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)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pedigree dog health and welfare in spotlight, breeders pledge action

DutchNews.nl, November 27, 2014

The Dutch dog breeders’ association is taking steps to improve the health of pedigree dogs, in particular by ensuring they don’t have problems because of their extreme appearance, broadcaster Nos says on Thursday.

Vets will be present at all dog shows from 2016 and will make their own judgements about ‘best of breed’, alongside the judges, Nos says. The aim is to have eradicated health problems caused by physical deformities such as very flat noses and multiple skin folds by 2024.

The association’s plan, entitled Fairfok, or ‘fair breeding’, was presented to junior economic affairs minister Sharon Dijksma on Thursday.

From 2018, pedigree dog family trees will be able to apply for Fairfok approval, which shows the breeding has taken place with appropriate consideration for the behaviour, health and welfare of both the parents and puppies.

There are between 1.5 million and 1.8 million dogs in the Netherlands, of which around 500,000 are pedigrees.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Old Traditions for Saving Water

Jakarta Globe, Sitti Aminah, Nov 27, 2014

A villager collects water from a well, which was dug from the bottom of a lake
 that had dried up in Gunung 
Kidul village, near Yogyakarta in Java. Drought
 continually plagues the area and the villagers who reside there. (Reuters
Photo/Dwi Oblo)

Jakarta. Indonesia is home to some of the world’s largest water deposits. According to the Water Environment Partnership in Asia, WEPA, almost 6 percent of the world’s water resources  can be found in Indonesia. Additionally, Indonesia controls 21 percent of water resources in the Asia-Pacific region.

Geographically, it can be said that Indonesia is blessed with an abundance of water in storage.

Mountainous areas covered in rain forests form natural water catchments. Mangrove forests in coastal areas, meanwhile, protect inland water storage from saltwater intrusion.

Indonesia undoubtedly plays an important role in global water security and environmental conservation. This, however, does not mean Indonesia is immune from water-related problems.

Water is one of several basic necessities, a valuable asset that has the potential to trigger problems should it be manipulated or managed unwisely. Speaking of manipulating water resources, the government and the private-sector play an increasing role in this sector.

The 1945 Constitution mandates the government as the sole manager of water resources throughout the archipelago. It is given the mandate so that it can fulfill the people’s basic necessities.

Overwhelmed by the task, the government has delegated part of its water authority to the private sector. They require the private sector to ensure that Indonesia’s need for water is balanced with accessible supplies.

Excessive use

Despite efforts to maintain supply, most urban populations in Indonesia use water excessively.  It may be because to them, water is something easily available, not something that they struggle to attain.

Lower- to middle-income people in Indonesia use 169.11 liters per day, per person on average. The figure is higher for those in the middle-to-upper class group who use 247.36 liters. Almost every domestic activity requires water, from washing clothes and cleaning the dishes to cooking, drinking and watering gardens.

According the Indonesia Water Institute, since 2000, various regions in Indonesia have been forced to deal with water scarcity. Such shortages are blamed by environmental degradation. Additionally, water becomes scarce due to unwise management.

The Baduy people

An examination of the traditional practices of some indigenous groups, including the Baduy people in Banten is insightful. Their actions are in line with sustainable development principles, consisting of three pillars: environment, economy and community. Under those principles, they are able to manage the environment wisely.

The practice, supervised by their elderly, bars Baduy Dalam (Inner Baduy) people, who live deep in the forest, from cutting down trees. Cutting trees is only allowed should the tree be of a sufficient age. If they cut down one tree, in exchange, they must plant two trees. We can see here an effort to balance the ecosystem, and maintain an abundance of trees.

The indigenous Baduy people demonstrate to us how to manage our relations with the environment. By preserving the forest, they maintain the availability of water in the soil.

In terms of their other two pillars, economy and community, an examination of Baduy Luar (outer Baduy) people’s practices is useful.  They are allowed to sell their crops to meet daily necessities, but only if they maintain the sustainability of their plantations and don’t harvest excessively — which can damage their forests. The Baduy sees nature as an integral part of their life that must to be respected. It is a remarkable value, one which has allowed them to avoid environmental-related problems, including water scarcity.

If we apply such values to our modern society, everyone will benefit. Indonesians need to wake from their long sleep and consider such core environmental principles. Unique traditional values that respect nature are part of our country’s identity. Even though they often originate from different cultural practices, they have one thing in common: a unique, traditional solution for environmental issues.

Every region in Indonesia is moving towards preserving the environment as one solution for water scarcity. I’m optimistic that this will work. I’m also aware, though, that it is going to be a life-long project to make people understand environmental principles.

Once they understand the actions they can take to alleviate water scarcity, their behavior will change. Let’s appreciate what we have, and let’s move forward with it.

Sitti “Ina” Aminah is a knowledge management officer at the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Yayasan Kehati)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pachydermis Stormborn: Taipei Zoo baby hippo named after the rain

Want China Times, CNA and Staff Reporter 2014-11-23

Baby hippo Yu and mother Najuzhong at Taipei Zoo, Nov. 21. (Photo
courtesy of Taipei Zoo)

Taipei Zoo said Friday that a baby hippopotamus was born in a pond at the zoo as rain poured down on the night of Nov. 16.

The baby hippo, currently smaller than its mother's head, was named Yu, which means rain, and its mother's name Najuzhong was added, the zoo said on its official website.

The zoo said its veterinary staff observed last Sunday afternoon that the mother had gone into labor and they monitored her until she gave birth at about 10pm.

Since then, Najuzhong Yu has been sticking close to its mother's side but can already dive, the zoo said.

The calf's sex has not yet been determined because the mother would not allow the veterinary staff to get too close, the zoo said.

It said the mother and newborn are being kept in the Asian rainforest display area because the enclosure for its African animals is under renovation.

The best time for visitors to see the baby hippo is when the mother leaves the pond to feed. "If you're lucky, you may have a chance to see her breastfeeding," a zoo keeper said.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Australia Brings ‘Koala Diplomacy’ to Bear at G20

Jakarta Globe – AFP, Nov 16, 2014

First Lady Iriana Widodo holds a koala while on a spouse visit to a koala sanctuary
 at the G20 conference in Brisbane, Australia on Nov. 15, 2014. (EPA Photo/Ian Waldie/
Pool Australia And New Zealand Out)

Brisbane. Australia arranged a warm and fuzzy welcome for the world’s most powerful leaders at this weekend’s G20 summit with a campaign dubbed “koala diplomacy”, in which top politicians cuddled the shy native marsupials.

While there may have been sharp differences during policy discussions, G20 leaders were unanimous in their desire be photographed with the furry grey animals, which were brought in from a local wildlife park for the summit.

Everyone from US President Barack Obama to China’s first lady Peng Liyuan queued up to hold the koalas as the world’s press snapped away.

Even host Tony Abbott’s pre-summit threat to aggressively “shirtfront” Russian leader Vladimir Putin was temporarily forgotten as the pair smiled and posed side-by-side cradling koalas in their arms.

The well-traveled White House press corps, normally immune to the charms of “local color”, were also enchanted by the iconic bush creatures when they met a two-year-old female named Jimbelung.

The koala, which is destined to be sent to Japan as a gift, munched contentedly on eucalyptus leaves but her handler said she was too tired to pose with reporters after photo sessions with Putin and Obama.

However, there was time for one more round of pictures when local powerbroker Campbell Newman, the Premier of Queensland state, turned up with a gaggle of media in tow.

But handler Al Mucci, from the Dreamworld wildlife park on the nearby Gold Coast tourist strip, said bringing the koalas to the summit was not just about ramping up the event’s cuteness factor.

He said Jimbelung, whose name means “friends” in the local Aboriginal dialect, belongs to a species struggling with declining numbers as human development encroaches on their habitat.

“As an Australian, I am proud of the fact that we are hosting the G20 and I’m proud that today we can share the koala story,” he told AFP.

“Koalas and people aren’t learning to live together and their population is dropping. We want to share that with the global community, that more help is required to make sure that people and koalas live together for another 200 years here in Australia.”

While not listed as endangered, koalas are officially considered “vulnerable”, and efforts to boost their population have been stepped up in recent years.

A 2011 study estimated there were more than 10 million before British settlers arrived in 1788 but numbers had declined to less than 45,000 in the wild, though it noted their existence high in the treetops makes them difficult to count.

Koalas spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping. On the rare occasions when they are spotted in the wild, they are usually nestled in the crook of two branches either napping or chewing leaves.

Agence France-Presse

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, left, and US President Barack Obama each
 hold a koala before the G20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane on Nov. 15, 2014.
(Reuters Photo/G20 Australia/Handout)

Related Article:


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Indonesia Tsunami Warning Lifted After 7.1 Earthquake

Jakarta Globe, Nov 15, 2014

A screenshot of the USGS website showing the series of earthquakes in
eastern Indonesia on Saturday. (JG Photo)

Jakarta. Indonesian authorities have lifted a tsunami warning after a magnitude-7.1 earthquake hit the east of the country on Saturday morning.

The quake struck at 9:31 a.m. some 156 kilometers northwest of the island of Ternate in the Malukus. Several aftershocks ranging in magnitude from 4.3 to 5.8 were registered as of 1:13 p.m., according to the United States Geological Survey.

The initial quake prompted a tsunami warning from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), but the waves generated were not as high as feared in places such as Jailolo and Tobelo, in the Maluku chain, and in Manado, North Sulawesi.

The BMKG withdrew its tsunami warning at 13:45 p.m. in the affected area, while the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said it would continue to monitor the seismic activity in the region.

“Any time there’s a tsunami warning, the people must evacuate to higher ground,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the BNPB, adding that in that particular region, there was only a 30-minute window for an evacuation, given the speed at which the tsunami waves moved.

The region, where the Eurasian and Filipino tectonic plates meet, has a history of earthquakes capable of generating tsunamis. The last recorded tsunami was in 1932, when a quake of magnitude 8.3 struck. Before that, a 7.4 quake in 1858 also generated a tsunami.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

New antibiotic in mushroom that grows on horse dung


Researchers from the Institute of Microbiology at ETH Zurich have discovered a new protein with antibiotic properties in a mushroom that grows on horse dung. Researchers are now exploring the various potential applications.

The scientists isolated the new active compound from the grey shag that grows
on horse dung. (Photo: Andreas Gminder / mushroomobserver.org / CC BY-NC-SA 3)

Microbiologists and molecular biologists at ETH Zurich and the University of Bonn have discovered a new agent in fungi that kills bacteria. The substance, known as copsin, has the same effect as traditional antibiotics, but belongs to a different class of biochemical substances. Copsin is a protein, whereas traditional antibiotics are often non-protein organic compounds.

The researchers led by Markus Aebi, Professor of Mycology, discovered the substance in the common inky cap mushroom Coprinopsis cinerea that grows on horse dung. When they began their research, the scientists were interested in understanding how this fungus and various bacteria affect each other's growth. This involved cultivating the fungus in a laboratory along with several different types of bacteria. It was found that C. cinerea is able to kill certain bacteria. Further research demonstrated that the copsin produced by the mushroom is responsible for this antibiotic effect.

Copsin belongs to the group of defensins, a class of small proteins produced by many organisms to combat microorganisms that cause disease. The human body also produces defensins to protect itself against infections. They have been found, for example, on the skin and in the mucous membranes.

A question for basic research

For Aebi, the main focus of this research project was not primarily on applications for the new substance. “Whether copsin will one day be used as an antibiotic in medicine remains to be seen. This is by no means certain, but it cannot be ruled out either,” he says.

The ETH professor is much more intrigued by fundamental questions, such as how fungi have used defensins and other naturally antibiotic substances for millions of years to protect themselves against bacteria. Why does this work for fungi while humans have been using antibiotics in medicine for just 70 years with many of them already becoming useless due to resistance? “Fungi have internal instructions on how to use these substances without resulting in selection of resistant bacteria. How to decode these instructions is an intriguing problem for basic research,” explains Aebi.

An extremely stable protein

The three-dimensional structure studied by
 ETH researchers exhibits the compact form
of copsin. (Source: Essig A et al. JBC 2014)
Andreas Essig, a postdoc in Aebi's group and lead author of the study, is currently exploring potential applications for copsin that has been registered for patent approval. It was the biochemical properties of the substance that led the scientist to do so. “Copsin is an exceptionally stable protein,” says Essig. Proteins are generally susceptible to protein-degrading enzymes and high temperatures. Copsin is an exception because it also remains stable when heated to a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius for several hours or when subjected to protein-degrading enzymes. The researchers believe that the protein has these properties because of its extremely compact three-dimensional structure, as NMR spectroscopy has shown.

The ETH researchers were also able to unravel the exact mechanism of action, discovering that copsin can bind to lipid II, an essential building block for the cell wall of bacteria. “Building the cell wall is the Achilles heel of bacteria,” explains Essig. If copsin binds to lipid II, the bacteria die because they are unable to build new cell wall.

In addition to being used as an antibiotic in medicine, it may also be possible to use copsin in the food industry as well. This is because copsin kills many pathogens including Listeria, a type of bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning and is therefore feared, especially in the production of non-heat treated foodstuffs such as raw milk cheeses and dried meats.

Literature reference

Essig A, Hofmann D, Münch D, Gayathri S, Künzler M, Kallio PT, Sahl HG, Wider G, Schneider T, Aebi M: Copsin, a novel peptide-based fungal antibiotic interfering with the peptidoglycan synthesis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, online publication 23 October 2014, doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.599878

Friday, November 7, 2014

Chinese officials 'on illegal African ivory buying sprees'

Yahoo – AFP, Tom Hancock, 6 Nov 2014

The environmental group WWF estimated that around 25,000 African elephants
were hunted for ivory in 2011 (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

Beijing (AFP) - Chinese diplomatic and military staff went on buying sprees for illegal ivory while on official visits to East Africa, sending prices soaring, an environmental activist group said Thursday.

Tens of thousands of elephants are estimated to be slaughtered in Africa each year to feed rising Asian demand for ivory products, mostly from China, the continent's biggest trading partner.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania in March 2013, members of his government and business delegation bought so much ivory that local prices doubled to $700 per kilogram, the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said in a report, citing ivory traders in the city of Dar es Salaam.

"When the guest come, the whole delegation, that's then time when the business goes up," the EIA quoted a vendor named Suleiman as saying.

The traders alleged that the buyers took advantage of a lack of security checks for diplomatic visitors to smuggle their purchases back to China on Xi's plane.

Similar sales were made on a previous trip by China's former President Hu Jintao, the report said, adding that Chinese embassy staff have been "major buyers", since at least 2006.

There could be as few as 470,000 African elephants, according to the 
environmental group WWF (AFP Photo)

A Chinese navy visit to Tanzania last year by vessels returning from anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden "prompted a surge in business for Dar es Salaam-based ivory traders", it said.

A Chinese national named Yu Bo was arrested during the naval visit as he attempted to enter the city's port in a lorry containing 81 elephant tusks -- hidden under wooden carvings -- which he planned to deliver to two mid-ranking Chinese naval officers, the EIA said.

Yu was convicted by a local court in March and sentenced to 20 years in jail, it added.

Key China ally

Tanzania, which has large reserves of natural gas, is a key ally of China in East Africa, and its President Jakaya Kikwete reportedly signed deals with the Asian giant worth $1.7 billion while on a visit to Beijing last month.

Tanzania had about 142,000 elephants when Kikwete took office in 2005, the EIA said, adding that by 2015 the population is likely to have plummeted to about 55,000 as a result of poaching.

Almost all ivory sales were banned in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which both China and Tanzania are signatories.

Politicians from Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and well-connected business people are also involved in the ivory trade, with most demand coming from China, the EIA said.

The EIA report did say that enforcement of the ban on ivory sales had slightly improved last year, with smuggling syndicates growing "more cautious", after Yu's conviction, as well as a high-profile raid.

Police found 706 ivory tusks weighing over 1.8 tonnes at a house in Dar es Salaam last November, along with three Chinese nationals who were detained at the scene after trying to pay a $50,000 bribe, the EIA said.

Seized ivory tusks are displayed prior to their destruction by incineration in
Hong Kong on May 15, 2014. (AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez)

Meng Xianlin, a Chinese forestry administration official who oversees Beijing's commitments under CITES told AFP that the claims made in the EIA's report were "baloney".

"I have not heard of such a matter," he said, adding: "Do not hype this up."

China often says that it pays "great attention", to the protection of endangered wildlife, and in recent years has carried out several high-profile arrests of smugglers caught in its territory, along with a televised incineration of seized ivory.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei described the report as "groundless" at a regular briefing in Beijing Thursday, adding that China was "strongly dissatisfied" with it.

"We attach importance to the protection of wild animals like elephants," he said.

"Recently, in light of the illegal actions of poaching and smuggling of elephant tusks, the Chinese government enacted a series of laws and regulations."

The environmental group WWF estimated that around 25,000 African elephants were hunted for ivory in 2011, predicting that the toll would rise. There could be as few as 470,000 left, according to the group.

Related Article:


Monday, November 3, 2014

Thick Haze Returns to Central Kalimantan

Jakarta Globe, Nov 02, 2014

Haze at a airport in South Sulawesi, in this Oct. 6, 2014, file photo. (Antara
Photo/Herry Murdy Hermawan)

Jakarta. Thick haze, usually caused by forest fires, on Saturday made a comeback in parts of Central Kalimantan that had just experienced a smoke-free week.

The Sampit area East Kotawaringin district was blanketed in smoke so thick that flights had to be diverted.

“The air here in East Kotawaringin district was free of haze for a week, but since Saturday the haze has come back and blanketed Sampit,” Sumi, a resident, told state-run news agency Antara on Sunday.

Fadlian Noor, head of East Kotawaringin’s Communications and Informatics Office, said visibility was just 10 meters — a far cry from the minimum of 2,000 meters for safe flight movements.

“The haze seems to have gotten worse — so bad that flights coming here have had to be diverted,” he said, as quoted by Antara on Sunday.

“Yesterday there was even a flight from Jakarta [to Sampit] that had to be diverted all the way to Surabaya [in East Java] because of the haze,” he added.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

S.Africa arrests two Vietnamese with record 41kg of rhino horns

Yahoo – AFP, 2 Nov 2014

A cache of 41kg of smuggled rhino horns is seen at O.R. Tambo Airport in 
Johannesburg after it was confiscated from two Vietnamese passengers on a
flight to Hanoi from Mozambique (AFP Photo/Ho)

Johannesburg (AFP) - Two Vietnamese men were arrested at Johannesburg airport with a record haul of 18 rhino horns, weighing 41 kilos (90 pounds), during a stopover on a flight from Mozambique to Vietnam, South African police said Saturday.

"This is the largest haul of rhino horns seized in one operation in South Africa," said a joint statement from police and customs officials.

Vietnamese pop diva Hong Nhung, fights 
back tears as she stands near the carcass
 of a decomposing white rhino on the banks
 of a river in the Kruger National Park on
September 12, 2014 (AFP Photo/Marco
Longari)
The flight had started in Maputo, Mozambique, and was heading to Hanoi.

Police said it was believed the horns, which were still intact, were removed from South African rhinos.

The two Vietnamese, aged 25 and 26, were in police custody after being stopped late Friday. They were due to appear in court on Monday.

"They will possibly be charged with transporting, possession and dealing in endangered species," said lieutenant general Solomon Makgale, a police spokesman.

The Qatar Airways flight had been due to make a one-hour stop at OR Tambo airport but a "very credible" tip-off led authorities to ask passengers to leave the plane so they could investigate, Makgale said.

Demand for rhinoceros horn -- which is made from keratin, the same material in hair and nails -- has skyrocketed in recent years, largely driven by demand from Asia, where the powdered horn is valued for its supposed medicinal properties.

A campaign poster on a building in downtown Hanoi on August 28, 2014 warns
 people not to buy rhino horn (AFP Photo/Hoang Dinh Nam)

South Africa is home to around 20,000 rhinos, some 80 percent of the worldwide population.

The country is in the midst of a growing rhino poaching crisis, and has seen more than 730 rhinos killed this year.

Child jockeys, big stakes on Indonesia's horse-racing island

Yahoo – AFP, Chris McCall, 1 Nov 2014

Sumba child jockeys practice at the Waingapu race track, on Indonesia's 
Sumba island, on September 27, 2014 (AFP Photo/Chris McCall)

Waingapu (Indonesia) (AFP) - Umar Marampa is only 14, but he is already a veteran of horse races on an Indonesian island famed for its schoolboy jockeys who compete on sandy circuits with tiny steeds.

At a recent training session with a group of other riders in Sumba's main city of Waingapu, he put his stocky little horse through its paces, galloping around a track at breakneck speed.

Marampa began racing aged nine and is now relatively old for a Sumba jockey -- some start as young as five. Some of the youngsters were clearly struggling as they sought to control the feisty animals, which stomped around angrily before racing.

Horses graze in a field on early morning, in
 Waingapu, on Indonesia's Sumba island,
on September 24, 2014 (AFP Photo/
Chris McCall)
"We start by climbing on horses in the hills. We learn by ourselves," Marampa told AFP, highlighting that horse-riding is deeply ingrained in the local culture of the poor, central Indonesian island, and a source of pride for the young jockeys.

Sumba is famous throughout Indonesia for its child jockeys and 'Sandel' horses named after the sandalwood that was once exported from the island.

The small, fast animals are found across the island, and are widely believed to be descended from steeds once ridden by the fierce Mongol warriors in war.

The influence of horses is everywhere -- one of the focal points of Waingapu is a statue showing boys riding horses, and ceremonial battles on horseback are played out every year, evoking ancient clashes between rival clans on the island.

Races are held frequently and are typically riotous affairs, with lots of illegal gambling and frequent fights when one punter's horse loses. Children occasionally fall from their horses and break limbs, although deaths are rare.

Police sometimes have to step in and cancel events but it would be difficult to axe them all. Not only are horses and horse-racing woven into the fabric of the arid island's local culture, large amounts of money are at stake.

Big cash prizes

Many local people have chosen to invest in racehorses, as cash prizes for important events are as much as 10 million rupiah (about $830) -- a huge amount in a country where many live on less than $2 a day.

As competition intensifies, larger horses, cross-breeds with Australian steeds, have started to appear. They tend to be taller and stronger, and do better.

Child rights activists have long been calling for the practice of youngsters racing to be banned but realise they face an uphill battle against local traditions.

Sumba child jockeys ride their horses to Waingapu race track, on Indonesia's
Sumba island, on September 21, 2014 (AFP Photo/Chris McCall)

"The worst part of all of this is that it puts children in danger," said Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the national commission for child protection.

However local residents insist that precautions are taken to ensure the youngsters are well prepared before they start racing.

When jockeys reach their late teens, they generally retire, and some go on to train younger riders. The boys are slowly introduced to the race track, said Abraham Endruyan Wunu, a local teacher who assists with the training.

A ceremony based on local beliefs is also performed, which is aimed at ensuring they do not feel pain, he added.

However, most adults prefer being spectators to taking part. Civil servant Julianus Amahu said that, while he owns a racehorse himself, he would be reluctant to join a band of youngsters galloping with abandon round a track.

"I would be scared," the 42-year-old admitted.