Jordan battles to save rare tiny Dead Sea carp

Specimens of the endangered Dead Sea toothcarp (Aphanius dispar richardsoni) swim in a glass bowl at Jordan's Fifa Nature Reserve, some 140 kilometres (85 miles) southwest of the capital in the Jordan Rift Valley and some 60 kilometres (36 kilometres) south of the Dead sea, on June 2, 2021. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 June 2021

Jordan battles to save rare tiny Dead Sea carp

Jordan is racing against time to save a tiny rare fish from extinction as falling water levels partly triggered by global warming threaten to dry up its last habitat.
The Dead Sea toothcarp — scientific name Aphanius dispar richardsoni — has been on the red list of the International Union for Conversation of Nature since 2014.
The IUCN warns that the “exploitation of spring waters and climate change” are major threats facing the four-centimeter-long, silver-colored fish.
“This fish is threatened with extinction at the global level. It is endemic here and does not exist elsewhere,” said Ibrahim Mahasneh, the manager of the fish’s last home, the Fifa Nature Reserve.
Lying some 140 kilometers (85 miles) southwest of Amman in the Jordan Rift Valley and 60 kilometers south of the Dead Sea, the area is the lowest wet reserve on Earth.
Established in 2011, the reserve consists of some 20 square kilometers. It is located some 426 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level and is managed by an independent body, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).
Even though the Hashemite kingdom is primarily desert, this area of wetlands is criss-crossed by streams and is home to a variety of plant and wildlife species including birds.
“We have a plan to save and breed this fish... to create a natural habitat for it to breed and at the same time to mitigate the existing threat,” added Mahasneh.
“The reserve is the last home for this endangered species of fish,” said environmental researcher Abdallah Oshoush who works in the reserve.


The male fish also has a streak of blue along its sides, while the female has incomplete black stripes.
It is not known how many still remain, but “monitoring programs have warned of a clear decline in the presence of this fish in recent years,” Oshoush said.
Among the environmental threats causing numbers to drop is the “lowering water level due to low rainfall and the change in its environment, as well as the presence of other fish that feed on it and its eggs.”
Researchers are now preparing to open an artificial pond just for the toothcarp so they can grow safely and their eggs are not devoured by predators. Each season, a female produces around 1,000 eggs.
The aim is then to release the young fish back into the natural environment.
“In Jordan live two unique species of fish that do not exist anywhere else in the world. These are our precious treasures and they must be preserved for our ecosystem,” said RSCN spokesperson Salem Nafaa.
Two decades ago the RSCN succeeded in saving the endangered Aphanuis Sirhani fish in its only habitat in the Azraq reserve, about 110 kilometers (65 miles) east of Amman.
It got its scientific name from the Wadi Sirhan, which extends from the Arabian Peninsula to Azraq, but is commonly known in English as the Azraq killifish.
Only about six centimeters long, it is also silver but the female is spotted while the male has black stripes.

“In the year 2000, there were no more than 500 Azraq killifish in the oasis, which means it was on the verge of extinction,” said Nashat Hmaidan, the director of the RSCN Biodiversity Monitoring Center.
“It was declining sharply, and it reached just 0.02 percent of the number of fish in the oasis,” he said, blaming other predatory fish and migratory birds as well as a fall in water levels.
The RSCN studied the fish’s life cycle and determined it needed shallow water to lay eggs, and should be isolated from other species for the best chance of survival.
“We collected 20 fish over two years and put them in a concrete pond designated for breeding.”
After the first fish were released back into the waters the team saw its presence had increased from 0.02 percent to nearly 50 percent. It “was a great success,” he added.
Twenty years on, the Azraq killifish accounts for almost 70 percent of the fish in the waters. But he cautioned the goal now is that the numbers should “never drop below 50 percent.”
Hazem Hrisha, the director of the Azraq Wetland reserve, highlighted its important biodiversity, with more than 133 plant species and more than 163 species of invertebrates.
The reserve “is located on the most important bird migration paths,” he said, adding two thirds of the bird species found in the kingdom had been recorded in Azraq.


Greek TV commentator fired for remark about Korean athlete

Updated 28 July 2021

Greek TV commentator fired for remark about Korean athlete

  • ERT television ended its collaboration with veteran journalist Dimosthenis Karmiris following comments he made
  • He said ‘their eyes are narrow so I can’t understand how they can see the ball’

ATHENS: A sports commentator in Greece who made an on-air remark about a South Korean athlete at the Tokyo Olympics that the station called racist has been fired, the country’s state-run broadcaster said Tuesday.
ERT television said it had ended its collaboration with veteran journalist Dimosthenis Karmiris as a guest commentator following comments he made after Jeoung Young-sik beat Panagiotis Gionis of Greece in men’s table tennis.
Asked about the skill of South Korean table tennis players, Karmiris said “their eyes are narrow so I can’t understand how they can see the ball moving back and forth.”
Several hours later, ERT posted a statement on its website.
“Racist comments have no place on public television,” ERT said in the statement. “The collaboration between ERT and Dimosthenis Karmiris was terminated today, immediately after the morning show.”
Jeoung beat Gionis 7-11, 11-7, 8-11, 10-12, 12-10, 11-6, 14-12.


Lebanese fleeing collapse at home seek security, salaries in UAE

Updated 26 July 2021

Lebanese fleeing collapse at home seek security, salaries in UAE

  • Lebanon’s crisis has propelled more than half the population into poverty

DUBAI: Until a few months ago, 32-year-old Michelle Chaaya was a human resources professional at a multinational firm in Lebanon. Now she works as a bartender in Dubai, sending cash to her family back home where a financial crisis has left many destitute.
The United Arab Emirates has long been a destination for Lebanese businesses and professionals, propelled by instability in their tiny country.
Those who like Chaaya came to the UAE in the past year are leaving behind a Lebanon that was already in dire straits before a huge chemical blast tore through Beirut in August, exacerbating a financial meltdown that has seen the currency collapse and jobs vanish.
“After the explosion we felt like we were hopeless. So the first opportunity to travel outside Lebanon, I took it,” Chaaya said.
Fadi Iskanderani, one of Lebanon’s few paediatric surgeons who this month moved to Dubai, said the plummeting currency meant his wages had fallen by around 95 percent for the same workload.
Having trained overseas, he moved back to help rebuild his country after years of civil war. The decision to leave was heart-wrenching.
Lebanon’s crisis has propelled more than half the population into poverty, locked depositors out of bank accounts and worsened shortages of basic goods.
The country’s prized education and medical sectors have seen talent leave in droves: around 1,200 doctors are estimated to have left Lebanon.
Psychiatrist Joseph Khoury, who moved to Dubai this year with his family, said Lebanese doctors are filling entire departments at hospitals in the Gulf state.
“The pace of doctors coming from Lebanon is astonishing, ” Khoury said.
The UAE is stepping up efforts to attract and retain skilled workers as competition for talent heats up in the Gulf Arab region where countries are moving to diversify economies away from oil revenues.
The UAE, where visas for non-citizens are typically tied to employment, is offering certain investors and skilled professionals new long-term 5- or 10-year renewable residency visas — and even potential citizenship.
Abed Mahfouz, a Lebanese bridal couture designer, said he had been told he could apply for the so-called ‘golden visa’.
After the Beirut blast destroyed his business, Mahfouz re-opened this month in a luxury mall in Dubai, a tourism and trade hub that attracts the high-end customers he caters to.
“Dubai has taken the place of Beirut. What I have seen here (this mall) for the past week or 10 days is what I used to see in Lebanon 4-5 years ago: Customers, people shopping,” he said.
But unlike Lebanon’s professional elite, many younger people are struggling to land jobs in the UAE.
Soha, 28, came to Dubai to look for work after the bookshop cafe where she was employed in Beirut was damaged in the port explosion.
“You come from this tiny pool in Lebanon, so my CV looks like nothing, even though I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot,” said Soha, who declined to give her surname. She is rallying herself for more jobseeking in Dubai, a city that could give her the sense of safety she longs for.
“I just wanted to be sitting in a place where I have that peace of mind that something isn’t going to blow up at any minute.”


Maskless Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan teams make for awkward moment at Olympic opening ceremoney

Updated 23 July 2021

Maskless Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan teams make for awkward moment at Olympic opening ceremoney

  • One of the central Asian country's athletes covered his face while others waved and smiled as they walked in

TOKYO: Kyrgyzstan’s Olympic team paraded maskless into Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium at Friday’s Games opening ceremony, marking an awkward contrast with all the national teams who had preceded them in masks — and in accordance with COVID-19 protocols.
Just one of the central Asian country’s athletes covered his face, with the other members of the small delegation, including its two flag bearers, waving and smiling as they walked in.
A short while later the Tajikistan team marched in similarly maskless, while Pakistan’s two flagbearers also chose not to cover their faces, unlike the vast majority of the other participants at the ceremony.
Tokyo 2020 organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the delegations without masks.


Iran launches matchmaking app as fertility rates fall

Updated 21 July 2021

Iran launches matchmaking app as fertility rates fall

  • App offers matching and counselling services to prospective couples and their families
  • Western-style dating is banned under Iran’s Islamic laws

DUBAI: Iran, facing a fall in fertility rates, has launched a state-approved matchmaking app to promote marriages in the Islamic country which restricts contact between unrelated men and women.
Hamdam (Companion), developed by a state-affiliated Islamic cultural body, requires users to verify their identity and carries out psychological compatibility tests and gives advice for young singles seeking a marriage partner.
The app offers matching and counselling services to prospective couples and their families, and remains in touch with them for four years after marriage, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.
Western-style dating is banned under Iran’s Islamic laws but many young people reject traditional arranged marriages and want to decide their own future.
Officials have expressed concern that Iran’s population could be among the oldest in the world in two decades after the fertility rate among Iranian women dropped 25 percent over the past four years, according to Iranian media reports. The fertility rate is about 1.7 children per woman.
Iran started reversing its family planning policies a decade ago, making contraception, which had been available for free, gradually more difficult to get.
In 2014 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an edict that said boosting the population would “strengthen national identity” and counter “undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles.”
Iran’s parliament has passed provisions to provide financial incentives for childbirth and marriage, including loans and handouts to young married couples with several children.


Japan police find Ugandan weightlifter who went missing from Olympic camp

Updated 20 July 2021

Japan police find Ugandan weightlifter who went missing from Olympic camp

  • Disappearance of Julius Ssekitoleko came at a time of high public concern over coronavirus risks as thousands of foreigners arrive for the Games

TOKYO: A Ugandan weightlifter has been found four days after he disappeared from an Olympic training camp in Japan leaving a note saying he wanted to find work, police said Tuesday.
The disappearance of Julius Ssekitoleko came at a time of high public concern over coronavirus risks as thousands of foreigners arrive for the Games.
“Today, the man was found in Mie Prefecture with no injuries and no involvement in any crime,” an Osaka police official, who declined to be named, told AFP.
“He carried his own ID and identified himself. It is not certain to whom we should send the man — the team or the embassy.”
The alarm was raised on Friday after Ssekitoleko failed to show up for a coronavirus test and was not in his hotel room.
The 20-year-old had recently found out he would not be able to compete at the Tokyo Games, which open on Friday, because of a quota system.
A note was found in his room requesting his belongings be sent to his family in Uganda, according to officials in Izumisano city in Osaka prefecture, where the team were training.
Police said Ssekitoleko had traveled to Nagoya in central Japan and then to nearby Gifu prefecture, before moving south to Mie.
“He was found in a house belonging to people who have a connection to the man. He did not offer resistance. He was talking frankly. We are still questioning him about his motive,” the police official said.
When Uganda’s delegation arrived in Japan last month, a coach tested positive on arrival, with another member of the delegation also testing positive later.
Virus cases are rising in Tokyo, which is under a state of emergency, and there is heavy scrutiny in Japan of infection risks linked to the Games.
Athletes and other Olympic participants are subject to strict rules including regular testing and limits on their movement.