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FLORA AND FAUNA
Lebanon rescues 3 Siberian tiger cubs en route to Syria
By Maya Gebeily
Beirut (AFP) March 18, 2017


Thais probe offical 'escort' for rhino horn smugglers
Bangkok (AFP) March 17, 2017 - Thailand is probing whether a senior justice official and two cops worked as meet-and-greeters for smugglers trying to traffic 21 rhino horns worth $500,000 through a Bangkok airport.

The trio, including a deputy state provincial prosecutor, appeared to escort two women as they arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport on March 10, bags bulging with the haul from the critically endangered species.

The two women fled as suspicious customs officers checked the bags, leaving authorities to scour airport CCTV footage to retrace their movements.

They discovered "two police as well as a senior official from the Ministry of Justice walking along the concourse with the luggage", according to a statement from the Attorney-General's office late Thursday.

The statement named deputy state prosecutor for Saraburi province, Police Major Worapas Boonsri, as one of the suspects.

He has been transferred pending the investigation, the other two men are yet to be identified.

Thailand's junta says it is committed to cracking down on corruption and the illegal trade in animal parts through the kingdom -- a gateway to Southeast Asian and Chinese markets where rare species are coveted as pets or in traditional medicines.

"It is rare to see governments target corruption," said Steven Galster, director of anti-trafficking group Freeland, applauding Thai authorities for probing possible links between officialdom and criminal gangs.

"But wildlife poaching and trafficking on the huge scale we are seeing, especially with rhinos, cannot happen without the help of well-placed corrupt officers."

The horn came from Africa.

Last week Thai customs displayed 422 pieces of elephant discovered at a Suvarnabhumi airport from two Ethiopian Airline flights from Addis Ababa.

In 2015 Thailand incinerated more than two tonnes of confiscated ivory, the first time the kingdom has taken steps to destroy part of its stockpile.

An animal rights group in Lebanon is caring for three dehydrated, maggot-infested Siberian tiger cubs that were rescued on their way to a zoo in neighbouring war-ravaged Syria.

Animals Lebanon said Saturday that its members rescued the cubs earlier this week after they had spent more than a week cooped up inside a cramped crate in "unacceptable" conditions at the Beirut airport.

The cubs flew into Lebanon from Ukraine on March 7 and were supposed to travel on to a zoo in neighbouring Syria.

Instead, due to apparent confusion about their travel arrangements, they spent a week inside the wooden crate at the Beirut airport, said Animals Lebanon's Vice President Maggie Shaarawi.

"Everything was wrong. There was no tray in the crate for when they urinate. They were swimming in their faeces and urine. There was no bowl for water," Shaarawi told AFP.

Images published by Animals Lebanon show the weak cubs, covered in maggots and faeces, squirming in the small crate as volunteers from the group work to crack open the box.

The crate is screwed together, with just small holes for ventilation. Its volume is barely a third of a cubic metre (11 cubic feet), according to the NGO.

When the group heard about the shipment, they began petitioning the Ministry of Agriculture to investigate the conditions and apply relevant international and Lebanese conventions.

In July, Lebanon's Agriculture Ministry issued a decree to stop the trafficking of big cats -- like lions, tigers, and pumas -- and force zoos to register formally.

Lebanon has also been a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates the trade of exotic animals, since 2013.

After a week at the airport, Judge Hasan Hamdan ordered the cubs to be released to Animals Lebanon "because of significant concerns for their health and welfare", the group said.

"It took the combined efforts of the ministry of agriculture, customs, and a judge to stop this shipment," said Animals Lebanon president Lana el-Khalil.

"It is completely unacceptable that these animals have been trapped for seven days in a cage which is soaked in faeces and urine, too small for them to stand, and infested with maggots."

AFP obtained a copy of the CITES permit licensing a "private entrepreneur" in Ukraine with the export of the cubs to the "Samer Alehsenawi Zoo" outside Damascus.

The permit says it "is only valid if the transport conditions conform to the CITES guidelines," which Animals Lebanon says was not the case.

Shaarawi would not specify where the cubs were located, but said they would remain in the NGO's care until a court decides "on whether they are returned to the owner".

The trade of big cats is big business in Lebanon, where the animals are often locked in cramped cages, forced to perform in local circuses, and paraded by wealthy individuals as status symbols.

FLORA AND FAUNA
When the sea ice melts, juvenile polar cod may go hungry
Bremerhaven, Germany (SPX) Mar 17, 2017
Polar cod fulfil a key role in the Arctic food web, as they are a major source of food for seals, whales and seabirds alike. But the polar cod themselves might soon be the hungry ones. Under the ice of the central Arctic, the juvenile fish are indirectly but heavily dependent on ice algae. As a result, retreating sea ice could have far-reaching impacts on the food web. Though researchers h ... read more

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