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Highest on record: Tamaraw population soars to 382

Saturday, 01 November 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines

The population of the country’s dwarf buffalo, one of the world’s rarest animals, has grown to its largest since efforts to save them from extinction began, conservationists yesterday said.
An annual survey counted 382 tamaraws in a protected mountain area this year, an increase from 345 in 2013, according to data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The tamaraw, famed for its distinct V-shaped horns, can be found only in the mountains of Mindoro, a farming island located off the coast of Luzon, and northeast of Palawan.
The stocky tamaraw, with its chocolate brown coat, runs wild in the forest and weighs half as much as the more common carabao, which is used by farmers in to plough rice fields.

“The tamaraw is the flagship species of the Philippines. It is our moral obligation and international commitment to preserve them,” forest ranger Rodel Boyles, who heads a joint government and private sector conservation effort, told Agence France Presse.
“If they are not protected, the species might get wiped out in five years,” he said.
The tamaraw is considered “critically endangered” — two steps away from extinction — by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Hunting and the destruction of their habitat to make way for grazing areas for cattle led to their near decimation, as the population fell from 10,000 in the 1900s to just 154 by 2000, according to the WWF.
The government and private sector’s Tamaraw Conservation Program aims to double the dwarf buffalo’s population from 300 in the mid-2000s to 600 by 2020, Gregg Yan, a local spokesman for the WWF told AFP.
This requires ramping up forest patrols to ward off poachers and installing hidden cameras in the mountains to better understand the behavior of the beast, Yann said.
A team of 30 forest rangers patrol a 37-acre (around 150,000 square meters) portion of a mountain that is considered the buffalo’s “core habitat,” Boyles said.
“They are hunted down for food and trophy. When a species is rare, their price in the black market also goes up,” he said.
Boyles said conservationists had held meetings with locals to discourage them from eating tamaraw meat.
“People also have this misconception that the flesh of wild animals taste better than farmed ones,” he said.
The effort is paying off as the tamaraw population has been increasing every year for the last 12 years, WWF data shows.
This year’s survey also showed an increased number of young tamaraws, indicating that they have been reproducing in the wild, Boyles said, adding past attempts at captive breeding have failed.
“We are hopeful that their numbers will continue increasing,” he said. 

UN warns of ‘unprecedented’ number of foreign jihadists

Saturday, 01 November 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines

LONDON — Jihadists from more than 80 countries have flocked to fight in Iraq and Syria on an “unprecedented scale,” according to extracts of a UN report published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper yesterday.
Around 15,000 people have traveled to fight alongside Islamic State (IS) and other hardcore militant groups from “countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to al-Qaeda,” said the report. In the Philippines, the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group that recently pledged allegiance to IS militants released last month a German couple after a harrowing six-month hostage ordeal.

The extremists had threatened to behead one of the hostages unless Berlin pay them a $5.6-million ransom and withdraw its support for US offensives against IS jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
Jihadist group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) also aligned itself with ISIS to promote its own cause.
The number of foreign jihadists traveling to fight since 2010 exceeds the cumulative total of the 20 preceding years “many times,” added the Security Council study.
“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it said, according to the Guardian.
Britain’s top police officer, Bernard Hogan-Howe, estimated last week that five persons a week were leaving the country to fight with IS.
Security officials estimate that there are currently around 500 British nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The UN warned that more nations than ever face the problem of dealing with fighters returning from the battle zone.
The report was produced by a committee that monitors al-Qaeda, and concluded that the once mighty and feared group was now “maneuvering for relevance” following the rise of the even more militant IS, which was booted out of al-Qaeda by leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Despite the split, the UN concluded that the legal basis for US President Barack Obama’s fight against IS was justified by its ideological congruence with al-Qaeda, and considered the two groups as part of a broader movement.
“Al-Qaeda core and Isil (IS) pursue similar strategic goals, albeit with tactical differences regarding sequencing and substantive differences about personal leadership,” the UN wrote.
Obama has vowed he will not order a large force into combat in Iraq or Syria, relying instead on air power and local forces.

NAYPYIDAW — Myanmar’s parliament will consider amending the country’s constitution — which currently bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president — ahead of crucial elections next year, an official said Friday.
Suu Kyi is trying to change key sections of Myanmar’s charter ahead of the 2015 polls that are widely expected to be won by her National League for Democracy (NLD), if they are free and fair, after decades of disastrous military rule. The move to moot constitutional reform was discussed during unprecedented talks between President Thein Sein and his political rivals, including Suu Kyi, as well as top army brass and election officials.

“They agreed to discuss the issue of amending the constitution in parliament, according to the law,” presidential spokesman Ye Htut told reporters after the meeting in the capital Naypyidaw.
The NLD has focused on altering a provision in the constitution that ensures the military in the former junta-ruled nation has a veto on any amendment to the charter.
It believes revising the clause will open the way for further changes to other constitutional provisions, including the ring-fenced proportion of soldiers in parliament and the effective bar on Suu Kyi leading the country.
Ye Htut did not elaborate on which elements of the constitution were up for debate.
As it stands, Suu Kyi is ineligible to become president because of a clause in the 2008 charter blocking anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from leading the country. The Nobel laureate’s late husband was British, as are her two sons.
To alter the constitution there needs to be support from a 75 percent majority in parliament, and as unelected soldiers make up a quarter of the legislature they have the last say on any changes.
The extraordinary talks Friday — the first of its kind as the nation emerges from decades of outright military rule — saw Thein Sein and Suu Kyi walk into the meeting together.
The discussions, which lasted for more than two hours, came a day after the White House said US President Barack Obama spoke to Thein Sein and Suu Kyi about the elections, which are seen as a key test of democratic reforms under the quasi-civilian government.
Obama “underscored the need for an inclusive and credible process for conducting the 2015 elections” during telephone talks with the Myanmar president, said the White House statement Thursday.
The US leader also spoke to Suu Kyi about how Washington can “support efforts to promote tolerance, respect for diversity, and a more inclusive political environment”, it said.
The US leader will visit Myanmar in a fortnight’s time for a major regional conference.
Last week Myanmar authorities announced the landmark polls would be held in the final week of October or the first week of November 2015.
Myanmar’s previous general election in 2010 was marred by widespread accusations of cheating and was held without Suu Kyi, who was kept under lock and key until days after the vote, or her NLD party.
The polls came as the military relinquished its outright control of the government, after decades of misrule in which they turned Myanmar into a diplomatic pariah and drove the economy into the ground.
Under Thein Sein, a former general, Myanmar is now at a crossroads as it grapples with thorny political and constitutional questions and the search for a nationwide ceasefire to several rebellions.
Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador to Myanmar and visiting fellow at the Australian National University, said the timing of Friday’s meeting, before Obama’s visit, was highly significant.
“Without a doubt this is carefully timed. Even if (the outcome of) this meeting wasn’t positive he (Thein Sein) could certainly say to Obama I’ve tried and made an effort to listen to people.”
In 2012 by-elections Suu Kyi’s party won almost every seat available and the 69-year-old, who spent more than a decade under house arrest during the junta years, became an MP for the first time.
The NLD is now expected to win a major slice of the legislature next year after which parliament will select a president.
Myanmar has promised the vote will be the freest in the country’s modern history after the military ceded direct power to a quasi-civilian government three years ago. 

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