Best of our wild blogs: 17 Jun 11

Tue 21 Jun 2011: 7.00pm @ NUS LT23 - The Sea Anemone Public Lecture by Professor Daphne Fautin from Habitatnews

It's a 'small small' world! - Punggol
from Psychedelic Nature

Dr Daphne at St John's
from Singapore Nature and wild shores of singapore

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Should Singapore look at a 'better life' index?

Business Times 17 Jun 11;

LATE last month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its first-ever Your Better Life Index - a tool that's part of a larger initiative to gauge the well-being and progress of society in its 34 member countries, and just the latest in a long series of efforts by economists to tackle the issue of tracking national development and progress beyond the economic numbers driven by the traditional GDP yardstick.

Like other such initiatives, the OECD's Better Life Index is a composite of socio-economic factors - specifically, 11 areas that the Paris-based think tank deems to be 'essential' to well-being in terms of material living conditions (housing, income, jobs) and quality of life (community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance).

What's different is that the OECD index is not a static rating system that produces a ranking of 'best' to 'worst' country on a fixed weightage of the various criteria. It's interactive in that it allows the user to put different weights on each of the 11 topics that make for a better life, and therefore to decide for oneself what contributes most to well-being. While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being, the OECD says in its preamble on the 'income' factor, adding that 'higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, healthcare and housing'. And so those who consider material wealth to be, by far, still the most important determinant of what makes a society tick and a country great might assign a maximum weighting of five to 'income' and zero to everything else. By this measure, Luxembourg emerges solidly on top, well above everyone else, followed by the United States, Canada, Switzerland and Australia.

But if somewhat more subjective criteria such as 'life satisfaction', 'community' and 'work-life balance' are your top interests and priorities, it's the Scandinavians - the Danes and Swedes, in particular - and Canadians with the 'best life' while the Americans are down at 15th. The index, of course, does not capture everything that people would conceivably deem to be essential to a good life (such as childbearing, civil rights, religion, perhaps); it doesn't include even the growing challenge of social inequality - shortcomings which the OECD hopes to address over time. But it is an interesting tool with potential to help deliver better policy-making or even to just guide debate and self-assessment among each country's citizenry about what they desire as their personal and collective national 'quality of life' goals - for non-OECD countries as well, not least Singapore.

While the GDP measure is in no danger of being supplanted anywhere anytime soon, it's clear that GDP doesn't capture all, or even most, aspects of what makes people satisfied with their lot in life. It'll make for more than an interesting academic exercise if economists here adapt and produce an OECD Better Life Index for Singapore, adding to the ongoing debate about policymaking and society here.

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Allow cats in HDB flats

Move to stop culling strays a humane one; now for the next step
Judith Tan Straits Times 17 Jun 11;

TOMORROW will see the dawn of a brave new day for cats and cat lovers in Chong Pang constituency.

For the first time, a town council in Singapore - Sembawang - will commit itself to not culling stray cats. It will launch a more humane programme to manage the population of stray cats in the areas under its care in Chong Pang. This will mean working with animal welfare groups and activists to sterilise cats and manage their feeding in a responsible manner, such as cleaning up food scraps.

Cat owners in Chong Pang can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that if their pets wander off, the creatures will not face the threat of being captured and culled.

This is a welcome change. Hopefully, more town councils will follow suit.

The change comes about two weeks after a June 2 blog post by new National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan. He said he had asked the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to review its practice of culling stray cats. He also tasked Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin with working with the AVA, animal welfare groups and residents to 'forge a compassionate and mature approach to this problem'.

The issue is a longstanding one. It pits those who consider stray cats a nuisance against those who love cats and want to protect them.

The anti-cat camp says stray cats dirty common areas with their poo and pee, and make a lot of noise at night during mating season. Worse, they say, cat lovers' indiscriminate feeding of strays leaves food scraps that attract other pests.

On the other side are cat lovers who say there is no need to kill strays. Instead, sterilise them to keep the population under control, and make sure those who feed them clean up the mess, they say.

Unfortunately, the short-term quick fix has been to cull stray cats. Last year, about 5,100 stray cats were put down. In 2009, the number was 5,400, and in 2008, the figure was 6,800.

But culling creates other problems. For one thing, the rat population will go up if cats are culled too aggressively. When the AVA cancelled its Stray Cat Rehabilitation Scheme in 2003 and turned to culling strays, a rat extermination drive had to be launched in estates along Hume Avenue and Taman Jurong later that year.

Rather than cull, Mr Khaw favours a community-centred approach where the AVA and town councils involve cat lovers in eliminating the nuisance created by irresponsible behaviour and in sterilising the cats to control their population.

In fact, past experience shows that culling was not always the favoured option and that sterilisation can and did work. AVA had a Stray Cat Rehabilitation Scheme in 1998 to control the cat population in Housing Board estates. Dedicated volunteers worked with town councils to feed the cats, clean up after them and take them for free sterilisation.

Sterilised cats do not cause a noise nuisance, a common complaint received. They also remain to defend their territory and help check the number of rats and cockroaches.

Another sterilisation project helped control the stray cat population in Bukit Merah View in 1997. This was followed by a survey of residents. The results, published in the Singapore Veterinary Journal in 2000, showed that up to 96 per cent of the public preferred to have stray cats controlled, not culled.

But these steps towards a humane policy on stray cats were derailed by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis of 2003. A news report that house cats and ferrets can catch the Sars virus and spread it to other animals led to more culling of strays.

At that time, the AVA website had figures over 10 years which showed that culling had no impact on the cat population or the number of complaints received about the nuisance caused by strays.

AVA also stated then: 'Culling by pest control companies removes cats that are easily caught, leaving the wilder and often more prolific cats to continue to multiply. This method may produce immediate, short-term results but the results are temporary.'

AVA's decision to go back to culling despite it being a short-term fix led some to question at that time why it was implementing a policy it did not appear to subscribe to.

In swaying between sterilisation and culling as a control measure, the pendulum is now swinging back to sterilisation.

This is the right policy, as it is more humane. After all, there is no need to kill 5,000 cats a year just because some residents complain of dirty void decks. Sterilisation and stray cat management require more effort from town councils and volunteers, but many cat lovers will be prepared to do their part.

One issue worth looking into is whether to allow cats to be kept in HDB flats.

The Housing Board's current ban on cats in flats is explained on its website thus: 'Nuisance caused by cats such as shedding of their fur, defaecating/uri-nating in public areas or even the caterwauling sounds that they make can cause a lot of disturbance, which affects the environment and disrupts neighbourliness in our housing estates.'

But in fact, these problems can be overcome if owners are responsible. After all, HDB already allows dogs to be kept in flats, if these are of approved breeds - small dogs are considered more manageable. Since all dogs are required to be licensed and microchipped, HDB has recourse to take action against irresponsible owners who dump their pets or let their dogs dirty common premises.

A similar approach can be taken for cats. Those who want to keep cats in HDB flats can be required to apply for a licence to do so. This will provide HDB and town councils with the teeth needed to deal with irresponsible owners, if they fail to clean up or they let their cats wander.

Having HDB flat owners keep cats as pets will provide homes for some strays and keep them off the streets. Licensing allows the authorities and cat welfare groups to work together and focus their attention on the minority of cat owners who may be irresponsible.

On their part, cat lovers will have to show that they can keep their cats in order.

A more balanced and compassionate approach to the stray cat problem will require more community effort. But it can reduce the caterwauling over this issue to a purr.

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Indonesia forest moratorium breached on first day - group

Michael Taylor Reuters 17 Jun 11;

(Reuters) - Indonesia's freshly inked two-year forest moratorium was breached on its first day as a plantation company burned carbon-rich peatlands on Borneo island, an investigation by an environmental group said.

Indonesia revealed a long list of exemptions to its much-delayed two-year forest moratorium on logging that came into effect on May 20, in a concession to hard-lobbying plantation firms in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner Telapak said they had documented peat forest in Central Kalimantan province's moratorium zone being burned by Malaysian plantation group Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK) on May 20.

KLK officials were not immediately available for comment and company executives did not respond to queries emailed by Reuters.

The Forestry Ministry told Reuters it had not seen the environmental group's report but forest and peatland burning was against the law and should be investigated.

The environmental group also criticised Norway, which promised $1 billion for Indonesia if it implemented the moratorium, for investing in KLK.

"We should all be aware of countries such as Norway which are able to take a profit from deforestation," said the director of campaigns for Telapak, Hapsoro.

Indonesia is seen as a key player in the fight against climate change and is under intense international pressure to curb its rapid deforestation rate and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands.

Norway and Indonesia signed an agreement in May last year under which Jakarta promised to impose the moratorium. In return Norway vowed to pay $1 billion, based on Indonesia's performance in achieving long-term goals to slow deforestation.

Norway welcomed the plan by Indonesia to impose a two-year moratorium on logging in primary forests despite a five-month delay to the deal.

Siv Meisingseth, spokeswoman of the Norwegian central bank, which oversees Norway's holdings abroad, said it did not comment on individual investments by the fund.

In late March, green policy group Greenomics Indonesia also criticised Norway's sovereign wealth fund for investing in palm oil firm Golden Agri-Resources at the same time as funding Indonesian moves to cut deforestation.

Singapore-listed Golden Agri is the parent of Indonesia's PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology (SMART) , which Greenpeace says has cleared high conservation value forests and carbon-rich peatlands.

Norway's $550 billion sovereign wealth fund will keep investing in Southeast Asian oil palm planters but may exclude firms that severely damage the environment, a Norwegian finance ministry official said after Greenomics' criticism.

(Reporting by Michael Taylor in JAKARTA, Niluksi Koswanage in KUALA LUMPUR and Alister Doyle in OSLO; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Alex Richardson)

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Malaysia: Over 82,000 ask Perak Govt to save Temenggor Forest Reserve

Manjit Kaur The Star 17 Jun 11;

IPOH: A petition with 82,715 signatures to save the Temenggor Forest Reserve has been handed over to the state government.

The campaign initiated by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) together with its partner The Body Shop Malaysia had collected the signatures for six months since April last year.

The collective signatures were from The Body Shop customers obtained through physical and online petitions and handed over to state Tourism Committee chairman Datuk Hamidah Osman at the state secretariat building yesterday.

MNS president Assoc Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed, in his speech, said the Save Temenggor campaign, originally launched in 2006, was pursued after the Royal Belum State Park was gazetted in 2007.

He said only a third of the forest reserve was protected and the remaining two-thirds remained vulnerable to a host of threats particularly logging and poaching activities.

He said the 300,000ha Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex (BTFC) was the country's pride and at 130 million years old, it was older than the Amazon and the Congo Basins.

“We will continue to reiterate our stand in advocating for Temenggor to be safeguarded in preserving the integrity of the BTFC as an intact forest landscape,” he said.

At a press conference later, Hamidah said she would bring up the matter at the next state executive councillors meeting to pass the message to Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir.

Hamidah said the state government was also concerned about preserving the forest and hoped to come up with a win-win situation for the betterment of all parties.

She said the state government was aware of illegal logging being carried out and had instructed the relevant authorities to enhance enforcement activities and to closely monitor the situation.

Temengor's fate uncertain
Jaspal Singh New Straits Times 17 Jun 11;

IPOH: With the state government's hefty reliance on logging as a source of revenue, the odds are stacked heavily against the proposal to turn the Temengor forest into a fully-protected area in the near future.

The state government receives premiums from the logging concessions that it grants to an industry that is estimated to be worth RM200 million. And the Temengor forest is a prime source of timber.

The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) is pressing the state government to gazette the 180,000ha Temengor forest as a protected site by next year.

But senior state executive councillor Datuk Hamidah Osman said that could be difficult.

"It is unfair to ask the state government to act on the MNS proposal so soon as the Temengor forest is an important revenue source. The timber industry is reliant on it," she said at a joint press conference with MNS and The Body Shop Malaysia.

MNS and Body Shop met Hamidah to hand over 82,715 signatures collected from the public during a campaign held last year to urge the state government to phase out logging in Temengor by next year.

Hamidah represented Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir.

The MNS-Body Shop campaign seeks to get the state government to provide the same protection to Temengor as it had given to Belum when it was gazetted as the Royal Belum State Park in May 2007.

The gazetting of Belum followed similar intervention from MNS to protect the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex (BTFC).

Hamidah said the state government had shown its sincerity in protecting the forested area by gazetting the Belum part of the forest as a state park and stressed that the state government would continue to work with MNS to conserve the Temengor area.

"At this point in time, the proposal to fully protect the Temengor parcel by 2012 is not feasible but I want to stress that we are not averse to doing it at a more suitable time in the future. I assure MNS that the state government will look into ways and means to tap into the entire BTFC to generate income without degrading the area."

Hamidah said she would discuss the MNS proposal with the state executive council adding that she viewed MNS' intervention as a friendly reminder to enhance the quality of the entire BTFC.

MNS president Associate Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed said the MNS-Body Shop campaign to save Temengor called for a complete protection of the 130-million-year-old forested area which included increased enforcement on wildlife hunting and trade in the area.

Also present was The Body Shop Malaysia managing director Datin Mina Cheah-Foong.

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Malaysia: Fisheries Department To Monitor Movement Of Turtles From Terengganu

Bernama 16 Jun 11;

KUALA TERENGGANU, June 16 (Bernama) -- The Terengganu Fisheries Department will try this year to monitor the life of turtles after they lay their eggs at beaches in the state although previous attempts to do so had not been very successful.

State Fisheries director Zakaria Ismail said today that the department would again choose a leatherback turtle to place a platform transmitter terminal, traceable via satellite.

He recalled that the last attempt was made in 2010 when such a device was placed on a leatherback turtle named Puteri Rantau Abang.

"We could detect the turtle only twice, and that was when it was behind Kapas Island (in Terengganu) heading north either to Vietnam or the Philippines," Zakaria said.

"This may be because the device got unstuck or the turtle died," he said.

He said the first time the department tried to monitor the turtles was in 2000 in collaboration with Japanese researchers.

This was followed by two more attempts, in 2005 and 2010, involving five turtles, Zakaria said.

Platform transmitter terminals were used, costing about RM20,000 each.

Zakaria said the department did learn however that turtles, after laying their eggs at Terengganu beaches, swam to the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.


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Arabian oryx leaps back from near-extinction

Yahoo News 16 Jun 11;

GENEVA (AFP) – The Arabian oryx, a desert antelope that may have sparked the legend of the unicorn, has bounced back after being hunted almost to oblivion, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Thursday.

Native to the Arabian peninsula, Oryx leucoryx has two long slender horns that in profile look as one, which may have fuelled the myth of the unicorn, the IUCN said.

The last Arabian oryx in the wild was shot in 1972 but after a nearly 40-year effort in captive breeding, its population stands at 1,000 individuals, the IUCN said, trailing an update of its "Red List" of threatened species.

An oryx was successfully reintroduced to the wild in Oman in 1982 and other returns have taken place in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and more recently in Jordan.

The oryx has now qualified for a move under the Red List from "endangered" category to "vulnerable," the first time that a species that had been extinct in the wild has improved by three categories.

"To have brought the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species," the IUCN quoted Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, head of Abu Dhabi's environment agency, as saying.

The Red List, an assessment of 59,508 plant and animal species, is a major guide to policymakers.

It is the biggest biodiversity compendium available, although it still covers only a fraction of the world's vast range of species.

The update says that 797 species are extinct and 64 are extinct in the wild.

Another 3,801 are "critically endangered" by global extinction; 5,566 are endangered and 9,898 are vulnerable to this threat.

A further 4,533 species are "near threatened" -- meaning they are close to the "threatened" threshold -- or are dependent on conservation efforts.

Of the remaining species, 25,853 fall into a category of "least concern" while there is insufficient data to judge the status of 8,996 others.

Those in this latter category include the Wallace's tarsier, a primate found last year in two small areas of forest in central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The IUCN sounded the alarm for amphibians, saying that 41 percent of species were at risk of extinction as a result of habitat loss, pollution, disease and competition from invasive species.

The IUCN's methodology, and that used by the 2005 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, were questioned in a study published last month.

It agreed that biodiversity was under extreme pressure but said the true rate of extinctions, if based on the criteria of habitat loss, was less than half.

The IUCN's media officer, Borjana Pervan, said the agency had taken note of the study but was satisfied with its methods, including the uncertainties of calculating species threat.

"The actual number of threatened species is often uncertain because it is not known whether data-deficient species are actually threatened or not," the IUCN said.

Arabian 'unicorn' thrives again in wild
John Heilprin Associated Press Yahoo News 17 Jun 11;

GENEVA – The Arabian Oryx, whose distinctive horns are widely believed to have given rise to the unicorn legend, is back from the brink of extinction in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula.

About 1,000 of the wild Arabian or White Oryx now exist owing to nearly three decades of successful breeding, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said Thursday.

The global environmental network said efforts to breed captive oryx and release them back into the Arabian Peninsula, the only place this species is found, began in Oman in 1982, a decade after the last one was apparently shot in the wild.

It said the breeding program demonstrated that captive oryx could adapt to harsh wild conditions, first in Oman and later in the deserts of Saudia Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and, most recently, in Jordan.

"To have brought the Arabian Oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species," said Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, director general of the UAE government's Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.

The Arabian Oryx — a large species of antelope with two long horns — is known locally as Al Maha, and figures heavily in Arabic poetry and paintings.

The creature can smell water from miles away, has wide hooves that let it easily navigate shifting sand and lives in small herds of eight to 10 animals.

When its long, narrow horns that curve slightly at the tip are viewed in profile, they can appear as one, like the fabled unicorn. But another antelope species, the Saola of Southeast Asia, is also seen as a possible source of the unicorn legend.

The improvement by the Arabian Oryx is reflected on the Gland-based conservation union's "Red List" of thousands of endangered plants and animals. The group operates in more than 160 countries, and has assessed the condition of 59,508 species.

This year it was reclassified as "vulnerable," the best improvement to date for a species once thought to be extinct in the wild.

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Rio eco-summit 'top priority' for UN

Yahoo News 16 Jun 11;

BRASILIA (AFP) – A summit on sustainable development to be hosted next year in Rio, 20 years after the UN Earth Summit in the same city, will be a "top priority" for the UN, the world body's chief said Thursday.

"This will be the most important top priority for the UN," Ban Ki-moon said, as he prepared to meet Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as part of a Latin America tour meant to bolster his re-election bid as UN secretary general.

While there has been "good progress" on climate change, nations "have not been able to agree on a comprehensive agreement," he said, alluding to a 2009 UN climate change summit in Copenhagen that ended in failure.

"We're now facing food insecurity, energy insecurity, water scarcity issues and health issues. All these issues are interlinked. Therefore we need to link this dots."

The Rio+20 summit, to be held May 28-June 6 next year, aims to do that by setting a blueprint for environmental sustainability that also addresses poverty eradication and social inclusion.

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