Best of our wild blogs: 16 Apr 11

No Fishing please @ Kranji Nature Trail
from sgbeachbum

A cuckoo chick in a Golden-bellied Gerygone’s nest
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Gen Y in Singapore and environmental issues
from wild shores of singapore

World Atlas of Mangroves: A Book Review
from Blue Carbon Blog

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Banded leaf monkey: From a Facebook picture to a rare discovery

Esther Ng Today Online 16 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE - A picture on Facebook was all a group of National University of Singapore (NUS) students had as they began efforts to find the carcass belonging to a rare species of monkey.

The photograph was of a banded leaf monkey - there are only about 40 of these animals here - which had apparently been killed in a road accident. The students were alerted to the photograph by their lecturer and locating the carcass would have enable them to retrieve its DNA for research.

After initial attempts to get a cleaning services contractor to find the carcass turned up short, Ms Andie Ang, 26, and five other graduate students rushed at night to the accident site along Upper Thomson Road.

They combed the area, using the light from their mobile phones. But, alas, the carcass could not be found. Said Ms Ang: "Motorists must have been wondering what we were doing - walking up and down the road with our mobile phones. We could have done more with a carcass ... taken measurements, examined its bones. So, we did the next best thing - look for blood."

After an hour of searching, a team member spotted a scratch on the road similar to the one in the photograph posted online.

Ms Amrita Srivathsan, 22, a member of the team, said: "As we were digging, a pebble came loose and we found some liquid blood underneath."

The challenge, however, was retrieving the DNA from the sample.

Said Ms Ang: "As the blood was two to three days old, it could have degraded or have been contaminated by bacteria or the weather. Moreover, whole blood contains only a tiny amount of DNA, let alone impure samples of blood." But after two weeks of numerous trials in the lab, they finally succeeded.

The recovery yielded important genetic markers which the team will use to compare with other DNA obtained from faecal samples.

For instance, a low genetic variation indicates a high degree of in-breeding, thus an increased probability of extinction.

Lauding the students' efforts, Nature Society Singapore president Shawn Lum said such DNA studies should be extended to all animal and plant species here, as it would go towards restoring the "viability and sustainability" of Singapore's biodiversity.

"It's a miracle we found a usable blood sample," Ms Ang said.

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Untrained animal catchers a cause for concern

Tanya Fong Today Online 16 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE - To round up stray dogs, for which the authorities pay S$250 for each captured, one dog catcher uses unconventional tools like fishing lines and hooks, which indirectly led to the death of a stray dog.

Such methods employed by some independent dog catchers have become a cause for concern for animal welfare groups, who are calling for animal capture to be done more humanely.

MediaCorp understands that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) pays external dog catchers - both independents and pest control companies - to capture strays. However, according to the AVA, "there are no structured training programmes for dog catchers".

External dog catchers have to comply with AVA's guidelines for capture, handling and transport of animals and the use of animal traps, said an AVA spokesperson.

In the case of the dog catcher, Mr Francis Lee, he has been fined by the AVA for his role in the death of the dog, which died from strangulation after being caught in a noose trap, after it fell into a drain next to the trap.

Mr Lee had been engaged "with the knowledge that he was an experienced animal handler based on his many years of work in animal transportation", said the AVA.

However, several stray dog feeders reported seeing Mr Lee in the Punggol and Serangoon North Industrial Park areas catching stray dogs using mattress spring coils.

Since November, they have been disseminating alerts on their personal Facebook page with photographs of his van.

The AVA impounds about 1,800 dogs annually, of which about 95 per cent are put down via lethal injection.

It culls strays to control the stray dog population and prevent diseases such as rabies.

The issue of how strays are handled also surfaced last month when a town council alerted the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) that a sterilised cat had been caught by mistake. When CWS found the cat, it found it had been kept in a cage wrapped in a garbage bag, without food.

Said CWS vice-president Veron Lau: "It puts into question the whole process of trapping, transporting and holding strays for which the pest control industry plays a big part.

"The animal welfare organisations are happy to conduct training in animal trapping but no pest control companies have come forward."

Both the CWS and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have also published guidelines on animal capture.

The general manager of Star Pest Control, Mr Bernard Chan, said that formal training is difficult because the job involves dealing with the unpredictable but combative nature of the animals during capture.

"We must be trained because the animals have been out in the wild and we have to protect ourselves as much as we try to be humane to the animals, said Mr Chan, whose firm has been contracted by the AVA to capture dogs.

While it may be difficult to conduct training, "we can, however, have guidelines and use conventional methods", he said. Tanya Fong

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Singapore's Heritage Roads: Green with history

Mature trees, some about 80 years old, line Singapore's Heritage Roads
tay suan chiang Straits Times Life 16 Apr 11;

Arcadia, in the European Renaissance tradition, is an idyllic, wild paradise.

A recent bid to save an ageing condominium here of the same name highlights the possibility of paradise lost. But the case also makes it timely to revisit the decade-long Heritage Roads scheme and how to get more out of it.

Last week, the 33-year-old Arcadia condominium off Adam Road was in the news after its residents' application to extend its lease was rejected by the Singapore Land Authority.

The residents plan to appeal. If they succeed, on environmental and heritage grounds, it will be a first in local history.

Indeed, their estate is literally surrounded by green heritage. It is in Arcadia Road, a 1km-long stretch that is one of five designated Heritage Roads in Singapore (see map).

The scheme was initiated by the National Parks Board (NParks) in 2001 to conserve some of the more scenic and significant tree-lined roads in Singapore.

Trees along such roads cannot be felled and no development is allowed within a 10m-wide buffer. Existing private landowners are exempt from this requirement but subsequent new owners are not.

The other four are Mount Pleasant Road, Mandai Road, South Buona Vista Road and Lim Chu Kang Road. All five roads were picked from a list of 55 drawn up by NParks.

Drive along each of this quintet of avenues, under the lush canopies, and you cannot help but feel serene.

Some of the trees found on these stretches include mature raintrees along Arcadia and Mandai Roads, a 30m-tall Burmese Banyan tree in Mount Pleasant Road, Broad Leaf Mahogany trees along Lim Chu Kang Road and Silver Backs and rubber trees along South Buona Vista Road.

Those with a keen eye will spot monkeys and squirrels darting among them.

Mr Goh Si Guim, an executive committee member at the Nature Society Singapore, says birds such as Pink-necked Pigeons, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and the Common Iora can be spotted in these areas.

'Look out for rustling in the leaves and listen for their melodious calls,' he says, adding that the birds are most active from sunrise to 10am.

Freelance magazine writer Nasreen Ramnath, who lives in the condominium Hillcrest Arcadia, also in Arcadia Road, often jogs along that road.

'The trees form a beautiful canopy and I'm proud to live on a Heritage Road,' she says. In her four years as a resident there, she has seen squirrels and kingfisher birds.

Arcadia and South Buona Vista Roads are easiest to walk on as there are pavements on the side. Mr Goh recommends taking along binoculars if bird-watching.

Cars and lorries tend to whizz by on Mandai, Lim Chu Kang and Mount Pleasant Roads, which do not make them safe for walking.

NParks manager Joey Gan says the best way to enjoy the charm of these Heritage Roads is by car. 'You feel like you're driving along a green wall.'

He also recommends going to the roads on weekends, when there is less traffic.


Starts from Upper Seletar Reservoir carpark and ends at the junction with Mandai Avenue

Rows of mature raintrees flank this 1km stretch. Stop by the carpark to enjoy a view of Upper Seletar Reservoir on one side and the lush greenery of a secondary forest on the opposite.


Starts from the junction with Ama Keng Road, and ends at the junction with Sungei Gedong Road

This 1.8km-stretch of Lim Chu Kang Road has been gazetted as a Heritage Road to retain the lush vegetation and the kampung ambience of bygone days.

True enough, with no houses on either side, the road makes you feel as if you have entered a forest.

Rows of Broad Leaf Mahogany trees, one of Singapore's 10 most common trees, line the road. These mature trees are easily identified by their peeling bark.


Starts from the junction with Denham Road and ends at the Pan Island Expressway slip road

This 1.3km road curves its way through the hill that gives it its name. Among the plants here are mature saga trees, fish tail palms and old rubber trees.

There is also a 30m-tall Burmese Banyan tree, which is likely to be more than 80 years old. Located by the side of 162 Mount Pleasant Road, it is hard to miss.

Dotting the road are black-and-white houses. Built for Police Force officers and their families in colonial times, these are now managed by serviced residence provider The Ascott.


Starts from the junction with Stockport Road, and ends at the junction with Vigilante Drive

This 1km-long road is also known by a Hokkien nickname meaning '99 turns' because of its many curves.

The trees found here include Silver Backs, Acacia, Penaga Laut and Kelat Nenasi.

Spot the seeds from rubber trees on the ground - they have a marbled look, similar to quails' eggs.

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More support the heritage causes; S$8.1 million in contributions raised last year

Today Online 16 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE - More people and corporations are coming forward to support heritage-related causes, with first-time donors making up more than half of the supporters last year, said the National Heritage Board (NHB).

NHB, which feted 24 corporations and 17 individuals at the Patron of Heritage Awards 2010 ceremony at the National Museum of Singapore on Friday evening, also said patrons of cultural philanthropy made contributions worth more than S$8 million in 2010, in the form of cash, materials and long-term loans.

And with these contributions, NHB was able to launch programmes which attracted 2.7m museum visitors, and engage 8.8m others through outreach activities.

At the ceremony attended by Mr Lui Tuck Yew, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, about half were first-time recipients - a significant increase from the 38 per cent in 2009.

New recipients include Madam Yeo Yang Kwee, who donated works by her late husband, Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Ek Kay, as well as artist-donors Chia Wai Hon and Tan Oe Pang.

Their gifts will contribute to the collection of The National Art Gallery when it opens in 2013.

New corporate donors, on the other hand, such as Bloomberg and Maybank, gave their support to exhibitions and activities in the Singapore Art Museum and National Museum of Singapore.

The number of individuals who gave to heritage since the Patron of Heritage Awards was introduced in 2006 has been steadily increasing - the proportion of individual donors had risen to 41 per cent of the total last year, from 25 per cent in 2009.

Michael Koh, chief executive officer of NHB, said these patrons showed everyone how vital heritage was to people's lives, and hoped that their generosity would motivate others to do the same.

To be eligible for the Patron of Heritage Awards, organisations or individuals must have contributed artefacts, artworks or archival materials to the collection of any museum or heritage institution here; contributed to the building and development of museums and heritage institutions here; or contributed to publications and scholarships related to heritage during the qualifying period.

Heritage continues to attract new patrons
Channel NewsAsia 15 Apr 11;

SINGAPORE: More people and corporations are coming forward to support heritage-related causes, with first-time donors making up more than half of the supporters of such causes last year, said the National Heritage Board.

It also said patrons of cultural philanthropy have made contributions worth more than S$8 million.

These include cash, materials and long-term loans.

The NHB said the contributions helped the board to launch several cultural and heritage programmes.

The programmes attracted 2.7 million museum visitors, and engaged 8.8 million others through outreach activities.

For their contributions to heritage, NHB recognized 24 corporations and 17 individuals at the Patron of Heritage Awards 2010 ceremony Friday.

The NHB said over 50 per cent of the patrons are first-time recipients.

They include eight corporations and 14 individuals.

This is a significant increase from 38 per cent in 2009.

New recipients include Mdm Yeo Yang Kwee, who donated works by her late husband Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Ek Kay, as well as artist-donors Mr Chia Wai Hon and Mr Tan Oe Pang.

Their invaluable gifts of art will contribute to the collection of The National Art Gallery when it opens in 2013.

Considerable help also came from new corporate donors such as Bloomberg and Maybank which supported exhibitions and activities in the Singapore Art Museum and National Museum of Singapore.

The NHB says there has also been a steady increase in the number of individuals who give to heritage since the Patron of Heritage Awards was introduced in 2006.

In 2009, individual patrons made up 25 per cent of the total number of patrons.

Last year, this had risen to a significant 41 per cent.

Mr Michael Koh, CEO of NHB, said the patrons are beacons who lead the way in showing everyone how vital heritage is to people's lives.

He expressed the hope that their generosity will motivate others to do the same.

The event held at the National Museum was graced by Mr Lui Tuck Yew, the Information, Communications and the Arts Minister.

- CNA/cc

Singapore honours 41 heritage heroes
More than half are first-time patrons
Deepika Shetty Straits Times 16 Apr 11;

CASH sponsorships, donations in kind and long-term loans to Singapore's museums last year fell to $8.1 million, compared with $11 million in 2009 and $95 million in 2008. But more than half of the patrons last year stepped forward for the first time to give to heritage.

Last night, Singapore's heritage heroes - individuals, corporations and organisations that have donated generously in cash and kind to help the arts thrive - were recognised at an event held at the National Museum.

The cultural philanthropists, comprising 17 individuals and 24 corporations, were honoured at the Patron of Heritage Awards ceremony organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

From a rich collection of kebayas, some dating back to the 18th century, to an artist's rarely seen work - the Singapore museum-goer's experience was enhanced by such gifts and donations.

Mr Lui Tuck Yew, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, handed out the awards at the annual event, now in its fifth year.

In his speech, he mentioned the vision the Arts and Culture Strategic Review Steering Committee has for Singapore in 2025.

'In this vision, arts and culture is an integral and enriching part of every Singaporean,' he said.

To realise this vision, he said the NHB needs continued support to grow the national collections and deepen its engagement with the audience.

There were no recipients this year for the two highest awards - the Distinguished Patron of Heritage and the Patron of Heritage.

Among the individuals who donated prized family heirlooms as well as rare and precious gifts to the museums were Mr and Mrs Lee Kip Lee.

The prominent Peranakan couple were honoured with the Partner of Heritage Award for donating part of their prized collection of 425 garments, including kebayas and bajus. Some of these are on display at an ongoing exhibition titled Sarong Kebaya: Peranakan Fashion And Its International Sources at the Peranakan Museum.

The family of late artist Arthur Yap was honoured with the same award for donating 25 of his works to the National Art Gallery, as was BreadTalk chairman George Quek, who donated 20 works by established Singapore ink artist Tan Oe Pang.

New donors included Madam Yeo Yang Kwee, who gave 13 works by her late husband, Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Ek Kay. She said that before his death, he had expressed a desire to donate some of his works to Singapore's national collection.

'But it was not an easy decision,' she said. 'I struggled for some time emotionally, as after his death, I drew much comfort from looking at his paintings, feeling that he is still with us. It is a little contribution and I hope it will encourage and inspire others.'

Mr Chia Wai Hon and Mr Tan Oe Pang were among the artist-donors. Their gifts were to the National Art Gallery.

These patrons' contributions enabled the board to present cultural and heritage programmes that attracted 2.7 million museum visitors and engaged 8.8 million others through outreach activities.

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) received the Partner of Heritage Award for its consistent support in the conservation of the nation's heritage. Last year, it supported the Heritage Gala and museums through extensive coverage in its various media outlets.

Ms Ginney Lim, SPH's general counsel and executive vice-president of corporate communications, said: 'As the nation's leading media company with a rich heritage of over 165 years, we recognise the importance of heritage preservation. We are honoured to be a Partner of Heritage once again.' SPH has received the award every year since 2007.

Emphasising the importance of these benefactors, NHB chief executive Michael Koh said: 'Patrons play an extremely important role in cultural philanthropy. Their support allows us to go beyond our normal activities. We hope their generosity will motivate others to do the same.'

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Asean, Africa tie up to fight wildlife trafficking

Closer cooperation results in nine seizures of contraband, including record haul of ivory
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 16 Apr 11;

BANGKOK: Newly forged cooperation between Asean and African countries has given a boost to the authorities battling wildlife trafficking through Bangkok, a notorious hub for the illegal trade.

And in Asean, networks set up to combat the trade, while initially slow, are now gaining traction and beginning to show results.

A meeting in Bangkok last November between enforcers from the seven-nation Lusaka Agreement - headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya - and the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network (Asean-Wen) led to closer engagement and exchanges of intelligence.

That produced almost immediate dividends in Thailand, with a string of nine seizures of contraband, mainly ivory, from Africa. These included more than a tonne of ivory and rhino horns in February, and another two tonnes of ivory last month - the biggest shipment to be intercepted in Thailand.

Nairobi is a major gateway for illegal wildlife products shipped out of Africa, and Bangkok is a major gateway to markets in this region, including China and Japan, where ivory carvings and hanko seals, respectively, are still popular.

The 118 tusks and 50 cut pieces of ivory seized in February had travelled from Nigeria's capital Lagos, via Doha in Qatar and Kuala Lumpur, in containers marked 'craft works' destined for an address in Pathum Thani, Thailand.

Last month's shipment came from Nairobi - 247 tusks cut from at least 123 dead elephants, hidden in a consignment of frozen mackerel.

The spate of seizures highlights the value of information sharing and coordination, say wildlife trade experts. Sharing information and coordinating crackdowns have always produced good results in the battle against the trade, valued at between US$15 billion (S$18.7 billion) and US$20 billion annually. The biggest markets are the European Union, the United States and China.

In late 2009, an operation across six African countries led to the seizure of 1,086kg of ivory and the arrest of dozens of suspected illegal wildlife dealers, including 65 in Kenya alone.

The new relationship between enforcers in Africa and those in Thailand is putting a dent in the profits of traders, said Mr Steve Galster, the executive director of conservation group Freeland Foundation who has worked on wildlife in Thailand and the region for 10 years.

'Seizures are the beginnings of an investigation, not the end of it. What's new is (Thai enforcers) are going after and getting bigger shipments, and moving up the ladder to making arrests of importers and exporters,' he said. 'Stocks of old African and Asian ivory have dried up, but demand has not gone down. So the shipments are still coming and the price mark-up is very high, but the traffickers are starting to lose money now.'

Last month's seizures led directly to Thai enforcers raiding two illegal carving workshops in the Thai province of Nakhon Sawan, where they found 3kg of hippopotamus teeth and walrus tusks, as well as African elephant tusks. Two Thais were arrested.

Thai enforcers and investigators had been 'impressed' and motivated by their African counterparts' commitment last November, Mr Galster said.

The new alliance is due to be further cemented with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Lusaka Agreement and Asean-Wen, said Mr Bonaventure Ebayi, who heads the African network. 'We are sharing a lot more information than before,' he said over the phone. 'We expect our cooperation with Asean-Wen to be further enhanced once the MOU is agreed on.'

Meanwhile, in Thailand this week, the Freeland Foundation, with the help of US$8 million in funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAid), will now act as the focal agency for the closer cooperation among Asian wildlife enforcers, starting with building links between Asean-Wen and its counterparts in China and South Asia.

A statement from USAid on April 7 said: 'If the current illegal activity continues, over 40 per cent of South-east Asia's animal and plant species could disappear this century. Asean-Wen is now a model for collaborative wildlife enforcement networking, which other regions need to replicate.'

Freeland will act as 'middleman and facilitator' to help 'turn information into intelligence' and enable mid-level enforcers to engage more with their high-level officials and political bosses.

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Malaysia's Bakun dam: white elephant or growth engine?

Niki Koswanage and Min Hun Fong Reuters 15 Apr 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 (Reuters) - The outcome of elections in Malaysia's key state of Sarawak on Friday could determine how soon the country's long-delayed Bakun hydroelectric dam starts generating power and fuelling economic growth.

A strong win for Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition could provide him with a fresh impetus to execute economic reforms, including the dam which has been delayed following almost two decades of controversy over its environmental impact, cost overruns and allegations of displacement of indigenous communities.

Following are some key facts on the dam:

* Bakun, one of the world's tallest dams, seals off the Batang Balui river in Sarawak on Borneo island. Once filled, it will cover 70,000 hectares of primary and secondary forests, roughly the size of Singapore.

* Construction costs have doubled to at least $2.6 billion from initial estimates, making it the fourth most expensive building job in Malaysian history.

* The 2,400-MW Bakun dam, owned by the state government, was meant to supply power to peninsular Malaysia via an undersea cable but the plan was scrapped as costs were prohibitive and would drag on future earnings for state-run energy firm Tenaga Nasional .

* The dam is now intended to drive a 30-year development project to attract power-intensive industries to Sarawak and boost its GDP to 118 billion Malaysian ringgit ($39 billion) in 2030 from 93.4 billion ringgit in 2010.

* The government has made three attempts to build the dam. The idea was conceived in the 1970s but the plan encountered setbacks during an economic slowdown in 1985-87 and the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98.

* Parts of the dam collapsed more than 20 times in the second construction attempt, which local media attributed to the wrath of restive local spirits. The contractors reportedly slaughtered six pigs and buillt a shrine to appease the spirits.

* More than 10,000 indigenous people were relocated from the catchment areas to a nearby town of wooden shacks to accommodate construction of the dam. Tribal leaders say the government allocated inferior agricultural land to the communities and gave little compensation, charges which the authorities have denied.


Bakun dam coming onstream will bring Rio Tinto a step closer to building a $2 billion aluminium smelter in Sarawak with local firm Cahya Mata Sarawak . China's main power grid operator also plans to invest $8 billion in an aluminium smelter and two dams in the state.

It could also give fresh impetus for Australian manganese producer OMH Holdings , chemical maker Tokuyama Corp and China's top aluminium group Chinalco to commit to their announced investments in Sarawak.

Bakun will be able to harness one of its eight turbines to commercially generate 330 MW of electricity by July and help power an existing 60,000 tonne per annum aluminium smelter owned by Malaysia's Press Metal .


Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud has said Bakun will be a joint-venture between the state and federal governments, but there has been a disagreement over power tariffs.

The federal government had wanted to sell electricity to the state's power firm Sarawak Energy for 0.09 ringgit per kilowatt-hour (KwH) over 30 years.

Sarawak Energy wanted to settle at 0.05 ringgit to 0.07 ringgit per KwH to secure investments from smelters for whom energy accounts for a third of costs.

Sarawak's request for lower tariffs was based on the view that power uptake will be slow and the federal government needs to subsidise power costs to support economic growth in the state, a key vote bank for Prime Minister Najib Razak.


If Najib's ruling coalition keeps its two-thirds majority in Sarawak, he can push through economic reforms and the federal government may stick to its high power tariff proposal in order to lower debts and prevent more subsidy payments.

If the ruling bloc loses more seats to the opposition and ends up with a simple majority in the state, Najib has to rebuild support by agreeing to subsidise power tariffs. ($1 = 3.02 Ringgit) (Editing by Liau Y-Sing and Sugita Katyal)

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Former Cambodian poacher turns gamekeeper

Suy Se Yahoo News 14 Apr 11;

MONDULKIRI, Cambodia (AFP) – As a hunter roaming the remote forests of eastern Cambodia, Lean Kha shot animals from dozens of endangered species, including tigers, bears and elephants.

But the repentant former poacher is now putting his tracking skills to good use as a wildlife ranger in Mondulkiri Protected Forest, which Cambodia hopes will become an eco-tourism hotspot.

Over nearly three decades, the 50-year-old shot hundreds of creatures as he tried to eke out a living in poverty-stricken Mondulkiri province, a sparsely populated and mountainous area nestled against the border with Vietnam.

Most of the carcasses were sold, though some wild cattle, deer and pigs were used to feed his family.

"I shot them because we had nothing to eat," Kha said as he prepared for a patrol at a ranger outpost in Mereuch, deep inside the protected forest. "Now I never eat wildlife. I will not destroy what I am protecting."

The Cambodian government hopes to attract more visitors to the forest, which covers some 300,000 hectares and is rich in natural beauty, to help provide a steady income for local communities.

It has joined forces with conservation groups who have recruited experienced hunters like Kha to help protect endangered animals and keep illegal loggers at bay.

Keo Sopheak, who manages Mondulkiri Protected Forest for the government's Forestry Administration, envisages a future where locals "go into the forests to guide the tourists, not to hunt wildlife".

Much of Mondulkiri's wildlife was wiped out by poachers during the country's three decades of conflict, which ended in 1998.

Kha himself started hunting at the age of 13, when he was recruited by Khmer Rouge soldiers.

Armed with an AK-47 rifle, he recalls disappearing into the jungle for days before returning with an ox-cart full of wild meat, horns and tiger bones -- kills he now says he regrets.

"At that time I was totally ignorant," he said. "I didn't know the value of the animals. I had never heard about wildlife conservation."

Nor did poaching make him rich. The income was irregular and he earned just enough for his family to get by. Often, he was paid with bags of rice.

After being approached by wildlife conservationists who offered him a steady salary as a forest ranger, Kha decided he had more to gain from safeguarding animals.

That was more than a decade ago, and he is now a keen protector of wildlife as he tries to make up for what he calls "his past sins".

Kha is not alone -- 10 other ex-poachers also work as rangers in the dense forest.

With financial backing from international conservation group WWF, they spend at least 16 days a month patrolling the vast area on elephant back, on foot or by boat, always in the company of armed policemen.

Last year, the patrol teams arrested eight poachers caught with rare or endangered species.

"Nowadays, I feel very happy. All of us want to... preserve rare wildlife so that they will survive for the next generation," Kha said as he steered a small boat along the murky Sre Pok river, on the lookout for illegal poaching or logging activities.

Their efforts appear to be paying off, with increased sightings reported of Asian elephants, black bears, Eld's deer, leopards, rare vulture species and banteng, a type of wild cattle.

"Protection efforts by both government agencies and community rangers like Lean Kha have helped to deter people from hunting wildlife which has seen a rise in animal observations," said WWF programme manager Michelle Owen.

But the organisation warns more work needs to be done to stamp out poaching, with at least 11 rare and endangered animals known to have been killed in the forest in 2010, including a pygmy loris, a leopard and an Asian elephant.

"Although there are positive signs that wildlife is rebounding, many of the species are globally at risk. These efforts therefore need to be continued and supported by local communities and champions such as Lean Kha," Owen said.

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Japan objects to Sea Shepherd protection for Palau

Yahoo News 14 Apr 11;

KOROR (AFP) – The Palau government said Friday it was reconsidering its agreement to have the conservation group Sea Shepherd patrol its waters after receiving a counter offer from Japan.

President Johnson Toribiong did not identify who was in the Japanese delegation but said they were of "ministerial level" and they described the conservation group as "terrorists".

He said the Japanese had offered to send their own patrol vessel, adding: "I am weighing things now. I want to make sure I get potential diplomatic issues resolved."

The US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has regularly clashed with Japanese whalers and this year forced them to cut short their annual Antarctic hunt.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed in Palau last month authorised Sea Shepherd to patrol the Palau marine area designated as the world's first shark sanctuary.

Under the deal, "Sea Shepherd will, at its sole expense, send a vessel to patrol Palau's territorial waters against illegal fishing activity", the conservation group said on its website.

Toribiong said although an agreement had been signed, it was not final until reviewed by the Attorney General's Office.

In 2009, Palau declared the world's first shark sanctuary, banning shark fishing in its exclusive economic zone, which covers almost 630,000 square kilometres (240,000 square miles) of the northern Pacific.

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Want to save fuel? Fly a kite, German inventor says

Francis Curta Yahoo News 15 Apr 11;

THE NORTH SEA, Germany (AFP) – The blue-hulled vessel would slip by unnoticed on most seas if not for the white kite, high above her prow, towing her to what its creators hope will be a bright, wind-efficient future.

The enormous kite, which looks like a paraglider, works in tandem with the ship's engines, cutting back on fuel consumption, costs, and carbon footprint.

"Using kites you can harness more energy than with any other type of wind-powered equipment," said German inventor Stephan Wrage, whose company SkySails is looking for lift-off on the back of worldwide efforts to boost renewable energy.

The 160-square-metre (524-square-foot) kite, tethered to a yellow rope, can sail 500 metres into the skies where winds are both stronger and more stable, according to the 38-year-old Wrage.

The secret to the kite's efficiency lies in its speed and computer-controlled flight pattern.

The idea is for the kite to describe figures of eight, which increases airspeed, said Wrage, who has been working on the new technology for 10 years and who still enjoys flying kites on the beach for fun.

"If you double the airspeed you multiply the energy by four. That's the secret of the system," he added.

A new 320-square-metre kite, recently produced, "has a towing force of 32 tonnes which is more than what two engines on an A320 Airbus (aircraft) can produce. So we're not talking toys," he said.

The kite towing the 87-metre-long ship Theseus would produce a maximum of 16 tonnes of thrust in perfect wind conditions.

Retailing at half a million and one million euros (715,000 to 1.3 million dollars), the kites allow fuel savings of 15 to 25 percent depending on wind and shipping routes, said Wrage.

The strongly-built kites are best suited for slow moving ships, such as bulk carriers and tankers, which do not exceed 15 to 16 knots and which ply windy trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific routes, according to SkySail engineers.

Customers could recoup their money within two to six years, depending on bunker fuel prices, shipping routes, and types of carrier, they added.

But the company, with funding of 47 million euros mostly from venture capital investors, has struggled to stay afloat.

"When I started SkySails, the oil price was at 21 dollars (a barrel) so everyone thought I was totally nuts. We were laughed at a lot," explained Wrage.

Then the economic downturn badly hit shipping.

To date, only five kites are in commercial use around the world.

"It has been a tough time for us," Wrage acknowledged.

But the economic recovery -- along with rising oil prices -- is fuelling new interest in this new "green" technology, not only from ship-owners, but from large trading companies eager to advertise efforts to reduce carbon footprints.

But not everyone in the shipping industry is convinced.

The system "isn't suitable for most fast-going container ships," said Max Johns, a spokesman for the Association of German Ship-owners.

"The system works but has proved difficult to use, with expensive kites being torn, and all this at a time when the industry is suffering a severe downturn," added Johns.

The kite, he suggested, will likely be just one of many systems introduced over the coming years to help slash fuel expenditure, which currently accounts for 60 percent of shipping costs.

Uwe Hollenbuch, an expert on resistance and propulsion at the Hamburg centre for ship research agreed, saying wind propulsion "won't play much of a role for now."

Ship-owners believe "they can achieve savings by using larger ships travelling more slowly" rather than banking on the right wind blowing, said Hollenbuch.

"I don't think we'll be going back to wind power," said Uwe Bruemmer, a sea captain now in charge of inspection at the German heavy lifting shipping company SAL, which operates a 16-strong fleet.

"We've looked at the kite, but it wouldn't be worth it," he added.

"To use this sail you need at least six to seven knots of tail wind and you only find this rarely, and only on certain routes," the captain said.

The sail could be used in regions where monsoons winds blow regularly "for example in the Indian Ocean or off the Somali coast where pirates are now active.

"But in such places we can't allow ourselves to go slower. You have to get through as fast as possible".

For now, "we are concentrating on reducing fuel consumption by reducing engine power to 90 or 80 percent", says Bruemmer, who is pinning his hopes on the development of gas-powered turbines.

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Drought Grows More Dire In Southwest, Farms Hit

Carey Gillam PlanetArk 15 Apr 11;

Conditions for crops and livestock are growing more dire by the day in the U.S. Southwest as drought continues to grip the region.

Texas is a tinderbox, pastureland for hungry cattle is drying up, and prospects are deteriorating rapidly for wheat, corn, cotton and other crops.

"Conditions are just deplorable right now. One hundred percent of the state is currently in some form of drought," Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples told Reuters.

The threat to cattle and crop production comes at a time when prices for both are soaring and potentially further adds to food costs for the United States and abroad.

Data released on Thursday morning by a consortium of national climate experts said a lack of rain had caused the drought toe expand over the last week to "extreme" and even "exceptional" levels in parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

In Midland, Texas, rainfall has been only 2 percent of the norm since October 1, making it the driest period on record there.

"The Southwest is pretty bad from southeast Arizona all the way over to Louisiana," said Mark Svoboda, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center. "Texas is particularly bad. It is not a very good situation."


The center released an updated report on Thursday morning showing levels of severe to exceptional drought covering Texas, most of Oklahoma and Arizona, eastern Colorado and southwest Kansas.

Wildfires are a particular problem as hot and dry conditions are compounded by high winds. More than 5,000 fires have charred 983,000 acres in Texas alone since the end of last year. One Texas wildfire has consumed more than 108,000 acres since last weekend.

Low pond levels and dried-out pastures are complicating efforts by ranchers to keep cattle healthy. And many wheat growers are giving up on fields entirely.

Sixty-six percent of the new wheat crop was rated poor to very poor by crop experts in Texas this week, with wheat growers in the state forecast to harvest only 64.8 million bushels this year, down 50 percent from last year. Early plantings of corn and cotton were also struggling.

South-central Texas normally gets about 18 inches of moisture accumulation in the first three months of the year. So far this year, the accumulation is less than 2 inches, according to the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service.

Lost agricultural production in Texas is estimated to top $3 billion, but the tally will be far greater through the region.

Texas agriculture is suffering so much that this week the state set up a relief fund to solicit donations for activities such as shipping in hay and water for livestock and rebuilding fences.

The state also has a "hay hotline" to connect people who need hay with people who have it.

Oklahoma is nearly as bad. Farmers there typically grow more than 100 million bushels of winter wheat every year, bringing in 121 million bushels last summer. Many growers this year estimate the harvest could see only 80 million bushels.

There is little relief in sight, Svoboda said. "Near-term, the forecasts are high and dry for the next week in the Southwest," he said.

(Editing by John Picinich)

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Green Climate Fund clears planning hurdle

Yahoo News 15 Apr 11;

PARIS (AFP) – A planned fund to channel hundreds of billions of dollars to poor countries exposed to climate change has overcome an early obstacle, the UN said on Friday.

Members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have agreed on the make-up of a 40-seat transitional committee to design the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an issue that had been debated for weeks, the UNFCCC said.

Established at the UNFCCC's conference in Cancun last December, the GCF aims at administering aid, potentially worth 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, to developing countries at risk from rising seas, worsening drought, flood and storms.

The task of drawing up the GCF's terms of reference was entrusted to a transitional panel of 25 developing and 15 developed countries.

Important details are at stake, including the scope of a registry to record financial pledges and climate-mitigating action and whether non-governmental groups, the private sector and international organisations should be allowed to take part.

The committee had been scheduled to hold its maiden meeting in Mexico City on March 14 and 15, but the talks were snagged by discord over how to allot seats among the UNFCCC's geographical blocs.

This problem has now been resolved, and the first meeting will take place in the Mexican capital on April 28 and 29, the UNFCCC said in a press release.

Of the 40 seats, seven have gone to delegates from Africa, seven from Asia, seven from the Latin American/Caribbean region, 15 from developed countries, two from least developed countries and two from small island developing states.

"(...) Parties have put forward experienced and respected individuals," UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said.

"The transparent, predictable and adequate provision of finance in the long-term is essential to ensure that the poor and vulnerable can build themselves a sustainable future in the face of climate change."

Governments agree on members for new Green Climate Fund
UNEP 15 Apr 11;

Bonn, 15 April 2011 - Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have agreed the selection of the forty members who will be entrusted with the task of designing the Green Climate Fund, the new institution which will manage long-term finance mobilized to enable developing countries to address climate change.

The selection of this Transitional Committee, which will prepare operational specifications for the fund in time for approval by the next UN Climate Conference in Durban, in December, was one of the first scheduled tasks for 2011 under the international Cancun Agreements.

The high level of interest among governments in contributing to the design process is a demonstration of the great interest among Parties in the Green Climate Fund. Parties have put forward experienced and respected individuals from the fields of finance and climate change, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said on Friday.

The transparent, predictable and adequate provision of finance in the long-term is essential to ensure that the poor and vulnerable can build themselves a sustainable future in the face of climate change, she said.

The Transitional Committee will have its first meeting in Mexico City on April 28 and 29. The meeting will be open to observers and the proceedings will be web cast on the UNFCCC website.

A list of members and information on their background can be found on the UNFCCC website

The Green Fund is being launched in the broad context of long-term financial support agreed at Cancun, under which industrialized countries committed to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020. These funds would be raised from a mix of public and private sources and directly linked to meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation.

The Cancun Agreements, reached on 11 December in Cancun, Mexico, at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference, are a set of significant decisions by the international community to address the long-term challenge of climate change collectively and comprehensively over time and to take concrete action now to speed up the global response.

An overview of these agreements and an overview of the Green Climate Fund can be found on the UNFCCC website.

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