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Friday, December 28, 2007

Uganda Forests Endangered by Sugar, Over-farming of Medicine

Sugar Cane Expansion and Roots Medicine Make Uganda's Forests Go Down

By Alexis Okeowo/Mabira Forest Reserve

article from: Time.com

Scientists are combing rain forests around the world for potential cures for cancer and other ailments, but the residents near Uganda's last rain forests are are not waiting around for a multinational drug company to discover their treasures first. They have always believed that there are cures in the plant life of the Mabira Forest Reserve, the green, leafy jungle that sprawls through the middle of the country. And so, locals seeking treatments for sexual impotence, cancer, malaria and other illnesses are simply taking plants from the forest, parts of which are already in danger of being razed to make room for the construction of a sugarcane plant.

For example, there is what the locals call the "sex tree," which grows deep in Mabira's dense, tropical bush. It is a skinny, scruffy, slow-developing plant with springy green leaves that is decidedly unremarkable. It has a lonely existence. Other members of its plant family have been uprooted by local aphrodisiac-seekers long ago.

"We need to think about conservation in a scientific way," says Dr Mauda Kamatenesi, a lecturer of botany at Uganda's Makarere University and a lead researcher on Mabira's medicinal plants. Kamatenesi is leading a drive to conserve plants such as Citropsis articulata, or the "sex tree." Also in danger of extinction in Mabira is Pronus africana, which is commonly used to treat malaria and some forms of cancer.

Kamatenesi believes that plants like the "sex tree" may have other medicinal properties besides treating sexual impotence and says that Uganda will miss out on drug discovery and manufacturing if the government does not protect the forest. Researchers also say that the plants' extinction would take a toll on local Ugandans who have been using the trees as herbal cures for generations. Says Kamatenesi: "We are losing out if we let these plants go extinct without doing more research. The people say that the medicines work."

Crunching leaves on the damp, muddy ground as he walks in the forest, Ibrahim Senfuma, a bird guide, says that he and his friends take Citropsis articulata to boost their sex drives. Locals either chew the roots and leaves of the plant (salt is added for flavor), or mix them in a half liter of water and then boil to make tea. Lowering his voice amid the crowing and squawking sounds of the forest, Senfuma confides: "I don't know if it is psychological, but it works. You feel stronger than before."

Nearby, sunlight streams from an opening in a thatch of trees onto Faziira Nakalama, a cook, as she proudly lists the ailments (her own and her neighbors') cured by the leaves and roots of the Pronus africana. "Decreased immunity, stomach pains, malaria... the forest is very important," Nakalama says.

A great deal of the forest may not be around much longer. Over a fourth of the rain forest is in danger of being cleared in order to make way for a sugarcane estate, if a plan by Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni is approved. Last year, Museveni ordered a study into the feasibility of clearing 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of the forest after a sugarcane company applied for permission to expand its farm. The study concluded that the sugarcane plan endangers rare trees and birds in the 30,000-hectare forest. At risk are 218 species of butterflies, 312 plant species and 315 bird species, including nine found nowhere else in the world.

Full article continues at: Ugandan Forest Endangered by Sugar Cane, Its Own Medicines

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Global Trees Campaign aims to save world's threatened tree species

Over 8000 tree species, 10% of the world's total, are threatened with extinction. Destruction of woodland and forest and unsustainable felling of valuable timbers are causing the loss of many important species. Very few of these endangered trees are being conserved in the wild. The Global Trees Campaign, a joint initiative between Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in association with other partners around the world, is drawing attention to this global problem and finding solutions.

The Global Trees Campaign aims to save the world's most threatened tree species and their habitats through provision of information, conservation action and support for sustainable use. The campaign focuses on trees as flagship species for conservation of ecosystems and landscapes, and enables local people to carry out rescue and sustainable use operations. We are working in partnership with organizations around the world to save endangered trees.

Endangered Trees List from United Nations


African Blackwood, which is also known as Mpingo in Swahili is considered to be the national tree of Tanzania, despite the fact that it is native to 26 African countries, ranging from northern Ethiopia, to the south in Angola, also spreading from Senegal across to Tanzania.

Mpingo not only improves soil fertility, but is also good at maintaining soil stability. Its leaves offer feed for migrating herbivores and for domestic livestock. The mature African Blackwood trees are capable of surviving fires that destroy other vegetation in grasslands. The dark heartwood of Mpingo, is one of the most economically valuable timbers in the world.


Bois dentelle is a beautiful tree, endemic to the high cloud forest of Mauritius. Despite the fact that it has no commercial value, only two individuals are left. The most remarkable thing about the species are the flowers – sprays of white bell flowers with fine lacy petals that cover the tree in summer (January –March).


The Clanwilliam cedar is a species endemic to the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. A majestic tree of 6-18 meters in height, the Clanwilliam cedar is a rot-resistant, fragrant and visually beautiful timber that was extensively exploited for building, furniture and later on telegraph poles by European settlers in the eighteenth century.


The Dragon Tree is found on the Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Madeira and Morocco. The Guanche people of the Canary Islands used the sap for mummification purposes. In Ancient Rome, Sangre de Drago (Dragon Tree) was used as a colorant and across Europe it has been used as a varnish for iron tools.

According to the Greek myth, "The Eleventh Labor of Hercules: The Apples of the Hespérides", the hundred-headed dragon, Landon, who was said to have been the guardian of the Garden of the Hespérides, was killed by either Hercules or Atlas in order to fulfill Hercules’ task to bring back three golden apples from the garden. As told in the myth, the trees known as 'Dragon Trees’ sprung from Landon's red blood, which flowed out upon the land.

The species is classified as being "Endangered" by Cape Verde, while it is identified as being extinct in the wild on Brava and Santiago where only planted specimens exist today.


The Honduras rosewood is found in Belize in Central America and produces timber, which is extremely valued on the world market because of its use in musical instrument production.

Since the Honduras Rosewood supplies hard, heavy, durable and very resonant timber, when struck, it gives off a clear, loud note and making it itself most highly valued in the production of orchestral xylophones and claves. It is also used to make thin covering for fine furniture and cabinets, , knife handles etc.


The Loulu is a palm endemic to the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands chain with the most variety of plant species of any island in Hawaii. There are fewer than 300 individuals of the Loulu left, because of limited regeneration caused by seed predation by rats and pigs as well as competing plants.


The Monkey Puzzle is the National Tree of Chile. Nevertheless, there is at least of these trees in every botanical garden in Europe. Its local name is Pehuén and its existence has great historical and social importance to the people living in that area known as the Pehuenche, which means “people of Pehuén”. The seeds of the tree shape an important part of their diet.

The Monkey puzzle is also valued for its unique and natural beauty, which makes it an emblem of a national parks and provinces in both Chile and Argentina. The timber found from the Pehuén has a high mechanical resistance and moderate resistance to fungal decay, hence for its being used for beams in buildings, bridges, roofs, furniture, boat structures, thin covering etc. Monkey puzzle forests have been fast destroyed and degraded due to logging, fire and grazing.


Nubian Dragon Tree is found in Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda and was once a widespread and abundant species.

It is one of the few species that can survive wide periods of drought in all parts of its scope, hence making it an important part of the desert ecosystem. The mature fruits of the Nubian Dragon tree are eaten and its sap and fruit may also have medicinal properties.


Pau brasil is the national tree of Brazil, making it have strong cultural links to Brazil’s social and economic history. The species is known for the dye extract taken from the heartwood, for which it has been exploited since 1501. Presently, the dye extract and its bark are used locally for medicinal purposes. Research is being carried out to find out whether the bark of this tree can be used as a cure for cancer.

Pau brasil wood is hard and compact, which is almost indestructible and was traditionally used to make hunting tools; commercially, it was harvested for use as a construction timber and in craftwork. It is also highly valued by musical instrument makers and still being exported for the production of bows for stringed instruments.

The various uses acquired from the Pau Brasil have made it target to extensive collection and export of the dyewood, resulting in the loss of large areas of forest and the enslavement of local people and later on the demand for its timber by bow manufacturers has contributed to a great loss.


Quercus hintonii, also known as Encino of Hinton (Hinton's Oak), is endemic to Mexico. Some of the wood’s uses range from locally made tool handles, to beams and fencing poles, and primarily for firewood. Traditionally the wood is used to bake bread known as "las finas", which the distinctive taste is brought on by the smoke.

The species has also been highly affected by grazing, which prevents regeneration as well as the coming up of agriculture, coffee plantation and road construction have all contributed to the decline in the Quercus hintonii populations.


St Helena gumwood was selected as St. Helena’s national tree in 1977. The endemic floras of St Helena are not only of great biogeographical significance, but they are also home for equally rare and unusual animal species. The St. Helena gumwood is one of the fourteen most globally endangered and endemic tree species in St Helena. It is threatened by human presence and their use of the timber for firewood and building.


The Wollemi pine belongs to the ancient Araucariaceae species, thought to be over 200 million years old. Until 1994, the Wollemi pine was believed to have become extinct about 2 million years ago, but it was rediscovered in a gorge 150 km north-west of Sydney, Australia. There are less than 100 mature trees in the wild, making it one of the rarest species in the world. Because of this rarity, the Wollemi attracts a lot of tourism, which threatens its existence because of the therefore threatened by tourism, for it may be disturbed by human activities, also exposing it to seeds being trampled, compaction of the soil, the introduction of weeds and an increase in the possibility of fires.

List of Endangered Tree species from United Nations Environment Programme

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Whooping Cranes on comeback trail creating hope among scientists

Whooping cranes lifting spirits; Scientists counting record numbers of endangered birds at Texas wintering grounds


One of the most majestic and endangered birds on the continent appears to be making a slow flight to recovery, say experts who see whooping cranes returning to their Texas wintering grounds in record numbers this year.

The cranes were on the verge of extinction in 1941 - a mere 15 birds could be accounted for. But last week Tom Stehn, whooping crane co-ordinator for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, confirmed 262 had arrived at the Aransas reserve on Texas's Gulf of Mexico coast and four more were in transit.

"The comeback is what makes them really a symbol of conservation in North America," said Stehn.

After centuries of being squeezed out of their habitats by expanding agriculture, collected as specimens by European travellers and eaten during the leaner times of colonial settlement, the near-mythical migratory birds appear now to have benefited from the concerted efforts of wildlife biologists and strict protective legislation.

Since 1982, Stehn has been counting whooping cranes as they complete the 4,000-kilometre, four-to- six-week journey from their nesting grounds in the Northwest Territories, inside Wood Buffalo National Park.

"Every whooping crane now came from the genetics of those 15 birds and, to be that close to extinction ... it's a tremendous success story," he said. "I'm probably so excited it makes it sound like we have a million of them. There are only 266, so you don't have to be a biologist to know that they're still extremely endangered."

But slowly increasing sea levels and their impact on the cranes' blue-crab-rich marshland on the gulf are causing Stehn some new concern.

And if marshes start drying up in Wood Buffalo National Park from warmer temperatures, "the crane could go downhill," he says.

Brian Johns, wildlife biologist and whooping crane co-ordinator with the Canadian Wildlife Service, monitors nesting habits and counts the nesting pairs and resulting offspring.

Johns counted 73 pairs that produced 80 offspring this year. Of those, 40 survived until migration and 39 made it from Wood Buffalo park to Texas last week.

Johns said the marshes where the cranes rear their young in Canada's largest national park have been under pressure from warmer springs and summers, but the climate change may actually be helping the birds thrive, at least temporarily.

"At hatching time is when a lot of young will die because of cool, wet weather during brooding time and the young can't keep warm on their own," Johns said.

"Now this June we didn't have any cold or wet weather - that was a good thing. But you can only tolerate no rain for a certain length of time, then the wetlands start drying up and the whole area gets more accessible to predators like foxes and wolves."

Back 150 years ago, the whoopers had more than just foxes and wolves to contend with. Settlers moving into the American Midwest transformed much of the wetlands to farmland. Cranes landing in a field to eat seeds often found themselves in a shooting gallery. It's believed the population was only around 1,300 even then - still considered endangered by today's standards.

Johns estimates that, at their height, whooping cranes numbered "a highly optimistic 10,000."

European curiosity-seekers chipped away at that over the centuries.

"I've got a listing of whooping crane specimens all around the world and you wouldn't believe it - there's several hundred of them in museums in Europe alone," he said.
Ron Heflin the canadian press file photo A whooping crane searches for food at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Tex. The Lone Star state's waters are wintering grounds for the species, with record numbers returning there this year.

December 17, 2007

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

African and Asian Elephants in the Wild

article from:



Throughout history, the elephant has played an important role in human economies, religion, and culture. The immense size, strength, and stature of this largest living land animal has intrigued people of many cultures for hundreds of years. In Asia, elephants have served as beasts of burden in war and peace. Some civilizations have regarded elephants as gods, and they have been symbols of royalty for some.

Elephants have entertained us in circuses and festivals around the world. For centuries, the elephant's massive tusks have been prized for their ivory.

The African elephant once roamed the entire continent of Africa, and the Asian elephant ranged from Syria to northern China and the islands of Indonesia. These abundant populations have been reduced to groups in scattered areas south of the Sahara and in isolated patches in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.

Demand for ivory, combined with habitat loss from human settlement, has led to a dramatic decline in elephant populations in the last few decades. In 1930, there were between 5 and 10 million African elephants. By 1979, there were 1.3 million. In 1989, when they were added to the international list of the most endangered species, there were about 600,000 remaining, less than one percent of their original number.

Asian elephants were never as abundant as their African cousins, and today they are even more endangered than African elephants. At the turn of the century, there were an estimated 200,000 Asian elephants. Today there are probably no more than 35,000 to 40,000 left in the wild.

At first glance, African and Asian elephants appear the same. An informed eye, however, can distinguish the two species. An African bull elephant (adult male) can weigh as much as 14,000 to 16,000 pounds (6300 to 7300 kg) and grow to 13 feet (four meters) at the shoulder. Its smaller relative, the Asian elephant, averages 5,000 pounds (2300 kg) and 9 to 10 feet (3 meters) tall.

The African elephant is sway-backed and has a tapering head, while the Asian elephant is hump-backed and has a huge, domed head. Probably the most interesting difference between the two species is their ears. Oddly, the African elephant's large ears match the shape of the African continent, and the Asian elephant's smaller ears match the shape of India.

Elongated incisors (front teeth), more commonly known as tusks, grow up to 7 inches (18 cm) per year. All elephants have tusks, except for female Asian elephants. The largest of the African bulls' tusks can weigh as much as 160 pounds (73 kg) and grow to 12 feet (4 meters) long. Most animals this big, however, are gone; they were the first to be killed for their ivory.

Most African elephants live on the savanna, but some live in forests or even deserts. Most Asian elephants live in forests. As herbivores (plant eaters), elephants consume grass, foliage, fruit, branches, twigs, and tree bark. Elephants spend three-quarters of its day eating, and they eats as much as 400 pounds (880 kg) of vegetation each day. For this task, they have only four teeth for chewing.

In the hot climates of their native habitats, elephants need about 50 gallons (190 liters) of water to drink every day. Elephants boast the largest nose in the world, which is actually part nose and part upper lip. It is a large natural hose, with a six-gallon (23-liter) capacity.
Role in the Ecosystem

Elephants are considered a keystone species in the African landscape. They pull down trees, break up bushes, create salt licks, dig waterholes, and forge trails. Other animals, including humans, like the pygmies of the Central African Republic, depend on the openings elephants create in the forest and brush and in the waterholes they dig.

Even elephant droppings are important to the environment. Baboons and birds pick through dung for undigested seeds and nuts, and dung beetles reproduce in these deposits. The nutrient-rich manure replenishes depleted soil. Finally, it is a vehicle for seed dispersal. Some seeds will not germinate unless they have passed through an elephant's digestive system.

Wild elephants have strong family ties. The females and young are social, living in groups under the leadership of an older female or matriarch. Adult males are solitary, although they stay in contact with the females over great distances, using sounds well below the range of human hearing. Family groups communicate with each other using these low-frequency vibrations. It is an eerie sight to see several groups converging on a waterhole from miles apart, apparently by some prearranged signal, when human observers have heard nothing.

The natural lifespan of an elephant, about 70 years, is comparable to a human's. Elephants reach breeding age at about 15 years of age. Females generally give birth to one 200-pound baby after a 22-month pregnancy.
Elephants and Humans

Humans first tamed Asian elephants more than 4,000 years ago. In the past, humans used elephants in war. Elephants have been called the "predecessors to the tank" because of their immense size and strength. They were important to military supply lines as recently as the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Although African elephants are harder to train than Asian, they too have worked for humans, mostly during wartime. For example, the elephants that carried Hannibal's troops across the Alps to attack the Romans in 200 B.C. were African.

In modern times humans use elephants primarily for heavy jobs like hauling logs. An elephant is the ultimate off-road vehicle and can get tremendous traction even on slippery mud. An elephant actually walks on its toes, aided by a great flesh-heel pad that can conform to the ground.

In some remote areas of Southeast Asia it is still more economical to use elephants for work than it is to use modern machinery. Scientific researchers use elephants for transportation in the hard-to-reach, swampy areas they study, and tourists ride elephants to view wildlife in Asian reserves. Elephants are the ideal mobile viewing platform in the tall grass found in many parks.

Asia has always had a strong cultural connection to the elephant. In Chinese, the phrase "to ride an elephant" sounds the same as the word for happiness. When Thailand was called Siam, the sacred White Elephant dominated the flag and culture. According to Thai legend, in the beginning all elephants were white and flew through the air, like the clouds and rain.

Thousands of years later, a white elephant entered the side of Queen Sirimahamaya as she lay sleeping. Later she gave birth to Prince Siddhartha, the future Guatama Buddha. Among the predominantly Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, the most auspicious event possible during a monarch's reign was the finding of a white elephant.

Full article continued at:

Wild Elephants Vanishing; Causes and Solutions

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Frogs and Toads are part of growing up

Frogs and Toads

by Chin Fah Shin

WHEN I was a kid, my family lived in a low-lying area on the outskirts of Kulim town, in the state of Kedah. Often, the area was flooded when there was heavy rain. Even when it rained lightly, puddles of water formed on the ground. And in the night, frogs and toads would call loudly. Sometimes their "chorus" could be quite deafening.

White-Lipped Frog (Rana chalconota). Copyright © Chin Fah Shin

One frog species, the Banded Bullfrog, Kaloula pulchra (family Microhylidae), was plentiful then. There seem to be fewer of them around now.

full article at:


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Saturday, December 1, 2007

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

Asian and European countries to increase renewable energy spending

More info: http://www.aseminfoboard.org/content/documents/070426_EnvMM3_Declaration.pdf

Europe and Asia agree to boost renewables

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, May 2, 2007. Environmental leaders from Europe and Asia have stressed the importance of increasing the share of renewable energies.

The final declaration of the third Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) after a two-day summit in Denmark recognised the “key link” between energy generation and GHG emissions. ASEM represents half of the global economy, grouping EU states with the ten-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus China, Japan and South Korea.

Last year, ASEM heads of state and government at the summit in Helsinki called for continuation of the ASEM dialogue on environmental issues. The countries support the ultimate objective and principles of the Kyoto Protocol to stabilize GHG concentrations and, in order to fulfil full implementation, the countries “decide to support a strengthened international cooperation on addressing climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” the communique explains.

“Recognising the key link between energy generation and GHG emissions, ASEM countries agree that an urgent shift in the nature of energy systems is needed, in order to ensure continued sustainable economic development, sustainable security of supply and improved demand management in order to avoid lock-in of unsustainable technologies in ASEM developing countries,” it continues. “ASEM countries are determined to enhance cooperation on research and development, deployment and transfer of low carbon emissions technologies.”

There is a need to decouple economic growth from energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and the ministers “recognise the priority of developing countries to achieve sustainable economic growth and eradicate poverty,” it explains. “The ASEM countries underlined that meeting climate change goals, inter alia by improving energy efficiency and promoting renewable energy and the transfer of such technologies, is not only necessary, it is also possible while maintaining sustainable economic growth.”

“ASEM countries recognise that measures to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency can boost economic performance and ensure energy security while, at the same time, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants,” and measures should be promoted to “combat climate change and to ensure sustainable transition and diversification of supply,” it notes. They “stress the importance of increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix, acknowledging the need to take national circumstances into account,” and pledged to “strive to improve access to such modern energy technologies.”

They also expressed the importance of an ambitious post-2012 arrangement in promoting the use of renewable energy technologies, and “acknowledge the role of targets specifically for renewable energy and energy efficiency taking national circumstances into account,” the document concludes. “The production of biofuels has considerable potential for diversification of energy, mitigation of climate change and the creation of livelihoods and income generation for rural people; however, the production of biofuels may have adverse environmental impacts if not applied in a sustainable manner.”

The 38 participating countries adopted the declaration, which is the first time that environment ministers of EU and Asia have reached agreement on an actual text under ASEM. At earlier ASEM environment meetings, the outcome has taken the form of chairman’s summary drafted by the host country only.

“I am very pleased that it has been possible for us to agree upon such an ambitious declaration, which can contribute to the future international climate process,” says Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard. “The result of this meeting shows that there is willingness between the two continents to work closely together when it comes to the common challenges of combating climate change; however, we have still important ground to be covered.”

More info: http://www.aseminfoboard.org/content/documents/070426_EnvMM3_Declaration.pdf

Colony Collapse Disorder threatens honybees and global fod suppply

Honeybee die-off threatens food supply

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer Wed May 2, 10:49 PM ET

Story from: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070503/ap_on_sc/honeybee_die_off

BELTSVILLE, Md. - Unless someone or something stops it soon, the mysterious killer that is wiping out many of the nation's honeybees could have a devastating effect on America's dinner plate, perhaps even reducing us to a glorified bread-and-water diet.

Honeybees don't just make honey; they pollinate more than 90 of the tastiest flowering crops we have. Among them: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers. And lots of the really sweet and tart stuff, too, including citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.

In fact, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S.

Even cattle, which feed on alfalfa, depend on bees. So if the collapse worsens, we could end up being "stuck with grains and water," said Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for USDA's bee and pollination program.

"This is the biggest general threat to our food supply," Hackett said.
While not all scientists foresee a food crisis, noting that large-scale bee die-offs have happened before, this one seems particularly baffling and alarming.

U.S. beekeepers in the past few months have lost one-quarter of their colonies — or about five times the normal winter losses — because of what scientists have dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem started in November and seems to have spread to 27 states, with similar collapses reported in Brazil, Canada and parts of Europe.

Story continues at Yahoo News

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