The Star Malaysia - Star2
A bad year for these beauties
Monarch butterflies down 26% in Mexico wintering grounds.
THE number of monarch butterflies that showed up at their winter resting grounds in central Mexico decreased by about 26% this year, and four times as many trees were lost to illegal logging, drought and other causes, making 2020 a bad year for the butterflies.
The government commission for natural protected areas said the butterflies’ population covered only 2.1ha in 2020, compared to 2.8ha the previous year and about one-third of the 6.05ha detected in 2018.
Because the monarchs cluster so densely in pine and fir trees, it is easier to count them by area rather than by individuals.
Gloria Tavera, the regional director of Mexico’s Commission for National Protected Areas, blamed the drop on “extreme climate conditions”, the loss of milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada on which butterflies depend, and deforestation in the butterflies’ wintering grounds in Mexico.
Illegal logging in the monarchs wintering rounds rose to almost 13.4ha, a huge increase from the 0.4ha lost to logging last year.
Jorge Rickards of the WWF environmental group acknowledged the lost trees were a blow, but said “the logging is very localised” in three or four of the mountain communities that make up the butterfly reserve.
In addition, wind storms, drought and the felling of trees that had fallen victim to pine beetles or disease, caused the loss of another 6.9ha in the reserve, bringing the total forest loss in 2020 to 20.65ha. That compares to an overall loss of about 5ha from all causes the previous year.
Tavera said the drought was affecting the butterflies themselves, as well as the pine and fir trees where the clump together for warmth.
“The severe drought we are experiencing is having effects,”
Tavera said. “All the forests in the reserve are under water stress, the forests are dry.”
“The butterflies are looking for water on the lower slopes, near the houses,” she noted.
Tavera also expressed concern about the sever winter storms in Texas, which the butterflies will have to cross – and feed and lay their eggs – on their way back to their northern summer homes in coming months.
“This is a cause for worry,” Tavera said, referring to whether the monarchs will find enough food and habitat after the winter freeze.
It was also a bad year for the mountain farming communities that depend for part of their income on tourists who visit the reserves. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, visits fell from around 490,000 last year, to just 80,000 in the 2020-2021 season.
Environmentalist and writer Homero Aridjis, who grew up around the reserve, said the decline in butterflies and rise in logging was not surprising, given the reduction in Mexican government funding for protected natural areas and environmental work.
“While the reserves were closed to tourism during practically the whole (winter) season, the way was open for loggers, with no control,” Aridjis said. “The question is, can the monarch migration survive this environmental negligence?”
The US group Center for Food Safety called for the monarchs to be granted endangered species protection, noting “the minimum population threshold needed to be out of the danger zone of extinction is six hectares”.
It was unclear whether the drop in tourism income contributed to the increased logging. Rickards said there has long been pressure on the area’s forests from people who want to open land for planting crops.
Felipe Martínez Meza, director of the butterfly reserve, said there have been attempts to plant orchards of avocados – hugely profitable crop for farmers in the area – in the buffer zones around the reserve.
The high mountain peaks where the butterflies clump in trees are probably a bit above the altitude where avocado trees like to grow, Martinez Meza said. But the buffer zones provide protection and support for the higher areas, and he said more must be done to combat the change in land use.
Frequently, illegal logging is carried out by outsiders or organized gangs, and not by the farm communities that technically own the land.
Millions of monarchs migrate from the US and Canada each year to forests west of Mexico’s capital. The butterflies hit a low of just 0.67ha in 2013-2014.
Loss of habitat, especially the milkweed where the monarchs lay their eggs, pesticide and herbicide use, as well climate change, all pose threats to the species’ migration.
While there was plenty of bad news for the butterflies – very few showed up to some historic wintering sites like Sierra Chincua – there was the welcome news that a new wintering site was discovered nearby, in a mountaintop near the Lagunas de Zempoala protected area, near Mexico City.
Tavera said the wintering site had always been there, but was so difficult to reach that it wasn’t discovered until in early February. – AP
SINCE the International Irish Whiskey Day took place earlier this week, and St Patrick’s Day is happening next week, I decided to take another look into the world of Irish spirits, beers and cocktails. The last time I wrote about Irish drinks was about nine years ago, so I reckon it’s time for a refresher.
When it comes to Irish drinks, the first name that comes to mind is usually Guinness, the iconic black beer that is available worldwide and even brewed locally in numerous countries, including Malaysia.
First brewed in Dublin way back in 1759, Guinness gets its iconic dark colour (it’s not really black, just very deep ruby red) from the roasted unmalted barley used in the brewing process.
In conjunction with St Patrick’s Day, Guinness Malaysia recently launched a campaign celebrating the missed occasions that have occurred throughout this past year because of the pandemic, featuring exclusive Guinness St Patrick’s Celebration Kits for fans of the brand (visit the Guinness social media pages for more information).
Another iconic Irish brand is Bailey’s Irish Cream, which is a cream liqueur made primarily with cream and Irish whiskey. While it is common to drink it neat over ice or with some milk, Bailey’s is also an essential ingredient in cocktails like the Mudslide (equal parts vodka, Bailey’s and coffee liqueur, shaken with ice or served on the rocks) and the B-52 cocktail shooter (which layers Kahlua, Bailey’s and Grand Marnier on top of one another in a shotglass).
Speaking of Irish whiskey, here is a quick explanation of the differences between Scotch and this fast-growing category.
Irish whiskey must be distilled and aged in Ireland (regardless of whether it’s the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland). Like Scotch, the spirit is distilled from a mash of cereal grains, ranging from malted barley, corn, wheat, and aged at least three years in wooden casks.
However, while Scotch is usually distilled only twice (though there are exceptions), Irish whiskey is typically triple distilled.
There is also a whiskey style that is uniquely Irish – single pot still. As the name suggests, this is Irish whiskey that has been made in a pot still at a single distillery, from a mash that contains both malted barley and fresh unmalted barley, as opposed to single malt, which only uses malted barley.
While single pot still whiskey is arguably the most famous and sought-after style of Irish whiskey, a huge majority of the Irish whiskey market is dominated by blended Irish whiskies like Jameson, Tullamore Dew, and so on.
There are plenty of Irish-themed cocktails out there, though not every one of them are green. Here are some of my personal favourites:
Irish coffee How to make it:
Stir 2 parts Irish whiskey with 4 parts hot brewed black coffee, add sugar to taste, and then layer a head of cream on top so that it looks like a pint of Guinness.
It was invented in the 1940s, at a place called Foynes in Ireland, where Pan American passenger planes used to stop before making their way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States.
The creator is a chef named Joe Sheridan, who would serve passengers a cup of coffee with a shot of Irish whiskey added to it. When asked what sort of coffee it was, he would reply that it was Irish coffee.
Irish Tea Party How to make it:
Build one part Jameson Irish Whiskey and two parts green tea (sweetened or otherwise) over ice in a glass coated with absinthe.
A recipe apparently created by Jameson, whiskey and tea go really well together (which is probably why it’s so popular in Asia as a mixer for whiskey), and the absinthe gives a lovely anise hint to the drink that is quite pleasant.
Tipperary How to make it:
Stir two parts Irish whiskey, one part Green Chartreuse liqueur and one part sweet vermouth over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
An official recipe on the International Bar Association’s (IBA) list of classic cocktails, this is arguably one of my favourite Irish whisky recipes, as the sweeter fruity notes of the whiskey is accentuated by the herbal notes of the Chartreuse. It can be slightly on the sweeter side, so feel free to add a little bit more whiskey, or even a dash of bitters to get a better balance.
The Irish Cocktail How to make it:
Mix one and a half parts Irish Whiskey, half part Maraschino liqueur, 1/4 part triple sec, one dash absinthe, and one dash Angostura Aromatic Bitters in a stirring glass, stir over ice, strain into a cocktail glass and spray with orange zest.
Another surprisingly pleasant spirit-forward Irish whiskey cocktail I recently discovered, in which the dominant flavour comes from the whiskey but with little bursts of flavours from all the other ingredients, especially the maraschino.
Jameson, Ginger & Lime How to make it:
Add 50ml Jameson Irish Whiskey and one lime wedge into a highball glass with ice, and top with ginger ale.
There is a reason why Jameson is one of the best-known Irish whiskey brands in the world. Its signature green-bottled expression is a great session whiskey and makes for a good base for cocktails as well.
This is one of the whiskey’s signature serves, with the ginger ale and lime combining with the whiskey for a refreshing cross between a Whisky Highball and a Dark & Stormy.
Black Velvet How to make it:
Mix Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and cider in a glass at a 3:1 ratio.
While I usually prefer to drink Guinness on its own, it is also the base for a number of iconic beer cocktails. The Black Velvet is usually made with stout and champagne, but the stout and cider combo is also known as a Black Velvet in Britain and Ireland.
How to make it: Mix two parts Irish whiskey, two parts dry vermouth, one part green Chartreuse, and one part Giffard Menthe-pastille mint liqueur in a stirring glass, stir over ice and strain.
What’s St Patrick’s Day without a green-coloured drink, eh? Herbal, minty, malty and dry all at once, this is a lovely spirit-forward drink that also makes for a decent after-meal dessert drink.
Michael Cheang can’t resist a cocktail made with Irish whiskey. Contact him on Facebook, Instagram (@Mytipsyturvy) or Twitter (@Michaelcheang).
Raya And The Last Dragon Rating: ✭✭✭✭✩
Directors: Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada
Voice cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran, Alan Tudyk
IT seems apt that Disney’s first ever South-east Asian princess should be called Raya. She is a character worthy of celebration, for sure.
There is certainly a lot to celebrate about Raya And The Last Dragon. As you might have already heard, the movie is inspired by South-east Asian cultures, and is written by a pair of South-east Asians, one of whom is Malaysian Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians).
But even putting aside the emotional pull of being a South-east Asian watching a Disney movie based on our home region, Raya And The Last Dragon is still an exceptional film, as well as a wonderful exception to the Disney Princess rule (and I say this having watched every single one ever made, thanks in part to my sixyear-old daughter).
First of all, Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is like no Disney Princess before her. The Princess of the Heart, one of five lands that once formed the land of Kumandra, is also a strong spirited warrior princess, skilled in martial arts, and trained by her father Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) to be a guardian of the Dragon Gem.
The gem is a mystical object that was used by the titular last dragon, Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) to save the world from a “mindless plague” of shapeless blobs called the Druun that was sweeping across the land turning people and dragons into stone statues.
However, the desire for the last remnants of dragon magic tore Kumandra into five lands – Fang, Talon, Spine, Heart and Tail – and it is this greed and a mutual mistrust of one another that leads to the Dragon Gem being broken and the Drunn returning once again (an event that Raya had a direct hand in, and thus setting up her quest to find Sisu and help restore the Dragon Gem).
Phew, that’s a lot of exposition. And we haven’t even gotten to the supporting characters yet, which include a wily young entrepreneur from Tail named Boun (Izaac Wang), a strong but sensitive Spine warrior named Tong (Benedict Wong), a cute con-baby from Talon named Noi (Thalia Tran) and last but not least, Namaari (Gemma Chan), the warrior princess of Fang and Raya’s arch-nemesis.
But it’s all necessary information, because of the ambitious range of cultures it covers and the story it tells. The plot itself is a departure from most of the other Disney Princess films (with perhaps the exceptions of Mulan and Moana), dealing with a central theme of trust and unity between different cultures, as well as how to deal with grief, loss, and even death.
If this all sounds a bit heavy for a Disney movie, it is to co-directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada’s credit that the movie is anything but.
From the fluid, ferocious fight scenes (choreographed by Lim’s co-writer Qui Nguyen, who is also an expert in South-east Asian martial arts), to the comfortable chemistry between Tran and Akwafina, the movie skips along as gracefully as a dragon dancing on raindrops.
Part of this fluidity is also due to the fact that Raya And The Last Dragon is the first Disney Princess movie that isn’t a musical. Without the added distraction of characters bursting into song out of nowhere, it allows viewers to immerse themselves more in the overall experience and properly digest and savour the different flavours and senses that the movie evokes.
Having watched this on the television to prepare for interviews with the filmmakers, I can’t wait to watch it again in the cinema. From the gorgeously animated locations to the action-packed sequences, this isn’t just a Disney Princess movie – it’s an epic fantasy blockbuster in its own right, and deserves to be watched on the big screen.
And at the heart of it all is Raya – arguably Disney’s best and most memorable princess, and one I hope my daughter, and other children across the region, will be able to look up to. And as I have said before, that is truly a cause for celebration.