Robber fly - Nature photographer Thomas Shahan specializes in amazing portraits of tiny insects. It isn't easy. Shahan says that this Robber Fly (Holcocephala fusca), for instance, is "skittish" and doesn't like its picture taken.

Eye-popping bug photos

Nature by Numbers (Video)

"The Greater Akashic System" – July 15, 2012 (Kryon Channelling by Lee Caroll) (Subjects: Lightworkers, Intent, To meet God, Past lives, Universe/Galaxy, Earth, Pleiadians, Souls Reincarnate, Invention: Measure Quantum state in 3D, Recalibrates, Multi-Dimensional/Divine, Akashic System to change to new system, Before religion changed the system, DNA, Old system react to Karma, New system react to intent now for next life, Animals (around humans) reincarnate again, This Animal want to come back to the same human, Akashic Inheritance, Reincarnate as Family, Other Planets, Global Unity … etc.)

Question: Dear Kryon: I live in Spain. I am sorry if I will ask you a question you might have already answered, but the translations of your books are very slow and I might not have gathered all information you have already given. I am quite concerned about abandoned animals. It seems that many people buy animals for their children and as soon as they grow, they set them out somewhere. Recently I had the occasion to see a small kitten in the middle of the street. I did not immediately react, since I could have stopped and taken it, without getting out of the car. So, I went on and at the first occasion I could turn, I went back to see if I could take the kitten, but it was to late, somebody had already killed it. This happened some month ago, but I still feel very sorry for that kitten. I just would like to know, what kind of entity are these animals and how does this fit in our world. Are these entities which choose this kind of life, like we do choose our kind of Human life? I see so many abandoned animals and every time I see one, my heart aches... I would like to know more about them.

Answer: Dear one, indeed the answer has been given, but let us give it again so you all understand. Animals are here on earth for three (3) reasons.

(1) The balance of biological life. . . the circle of energy that is needed for you to exist in what you call "nature."

(2) To be harvested. Yes, it's true. Many exist for your sustenance, and this is appropriate. It is a harmony between Human and animal, and always has. Remember the buffalo that willingly came into the indigenous tribes to be sacrificed when called? These are stories that you should examine again. The inappropriateness of today's culture is how these precious creatures are treated. Did you know that if there was an honoring ceremony at their death, they would nourish you better? Did you know that there is ceremony that could benefit all of humanity in this way. Perhaps it's time you saw it.

(3) To be loved and to love. For many cultures, animals serve as surrogate children, loved and taken care of. It gives Humans a chance to show compassion when they need it, and to have unconditional love when they need it. This is extremely important to many, and provides balance and centering for many.

Do animals know all this? At a basic level, they do. Not in the way you "know," but in a cellular awareness they understand that they are here in service to planet earth. If you honor them in all three instances, then balance will be the result. Your feelings about their treatment is important. Temper your reactions with the spiritual logic of their appropriateness and their service to humanity. Honor them in all three cases.

Dian Fossey's birthday celebrated with a Google doodle

Dian Fossey's birthday celebrated with a Google doodle
American zoologist played by Sigourney Weaver in the film Gorillas in the Mist would have been 82 on Thursday (16 January 2014)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Japan store pulls foie gras lunchbox over animal rights

Google – AFP, 30 January 2014

A Japanese convenience store chain has cancelled the launch of its foie
 gras lunchbox after customer complaints about animal welfare, a company
spokesman said (AFP/File, Attila Kisbenedek)

Tokyo — A Japanese convenience store chain has cancelled the launch of its foie gras lunchbox after customer complaints about animal welfare, a company spokesman said Thursday.

FamilyMart had intended to begin selling the lunchbox containing a meat patty and some foie gras paste for 690 yen ($6.70), but shelved the plan after more than 20 people registered concerns over the way the traditional French delicacy is produced.

Animal rights campaigners object to foie gras because it involves the forced feeding of birds to engorge their liver, a process activists say is painful for the creatures.

"We understand foie gras is a common food stuff in Japan," a FamilyMart spokesman said. However, the launch was cancelled after "carefully considering opinions from customers, different views abroad on foie gras and the production process of foie gras itself."

He added: "We don't intend to make anyone feel uncomfortable."

The chain, which has around 10,000 stores nationwide, had received 22 complaints since it announced the lunchbox on January 10, the company said.

Animal rights activism remains a fringe interest in Japan, largely a nation of omnivore gourmands.

The lunchbox issue came amid an international furore over the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, western Japan, which sees hundreds of the mammals herded into a cove either to be sold to aquariums or butchered for meat.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Indian tigers make successful comeback

Deutsche Welle, 29 January 2014

The number of India's once endangered tigers has increased significantly in the last two years thanks to conservation efforts. The relocation of the threatened animals to new habitats is proving to be beneficial.


India has been under intense international scrutiny over its tiger conservation efforts, as the country is home to over half of the world's estimated 3,200 tigers in its 41 reserves and national parks. The illegal hunting of tigers in the first half of the last decade was a cause of worry for the Indian wildlife officials. In 2005, the Indian National Tiger Conservation Authority decided to step in and intensified its efforts to conserve the animals.

In 2004, the population of Indian tigers at Rajasthan's Sariska National Park was on the verge of extinction due to poaching. After the tiger translocation program - which commenced in 2008 - the park has now 10 big cats, including two cubs and five female tigers, which have been relocated from the nearby Ranthambhore Park.

The number of tiger deaths in 2012 due
to poaching left officials troubled
"We should have done this experiment a long time ago,” Dinesh Durrani, a member of the Sariska Tiger Foundation, told DW. In 2012, over 80 tigers died - more than half of them as a result of poaching. It was the highest figure in a decade. Most of the killings were reported in the western states of Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Doubling efforts

Inspired by the efforts made by the Sariska Tiger Foundation, the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh recently translocated some tigers to the Panna Reserve, where no big cat had previously survived.

"The only two places where the tiger translocation program has been successful are the Panna Reserve and Sariska. There are around 28 tigers at Panna now," said Koustubh Sharma, a wildlife conservationist.

Sharma, who has been involved in the radio-collaring program for tigers at the Panna Reserve, told DW that big cats would breed more frequently, if they received proper protection and the right kind of prey base.

At a time when the poaching of tigers was at its peak, the Indian authorities somehow managed to reverse the trend, thus enabling the tigers to make a successful comeback. As a result, the number of tigers in the northern state of Bihar has also doubled in the last three years, say wildlife experts say, adding that other countries can take inspiration from India in this regard.

Strong demand for tiger parts

Experts, however, believe that despite the increase in the tiger population, there is no room for complacency as the poachers are also looking for innovative ways to hunt down the animals.

China has become the biggest marketplace for tiger parts in the world. Driven by strong demand from traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, the body parts fetch high prices on the black market. While tiger bones sell for about 1,000 US dollars per 100 grammes, prices for tiger skins can range from 11,000 to 21,000 US dollars.

In light on this development, Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society, calls for swift action: "India has not stood up to China on this issue. This needs to be discussed at all international forums."

Tiger reserves

In July 2012, the Indian Supreme Court banned tourists from entering the core reserves of tiger sanctuaries in a move it thought would help curb poaching. But this ban was subsequently lifted with the court asking every state to prepare detailed tiger conservation plans.

Tiger parts fetch high prices on
the black market
Core areas in India's tiger reserves hosting sufficient prey animals, shelter and water for the big cats are critical for the conservation of the tiger. On the other hand, many small villages in India are located around these tiger sanctuaries. This has led to incidents where the villagers have killed the tigers for attacking their livestock.

"The radio-collars around the tigers' necks have helped us monitor their movement. We can now tell if a tiger saunters into human territory," said Durrani. "This initiative will help put an end to the tussle between humans and tigers," the wildlife expert hopes.

Togo arrests three over huge ivory haul

BBC News, 29 January 2014

The handcuffed suspects were paraded with the haul of tusks in Lome

Related Stories

Police in Togo have arrested three men after finding nearly two tons of ivory in a container destined for Vietnam.

Two of the suspects are from Togo and the other is Vietnamese.

Conservationists say the West African country is a transit point for illegal ivory between Central Africa and Asia.

Despite a global ban on the ivory trade nearly a quarter of a century ago, Africa's elephant population is heading towards extinction.

The numbers of forest elephants in central Africa have decreased by more than 60% over the past 10 years.

The three suspects were paraded by police before reporters along with the haul of ivory in the Togolese capital, Lome.

Lt Pierre Awi said 1,680kg (3,700lb) of ivory had been concealed in a container at the city's port bound for Vietnam.

"The container was loaded with wood that was serving as a cover for a large quantity of ivory in bags underneath," he said.

Conservationists say the seizure represents the tusks of about 230 elephants.

African countries are struggling to contain the illegal trade in ivory.

On Tuesday, a court in Kenya used tough new anti-poaching laws to fine a Chinese man $230,000 (£138,000) for smuggling ivory.

He was caught last week with 3.5kg of the contraband in a suitcase at Nairobi's international airport.

Last August Togo announced it had arrested a man believed to be the kingpin of the country's ivory trade.

Emile Edouwodzi N'bouke, who has denied any wrongdoing, has not yet been brought to trial.

Related Articles:

Monday, January 27, 2014

One Woman’s Passion for Saving Indonesian Orangutans

Jakarta Globe, Madeleine Wilson, January 26, 2014

Three different species have been identified in Borneo, but the true
number mat be nearer to six. (JG Photo/Madeleine Wilson)

Surrounded by plants and in front of a whiteboard, with biology related words like “nuclei” and “mitochondria” being tossed around, I felt like I had been transported back to junior high school where I had stalwartly insisted on leaving such terms behind. But what shone through despite the jargon was Puji Rianti’s passion for her current research. Research that she insists is key to the conservation efforts of the endangered orangutan.

Talking about her study and teaching roles at Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), Puji hesitates “Let’s just say that I’m a biologist.”

Perhaps a more general label is appropriate. While her undergraduate years were focused on in-vitro fertilization, her masters thesis investigated the effectiveness of insect pollinators. Now venturing into the fields of genetics and primatology, it is fair to say that Puji has covered a fair amount of ground.

A love for biology in all of its forms began in junior high school. As one of the top students in her class, Puji was on the hit list for the IPB — a school renowned for its “invitation-only” policy.

She was fortunate enough to find a mentor in one of her professors, Bambang Suryobroto. In a conservative university system that seemed intent on retaining a formal barrier between teacher and student, Puji describes Bambang as “one in a million”; a teacher that commanded respect while still encouraging a very open dialogue with his students.

In those early years, Bambang encouraged Puji to assist on some extra curricular field work involving macaques in Pangandaran, West Java. It was this role that kindled a love affair with primates.

The opportunity to continue working with the lovable mammals was a stroke of luck, Puji admits.

It so happened that a syndicate, known as the Evolutionary Genetics Group, from the University of Zurich had recently produced research looking at the genetic makeup of the Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. They were offering a scholarship to an Indonesian student to continue this research, which Puji managed to secure — a result she puts down to having excellent odds. Incidentally, she was the only one to apply.

Almost three years and two trips to Switzerland later and Puji believes they are well on their way to piecing together a more comprehensive story that has resulted in a genetic subdivision of the endangered species.

Puji Rianti in the laboratory. (JG Photo/Madeleine Wilson)

The big question

It is now widely accepted that there are two species of orangutan. Those that live in Northern Sumatra ( Pongo abeilii ) and those from the island of Borneo ( Pongo pygmaeus ).

From here, the lines become somewhat blurry. In Borneo, three different subspecies have been identified. But it is believed that there may be up to six.

Puji is focusing on the population in Sumatra, which is among the most endangered, with only 6,600 animals left in the wild. Her research indicates a genetic difference between the orangutans commonly found to the north of Lake Toba and those whose natural habitat is on the southern side.

This may seem unremarkable or even, insignificant. But the more compelling matter is why the population that lives in the southern region bears more resemblance to its long-lost Bornean cousins than to its much nearer supposed relatives on the other side of the lake?

“That is the big question,” Puji says.

A multitude of factors can affect how natural populations are genetically structured. It may be as a result of environmental circumstances limiting the breeding ground of a species. Or similarly, the habitat itself — the existence of predators and the like. The social organization can also play a role; whether a species engages in pack-life or prefers a more solitary lifestyle, such as orangutans.

Puji and her fellow researchers believe a forced Bornean immigration to Sumatra following the eruption of Lake Toba 70,000 years ago might explain the genetic similarities between the two, otherwise distant, populations.

Importance to conservation

Mitochondrial DNA analysis might not currently feature in the majority of orangutan conservation discourse, but that does not indicate a lack of importance.

These smaller populations of orangutan can pose all sorts of problems for the future of the species. We all know what happened with some royal families. If they continue to breed within these small subdivisions, the genetic diversity will continue to diminish and in turn affect the overall fitness of the population.

Puji notes that the lack of knowledge surrounding the varying genetic structure means that we are also in danger of losing the original species.

“Most zoos in Indonesia are still putting the Sumatran orangutan and the orangutan from Kalimantan in the same cage. Of course they will breed. They will create a hybrid. And they will create a new species.”

There is also an issue with habitat. Currently, the Sumatran orangutan resides predominantly in trees — a result of dangerous predators prowling the jungle floor. But the Bornean orangutan, without such worries, spends most of its time below the canopy.

Returning a rescued orangutan to the incorrect environment can therefore be hugely detrimental to its survival.

Preventing this is the ultimate goal, Puji says.

“If we can complete the genetic database, we will be able to identify all rescued orangutan and know where they come from so that when they are saved, they can be return to their natural habitat.”

She admits that while the conservation efforts are improving, a lack of understanding about the importance of the movement is inhibiting the progress.

When completing field research, she is often abused by local villagers who can’t understand why she would study the orangutan, a pest that eats all their crops, over the orang (human being).

Thievery, of course, is not typically in the habit of an orangutan, but a necessary measure when their homes are being continually destroyed, often for the benefit of palm oil plantations. These same palm oil companies have been reported to instigate policies of paying local people Rp 150,000 ($12) for each orangutan killed.

A rampant illegal primate trade still exists, with some buyers out for an exotic pet and others with more sinister exploits in mind.

Many of the smaller village communities still hunt the animal for its meat. In Kalimantan alone, it is estimated that 1,000 orangutans are killed every year for this very reason.

“I’m not going to blame the locals — it’s the system,” Puji says.

“We need to educate the villagers as to why we are doing this and also provide them with an alternative.”

She believes it is about everybody doing their part and working together.

“I just hope that the little things I do here — the pure science, genetics — will help the conservation project.”

Saturday, January 25, 2014

New Homes Set for Sinabung’s Displaced

Jakarta Globe, SP/Robertus Wardi, January 25, 2014

A villager pours pesticide from a bucket as Mount Sinabung spews ash at
 Kebayaken village in Karo district, North Sumatra, on Dec. 4, 2013. (Reuters
Photo/Roni Bintang)

Kabanjahe. The government will relocate people who live on the slope of Mount Sinabung away from the volcano and build permanent houses for them, following recent spews of ash that has blanketed the nearby landscape in grey.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who visited residents that had to flee Sinabung’s eruptions, said residents within a three-kilometer radius of the volcano would be relocated to a new 25-hectare plot. He said that the government so far already has 15 hectares of land for the project.

“Once the land is available, I hope it will be 25 hectares. We can make permanent residences for around 900 families who live close to the mountain,” said the president in Kabanjahe, Karo district, North Sumatra on Friday.

Yudhoyono said that the government shortly will place the victims on a location about five to seven kilometers from Sinabung.

“We have sufficient land resources, but the location is far from their current residences. If we relocate them far away, it would be difficult to get them to relocate. We plan to relocate them just slightly farther from their original location,” he said.

“I have asked the BNPB [National Disaster Mitigation Agency], provincial and district administrations to provide the rest,” the president added.

Incentives

Yudhoyono also said the government will establish a budget to overcome the impacts of Sinabung’s eruptions and appointed BNPB chairman Syamsul Ma’arif to lead the mitigation process.

“The budget we will roll out is not small, that’s why it has to be right on target, well-managed and prevent whatever we don’t want from happening. Hundreds of billions [of rupiah] will be rolled out to overcome the impacts of the Mount Sinabung’s eruptions,” the president said.

Aside from providing homes in a safer location, the government will also provide scholarships at the elementary school to university levels for those students who study in Medan and outside North Sumatra.

“I have decided what to do in the short term, in one to two months. Our people who have been affected by the Sinabung eruptions should not drop out of school,” the president said, adding that the government will provide health assistance, scholarships, and will write off interest on bank loans.

There will also be incentives to the people who lost their jobs because of the eruptions.

“I have asked the BNPB chief to continue the cash for work program to be continued and expanded. Every head of the family who is now living in the makeshift tents can earn the incentive by working,” he said.

The government, in cooperation with the Financial Service Authority (OJK), has also arranged for banks to reschedule the debts of people whose farms, plantation and cattle have been affected by the eruptions.

“Those who have debts in banks, Bank BRI and Bank Sumut, will have the opportunity to apply for new loans. Those whose farms and plantations are totally destroyed will get interest written off,” the president said.

National disaster

Sinabung’s victims called on Yudhoyono to declare the volcanic eruptions, which have been going on for three months, a national disaster.

“If the president declares it a national disaster, it will bring a positive value for all of the people who have fled from the eruptions,” said Fari Beru Ginting, who fled an area affected by the eruptions.

Beru, 50, said that by declaring it a national disaster, the central government and provincial administration will be involved to help the disaster victims.

As such, it will be helpful for the people especially in repairing their houses, agricultural land and psychological condition, he said.

“Not a single person who fled the disaster in this area is hoping to benefit from this disaster. The disaster has forced us to flee our houses for three months. All of the evacuees are stressed, especially with the fact that our agricultural lands are totally destroyed by the cold lava flow and the volcanic ash,” Beru said.

Another resident living in the makeshift tents, Lisa Beru Tarigan, said that the president’s visit gave them hope.

She noted that services for those living in the tents had previously been insufficient, with surrounding areas in a generally dirty state. Residents faced difficulty in getting clean water, and the food was not as good as the time when the president arrived.

“Before the president arrived, the services here have not been satisfactory. [Just prior to his arrival] the food has been much better, and the water provided has been clean and sufficient,” she said.

“The surrounding areas have been made clean. They even sprayed the area,” Lisa added.

First Lady Ani Yudhoyono accompanied the president. She lauded the female refugees at the Great Mosque shelter in the city for their artistically crafted woven mats, chopsticks, and rice containers, which are frequently used by the Karo people.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Forestry Minister to Hand Control of Surabaya ‘Nightmare Zoo’ to City’s Mayor

Jakarta Globe, Ezra Sihite & Amir Tejo, January 22, 2014

A young girl looks at a Sumatran Tiger at Surabaya Zoo in Surabaya, East
Java, on Jan. 11, 2014. (EPA Photo/Fully Handoko)

After years of dispute over the management of Surabaya Zoo, the central government on Tuesday said it would officially hand full authority of the controversial zoo to Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, ensuring substantial changes in its operations and its treatment of animals.

“This definitive license will be given to the mayor this week,” Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said following a meeting with Rismaharini and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The Surabaya Zoo is Indonesia’s oldest zoo and was held the widest collection of animals in Southeast Asia, with 351 species in its care. Zulkifli conceded that management problems had long been an issue, with dispute over control of the zoo dating back to the 1980s.

In July last year, the city administration unilaterally took over the running of the zoo from a temporary management team that was appointed in February 2010 by the Forestry Ministry following the disappearance and suspicious deaths of several animals.

Rismaharini, in justifying the takeover at the time, claimed that the caretaker team had done little to stanch the spate of animal deaths and that its plan to invite private investors to help in managing the zoo was a ruse to demolish it and build a hotel on the city-owned land.

Zulkifli said that the under the city’s care, the zoo’s management would be replaced with new individuals with no conflicting interests.

“The management will oversee the maintenance of animal pens and their food, among other things. There will also be an audit in a partnership between the mayor and Airlangga University on the issue of animal overpopulation,” he said.

He added that if audit results concluded that the zoo had more animals than it could adequately care for, the government would transfer some of the animals to other zoos and conservation facilities — a policy that the caretaker team had put into place since 2010, but which Rismaharini claimed was a guise for selling the animals on the black market.

“The president has called for a solution to avoid more animal deaths,” Zulkifli said.

Tuesday’s meeting was also attended by East Java Governor Soekarwo and Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya.

During the meeting, Yudhoyono said he had received plenty of reports from the public about the poor conditions in which animals at the zoo were kept.

“They reminded me that the deaths in Surabaya Zoo had become the focus of the international community and feared that such an issue would give outsiders the impression that we don’t care about our zoos,” he said.

“Let’s find the best solution, and when it has been formulated, explain it to the public. Of course we will not forget the events that have occurred. There is always a way out or a solution.”

Soekarwo expressed appreciation for the government’s decision to officially hand control of the zoo to the city, which has been the de facto operator since July, but emphasized that improvements would take time.

“This is no magic trick, it’s a long process. That is why we need to wait,” he said, adding that he hoped the zoo’s new management would be able to provide a better environment for the animals.

Tuesday’s decision was also welcomed by Wayan Titib Sulaksana, a former official at the zoo.

“We were always in support of having the city administration take over the zoo,” said Titib, who is also a lecturer at Airlangga University’s law school.

He suggested that the mayor order the zoo’s employees — some of whom were retained from the different regimes that ran the zoo — to work together for the betterment of the zoo and set aside any rivalries.

Titib said Surabaya Zoo should also reorganize its hiring system to bring in fresh officials without prejudiced views about the running of the zoo.

Related Articles:


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Central Java on High Alert for Flooding, Cold Lava Flows

Jakarta Globe, Ari Susanto, January 21, 2014

Smoke rises from Mount Merapi on Dec. 15. (JG Photo/Boy T. Harjanto)

Yogyakarta. The Central Java Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency is on alert for a possible overflow of the Bengawan Solo River and a flood of cold lava from the Mt. Merapi volcano that could be triggered by heavy rain in the province.

“The brief rains yesterday at the peak of Mt. Merapi has drowned four sand miners, while water levels of the Bengawan Solo River are still under control,” the agency’s head Sarwa Pramana said in Semarang on Sunday.

The sand miners ignored the warnings issued by the Kepuharjo village head a month ago to stay away from the mountain slope.

The village head Heri Suprapto said the local administration had prohibited sand mining activities in the river since a month ago. He added that several areas such as the Sukoharjo, Karanganyar, Klaten, and Cepu districts would be inundated by floods if the Bengawan Solo River burst its banks.

The Kaliadem neighborhood was nearly covered in volcanic material after the 2010 eruption, which attracts many sand traders from Yogyakarta and Central Java regions.

Sarwa said factors that would cause the river to burst its banks, aside from heavy rain, is poor management of water levels at the Wonogiri Dam.

“If one of the water gates at the dam is opened, it would impact areas along the course of the Bengawan Solo River,” he said.

Sarwa said the disaster mitigation agency has asked all parties to anticipate the four-year flood cycle.

“Hopefully an eruptions like the one in 2010 will not happen again, but to anticipate it, we have drafted a contingency plan by preparing volunteers, meeting points for evacuees, evacuation locations and referral hospitals,” Sarwa said.

Herizal, head of the Semarang Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, meanwhile forecasted heavy rain for the province until the beginning of February.


This picture taken on January 15, 2014 shows Indonesian
 search and rescue members helping residents after a flood
 hit Manado, the capital city of the North Sulawesi province of
Indonesia. (AFP Photo)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Criticism of Conditions at Surabaya Zoo Escalates

Jakarta Globe, Kennial Caroline Laia & Dyah Ayu Pitaloka, January 20, 2014

The number of deaths at Surabaya zoo, including a lion earlier this month,
 have alarmed wildlife conservation groups, but the mayor has denied allegations
of negligence. (EPA Photo/Fully Handoko)

Singapore/Jakarta/Surabaya/Malang. A green and clean atmosphere welcomes visitors at the Singapore Zoo, where signs are posted in multiple languages and tidy lines form for tickets at the row of 10 ticket boxes.

Once inside the zoo, wide-open spaces abound, where healthy-looking animals live with some degree of freedom.

Singapore Zoo is part of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, a company that has holdings in three other parks: Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and the newly opened — and Asia’s first and only — river-themed wildlife park, River Safari.

Currently a self-funded organization, WRS bills itself as being “dedicated to the management of world-class leisure attractions that foster conservation and research while educating visitors about animals and their habitat.”

Dr. Cheng Wen-Haur, the science chief at WRS, said several species at the zoo were endangered and threatened in their native habitats.

“If we don’t do something about it, by next generation, our children or our children’s children won’t see these animals any more in the wild. You may go to the zoo to see them, but in the wild, they’re all gone,” he said.

Cheng added that WRS received its animals from other zoos around the world rather than directly from the wild.

“We’re talking about conservation, which means we try to help the animals survive in the world longer. About the animals that we keep, we want to find out how we can look after them and help them get better and to not get sick, how we can breed them so we can send them back into the wild,” he said, adding that one of their successful breeding programs involved the Bali starling, an endangered bird found only on the Indonesian island.

Cheng said zookeepers and medical staff at WRS facilities routinely checked on the animals based on their individual needs.

“It is very important for the zoo to look after the animals on a daily basis. They can’t talk to you but the zookeepers know them so well so they must know that there’s something wrong with the animals through any change in behavior,” he said.

“In treating sick animals, there are a couple of options: perhaps injections, check the animals closely, take the temperature, blood test, do an X-ray, you know, all the things we humans take when we go to see a doctor,” he added.

“Plus, whatever animals you want to keep in the zoo, you want to make sure that you give them the right amount of space,” he said.

He said WRS had a very close relationship with other zoos and animal welfare groups, so if there were any sick animals that required help from WRS, they would try to accommodate them.

Asked if WRS was open to treating sick animals from Indonesian zoos, Cheng said it was.

“We work very closely with the local partners in terms of conservation projects. We work with NGOs, local zoos, and local NGOs, so if there’s anything we can afford to do, like providing financial support, technical support, sending our expert… Whatever we can do to help,” he said.

Balancing business and welfare

WRS chief executive Lee Meng Tat said managing Singapore Zoo involved finding a balance between earning money from the parks, and taking care of the animals.

“The good thing about us is that we have two teams that work very well together. One that takes care of the animals and all of the operational costs. And a team which not many zoos have, a full commercial team,” he said, adding that WRS was run just the same way as other Singaporean companies reliant on visitors.

“It is a challenge. On one hand, we have this mission to educate people, and at the same time we have to make sure that we do a lot of conservation,” he said.

“If we want to do well, we have to do good. For example, when we buy fruits for human consumption, people will ask us, ‘So the fruits for the animals you buy are the rotten ones, the throwaway ones?’ I said, ‘No. Our food for the animals is as good as for human beings,’” Lee said.

“It is a fine balance between doing something well and working toward maintaining our current business.”

He added that WRS took its responsibility of conveying the message of wildlife conservation to all visitors very seriously.

“It is everything. When you come to our park, seeing is one thing. Visitors can see the wildlife widely and freely. We want our visitors to feel they are in the rain forest. Here, you don’t see exhibits like cages, you see natural forest,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia

It’s a very different situation at Surabaya Zoo, a facility where so many animals have died unnatural and horrific deaths that the international media have dubbed it “the zoo of death.”

Lee was diplomatic when asked for his take on the situation in Surabaya.

“The Southeast Asian Zoos Association [SEAZA] is taking the lead on this. They are in contact with Surabaya Zoo to see how we can help as an association. We are also familiar with the Indonesia Zoo and Aquarium Association, they are also involved in trying to help,” he said.

“We are trying to work with Surabaya Zoo through SEAZA. The association is talking to them right now and we’re trying to work with them to determine their needs.”

He added that WRS was always open to training officials from other facilities about its management practices.

“We do a lot capacity management training. We are quite well run and we have a good reputation,” Lee said.

“Currently, everybody wants to do something about [Surabaya Zoo]. One of the suggestions was to close the zoo, some said to send the animals away, but it’s not that easy to do that. You can’t just send animals to the wild, you can’t just send them to other zoos. Not every place can accommodate animals from other zoos. We all want to help but there’s must be a proper way to help. We must look together.”

Surabaya Zoo is home to some 3,000 animals, but reported 43 deaths between July and September last year, according to data compiled by the Jakarta Globe.

The causes of death ranged from illness to more gruesome factors, including the 20-kilogram ball of plastic found in the stomach of the zoo’s only giraffe, believed to have been accumulated form years of eating the trash thrown into its pen by visitors to the zoo.

So far this year, the zoo has recorded at least three deaths.

A wildebeest died in the first week of this month after its health deteriorated. Two days later, a lion was found strangled to death after it got its head stuck in between the steel cables lining its pen.

Last week, a young mountain goat was reported dead from injuries sustained from an attack by an adult goat.

The endless series of reports about deaths and the poor conditions in which the animals area kept have garnered widespread criticism from the international community, and were documented in harrowing pictures by Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini denounced the photographs are false and said they were taken prior to the government’s takeover of the zoo management.

She asserts conditions at the zoo have improved.

Sybelle Foxcroft, founder and chief executive of Cee4life, an environmental conservation group based in Melbourne, Australia, communicated with the Daily Mail’s Richard Shears, who confirmed that the photographs were current.

Foxcroft said the pressing question was why the mayor was denying the conditions at the zoo and refusing international aid.

“I know that this is controversial, however these animals in Surabaya Zoo need urgent aid, and the mayor is now lying over and over about this. This is a terrible situation and is getting extremely sinister with all the lies,” Foxcroft said.

Tony Sumampau, the director of Taman Safari Indonesia and head of the temporary management team that until recently ran Surabaya Zoo, agreed that the mayor was not being entirely truthful.

“[The mayor] keeps mentioning that she has change the food the animals are fed, when in fact I was the one who ordered the change of food at Surabaya zoo in 2011. To date, we’re still using my formula. She just want to get support from the public,” Tony said.

Indications of corruption

In response to the criticism, the mayor said she planned to report the Surabaya Zoo case to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) over alleged embezzlement of funds overseen by the temporary management team.

She also said the transfer of 483 animals out of the zoo was highly suspicious, although Tony and zoo management experts have long argued that the best way to reduce the number of animal deaths is to cut the number of animals that the zoo can afford to take proper care of.

But Rismaharini claims that some of the animals were traded by zoo officials for money or other items, including cars.

“Trading the animals for cars or motorcycles is illegal. You can only exchange animals with animals,” she said adding that her administration was compiling a detailed list of the animals lost at the zoo, whether through deaths or illegal trades, before the city administration took over its management from Tony’s team.

Ratna Achjuningrum, the city-appointed director of the zoo, said there were six deals for animal exchanges made between March and July 2013 that the city had decided to scrap.

She called the deals problemati, saying there had been no formal evaluation of the planned exchanges or permission from the Indonesian president.

Under the planned exchange, endangered animals including Komodo dragons, Sumatran tigers and Bali starlings would have been sent to other facilities better equipped to accommodate them.

Economic impact

Wildlife conservation group ProFauna Indonesia has suggested that all the animals at Surabaya Zoo be immediately relocated to another facility, given the high number of deaths there.

Rosek Nursahid, the ProFauna chairman, said his organization feared an international backlash if the zoo was allowed to continue operating as usual.

“Several years ago there was a boycott of Bali by European tourists because of the practice there of using turtles in sacrificial ceremonies,” he said.

“I worry that the same thing will happen to East Java if the tragedies at Surabaya Zoo keep mounting.”

Rosek said several international wildlife conservation groups had conveyed to ProFauna their concerns about the treatment of animals at the zoo, with many offering financial assistance.

However, he said he had advised against giving the zoo any money, given the lack of accountability displayed so far, and warned that financial support would not address the roots of the problem.

Rosek said ProFauna and other groups had urged Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan to take a firm stance in dealing with the spate of deaths, including by forcing the zoo to transfer animals to other facilities.

But he said other conservation groups had voiced concern over such a plan, arguing that with many of the animals at Surabaya Zoo suffering a range of illnesses, they would transmit these diseases to healthy animals at other zoos.

“But this can be obviated by getting veterinarians to check each animal’s health before approving them for transfer to another facility,” Rosek said.

ProFauna has also demanded that police investigate all the animal deaths, with Rosek alleging systematic irregularities in the management of the zoo as a contributing factor for the high number of deaths.

He also called for the zoo to improve its security, including by setting up closed-circuit television cameras, after several juvenile Komodo dragons went missing a few years ago, believed to have been stolen for the illegal pet trade.

Ultimately, Rosek said, the entire zoo management needs to be replaced.

“Everything has to be overhauled first, and only then can we think about fixing the zoo,” he said.

Related Article:


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Indonesian mineral export ban may hurt miners

Deutsche Welle, 15 January 2014

Indonesia is one of the world's largest exporters of raw materials. But now the government wants to promote domestic processing by banning mineral ore exports. The ban, however, threatens the livelihoods of many miners.


It is arguably one of the most far-reaching economic policy decisions the Indonesian government has taken since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came to power some ten years ago. The new law, which came into effect on January 12, stipulates that only "processed" minerals may be shipped to other countries - although some exceptions were made. The government argues the long-planned ban on mineral ore exports is designed to strengthen the state-owned manufacturing industry.

Controversial legislation

According to Sutan Bhatoegana, chairman of the Indonesian Parliament's House Committee for Mining Affairs, the Southeast Asian nation will "benefit greatly" from this law because "we will no longer sell raw materials for little money."

The government announced it would allow
 certain copper concentrates to be exported
until 2017
But Bhatoegana also told DW that the major international mining companies should be compelled to process the raw materials in the country. "If corporations build processing plants in Indonesia, this will create additional jobs and enable the government to make larger profits."

The new law is highly controversial. International mining companies as well as some Indonesian labor market experts were up in arms against the ban, which was in the making since 2009. Only minutes before the legislation was passed, the government finally relented and gave in to some of the major demands of the mining companies, resulting in materials such as copper, iron ore, lead and zinc being excluded from the export ban.

This was mainly a concession to two large American mining companies that together account for about 97 percent of the nation's total copper mining output. The Ministry of Industry announced that it would allow certain copper concentrates to be exported until 2017. However, "we will impose a progressive export tax: the lower the degree of processing of copper ore, the higher the tax," said Industry Minister MS Hidayat.

Dismissals or new jobs?

It remains unclear whether the country will benefit from an export ban in the long run. Producers of nickel ore and bauxite are particularly hard hit by the decision. Although the new law is aimed at creating jobs, major American mining companies have so far failed to make the necessary investments.

They have had to scale down their operations and now they are threatening to lay off thousands of workers. Sutan Bhaetogana also admits that this "will have negative consequences in the short term," and result in a temporary drop in government revenues. But the member of parliament is nonetheless convinced that this will last only for three to four months and that the nation will recover.

However, small, local traders have a different view. Their livelihoods are threatened as they cannot afford to build and run their own processing plants. According to the Indonesian Mineral Entrepreneurs Association, some 30,000 mine workers have already lost their jobs, prompting people to take to the streets of Jakarta in protest. Indonesia will hold both parliamentary and presidential elections this year. Analysts expect the dispute surrounding the mining industry to become one of the top campaign issues.

Indonesia is one of the world's largest exporters of raw materials

Rising prices

The first effects of the export ban can already been seen on the world's commodity exchanges, with the price of nickel rising by more than six percent within a span of four days. Indonesia is the world's largest exporter of nickel ore, a material used in the production of stainless steel. Thus far, about 90 percent of exports are sent to China for processing. Nickel ore is an important raw material in China, where it is used to manufacture small electrical appliances. It is also used in the automotive industry and the construction sector.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

'An inspiring victory for tribal people around the world'

Deutsche Welle, 14 January 2014

The Dongria Kondh tribal people of India have successfully stopped a mine from opening up on their traditional lands. DW speaks to Sophie Grig from Survival International, who supported the protests for a decade.


DW: After ten years of protests, the Indian environment ministry has now rejected a huge bauxite mining project by the multinational company Vedanta. Survival International has called this a 'sensational victory'. How likely is it that a small group like the Dongria Kondh win a case for their rights, when they are pitched against a huge multinational like Vedanta?

Sophie Grig: It's fantastic news, it's a real David and Goliath story. There's only about 8000 Dongria people. One of the main reasons why they have had this great success is their incredible tenacity and courage and the fact that they are so united and so proud of their way of life. They are so determined to protect their sacred hills that they have done everything they can to campaign against the mine. That has also been supported by Survival International and a number of other organizations both on the ground and internationally.

In this battle that the Dongria fought for such a long time, the group were confronted with many obstacles. Can you give us an idea of what they experienced?

Sophie Grig, Asia Expert
at Survival International
Their leaders have been arrested, there have been a lot of threats against them, there has been a lot of pressure and harassment for the community. There's also been a lot of pressure from the company who have tried to buy them off by claiming that they will bring development. The Dongria have rightly said 'We don't want development', 'What sort of development is it, if you destroy our hills?'

The Dongria have a wonderful agricultural system where they have huge numbers of plants that they cultivate or collect from the forest that enable them to live well and very happily in their hills, as they have done for generations. They say 'Development for us is being able to live here and make our own choices'.

Defenders of this mining project have always said that the Dongria, like other tribal people, are among the most impoverished in the country and they need economic development. Isn't that also the case?

They certainly don't see themselves as poor and in fact they told us 'We live like kings'. They feel like they live a very wealthy and happy existence in the hills. They themselves look at people in the plains and in the cities and they feel sorry for them. They say, 'You have to pay for your water', 'You have to pay for everything, we get it for free in the hills, why would we want to leave'. What they want is to be able to live their own way of life on their own land.

And, of course, this land is also sacred to them.

Yes, it is. They worship the hills they live in which would have been destroyed by the mining company. That's also played a huge part in their rejection of the mines.

Apart from the determination of the Dongria Kondh, how important was the international campaigning on their behalf? What was the tipping point that made this victory possible?

I think that the international and national campaigns were extremely important. The Dongria on their own, however determined they were, would not have been able to generate the awareness in the government of what was happening to them on the ground. That's the danger when tribal people's voices are just ignored. They needed the national and the international pressure to make the government sit up and listen.

Survival's campaign involved us making a film which allowed them to speak out themselves. We know that 600,000 people viewed that film. Thousands of letters were sent to the Indian government, protests were held, we lobbied the British government and they condemned the mining there and the Church of England disinvested from Vedanta mining. Then, the Supreme Court said that the Dongria should be allowed to make the decision. This last weekend, the news has finally come that the [Indian environment] ministry has said no. So, it's been a culmination of all that hard work.

What repercussions will this news have for other tribal people in Asia and around the world?

This win for the Dongria Kondh is having
 repercussions around the world, says Grig
We know that the news of the Dongria is being listened to. And the big meetings they had last August, and the way that they rejected the mine back then, has already had repercussions. I have spoken to Sami reindeer herders in Sweden who said that they were inspired by the Dongria's rejection of the mine and that it galvanized them in their cause.

Vedanta will have looked at the Dongria and thought, 'Here are 8000 people living in a really remote part of Odisha'. They didn't think that these people were going to be able to stop them. They didn't think people were going to be able to find out about it. This can really send a strong message to mining companies and governments that they cannot go ahead with mines like this or other development projects on the lands of tribal people without getting the consent of those tribal people. And, if they don't want it, that has to be listened to and it can't go ahead.

But, bauxite is in high demand. Even though new places are being explored, there might be no real alternatives to the place that Vedanta wanted to mine in. Do you think there will be a new attempt to gain access to the sacred hills of the Dongria Kondh?

I would love to say no, but who knows. There is an election coming up in India and it is always possible that the decision might be overturned. I think at the moment though there's so much public attention that has gone into this case, it would be extremely difficult for it to be overturned. But it's definitely something that the Dongria will be watching.

There's a refinery that has been built at the base of their hills, which was supposed to be processing the bauxite mined in the area. While that is still there, the Dongria will be nervous about further attempts to mine. But, I think as things stand, it's a huge victory and we have to hope that it will be maintained.

Sophie Grig is an Asia Expert for Survival International and is based in London.