Run against dictatorship in Thailand


This 11 January 2020 video says about itself:

Thai protesters hold ‘Run Against Dictatorship

Thousands of anti-government protestors in Thailand gathered in a Bangkok park in the biggest political demonstration in many years. Organisers said 10,000 people registered to join the protest called ‘Run Against Dictatorship’ which saw participants in anti-government T-shirts jog around a short course, just after dawn on Sunday.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

They ran a so-called ‘run against the dictatorship‘, shouted slogans against the army and raised three fingers, referring to the The Hunger Games films in which people are oppressed. …

In 2014, former General Prayut Chan-o-cha came to power via a coup d’etat. He was elected Prime Minister in elections last year, but critics say that those elections were unfair and chaotic. The poor economic situation further contributes to the dissatisfaction in the country.

Groups of people also took to the streets outside the capital for similar running competitions. The reason for the large-scale protest is the possible dissolution of a relatively new progressive political party.

STUDENTS in Thailand rallied in the streets today in the biggest mobilisation of young people the country has seen for decades. Demonstrations kicked off on Saturday after a court ruling earlier in the week dissolved the opposition party, Future Forward, as well as barring its leaders from holding political office for 10 years: here.

New freshwater fish species discovery in Thailand


Both male and female Garra surinbinnani have deeply grooved foreheads, marked with tiny blue spikes known as tubercles. Researchers are unsure what the function of the groove is. G. surinbinnani also has whisker-like barbels for sensing its surroundings. Credit: Zachary Randall/Florida Museum

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

New ‘netherworldly’ freshwater fish named for Thai conservation visionary

December 16, 2019

At first glance, Garra surinbinnani looks like a stout, brown minnow with the face of a boxer who’s gone one too many rounds. But the deep gash in its forehead studded with blue spikes is a natural feature whose function remains a mystery.

Discovered by Florida Museum of Natural History researchers, this freshwater fish makes its home in the fast-flowing, rocky streams of Western Thailand, a region that the species’ namesake, the late conservationist Surin Binnan, devoted himself to protecting.

Lawrence Page, curator of fishes, and his team collected the fish in the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, a pristine but treacherous area they could only access with the help and expertise of Surin and sanctuary rangers. When the team surveyed its catch, G. surinbinnani’s odd physiognomy was cause for conversation.

“In terms of weirdness, this fish is up there,” said Page, lead author of the study describing the species. “The reaction of everyone who saw it was just ‘Why is it so bizarre-looking?'”

A few other Garra species have similarly outlandish foreheads, but G. surinbinnani sports two tiny horns, giving it a “netherworldly appearance,” Page said. The purpose of the facial groove in these species is unknown: Some scientists have suggested it could be used in territorial displays or even for fighting, but in fish, these behaviors are common only in males, and both male and female G. surinbinnani have the modification.

“It could be for burrowing or maybe it’s just bling,” said David Boyd, study co-author and an ichthyology collection technician at the Florida Museum.

Museum researchers were not the first to collect G. surinbinnani, which lives throughout the Mae Klong river basin, but it was previously misidentified as another species, G. fuliginosa. The scientists named the new species in honor of Surin, whose single-minded zeal for conservation left a lasting impression on them.

“I felt inspired when I talked to him, just to see someone who felt so convicted about doing what they believed in,” said Zachary Randall, study co-author and Florida Museum biological scientist. “He had dedicated his life to protecting the forest. Even in regular conversation, his passion came through.”

Surin died of liver cancer in September at age 56.

Walking where tigers tread

Page and his team have been documenting Thailand’s freshwater fishes since 2007, honing in on the Mae Klong drainage over the past five years. The team is working on a book that describes all the fish species in the basin, an understudied region, with photographs of live specimens and distribution maps.

They were eager to take their seine nets into the remote, mountainous Thung Yai sanctuary, the largest protected area in Thailand and a World Heritage Site, but wouldn’t have gotten far without Surin’s assistance. Surin and rangers with Thailand’s Royal Forest Department help maintain the sanctuary and defend it against poachers. The undisturbed habitat is home to some of Thailand’s most charismatic wildlife, including elephants, gibbons, tigers, barking deer and hornbills.

But little to nothing has been known about Thung Yai’s fish — which is how the scientists found themselves perched precariously atop mounds of gear in the back of four-wheel-drive trucks, “clinging on for dear life” as they rollicked over the sanctuary’s unpaved road, Boyd said. Meanwhile Surin hung from the back with one hand as casually as though he were riding shotgun in a Lincoln Town Car.

After nightfall — and many stops to winch their trucks from the mud — the group dismounted to walk the final half-mile to the field station where they would sleep. Along the way, Randall’s headlamp illuminated a fresh tiger print on the path.

“We all looked at each other and decided to walk closer together,” he said.

In addition to tigers, the team had to watch out for gaur, a large, horned bovine considered one of the region’s most dangerous animals.

But after sampling streams for several days, the scientists emerged unmauled and ungored — and with at least five undescribed fish species, including G. surinbinnani, and potentially a new loach genus. Surin shared in their excitement.

“He had such an enthusiasm for what we do, and we appreciated that,” Boyd said. “He implicitly understood the importance of biodiversity. By bringing us in, he knew he would get a return on investment by learning about the fish, and he instilled that in a lot of the rangers.”

The team had heard Surin was terminally ill, but the news was hard to believe in the face of his energy and athleticism.

“We were all looking forward to working with Surin in coming years,” Randall said. “After seeing how healthy he was, we thought he had actually beat the cancer.”

A force of nature

Formerly the prosperous owner of a computer repair business and a property developer, Surin, whose formal name was Amphol Tapanapunnitikul, devoted the last portion of his life to preserving Thailand’s wildlands. He established and directed a non-profit organization, the Foundation of Western Forest Complex Conservation, which planned, constructed and maintained infrastructure projects in Thung Yai to help defend the sanctuary against poaching. The foundation also pioneered many ongoing conservation efforts, such as protecting reservoirs from illegal fishing nets, conducting elephant surveys, reducing human-elephant conflicts and starting Thung Yai’s first tiger research project.

Along with a lifelong love of wildlife, Surin had a predilection for undertaking projects others described as impossible, said David Butler, his close friend and FWFCC co-founder.

Surin, who had established Thailand’s first computer network, designed and built a radio tower system on Thung Yai’s forbidding terrain so rangers could better communicate with one another. He also installed satellite internet and constructed wildlife protection stations — even floating stations — by hand, raising the funds himself.

“He gave and gave and gave,” Butler said. “He probably knew more about Thung Yai than anyone else. He dedicated his life to it, and he wouldn’t let anything get in his way. He was more committed than anyone I knew.”

A self-described junk collector, Butler met Surin in 2002 while shipping Vietnam War-era Army trucks back to the U.S. When Surin refused to accept payment for his assistance with the project, Butler, who had noticed the wildlife photos tacked to Surin’s office walls, offered to donate to his conservation club instead. Surin readily agreed and, in turn, convinced Butler to board a truck loaded with radio and solar equipment bound for a remote ranger station in Thung Yai.

For Butler, the experience was transformative.

“I was overwhelmed by how important it was,” he said. “I saw stuff that no Westerner gets to see. On the way home, I remember being upset at how little was being done to protect it.”

Butler had no previous conservation experience and “barely got through high school,” but joined Surin’s efforts. “We weren’t scientists,” he said. “We were just doing whatever we could to conserve biodiversity.”

He recalled Surin as “the kindest, most thoughtful person. But he also meant business.”

Butler recounted a time when rangers warned Surin that a local poacher planned to kill him. Surin’s response was brash: He walked into the poacher’s house unannounced and dared him to carry out his threat. Completely unnerved, the man abandoned poaching instead.

“He was just a remarkable individual,” Butler said. “The only way I can put it is that he seemed superhuman.”

Butler accompanied the Florida Museum team on its Thung Yai expedition and said the researchers’ deep knowledge of fish was a frequent topic of discussion between him and Surin.

“It was so fun to watch the fish guys,” he said. “Their expertise was off the charts.”

One unique feature of G. surinbinnani, the researchers noted, was that while other fish sheltered behind rocks in Thung Yai’s swift streams, this species openly braved the currents, no matter how strong.

So it was with Surin.

“He was a driving force,” Butler said. “He was completely fearless and could just make anything happen.”

The project was funded in part by the National Science Foundation. CT scans were provided by the NSF-funded oVert project.

Extinct Schomburgk’s deer, really extinct?


This August 2018 video says about itself:

The Schomburgk’s Deer (Rucervus schomburgki) was a member of the family Cervidae.

Native to central Thailand, Schomburgk’s deer was described by Edward Blyth in 1863 and named after Sir Robert H. Schomburgk, who was the British consul in Bangkok from 1857–1864.

It is thought to have gone extinct by 1938, but there is speculation that the deer might still exist.

This graceful deer inhabited swampy plains with long grass, cane, and shrubs in central Thailand, particularly in the Chao Phraya River valley near Bangkok.

This deer avoided dense vegetation. They lived in herds that consisted of a single adult male, a few females, and their young.

The wild population of Schomburgk’s deer is thought to have died because of overhunting in 1932, with the last captive individual being killed in 1938.

The species was listed as extinct in the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

However, some scientists consider this species to be still extant.

In 1991, antlers were discovered in a Chinese medicine shop in Laos. Laurent Chazée, an agronomist with the United Nations, later identified the antlers from a photograph he took as coming from Schomburgk’s deer.

Only one mounted specimen is known to be in existence, which currently resides in Paris’s Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle after living in the zoo there until 1868.

From Northwestern University in the USA:

Rare deer likely lived 50 years beyond declaration of extinction

Fresh antlers from Schomburgk’s deer were photographed in Laos in 1991

September 6, 2019

A rare deer species that lived in central Thailand might have come back from the dead — without the help from sci-fi-like genetic engineering.

Schomburgk’s deer (Rucervus schomburgki) was added to the extinction list in 1938. But new evidence, gleaned from antlers obtained in late 1990 or early 1991, shows that it survived for at least an additional half-century and might still be around today.

The research was published last week (Aug. 30) in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Gary Galbreath, professor of biological sciences at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, was involved in the work.

After the wild population died out from overhunting in 1932, the last known Schomburgk’s deer died in captivity six years later. Or so we thought. A trucker in Laos found a set of antlers, seemingly in fresh condition, in the early 1990s. He then gave the antlers to a shop in the northern Laos province of Phongsali.

In February 1991, United Nations agronomist Laurent Chazée photographed the antlers. Galbreath and his collaborator G.B. Schroering recently analyzed the antlers’ physical condition in those photos. Based on the widely spreading, basket-shaped, hyper-branched structure of the antlers, the team determined the antlers belonged to a Schomburgk’s deer. (Other Asian deer’s antlers do not have the same signature basket shape.)

Galbreath also confirmed that the antlers were fresh when photographed in 1991. The antlers — spotted with dark red to reddish-brown dried blood — had been excised from the deer’s head. The color of the blood and condition of the exposed bone marrow offered clues into the antlers’ age.

“The relative antiquity of the antler specimens can be assessed by the materials, such as dried marrow, still adhering to them,” said Galbreath, an expert in Asian wildlife. “Even the blood was still reddish; it would become black with increased age. In the tropics, the antlers would not continue to look this way even within a matter of months.”

Before they were listed as “extinct,” the deer were well documented in Thailand. Galbreath believes a small population probably also lived in a remote area in central Laos, where they just might still be living today.

Releasing Asian elephants into the wild


This 2 February 2019 video says about itself:

Elephants Released into the Wild | BBC Earth

In Thailand, realising elephants into the wild is one of the highest forms of making merit.

Researchers at the University of Turku found that the presence of a maternal sister was positively and significantly associated with annual female reproduction in a population of working elephants in Myanmar. In addition, an age-specific effect was found: young females were more sensitive to the presence of sisters and even more likely to reproduce when living near a sister: here.

Asian songbirds’ nests and roads, new study


This video shows a white-rumped shama singing.

From the American Ornithological Society Publications Office in the USA:

Road proximity may boost songbird nest success in tropics

January 29, 2019

In the world’s temperate regions, proximity to roads usually reduces the reproductive success of birds, thanks to predators that gravitate toward habitat edges. However, the factors affecting bird nest success are much less studied in the tropics — so does this pattern hold true? New research published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications shows that interactions between roads, nesting birds, and their predators may unfold differently in Southeast Asia.

Rongrong Angkaew of King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi and her colleagues placed 100 next boxes for the cavity-nesting White-rumped Shama in forest interior and 100 near a road at an environmental research station in northeast Thailand. Monitoring nests and radio-tracking 25 fledglings from each site for seven weeks, they found that nest success was 12% higher and post-fledging survival 24% higher at the edge versus the interior — the opposite of the pattern commonly observed in temperate regions.

“There were some special challenges involved in carrying out the field work,” says Angkaew. “When we started setting up the nest boxes in the field, we found a lot of tracks and other signs of poachers and illegal hunting, so we had to avoid some parts of the forest edge in order to reduce human disturbance to our nest boxes, which could have affected nestling and fledgling survival rates.”

Predators caused 94% of nest failures and 100% of fledgling mortality, and locally important predators of small birds, such as green cat snakes, northern pig-tailed macaques and raptors appear to prefer interior forest habitat. Fledglings also preferred to spend time in dense understory habitat, which provides cover from predators and was more available near roads.

Overall, the study’s results suggest that the effects of roads on birds’ reproductive success depend on local predator ecology — the same rules don’t necessarily apply in different biomes. Angkaew and her coauthors hope that more studies like theirs will help identify key nest predators and assess their foraging behaviors in multiple landscapes, in order to determine the best ways to conserve vulnerable bird species in areas affected by human development.

Thai hermit crab’s new home, a food tin


This video says about itself:

Crafty Hermit Crab Finds a New Home in a Food Tin | BBC Earth

1 June 2018

With shells disappearing because of tourists, hermit crabs in Thailand have turned to rubbish to solve their housing crisis.

Thai people demonstrate against military dictatorship


Thai demonstrators against military dictatorship, Reuters photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

In Bangkok hundreds of people have taken to the streets to protest against the military regime in Thailand. They took action at the regional headquarters of the United Nations. The estimated 900 demonstrators want the regime to stop what they believe is intimidation of activists.

The demonstration is one of the biggest against the government in months. It is organized by the People’s Movement for a Just Society, a network that stands up for people who have lost their land because the government has expropriated it.

Fear

Protests against the junta are relatively special in Thailand because Thai people did not dare to demonstrate in recent years.

“Two years ago no one would have taken to the streets to demonstrate against it, but now the irritation about the junta has won the fear”, says correspondent Michel Maas. “These are not the first and certainly not the last demonstrations that will be held there.”

Coup

The army seized power in Thailand in 2014 and thus put an end to a protracted period of protests. The junta promised that free elections would be held, but they have been postponed several times, to the displeasure of the population. The elections are now scheduled for next year.

Maas thinks that the Thai protest movement will become bigger in the coming period.

The Thai election held on March 24 was a sham, engineered by the country’s military junta to try to give some legitimacy to its autocratic rule. After seizing power in 2014, the regime promised to hold an election the following year, but even after ramming through a new anti-democratic constitution in 2016, has repeatedly delayed any poll, fearing a voter backlash: here.

Thai dictatorship jails blind woman for Facebook share


This video says about itself:

4 January 2018

Blind Thai woman is jailed for 18 months for sharing a ‘royal insult‘ on Facebook. A blind woman was jailed for 18 months by a Thai court on Thursday for sharing a Facebook post deemed defamatory to the royal family, her lawyer said, the latest victim of a tough law that shields the monarchy from criticism.

Nuhurhayati Masoe, 23, who hails from Thailand‘s Muslim-majority Yala province, was punished for publishing an excerpt from an article on the social media platform in October 2016. She heard the article through an audio application for blind people.

Translated from Dutch RTL news today:

Blind Thai woman jailed in prison cell for sharing a Facebook post

A court in Bangkok sentenced a young blind woman to a one-and-a-half-year prison sentence because she had shared a critical post about the monarchy on Facebook.

The lèse majesté laws are particularly harsh in Thailand. Violators can be sentenced to years of imprisonment.

The military in power

The 23-year-old woman had shared an article by royal family critic Giles Ungpakorn.

The woman has confessed that, but she did not expect that only sharing would cause such a severe punishment.

Since the military have been in power through a coup in 2014, more than a hundred people have received long penalties for lèse majesté.