Customs seizes smuggled dried seafood and endangered species at Lok Ma Chau Control Point


Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Hong Kong Customs seized a batch of health-care food, dried seafood and endangered species with a total value of about $8 million in a smuggling case at Lok Ma Chau Control Point last Saturday (January 5) and arrested a 52-year-old male driver.

During an anti-smuggling operation at Lok Ma Chau Control Point last Saturday, Customs officers intercepted an outbound cross-boundary truck with a 40-foot-long refrigerated container which was declared as carrying 9 675 kilogrammes of “deer antlers”.

Upon X-ray examination and detailed cargo inspection, Customs officers found a batch of unmanifested cargo, including dried crocodylia meat, bird’s nests, dried syngnathus, dried seahorses, dried snake galls, dried deer tails, dried deer tendons, dried geckos and New Zealand honey, worth around $8 million inside the refrigerated container. Among the seizures, the dried crocodylia meat and dried seahorses were endangered species. Customs investigation is continuing.

A Customs spokesperson said today (January 7) that smuggling and exporting endangered species are serious offences.

Under the Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of attempting to export unmanifested cargoes is liable to a maximum fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years. Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animal and Plants Ordinance, any person found guilty of exporting a specimen listed on Appendix II of the Ordinance without a licence is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

He added that Customs will take continuous action against smuggling activities and urged members of the public to report any suspected smuggling activities to Customs through Customs’ 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.

Source: HKSAR Government



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Govt risking extinction of indigenous dolphins


New Zealander Pete Bethune, founder of marine activist group Earthrace Conservation, who lost his boat ‘Ady Gil’ in a collision with Japanese whalers in 2010, has sent a strongly worded message to his Prime Minister John Key, asking him to immediately implement increased protection measures for the last remaining Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins, indigenous to the country.

There are only an estimated 50 Maui’s dolphin remaining, and the population of Hector’s dolphins has declined by 75% over the last 40 years.

Despite denials to the contrary by those in the industry, the dolphins’ biggest threat is acknowledged by experts to be fisheries by-catch from the use of commercial and recreational set and gill nets and trawling.

Bethune says he has spoken to commercial fishermen who have admitted to ‘accidentally’ killing multiple Hector’s dolphin through by-catch on numerous occasions but not reporting it in order to avoid fines. Fishing is also allegedly regularly happening under the radar within the current small exclusion zone designed to protect Hector’s and Maui’s.

Other threats include seabed mining, the introduction of tidal energy turbines, disease and recreational pursuits within the boundaries of the dolphins’ habitat.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (which includes fisheries) and the Department of Conservation invited interested parties to submit recommendations and comments to inform a review of the Threat Management Plan for the Maui’s last year. So many animal welfare, environment, marine conservation and other groups and individuals from all over the world responded that it crashed the DOC website.

As yet, nothing more has been heard about the introduction of additional protection measures since the closing date for submissions in November 2012 and Bethune is demanding answers.

In the letter to the Prime Minister, copied to the Ministers for Primary Industries and Conservation, Bethune accuses the Government of stalling tactics, saying, “I have genuine concerns that the New Zealand Government’s real Threat Management Plan is to avoid any confrontation with the fishing industries and continue prevaricating until there are no more Maui’s dolphin remaining, perhaps in the hope that once they’re gone, the world will simply forget about them. I can promise you, we won’t.

A review of the Hector’s component of the TMP is scheduled to be undertaken this year. Bethune hopes that things will progress a great deal more speedily than they have for the Maui’s or as he warns the Prime Minister, ‘you risk global condemnation and irreparable damage to New Zealand’s reputation as a leading proponent for the environment. You will find yourself having to explain why a complete lack of action has resulted in the loss of the last remaining Hector’s dolphin too.’

In addition to those that took part in the submission process including Bethune and others from Earthrace Conservation, many thousands signed petitions like that organised by renowned US surfer, artist and activist, Peggy Oki, who to date has collected 5,341 photographs of people from across the world including Australia, USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and South Africa, all of whom want action for the Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins.

Peggy Oki said, “I sent a follow up to my initial submission to DOC and MPI to the Prime Minister before Christmas, anticipating a possible announcement of the new Threat Management Plan just prior to the holidays, with a link to all the visual petitions we’d collected. It now seems the announcement has been postponed indefinitely.

“The NZ government seem unwilling to take any necessary actions to fully protect and prevent the extinction of the critically endangered Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphins. The dolphins are running out of time but the public can still stand up for them by taking part in Let’s Face it. We need to keep the pressure on Prime Minister John Key.”

Another petition organised by NABU International – Foundation for Nature collected almost 15,000 signatures.

Bethune, who says he was lucky enough to see a small pod of Maui’s whilst on board his vessel, Earthrace in 2006, concludes his letter to John Key by saying, “There has already been one cetacean (Lipotes vexillifer) that has become extinct as a result of human activities. I hold you responsible for ensuring that my country, under your stewardship, avoids the dubious honour of being wholly and directly responsible for the disappearance of the second and third, replacing the Dodo – last seen over 300 years ago – as being synonymous with extinction for generations to come.

“The New Zealand Government must stop prevaricating, grow some balls, stand up to the fishing industries and act now.”


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Colombo’s fishy beauty in danger of extinction


Pethia Cumingii known as ‘Depulliya’ in Sinhala is now a native endangered species.

According to The Island newspaper, in 1991 this ornamental fish was found in eight locations, but in 2012 its habitat has reduced to five.

Found in mountain streams in Sri Lanka, basically in the Kalu Ganga. The habitats of this fish are spread in Horana, Ingiriya and Bodinagala in Colombo.

Environmentalists yesterday urged the government not to ease the regulations regarding the export of endemic species of freshwater fish and plants to boost the profits of the ornamental fish exporting industry.

According to environmentalists, the Wildlife Conservation Department (WCD), on the instructions of the Economic Development Ministry, was to formulating rules and regulations to ease the export of rare, endemic and protected freshwater plants and fish.

Environmentalists accused the ornamental fish exporting industry of seeking to loosen regulations in order to boost their earnings.

Addressing the media, at the National Library Auditorium on Wednesday (09), Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) Director, Sajeeva Chamikara claimed that if those rare, endemic and protected species, which were protected under the flora and fauna protection ordinance, were removed from their original places, for the special breeding system, they would be extinct in a short time.

He warned that freshwater fish, some that have been named only in the recent past, were under threat due to over fishing for export.

Chamikara stressed that people would collect those species from their native environment to the point of extinction to make money.

Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardane said that if the present trend of over exploitation continued, all 91 species would face the same fate as many endemic freshwater fish.

According to Nadeeka Hapuarachchi, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the freshwater fish were the most widely traded wild species from Sri Lanka and the severe threat faced by endemic fish included habitat degradation and water pollution by increased human activities and over exportation.

Meanwhile, ornamental fish exporters claimed that by easing the restrictions, they can recapture a larger share of the export market and use a portion of the proceeds to do work that will go much further towards protecting Sri Lankan habitats, which are under serious threat due to severe pollution.

WCD Director General, H. D. Rathnayake told The Island that the WCD had been funded to prepare rules and regulations to allow breeding and export of eight endemic, rare and protected species of freshwater fish and 13 species of freshwater plants on the instructions of the Economic Development Ministry.

Ratnayake noted that the WCD wouldn’t allow those species to be caught from their native environment.

Man arrested about to skin croc

Acting on a tip-off, the Puttalam police arrested a man who slaughtered a crocodile close to the Pawattamduwa tank.

The police said that at the time the police entered the man’s land a kilometre away from the tank, the suspect was ready to skin the nine foot long reptile, according to The Island newspaper.

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Evidence of koala extinction

New evidence has revealed that koalas may be extinct on the New South Wales far south coast.

The first stage of a study looking at the animals in the Eurobodalla has recorded only one koala being spotted since the research began at the start of 2012.

The project’s co-ordinator, Keith Joliffe, said habitats have been identified in the region.

But he said there are no koalas living in those spots.

“There’s no persistent evidence of resident koalas in the Eurobodalla,” Mr Joliffe said.

“We’d probably refer to that as a dispersing animal because they’ve come from another area and at this stage, we have to contemplate the possibility that our generation has witnessed function extinction within the Eurobodalla borders.”

Mr Joliffe said more research is needed to confirm the initial findings.

“What we need to do is to recheck some of the findings on eucalyptus types,” he said.

“We need to apply a much more controlled statistical device and include all sorts of other habitats in that area.”

Mr Joliffe said it would need to be a specific study.

“We’d need to concentrate on the potential of the landscape to support low density in the sense that it will revive koalas that are adapting to less than optimum habitats,” he said.

“When we look at that we find like it may still be some viable habitats in the area.”

He said another survey will soon be done in the region.

“In terms of whether there are any resident groups of koalas in the shire, we can’t know that without a comprehensive survey,” he said.

“We’re going to try some sample work ourselves and we’ll have a little expedition.”

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Nets, poachers threaten sea cow extinction


Trang’s 150 sea cow population faced extinction in a few years from now, as trawlnets were still being used and gang hunting of the dugongs had been revived, a local activist warned yesterday.

He said dugong heads were selling for medicine-making at Bt15,000 a piece on the overseas black market.

Koh Libong Community’s Tourism for Conservation Club head, Isma-an Bensa-ard, said 17 dugongs died last year and 11 carcasses had been found buried to harvest the bones. Most dugong deaths came from illegal fishing tool usage as seen in Kang Tang and Had Samran districts, while state agencies were not acting effectively due to work redundancies and negligence. At the same time orders from overseas for dugongs were prompting gangsters to hunt them, he said.

Andaman Marine and Coastal Resource Research and Development Centre official Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong agreed the dugong situation was in crisis and last year saw confirmed dugong deaths in Trang and one in Phuket.

They resulted mostly from dugongs being trapped in trawlnets, he said.

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‘Human pressures affecting endangered species in Sundarbans’


New Delhi: Sundarbans, one of the largest sanctuaries for the Royal Bengal tiger in the world, is undergoing changes in its ecosystem due to “human pressures” which threaten the population of endangered species including the big cat, a new study says.

The study conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also says that the Indian side of Sundarbans is being subjected to various anthropogenic and natural processes affecting the distribution, quality and diversity of its mangroves.

“Human pressures and ecosystem changes are combining to threaten the population of endangered Royal Bengal tigers, one of the iconic species of the Sundarbans,” says the report titled ‘Sharing Lessons on Mangrove Restoration’.

The Sundarbans, covering 10,000 sq kms of land and water (more than half of it in India, the rest in Bangladesh) in the Ganges delta, contains the world’s largest area of mangrove forests. A number of endangered species live in the forests, including tigers, aquatic mammals, birds and reptiles.

Currently, over 4.2 million people live on the fringes of the Indian Sundarbans, resulting in high anthropogenic pressures on the mangroves and their resources.

“In recent years, climate change, regulation of freshwater flow, illicit mangrove felling, poaching and unplanned embankments for settlements have emerged as the main threats to the ecosystem,” the report says.

It says that the central part of the Indian Sundarbans receives almost no fresh water because of heavy siltation and clogging of the Bidyadhari channel.

“Seawater intrusion has further affected the growth of dominant mangrove species such as the freshwater-loving Heritiera fomes. The influence of salinity and effects of climate change, though not well-understood, appear to be promoting the invasion of alien species in some parts of the Sundarbans,” the report adds.


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‘Polar bears could be extinct in 25 years’


Scientists feel that hunting and the trade in body parts are the most serious threat facing the polar bear

For a millennium, the majestic, lily-white polar bear has lorded over the frozen wastes of the Arctic. But if two Russian experts are to be believed, the enigmatic “monarch of the ice” could be extinct in 25 years due to global warming and human incursions into their traditional habitat.

“If current policies are not changed, we can lose polar bears, which currently number 20,000-25,000 globally, within one (human) generation,” Nikita Ovsyanikov, member of the polar bear specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said.

Ovsyanikov and his compatriot, Masha Vorontsova, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Russia, were here for the 21st International Conference on Bear Research and Management organised by the environment and forests ministry and many wildlife NGOs.

The polar bear (or Ursinus Maritimus), the largest member of the Ursidae (bear) family, is also the largest terrestrial land carnivore and is found largely within the Arctic Circle encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and land masses.

“Today, this area belongs to five nations: Denmark (which administers Greenland), Norway (which administers the Svalbard archipelago), Canada, the United States (of which Alaska is a part) and Russia,” said Ovsyanikov.

So, why is the polar bear in grave danger? “It mainly faces threats such as habitat loss due to global warming and continuing human incursions into the Arctic, pollution, hunting for sport and subsistence as well as trade in body parts,” he added.

Both scientists feel that hunting and the trade in body parts are the most serious threat facing the polar bear.

The bear has been hunted since times immemorial by indigenous Arctic people, including the Inuit and Eskimos in Alaska and Canada and Yupiks, Nenets, Chukchis and Pomors in Russia. But they never hunted the species in excess of their requirements.

Trouble started with white European expansion and colonisation of the Arctic. The Europeans brought modern hunting practices and the notion of supply and demand of bear parts dictated by market forces. Everything has gone downhill after that.

In the later part of the twentieth century, the five nations finally woke up to the threat.

“The Soviet Union banned all hunting in 1956,” Vorontsova said.

Canada began imposing hunting quotas in 1968.

“Norway passed a series of increasingly strict regulations from 1965 to 1973 and has completely banned hunting since then. They only shoot some bears in conflict situations,” said Ovsyanikov.

“The United States began regulating hunting in 1971 and adopted the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. In 1973, the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed by all five nations,” said Vorontsova.

The treaty was a landmark in polar bear conservation, but loopholes remain and have morphed into big threats.

“The treaty allows hunting by local people using traditional methods. And that is the most tricky part. Because the aboriginals, mostly in Canada and Alaska, lease out their hunting quotas to foreign hunters, who in turn indulge in overharvesting polar bears for trading their body parts in foreign markets,” said Vorontsova.

According to some estimates, each year, approximately 600 polar bears are hunted in Canada and the parts of 441 are internationally traded.

“There is a growing market for bear pelts in Russia and China. What adds to the problem is that the polar bear is listed in Appendix 2 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), rather than Appendix 1 which would have guaranteed that there was no commercial trade in its parts,” said Vorontsova.

The other threat facing polar bears is global warming.

“It is impacting populations in the Russian Arctic,” said Ovsyanikov.

“A high percentage of cubs are lost. Females can’t breed. Individuals become famished. They have to survive on land as coastal refugees, instead of pack ice lost to warming. Also, there is pollution, oil drilling and increased susceptibility to diseases.”

Still, global warming would not make the polar bear extinct.

“These bears have survived six global warmings since they first appeared on earth. They won’t disappear by global warming alone but by a combination of factors,” said Ovsyanikov.

What is needed is more lobbying for the endangered animals, said Ovsyanikov.

“We need a broad international lobbying and consensus to save the bear. If we don’t do that, we will have only ourselves to blame.

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