Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jun 17

Living reefs at Terumbu Bemban
wild shores of singapore

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Malaysia: Critically-endangered hawksbill turtle rescued at Melaka beach

Kelly Koh New Straits Times 28 Jun 17;

MELAKA: A hawksbill turtle was found stranded on the shores of Pulau Melaka here, yesterday evening.

A member of the public who was fishing nearby found the turtle, which is listed as a critically-endangered species, in difficulty among some rubbish and rocks.

The man then alerted the Civil Defence Department (APM).

Melaka Tengah district civil defence officer Capt (PA) Aljibin Suddin said four APM personnel rushed to the scene and arrived at 5.44pm.

“The turtle was trapped behind some rocks. We believe that it became stranded because of the high tide,” he said.

APM personnel took an hour to rescue the turtle. It was then released back into the sea.

Melaka is the biggest nesting population in Peninsular Malaysia for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, with average of between 400 and 450 nestings annually.

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Malaysia: Rescued green sea turtles in Mabul released into the wild

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 28 Jun 17;

SEMPORNA: Two rescued green sea turtles were successfully released back to the sea in a ceremony at Mabul island here last weekend, after being in the care of the Mabul Turtle Rehabilitation Centre for a month.

The Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), in a joint statement with the Scuba Junkie and Marine Research Foundation (MRF), said the turtles were successfully released with satellite tags on Saturday.

“The two turtles, in a weak state, were rescued back in May. They were cared for by the WRU.

“The turtles recuperated well under the critical care given by Scuba Junkie staff of the Mabul Turtle Rehabilitation Centre,” the statement said.

Before the release, the turtles were given a final medical check, tagged and also had satellite tags placed on them.

The satellite placement was done under collaboration with MRF executive director Dr Nicolas Pilcher.

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Malaysia: PhD student first Malaysian to get UK award for hornbill research

AIDA AHMAD The Star 28 Jun 17;

THE floor of the dense forest off the Kinabatangan River in Sabah is the playground for Ravinder Kaur, who maps her grid in search of natural cavities for hornbills among the thickets of the big trees.

She eats, sleeps and breathes hornbills, and for good reason too, as she and her team have just been honoured with the 2017 Future Conservationist Award by UK-based Conservation Leadership Programme, the only Malaysian to receive the award for 2017.

Her hornbill project is a long-term commitment towards building artificial nesting boxes for hornbills and studying the nest-hole crisis.

Her focus is now on Kinabatangan, in Sandakan, Sabah. It is a degraded forest, she said, as there was a lack of big trees, but it is also a regenerating forest.

“We find bigger species of hornbills living here,” she said, referring to the Rhinoceros and Helmeted Hornbills.

Helmeted Hornbills are heavily hunted in Indonesia for their solid keratin casques, worth four times more than an elephant’s tusks, while other hornbills have a hollow casque.

The illegal demand for this “red ivory” has the independent campaigning organisation Environmental Investigation Agency investigating it as a threat.

Together with her husband, multi-award-winning wildlife photographer Sanjitpaal Singh, Ravinder actively seeks out natural cavities in the trees.

So far, the ones they found could only accommodate the smaller species such as the Oriental Pied and Bushy Crested Hornbill.

In Kinabatangan, 27,000ha of the lower floodplain have been gazetted as the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary since 2005.

“That is a great step but they are conserving a forest that is highly degraded because of intense logging.

“The patch of primary forest is only about 15,000ha.

“We have to do something. With the lack of natural cavities, building nest boxes is the best option,” Ravinder said.

Being secondary hole-nesters, hornbills do not create tree cavities. They are dependent on primary cavity-nesting birds such as woodpeckers or naturally occurring cavities for their breeding needs, she explained.

Ravinder and Sanjit have come to the conclusion that natural cavities don’t last long.

They are susceptible to issues such as the tree falling, the cavity floor caving in or the nesting hole closing up, in other words, when the tree heals itself.

“We restore these cavities and plan to look for unoccupied natural cavities to ‘renovate’ them to become hornbill suitable.

“It is not good if the entrance is too big, because Rhinoceros Hornbills prefer narrow, vertical entrances, which can also deter other creatures such as monitor lizards from going in,” Ravinder said, adding that the Helmeted Hornbill needs a specific, knob-shaped nest hole, often found in 50m high trees.

“Normal nests won’t work because its casque is solid, and it needs to perch on the protrusion,” she said.

In 2013, five artificial nest boxes, courtesy of French non-governmental organisation HUTAN, as well as Chester Zoo and Beauval Zoo from the UK and France, respectively, were set up along the river in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve.

They were made from plastic drums coated with cement, inspired by the ones in zoos overseas and Ravinder took on the task to monitor them.

She said they saw four species of hornbills visiting the boxes, and one female Oriental Pied tried to seal itself in by using mud on the entrance. Wasps also took over one of the holes and there were problems of other creatures crowding the space.

“The camera trap facing the box entrance was pushed up by monkeys so we have no idea the outcome of that, or whether the nesting was successful,” said Sanjit.

Unfortunately, the drums were not suitable for the birds as the interior temperature was too hot at more than 35°C.

“From the photos, it’s like the hornbills are saying ‘we are interested but they are not suitable. Work harder’,” Ravinder laughed.

Their next attempt was to build an artificial nest box made from marine wood with the local community in Sukau, attached with camera traps with motion sensors and data loggers to monitor the microclimate conditions.

Last month, the two new boxes were placed 20m above the ground in trees with the help of volunteers.

In natural cavities, the temperature is pleasant and “hornbill-suitable”, ranging between 25°C to 27°C, all day.

With the thicker and heavier nest boxes that weigh up to 100kg each, they provide a better climate for the hornbills as it offers protection from harsh sunlight.

Hard work it is, but Ravinder’s conservation battle goes hand-in-hand with her PhD thesis, of which some chapters include building nesting boxes for hornbills and monitoring their natural cavities and nesting behaviour.

So far, there have not been any systematic studies done to estimate the population of hornbills in Malaysia.

Some of the findings from the river surveys are also flawed.

“If you go around the river looking for hornbills, some species may be more common than others, such as the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which prefers the edge of the jungle.

“We could be missing species that prefer the interior. We need better population estimates and not just boat surveys.”

“In Kinabatangan, you may not be able to see any Helmeted Hornbills between 7am and 9am.

“We went out at 5am and we saw four of the birds,” Ravinder said, adding that the eight hornbill species in Borneo all have different biological behaviours,” Ravinder said.

The only Malaysian representing Asia at the recent international congress on Plants and Knowledge organised by French non-governmental organisation Plante et Planete, Sanjit presented his point of view as a photographer showcasing Malaysia’s natural heritage, and how research and art go together.

Of course, observing how the nest cavities change over time can only be done through photographs.

“I do this not so much for monetary gains but to help Ravinder and as my contribution to science and conservation,” Sanjit said.

He considers himself as the awareness arm of his wife’s hornbill project, to which Ravinder gladly agreed.

“Great photos appeal to potential funders as well,” she said.

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Behold, hornbills in TTDI
VIJENTHI NAIR The Star 28 Jun 17;

WHO would have thought a bustling city such as Kuala Lumpur could be a natural habitat for hornbills.

A pair of oriental pied hornbills have been roosting in Taman Rimba Kiara, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, for at least a decade now.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Henry Goh, who is also a birdwatcher, said the hornbills were among 42 bird species found in the park.

“Back then, there was an unlikely pair of hornbills – an oriental pied and a black hornbill.

“Although they were of two different species, both got along very well and park goers often spotted the birds foraging for food together.

“The black hornbill went missing some years back and, shortly after, another oriental pied hornbill appeared.

“So, there is a pair of oriental pied hornbills in the park now, ” he said.

Goh said it was not uncommon to find these species in lowland forests such as Taman Rimba Kiara.

“Malaysia is home to 10 species of hornbills. These species can also be found in Taman Botani Shah Alam in Selangor, Taman Negara in Pahang, Belum-Temenggor in Perak and Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu, among others.

“However, what makes the sighting in Taman Rimba Kiara special is the fact that this park is smack in the middle of a bustling city.

“The hornbills used to roost overnight on a tree near a Hindu temple.

“In recent times, it will visit the park at different times of the day.

“Residents have reported seeing it in and around Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

“Its presence at any one location is unpredictable but from the past record of sightings, the park has the highest potential of getting a glimpse of it.

“It takes a lot of patience and may take two or more trips to spot the birds,” he said.

Goh said these hornbills were highly likely to have been displaced from Taman Botani Shah Alam, which has a number of oriental pied, black and rhinoceros hornbills.

“There was a fire in Taman Botani Shah Alam in the mid-1990s and it is highly likely for big birds to have flown out of the forest to escape the fire and ended up here. I think that was how these hornbills ended up here.

“Although there are not many fig trees, which the hornbills love, Taman Rimba Kiara has many mature green trees including fruit, berry and seed-bearing species, which serve as a food source for the many residents, as well as seasonal migratory birds.

“In the wild, the birds also prey on insects, small reptiles and anything they can find. This may have been the reason they decided to make the park their home.

“Sadly, both the oriental pied hornbills have white eyes, which means they are females.

“The most distinctive feature on a hornbill to determine its gender is its eyes – males have red eyes and females have white eyes.

“So, it explains why the adult hornbills have not bred. Chances for these birds to find a mate is also very slim in this forest.

“Having said that, I believe the black hornbill last spotted a few years ago was a male but there is no record of the two species of hornbills interbreeding in a natural setting,” he said, adding that hornbills can live between 30 and 35 years.

Hornbill conservationist Ravinder Kaur said it was also not unusual to spot a couple of the oriental pied and bushy-crested in secondary forests such as Taman Rimba Kiara and Taman Rimba Ampang.

“But because of rapid development, they are rarely seen nowadays. There are a few big trees for them to nest, roost and fewer food sources such as fig trees. They also need large areas to forage,” she said.

Another avid birdwatcher and Taman Rimba Kiara nature blogger Roselyn Chuah, 58, who lives very close to Taman Rimba Kiara, said she too regularly spotted the two oriental pied hornbills.

“They do fly towards the Taman Tun Dr Ismail side. Sometimes, you can hear them but you cannot see them. There used to be another Black Hornbill too but it has not been seen for a couple of years now.

“I live at the edge of the park and I do get a lot of bird sightings as the park is practically my backyard,” she said.

Long-time TTDI resident Amy J Delph, 45, said she first saw a hornbill at the night market last year.

“I was walking along Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 2 when I saw people pointing to a tree.

“When I looked up, I saw a hornbill perched on top of a tree.

“I was pleasantly surprised by its presence as I have never seen one, although I have lived here for more than 15 years.

“It was not very big but the distinctive features such as the long beak, black feathers and white chest made it stand out.

“Everyone at the night market was in awe at the sight of the bird.

“After that incident, I never saw the bird again until March this year.

“I was with my children in Taman Bukit Kiara for a scouting activity when I heard a bird call. I knew it was no ordinary bird by the loud sound.

“Moments later, I saw it fly past above us,” she said.

A post on the hornbill sighting by Goh on Facebook garnered about 4,000 likes with many making their way to the park in hopes of spotting it.

One of them was another long-time Taman Tun Dr Ismail resident C.K. Chan.

“Like many people in the neighbourhood, I too was surprised by the sighting of the hornbill.

“My wife and I regularly walk near Taman Rimba Kiara but never saw it.

“Maybe I need to be more alert to its calls and bring a binoculars with me just in case.

“The news definitely raised my interest in looking out for the birds every time I walk near the park,” he said.

Melaka residents surprised to see hornbills
Kelly Koh New Straits Times 28 Jun 17;

Melaka: The recent sighting of three hornbills in the coastal housing estate of Ujong Pasir has bewildered residents here.

The birds, believed to be Oriental pied hornbills, were spotted a week ago by a resident in Taman Aman.

“I spotted the birds roosting on the roof of my terrace house and was quite surprised as they were hornbills,” a resident known as Tan, in her 40s, said at her home near here.

She said the birds later flew off and she thought that was the last she would see of them.

However, on Monday, Tan said the birds were spotted perched on the branches of a Neem tree in front of her home.

“I have never seen hornbills in the wild in Melaka before and wonder how they ended up here,” she added.

Danny Soon, 54, a Klang resident who was visiting his in-laws here, was also surprised to see the birds.

“I have been coming to Ujong Pasir for the last 30 years and this is the first time I have seen hornbills,” he said.

The New Straits Times went to visit the neighbourhood yesterday but the birds were nowhere in sight.

The hornbills were recorded in a 20-second video clip while on the Neem tree in the housing area.

The birds were black and white with large, light-coloured beaks, which fit the description of the Oriental pied hornbills.

This hornbill species can be found in habitats such as broad-leaved evergreen forests, mixed deciduous forests, and island forests.

This species is found in northern India, eastern Nepal, southern China, Myanmar, southern Thailand, Indochina, Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Bali.

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Vietnam: Central province to protect endangered langurs

VietNamNet Bridge 27 Jun 17;

The central province plans to protect a herd of gray-shanked douc langurs (pygathrix cinerea) who have lived in a forest in Nui Thanh for 10 years.

Head of Quang Nam Forest Protection sub-department, Phan Tuan told the Viet Nam News that the herd, which was estimated to number around 50 individuals, was found living in a 10ha forest in Dong Co Village of Tam My Tay Commune.

Tuan said local residents could see them at close range in a forest near Hon Do Mountain, but their habitat has become endangered due to logging.

He said the sub-department had warned local residents of the existence of the langurs and moved to protect the endangered primates.

“We advised the local administration and people to help with protecting the langurs, as their habitat is disappearing due to increased logging of acacia – one of the most profitable woods in the central region,” Tuan said.

“The province will allocate a special protection zone to limit human activities and prevent illegal hunting and logging in the area.”

According to Tran Huu Vy, director of the Centre of Biodiversity Conservation, GreenViet, the langurs need special protection at the site as rapid logging damages the habitat of the endangered primates.

Vy said the province should call on support from biologists, international organisations and wildlife protection programmes in sharing experience and scientific measures on how to protect the langurs from extinction.

He warned that moving the langurs to another area would be harmful, as the primates were used to the stable environment of their current habitat.

He said the habitat needs to be isolated from human activities.

Experts from the Frankfurt Zoological Society’s Viet Nam Primate Conservation Programme said around 1,000 gray-shanked doucs were recorded living in forests of five provinces, including Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Kon Tum and Gia Lai, and Gia Lai’s National Kon Ka Kinh Park preserves the largest number of langurs.

Expert Ha Thang Long, head of the representative office of the Frankfurt Zoological Society in Viet Nam, who is an authority on gray-shanked douc studies, said the gray-shanked douc langur is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) Red List as one of the world’s 25 Critically Endangered primates.

Long said the conservation programme to protect the primate species was launched in Kon Ka Kinh National Park in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai in 2006.

Long said biologists counted 250 langurs living in the park – the largest troop in Viet Nam.

Long said the Frankfurt Zoological Society provides funding of between US$18,000 and $25,000 a year to support rangers at eight stations in the park in protection of biodiversity and the langurs since 2010.

Illegal logging and hunting is seen as the biggest threat to endangered species in the central region.

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India: Management plan to protect, recover dugong

Ramanathapuram The Hindu 27 Jun 17;

To be implemented jointly with Forest department and NGOs

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which was implementing dugong recovery project in Gulf of Mannar, would make ready the management plan to protect the endangered species in the Gulf of Mannar in three months, K. Sivakumar, head and scientist, WII, said.

Addressing the first stakeholders’ consultation workshop here on Tuesday, he said the management plan of Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park and Biosphere Reserve would be implemented jointly with Tamil Nadu Forest department and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The WII would make ready the management plan to protect and recover dugong, the endangered marine mammal, protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in the Gulf of Mannar region, he said.

As part of the recovery programme, WII proposed to protect and recover dugong in the Gulf of Mannar region and other endangered species such as Gangetic Dolphin in the Ganges and the Bramaputra and Great Indian Bustard in the western region.

“For the first time we have introduced incentive programme for fishermen who saved dugong if they were caught in their fishing nets,” he said.

Thanks to the awareness campaign launched by the Forest department under the Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening project, fishermen in the region had released and saved dugong entangled in the fishing nets, he said.

The WII honoured the fishermen with cash award and merit certificates at the workshop, he added.

In a bid to sensitise the children of fishermen in the coastal areas to the project, the WII proposed to conduct competitive examinations on dugong and biosphere in the Gulf of Mannar next month and award ‘dugong scholarships’ for 50 children, he said.

The scholarship would be paid for two years and each selected child would be given monthly scholarship of ₹500, Mr Sivakumar said. “Next year, we will extend the scholarship programme to cover 50 more children,” he said adding the examinations would be open to class IX and XI students.

The dugong scholarship and fishermen incentive programmes had been designed to motivate the fisher folk in protecting and saving the endangered species, he said. The dugong recovery project would be implemented for five years in the first phase, he said. The workshop was attended among others by Deepak S Bilgi, Wildlife Warden, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, and scientists from various research institutions.

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Jun 17

Pulau Sekudu is alive!
wild shores of singapore

Logging in Malaysia’s Ulu Muda forest threatens wildlife and water supplies

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Malaysia: Forest reserve houses iconic wildlife and we intend to help out - experts

The Star 27 Jun 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Environmen-talists are coming together to restore a mini forest reserve teeming with wildlife in Sabah’s interior.

The Trusan Sugut Forest Reserve (Trusan Sugut FR) in the state’s north-eastern part, which is home to 365 butterfly species, 57 types of amphibians, 103 reptile species, 335 bird varieties and 168 kinds of mammals, was recently elevated from a Class II to Class I (totally protected area) forest reserve.

However, The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia says there is still much to be done in terms of restoring the forest.

Its executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said the 8,690ha forest reserve was severely degraded in many parts due to human activity.

He said natural regeneration took a long time and usually, the altered conditions did not suit the orang utan and other wildlife.

“We intend to lend nature a helping hand, and urge the public to support our fundraising efforts for Sabah’s wildlife haven,” he said in a statement.

The Trusan Sugut FR houses ico­nic wildlife such as the proboscis monkey, banteng, Bornean orang­utan and Sundaland clouded leo­pard, among others.

In terms of habitat, the forest reserve also boasts of various forest types including endangered ones such as lowland mixed dipterocarp forest, a variant of which is the kapur (limestone) forest, lowland kerangas (heath) forest, lowland peat swamp forest, and lowland freshwater swamp forest.

WWF-Malaysia senior programme officer for orangutan conservation Donna Simon said some parts of Trusan Sugut FR occupied by Bornean orangutan had become severely degraded due to past logging activities and fires.

“We are keen to help the Sabah Forestry Department restore the landscape with native and fast-growing tree species,” she said.

She said the Bornean orangutan was a tree-dependent species which used trees for food and shelter, and usually moved about by swinging between treetops

“The Trusan Sugut population is small and isolated. As such, connecting the peat swamp forest to the west of Sugut River will serve as the last lowland area hosting a significant population of orangutan in the northern half of Sabah,” Simon said.

Some RM1.8mil is needed to restore 150ha of the forest reserve, depending on the type of planting method for the compartments involved.

The forest reserve is bordered by oil palm plantations and human settlements, which puts it at risk for agricultural and domestic waste pollution, encroachment, poaching, illegal harvesting of forest trees, and many more.

WWF-Malaysia’s Anti-Poaching manager Sharon Koh said poachers should be deterred from entering Trusan Sugut also because they could start forest fires simply by throwing cigarette butts or leaving a camp fire unattended.

Those wishing to contribute to the restoration of the forest can do so via

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Wan Junaidi: Indonesia keeping to pledge over cross-border haze

Borneo Post 27 Jun 17;

KUCHING: Indonesia has adopted systematic measures to address the cross-border haze that affects Southeast Asia, in keeping with its assurance to ensure an end to the problem by 2020, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said he had held numerous discussions with the Indonesian authorities from the provincial to the national level on the matter.

The Indonesian government had also signed an agreement on a Transboundary Haze-Free Asean by 2020, convinced that it can address the problem by that year, Wan Junaidi said to reporters at his Aidilfitri open house here Sunday.

Transboundary haze pollution arising from land and forest fires, mainly in Indonesia, over the past two decades have had social, economic and environmental impacts in the Asean region.

Wan Junaidi said Indonesia had established a task force comprising 3,000 police and military personnel to put out forest fires.

It had also set up a department to coordinate the task of extinguishing the forest fires and established a monitoring centre in Jakarta to provide information on forest fires, he said.

He also said that Indonesia had withdrawn over 2,000 concessions for oil palm cultivation on peat soil which, it is believed, could trigger forest-clearing fires in that country.

Wan Junaidi said he had also met representatives of Indonesian plantation associations to discuss how to address the haze problem.

The minister said that last year, a plantation company from Sarawak was also found to have engaged in open burning in Indonesia.

He advised plantation entrepreneurs, especially those managing oil palm plantations in the state, to refrain from engaging in open burning.

Wan Junaidi said he had instructed enforcement departments and agencies to take the necessary regulatory measures to curb open burning in the dry season.

“We do not want a repeat of what happened in the oil palm plantation in Baram last year that can cause severe haze in the state,” he said.

He said he had also ordered a stop to open burning in peninsular Malaysia in view of the approach of the dry season. — Bernama

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Indonesia: Insurance company to pay for coral reef damage in Raja Ampat

Haeril Halim The Jakarta Post 27 Jun 17;

The government says it has agreed to a proposal by MV Caledonian Sky, which is owned by a Swedish company, for financial compensation from an insurance company for extensive damage the ship had done to coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Papua.

The government was initially cautious about the proposal, saying an insurance company would always try to pay as little as possible in compensation.

Environmentalists and academics estimate that Indonesia might suffer losses of US$18.6 million from damage to the coral reefs caused by the cruise ship in March. The damaged area totals 13,532 square meters.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, whose office is in charge of the case, said the government had agreed to the company’s proposal to recompense for the coral damage through insurance.

“We are now negotiating with the insurance company,” Luhut recently told The Jakarta Post at the Presidential Palace.

Luhut, however, did not provide any figures detailing the payment the insurance company was expected to make for the environmental losses. He expressed hopes that the negotiation would soon secure agreement on the payment.

In March, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya had threatened to bring the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, saying her office had been collecting necessary documents to support the planned lawsuit. (ary)

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jun 17

Open for registration – Love MacRitchie Walk with NUS Toddycats! on 08 Jul 2017
Love our MacRitchie Forest

25 Jun - 2 Jul: Week 8 of Pesta Ubin
Pesta Ubin 2017

Beting Bronok slowly dying
wild shores of singapore

ButterflyCircle : Conservation and Education
Butterflies of Singapore

Banded Bullfrog (Kaloula pulchra) @ Pasir Ris
Monday Morgue

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Steps to beef up process of wildlife impact assessment: Desmond Lee

Audrey Tan Straits Times 26 Jun 17;

When the Phase 1 environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the Cross Island MRT line was released in February last year, it described the impact of soil works on surrounding wildlife as "moderate".

But members of the public were left confused. What exactly does "moderate" impact mean?

There were concerns about how EIA studies are done after the release of the report which referred to possible plans for a tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) as part of the MRT line.

The Government now wants to strengthen the process, and the National Parks Board is working with partners to look at how it can be done, Mr Desmond Lee, Second Minister for National Development, told The Straits Times last week during his first interview as full minister.

"We are seeing how we can strengthen the EIA process, taking on board all the lessons that we picked up in the last few EIAs - improving baseline survey methodology, understanding of Singapore's perspective and situation," said Mr Lee, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs.

Baseline surveys are done to identify the different types of wildlife in an area. "So if an EIA consultant comes from abroad, they must recognise the fragility of our environment, the fragmentation of certain nature areas, and recognise that when they do an EIA, they have to recognise context."

More details will be revealed at a later date, added Mr Lee.

His comments come in the wake of two high-profile developments - the Cross Island Line, which is expected to be completed in 2030, and the Mandai eco-tourism hub.

In both cases, EIAs were done by international consultancy Environmental Resources Management, which was founded in Britain. It explored ways in which works could be carried out to reduce impact to surrounding flora and fauna.

When the two reports were released months apart last year, they were disputed by nature groups which pointed to the lack of clarity of terms used in the reports, and the lack of consideration of the Singapore context.

For instance, the EIA on Mandai had determined that impact could be reduced from "medium" to "small" if mitigation measures, such as forest restoration and avoiding work in certain areas, were enforced.

But the Nature Society (Singapore) pointed out that the magnitude of the impact could be underplayed, considering the project site's strategic location just outside Singapore's largest nature reserve.

Ecology consultants and scientists are encouraged by Mr Lee's announcement that the Government is looking into strengthening the processes behind EIAs.

On the importance of ensuring that EIAs are tailored to Singapore's context, Ms Natalia Huang, principal ecologist at environmental consultancy Ecology Matters, pointed to the uniqueness of Singapore's human-dominated environment and small size.

"Other countries may look at landscape-scale impacts spanning say, 100km, but Singapore doesn't have such a scale," she said.

Mr David Tan, a bird scientist from the National University of Singapore, said it is important that baseline studies involve more than just coming up with a checklist of species, adding that connectivity between green plots is also important.

He said: "It is also important to consider whether development works in an area would affect how animals move from place to place."

Interview with Desmond Lee: Youngest minister a nature buff with a keen eye
Singapore's youngest Cabinet minister Desmond Lee highlights the importance of conservation and the need to balance between development and protecting our biodiversity.
Audrey Tan Straits Times 26 Jun 17;

Dressed in khaki and armed with a pair of binoculars, newly minted Second Minister for National Development and Home Affairs Desmond Lee arrived for an interview last Thursday at Windsor Nature Park looking ready for a bird-watching adventure.

It was an apt look for the youngest minister of Singapore's current Cabinet, a nature buff with a keen eye: During a walk around the park, the 40-year-old spotted and identified two dragonflies - a common scarlet and a crimson dropwing - each barely the length of a human finger.

But the easy demeanour of the father of three children - a seven- year-old daughter and two sons, aged three and five - spoke of more than just his enjoyment of nature.

It also reflected his approach to governance: one that involves walking the ground and speaking to different people, from nature enthusiasts - from whom he learnt how to identify birds - to construction company representatives, policemen and heritage group leaders, who hail from some of the sectors of society he interacts with frequently.

"The Government has no monopoly on knowledge or perspectives. We have to eat humble pie, we have to talk to people and get their perspectives... You want people's views, because it impacts them. And they give us a wealth of local knowledge and ideas," he said.

Mr Lee, whose father is former Cabinet minister Lee Yock Suan, entered politics in 2011 as a backbencher in Jurong GRC.

In 2013, he was made minister of state for national development, before being promoted to senior minister of state in 2015, taking on the additional portfolio of home affairs as well. In his latest promotion on May 1 this year, he became Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and National Development, which made him the youngest full minister in the current Cabinet.

Over the years, he has maintained close ties with conservation groups, most recently joining marine enthusiasts last week in discussions over Sisters' Islands Marine Park, Singapore's one and only marine park located south of the mainland.

Audrey Tan

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