Best of our wild blogs: 15 Apr 11

Dugong Ivory at Changi Beach!
from Fun with Nature by Fun with Nature

A Solo Visit to the Admiralty Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Chek Jawa is not a zoo
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

NSS Kids’ Fun with Nature Photography
from Fun with Nature by Fun with Nature

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Japan disaster reminds Singapore to diversify its power sources: SM Goh

Maria Siow Channel NewsAsia 14 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said the recent disaster in Japan is a reminder that the country needs to diversify its sources of power.

Even though there are no plans to move into nuclear energy, he said Singapore was "enquiring into its mileage" and looking at how best to use nuclear energy.

Mr Goh was speaking in a wide-ranging interview Thursday with China Central Television in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, where he is attending the Boao forum for Asia as a board director.

On attracting international talent to Singapore, Mr Goh said the island needs to remain open.

"Because if you are able to collect a pool of very able people, no matter what the challenges are, we are in a better position to overcome the challenges," Mr Goh said.

Even though rules have been tightened to make the process of acquiring Singaporean citizenship more "selective", he noted that those with good knowledge, skills and entrepreneurship will still be welcomed.

When asked about the legacies of both himself and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh said, "We never talked about legacies. Lee Kuan Yew never talked about his legacy. I never talked about my legacy. There was a job to be done and somebody had to do it."

"[Lee Kuan Yew] has laid the foundations for Singapore, he has shaped the values for Singapore, and he therefore planned for his own exit because he believes that he should not be there forever and ever. I happened to be the man who succeeded him. So I have kept Singapore going and now, the third Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is now trying to do the same thing - to make Singapore more competitive, and give people a better life."

In response to whether he told Prime Minister Lee to do so, Mr Goh said: "No, I don't tell my successor what to do. But my successor should know what to do."

Turning to the building of casinos, Mr Goh reiterated that "from the moral standpoint, the government and most people in Singapore are against gaming."

However, in the end, the choice was made based on the need to create jobs, difficulty in relying on manufacturing and a few key industries in generating growth, and the lack of natural tourist attractions.

The government will, however, continue to keep a watchful eye on the social implications of the casinos, Mr Goh said.

On the use of new media, Mr Goh said these were powerful tools of communication, which cannot be underestimated. He warned that new media could "sometimes suffer from the danger of misuse by a small number of people, who hide behind anonymity, spread information, distort news", but added that "you have to live with it."

Even so, Mr Goh believes new media is a technological tool and a mega-trend that will take the world to the next level of economic development.

On China's opening up, Mr Goh said that China's successful economic development has led to problems, such as a growing income gap and inflationary pressures.

He said China's core strategy should be to become a market economy, a move which he believes will be made easier given the country's investment in its infrastructure, people and in relevant skills.

On the internationalization of the Chinese currency, Mr Goh said it has to be done gradually, and that China's exchange rate should be made more flexible to reflect the fundamentals of the Chinese economy.

On the BRICS summit being held in Sanya, Mr Goh said it is still too early to tell if the grouping of emerging economies will be institutionalized. But he believes it is good start for the BRICS nations - comprising of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - to be involved in a major forum such as the G20.

Mr Goh said apart from pushing for freer trade between nations, the G20 will also have to tackle global financial stability, inflation, and price volatility.

Mr Goh will take part in a panel discussion and hold bilateral meetings with other visiting foreign dignitaries Friday.

- CNA/cc

Singapore open selectively to international talent: SM
There's need for talent, but he adds becoming PR will be more difficult
Grace Ng Straits Times 15 Apr 11;

BOAO (HAINAN): Singapore has slowed the inflow of foreign immigrants, but it is still open selectively to 'entrepreneurial Chinese' and other international talent, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

In a wide-ranging interview with China's state-owned newscaster CCTV, he talked about how an open economy such as Singapore is staying competitive, from its human resources policy to its successful integrated resorts (IRs).

Asked whether Singapore is now paying more attention to Chinese, particularly wealthy ones, in its immigration policy, Mr Goh said Singapore is 'now open selectively to international talent'.

'Yes, we pay attention, I would say, not to the wealthy Chinese, but to the entrepreneurial Chinese. Those who are able, with the knowledge and the skills to make a contribution,' he said.

But as the number of mainland Chinese and other foreigners grows in Singapore, 'it does become more difficult for outsiders who want to come to Singapore to become permanent residents', Mr Goh said. 'There is no choice, otherwise the flow will be too big and we will be overwhelmed,' he explained. 'So we have slowed down the inflow into Singapore.'

On the other hand, for a small country like Singapore to compete against other nations, it must continue to develop a pool of very talented people, including those from China, India, Europe and the United States, he said. 'No matter what the challenges are, we are in a better position to overcome these challenges because we have able people.'

SM Goh was speaking on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia, a three-day summit attended by several hundred top political and business leaders on the tropical Chinese island of Hainan.

He is in China for a nine-day visit which ends on Tuesday.

Mr Goh told CCTV that human resource development is an area where Singapore can share some of its experience with China, which faces the challenge of upgrading the knowledge of its people.

In the past, the world's second largest economy had emphasised so-called 'classical learning', such as immersion in the Chinese classics, he noted. But now its people are acquiring 'skills which are relevant to the economy'.

Chinese cities are competing not just among themselves but also against international cities including Singapore.

'China will not worry Singapore,' Mr Goh said, because 'competition is never a zero-sum game'.

'Economic growth results in a larger and larger pie, (and) we would just get our fair share of the pie.'

To cope with increasing international competition, Singapore has had to think deeply about where next to diversify its economy after the manufacturing, pharmaceutical and finance sectors.

Mr Goh said that during the economic crisis several years ago, when 'we looked forward into the future, we asked ourselves: how do we create jobs?'

The answer, he said, was that Singapore needed to boost tourism, going beyond man-made attractions such as the Night Safari to develop IRs that would draw not just gamblers but also tourists.

'So far it has succeeded, we have managed to attract many tourists to Singapore because it's new, it's fresh, it's well regulated,' he said.

At the same time, Singapore has been very careful that developing the IRs does not become a negative: that is, Singapore benefits from the tourist revenue but the country suffers socially because of it.

Singapore is also reportedly looking to boost economic growth by becoming an offshore yuan trading hub - a prospect broached by CCTV when asking Mr Goh for his views on the Chinese currency.

He sidestepped the topic, focusing on the need for the yuan to become more international and flexible to facilitate China's growing international trade and reflect the fundamentals of its economy.

China has begun to internationalise its yuan 'by having an offshore centre in Hong Kong', he said. 'I believe the government will look for other ways to expand the use of the renminbi,' he added.

SM Goh on:


Asked about Singapore's experience in energy security given the nuclear crisis sparked by the quake and tsunami disaster in Japan, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said the Republic is researching the safe use of nuclear energy.

Singapore has been trying to diversify its energy sources, but is unable to harness large-scale use of green energy such as solar or wind, he explained.

Mr Goh also cautioned against dismissing the use of nuclear energy as there are few alternatives to replace oil and gas.

So Singapore 'is trying to see how nuclear energy can be used in a very safe way in the long(-term) future', he said.

But 'there are no plans whatsoever for Singapore to move into nuclear energy', he added.


Mr Goh highlighted the rise of new media such as Facebook and blogs - as a mega-trend.

Noting that 'it is a very powerful tool of communication' that connects people wherever they are, he said that the new media will take the world to a new level of economic development and socialising.

But he cautioned that the tool could be used for good or evil.

Likening it to a knife that can be used to cut fruits or kill people, Mr Goh said: 'New media can sometimes suffer from the danger of being used by a small number of people... who are hiding beyond anonymity (to) spread misinformation, distort news and so on.

'But we have to live with it.'

'No talk of legacy, just get the job done'

BOAO (HAINAN): Singapore's top leaders never talk about their legacies.

Instead, they just focus on getting the job done, that is, keep Singapore going.

Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong stressed this during an interview yesterday with Chinese state media, which asked him to comment on the view that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had inherited his legacy in the same way that Mr Goh had inherited that of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

'In fact we never talk about legacies, Lee Kuan Yew never talked about his legacy and I never talk about my legacy. There was a job to be done and someone had to do it,' he said.

The elder Mr Lee had 'planned for his own exit, because he believed that he should not be there forever and ever', Mr Goh noted.

'I happened to be the man who succeeded him.'

Mr Goh's own goal, when he took over as PM in 1990, was 'to keep Singapore going and going, just as simple as that'.

'In other words, to make sure that values remain sound, economy is competitive and people live harmoniously,' he told state broadcaster CCTV.

The Singapore leader was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day Boao Forum for Asia, a summit for top political and economic leaders.

Asked whether he told the younger Mr Lee, who succeeded him in 2004, to keep Singapore going, Mr Goh replied: 'No, I didn't have to tell him.'

Mr Goh noted that he had built on what Minister Mentor Lee had done, which was to set Singapore's foundation and shape its values.

In the same way, PM Lee is now building on Mr Goh's work.

'Mr Lee Hsien Loong is now trying to do the same thing: make Singapore more competitive, give people a better life. That is our job,' Mr Goh said.

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Sufficient land supply in next 10 years: analysts

Jo-ann Huang Channel NewsAsia 14 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: Analysts said property developers will soon have ample supply of prime land going forward, after the Urban Redevelopment Authority said it can build over 10,000 residential units near MRT stations, in the next 10 years and beyond.

The URA announced this in its Concept Plan 2011 - an urban planning exercise done every 10 years.

With their close proximity to public transport, analysts said that these land parcels will be in hot demand and will generate high bids.

Potential home owners can expect high-rise living in established neighbourhoods in the years ahead.

The URA said housing of more than 30 storeys will be built near public transport, like MRT stations, in matured estates.

Analysts said these sites should be well sought by developers.

"Some of these land parcels that are located near the mrt station could possibly achieve record prices when they are offered for sale by government land sale tenders. I believe the government would pace out the sale of these land parcels, so that home buyers would have a wider choice over a longer period of time," said Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of research at SLP International.

Analysts said future land prices near MRT stations depend on economic activity and demand.

But with a projected 6.5 million population and a robust economy in the decades ahead, they added that land prices may remain firm.

In February, a 129,137 square feet land site near Bishan MRT station attracted a top bid of S$550.1 million, or S$869 per square foot and a record 19 bids despite the introduction of more cooling measures in January.

The URA said it plans to move commercial activity out of the city centre in order to ease traffic flows.

Analysts said more land in the central region could be freed up for more homes.

"If there is some commercial property that is able to enbloc and move and change of use to residential, I think that comes as great news to developers," said Mr Jeffrey Hong, CEO of GPS Alliance.

Some of URA's future urban planning will involve the needs of an ageing population.
Analysts suggested that expiring leases in older properties be topped up, to accommodate their senior residents.

- CNA/cc

More homes to be built near MRT stations
Lynda Hong Ee Lyn Today Online 15 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE - In the next decade and beyond, more homes could be built in the vacant land near MRT stations such as Commonwealth, Queenstown and Bishan, which is big enough to accommodate more than 10,000 units.

This is to meet the demand for homes in these popular areas, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, who unveiled the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Concept Plan 2011 yesterday.

The homes will be progressively built in tandem with population growth. "But this doesn't mean we are only going to build 10,000 homes. There would be many areas where we would be releasing land for homes. The roll-out, how much land we set aside for the residential units would depend on the take up rate," said Mr Mah.

While the concept plan - which charts Singapore's land use and infrastructure development in the next 40 to 50 years - has factored in a population size of 6.5 million, Mr Mah said the actual size of the population in 50 years will be determined by factors such as Singapore's economic conditions.

Beyond the mid-term, areas like Tengah will also be developed into new towns. Meanwhile, Choa Chu Kang will be further developed as early as next year and the same will be done for other existing towns like Punggol, Sengkang and Yishun, so that more homes can be built. Communal facilities like parks and places of worship will also be developed.

And to help reduce commuting times, the job-worker distribution across the island will be re-balanced.

This means injecting more housing in the central and west region, where there are proportionately more jobs than homes, while the north, which has the opposite, will see more commercial and industrial activities.

Over 10,000 new high-rise flats near MRT stations
Esther Teo Straits Times 15 Apr 11;

MORE than 10,000 new high-rise homes will spring up near MRT stations in the mature towns of Bishan, Queenstown and Commonwealth in the next 10 to 15 years, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said yesterday.

This will include both public and private housing towers of more than 30 storeys, so as to intensify land use to meet the rising demand for homes, he said.

The Government will concentrate higher density housing near transport hubs to give more people direct access to public transport, Mr Mah added. The challenge, however, will be to ensure that these homes remain liveable.

'Where the infrastructure is already built, it gives us more scope for intensification and providing more homes. It will be rolled out over time in conjunction with the take-up rate.'

Mr Mah was speaking at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Corporate Seminar at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel yesterday.

Already, developer CapitaLand has announced plans for a condo of at least 36 storeys on a land parcel near Bishan MRT station that it was awarded in February.

Mr Mah also spelt out the broad themes for the Concept Plan 2011 - reviewed once every 10 years and to be unveiled in the fourth quarter of this year.

The plan maps out the direction for land use and transportation plans over the next 40 to 50 years.

One key principle will be to provide adequate housing as the population grows, in areas such as Choa Chu Kang, Punggol, Sengkang and Yishun.

Choa Chu Kang, for example, has already been earmarked for development and expansion, which will begin as early as next year, Mr Mah said.

The new Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College West is already in operation and facilities like neighbourhood parks and places of worship will be developed to support the new population.

Looking beyond the medium term, new towns and housing areas such as Tengah in the north-west region near Choa Chu Kang will also be opened up.

'This will not happen immediately, but we need to plan well ahead of time, and build infrastructure in advance so that the new towns can be developed when needed,' he added.

Bringing jobs closer to home will also be another key thrust - a strategy which also serves to reduce the peak hour stress on traffic infrastructure here.

The concept plan will look towards more equal job-to-worker distribution across the island. This means injecting more housing in the central and western regions, where there are proportionally more jobs than homes now.

More commercial and industrial activities, however, will be placed in the north and north-east, where there are more homes than jobs. This will help take some stress off transport networks and reduce commuting times, Mr Mah added.

Other key points in the plan include expanding leisure options and greenery through innovative architecture and the extension of park connectors, as well as reviewing town planning strategies to allow the elderly to grow old at home.

Mr Mah encouraged further cross-sector collaboration such as in conserving the built environment. He invited the public to put forward more innovative ideas to make better use of old spaces.

Yesterday, URA chairman Alan Chan also touched on URA's milestone year in 2010, highlighting the completion of various projects in the central and suburban areas such as Marina Bay Sands, Punggol Promenade and the iconic helix bridge.

'In our effort to conserve our built heritage and strengthen our sense of identity, we have worked closely with the local community to identify a number of significant buildings for conservation. These include a collection of bungalows at Rochester Park and Nepal Park,' he said.

The URA also received the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Global Awards for Excellence for its work in transforming the Southern Ridges into a leisure spot.

This is the second time URA has won a ULI award, and is the only organisation in the world to have done so twice.

Mr Colin Tan, research and consultancy director at real estate firm Chesterton Suntec International, said he was looking forward to finding out exactly where and how commercial activities will be placed in the north and north-east.

'If jobs for the people can be provided where they live, it would definitely help to alleviate the north-south movement with the Central Expressway already barely coping now,' he added.

Punggol resident Jeremy Tan, 28, a sales representative who takes more than an hour to get to work, said: 'It'll be nice to work closer to home, of course, but it all depends on whether my company decides to move here or not.'

Government to grow suburb towns, add homes in Central, West
Uma Shankari Business Times 15 Apr 11;

(SINGAPORE) The government will boost Singapore's housing stock in tandem with the growth in population and expand towns such as Punggol, Sengkang, Yishun and Choa Chu Kang over the next 40 to 50 years, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said yesterday.

He also revealed that more homes will be built in the Central and West regions in a bid to take some stress off transport networks and reduce commuting times.

'Our current towns will be redeveloped and expanded to provide affordable and good quality housing in popular areas like Punggol, Sengkang, Yishun and Choa Chu Kang,' Mr Mah said. 'Beyond the medium term, we will also open up new towns in areas such as Tengah.'

Mr Mah, who was speaking at a seminar organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), was giving industry players a peek at the Concept Plan 2011. The Concept Plan will be officially unveiled in the fourth quarter of this year. It will chart plans for land use and infrastructure development in Singapore over the next 40 to 50 years.

In addition to boosting housing supply, the government also plans to bring jobs closer to homes by having more equal job-to-worker distribution across the island.

More housing will be injected into the Central and the West regions of Singapore, where currently there are proportionately more jobs than homes. At the same time, the government will also put more commercial and industrial activities in the North and North-East, where there are currently more homes than jobs.

'Re-balancing the job-worker distribution will not resolve all our traffic issues, but it will take some stress off our transport networks and reduce commuting times,' Mr Mah said.

There are also plans to concentrate higher density housing around transport nodes, so that more people will benefit from direct access to public transportation.

Giving one example, Mr Mah said that his ministry could add more than 10,000 HDB flats and private homes in vacant land around three MRT stations - Bishan, Commonwealth and Queenstown - in the next decade and beyond. These homes will be high-rise developments of more than 30 storeys.

'Higher density housing can bring greater economies of scale, and support the development of more amenities in close proximity to homes,' Mr Mah said. 'As we build up our towns, we will expand our transport infrastructure, especially our rail network.'

Analysts said that the government is likely to increase the plot ratios for residential land in Singapore's Central regions and near MRT stations.

'In towns such as Punggol, Sengkang and in the West, there is still quite a bit of land left for development,' said Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng. 'But around MRT stations and in the Central regions, residential plot ratios are likely to go up.'

A developer BT spoke to also said that residential plot ratios look set to be increased in the coming years. He added that he hopes the government will boost plot ratios for both private and public land.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Mah added that leisure options and greenery will be expanded.

The government will also take into account Singapore's ageing population in planning for various facilities such as healthcare, housing and social facilities at the national level. It will also review town planning strategies to facilitate ageing in place, he said.

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Singapore: Hot and wet days may last till June

Inter-monsoon downpour causes some minor flooding
Fiona Low Straits Times 15 Apr 11;

THE daily double whammy of sweltering noon heat, followed by intense thunderstorms later in the day, can be expected until June as Singapore goes through what is known as the inter-monsoon season.

Such weather is 'typical' of the season - which extends from late March to May and then from October to November - said a spokesman for the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Heavy rains in the late afternoon yesterday caused minor flooding in several areas, said a spokesman for national water agency PUB.

Drains along Stadium Link leading to Old Kallang Airport Road overflowed. Parts of the East Coast Parkway and Tampines Expressway were also affected.

At Old Kallang Airport, several areas were flooded with ankle-deep water. The site is one of the venues for this year's Singapore Biennale and sees more than 400 visitors daily.

Staff from Toast Box cafe there said the outlet had experienced about three floods in the past week though yesterday's situation was the most serious.

However, a spokesman for the Singapore Art Museum, which organised the Biennale, said that no exhibits had been affected. Staff also provided umbrellas to shelter patrons from the rain.

The PUB said that the water in most areas subsided within half an hour.

The inter-monsoon season comes twice a year here - sandwiched in between the south-west (June to September) and north-east (November to March) monsoons.

Contrary to popular belief that the monsoon is defined by heavy rains, the seasons are in fact characterised by wind behaviour, said climate scientist Matthias Roth from the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore.

During the monsoon season, constant strong winds blow from a uniform direction, either the north-east or the south-west.

The winds come from an area with higher atmospheric pressure - the Tibetan Plateau during the north-east monsoon and Australian region during the south-west monsoon - to an area with lower atmospheric pressure, where Singapore is.

The uniform direction of the wind also lends to more predictable weather as it follows a charted path.

The inter-monsoon period on the other hand, is characterised by weaker winds that do not come from a fixed direction, resulting in the more erratic weather seen now.

During the inter-monsoon season, the sun is also directly above the equator due to the tilt of the earth's axis. This accounts for a higher mid-day temperature for equatorial countries like Singapore.

Incidentally, the hotter temperature is also what causes the downpour later in the day.

As the surface heats up and warm air rises into the atmosphere, it cools down and the water vapour condenses to produce clouds, and eventually rain.

Therefore, higher temperatures in the afternoon will likely result in heavier rains later in the day as more hot air rises to form clouds.

However, the amount and possibility of rain also depends on other factors such as humidity levels, added Dr Roth.

Additional reporting by Leow Si Wan

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Malaysia: Bird lovers call for review of Wildlife Conservation Act

Jastin Ahmad Tarmizi The Star 14 Apr 11;

BIRD lovers, bird catchers and operators of wildlife shops have voiced their concerns about the new Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 to the Wildlife and National Park department (Perhilitan).

The bird lovers are concerned that the Murai Kampung now requires a licence under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 that took affect last year on Dec 28.

The bird lovers, accompanied by Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai voiced their concerns in a dialogue held with Perhilitan over the new Act at the office in Cheras.

“We want to know why we need a licence as it is not a rare or endangered species. We understand if it is a rare or endangered species but Murai Kampung is not a rare species and they breed three times a year,” said a representative of the bird lovers, So Chong Thye.

“This is a Chinese tradition. It is also a century-old hobby and many retired people enjoy this hobby. We want to know how they evaluate which type of wildlife requires licences.

“We do agree with Perhilitan that some licences are required to help with conservation but all these people are bird lovers not smugglers who exploit wildlife,” he said.

“They also have to understand we bird lovers who keep the Murai Kampung only take the male and we do not take babies and the female. We do not cause any problems to the conservation as we do not harm the babies and the females,” he added.

Perhilitan deputy director general Dr Zaaba Zainal Abidin, who was at the dialogue, said the licence imposed was to help with the conservation of the Murai Kampung species.

“Now there might be lot of supply but we see a rising demand, so we have to step in to control the situation. This was decided after consulting many local and international NGOs and agencies. he said.

“The old Act is more on species management while the new one geared towards preventing animal cruelty. There were many problems of animal cruelty and back then, under the old Act we had no authority to punish them as it was not in the law. The laws were not strict enough to conserve wildlife which is why the new Act is a revised version,” he added.

He said a grace period of six months would be given to all those who had not applied for a licence.

“Those who do not have a licence can start to apply for one now. Since the new Act took effect from Dec 28 last year, the last day of the grace period is on June 26. After that we will take action against those who do not have a licence,” said Zaaba.

“We have taken note of the opinions voiced today and we will look into the matter and bring it up to the ministry so they can look into it,” he added.

Tan said representatives of the bird lovers and wildlife traders would prepare a memorandum to Perhilitan over the issue.

“They have already heard the people and they understand their concerns. The representatives of all these bird lovers will prepare a memorandum to be passed to Perhilitan in three weeks,” he said.

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New hope for survival for elusive saola

WWF 14 Apr 11;

Quang Nam, Vietnam: Indochina’s elusive saola, a recently discovered and critically endangered relative of antelopes and cattle, now has new hope for survival with the establishment of a dedicated nature reserve in the province today.

Quang Nam’s People Committee today agreed to the Forestry Protection Department establishing a Saola Natural Reserve in the Annamite mountains along the border of Viet Nam and Laos.

The Saola, described as a primitive member of the bovine family which includes cattle, sheep and antelopes, was discovered only in 1992 by a joint WWF and Vietnam Department of Forestry survey.

Threatened by illegal hunting with snares and dogs for its horns, the current population of saola is thought be to a few hundred at maximum and possibly only a few dozen at a minimum. None have survived in captivity.

Since the species discovery, WWF has worked closely with Vietnamese scientists, protected area staff and rangers and local communities, to understand the species population status and ecological requirements; identify the threats to the Saola and implement conservation actions to reverse its decline.

New reserve creates corridor

In response to the alarming status of the species in the wild, WWF Vietnam has worked with Vietnam’s authorities and agencies to promote the establishment of Saola Nature Reserve in Quang Nam, the Saola Nature Reserve in Thua Thien Hue and to extend Bach Ma National Park.

“The establishment of this new Saola Nature Reserve shows a strong commitment by the Vietnamese Government and Quang Nam Province in the conservation of this highly threatened endemic species,” said Ms. Tran Minh Hien, Country Director of WWF Vietnam.

“This new reserve will create a biodiversity corridor connecting the East of Vietnam to West side of Xe Sap National Park in Laos.”

Protection of the Saola population in this landscape is the highest priority for WWF and provincial authorities. Teams of WWF Forest Guards and FPD rangers are patrolling the nature reserves on a daily basis and have removed thousands of snares and destroyed many illegal hunting camps within the first few months of this new cooperative enforcement programme.

The Saola Natural Reserve in Quang Nam is located in an area where the highest point is 1,298 meters characterised by narrow valleys and water falls which creates ideal habitat for Saola. The establishment of the Nature Reserve will promote the conservation of lowland tropical forest ecosystems in the Annamite mountains, which contain many globally threatened species.

“We believe that, with the guidance from the People’s Committee, related local Departments and the cooperation with WWF, the Management Board will carry out the Saola’s conservation well which will not only help improve the Saola’s survival but also have long term value in developing and maintaining the biodiversity of the area.” said Mr Dang Dinh Nguyen, Director of Quang Nam Provincial Forest Protection Department and also the Acting Director of the Saola Nature Reserve.

'Asian Unicorn' Reserve Created to Protect Mysterious Species
Andrea Mustain LiveScience 14 Apr 11;

A new protected area designed to save one of Earth's most mysterious and elusive creatures has been established in a lush, mountainous region of Vietnam, officials announced today.

The creature, the saola (known colloquially as the "Asian unicorn") is a small, horned animal that resembles a strange goat-antelope hybrid, but is more closely related to a kind of wild cow.

"It's a very beautiful forest ungulate, and really looks like nothing else in Asia," said Barney Long, manager of the Asian species conservation program at the conservation group WWF and a key figure behind the creation of the newly established Saola Natural Reserve, which covers an area about three times the size of Manhattan along the Vietnam-Laos border.

Long said saola first got their mythical nickname a year or so ago — in spite of the fact that the animals have more than one horn. [Related: The World's Freakiest Looking Animals.]

"They obviously have two horns," Long said, laughing, "but it is a cylindrical horn and pretty straight, so if you look at it from the side, it looks a bit like it has one horn."

However, it was chiefly the animal's elusive nature that earned it the fairytale name, Long told OurAmazingPlanet.

"It's so rare to see that it would almost be like seeing a unicorn," he said.

Storybook beasts

Indeed, scientists only discovered the critically endangered species in 1992, making the saola one of the last large mammals discovered on the planet, and one whose population may number in the few hundreds.

Even when Vietnamese scientists first identified the new species, it was only through skulls that villagers showed them in the isolated region of the Annamite Mountains where saola live, an area fit for fairytale creatures. Waterfalls festooned with vines and orchids tumble down steep slopes covered with evergreen rainforests, countless streams clatter over rocky beds, and palms as tall as a man crowd the steamy forest floor.

Adding to the allure and mystery of saola, any creatures taken alive die after just a few weeks in captivity.

Just last year, villagers in Laos captured a male saola. It was the first confirmed sighting of the species in a decade. But the creature died a few days later.

Long said scientists think there are three reasons behind the saola's bizarre and fatal reaction to captivity.

"When they're in captivity they seem to act extremely tame, and they're very open to having people come up to them and touch them," Long said, but explained that the docile behavior is actually a sign of extreme stress. "The animal is freaking out," he said.

In addition, the animals may be injured when captured and are likely fed things — rice, bananas, grass — that aren't part of their natural diet.

Accidental victim

Although saola don't appear to be targeted directly for hunting, they are inadvertent victims in snares set for other wild animals — the wild meat trade, including tiger meat, is big business in Vietnam's restaurants.

Conservation organizations and scientists from around the planet are working to design a method to better study and understand the rare creatures, Long said, and are urging authorities in the region to crack down on poaching.

Today's announcement establishes the fourth protected area in suspected saola range, and Vietnamese officials said the new park is intended to protect not only the Asian unicorn, but to save the other unique species that dwell there.

Long, who spent many years trudging through the Annamite Mountains' wet, tropical forests, said despite the discomfort, heat and dampness, the region is unrivaled in its biodiversity. "It really is an amazing place," he said.

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Tigers could reappear in Kazakhstan under new plan

WWF 14 Apr 11;

Tigers could roam again in Central Asia under a new plan by the Kazakhstan government to reintroduce them in part of the country where they went extinct decades ago.

WWF-Russia, together with the government and experts of the Republic of Kazakhstan announced today a new programme to return tigers to the region.

The plan seeks to relocate Amur tigers from the Russian Far East to suitable habitat in Kazakhstan near the delta of the Ili River, south of Balkhash Lake.

A recent study has shown the tigers from both the Caspian and Amur regions are genetically identical so the translocation of tigers between these areas is a suitable option. The tigers of the Caspian region, which includes Kazakhstan, went extinct because of poaching and habitat loss, but both these threats are now starting to be adequately addressed.

The Caspian or Turan tiger (panthera tigris virgata) was last recorded in the wild in the early 1970s, and there none in captivity, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) Red List.

In March 2011, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov underlined his interest in developing the tiger restoration programme in a meeting with WWF-Russia Director Igor Chestin and WWF Central Asia Programme Head Olga Pereladova.

"We have agreed that WWF and the Ministry of Environment in Kazakhstan will draw up a comprehensive programme to reintroduce the tiger in the area around Lake Balkhash", said Chestin. “With a strong plan and proper protections in place, tigers can again roam the forests and landscapes of Central Asia.”

Research done by Dr. Hartmut Jungius in 2010 showed the Ili River Basin has at least 400,000 hectares of suitable tiger habitat. A separate study has shown the Amur tiger is genetically identical to the Turan tiger.

The Turan tiger has traditionally been an important symbol of the culture of Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

“We congratulate the Kazakhstan government for taking this opportunity to help the tiger,” said Mike Baltzer, Head of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative. “Restoring tigers to Central Asia will require building both strong partnerships and a strong protection regime.”

On the heels of good news for tigers

The new initiative comes after an announcement last month by the Indian government that its tiger population had increased, based on a newly completed survey.

The announcement came during a follow-up meeting in India of governments participating in the International Tiger Conservation Forum, or Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia in November 2010 hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The Summit produced the groundbreaking Global Tiger Recovery Programme, an international plan joined by tiger range countries to save the big cat from extinction and double its numbers by 2022.

At the Summit, Prime Minister Putin expressed a willingness to assist Kazakhstan with a tiger reintroduction programme.

Numbering more than 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century, the tiger population today is estimated to be just 3,200, scattered across 13 countries in Asia and the Russian Far East. Tigers have been lost from more than 93 percent of their habitat during this decline, including the area in Kazakhstan where the reintroduction programme is to take place.

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Indonesia: saving mangroves, improving village economy

Elly Burhaini Faizal The Jakarta Post 14 Apr 11;

Wayan Sukitra, 47, recalls a time when degraded mangrove forests in his small fishing village in Jungut Batu in Nusa Lembongan, Bali, allowed seawater to inundate it in high tides. “Seawater could reach our houses and farming land each time the sea level rose,” said Sukitra.

Huge mangrove areas disappeared from Jungut Batu due to massive wood extraction. Villagers used to chop down mangrove trees to make fire for cooking and salt production, important to their economy.

However, coastal erosion caused by mangrove extraction might create new challenges for villagers since they lack dense mangrove forests that act as protective barriers against the ocean.

“Degraded mangrove forests may leave us unprotected against abrasion, ocean waves and even tsunamis,” said Sukitra, adding these forests were also fish habitats that villagers depended upon for their livelihoods.

Mangrove forests in Indonesia reach 3 million hectares or about 23 percent of total mangrove forests in the world, making them the largest share of mangroves on earth. Conserving wetlands, which include mangrove forests and tropical peatland swamps, has become an important issue in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) due to the fact it is much easier and more cost-effective to protect the wetlands.

“You have to keep in mind that wetlands can store carbon in their soil better than other forest types,” said Sebastian Persch, a researcher from the University of Göttingen, Germany.

Conserving mangrove forests became an essential issue in Jungut Batu from early 2000 when local people began interacting with conservation activists. Sukitra and other villagers, especially school students, then started replanting their degraded mangrove forests in his village.

Since 2005, the community group with its 42 members has developed a “mangrove seedlings bank” where at least 2,000 mangrove seedlings are being cultivated. Replanting mangroves rely on relentless efforts as only 10 percent of replanted mangroves will survive.

Jungut Batu villagers are now using gas stoves for daily activities such as cooking, instead of using mangrove tree branches. More villagers are now working as seaweed farmers. Producing salt gave them only Rp 50,000 (US$5.8) per daywhile working as seaweed farmers enables them to earn at least Rp 100,000 per day.

They are even exploring tourism potentials in their village. With his colleagues, Sukitra developed the “Mangrove Tour”, taking tourists around the mangrove forest with a canoe. A canoe can take four passengers at only Rp 70,000 per trip. There are 33 canoes available, all owned by the villagers.

“It’s good to see our people make livings without destroying the ecosystem,” said Sukitra.

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Substandard dam assessment opens way to fisheries destruction on Mekong

WWF 14 Apr 11;

Bangkok, Thailand: Disruptions to fish migration and food supplies for millions in the Mekong basin are likely if the first mainstream dam on the lower Mekong is allowed to go ahead, WWF predicted as it released expert analysis showing the dam feasibility study and environmental impact assessment failed to address key environmental risks.

The WWF commissioned review – coordinated by the WorldFish Centre with participation from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the proposed Xayaburi dam in Laos and assessment were woefully inadequate and fell well below international standards for such studies.

Xayaburi is the first of 11 dams proposed for the lower Mekong mainstem. Lower Mekong countries are scheduled to decide on whether the dam project can move ahead on April 22.

Ignored published studies

The review found that the EIA ignored published studies and relied heavily on “a very light field sampling” that captured “less than a third” of the biodiversity in the impact area.

Just five migratory species from a list compiled in 1994 were mentioned and just three of more than 28 studies of Mekong fish migration were referenced. In contrast, current studies show that 229 fish species exploit habitats upstream of the dam site for spawning or dry season refuges, with 70 classified as migratory.

The review finds the proposed fish passes for the dam ignore design guidelines, lack critical detail including any specification of target species and have a slope and steps which would be challenging even for salmon – not a Mekong species.

Among the species threatened is the Mekong’s famed giant catfish with only known spawning areas in the upper Mekong between Chiang Rai province (Thailand) and Bokeo (Laos). While the Mekong Giant Catfish is symbolic and culturally important, smaller fish like the Pa Soi are important food sources for villagers in the Mekong River.

"How can you devise mitigation measures for fish passage without addressing the biology and the needs of target species, which in this case range from a small Siamese Mud Carp or Pa Soi to a 3 metre long giant catfish," said Dr Jian-hua Meng, WWF International Sustainable Hydropower Specialist.

“Fish ladders of the design proposed have had some success in Europe and North America, but this

is where only a handful of species are migratory, and many of those are of the salmon family, that are much stronger swimmers and jumpers than most Mekong migratory species.”

Repeating mistakes of Pak Mun Dam

The review noted other studies that concluded that fish passes are not a realistic mitigation option for Mekong mainstream dams, and “that the Mekong should never be used as a test case” for proving or improving fish passages technologies.

WWF fears a much larger scale repeat of the environmental damage of the dam on the Mun River in Thailand, a key Mekong tributary. After similar bland assurances of only low level impacts on fisheries prior to construction, the first d ecade of the dam’s operation saw damaging impacts on 85 per cent of fish species present before the dam’s construction, with 56 species disappearing entirely and reduced catches for a further 169 species, according to a World Commission on Dams study.

Consultations on the Xayaburi dam have so far had to proceed in the absence of much detail on the project, with the abbreviated Feasibility Study dated 2008 but made available only in February this year which was prepared by Thai group TEAM Consulting and Swiss company AF-Colenco and the final EIA by TEAM completed in August 2010 but made available only in March 2011.

WWF was unsuccessful in attempts to brief the consultants on the risks posed by the project.

WWF supports a 10-year delay in the approval of lower Mekong mainstream dams, including the Xayaburi hydropower dam, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of all the impacts of their construction and operation, while immediate needs are met with less challenging projects applying state of the art sustainable hydropower solutions are fast tracked on selected tributaries.

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Military Debris Threaten Oceans

Malini Shankar IPS News 14 Apr 11;

BANGALORE, Apr 14, 2011 (IPS) - Military debris dumped into the world’s oceans are hazardous to coral ecosystems, reefs, fish and marine wildlife, say experts, who also warn - in light of the recent tragedy in Japan - that earthquakes and tsunamis could disturb this debris and even wash it ashore.

"The tsunami from the Japan earthquake increased the likelihood of sea dumped conventional and chemical weapons washing ashore as they rest at a shallow depth of 200 metres in Choshi Bay of Chiba Prefecture in Japan," said Ryo Sato, marine researcher at Global Green, the U.S. affiliate of the NGO Green Cross International.

The Baltic Sea, North Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Pacific Ocean are hotspots.

In the Philippines "Coron, Subic Bay and Leyte Gulf have the highest density of planes and ships sunk during the Second World War, and numerous shipwrecks and airplanes litter the seafloor in the reefs," according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Philippines.

"The U.S. Army dumped over 8,000 tonnes of chemical weapons off Hawaii," said Paul Walker, director of Global Green, at the recently concluded Fifth U.N. International Marine Debris Clearance conference in Hawaii. Around 300,000 tonnes of chemical warfare agents were dumped in oceans from 1946 to 1965. Upwards of 400,000 gas filled-bombs and rockets float in U.S. waters. 40,000 tonnes of Conventional Weapons (CW) are in the Baltic Sea. 21,000 tonnes of CW agents float in Australian waters, and more than 6,600 tonnes off the coast of Japan.

"Marine debris... adversely impacts marine life, destroys habitat and entangles food for marine organisms and seabirds," says Finn Longinotto, senior programme fellow at Global Green.

France conducted 137 undersea nuclear tests between 1975 and 1996 in French Polynesia creating an artificial crater 140 metres in diameter - disturbing one million cubic metres of coral and sand. The explosions injected nuclear material into the carbonate rocks that will be released gradually into the ocean. Earthquakes and undersea landslides will intensify release of the radioactive material, affecting seafood, ocean currents, and rain bearing clouds around the whole planet in the long term.

Residual nuclear material is negligible according to a study initiated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the behest of the France in 1998.

According to a study undertaken by the University of Florida, missiles, torpedoes, and submarines emit sonar waves leaving cetaceans like dolphins, dugongs and whales hearing impaired - affecting their hunting ability, group communication, migration patterns, and mating behaviour.

India’s armed forces have also destroyed fragile marine habitat and coral ecosystems. In the Bay of Bengal, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) conducts missile tests in the middle of a turtle-nesting site within the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary.

"DRDO is not supposed to carry out missile testing during the turtle nesting season. However, they flout this rule despite regular forest department objections," charges Biswajit Mohanty, of the Wildlife Society of Orissa.

"In one recent incident, the missile misfired, resulting in the destruction of the turtle nesting habitat in Nasi Island inside the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary - a breeding ground for olive ridley turtles. The vibration coming from missile launches being almost equal to seismic intensity can have an impact on the fragile eggs, we still don’t know scientifically what happens as an impact on the eggs," Mohanty told IPS. "The DRDO is insensitive that the state’s unique natural heritage - olive ridley turtles - might abandon the nesting grounds if the missile activity disturbs them."

The DRDO "have not disclosed the nature of debris littered in the sea," Mohanty added.

The government response: "DRDO takes due care to avoid any adverse effect on eco-system while planning and conducting missile tests from DRDO ranges. The launching pad has been designed in such a manner that it does not affect the fauna and flora of that area or cause any adverse effect on the environment."

"The flares emanating from missile launch heat the habitat, and disorient the turtles and hatchlings especially when they head to the sea," says a concerned Mohanty.

The DRDO however told IPS that, "All illuminated lights are placed in inverted position with shades and flames coming out of missiles lasting less than a minute, which do not affect the nesting of olive ridley turtles."

The Indian Navy has also chosen the coral island of Netrani on India’s west coast for "target practice," V. N. Nayak, marine biologist at the post graduate centre of Karnatak University in Karwar told IPS. "Netrani Island is home to diverse fauna, enlisted both in the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] Red Data List and the Indian Wildlife Protection Act’s Schedule One."

Naval exercises are a dire threat to the ecosystem, Nayak said. The large number of bullets, bombs, missiles and torpedoes fired at the endemic wildlife of the island and the seas cause mass mortality of fish and corals in this ecosystem. "Target practice on endangered wildlife is irresponsible," he stressed. "Netrani Island is located under the Coastal Regulatory Zone 4 and fishing zone."

Netrani Island’s fauna includes the white bellied sea eagle, corals, coral fish, whale shark, tiger shark, giant groupers, giant clam, dolphins, sea snakes, crustaceans, reef sharks, stingrays, squid, sea cucumbers olive ridley turtles, jelly fish, sea urchins, killer whales and edible nest swiftlets. The island is the only place outside of the Andaman Nicobar Islands where edible nest swiftlets live.

"Naval firing practices are periodically conducted on a 16-metre barren rock, located close to Netrani Island," the Indian Navy told IPS. "Such firing practices have been conducted for the last six decades." With chances of an outbreak of hostilities stemming from the terrorist attacks in Mumbai "the necessity for the Indian Armed Forces to remain combat-ready... at all times can hardly be over-emphasised. It is precisely this realisation that has already led the Karnataka Biodiversity Board to drop the proposal to consider Netrani Island a Biodiversity Park."

"Who is the enemy for the Indian Navy to bombard unarmed wildlife?" asks K. S. N. Cikkerur, the additional director general of the police forest cell of Karnataka, in Bangalore. Is the enemy the rare "Schedule One species listed in the Wildlife Protection Act?" Cikkerur wonders.

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'Red' sky worries Iran as sandstorms wreak havoc

Yahoo News 14 Apr 11;

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iranians are worried by crippling air pollution as "unprecedented" sandstorms mostly originating from neighbouring Iraq hit 20 provinces, forcing the shutdown of schools and government offices.

The blinding sandstorms hit western, central and southern provinces on Wednesday due to winds blowing at high speed, considerably reducing visibility to as low as 50 metres (yards) in some cities.

"Unprecedented sandstorms which entered from west are the most violent storms that have ever reached Iran," said Touraj Hemmati, a top environmental official in the southwestern Khuzestan province which borders Iraq.

Arman newspaper said "small Arabian sands... marked a red situation across the country's sky."

The Kayhan daily said "yellow sand rained in Khuzestan," where the rate of air pollution reached 70 times the permitted amount. It said 123 people were hospitalised in the nearby province of Ilam, also bordering Iraq.

Authorities in six western provinces, including Khuzestan and Ilam, were forced to suspend school and university activities and shut down government offices, Tehran Emrouz daily reported.

Air traffic was partially affected in the country, with incoming flights and departures cancelled in some western cities, according to Hamshahri newspaper.

State air pollution chief Amir Jamali announced on Wednesday that Iran was hit by sandstorms three times more frequently in the first Iranian month of Farvardin, from March 21 to April 20, compared to the same period last year.

"We have witnessed dust storms thrice... Drought that we experienced (last year) has intensified this phenomenon," Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

Iranian media blamed most of the sandstorms on countries west of the Islamic republic, particularly Iraq which is hit by desertification and deforestation due to a decline in the flow of water disrupted by construction of dams as well as a disappearing agriculture industry.

Arman reported that 23 lawmakers, in a letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, demanded the government "resolve the problems caused by the sandstorms in western and southern provinces."

The weather phenomenon continued Thursday with less intensity in the western provinces, as adverse winds blew further into the central parts of the country. Authorities expect the sandstorms to continue until later in the evening.

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