Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.
Care Home Inundated<p>Altogether 16 residents at an elderly care home in Kuma Village are presumed dead after the facility was flooded by water and mud.</p><p>Fifty-one other residents have been rescued by boats and taken to hospitals for treatment, officials said.</p><p>Eighteen other people elsewhere have been confirmed dead, while more than a dozen others were still missing as of Sunday afternoon.</p><p>The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said many others were still waiting to be rescued from other inundated areas.</p><p>Hitoyoshi City was also badly affected by flooding, as rains in the prefecture exceeded 100 millimeters (4 inches) per hour at their height.</p>
More Rain Forecast<p>The disaster in the Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu island is the worst natural catastrophe since Typhoon Hagibis in October last year, which cost the lives of 90 people.</p><p>Although residents in Kumamoto prefecture were advised to evacuate their homes following the downpours on Friday evening into Saturday, many people chose not to leave for fear of contracting the coronavirus.</p><p>Officials say, however, that measures are in place at shelters to prevent the transmission of the disease.</p><p>More rain is predicted in the region, and the Japan Meteorological Agency has warned of the danger of further mudslides.</p>
- 900,000 Forced to Evacuate Due to Flooding in Japan - EcoWatch ›
- Typhoon Slams Into Flood-Ravaged Japan - EcoWatch ›
- Historic Floods in Japan Kill More Than 100, Force Millions to Flee ... ›
By Sonya Diehn
More than 2 billion hectares of previously productive land is degraded. For Desertification and Drought Day on June 17, DW spoke with Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Akito Y Kawahara
Editor's note: According to recent press reports, two Asian giant hornets – a species not known to occur in North America – were found in northwest Washington state in late 2019, and a hornet colony was found and eliminated in British Columbia. Now scientists are trying to determine whether more of these large predatory insects are present in the region. Entomologist Akito Kawahara explains why headlines referring to "murder hornets" are misleading.
1. How Common Are These hornets in Asia, and How Much Alarm Do They Cause?<p>The Asian giant hornet (<em>Vespa mandarinia</em>) is fairly common in many parts of Asia, where it is called the "Giant hornet." Growing up in Japan, I saw them relatively frequently in the mountains outside of Tokyo.</p><p>These insects are large and distinctive, with a characteristic orange head and black-banded orange body. Like any other social wasp, they will defend their nest if the colony is disrupted. But in most cases they will not do anything if people aren't aggressive toward them.</p><p>Giant hornets have longer stingers than a honeybee's, and hornets do not break off their stingers when they sting. Because hornet stingers can puncture thick clothing, people should avoid hornets and their nests whenever possible.</p>
2. Are You Surprised That the Hornets Have Appeared in North America?<p>To some degree, yes. Most likely, a single, fertile queen hornet entered Canada via shipping packaging and created the colony that was discovered in 2019.</p><p>It's easy for invasive species to travel this way. More than 19,000 cargo containers <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/policing-americas-ports-108008881/" target="_blank">arrive daily at U.S. ports</a>, and inspectors can only do random searches of shipping containers. One estimate suggests that just <a href="https://www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/jrnl/2001/nc_2001_haack_004.pdf" target="_blank">2% of shipments</a> are searched for evidence of harmful organisms such as plant pests. Many invasive species are intercepted, but some do get through.</p><p>It's very unlikely that an entire colony of hornets was transferred to North America. Colonies of this hornet are often large, and the hornets would be visible and potentially aggressive if their nest were disturbed.</p><p>A genetic test indicated that one of the hornets found in Washington was <a href="https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2020/05/06/murder-hornets-invade-headlines-not-us" target="_blank">not related to the Canadian colony</a>, but those results have not been published or peer reviewed. The Giant hornet has not been found in 2020 in either the U.S. or Canada.</p>
Four wasp and hornet species often confused with the Giant hornet. Upper left: European hornet (Vespa crabro). Upper right: Common aerial yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria). Lower left: European paper wasp (Polistes dominula). Lower right: Baldfaced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). gailhampshire (upper left), Gilles Gonthier (upper right), Judy Gallagher (bottom images), all via Flickr, CC BY
3. What Kind of Conditions Do These Insects Need to Live?<p>Giant hornets are fairly common in mountainous regions of Asia, but they're not often seen in large cities or highly urbanized areas. They usually nest at the base of large trees and inside dead logs. The fact that they can't tolerate extremely hot or <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/25008806" target="_blank">cold temperatures</a> makes it unlikely that they would spread to very hot or cold areas of North America.</p><p>If active colonies are discovered in 2020 in the Pacific Northwest, which has a more temperate climate, it's possible that they could spread there. However, it is unlikely that this would happen quickly, as foraging ranges of <em>Vespa</em> are only <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185172" target="_blank">about 2,300 feet (700 meters) from their nest</a>.</p><p>The key to prevent spread is surveillance. Anyone in the Pacific Northwest should be alert for Giant hornets while they are outdoors this summer and fall.</p>
4. If More Hornets Are Found, Could They Threaten Honeybees and Other Pollinators?<p>Possibly. Some media posts have described destruction of honeybee nests by what could have been Giant hornets, but honeybees are not these insects' only prey. The hornets feed on different kinds of insects, and bring captured dead prey back to their hive to feed to their young.</p><p>In Japan, beekeepers surround their hives with <a href="https://shop.r10s.jp/diokasei/cabinet/suzume/imgrc0068904247.jpg" target="_blank">wire screen nets</a> to protect them from hornets. North American beekeepers can replicate these with wire netting from local hardware stores.</p><p>Many honeybees in Asia have the ability to protect their hive from intruding Giant hornets by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2007.07.033" target="_blank">scorching them</a>. They wait for a hornet to enter their nest, then mob it by surrounding it completely with their bodies. Each honeybee vibrates its wings, and the combined warming of honey bee bodies raises the temperature in the center of the cluster to 122 degrees F (50 degrees C), killing the hornet. Carbon dioxide levels in the nest also increase during this process, which contributes to the hornet's death.</p>
5. Are News Stories About “Murder Hornets” Overreacting?<p>Yes, very much so. In parts of Japan, people consider these hornets beneficial because they remove pests, such as harmful caterpillars, from crops. They are also thought to contain nutrients, and have been used as ingredients in <a href="https://www.splendidtable.org/story/the-japanese-tradition-of-raising-and-eating-wasps" target="_blank">Japanese food and some strong liquors</a>. Some people believe the hornets' essence has medicinal benefits.</p><p>People who live in Vancouver, Seattle or nearby should certainly take note of what these insects look like. They are 2 inches long or more, with a <a href="https://extension.psu.edu/asian-giant-hornets" target="_blank">3-inch wingspan</a>, and have distinctly orange heads and broad striped orange and black-banded abdomens. That's different from typical North American hornets, which have yellow or white bodies with black marks.</p><p>In the unlikely case that you see a Giant hornet in Washington state, do not try to remove nests yourself or spray hornets with pesticides. Cutting down trees to prevent nesting sites is also unnecessary, and can affect many other kinds of native wildlife, including beneficial insects that are needed for pollination and decomposition. Many native insects are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-ento-011019-025151" target="_blank">declining globally</a>, and it's important to make sure these insects are not affected.</p><p>Instead, take a photo from a distance and report it to the <a href="https://agr.wa.gov/departments/insects-pests-and-weeds/insects/hornets" target="_blank">Washington State Department of Agriculture</a>. Photos are essential to verify that identifications are accurate.</p><p>Consider also uploading your images to <a href="https://www.inaturalist.org/" target="_blank">iNaturalist</a>, which is one of the primary sources for information on tracking wildlife. The images are archived and carry data, such as location, time of observance and the insect's morphological features, that scientists can use for research. </p>
By Neil Carter
Tigers are one of the world's most iconic wild species, but today they are endangered throughout Asia. They once roamed across much of this region, but widespread habitat loss, prey depletion and poaching have reduced their numbers to only about 4,000 individuals. They live in small pockets of habitat across South and Southeast Asia, as well as the Russian Far East — an area spanning 13 countries and 450,000 square miles (1,160,000 square kilometers).
Letting Humans In<p>Road construction <a href="http://tigers.panda.org/news/asias-infrastructure-development-threatens-worlds-tigers/" target="_blank">worsens existing threats to tigers</a>, such as poaching and development, by paving the way for human intrusion into the heart of the tiger's range. For example, in the Russian Far East, roads have led to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.2008.00458.x" target="_blank">higher tiger mortality</a> due to increased collisions with vehicles and more encounters with poachers.</p><p>To assess this threat across Asia, we focused on areas called Tiger Conservation Landscapes — 76 zones, scattered across the tiger's range, which conservationists see as crucial for the species' recovery. For each zone we calculated road density, distance to the nearest road and relative mean species abundance, which estimates the numbers of mammals in areas near roads compared to areas far from roads. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1522488113" target="_blank">Mean species abundance</a> is our best proxy for estimating how roads affect numbers of mammals, like tigers and their prey, across broad scales.</p><p>We also used <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aabd42" target="_blank">future projections of road building</a> in each country to forecast the length of new roads that might be built in tiger habitats by 2050.</p>
More Roads, Fewer Animals<p>We estimated that more than 83,300 miles (134,000 kilometers) of roads already exist within tiger habitats. This is likely an underestimate, since many logging or local roads are missing from the global data set that we used.</p><p>Road densities in tiger habitat are one-third greater outside of protected areas, such as national parks and tiger reserves, than inside of protected areas. Non-protected areas averaged 1,300 feet of road per square mile (154 meters per square kilometer), while protected areas averaged 980 feet per square mile (115 meters per square kilometer). For tiger populations to grow, they will need to use the forests outside protected areas. However, the high density of roads in those forests will jeopardize tiger recovery.</p><p>Protected areas and priority conservation sites — areas with large populations of tigers — are not immune either. For example, in India — home to more than <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/07/29/746237332/census-finds-nearly-3-000-tigers-in-india" target="_blank">70% of the world's tigers</a> — we estimate that a protected area of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_reserves_of_India" target="_blank">500 square miles, or 1,300 square kilometers</a>, contains about 200 miles (320 kilometers) of road.</p><p>Road networks are expansive. More than 40% of areas where tiger breeding has recently been detected — crucial to tiger population growth — is within just 3 miles (5 kilometers) of a nearby road. This is problematic because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2010.02.009" target="_blank">mammals often are less abundant</a> this close to roads.</p><p>In fact, we estimate that current road networks within tiger habitats may be reducing local populations of tigers and their prey by about 20%. That's a major decrease for a species on the brink of extinction. And the threats from roads are likely to become more severe.</p>
Estimated road densities for 76 tiger conservation landscapes (colored zones), with darker red indicating more roads per unit area. Neil Carter / CC BY-ND
Making Infrastructure Tiger-Friendly<p>Our findings underscore the need for planning development in ways that interfere as minimally as possible with tiger habitat. Multilateral development banks and massive ventures like the Belt and Road Initiative can be important partners in this endeavor. For example, they could help establish an international network of protected areas and habitat corridors to safeguard tigers and many other wild species from road impacts.</p><p>National laws can also do more to promote <a href="https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/27751" target="_blank">tiger-friendly infrastructure planning</a>. This includes keeping road development away from priority tiger populations and other "no go" zones, such as tiger reserves or habitat corridors.</p><p>Zoning can be used around infrastructure to prevent settlement growth and forest loss. Environmental impact assessments for road projects can do a better job of assessing how new roads might exacerbate hunting and poaching pressure on tigers and their prey.</p><p>Funding agencies need to screen proposed road developments using these tiger-friendly criteria before planners finalize decisions on road design, siting and construction. Otherwise, it might be too late to influence road planning.</p><p>There are also opportunities to reduce the negative effects of existing roads on tigers. They include closing roads to vehicular traffic at night, decommissioning existing roads in areas with important tiger populations, adding road signs announcing the presence of tigers and constructing wildlife crossings to allow tigers and other wildlife to move freely through the landscape.</p><p>Roads will become more pervasive features in Asian ecosystems as these nations develop. In my view, now is the time to tackle this mounting challenge to Asian biodiversity, including tigers, through research, national and international collaborations and strong political leadership.</p>
Are tigers extinct in Laos?
That's the conclusion of a detailed new study that found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country.
Illegal wildlife snares in Laos. Bill Robichaud / Global Wildlife Conservation / CC BY 2.0<p>The loss of tigers in Laos was an avoidable, if not unexpected, tragedy. The most recent <a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/tiger-populations-increasing/" target="_blank">worldwide tiger population estimates</a>, released in April 2016, put the number of tigers remaining in the country at all of two. The observation of those last two Laotian tigers came from the first year of the camera survey; they were never seen again — except, in all likelihood, by the trappers who killed them.</p><p>"Our team did what we could with our limited resources to conserve the species," said Rasphone. "We did our best despite being defeated by the high international demand in the illegal wildlife trade for this species."</p><p>Their deaths continue the <a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/tigers-at-risk/" target="_blank">slow decline of the Indochinese tiger</a> (<em>Panthera tigris tigris</em>). Today their only healthy populations remain in Thailand, which at last count had about 189 wild tigers. The Indochinese tiger (previously considered its own subspecies) also persists at unsustainable levels in China (about 7 tigers), Vietnam (fewer than 5) and Myanmar (no reliable population count).</p><p>Unfortunately, the news of tigers' extirpation in Laos hasn't generated much attention in the country.</p>
By Kaamil Ahmed
A pair of "French spies" had infiltrated India by sea to commit a "treasonous conspiracy," an Indian minister claimed in late November. In reality, they were two visiting journalists, and their mission was an investigation into allegations of illegal sand mining in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. They had merely tried and failed to visit the site of a major mining company through legal means.
Their presence set off alarm bells among some connected to the industry, and the fallout has been significant. It's included a police investigation, a politically fueled propaganda campaign and the arrests of two local translators who had been working for them.
The events come nearly two months into the continent's annual rainy season that extends from June to November, according to The Straits Times.
Today is International Snow Leopard Day, a global observance commemorating the signing of the Bishkek Declaration on the conservation of snow leopards in 2013.
The snow leopard has been listed on the IUCN Red List as "Endangered" since 1986, although it recently had its threat status downgraded to "Vulnerable."
Glaciers in Asia could shrink to one-third of their current size by the end of the century even if warming stays below 1.5 degrees C, according to new research. A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature finds that glaciers in the Tibetan plateau experience higher levels of warming than the global average.
By Paul Brown
A solar revolution is transforming the lives of women in the remotest parts of Asia. They no longer have to wait decades to be connected to a power grid but are able today to exploit the huge potential of the abundant sunshine.
In societies where women normally play a subservient role and spend much of their time on menial chores, solar businesses are creating a new breed of female entrepreneur who are bringing electricity to their villages.
In the opening scene of the new documentary RiverBlue, deep magenta wastewater spills into a river in China as the voice of fashion designer and activist Orsola de Castro can be heard saying "there is a joke in China that you can tell the 'it' color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers."