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NEWSFILE: CONSERVATION (#18b)

news mainly spanning summer 1998. PRESERVING HAWAII'S FISH

USA TODAY - Aug 7, 1998 . Hawaii Honolulu - Marine scientists have warned that Hawaii's populations of prized bottom fish, such as the red onaga, ehu and opakapaka, are on the verge of collapse due to over fishing. The state set up a special taskforce of fishermen, experts and state and federal conservation officials to come up with rules to allow the populations to rejuvenate.

WILD HORSES DRAGGED AWAY

USA TODAY - Friday, Sept 25. California Santa Cruz Island. A tiny herd of wild horses, a remnant of the island’s ranching era, is being removed this week. National Park Service rangers will ship the horses by boat to the mainland where they will be held in quarantine for 30 days and then taken to a horse sanctuary near Red Bluff.

GALAPAGOS GALLIVANTS 1

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Volcanic eruptions on the largest of the Galapagos islands are threatening three colonies of rare giant tortoises unique to the island chain, authorities said Thursday. The Cerro Azul volcano on Isabela Island began erupting Tuesday, spewing flames and a river of lava that could reach the 1,670 Galapagos tortoises, said Elecir Cruz, director of Galapagos National Park. ‘The area affected by the volcano is close to three tortoise nesting grounds, which could be harmed depending on the direction the lava flows,’ Cruz said.

Authorities have not ruled out moving the tortoises, which weigh hundreds of pounds each, to a different part of the island if the danger to them increases, Cruz said. ‘A river of lava has covered about two miles of uninhabited hillside that is outside the islands' main tourist routes.’ Authorities fear the lava could also set off brush fires because of a recent drought. But Isabela island's approximately 1,000 human inhabitants are not in danger. The nearest village, Puerto Villamil, is 30 miles from the volcano.

Cerro Azul last erupted in 1979. The Galapagos archipelago is 6 00 miles west of mainland Ecuador and is the Colorado-sized South American nation's main tourist attraction. Its species of plants and animals, found nowhere else in the world, have unique characteristics that helped Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution.

GALAPAGOS GALLIVANTS 2

Galapagos turtles to be rescued from volcano. QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters)

The Galapagos islands' giant turtles will be evacuated from the archipelago's largest island, Isabela, to get them out of the way of lava from a volcano that erupted two weeks ago, authorities said. Galpagos National Park officials said late Tuesday they would fly over the island on Wednesday to identify which turtles were most in danger from the Cerro Azul volcano on Isabela, which erupted after 19 years' inactivity, spewing rivers of molten lava. ‘We are evacuating them as a precaution, as the flow of lava from Cerro Azul volcano could affect some giant turtles,’ Juan Chavez, head of the park's technical team, told Reuters. ‘A helicopter is coming from Quito to carry out an inspection on Wednesday and evacuate turtles that are in danger.‘

Chavez said the turtles were currently nesting, meaning their colonies were dispersed throughout the islands, which belong to Ecuador and are 6 00 miles west of the South American mainland. Formed by giant volcanoes thrusting out of the Pacific Ocean, the islands were visited by English naturalist Charles Darwin in 1835 and their unique animal population helped him develop his theory of evolution. The Galapagos are sparsely inhabited by humans but attract a steady parade of tourists. With no large land mammals, the islands are dominated by reptiles with no fear of man, like the giant turtles and marine iguanas.

GALAPAGOS GALLIVANTS 3

Darwin's finches get boost from El Nino - expert. By Robert Evans GENEVA, Sept 17 1998(Reuters)

The El Nino weather phenomenon may have wreaked havoc around the world, but for the famed Galapagos finches that clinched for Charles Darwin the truth of evolution it came as a blessing in disguise. The news was delivered to wild-life enthusiasts in Geneva this week by British biologist Robert Bensted-Smith, who heads the Darwin research station on the remote Pacific islands 1,000 miles off the coast of Ecuador. `The heavy rains that El Nino brought caused vegetation and insects to flourish all round the archipelago, and this led the finches that feed on them to breed like mad, ’ he told an audience at the city's Natural History Museum. By the time the phenomenon's latest cycle had died out by May this year, the small birds that played such a key role in changing man's view of himself and his place in nature had produced so many offspring that they stopped breeding early. ‘They were probably worn out, ’ said Bensted-Smith.

When in 1835, Darwin arrived in the Galapagos on board the British Navy survey ship Beagle, the young naturalist still half-believed that all life on Earth had been created by a deity and that while species could die out they never changed. The finches, 13 varieties with different-shaped beaks scattered around the archipelago's some 100 islands, were to convince him otherwise and were the key element in his formulation of the principles of evolution. His observations on how one type had evolved into several after a probable chance migration thousands of years earlier from the Latin American mainland lay at the heart of his major work, ’On the Origin of Species, ’ published in 1859. As the finches spread around the islands and their populations became cut off from each other, research showed, the birds adapted to the food locally available by developing beaks of a shape most suitable to harvest it. Where insects were plentiful, the normally seed-eating finches evolved sharp beaks suitable for probing into holes or bark. Where vegetation was predominant, they developed more rounded beaks suitable for crushing or tearing.

Eventually, the geographic isolation of each group created new species, just as later research showed mankind's forebears had developed away from the common ancestor that also produced the apes that could not breed with each other. But Bensted-Smith, who has run the research station on Santa Cruz island since 1996 after years as a naturalist-guide in the Galapagos and East Africa, also brought to Geneva more news about the finches. Against the odds, one declining species known as the Mangrove Finch because of its addiction to the water plant could be in fact breeding and merging with its cousin, the more plentiful Small Ground Finch. ‘We have found just three possible hybrids, ’ the biologist said. ‘It is just possible that we are witnessing the re-absorption of a species by a more abundant relative. ' The Mangrove Finch, now down to around 70 pairs, could be disappearing because the plant itself is in decline. But Bensted-Smith said there could be a more sinister explanation that could affect the future of all the 13 finch species of the Galapagos the flourishing of non-native predators that have been brought to the island over the years. These included feral cats and black rats, as well as wasps that may have arrived on the Galapagos by boat or plane and could be competing with the finches for grubs.

MORE SMUGGLERS STORIES

From THE JAKARTA POST, 30 July 1998

AIRPORT CUSTOMS OFFICIALS SEIZE 1, 020 SNAKES

Jakarta (JP): Soekarno-Hatta International Airport customs and excise officers and the airport animal quarantine center have foiled an attempt to smuggle 1, 020 cobra snakes to China, an official said yesterday. The head of the quarantine center, Lukas A. Tonga, told a news conference that the smuggling attempt was uncovered Saturday night after the officers became suspicious over the contents of 54 boxes in which the Naja sputatrix snakes were being transported. The boxes were about to be loaded on board Singapore Airlines flight SQ-16 3 to China. The freight documents, dated July 25, stated that the boxes contained live eels weighing in at 874 kilograms, Lukas said.

PT Jibatani Karsa was listed as the exporter. ‘When the boxes went into the x-ray, the officers became suspicious when they saw that the movement of the animals were different from usual. They were more active. ‘The officers then opened two of the boxes and found live cobras, ’ Lukas said. The officers arrested Zaenal Arifin, 40, a broker who was handling the cargo’s documents. He was questioned by Soekarno-Hatta Airport Police. Hopefully we can gain more information from him since he may be able to lead us to the responsible party in this case, ’ Lukas said.

Cobras sell well in China where prices can reach an equivalent of Rp. 150,000 per kilogram. Indonesian sale prices are set at between Rp. 5,000 and Rp. 10,000 for each snake, depending on its size, Lukas said. Head of Soekarno-Hatta customs and excise office Heru Santoso said that the confiscation would cost the smugglers some Rp. 190 million in losses.

‘Cobras are a very expensive commodity abroad. Besides using the meat and the skin, people also use its poison as a medicine, ’ Heru said. The snake is a protected species here and its export and trade are forbidden under Law No. 5/1990 for Natural Resources and Ecosystem conservation. ‘Besides that , the species is also regulated under Law No. 16 /1992 for fish, animal and plant quarantine. Violators face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a Rp. 150 million fine, ’ Lukas said.

The brown-black cobras were transferred yesterday to Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta for temporary care. ‘We could not keep them too long because the environment is not conducive here, ’ he said.

...AND EVEN MORE

Airport customs officers foiled an attempt to smuggle 15 boxes of Windu shrimp, weighing a total of 16 4 kilograms, on June 15. Customs officials confiscated a total of 750 kilograms of Windu shrimp, 3, 745 King cobra snakes and 3, 384 Jali snakes during the period of 1995 through 1997.

BLUEBIRD`S BACK!!!

USA TODAY New York Tuesday, Sept 1 Delmar — The bluebird was removed from the New York's ‘special concern’ list by Gov. Pataki, who also honoured the retired teacher largely responsible for the state bird's rebound. Raymond Briggs started a successful nest box project more than a decade ago along Route 20 in upstate New York. The effort helped boost the dwindling number of bluebirds, which were dying out because of habitat loss and pesticide use.

BISON PROBLEMS

USA TODAY - Friday, Oct 2 Wyoming Cheyenne — A conservation group filed a lawsuit against the federal government to stop a bison hunt scheduled to begin this weekend at the National Elk Refuge near Jackson. The Fund for Animals contends federal officials failed to consider alternatives to killing bison to reduce the risk of brucellosis being transmitted to cattle. BEARS BRIGHTER 1

August 31 Burlington — Vermont's population of black bears is healthy and is probably as large as it was when European settlers first came to the New World. Several large tracts of forest have been allowed to mature, providing natural bear habitat, and the fall hunting season has been adjusted, allowing the bears to multiply to 3,000, officials said. BEARS BRIGHTER 2

Aug 10, 1998 . USA TODAY Alaska Kenai - The state Department of Fish and Game said it wants a task force of state and federal agencies, local governments, timber companies and others to help develop guidelines to keep a stable population of Kenai Peninsula brown bears. The Peninsula has up to 300 brown bears, and the population is considered stable and healthy for now, said Gino Del Frate, a state wildlife biologist based in Homer. The goal is to prevent numbers from declining.

BEARS BRIGHTER 3

USA TODAY - Aug 21, 1998 Alaska Soldotna - The annual fall bear hunt on the Kenai Peninsula has been cancelled because too many female brown bears have been killed this year through spring hunting and Defence shootings, state biologists said. It’s the fourth year in a row that the fall bear hunt has been halted. REINTRODUCTIONS - THE BILBY

BILBY COLONY IN SEARCH OF NEW HOME

Scientists are looking for a likely place to reintroduce one of Australia’s most beautiful marsupials, the endangered bilby, to its natural habitat. State Environment Department researchers will survey Currawinya National Park, 400km southwest of Charleville, to gauge whether it is a suitable place to start a bilby colony.

Environment and Natural Resources minister Rod Welford said yesterday Australia’s only captive breeding program at Charleville now housed 20 animals, which would form the basis of the breeding program. ‘Currawinya offers an ideal spot for the relocation of bilbies which the department has been breeding in captivity, but first we need to assess the potential threat of feral cats, foxes and rabbits, ’ Mr Welford said. The survey and other work were partially funded by a Coles supermarket chocolate bilby promotion at Easter.

The bluish-furred bilby is a nocturnal animal about the same size as a rabbit. It survives in a handful of scattered northern colonies, no longer inhabiting New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia. The ‘rabbit-eared’ bilby is gradually replacing the ecologically damaging rabbit as an Easter symbol. A number of bilbies will be sent to the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo in New South Wales, where a similar captive breeding program will begin.

In other environmental news, another section of the Daintree National Park will be opened to visitors after construction of an access road, visitor centre, car park, board walks and picnic areas at Alexandra Range in the reserve’s southern section. Construction will take about six months.

BALD EAGLE ANTICS

USA TODAY - Aug 25, 1998 North Dakota Tuesday, August 25 Devils Lake - For the first time since '23, a pair of bald eagles has nested on Devils Lake. The pair were spotted with their 70- to 90-day-old eaglet. CONDOR MOMENT 1

USA TODAY - THURSDAY. Aug 13, 1998 Arkansas Bismarck - Researchers say the deaths of bald eagles in southwest Arkansas may be caused by a toxin carried by coots, a food source for eagles. Try Our Condor Basket: - Arizona announced its fourth upcoming condor release, bringing the state's total to 24. CA had six, but three died this year. The giant scavengers live for over 50 years. CONDOR MOMENT 2

USA TODAY - Oct 8, 1998 CONDOR Flight - Six California condors raised in captivity in Idaho were flown to Utah, where they will be released into the wild. Three more of the endangered birds will be flown from California today. All will be freed within eight weeks, officials said, after acclimating to an area along the Utah-Arizona border near the Grand Canyon.

CONDOR MOMENT 3

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Nine California condors raised in captivity in Idaho and California are being flown to Utah, where they will eventually be released into the wild.

Six condors raised at The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey south of Boise left for St. George, Utah, on Wednesday. Three more are scheduled to be taken from Los Angeles to Utah on Thursday. The condors will be released to the wild after spending six to eight weeks getting acclimated to the area along the Utah-Arizona border near the Grand Canyon. The transfer helps move populations of the endangered bird a step closer to recovery.

Shooting, egg collecting and poisoning contributed to the decline of the condor population, leaving the species on the brink of extinction. Since 1992, the Condor Recovery Program has released captive-bred condors annually to re-establish a self-sustaining population in the wild. At present, 33 California condors are flying freely in California and Arizona.

CONDOR MOMENT 4

JULY 24, 1998 - USA TODAY California Ventura - Two rare California condors apparently drowned in a canyon pothole last Friday, but federal wildlife officials are waiting for blood and tissue test results to see if the birds might have been poisoned. State officials described the deaths as a minor setback for a multi million dollar program to save the condor from extinction.

ROADRUNNER ONCE, ROADRUNNER TWICE, I`M IN LOVE WITH THE FEELING NOW...

USA TODAY - JULY 24, 1998 Arizona Tucson - A study of roadrunners by University of Arizona biologists has determined the desert bird is adapting well despite urban encroachment. The foot-tall creature feasts on unguarded dog food and has territorial spats with rabbits. About 1,200 have been sighted inside Tucson.

COUGAR COUNTS

USA TODAY - Aug 25, 1998 Oregon Tuesday, August 25 Corvallis — Cougar sightings are on the rise in Oregon. In '92, there were 151 reported sightings of the big cat. By '97, that number had risen to 714. RATTLESNAKE RAIDER

WARNING: SNAKE POACHER NOW ON THE INTERNET. ‘COBRA KING’ ATTEMPTS TO SELL MAPS OF TIMBER RATTLESNAKE DENS. WILL THE REAL RUDY KOMAREK PLEASE STAND UP?

In response to ‘Cobra King's’ attempt to sell denning locations of timber rattlesnakes in several north-eastern states, this website is intended to warn the unwary. Timber rattlesnakes are legally protected in all northeastern and New England states north of Pennsylvania, and in several midwestern states. Rudy Komarek (‘Cobra King’) is a snake poacher and convicted federal felon who has been exploiting wildlife for many years.

Often using the telephone, ’Cobra King’ delights in harassing people who do research and takes perverse pleasure in taunting agency personnel who protect wildlife. Komarek is a known exaggerator and con-artist whose main intent is to rip off anyone who would fall for his gimmick of selling topographic maps to locate dens of timber rattlesnakes.

Using the computer internet, Rudy is apparently trying to get publicity for himself after the failure of a ‘book’ he threatened to write several years ago. Now he is on a website offering to sell mapped information to den sites of the timber rattlesnake, a protected species in many states. The current internet site is intended to present information concerning the ‘real’ Rudy Komarek, known to many as a con-artist, small-time criminal, illegal wildlife trafficker, and reptile poacher. Please be aware of this individual's primary motive: to rip off the unsuspecting ‘customer. ‘ As Herp News Today made clear in an editorial in 1995. ’Many people view his book [now ‘Cobra King’ website] as a hoax consistent with his lifestyle. ‘

Wanted Notice on Komarek distributed annually to law enforcement personnel and field biologists in New York and other states. Notice on increased protection for timber rattlesnakes in New York State (1995) Article (Bulletin Chicago Herpetological Society, 1994) detailing Komarek’s federal arrest and felony conviction. Editorial (Herp News Today, 1995) on Rudy Komarek and his mission. Wall Street Journal article on the poacher (1994). ‘State Sinks Fangs in Snake Man’ (1996 Pennsylvania newspaper article)

Sun Herald 23/8/98

Retailers who sell products which claim to sell extracts from endangered species could face fines of up to $550,000 and up to ten years in prison under tough new federal laws.

Proposed changes to the Wildlife Protection Act announced by Environment minister Senator Robert Hill yesterday, mean that labels on medicines would be considered as a legal declaration of their contents and sufficient proof for prosecution. Previously the government had to use costly DNA testing to prove products contained extracts from endangered species such as rhinoceros, tiger and leopard. The president of the NSW Association of Chinese Medicine, Yifan Yang, said most practitioners were happy to abide by the changes. He said tiger extract was commonly used for lower back pain which could be treated with physiotherapy. Rhino horn was used to control fever, but buffalo horn or panadol(paracetamol) was equally effective, he said.


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