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Around the World

Local News from All Over

Africa

Shell Game

One of the few positives to come out of the BP gusher is a sudden awareness of the impact of offshore drilling throughout the rest of the world. After all, as oil industry expert Lisa Margonelli is fond of saying, if the United States tightens regulations on drilling, companies are likely to just ramp up their efforts in countries with no such regulations.

One such country is Nigeria, where the ecologically important mangroves of the Niger Delta are flooded annually with the same amount of oil the Exxon Valdez spilled in Alaska. Dozens of small spills in the Delta each year amount to an ongoing disaster that is equally as damaging to marine and wetland ecosystems as the BP gusher has been. According to environmental groups and the Nigerian government, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, spewing at least 9 million barrels of crude into the Delta, home to vast wetlands that sustain millions of people and animals.

The Associated Press reports that last year Royal Dutch Shell alone spilled a record 14,000 tons of crude oil in the Niger Delta. That’s more than 4 million gallons. The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons in Alaska in 1989. The Niger Delta is the largest wetland in Africa, spanning 20,000 square miles, and is inhabited by some 150 species, all now endangered thanks to oil spills.

photo of two serious looking men with a fire in a field behind themSocialist Youth League of NorwayDaily oil leaks in the Niger Delta equate to an Exxon
Valdez-sized disaster every year, destroying sensitive habitat,
harming endangered species, and poisoning communities.

Despite the fact that almost-daily spills have become the norm in the Delta, little international attention has been paid to the problem. “We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US,” Nnimmo Bassey, the Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International, says. “But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people’s livelihood and environments.”

Hoping to capitalize on the world’s current interest in the environmental impacts of the oil industry, activists in the Niger Delta have been launching clever campaigns. The most recent example was a fake Shell press release and press conference announcing an end to drilling in the Delta. The gag was pulled by a local Nigerian activist group – The Nigerian Justice League – that had been trained by internationally known (and feared) corporate pranksters The Yes Men. The ruse drew attention from hundreds of media outlets, and suddenly the question, “Did you know there’s an Exxon Valdez spill in Nigeria EVERY YEAR?” was on every NPR listener’s lips.

Unfortunately, according to Margonelli – a journalist and the author of Oil on the Brain – it’s not just Nigeria. “We drill in places like Chad, which had no environmental laws whatsoever, and the United States and the World Bank and Exxon kind of made this deal and went in and created environmental laws on the fly,” she says. “The problem is that it’s fine to have a moratorium on drilling here, but we need to make sure we’re not going abroad to get the oil. Because we still use oil. So we’re now going to these countries that are a little dicey because the big oilfields are basically gone. We’re going to places that are riskier geologically, riskier politically, riskier in general, financially, and they tend to be places with fewer regulations.”

The Faster Times, 6/20, Terra Daily, 7/21

Game On

An insatiable appetite for bushmeat in the West is causing public health scares in Europe and social and environmental problems in Africa – namely Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. New research published in the journal Conservation Letters estimates that about 270 tons of bushmeat is being smuggled into Europe each year.

Over the course of 17 days in the summer of 2008, customs officials at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport searched the luggage of 134 passengers traveling from Africa. Nine passengers were sneaking bushmeat into the European Union and another 83 people were carrying some kind of fish or livestock. One passenger, who had no other luggage, was trying to smuggle 112 pounds of bushmeat. Researchers from the Zoological Society of London and the Natural History Museum of Toulouse identified 11 bushmeat species from confiscated luggage, including species of primate, crocodiles, and pangolins.

“This is a lucrative, organized trade feeding into a luxury market. A four-kilo (nine-pound) monkey will cost around 100 euros (120 dollars) in France, compared with just five euros in Cameroon,” says study co-author Marcus Rowcliffe. “It’s like buying the best cut of organically grown beef.”

The thriving bushmeat trade is raising concerns about the potential for spreading pathogens along with the animals. Several outbreaks in Africa of the deadly Ebola virus have been linked to eating bushmeat.

“If you have intimate contact with a wild animal – and eating is pretty intimate contact – then you could be exposed to all kinds of diseases,” says Malcolm Bennett, of Britain’s National Centre for Zoonosis Research at the University of Liverpool, who was not linked to the study.

The appetite for bushmeat is also fueling problems among the communities and environments of central Africa. In Congo, the demand for bushmeat is pushing hunters deeper into the jungle, and experts are concerned that the bushmeat trade could drive some of Africa’s last hunter-gatherers – the Pygmies – to eradicate the very wildlife that sustains them, and with it, their own forest-dwelling existence. According to the World Wildlife Fund, more of the meat is being hunted and consumed than ever before.

The result is a slow emptying of forests throughout Africa, but especially in the Congo basin. As the meat becomes more scarce, traders are heading to the reserves, particularly the Okapi Reserve, which comprises a large swath of the Ituri Forest, and is home to 20,000 Pygmies and Bantus – the only people allowed to hunt in the reserve.

Whereas the hunt was once part of a subsistence living, and hunters sold about half of what they killed and kept the rest for themselves, these days nearly all carcasses are being sold to traders. And as demand increases, the hunters are working overtime to supply that demand.

Surveys conducted within the Okapi for the Wildlife Conservation Society between 1995 and 2006 showed major drops in all populations of antelope, the most commonly hunted bushmeat animal. The number of blue duikers dropped 26 percent; larger red duikers 42 percent; the even larger yellow-backed duikers 59 percent.

Those percentages likely have increased over the past two years as more roads going into and out of the reserve have made the bushmeat trade easier. Traffic to the reserve jumped from a couple of trucks per month to more than 1,000 once the roads were built, leading to “a huge increase in the illegal bushmeat trade,” says Conrad Aveling, a British environmental consultant who has worked in Congo for decades.

The problem, says Aveling, is that “the forest just doesn’t produce enough to meet the demand.” And by depleting their most precious resource, he says, the Pygmies “are sawing off the branch on which they’re sitting.”

Longtime Congo expert Terese Hart puts it this way: “They’re overexploiting the forest in a way that’s making their own way of living impossible.”

Agence France Presse, 6/18

ASIA

Well Wishers

It’s a tragic illustration of the law of unintended consequences: As many as 77 million people in Bangladesh, roughly half the population there, could have arsenic poisoning from wells dug mostly by do-gooder NGOs in the 1970s. Such were the findings of a six-year study recently published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

A generation ago, well-meaning development groups encouraged villages across Bangladesh to dig wells rather than rely on potentially contaminated surface water and rivers. The effort helped to stem the spread of water-born illnesses such as cholera, but gave way to what some say is a far worse problem: toxic levels of arsenic in the country’s wells. Currently, well water accounts for 90 percent of Bangladesh’s drinking water.

In conducting their study, an international team of researchers followed 12,000 people in the country for six years, testing their urine and drinking water every two years. They also studied a century’s worth of data collected by the Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study to track arsenic poisoning in correlation with mortality rates. In the end they found that 20 percent of deaths in the group were due to arsenic exposure.

photo of a child drinking from a faucet, worn plastic bottle in foregroundOxfam InternationalDrinking water throughout Bangladesh is poisoned
with arsenic.

Arsenic, a mineral and periodic element, is carcinogenic and highly toxic to the liver, skin, kidneys, and cardiovascular system. Disturbingly, the study found that those who were at any time exposed to high levels of arsenic still had higher mortality rates even if their exposure eventually decreased or stopped. Researchers also found increased mortality rates at even relatively low levels of exposure, including the Bangladeshi safety standard (50 micrograms/liter) and the World Health Organization’s standard (10 micrograms/liter). Other long-term studies have shown it takes 20 years for the effects of arsenic poisoning to dissipate, even after people stopped using contaminated wells.

The problem with the wells had been suspected for several years. In 2000, the World Health Organization called the wells “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history ... beyond the accidents at Bhopal, India, in 1984, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.”

Fortunately, there are possible solutions for the future: deeper wells and filters for the water. Unfortunately, neither does much for those already exposed. It is predicted that one in five Bangladeshis will die from arsenic poisoning.

CNN, 6/21, Healthcare News, 6/22

Red Party Goes Green?

North Korea, it turns out, isn’t just a workers’ paradise – it’s also a green utopia. At least according to the country’s notoriously propaganda-driven, government-run news media.

North Korea-watchers familiar with stories of scientific breakthroughs from the state-run news agency, KCNA, took a June report about the country’s “great efforts” on environmental issues with a grain of salt.

“Researchers have developed a new material for removing exhaust fumes from automobiles so as to cut the greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air pollution 35-40 percent,” the report said.

The news agency also reported that pollution-causing “units” in Pyongyang have been registered, suggesting pressure on industries to clean up. “They are now developing a gas and dust arrester necessary in production processes and new materials needed to secure environmental safety of products,” said the report.

What exactly a “gas and dust arrester” is was left unclear, as was the definition of pollution-causing “units.” KCNA added that the Environmental Protection Institute of the Ministry of Land and Environment Conservation has increased research on “pollution-free vegetable products.”

Left unsaid, naturally, was the fact that it’s pretty easy to reduce pollution-causing units when there are no private cars in the country and hardly any industry remaining. Or the harsh reality that the country has experimented with “pollution-free” vegetables for years – via crippling food shortages and famine. When you don’t have an economy, it’s easy to have a small carbon footprint.

Reuters, 6/23

Not Ready for Take-Off

In May, just days after his election, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he was cancelling longstanding plans to build a third runway at Heathrow. Shortly thereafter, the new coalition government refused to approve new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, the other airports serving London. Officials said the expansions would just enable more “binge flying” that would be incompatible with the UK’s commitment to reducing emissions.

Environmental campaigners in Mumbai are hoping for a similar outcome as they continue a decade-long effort to halt plans for a new airport near India’s largest city. But while Britain is on the verge of massive government spending cuts, India is ascendant, and its business leaders say Mumbai can’t live without a new airport if it is to continue to thrive.

Indian planners hope to construct the new airport, Navi Mumbai, on 395 acres of mangroves east of the giant metropolis. Environmental groups and local farmers warn that if the $1.9 billion project goes ahead, the loss of the mangroves will upset the delicate ecological balance in the wetlands and lead to deadly flooding during monsoon season.

“The environment will be destroyed if they get rid of the entire mangrove,” says Pandharinath Keni, a local farmer and fisherman. “If they fill it in, there will be knock-on problems. The water has to go somewhere.”

The developers have promised to replant mangroves elsewhere on the coast. But opponents are doubtful of the pledge, and say that, in any case, they will not benefit Mumbai, which is already prone to flooding. In 2005, 400 people in the city died during monsoon-season flooding, perhaps exacerbated by the loss of mangroves in the region.

“Nature has given you a barrier. Why remove it?” says Stalin Dayanand, manger of the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust. “It’s not going to be good in the long term. The mangroves don’t need to be replaced. They need to be protected wherever they are.”

India’s powerful business interests aren’t convinced by such arguments. They say that the country’s economy will suffer without another airport to serve the financial capital. The number of passengers going through Mumbai International Airport has increased three-fold since 2005, and expansion there would be difficult because the airport is hemmed in by homes. Developers expect that by the time Navi Mumbai opens, in 2030, it could be handling 40 million passengers annually.

“In the next 15 to 20 years, we might even need a third airport,” says Kapil Kaul of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation research group. “The more Navi Mumbai is delayed, the more it will have an impact and handicap the city.”

While worried about what will happen to the environment, farmer Keni is also concerned that, if the project goes through, the families displaced by the airport won’t receive compensation for having to relocate.

“It’s like a lot of big projects,” he says. “They promise many things but they don’t fulfill their promises. When you’re moved from one place to another, you have to make sure that you get everything you had before.”

AFP, 7/10

EUROPE

Blowing in the Wind

Setting an example for the rest of the world, the European Union is investing heavily in renewables and slowly weaning itself off of fossil fuels. The European Commission on July 20 announced the termination of subsidies to unprofitable coal mines, and the gradual closure of such mines within the next four years. At the same time, European engineers are racing to create more and more powerful offshore wind turbines as the market for wind power grows in Europe.

The coal proposal allows EU member states to continue granting subsidies to coal mines only if they present plans to close by October 15, 2014. These subsidies would be gradually reduced by at least 33 percent every 15 months, and paid back to the state in full if the mines fail to close on time.

The new regulation is designed as a transitional measure to replace current coal regulations, which allow carte-blanche subsidies to unprofitable mines and are set to expire at the end of the year. Rather than extend subsidies under the status quo, it will allow the coal industry to receive aid for mine closures, but no aid for further investment or accessing coal reserves. Sound fair enough?

artwork showing a colossal turbine at sea, looming above two shipsWindpower Limited and GrimshawThe UK-designed Aerogenerator is emblematic of a new, emerging breed of
super-powerful offshore wind turbines in Europe.

“Companies need to be viable without subsidies. This is a question of fairness vis à vis competitors that operate without state aid. This is also in the interests of taxpayers and of government finances, which are considerably constrained,” says EU Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia.

The goal of the new regulations is to end decades of repeatedly extended subsidies given to uncompetitive mines, and to direct the funds instead toward state governments as they begin to deal with the environmental and social consequences of the mine closures.

The decline of Europe’s coal industry isn’t a new phenomenon; it can be traced back to the 1950s when the prices for imported coal decreased and the cost of local extraction increased. After the expiration of the European Coal and Steel Community treaty in 2002, the EU adopted regulations on state aid in order “to allow for the continued restructuring of the coal industry.”

So far, Germany and Spain have handed out the most coal subsidies, while Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia have made limited use of them. Germany already has a national plan to shut down all of its coal mines by 2018, and would need to accelerate closure if this regulation is passed.

As coal begins to fade in the EU, governments and private industry are investing in renewable energy to replace it. To that end, a competition is underway as engineers, energy companies, and researchers race to be the first to create the next generation of wind turbines: giant, 10 MW offshore machines twice the size of any existing turbine.

The latest entry to the race is a British design called the “Aerogenerator,” inspired by floating oil platform technology. It was developed by Arup, a leading engineering firm, which is working with an academic consortium backed by Rolls Royce, Shell, and BP. The machine rotates on its axis, stretching approximately 275 meters from blade tip to tip. The first Aerogenerators will be built from 2013 to 2014, with two years of testing.

It will have stiff competition from the United States and Norway. A US wind company, Clipper, has announced plans to build 10 MW “Britannia” turbines in northeast England. And the Norwegian firm Sway is planning a massive floating turbine that would stick out of the sea from 100-meter-deep floating “masts” anchored to the seabed.

An EU-sponsored research project is also working on 8 MW to 10 MW machines, while American and Danish companies are planning 9 MW turbines. Full-scale models of all are targeted for completion in the next three years.

“There is a wonderful race on. It’s very tight and the prize is domination of the global offshore wind energy market,” says Feargal Brennan, head of offshore engineering at Cranfield University.

Since scale and reliability are the keys to wind power, offshore power is regarded as the future of the wind industry. With no buildings or trees around, the machines could take advantage of unobstructed, high-speed wind, generating the maximum amount of power.

The market for offshore power is predicted to grow by hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The European Wind Energy Association predicted last year that Europe would increase its offshore wind power from around 2 GW today to more than 150 GW by 2030.

The Guardian, 7/26

NORTH AMERICA

Get Off My Cloud

“Cloud seeding”: It just sounds weird. But there’s no limit to industry’s inventiveness in coming up with false solutions to the man-made ecological mess we’re in. Also known as “weather manipulation,” cloud seeding involves dispersing silver-iodide pellets (an aquatic insect poison) into the atmosphere in an effort to induce rain. Facing growing drought and rising energy challenges, California’s largest private energy utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), has managed to get cloud seeding accepted as part of the California State Water Plan; but residents of Mt. Shasta, just south of the Oregon border, are fighting the plan, and they’re using some inventive tactics to do it. Though Mt. Shasta is small and relatively remote, the town’s citizen campaign can be expected to gain considerable traction – and attention – in coming months.

Take the snowcapped and perpetually cloud-shrouded Mt. Shasta, California’s most iconic volcanic peak; add the fact that the Sacramento, McCloud, and Pit Rivers all spring from the foot of this mountain to provide the lion’s share of Northern California’s water; throw in PG&E, California’s aggressive and unpopular energy utility as the protagonist of a dubious plot to manipulate the weather; and you have the makings of a made-for-TV envirodrama.

Add, too, some seasoned campaigners: The town of McCloud, just over the mountain, recently won a six-year fight to prevent Nestlé Waters from building what would have been one of the world’s largest bottling plants. Many of the same locals who beat Nestlé are now taking on PG&E, including the Winnemem Wintu, a neighboring tribe with a strong environmental backbone. Given their experience, the citizen group in Mt. Shasta does not merely want to wage another site-fight – they want to keep corporations out altogether. With support from San Francisco’s Global Exchange and Pennsylvania’s Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – the Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project is attempting to override legal precedent by banning any and all corporations from engaging in cloud seeding or bulk water extraction. The ordinance they’ve drafted also includes a clause to prevent toxic trespass, and a provision to enshrine the right to local self-governance.

Cloud seeding has been practiced since at least the 1950s, but its impacts have been studied little. While intended to manipulate the weather regionally, cloud seeding represents the leading edge of climate engineering: technical efforts by science and industry to address the disastrous effects of, well, previous technical efforts by science and industry. A technology that has never been proven effective, and that relies on the dispersal of a substance that kills aquatic insects over the major trout and salmon rivers of Northern California, would seem to be a bad bet all around. That’s why Mt. Shasta residents and their supporters have stood up to say enough is enough.

When California goes to the polls this November, keep an eye on tiny, feisty Mt. Shasta, where residents will vote on an ordinance modeled on similar laws passed in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Maine, to tell corporations once and for all, hey, you, get off of our clouds!

Jeff Conant

informative graphical mapGraphic: Nadia Khastagir

Fins Finished

In May, when Governor Linda Lingle signed a bill outlawing the possession or distribution of shark meat, Hawaii became the first US state to prohibit the sale of shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine that has contributed to a sharp decline in shark populations. The law, which will go into effect July 1, 2011, sets out fines of between $5,000 and $15,000 for a first offense and up to $50,000 plus a year in prison for a subsequent offense.

Environmental groups praised the law as an important step in addressing the global problem of shark finning, a process through which sharks are caught, have their fins cut off, and then are dumped back in the ocean to die. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one-third of shark species are in danger of becoming extinct primarily because of overfishing. “This is a landmark bill,” says Marie Levine, founder and executive of the Shark Research Institute. “This is enormously important for the conservation of sharks.”

But some members of Hawaii’s sizeable Chinese community (about 13 percent of the state’s population is Chinese or part Chinese) say the law will take away an important part of their culture. “Something will be missing,” says Vienna Hou, owner of Kirin Restaurant. “Decent Chinese restaurants – they all serve shark fin.”

By itself shark fin supposedly doesn’t taste like much; broths and sauces are required to give the soup flavor. But some people swear that eating shark fin has important health benefits; they say it’s good for bones, kidneys, and lungs, and helps treat cancer. In Chinese culture, shark fin soup is also a status symbol, the kind of dish served at special events like weddings and birthdays. At Kirin, one serving of shark fin soup costs $17; some high-end restaurants in Hong Kong charge as much as $1,000 for a bowl.

“I don’t think you should say it should be illegal to have shark fin,” says Johnson Choi, president of the Hong Kong China Hawaii Chamber of Commerce. “Shark fins are part of food culture – Chinese have had food culture for over 5,000 years.”

Proponents of the law, perhaps seeking to tap into a populist vein, argued that it’s precisely because shark fin soup is an unnecessary delicacy that there’s no reason not to outlaw it. “It’s a tradition of serving shark fin soup to those who could most afford it,” says state Senator Clayton Hee, who is of Chinese and Native Hawaiian descent. “It’s an indulgent activity.”

In any case, the law will mostly have a symbolic affect. Only about a dozen restaurants in Hawaii serve shark fin soup. By far the biggest market for the stuff is Hong Kong, which handles anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the world’s shark fin trade.

“I doubt it very much that people will be very disappointed,” says David Chui, manager of Legends Seafood Restaurant.

Associated Press, 5/29

OCEANIA

Soup Nazi

It’s a classic cry of parents everywhere: “Clean your plate.” But is it appropriate at a restaurant? Japanese Chef Yukako Ichikawa thinks so. At her Wafu restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, diners must eat everything they’re served – or else pay a penalty and risk being banned.

The 30-seat restaurant bills itself as “guilt-free Japanese cuisine.” That means all the dishes are organic and free of gluten, dairy, sugar, and eggs.

But expect a heaping serving of shame if you’re not able to clear your plate. The restaurant has introduced a 30 percent discount for diners who eat all the food they order. The chef and her staff tell people who don’t finish to choose another restaurant next time they go out. “To contribute toward creating a sustainable future we request a little more of our guests than most other restaurants,” says a sign pinned to the door.

The restaurant is detailed in its expectations of patrons: “Finishing your meal requires that everything is eaten except lemon slices, gari (sushi ginger), and wasabi,” the menu says. And don’t overlook the garnish! “Please also note that vegetables and salad are NOT decoration,” the menu instructs. “They are part of the meal too.”

While some Wafu regulars have appreciated the extra effort to reduce waste for the sake of the environment, others say it’s overbearing. But Ichikawa is undeterred.

“Wafu is not just a restaurant; it is an extension of Yukako’s personal ethos toward nourishment and sustenance,” the restaurant’s website says. “We are not only committed to serving meals that nurture and respect the body, but are actively dedicated to the notion of waste prevention, and take seriously our responsibility toward the environment and sustainability for the future.”

Of course, there might be an easier method of reducing waste than browbeating customers: Serve smaller portions.

Reuters, 6/10

Waste Not

Instead of asking its super-polluting mining companies to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Australia is hoping whales can help out. Scientists are positing that iron-dense whale poop in the Southern Ocean can act as a sort of carbon offset for the country.

Researchers at Flinders University in South Australia have found that the defecation from Southern Ocean sperm whales contains a large amount of iron, which stimulates the growth of carbon dioxide-absorbing phytoplankton. When the phytoplankton die, the trapped carbon sinks to the deep ocean.

“They eat their diet, mainly squid, in the deep ocean, and defecate in the upper waters where phytoplankton can grow, having access to sunlight,” says marine biologist Trish Lavery, who led the study.

All smirks aside, the poop could help reduce Australia’s carbon footprint. The Flinders University scientists concluded that an estimated 12,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean absorb about 400,000 tons of carbon each year, twice the amount they release by breathing. “They’ve well and truly bypassed being carbon neutral,” Lavery says.

Unfortunately, that extra step isn’t likely to deliver the significant emissions reductions Australia needs.

In 2008, the country comprised 0.32 percent of the world’s population, but produced 1.43 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Falling just behind the United States, Australia’s per-person pollution levels were 4.5 times the global average.

While better mining regulations and reduced dependence on fossil fuel are needed to make a meaningful impact on greenhouse gas emissions, the discovery that sperm whales can help might just encourage better regulation of whaling. Lavery says that there may have been as many as 120,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean before modern whaling began; together, they would have the removed about 2 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year.

Yet another reason to save the whales.

Reuters, 6/17

SOUTH AMERICA

Calvin Klein Catnip

Cougars aren’t the only ones lured in by the scent of Calvin Klein’s “Obsession for Men.” Apparently jaguars – as in the elusive big cats, not a species of middle-aged bar fly – find the fragrance intoxicating as well. Scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are using the cologne to lure wild cats into camera traps.

The scientists have tested various fragrances to see which ones the cats respond to best and, according to WCS scientist Dr. Pat Thomas, Calvin Klein’s “Obsession for Men” is the hands-down favorite. Since the specific chemical makeup of fragrances is patented and thus kept under wraps, the scientists aren’t sure what it is exactly that attracts the cats, but Dr. Thomas says that musk scents in general work best, eliciting what he calls “cheek-rubbing behavior,” which consists of the cats vigorously rubbing their cheeks on the scented object (typically a tree trunk or other natural object). Such behavior helps field scientists not only to snap photos of the big cats in the wild, but to get hair (and thus DNA) samples that allow them to trace the genetic makeup of different species and track any genetic shifts within populations.

photo of a jaguarWildlife Conservation SocietyOn the prowl: Scientists have found that Calvin
Klein’s “Obsession for Men” lures notoriously
camera-shy jaguars.

Although scientists have used various scents to lure elusive predators to areas where they can observe, monitor, and thus protect them, the WCS is the first to test the capability of commercial fragrances to attract big cats. The research was first conducted at WCS’s Bronx Zoo in New York. In an attempt to draw cheetahs to camera traps, researchers experimented with 23 different scents. Estée Lauder’s “Beautiful” detained the cats for two seconds on average, Revlon’s “Charlie” got them to stay put for 15.5 seconds while Nina Ricci’s “L’Air du Temps” managed 10.4 minutes. “Obsession for Men’s” musky scent scored best: 11.1 minutes.

“These big cats would literally wrap their paws around a tree and would vigorously rub up and down,” Thomas says. “Sometimes they would start drooling and their eyes would half-close, almost like they were going into a trance.”

The news quickly spread to field researchers, including those studying jaguars in Guatemala.

“We’re just starting to get an idea of how jaguars behave in their habitat,” says Roan Balas McNab, WSC’s Guatemala program director. “Before we used ‘Obsession for Men’ we weren’t able to get these images at all.”

Wall Street Journal, 6/11; The Guardian UK, 6/11

Pest Uncontrolled

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest isn’t just bad for ecosystems and the stability of the globe’s climate: clear cutting the forest also harms local human communities. According to a study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, chopping down vast sections of trees helps mosquitoes thrive and sends malaria rates soaring.

photo of a logged and burned forestLeonardo FreitasDeforestation in the Amazon is contributing to high
malaria rates.

By using satellite data that revealed logging activity and comparing it with local health records, researchers found a 48 percent increase in malaria cases in one Brazilian county after 4.2 percent of the area’s tree cover was cleared. Humans’ altering of the landscape and the construction of ditches, dams, mining pits, culverts, and vehicle ruts gave mosquitoes new areas in which to breed and spread the deadly parasite.

“It appears that deforestation is one of the initial ecological factors that can trigger a malaria epidemic,” says Sarah Olson, a University of Wisconsin professor who worked on the study.

Farmers clearing the jungle to make way for agriculture is the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon. About 7,300 square miles of Brazilian forest were lost every year between 1998 and 2007. The country has about 500,000 cases of malaria a year, most of which are transmitted by mosquito.

“Conservation policy and public health policy are one and the same,” says Jonathan Patz, another one of the researchers. “How we manage our landscapes and, in this case, tropical rainforest, has implications for public health.… This environmental epidemiology study further shows that rainforest conservation policy should be a key component of any malaria control effort in the region.”

Or to put that in layman’s terms: More trees = healthier people.

Reuters, 6/16

   

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