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Monday, January 31, 2011

In hops the rabbit

MOUNTAIN SPECIES: Volcano rabbit of the mountains of Mexico is found at elevations between 2,800 and 4,250 metres.

By Mary Margaret
The Year of Rabbit is hopping in as the tiger makes ready to leap away.
Individuals born in this year, according to tradition, are calm private introverted people who shy away from aggression. They are not antisocial and are good communicators. The year 2011, is the year of the Metal Rabbit. Those born in this year are said to be ambitious and able to immerse themselves in projects.
Rabbits symbolise innocence and fertility. Sometimes a rabbit’s foot is carried for good luck (but not for the rabbit).
Rabbits, including the much loved carrot-munching Bugs Bunny’s — ‘What’s up doc?’, figure prominently in literature around the world. Do you recall the time-conscious white rabbit that led Alice down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Brier Rabbit of African-American folk tales? According to Japanese and Korean folk tales, rabbits live on the moon making rice cakes.
In the natural world, rabbits and hares are members of the Leporidae family and along withpikas make up the order Lagomorpha. Rabbits and rodents were originally classed together as they have superficial similarities, then separated, and now DNA analysis shows they have a common ancestor.
Rabbits are generally nocturnal and their large ears probably assist them to detect predators. Their strong hind legs enable a fast escape from hunters.
These herbivores are found in a wide range of habitats including grasslands, woodlands, forests and wetlands; with over half of the world’s rabbit population found in North America. However, representatives of the family are found in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. Sumatra and other Southeast Asian countries boast endemic rabbit populations.
Domesticated rabbits have come to the shores of Borneo, which does not have native members of the Lagormorpha order, and these are generally seen as cute pets. In other places, rabbits are hunted for food and their peltsEuropean settlers brought rabbits along to their new homes. In 1859, rabbits arrived in Australia and this introduced species turned into a major pest leading to a loss of native species and denuding the land of native vegetation, causing erosion. Hunting, poisoning and biological control are some of the ways tried to control the fast reproducing population.
Rabbits are known to be able to reproduce quickly. A litter consists of four to 12 young that are weaned at about five weeks, despite being born hairless and very vulnerable. The milk is so nutritious that the young need only nurse once or twice a day.
Unlike rabbit populations in Australia, some species are under threat. The Sumatran striped rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri) is one of two species of striped rabbits listed as vulnerable. The nocturnal rabbit is found only in the forests of western Sumatra. It is grey with a red rump and brown stripes. For a rabbit, it has short four-inch ears and tail.
NEW DISCOVERY: The Annamite striped rabbit was recently identified in the mountain forests of Laos and Vietnam.

The otherspecies of striped rabbit — the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) — has only recently been identified in the mountain forests of Laos and Vietnam.
Several other species of rabbits around the world are also endangered. These include the riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) of the South African Karoo Desert and the Japanese Amami rabbit. This bulky rabbit has dark fur and is preyed upon by snakes and mongooses. It is also loosing habitat to deforestation. Volcano rabbit of the mountains of Mexico, which is found at elevations between 2,800 and 4,250 metres, is endangered due to habitat degradation and hunting.
Cute bunnies abound in Kuching as the Year of the Rabbit makes its entrance, but should we really give them as pets? As the animals grow, they require care and commitment far beyond the festive season. A rabbit will be a loyal pet that requires love and attention.
Let us also keep our eyes on the ones in the wild that are endangered and take steps to help such populations stay wild and free.
NEEDS PROTECTION: The riverine rabbit of the South African Karoo Desert is endangered.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Feb 2011 Newsletter

Dear Members,

Please be informed that the Feb 2011 newsletter is out.  You can download a copy from
-          World Wetlands Day 2011 – “Forests for Water and Wetlands”
-          Volunteer Appreciation Day
-          Raptor Watch 2011
-          Mangrove Forests Vanishing at an “Alarming” Rate
-          MNS sending out the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) Notification and Proxy Form
-          Calendar of Activities


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Protecting our forest

KEEPING THINGS GREEN: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.

By Alan Rogers
THE Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non- governmental, not-for-profit organisation established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests.
In the wake of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 1992 (Rio Summit), concerned business representatives, social groups and environmental organisations got together and established the FSC in 1993. Its purpose is to improve forest management worldwide.
What began as not much more than an innovative idea has turned into the leading model for environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable forest stewardship. Today, FSC is the only internationally recognised standard setting organisation for responsible forest management supported by the corporate sector as well as environmental organisations and social groups. It is also the pioneer forum where the global consensus on responsible forest management convenes and through democratic process effects solutions to the pressures facing the world’s forests and forest-dependent communities.
As a multi-stakeholder organisation, FSC applies the directive of its membership to develop forest management and chain of custody standards, deliver trademark assurance and provide accreditation services to a global network of committed businesses, organisations and communities.
FSC certification provides a credible link between responsible production and consumption of forest products, enabling consumers and businesses to make purchasing decisions that benefit people and the environment as well as providing ongoing business value.

FSC is nationally represented in more than 50 countries around the world.
Globally, it aims to deliver on four major priorities:
1. It aims to continue to provide the leadership required to expand responsible forest management into other non-timber areas such as climate change and biofuels;
2. It aims to become a more accessible and more attractivesolution for forest managers in the tropics, such as Malaysia, whilst making the benefits of FSC certification more evenly across the timber industry;
3. To continue to ensure the highest standards of integrity, credibility and transparency in the FSC system, and deliver this through more and better monitoring and evaluation systems; and
4. To improve product data management and anticipating market trends, focusing on developing FSC in southern markets.
What is FSC certification?
FSC certification is a voluntary, market-based tool that supports responsible forest management worldwide. FSC certified forest products are verified from the forest of origin through the supply chain. The FSC label ensures that the forest products used are from responsibly harvested and verified sources.
The FSC Principles and Criteria (P&C) describe how forests can be managed to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations. Developed through a strong, multi- stakeholder process, they include managerial aspects as well as environmental and social requirements.
FSC certification provides a mechanism for companies, organisations, and communities to demonstrate their commitment to the FSC Principles and Criteria for responsible forest management and be part of the FSC solution.
FSC in Malaysia
The Malaysian Nature Society, together with other NGOs, has been working towards making FSC certification more easily accessible to the timber industry in Malaysia for over 10 years. MNS is a member of the FSC, and actively promotes the FSC as the desired standard for forest certification throughout Malaysia.
LOOK FOR THIS: The FSC label on a product tells the buyer the materials used have come from a sustainable forest operation somewhere in the world. We should support those who strive to keep that forest area sustainably managed.

The benefits of producing and using certified forest products are many, and Malaysia should not be left out. Malaysians should buy Malaysian first, because we are Malaysians. We should also buy certified forest products over those that are non-certified, because we care about our forests.
Last October, the multi- stakeholder Malaysian organisation working towardsbecoming the official FSC National Initiative, formed a partnership with HSBC Malaysia to develop national standards for certifying natural forests in Malaysia, creating the roadmap to bringing FSC certification to MalaysiaFor the first time, the FSC General Assembly will be held in Malaysia, in Kota Kinabalu from June 26 to July 1. FSC members and interested parties from all over the world will convene to discuss sustainable forest management.

Local breezes and gusts of wind

WAVY SEA: The wind blows onshore from the sea by day. — Photo by Amanda Choo

Alan Rogers

ONE night a couple of weeks ago, when on a balcony of a village valley house deep in the French Pyrenees Mountains, a gust of downslope mountain air blew my newspaper out of my hands.
The following bright sunny day, I visited a French fishing port on the Mediterranean Sea and sat on the beach under cloudless skies to find that I was windburnt and not sunburnt.
These natural life experiences triggered my thoughts of Sabah where I climbed Mt Kinabalu and stayed in Keningau, as well as the numerous times I visited Santubong and Damai beaches in Sarawak.
Why do winds descend onto Damai and hit Keningau in the evening? Why by day do onshore breezes, even under a cloudy sky, turn my ‘Mat Salleh’ skin red?
Why is it dangerous to swim in the South China Sea at Damai at night? The notices tell us not to and we should heed the direction in which the red flags are flying.
“Mountains make their own climates! Discuss.”
This was a question I first encountered in the 1960s in my Oxford University entrance examination.
Air moves from localised high pressure to low pressure areas and thus winds from high to low pressure areas are created.
By day, both on Mt Santubong and Mt Kinabalu, the mountain slopes are warmed more quickly
owing to direct radiation from the sun, than the air in the valleys and thus lower pressure exists on the mountain and higher pressure in the valleys.
This generates an up valley or anabatic wind during the afternoon.
This is illustrated in Diagram 1.

At night air cools faster at the top of the mountains and then moves down slope to the warmer air in the valley bottoms creating a katabatic wind.
The greater the difference in the density of air (air pressure) between the summit and the valley floor, the steeper the pressure gradient and the faster the wind speeds — hence the loss of my newspaper in the Pyrenees.
I recall years ago in the Derbyshire Peak District in the UK, when ascending Mam Tor (hill) from the Edale Valley by day the up valley wind got under my raincoat.
I felt like a spaceman walking in thin air as I was lifted physically up the mountainside by the incredible up draught.
At Pine Lodge Resort, Keningau the refreshing and cooling night-time down draughts are welcomed after sweaty ascents to the summit of Mt Kinabalu earlier in the day.
Pressure differences also create local winds at sea level.
At Damai during the day, the land heats up more quickly than the sea.
(Land has a nine times faster capacity to gain and loose heat than water.) Out at sea during the
day, the cooler sea produces an area of high pressure whereas the warmer land is an area of low pressure.

This is shown in Diagram 2.
Remember air blows from high to low pressure thus onshore breezes from the sea by day.
Take a canoe by day into Damai Bay and you have to paddle very hard to prevent the onshore breeze taking you back to the beach.
No wonder I was wind burnt there even on a cloudy day.
As the land loses its heat faster than the sea, which releases the heat accumulated from the sun’s radiation more slowly, a reversal in local pressure conditions 
ensues. The land is now an area of 
cooler temperatures and higher pressure whereas the sea is warmer and inevitably an area of relatively low pressure.
Now these are land to sea breezes or offshore breezes. Take a canoe at night and 
certainly you will be blown out deep into the South China Sea and will certainly struggle to get back to the beach.
While local fishermen may not be aware of the mechanics of air movement, they have through valuable experiences understood the vagaries of these winds much as mountain climbers always respect the traditional adage that 
a wise climber starts to climb no later than day break.

Visit Santubong and Damai beaches and put this article to test.
If at Santubong look at the directions the flags are flying at the adjacent golf course holes and at Damai the direction of the flags flying there.
Are there land or sea breezes by day or night and is the wind descending from Mt Santubong at
night? Why does the cloud creep down that mountain at night?

This article is merely ‘a rule of thumb’ for global air pressure conditions affecting our daily weather in East Malaysia will also influence the strengths of local mountain/valley winds and land/ sea breezes.
Look vertically and horizontally and feel the strength of our local winds on your back or on your face.

The world without humans

RECLAIMED BY NATURE: Nature takes back an abandoned building.

Mary Margaret

RECENTLY I reread Alan Weisman’s international bestseller ‘The World Without Us’, in which he explored what our home planet, the Earth, would be like if suddenly all the humans on it disappeared — an event that is highly unlikely but not completely impossible.
His prediction that the wild would quickly take over and adapt to or undo the damage to natural ecosystems that have been wrought by man’s relentless march towards progress was made after extensive research, travels and talks with scientific experts from around the world. It is also humbling.
The natural world’s ability to undo human creations can be observed in Kuching as abandoned houses or gardens quickly become wild.
If man, does not ‘fight’ back, these are rapidly covered with creepers, invading sun-loving shrubs and herbs. Lizards and snakes whip around while birds and bats stake out the buildings’ upper floors. Water runs through windows and spaces around the doors. The cement cracks and eventually the building disappears from sight and memory.
Buildings above ground are likely to tumble down as roots break open cracks and water seeps or pours in.
However, Weisman predicts that underground homes dug into tuft (a material which hardens upon exposure to air) will last
There is an area in Turkey that has been inhabited since ancient times and old tunnels that were uncovered have been used by present residents for storage.

But not all underground constructions are predicted to withstand nature if humans do not repair or control the environment.
The subway or the underground might survive if it is not built on fault lines, but some like in New York are highly likely to become flooded.
Human engineers control the water and the tunnels would quickly become flooded if they were not on duty as New York’s planners, over 100 years ago, forced the water underground and paid little attention to the natural layout of the island.
Another substance that is unlikely to disappear is plastic. The strengths of this new man- made highly versatile and durable material are also its weaknesses.
The miracle material that has become a curse is likely to withstand the ravages of the wild. It does not biodegrade.
Whatever has been made, with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated, will still be around.
The giant Pacific Ocean garbage dump, about the size of Africa, circles clockwise north of Hawaii.

The plastic rubbish blows into the sea from land, is washed in by rivers and dumped by boats. Most plastic degrades with UV light and this slow process slows even further in cold waters
The plastic gradually breaks into smaller and smaller pieces until even micro invertebrate creatures eat it.

However, the oil (the source material for plastic) processing plants are likely to explode and burn without their human controllers and they, like cities, would be reclaimed by the wild. Farms also would disappear, as would domesticated versions of food.
It is likely that food crops would evolve towards their original genetic structure.
‘Hot’ concerns — the holes in the ozone layer in the earth’s atmosphere and used up uranium cannot be omitted in a book that explores what would happen if suddenly all humans disappeared.

Spent uranium from nuclear
power plants and warheads is stored deep underground and would likely remain closed until someone comes along and opens the vaults.

Power plants on the other hand would continue to operate for a short time until the automatic functions require intervention.
In 1986, Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded into the sky and rained down radioactive rain as far away as the Russian wheat producing plains. Nature, and people, have since returned.
In the eerily beautiful land, wolves and lynx populations have increased, as have their prey
Animals living in this area of radioactive contamination do live as long as their counterparts but have made up for this by reaching sexual maturity earlier.

Whether their genes survive will only be known after several
generations. These predictions that nature

will likely ‘un-build’ human creations and adapt to and even repair the damage to the natural world is humbling. We build for prosperity and to be remembered, yet the natural world is likely to brush it aside.
See ‘The World Without Us’ by Alan Weisman (2007) Virgin Books Ltd, London.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gading weekend trip 22-23 january 2011

MNS-KB has planned an overnight trip to Gading NP on the 22 Jan 2011, led by Mr Yeo. We plan to walk either to the waterfall or Rafflesia Trail & have a night walk too.

Two chalets [Each has 3 rooms that sleeps 6 but has a large sitting room, so bring your sleeping bags) + 2 rooms (4 beds each room)] have been booked, sufficient to accommodate at least 20 people. There will be some charges to the room & disclaimer forms to be filled.

The plan:
22 January:
Morning, 8.30am: Meeting at Gading: walk up to waterfall or Rafflesia trail
Afternoon: Free
Night: Night walk with Yeo

23 January:
7.00am (or as early as possible): Bird watching
Depart back to Kuching before noon.

What to bring/wear:

Sturdy boots/shoes, dull coloured shirts/long sleeves shirts, hat, sun block, swimmies/change of clothes (waterfall), head-lamp/torch light (if possible with yellow light to spot frogs at night), leech socks, raincoat/poncho, extra socks, MozzieGuard or equivalent/mosquito coil, your own food, notebooks & pens, bird guide book, amphibian guide book, sleeping bags.

Be ready to contribute a little something for the MNS column - write something about the trip folks :=)

So quick! Let us know if you are coming.

Sunita (MNS-KB secretary)

Monday, January 3, 2011

A tale of winged messengers

HUNTERS: Dragonflies and damselflies are carnivorous and their retractable jaws hold their prey
VISITOR: Indigenous Americans believe dragonflies and damselflies are message carriers for the gods.

By Mary Margaret

A flash of red flitted in and about and amongst the equally red ginger flowers.  The striking dragonfly was perfectly camouflaged by the fiery red ginger flowers bowing in the cool early morning breeze. I was hooked - I had become an 'oddy' - a watcher of dragonflies and damselflies. 
These remarkable insects are members of the order of Odanata (hence 'oddy') are split into two sub-orders Zygoptera (damselflies) and Anisoptera (true dragonflies).   Of the approximate 6,500 species worldwide, about 230 are found in Malaysia just about anywhere there is freshwater - jungles, streams, urban gardens and parks. 
Damselflies and dragonflies like most insects have two pairs of wings and six legs are relatively easy to identify through colour of their wings and body and the veination pattern of the wings. Like butterflies they can be released unharmed.   Damselflies eyes are do not touch and when at rest the wings are together.  The eyes of dragonflies on the other hand touch and when at rest the wings are flat.  
These insects are carnivorous and their retractable jaws hold their prey.  The adults when we see them flitting about are likely to be after insects smaller than themselves including flies, mosquitoes and ants.  The eggs which are laid near or in water hatch into ferocious nymphs, a stage which they remain for about 5 years, going after the larva of other insects and vertebrates, including tadpoles. 
These are 'good' insects and can act as ambassadors because we like them.  This was not always the case as according to European traditions they were a devil's darning needle and in Norwegian their name translates into eye poker.  Fortunately not all groups looked down on dragon and damselflies.
The First Nations (indigenous) People of North America associated dragonflies and damselflies with swift action and message carriers for the Gods.  The Navajo of South western USA associated them with pure water.
The Zunia, a Pueblo People of Mexico associated them with power.   According to a traditional tale, two children who had been accidentally left behind when their parents moved received instructions from the Gods, via dragonflies and damselflies. 
These insects also figure in Japanese folklore.  A poor farmer fell asleep after working ha field but dreamt that he had tasted sake.  His wife had seen dragonflies around him while he slept.  Anyways upon awakening he found that the water from a nearby stream tasted like sake.   Dragonflies are also believed to be the inspiration for helicopters.  An age-old Chinese toy is a dragonfly is believed to have inspires Sir George Cayley, the Father of Aviation to invent the helicopter and nature continues to inspire. 
Our fascination continues, as these stunning insects remain the source of inspiration, for example dragonfly jewellery and designs. 
Dragonflies and damselflies are found anywhere there is freshwater water from the jungles to the gardens, from streams to rivers and lakes.  These insects can be ambassadors because of the ease in which they can be differentiated and our fondness for them. 
About 15% of European dragonflies and damselflies are endangered.  The main culprits are pollution and the canalization of rivers; would a return to natural-like freshwater systems help them to survive.  The loss of this beautiful beneficial insect would be tragic. 
This is the season of resolutions - so lets resolve to be part of the solution.

Trueman, John W. H. and Richard J. Rowe. 2009. Odonata. Dragonflies and damselflies. Version 16 October 2009. http://tolweb.org/Odonata/8266/2009.10.16 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/