger Project.

"We are confident that the rhinos will do well in Manas as we are involving not just governments but also the local people," said M.C. Malakar, Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam. "The CWRC rescue centre has helped us rescue and rear more animals than before. I thank IFAW for setting up the rescue centre with WTI."

"Manas once supported a lot of rhinos, however certain problems wiped them out. Now, as these rhino calves are released, it is good to release them in Manas as it is conductive to rhino populations," said D.M. Singh, Director Kaziranga National Park. "Earlier we would rescue animals and take them to the zoo and that was the end. But now the CWRC rescue centre has made rehabilitation into the wild a possibility."

At Manas the two rhinos will be held in an enclosure and will later join a four year old rhino that was moved there last year. IFAW and WTI released that female rhino at the same location in February 2006. It was the first rhino in Manas in more than a decade. Wild rhinos in Manas National Park, a World Heritage site, once numbered more than 100.

"The enormous effort of veterinary doctors, IFAW, the staff of the forest department, and the WTI animal keepers at the CWRC rescue centre has made this possible," said Professor P.C. Bhattacharjee of WTI.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW works around the globe to protect animals and habitats promoting practical solutions for animals and people. To learn how you can help, please visit
www.ifaw.org

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0701/S00421.htm

No real attempt to save trees

[ 17 Mar, 2003 2310hrs IST TIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
(situation isn't better four years later, actually worse!)
AHMEDABAD/VADODARA/SURAT: According to a scientific study, a tree with a life span of about 50 years generates Rs 3,75,000 worth of oxygen per year. It recycles Rs 4,50,000 worth of water and provides Rs 3,75,000 worth of soil erosion control and soil fertility.

It also provides Rs 7,50,000 worth of air pollution control and provides Rs 3,75,000 worth of shelter and home for animals and birds. Going by these figures, it is difficult to estimate the losses suffered by the environment in Gujarat on every Holi.

Approximately 30,000 Holi fires are lit across the state. And considering that 100 kg of wood go up in flames in each bonfire, the final figure touches a mindboggling 30,00,000 kg of wood and, in the process, taking toll of over 7,500 trees.

"These figures do not include the value of the fruit, timber and beauty the tree provides in its lifetime," says Gopal Jain of the Centre for Environment Education. However, the forest department officials argue that most of the trees used in the religious fire is 'desi bawal'. "The wood mainly comes from the farm forests," informs chief conservator of forest, Balaguru Swami.

According to N Nagori, former president of the Gujarat Timber Merchants' Association, a large chunk of the wood is brought from the Kheda district. It's mainly cut from the roadside.

Says Himanshu Nagori, president of the Ahmedabad Timber Merchants' Association, "The wood used during Holi is mostly useless." Haribhai Panchal of Sadvichar Parivar, an organisation which has been working hard to spread awareness on the issue, believes it's high time something has be done to save the environment.

"Thousands of tonnes of wood are burnt on Holi. Instead of having numerous Holis, we should have one symbolic fire. Can you imagine around four lakh kg of wood is burnt in Ahmedabad alone?" he says. Panchal recollects one instance when jail inmates had taken the Parivar's advice seriously and had a Holi fire using waste products instead of wood.

In Vadodara, if the authorities are to be believed, bonfires will consume as much as 2 lakh kg of wood.

"A housing society that has more than 100 houses would require almost 200 kg of firewood, whereas those with a lesser number of houses will utilise anywhere between 50 and 100 kg of firewood, on this day. The wood commonly used comprise neem, tamarind, gulmohar and banyan," says general secretary of International Society of Naturalist (Insona), GM Oza.

"According to a recent estimate, almost 100 to 200 kg of firewood is burnt by small as well as medium-sized societies in the city," says deputy conservator of forests, social forestry division IA Chauhan.

In Surat, at more than 300 places holika dahan will be organised and on average in each case, one to two quintals of wood would be burnt, according to chief fire officer G M Kotwal of the Surat Municipal Corporation.

Deputy forest conservator D B Patti told TNN that though vigil has been stepped up on the occasion to prevent ferrying of timbers from the forest region to the city areas, in almost all the cases, only fuel-wood, collected from fields or purchased from wood sellers, is used for the purpose.

January 23, 2007

Unique Sanctuary

Unique sanctuary
pls keep patience....n read the whole article.....this sanctuary...is really unik!

By NDUNG'U NJAGA

THE KITALE CONSERVANCY- a 136-hectare botanical garden with over 850 plant species , has finally been opened to the public.

The garden is owned by career educationist Boniface Ndura, who says that a country's identity should not be determined by culture only but also the uniqueness of its vegetation.

The plant species in the garden are planted systematically according to families to facilitate learning and understanding by laymen.

All the species are indigenous, depicting distinct ecosystems in Kenya, from the tropical rain forest in Kakamega, the alpine meadows on Mt Kenya to the semi-desert areas like Garissa in the northeastern.

The park is 6km from Kitale town on the Kitale-Kapenguria highway.
Mr Ndura advocates the promotion and conservation of indigenous plant species in their diversity not only for ecological usefulness but also for "our ecological identity."

The botanical garden has a special focus on endemic and endangered species and the management argues that they need to be replicated elsewhere from their original habitats to save them from extinction through the genetic drifts that affect confined gene pools.
All the traditional uses of the plants are being studied and documented to preserve the rich ethno-ecology and wisdom, that Mr Ndura says has been accumulated over prolonged periods and should not be allowed to die with the few elders scattered in various communities.

Mr Ndura says his botanical garden is a sign of what commitment can do.
"Many institutions spend huge sums of money from donors but hardly produce anything worth the name," he laments.

He says the main reason conservation fails in Africa is because of the mentality that we must be "funded" to conserve our resources, arguing that conservation is a culture and attitude.
Western Kenya has only a few natural habitats set aside for conservation of either indigenous forests or natural populations of wildlife.

The main conservation areas are the trans-boundary Mt Elgon National Park and Saiwa Swamp, the smallest national park in Kenya. Both are managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service.
While private conservation is common in the savanna areas of Machakos, Laikipia and Naivasha, it is less so in western Kenya.

At Endebbess, there is the Delta Crescent Sanctuary, which was hitherto the only successful sanctuary of rare species like the Rothschild giraffe and white rhino. It is also a popular tourist destination, offering camping and horse riding.

Kitale Conservancy is the second significant private conservation initiative in the area.
Besides education — its main purpose is offering recreational activities like boat riding, camping and nature walks.

Beyond the restaurant at the gate, the trail is lined with indigenous tree species from different ecosystems in Kenya and the management has documented their ecological and cultural significance to the communities where they originate.

The nature trail then winds through different habitats, among them a thick riverine forest along the Sabwani River, a tributary of the Nzoia. Then there aredry grassland and marshy land, all hosting the appropriate species.

From a conservation perspective, the most unique species are the De-Brazza's monkeys, the sitatunga and crested cranes.

The De-Brazza's monkeys is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN, or the World Conservation Union) as an endangered species in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda because its habitats are being eroded by cultivation and deforestation.

In Kenya, the species is found only in the west of the country, with pocket populations in Kakamega forest, Mt Elgon National Park and Saiwa Swamp National Park, 15 km from Kitale Conservancy.

IT IS SIGNIFICANT THAT KItale conservancy is the only private conservation area where the species occurs.

Although the monkey is shy, a patient visitor has a chance to spot it either on the nature trail along the river or near the restaurant at the main gate. The farm hosts a population of about 30 of this elegant species which are attracting researchers from different learning institutions worldwide.

The sitatunga is listed in literature as rare or locally endangered in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Lake Chad. It is the only amphibious antelope in Kenya, distinguished by its shaggy long legs with splayed hooves and spreadeagled stance. These are an evolutionary adaptation for living on boggy ground.

In Kenya, the sitatunga is found mainly on the shores of Lake Victoria and in minor pockets of western Kenya. Saiwa Swamp national park is the only protected area where sitatunga live and breed, though there is some conflict with neighbouring farmers.

The Kitale Conservancy has a 20-hectare wetland dedicated to sitatunga conservation and, with the assistance of KWS, the farm is now a sitatunga sanctuary making it the second private farm, after Lewa Downs in Nanyuki, to become a sitatunga sanctuary.

The Saiwa swamp is the only known protected area in Kenya where the Uganda crane and the black crowned crane breed.

The two cranes are unique in that they are virtually endangered due to loss of wetland habitats in the country, most of which have been reclaimed for agriculture.

While the conservancy's conservation credentials are unassailable, the farm has a controversial component.

Among the principal attractions is a set of livestock with bizarre genetic deformities.
Mr Ndura says he decided to offer sanctuary to these animals to save them from persecution.
Such animals are taboo in some communities, where they are killed immediately after birth, but Mr Ndura says they have a right to exist like other animals, adding that their presence on the farm offers great educational insight.

He says he has on several occasions hosted university students of veterinary genetics and some external scholars in the field who confess to having read about but never seen such evolutionary aberrations.

For Mr Ndura, the opening of the park to the public is the culmination of a dream nurtured since he bought the first 45 hectares of land in 1974.

He painstakingly bought more land to ensure a viable area for conservation and hopes to finally use the park to teach the public that "conservation" is not waste of agricultural land but a profitable land use as well."

http://www.nationmedia.com/eastafrican/current/
Magazine/Magazine2201075.htm

Bihar Today : Endangered Garuda birds are breeding in Bihar

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Blog: Bihar Today
Post: Endangered Garuda birds are breeding in Bihar
Link: http://bihartoday.blogspot.com/2007/01/endangered-garuda-birds-are-breeding-in.html

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Bye to Baiji

Source: http://www.fracturedearth.org/?p=224

i thought i would reproduce something i read in the ny times this morning.

Robert L. Pitman has spent 30 years studying the world's whales, dolphins and other aquatic mammals. He returned to San Diego, Calif., last week after a fruitless six-week expedition in which teams of five observers on two vessels scoured the Yangtze River from the Three Gorges Dam to Shanghai, seeking the last members of the rarest cetacean species of all, a white, nearly blind dolphin called the baiji, Lipotes vexillifer. The dolphin is now considered, at best, "functionally extinct." Dr. Pitman wrote this note in response to a reporter's question about the broader implications of this, the first apparent extinction of a cetacean in modern times.

but first, a photograph of Lipotes vexillifer. this is a snap of, as the nytimes says, one of the last known baiji, photographed in captivity before its death in 2002.
One of the last known baiji, photographed in captivity before its death in 2002. Nobody eats baiji, but it became a bycatch of other fishing.
and now, on with what pitman says…

Locally, the Yangtze River is in serious trouble; the canary in the coal mine is dead. In addition to baiji, the Yangtze paddlefish is (was) probably the largest freshwater fish in the world (at least 21 feet), and it hasn't been seen since 2003; the huge Yangtze sturgeon breeds only in tanks now because it has no natural habitat (a very large dam stands between it and its breeding grounds). The whole river ecosystem is going down the tubes in the name of rampant economic development. There is a huge environmental debt accruing on the Yangtze, and baiji was perhaps just the first installment.

Globally, scientists have been warning for some time of an impending anthropogenic mass extinction worldwide. Previous bouts of human-caused extinctions were due mainly to directed take: humans hunting for food. What we are seeing now is probably the first large animal that has ever gone extinct merely as an indirect consequence of human activity: a victim of market forces and our collective lifestyle. Nobody eats baiji and no tourists pay to see it — there were no reasons to take it deliberately, but there was no economic reason to save it, either. It is gone because too many people got too efficient at catching fish in the river and it was incidental bycatch. And it is perhaps a view of the future for much of the rest of the world and an indication that the predicted mass extinction is arriving on schedule.

For the Chinese, I think that losing a half-blind river dolphin and a couple of oversize fish was a fair trade for all the money that is being made there now. China is an economic model envied by most of the rest of the world, and I think that many other (especially third world) countries will be confronted with similar decisions of economic development versus conservation of habitats and animals, and the response will be the same. From now on we will have to choose which animals will be allowed to live on the planet with us, and baiji got cut in the first round. It is a sad day. I know it is their country, but the planet belongs to all of us. We came to say goodbye to baiji, but after its being in the river for 20 million years, we apparently missed it by two years.

Sorry if I got a little emotional here, but the disappearance of an entire family of mammals is an inestimable loss for China and for the world. I think this is a big deal and possibly a turning point for the history of our planet. We are bulldozing the Garden of Eden, and the first large animal has fallen.

Robert L. Pitman, NOAA Fisheries Ecosysem Studies Program

stark, isn't it? "We came to say goodbye to baiji, but after its being in the river for 20 million years, we apparently missed it by two years." if you want to read more about the baiji, the mammal that accompanies 2006 into the history books, go here — the blog that the expedition maintained. on a related note. if you are looking for a good environmental history of china, try the retreat of the elephants by mark elvin.

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http://hershal.blogspot.com

"That's the direction in which the world should progress according to me - the direction in which we finally become freed from the label of country and become global citizens. Instead of being global citizens then - we become the same thing we started out with - being humans."

-Tingal.

'Gujarati hospitality has winged visitors checking in'

'Gujarati hospitality has winged visitors checking in'
Syed Khalique Ahmed
Ahmedabad, January 22: EVER thought why do migratory birds from Russia, Central Asian countries and even Iran and Iraq, wing their way to Gujarat in winter? If forest department officials are to be believed, 'Gujarati hospitality' to winged visitors, apart from variations in its habitat, are reasons that has them flocking in largest number to this coastal state.
The number of avian visitors to the State this year is reported to be higher than the last year though no bird census is being conducted this year.
According to a survey conducted in 2005, over 20 lakh migratory birds had visited over 20,000 big and small wetlands and water bodies in the State during winter that year. The number swelled this year owing to 'good health' of State's wetland, courtesy good monsoon last year and water released in some of the wetlands and lakes through a network of Narmada canals.
Another reason for the migratory birds making the State their temporary home during winter is 'safety'.
"People in Gujarat are hospitable to birds and avoid 'shikar' (hunting ) as compared to other states, which is one of the major reasons why birds home in on Gujarat for winter," says Pradeep Khanna, Principal Chief Conservation of Forests (Wildlife).
Variation in its ecological habitat and food availability for avians in its wetlands, particularly, along the coastal belt too draws in largest number of migratory birds.
If wetlands along the coastal belts provided small fish as food for migratory birds, variation in agricultural practices attracts avian friends, especially in Saurashtra region that's dotted with thousands of small checkdams.
According to Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife Research and Training) H S Singh, winged visitors like common cranes relish groundnut the most, hence the reason for the climb in the number of cranes visiting Gujarat, mainly Saurashtra with largest tracts of land sown with groundnut.
The migratory cranes feed on the groundnut seeds leftover in the fields after cultivation.
Moreover, there's also high degree of tolerance towards birds in Gujarat due to food habits of the people in the wetland areas.
Moreover, Gujarat has the largest area of wetlands and accounts for 37 per cent of the total wetlands in the country.
Out of 139 international bird sites in India, 11 are in Gujarat.
Among them, Nalsarovar near Ahmedabad, Khijadia and Charkala in Jamnagar, Salt Pan near Bhavnagar, Thol lake, Wadhwana in Vadodara, Flamingo city in Great Rann of Kutch with variations in their habitats attract largest number of migratory birds.
According to forest officials, winged visitors this year were almost widely distributed throughout the State as all the water bodies were brimming and provided good habitat. Few waterbodies, where water level went down, was filled with water from Narmada river.

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January 12, 2007

Wildlife officials release smuggled turtles in Uttar Pradesh

Wildlife officials release smuggled turtles in Uttar Pradesh

Etawah (Uttar Pradesh), Jan 8: Wildlife officials in Uttar Pradesh released over 1600 endangered turtles today, which were being smuggled to West Bengal for consumption and trade.

The turtles were seized here from poachers, who were taking the consignment in jute sacks to West Bengal.

Police have arrested six persons in the case while two managed to flee. The arrested men have been booked under stringent anti-poaching and wildlife Laws.

"We surrounded the place where the accused were staying. We have recovered 34 sacks with 1654 live turtles and five sacks with dried turtle skins weighing 38 kilos. They are sold for a heavy price in the international market and retail for 10,000 rupees per kilo. The skin is used in medicines and other things," said O.P.S. Dhaka, a Police official.

Water bodies and rivers in Etawah are among the major breeding grounds of turtles.

"The trade in these turtles begins in winter in Etawah and continues till March. The people who collect them from rivers and other water bodies, do so for their skin and even for live trade. In winters, trade is usually for live turtles while in summer, it is for their skins," said Rajeev Chauhan, General Secretary of Society for Conservation of Nature, after releasing the turtles to Chambal River.

The Government has banned their trade under the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act, but the huge profit margins and tax laws have allowed poachers to rule the roost.

Thousands of fresh water turtles are caught every year for food. The worth of the turtles in international market was not immediately known. Each turtle weighed about two to two and a half kilograms, and was meant for consumption. Their flesh is considered a delicacy in eastern India.

They are also smuggled out of India to buyers, who use them to make medicines and tourist souvenirs.

According to studies, only one out of every 1,000 hatchlings normally reaches adulthood.

The reptiles are mangled by fishing trawler propellers, or suffocated in fishermen's gill nets. They are also killed by pollution, and by poachers, who hunt them for their meat.

--- ANI

URL :http://www.newkerala.com/news4.php?action=fullnews&id=76342



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http://hershal.blogspot.com

"That's the direction in which the world should progress according to me - the direction in which we finally become freed from the label of country and become global citizens. Instead of being global citizens then - we become the same thing we started out with - being humans."

-Tingal.