Sri Lanka destroys seized bird

nests destined for soup

COLOMBO (AFP): Sri Lankan custom officers on Tuesday destroyed 45 kilograms (99 pounds) of rare bird nests that are considered a delicacy in China and have a street value of nearly half a million dollars. The officers burnt the pile of swallows’ nests confiscated mainly from passengers’ airport luggage and postal parcels intended for overseas delivery over the past four years. “We destroyed this stock to demonstrate our commitment to protect endangered species,” customs spokesman Dharmasena Kahandawa told AFP.  “There may be a street value of up to $10,000 for a kilo of birds’ nests, but for us it has no value at all because this is an illegal trade.” Another 40 kilograms of feathers from exotic birds and other animal parts used in Chinese medicine were also destroyed on Tuesday, together with the edible nests, at a Colombo cemetery’s crematorium.

The nests are the main ingredient in bird’s nest soup, considered a delicacy in China and other Asian countries. But removing, owning or exporting birds is outlawed under Sri Lanka’s strict flora and fauna regulations.

The cup-shaped collections of twigs are held together by dried swiftlet saliva, which is made into a gelatinous soup credited in China with everything from alleviating asthma to arresting the ageing process.

In January Sri Lankan customs officers publicly destroyed the country’s biggest ever illegal ivory haul - more than 350 tusks weighing about 1.5 tons - in what officials said was an attempt to show poachers that the island would not tolerate the illegal trade.

 

 

 

Sharks are beautiful, diver

says despite narrow escape

SHANGHAI (AFP): A diver whose near miss with a great white shark became a viral video sensation, viewed more than 15 million times on Youtube, says the ocean’s apex predator is “beautiful”. Chan Ming was on a shark-watching excursion off the Mexican coast when the animal broke into the metal cage protecting him. Despite their fearsome reputation, sharks do not normally feed on humans, and have to be drawn in with bait. The shark seized the bait and crashed into the cage, breaking part of it. Unable to swim backwards, it carried on inside, where Chan was alone.

The advertising executive and part-time diving instructor told AFP on Monday that he tried hard to stay calm, “because if I get panicked it will be very horrible in there”. “When the great white shark was breaking into the cage, the inside of its mouth was getting jammed in the cage, and at that moment I was thinking ‘Hey, don’t think about coming in here’,” he said.

The video shows the shark apparently bleeding as it thrashes its way out through a gap on top of the cage, which was opened by a crew member.

An agonising 20 seconds pass before Chan, who is from Hong Kong but lives in Shanghai, emerges safely.

The harrowing incident did little to diminish Chan’s fondness for the great white and he went back into the water the next day.

“You know in Chinese we say that ‘Where you fell down, (is) where you need to stand up’,” said the 51-year-old.

“I still think the shark, the great white, is so beautiful, they’re very beautiful and cute.”

In a company statement posted on Facebook, operator Solmar V Luxury Live-Aboard said the shark did not suffer any serious injuries.

“Shark breaches of this magnitude are a one in a million occurrence,” it said.

“As unfortunate as it was, it was still an accident.”

The company - whose priority is to offer “unique life experiences” - said its cages have been reinforced following the breach, and bait would be thrown further away from them in future.

After his October 4 brush with the great white Chan wrote on his Facebook page that he had been “reborn” and was savouring Cantonese noodle soup and beer, adding: “Everyday are good days.”

 

 

 

Devils’ milk could fight

superbugs: Australia scientists

SYDNEY (AFP): Mother’s milk from the marsupials known as Tasmanian devils could help the global fight against increasingly deadly “superbugs” which resist antibiotics, Australian researchers said Tuesday. Superbugs are bacteria which cannot be treated by current antibiotics and other drugs, with a recent British study saying they could kill up to 10 million people globally by 2050. Scientists at the University of Sydney found that peptides in the marsupial’s milk killed resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant golden staph bacteria and enterococcus that is resistant to the powerful antibiotic vancomycin. The researchers turned to marsupials like the devil - which carry their young in a pouch after birth to complete their development - because of their biology.  The underdeveloped young have an immature immune system when they are born, yet survive growth in their mother’s bacteria-filled pouch.

“We think this has led to an expansion of these peptides in marsupials,” University of Sydney PhD candidate Emma Peel, who worked on the research published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, told AFP.

“Marsupials have more peptides than other mammals. In the devil we found six, whereas humans have only one of this type of peptide.

“Other research in other marsupials has shown that tammar wallabies have eight of these peptides and opossums have 12,” said Peel, adding that studies into koala’s milk had now started.

The scientists artificially created the antimicrobial peptides, called cathelicidins, after extracting the sequence from the devil’s genome, and found they “killed the resistant bacteria... and other bacteria”.

They are hopeful marsupial peptides could eventually be used to develop new antibiotics for humans to aid the battle against superbugs.

“One of the most difficult things in today’s world is to try and find new antibiotics for drug-resistant strains of bacteria,” the research manager of the university’s Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group, Carolyn Hogg, told AFP.

“Most of the other previous antibiotics have come from plants, moulds and other work that’s been around for close to a 100 years, so it’s time to start looking elsewhere.”

World Health Organisation director-general Margaret Chan warned last month some scientists were describing the impact of superbugs as a “slow-motion tsunami” and the situation was “bad and getting worse”.

 

 

Saudi police arrest ‘online cross-dresser’

RIYADH (AFP):- Saudi police have arrested a man on public order charges after he was accused of cross-dressing online, a report in the conservative Islamic kingdom said late on Monday. Police in Qassim, northwest of the capital Riyadh, “arrested a famous Snapchat personality who appeared in video clips dressed like women,” the Sabq online newspaper reported. The publication, which is close to authorities, quoted the Qassim police spokesman as saying the suspect was detained “for producing and distributing material insulting to public order.” Sabq did not identify the suspect but said citizens had complained about his dressing “inappropriately.” In April, the government stripped the kingdom’s frequently criticised religious police of the power of arrest but strict moral codes remain in effect.

Members of the Haia force, among whose duties was to monitor people’s dress, can now only offer advice and report suspected violators to regular police for prosecution.

In June, police in the Muslim holy city of Mecca arrested 50 young men for haircuts, necklaces and other adornments considered un-Islamic, Sabq reported at the time.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and one of the world’s most conservative countries.

Women dress from head to toe in black and are not allowed to drive or mingle with men they are not related to.

But more than half of Saudi citizens are under the age of 25, an Internet-savvy generation that spends much of its life online away from official strictures.

One of the kingdom’s most powerful figures, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, is leading a reform drive dubbed “Vision 2030” to diversify the economy and also bring social change.

The plan calls for more entertainment, cultural and sports opportunities.

 

 

 

 

Hotdogs set for name change in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP):- Food outlets in Muslim-majority Malaysia must rename hotdogs or risk being refused halal certification, a government religious authority said Tuesday. The ruling, which also includes other food items whose name includes the word “dog”, has garnered much ridicule on social media. It follows complaints by Muslim tourists from overseas, said Sirajuddin Suhaimee, director of the halal division from the Department of Islamic Development. “Any (halal) products that make consumers confused, we have to change,” he said. “In Islam, dogs are considered unclean and the name cannot be related to halal certification.” Numerous street vendors and halal restaurants sell hotdogs in Malaysia. Sirajuddin said checks would be made “step-by-step” when these outlets renew their two-year halal certification with the department. US pretzel chain Aunty Anne’s, which has 45 outlets in Malaysia with plans to expand further, told AFP it has no qualms about renaming its pretzel dogs - sausages wrapped with pretzels - following advice from religious authorities.

“It’s a minor issue. We are fine with changing the name and are still working on it,” said Farhatul Kamilah Mohamed Sazali, an executive at Aunty Anne’s Malaysia.

Sirajuddin, who recommended pretzel dogs be called pretzel sausages, said Aunty Anne’s halal certification application is currently being considered.

Among the many critics on social media, one Facebook user remarked: “Please stick to religion... don’t be an English language adviser.”

Another posted: “Pet shops please rename ur dogs as sausages.”

Sirajuddin dismissed as “normal reaction” the online criticism. “We are doing our jobs, by the law,” he said.

Under the concept of halal - meaning “permissible” in Arabic - pork and its by-products, alcohol and animals not slaughtered according to Islamic procedures are all “haram” or forbidden.

Malaysia has long practised a moderate form of Islam but conservative attitudes are rising.

A company last year introduced halal bottled mineral water in Malaysia, and Islamic speed dating sessions - where single women are chaperoned - have been embraced.

A halal convention in Kuala Lumpur last year, which drew thousands of delegates and hundreds of exhibitors, showcased products ranging from food and cosmetics to collagen produced from yaks in Tibet.