Typhoon Mangkhut destroys rice, corn and fish – but what has this got to do with Singapore?

The strongest storm so far this year to hit Asia may lead to huge losses in food production that affects countries including Singapore, says one observer.
Paul Teng Channel NewsAsia 20 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE: Asia’s reputation as a region with one of the highest frequencies of severe weather events has again been proven right with the recent experience of Typhoon Mangkhut.

The strongest storm so far this year to hit Asia, Typhoon Mangkhut has left a devastating trail of destruction along its path. Buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed.

Lesser known but just as severe are the disastrous impact the storm may have on the livelihoods of farmers and the resulting huge losses in food production.

It made landfall in northern Luzon island, Philippines early Saturday morning but effects of its strong winds and heavy rain were felt over a wide swath of land which included the Philippines “ricebowl” area in Central Luzon, and major corn growing provinces such as Isabella and Cagayan (among top five corn growing provinces).

The typhoon’s path also included Guangdong province which is among the top ten rice-growing areas of China, and coastal waters off Southern China where there is much fish-farming.

However, the Philippines seems to have borne the brunt of this typhoon. There will be some immediate effects on food supplies in the affected areas, and some short to mid-term effects on the food security of other areas, including countries like Singapore.

SMALL FARM FAMILIES LOSE MAIN SOURCE OF INCOME, FOOD

While the local impact of typhoons may be severe on agriculture in the affected areas immediately, the livelihoods of the small farmers in these areas may experience longer term effects.

The bulk of rice farmers in Asia are smallholders who farm less than two hectares and often depend on their harvests as the main source of income and food.

Destruction of their main means of livelihood means that they are likely to go into even greater debt and have difficulty with procuring inputs to replant now or for the next season.

Rice for farming families are not just extra produce that feeds the cities and used to obtain cash for other necessities, it is also their staple food.

After the previous super typhoon Haiyan in 2013, farmers faced not just a lack of rice for food but also a lack of rice seed for planting and additionally, the lack of credit to purchase seed and other inputs.

LOW IN RICE, CORN AND FISH SUPPLIES

Apart from rice, corn and fish are food items that are most likely to have supplies affected in the short term because of Typhoon Mangkhut.

The Philippines has reportedly lost over 250,000 tonnes of paddy rice – that’s about 62,500 hectares, assuming an average yield per hectare is four tonnes.

Heavy rainfall and strong winds would also have meant that wild-caught fish may show a temporary shortage as fishermen have been unable to go into fishing waters. And even for those who were able to, fish landings and ports along the typhoon’s path were mostly closed.

Meanwhile, China, where most fish consumed are from fish farms rather than wild catches, has not reported the extent of loss. But it can be expected that floating sea cages along the coasts of Southern China would suffer dislodgement or fish escapes.

Heavy rain likewise could damage inland ponded farms.

SINGAPORE’S FOOD SUPPLY MAY BE TEMPORARILY REDUCED

Singapore is an overwhelmingly food importing country although with its over 5 million population, its demand for rice, corn or fish pales in comparison to its neighbours.

As a country that diversifies its imports from over 160 countries, it has inherent buffer capacity in the event of calamity in one geographic region.

Countries in the typhoon belt and the monsoon belt in Asia can export only when they have surplus production. If severe weather events or changed weather patterns affect their production capacity, or the production in other importing countries, Singapore ends up competing with them for any stock left for trade.

For example, China, the world’s largest producer of rice, can take up all the available rice traded in the world, estimated at around 15 million tonnes, since it has lifted its import ceiling on staples.

Singapore may see a temporary reduction in the supply of food items like wild-caught fish or an increase in its food price index as a result of weather-induced effects elsewhere, but in a worst-case scenario, this is unlikely to last long.

The caveat, of course, is if global stocks are reduced due to simultaneous or consecutive events like a series of mega-typhoons closely following each other - let’s not forget the typhoon season this year is not yet over.

Singaporeans generally are fortunate that the average household expenditure on food is relatively low when compared to our neighbouring countries, partly because there are no tariffs on food in Singapore and average incomes are relatively high when compared to the cost of food.

This is not to say though that all Singaporeans are immune from food price hikes as there are members in the community who will feel the pinch.

A much bigger danger is presented when climate change simultaneously affects shipments of the same food items from our source countries. And this is not improbable.

CLIMATE-PROOFING FARMING NEEDS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY

So what can net food exporters and net food importers do to deal with climate change-related extreme weather?

Experts in the region have proposed many approaches, which include building infrastructure to minimise damage from extreme weather, developing and growing climate-adapted crop varieties and animal breeds, importing from geographically spread-out countries, and investing in countries to help them produce more.

It is ironic that while one solution may sound simple – which is to protect farming against climate-related risks and the technology is already available – countries in general have not taken up the challenge seriously.

Flood-tolerant and drought-tolerant crop traits are not new but currently limited only to a few crops.

Delayed ripening and delayed ageing technology has been available for years to keep vegetables and fruits fresh much longer without refrigeration. And close to home, technology for indoor, controlled-environment “plant factories” to grow fresh vegetables is only just starting to take off.

Major cities in the US like Boston and New York, and likewise cities in Japan and China have numerous such plant factories which supply vegetables year round and are located close to the majority of consumers.

While the investment community is beginning to catch up with the potential of climate-proof urban farming, government policies and regulations in general are still slow to respond.

Perhaps this is one area where courage can be demonstrated again by policymakers to take Singapore another step forward in becoming an exemplary city of the future.

Paul Teng is Adjunct Senior Fellow (Food Security) in the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and concurrently Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University Australia.

He previously held leadership positions at the Worldfish Centre and the International Rice Research Institute, two international organisations located in Southeast Asia under the auspices of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.


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Man jailed six weeks for illegal import of two birds and animal cruelty

Toh Ting Wei Straits Times 19 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE - A 46-year-old man was sentenced to six weeks in jail on Wednesday (Sept 19), after he was convicted of animal cruelty and illegally importing two birds.

Abdul Rahman Husain tried to smuggle two live zebra doves into Singapore on May 12 without an import licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), said a joint statement from AVA and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

ICA officers had stopped Rahman for checks at Woodlands Checkpoint when they detected the two doves crammed in separate socks and placed in two drawstring pouches hidden in his pants.

The birds were found to be in poor condition, and Rahman's action was deemed by AVA to have caused unnecessary suffering to the birds. The birds were seized and placed under the care of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Rahman was sentenced to six weeks' jail for illegal import of the birds, and another six weeks' jail for failing to ensure that the birds were not subjected to unnecessary suffering.

Both sentences will run concurrently.

Anyone convicted of smuggling animals and birds into Singapore can be fined up to $10,000, and jailed for up to a year.

Animals that are smuggled into Singapore may introduce exotic diseases, such as bird flu, into the country.


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The lost decade of Sentosa Cove, Singapore's billionaire haven

As luxury real estate markets boomed across Asia-Pacific over the past decade — from Hong Kong’s famed Peak to the seaside mansions of Sydney — Sentosa Cove stands out as a rare cautionary tale about the perils of international property speculation.
Bloomberg Today Online 19 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE — Sentosa Cove, a residential enclave nestled on an island off the coast of Singapore, is quiet at the best of times. On a weekday, its frangipani-lined streets are mostly devoid of life, save the odd domestic helper taking her four-legged charge out for a walk.

The stillness, however, belies the real estate shuffling taking place behind the scenes. Property listings here have been rising. But unless you’re buying, there’s no cause for celebration: sellers are stomaching losses as steep as 40 per cent. Average prices are down almost 30 per cent from their 2011 highs, a far more severe slump than in prime central London areas reeling from Brexit.

As luxury real estate markets boomed across Asia-Pacific over the past decade — from Hong Kong’s famed Peak to the seaside mansions of Sydney — Sentosa Cove stands out as a rare cautionary tale about the perils of international property speculation.

The hot money from a commodities frenzy that peaked about seven years ago has fizzled, and millionaires’ preferences have shifted toward other areas on Singapore’s mainland.

And now, after years of predominantly loss-making transactions, the enclave on Sentosa faces yet another blow, this time from the government’s decision in July to further raise stamp duties.

“Loss-making deals continue to plague the market,” said Ms Christine Li, Cushman & Wakefield’s head of research for Singapore. “The recent cooling measures, coupled with the looming uncertainties arising from interest-rate hikes and trade tensions, will weigh on investor appetite in the near term.”

Private-home sales tumbled 64 per cent in August to the least in six months as government cooling measures took effect, data released earlier this week from the Urban Redevelopment Authority showed.

What was previously Sentosa Cove’s main strength has lately become a liability. The area is the only place in Singapore where foreigners can buy a landed house, increasing its allure to overseas buyers, who accounted for a third of luxury purchases in Singapore last year.

But with stamp duties doubling to 20 per cent since 2011 for foreign buyers compared with just 3 per cent for Singaporeans, the waterfront oasis is suffering.

Singaporeans, meanwhile, prefer to buy landed property on the mainland, which is freehold, compared to Sentosa, which is leasehold. Freehold is where the purchaser of a property enjoys ownership of the land for perpetuity, whereas leasehold refers to land granted by the government to use for a fixed number of years (usually 99 in Singapore).

Constructed on reclaimed land, Sentosa Cove is home to more than 2,000 residences, a mix of private houses and condominium apartments. Frequently billed as Singapore’s playground for the rich and famous (in 2012, Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart splashed out S$57 million on two units at Seven Palms, next to Tanjong beach), the enclave also includes a golf course, marina, man-made canals with private boat berths, and a strip of upmarket restaurants and a gourmet deli.

One of its newer condominiums, Cape Royale, scored a cameo in summer blockbuster movie Crazy Rich Asians. And Sentosa Island — a Malay word meaning “peace and tranquility” — had its 15 minutes of fame earlier this year when it hosted the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Prices began falling in Sentosa Cove in 2013 following two rounds of property cooling measures in January and June of that year. Landed-home prices are at their lowest since 2009, according to data compiled by CBRE Group.

Values have plummeted to the point where further declines may be limited, said Cushman & Wakefield’s Li. But deep-pocketed international buyers, with plenty of luxury markets to choose from, are playing a patient game.

“I have a few Russian investors that are interested in buying, they want to enjoy the island life, but they’re waiting for the right price,” said Mr Chandran V R, managing director of Cosmopolitan Real Estate. “Some bungalows have been on the market for four, five years.”

Cosmopolitan was involved in an S$11 million transaction last year where the seller was a businessman from the Middle East. The seller lost about S$3 million on the deal, “but he had a willing buyer and he was being realistic about the situation,” Mr Chandran said.

A penthouse at The Oceanfront sold for S$7.2 million in April, three years after it was first put on the market, the Straits Times reported earlier this month, citing people it didn’t identify. The property last changed hands in 2007 for S$9.33 million.

The British owner of an apartment at Seven Palms, meanwhile, is asking S$12 million, according to the newspaper report. The 4,822-square-foot unit cost S$16 million in 2010.

While none of the six sales in Sentosa Cove since the government’s July 5 curbs have been done at a loss, according to Cushman, owners are still looking to exit. PropertyGuru Group says the number of for-sale listings on the island is up about 7 percent from a year ago.

“The new measures will affect the entire residential market,” said Mr Desmond Sim, head of research for Singapore at CBRE. “Sentosa, because of its high ticket size, may fall further down the pecking order.” BLOOMBERG


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Malaysia: Cabinet paper to facilitate Sabah wildlife action plan

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 19 Sep 18;

KOTA KINABALU: A cabinet paper is expected to be tabled soon to faciliate an action plan to save Sabah’s endangered Sunda clouded leopard, proboscis monkey and Bornean banteng.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga said the cabinet paper would most likely be tabled by the state administration soon, and this will pave the way for the action plan to be tabled during the next state assembly sitting in November.

He said the action plan signalled the final final lap towards implementation of measures to protect endangered wildlife. He said with the cabinet paper in place, it only needed approval from the state government to be set into motion.

“A cabinet paper will be prepared and we hope the plan will be approved by the state cabinet. We are hoping that the action plan could become a reality by the end of the year.

“The Chief Minister’s (Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal) support of these plans will also boost conservation efforts of these three endangered species,” said Augustine in a statement, which coincided with the soft launch of the wildlife action plan today by Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew.

The SWD and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) produced the 10-year action plan for the Sunda clouded leopard, proboscis monkey and the Bornean banteng following several years of gathering biological and ecological information on the three totally protected species in Sabah.

The efforts were supported by Yayasan Sime Darby since April 2011 with a total commitment of RM3.96 million. The funds included allocations for consultation workshops and international conferences with various stakeholders, which involved governmental departments, subject matter experts and industry leaders.

The recommendations made during these workshops and conference were included in the action plan.

DGFC director, Dr Benoit Goossens said the three species were threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching and road developments such as the upcoming Pan Borneo Highway.

“The decline in the proboscis monkey population is directly attributed to the expansion of aquaculture projects in mangrove areas. An example of this is the shrimp farming project in Pitas.

“The population of this animal is also decreasing due to the conversion of riparian or wetland and riverine habitats into agriculture land and human settlements,” said Goosens, who is from Cardiff University, United Kingdom.

He said the Sunda clouded leopards also have a low population now, while the Bornean banteng, which is a type of wild cattle suffered from low numbers due to heavy poaching, snaring and fragmentation.

Goossens said the establishment of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting (SMART) patrols has also become important in saving these three species.

“But more specifically, for the Bornean banteng, which now has a minimum population of 300, the setting up of a captive breeding programme is imperative,” said Goossens.

He said any area with the presence of bantengs must be managed sustainably by developing and maintaining pastures within and near the home ranges of the existing herds.

As for the proboscis monkey, Goossens said increasing suitable mangrove and riparian forests and the habitat connectivity between them was crucial for their survival.

“For the Sunda clouded leopard, which has a population size of 750, it is imperative to halt the loss and degradation of their habitat and maintain landscape connectivity.

“The proposed Pan Borneo Highway could have a detrimental effect on the Sunda clouded leopard by increasing fragmentation and the number of road kills,” he said.

Goossens said DGFC also recommended that an Endangered Species Conservation Unit be set up to monitor the implementation of the action plan.


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Indonesia: Ministry detects over three thousand hotspots across country

Antara 19 Sep 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) had until early this month detected over three thousand hotspots across the country, a ministry`s official stated.

Chief infrastructure official of the KLHK Ministry`s Climate Change Control Directorate General Agus Hariyanto informed reporters here on Wednesday that until September 3, 2018, his office had detected 3,032 hotspots.

The number of hotspots until Sept. 3 was higher than about one thousand in 2017. Yet, it is far lower than 15 thousand hotspots recorded in 2015.

He pointed out that several regions in Indonesia continue to face drought until November 2018

This is based on the forecast of the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency that a relatively weak El Nino phenomenon is approaching Indonesia.

"We have to remain on alert regarding land and forest fires," he added.

An integrated patrol team continues to be on the field, especially in the forestry-prone areas. In 2018, he noted that the team had exceeded the target of visiting 1,200 villages.

He stated that the president`s directive on the control of forest and land fires is usually issued early in the year as a precautionary measure against hotspots.

To detect the hotspots, the KLHK is using the National Aeronautics and Space Institute (Lapan) Fire Hotspot application, with accuracy rates of above 80 percent. This is then followed up on the field.

Meanwhile, the Terra and Aqua satellites had detected a total of 801 hotspots, indicating forest and plantation fires, across Indonesia, on Monday (Sept 17).

The hotspots were of moderate- and high-risk categories, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, noted in a statement.

In West Kalimantan Province, 272 hotspots were detected.

"Of the 272 hotspots, 149 are categorized as moderate and 123 as high risk," he stated.

Haze shrouded Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan Province, from dawn until 7:30 a.m. local time on Monday and later disappeared due to the wind.

Earlier, Ins. Gen. Didi Haryono, the West Kalimantan police chief, urged local inhabitants to help put out wildfires, as the efforts could not be made by the military and police personnel alone.

Banjarmasin, the provincial capital of South Kalimantan, and North Barito in Central Kalimantan were also shrouded by haze on Monday morning.

The ongoing prolonged drought has caused water shortage in several regions, such as in the provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Java, and triggered fires in forest areas, particularly in West Kalimantan and Central Java.

In West Kalimantan, schools were recently closed, as forest fires produced smoke that could affect the health of students.

The national disaster mitigation office deployed four helicopters to help extinguish the fires.

Reporting by Virna P Setyorini
Editing by Andi Abdussalam, Suharto

Editor: Fardah Assegaf


Wildfires raze part of Mount Ciremai and Mount Slamet forest areas
Antara 19 Sep 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Wildfires have razed parts of the forest areas on Mount Ciremai, located in Kuningan, West Java Province, and Mount Slamet, located in Pemalang, Central Java, since Tuesday.

Some 100 hectares of forest area on Mount Ciremai was gutted by fire, Agus Yudantara, spokesman of the Mount Ciremai National Park, said here on Wednesday.

The wildfire, razing bushes and grasses, was triggered by the current prolonged drought, he added.

A joint team, comprising military and police personnel, local fire fighters, and volunteers, was deployed to extinguish the blaze.

On Mount Slamet, fire razed a pine forest area belonging to the state-owned forestry company Perhutani, according to Captain Sarmin of the Pemalang military district.

Local authorities and volunteers had tried to put out the fire since Tuesday evening, but due to difficult terrain, the fire was still unable to be extinguished.

The ongoing severe dry season has triggered wildfires on several mountains on Java Island.

Among the affected mountains are Mount Sindoro in Central Java, Mount Lawu in the border of the provinces of Central and East Java, Mount Argopuro in East Java, Mount Sumbing in Central Java, and Mount Sadran in East Java.

Reporting by Khaerul Izan and Sumarwoto
Editing by Fardah
Editor: Otniel Tamindael


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Microplastics can spread via flying insects, research shows

‘Shocking’ study reveals plastic contaminates our skies as well as the oceans, say scientists
Damian Carrington The Guardian 19 Sep 18;

Microplastic can escape from polluted waters via flying insects, new research has revealed, contaminating new environments and threatening birds and other creatures that eat the insects.

Scientists fed microplastics to mosquito larvae, which live in water, but found that the particles remained inside the animals as they transformed into flying adults. Other recent research found that half of the mayfly and caddisfly larvae in rivers in Wales contained microplastics.

Concern over microplastic pollution is rising rapidly as it is discovered in ever more places, and very little research has been done on how it may harm wildlife or humans. The particles can harbour bacteria or leach toxic chemicals. Microplastics have been found in tapwater around the world, in vast numbers in the oceans and sea creatures and even in remote Swiss mountains.

“It is a shocking reality that plastic is contaminating almost every corner of the environment and its ecosystems,” said Prof Amanda Callaghan, at the University of Reading, UK, who led the new research on mosquitoes. “Much recent attention has been given to the plastics polluting our oceans, but this research reveals it is also in our skies.”

The new study, published in the journal Biology Letters, used Culex pipiens mosquitoes, as they are found across the world in many habitats. The researchers found the larvae readily consumed fluorescent microplastic particles that were 0.0002cm in size.

“Larvae are filter feeders that waft little combs towards their mouths, so they can’t actually distinguish between a bit of plastic and a bit of food,” Callaghan said. “They eat algae, which are more or less the same size as these microplastics.”

The larvae matured into a non-feeding pupa stage and then emerged as adult mosquitoes, which still had significant microplastic within them. The researchers are now studying if this damages the mosquitoes.

Callaghan said it is “highly likely” that other flying insects that begin as water larvae will also eat and retain microplastics. Birds, bats and spiders are among the species that eat large numbers of insects, suggesting these are also consuming microplastics. “You can get swarms of insects,” she said. “You could have a lot of plastic going up. It’s totally depressing. These plastics are going to be around forever.”

Plastics have been found inside many seabirds, but this is the first research suggesting terrestrial birds that eat insects are at risk. “This is a new pathway to get plastics up in the air and expose animals that are not normally exposed,” said Callaghan. “We don’t know what the impact will be.”

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of the conservation charity Buglife, said: “Aquatic insects are in the microplastic front line. We emit billions of plastic fibres every year, many of which go straight into rivers, so there is an urgent need for more research into the role microplastics may be playing in observed declines in aquatic life.”

Many microplastics are fibres shed by synthetic clothing during washing – a single wash can release 700,000 fibres. “While research proceeds, we can all think carefully about our clothing choices,” said Shardlow. Other microplastics are formed by the abrasion of larger pieces of plastic in rivers and oceans.

Large pieces of plastic are easily seen and clearly harm animals, from turtles to albatrosses. But research has also found microplastics, defined as smaller than 5mm, in many marine creatures, from worms to plankton and up the food chain to fish. Where investigated, they have been shown to damage the health of the animals.

Like the oceans, freshwater rivers and lakes are also heavily contaminated – a river near Manchester, UK, has the worst microplastic pollution yet recorded – but the impact on wildlife in these habitats has been much less studied.

The research in the Welsh rivers found microplastics in larvae both upstream and downstream from wastewater treatment plants, indicating that plastic pollution enters rivers directly, not just via sewage.

The researchers, led by Prof Steve Ormerod at Cardiff University, said the overall dearth of data on the effect of microplastics on freshwater creatures means that the understanding of the risk to the ecosystem remains “seriously limited”.

It is widely accepted that humans are also consuming microplastics. “We all eat them, there’s no doubt about it,” said Callaghan. Eating seafood such as mussels or cod is one route, while beer, sugar and sea salt have all been found to contain microplastics. Exposure is likely to rise, as plastic production is expected to climb by 40% in the next decade, prompting scientists to call for urgent research on the effects of microplastics on people.


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Baby pangolin rescued 2 years ago released into the wild

Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE: An abandoned pangolin rescued by the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) almost two years ago was released back into the wild on Tuesday (Sep 18), becoming Singapore's first ever case of a baby pangolin being hand-reared and rehabilitated for release.

Named after the Pokemon character Sandshrew, the pangolin was found weak, hungry and alone in the Upper Thomson area, and sent to the Wildlife Health and Research Centre in January 2017.

At the time of its rescue, the 1.5-month-old pangolin weighed 522 grams and would not have survived in the wild as it was still dependent on his mother.

After it was rescued, Sandshrew's carers bottle-fed it with milk replacer until it could be weaned. When it was old enough to forage, its carers would look for natural food sources so that Sandshrew could learn how to eat live prey and get used to the occasional insect bite.

Almost two years on, Sandshrew has grown to 6.4kg.

On Tuesday, it was taken by WRS and the National Parks Board (NParks) to an undisclosed location, where it will remain for about 10 days in an enclosure. The gate of the enclosure will be left open for it to leave voluntarily.

A radio tracking device attached to one of Sandshrew’s scales will allow its movements in the wild to be monitored. It will also be watched 24 hours a day to see how it is adapting to life in the wild.

"Being the first of its kind, the delicate operation could open up opportunities to develop protocols for future rescue and rehabilitation efforts for the species as a whole," WRS and NParks said in a release.

The update on Sandshrew's rehabilitation was provided by Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, who also launched a national conservation and strategy action plan for Sunda Pangolin conservation in Singapore for the next 50 years.

The Sunda pangolin is critically endangered in the region – and is the world’s most widely trafficked mammal.

Among the five goals in the plan include gathering and sharing information on the animal, ensuring a self-supporting population of pangolins and establishing wildlife-conscious urban planning policies and measures.

“In 2009, Night Safari Singapore became the first zoological institution to display the Sunda Pangolin and later to breed the species under human care but this alone is not enough. To save this iconic animal, we need to work together on a comprehensive and coordinated plan,” said Mr Mike Barclay, Group CEO of Mandai Park Holdings.

Mr Desmond Lee added: "I hope we put this plan earnestly into action and also involve many Singaporeans in wildlife monitoring, bring young children on board through citizen science.

"Allow them to use technology to help participate in wildlife count and use the Sunda Pangolin and other wildlife as icons that we can find in our school textbooks and pre-school material and allow them to get a better feel of wildlife that inhabit this island."

Source: CNA/zl(aj)



Rescued baby pangolin set for return to the wild; national plan launched to protect critically endangered creatures
LOW YOUJIN Today Online 18 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE – Weighing just above 500g, the tiny Sunda Pangolin was barely a few months old when it was found stranded and alone around the Upper Thomson area in January last year.

Today, Sandshrew the pangolin has grown to a robust 6.4kg, thanks to the staff at the Wildlife Reserves Singapore's (WRS) Wildlife Health and Research Centre.

It embarked on its journey back into the wild on Tuesday (Sept 18) with a transfer to a soft-release enclosure. WRS staff will eventually leave the enclosure's gate open for it to leave voluntarily.

Sunda pangolins like Sandshrew – named after a Pokemon character – will receive better protection in future with the launch of the Sunda Pangolin National Conservation Strategy and Action Plan on Tuesday.

While the critically endangered species is believed to be breeding in the wild in Singapore, its numbers are not known.

The plan aims to gather information on its status and ensure its wild population in Singapore is viable through habitat protection and connectivity. It also aims to develop successful rescue, rehabilitation and release strategies.

By June next year, for instance, the Singapore Pangolin Working Group aims to consolidate data from camera traps to establish where the insect-eating scaly mammal can be found, and its estimated numbers in nature and military areas.

By August next year, it aims to complete an unbiased study on pangolin roadkill hotspots. Past research suggests roadkill is most likely the major threat to the pangolin in Singapore. In March this year for instance, a leopard cat, Sunda pangolin and sambar deer were found as roadkill in Mandai near works to build new attractions, leading nature enthusiasts to call for project developer Mandai Park Development to take more preventive measures.

By mid-2020, the group wants to establish a tracking protocol for pangolins using GPS tags, Very High Frequency and other techniques, among other targets.

A radio tracking device has been attached to one of Sandshrew's scales to allow staff and volunteers to track its movements.

Dr Sonja Luz, WRS' director of conservation, research and veterinary services, said the group also wants to develop protocols to ensure rescued pangolins are well cared for. These can be shared with other wildlife rescue groups in the region.

WRS currently has eight Sunda pangolins – one of eight species in the world – three of which were born in the Night Safari.

The slow-moving nocturnal animal, which curls up in a ball when it feels threatened, is considered to be the world's most trafficked mammal.

Dr Luz estimated that one million pangolins have been poached in the last decade, and said that 20 tonnes of pangolins and their parts are trafficked internationally every year. They are hunted and trafficked for their meat and scales.

While the threat of poaching is low here, it should be preempted, said conservationist N Sivasothi.

One of the immediate priorities, apart from information gathering, is road kill reduction, said Dr Adrian Loo, National Parks Board's group director of conservation.

While it is unclear how many pangolins have been killed by traffic over the years, available data showed most incidents from 2004 to 2017 to be around the central part of the island.

"We are currently working with various stakeholders to better understand where the roadkills are, and to introduce traffic calming measures," said Dr Loo.

NParks recommends that developers near pangolin habitats construct hoardings and engage a consultant to help in animal shepherding, he said.

Culverts, or drains that run beneath the road surface, are the best bet for pangolins' safe passage and studies have shown that they do use it, Dr Loo said.

Habitat enhancement of buffer parks, such as Rifle Range Nature Park, will also go a long way in aiding the survival of the species.

The pangolin conservation plan was first mooted last year when 50 conservationists, including international experts gathered at the Singapore Zoo.

National strategies are also in place for species such as the Singapore freshwater crab and the Raffles banded langur.


Baby pangolin rescued 2 years ago released back into the wild
Jose Hong Straits Times 18 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE - A stranded pangolin taken in by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) has been released back into the wild, almost two years after its rescue as a baby.

Named Sandshrew, it was taken on Tuesday (Sept 18) by WRS and the National Parks Board (NParks) to an undisclosed forest location, where it will remain for up to 10 days in an enclosure.

Observers have attached a radio tracking device to the Sunda pangolin to monitor its movements in the wild, where it will be watched 24 hours a day for up to one month to ensure that it is coping well in the rainforest.

"This is the very first documented case in the world where a hand-reared pangolin is being released back into the wild and tracked," said Dr Sonja Luz, WRS' director of conservation, research and veterinary services.

She said the enclosure location is kept secret to protect the pangolin from poachers, but added: "The thing I'm most worried about is him running onto a street or into the wrong habitat."

Sandshrew, named after a Pokemon character, is a Sunda pangolin, which is critically endangered and one of the world's most widely trafficked animals.

It was rescued in January 2017 when it was just 1½ months old, after it was found alone at a construction site in the Upper Thomson area.

Pangolin rescued 2 years ago as baby released back into the wild

When its rescue was reported in May 2017, WRS said Sandshrew would be released in a matter of months.

Dr Luz said the delay was because WRS had decided that it would track Sandshrew after its release, and that it needed the pangolin to grow large enough to fit the tracking device. The former 500g baby has since grown to a healthy 6kg.

"We also gave him more time for the re-wilding process to disconnect from humans. He's quite feisty now - he runs away from the keepers," she said with a smile.

Also launched on Tuesday was an action plan that laid out the conservation strategy for the Sunda pangolin in Singapore for the next 50 years.

The five goals in the plan include gathering information on the endangered creature, ensuring that it has breeding populations, and establishing wildlife-conscious urban planning policies.

In 2016, there were only an estimated 100 wild pangolins in Singapore, The Straits Times reported last year.

Mandai Park Holdings group chief executive Mike Barclay said: "In 2009, Night Safari Singapore became the first zoological institution to display the Sunda pangolin and later to breed the species under human care, but this alone is not enough."

He said: "We are thus optimistic that the National Conservation Strategy and Action Plan will allow pangolins to co-exist with us in our densely populated city."

Speaking at the launch of the plan, Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee talked about including young Singaporeans in conservation.

"I hope that we… use the Sunda pangolin and other native wildlife as icons in our school textbooks and materials to allow young children to get a better feel of what we have on this island," he said.


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NEA, Alphabet Inc's Verily team up to fight dengue with AI

Cheryl Goh Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency’s (NEA) ongoing effort to suppress the urban Aedes aegypti mosquito population and fight dengue - Project Wolbachia - has received a technological boost.

NEA’s Environment Health Institute (EHI) announced on Tuesday (Sep 18) that it has teamed up with Verily (formerly named Google Life Sciences), the life sciences and healthcare company of US-based Alphabet Inc, to come up with an advanced, more efficient way to sort and release the male Wolbachia mosquitoes for Phase 2 of the field study.

The partnership was announced at the opening of the 5th Singapore International Dengue Workshop on Tuesday.

The sex-sorting technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to accurately separate the males from the females. NEA currently uses a funnel-type device to separate them since female mosquitoes are larger than males. The AI sorting is less laborious and more accurate.

“Such a technology would prevent accidental release of female mosquitoes, which is important to ensure the effectiveness of the Wolbachia methodology in suppressing the urban Aedes mosquito population,” said NEA deputy chief executive officer Khoo Seow Poh.

Project Wolbachia uses Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to suppress the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in Singapore. This is done because when male Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes mate with urban female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the eggs spawned do not hatch, resulting in a fall in the overall population.

Project Wolbachia uses Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to suppress the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in Singapore. (Image: NEA)

Verily has also developed an automated release cart to dispense male Wolbachia mosquitos. It has been specially designed and tailored to fit into the lifts and long and narrow corridors of HDB blocks.

The cart is set to be tested at NEA’s Tampines West study site later this month.

For the trial, two carts will be deployed on the ground level and on higher floors - to ensure that the male Wolbachia mosquitoes are released more evenly.

With more of such male Wolbachia mosquitoes in the environment, there is a higher chance that the existing female Aedes aegypti will mate with them and lay sterile eggs, according to NEA.

Source: CNA/na(mn)


National Environment Agency to mass-produce mosquitoes for dengue control study
Linette Lai Straits Times 18 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE - Cutting-edge technology will be employed to mass-produce mosquitoes to make it easier for scientists to conduct research into ways to control dengue and other diseases.

The boffins need male mozzies, which do not feed on human blood, so they can inject them with a bacterium called Wolbachia.

These males are released and when they mate with females, the bacterium prevents the eggs from hatching, which in turn reduces the number of disease-carrying mozzies.

The Wolbachia study, as it is known, has been underway since 2016 and went up a gear in April with mosquitoes being released on higher floors in HDB blocks and at more frequent intervals.

The limiting factor has been getting enough males but a new initiative involving the National Environment Agency (NEA), local start-up Orinno Technology and Verily, a subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, aims to make the process more efficient.

At present, producing mosquitoes on a large scale is a tedious undertaking.

Researchers have to count batches of larvae by hand and rely on manual methods to sort out males from the larger females, said Associate Professor Ng Lee Ching from the NEA's Environmental Health Institute.

They would then have to manually release batch after batch of mosquitoes at field testing sites.

"It's currently very labour-intensive," Prof Ng said, adding that the process is also subject to human error.

Adult mosquitoes, for example, may be weaker if they were overcrowded as larvae, or females may slip through the sorting process and affect the consistency of field experiments.

Prof Ng added: "If you want good quality mosquitoes, you must have very systemic production."

That is where the new initiative comes in. It harnesses a range of gadgets to inject more efficiency into the laborious process.

Orinno's technology can count 4,000 mosquitoes in three minutes, instead of the two hours a human would take.

And Verily's automated mosquito sex-sorter is hundreds of times more accurate than a human being, said Mr Nigel Snoad, product manager of the firm's Debug Project, which aims to use technology to improve the mosquito-rearing process.

Verily's automated cart is also designed to disperse Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in a controlled manner while navigating narrow Housing Board flat corridors. The cart will be tested in Tampines West later this month in a trial that will end in January.

Mr Snoad added that Verily's technology has already been tested in the United States and Australia with good results, although this will be the first time that it will be used in a highly urbanised environment.

"We had to solve the challenge of how to get it in the lift and across the narrow corridors," he said.

The initiative was announced at the Singapore International Dengue Workshop, which started on Tuesday (Sept 18) and ends next week

NEA deputy chief executive Khoo Seow Poh said at the event: "Dengue has posed an enormous health and economic burden on many countries where resources and expertise are limited.

"This situation underscores the need for greater inter-sectoral collaboration to maximise the resources we have, to build more effective dengue control programmes."

Prof Ng also took the opportunity to give an update on the Wolbachia study, saying that results have been "very promising" so far.

"The overall aim is to see a suppressed population in the community," she said. "We will be monitoring the results, monitoring more data, and we hope to achieve that in the next few months."


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Sembcorp to supply solar power to Facebook's Singapore operations

Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE: Sembcorp Industries will be powering Facebook's operations in Singapore, including the social media giant's first data centre to be located in Asia, the Singapore utilities company said on Tuesday (Sep 18).

Sembcorp said in a press release that it has signed a 20-year deal with Facebook to supply it with solar energy.

It will be installing panels on close to 900 rooftops in Singapore between the end of this year and 2020 to meet Facebook's renewable energy requirement. The offsite solar panels will total 50 MWp in capacity, it said.

Facebook said on Sep 6 that the Singapore data centre - its first in Asia - is estimated to start operating by 2022. The new facility, to be located at Tanjong Kling in the west of Singapore, will span 170,000 sq m.

Facebook announced on Sep 6, 2018 it will build its first data centre in Asia in Singapore. (Image: Facebook / Mark Zuckerberg)
“This agreement represents our first step towards supporting our Singapore Data Center and local offices with 100 per cent renewable energy," said Mr Bobby Hollis, head of global energy at Facebook.

Sembcorp has more than 2,500 megawatts of wind and solar power projects
across Singapore, China and India, and it plans to double its renewables portfolio and reduce its carbon intensity by around 25 per cent by 2022, the company said.

“As our world moves towards renewables and lower-carbon energy, there is an increasing demand for solutions that enable businesses to achieve growth while managing their impact on the environment.

"Sembcorp is actively working with companies in this, and supporting their efforts towards this dual objective,” said Mr Neil McGregor, group president & CEO of Sembcorp Industries.

Source: CNA/hm(ms)


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Indonesia: South Sumatra intensifies weather modification technology

Antara 18 Sep 18;

Palembang (ANTARA News) - The Government of South Sumatra Province is currently intensifying Weather Modification Technology (WMT) by sprinkling salt over clouds to prevent widespread land and forest fires.

Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology Chief for Weather Modification Sutrisno remarked here on Tuesday that the implementation of WMT in the context of handling land and forest fires in South Sumatra is still ongoing.

"We continue to work through the Air Task Force to look for clouds that have the potential to bring rain until now," Sutrisno noted.

According to Sutrisno, since September 14, 2018, until this day, the weather conditions are relatively dry, making it difficult for the team to conduct WMT.

"The clouds cannot develop properly, as the conditions are very dry. After cloud seeding, some clouds will form, but at times, they disperse and get evaporated again due to low humidity in the air and dry weather conditions," he noted.

He explained that in contrast to previous days, cloud growth was relatively better, so the team had many choices of spraying salt over clouds.

"The weather conditions have a cycle, and in the past few days, it was quite dry but in the next couple of days, it will likely improve again," he noted.

Based on predictions, such dry weather conditions are expected to occur until the next few days. In such dry conditions, conducting water bombing using helicopters becomes dominant.

Furthermore, Sutrisno said it was estimated that from September 19, 2018, weather conditions would improve again, with a marked cloud growth, so that WMT can yield optimal results.

Earlier, on Monday, forest and land fires occurred in the east cross road of Palembang, Inderalaya, and Ogan Ilir, which was estimated to ravage tens of hectares of land.


Reporting by Dolly Rosana
Editing by Otniel Tamindael

Editor: Otniel Tamindael


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Indonesia: Wildfire razes part of Mt Sadran forest area

Antara 18 Sep 18;

Ponorogo, East Java (ANTARA News) - A forest area located on the slope of Mount Sadran in Broto Village, Slahung Sub-district, Ponorogo District, East Java, was razed by a wildfire on Monday evening.

The forest area, belonging to the State Forestry Company, Perhutani, was located in West Ponorogo, second inspector Satrio Teguh, spokesman of the Ponorogo Police, stated here, Tuesday.

A joint team, comprising military and police personnel, local fire fighters, and volunteers, immediately rushed to the location to put out the fire on Monday evening, he stated, adding that the fire was successfully extinguished.

The cause of the fire was unknown, but the blaze destroyed at least one hectare area of teakwood forest owned by local farmers and 0.015 hectare of forest area belonging to Perhutani.

The ongoing prolonged drought has caused water shortage in several regions, such as in the provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Java, and triggered fires in forest areas, particularly in Kalimantan, Java and Sumatra.

On Java Island, wildfires were earlier reported to have razed forest areas located on the slopes of Mount Sindoro in Central Java Province, Mount Lawu in the border of the provinces of Central and East Java, Mount Argopuro in East Java Province, and Mount Sumbing and in Central Java.

Wildfires on Mount Sumbing, located in Temanggung District, has spread to a wider area, according to Gito Walngadi of the local disaster mitigation office, recently.

On Sunday, the fires were detected in five locations, measuring a total of 490.9 hectares on Mt Sumbing, he stated.

Nearly 170 personnel were deployed to extinguished the fires. A helicopter was also used to assist in the efforts on Monday.

Reporting by Louis Rika/Siswowidodo
Editing by Yosep Hariyadi

Editor: Otniel Tamindael


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Best of our wild blogs: 18 Sep 18



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