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FLORA AND FAUNA
Saving Indonesia's birds-of-paradise one village at a time
By Kiki Siregar
Sorong, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 26, 2017


Lions, chimps, sharks get added protection under UN convention
Manila (AFP) Oct 28, 2017 - Lions, chimpanzees, giraffes, leopards and a wide variety of sharks received added protection at a UN wildlife conference in the Philippines, organisers said Saturday.

Some 34 endangered species were selected to receive heightened conservation efforts at the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) conference that just concluded in Manila.

Protecting migratory species poses particular difficulties since they cross borders, including possibly moving to countries with less stringent wildlife protection systems, said Bradnee Chambers, CMS executive secretary.

"If the species is moving around all of these countries, everybody has to pitch in," he said at the end of the week-long conference.

Lions, leopards and chimpanzees were singled out as needing more conservation work. The chimpanzee in particular is at risk as their numbers have dropped sharply in recent years due to habitat loss, the organisers said.

The giraffe, which is in decline throughout Africa with fewer than 90,000 animals left in the wild, was also listed.

All four of these African mammals were approved by a "wide majority" for additional protection measures, a CMS statement noted.

"Everybody in this room can identify with these animals," Chambers remarked.

- Vultures and sharks -

Less popular species also received additional protection, including 10 species of vultures.

Chambers said these birds provided a vital service by cleaning out carcasses, which prevents the spread of diseases like anthrax and rabies.

Also listed was the whale shark, the largest fish in the world. Host country the Philippines had lobbied for this creature, which has become a major tourist attraction.

Three other shark species -- the angelshark, the dusky shark and the blue shark -- were also listed along with three species of rays, the organisers said.

Activist charity group the Pew Charitable Trusts praised the CMS action, saying it was crucial to save these marine animals.

"In some regions, the newly protected shark species have experienced population declines of 50 percent or more," Pew shark conservation expert KerriLynn Miller said in a statement.

Also listed was the Gobi Bear which lives in the wild regions shared by Mongolia and China. Only 45 specimens remain in the wild, the organisers said.

One of the breakthroughs of the meeting was the adoption of a "compliance review mechanism," to check if member countries respect the protective lists, the organisers said.

Pew international conservation expert Max Bello said that even though the CMS lists did not provide for sanctions, many member countries still complied with them.

"It does work. It needs more (authority) for sure. But you can use it. It's actually a very good tool," he told AFP.

"A year or two ago, I was helping some group in Peru in the coast of the South Pacific and we used CMS to convince the government of Peru to protect the giant mantas that come from Ecuador every year," he recalled.

- China makes progress -

More than 120 states are party to the CMS, but this does not include China and many other Asian countries.

"We're trying to work to bring China onboard as a member of the convention. We have been engaging them and they are actually doing quite a bit," Chambers told reporters.

China had already made some progress, banning shark fin soup in official banquets and announcing a ban on ivory by the end of 2017, he said.

"What it required is positive engagement with the country to see how to find solutions instead of just bashing the country and looking at the negative side."

Deep in Indonesia's easternmost province, a group of birdwatchers wait in earnest hoping to glimpse the renowned birds-of-paradise. Once plentiful in Papua's jungles, rampant poaching and deforestation have devastated populations.

The tourists are in luck, their patience is rewarded: Perched on the branch of a tall tree near the remote village of Malagufuk, a red king bird-of-paradise can be seen darting between the leaves.

Agricultural plantations, touted as a means to improve economic opportunities, are rapidly expanding in Papua. But some villagers and conservationists warn this will result in forests being destroyed and the birds that inhabit them driven to the brink of extinction.

Birds-of-paradise numbers were already dwindling in Papua as they are poached, killed and used for decoration. Authorities have since banned the sale of the species but there is still a thriving illegal trade because international demand is high.

Authorities have banned the sale of birds-of-paradise, but this has not done much to dent the illegal trade, because demand is high.

"Nowadays the threat is not just wildlife hunting, but illegal logging. The conversion of forests to palm oil and cocoa plantations is the biggest threat," bird guide Charles Roring told AFP.

Indonesia's rainforests are home to 41 birds-of-paradise species, according to Roring, 37 of which can be found in the jungles of Papua.

They range from the lesser bird-of-paradise, known for its yellow and white flank plumes, to the twelve-wired bird-of-paradise, recognisable by the filaments that extend from its tail.

Admired for their striking colours and elaborate courtship rituals, the birds have a long history of being trapped and traded as ornaments.

They captivated Europeans after 16th century explorers returned with skins that had been dried, truncated of their legs and mounted to sticks; while their colourful feathers are still popular additions to traditional Papuan tribal decorations, such as headdresses.

Serene Chng, a programme officer at environmental NGO Traffic, said the wild birds are smuggled to other parts of Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

"Law enforcement capacity is very limited," she explained.

"Challenges include demand from consumers, corruption, poor surveillance, as well as lack of support from non-enforcement agencies that could help like airlines, shippers, courier services and airports," Chng added.

- Eco-tourism solution -

In Sorong, one of the largest cities in Indonesia's West Papua province, a souvenir vendor told AFP traditional headbands made with feathers could fetch as much as 1.5 million rupiah ($112).

Papua is home to one-third of Indonesia's remaining rainforests but they are being chopped down at a rapid rate.

Palm oil companies started operating near Malagufuk village about three years ago, according to environmentalist Max Binur, from NGO Belantara Sorong.

Binur, who knew residents were worried the companies would destroy the surrounding forests and their traditional village life, proposed a solution he believed would protect the birds and forest.

He helped turn Malagufuk into an ecovillage where residents now work as guides or provide accommodation for visitors.

Up to 20 tourists visit each month to see the birds-of-paradise, as well as other bird species such as the Cassowary and Hornbill.

Visitors must trek two hours through the jungle to reach a remote settlement of stilt houses that has limited electricity.

"It sounded like a good ecotourism tour we could do. My mother is into birds and we were familiar with the birds-of-paradise from watching documentaries," German tourist Lisa von Rabenau said.

Binur is planning to launch similar ecovillage ventures across Papua and hopes tourism will lead to conservation of the world-famous birds and benefit locals.

He explained: "Tourists can bring in a bit of their money so the villagers can afford to nurture their families, send their kids to school, buy clothes and with this they will be conscious to save the nature."

FLORA AND FAUNA
Indonesia seizes 101 pangolins on fishing boat
Pekanbaru, Indonesia (AFP) Oct 25, 2017
Indonesian authorities have seized more than 100 pangolins, all of them alive, an official said Wednesday, a haul of the critically endangered species that conservationists estimate to be worth about $1.5 million. Indonesian officials discovered the pangolins on Tuesday in a raid on a fishing boat off the east coast of Sumatra island, the navy said in a press statement. Authorities were ... read more

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