Wildfires threaten California’s treasured Sequoias By Glenn Chapman, with Jocelyne Zablit in Los Angeles3 hours ago Middletown (United States) (AFP) – Wildfires sweeping across California are threatening the US state’s famed Sequoia trees, with firefighters scrambling to protect the national treasures.Related Stories
The so-called Rough Fire, the largest of more than a dozen burning across northern and central California, has edged closer to the giant trees in recent days with firefighters scrambling to protect them.”The fire has moved into a number of Sequoia groves in King’s Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Forest and we are taking preventive measures to make sure nothing happens to them,” park spokesman Mike Theune told AFP.Of particular concern is the General Grant tree, the second largest Sequoia in the world. It stands 268 feet (81.7 meters) tall.Theune said firefighters are monitoring the tree round-the-clock, spraying water and clearing the area around Grant grove.”We have some of the best firefighters in the world working on this fire in order to protect these national treasures,” he said.Theune said crews had also installed a sprinkler system around the Boole Tree, the sixth-largest tree in the world.Although the Sequoias, which are a major attraction for tourists worldwide, need low-intensity fires to reproduce, extreme heat like that from the Rough Fire is too much for the giants to handle.Firefighters search for survivors after the Valley fire tore through a residential area, in Middleto …The Rough Fire has burned 139,000 acres near Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. More than 3,700 firefighters are battling the blaze, which is 40 percent contained, according to the US Forest Service.Thousands of firefighters further north are also battling two fast-moving wildfires — the Valley Fire and the Butte Fire — that erupted over the weekend.The blazes killed at least one person, forced the evacuation of more than 23,000 and destroyed more than 700 homes.Of the two fires, the Valley one has been the most devastating and difficult to contain. Officials said 9,000 homes are still threatened in the area.Middletown, a small hamlet north of San Francisco, was completely gutted by the flames that left an apocalyptic scene and shocked even seasoned firefighters with its speed and strength.Residents trickled back to the town on Tuesday to check on their still smoldering homes. Officials said at least 400 homes and businesses had burned to the ground.”Everyone in here could tell you a horror story you wouldn’t believe,” said Ashley Mayhew, manager at Hardester’s, a market in the heart of Middletown that stayed open during the inferno.A firefighter douses flames from a backfire while battling the Butte fire near San Andreas, Californ …She said desperate residents had flooded the store over the weekend, buying everything from water, groceries, tools and other supplies.”People… were hosing down their houses to try to save them,” Mayhew told AFP. – ‘Going to get worse’ -Fire officials said there was reason for hope in battling the Butte Fire, and that some residents of the San Andreas area should even be allowed back to their homes.But although temperatures are expected to be much cooler this week than last, fire officials remain on alert due to hot conditions and landscape left bone dry by a four-year drought.Governor Jerry Brown, who has declared a state of emergency in the affected counties, said Monday he did not see an end to the fire season in the months ahead, blaming climate change in part for the blazes.”It is going to get worse because of the nature of climate change,” he told reporters.John Wickstrom, engine captain with the US Forest Service, said crews were struggling to anticipate the path of the fires.”With the conditions and the damage that’s already done, we could be out here for weeks,” he said.For now, the fires have not affected vineyards in the Napa Valley.”The pattern of the Valley Fire as it is now does not indicate an imminent threat to Napa Valley,” said Cate Conniff, spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners organization.”So we have been very lucky.”Firefighters this summer have also been battling wildfires in other West Coast states, including Washington and Oregon, that have stretched resources thin.Officials say the wildfires, which have mobilized 30,000 firefighters, could be the costliest on record with more than $1.23 billion spent so far.
California wildfire evacuees return home, find charred ruins By BRIAN SKOLOFF and KRISTIN J. BENDER3 hours ago Associated Press Videos Wildfire Devastates Calif. Mountain TownNews Wildfire Devastates Calif. Mountain Town MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (AP) — Some residents cried as they walked through the rubble of their homes while others shared amazing stories of survival as more people returned to their houses Tuesday and surveyed the twisted metal and smoking ruins left behind by a devastating California wildfire.Related Stories
Gary Herrin sobbed as he walked through what had been his childhood home in Middletown.”Yep, grew up here, was able to walk to school from here. Many friends lived close by,” Herrin recalled, looking around. „There’s a lot of good people here, but it’s a ghost town now, it’s really eerie.”His brother had been living in the home and members of his extended family resided nearby.”I go to my brother-in-law’s house, my niece’s house, and there’s nothing, nothing, ashes,” Herrin said.A number of people saw the devastation for the first time since the massive flames sped Saturday through rural Lake County, less than 100 miles north of San Francisco.Aided by drought, it had consumed more than 104 square miles and was 15 percent contained.Authorities say 585 homes were known to be destroyed, and the number was expected to increase. Another 9,000 structures remained threatened.Firefighter Roger Bangs, left, hoses down a burned-out area as Capt. Timothy Bingham assists followi …During his return, Herrin walked to the charred remains of an old Chevy pickup and gave it an angry kick. The truck was the only possession of his late father that he still had. Other people found nothing but concrete foundations and chimney stacks.”You’ve got to look at everybody’s, everybody’s loss,” Herrin said. „It’s never going to be about one person. It’s about everybody.”The Lake County fire and another blaze about 120 miles to the southeast have displaced 23,000 people and were the worst of a dozen wildfires burning in the state. The Lake County fire spread into northern Napa County, but the region’s famous wine valley was not threatened.Rancher Lisa Comstock said she and her three dogs survived the raging fire in rural Middletown by jumping into a water trough as flames neared her home.Comstock was also able to keep her horses nearby as the fire burned around them.”The flames were coming over that mountain and surrounding this place like there was no tomorrow,” she said. „I jumped in the water trough with all the dogs, and the horses came up around. Thank God they just stayed here.”At one point she was sure she wasn’t going to make it but talking to her animals helped keep her and the animals calm.Firefighters work on a ridge line as they clear brush Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, near Middletown, Calif …”If this is how I go, I’m not leaving these animals. That’s all I could think of,” she said.Thousands of utility crew members and firefighters were working diligently to control the blaze and get life back to normal for as many people as possible, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dave Shaw.”We’re working as hard as possible to try to put out the hotspots in these burned areas so that when people do come back there won’t be a risk of them getting burned themselves,” he said.The utility companies were trying to restore power to the area and water was flowing in some areas of town.One person has been confirmed dead, and others were unaccounted for, but authorities said they could be staying with relatives, on vacation or elsewhere and not impacted by the fire.The dead woman has been identified as Barbara McWilliams, 72. She told her caretaker she didn’t want to leave her home near Middletown. The world traveler and sharp-minded woman with advanced multiple sclerosis said she would be fine.Her body was found Sunday in her burned-out home after flames kept Lake County sheriff’s officials from reaching her.Scores of people in Lake County were escorted back to their homes Tuesday to check on pets and farm animals. They were allowed to remain for 15 minutes to feed and give water to the animals.Will Irons was headed to his surviving home in Hidden Valley with his two dogs that escaped the fire with him. He was anxious to see if his two cats, chickens and hamster were still alive.Lake County has been particularly hard-hit. In late July, a wildfire east of Clear Lake destroyed 43 homes as it spread across more than 100 square miles. Another fire erupted Aug. 9 several miles from the community of Lower Lake.Throughout the state, more than 6,400 structures remained threatened.East of Fresno, California’s largest wildfire had moved away from the Sierra Nevada’s Giant Sequoia trees, some of which are 3,000 years old.__Bender reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Janie Har and video journalist Haven Daley contributed to this report.
Global marine populations slashed by half since 1970: WWF By Nina Larson2 hours ago Geneva (AFP) – Populations of marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have dropped by about half in the past four decades, with fish critical to human food suffering some of the greatest declines, WWF warned Wednesday.In a new report, the conservation group cautioned that over-fishing, pollution and climate change had significantly shrunk the size of commercial fish stocks between 1970 and 2010.WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report indicated that species essential to the global food supply were among the hardest hit.One family of fish, that includes tuna and mackerel, had for instance declined 74 percent during the 40-year period, it found.”In the space of a single generation, human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce while also destroying their nurseries,” Marco Lambertini, head of WWF International, said in a statement.”Overfishing, destruction of marine habitats and climate change have dire consequences for the entire human population, with the poorest communities that rely on the sea getting hit fastest and hardest,” he warned.The WWF report also shows there has been a steep decline in coral reefs (AFP Photo/Rod Salm)”Profound changes are needed to ensure abundant ocean life for future generations,” he insisted.Fish are not the only marine species that are suffering.The WWF report also shows there has been a steep decline in coral reefs, mangroves and seagrasses that support fish species — with more than one third of fish tracked for the study relying on coral reefs and some 850 million people around the world relying on them for their livelihoods.A previous report from the group showed that half of all corals have already vanished, and they are all expected to be gone by 2050 if temperatures continue to rise at the same rate.WWF’s analysis tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species — nearly twice as many as in its past studies, giving „a clearer, more troubling picture of ocean health.”WWF stressed that the ocean is a renewable resource and that marine life can be restored if the huma …One in four species of both sharks and rays is facing extinction, largely due to overfishing, the report said.WWF called on global leaders to ensure that ocean recovery and coastal habitat health figure high on the list of priorities when the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years are formally approved later this month.”We must take this opportunity to support the ocean and reverse the damage while we still can,” Lambertini said.- Solutions possible -While highlighting the severity of the crisis, WWF stressed that the ocean is a renewable resource and that marine life can be restored if the human population lives within „sustainable limits.”The report called for the amount of ocean area worldwide that is currently protected (3.4 percent) to be tripled by 2020.Among its other recommendations was a call for consumers and sellers of fish products to increasingly demand stock from companies that follow internationally recognised best practices.A further suggestion was that funds specifically allocated to restore marine life would be repaid with future profits from the fishing industry.”The pace of change in the ocean tells us there’s no time to waste,” Lambertini said. „These changes are happening in our lifetime. We can and we must correct course now.”
‘Living fossil’ fish sports a lung By Mariette Le Roux4 hours agoParis (AFP) – The coelacanth, an elusive deep-sea dweller long thought extinct, had another item added Tuesday to an already-long list of unusual physical traits: an obsolete lung lurking in its abdomen.Similar to the human appendix, the organ was likely rendered defunct by evolution, researchers noted in the journal Nature Communications.Like all fish, today’s coelacanths — referred to as „living fossils” — use gills to extract oxygen from the water they live in.But millions of years ago, coelacanth ancestors probably breathed using the lung, the team concluded.”By the Mesozoic Era, adaptation of some coelacanths to deep marine water, an environment with very low variations of oxygen pressure, may have triggered the total loss of pulmonary respiration,” co-author Paulo Brito of the Rio de Janeiro State University told AFP.This could explain how it survived the extinction event 66 million years ago that wiped all non-avian dinosaurs and most other life from Earth — and probably those coelacanths inhabiting shallow waters, he said.Coelacanths today use gills to extract oxygen from the water they live in, but millions of years ago …It would also account for „the marked reduction” of the lung into its shrivelled, present-day form, Brito said by email.- ‘Lazarus’ fish -Coelacanth fossils have been dated to about 400 million years ago, and the fish was thought to have died out towards the end of the Mesozoic era, which stretched from about 250 to 66 million years ago.But then one was caught off the South African coast in 1938, earning the coelacanth the title of „Lazarus taxon” — a group of animals „resurrected” from extinction.A few other individuals have been found since, as well as members of a cousin species off the coast of Indonesia, but the coelacanth is considered endangered.It is a queer fish in many ways.Key among its quirks, it has paired, „lobe-shaped” fins which move in an alternating pattern similar to a four-limbed land animal — sparking speculation that it may have been a member of a group of fish that first crawled onto land to evolve into animals with legs.The grey-brown fish can grow up to two metres (6.5 feet) in length, weigh as much as 91 kilos (200 pounds), and may live up to 60 years.It has a hollow, liquid-filled spine, enamel-capped teeth, and a hinged jaw that allows it to open its mouth wide to swallow larger prey.Little is known about how they live, what they eat, how they reproduce, or how many of them are left.The new discovery was based on dissections and scans of infant and adult coelacanth samples, as well as 3D reconstructions, said Brito.The team found that the disfunctional lung is proportionally much larger in the coelacanth embryo than the adult, meaning that growth of the organ slows as the fish gets older.
Hawaii Taps the Ocean to Generate Carbon-Free Power By Katharine Gammon | Takepart.com8 hours agoHawaii Taps the Ocean to Generate Carbon-Free Power The world’s most abundant source of energy issolar—the sun shines everywhere—and most of that potential power falls on the ocean.Now, a Hawaii-based company has built the world’s largest power plant to harvest that energy from the ocean and convert it into electricity. The 105-kilowatt ocean thermal energy conversion demonstration plant went online last month in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. It cost about $5 million to build and only generates enough electricity to power 120 homes. But the project is a big step toward a future where ocean thermal energy could replace carbon-spewing fossil fuel power plants. “The ocean is the world’s largest energy storage system, the largest solar collector—and all we have to do is figure out how to extract it,” said Duke Hartman, vice president for business development at Makai Ocean Engineering, the company that developed the plant.Ocean thermal energy has several advantages over solar, wind, and other intermittent sources of other renewable energy. “It’s stable, constant, and available around the clock,” said Hartman.The system works by pumping cold deep-sea water and warm surface seawater into a heat exchanger. The warm seawater heats ammonia until it becomes high-pressure vapor. The vapor then drives a turbine that generates electricity. Leaving the turbine, the vapor is condensed by the relative cold of the deep seawater and repeats the cycle. The only environmental impact is a small change in the temperature of water discharged from the system.Ocean thermal systems can ramp up and down quickly to respond to electricity demands. That may make it an attractive technology to complement less reliable solar and wind energy. Hawaii has set a target of obtaining 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045, and Hartman said ocean thermal energy conversion will be an important piece of the mix.The technology’s real promise may be in tropical countries where the differential between deep ocean and surface temperatures is great enough to make the technology work.“Most of the world’s population is in coastal zones, and there are many developing nations located in good areas where there are OTEC resources,” said Hartman.While the current plant is onshore, Hartman said that much larger plants would be built offshore because it would be more cost-effective to place pipes vertically into cold seawater rather than run them to land. Some plants could be built on floating platforms that could be moved if necessary.RELATED: These Islands Are Showing the World How to Ditch Fossil Fuels “If you have a floating power plant, you can tow it around the world with a renewable always-on power source,” said Hartman, noting the facilities could run autonomously.Makai Energy is building a larger power plant in Hawaii in collaboration with a Japanese consortium. China, Korea, Philippines, Malaysia, France, and the Netherlands are all putting money into ocean thermal energy research and development, and Makai estimates that global investments have surpassed $100 million since 2009.“If people are serious about reducing and mitigating global warming, OTEC is a perfect option,” Hartman said. Related stories on TakePart:• Norway Aims to Become Europe’s ‘Green Battery Pack’• Wind Power Blows Away Coal and Gas as Europe’s Cheapest Energy Source
The Annual Dolphin-Killing Season at the Cove Has Begun By Nicole Mormann | Takepart.comSeptember 14, 2015 4:55 PMThe Annual Dolphin-Killing Season at the Cove Has Begun Eleven days following the start of Japan’s annual dolphin-hunting season, the first pack of Risso’s dolphins were captured and slaughtered along the cove at Taiji, Japan, last week.Ric O’Barry, founder of the Dolphin Project and subject of the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, and his team of cove monitors filmed the capture from the shoreline as fishers drove a pod of twelve into the mouth of the cove.Surrounded by seven fishing boats, the panic-stricken dolphins fled toward the beach in an attempt to escape. O’Barry saw one dolphin thrash and bang its head against the rocks, suffering from the shock of being captured.RELATED: 127 Million Reasons Why the Cove Dolphin Slaughter Continues“The violence comes from the drive itself,” said O’Barry in a statement. “The drives are so stressful on dolphins that pregnant females in the process of a drive can abort their calves and young ones can’t always keep up the fast pace.”O’Barry resisted the urge to jump in the water as the female dolphin beached a few feet from where he stood. The 75-year-old, who was arrested in late August for not presenting his passport to Japanese officials, said in the video that jumping in would guarantee arrest and possible deportation.”Had we jumped in, we’d have been arrested immediately for conspiracy to disrupt commerce,” he said. „Our video, computers, cameras—everything would have been confiscated.”The video is a part of Dolphin Project’s efforts to end the exploitation and slaughter of hundreds of dolphins at Taiji each year. In this year alone, it’s estimated that a total of 1,873 marine animalswill be captured and killed from Sept. 1 to March 1. Related stories on TakePart:• Japan Dolphin Hunt Dealt Big Blow• The Unseen Slaughter Under the Sea
Couple Miraculously Survives After Humpback Whale Breaches, Lands On Their Kayak By Inside EditionSeptember 14, 2015 5:01 PM A couple miraculously escaped unscathed after a humpback whale breached and landed on their kayak.Footage taken from a Sanctuary Cruises whale-watching boat shows the beast emerging from the water in Moss Landing, California and landing on the couple – who disappear beneath the water.Watch: TV Host Loses It as Blue Whale is Captured Live on Air For the First Time EverOne of the kayakers, Tom, a wildlife film director, recounted the experience, which he called “the most extraordinary thing to happen to me.””We were taken under the water by the whale, perhaps in the down-draft,” he said. „I think it brushed against me while I was out of the kayak… Neither of us know how we weren’t ended there and then.”When they emerged, “we definitely understood how lucky we were, and were pretty confused,” he said. Captain Mike Sack of Sanctuary Cruises explained that a full-size humpback can weigh 40 tons.“This was one of the more dangerous situations that I’ve seen out here,” he said. “All of a sudden, this massive full-size whale does a full 180-degree breach and lands stomach first either right on top of or right next to two kayakers.”He checked to make sure everyone was alright and other kayakers in the area helped the couple empty their kayak and get back on the water.Captain Sack said: “I believe it was the whale’s left pectoral fin that actually hit them. Which can be up to 15′ long on a full-size animal.”Read: The Majestic Moment a Humpback Whale Breaches in Front of SnorkelersHe added: “Kayak whale watching can be extremely dangerous. And one should realize that humpback whales are wild animals and totally unpredictable.”Tom the kayaker added that the group they were traveling with had taken great care to move them out of the way of the whales.Watch Below: Whale-Watchers Shocked When Humpbuck Does Surprise BackflipRelated Articles:Woman Removes Blindfold after Sex, Discovers Boyfriend is Her Female Friend ;Mom Jailed after Her Two Kids are Found Living in Crates in Underground Cave ;Woman Filmed Having Sex on the Beach in Front of Kids: „I’m Not a Sex Offender”
Decision soon on listing eels under Endangered Species Act By PATRICK WHITTLESeptember 14, 2015 2:57 PMFILE – In this May 19, 2015 file photo, baby eels, known as elvers, swim in a plastic bag at a buyer’s holding facility in Portland, Maine. A decision about whether to list American eels under the Endangered Species Act is expected from federal authorities by the end of September 2015, and fishermen are wriggling. The California-based Council For Endangered Species Act Reliability wants the federal government to list the eels as threatened. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, file)PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Fishermen benefiting from booming prices for American eels are squirming about a decision expected this month on whether to list the fish under the Endangered Species Act.An environmental advocacy group wants the federal government to list the American eel as threatened, giving the fish protections that would greatly limit fishermen’s ability to pursue and catch them.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision about protecting the eels will likely come toward the end of September, said Steven Shepard, a spokesman for the agency.The decision will come as the market for baby eels, called elvers, is booming. In Maine, which has by far the most lucrative eel fishery in the country, elvers were worth more than $2,100 per pound in 2015 after being worth less than $100 per pound in 2009. The elvers are sold to Asian aquaculture companies that raise them to maturity and use them as food, including sushi.The Fresno, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability says the eels have lost more than 80 percent of their habitat, largely due to dams that impede migration, and suffer from too much commercial fishing pressure. The group, which was called the Council For Endangered Species Act Reliability at the time of the petition, also states that the eels’ population is „declining catastrophically,” as are other eel species worldwide.”In our time this species has been going through a dramatic decline with very little regulatory oversight,” said Rob Roy Ramey, a science adviser to the petitioners. „They’re slimy, they’re odd looking, they’re eels. They’re not warm and fuzzy and charismatic — this is like the passenger pigeon of our time.”American eels range from Greenland to Venezuela, hatch their young in the Sargasso Sea, and are the subject of commercial fishing in several East Coast states. Their value rarely exceeded $3 million per year from 1950 to 2010 before it ballooned to more than $40 million in 2012, largely buoyed by Maine’s elver fishery. Value has waned somewhat in more recent years, in part due to a quota system and other controls, but remains far above historical averages.Only Maine and South Carolina fishermen harvest elvers, and South Carolina’s fishery is much smaller. Several other states have fisheries for older eels, including Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.Darrell Young, who co-directs the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association and has fished for elvers for more than 20 years, said he is hoping the eels aren’t listed under the Endangered Species Act. He said some opponents of fishing assume eels are imperiled because Maine fishermen failed to reach their elver quota in 2015, and he thinks that opinion is misguided.Fishermen didn’t reach their quota this year because the cold weather shortened the spring fishing season, Young said.”After the season closed this year, there were plenty of eels running up the brooks,” Young said. „There’s going to be plenty of adult eels running out to the Sargasso Sea.”American eels have become more valuable in recent years largely because of a sharp decline in their population across Europe in the 1990s.Regulators in Maine are monitoring the federal government’s decision about whether to protect eels, but won’t have a comment until a decision is made, said Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Marine Resources
Southeast Asia wheezes in haze, Indonesia cracks down on land burning By Michael Taylor and Kanupriya Kapoor19 hours agoGirls take a selfie at the haze shrouded Batanghari River bridge in Jambi, Indonesia Sumatra island, …By Michael Taylor and Kanupriya Kapoor Related Stories
JAKARTA (Reuters) – A worsening haze across northern Indonesia, neighboring Singapore and parts of Malaysia on Tuesday forced some schools to close and airlines to delay flights, while Indonesia ordered a crackdown against lighting fires to clear forested land.Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, but governments in the region have failed to address the problem.The fires have been exacerbated this year by the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, as a prolonged dry season in Indonesia has parched the top soil, fuelling the flames.”The fire problems have reached a critical point,” Luhut Pandjaitan, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, told reporters.”Our neighboring countries have protested for years. We are not playing around.”Muslim women pray for rain to put out the fires which enveloped the region in Pekanbaru, Riau provin …President Joko Widodo, who was on an official visit to the Middle East, instructed security forces late Monday to accelerate efforts to extinguish the fires and revoke land permits from companies found responsible.Nearly 3,000 military and police personnel, 17 helicopters and four cloud-seeding aircraft have been deployed to fight the fires, according to the country’s disaster management agency.A state of emergency has been declared in Indonesia’s Riau and Central Kalimantan provinces as an air quality index has hit „dangerous” levels, rising to as high as 984, officials said.In Singapore, the index has fluctuated well above 100, levels considered „unhealthy”, for the past few days, and reached as high as 249 on Monday night, putting it in „very unhealthy” territory.Indonesia has struggled for years to contain forest fires and the resulting haze despite repeatedly promising to punish perpetrators.A man stands on his wooden boat as it crosses the haze shrouded Batanghari River in Jambi, Indonesia …THOUSANDS SICK The unhealthy air has caused acute respiratory infections for around 26,000 people in Indonesia’s Riau province alone, a government official said.It has also increased the workload for doctors in Malaysia and Singapore, where the haze has clouded the build-up to the Formula One night race later this week.Malaysia said it was preparing to conduct cloud-seeding operations to reduce the haze as schools were closed in several states and some flights were disrupted due to poor visibility.The smog is usually caused by firms and small-holder farmers clearing land adjacent to existing concessions for palm or pulp and paper.Major plantation companies like Asia Pulp and Paper say they have a „zero burning” policy but have often been criticized by green groups for not doing enough to stop the haze.Indonesian authorities plan to sanction this week three or four companies of the total 26 under investigation, said Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, with the revoking of their land permits a possibility.(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina and Eveline Danubrata in JAKARTA, Trinna Leong in KUALA LUMPUR and Fathin Ungku in SINGAPORE; Editing by Randy Fabi and Simon Cameron-Moore)
Rwanda: Tourists marvel at gorillas whose numbers are rising By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA14 hours ago VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, Rwanda (AP) — Deep in Rwanda’s steep-sloped forest, the mountain gorillas look both endearing and intimidating. A tourist might feel conflicting impulses to shy away and reach for a hug (the latter is not advised) when a gorilla brushes past on a path. The way a gorilla snoozes, scratches a leg or casts an inquiring glance — it all seems familiar, and yet wild.”You can’t tell what they’re thinking,” said John Scott, a retired chemical engineer from Britain’s Worcester area who trekked to the high-altitude habitat to see the creatures with close genetic links to humans.This sense of kinship helps explain why increasing numbers of tourists are heading to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, fueling an industry seen as key to the welfare of the critically endangered subspecies as well as the national economy. Those visitors can also be a threat because gorillas are vulnerable to human diseases and so reduced in numbers that a veterinary team called Gorilla Doctors cares for sick and injured apes.The mountain gorilla population dropped sharply in the last century because of poaching, illness and human encroachment, although the numbers are now rising. These days, an estimated 900 mountain gorillas live in Rwanda and neighboring Congo and Uganda.In Rwanda, conservation is big business. Eighty individual permits to see the gorillas for one hour are available daily for a maximum price of $750 each, and 20 percent of permit revenue goes to schools, clinics and other local community projects, the park website says.More than 20,000 people visited Rwanda’s gorillas in 2014, nearly three times as many as in 2003, according to government figures. Many came from the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada. Last week, people in hiking gear sipped coffee and milled around at the park headquarters before breaking into groups of eight, the limit for tourist parties visiting separate gorilla families in the dense undergrowthIn this photo taken Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, members of a family of mountain gorillas named Amahoro, w …”How’s the pace? Are you feeling the mountains yet or not?” guide Ferdinand Ndamiyabo asked his group, including an Associated Press team, during a hike up a volcano that is home to a family of gorillas called Amahoro, which means „peace” in the Rwandan language. It took close to two hours of walking to reach the gorillas, a relatively gentle climb in mild weather through tangled vines, stinging nettles and other lush vegetation.Ndamiyabo earlier laid out rules for the encounter: Don’t point, speak softly, don’t cough or sneeze in the animals’ direction and stay a minimum of 23 feet (7 meters) away. If a gorilla approaches, crouch down, don’t make eye contact and make a low sound similar to that of clearing the throat, which gorillas use to express friendliness.What awaited in a clearing were drowsy gorillas, including two young ones that idly grappled and another that groomed Gahinga, an adult male silverback that dominates the Amahoro. Gahinga eventually rolled off his back and rested his great head on an arm, watching the camera-toting arrivals. He made a low sound.”The silverback is saying, ‘No problem, my friends, take as many pictures as you want,'” Ndamiyabo declared.Dr. Jean Bosco Noheli, a Gorilla Doctors veterinarian who accompanied the tourists, noted a wrist wound on Karisimbi, a female gorilla named after the highest volcano in the border-spanning Virunga mountain range where gorillas live. He described the injury as superficial and said there was no need for doctors to intervene, a complex process that would require darting the gorilla with a tranquilizer and likely fending off other gorillas before treatment on the spot.In this photo taken Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, tourists climb through dense vegetation and forest to see …Another member of the group is Kajoriti, a male who lost a hand to a poacher’s snare.American researcher Dian Fossey, who won the confidence of gorillas by imitating their noises, moving on her knuckles and chewing on vegetation, brought international attention to the primates’ plight. Fossey, whose book „Gorillas in the Mist” inspired a movie starring Sigourney Weaver, was murdered at her Rwandan research camp in 1985 and is buried at a mountain gravesite.Rwanda descended into bloody chaos during its 1994 genocide, and tourism only returned to Volcanoes National Park at the end of the decade. Since then, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Hollywood actors are among those who visited Rwanda’s mountain gorillas, whose home is a two-hour drive from Kigali, the capital.The group led by guide Ndamiyabo followed the gorillas after their morning nap. At times, gorillas fell in behind the startled tourists, almost bumping into them as they advanced.Sarah Scott, a nurse and wife of tourist John Scott, said the close encounter was awe-inspiring.The gorillas seemed so human — whether „grooming or passing wind” — but also huge and powerful, she said, adding: „One swipe of the hand and that’s it.”
AP PHOTOS: Editor selections from Asia By The Associated PressSeptember 14, 2015 1:33 AM Flooding from torrential rain in central Japan swamped the city of Joso, just northeast of Tokyo, washing some houses away and stranding residents who were rescued by military helicopters.In other photos from around Asia last week, a key suspect in last month’s bombing in Bangkok smiled with police during a re-enactment at the blast site. Thai authorities often make the accused go through the motions of their alleged crimes, although the practice has been criticized by legal experts.Tragedy struck central India when dozens of people were killed at restaurant by an exploding cooking gas cylinder, which then triggered a second blast of mine detonators stored illegally nearby.Singapore’s ruling party’s victory in weekend elections was never in doubt. It won 83 of 89 seats in Parliament. The party has taken every election since the island nation’s independence in 1965.Taiwan held military exercises in which it simulated attacks by rival China, while South Korean army special forces members showed off martial art skills during an event marking an important Korean War battle.In Indian-controlled Kashmir, residents hurled stones at police to protest a court ruling. Further south, a naked Hindu holy man jumped into a river during the Pitcher Festival as part of a cleansing ritual.In World Cup soccer qualifying action, Uzbekistan scored against the Philippines, while Danish teammates celebrated their victory over a Japanese duo during the Japan Open badminton championship.Visitors snapped photos during a „Van Gogh Alive” multimedia exhibit at a Beijing shopping mall that included over 3,000 images of the Dutch painter’s work._This gallery was curated by Associated Press photo editor Hiroshi Otabe in Tokyo.