Environment Forum

from Tales from the Trail:

Panda diplomacy: the remix

USAThe latest chapter in the long story of panda diplomacy was written at Washington's National Zoo, where the Chinese government agreed to lengthen the "loan" of popular panda pair Mei Xiang and Tian Tian for another five years. Actually, the loan is conditioned on whether they produce a new heir or heiress to the cuteness of panda-dom in the next two years;  one or both could be exchanged for more fecund substitutes.

They have a good track record: Washington native Tai Shan, born in 2005, headed back to China last year.

This was a big enough deal for President Barack Obama to mention it at an elaborate state dinner at the White House for Chinese President Hu Jintao.

“Today, we’ve shown that our governments can work together, as well, for our mutual benefit,” Obama told the glittering gathering. "And that includes this bit of news: Under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas."

PANDAIn the United States, panda diplomacy started soon after President Richard Nixon's 1972 trip to China. But the idea that China might be able to export, or at least loan, this cuddly symbol to further diplomatic ends may date back to the Tang Dynasty, when 7th century Chinese Empress Wu Zetian sent a pair of pandas to Japan.

Tiger among fluffy toys shows extreme smuggling tricks

tigerThe drugged tiger cub (left) hidden among cuddly toys in a bag at Bangkok airport  ranks as one of the most bizarre smuggling tricks.

Imagine the shock of X-raying the bag — as airport workers checking luggage did — and finding a live tiger among the fluffy tiger toys. Maybe it moved, or they spotted the outline of its skeleton among the other toys?

For a story about the two-month-old cub (photo courtesy of wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic) click here. A 31-year-old Thai woman was about to board a flight to Iran when they found the cub in her oversized bag.

Crustaceans rule!

Mex_00-hrEver wondered what kinds of wildlife dominate the world’s seas and oceans? Now there’s an answer, at least in terms of the number of species in different categories. It’s not fish. It’s not mammals. It’s crustaceans!

A mammoth Census of Marine Life has revealed that nearly one-fifth, or 19 percent, of all the marine species known to humans are crustaceans — crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill, barnacles and others far too numerous to mention here. The census didn’t count the actual numbers of animals beneath the waves — that would have been impossible — but it did count up the number of species in 25 marine areas. The aim is to set down a biodiversity baseline for future use.

Car_00-hrIt took 360 scientists to figure this out. Their findings were posted on Monday in PLoS ONE, an open-source peer-reviewed online scientific journal. An even more fulsome list will be out in October.

BP, oil and seabirds — Baltic Sea ducks had worse luck

gannetBP’s vast and spreading oil disaster is killing ever more birds and other wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico — but one of the worst spills for birds was a harmless-sounding 5 tonnes of oil in the Baltic Sea in 1976.

That spill from a ship killed more than 60,000 long-tailed ducks wintering in the area after they fatally mistook the slick for an attractive patch of calm water, according to Arne Jernelov, of the Institute for Futures Studies in Stockholm, writing in today’s edition of the journal Nature.

By contrast, he writes that fewer than 1,200 birds have  so far been recorded killed after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which has led to a leak of a gigantic 250,000 to 400,000 tonnes of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.  About 60,000 birds were killed off Alaska in 1989 by the accident usually known as the Exxon Valdez spill (…Exxon’s website calls it The Valdez Oil Spill ), previously the biggest spill off the United States at 37,000 tonnes.

Walruses in Louisiana? Eyebrow-raising details of BP’s spill response plan

LIFE WALRUSLouisiana walruses? Seals swimming along the Gulf Coast?

These creatures normally live in the Arctic Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico, but they’re listed as “sensitive biological resources” that could be affected by an oil spill in the area in a document filed by BP last June with the U.S. Minerals Management Service. More than a month after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew out and sank on April 20, the British oil giant’s regional spill response plan drew some severe criticism from the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

One problem with BP’s nearly 600-page spill response plan? “It was utterly useless in the event of a spill,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said by telephone. His group, which acts as a kind of safe haven for government whistle-blowers, detailed what it called “outright inanities”  in BP’s filing and the government’s approval of it.

PEER noted BP’s plan referred to “sea lions, seals, sea otters (and) walruses” as wildlife that might be affected in the Gulf of Mexico, and suggested this reference was taken from a previous plan for Arctic exploratory drilling, where these animals could be affected.

from Commentaries:

Stella Artois becomes real hedge fund investor

HEDGEHOGSIt seems like a gutsy time to be advertising a hedge fund in newspapers and across billboards in London.

Until you realise at second glance that the adverts are a spoof by InBev-owned lager brand Stella Artois which is trying to boost its green and recycling credentials with some whacky marketing.

With slogans such as "An Investor measures the growth of his hedge fund" and "Once upon a time a hedge fund was just that", the ads initially catch the eye of those of us interested in financial services.

Have Defenders of Wildlife lost key fund raiser: Gov. Palin?

Sarah Palin’s looming departure from the governor’s office in Alaska may deprive at least one animal welfare group of a key source of green.

The moose-hunting and ultra-conservative hockey mom shot to national prominence last year as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate on the losing Republican ticket. Palin, who in a surprise move said on Friday that she would step down this month as Alaskan governor, remains a political lighting rod who is loved and loathed in equal measure.

 This polarizing profile has made her a major fund raising force for the Republican Party. It has also made her a focal point for groups staunchly opposed to her politics and policies.

Judd versus Palin on wolves

Sarah Palin still has environmentalists howling.

The Alaska governor and former Republican vice presidential hopeful is the target of a campaign by the Washington-based Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund which claims she is pushing for an expanded program for the shooting of wolves from the sky.

In a graphic video narrated by Hollywood star Ashley Judd, the group claims Palin even offered a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf collected. You can view the video here.

“When Sarah Palin came on the national scene last summer, few knew that she promotes the brutal aerial killing of wolves. Now, back in Alaska, Palin is again casting aside science and championing the slaughter of wildlife,” Judd says in the video, which features footage of a wolf howling in pain after apparently being shot from the sky.

Spotting the difference in the spots

The Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has released some pictures from the first large-scale census of jaguars in the Amazon region of Ecuador—one of the most biologically rich regions on the planet.

One of the pictures, shown here, was taken with a  “camera trap” that photographs animals remotely when they trip a sensor that detects body heat.

The ongoing census, which began in 2007, is working to establish baseline population numbers as oil exploration and subsequent development puts growing pressure on wildlife in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park and adjacent Waorani Ethnic Reserve,” WCS said in a statement.   

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