Bird Flu Spreading: Here Are The Avian Influenza Outbreaks In Europe And Asia

Bruce Y. LeeSenior ContributorHealthcareI am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order.FollowListen to article4 minutes

Bird flu avian flu outbreaks
Recently, Europe has experienced over 100 outbreaks of avian influenza. (Photo: Getty) GETTY

Here’s some fowl news. Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza have recently been occurring in various parts of Europe and Asia. Highly pathogenic avian influenza ain’t just your run-of-the-mill bird flu. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pathogenic” as “causing or capable of causing disease.” Therefore, being called “highly pathogenic” by your friends would not be a compliment. Similarly, highly pathogenic avian influenza is essentially bird flu that is either highly capable of causing disease or can cause severe disease. Or both. That’s why these outbreaks have been a bit of an “oh cluck” problem for poultry and poultry farmers.

According to the German media site DW, in recent months, there have been over 100 outbreaks of bird flu in Europe. Add to this number the outbreaks that have occurred in Asia and you’ve got even more than more than 100. So far, different highly pathogenic strains avian influenza have already made appearances in countries such as Norway, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and China. For example, the Norwegian Veterinary Institute found the H5N1 strain among 7,500 or so laying hens in Rogaland, Norway. The H5N8 strain was detected in a farm with around 143,000 poultry in Yokote city in Akita Prefecture, Japan. The appearance of such strains on farms have led to rather large culls of poultry in attempts to prevent the virus from spreading further.

There have also been poultry lockdowns. Governments in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands have ordered that poultry be kept indoors.

Now if you don’t have wings and feathers, the risk of getting infected with these strains of bird flu is probably very low. For most of these outbreaks, there haven’t been any reports of human infections. One exception is what’s happened in China, which has experienced more than just a poultry number of infections. They’ve also reported 21 humans being infected with the H5N6 avian influenza in 2021 so far. This is significantly higher than last year, which had only five reported cases among humans.


Any increase in humans getting the bird flu does merit close monitoring to make sure that no human-to-human transmission is occurring. As long as transmission is just between a given human and his bird, or her bird, the virus isn’t likely to be a broader threat to the human population. So no need to panic or hoard any more toilet paper.

However, just because you don’t have a beak and do typically wear either pants or a dress doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore these outbreaks. Influenza viruses are like high school love. They may seem one way today but over time can change substantially due to ongoing mutations. While a given avian influenza virus may be just a chick flick right now, there is always the possibility that sometime in the future it evolves the ability to infect and cause more severe disease in humans. Epidemics and even pandemics can arise should there be sustained human-to-human transmission, as I covered for Forbes in June.RECOMMENDED FOR YOU1Will This Generation Of “Climate Tech” Be Different?More stories like thisFewer stories like this2WHO Warning About Covid-19 Coronavirus Lockdowns Is Taken Out Of ContextMore stories like thisFewer stories like this3A Smarter Type Of Ad Is Already Here, But How Can We Make The Most Of Ethical, Artificially Intelligent Marketing?More stories like thisFewer stories like this

This is yet another reminder that we are not alone. We share this Earth with many other animals. It is important to protect other animals from dangerous viruses as well. Our society needs to be more cognizant of what’s happening with other animals and how human activities may be making other animals more vulnerable to infections. The poultry population could be a significant reservoir for future threats to the human population. After all, the answer to the question, “why did the chicken virus cross the road” may be because humans didn’t pay enough attention.

Secret Service for Trump Jr.’s Mongolia trip to hunt rare sheep cost $76,000, watchdog says

William Cummings


The Secret Service protection for Donald Trump Jr.’s August 2019 trip to Mongolia, where he reportedly hunted a rare breed of sheep, cost taxpayers $76,859.36, according to documents published Wednesday by a Washington ethics watchdog.

The first set of Security Service documents obtained by Citizens forResponsibility and Ethics in Washington through a Freedom of Information Act request put the cost of protection for President Donald Trump’s eldest son’s eight-day trip at about $17,000. CREW appealed that response to its request, believing it was undercounting the actual cost.

A source close to Trump Jr. told USA TODAY that the president’s son personally paid for “100%” of the trip other than the protective detail.

In May, Secret Service Deputy Director Leonza Newsome informed CREW in a letter that its appeal was granted and that a new search uncovered “an additional document containing costs” regarding the trip. Newsome said an updated report on the expenses related to air travel was also included.

CREW’s analysis of the documents revealed the cost of the trip was nearly $60,000 more than the original disclosure indicated.

“These Secret Service payments show how much taxpayer money directly funded Don Jr.’s trip, and show that the cost was much steeper than the agency originally admitted,” CREW said in its report. “As a son of the president, Donald Trump Jr. is entitled to Secret Service protection and should be protected, but taxpayers deserve to know how much they are paying to facilitate his trophy hunting and interactions with major political donors and foreign leaders.”

ProPublica reported in December that Trump Jr. “received special treatment” and was able to obtain a “coveted and rare permit” to hunt and kill an argali sheep. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the argali as a threatened species when found in Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tajikistan and an endangered one when found outside those countries.

Rare sheep hunt:Mongolian ambassador visited Mar-a-Lago before Trump Jr. got coveted permit

The nonprofit news organization said the permit was granted retroactively on Sept. 2 after he had already shot and killed one of the threatened animals. Mongolia issued a total of 86 hunting permits for the argali during last year’s hunting season, according to ProPublica.

Mongolia officials have contested that account. A statement from the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism called ProPublica’s reporting “factually inaccurate” and said Trump Jr. “was in fact participating in an important aspect of the Mongolian Government’s conservation program for the endangered Argali Sheep.”

The head of the ministry told a Mongolian news outlet in December there was “nothing illegal” about Trump Jr.’s hunt.

Trump Jr. also met privately with Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, ProPublica reported, citing unnamed officials.

The Palm Beach Post, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, reported Mongolia’s foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. visited the Trump family’s Mar-a-Lago resort in April 2019. Trump Jr. was at Mar-a-Lago at the same time, celebrating Easter with his family.

In its report, CREW said it is “still investigating other aspects of the trip, including whether the State Department was involved, and whether Don Jr. was granted a permit from the Interior Department to bring back the sheep carcass.”

‘Dream hunt’:Auction includes hunt with Donald Trump Jr. Bidding starts at $10,000

Terrifying ‘murder hornets’ invade US

Invasive Asian giant hornets, a honeybee-killing wasp with a dangerous sting, have been discovered in Washington. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

DENVER, May 2 (UPI) — Washington agriculture authorities are asking residents to be on the lookout for an invasive giant wasp with an “excruciating” sting that attacks honeybee colonies, leaving thousands of bees without heads.

“The Asian giant hornet been called the most venomous, intimidating insect in the world, and it even scares away other hornets,” said Timothy Lawrence, director of the Island County extension office at Washington State University.

Asian giant hornets originating in South Korea were first reported last fall near Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Then, residents in Blaine, Wash., near the Canadian border, used an invasive species app to report wasps that were confirmed to be Asian giant hornets from Japan, the state agriculture department said.

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Accuweather’s Dexter Henry looks at how a new species of dangerous hornets in the United States could affect the honeybee population.

An infestation of the new giant wasps could be devastating for beekeepers who bring their hives to the state to pollinate Northwest Pacific crops like cherries, blueberries and apples.

“Commercial beekeepers have 300 to 400 hives in the area. They may not want to go to certain counties if this infestation takes hold,” Lawrence said.

In Europe, the invasive yellow-legged Asian hornets, which also kill honeybees and other pollinators, has caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to crops in France and elsewhere after they gained a foothold.

The Asian giant hornets, also called “yak-killer hornets,” measure about 2 inches long and have an orangeish-yellow face with large black eyes.

“They’re like something out of a monster cartoon,” Susan Cobey, a bee breeder with WSU’s Department of Entomology, said in a statement.

The Asian giant hornet’s sting is described as excruciating, and they can sting repeatedly. Their quarter-inch stinger can penetrate beekeeping protective clothing, a state agriculture department warning said.

The wasps are dangerous if their underground nests are disturbed, or if a food source is threatened. Their venom, seven-times stronger than that of honeybees, can cause anaphylactic shock, but also can be lethal to people who are not allergic if victims are stung repeatedly.

“They give a warning before they sting. They snap their mandibles and make a clicking sound,” Lawrence said. “But if you stick around to notice that, you’re probably already in a world of hurt.”

The wasps might have hitched a ride to the Pacific Coast in a container ship, but also could have been imported intentionally as an ingredient for a folk recipe for wasp venom in alcohol, made popular by Internet bodybuilders, entomologists think.

The life cycle of the Asian giant hornet begins when a queen emerges from hibernation in April and feeds on plant sap and fruit, looking for a spot to build an underground nest, according to state fact sheets. By summer, queens have created a colony of worker wasps that spread out to seek food.

At the end of the summer, the hornets enter a “high-protein demand” phase when they attack honeybee colonies, killing off the adults to feast on the immature brood of pupa and larva, scientists say.

The hornets will leave piles of dead bees, most of them headless, outside their beehive. A few dozen hornets can kill an entire colony of 30,000 bees in a few hours.

Scientists will be hunting for queens this spring, wearing special reinforced suits from China, said Rian Wojahn, eradication coordinator for the pest program at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

State agricultural pest eradicators wear protective suits while searching for underground nests of invasive Asian giant hornets. (Washington State Department of Agriculture)

“The suits are made out of thick foam material with everything — boots, gloves, hat — attached,” Wojahn said.

Trappers have set out bait bottles, filled with orange juice and rice wine, in coordination with state beekeeper clubs.

The trappers will use heat cameras to find underground nests, Wojahn said. Wasps will be sedated with carbon dioxide fire extinguishers, and pest workers will dig out the nests.

Local entomologists worry about native bees and other pollinators that also might be threatened if the Asian giant hornet gets established, said Todd Murray, a Washington State University extension entomologist.

Global economies and travel between faraway parts of the world are making invasive species more common, Murray said.

“When we do get establishment of a new invasive species, its’ a ‘forever change,’ and becomes something we learn to live with,” he said. This is definitely a hornet I don’t want to learn to live with.”

Calls for ban on ‘wet’ markets ‘misguided’, ‘experts’ argue

Cultural nuance and wider view of supply chain ignored in debate following Covid-19 outbreak, say those proposing regulation over ban

Pig carcasses are chopped and hung for sale display at a Taipei wet market.
Millions of people around the world sell their wares at so-called ‘wet’ markets. Photograph: Jo-Anne McArthur/Weanimals
 in Shenzhen
Published onWed 15 Apr 2020 07.59 EDT

Attacks and calls to ban “wet markets” because of their potential for spreading diseases such as Covid-19 may be missing the point, say experts.

Earlier this week Sir Paul McCartney, a long-time vegetarian campaigner, called wet markets “medieval” and said that it made sense to ban them. “When you’ve got the obscenity of some of the stuff that’s going on there and what comes out of it, they might as well be letting off atomic bombs. It’s affecting the whole world.”

Last week more than 60 US lawmakers called for a global ban on what are referred to interchangeably as “live wildlife markets” or “wet markets”. And animal welfare groups have also been calling for a ban.

According to US lawmakers: “‘Wet’ markets in particular pose a threat to global public health because wildlife comes from many different locations without any standardised sanitary or health inspection processes.”

Animal Equality argues that the markets are not only “inhumane” and a source of “intensive suffering inflicted on farmed animals”, but that they are also a “threat to public health”.

But experts who know the markets well say that they are just one link in a chain of both legal and illicit wildlife trade that needs intensive regulation, monitoring and enforcement to reduce heath risks, demand and consumption.

In China, much of Asia, and some other parts of the world, a “wet market” is a term used for any market where fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruits, and other perishable goods, are sold in an open-air setting. The “wet” part comes from sellers sloshing water on produce to keep it cool and fresh.

While the markets may be considered unsanitary by western standards, most wet markets in China do not sell live animals other than fish in tanks, or sometimes in open pools.

Many markets in China stopped selling live poultry after widespread avian flu outbreaks led provinces and local governments to ban such sales over the past decade.

A worker in a protective suit is seen at the closed seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei province, China 10 January 2020.
Wuhan South China Seafood Market was suspected to be a source for the spreading of Covid-19. Photograph: Darley Shen/Reuters

And while it is rare to see wildlife sold in these markets, the practice has continued in poorly regulated sites, such as the now-infamous Wuhan South China Seafood Market, which was suspected to be a primary source for spreading Covid-19 during late 2019.

“If we really want to prevent future pandemics, we have to do a lot more than just stop live wildlife being slaughtered at markets or wild meat being sold at markets,” Debbie Banks, head of the tiger campaign at the Environmental Investigation Agency, told the Guardian.

“In some countries, wildlife is commercially harvested and commercially farmed and transported direct to restaurants, consumed at private banquets, and used in traditional medicine, so there is a need to address demand and other retail venues besides wet markets,” she said.

Using terms such as “wet markets” in debates on the issue also risks further stoking misconceptions and cultural prejudices, argue some.

“This call for a ban comes from cultural differences often mixed with prejudice,” Kartini Samon, a Jakarta-based campaigner with the nonprofit Grain who has studied wet markets in the region, told the Guardian. “Wet markets are very common and have a long history in many places in Asia.”

The Wuhan market was closed on 1 January. Authorities in China placed a temporary ban on all trade in wildlife in late January, including any trade in wildlife to be consumed for meat, to be used in traditional medicine, and for fur and other purposes.

Further fine-tuning of the laws and regulations around the trade is ongoing. But it is the regulatory environment that allowed for such trade at the Wuhan market and the networks that supplied it that needs to be addressed, say experts, not simply the existence of the markets themselves.

Across many countries wet markets provide an important outlet for small farmers to sell their produce, said Samon. “In a country like India or Indonesia, between 25 and 40 million people rely on wet markets and informal food vendors for their livelihoods.”

Fish for sale in a market in Israel.
‘Wet’ markets are found in many countries in Asia and the Middle East, and many do not sell live animals. Photograph: Jo-Anne McArthur/Weanimals

And while markets like Wuhan’s may be an outlier for their trade in live wildlife, others say that more needs to be done to address general sanitation and hygiene at wet markets.

“That means setting standards and sticking to them and having strict enforcement measures against practices that could transmit illness and disease. [That] is more sensible than shutting them down, which won’t be consistently enforceable,” said Dirk Pfeiffer, chair professor at City University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences in Hong Kong.

Pfeiffer believes that over time many wet markets will disappear in places like China due to changes in consumer preferences and convenience.

Some supermarkets already try to replicate a “mini-wet market” atmosphere with a butcher available under familiar reddish lighting for shoppers to chat with about which cuts are more fresh in a way that is harder to do in larger, impersonal, brightly-lit supermarkets.

“I do think that wet markets are an issue when it comes to food safety standards and to adverse environmental impact. But that can be dealt with by regulation and raising awareness among consumers and traders,” Pfeiffer said.

“We need to focus on changing the demand, because as long as that is there it will be a way for people to trade in wild animals and their products,” he said.

Coronavirus: Asian nations face second wave of imported cases

A woman wearing a mask helps her son put on his mask at Changi Airport on January 25, 2020 in Singapore.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionIt comes as these countries had been successful in controlling its domestic cases

South Korea, China and Singapore are among the Asian countries facing a second coronavirus wave, fuelled by people importing it from outside.

China, where the virus first emerged, confirmed it had no new domestic cases on Wednesday for the first time since the outbreak began, a major milestone.

But it reported 34 new cases among people who recently returned to China.

Singapore also reported 47 new cases, of which 33 were imported – 30 of them returned Singapore residents.

South Korea saw a jump in new cases on Thursday with 152, though it is not clear how many were imported.

A new cluster there is centred on a nursing home in Daegu, where 74 patients have tested positive.

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Japan reported three new cases on Wednesday. But Hokkaido, the worst-affected Japanese region with 154 cases, is lifting its state of emergency – in place since late February – after officials said the spread of the virus appeared to be ending.

Officials have urged people to remain cautious and stay at home, but said there had been “no surge of infected patients that led to the collapse of the medical environment”.

“We’ve carried out powerful measures on refraining from going out, but from now on, we will move into a stage of reducing risks of the spread of infection while maintaining social and economic activities,” governor Naomichi Suzuki said on Wednesday.

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported no domestically transmitted cases in China for the first time since the virus emerged in late December.

No new cases in Hubei - graphic

It also said there were no cases at all in Wuhan, the outbreak centre which was essentially locked down earlier this year, but 34 cases arriving from abroad.

Some Wuhan residents who have been shut up inside their homes for six weeks are being allowed out, as long as they do not gather in groups. Some businesses have also been allowed to resume work.

This photo taken on March 17, 2020 shows a man looking over a barrier set up to prevent people from entering or leaving a residential compound in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionBarriers have fenced people off in Wuhan to contain the viral outbreak, but restrictions are easing now

In districts which have been cleared as “epidemic-free”, small markets and convenience stores are reopening.

As protection against imported infections, a hospital that used to treat Sars patients has been re-opened in the Chinese capital Beijing to quarantine suspected coronavirus cases. In Hong Kong, new arrivals will have to wear an electronic bracelet to track their movements.

China’s death toll stands at 3,245, however there have been ongoing questions over the reliability of China’s data.

All four countries had all been showing success in controlling domestic cases, but there is concern that increases elsewhere could unravel their progress.

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Analysis box by Laura Bicker, Seoul correspondent

South Korea has been praised for its response to the epidemic, which has involved tracing the infection, testing large amounts of people and isolating patients quickly.

The pace of daily new infections has slowed since the outbreak peaked earlier this month. Before Wednesday’s increase, the number of people contracting the virus had been in double digits for the last four days.

Health officials have warned there is no room for complacency and are once again urging the public to stay away from large gatherings including in churches, nursing homes, internet cafes and karaoke rooms.

Three people from the national fencing team have tested positive for coronavirus after returning from a competition in Hungary. All 26 athletes and coaches are now being tested.

Read more from Laura: Is S Korea’s rapid testing the key to coronavirus?

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‘Stay home, please’

Much of the focus has now shifted to Europe and the US, but the new numbers signal that the outbreak is far from over in Asia.

Malaysia’s senior health official on Wednesday begged people to “stay at home and protect yourself and your family. Please”.

Empty rickshaws in Penang, MalaysiaImage copyrightAFP
Image captionMalaysia has brought in a ban on public gatherings and closed schools

Malaysia, which is under a partial lockdown, has tallied 710 people with the virus, the worst in South East Asia. Many of the cases are linked to one religious event in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in February.

“We have a slim chance to break the chain of Covid-19 infections,” Noor Hisham Abdullah, director general of Health Malaysia, said on Facebook.

“Failure is not an option here. If not, we may face a third wave of this virus, which would be greater than a tsunami, if we maintain a ‘so what’ attitude.”

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in the US, there are 215,955 cases and 8,749 deaths globally.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the vast majority – 80% – have occurred in Europe and the Western Pacific region, which includes much of Asia.

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Media captionCoronavirus: The ‘propaganda push’ in China

Ancient never-before-seen viruses discovered locked up in Tibetan glacier

Glacier on the Tibetan Plateau.

(Image: © Shutterstock)

For the past 15,000 years, a glacier on the northwestern Tibetan Plateau of China has hosted a party for some unusual guests: an ensemble of frozen viruses, many of them unknown to modern science.

Scientists recently broke up this party after taking a look at two ice cores from this Tibetan glacier, revealing the existence of 28 never-before-seen virus groups.

Investigating these mysterious viruses could help scientists on two fronts: For one, these stowaways can teach researchers which viruses thrived in different climates and environments over time, the researchers wrote in a paper posted on the bioRxiv database on Jan. 7.

Related: Photographic Proof of Climate Change: Time-Lapse Images of Retreated Glaciers

“However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt [from climate change] could release pathogens into the environment,” the researchers wrote in the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. If this happens, it’s best to know as much about these viruses as possible, the researchers wrote.

Icy research

Studying ancient glacial microbes can be challenging. That’s because it’s extremely easy to contaminate ice core samples with modern-day bacteria. So, the researchers created a new protocol for ultraclean microbial and viral sampling.

In this case, the two ice core samples from the Guliya ice cap on the Tibetan Plateau were collected in 1992 and 2015. However, at those times, there weren’t any special measures taken to avoid microbial contamination during the core drilling, handling or transport.

In other words, the exterior of these ice cores was contaminated. But the insides were still pristine, the researchers wrote in the study. To access the inner part of the cores, the researchers set up shop in a cold room — the thermometer was set at 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius) — and used a sterilized band saw to cut away 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) of ice from the outer layer. Then, the researchers washed the ice cores with ethanol to melt another 0.2 inches of ice. Finally, they washed the next 0.2 inches away with sterile water.

After all of this work (shaving off about 0.6 inches, or 1.5 cm of ice), the researchers reached an uncontaminated layer that they could study. This method held up even during tests in which the researchers covered the outer layer of the ice with other bacteria and viruses.

The experiment revealed 33 groups of virus genuses (also known as genera) in the ice cores. Of these, 28 were previously unknown to science, the researchers said. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote in the study, “presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.”

It’s no surprise that the glacier held these mysterious viruses for so long, researchers said.

“We are very far from sampling the entire diversity of viruses on Earth,” Chantal Abergel, a researcher in environmental virology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who wasn’t involved with the study, told Vice.

As human-made climate change melts glaciers the world over, these viral archives could be lost, the researchers noted. Research into ancient viruses “provides a first window into viral genomes and their ecology from glacier ice,” the researchers wrote in the study, “and emphasizes their likely impact on abundant microbial groups [today].”

Spy Satellite Images Uncover Staggering Mount Everest Ice Loss

Due to climate change, glaciers near Mount Everest have lost ice mass. New analysis shows that the loss is even greater than expected.

Due to climate change, glaciers near Mount Everest have lost ice mass. New analysis shows that the loss is even greater than expected.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

SAN FRANCISCO — The glaciers surrounding Mount Everest have lost far more ice than once thought, declassified spy satellite photos have revealed.

Using these decades-old images — along with recently-collected data — researchers generated digital surface-elevation models of the glaciers, creating a highly detailed record of melt. From 1962 to 2018, the glaciers along Mount Everest’s flanks had shrunk significantly from the top down, according to research presented on Dec. 13, 2019, here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Decades-old images

During the late 1950s, U.S. intelligence officials devised a plan to take to the skies to peek behind the Iron Curtain and spy on the Soviet Union. A secret satellite surveillance mission, code-named Corona, launched in 1960 and ended in 1972, according to the CIA website. This joint effort, helmed by the CIA, the U.S. Air Force and private industry experts, collected photographs of locations across Eastern Europe and Asia.

Related: Photographic Proof of Climate Change: Time-Lapse Images of Retreating Glaciers

By the time these images were declassified, in 1995, the mission had amassed more than 800,000 photos. These included numerous views of the Himalayas, offering scientists an unprecedented glimpse of how the region’s glaciers had changed over time, said Tobias Bolch, a lecturer for remote sensing with the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom.

Bolch and his colleagues combined analysis of these satellite photos with aerial images and modern satellite views, to visualize glacier ice mass loss since the 1960s.

As Earth warms, many glaciers’ outermost boundaries visibly retreat and expose the rock underneath, so it’s easy to spot where ice has been lost. For the new investigation, the scientists sought a missing piece of the puzzle: how loss of ice might affect a glacier’s height, Bolch told Live Science. They found the first signs of significantly reduced ice dating back to the 1960s.

“When we now look at the entire area, we see a clear increase in mass loss while it was in the period of 1962 to 1969, around 20 centimeters [8 inches] per year,” he said.

Overall, the researchers found that Rongbuk and Khumbu glaciers, where Everest base camps are located, had thinned by more than 260 feet (80 meters) over 60 years, while Imja glacier lost more than 300 feet (100 m) of ice during the same timespan.

The researchers also found that ice loss sped up in recent decades, with the acceleration beginning in the 1980s, Bolch said.

This new data about vanished ice suggests that the region’s supply of stored fresh water is draining away quicker than computer models have predicted. Runaway glacial ice loss could also destabilize popular mountaineering trails near Everest, heightening the risks for hikers and climbers, Bolch said.

Malaysia’s last known Sumatran rhino dies

Ratu and her calf, Delilah, at a sanctuary in Indonesia. File photoImage copyrightAFP/GETTY/ANDREAS PUTRANTO
Image captionThe Sumatran rhino is down to fewer than 100 animals

The Sumatran rhino is now officially extinct in Malaysia, with the death of the last known specimen.

The 25-year-old female named Iman died on Saturday on the island of Borneo, officials say. She had cancer.

Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino died in May this year.

The Sumatran rhino once roamed across Asia, but has now almost disappeared from the wild, with fewer than 100 animals believed to exist. The species is now critically endangered.

Iman died at 17:35 local time (09:35 GMT) on Saturday, Malaysia’s officials said.

“Its death was a natural one, and the immediate cause has been categorised as shock,” Sabah State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christine Liew is quoted as saying.

“Iman was given the very best care and attention since her capture in March 2014 right up to the moment she passed,” she added.

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Sumatran rhinos have been hard hit by poaching and habitat loss, but the biggest threat facing the species today is the fragmented nature of their populations.

Efforts to breed the species in Malaysia have so far failed.

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Facts about the Sumatran rhino

  • Five rhino species can be found today, two in Africa and three in Asia
  • The Asian species include the Sumatran rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, which is the smallest living rhino species
  • The animal is closely related to the woolly rhinoceros, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago
  • No more than 100 Sumatran rhinos remain in the wild (some estimates put the number as low as 30), scattered on the islands of Sumatra, Indonesia

Sarawak to make the pangolin a totally protected species

The pangolin, a unique and protected species among Bornean mammals in Sarawak, is to have its classification upgraded to the “totally protected” category in the state. — NSTP Archive By Bernama – October 14, 2019 @ 10:00pm

KUCHING: The pangolin, a unique and protected species among Bornean mammals in Sarawak, is to have its classification upgraded to the “totally protected” category in the state.

The animal, which is also known as the “Scaly Anteater” or its scientific name Manis javanica, has been topping the chart as the most frequently seized mammal in Asia’s illegal wildlife trade and is currently facing extinction.

Naming the shy and quiet animal as his favourite, Sarawak Forestry Corporation Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Zolkipli Mohamad Aton said the corporation would conduct a study to find out its current population, before submitting a proposal to the government to upgrade its category.

This, he said, was a common procedure.

However, he added that if there were indicators, for instance from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, saying that they had to do it immediately than the classification upgrade would be made a priority.

“For now, on our job list, we want to review our Wildlife Masterplan, after that the relevant laws, but if there are indicators by outsiders, if they say, look you must do it, if not they (species) will go extinct, then we have to put it as priority,” he said.

In Sarawak, species that are totally protected may not be kept as pets, hunted, captured, killed, sold, imported or exported or disturbed in any way, nor may anyone be in possession of any recognizable part of these animals.

Animals in the category include the proboscis monkey, the bornean gibbon, rhinoceros, naked bat, dugong and marine turtles.

Zolkipli said Sarawak still had quite a number of pangolin, but in other states, the numbers were declining.

“So, these smugglers now want to come over here (Sarawak). We have been warned by other people, better look after your pangolins.”

He said the animal, being a rare and hardly seen species, had numerous myths surrounded it, especially among traditional medicine practitioners, which contributed to demand, among others, for its scales.

“They say it has medicinal value, but I can quote an article by the World Conservation Society that says that pangolins scales are made of keratin, which is the same material as human fingernails, so in reality there is no medicinal value there, but because of tradition, people tend to go for these things.

“There are some who like its meat, but pangolin meat is not even fleshy,” he said.

Zolkipli said the SFC would also review its wildlife-related laws to increase the penalty for offenders.

Traffic Southeast Asia director Kanitha Krishnasamy, in an article earlierthis year, posed a rather intriguing question about the penalty involving offences related to wildlife smuggling in the country and wanted state governments to review their laws.

Citing a case on Feb 7 this year, where Sabah Police and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) shut down a pangolin processing factory and warehouse after seizing 30 tonnes of pangolin and body parts.

She was quoted as saying that the maximum amount of fine under the state’s enactment was nowhere near the syndicate’s possible revenue.

“This is also important because the worst financial penalty the suspect in the Feb 7 case may get, if convicted under the Sabah’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment, is a fine of RM250,000.

“Meanwhile authorities have valued the seized items at RM8.4 million, making the syndicate’s revenue 33 times higher than the law’s heftiest fine,” she was quoted as saying.

The pangolin, with its prehensile tail and lacking teeth, normally eats ants and termites taken from nests in trees, on the ground or below ground with insect nests opened with their strongly clawed feet and the contents licked up with the long, sticky tongue.

Usually nocturnal, sleeping during the daytime in underground burrows, it is mostly seen on roads at night, where it is slow-moving and conspicuous, although the eyes reflect very little light. – Bernama

Jokowi Orders Crackdown on Arsonists: SE Asia Haze Update

 Updated on 
Firefighters battles a forest fire in Kampar, Riau Province on Sept. 9.
Firefighters battles a forest fire in Kampar, Riau Province on Sept. 9. Photographer: Wahyudi/AFP via Getty Images

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered a crackdown against individuals and companies responsible for forest fires that have caused a dangerous haze in parts of Southeast Asia, disrupting air travel and closure of schools.

Jokowi, as Widodo is commonly known, held a limited cabinet meeting in Pekanbaru in Riau, one of the worst affected areas, late on Monday to review steps to fight the fires, his office said in a statement. The president directed the disaster mitigation agency to expand the scope of artificial rain even as authorities deployed an additional 5,600 troops and firefighters.

Stinging smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations has covered western and central regions of Indonesia and parts of Malaysia with thousands of people reporting acute respiratory illness. The raging hotspots have revived fears of a repeat of 2015 when a total of 2.6 million hectares of land was affected, costing Indonesia 221 trillion rupiah ($15.7 billion) in economic losses.

Here’s the latest:

Hotspots Status (Tuesday)

The total number of hotspots in Indonesia rose to 2,984 on Tuesday from 2,583 on Monday, with the Indonesian part of the Borneo island accounting for almost 1,000 fires. The hotspots have affected 328,724 hectares of forest and farm land this year, data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency show.

Haze Outlook

The weather is forecast to remain dry in the southern Asean region and the prevailing winds are expected to continue blowing from the southeast or southwest in the next few days. Hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan are expected to persist with the dry weather, while hazy conditions in the region look set to remain, the Asean Specialized Meteorological Centre said in a statement.

Schools Shut

The Malaysian state of Selangor, near Kuala Lumpur, closed 145 schools on Tuesday, affecting 187,928 students when air pollution reached “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” ranges, according to a statement from the state’s education department. Schools in Pekanbaru, the main city in Riau, were ordered to be closed through Tuesday as a thick smog cover engulfed the city, the Tempo reported.


Forest fire rages in Kampar, Riau Province on Sept. 9.

Photographer: Wahyudi/AFP via Getty Images

Pollution Levels

Kuching and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Hanoi and Jakarta were among the world’s top cities with the poorest air quality, according to IQAir AirVisual pollution data. The air quality index in Kuching in haze-hit Sarawak state was 220 on Tuesday, a level deemed very unhealthy, while it was at 157 in Kuala Lumpur, an unhealthy level for sensitive groups.

Flight Cancellations

The haze blanketing western parts of Indonesia continues to cause air traffic disruptions. Lion Air on Monday diverted all flights to and from Samarinda airport in East Kalimantan to Balikpapan as the haze reduced visibility, the Indonesian carrier said in an emailed statement.

A total of 11 airports were affected on Monday with 10 flights canceled and 50 flights delayed and few others diverted, according to Airnav. PT Garuda Indonesia, the national carrier, said it will cancel 15 flights through Sept. 19.

Respiratory Illness

Indonesia opened temporary clinics to treat thousands of people suffering from acute respiratory illness in the haze struck regions. Authorities distributed masks to people in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and Kalimantan. More than 9,000 personnel drawn from the military, police and disaster mitigation agency with the help of 42 helicopters are involved in fighting the fire, official data showed Monday.

Malaysia plans to carry out cloud seeding in the worst affected regions, the Star newspaper reported Sunday. The air quality in Singapore, which slipped to unhealthy levels on Saturday, is forecast to improve, according to the National Environment Agency.

Calcium Oxide

With the rainy season in the worst affected regions not expected until mid-October, the only lasting solution to douse the forest fires will be through artificial rain, according to the disaster mitigation agency. However, with smoke particles preventing cloud formation, the agency plans to sprinkle about 40 metric tons of calcium oxide to break the particles, the agency said Tuesday.

Capital Relocation

Indonesian authorities will conclude an environmental study on the location for new capital identified by President Joko Widodo in East Kalimantan, the environment ministry said Monday. While the province is largely free from hotspots, haze from fires raging in other parts of Borneo can affect the new capital, Laksmi Wijayanti, inspector general at the ministry, told reporters. The capital relocation may also mean greater law enforcement in the region, Wijayanti said.


Haze caused by forest fires over the Musi river in Palembang, South Sumatra, on Sept. 7.

Photographer: Abdul Qodir/AFP via Getty Images

Malaysia and Indonesia Spar

Environment ministers from Malaysia and Indonesia have traded blame on the haze situation with Kuala Lumpur offering help to put out the forest fires.

Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said the country has offered technical firefighting assistance to Indonesia and is prepared to deploy them if requested.

— With assistance by Yudith Ho, and Harry Suhartono