Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk

Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk
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A polar bear observes at a Beluga whale pod passing along the shoreline of the Hudson Bay near Churchill on August 5, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)
Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk
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A female polar bear stands along the shoreline of the Hudson Bay near Churchill on August 5, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)
Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk
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A female polar bear walks between rocks to find something to eat along the shoreline of the Hudson Bay near Churchill on August 5, 2022. Olivier Morin / AFP)
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Updated 29 September 2022

Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk

Receding ice leaves Canada’s polar bears at rising risk
  • The fate of the polar bear should alarm everyone, says Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist at Cornell University who was part of the expedition, because the Arctic is a good “barometer” of the planet’s health

CHURCHILL Canada: Sprawled on rocky ground far from sea ice, a lone Canadian polar bear sits under a dazzling sun, his white fur utterly useless as camouflage.
It’s mid-summer on the shores of Hudson Bay and life for the enormous male has been moving in slow motion, far from the prey that keeps him alive: seals. 
This is a critical time for the region’s polar bears.
Every year from late June when the bay ice disappears — shrinking until it dots the blue vastness like scattered confetti — they must move onto shore to begin a period of forced fasting.
But that period is lasting longer and longer as temperatures rise — putting them in danger’s way.
Once on solid ground, the bears “typically have very few options for food,” explains Geoff York, a biologist with Polar Bear International (PBI).
York, an American, spends several weeks each year in Churchill, a small town on the edge of the Arctic in the northern Canadian province of Manitoba. There he follows the fortunes of the endangered animals.
This is one of the best spots from which to study life on Hudson Bay, though transportation generally requires either an all-terrain vehicle adapted to the rugged tundra, or an inflatable boat for navigating the bay’s waters.
York invited an AFP team to join him on an expedition in early August.
Near the impressively large male bear lazing in the sun is a pile of fishbones — nowhere near enough to sustain this 11-foot (3.5-meter), 1,300-pound (600-kilo) beast.
“There could be a beluga whale carcass they might be able to find, (or a) naive seal near shore, but generally they’re just fasting,” York says.
“They lose nearly a kilogram of body weight every day that they’re on land.”
Climate warming is affecting the Arctic three times as fast as other parts of the world — even four times, according to some recent studies. So sea ice, the habitat of the polar bear, is gradually disappearing.
A report published two years ago in the journal Nature Climate Change suggested that this trend could lead to the near-extinction of these majestic animals: 1,200 of them were counted on the western shores of Hudson Bay in the 1980s. Today the best estimate is 800. 




A female polar bear stands along the shoreline of the Hudson Bay near Churchill on August 5, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)

Cycle of life disrupted

Each summer, sea ice begins melting earlier and earlier, while the first hard freeze of winter comes later and later. Climate change thus threatens the polar bears’ very cycle of life.
They have fewer opportunities to build up their reserves of fat and calories before the period of summer scarcity.
The polar bear — technically known as the Ursus maritimus — is a meticulous carnivore that feeds principally on the white fat that envelops and insulates a seal’s body.
But these days this superpredator of the Arctic sometimes has to feed on seaweed — as a mother and her baby were seen doing not far from the port of Churchill, the self-declared “Polar Bear Capital.”
If female bears go more than 117 days without adequate food, they struggle to nurse their young, said Steve Amstrup, an American who is PBI’s lead scientist. Males, he adds, can go 180 days.
As a result, births have declined, and it has become much rarer for a female to give birth to three cubs, once a common occurrence.
It is a whole ecosystem in decline, and one that 54-year-old York — with his short hair and rectangular glasses — knows by heart after spending more than 20 years roaming the Arctic, first for the ecology organization WWF and now for PBI.
During a capture in Alaska, a bear sunk its fangs into his leg.
Another time, while entering what he thought was an abandoned den, he came nose-to-snout with a female. York, normally a quiet man, says he “yelled as loud as I ever have in my life.”
Today, these enormous beasts live a precarious existence.
“Here in Hudson Bay, in the western and southern parts, polar bears are spending up to a month longer on shore than their parents or grandparents did,” York says.
As their physical condition declines, he says, their tolerance for risk rises, and “that might bring them into interaction with people (which) can lead to conflict instead of co-existence.”

“Prison” for bears

Binoculars in hand, Ian Van Nest, a provincial conservation officer, keeps an eye out through the day on the rocks surrounding Churchill, where the bears like to hide.
In this town of 800 inhabitants, which is only accessible by air and train but not by any roads, the bears have begun frequenting the local dump, a source of easy — but potentially harmful — food for them.




Provincial Polar Bear Patrol Officer Ian Van Nest on patrol on the shoreline of the Hudson Bay outside Churchill on August 7, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)

They could be seen ripping open trash bags, eating plastic or getting their snouts trapped in food tins amid piles of burning waste.
Since then, the town has taken precautions: The dump is now guarded by cameras, fences and patrols.
Across Churchill, people leave cars and houses unlocked in case someone needs to find urgent shelter after an unpleasant encounter with this large land-based carnivore.
Posted on walls around town are the emergency phone numbers to reach Van Nest or his colleagues.
When they get an urgent call, they hop in their pickup truck armed with a rifle and a spray can of repellent, wearing protective flak jackets.
Van Nest, who is bearded and in his 30s, takes the job seriously, given the rising number of polar bears in the area.
Sometimes they can be scared off with just “the horn on your vehicle,” he tells AFP.
But other times “we might have to get on foot and grab our shotguns and cracker shells,” which issue an explosive sound designed to frighten the animal, “and head onto the rocks and pursue that bear.”
Some areas are watched more closely than others — notably around schools as children are arriving in the morning “to ensure that the kids are going to be safe.”
There have been some close calls, like the time in 2013 when a woman was grievously injured by a bear in front of her house, before a neighbor — clad in pajamas and slippers — ran out wielding only his snow shovel to scare the animal away.
Sometimes the animals have to be sedated, then winched up by a helicopter to be transported to the north, or kept in a cage until winter, when they can again feed on the bay.
Churchill’s only “prison” is inhabited entirely by bears, a hangar whose 28 cells can fill up in the autumn as the creatures maraud in mass around town while waiting for the ice to re-form in November.

Barometer of planet's health

The fate of the polar bear should alarm everyone, says Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist at Cornell University who was part of the expedition, because the Arctic is a good “barometer” of the planet’s health.
Since the 1980s, the ice pack in the bay has decreased by nearly 50 percent in summer, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.
“We see the more — the faster — changes here, because it is warming particularly fast,” says Lehner, who is Swiss.
The region is essential to the health of the global climate because the Arctic, he says, effectively provides the planet’s “air conditioning.”
“There’s this important feedback mechanism of sea ice and snow in general,” he says, with frozen areas reflecting 80 percent of the sun’s rays, providing a cooling effect.
When the Arctic loses its capacity to reflect those rays, he said, there will be consequences for temperatures around the globe.
Thus, when sea ice melts, the much darker ocean’s surface absorbs 80 percent of the sun’s rays, accelerating the warming trend.
A few years ago, scientists feared that the Arctic’s summer ice pack was rapidly reaching a climatic “tipping point” and, above a certain temperature, would disappear for good.
But more recent studies show the phenomenon could be reversible, Lehner says.
“Should we ever be able to bring temperatures down again, sea ice will come back,” he says.
That said, the impact for now is pervasive.
“In the Arctic, climate change is impacting all species,” says Jane Waterman, a biologist at the University of Manitoba. “Every single thing is being affected by climate change.”
Permafrost — defined as land that is permanently frozen for two successive years — has begun to melt, and in Churchill the very contours of the land have shifted, damaging rail lines and the habitat of wild species.
The entire food chain is under threat, with some non-native species, like certain foxes and wolves, appearing for the first time, endangering Arctic species.
Nothing is safe, says Waterman, from the tiniest bacteria to enormous whales.

Beluya whales also affected

That includes the beluga whales that migrate each summer — by the tens of thousands — from Arctic waters to the refuge of the Hudson Bay.
These small white whales are often spotted in the bay’s vast blue waters.




A polar bear swims to catch a beluga whale along the coast of Hudson Bay near Churchill on August 9, 2022. (Olivier Morin / AFP)

Swimming in small groups, they like to follow the boats of scientists who have come to study them, seemingly taking pleasure in showing off their large round heads and spouting just feet from captivated observers.
The smallest ones, gray in color, cling to their mothers’ backs in this estuary, with its relatively warm waters, where they find protection from killer whales and plentiful nourishment.
But there has been “a shift in prey availability for beluga whales in some areas of the Arctic,” explains Valeria Vergara, an Argentine researcher who has spent her life studying the beluga.
As the ice cover shrinks, “there’s less under the surface of the ice for the phytoplankton that in turn will feed the zooplankton that in turn will feed big fish,” says Vergara, who is with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
The beluga has to dive deeper to find food, and that uses up precious energy.
And another danger lurks: Some climate models suggest that as early as 2030, with the ice fast melting, boats will be able to navigate the Hudson Bay year-round.
Sound pollution is a major problem for the species — known as the “canary of the seas” — whose communication depends on the clicking and whistling sounds it makes.
The beluga depends on sound-based communication to determine its location, find its way and to locate food, Vergara says.
Thanks to a hydrophone on the “Beluga Boat” that Vergara uses, humans can monitor the “conversations” of whales far below the surface.
Vergara, 53, describes their communications as “very complex,” and she can distinguish between the cries made by mother whales keeping in contact with their youngsters.
To the untrained ear, the sound is a cacophony, but clearly that of an animated community. Scientists wonder, however, how much longer such communities will last?
Far from the Arctic ice one lonely beluga became lost in the waters of France’s Seine river before dying in August. And in May a polar bear meandered its way deep into Canada’s south, shocking those who discovered it along the Saint Lawrence River.


Daesh claims attack on Pakistani envoy in Kabul

Taliban fighters stand guard near to the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
Taliban fighters stand guard near to the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Daesh claims attack on Pakistani envoy in Kabul

Taliban fighters stand guard near to the site of attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
  • “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will not allow any malicious actors to pose a threat to the security of diplomatic missions in Kabul,” it said in a statement, vowing to find and punish those responsible

KABUL: The Daesh group claimed responsibility Saturday for an attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, which Islamabad decried as an “assassination attempt.”
A security guard was wounded in the attack Friday in the Afghan capital.
In a statement cited by jihadist monitor SITE, Daesh’s regional chapter said it had “attacked the apostate Pakistani ambassador and his guards.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called it “an assassination attempt” on the head of the mission, and demanded an investigation.
A Kabul police spokesman said one suspect had been arrested and two light weapons seized after security forces swept a nearby building.
Although Pakistan does not officially recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban government, it kept its embassy open even as the hard-line group took over in August last year, and maintains a full diplomatic mission.
An embassy official told AFP a lone attacker “came behind the cover of houses and started firing,” but that the ambassador and other staff were safe.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said they strongly condemned the “failed attack.”
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will not allow any malicious actors to pose a threat to the security of diplomatic missions in Kabul,” it said in a statement, vowing to find and punish those responsible.
Pakistan has complicated relations with the Taliban, with Islamabad long accused of supporting the hard-line group even while backing the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled them following the 9/11 attacks.
Pakistan is home to more than a million Afghan refugees, and the porous border they share is frequently the scene of clashes.
Since returning to power, the Afghan Taliban have insisted they would not allow foreign militant groups to operate from home soil.
 

 


Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing
Updated 04 December 2022

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing

Concern as English local authority admits 39 Albanian child migrants missing
  • FOI request shows 20 percent of 2022 intake ‘disappeared’ while in Kent County Council care

LONDON: Up to 20 percent of Albanian child migrants relocated to an English council in 2022 have been classified as disappeared after going missing, the BBC reported.

Kent County Council admitted 197 unaccompanied Albanian child migrants up to Oct. 31, but figures show that 39 have gone missing.

Officials said that the council is working closely with the UK Home Office to protect and safeguard vulnerable migrant children.

It comes as figures revealed that almost 12,000 Albanians crossed into the UK this year.

The number is an almost 4,000 percent increase on last year’s figure.

Ecpat UK, a campaign group that aims to protect vulnerable children, described the figures obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request as “concerning.”

Head of policy, advocacy and research Laura Duran said that the 20 percent figure represented a “really high” number of missing children.

“We’re really concerned they are at risk of exploitation or have effectively been trafficked,” she said.

“They could be facing labor exploitation in different industries such as construction or car washes. They could be criminally exploited in drug distribution or in cannabis farms, or they could be sexually exploited.”

In a statement, Kent County Council said: “While all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are vulnerable to exploitation, research and experience evidences that some nationalities are particularly vulnerable and can go missing from local authority care very quickly.

“Kent County Council has used both established safeguarding protocols, including the National Referral Mechanism, and initiated multi-agency strategies to minimize the risks for these children as much as possible.

“The council continues to take a proactive role in safeguarding all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in its care.”


UK officials warn over Strep infections after child deaths

UK officials warn over Strep infections after child deaths
Updated 04 December 2022

UK officials warn over Strep infections after child deaths

UK officials warn over Strep infections after child deaths
  • Six children in England and Wales died after being diagnosed with the rare invasive Group A strep (iGAS) illness

LONDON: UK health officials warned on Friday that parents have to be alert for scarlet fever symptoms in their children, following the death of six youngsters from a more serious Group A strep-related illness.

British youngster Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, 4, started showing signs of a red rash across his lower back, and was prescribed antibiotics and Calpol.

Two weeks later, his condition worsened and he developed stomach pains, before dying in an ambulance en route to hospital.

Britain’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said five other children in England and Wales had died after being diagnosed with the rare invasive Group A strep (iGAS) illness.

UKHSA Deputy Director Colin Brown said the UK was “seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year than usual” but resulting serious illnesses were “still uncommon.”

“The bacteria usually causes a mild infection producing sore throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics,” he added.

“However, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated and we can stop the infection becoming serious.”

Brown urged parents to talk to a health professional if their child showed “signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection.”

The UKHSA said there were 851 scarlet fever cases reported in England in the most recent week with statistics available, compared to an average of 186 for the preceding years.

Investigations are also underway following reports of an increase in lower respiratory tract Group A strep infections in children over the past few weeks, which have caused severe illness.

* With AFP


US condemns shooting at Pakistan’s embassy in Afghanistan

Islamabad  claims that  anti-Pakistan forces are organizing terrorist attacks from hideouts in Afghanistan. (AP)
Islamabad claims that anti-Pakistan forces are organizing terrorist attacks from hideouts in Afghanistan. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2022

US condemns shooting at Pakistan’s embassy in Afghanistan

Islamabad  claims that  anti-Pakistan forces are organizing terrorist attacks from hideouts in Afghanistan. (AP)
  • In Washington, US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Friday said the US condemned the Embassy attack, telling reporters “we offer our sympathies and wish a quick recovery to those affected by the violence”

ISLAMABAD: The US on Saturday condemned an attack a day earlier on the Pakistani Embassy in Afghanistan’s capital, in which a senior Pakistani diplomat escaped unhurt but one of his Pakistani guards was wounded, sending a wave of anger in this Islamic nation.
Friday’s assault comes amid rising tensions between the South Asian neighbors over Islamabad’s claims that anti-Pakistan forces are organizing terrorist attacks from hideouts in Afghanistan.
Shots were fired at the embassy from a nearby building by an as-yet known assailant or assailants. Shortly after the shooting, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif took to Twitter on Friday, calling the attack an “assassination attempt” against Pakistan’s head of mission in Afghanistan, Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani.
Pakistan repatriated the wounded guard Israr Mohammad by helicopter and he was being treated at a hospital on Saturday.
The embassy attack came days after Pakistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar flew to Kabul to hold talks with Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on a range of issues, including the latest threat from Pakistani Taliban who recently ended a monthslong ceasefire with Pakistan and asked fighters to resume attacks across the country.
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Friday said the US condemned the Embassy attack, telling reporters “we offer our sympathies and wish a quick recovery to those affected by the violence.”
The US is “deeply concerned by the attack on a foreign diplomat and we call for a full and transparent investigation,” Price said.
The US chargé d’affaires for Afghanistan, Karen Decker also condemned the attack on Nizamani in a tweet Saturday.
“Outraged at attack on my diplomatic counterpart @PakinAfg, Ubaid Nizamani; I am grateful he is safe & wish a quick recovery to the brave security guard who was injured. I join the call for a swift, thorough and transparent investigation,” Decker wrote.
Muttaqi on Friday evening called Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to condemn the “terrorist attack” targeting Nizamani, according to a Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement.
Muttaqi assured Bhutto-Zardari that “the Afghan government will bring the perpetrators of this heinous attack to justice swiftly,” the statement said.
Bhutto-Zardari thanked Muttaqi and said the “Taliban government must prevent the terrorists from undermining relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the statement said. It said Pakistan on its part reiterated its unwavering commitment to fight terrorism, saying “Pakistan will be undeterred by such cowardly attacks.”
Friday’s shooting comes a day after Pakistan demanded Afghanistan’s Taliban government prevent terrorist attacks being organized from their soil by Pakistani Taliban, who are hiding in Afghanistan.
Pakistan made the request after a suicide bomber dispatched by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan group, or TTP blew himself up near a truck carrying police officers on their way to protect polio workers near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. A police officer and three civilians were killed in Wednesday’s attack.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but allied with the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in their country last year as the US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout from Afghanistan.
On Friday, Kabul’s police chief spokesman Khalid Zadran said police had detained a suspect at the building from where the shots were fired Friday. Also Friday, a prominent politician and warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, escaped unhurt in a separate attack in Kabul, his office said.

 

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Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim
Updated 03 December 2022

Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim
  • PM Anwar Ibrahim will also hold finance ministry portfolio
  • New government to focus on good governance, economy

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in on Saturday, after divisive polls last month.
Anwar became Malaysia’s 10th premier on Nov. 24 after a general election that produced no outright winner ended in a hung parliament.
With his reformist alliance Pakatan Harapan failing to secure a simple majority, he eventually formed a coalition government with the help of other political blocs.
Anwar unveiled his Cabinet lineup in a televised speech on Friday night, taking himself the Finance Ministry portfolio — a Cabinet role he first held 30 years ago — and appointing two deputy prime ministers: Ahmad Zahid Hamidi from the Barisan Nasional alliance, which had long dominated Malaysia’s political scene, and Fadillah Yusof, another key coalition partner from Gabungan Parti Sarawak, a regional Borneo-based bloc.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (right), Deputy Prime Ministers Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Fadillah Yusof during the swearing-in ceremony. (AFP)

“The strength of the unity government has exceeded the two-thirds support in the parliament.  This mandate has given us the confidence to form a stronger cabinet line-up and we will work as a team,” Anwar said as he announced the lineup.

SPEEDREAD

Anwar unveiled his Cabinet lineup in a televised speech on Friday night, taking himself the Finance Ministry portfolio — a Cabinet role he first held 30 years ago — and appointing two deputy prime ministers: Ahmad Zahid Hamidi from the Barisan Nasional alliance, which had long dominated Malaysia’s political scene, and Fadillah Yusof, another key coalition partner from Gabungan Parti Sarawak, a regional Borneo-based bloc.

The new ministers, some clad in traditional Malay attire, took their oath on Saturday before King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur.
The government with many new faces was expected to bring stability following a spate of political uncertainty in the Southeast Asian country, which saw three prime ministers in as many years. Anwar said good governance, spurring the economy, and reducing the burden of living costs will be their top priorities.
“This is the most stable lineup we can expect from the new administration,” BowerAsiaGroup director Adib Zalkapli told Arab News. “He has to balance the demands of all political parties in the coalition.”
The appointment of Hamidi as one of Anwar’s deputies had raised eyebrows as it appeared to contradict his anti-corruption platform. Hamidi, president of the Barisan Nasional coalition and the United Malays National Organization, has been charged with graft and was a key ally of jailed ex-leader Najib Razak.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said the move was necessary.
“Anwar needs Zahid to keep the Malay nationalist party UMNO with him,” he told Arab News.
Ethnic Malays make up a majority of Malaysia’s 33 million population, which also has a significant population of ethnic Chinese and Indians.
Dr. James Chin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania, said Anwar represented “a moderate Malaysia.”
“Most Malaysians will welcome this cabinet,” Chin told Arab News. “This cabinet has a better reflection of the multiracial society in Malaysia.”