Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jun 11

Tanah Merah - Still the best mainland coral garden!
from wonderful creation

Life History of the Common Jay
from Butterflies of Singapore

Chestnut Avenue
from Singapore Nature

A breezy work day at Chek Jawa
from Psychedelic Nature

Muddy anemone madness in the mangroves!
from wild shores of singapore and Singapore Nature

Dr Daphne at Big Sisters Island
from Singapore Nature

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An uphill struggle saving Bukit Brown

Is there a middle path between the development and conservation lobbies?
Jessica Lim Straits Times 19 Jun 11;

To some, Bukit Brown signifies a living history book and a wildlife haven. Others find it a oasis, away from the city's hustle and bustle.

Either way, most will agree that the cemetery, off Lornie Road, is the last of its kind.

Years back, Bukit Timah Cemetery made way for KK Women's and Children's Hospital, and Pek San Theng in Bishan is now chock-a-block with Housing Board flats.

The changes come against a backdrop of dwindling cemeteries. Available records show that in 1952, there were 229 burial grounds, including many small ones since exhumed.

Current records indicate there are 60 cemeteries, almost all of them small ones.

Unsurprisingly, a controversy is brewing around the recently announced redevelopment of Bukit Brown Cemetery in a case of 'the living versus the dead'.

The heat generated online and in the pages of the press captures the dichotomy between compact but economically vibrant Singapore's conservation and development aspirations.

The 'for development' stance, taken by the Government, stresses the need to use the 86ha of prime land to house our growing population in the long term.

The 'for conservation' stance, taken by historians and concerned citizens, say its destruction will wipe out an invaluable piece of a past social and historical life.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) says there are no intentions to conserve the site, and that plans are in place to build the Bukit Brown MRT Station at Jalan Mashhor, a stone's throw from the 80,000-tombstone cemetery.

An empty shell now, the station will open when the area is more developed.

In its response to concerned readers who wrote letters to The Straits Times, the URA explained that its hands are tied: while it shares the sentiments for conservation, it sees a need to strike a balance. The area is needed for housing, it says.

Critics do not buy into this argument. The Singapore Heritage Society has produced a book to document Singapore's cemeteries and has argued for conservation in the form of open-air museums or parks.

A petition by Dr Irving Johnson, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore's Department of South-east Asian Studies, is being circulated to keep Bukit Brown intact.

Among suggestions made are calls for the Government to develop housing sites elsewhere, such as the golf course across the cemetery.

With both arguments equally persuasive, perhaps the solution lies in a middle path.

I personally love old things and would never replace the old-school pattern of mosaic tiles of my living- room floor with marble. And the idea of soulless glass windows in place of my impossible-to-clean diamond-shaped window grilles fills me with dread.

That is why I am a preservation sentimentalist. Save the squeaky old mesh Gillman Village bridge? Yes. The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station? We must. The Bukit Brown Cemetery? But of course.

Alas, reality is not quite so pat.

The cemetery's ageing tombstones are overgrown with weeds and potholes riddle its roads.

Planners do need to look at the situation a decade or two down the road, even if there may be no immediate need now to pump new housing into the market.

Indeed, even if the Government decides to conserve Bukit Brown fully, it would need greater public support - which is not the case now.

One other idea being floated is for the URA to gazette the site as conserved and sell it with this proviso to developers.

But profit-seeking developers might back off. Prospective buyers, too, may not want to be tied down.

Above all, current conservation criteria apply only to buildings and other structures with architectural merit. It would be a stretch to label tombstones as such.

Truth be told, Singapore still lacks a conservation culture. The hope is that, with time, this will change. But for now, perhaps partial conservation is the answer.

Some of the cemetery's green space, with its graves and weather-beaten trees intact, should be kept as a buffer between MacRitchie Reservoir and busy Lornie Road.

A green corridor should also be preserved for joggers and wildlife.

Notable graves should be given a second look and the area's role as a natural water filtration system for MacRitchie Reservoir should also be taken into account.

The good news is that the URA has not foreclosed an acceptable way to keep a part of Bukit Brown intact. Over to you, history folk.

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Important to channel energy of animal lovers constructively

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 18 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE: Mr K Shanmugam, Law and Foreign Affairs Minister and MP for Nee Soon GRC, has said it is important to channel the energy of animal lovers towards constructive and feasible solutions to resolve concerns over the treatment of animals.

He was speaking at a public forum on animal welfare policies, the first such forum in Singapore.

The event at Chong Pang on Saturday also saw the launch of the Chong Pang Animal Welfare Programme to mark the end of cat culling in the constituency.

Organisers - animal welfare group ACRES and the Cat Welfare Society - say the forum is not a one-off event. They are working to replicate it at other constituencies.

More than 400 people turned up at the event.

Mr Shanmugam said education for the young and public engagement is "the way to go" for a successful animal welfare programme in Singapore.

- CNA/ir

No more culling of cats in Chong Pang
Melissa Lin Straits Times 19 Jun 11;

Chong Pang has become the first constituency where stray cats will not be culled, after Nee Soon GRC MP K. Shanmugam launched an animal welfare programme there yesterday.

Instead of culling, grassroots workers and volunteers from animal welfare organisations will work together to sterilise the cats.

These plans were outlined yesterday at the first forum on animal welfare policies held at Chong Pang Community Club.

The public forum was organised by Singapore-based charity Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) in collaboration with the constituency's grassroots organisation.

Mr Shanmugam chaired the discussion with the executive director of Acres, Mr Louis Ng.

Emotions during some moments ran high as more than 400 people, mostly animal lovers, filled the hall and gave their views on the state of animal welfare in Singapore.

At one point, the crowd erupted in jeers when a dog breeder's name was mentioned by one participant, prompting Mr Shanmugam to appeal to those present to keep the dialogue 'civilised'.

The two-hour-long forum was split into three main topics of discussion - domestic animals, wildlife, and animals in the entertainment industry.

A hotly debated issue was about animal abuse and what was being done about it.

A forum participant said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, which investigates complaints of animal abuse, was not doing enough, and called for an independent policing unit to ensure that abusers are prosecuted.

Mr Shanmugam, who is Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, pointed out that it is not easy to convict someone of animal abuse given that in these cases, the animal victims are unable to testify.

In the legal system, it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt that a person did commit a crime before he can be convicted.

Nonetheless, he said there was a lot of merit in the suggestion and that it was feasible to consider more active enforcement of rules against animal abuse.

A suggestion for mandatory caning of animal abusers was also floated, but Mr Shanmugam said that implementing this would be to swim against the tide of international opinion in this area, given that the general trend is against caning.

Others called for greater transparency by government agencies and for flat owners to be allowed to keep cats in Housing Board flats.

In a suggestion that drew a few laughs, an advocate for shark conservation said government-organised banquets should stop serving shark's fin soup.

Mr Shanmugam said that, overall, the forum was 'extremely constructive' and that he would pass on the several ideas to the relevant government agencies.

But printer Roger Chow, 33, who attended the event, felt that the experience was 'underwhelming'.

The owner of a cat had gone to the forum dissatisfied with the way animal abuse cases were handled, and had hoped to see a change in sight.

'There was no indication that anything constructive will be done,' he said.

'There was only an indication that the authorities were willing to listen. I think it will take a longer time than expected for changes to take place.'

Still, polytechnic lecturer Hamidah Zam Zam, 49, who was also at the forum, felt that it was a great step forward for animal welfare supporters in Singapore.

'The fact that people are coming forward and that the place was full today makes me feel very positive that it will only get better from here,' she said.

Channel that animal passion for good
Today Online 19 Jun 11;

SINGAPORE - It is important to channel the passion and energy of animal lovers to resolve concerns about the treatment of animals, said Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam.

At the first-ever public forum in Singapore on animal welfare policies, Mr Shanmugam said: "These here today are an extremely passionate group of people. There are others who may be less passionate but, when you point out the issues to people, who's going to say, we should be less humane, we should be cruel to animals, or we shouldn't treat animals well?"

"I think it's possible to work with people, and convince them - or convince a significant section of them - that these are things we ought to do," he added.

About 400 animal lovers filled the Community Centre hall at Chong Pang, raising suggestions such as the setting up of an animal police like in Miami, micro-chipping for both cats and dogs, and mandatory caning for animal abusers.

Could this forum signal a sea change in animal welfare initiatives in Singapore?

"Something like this would have been unthinkable five years ago, but the fact that we have a forum, a full house ... yes, it is a huge step forward.

"I was told that Singaporeans (have) no compassion, no feelings ... so I hope after this, more people will come forward," said Mr Shanmugam, who is a Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency.

The forum also saw the launch of the Chong Pang Animal Welfare Programme, aimed at putting an end to cat culling in the area.

Forum organisers Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) and the Cat Welfare Society said this was not a one-off event and they hoped to replicate such forums in other constituencies.

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Sumba hornbills under increasing threat of extinction

Antara 18 Jun 11;

Bogor, W.Java (ANTARA News) - Indonesia`s Sumba hornbills are under threat of extinction as indiscriminate forest exploitation is progresively destroying their habitats, a bird conservation organization said.

"Indiscriminate deforestation is doing enormous damage to the hornbills` feed sources. This situation is increasingly threatening their ability to survive," said Dwi Mulyawati, an activist of bird conservation organization Burung Indonesia here Saturday.

She said hornbills fufill an important function in forest regeneration. Without hornbills, forests would soon lose their ability to regenerate and with the forests gone, so would all their natural potentials.

The regeneration of many tree species was dependent on the continued presence of fruit-eating animals like the hornbill that help spread the trees` seeds across the forest soil.

"Researchers have observed that hornbills can be appropriately given the nickname `forest farmer` because of their prowess in sowing seeds," Dwi said.

A hornbill can fly to and fro over an area of up to 100 square kilometers. This meant the birds belonging to the Bucerotidae family can drop seeds anywhere within the 100-suare-km area, she explained.

Reserch conducted in a production forest had shown a 56-percent reduction in hornbill feed sources as a consequence of the elimination of 76 percent of trees that produce their feed.

According to data collected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), of the 13 hornbill species that exist in Indonesia, the Julang Sumba (Aceros everetti) is threatened by extinction and has been listed in the vulnerable category.

"This species is only to be found in Sumba island (East Nusa Tenggara) and its population is now estimated at less than 4,000 with an average density of six individuals per square kilometer," Dwi said.

If the hornbills died out, certain tree species would inevitably disappear as aging parent trees would be expiring without successors.

Figs are one of the favorite feeds of hornbills that are available almost all year round.

It was estimated that some 200 fig tree species produce the hornbill`s main feed. Among all bird species, the horbill is considered to be the most adept at sowing fig seeds because of their cruising capability.

"According to hornbill and tropical forest researchers Margaret F.Kinnaird and Timothy G.O`Brien, there is a close correlation between hornbills and healthy forests," Dwi said.

Hornbills are part of the Bucerotidae family, a large group of birds that can be easily recognized, especially by their horns (Casque) at the base of their beaks. In the world there were 55 hornbill species, dispersed in the tropics of Asia and Africa.

Indonesia has 13 hornbill species. Nine of them exist in Sumatra where they are locally named enggang klihingan ((Anorrhinus galeritus), enggang jambul (Berenicornis comatus), julang jambul-hitam (Aceros corrugatus), julang emas (Rhyticeros undulatus), kangkareng hitam (Rhyticeros cassidix), kangkareng perut-putih (Anthracoceros albirostris), rangkong badak (Buceros rhinoceros), rangkong gading (Rhinoplax vigil) and rangkong papan (Buceros bicornis).

The four other species can be found in several of Indonesia`s main islands. In Sumba island they are locally named Julang Sumba (Rhyticeros everetti), in Sulawesi Julang and Kangkareng Sulawesi (Rhyticeros cassidix) and in Papua Julang Papua(Rhyticeros plicatus). Kalimantan has the same hornbill species as in Sumatra, except the rangkong papan (Buceros bicornis)..

In Indonesia, the hornbill is also called julang or kangkareng

Burung Indonesia is a nonprofit organization whose international name is Wild Bird Conservation Society of Indonesia (BirdLife Indonesia Association). It operates in partnership with BirdLife International which is based in England.(*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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UN meets to mull climate change quick-fix options

Marlowe Hood Yahoo News 17 Jun 11;

BONN (AFP) – On the heels of another halting round of talks on climate change, UN scientists this week will review quick-fix options for beating back the threat of global warming that rely on technology rather than political wrangling.

Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), meeting for three days from Monday in the Peruvian capital Lima, will ponder "geo-engineering" solutions designed to cool the planet, or at least brake the startling rise in Earth's temperature.

Seeding the ocean with iron, scattering heat-reflecting particles in the stratosphere, building towers to suck carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere, and erecting a giant sunshade in space are all on the examining table.

Critics say such schemes -- some of which have been tested experimentally -- are a roll of the dice with Earth's climate system and its complex web of biodiversity.

And even if one problem is solved, they argue, it may be impossible to anticipate knock-on effects and unintended consequences.

There is a political danger as well, climate policy experts caution: the prospect of a quick fix to global warming could weaken an already fragile global consensus on the need to reduce greenhouse gases or subvert complicated methods for measuring emissions cuts.

"It's a convenient way for Northern governments to dodge their commitments to emissions reduction," said Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group, a technology watchdog group.

Last week, more than 100 organisations, including ETC and Friends of the Earth, sent an open letter to the IPCC "demanding a clear statement of its commitment to precaution and to the existing international moratorium on geo-engineering."

Only four years ago, in its landmark Fourth Assessment Report, the IPCC dismissed geo-engineering in a brief aside as charged with potential risk and unquantified cost.

But now the Nobel-winning panel is taking a closer look, a telling sign, for some, that the effort to tackle global warming through politics is taking too long and bearing too little fruit.

Delegates ended another 12-day talkfest in Bonn on Friday under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), still deeply riven over who should cut their emissions, by how much and when.

Current pledges fall far short of holding temperature rise in check below 2.0 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial levels, a widely accepted threshold for safety.

IPCC officials defend the new review on several grounds.

To begin with, it is what members of the 194-nation intergovernmental body asked for, said Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a leading Belgian scientist and vice chair of the IPCC.

"My concern is to fulfill an IPCC mandate to provide the best information available to take informed decisions to protect the climate and the environment," he said by telephone.

"We will look at the advantages and possibilities, but we will also look at the potentially negative aspects."

The experts meeting Monday, he added, review the state of scientific knowledge but do not make policy recommendations.

"In the absence of an objective IPCC assessment, the only information available to policy makers would be from quite a diverse range of sources, some of which might have an interest at stake," he said.

Geo-engineering schemes can be as simple as planting trees to absorb CO2 or painting flat roofs white to reflect sunlight back into space, a technique already in use in many sun-baked urban settings.

They also include scattering sea salt aerosols in low marine clouds to render them more mirror-like, sowing the stratosphere with reflective sulphate particles, or "fertilising" the ocean surface with iron to spur the growth of micro-organisms that gobble up CO2.

At the sci-fi end of the scale is a proposal -- which exists, for now, only on paper -- for a sunshade positioned at a key point between Earth and the Sun that would deflect one or two percent of solar radiation, turning the planet's thermostat down a notch.

In an analysis published in September 2009, the Royal Society, Britain's academy of sciences, judged that planting forests and building towers to capture CO2 could make a useful contribution -- once they are demonstrated to be "safe, effective, sustainable and affordable."

It also noted that blunting the impact of solar radiation would still not lower atmospheric concentrations of CO2, which is also driving ocean acidification.

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