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FLORA AND FAUNA
Indonesian clerics issue fatwa to protect wildlife
by Staff Writers
Jakarta (AFP) March 05, 2014


Japan zoo gives pandas privacy as mating season starts
Tokyo (AFP) March 05, 2014 - A Tokyo zoo is to shutter its panda display in an effort to encourage the famously lethargic creatures to concentrate on mating without the distraction of spectators, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Starting Thursday, Shin Shin and her companion Ri Ri will be given a bit of alone time at Ueno Zoo after she began exhibiting signs that she was ready to procreate.

"Shin Shin is moving around more often and bleating like a sheep, a sign that it is mating season," the spokeswoman said.

"The two have good chemistry and we all hope the couple will bear a healthy new baby," she said.

The couple captivated Japan in 2012 when Shin Shin gave birth to a cub, the first giant panda born at the zoo in 24 years.

However, the baby bear died from pneumonia a short time later, an event that provoked newsflashes on national television.

Despite the weight of public expectations, last year's mating season was unsuccessful.

Pandas, whose natural habitat lies in mountainous southwestern China, have a low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss.

Indonesia's top Islamic clerical body has issued a religious fatwa against the illegal hunting and trade in endangered animals in the country, which the WWF hailed on Wednesday as the world's first.

The fatwa by the Indonesian Ulema Council declares such activities "unethical, immoral and sinful", council official Asrorun Ni'am Sholeh told AFP.

"All activities resulting in wildlife extinction without justifiable religious grounds or legal provisions are haram (forbidden). These include illegal hunting and trading of endangered animals," said Sholeh, secretary of the council's commission on fatwas.

"Whoever takes away a life, kills a generation. This is not restricted to humans, but also includes God's other living creatures, especially if they die in vain."

The country of 250 million people is the world's most populous Muslim nation, but it remained unclear whether the fatwa would have any practical impact.

Indonesia's vast and unique array of wildlife is under increasing pressure from development, logging and agricultural expansion.

The government does not typically react to fatwas by implementing specific policy changes.

However, a Forestry Ministry official who asked to remain anonymous told AFP the ministry and the religious council would make a joint announcement regarding the fatwa on March 12, without elaborating on its content.

The WWF called the fatwa the first of its kind in the world, and said the use of religion for wildlife protection "is a positive step forward."

"It provides a spiritual aspect and raises moral awareness which will help us in our work to protect and save the remaining wildlife in the country such as the critically endangered tigers and rhinos," WWF Indonesia communications director Nyoman Iswara Yoga said.

The fatwa was the result of months of dialogue between government officials, conservationists and other stakeholders, said Sholeh, the fatwa commission official.

Acknowledging it was not legally binding, Sholeh said in English: "It's a divine binding."

He said the fatwa was effective from January 22. It was only made public late Tuesday.

The fatwa urges the government to effectively monitor ecological protection, review permits issued to companies accused of harming the environment, and bring illegal loggers and wildlife traffickers to justice.

The clearing, often illegally, of Indonesia's once-rich forests for timber extraction or to make way for oil palm or other plantations poses a severe threat to critically endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger, orangutan, and Sumatran elephant.

Poachers also target wild elephants for their ivory tusks, for use in traditional Chinese medicines.

Under Indonesian law, trafficking in protected animals can result in a maximum of five years in jail and 100 million rupiah ($8,700) fine.

Escargot could follow the dodo, scientists warn
Paris (AFP) March 04, 2014 - Snails, one of France's signature dishes, could be off the menu if the country fails to stem an invasion by a slimy worm from Southeast Asia, scientists warned on Tuesday.

The warning is being sounded over a voracious species called the New Guinea flatworm.

It is already on a list of the 100 most dangerous invasive species in the world as it has a relentless appetite for native snails and earthworms in places where it has been introduced.

Workers at a botanical gardens in Caen, Normandy, called in scientific help after they spotted a strange, dark, flat-as-a-pancake worm among their greenhouse plants.

Reporting in the journal PeerJ on Tuesday, a team of French experts said DNA tests had confirmed their worst fears: Platydemus manokwari has arrived in Europe.

"This species is extraordinarily invasive," said Jean-Lou Justine of the National Museum of Natural History. "I really hope it can be stopped at the earliest stages."

He added: "All snails in Europe could be wiped out. It may seem ironic, but it's worth pointing out the effect that this will have on French cooking."

P. manokwari measures about five centimetres (two inches) long by five millimetres (a fifth of an inch) wide.

The back is black olive in colour, with a pale white belly where its mouth is located. The head is elongated, with two prominent black eyes.

It has been introduced, sometimes deliberately, in more than 15 countries and territories in the Pacific.

Biologists are alarmed by its appetite for snail.

The worm can even pursue gastropods up tree trunks -- and when supplies of snails run out, it can tuck into other soil species, including earthworms.

The worm's ancestral habitat is the mountains of New Guinea, at altitudes of 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) and above, where the temperature is moderate.

Tests have shown the worm can survive temperatures down to 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), which gives it a good chance of surviving in temperate, snail-friendly parts of Europe.

"Platydemus manokwari represents a new and significant threat to biodiversity in France and Europe, which hosts hundreds of species of snails, some of which are endangered and protected," said PeerJ, a publisher of peer-reviewed studies.

"It is therefore important to consider the implementation of eradication and control of this flatworm."

P. manokwari has a distant cousin, the New Zealand flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulatus), which has triggered an invasive-species scare in western Europe.

It has invaded the whole northern British Isles, and is blamed for big reductions in earthworms which play an essential part in aerating and fertilising the soil.

Other European countries have set in place monitoring measures in a bid to prevent it being imported through plants and agricultural products.

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