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The sprawling Sundarbans, home of the Bengal tiger and pristine mangroves, could become a toxic dumping ground if a massive coal plant is built near its borders, a United Nations agency warned this week. The 1,320-megawatt Rampal plant under construction in Bangladesh would "irreversibly damage" the World Heritage Site if built as planned, UNESCO's World Heritage Center said Tuesday in a joint report with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The two organizations formally recommended that Rampal's developers cancel the project and move it to a safer location. They also recommended that Bangladesh halt development of the Orion Khulna coal plant, a 660-megawatt facility in the vicinity of the Sundarbans. SEE ALSO: The Great Barrier Reef isn't dead, despite its viral obituary The U.N.-backed report is the result of a months-long research mission to determine how the coal projects and other developments would affect the World Heritage site. It also comes as major environmental groups such as Sierra Club and 350.org are lobbying to scrap the plants. "There is a very substantial threat of air pollution and water pollution," Fanny Douvere, who coordinates the World Heritage Center's marine program, told Mashable . "A lot of the things that are being proposed for Rampal would not be permitted elsewhere where there are higher [environmental] standards," she said by phone from Paris. The Sundarbans lie on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Image: IUCN/Mizuki Murai Rampal is being built just 14 kilometers, or 8.7 miles, from the boundary of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. Spanning 140,000 hectares in Bangladesh and India on the Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans are home to critically endangered species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins, and estuarine crocodiles. The Sundarbans were deemed a World Heritage site in 1987 for their 'outstanding universal value,' meaning the forest is one of the most remarkable places in nature. The coal plant's developer, Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Co. Ltd., is a joint venture between major power companies in both nations. The governments of India and Bangladesh, which are heavily subsidizing the $1.82 billion coal plant, insist the project is safe. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdury, a top energy adviser in Bangladesh, said Rampal would have no adverse impact on the Sundarbans, Bangladeshi media reported in July. Map of Sundarbans National Park in Bangladesh. Image: Wikicommons Douvere said she and her partners at IUCN met with the plant's developers and government officials during a fact-finding mission to Bangladesh in March. The team ultimately found the coal plant would pose at least four substantial threats to the area. The first and second threats include air and water pollution from dirty smokestacks, windblown coal ash and power plant wastewater and waste ash that could blow or leak into the nearby Sundarbans. Third, building and operating the plant will require significant dredging and shipping that could destroy dolphin habitats and biodiversity. It may also strain the forest's freshwater flow, which is drastically declining as rising sea levels, port developments and increased shipping activities cause saltwater intrusion. The fourth threat is the cumulative impact of all the industrial and related development infrastructure, such as barges to move the coal and facilities to store it, plus transmission lines to carry the plant's electricity to cities. The World Heritage site is not permanently inhabited, but an estimated 6.5 million people depend directly or indirectly on the wider Sundarbans ecosystem. Image: IUCN/Mizuki Murai On top of this, the government's Environmental Impact Assessment of Rampal fails to identify the measures or procedures needed to avoid these impacts, said Remco Van Merm, the conservation officer at IUCN's World Heritage program. The assessment "further reinforces IUCN's conclusion that this development is likely to have a negative impact on the environment," he told Mashable by email. Destroying parts of the Sundarbans could eventually cause the local extinction of several endangered species, Van Merm added. It may also make local communities more vulnerable to storms, floods and cyclones as the protective forest buffer disappears. "Only intact healthy ecosystems can continue to efficiently provide these services," he said. The Rampal coal plant isn't just a threat to the environment: It also poses a large financial risk, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a Cleveland-based research group, said in a June report. The institute said electricity rates in Bangladesh are expected to rise to help offset the costs of the plant. At the same time, energy demand isn't likely to be high enough to keep the plant running at full capacity, meaning the plant could earn less money than expected. Rampal coal power plant site; Wikimapia image accessed May 2016. Image: Sourcewatch "The proposed Rampal power plant is fraught with unacceptable risk, out of step with the times, and would set Bangladesh back," the institute said in its report. Rampal's sole debt backer is the Export-Import Bank of India, which has committed a $1.6 billion loan to build the plant, according to BankTrack, a global network of non-governmental organizations that tracks the private financial sector. Other financial backers are indirectly involved in the coal plant as shareholders, bondholders or underwriters through NTPC, India's largest power utility, or the import-export bank , Yann Louvel, BankTrack's climate and energy campaign coordinator, told Mashable. Douvere of the World Heritage Center noted that Tuesday's report is not a blanket recommendation against all coal plants in Bangladesh. "We're not saying the country shouldn't have any coal power plants," she said. "But it's very much a problem when it is going to jeopardize the 'outstanding universal value' of a place."
Threatened by habitat loss and hunting, Madagascar's lemurs, a critically endangered species, are finding refuge in a private sanctuary on this vast Indian Ocean island. At Nahampoana game reserve, one of the wide-eyed creatures -- the island's signature primate -- appears between long bamboo stems, while a little further down three others play in the trees on a riverbank. Nearly two decades ago, this 50-hectare (123 acre) former French colonial garden was turned into a privately run game reserve.
David Teie plays a few high-pitched notes on his cello before passing to the low ones, stopping Lizzy, a small black cat with white paws, in her tracks. Curious, he raises up on his back legs and puts his paws on Teie's knees during an unusual performance in Lady Dinah's cat cafe in Shoreditch, east London. Despite an allergy to cats, Teie has created the world's first album entirely for felines and is distributed by a major label, Universal Music.
More than 300 wild mammal species in Asia, Africa and Latin America are being driven to extinction by humanity's voracious appetite for bushmeat, according to a world-first assessment released Wednesday. The findings, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, are evidence of a "global crisis" for warm-blooded land animals, 15 top conservation scientists concluded. "Terrestrial mammals are experiencing a massive collapse in their population sizes and geographical ranges around the world," the study warned.
New Delhi zoo has temporarily closed after two birds died of bird flu, its curator said Wednesday, a month after India declared itself free of the disease. Riaz Khan said tests had confirmed the birds died of the H5 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu. The closure comes a month after India announced the country was bird flu-free, saying there had been no reports of an outbreak since May when more than 100,000 chickens were ordered to be culled in southern Karnataka state.
More than 10,000 different animal species roam the city's nooks and crannies, sharing space already packed with around 800,000 Amsterdamers and millions of annual tourists, according to a new study. Since 2012 small grey or brown furred harbour seals have occasionally been known to travel down from the North Sea coast, arriving in Amsterdam after slipping through locks at the town of IJmuiden and swimming down the North Sea Canal to the city. "Biodiversity in Amsterdam has increased in the last decades, which has not been the trend nationally or even internationally," said Geert Timmermans, head of the city's ecology and landscape architecture project.
Peru is investigating what killed some 10,000 Titicaca water frogs, a critically endangered species affectionately known as the "scrotum frog," in a river that is feared to be polluted, authorities said Monday. Hundreds of the large, wrinkly green frogs have been found floating on the surface of the Coata river in southern Peru in recent days, prompting the National Forestry and Wildlife Service (Serfor) to launch an investigation. "Based on local residents' statements and samples taken in the days after the incident, it is believed that more than 10,000 frogs were affected over about 50 kilometers (30 miles)," Serfor said in a statement.
Veteran British naturalist David Attenborough called Monday for gorillas in zoos to be kept behind walls with peepholes rather than glass panels, to respect their privacy. The 90-year-old television presenter spoke out after a gorilla briefly escaped Thursday from its enclosure in London Zoo. Attenborough said the incident was "hardly surprising" when animals are subjected to intrusion.
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LONDON (Reuters) - A gorilla escaped from its enclosure at London Zoo on Thursday and some visitors had to be locked inside a cafe for their own safety before it was recaptured, British media reported. The creature was caught after reportedly being tranquilised, the Press Association said. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the incident was now over. A gorilla named Harambe became the centre of global media attention earlier this year after being killed by staff at the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States, minutes after a three-year-old boy fell into its enclosure. ...
The southern right whale was given its name because tragically, it was the "right" whale for whaling. The animals tended to swim close to shore, making them easy marks for whalers who hunted them to the brink of extinction. Thanks to drones, researchers are helping the southern right whale make a comeback while keeping an eye on the effects of climate change. SEE ALSO: Climate activists shut down 5 tar sands oil pipelines Researchers from Murdoch University, supported by WWF Australia, are monitoring the whales as they breed in the Great Australian Bight in the country's south. Fredrik Christiansen, a researcher at Murdoch University, told Mashable southern right whale populations are recovering, albeit slowly. In Australia, they are thought to number only around 3,500. Bella's calf on July 3 (top) and September 4 (bottom). The calf grew 1.83 metres (6 foot) in length in two months. Image: FREDRIK CHRISTIANSEN/MURDOCH UNIVERSITY "Although the humpback was hunted almost as much, the humpbacks are 10 times as many now as the southern right whale," he said. "They are still endangered. There are still populations in the North Atlantic where they are critically endangered." When the whales visit Australia, they typically breed and aggregate along the south coast of the country from late May to late October. That gives scientists the opportunity to use drones to monitor their health. Christiansen said the technology has proved invaluable. "To get this kind of information before you would need a helicopter or a plane — it was expensive, noisy and involved some risk for the operator," he added. The team fly DJI Inspire 1 Pro drones off the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight with the permission of the Aboriginal Lands Trust, allowing them to minimise disturbance to the animals while getting high resolution images and measurements. After months of monitoring, the team found female southern right whales lose an extraordinary amount of body mass while feeding and fattening their calves. Some females lose more than half a metre in width roughly, Christiansen explained, while the calves can grow more than two metres (seven foot) in length. "When the whales leave, the females look quite emaciated," he said. "There is so much energy being transferred between the female and the calves, especially when they're not feeding." During this time, the mother whales rely entirely on their fat stores. Maybeline and her calf on July 2 (top) and August 31 (bottom). Maybeline lost 40 cm (16 inches) in width while her calf gained 1.53 metres (5 foot) in length. Image: FREDRIK CHRISTIANSEN/MURDOCH UNIVERSITY Ultimately, the team hope to discover how climate change will affect the whales. For example, how krill production in their Antarctic feeding ground — the abundance of which will likely be impacted by the rise in sea temperature and receding sea ice — will affect their condition once they arrive in Australia. Monitoring these factors can tell scientists about the probability of the whales surviving and reproducing. Southern right whales only calve every three to four years. "We can also compare our population to other populations to see if the Australian population is doing better," he added. Bella on July 3 (top) and September 4 (bottom). She lost 31 centimetres (12 inches) in width in 63 days. Image: FREDRIK CHRISTIANSEN/MURDOCH UNIVERSITY To continue the work, the WWF is campaigning to raise additional funds. "This [drone] technology is getting picked up all over the world by whale monitoring groups," Christiansen said. "In a few years, we're going to know the condition of most baleen whale populations around the world." BONUS: Veteran caught in extreme flooding saved thanks to drone
The animals of Sydney's harbourside Taronga Zoo munched celebratory meals on Friday, to mark the park's centenary. One of Sydney's main tourist attractions, Taronga Zoo opened in 1916, when Australia was at war in Europe. Its "bar-less" enclosures were inspired by Hamburg Zoo and it was stocked with a menagerie of 228 mammals, 552 birds and 64 reptiles which crossed Sydney Harbour by barge from an earlier zoo.
Two weird, mammal-like reptiles that sort of looked like scaly rats, each smaller than a loaf of bread, roamed ancient Brazil about 235 million years ago, likely dining on insects the predators snagged with their pointy teeth, a new study finds. "These new fossils help [us] understand in more detail the evolution of pre-mammalian forms that gave rise to the group of mammals, in which we humans (Homo sapiens) are included," the study's lead author, Agustín Martinelli, a paleontologist at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, told Live Science in an email.
The world's largest wildlife meeting wrapped up late Tuesday with conservationists hailing progress in tightening rules on trafficking of endangered species including sharks, grey parrots and pangolins. More than 2,500 delegates sifted through 62 proposals to reform trade restrictions on more than 400 species. Wildlife campaigners generally welcomed the outcome, adding that concrete action was now needed to tackle a global boom in poaching and trafficking.
A global conference on wildlife trade wrapped up on Tuesday after adopting a slew of decisions to curb rampant trafficking of threatened species such as sharks and pangolins. Officials and conservationists meeting under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have been gathered in Johannesburg for the past 11 days seeking to toughen restrictions on the trade of species nearing extinction. "We were encouraged that governments fully embraced the precautionary principle by making decisions in the best interest of the species in the wild," said Susan Lieberman, vice president of policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The "Call of Duty" series looks to match the seismic change of 2007's "Modern Warfare" with the far-flung "Infinite Warfare;" cyberhacking and youthful ambition abound in "Watch Dogs 2;" a Hawaiian-esque paradise is stuffed with collectible in "Pokémon Sun & Moon;" "Dishonored 2" makes its play to become one of the year's top action games; and "Gran Turismo Sport" marks the racing franchise's first foothold on PlayStation 4.
Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo has picked a name for a female panda and is asking animal lovers to help it choose one for her male twin. Giant Panda Yang Yang gave birth to the cubs on Aug. 7. "We have already found a name for the female panda but we are not giving it away," zoo director Dagmar Schratter said.
The 17th meeting of the U.N.'s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has been meeting in Johannesburg, with ivory, rhinos and parrots on the agenda. Sharks and Rays CITES members also voted to include the silky shark, three species of thresher sharks and nine species of devil rays in its "Appendix II" listing, which strictly controls trade so that species are not overharvested or threatened.
The global conference that governs wildlife trade voted Monday against strengthening the ban on ivory sales, exposing bitter divisions among African countries and experts over elephant conservation. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) rejected a proposal to include all African elephants in its highest category of protection, which bans trade in species facing extinction. A coalition of 29 African countries -- led by Kenya and Benin -- had pressed for African elephants to be put in the CITES "Appendix I" category.
By Ed Stoddard JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Namibia and Zimbabwe failed on Monday to convince a U.N. body on Monday that they should be allowed to export ivory - something they had argued would protect rather than further endanger Africa's elephants. Member countries of the U.N.'s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposals to sell tusks seized from poachers and taken from animals that had died naturally or been put down by the state. "African elephants are in steep decline across much of the continent due to poaching for their ivory, and opening up any legal trade in ivory would complicate efforts to conserve them," said Ginette Hemley, the head of the CITES delegation for conservation group WWF.
The pangolin — a scaly, bug-eating, cat-sized anteater — may soon gain a higher level of protection as conservationists race to save the mammal from extinction. Pangolins, native to Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, are believed to be the most trafficked animals in the world. Their scales are a common ingredient in traditional Asian medicines, and their meat is considered a luxury food in many cultures. SEE ALSO: Countries call for end to domestic ivory trade as elephants disappear At a world wildlife conference in South Africa this week, countries are expected to give eight pangolin species the top level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). A Temminck's ground pangolin licks up insects. Image: Tikki Hywood Trust/u.S. fish and wildlife service By listing pangolins in Appendix I — a group including species threatened with extinction — nations would agree to ban international commercial trade of pangolins and their parts in all but "exceptional circumstances," according to CITES. "This decision will help give pangolins a fighting chance," Susan Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement from Johannesburg. "These species need extra protection, and under CITES Appendix I, they will get it," she added. Pangolins feed on ants and termites, using their claws to break into nests and their long, sticky tongues to lap up insects. When a predator approaches, they roll up into a ball, with their scaly exterior protecting pangolins from the fangs of larger creatures. Sadly, this ball-rolling approach only makes it easier for poachers to snatch them. A CITES subcommittee voted late last week to move pangolins into Appendix I from Appendix II, a less stringent designation that allows for some controlled levels of trade, so long as it doesn't threaten the species' survival. The final CITES category, Appendix III, includes species that are protected in at least one country that has asked other nations to help control the trade. Pangolins' change in status will become official if confirmed during the summit's plenary session this week. It would then enter into force 90 days later. Wildlife experts estimate that more than 1 million pangolins have been traded illegally in the past decade — despite earlier efforts to halt the poaching and illegal trade of these nocturnal mammals. A Zimbabwe game reserve guide pets "Marimba", a female pangolin weighing 22 pounds, Sept. 22, 2016. Image: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images CITES established a "zero annual export quota" for Asian pangolin species in 2000, and many countries in Africa and Asia with pangolin populations have already adopted domestic laws to prohibit the capture and trade of pangolins. In the United States, one species of pangolin, the Temminck's ground pangolin, is listed as "endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. But as Asian pangolin species become harder to find, due to dwindling populations and the zero export quota, traders are turning to African pangolin species to meet market demand, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bags of African pangolin scales seized by Hong Kong officials, June 23, 2016. Image: Hong Kong customs This summer, Hong Kong officials said they discovered more than 8,800 pounds (4,000 kilograms) of African pangolin scales hidden in cargo labeled "sliced plastics" from Cameroon, the government said in a press release. The haul, worth $1.25 million (HK$9.8 million), was estimated to represent between 1,100 and 6,600 pangolins. Pangolins don't generally thrive in captivity, and they have a slow reproductive rate and low natural population density in the wild. As poachers snatch rising numbers of pangolins and urban development destroys their habitats, the mammals are increasingly nearing extinction, conservation groups have warned.
HONOLULU — Federal authorities on Friday added seven yellow-faced bee species, Hawaii's only native bees, for protection under the Endangered Species Act, a first for any bees in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the listing after years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state government officials and independent researchers. The Xerces Society says its goal is to protect nature's pollinators and invertebrates, which play a vital role in the health of the overall ecosystem. SEE ALSO: This is why millions of bees have died in South Carolina The nonprofit organization was involved in the initial petitions to protect the bee species, said Sarina Jepson, director of endangered species and aquatic programs for the Portland, Oregon-based group. Jepson said yellow-faced bees can be found elsewhere in the world, but these particular species are native only to Hawaii and pollinate plant species indigenous to the islands. The bees face a variety of threats including "feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some for the coastal areas," Jepson told The Associated Press. The bees can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Hawaii, from coastal environments to high-elevation shrub lands, she said. The yellow-faced bees pollinate some of Hawaii's endangered native plant species. While other bees could potentially pollinate those species, many could become extinct if these bees were to die off entirely. Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca worked with Xerces on much of the initial research. It has taken almost 10 years to get to this point, he told the AP. "It's good to see it to finally come to fruition," he said. The bees "tend to favor the more dominant trees and shrubs we have here," he said. "People tend to focus on the rare plants, and those are important, that's a big part of the diversity. But the other side is maintaining the common ones as common. (The bees) help maintain the structure of the whole forest." Magnacca added that there are a lot more rare insects that deserve protection. "It may not necessarily be appropriate to list them as endangered, but we have this huge diversity that we need to work on and protect here in Hawaii," he said. "There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done." The bees are critical for maintaining the health of plants and other animals across the islands, said Gregory Koob, conservation and restoration team manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu. There is no designated critical habitat attached to the listing, he said, but the protection will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources. All federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife service when interacting with endangered species. "As an animal, it can't be taken or harmed or killed by individuals," Koob said. "Any research that is done needs a permit from Fish and Wildlife Service unless it's done by a state agency." Koob said that if the bees were removed from ecosystem, the plants that they pollinate would likely not survive. "Those plants are not only food and nesting habitat for the bees, but they also provide habitat for other animals," he said. "It's the web of life." Friday's listing finalized the protection of 10 animal species in Hawaii, the seven bees along with the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly and the anchialine pool shrimp. It also added 39 species of plants native to Hawaii. The rusty-patched bumble bee, found widely across the continental United States, is also being considered for protection.