Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lifelong commitment to nature BY LIM CHIA YING

Published: Monday November 17, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday November 17, 2014 MYT 7:36:59 AM

Lifelong commitment to nature

A unique passion: All caves interest the Fifth Earl of Cranbrook, Dr Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy (in blue shirt and yellow helmet), seen here trying to identify fossils found in Naga Mas Cave in Gopeng, Perak. — Filepic
A unique passion: All caves interest the Fifth Earl of Cranbrook, Dr Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy (in blue shirt and yellow helmet), seen here trying to identify fossils found in Naga Mas Cave in Gopeng, Perak. — Filepic
 
Biologist receives top honours for his exemplary commitment to the natural world.
Few of us know it, but much of what we know today about swiftlets in Sabah and Sarawak is thanks to a member of the English nobility. Studying the biology and behaviour of the tiny birds which build edible nests has been the lifelong interest of British conservationist Dr Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, Fifth Earl of Cranbrook.
But that is not all that this chartered biologist is passionate about. For over 50 years, Lord Cranbrook has been a global leader in the fields of mammalogy, ornithology and zooarchaeology (the study of faunal remains). He has helped pioneer wildlife research in Malaysia, Indonesia and Britain, along the way raising awareness on biodiversity and ecology. At age 81 today, he is far from calling it a day and continues to participate in field studies and programmes advocating wildlife conservation.
Earl of Cranbrook
Lord Cranbrook has for over 50 years helped wildlife research in countries including Malaysia to recognise the importance of biodiversity and ecology. – Filepic
For his exemplary commitment to the natural world, particularly for supporting conservation efforts here, he has been presented with the 2014 Merdeka Award for Outstanding Contribution To The People of Malaysia – a category presented to foreigners in recognition of their outstanding work for the country. 
“I was pleasantly surprised by this award, it’s been an absolute thrill,” says Cranbrook, who was born into a farming family in the countryside of Suffolk County, an upbringing which instilled in him a love for nature. He is a descendant of the first Earl of Cranbrook, a prominent politician who was Secretary of State for India in 1878.
Intrigued by swiftlets
Cranbrook started investigating into swiftlets in Niah Cave while employed at the Sarawak Museum in the mid-1950s where he was responsible for tasks such as sorting out bird specimens and proofreading catalogues. He also sorted out animal bones and remains from archaeological excavations and introduced systematic identification. 
He went on to pursue his PhD at University of Birmingham in 1958 and completed his post-doctorate on swiftlets in two years – “quicker than anyone has ever done,” he says, chuckling – mainly because he already had two years of research data from Sarawak. He became a post-doctoral fellow in Indonesia for two years before returning to Malaysia to lecture at Universiti Malaya, from 1961 to 1970.
He is credited with helping to establish the university’s field study centre in Gombak, Selangor. Located on 120ha of forest that teems with well-documented flora and fauna, the centre is still used by both local and foreign researchers for their field work and ecological studies. Cranbrook has also organised numerous scientific expeditions – such as to Gunung Benom, Pahang in 1967 and to Gunung Lawit, Terengganu, in 1974 – jointly with the Museum of Natural History. 
In 2005, he received the Panglima Negara Bintang Sarawak (Honorary) which carries the title “Datuk Seri”. And just last week, WWF International presented him with the 2014 Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award for his outstanding service to the environment.
Cranbrook has written a dozen books, some of which are considered among the definitive texts on the birds and mammals of South-East Asia. In March, the second edition of Swiflets Of Borneo: Builders of Edible Nests which Cranbrook had co-authored with Dr Lim Chan Koon was published. It addresses the taxonomy and biology of swiftlets, the management of swiftlet farming and the long-term sustainability of the industry. The first edition in 2002 was the first manual for swiftlet cave managers and the industry.
His other publications are: Mammals of Borneo (1965), The Wild Mammals of Malaya and Singapore (1969), Mammals of South-East Asia (1987), Belalong: A Tropical Rainforest (with D.S. Edwards, 1994) and Wonders of Nature in South-East Asia (1997). 
When he first learnt about swiftlets, he found them to be mysterious as there was confusion over what birds they were. He was the first person to prove that they navigate by echolocation (using reflected sounds to locate places or move in the dark). 
“I often wondered how these birds, which live inside caves in pitch darkness, find their way to nests which they have built. There are these ‘click click, click click’ sounds when they are flying. So I did various experiments. The first one was in a dark room. By turning off the lights, they started clicking instantly, but when I turned the lights on again, they stopped clicking. It led to the conclusion that they are silent when they use their eyes, and will echolocate by way of clicking when they can’t see. At that time, echolocation was only being discovered, and I got to know Prof (Donald) Griffin from the US who had pioneered investigation of echolocation in bats.”
Cranbrook says that in the past, there were only wild cave swiftlets but now, there are semi-domesticated ones reared in “swiftlet houses”. He plans to work out the origins of these house-farmed birds. 
“As far as we can tell from the genetics, there are two species (which build the more expensive white nests) that have been domesticated, in Thailand and in Java. Both species seem to have amalgamated in the middle and produced an almost separate breed, which is what I’m trying to ascertain. It’s a thrilling moment in biology where we are seeing the first new domestication of swiftlets as a result of human interaction with the species. Humans are responding to these birds when they build beams and ceilings to gather the nests and the birds are responding (to humans) in return. And because the wild species is the origin and source of this domestication, there’s a pressing need to preserve those in caves for genetic studies.” 
Digging deeper
Cranbrook lights up at the prospect of using the prize grant of RM500,000 on a research of his choice. 
“I should like to use some of the funds to carry out observations on the impact of swiftlets upon swallows and vice-versa in Bentong town in central Pahang. During the 1960s, together with my students from Universiti Malaya, we had recorded visits of migratory swallows in Bentong and Raub. 
“They had come from the north by the hundreds and thousands and would make a mess on people’s cars. In those days, there were no swiftlet houses in Bentong, but it’s a new situation now where we have swiftlets feeding in the sky. So it begs the question of whether swiftlets are competing with swallows for food. 
“We are talking about an ancient migration system whereby swallows come down from China, Japan and Korea to winter in Malaysia. But if the food resources of these wintering swallows are being taken in excess by swiftlets, what is the ecological impact? This is why I’m very pleased to have funds available for a re-investigation into Bentong.” 
Swiftlets in a shophouse on Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, Penang. Wild swiftlets once inhabit dark caves but these days, semi-domesticated ones are reared in manmade caves for their nests. - Filepix
Swiftlets in a shophouse on Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, Penang. Wild swiftlets once inhabit dark caves but these days, semi-domesticated ones are reared in manmade caves for their nests. - Filepic
He also intends to use the grant for research into the cave swiftlets of Sabah. In 1983, Charles M. Francis had surveyed all birds’ nest caves in the state. Cranbrook reckons 30 years is long enough for an update. 
“The 1983 survey gave detailed accounts of the different ways the communities were harvesting the nests … some by families, some by contracts, some in which the whole village came together. Each family owned a different corner of the cave.” He says that in Sarawak, with the exception of Niah Caves where plenty of surveys have been made, the caves are less well-known.
“If you give me any bone with both ends on, I can tell you what (bone) it is, though I can’t tell you what animal it came from until I have done my research,” declares Cranbrook, who likens zooarchaeology to a jigsaw puzzle. “The bones in our body are replicated in the bones of every other mammal. For instance, we have seven bones on our neck and the same goes for the rat or the giraffe.”
There is no mistaking Cranbrook’s depth of grasp on zooarchaeology, a discipline that has been ingrained in him from early on. He used to carry bones in his pockets – just in case he spots something that can help him identify the fragments. He once carried around a part of a hornbill casque (the growth on the upper bill), not knowing what it was, until he spotted the stuffed bird in a museum. He had also carried bones of a tapir and a giant pangolin which was already extinct about 50,000 years ago. 
“By looking at skeletons, we have been able to demonstrate that there were tigers roaming in Borneo. How else can you explain the bone of a tiger in a cave if it wasn’t from the very tiger that was killed and buried there? We can also show that tapirs were previously in Borneo because of its distinctive toe bone. Today, they have become extinct there and I hope to reintroduce them in Sabah, which has big wildlife reserves. Historic records show that there was mention of the tapir (in Sabah) up till 1974, in a last sighting at Ulu Segama. When I visited Sungai Dusun (tapir conservation centre in Selangor) two years ago, I was told that there were 1,000 in the peninsula and seven of them get hit by vehicles on the road every year. The displaced ones are rescued but there isn’t a future for them to be restored to the wild unlike in Sabah.”
Scrutiny on bones 
Cranbrook also hopes to promote archaeology in Sarawak as a lot of fossil specimens retrieved from Niah Cave have still not been properly sorted and studied. 
“We need the right person with the right interest to continue on, because frankly, you have to be a little bit mad to enjoy this old-fashioned business of looking at bones. So those with a degree (in zooarchaeology) pursue a molecular biology career instead, because anyone who has chosen to follow this route is not considered smart science, is it? But zooarchaeology really is an exciting process,” enthuses Cranbrook, who has, since 1960, remained as Sarawak Museum’s honorary curator of mammals.
He also co-wrote the first environmental management plan for Mulu National Park in the late 1970s, following a joint expedition between the Royal Geographical Society and Sarawak Forestry Department. He recalls how he discovered the mountain giant rat – the species’ only record in Sarawak – during the trip. “It was a nasty encounter as this animal leaped on me twice at night while I was camping. I had to hit it which killed it. It was a sad sight when I saw it in the morning,” Cranbrook says of the long-tailed rat that elsewhere, is only found in the montane areas of Sabah. He also received the Society’s Founder Gold Medal in 1995 for his work “that encourages and promotes geographical science and discovery”. 
In 1989, he led a 10-man delegation from the International Tropical Timber Organisation to study whether logging practices complied with Sarawak’s management plan (following criticisms by anti-tropical timber logging groups). The report became a policy-setting document for Sarawak’s forestry management.
Cranbrook has also distinguished himself as a strong voice in civil society. He was a parliamentarian, assuming the family’s heritage line of seat in the British House of Lords, the sixth generation in his family to ascend to the position. However, after he had served in Parliament for 21 years, the Labour Government in 1999 under Prime Minister Tony Blair removed the rights of inherited seats.
“The government was opposed to the hereditary principle, that I shouldn’t be in Parliament just because it was a family seat. I think I was quite useful during my time, where I was three times chairman of the environment committee. It was quite hard work that took up two days a week and there were no monetary rewards … simply because Lords don’t get paid. But it was very exciting as I got to investigate all sorts of interesting subjects and debate on different reports. 
“I had also introduced various bills, and the 1981 Wildlife Act was one of the important series of acts which I had participated in. What was also interesting was me trying to work on the interface sans politics, and you could see politicians closing their minds when it came to scientific subjects,” quips Cranbrook, whose past posts include chairman of the Nature Conservative Council for England, chairman of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, trustee of the Museum of Natural History, and continues to be president of the Suffolk Wildlife County Trust.
Related stories:

Recognising the green heroes of Malaysia

 
The Merdeka Award was established by Petronas, Exxonmobil and Shell in 2007 to recognise individuals who have made outstanding and meaningful contributions to the nation in their respective fields. 
The recipients this year are Datuk Mohd Nor Khalid (cartoonist Lat) for Education and Community, Datuk Dr Choo Yuen May for Health, Science and Technology, Datuk Seri Dr Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, Fifth Earl of Cranbrook for Outstanding Contribution To The People of Malaysia), Mohd Khan Momin Khan for Environment and Prof Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad and Prof Dr Ahmad Fauzi Ismail (joint recipients) for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement. 
The award presentation ceremony will be held next month.

Illegal logging penetrated wildlife sanctuaries BY VICTORIA BROWN

Published: Thursday November 20, 2014 MYT 8:55:00 AM
Updated: Thursday November 20, 2014 MYT 9:28:00 AM

Illegal logging penetrated wildlife sanctuaries

 
PETALING JAYA: Illegal logging is prevalent across Malaysia and has even penetrated protected areas like wildlife sanctuaries.
“Samunsam wildlife sanctuary was completely decimated by illegal loggers and this has been happening over the past ten years,” said chairman of Malaysia Nature Society Kuching Anthony Sebastian (pic).
“The entire sanctuary is gone, all that’s left is its borders. That should not be happening,” he told The Star in an exclusive interview.
Police personnel checking illegal logs seized during a raid on a sawmill in Bintawa, Kuching. File pic

Sebastian who is also the chairman of the international board of directors for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) said that if we do not act now, illegal logging could have dire consequences to our environment, wildlife, culture and economy.
However, even though some of our ‘most vital areas’ have been logged, our forests will eventually regenerate, although it will take 60 to 100 years to do so.
“But our forests will never be the same. We have already lost so many species and we will lose more,” said Sebastian.
The Government also has a vested interest in the curbing of illegal logging due to massive forestry asset loss.
“We have come to a point where if we do not protect our assets, we will have nothing for the future,” said Sebastian.
“The timber industry requires its assets, we call them Permanent Forest Estate (PFE), and this is what ensures that Malaysia will always be a timber producing country.
“What’s happening in Malaysia, and in Sarawak particularly, is that our PFE has been wiped out, and a lot of it has been logged illegally,” he said.
Sebastian said that Malaysia is losing her tropical forests at a tremendous rate with illegal loggers “practically throwing away” valuable hardwood and illegal sellers selling them off at a fraction of the price.
“We need to address the problem (of illegal logging) from multiple levels,” said Sebastian.
“We can’t just be sending out enforcement officers across Malaysia to catch illegal stockpiles and confiscating them, for example. The illegal loggers will just change their tactics, they won’t stop.
“We need a much more comprehensive solution, where find out who the buyers are, who the middlemen are, who supplies the machinery,” he said.
Sebastian said that the public can also help to report on suspicious logging activities on Transparency International Malaysia’s Forest Watch Project website.
“Citizens can play a part in stopping illegal logging by submitting reports that will go into a database which is linked to all the forest departments in Malaysia, which will then be reviewed,” he said.
Sebastian lauded Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s tough stand against corruption and illegal logging in the state.
“I think that it is high time that the state government made a strong stance on illegal logging. This is as strong as it gets, and I applaud it.
“The Chief Minister is essentially saying enough is enough. We have all the wonderful laws but if we don’t enforce them there’s no point in having these laws,” he said
If you would like to submit a report on any suspicious forestry activities such as illegal logging, visit http://www.timalaysia-forestwatch.org.my/.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The ‘Living Planet Report’ by Alan Rogers.

There are currently 28 megacities in the world including Sao Paolo.
THE World Wildlife Fund (WWF) publishes, at two yearly intervals, its ‘Living Planet Report’.
Now in its 10th edition, the 2014 report entitled ‘Species and spaces, people and places’ is available online. It makes for alarming reading.
This 176-page report is a must for all naturalists for it is a profound study of human impact upon our planet.
World Wildlife International director-general Marco Lambertini bluntly states in his foreword that: “‘The Living Planet Report 2014’ is not for the faint-hearted” and that it “shows a decline in species … a barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home!”
The report writers, based on data kept by the Zoological Society of London, studied 10,380 populations of 3,038 species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles from 1970 to 2010. Over these four decades, the average decline of these vertebrate species was 52 per cent – all in less than two human generations.
Amongst freshwater species the population decline was a staggering 76 per cent, owing to habitat loss, land fragmentation, pollution and invasive species.
In the same period terrestrial species declined by 39 per cent through unsustainable land use and increased poaching, often spurred on by wildlife crime syndicates.
Marine species declined also by 39 per cent, to include large migratory seabirds, many shark species and also sea turtles.
A major contributory factor to marine loss of life was through bycatching (accidentally catching, in certain fish net sizes, species which were of no market value and then casting these dead fish overboard), illegal fishing and overfishing of the same fishing grounds.
Currently we need a 50 per cent bigger Earth to allow the regeneration of the natural resources we consume. We cut down trees faster than native species can regenerate or even replacement species can mature.
We harvest more fish than our seas can naturally restock and pump more carbon into our atmosphere than our forests and oceans can absorb.
Splitting the world into five biogeographical realms of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles, the authors of the report noticed the fast changing biodiversity levels in different areas of our planet.
As human beings we forever depend upon the natural world. Marine ecosystems support more than 660 million jobs globally and provide a main source of protein for many countries. Forests provide food, fuel, livelihoods, shelter and water to two billion people.
By 2050, we will have an extra 2.4 billion people in our world, with urban populations increasing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion. In 1970, there were only two megacities (over 10 million people) – New York and Tokyo; in 2014 there are 28 such cities – 16 in Asia, three each in Europe and Africa, four in Latin America and two in North America, all totalling 12 per cent of the world’s urban population.
The United Nations (UN) predicts that in 2025, there will be 37 megacities with eight new ones in Asia. Also in the pipeline are meta-cities – conurbations of over 20 million people – through the amalgamation of megacities.
There are only an estimated 20,000 white rhinos left in the world.
This inevitable urban expansion will mean the further loss of ecosystems and destruction of natural wildlife habitats.
Today more than a third of the world’s population – approximately 2.7 billion – live in river basins that experience severe water shortages for at least one month a year.
World population problems are frequently seen as isolated human disasters on our TVs, but the overall picture is frightening, for a billion people are starving or malnourished; 768 million live without a clean supply of water and 1.4 billion are without electricity.
Thanks to a world recession, the human carbon footprint on our planet decreased by 3 per cent for only one year (2008 to 2009), mostly due to a decline in the demand for fossil fuels, yet subsequently it is on the upward trend again as economies revive, incomes are rebalanced and domestic and industrial energy consumption increases.
The concentration of atmospheric CO2 is already causing significant climatic and ecosystem changes. Converting atmospheric nitrogen into fertilisers, whilst boosting crop yields to feed an ever-growing population, sadly adds further pollution to our rivers and their outlets into the sea.
We cannot shirk from our responsibilities and our threats to wildlife. For instance, in Africa there are only 5,000 black rhinos (near extinction level) and only 20,000 white rhinos (threatened species).
From 1980 to 2000, both species declined rapidly due to poaching for the illegal global traffic trade in horns.
The report interestingly mentions that the diversity of human languages in our world is strongly correlated to areas of high plant diversity. Some linguists have predicted that 90 per cent of the world’s languages will expire by the end of this century.
This is a wakeup call to all educationalists worldwide, for local languages and dialects can still be preserved through local teaching and not necessarily in the written word.
However this ‘Living Planet Report’ is not one of doom and gloom for it opens our minds to inherited and current predicaments in our ecosystem, of which we are all a part, and offers pointers and solutions as to how each one of us, in our own way, can help to preserve and nourish our planet for future generations of mankind. For more go to www.worldwildlife.org.


Read more: http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/11/09/the-living-planet-report/#ixzz3IvXxjX7o

Healthy rivers benefit all Focus GREENING TODAY’S YOUTH Article by WWF-Malaysia, partner of Youth Green X-Change Programme 2014

GREENING TODAY’S YOUTH

Article by WWF-Malaysia, partner of Youth Green X-Change Programme 2014

About 97% of our raw water supply for agriculture, domestic and industrial needs are derived from surface water resources, primarily rivers. Malaysia receives abundant rainfall, averaging 3,000mm annually, that contributes to an estimated annual water resource of some 900 billion cubic metres, most of which are distributed into the 189 river basins throughout the country. The rivers in Malaysia deliver a multitude of benefits, from supporting important freshwater ecosystems and habitats, providing clean water supply and food, to generating economic revenues from fisheries and energy production.
All of us recognize that water is needed in all aspects of our life, and adequate supply of good quality water is crucial for our well being. Without water, development would also not be possible – it is a common factor that cuts across all sectors of development. Therefore, ensuring that this very important resource and its sources are well managed is critical – in this case, maintaining the health of rivers is necessary to continue enjoying the benefits and services they provide.

Riverine transportation is still an important mode of travel in rural Sarawak such as in Mulu. ©WWF-Malaysia/Zora Chan
Riverine transportation is still an important mode of travel in rural Sarawak such as in Mulu. ©WWF-Malaysia/Zora Chan

A healthy river is one where its ecological and natural processes are maintained, unpolluted, have good and intact riparian vegetation along the majority of the river length and are capable of supporting the aquatic life dependent on it as well as its other functions. The ecological and natural processes of a river rely heavily on its natural hydrological regime or natural flows and the water quality.
As our country progresses great pressure is imposed onto the rivers. Many of our river systems have been subjected to changes due to human interference such as water infrastructure development, aquaculture, fisheries and agriculture, resulting in disruptions to its ecological and natural processes. Recognizing this, WWF-Malaysia advocates for integrated policies and approaches, field projects, enhancement of information database and information dissemination to improve the way freshwater ecosystems and water resources are managed to ensure continued benefits of adequate and equitable provision of water for people, nature and economy.

Human settlement are often built near rivers.©WWF-Malaysia/Zora Chan
Human settlements are often built near rivers.©WWF-Malaysia/Zora Chan

Major Threats To Our Rivers

• Unsustainable hydropower development
• River pollution
• Degradation of highland catchment areas
• Over exploitation of fishery resources
• Introduction of exotic species into riverine environment

Importance Of Rivers

• To people – food resources, means of transportation, generate hydroelectric power, irrigate agricultural land, recreation & water supply
• To nature – habitats for flora and fauna, feeding and breeding grounds for fish and other aquatic life, source of water to the world, vital for the healthy functioning of nature, transportation of sediment to river deltas

Interesting Facts

• The longest river in Malaysia, the Rajang river, is 560km long and is located in the state of Sarawak. It originates from the Iran mountains and flows into the sea through the deltas of Sibu and Sarikei. It provides a multitude of services and supports important ecosystems and species diversity ranging from montane and highland freshwater ecosystems to mangroves and peatlands
• Only 3% of water on earth is freshwater and less than 1% is available for human use
• Sarawak’s river hosts the world’s second smallest freshwater fish (Paedocypris micromegethes)
• The Big Mouth Terubok (Tenualosa toli) is endemic to Sarawak
• In 2011, 387 tonnes of fish and crustaceans worth RM2.299 million in retail value were harvested from rivers and lakes of Sarawak

WWF-Malaysia’s Freshwater Programme

• Advocates the application of sustainability assessment tools and approaches both at the project and basin levels to improve planning and development of dams;
• Promotes the application of more effective measures to reduce pollution sources and impacts on freshwater ecosystems;
• Promotes the application of holistic land use management of critical water catchment areas and riparian corridors in accordance to relevant national, state and district plans and policies;
• Promotes the application of holistic and ecosystem based approaches and practices (e.g. for flood mitigation and to facilitate navigation) to minimize physical and hydrological alteration to river ecosystems;
• Promotes the application of principles and practices for sustainable agriculture and aquaculture development to minimize impacts on freshwater ecosystems.

Cruising along a river in Mulu. ©WWF-Malaysia/Zora Chan
Cruising along a river in Mulu. ©WWF-Malaysia/Zora Chan