PETALING JAYA: An online “exposé” by the National Geographic magazine on Asia’s wildlife trade prominently features Anson Wong, the former Malaysian wildlife trafficker.
The 15-page feature by Bryan Christy talks about Wong’s escapades in the illegal wildlife trade, his 1998 arrest in Mexico by United States undercover agents, and his future alleged trade plans as he lives his life in Penang.
Christy, who is the author of Lizard King, in which Wong was a key character, also wrote in detail about a trip to Wong’s office in Penang back in 2007.
It was then, Christy claimed, that he learned of Wong’s plans to set up a zoo known as Anson Wong Flora and Fauna Village where he would display reptiles and focus on tigers.
The article claimed that Wong was back in business and now “frequents Internet message boards, seeking reptiles from India, Madagascar, and Sudan, insects from Mozambique, and ‘10 tons a month’ of sheep horns.”
“He has offered to sell an array of wildlife, including Malaysian reptiles, mynah birds, parrots, and half a million dollars’ worth of wild agarwood, prized for its aromatic qualities. To a request for dead birds and mammals, he replied, ‘We have always specimens’, ” Christy’s report claimed.
Christy met with Wong after being introduced by Mike Van Nostrand, one of Anson’s customers and owner of Strictly Reptiles in South Florida, which was among the world’s largest reptile import-export wholesalers, the article said.
In a rare interview last August, the elusive Wong spoke to The Star journalist Hilary Chiew about his past illicit operations, the undercover stint that led to his arrest and his current life.
The Starprobe article saw Wong denying that he was the “Pablo Escobar of the wildlife trade”.
He also stressed that he had remained “clean” since his return here in 2004.
In the article, Christy also talked about his allegations and encounter with Perhilitan deputy director-general Misliah Mohamad Basir in 2007 and her thoughts on Wong and on Chris Shepherd from Traffic, which monitors the trading of protected species.
Christy, in the article, also quoted a 2008 Perhilitan statement that Wong had carried out his business legally and complied with requirements under the domestic law and that “he and his business have been monitored closely by this department.”
Wong was convicted in 2001 of trafficking in highly-endangered species by the US government and jailed for 71-months. He was released in November 2003.
Tuesday December 15, 2009
By FOONG THIM LENGPix by SAIFUL BAHRI and WWF Malaysia
Poachers are plundering the forests of Belum and Temengor.
WILDLIFE at the 3,000sqkm Belum-Temengor Forest Complex in the upper reaches of Perak is fast vanishing due to rampant poaching. Even the gazetted 1,175sqkm Royal Belum State Park within the complex has not been spared, despite it being a protected forest.
The poaching problem has been highlighted over the past year by nature groups but in October, received “royal” attention during a conference to develop an Integrated Master Plan for Belum-Temengor in Ipoh.
Orang asli collecting bamboo at the Belum-Temengor forest. They fear confronting poachers who were normally armed
The Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, when opening the conference, noted the problem of poaching in the area and attributed it to inadequate laws and ineffective enforcement.
Rangers of the WWF Wildlife Protection Unit (WPU) and the Wildlife and National Parks Department who patrol the jungle along the Grik-Jeli highway, have nabbed 10 poachers and removed 102 snares since January, according to WWF senior programme officer Ahmad Zafir Abdul Wahab.
He said the WPU, comprising orang asli youths, also discovered 37 access points into the forest on both sides of the highway.
“A camp used by poachers, seladang bones, pangolin scales, bags of gaharu, an elephant carcass and a snared wild boar left to die by poachers were found 20m to 100m away from the highway. The unit also helped rescue a tiger caught in a snare,” he told reporters during a media visit to the forest in early November.
Ahmad Zafir said several bags of rice and weapons have also been recovered from the camps and from the arrested poachers.
“The poachers are armed. Imagine what can happen if some innocent trekkers stumbled on their camp,” he said.
Vanishing: WWF Malaysia senior programme officer Ahmad Zafir inspecting the skull and bones of an elephant killed by poachers in a forested area near the Grik-Jeli highway.
“The Belum-Temengor forest complex is the second largest remaining block of natural forest in Peninsular Malaysia, after the greater Taman Negara landscape and yet, only Royal Belum has been gazetted a state park but not the other areas in Temengor lake,” said Ahmad Zafir.
He added that an increase in logging activities on the shore of the lake south of the highway has resulted in the opening of more trails for timber lorries. These trails are conveniently used by poachers to move into the jungle with their vehicles.
“The many forested islands in the lake provide easy landing and exit points for those involved in illegal activities,” he said, adding that poachers are known to use the Trojan jetty near the TNB station.
Resort operator Steve Kong said rare flowers, orchids, medicinal plants and fish have been plundered.
“There are all sorts of nets in the lake, especially at the river mouths. You can hardly find a decent-sized kelah or toman nowadays,” he said.
The orang asli who reside on islands in the lake fear harassment by poachers and have been slighted by the authorities when they made reports.
“The orang asli have reported poaching activities to the various authorities but to no avail. Instead, they are branded as trouble makers,” said one orang asli.
WWF species conservation manager Reuben Clements said Belum-Temengor, together with Taman Negara and Endau Rompin, are priority areas for tiger conservation due to their large forested areas.
But his team has found numerous sites with signs of poaching in Temengor last year.
The trapped tiger found in the Royal Belum Forest Reserve in Grik.
“The rescue of the Malayan tiger with its front right paw caught in a snare in October shows the severity of the problem. The tiger later died at the Malacca Zoo of infection and extreme stress after undergoing surgery to have its right fore leg amputated. This incident clearly demonstrates the need for a stronger enforcement presence in the Belum-Temengor forest.”
Hopefully, the adoption of the National Tiger Action Plan by the National Biodiversity-Biotechnology Council on Nov 5 will spell better things for the tiger. Malaysia currently has an estimated 500 wild tigers, down from about 3,000 in the 1950s. Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who chairs the Council, said the Government would take concrete efforts to protect the tiger and widen wildlife protection areas, in order to achieve the Plan’s goal of doubling tiger numbers by 2020.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (Mycat) is promoting public awareness on tiger conservation in areas close to tiger habitats, particularly because many people there are either directly involved or closely connected to wildlife crimes.
Mycat held such programmes at SK Felda Lawin Utar, SMK Kenering and at markets in Kampong Bandariang, Kampong Lawin and Grik in early November.
“Our volunteers approached individuals, business owners, operators of bus and taxis stands, and asked them to assist in distributing awareness materials to their customers,” said Mycat programme co-ordinator Loretta Ann Shepherd. “Provocative posters of snared animals were used to emphasise the cruelty and illegality of using snares to trap wild animals.”
SHAH ALAM: A 25-year-old hotel worker was arrested for keeping a baby Honey Bear, a Leopard Cat and a Slow Loris in a condominium unit in Desa Pandan, Kuala Lumpur.
All the animals, which are endangered species, were found in individual cages in the unit, where the woman was living with her male relative.
The woman has since been released on bail untill Dec 29 after giving her statement.
The animals were found during a raid carried out on Friday evening by the enforcement officers from the Selangor Wildlife Department following a public tip-off.
Department deputy director Mohammad Khairi Ahmad said they were now looking for the woman's male relative, who is in his 30s, to help the department in its investigation.
He said only the woman and the animals were in the house when enforcement officers arrived.
Initial investigation showed the animals could have been bought from orang asli in Negri Sembilan and kept as a pet in the condominium in the past three months, he told a press conference here on Monday.
Khairi said the baby bear could be sold for about RM5,000 while the cat and the slow loris was worth about RM500 each in the market.
He warned that the public not to keep or buy wildlife as it was against the law.
"This case is only the tip of the iceberg and we believe there are many out there who are having wild animals as pets in their home.
"This is not the way to love the wildlife. They belonged to the wild," he added.
Khairi also said usually, a hunter would have to kill the mother of a cub before he could take away the animal, which was a cruel act.
He added that the department would get a court order to send the animals to the Malacca Zoo or released them back to the wild.
SHAH ALAM: A 25-year-old wo-man has been arrested for keeping a young Malayan Honey Bear, a Leopard Cat and a Slow Loris in a condominium unit in Desa Pandan, Kuala Lumpur.
All the three, classified as endangered species, were found in individual cages in the unit, occupied by the woman and her male relative.
The hotel worker, who had her statement recorded, is out on bail until the mention of the case on Dec 29.
She claimed that the animals belonged to the relative who was not at the condominium when enforcement officers from the Selangor Wildlife and National Parks Department raided it on Friday.
They went to the condominium following a tip-off from the public.
Deputy director of the Selangor department Mohammad Khairi Ahmad said they were looking for the male relative, who is in his 30s, to help them in their investigation.
He told a press conference yesterday that initial investigations showed the animals could have been bought from orang asli in Negri Sembilan and kept as pets.
Khairi said the bear could fetch RM5,000 while the big cat and the slow loris were worth about RM500 each in the market.
He warned the public not to keep or buy wildlife as it was against the law.
“This case is only tip of the iceberg. We believe many people out there are keeping the wild animals as pets in their homes.
“This is not the way to love wildlife. They belong in the wild.”
Khairi said that to get a baby bear, a hunter usually had to kill its mother first.
He added that the department would get a court order to send the animals to the Malacca Zoo or release them back to the wild.
Have you seen a sun bear building a tree nest? I bet you have NOT!
You can read more about the nest building behavior in my earlier blog:
Malaysia battles tiger extinction
Conservationists are warning tigers will become extinct in the wild within the next 20 years unless a major effort is made to protect them.
At the beginning of the last century, there were an estimated 100,000 tigers. Today their population is believed to be around 3,000.
But poachers and illegal traders are better at breaking laws meant to protect the big cats than policy makers and wildlife experts are at upholding them.
Al Jazeera's Laura Kyle travelled to Malaysia to find out why poaching is rife and why efforts to stop it are failing.
Read on http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/vietnam-rhinos070.html
17 November 2009
M. Ravindran, 31, from Indera Mahkota, near here, was read five charges under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 for possessing:
- 2,330 live clouded monitor lizards;
- 47 limbs of sun bears (Helarctos malayanus);
- 246 carcasses of skinned Barn Owls (Tyto alba);
- 72 carcasses of Barred eagle owls (Bubo sumatranus); and
- a skinned Brown Wood Owl (Strix leplogranunica)
The father of three was also charged with endangering the clouded monitor lizards by confining them in cages.
He pleaded guilty to committing the offences at Lot 467, Jalan Bukit Ubi on Jan 11.
Magistrate Iriane Isabelo fixed Dec 7 for sentencing. Ravindran was represented by Syed Azimal Amir Syed Abu Bakar. Mohd Hasdi Husin prosecuted for the Wildlife and National Parks Department.
The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the least known and least studied bear. Indeed, they are one of the most neglected large mammals in Southeast Asia. They are the only tropical bear species inhabiting lowland tropical forests throughout much of Southeast Asia – found in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo. They are also distributed as far west as Bangladesh and northeastern India and as far north as the southern Yunnan Province in China. They are now occurring very patchily through much of their former distribution range, and have been extirpated from many areas, especially the mainland of Southeast Asia. Two subspecies of sun bears are recognized: the sun bear found in Borneo (H. m. euryspillus) are sufficiently different and smaller than those from the Asia mainland and Sumatra (H. m.malayanus).
The sun bear is the smallest among the eight living bear species. The mainland subspecies is a bit larger, with the adult male weighing up to 100 kg, than the male of the Bornean subspecies which can weigh as little as 50 kg in the wild. They have short, sleek, back hair, with a variable orange-yellow horseshoe-shaped chest marking and small round ears. They have extremely loose skin that reputedly allows them to turn around and bite back, which aids in escape from predators. Sun bears, like other bears, can stand bipedally and may carry their young in a human-like fashion in captivity.
Although sun bears are largely terrestrial, they are also arboreal foragers, with bare soles on all four feet and highly developed, long curved claws to aid climbing. Their bowed legs and inward facing paws also are well adapted for climbing activities, such as foraging from fruits on trees, going after bees nests in tree cavities, sleeping or resting on tree branches or even making a tree nest.
The sun bear’s habitat is tropical forest. Two ecologically distinct categories of tropical forest are found in the sun bears’ range: i) the aseasonal tropical evergreen rainforest in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo, and ii) the seasonal tropical forests interspersed in mosaic patterns that include semi-evergreen, mixed deciduous, dry dipterocarp (<>1,000 m elevation) in mainland Southeast Asia. Sun bears occur from near sea level to over 2,100 m elevation, but appear to be most common in lower elevations. Besides tropical forest, they also reported in mangrove forest, peat swamp forest, and limestone/karst hill forest. The home range of male sun bears studied in Borneo is 5.2 – 20.6 sq.km, with an average of 14.8 sq. km, and female range is 4 – 5 sq. km. It is typical that male bears tend to have larger home range sizes then the female bears.
Like other bears, sun bears are opportunistic omnivores that consume a wide variety of food in the forest. Their long and curved claws, together with a long narrow tongue and light-colored mobile snout or lips, are well adapted for feeding. Their diet includes termites, ants, beetles, beetle larvae, earthworms, bees nests (honey), small animals, wild fruits (especially figs), mushrooms, succulent plants and flowers. Although they eat a wide variety of food, they rely heavily on termites and figs when they are available. It has been suggested that sun bears, like other bear species, have developed a dietary niche specialization (i.e., pandas for bamboo, polar bears for seals, sloth bear for ants and termites), where they have evolved to fill a primate-like niche relying heavily on fruits such as figs. The bears may be able to gorge themselves on these fruits when they are available and store fat for a leaner time.
Little is known about the lifespan of sun bears in the wild. However, based on evidence of starvation, fighting marks, natural mortality and sun bears killed by other bears in the wild, the average lifespan of wild sun bear could be little over 10 years. However, under optimum living conditions and environment, the longest recorded lifespan of a female sun bear was up to almost 36 years in a zoo. Sun bears are known to be preyed upon by tigers, leopards, and even by reticulated pythons, in addition to humans.
The sun bear is a threatened species listed as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. The two major threats to sun bears are habitat loss and commercial hunting. These threats are not evenly distributed throughout the range of the species. In areas where deforestation is actively occurring, sun bears are threatened mainly by the loss of forest habitat and forest degradation arising from clear-cutting for plantation development, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging both within and outside protected areas, and forest fires. These threats are prevalent in Indonesia and Malaysia on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where large-scale conversion of forest to oil palm (Elaeis guineenis) or other cash crops is proceeding at the rate of 1,000s of km² per year.
Commercial poaching of bears for the wildlife trade is a considerable threat in most countries, and is the main threat where deforestation is currently negligible. Killing bears is illegal in all range countries but is largely uncontrolled. In some countries, sun bears are commonly poached for their gall bladders (i.e., bile) and bear-paws; the former is used as a Traditional Asian Medicine, and the latter as an expensive delicacy. Sun bears are also killed due to preventing damage to crops, subsistence use, fear of bears near villages, and capture of cubs for pets (the mother being killed in the process). Due to their small size and cuteness when little, sun bear cubs are kept as pets. As these pet bears grow larger and begin to pose a danger to the owners, they are often locked up in small cages under very poor living condition for the rest of their life. In addition, many of these pet bears end up being slaughtered and sold for bear parts for consumption and bear gall bladder for medicinal purposes.
How to save sun bears?
The first thing we can do to save the sun bear is to know that the sun bear is an endangered species, classified as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red Book Listing of Animals. However, unlike most endangered species, as mentioned in the beginning, sun bears are the least known bear species in the world and the most neglected large mammal in Southeast Asia. Thus, there has been very little conservation effort and study on the sun bear until very recently. To date, there are only five researchers who have ever studied sun bears in the wild. The fact that very few people know about this little bear and its plight presents a major challenge to the conservation of the sun bear due to lack of support, interest, and commitment from the general public, scholars, and governments. This lack of interest stems from the fact this species is rare and elusive, inhabits tropical forest where research is difficult, and competes for conservation attention with other charismatic species such as Asian elephants, Sumatra rhinoceros, tigers, and orangutans.
Once understanding and recognizing the plight of sun bears and the urgency to conserve them, there are several ways to help:
All conservation projects require funding to conduct their conservation programs. You can support and donate fund to sun bear conservation projects and NGOs who are working to conserve sun bears, such as:
· Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre , Sabah, Malaysia Borneo http://www.leapspiral.org/new/content/project07.htmlhttp://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/
Sun bear is listed as a protected species in all countries where they are found. It is unlawful to sell, trade, kill, or eat sun bear body parts, and to keep sun bears as pets. Refuse to purchase any bear products and report to the authorities when any of these unlawful activities are encountered.
Sun bears are forest dependent species. They rely on the tropical forest for their survival, but these forests have been harvested to meet the demand for the tropical timber market. Refuse to purchase products made from tropical hardwood, or purchase only certified timber products that were harvested sustainability.
Over the last 20 years, much of the tropical rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia has been converted to monoculture oil palm plantations to meet the ever-increasing oil demand from the world. The impact of this land conversion is great and irreversible. A Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSOP) initiative has been created to produce sustainable palm oil. To reduce impacts on wildlife and environment, minimize the use of palm oil products or purchase only palm oil products labeled RSOP to reduce impacts on wildlife and environment.
The sun bear is a forgotten bear species and not well known by most people. Help us promote sun bear conservation and knowledge of their plights. Learn more about sun bears at http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/, http://wongsiewte.blogspot.com/ or other resources from the internet and tell your friends about them. Help spread the news about sun bears.
Race to save tiger?s limb
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MALACCA: The badly wounded male tiger rescued from a poacher¡¦s snare is being treated at the Malacca Zoo in the hope of saving its injured limb from amputation.
National Parks and Wildlife Department senior veterinarian Dr Zainal Zahari said the focus now was on treating the deep wound caused by the snare.
Rescue mission: Wildlife authorities preparing to move the injured tiger caught in a poacher¡¦s trap for treatment in Perak on Saturday. ¡X AP
¡§It is too early to tell whether the wound will respond to treatment as it is quite deep and bad,¡¨ he said yesterday.
Perak wildlife authorities rescued the 120kg tiger on Saturday afternoon after receiving information that the animal had been found trapped in the Royal Belum Forest Reserve.
The animal was given treatment in Perak and was sent to the zoo here on Sunday night for further treatment.
Zainal said a final decision would be made next week to determine whether amputation would be necessary to prevent the wound from becoming fatal to the animal.
Whatever the outcome, the tiger would be in quarantine at the zoo for a month before a decision is made as to where it should be, he said, adding that it is likely to be kept at the zoo here.
Apart from the wound, he added the tiger, between five and seven years old, was in prime condition.
He said this is not the first time authorities had been called in to rescue and treat snared tigers.
¡§We managed to save two tigers and a tiger cub in Grik, Perak, in the 1980s that had also suffered snare wounds,¡¨ he added.
A well known case involved a male tiger named Harimau Puchong. Its one limb was amputated after it was rescued from a snare in 1987.
Despite having only three limbs, the tiger went on to become one of the zoo¡¦s most prolific breeders under its tiger-breeding programme.
By HILARY CHIEW
KUALA LUMPUR: In 2006, Taiwanese authorities seized a three-tonne shipment of ivory from Tanzania worth RM25mil that had transited Penang port.
An Indian national who was caught with an illegal consignment of Indian star tortoises at the KL International Airport in 2007 said he was paid to bring it into the country for a Malaysian buyer.
In the second half of 2008, 167 pangolins were seized in four enforcement cases in Muar, indicating that the coastline was a thriving entry point for the anteaters from Indonesia. It is believed that the pangolins were destined for the restaurant and traditional medicine trade, as well as the mainland Chinese market.
Early this year, genetic fingerprinting of seized tiger parts in southern Thailand shows that the Malaya tiger, endemic to Malaysia and numbering only 500 in the wild, have been blatantly poached and smuggled through our land borders.
These are some of the cases that point to illegal trafficking of wildlife and its parts, and to Malaysia being a transit point, a source country, as well as a consumer hub for endangered wildlife.
Globally, Interpol estimated the illegal trade to be worth US$10bil (RM35bil) to US$20bil (RM70bil) a year. Conservation groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have declared wildlife trade the second biggest direct threat to species survival, after habitat destruction.
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) did not respond to requests for the value of animals confiscated last year, but a conservative estimate based on media reports shows that at least RM5mil worth of wildlife was seized in Malaysia last year.
Wildlife trafficking is a trade so lucrative that it is said to rank second after drug trafficking, especially when there is no death penalty to fear in most countries.
Take the pangolin, for instance. According to wildlife trade researchers the creature’s scales and meat are sought after for its purported properties to alleviate rheumatic pains. And as an aphrodisiac too of course, as any purveyor of exotic meat would sell you the idea. That is why pangolins can fetch as much as RM150 per kg or RM500 per animal in the black market.
Traffic, a wildlife trade-monitoring network, fears that the illegal trade in pangolins is already out of control with large shipments of animals being smuggled across numerous international borders, often by the lorry load, to their final destination in China.
It says that shipments busted by Perhilitan are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What slips through the net are far more than one can estimate, in the millions of ringgit over the years.
The rampant smuggling of pangolins has forced Perhilitan to acknowledge that Malaysia has become both an attractive supply and transit country.
Its deputy enforcement director Celescoriano Razond said he feared that international syndicates had turned the country into their main source – not just for pangolin but other wildlife species too.
There have been numerous confiscations of Indian star tortoises at the KLIA with arrests of Indian and Malaysian nationals, yet the smugglers are undeterred. The shipments still come in and the authorities have no other choice but to maintain constant vigilance.
Until recently, the Indian star tortoise from the Indian sub-continent that was banned from export was easily available in local pet shops. The palm-sized exotic pet with star-like markings on its shell was sold at between RM100 and RM150 per creature.
In cases where the illegal shipments of Indian star tortoises were foiled, the authorities have found suitcases packed with the animal, some up to 2,000 pieces in one suitcase.
Perhilitan returns seized consignments to the country of origin but the syndicates involved remain at large.
Existing laws and inadequate manpower remain the biggest setbacks in tackling this scourge. The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 offers no protection for any turtle or tortoise species. A revised law, scheduled to be tabled in Parliament this year, is supposed to plug this particular loophole. However, a check on the draft bill showed that this reptile family is still being left out.
Azrina Abdullah, the immediate ex-director of Traffic, lamented the low fines and reluctance of the courts to put the culprits behind bars. In 2006, conservationists were appalled that a RM7,000 fine (maximum fine is RM15,000) was slapped on a poacher from Tumpat, in Kelantan, for possessing a chopped up tiger in his fridge, instead of the maximum five-year imprisonment. The black market value of a tiger is reported to be US$50,000 (RM180,000).
Currently, fines range from RM1,000 to RM15,000 and imprisonment from a minimum of one year to 10 years. The authorities have indicated a 100% increase in fines and a maximum jail term of 12 years in the pending new law.
Among the issues that need to be addressed is the issuance of special permits by Perhilitan to theme parks, private zoos and individuals for keeping an animal. There is fear that permits given would provide the holders a cover to launder illegal specimens.
At the regional level, a lack of law enforcement and poor investigation are obstacles to efforts in stemming this exploitation of biodiversity of a country and its neighbours.
Recognising that no country can fight this scourge on its own, governments in the region formed in 2005 a regional anti-wildlife trafficking network aimed at sharing intelligence and improving regional enforcement collaboration.
The 10-member Asean – Wildlife Enforcement Network (Asean-WEN) is the world’s largest entity of its kind. Despite the heightened awareness among law enforcers and seemingly higher number of seizures, it remains unclear if the network has managed to cripple the syndicates or apprehend the masterminds behind this hideous crime against nature.
July 08, 2009
Consumer apathy towards eco-certified palm oil have undermined efforts to improve the environmental performance of the industry, a top industry official told Reuters.
Speaking with Reuters in an interview Tuesday, Malaysian Palm Oil Council Chief Executive Yusof Basiron said buyers have shown little interest in paying an eight percent premium for palm oil certified for being produced at a lower cost to the environment.
"We have been led down the path of false hope in selling environmentally certified palm oil and now the buyers are not keen on paying for the premium," Basiron told Reuters in an interview.
“The market signal is very clear. We can supply at a premium but if buyers are clearly not interested, the palm oil suppliers will have to change tack. This is still a business, after all.”
In May, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — the certification standard for palm oil — reported that less than three percent of the certified palm oil had been purchased since it became available in November 2008. The lackluster sales figures showed that environmental groups have failed to drum up support for certified palm oil.
"This sluggish demand from palm oil buyers, such as supermarkets, food and cosmetic manufacturers, could undermine the success of sustainability efforts and threatens the remaining natural tropical forests of Southeast Asia, as well as other forests where oil palm is set to expand, such as the Amazon," David McLaughlin, vice president of agriculture for WWF, an environmental group that is part of the RSPO, said at the time.
WWF plans to soon launch a "name-to-shame" report listing major brands that are failing to support greener palm oil.
Environmental groups and scientists say that oil palm production has driven large-scale destruction of rainforests across southeast Asia over the past two decades, triggering the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions and imperiling rare species, including the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan. The palm oil industry maintains that its crop is highly productive, requiring less land and costing less than other oilseeds like soy and canola, and has improved living standards for millions.
Our channel is: http://www.youtube.com/user/BSBCC
Please feel free to help us spread the words and the share the video clips.
Special thanks to Shayna Zaid for allowing me to use her song, Room for Love.
The title of my talks will be:
“The ecology, conservation, and plights of the sun bear: how are we going to save this little bear?”
The followings are the information of these talks:
Minnesota Zoo www.mnzoo.org:
Date: Monday, June 29th, 2009.
Time: 12 pm – 1 pm
Venue: Minnesota Zoo’s Indoor Theater (located next to Guest Services).
13000 Zoo Boulevard, Apple Valley, MN 55124
Brookfield Zoo http://www.czs.org/czs/Brookfield/Zoo-Home
Date: Thursday, July 2, 2009
Time: 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Venue: Discovery Center Orientation Theater, Chicago Zoological Society (for zoo staffs volunteer only)
Bronx Zoo- WCS http://www.bronxzoo.com/
Date: Wednesday July 8th, 2009.
Time: 12:00 – 1:00 pm
Venue: 2nd Floor conference room at – Center for Global Conservation
Columbus Zoo http://www.columbuszoo.org/default.aspx:
Date: Thursday, July 16th, 2009
Time: 4:30 pm, Venue: Pavilion 3, Columbus Zoo
Menu: hamburgers; veggie burgers; sides; dessert; drinks
RSVP to Becky at 3409 or Rebecca.Rose@columbuszoo.orgby July 9th - space is limited.
In addition of these 4 talks, Alexander Abraham Foundation and LEAP have co-organize a fund raising for Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center on Thursday, July 9 -8 pm, hosted by Nancy and Arnold Moss in New York City. Please RSVP or get more information from Brienne Walsh firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do not blink, do not talk, just listen carefully to every single words in the documentary. Please pay special attention at the 49th minute about what is happening to Borneo.
This is serious issue. It is a matter life and death, not just to Home sapian, but every single life forms that share this planet Earth that we all call “HOME.”
Please tell your other H. sapian friends to watch it as well. I am sure the 1:30 hour of your life will be well spent!
更新日期:2009/06/10 17:34 尤美心
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 26 May 2009—Three Cambodian poachers with a stash of Wild Boar and argus pheasant meat, agarwood and snares have been nabbed by the National Parks and Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) at their hideout in a forest reserve in Malaysia’s northern state of Perak.
The trio was part of a larger group of seven men who had been poaching protected species in the Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve in Ulu Lawin, near the town of Gerik.
Perak Perhilitan director Shabrina Mohd Shariff said the department deployed a team of 15 enforcement officers on Saturday after a tip-off.
“My men managed to catch three of them while the rest slipped into the forest under the cover of darkness,” she told the press.
The seven, who had earlier hunted the protected animals in the forest, were resting when they were surprised by enforcement officers.
Officers seized 9.5 kg of smoked Wild Boar meat, 1.9 kg of smoked Wild Boar meat with heads, ribs and limbs, 1.4 kg of argus pheasant meat, 2.6 kg of agarwood and a sack full of argus pheasant feathers.
They also found 52 snares of various sizes, four machetes and three axes.
“TRAFFIC applauds the department and urged it not to stop at catching poachers, but to follow the trail to the illegal wildlife traders they supply,” said Julia Ng, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia’s Senior Programme Officer.
“These traders must also be caught, prosecuted and handed out the maximum permissible fines, as they are the ones that fuel the demand for wildlife from the poachers,” she added.
Poaching in protected areas is an issue of increasing concern in Malaysia, and the high market value of agarwood, known as gaharu in the Malay language, is often the reason for organized groups spending long periods in the forest, feeding themselves on whatever wild animal species they can capture.
Areas like the Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve where the Cambodian poachers were arrested are home to many threatened species such as Sumatran Rhinoceros, Clouded Leopard and Sambar deer.
The area is also is an important tiger landscape as outlined in Malaysia’s National Tiger Action Plan and it is not the only area being targeted by poachers.
The State of Perak which lies in the north and borders Thailand has already seen several arrests of poachers in protected areas this year after authorities stepped up enforcement efforts.
On 15 January, officers from Malaysia’s Anti-Smuggling Unit detained two Thai nationals attempting to smuggle seven Pig-tailed Macaques from a forested area in Bukit Berapit, near the Malaysia–Thailand border. They were sentenced to a MYR4,500 (USD1,282) fine or two months jail each.
On 4 March, three more Thai nationals were caught with several protected birds in Felda Kelian Intan, in Pengkalan Hulu district. The case is now before the courts.
In operations on 28 and 29 April in Sungai Mendelum, which lies within Perak state’s premier park—the Royal Belum Forest Reserve—authorities also uncovered poaching camps and confiscated six wire snares. WWF-Malaysia’s previous surveys in Perak have also found signs of local and foreign encroachment and poaching along highways that provides the access points into such forest complexes
Here is the interview:
An interview with Hardi Baktiantoro, Director of the Centre for Orangutan Protection
Despite worldwide attention and concern, prime orangutan habitat across Sumatra and Borneo continues to be destroyed by loggers and palm oil developers, resulting in the death of up to 3,000 orangutans per year (of a population less than 50,000). Conservation groups like Borneo Orangutan Survival report rescuing record numbers of infant orangutans from oil palm plantations, which are now a far bigger source of orphaned orangutans than the illicit pet trade. The volume of orangutans entering care centers is such that these facilities are running out of room for rescued apes, with translocated individuals sometimes waiting several months until suitable forest is found for reintroduction. Even then they aren't safe; in recent months loggers have started clearing two important reintroduction sites (forests near Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Sumatra and Mawas in Central Kalimantan). Meanwhile across half a dozen rehabilitation centers in Malaysia and Indonesia, more than 1,000 baby orangutans—their mothers killed by oil palm plantation workers or in the process of forest clearing—are being trained by humans for hopeful reintroduction into the wild, assuming secure habitat can be found.
Dismayed by the rising orangutan toll, a grassroots organization in Central Kalimantan is fighting back. Led by Hardi Baktiantoro, the Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) has mounted a guerrilla-style campaign against companies that are destroying orangutan habitat in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. The group rigorously investigates new clearing, documenting environmental transgressions through video, photography, and GPS. It then stages colorful demonstrations and issues media statements presenting evidence against plantation firms, government officials, and even NGOs. COP is also active in schools through its campus program which highlights threats to orangutans and tells students what they can do to help. COP's activities have not been welcomed by the palm oil industry. Facing threats, Hardi has had to hide his family and the group's base of operations. The COP web site has been hacked and its communications tapped, while palm oil companies have offered Hardi tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in an effort to avoid COP's scrutiny. But Hardi is defiant.
Orangutan with a garden hoe wound from a palm oil worker at a plantation run by Carson Cumberbatch PLC.
"I don't care if [forest clearing] is legal or illegal. My opinion is that as long as long as orangutan habitat is being destroyed we have to stop it," he told mongabay.com during a meeting at a COP field site. "Anyone who destroys orangutan habitat and kills orangutans is my enemy." Hardi is particularly suspicious of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry-led initiative to improve the environmental performance of palm oil production through a certification scheme. Hardi says that the RSPO is presently little more than a cover for greenwashing. Pressed for more details, Hardi opens his laptop showing a collection of photos of new plantings by an RSPO member. The pictures reveal what is clearly well-developed rainforest—complete with a tiered canopy structure—being torn down with bulldozers and chains. In nearby areas thousands of palm seedlings dot the overturned earth. Other pictures—including ones taken last week at a site where a plantation company purchased land at $50 per hectare—show canals draining ink-black waters from peat swamps, ecosystems that serve as a massive carbon store and a buffer against flooding. Peat swamp drainage in Indonesia accounts for up to 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in some years, making the country the third's largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States.
But much of the clearing documented by Hardi is technically legal. While the central government in Jakarta has at times issued declarations banning conversion of rainforests and peatlands for oil palm plantations, the decentralized administrative structure of Indonesia means that these statements are purely political and carry no legal weight. Land-use decisions are made in provinces, regencies, and cities—not by the national government. Further, corruption and political patronage can weaken what environmental rules may be in place, providing opportunities for developers to gain access to forest lands at low cost. In some cases land granted by local officials may already be claimed by communities for traditional use, sparking social conflict. Hardi says that ensuring the rights of local communities is also part of COP's goal, since these communities, as users of resources from living forests, tend to be better stewards of the land than industrial plantation companies. "The fact that forest still exists in these areas shows communities are using resources in a responsible way," he said. "When a plantation company comes in, all that forest is cleared for a monoculture crop. The plantation isn't going to provide food for families and it isn't going to provide enough jobs to make up for what is lost by cutting down the forest. These people don't want to work on plantations anyway." Hardi discussed these issues and more during a interview with Rhett Butler in mid-May at a site in Central Kalimantan.
AN INTERVIEW WITH HARDI OF THE CENTER FOR ORANGUTAN PROTECTION
Mongabay: Why did you start COP?
Hardi Baktiantoro: I was working at BOS rescue center in Central Kalimantan. In 2006 we rescued 265 orangutans, which could represent 1500 orangutans killed in the field.
It's like an endless rescue. It's useless. If we want to help the orangutan we have to deal with the root of the problem — destruction of their habitat. I decided to quit BOS and start against the companies directly. In March 2007 me and several of my friends founded the Center for Orangutan Protection.
Mongabay: And what is your objective?
Hardi Baktiantoro: The objective is to save the last remaining forests for orangutans. We have to stop all of the destruction. The best way to protect the orangutan is to protect their habitat.
Mongabay: What is your approach?
Hardi Baktiantoro: We tell people the truth from the field using video and photos. I am a former photographer and I think pictures are the best way to tell people. We gather evidence from the field and send it to the media.
Mongabay: So the palm oil companies don't like you much.
Hardi Baktiantoro: Of course. We don't make the palm oil companies happy. They track me. I've had to hide my family, my phones have been tapped, and last year the COP web site was hacked. Some of the big international conservation organizations are also not happy with my group because they just want to make things look good -- like the government.
Mongabay: So greenwashing by NGOs — working with corporations without really changing things for the better — is a problem?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Yes there is a lot of greenwashing. It makes the company look clean.
Mongabay: After you've done a campaign have any companies been fined or changed their behavior?
Hardi Baktiantoro: We have several victories. Several companies stopped their illegal activities and stepped back from the forest, saving thousands of orangutans. But I don't think there are any permanent victories. Companies don't want to lose their money and when the focus is off them they will resume their activities. It's a battle all the time with them.
Mongabay: How do you stop deforestation before it happens?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Usually we get information from our field staff, local people, the media, and informants that a company is starting to clear an area. We send our team out to document the evidence -- whether it is orangutan habitat or primary forest. We make the documentation and then publish it.
Mongabay: And you use technology like GPS and Google Earth to document it?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Of course. It's a very technical investigation. We use Google Earth -- the ordinary version -- to show before and after. It is very helpful.
Mongabay: What are your thoughts on RSPO? Do you think it will ever work?
Hardi Baktiantoro: I think RSPO is just a shield for organized crime. RSPO has criteria but members still cut down the forest and kill the orangutan. For example in November 2007 during the RSPO meeting the IOI Group was still clearing the forest. So it's like a big joke for me. It is a PR game. RSPO makes Wilmar and Sinar Mas look good but I rescued several orangutan from the Wilmar plantation in 2006 and 2007. Earlier this year I visited sites where they are still clearing conservation value forest -- forest that is home to orangutans.
Mongabay: Is Wilmar clearing peatlands?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Wilmar was not clearing peatlands at the sites we visited in Central Kalimantan but I can't speak for other areas. It is a big company.
Mongabay: What about sub-contracting? Do you encounter instances where a big company with a good reputation is outsourcing clearing to smaller corporations which are depicted as "small-holders"?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Yes, this is a big problem. As I told you before, it is like organized crime. If we find something wrong in the field the company can easy say, "No that's not us -- they are a contractor. We have a very strict standard but it is not easy to enforce on the because people on the ground are not educated people."
Mongabay: Some of this forest clearing may be environmentally damaging but is legal from a provincial government standpoint. The companies can say they are not doing anything illegal and perhaps even that the government is encouraging the activity, right?
Hardi Baktiantoro: I don't care if it is legal or illegal. My opinion is that as long as long as orangutan habitat is being destroyed we have to stop it. It's very common in Indonesia to legally clear the forest but the definition of who controls the forest can be questionable -- it is often disputed.
For example we recently visited a site in Champaka, Central Kalimantan. According to the government, this is degraded land — grassland only. But in fact it is very good forest. Forest with very high conservation value and lots of orangutans and sun bear — so many animals there. But according to the government it is degraded land so it's legal to clear.
Mongabay: Are there cases of companies protecting "high conservation value" forest that isn't good forest?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Yes. Once more, this is an example of the PR game. For example several companies designate high conservation value forest on the map but when we checked on the ground they are just setting aside areas that are not suitable for planting. For example, land where there is still conflict with local people or the soil is too rocky for a plantation. So the companies just put up a sign that says conservation forest even if it has few animals or little conservation value. It's totally "bullshit".
Mongabay: Companies designate HCV in areas where they don't have legal rights to the land? Hardi Baktiantoro: Yes, this is common.
Mongabay: Was there social conflict at site you investigated near Mawas last week (a conservation area home to a large population of orangutans)?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Yes. It is a very sad fact actually. The land price was US$50 per hectare. So it's very cheap for the company but for the local people this is very valuable land and when the forest is gone they are starving because this is where they get food and rattan, their main source of cash income. The plantation isn't giving them any jobs.
Mongabay: $50 is a very low price. Did local officials sign off on this deal?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Yes. Local officials were part of it.
Mongabay: It sounds like you still see a lot of greenwashing in the palm oil industry.
Hardi Baktiantoro: There is a lot of greenwashing -- not only by companies but by environmental groups. Some environmental groups are not trying to save the forest -- they are just covering the government's failure to protect the forest. Big international groups submit publications that don't talk about anything wrong in the field but the forest is still coming down and orangutans are being killed.
Mongabay: You've said you are not against palm oil per se, only deforestation of orangutan habitat. So if oil palm was established on legitimate degraded lands that didn't have any social conflict, you wouldn't have a problem with that?
Hardi Baktiantoro: Yes, I'm not against palm oil, the plantation company, the government or NGOs. I'm against the destruction. Anyone who destroys orangutan habitat and kills orangutans is my enemy.
Mongabay: Do you have any thoughts on REDD?
Hardi Baktiantoro: REDD is very technical to me but as long as it brings benefits to local people for protecting the forest I will support it. But so far I am just waiting to see what will happen. I am waiting to see if the money goes to the local people. I am afraid that the money will be stolen by the government in Jakarta.
Mongabay: How does your outreach program in schools work?
Hardi Baktiantoro: The objective of this program is to develop public support for orangutan protection. We have two targeted groups: (1) schools in Jakarta and Palangkaraya; and (2) schools in villages surrounding the orangutan habitat. We organize support from school students in Jakarta and Palangkaraya like fund raising and used book distribution for schools in the villages and conservation camps. We tell students in villages about the plight of the orangutan and explain their future if their forests are gone. So far, it runs smoothly. School students in Jakarta collect money and their used books to be distributed in the villages.
Mongabay: How do you work with local communities to protect access to their traditional lands?
Hardi Baktiantoro: We develop a mutualism with local communities on protecting forest. For local people, forest means their livelihood and for COP, forest means for the survival of orangutan. Both of parties has to understand exactly the importance of forest. It is a little bit difficult in the beginning as they questioned our goals: why protecting orangutan, not helping poor people? Then they came to understand that orangutan protection is the most effective ways to protect their daily livelihood from destruction.
The mother of the twins, Marcella, came from our facility at Sepilok, Sabah almost 10 years ago. She has been a good mother and produced few cubs since she moved to San Diego Zoo. All of the Bornean sun bears in US zoo were all originated from Sabah at Sepilok before we established Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. We hope they could be the ambassadors for their own kind in US to raise awareness and tell people across the world who came to see them in US’s zoos about their stories and plights.
The campaign will see an animated film “Tiger Evolution Ends—Don’t Let This Be the End” screened on Beijing’s Line 1 and 2 subway trains from tomorrow, International Day for Biological Diversity.
The film depicts millions of years of Tiger evolution ending when the Tiger is poached to create a bottle of Tiger-bone wine.
“Thousands of commuters will not only learn about the very real threat to wild Tigers from poaching, but also how to react—by rejecting illegal Tiger products,” commented Professor Xu Hongfa, co-ordinator of TRAFFIC’s China Programme.
Over the last 60 years, trade in Tiger parts, loss of habitat and mass killing of Tigers and their prey, have led to the extinction of three Tiger subspecies.
A fourth subspecies—the South China Tiger—is perilously close to extinction. Just 40 years ago, there were more than 4,000 South China Tigers in the wild. Today, there are probably fewer than 4,000 wild Tigers left worldwide.
“Whether or not Tigers continue to survive depends entirely on human behavior. Each consumer should firmly reject any purchase of Tiger products and protect our national icon,” said Professor Xu Hongfa.
2010 is the traditional Chinese Year of the Tiger. “Tigers are mighty, majestic, and command our awe and respect. But the situation is critical—unless people firmly reject the purchase of Tiger products, it could mark the last Year of the Tiger where wild Tigers still survive,” commented Professor Xu Hongfa.
“When an important species like the Tiger becomes extinct or significantly depleted, it devastates the balance of the whole ecosystem,” he added.
In 1975, the Tiger was listed as a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), leading to an international ban on trade in Tiger parts.
To help such Tiger conservation efforts, China banned the domestic trade in Tiger bones in 1993. China also removed Tiger bone from its Pharmacopoeia of ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine and carried out public awareness campaigns and educational activities to seek out and promote alternative ingredients.
Such measures are having an effect: in 2008, TRAFFIC surveyed markets in major cities of western China and found the availability of Tiger products had decreased significantly since 2005.
“However,” warned Professor Xu Hongfa, “illegal trade is still not eliminated. Until it is, the future of the Tiger hangs in the balance.”
Although I am pretending to be a mother of this poor sun bear cub who lost her mom to the hand of poacher, I am not even close to fulfill the great roles of a mother bear do and take good care of their cubs.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers regardless of species!
Protecting the world’s least-known bear
Posted by: WPZ Field Conservation staff
Southeast Asia is home to the world’s smallest bear species, the Malayan sun bear. These little bears face big threats throughout their range, especially from forest destruction, illegal hunting, and the capturing of small cubs for pets.
Luckily this unique bear has a champion and protector in Siew Te Wong, a Malaysian researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montana. Woodland Park Zoo has helped support Wong and his field work in Sabah, Borneo for several years. As one of the very few people studying the sun bear, Wong has uncovered many fascinating aspects of sun bear ecology. Sadly, though, his research also brought him first-hand experience of the inhumane treatment of sun bears kept as pets.
Recent findings say the wildcat that roamed the island's lowlands was the same species as that found across parts of Southeast Asia, which has raised the question of reintroducing the animal to Taiwan.
In 1983, the China Times newspaper ran a photograph of what was considered new evidence of the Formosan clouded leopard, a medium-sized wildcat that once roamed the lowlands of Taiwan. Grainy and unclear, it showed what appeared to be a young clouded leopard, dead, at the bottom of a deep pit--an aboriginal trap. Its photographer, a university research assistant, said he took the photo deep in the wilderness area of Dawu Mountain in Taitung County, southern Taiwan.
The image electrified biologists and ecologists throughout Taiwan. Not since the early part of the 20th century, when aboriginal hunters still traded clouded leopard pelts to Japanese soldiers, had there been hard evidence for the species' survival. This photo seemed to confirm what many had long hoped for--that deep in the mountains of southern Taiwan, the Formosan clouded leopard clung to existence.
By late 1985, government officials had invited famed wildcat expert Alan Rabinowitz, former director of the Science and Exploration Program at the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and current chief executive officer of big cat advocacy group Panthera, to lead a survey team into Dawu to find further evidence. While the search was unsuccessful, the attention created a flurry of interest in Taiwan's ecology. Biologists, ecologists, even anthropologists, descended upon Dawu to study this wilderness area and its few aboriginal residents. With strong support from Rabinowitz, Dawu Nature Reserve was established in 1988 as Taiwan's largest nature reserve.
The photo eventually proved dubious, however. Traps like the one shown in the image--deep pits lined with sharpened bamboo stakes--are almost unknown in Taiwan, where many Aboriginal hunters prefer snares. In 1989, when wildlife biology professor Kurtis Pei asked the China Times for a look at the original photo, they told him that they purge their archives after five years, and a recent purge included the image of the leopard. Pei says the researcher who shot the photo told him he had lost the only surviving copy. The original image had disappeared.
"I suspect the photo was actually taken in Southeast Asia. Probably Borneo," says Pei, head of the Institute of Wildlife Conservation at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology (NPUST). It might even have been another kind of cat, one of the breeds that are often mistaken for young clouded leopards, he says.
The Formosan clouded leopard has always been in some sense mythical. Historical records dating at least to the 13th century document a thriving trade in clouded leopard pelts out of Taiwan. Robert Swinhoe, the 19th century British naturalist who introduced much of Taiwan's wildlife to the international scientific community, observed aboriginals bringing clouded leopard pelts for trade to port cities such as Tainan. Yet, save for a single Japanese anthropologist in 1900, there is no record of a non-aboriginal having ever seen a live Formosan clouded leopard.
These days, reports of the leopards in Taiwan are treated like UFO sightings. From time to time in recent years, rumors have drifted out of the mountains of aboriginal hunters having seen or even killed clouded leopards, but few experts consider the stories credible.
On the other hand, Taiwan's steep mountain geography as well as the danger of earthquakes and landslides contribute to many areas remaining as tracts of untouched wilderness or at least largely undeveloped. Moreover, since the passage of the Wildlife Conservation Act in 1989 and tight controls on hunting since then, many of Taiwan's large mammals are beginning to recover from decades of overhunting and habitat abuse.
So, against all the odds, a few diehard biologists held out hope that Formosan clouded leopards might still survive. One such believer was Chiang Bo-jen, assistant research fellow at National Taiwan University's Experimental Forest in Nantou County. "I love hiking in the backcountry," he says. "I'd been to some of the very remote areas and I could see lots of sambar deer, serow, muntjac, macaque, lots of wildlife. I just thought, if there are so many animals out there, why isn't the clouded leopard there?"
Slightly built and soft-spoken, Chiang's enthusiasm for the clouded leopard is clear when he talks about the species. He says his fascination with the clouded leopard is an extension of bird watching. When bird watchers see a new species, they get excited, he says, "and when they see a rare species, they get even more excited."
Notch on a Belt
However, Chiang rejects the idea that finding the clouded leopard would be just a notch on a naturalist's belt, albeit a remarkable one. The creature has more of a "spiritual" significance, he says. "A forest with clouded leopards and a forest without clouded leopards mean something different. A forest without clouded leopards is ... dead."
Chiang's fascination with wilderness led him to abandon a career in computer engineering for wildlife research. He became a field researcher for Lee Ling-ling, a professor in the Institute of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at National Taiwan University (NTU), as well as NPUST's Kurtis Pei and Sun Yuan-hsun, an associate professor also at NPUST's Institute of Wildlife Conservation.
Sun supported Chiang in his conviction that Formosan clouded leopards might still roam Taiwan's remote wilderness and the field researcher entered the Wildlife and Fisheries doctoral program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the United States in 1999, making the search for the wildcat the focus of his dissertation.
Between 2001 and 2004, Chiang searched the Dawu Mountain wilderness for signs of clouded leopards, simultaneously conducting one of the most thorough surveys of wilderness ever done in Taiwan. With his eight-member research team, he spent between 10 and 20 days a month in the Dawu Mountain backcountry, often using machetes to chop through the dense brush. His team slept under tarpaulins and bought the cheapest gear possible, knowing whatever they took with them would only last a few trips. They hung 377 camera traps from trees, recording more than 13,000 images of everything from wild hogs to Siberian weasels. Their 232 catnip baited "hair snares" caught hairs from four different predators, but there was no sign of clouded leopards.
"Scientifically, I cannot say for certain that there are no clouded leopards, but I am 99 percent sure that clouded leopards are extinct [in Taiwan]," he says. "Even if they are not really extinct, they are at least ecologically extinct. They could not form a viable population."
The world's largest global environmental network, the UN-affiliated International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), harbors not even these doubts. Kristin Nowell, co-founder of the US-based nonprofit agency Cat Action Treasury and one of the IUCN's evaluators for the clouded leopard species report, writes in the 2008 report, "The clouded leopard is extinct on the island of Taiwan."
Disappointed by the failure of his four-year study to find any sign of the clouded leopard in Taiwan, Chiang has shifted gears, focusing on the possibility of reintroducing this mysterious creature.
Reintroduction means placing individuals of a locally extinct species in an area of their former habitat. It may involve trans-locating wild animals from areas where they still thrive to the areas they are currently absent from, such as the program that reintroduced wolves caught in Canada to areas of Yellowstone National Park in the United States. A reintroduction program could also involve freeing captive-bred animals of a species in their former habitat, as with the breeding and release of California condors in southern California and the Grand Canyon in the United States, and Baja California in Mexico.
Chiang offers a number of reasons for reintroducing clouded leopards to Taiwan, the foremost of which is re-establishing biodiversity. Formosan black bears occupy the top position in the food web, but 90 percent of their diet consists of plant matter, along with carrion and the occasional unlucky deer. Clouded leopards, however, eat meat exclusively, preying on muntjac, macaques, serows and even sambar deer, making them a top carnivore.
Chiang says that the disappearance of a top carnivore such as the clouded leopard may result in a host of negative consequences, or "cascade effects," rippling through the ecosystem. Prey species such as sambar deer, wild hogs and macaques may overpopulate their habitats, a big change in Taiwan where only recently these species faced threats of extinction. Rebounding herbivore populations could lead to overbrowsing of the forest undergrowth, stripping habitats vital to many bird species and ultimately devastating forest ecosystems. Chiang reports there is "some very clean understory" already in the area surveyed for his study.
In the absence of a top carnivore, smaller mesopredators--medium-sized predators--such as yellow-throated martens and Siberian weasels are freed from subsequent competition and even predation, Chiang says. He notes that sightings of yellow-throated martens are increasing dramatically, even as high up as the weather station atop Jade Mountain, Taiwan's highest peak. Too many small predators will overhunt forest rodents and ground- dwelling birds, leading to further imbalances, he says. "We have to maintain a well-balanced food web," Chiang says, adding that clouded leopards would effectively manage both issues of too many herbivores and medium-sized predators.
In the Family
Clouded leopards are not actually part of the leopard family at all. They occupy a close, but unique genus, the Neofelis family, related to both big cats such as tigers and lions, as well as small cats such as the lynx.
Science once considered all clouded leopards to be part of a single species--Neofelis nebulosa--that was subdivided into four subspecies based on their geographic habitats, ranging from Nepal to southern mainland China and through Southeast Asia to Borneo and Sumatra. Taiwan's Formosan clouded leopard was considered one of these subspecies, Neofelis nebulosa brachyura.
In 2006, investigations into clouded leopard DNA performed by the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at Maryland's National Cancer Institute in the United States concluded that clouded leopards are divided into two distinct species. Neofelis nebulosa inhabits areas from Nepal to Southeast Asia while Neofelis diardi inhabits Borneo and Sumatra.
In fact, it was DNA taken from a clouded leopard pelt at the National Taiwan Museum--part of a Rukai tribal garment--that led to the recent findings showing that the Formosan clouded leopard belonged to Neofelis nebulosa, the same species as that found in mainland Asia, rather than a subspecies. The new findings lend support to the technical possibility of reintroducing Neofelis nebulosa to Taiwan, as animals from neighboring countries would be identical genetically to the clouded leopards that once inhabited the island.
This could be important for the species because worldwide the outlook for clouded leopards is bleak. Clouded leopards share much of their range with tigers and leopards and face similar risks from habitat destruction, overhunting of their prey species and poaching. The IUCN lists the animal as "vulnerable," estimating that there are fewer than 10,000 clouded leopards in existence, with fewer than 1,000 in any given population. They also warn that 10 percent of their habitat is destroyed every year.
Wong Siew Te, a Malaysian wildlife expert with extensive research experience throughout Southeast Asia, says the situation in Thailand is heading toward "empty forests," forests poached clean of wildlife. Wong, a former student of NPUST's Kurtis Pei, says that, by contrast, Taiwan has made a marked turnaround in environmental protection since the 1980s. In 1987, the government formally created the Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration, which had begun to make headway against pollution and rampant wildlife poaching by the late 1990s. Many biologists and backcountry enthusiasts agree that, since then, much of Taiwan's wildlife population has been making a comeback.
"When I first went to Taiwan in the late '80s, it was a mess in terms of conservation" Wong says. "Today, Taiwan is a great country in terms of conservation."
Kurtis Pei, head of NPUST's Institute of Wildlife Conservation. Pei says social issues would be 90 percent of the difficulty in reintroducing the clouded leopard to Taiwan. (Courtesy of Kurtis Pei)
Chiang Bo-jen suggests Taiwan could thus serve as a "bio-reservoir" for the wild population of clouded leopards. NPUST's Kurtis Pei feels the risks of poaching would be low given the relative affluence of Taiwan's aboriginals, adding that through government efforts, ecological awareness among aboriginals is high. "I don't believe [aboriginal poaching] would be a risk. I'm not so worried about this," Pei says.
Despite the potential benefits of such a scheme, reintroducing the clouded leopard would face enormous hurdles. Carnivores caught in the wild are far more likely to survive reintroduction as they already have the skills to hunt and survive in a rugged environment, according to species reintroduction experts from the Animal Behaviour Research Group at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Clouded leopards are known for their shyness and skill at avoiding detection, so it is unlikely that wild animals could be captured in sufficient quantity for a reintroduction effort to Taiwan.
An 18-month study of clouded leopards and leopard cats in Thailand's Khao Yai National Park by Texas A&M University yielded only two clouded leopards captured alive, both of which displayed signs of previous injury. The research account suggests that clouded leopards encountered the study's traps, but did not enter them, implying a highly evasive nature. Wong Siew Te is credited with the first live capture of a Bornean clouded leopard, in the 2008. Private citizens donated a male clouded leopard that can be seen at the Taipei Zoo, while a female came to the zoo via customs officials who seized the animal as an illegal import, according to Eva Wang, a technician and curator of the temperate zone animals at the zoo.
Captive breeding is also problematic for the species, with efforts requiring minute oversight. Wang notes that males are known to attack females, with up to 15 percent of female clouded leopards dying in captive breeding attempts. She says that the zoo's two clouded leopards have never bred, but attributes this to the female having a skin condition for a number of years.
The Clouded Leopard Project, a non-profit conservation group founded by a chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, advises taking extensive precautions during breeding attempts such as pairing the animals early in life, before either is one year old. The group also recommends that the pair be introduced to each other slowly, over a matter of months, with progressing levels of contact. Still, it cautions that "sudden and unexplained instances of males fatally attacking females have occurred during the process," even with pairs having longstanding familiarity or when keepers only momentarily turned their backs. The two cats at Taipei Zoo are currently housed adjacent to each other in the hopes that familiarity will lead to romance, but according to keeper Chen Jin-ming, "It seems they don't fall in love." Artificial insemination has also been largely ineffective at increasing global populations of captive clouded leopards.
One bright spot in clouded leopard breeding programs has been the Thailand Clouded Leopard Breeding Project based at the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi, Thailand. Developed by a consortium of zoos in Thailand and the United States, the program began in May 2002. Relying on the depth of expertise of its US and Thai staff, the program has achieved significant success in breeding the cats, with more than 24 clouded leopard kittens born so far. Kurtis Pei says the zoo would be one possible source of clouded leopards if Taiwan were to go forward with a reintroduction program.
Another issue would be finding enough suitable habitat for the animal. Rising from sea level to nearly 4,000 meters in less than 100 kilometers in some places, Taiwan is one of the world's steepest countries. On the one hand, the rugged terrain precludes development in many regions, plus 16 percent of Taiwan is protected in nature reserves and national parks.
On the other hand, the mountainous terrain also presents a big obstacle to reintroducing the clouded leopard. Clouded leopards are mostly lowland creatures, occurring primarily below an altitude of 500 meters. In Taiwan, all such habitat has been developed. The areas remaining would be "secondary habitat" for the species at best. Clouded leopards can survive at elevations up to 2,000 meters, but only at very low population densities as the rugged terrain limits prey populations.
"The original habitat [of Taiwan] could only support marginal populations of clouded leopards, even including the lowlands," Pei says. With these lowlands gone, the size of suitable habitat left is very small.
In spite of this, Pei says it is still possible to find good habitat at 2,000 meters for animals such as muntjac, although it is scattered and limited, suggesting that similar areas could be linked via corridors of protected land to establish habitat specifically for a clouded leopard population. "You can do something in-between, from 500 to 1,500 meters ... and make that sustainable," he says.
Whether, in fact, such a population could be viable in the sense of becoming self-sustaining, genetically diverse and requiring a minimal amount of human intervention is another question. Chiang Bo-jen hypothesizes that Dawu Mountain and adjacent Twin Ghost-Lake Nature Reserve could support between 50 and 80 of the animals. Including the surrounding areas, and he suggests populations of up to 100 to 150 animals.
These numbers fall well below the minimum threshold of 500 animals that NTU's Lee Ling-ling considers necessary for a viable population. Then again, Malaysian expert Wong Siew Te says minimum viable population numbers differ by species, and many biologists consider 50 as an absolute minimum number for carnivores.
However, the ultimate deciding factors involved in whether or not Taiwan considers a program to reintroduce the clouded leopard are social and political. "Social issues are always the problem," Kurtis Pei says. "Five to 10 percent of the problems are ecological, 90 percent of the problems are social."
Frank Lin, a former conservation research manager and current habitat management specialist for the Forestry Bureau under the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture, echoes those concerns. Lin says the bureau supports restoring environments to their original states in principle and that reintroduction of the clouded leopard is theoretically possible. He also says that if this kind of a plan gained community support, then special budgets could be created to fund such a program. But, he also cites a host of issues this kind of a plan might face, including political disagreement and social opposition.
"It would require long-term discussion, education and negotiation. Even among ecologists, there are many different opinions," Lin says. He speculates that people in urban areas might support such a proposal, but others, "especially those living in the mountain areas, may have a different opinion."
"Even if we know clouded leopards are not harmful to humans, some people may be scared of reintroducing them," Lin says, particularly when males can exceed 20 kilograms in weight. Clouded leopards have the longest fangs proportionate to their size of any cat and, according to Wong, have been known to kill animals as large as orangutans.
NTU's Lee Ling-ling is also skeptical, citing the reintroduction of Formosan sika deer at Kenting National Park, which never expanded beyond the park despite proposals to reintroduce them to Yangmingshan National Park. Lee says the plan failed because it lacked the support of the local residents and politicians. She says a successful clouded leopard reintroduction would require a "major change in perspective" among Taiwanese. "I don't think Taiwan's ready for that," she adds.
Attitudes are changing, however. Heightened awareness of environmental issues is found in everything from marketing campaigns to new legislation on Taiwan's greenhouse gas emissions and Kyoto Protocol standards. Even the image of the clouded leopard is commonly used on posters as a symbol of Taiwan. There might yet come a time when people are interested in restoring the original beauty of Taiwan's natural world, top carnivore and all. If that time comes, Chiang Bo-jen's vision of the forests alive with the Formosan clouded leopard could be a reality for Taiwan once again.
Timothy Ferry is a writer based in Taipei.
Copyright © 2009 by Timothy Ferry