‘We can turn it around’

Illegal fishing and wildlife poaching have heightened in recent years, but John Scanlon, the world’s top wildlife official, believes the global community can halt the trend. 

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The wheels are already in motion. Between 3 and 14 March, delegates from 177 governments gathered in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – the leading body for preventing wildlife trade that threatens species with extinction. They joined NGOs and businesses for what were a hugely important convention – and the first since 2010.

There was plenty to discuss. The numbers for elephant- and rhino poaching in Africa have worsened in recent years, with markets in Asia driving demand through the roof...

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Full of flavour

The food of Italy’s southern island enjoys a fine reputation, and not without reason. Here is a guide to five classic Sicilian dishes.

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Sicily’s cuisine bears many resemblances to its people: it is distinct in taste, and full of character and personality. It is also extremely varied and contains traces of numerous foreign cultures: a reflection of its eventful history over the past two millennia, during which its governance has changed hands more than once. The Greeks brought grapes and olives; the Romans introduced fava beans and certain types of pasta; the Arabs presented almonds, cinnamons and pistachio. It is a cultural melting pot.

The Sicilian geography is also favourable towards food...

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Power to the people

The remote villages of Nepal have long struggled with energy access, but a UN development project is changing their fortunes.

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Energy is a huge problem in Nepal, but it should not be that way. Set in the Himalayas between China and India, it possesses vast amounts of untapped hydropower resources: large valley glaciers, powerful rivers and giant waterfalls – all located at dizzying heights. The potential is enormous. But few have the know-how to exploit it.

The consequences are inevitable for Nepal; one of the poorest countries on earth. The national power grid is under huge pressure, with 16-hour power blackouts occurring in the dry season. According to the UN, less than 44 per cent of the population had access to electricity in 2009...

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Clean state

With the Maldives aiming to become carbon-neutral by 2020, tourism minister Ahmeed Shameem tells eco traveller about the project.

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In October 2009, the Maldivian government held an underwater cabinet meeting. Ministers ditched their ties and dressed up in snorkelling gear. They converged on a seabed at five metres deep, on a small island 20 minutes away from Mahé, the capital. In a 30-minute meeting, they signed a document calling for global cuts to carbon emissions. Only one element remained familiar to the ministers: snorkelling journalists had followed them into the deep.

The meeting was a publicity stunt, staged two months before the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen...

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A cup of culture

Morocco’s love for green tea is a symbol of national identity and hospitality, but the rituals of serving the drink strongly differ from those in Europe. 

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The British are renowned for appreciating a good cup of tea, but such pleasures extend not only to drizzly climates. In Morocco, tea is everywhere: markets, bars, shops, hotels and restaurants. It is served on almost any social occasion, at any time during the day. The Moroccans even have a saying about its daily taste: “The first glass is as gentle as life; the second glass is a strong as love; the third glass is as bitter as death.”

Green tea is the default social beverage in Morocco, particularly because alcohol is not allowed. Men often enjoy it in bars; women in their homes...

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Leading the way

The aviation industry is often portrayed as the chief offender of rising carbon emissions, with airplanes contributing two per cent of the world’s human-generated Co2. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Here are five green airports fighting the good fight.

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Munich Airport, Germany

In an environmental management plan outlined in early 2010, Munich Airport aimed to become carbon neutral by 2020. Since January 2008 it has charged landing fees that increase according to the airplanes’ carbon emissions and noise levels. It deploys 18 vehicles that run fully on canola oil, supplemented by 55 hybrid vehicles. In total, it estimates to have saved more than 250 tonnes of carbon emissions by using plant oils...

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Catching the Wave

In one of America’s great wilderness areas, a stream of smooth, curvy outlines are etched into the mountainside. They call it the Wave.

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The US has always been spoilt with mesmerising rock canyons, but none of them are quite like this one. Just north of the famous Grand Canyon, near the border between Arizona and Utah, wavy lines have been carved into rock by the passage of time. It looks like some kind of caramel swirl: the way it contains several colours; the way it tweaks its way around bends and corners.

Unlike many other natural sights around the world, where unregulated tourism and an overload of visitors put the attraction itself at risk, the authorities are wary of jeopardising the health of their talismanic site. Only 20 people are allowed to visit it each day...

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Sleeping with the fishes

Dreaming of spending a night underwater? For a hefty price, the Poseidon Undersea Resort could make that wish come true.

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Submerged sleep has mainly been a fantasy reserved for cartoons and comic books. But the prospect could in fact enter reality. Outside of a private island in Fiji, located inside a lagoon, the so-called Poseidon Underwater Resort facility is at some point supposed to be lowered into the water. It will primarily be a series of cells capable of resisting water pressure, and in which guests can sleep. They will be 70 per cent transparent, enabling visitors to observe life underseas.

The creators of the project claim it will be a ‘seven star’ facility, but although the notion of luxury is clearly high on the agenda, it is hardly the chief selling point...

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The monarch of mountains

With the trekking season fast approaching, we take a closer look at the Tour du Mont Blanc – the classic hiking trip of Europe.

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“Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains,” Lord Byron, the English poet, wrote in his 1817 poem Manfred. “They crown’d him long ago, on a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds, with a diadem of snow.” Exactly when this unofficial crowning took place, only Byron will know. But as far as hiking is concerned, Mont Blanc remains the undisputed king of mountain walks; the quintessential tour of the Alps.

The mountain is the highest in western Europe, standing at 4,810 metres. But that is only part of its charm. Its classic tour, which circumnavigates the massif, goes via three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland...

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Five cars to watch this year

As the electric car industry continues to develop, we are now seeing extended journey capacity and improved mpge (miles per gallon equivalent), while zero tail emissions are now more commonplace, writes Mark Benson. With that in mind, here are the top five electric cars to watch throughout the year, giving you a mixture of cutting-edge technology, mass-market appeal, and comfort. 

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Nissan Leaf 2013

Price: from £23,490 / $28,800

Japanese car giant Nissan has certainly taken the market by storm with the award-winning Nissan Leaf 2013. The vehicle has a 140 miles (225 km) journey capacity, fuel efficiency of 130 mpge (209 km) and can be fully charged within four hours...

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Balls of stone

On a beach in New Zealand, large spherical stones lie quietly in the sand, some of them 60 million years old. How did they get there?

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Nature has a habit of surprising you. The moment you think you have seen it all, it throws at you something special, something remarkable, that you never thought it was capable of producing. These things may take a variety of shapes and forms. Such as the strange, alien-like, ice cream cone-ish stone balls at Koekohe Beach, on the south-eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Some have jokingly labelled them ‘dinosaur eggs’. And in fact, the oldest stones hail from as far back as 60 million years; around the time when the last dinosaurs wandered the earth. (Though apart from that, there is rather little evidence to support this theory...

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The rocks that move

On a dry lakebed in California’s Death Valley, stones weighing up to 300kg zip across the surface without human intervention. Despite 60 years of study, geologists are still unsure why.

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Ever since the first scientific paper on it was published in 1948, the Racetrack Playa, a smooth desert floor in Death Valley National Park, has had geologists scratching their heads. With irregular frequency, sometimes every third or fourth year, giant rocks travel inexplicably across the surface; some in straight lines, others in zig-zag patterns; others, again, across a certain distance, before turning 180 degrees and continuing in another direction. The evidence is there to see; each rock leaves a deep trail along the desert floor. But no one has ever seen them move.

The surrounding environment – Dea...

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Sympathy for the devil

It is fierce, noisy and eats almost everything in sight, but now the Tasmanian devil is facing its biggest threat in 70 years.

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Mention ‘Tasmanian devil’ to someone and chances are they’ll think of Taz, the dribbling Looney Tunes character chasing rabbits and ducks with a boundless appetite. Taz is strong and determined, spinning through trees, rocks and slurping lakes dry through a straw. But he’s also woefully stupid; naïve, temperamental and comically impatient.

The real-life inspiration behind Taz is less known. In the forests of Tasmania, an archipelago of some 300 islands 240 kilometres south-east of mainland Australia, the genuine Tasmanian devil roams. There are between 10,000 and 50,000. Funnily enough, the devil shares many traits with Taz...

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Taking the high road

The Karakoram Highway was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. Today the world’s highest paved international road makes one of Asia’s most pulsating bike rides. 

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Danger and beauty often go hand in hand. For decades, the Karakoram Highway has tempted thrill-seeking cyclists with a route that snakes in between giant glaciers, scenic valleys and towering peaks. The landscape is remote, raw and extremely challenging. Of the world’s 14 mountains that climb above 8,000 metres, the road gives access to five. It can be narrow and unstable, clinging desperately onto the mountain outlines. For the careless, a fatal abyss awaits. Some have seen wreckages lying below. For the risk-averse, the area’s proneness to earthquakes, floods and landslides probably doesn’t help...

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A wake-up call

With Africa’s rhino and elephant poaching worsening by the year, Charlie Mayhew, founder and chief executive of conservation charity Tusk, says nations must pass tougher legislation or risk losing their prized wildlife.

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In early December last year, four black rhinos were found dead at the Lewa Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya. They had been shot. The news was shocking: this was Africa’s most secure facility. Protected by 150 armed officers, it had gone from 1995, when it was founded, to 2010 without losing a single rhino. Two weeks later another discovery was made. A four-year-old calf was found dead, its body riddled with bullets.

The slaughter highlighted the increasingly brutal reality of rhino and elephant poaching that Charlie Mayhew and fellow conservationists are fighting against...

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Made of stone

In the quiet Andalucían town of Setenil de las Bodegas, a series of houses are built into large rock caves along a river gorge. It’s a stunning sight, but one that tourists are yet to discover.

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Not many people know about Setenil de las Bodegas. Even fewer visit it. In the province of Cádiz, near the Spanish south coast, the town’s inhabitants have for centuries lived quiet, agricultural lives, liberated from the relentless tourism drive in nearby cities. Instead of showing off their houses, built into rock overhangs along the Trejo River, which runs through the city, the 3,200 inhabitants – or ‘Setenilenos’ – thrive off wineries, fruit, vegetables and meat production, which is sold to nearby villages. Strangers make a rare sight...

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Life as it should be

In Slovenia, a project named EgoZero is aiming to create zero-emission car holidays through a new way of using electric cars. Could it work?

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A car holiday without CO2 emissions. It sounds a utopian scenario, yet in Slovenia, a research institute has embarked upon a project to make it happen. The idea is that people rent an electric car, then log onto an online portal to customise their journey through Slovenia, handpicking the hotels, restaurants and activities to visit along the way. At each stop, the car is left at a recharging station to fill up. With Slovenia being a relatively small country, distances between stops are short, enabling the car to retain power throughout the journey. The result is a holiday of attractions, beautiful natural landscapes and zero carbon emissions.

The con...

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Green city guide: Copenhagen

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For a city whose biggest attraction is a bronze statue of a mermaid, Copenhagen has a lot to offer. The Danish capital is Scandinavia’s chief economic and cultural centre, a status underpinned by strong sectors in information technology, shipping and banking; and a horde of residing designers, artists and chefs. Here, narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings blend with wooden houses along the channels and avant-garde architecture; a combination of Amsterdam’s carefreeness, the Nordic Oslo and the historical charm of an eastern European city, such as Prague.

Copenhagen is also among the world’s greenest, happiest and healthiest cities...

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Saving the shark

In July 2011 the Bahamas joined a small group of nations in becoming a shark sanctuary. With the global shark population in decline, conservationists are hoping others will follow suit.

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Depicted as a merciless, penguin-chewing, surfer-chasing serial killer, the shark will never be the first in line for public sympathy. Now, though, it needs it more than ever. Having roamed the waters for 400 million years, the global shark population is plunging. Today the International Union for Conservation of Nature says around 30 per cent of the world’s shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.

The reasons are several. Industrial fishing has increased in the past 60 years, with shark fins, meat and liver oil very much in demand...

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Empty fortress

Towering above the mountainous landscape of Tibet, the Potala Palace is the most prominent symbol of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.

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It carries more meaning than one can imagine. Placed upon the Red Mountain overlooking Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet region, the Potala Palace is the altar Tibetan Buddhists now turn to in worship. Since the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, constructed it in the 1600s, it has been the centre for political and religious leadership. The Dalai Lama always resided there. That was, until the Tibetan uprising in 1959, when the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled Lhasa for shelter in Dharamsala, northern India. The palace has stood empty ever since.

For most tourists, the Potala Palace is a treasure chest, cultural centrepiece and photo...

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