Best of our wild blogs: 18 May 11

Butterfly Portraits - Grass Demon
from Butterflies of Singapore

First visit to Terumbu Pempang Tengah
from wonderful creation and colourful clouds and wild shores of singapore

Procreation of Crab Spiders
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Down to 50, conservationists fight to save Javan Rhino from extinction from by Jeremy Hance

Read more!

Stalls still selling animals for release

Straits Times 18 May 11;

THE belief that freeing captive animals on Vesak Day brings good karma is still held in some quarters, despite the pleas of the authorities and animal rights groups.

Two stalls in Chinatown were still selling live animals for release yesterday.

Mr Louis Ng, executive director of animal rights group, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), said stallholders admitted they had sold about 20 red-eared slider turtles yesterday, and that their customers had ordered them ahead of Vesak Day.

Acting on a tip-off, the group sent an undercover team to Smith Street, where Chinese soft-shell turtles were also being sold.

Organisations like Acres and the National Parks Board have warned that releasing animals into the wild can harm both the animal and the native ecosystem.

Mr Henry Baey, who heads the Buddhist Fellowship, said: 'Many such animals, especially those bred in captivity or imported, are known to be unable to adapt to the new surroundings and do not survive long after their release. They will also upset the existing ecosystem and may be harmful to the native wildlife. It is therefore not necessarily a kind act.'

Buddhists celebrate Vesak Day
Seet Sok Hwee and Sabrina Chan Today Online 18 May 11;

SINGAPORE - Thousands of Buddhists around the world celebrated Vesak Day yesterday, a festival that commemorates the birth and enlightenment of Buddha and his entry into Nirvana.

Devotees thronged the temples, which held special ceremonies to mark the occasion.

In Thailand, Buddhist monks attended a ceremony at Wat Dharmmakaya in Pathum Thani, on the outskirts of Bangkok.

The Fo Guang Shan Association here had a novel way to celebrate Vesak Day: It held a series of environmental activities together with its usual spiritual programmes.

The association said it is trying to raise awareness on environmental conservation - which resonates with Buddhist teachings.

The festivities include a pledge-taking by Buddhists to make Singapore a more environmentally-friendly home. There will also be an exhibition of objects made out of recycled items.

It is believed that by performing good deeds on Vesak Day, the merit earned will be multiplied many times over.

In Sri Lanka, for instance, prison authorities released 858 prisoners serving time for minor offences.

In Singapore, a group of 70 people set free over 2,000 fish into the ocean.

The group had gone to a kelong off Changi and bought over 400kg of fish - for about S$6,000 - which were meant to be sold to restaurants for consumption.

The National Parks Board had warned earlier against releasing animals on Vesak Day, so as to not disrupt the ecological balance as well as threaten the survival of the released animals. According to animal rights activists, as long as the animals are returned to their natural environment, they will be all right.

Read more!

Cultivating Singapore's green landscape

Annabelle Yip and Rosabel Ng Business Times 18 May 11;

A BLUEPRINT for Singapore's sustainable development was unveiled in April 2009 by the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Sustainable Development. Titled 'A Lively and Liveable Singapore - Strategies for Sustainable Growth', it set out the key goals and initiatives covering the next 10 to 20 years.

Shortly after, the government and regulatory bodies launched various initiatives to encourage individuals and business sectors in Singapore to go green. Among the initiatives was the $100 million Green Mark incentive scheme for existing buildings by the Building and Construction Authority to incentivise commercial building owners to retrofit their buildings to improve energy efficiency.

There have been other initiatives by the Singapore authorities to promote sustainable development, and this article summarises some of the more recent regulatory developments across Singapore's green landscape.

On March 4, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim announced in Parliament that the Green Vehicle Rebate (GVR) scheme, which was introduced in 2001, will be extended by another year for electric and petrol-electric hybrid vehicles. Accordingly, such vehicles will continue to enjoy rebates ranging from 10-40 per cent of their open market value until end-2012.

Electric and petrol-electric hybrid vehicles will also continue to be eligible to road tax pegged to that for petrol equivalents, which is 20 per cent lower than their diesel equivalents. However, the GVR scheme will cease to apply to compressed natural gas (CNG) and bi-fuel vehicles after 2011.

The government will also undertake a comprehensive review of the measures to promote the use of green vehicles in Singapore.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) then launched the Maritime Singapore Green Initiative on April 12. This comprises three different programmes. The Green Ship Programme aims to incentivise shipowners to provide energy-efficient ship designs that reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the requirements of the International Maritime Organisation's Energy Efficiency Design Index, which is a widely-used indicator of greenhouse gas emissions of ships.

The financial incentives under this programme comprise a 50 per cent reduction in the initial registration fees and a 20 per cent rebate on the annual tonnage tax payable.

The Green Port Programme seeks to encourage ships calling at the Port of Singapore to reduce emissions of pollutants. Qualifying ships must show that they are either using type-approved abatement or scrubber technology, or clean fuels with a low sulphur content exceeding the requirements of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (Marpol), which stipulates that any ship operating within an emission control area must use fuel oil with a sulphur content not exceeding one per cent.

Under this programme, qualifying ships will receive a 15 per cent reduction of port dues payable.

The Green Technology Programme was set up to encourage local maritime companies to adopt green technologies. The MPA will be setting aside $25 million for the Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund, which will co-fund up to half the qualifying costs under this programme. The MPA will increase funding by an additional $25 million if this programme receives a favourable response.

In tandem with the other efforts to promote sustainable development in the public and private sectors here, the introduction of sustainability reporting and communications in the financial sector is also likely to take place soon to raise awareness among listed corporations (and those preparing for listing) and their stakeholders.

Public image

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) issued in August last year a consultation paper on a proposed policy statement and guide to sustainability reporting for listed companies. The draft policy statement sets out broad principles to guide issuers in formulating their sustainability reporting frameworks. The draft guide, which supplements the policy statement, sets out answers to frequently asked questions from listed companies on sustainability.

The consultation paper reflects a global trend of increasing importance. Increasingly, regulators, investors and the general public are scrutinising the extent to which broader sustainability concerns are addressed by companies in their day-to-day operational and investment decisions. In turn, companies are realising that it makes commercial sense to adopt responsible sustainability practices, especially since the investment community is placing greater value on such practices.

Apart from the public image boost, implementing sustainable practices can also help corporate bottom lines.

The pressure for corporate accountability of sustainable and environment-friendly practices is on the rise from various sources. Banks have incorporated potential environmental liabilities as part of lending risks when determining borrowers' requests for credit. Suppliers of goods and services are also being queried about their environmental and sustainability practices.

In turn, consumer perception of a company's environmental performance has become ever more important in maintaining market share. In this connection, various accreditation agencies and reporting guidelines have been established, such as ISO 26000 and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

SGX, in its consultation paper, encourages companies to adopt the GRI framework in disclosing their sustainability performance.

With all this in mind, corporations should start considering what they need to do to monitor and improve their sustainability performance and how they report it.

Annabelle Yip is Joint Head - Corporate Governance and Compliance Practice, and Rosabel Ng is Joint Head - Environmental & Green Economy Practice; WongPartnership

Read more!

Drug Ban May Save India’s Vultures From Extinction

Brandon Keim Wired Science 17 May 11;

The worst seems to be over for South Asia’s vultures, which just a decade ago appeared to be headed straight for extinction.

Hundreds of thousands were dying every year. Scientists had no idea why. Only a last-minute stroke of luck revealed how the majestic creatures were being accidentally poisoned by medicine given to cows.

The medicine was banned in animals in 2006. Its use hasn’t ceased completely, but it’s diminished enough to slow the vulture die-off. Their survival is far from assured, but at least they have a chance.

“There used to be millions, right in the heart of all the big cities. They’d breed in gardens, in the trees along city streets,” said University of Cambridge zoologist Rhys Green. “Those are all gone now. There are no colonies anymore. Will they get back to that? I don’t think so, but they could get back to having safe populations.”

Green, the lead author of a vulture assessment published May 11 in Public Library of Science One, started working with the birds in 2004. Just months earlier, researchers led by the late Washington State University microbiologist J. Lindsay Oaks had discovered that diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug commonly given to livestock, was killing the Indian subcontinent’s three species of vulture.

His discovery was a mix of scientific detective work and old-fashioned good luck: Oaks happened to be interested in Middle Eastern falconry, and heard of fatal cases of diclofenac poisoning. On a hunch he decided to test for the drug in India’s vultures, populations of which had declined by 95 percent in the preceding decade.

The birds had been dying inexplicably from renal failure and gout, with researchers searching in vain for evidence of heavy metals or pesticides or disease. Side effects from veterinary medicine hadn’t even been considered: Until then, they’d never caused a mass wildlife die-off. If Oaks had discovered the drug in the vultures just a couple years later, it would have been too late.

Linking diclofenac to the deaths gave researchers an immediate insight into what Green called a “perfect storm” of circumstances. Until the early 1990s, diclofenac was the intellectual property of pharmaceutical giant Novartis. When its patent expired, India’s sophisticated generic drug industry ramped up production, flooding the country with cheap, highly-potent diclofenac. Farmers bought millions of doses. Cattle are sacred in many parts of South Asia, and diclofenac helped ease the pains of elderly beasts of burden.

Because they are sacred, however, the bodies of dead cattle were not eaten or rendered. Instead they were left in fields to be eaten by vultures. In 2004, carcass surveys found one in 10 to be contaminated with diclofenac, and researchers calculated that each vulture had a 1 in 100 chance of dying every time it ate a meal. By 2006, India, Nepal and Pakistan had banned the veterinary use of diclofenac.

In the new paper, Green and colleagues studied the bans’ effect, analyzing data from surveys of carcasses collected across India between 2004 and 2008. They found that contamination had dropped from 10.1 percent to 5.6 percent by 2008 — a sign that the ban is working, though not as fast as they’d hoped. Annual death rates dropped from an astronomical 80 percent before the ban to 18 percent.

“If we can get that down to 5 percent, then there’s a chance” that the vultures will survive, said Green. “That’s still a decline, but we could counteract it by putting out food for the birds and protecting their nest sites. We could compensate for that level of decline.”

There were other encouraging signs in the data. In 2008, the number of carcasses contaminated with meloxicam — an alternative, vulture-friendly anti-inflammatory — outnumbered those tainted by diclofenac. This has occurred in spite of the fact that the ban has been unevenly enforced. According to Green, the success represents outreach efforts to veterinarians and farmers, many of whom hold vultures in high esteem.

In Hindu mythology, vultures have a god, Jatayu. Among Parsi communities, for whom religious tradition forbids burial and cremation, corpses have historically been left on platforms for vultures to consume. In the birds’ absence, Parsis have turned to other methods of dealing with their dead, including solar accelerators designed to hasten decomposition, though none have proved as efficient or hygienic as vultures. Their highly acidic stomachs are lethal to bacteria, and flocks could strip a body in minutes.

The loss of vultures is also felt among people who collected leftover cattle bones and ground them into fertilizer. Now the corpses of cattle are buried — as sacred animals, they often can’t be eaten — or dragged away by an exploding population of feral dogs, which have become a reservoir of rabies.

“There’s no longer a symbiosis between vultures and people. Now, instead of vultures, there are lots and lots of semi-wild dogs,” said Green, who thinks that the dogs’ rise to ecological prominence will prevent the vultures from ever recovering their original role. Still, that the vultures could have any sort of future was almost inconceivable a decade ago. Even though 99 percent have died, the remaining one percent may be enough.

“They breed slowly, only rearing a maximum of one chick per year,” said Green. “They can increase at a rate of 3 to 5 percent per year. It’s never going to be really rapid, but over time it builds up.”

Read more!

France In Crisis As Drought Deepens - Minister

Gerard Bon, Marie Maitre and Sybille de La Hamaide PlanetArk 17 May 11;

France has imposed limits on water consumption in 28 of its 96 administrative departments, the environment ministry said Monday, amid signs that a prolonged dry spell that has hit grain crops would continue.

"We are already in a situation of crisis. The situation is like what we would expect in July for groundwater levels, river flows and snow melting," Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told a press conference.

The government had previously put 27 departments under water consumption limits, and Kosciusko-Morizet said Monday that similar measures could be extended to three more -- effectively affecting a third of the country.

One of the hottest and driest Aprils on record in France has parched farmland and cut water reserves, stoking worries of a drought similar to that experienced in 1976 and fuelling concern harvests will suffer in the European Union's top grain producer.

No substantial rainfall is expected in the next two weeks, weather expert Michele Blanchard told Monday's press conference.

In an interview with Reuters Insider, Meteo France forecaster Michel Daloz said that temperatures would also rise sharply in the next week, boosting groundwater evaporation.

"It would really need a miracle, which is three weeks of heavy rain after the coming 8-10 days (of a dry spell), to hope to make up for some of the deficit," Daloz said.

Total rainfall in April amounted to barely 29 percent of the average established over the 1971-2000 period, the ministry said in a report, adding that soils in the northern part of the country were experiencing the driest conditions in 50 years.

"Rainfalls in coming weeks will be crucial," Kosciusko-Morizet said, adding that a wet month of July alone would not be enough to turn the situation around.

"From a weather point of view the month of June is the last chance of rain. After that, it's summertime and all of France is dry, even the showers that fall in July and August don't bring much water," Daloz said.

Two thirds of French groundwater reserves were down year on year in April, while the remaining 34 percent were stable or up.

France has lost any prospect of a very good wheat crop this year as the lack of water hit plants at an advanced development stage, but the French farm office said last week it was too early to translate drought-related worries into yield loss numbers.

Last week, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire called on the European Union to ease some environmental requirements in light of measures the French government wants to take to help animal breeders, hurt by surging grain prices.

Drought concerns in several countries in Europe, including Germany and Poland, combined with weather worries in other key producing regions such as the United States, have lent support to grain markets, helping them soften the blow of a recent global commodity sell-off sparked by economic growth concerns.

(Editing by Anthony Barker)

Little Rain For Europe's Farmers Before June
Daniel Fineren PlanetArk 18 May 11;

Drought in much of Europe looks set to continue with little relief for parched farmland until June at the earliest, forecasters say.

Parts of central Europe saw less than 40 percent of their long-term average rainfall from February to April, with even the wettest seeing less than 80 percent of the mean for 1951-2000, according to the Global Precipitation Climatology Center.

At the start of May, some weather watchers saw some rainfall relief by the end of the month from the long, dry spell that has desiccated large parts of Europe since January.

Patchy rain has moistened bits of northern Britain, France and Germany over the last few days, raising Rhine river levels and allowing some increase in trade.

But dry high pressure systems have not made way for wetter lows as had been expected, preventing sustained rain from soaking dusty fields in the three biggest wheat growing areas of the EU, and prompting France to impose limits on water use on fears the drought will continue

"Most of the really dry conditions are expected to be across southern France and Germany, with near or slightly below normal rainfall in northern sections, where most of the wheat is," Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at U.S.-based Weather Services International, said Monday.

"So, no drought-busting rains expected for most of the rest of May."

Telvent DTN, a U.S.-based energy and commodities weather forecaster, said it expected only a few scattered light rain showers in the grain producing heartland of the EU, which it warned would not compensate for months of dry weather.

"More rain is needed to support developing wheat in much of France and Germany," Telvent said Monday.

Benchmark European wheat futures have risen about 11.5 percent since May 5, bouncing back from a cross-commodity sell off in late April on the dry weather.

The stubborn high pressure systems that tend to bring dry weather to continental Europe show little sign of being pushed aside by typically-wetter lows, except in northern areas where grain production is low, according to the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF - see link below).

"Looking at southern Britain as the main grain area I think rainfall amounts are really uncertain," a spokesman for Britain's official forecaster, the Met Office, said.

"There is more rain in the forecast. However, I think the bulk of that rain is likely to be in more northern parts... It remains stubbornly dry in eastern and south eastern parts."

The Met Office sees potential thunder storms in southern England next week but because the earth is so dry, heavy rain could race off the rock-hard agricultural land into rivers.


The unusually dry spring in top EU wheat producers France, Germany and Britain has revived drought fears after a dry summer in 2010 ravaged Russian and Ukrainian wheat harvests -- driving a surge in food prices around the world.

Recent rains should help cereal growth in western Ukraine and southern Russia. But drier weather over the next 7-10 days still appears likely for crop areas from the eastern Central and Volga regions into the Newlands region, Telvent said in its World Commodities Weather Spotlight.

"This favors spring wheat planting but will reduce soil moisture for winter crops," the outlook said.

"This is the same area that was hit by severe drought last season and thus this drying trend will bear watching."


Unless low pressure in the North Atlantic can push aside high pressure systems, the drought could also put more bullish pressure on European energy markets.

"Recent high temperatures and low rainfall across Europe have resulted in low hydro-electric reservoir levels across the continent," Mark Lewis, director of commodities research at Deutsche Bank said.

Switzerland's reservoir levels dropped again in early May, further delaying the usual spring turning point when levels start going up as snow melts.

Swiss reserves are usually a key summer source of clean electricity. But with German nuclear power production hobbled by Berlin's reaction to Japan's nuclear crisis, a continued drought could also drive up EU carbon emissions prices as generators are forced to burn more coal.

A long heatwave forced several German and French nuclear plants to shut in summer 2003 because of river water cooling problems, and while temperatures so far have not been as extreme, low river levels are a growing concern.

Spain, which also relies on hydro power, has seen its reserves shrink about 3 percent from a year ago but rainfall on western parts of the Iberian Peninsula has not been as badly affected.

Read more!

Britain eyes 50-percent carbon emissions cut target

Sam Reeves Yahoo News 17 May 11;

LONDON (AFP) – Britain on Tuesday unveiled plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2025, ramping up pressure on the European Union to increase its target.

The new target is a big jump forward for Britain in its carbon-cutting ambitions and puts it far head of the EU as a whole, which has committed to a 20-percent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

Britain is among the members of the 27-nation bloc, along with France and Germany, which have been pushing for the target to be hiked to 30 percent.

Prime Minister David Cameron had vowed to lead the "greenest government ever" when he came to power last May and Energy Minister Chris Huhne said the new target showed the coalition was determined to make good on its pledge.

Unveiling Britain's fourth "carbon budget", which governs the country's carbon emissions between 2023 and 2027, Huhne told the House of Commons: "It puts Britain at the leading edge of a new global industrial transformation as well as making good our determination that this will be the greenest government ever."

He added: "We are also sending a clear signal to the international community: that the UK is committed to the low carbon economy.

"This will help us reach agreement in Europe on moving to a 30-percent emissions reduction target -- and build momentum toward a legally binding global climate change deal."

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union which has also been pushing for the bloc to increase its target to 30 percent, praised Britain's ambitious target.

"I welcome the ambitious goal announced by the United Kingdom's government today," said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

"This is an outstanding example of strong willingness to act despite difficult economic times."

Huhne said the proposals would be reviewed in 2014 to ensure they were in line with the rest of the EU's plans for cutting greenhouse gases, which are blamed for rising temperatures. Lawmakers still have to approve the proposals.

It is a big shift forward from Britain's third "carbon budget", which covers the period 2018 to 2022 and commits the country to making 35-percent cuts in its greenhouse gases compared to 1990 levels.

Commentators in Britain saw the announcement as a victory for Huhne over other members of the Cabinet who had opposed the proposals, arguing that it could damage the economy.

The EU committed to a 20-percent cut in carbon emissions in 2008 and offered to go to 30 percent if other industrialised powers followed suit.

But offers from other major industrialised countries are still below the 20-percent mark and critics say that further carbon curbs will hit Europe's fragile economies.

World powers are also seeking to hammer out a new global deal on cutting greenhouse gases at a series of UN talks to replace the landmark Kyoto Protocol which expires at the end of 2012.

Read more!