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.

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, July 27, 2012

Vietnam's Tiger Farms Are Called Trafficking Hubs

Jakarta Globe, Mike Ives,  July 27, 2012

In this file photo taken on July 4, 2012, caretaker Lai Van Xa provokes a tiger
 with his plastic sandal at a tiger farm in southern Binh Duong province, Vietnam.
Conservationists allege that Vietnam's 11 registered tiger farms are merely fronts
for a  thriving illegal market in tiger parts, highly prized for purported — if unproven —
medicinal qualities. (AP Photo/Mike Ives, File)
 Related articles

An Binh, Vietnam. Nineteen tigers prowl outdoor cages the size of dormitory rooms, nibbling frayed wire fences and roaring at a caretaker who taunts them with his sandal.

It looks like a zoo, but it’s closed to the public. The facility breeds tigers, but has never supplied a conservation program with any animals nor sold any to zoos. Manager Luong Thien Dan says the farm in southern Binh Duong province was created simply because its management has a “soft spot” for the big cats, and that it’s funded privately by a beer company.

“At first we just kept them as pets, but when they started to breed, we got excited and wanted to expand their population,” Dan said during a tour of the farm, about 40 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City.

Conservationists allege that Vietnam’s 11 registered tiger farms, including this one, are merely fronts for a thriving illegal market in tiger parts, highly prized for purported — if unproven — medicinal qualities. The illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion per year in Southeast Asia alone and includes tigers, rhinos and other lesser-known animals.

The conservationists say the loosely regulated farms are used to “launder” illegally caught wild tigers, which they say are mixed in with stocks of legitimately bred animals, and that products from their carcasses are later sold on the black market.

The conservation group WWF this week ranked Vietnam as the worst country for wildlife crime in its first such survey of how well 23 countries in Asia and Africa protect rhinos, tigers and elephants. The Switzerland-based group focused its report, released on Monday, on countries where the threatened animals live in the wild or are traded or consumed. Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment on the WWF report.

However, the government has commented on the tiger farms, saying in a 2009 report that they are aimed at breeding tigers for “future reintroduction programs.” No captive tiger has been successfully introduced to a wild population anywhere in the world.

Some proponents of wildlife farms argue that they can ease the pressure on wild populations by lessening the demand for poached animals.

But in Asia, such farms are largely unregulated and create “an avenue for trade in something that you shouldn’t be trading in,” said Vincent Nijman, a wildlife trade expert at Oxford Brookes University in England.

Vietnam is now being accused of becoming a key driver of an illegal trade that spans continents. Advocacy groups say the government’s support for captive wildlife facilities — especially tiger farms — suggests that although it professes wildlife conservation, it actually is helping to drive threatened animals toward extinction.

China, which the Washington-based Brookings Institution calls the “world’s largest market for illegal trade in wildlife,” finished the second worst in WWF’s ranking, but received praise for recent efforts to police the illegal trade in ivory and tiger products. In 2010, Chinese authorities required the country’s two largest tiger farms to place microchips in live tigers and keep track of the carcasses of animals that die.

In neighboring Vietnam, however, the prime minister’s decision in 2007 to legalize tiger breeding farms on a pilot basis has “undermined” the government’s wildlife enforcement efforts, the WWF wildlife crime report said.

It added that captive tigers now appear to be a “substantial proportion” of the world’s illegal tiger trade. Tiger bone paste — which some Vietnamese say is an effective pain killer — can fetch a few hundred dollars per ounce ($1,000 per 100 grams) on the black market.

The 35-page WWF report comes on the heels of a controversy in May, when international environmental officials and wildlife advocates learned that Vietnam’s agriculture ministry had proposed allowing parts of tigers that die in captivity to be made into traditional medicine on a pilot basis.

An official at the ministry, Do Quang Tung, denied critics’ charges that the proposal was designed to effectively legalize trade in tiger products, and an official at Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s office told the AP earlier this month that Dung had rejected the proposal.

The global population of wild tigers has dropped precipitously over the last century, from about 100,000 to fewer than 3,500. According to the wildlife advocacy group TRAFFIC, at least 200 tiger carcasses were seized from the illegal trade worldwide last year. Vietnam is one of 13 countries with wild tigers, but they number less than 50 in Vietnamese territory, according to government figures.

Wildlife advocates say Vietnam’s tiger farms have high mortality rates and cannot possibly sustain their reported populations without sourcing smuggled tigers, which they say often enter the country via its mountainous border with Laos — a country ranked the third worst offender on WWF’s wildlife crime report.

According to Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 49 of the 112 tigers living on the 11 registered tiger farms were born in captivity.

Tiger farm manager Luong Thien Dan said tigers at his farm typically die after fighting or when mothers neglect to breastfeed cubs, and that all dead tigers are cremated under supervision from local authorities.

He told the AP that he couldn’t recall how his farm acquired its first cubs, nor how many tigers have died since the farm opened.

Dan says the farm covers expenses — raw meat runs about 150 to 200 million dong ($7,200 to $9,600) per month — with profits that his cousin, Ngo Duy Tan, earns as a beer keg manufacturer. The rusty tiger cages sit on Pacific Beer Company’s 7,000 square meter property, across a parking lot from silver brewing tanks and a giant pile of malt.

Farm management hopes to open an ecotourism park to showcase its tigers, but Dan said the farm’s future is uncertain because it has only a temporary permit from the prime minister. Dan said he would welcome a government move to legalize the selling of tiger parts for use in traditional medicine.

“It would be good for society and for us,” he said.

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gorillas Seen Dismantling Deadly Poacher Traps

ABC News, by Bazi Kanani, Jul 25, 2012  

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Staff at a gorilla research center are getting some unexpected help to save the lives of the critically endangered animals: Gorilla youngsters are jumping in to disable poachers’ traps.

Staff at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda recently witnessed two 4-year-olds and a teenage mountain gorilla work together to destroy the types of snares that have killed at least two young gorillas this year.  It was also the first time staff members have been able to see up close exactly how gorillas dismantle the snares.

“We knew that gorillas do this, but all of the reported cases in the past were carried out by adult gorillas, mostly silverbacks,” said gorilla program coordinator Veronica Vecellio.  “How they did it demonstrated an impressive cognitive skill.”

The discovery that younger gorillas are also learning to recognize and disable the dangerous snares was especially heartening to research center staff because it came while they were still grieving over the death just two days earlier of an infant gorilla named Ngwino who was caught in a snare.

On July 17 field staff and some tourists in the Virunga volcanoes conservation area that is home to more than half of the world’s 790 remaining mountain gorillas witnessed a group of gorillas getting close to a snare.

One of the staff members reported he moved to dismantle the snare when a silverback (adult male) in the group grunted at him warning him to stay back.  Then two youngsters named Dukore and Rwema and a blackback (teen male) named Tetero ran toward the snare.

 Together they jumped on the taught branch attached to a rope noose and removed the rope.  They then ran over to another nearby snare and destroyed it the same way.  Pictures the staff members took show the young gorillas then examining broken sticks used to camouflage the noose on the ground.

Every year, Fossey Fund field staff remove more than a thousand such simple but deadly snares set by bush-meat hunters.  They speculate the younger gorillas learned to destroy snares by watching the older silverbacks do so.

Fossey Fund staff cannot teach gorillas how to dismantle snares because it is against their policy to intentionally change gorillas’ natural behavior, but they are pleased to know the gorillas are apparently teaching each other to protect themselves.

“Our battle to detect and destroy snares from the park is far from over,” said Vecellio.  “Today we can proudly confirm the gorillas are doing their part, too.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Environment Ministry Targets Plantation Firms Accused of Sumatra Forest Clearing

Jakarta Globe, Fidelis E. Satriastanti, July 23, 2012

Fires raged across Tripa’s peat forest in Aceh province earlier this month.
(EPA Photo/Paul Hilton)
Related articles

The Environment Ministry is investigating eight plantation companies in Sumatra for allegedly clearing nearly 4,000 hectares of forest using slash-and-burn methods.

Arief Yuwono, the minister’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, said on Sunday that the companies were believed to have burned down more than 3,800 hectares of forest.

“Two of the companies are in Riau, four are in South Sumatra and two are in Aceh,” he said.

He added that the ministry was also investigating some local officials involved in issuing permits to the companies.

The investigation comes as the Environment Ministry prioritizes measures to prevent haze as a result of forest fires on the island and particularly in Riau, which is set to host the 18th National Games in September.

Purwasto Saroprayogi, head of the ministry’s forest fire monitoring department, said the areas of top priority were Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir districts in Riau.

“We’re giving priority to these two regions because the number of forest fire hot spots detected there is quite high,” Purwasto said.

He added that there was a risk of more fires spreading in the province because of the hot spots.

He said that under the ministry’s Fire Danger Rating System, officials now had a better understanding of how the fires were spreading.

“Whereas before we could only monitor once every seven days, now we can do it once every three days,” Purwasto said.

As of July 15, there were 2,643 hot spots detected in Riau this year, or more than half of the 4,876 detected across Indonesia by a US satellite. South Sumatra accounted for 1,180 hot spots, while West Kalimantan had 1,053.

In Riau, most of the hot spots were concentrated in Pelalawan district, with 527, followed by Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya warned that the number of fires would increase as the dry season continued, fanned in part by the “El Nino” phenomenon in October.

“Based on the information from the FDRS and predictions of decreased rainfall, there will be a high potential of forest fires in the eight most prone provinces of North and South Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, and [all of] Kalimantan,” he said as quoted by environmental website

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is the WWF too close with industry?

Deutsche Welle, 22 July 2012

Does the WWF cooperate with "the biggest environmental sinners on the planet"? Author Wilfried Huismann says yes, and his dispute with the WWF about its agenda and industry ties has escalated.

Miniature pandas on yogurt containers and bags of frozen fish - the logo of the environmental organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stands for environmental responsibility. It is considered one of the "most trustworthy brands in the world," writes documentary filmmaker Wilfied Huismann in his book "Schwarzbuch WWF - Dunkle Geschäfte im Zeichen des Panda" (Black Book WWF - Dark Dealings in the Name of the Panda).

That's why Huismann was upset to see the WWF emblem on a package of salmon produced by a Norwegian company that is responsible for what he calls a "major environmental fiasco." He began digging into the company's production methods while at work on a film about salmon breeding in Chile in 2009, Huismann told DW.

"There were huge amounts of antibiotics and chemicals being dumped into the sea, and fish populations were being completely fished out in order to produce food for the salmon in cages," he said, adding that the principles of environmental protection are being abandoned when the WWF places its logo on such companies' products.

Since then, the author and filmmaker has been at odds with the WWF.

On whose side? 

Huismann believes the WWF
isn't living up to its mission
Last year, Huismann's film "Pakt mit dem Panda" (Pact with the Panda) unleashed heated controversy. And this year, the filmmaker renewed his criticism in the form of a book. Summarizing the book, Huismann said he charges that the WWF cooperates with "major anti-environmentalists like Monsanto, the largest biotech company in the world, or with British Petroleum and Shell," lending them a "green image" along the way.

The WWF rejects the claims Huismann makes in his book and film.

WWF Germany spokesman Jörn Ehlers said the author has the right to express his opinion, but "when he goes beyond that and puts forth as facts things that are false, then we of course react strongly."

Trading words

The WWF sought an interim injunction against the book at Cologne's district court. The court said it could appreciate some of the WWF's concerns, but it also stressed that the organization must accept criticism. Beginning in June, 2012, Huismann and the WWF have tried to come to agreement outside of the court. But finding evidence capable of negating Huismann's criticisms is problematic, Ehlers said.

As an example, Ehlers cited the author's claims about the WWF's work in Indonesia. The organization aims to stop deforestation initiated by palm oil plantations there, but Huismann says the organization is content to protect just a small part of the land while letting clear cutters have their way elsewhere. Deforestation destroys the habitat of orangutans - animals which the WWF has used to wage successful donations compaigns, Huismann added.

In response, the WWF presented satellite images that the organization believes refute that criticism. However, Ehlers acknowledged that it is very difficult to provide evidence in enough detail to contravene what Huismann claims.

"It's his word against ours," Ehlers said.

A further point of contention for Huismann is the WWF's participation in talks with industry representatives, like at the Round Table Palm Oil. Discussions held at that event aimed to establish criteria and standards for certifying sustainable forms of palm oil.

"Purely false marketing," said Huismann, who argues that there can be no palm oil without deforestation.

Some environmental groups reject cooperation with industry representatives at roundtable discussions like these. But Ehlers does not accept Huismann's characterization of the talks as offering cooperation with anti-environmentalists. Instead, the WWF spokesman said, the process is about setting basic standards that limit negative effects on the environmental.

When environmental advocacy groups take part at industry roundtables, there is a danger their participation can lend undeserving companies a green image. 

Deforestation deprives orangutans
of their home
"We're aware of this risk, and we also have very careful internal discussions about whether that is helpful. We think that we can achieve more by going this route than if we don't participate," Ehlers said.

The enduring dispute between Huismann and the WFF has led to frayed nerves and harsh words from both camps.

"Ridiculous, typical Huismann," the experienced spokesman said when asked about Huismann's claim that the WWF's creation of a global land use plan represents "a service for industry."

Huismann always twists the facts "as though the WWF were responsible for all environmental destruction in the world," Ehlers said.

Differing approaches

The recent escalation in the dispute between the WWF and the author suggests the significance of the controversy for the "largest and most influential environmental protection organization in Germany," as WWF Germany writes in its mission statement. The credibility and image of the organization behind the panda logo are at stake - as are its funding streams.
But the back and forth with Huismann also suggests a fundamental split when it comes to ecology. 

Greenpeace favors more oppositional
tactics than the WWF
While Greenpeace and other environmental organizations employ protests and oppositional tactics, the WWF is convinced that the environment can only be protected in dialogue with industry. But the organization has not done enough to justify that stance publically, Ehlers said, noting that as one lesson the group has drawn from Huismann's book.

"We decided to take this path because we believe that it lets us achieve the most. We perhaps have to go more on the offensive to say why we are doing these things, so that people understand them," he explained.

Huismann has said the goal of his book was to unleash a debate about the environmental protection movement. On that point, he seems to have succeeded - both within and beyond the WWF.

Despite the environmental group's protests, the book is still being sold without any changes, and it is now in its second edition.

Author: Irene Quaile / gsw
Editor: Andrea Rönsberg

Related Article:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spain's king ousted as WWF honorary president

Associated Press, Jul 21, 2012 

MADRID (AP) — The World Wildlife Fund's branch in Spain says it has ousted King Juan Carlos as its honorary president — a title he'd held since 1968 — because the monarch's recent elephant hunting safari was incompatible with the group's goal of conserving endangered species.

The fund said in a statement that "although such hunting is legal and regulated" it had "received many expressions of distress from its members and society in general." It says members voted in a meeting in Madrid on Saturday to "to get rid of the honorary President."

News of the king's April elephant hunting trip in Botswana upset many Spaniards who considered it an opulent extravagance at a time of economic distress in the country.

The Royal Palace declined immediate comment on the WWF announcement.

King Juan Carlos on his €10,000-a-day hunting safari in Botswana, which
had  been hushed up before he fell and broke his hip. Photograph: Target
Press/Barcroft Media

Can Heavily Deforested Sebangau National Park Be Saved?

Jakarta Globe, Liberty Jemadu, July 21, 2012

A worker carrying saplings at Sebangau National Park. Less than
1 percent of the park’s total area has been reforested. (Antara Photo)

Related articles

Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan. Rosdy Abaza is under no illusions about the task before him as the person in charge of restoring the sprawling Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan to pristine condition.

“We’re attempting to restore a forest that has been comprehensively destroyed, so you could say this is a mission impossible,” he tells the Jakarta Globe at one of the observation posts scattered across the 568,700-hectare park.

The park, between the Katingan and Kahayan rivers, was only formally established in 2004. Between 1980 and 1995, it was the site of 13 massive logging concessions that left the formerly dense and pristine peat forest stripped bare and dried out.

In the unregulated years between being a logging forest and a national park, the Sebangau area was the target of massive illegal logging that was estimated to have cleared some 66,000 hectares of forest.

Rosdy says the park area previously covered by peat swamp — a meters-deep layer of hundreds of years’ worth of decaying vegetation — makes up 85 percent of the total area, and to restore it back to its pre-logged state would take another several centuries.

One of the first things the loggers did when they came in was to carve out a network of more than 1,000 canals, two to four meters wide, to drain the peat swamp to make it easy to transport the logs downstream. That left the exposed peat layer, in some places up to 12 meters deep, highly vulnerable to forest fires.

Also to blame was the government’s misguided Mega Rice Project of 1996, a scheme to clear-cut the centuries-old peat forests in Kalimantan, drain the soil and set up a million hectares of rice paddies.

Part of the land for the MRP was a wide swath between the Sebangau and Kahayan rivers. When the MRP was abandoned, there was no attempt to restore the peat forest and the affected area on the eastern third of the Sebangau National Park remains severely degraded.

The key to restoring the condition of the peat forest is to get the water back into the ground, which Rosdy acknowledges is a daunting task.

The park management’s two main conservation programs deal with blocking the former logging canals and reforesting the denuded land. The success of the latter is contingent on that of the former, but the canal-blocking program has stumbled on funding issues.

Of the 428 dams built since the start of 2011 to block up the canals, only one was funded by the park. The rest were funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Ideally we should be building 100 dams a year,” Rosdy says, adding that the cost for each dam is about Rp 80 million ($8,500).

Like the canal-blocking program, the reforestation program has also been slow to take off.

Just 4,868 hectares — less than 1 percent of Sebangau’s total area — have been reforested. Of that figure, less than half was funded by the state, with the rest coming from conservation groups and corporate social responsibility programs.

But against the overwhelming odds, Rosdy says there is reason to be hopeful about the future of the park.

Thanks to the damming program, the water level in the peat layer in some areas has begun rising since 2005, leading to the return of native tree species, including the critically endangered red balau, the hardwood jelutong and the softwood pulai.

The recovering water levels have also meant less frequent forest fires. “We haven’t had any major forest fires in this area since 2009,” Rosdy says.

As the forest slowly recovers, there is also hope for the survival of the various wildlife species native to the area. These include Bornean orangutans, proboscis monkeys and Bornean gibbons, all of which are endangered species.

Sebangau is home to an estimated 6,000 orangutans, the largest wild population of the ape anywhere in the world.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Top Palm Oil Producer Indonesia Wants to Be More Refined

Jakarta Globe, Michael Taylor, Niluksi Koswanage & Chew Yee Kiat, July 16, 2012

A worker carries palm fruits at a palm oil plantation in Talun Kenas, North
 Sumatra. Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil, with 25.4 million
 tons produced in 2011, followed by Malaysia with 18.7 million tons. The two
 countries account for 80 percent of global output, and are followed by Thailand.
(EPA Photo/Dedi Sahputra)

Related articles

Jakarta/Kuala Lumpur. For decades, Indonesia has shipped out tanker loads of raw palm oil for processing into higher value cooking oil and margarine in Rotterdam, Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur.

Now, the world’s No. 1 producer of the edible oil is seeing a more than $2.5 billion wave of investment to build a refining industry that will double its capacity and mean it could supply the entire needs of Asia’s top food consumers — India and China.

The transformation — driven by Indonesia’s move to slash export duties for processed oil last October — will heat up competition with rivals such as Malaysia and send ripples through the palm oil market as new supply pressures prices of traded refined products such as palm olein, used as cooking oil.

A Reuters survey of 30 firms operating in Indonesia — from the world’s biggest listed palm oil firm Wilmar to conglomerate Unilever — shows plans to nearly double refining capacity to 43 million tonnes of palm oil, or 80 percent of total world output.  

“The government is sending a clear message — to survive, you need a refinery. So the palm oil firms are putting their money out and following the big guys in the industry who have already done so,” said Thomas Mielke, an analyst at industry publication Oil World.

“There is the threat of over capacity. But palm oil firms with the whole supply chain behind them, we are talking about having plantations to mills and ports, will be the kings.”    

Gleaming silver storage tanks standing ten-storeys’ high are becoming a feature of Indonesia’s landscape as more refineries spring up, threatening the stranglehold on processing held by neighboring Malaysia, the No.2 palm oil producer.

At a newly built refinery near Jakarta, staff wearing face masks and hair caps work on conveyor belts carrying boxes of margarine and cooking oil.  

The $249-million Marunda plant run by PT SMART was launched before the tax change and Indonesia’s top palm oil firm plans to spend a further $200 million on new refining capacity despite the infrastructure issues it faced building Marunda.

PT SMART will be one of the biggest investors in the sector along with Wilmar and unlisted Musim Mas, which plans to spend $860 million, according to the survey.

Government officials in Malaysia and Indonesia say these firms had aggressively lobbied Jakarta to cut duties on refined palm oil to half those levied on crude.

Much of the expansion is led by companies owned by powerful tycoons in Indonesia. SMART is controlled by the family of Eka Tjipta Widjaja, who created a palm oil empire from his humble start selling biscuits from a rickshaw.

Foreign firms are not far behind. Commodities trader Louis Dreyfus formed joint ventures with planters such as Singapore-listed Kencana Agri to build refineries in Indonesia.

Until now, Indonesia had focused on expanding plantations.

Oil palms cover roughly 8.2 million hectares (20.3 million acres), an area about the size of the island of Ireland, and their cultivation is often blamed for rainforest destruction.

Bring Down Prices

Palm oil, the world’s most traded and consumed edible oil, is used mainly as an ingredient in food such as biscuits and ice cream, or as a biofuel.

For decades, refined palm olein POL-MYRBD-M1 enjoyed premiums of 5-10 percent over crude palm oil futures.

But with more Indonesian supplies coming on stream, more inefficient refining operations could get shut.

On the flip side, greater competition could cut final product costs to the benefit of consumers in India and China, where food inflation is a constant concern for policy makers. So far this year, palm olein prices have fallen nearly 10 percent on higher Indonesian supplies.  

Under its refining plans, Indonesia could meet domestic needs of around 10 million tonnes annually as well as supplying the combined 20 million tonnes of edible oil imports required by top buyers China and India.

Indonesia’s crude palm oil output — estimated at 23 to 25 million tonnes in 2012 — looks set to be outpaced by the planned increase in refining capacity in the next two years.

That means some palm oil firms may build refineries run at lower capacities until more edible oil supply comes in.

DBS analyst Ben Santoso said latecomers to Indonesia’s refining business could see margins squeezed to $40 per tonne from $70, although still healthier than its main competitor.

“The capacity of some of these smaller companies will turn idle. But let’s not forget, Malaysia’s refining margin is just $9 to $10 a tonne,” he added.

Malaysia and India Feel the Pressure

As Indonesia rushes to build refineries, vegetable oil refiners in Malaysia and India are feeling the pressure.

“I am having sleepless nights. I have closed down 30-40 percent of my factory and I hope it won’t be more,” said a refiner in Malaysia’s Johor state.

Malaysia currently has 22.9 million tonnes of refining capacity, with only about three quarters of it used last year down from a record 90 percent in 2005.

And this shows in exports. Malaysia’s combined refined palm olein exports in April and May dropped 19 percent to about 1 million tonnes from a year ago, according to cargo surveyors.

Indonesian palm olein shipments jumped 55 percent in the same period to nearly 600,000 tonnes.

Malaysia could respond by removing a tax free export quota for crude palm used to feed the overseas factories of some firms or
replicate Indonesia’s tax system to level the playing field.

Both options are politically risky with an election on the horizon, as they entail taxing crude palm oil that in Malaysia is mostly produced by small farmers who make up the bulk of the electorate and come under the tax free export quota.

To capitalize on Indonesia’s export tax changes, Malaysia’s top planter Sime Darby is building an Indonesian refinery. KL Kepong and IOI Corp are expected to follow suit.

India, the world’s largest edible oil buyer, has been fending off industry calls to hike the import duty on refined palm oil to stem the inflow of cheap cargoes from Indonesia for fear of stoking inflation.

India currently imposes a 7.5 percent tax on refined palm oil from Indonesia. But it is still $15 cheaper a tonne to import Indonesia’s processed palm oil than to ship in crude and refine it, traders say.

“Before Indonesia changed the export taxes, a lot of refiners were expanding their factories,” said Ashok Sethia, president of the Solvent Extractors Association of India.

“Now all those plans have been abandoned,” he added.

Refined palm olein used to make up below 5 percent of total imports and now accounts for nearly 20 percent of 883,410 tonnes shipped into India in May.  

This will make it hard for India to preserve its processing capacity of 15 million tonnes.

Sensitive Policy

Palm oil is just part of Indonesia’s efforts to attract investment and squeeze more from its agricultural and mineral resources, a policy that has sometimes backfired.

In May, Indonesia imposed a 20 percent tax on some metal ore exports and told miners to submit plans to build smelters or process ore domestically. The government says this should help Indonesia earn more revenue, although a union said miners had laid off more than 200,000 workers since the ruling.

Taxes on palm oil were introduced in 1994 with the aim of ensuring palm-based cooking oil was available in the developing country of more than 200 million people.

But the system fell apart when the rupiah currency collapsed during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, prompting palm oil firms to export more and triggering food riots at home.

With this in mind, export taxes on crude palm oil were kept much lower than on refined oil to shore up domestic supply. That frustrated the processing industry with many firms thinking of exiting Indonesia in 2010 and 2011, said Sahat Sinaga, executive director of the Indonesian Vegetable Oil Refiners Association.

“If the government did not take action, we would have just remained a crude palm oil exporter and earned much less,” said Sinaga.”


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Indonesian zoo aims to stub out orangutan's smoking habit

Zookeepers hope that 15-year-old Tori will finally beat decade-long addiction when she is moved out of visitors' reach, Kate Hodal in Bangkok, Thursday 5 July 2012

Tori the orangutan learned to smoke at Taru Jurug zoo by imitating visitors.
Photograph: Centre for Orangutan Protection, Borneo, Indonesia

Zookeepers in Indonesia have been forced to move an orangutan out of visitors' reach after the 15-year-old primate developed a serious smoking habit.

Tori learned to smoke 10 years ago by imitating zoo visitors, who would throw their cigarette butts into her open cage. She has been smoking ever since, according to activists. They say that she holds up two fingers to her mouth to insinuate she wants a smoke, and becomes angry and throws things if none are readily available.

Zookeepers at Taru Jurug zoo in Solo have unsuccessfully tried luring the ape away with food and extinguishing the butts with water. Now the zoo – with help from the Borneo-based Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) – plans to move Tori and her partner on to a small island in the zoo's lake by August. They hope the large trees, rope swings and views over the zoo will make Tori forget about her nicotine fix. Until then, the centre has sent extra volunteers to guard the cage and will install mesh netting to prevent visitors from throwing in their butts.

Tori may be Indonesia's most famous smoking orangutan, but she is not the only one. Tori's parents were also smokers and many more of Indonesia's zoo-based orangutans are thought to be hooked on the habit, says Hardi Baktiantoro of COP. The creatures' 97% genetic similarity to humans means that they will often mimic and take on behaviours similar to ours – sometimes to their detriment.

"It is very common in Indonesian zoos for people to throw cigarettes or food [at animals] even though there are signs to not feed or give cigarettes," says Baktiantoro. "It happens all the time. [In Tori's case], people will throw cigarettes in, watch her smoke, start laughing and take pictures."

So far, Tori's partner Didik – who is new to the zoo – has not yet taken up smoking, preferring instead to stamp out butts whenever they are thrown into the cage that he and Tori share. But activists worry that he could soon succumb to the habit, as nearly 70% of Indonesian men over the age of 20 are smokers, and zookeepers have had difficulty educating and preventing visitors from doing what they will.

Indonesia's zoos have come under fire for their appalling conditions – where visitors, not just zookeepers, are sometimes to blame. It was reported two years ago that, at Surabaya zoo in East Java, about 25 of its 4,000 animals were dying prematurely every month. This included a Sumatran tiger and an African lion.

In March this year, a 30-year-old giraffe was found dead at the zoo with an 18kg (39.7lb) ball of plastic in its stomach, after years of eating litter thrown into its pen by visitors.