Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jul 11

Sat 06 Aug 2011: Join us at the pre-National Day coastal cleanup @ Lim Chu Kang mangrove from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [4 - 10 Jul 2011]
from Green Business Times

Lazy Lizard's Links (8th July 2011)
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Having a hoot with this cutie
from Life's Indulgences

Photography at a nature park
from Bird Ecology Study Group

burgundy anemones @ Punggol 01July2011
from sgbeachbum

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Task force to review pet ownership policies

Janice Tai Straits Times 12 Jul 11;

THE question of whether cats can be kept in Housing Board (HDB) flats will be among the issues tackled by an inter-agency task force led by the Ministry of National Development (MND).

The task force, which includes senior officials from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the HDB, will begin work this month to review pet ownership and stray animal management policies.

The work, which will take four months, will focus on some key concerns and issues related to dogs and cats.

Currently, the HDB does not allow cats to be kept in its flats, and allows only one dog of an approved small breed per residential unit.

The announcement of the review by Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday comes about a month after a June 2 blog post by Mr Khaw Boon Wan.

The National Development Minister wrote then that he had asked the AVA to review its practice of culling stray cats.

He also tasked Brigadier-General (NS) Tan with working with the AVA, animal welfare groups and residents to 'forge a compassionate and mature approach' to the problem.

Speaking on the sidelines of his first official visit to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) yesterday, BG Tan said the impetus for the review came from the fact that pet ownership has gone up significantly over the years. The number of dog licences issued has increased from about 56,000 in 2008 to 59,000 last year.

Cats do not need to be licensed.

'So, I think it is important to now start focusing on going into a lot more details about the policies involved,' said BG Tan, who was at the SPCA to understand more about the work of the country's oldest animal welfare charity.

Noting that there had been tensions between animal lovers and others who may find animals a nuisance, he added: 'I think it is important for us to find out how to create a common space for people. It is not really about animals per se; it is really about the common space, the living environment that our people live in.'

The AVA received about 3,500 and 2,900 complaints on stray cats and stray dogs respectively last year.

The review will collect feedback from residents, town councils and animal welfare groups.

In addition, from this month, the AVA will pilot a Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme as an alternative means of managing the problem. It is a collaboration between the AVA, participating town councils and the Cat Welfare Society (CWS).

It will be carried out in specific zones under Sembawang-Nee Soon, Tampines, Ang Mo Kio and Marine Parade town councils.

The AVA will subsidise 50 per cent of sterilisation costs - up to $30 for male cats and $60 for females - and $20 to microchip the animal.

CWS will chip in with $10 for each cat, and the remaining amount will be borne by the caregiver - the person who feeds the cat and takes it for sterilisation.

The SPCA will subsidise 50 per cent of the sterilisation costs in the MacPherson division in Marine Parade.

The AVA had previously worked with animal welfare groups and town councils under a Stray Cat Rehabilitation Scheme to control the numbers through sterilisation and care of the sterilised animal by volunteers.

This scheme was terminated in 2003 as there was no reduction in the number of strays or complaints.

Animal welfare groups welcome the move to review policies.

'We have always believed that sterilisation was the more humane and effective approach to significantly reducing the stray cat population. Culling over decades has proven ineffective,' said Ms Deirdre Moss, outgoing executive director of SPCA.

Groups like CWS and Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres) are happy that the public will be consulted, and that various agencies are working together in this review.

Mr Louis Ng, executive director of Acres, said: 'Members of the public want to be engaged in the policy formulation. The subsidy from AVA also helps to remove a huge burden for us so that more cats can be sterilised.'

It was also announced yesterday that the SPCA will be relocating in about three years to a 0.8ha site in Sungei Tengah.

The new site is double the size of its current Mount Vernon facility, which can house about 180 animals.

Taskforce to look into pet ownership, stray animal policies
Sara Grosse, Chitra Kumar Channel NewsAsia 11 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: An inter-agency taskforce has been formed to conduct a four-month review that focuses on current pet ownership and stray animal management policies.

The taskforce comprises officials from the National Development Ministry (MND), the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

It will meet this month to discuss key concerns and issues related to cats and dogs.

The task force will gather feedback from Town Councils, residents and animal welfare groups.

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, BG Tan Chuan-Jin, said: "It's important for us to figure out how to create a common space for people. So it's not really about animals per se, it's about the common space, the living environment that all of our people live in. As you know, in HDB flats, we all live in very close proximity."

Bank analyst Rufus Chan, 29, who currently does not own a pet, said: "I am not troubled by whatever concerns non-pet owners may have because animals are part of nature and have become a way of my life.

"I recently read they're looking to allow cats to be kept in HDB flats. I mean what took them so long to look into such matters?"

As part of the review, AVA will pilot a Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme (SCSP) as an alternative way of managing stray cats. AVA will subsidise 50 per cent of sterilisation costs and S$20 to microchip the cats.

This project is a joint collaboration between AVA, the town councils and the Cat Welfare Society. This is to better address issues such as abandoned pets, which contribute to the problem of stray cats.

It is also a move welcomed by the SPCA, which sees the number of stray cats it takes in decreasing due to sterilisation.

SPCA's Executive Director, Deirdre Moss, said: "If it picks up, and with government support, I think in the next few years you will see an even further drop, which means less animals need to be put down."

During the SARS period, AVA ceased sterilising cats. Since then, sterilisation was carried out with support from the Cat Welfare Society's reimbursement scheme and SPCA's sterilisation voucher scheme.

It is now important to bring the programme back, as there has been a surge in pet ownership. The programme will initially be carried out with the town councils of Sembawang-Nee Soon, Tampines, Ang Mo Kio and Marine Parade.

And town councils said they are willing to work with any organisation to ensure cats that have been sterilised, are later adopted.

Commenting on the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme, cat owner Siti Abdullah, 25, said: "You can't go out and sterilise all the stray cats out there. There is a need to exercise a level of control.

"Unless there are too many stray cats in a particular neighbourhood and those residents call for such a SCSP programme to be implemented, there's no need to implement this programme. If the neighbourhood is happy living with stray cats, then focus on caring for them - like food and medical care."

- CNA/cc/ac/ck

Good move to set up animal task force
Straits Times 19 Jul 11;

LESS than a month after the first public forum on animal welfare policies in Singapore was held, the Ministry of National Development (MND) announced last Monday that it plans to form an inter-agency task force to review current pet ownership and stray animal management policies ('Task force to review pet ownership policies'; last Tuesday).

This is testament to the success of the forum organised by the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society, as well as MND's leadership in addressing public concerns by constructive dialogue.

The review will involve different stakeholders, from senior MND officials to residents. This is a departure from the way policies were developed and represents a move towards public engagement and more informed policymaking.

The review's ultimate objective of creating 'a conducive shared living environment for everyone' also shows MND's appreciation of the role animals - strays or pets - play towards a happier and more liveable society.

The inability of animals to communicate their suffering in words imposes on humans a higher moral obligation to discern their cries for help.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that the true nature of a community is revealed in the way it treats its animals. MND's commitment to have an extensive review of pet ownership and stray animal management policies represents a positive step.

Daisy Chee (Ms)

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Road-side rain basins: More than just plants

Valerie Tan Channel NewsAsia 11 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: Rain water usually goes to the drain first after a downpour, but not along a stretch of road at the Dawson housing estate in Singapore.

Under a lush landscape of plants are what engineers call bio-retention basins, built earlier this year, to collect, and more importantly, clean rainwater.

Tay Bee Choo, Head of the Landscape Unit with the Housing & Development Board (HDB), said: "As the water runs towards these plants, these plants, have some fur, hairiness to it. It helps to trap silt. Then as the water settles into the pit, the roots in this pit will absorb the nutrients that is dissolved in the water."

What is then left is clean rainwater, which is collected and directed into the main drain.

Ms Tay added: "If we have more than an hour of rain, and the basin is full, the excess rain water will have a chance to flow into sumps. It's designed such that it is just below the level of the road and the footpath."

Even though man-made, these systems are essentially letting nature do its job by having the plants clean the water. The idea is not new and unique to Singapore, as it has been implemented in countries like Costa Rica, America and Australia.

But it is now adapted to Southeast Asia's tropical climate, with different soil and plants like the purple fountain grass.

Ms Tay said: "We barely need maintenance because if we choose the right type of plants, the only time you need to come in is when the plants overgrow, then you may need to trim it down."

There are now plans to build more of these basins in other parts of Singapore, starting with new roads and towns like for example, Choa Chu Kang.


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War against dengue ramped up in Singapore

Signs pointing to an imminent epidemic, say experts
Salma Khalik Straits Times 12 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE is going all out to prevent a dengue epidemic that could send hundreds of people to hospital.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is sending out 1,000 officers daily to scour the island for possible mosquito breeding sites and to destroy them.

In spite of the heightened efforts, three people have already died of dengue so far this year, and about 800 hospitalised. Of the three who died, one had other medical problems. The other two were healthy adults in their 40s.

Last week, the number of new cases surged past the epidemic level, with 211 people infected. This is the highest weekly number in more than two years.

The good news is the numbers are still a far cry from the more than 700 infections a week during the peak of the last dengue epidemic in 2005. That year, 14,209 people fell ill, and 25 died.

Dengue is spread by the Aedes mosquito biting an infected person and passing the virus to other people it bites. Symptoms include a high fever, often coupled with a severe headache, rash, joint and muscle ache, and in some cases, pain behind the eyes and mild bleeding of the nose and gums.

Experts point to several factors that make an epidemic - which is when a disease spreads rapidly in the population - imminent.

One is that dengue epidemics come in five- to seven-year cycles, and it is now six years since the last epidemic in 2005. The recent rise in infections is a hint that things could get worse.

Another is that during the current warm season, mosquitoes mature faster, and the dengue virus replicates at a more frenetic rate.

Yet another reason is the predominant circulating strain of a dengue virus usually changes every three years - but this is the fourth year with the current Den-2 strain.

A switch to any of the other three dengue strains could trigger an epidemic, as people who have had dengue over the past four years are protected against only Den-2. This was why the NEA rushed to stop the small outbreak of Den-3 in Marsiling last month. Most people here have no protection against this strain.

Associate Professor Leo Yee Sin, who heads the Department of Infectious Diseases at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, noted that people who get dengue a second or third time have a higher risk of getting the more dangerous dengue hemorrhagic fever.

According to the Health Ministry, there has been 10 cases of hemorrhagic fever this year.

Lastly, due to the low rate of dengue in recent years compared to some decades ago or to neighbouring countries, Singapore's population lacks immunity and will be more susceptible to any outbreak.

The NEA explained that it now takes far fewer mosquitoes to start an outbreak. The spokesman said its teams are not just going to areas where dengue has surfaced, but also to estates which are clear of the disease to prevent it from taking root.

More breeding spots have been found in homes than in public areas or construction sites. Common sites for mosquito breeding are flower-pot holders, vases, bamboo-pole holders, unused pails and basins. All it takes is a teaspoonful of water for mosquitoes to breed.

The biggest dengue cluster now is at Jalan Kelichap and nearby Upper Paya Lebar Road, where 28 people are down with the disease. There was a new cluster of 10 cases yesterday at Paya Lebar Crescent and Lorong Ah Soo. Other active areas include Woodlands, Geylang, Joo Chiat, Ang Mo Kio and Hougang.

Prof Leo said the disease is more severe in the very young and very old.

'A higher proportion of younger patients develop dengue hemorrhagic fever, and we have more elderly die of dengue infection,' she said.

Patients with dengue tend to stay an average of four days in hospital, she added. And with most public hospitals facing a bed crunch, an epidemic could cause a severe bed shortage.

Read more!

Malaysia: Birdwatchers for conservation

The 500 club
The Star 12 Jul 11;

BIRD watching is growing in popularity and is no longer the domain of the old. These days, it is common to see young people garbed in green and tan outfits and armed with binoculars, looking out for birds. Many are content with just jotting their sightings in their little notebooks but David Bakewell hopes to change that.

The bird watcher and editor of Malaysian bird watching magazine Suara Enggang, hopes that injecting some competitive “oomph” into the sport will encourage bird watchers to make their hobbies work for conservation.

A year ago, he started the Peninsular Malaysia 500 club, a list of bird watchers who can claim to have seen 500 species or more of the 656 species of birds found in the peninsula.

“I would like to encourage people to move along from just looking at birds to actually recording and submitting them into a centralised database so it becomes available as a conservation tool,” says Bakewell.

The idea is to spread awareness about what people can do with the online data bank Bird-I-Witness Malaysia, whilst simultaneously making the sport a little more exciting.

“Honestly, it’s just a bit of fun but if it has any value beyond that, it’s in making people aware of what’s rare, what’s becoming less common and networking with other people so you’re contributing to the overall knowledge of what’s going on around us.”

There are currently 10 bird watchers on the 500 list. At the top with 566 birds is 49-year-old Anthony Sebastian, followed by Bakewell himself at 553. Sebastian understands Bakewell’s obsession with birds. The Kuching-based environmental consultant used to travel all over Malaysia, listing birds.

“Although birds no longer dominate my existence, I owe everything I am today to them,” says the former president of Malaysian Nature Society. “I have my notes, dates and everything about my birding from my teens. It’s my private little treasure. I have become an ecologist because of this. The never-ending challenge of trying to understand them has made me what I am.”

Sebastian has been listing birds all his life, so getting on the 500 list was easy. “Every time one sees a new species, the experience is indescribable. When I first started, it was the thrill of the chase. Bird watching is actually hunting. It involves training yourself to track birds, hear them, know their calls, and eventually see them in optics ... everything a hunter has to have except pulling a trigger at the end. It’s a real rush!”

After 37 years of birding, however, Sebastian finds the hobby gives him something else today.

“It’s about what the birds can tell me, what they can show me and help me understand the surroundings of a particular area.”

Bakewell professes to be not one of those people who have to see everything but the two birds that he would really like to see in Malaysia are the black wood partridge, an extremely rare lowland rainforest bird, and the grey-breasted babbler, a rare lowland swamp forest species.

He is well aware that there are many other experienced birders who should be on the 500 list but just have not made it a point to inform him. To these birders, he invites them to join the list for they will, at the same time, be adding to our knowledge of Malaysian birds.

To find out who are on the 500 List, go to To report sightings in Bird-I-Witness Malaysia, go to

The accidental conservationist
Natalie Heng The Star 12 Jul 11;

THE WORLD of bird watching, or “birding”, is an intriguing one. Obsessive, list-oriented and masculine, with more than a little focus on one-upmanship, it has its fair share of eccentrics.

The Dutch ethologist Nikolas Tinbergen (co-winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology) likened bird watching to “an expression of the male hunting instinct” whilst developmental psychopathologist Simon Baron-Cohen says it is associated with the “male tendency for systemising”.

David Bakewell has been birding for 40 years, and is inclined to agree them.

“It’s not about looking at pretty things. Being a birder is more like being a hunter – you need skills. It’s goal-oriented. There’s definitely a little of the obsessive-compulsive in serious bird watchers.”

Friends of the 48-year-old who lives with his wife and two daughters on the island of Penang say his bird watching habits border on the extreme. They might be right, for Bakewell is known to hang around mudflats in a tight, self-constructed box with nothing but a tiny hole to stick his camera lens through, for hours on end in the scorching sun.

“It’s not really that extreme,” he insists. “The birds come really close to me.”

Bakewell also makes regular trips out to sea with the ikan bilis (anchovy) fishmen of Tanjung Dawai, Kedah. He would sit patiently next to the wheelhouse for hours in the sun, with notebook, binoculars and camera in hand and eyes glued to the sky, looking out for that chance encounter.

It is not uncommon for the fishermen to stay out from seven in the morning till 10 in the evening, so by the time Bakewell gets back to Penang, he would have clocked up 17 hours in pursuit of his hobby.

This level of dedication might seem weird to some but it makes total sense to Bakewell, who runs his own environmental consultancy. In fact, he realised a long time ago that for him, bird watching is more than just a hobby. He says it is a way of opening doors, giving access not just to birds but to new learning experiences, cultural encounters and heart-thumping adventures.

He has been lost in the jungles of Thailand with no food and water for 12 hours during a birding trip gone wrong in 1987. Another time, in 2008, he emerged from Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve to find his car, parked on a lonely highway between Baling and Grik in Perak, surrounded by yellow tape and the blue and red flashing of police cars. Apparently a dead body was found in front of his car.

“When they told me, I said: ‘A dead man? Are you serious? It wasn’t there this morning!’ They soon realised I was just an innocent bird watcher, and then they advised me not to go into the forests alone as it was full of illegal logging camps and a crime base for people who go into Baling and Grik to steal stuff!”

Bakewell eventually pieced the story together, concluding that the body was that of a middle-aged illegal immigrant who probably died of natural causes. Apparently, body dumping in those parts was not an uncommon occurrence as illegal immigrants are unlikely to give their dead compatriots official burials.

Amazing experiences

Back in the 1970s, things were a little more subdued for Bakewell. He was seven and began following his father birding in Suffolk, England. Together they would stake out the “local patch”, a friendly park teeming with bird life.

As he grew older, Bakewell began to realise what he loved about the hobby. “What I love is nature as a whole. Nature is vast, overwhelming in fact, so interpreting just one little aspect of that, birds in this case, helps elucidate the bigger picture. The birds kind of unlock everything for me.”

In his early 20s, Bakewell realised that birding could unlock more than just an insight into nature. “I’ve been privileged to go to some incredible places and do some amazing things, and it’s all because of birds.”

His first trip abroad was when a group of fellow bird enthusiasts received some grant money for an ornithological expedition to China to work out the populations and migratory routes of Siberian, red-crowned, white-naped and hooded cranes.

The study site in Beidaihe, a district in Hebei province, happens to be where the coast and mountain ranges meet. This forms a natural funnel where breathtaking numbers of cranes would gracefully glide over the landscape.

Bakewell remembers the locals being amused by these odd binocular-wielding wai guo ren (foreigners), riding around on bicycles looking at birds.

When he told one of the waiters at a restaurant that one day the place would be crawling with tourists like him, the waiter laughed, saying, “Yeah right!”

That was in 1985 and today, that spot is world renowned. “It is now the premier site for watching bird migration in Asia, and we discovered it.”

Bakewell’s love for birds led him to find work with the non-profit Asian Wetlands Bureau (now known as Wetlands International), a job that eventually landed him in Malaysia. In 1990, he travelled to the Bay of Bengal to conduct surveys on water birds. Set up on a simple fishing trawler, they passed communities living on chars (silt islands); Bangladesh is one of the most crowded places on earth, so every bit of land is inhabited.

“For two weeks we lived amongst these incredibly poor communities, and curious locals would come up to look at our telescope. They’d form long queues to look in and out of it. It was a hugely novel experience for them, even the adults were slapping kids out of the way. It was just so off the beaten track, no tourist would ever do that!”

Birth of the conservationist

Getting to experience other cultures is not the only exciting thing which the world of birding opened up for Bakewell. In Bangladesh, his team saw the largest flock of spoon-billed sandpipers ever sighted. There were about 260 of them.

A small migratory Arctic wader with a spoon-shaped bill, it is now one of the rarest birds in the world. Thanks to hunting and habitat loss, the species is predicted to go extinct within 10 years.

“That day, we saw about as many spoon-billed sandpipers as exists in the world today, just in that one flock. Unfortunately, I don’t think anybody will ever see anything like that ever again.”

Bakewell has spent some 23 years birding in Malaysia – that has given him a first-hand account of declining bird populations here. He says that if you love birding, it is impossible not to end up as somewhat of a conservationist. “It almost happens by default. If you want to continue doing what you love, you want to make sure the places that you go will still be there in 20 years’ time.”

According to data from the Asian Water Birds Census, the warnings are in the numbers. “The best data we have is from water birds as it is very difficult to do proper counts of birds in the forest because you can’t see them. The findings show that for the 20 years between 1987 and 2007, overall water birds numbers have declined by 23% and in some areas, by over 85%.”

This is where bird watchers can make a difference, says Bakewell. “By simply listing their findings onto an online database, they can help build up baseline data.”

This can be done with ease through Bird-I-Witness, an Internet-based spatial database about birds collectively created by several global nature groups.

“You just submit information about what bird was seen, when and where. Anyone can submit their records,” says Bakewell. The local programme is administered by the Malaysian Nature Society and it allows users from anywhere in the world to input and query Malaysian bird data.

A mysterious duck

Sometimes, conservation happens inadvertently while in the pursuit of birds, such as Bakewell’s sighting of the itik laut. When he first started bird watching with the fishermen off Tanjung Dawai four years ago, they spoke of a mysterious bird.

“They described it as a black duck with webbed feet, very tame, sits on water and when it takes off, it runs along the water.” Bakewell thought it sounded like the short-tailed shearwater but that species is not known to come anywhere near Malaysia. When he did spot the bird, after two years of going out with the fishermen, indeed it was the short-tailed shearwater. It was the first documented sighting in Malaysia.

“Their migratory routes take them from their breeding grounds in Tasmania, up the east coast of Australia through the Indonesian archipelago and towards Japan. It was strange because coming through the Straits of Malacca leads to a dead end.”

It is still a mystery what these open water birds that do not normally come anywhere near land, aside from during the breeding season, are doing here. They come from May to mid-June. This year, Bakewell saw an unusually large number of them. At the same time, a scientist whom Bakewell found through the Internet says in Hong Kong, they recorded the lowest number of shearwaters passing through the South China Sea since records began.

A new breeding colony of the short-tailed shearwater has been recently discovered on the Recherché islands off the west coast of Australia and it is thought that these might be the birds sighted off Kedah.

Bakewell says because of the Internet, he could network with experts from other areas.

“I got an e-mail from a guy who’s thinking of fitting transmitters to the birds breeding in the Recherché islands. If we get a research grant, we may be able to take some feathers from these birds and do some isotope analysis to work out where they come from geographically. We’re trying to work out if there’s a pattern to the arrival and departure of breeding colonies.”

However, even before the mystery could be solved, the shearwaters off Tanjung Dawai have become literally sitting ducks.

“They are so tame. The fishermen will just dive into the water and pick them up for the cooking pot,” says Bakewell. When he heard about this, he set about making posters explaining the uniqueness of these birds.

With the fishermen’s help, the posters were pasted on all 18 boats operating from Tanjung Dawai. Once the locals understood the rarity of the birds, they stopped taking them home for dinner.

“We did it because it was just something to do,” says fisherman Zulkifli Ibrahim, 29. “It didn’t even taste that great, the meat was tough. But now that we know that this is endangering the population, we don’t do it anymore. It was just for a bit of fun,” he says, smiling.

Read more!

Haze in Malaysia

API flares up all over country
Loh Foon Fong, Florence A. Samy and Shaun Ho The Star 12 Jul 11;

PETALING JAYA: A major part of the country has been enveloped in haze due to fires in Sumatra and Borneo and there is no immediate respite in sight.

Malaysians woke up to poor visibility and lack of fresh air as they made their way to work yesterday.

The air quality worsened as the day drew on. Moderate air quality readings of between 51 and 100 were recorded in 82% or 43 areas as of 5pm yesterday compared to 73% or 36 areas at 11am and 67% at 5pm Sunday.

The remaining areas were still within the healthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings of between 0 to 50.

The South East Asia Fire Danger Rating System also listed as “extreme” (very high probability) for fires to start and spread in most parts of the peninsula, Sumatra, Sarawak and a big portion of Kalimantan. It also noted that grass fuels were highly flammable.

As of 5pm yesterday, Bukit Rambai in Malacca recorded the worst air quality reading at 83, followed by Nilai in Negri Sembilan at 80. Nine areas recorded readings of above 70 including Shah Alam (79) and Port Klang (77) while Petaling Jaya had an API of 67.

The API for Sabah and Sarawak varied between 24 and 68.

The Meteorological Department (MMD) website recorded hazy weather for most of its 40 stations with visibility levels dipping in some areas in the country, including Petaling Jaya where levels dropped to 2km for several hours yesterday. Visibility levels improved in most areas by 8pm including Sepang (KLIA) which went from 1.5km at 4pm to 9km by 8pm.

However, levels still remained poor for Petaling Jaya (6km), Sitiawan (3km), Kuantan (6km) and Kuala Terengganu (6km) as of 8pm.

According to an MMD spokesperson, the weather is expected to be dry at least until tomorrow where showers are forecasted in the west coast of the peninsula and thunderstorm in the east coast.

Isolated thunderstorms are only expected to kick in later in the week.

“Sabah and Sarawak are expected to be fair today with showers in Limbang, Miri, Sandakan and the interiors of Sabah and Tawau,” the spokesperson said, adding that haze was a normal occurrence at this time of the year due to the dry weather conditions.

He added that wind conditions could have blown the smoke plumes here.

Satellite images showed 217 hotpots in Sumatra as of Sunday morning and 26 yesterday. Over 309 hotspots were detected for Borneo and 13 for the peninsula as of yesterday morning.

According to the Singapore weather website’s regional hazemap, scattered hotspots with some smoke plumes were detected over central Sumatra yesterday, adding that showers had eased hotspots in other parts of Sumatra.

Hotspots could go undetected due to cloudy or overcast conditions.

Dry conditions are expected to persist until September due to the southwest monsoon.

Malaysia: Haze disrupts several flights
Roy See Wei Zhi, Ahmad Fairuz Othman and Jassmine Shadiqe New Straits Times 12 Jul 11;

JOHOR BARU: The haze played havoc with flights at Sultan Ismail International Airport here yesterday morning when visibility on the runway dropped to a mere 20m.

A combination of haze and high moisture levels was identified as the cause for the low visibility which affected several flights.

Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Firefly flights were delayed for almost two hours.

A spokesman for Sultan Ismail International Airport said the overall visibility was about 300m and the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia had directed the airport to temporarily cease operations.

The first flight from Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang to here, which was scheduled for take-off at 7.30am, was delayed for about two hours.

"Pilots reported that they could not see beyond 20m from the cockpit," said the spokesman.

"The haze lingered on the tarmac for almost two hours before it cleared and flight operations resumed."

Both AirAsia flights AK5442 to the Penang International Airport and AK5271 to the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) were scheduled to take off at 8.40am but were delayed until 10.20am and 10.24am respectively.

Firefly's FY2140 to Subang Airport was also grounded from 8.45am to 9.20am.

MAS flight MH1038, which was scheduled for departure at 8.50am, took off at 10.21am while flight MH1037 from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to here was delayed for more than an hour.

AirAsia flight AK5443 from Penang landed at Sultan Ismail International Airport at 9.50am instead of 8.15am while flight AK5270 from the LCCT was delayed for almost 11/2 hours.

Thick fog causes MAS flights to be rescheduled
The Star 12 Jul 11;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia Airlines has rescheduled three of its flights but this was due to fog, not haze.

“MAS rescheduled flights between KL International Airport (KLIA) and Johor Baru yesterday due to the thick fog around Senai Airport in the morning,” it said in a statement here yesterday.

Flight MH 1034, which was to depart from Johor Baru to KLIA at 7am, was rescheduled to 9.10am while Flight MH 1037 from KLIA to Johor Baru was postponed to 8.51am from 7.35am.

This resulted in the return flight of MH 1038 from Johor Baru to KLIA to depart at 10.11am instead of 8.50am.

MAS operations director Capt Mohamed Azharuddin said the rescheduling was necessary to ensure passengers’ safety.

“As soon as the fog cleared up, we quickly resumed flight operations to minimise inconvenience to our passengers,” he said.

Media relations manager S. Anbarasu said no MAS flight had been affected by haze from fires in Sumatra and Borneo.

As at press time, no AirAsia flight had been disrupted.

Read more!

Indonesia: 12 hotspots detected in Kotabaru Kalimantan

Antara 9 Jul 11;

Kotabaru, S Kalimantan (ANTARA News) - The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)`s satellite has detected 12 hotspots here.

"It`s not known yet whether the hotspots are located in forest area or public plantation area," Ali Aripin, the head of the Technical Implementation Unit (UPT)`s Area I Semaras, said here on Saturday.

Ali Said he had found several fires set by local people to clear their land.

As rainfalls became less, a number of people set fire to clear the vegetation.

"Many residents of Pulau Laut Tengah, Pulau Laut Utara and other areas clear the vegetation in their land for farming areas," he said.

Setting fire is the most effective, cheapest and faster way to clear land.

Sukrowardi of the Kotabaru forestry service said his office has anticipated forest and plantation fires at Semaras, Pulau Laut Barat, Kotabaru.

He called on the local people not to burn vegetation to clear their land.

According to data, Kotabaru has around 139,645 hectares of protected forest, 72,653 hectares of sanctuary, 11,651 hectares of limited production forest, 295,065 permanent production forest and 27,982 conservation forest.

Haze has affected Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands over the past few weeks.

Riau province`s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said it had detected at least 36 hotspots in Sumatra on June 28, 2011.

Of the total 36 hotspots, 28 hotspots were found in the districts of Siak, Kampar, Bengkalis, Indragiri Hulu, Kuantansingingi, Dumai city, Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir, in Riau Province, Sumatra Island.

In Dumai, a number of local Residents have begun to suffer from respiratory problems due to the haze.

On Kalimantan Island, haze from forest and plantation fires has forced the authorities of Haji Asan airport in Sampit, East Kotawaringin District, Central Kalimantan province, to delay flights, over the past one week.

"Due to the haze, plane arrivals and departures are often late," Head of Haji Asan Airport Maruli Tua Edison Saragih said in Sampit on July 7.

In 1982-83 and 1994, forest fires in Indonesia had destroyed 6.4 million hectares of forests, especially in East Kalimantan.

Indonesia`s forest area reaches around 130 million hectares, the world`s third largest after Brazil and Congo.`

The government has promised to cut the number of hotspots by 20 percent per year to meet Indonesia`s pledge to reduce its emissions by 26 percent by 2020.(*)


Editor: Ruslan Burhani

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Decline in species shows climate change warnings not exaggerated

University of Exeter EurekAlert 11 Jul 11;

One in 10 species could face extinction by the year 2100 if current climate change impacts continue. This is the result of University of Exeter research, examining studies on the effects of recent climate change on plant and animal species and comparing this with predictions of future declines.

Published in leading journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study uses the well-established IUCN Red List for linking population declines to extinction risk. The research examines nearly 200 predictions of the future effects of climate change from studies conducted around the world, as well as 130 reports of changes which have already occurred.

The research shows that on average the declines that have already happened match predictions in terms of the relative risk to different species across the world.

Many studies have predicted that future climate change will threaten a range of plants and animals with extinction. Some of these studies have been treated with caution because of uncertainty about how species will respond to climate change. But widely published research showing how animals and plants are already responding to climate change gave the Exeter team the opportunity to check whether the predictions were wide of the mark. By producing the largest review ever of such studies, they show that predictions have, on average, been accurate, or even slightly too cautious.

Lead author Dr Ilya Maclean of the University of Exeter said: "Our study is a wake-up call for action. The many species that are already declining could become extinct if things continue as they are. It is time to stop using the uncertainties as an excuse for not acting. Our research shows that the harmful effects of climate change are already happening and, if anything, exceed predictions."

The study covered a wide range of species in all types of habitat across the globe. The findings confirm that human-induced climate change is now a threat to global biodiversity.

Co-author Dr Robert Wilson, also of the University of Exeter, said: "By looking at such a range of studies from around the world, we found that the impacts of climate change can be felt everywhere, and among all groups of animals and plants. From birds to worms to marine mammals, from high mountain ranges to jungles and to the oceans, scientists seem to have been right that climate change is a real threat to species.

"We need to act now to prevent threatened species from becoming extinct. This means cutting carbon emissions and protecting species from the other threats they face, such as habitat loss and pollution."

Examples of existing responses to climate change:

Decreased ice cover in the Bering Sea reduced the abundance of bivalve molluscs from about 12 to three per square metre over a very short period of time (1999-2001). These shells are the main food source for species higher up the food chain, such as Spectacled Eider.

Climatic warming and droughts are causing severe declines in once-common amphibian species native to Yellowstone National Park in the United States of America. Between 1992-1993 and 2006- 2008, the number of blotched tiger salamander populations fell by nearly half, the number of spotted frog populations by 68 per cent, and the number of chorus frog populations by 75 per cent.

In Antarctica, few animals exist on land, but one of the most abundant, a nematode worm living in the soil in dry, cold valleys experienced a 65 per cent decline between 1993 and 2005 as a result of climate change.

Examples of predicted responses to climate change:

On Tenerife, an endemic plant, the Caňadas rockrose has a 74 to 83 per cent chance of going extinct in the next 100 years as a result of climate change related droughts.

In Madagascar, climate warming is predicted to cause endemic reptiles and amphibians, often found in mountain ranges, to retreat towards the summit of the mounts. With a warming of just two degrees Celsius, well within current projections, three species are predicted to lose all of their habitat.

Birds living in northern Boreal Forests in Europe are expected to decline as a result of global warming. Species such as Dotterel are predicted to decline by 97 per cent by 2100 and species such as Two-barred Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak could lose their entire range within Fenno-Scandia.

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Thai 'rhino horn dealer' arrested in South Africa

Desmond Kwande AFP Yahoo News 12 Jul 11;

South African police have arrested a Thai national accused of organising rhinoceros hunts to sell the animals' horns on the international black market, officials said Monday.

The man, 43-year-old Chumlong Lemtongthai, was arrested at his house in Edenvale, east of Johannesburg at the weekend and is due to appear in court Monday for allegedly organising rhino poaching expeditions masked as legal trophy hunts, said the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

The tax authority says Lemtongthai would obtain trophy hunting permits, a limited number of which are issued each year, then buy the rhinos' horns from the hunters for an average 65,000 rand ($9,600, 6,800 euros) per kilogramme and send them overseas.

SARS spokesman Anton Fisher called Lemtongthai a "leading figure" in the international rhino horn trade.

"He's quite extensively involved at a very high level," Fisher told AFP.

Booming demand for rhino horn on the Asian black market has been driving a poaching surge in South Africa, home to more than 70 percent of the world's remaining rhino population.

South African national parks officials say rhino poaching has risen from 13 cases in 2007 to a record 333 last year. And the pace continues to increase -- nearly 200 rhinos were killed in the first half of 2011, according to environmental group WWF.

Rhino horn powder is used as a fever-reducer in traditional Chinese medicine. Researchers say the recent surge in poaching is driven by the emergence in Vietnam of a belief that the animals' horns can cure cancer.

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'Clean-up bid' tops agenda for whaling meet

Richard Black BBC News 10 Jul 11;

Whaling by indigenous peoples and reforms to prevent "votes for cash" allegations are set to top the agenda at this year's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Jersey.

Previous years have seen ire directed at Japan over its Antarctic hunts.

But Japan's current plans are unclear, with its policy under review.

The UK is proposing reforms to make the IWC more open, while some campaigners are angry about US plans to maintain hunting by Alaskan native peoples.

The meeting in the Channel Islands is also discussing proposals to ensure good practice in the whale-watching industry worldwide, and a bid to make the South Atlantic a sanctuary for whales.

Anti-whaling countries are expected to criticise Iceland and Norway over their continuation of commercial hunting.

But criticism of Japan is likely to be more muted than usual, following the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.
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US meddling is so serious as to warrant bringing 'Aboriginal' whaling from under the rug where everyone tries to keep it”

Jose Truda Palazzo Cetacean Conservation Center

"There's been a huge loss of life in coastal communities in Japan, including among many in the fishing industry and those associated with whaling - that's understood, and our sympathies go out to them," said UK Environment Minister Richard Benyon.

"Japan is a country that Britain is close to and supportive of in their hour of need - but we do disagree on whaling, and we aim to... have a constructive conversation about it," he told BBC News.

It is not clear that Japan intends to continue with its annual Antarctic hunt, conducted under regulations permitting whaling for scientific research.

The most recent whaling season ended early, with officials admitting the fleet could not cope with harassment by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessels.

A committee composed mainly of academics is reviewing the existing policy, which is costing the government more and more money as demand for whale meat falls; but its conclusions will not emerge until later this year.

However, whaling around the Japanese coast is continuing, despite the destruction by the tsunami of Ayukawa, one of the main ports.
Cash questions

The most eye-catching of the UK reform proposals is that governments should have to pay their membership subscriptions by bank transfer, creating an auditable trail.

Currently, subscriptions can be paid in cash, and rumours abound of developing countries' delegations turning up with bags full of money - with anti-whaling campaigners claiming the money came from Japan, in return for that country's support.

Immediately before last year's meeting, the Sunday Times newspaper published reports from undercover journalists that suggested some small countries that traditionally supported Japan would be willing to change sides in return for funding.

"[The IWC] has been going since 1946, and it needs to modernise its procedures so it doesn't leave itself open to the kinds of allegations made a year ago," said Mr Benyon.

Other components of the proposed reforms include prompt publication of minutes and decisions, the acceptance only of properly reviewed science, and more involvement for non-governmental organisations.

The UK proposal failed to find unanimous EU support - reportedly because Denmark, which represents Greenlanders rather than Danes within the IWC, would not back it.

And Tomas Heidar, who heads Iceland's delegation, suggested it would not meet with universal approval.

"There are some elements in the proposal that are totally unacceptable to us," he said.

Iceland recently embarked on talks with the EU over joining the 27-nation bloc. With the EU opposed to whaling, it could prove to be an important issue, alongside wider concerns that EU fishing boats could be given access to the fecund Icelandic waters.
Rising respect

Last year's IWC meeting in Morocco marked the end of a two-year "peace process" attempting to find a compromise between pro- and anti-whaling nations.

It came to nothing, although both blocs say relations between the parties are more constructive as a result.

"The atmosphere within the IWC has improved and relations between delegations on the two sides have improved - there's more respect for different views and it is now less likely that the IWC will fall apart," Mr Heidar told BBC News.

"We don't expect much to happen at this meeting, but we will naturally make use of the event to underline our policy which is all about sustainable use of living marine resources. In recent years we have experienced a growing understanding for this concept."

The US played a leading role in the "peace process", which garnered it a lot of criticism from some anti-whaling organisations.

This year, along with New Zealand, the US has tabled a motion asking the IWC to "encourage continuing dialogue" between governments regarding the commission's future.

Some campaigners say this shows the US is continuing to appease Japan so it will not block a bid to renew subsistence hunting quotas for indigenous Inupiat communities in Alaska when that issue comes up for review next year.

Indigenous (or Aboriginal) whaling is usually relatively uncontroversial, despite the fact that its record is markedly worse than commercial hunts in terms of how long whales take to die; but that may not be the case this time.

"The issue of US meddling is so serious as to warrant bringing the 'Aboriginal' whaling issue from under the rug where most everyone tries to keep it," said Jose Truda Palazzo of the Latin American Cetacean Conservation Center.

"It is widely known that most communities who benefit from this exemption no longer actually 'need' it for survival, although some arguably do have cultural claims.

"Latin America has an enormous discomfort with what the US has been doing over the 'Future of the IWC' process in trying to pass appeasement resolutions for a deal at any cost to get Japanese support for its quotas in 2012, and also we would like to have to have a wider, more open review of the legitimacy of aboriginal claims."

The IWC meeting, in the Jersey capital St Helier, runs until Thursday.

IWC leadership needed for whale conservation
WWF 11 Jul 11;

Jersey, UK – As the 63rd meeting of the International Whaling Commission opens, WWF is urging governments to take urgent steps to address the severe threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises from expanding shipping, offshore oil and gas, entanglement in fishing gear, and noise in the oceans.

The marine environment has never before been under such great pressure, and several whale, dolphin and porpoise species are on the brink of extinction. Possibly fewer than 130 Western North Pacific gray whales remain, yet offshore oil and gas projects near their feeding grounds are expanding ever further. One company is planning to build an oil platform directly adjacent to the most important area for the whales – where mother whales teach their calves to feed. The world’s smallest cetacean, the vaquita, has just 245 animals remaining, due to entanglement in gillnets which prevent the animals from coming to the surface to breath. Entanglement in fishing gear kills 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises each year.

“In the 21st century whales the world’s oceans are in crisis. Oil and gas operations, shipping, and irresponsible fishing are decimating several whale and dolphin species,” said Wendy Elliott, WWF’s Head of Delegation for the IWC meeting. “The IWC must become more effective in dealing with vast number of threats to whales in our oceans and seas. This will be a challenge, but is also an opportunity for the IWC to become a modern and effective body.”

Governments also have an opportunity at this meeting to improve transparency within the IWC, with concrete measures on the table to improve the IWC’s effectiveness.

“Governments must grasp the opportunity to improve the IWC’s effectiveness with both hands – any failure to do so will further relegate the IWC into the past,” Elliott said.

Effectiveness of the IWC

Up for discussion at this week’s meeting is a proposal put forward by the UK government that addresses the effectiveness and transparency of the IWC. The resolution suggests practical ways to tackle difficult issues that have prevented IWC from reaching its full potential. WWF supports the proposed reforms as a first step toward bringing IWC in line with the standards of other international agreements.

IWC and whale conservation

Human-induced threats are becoming increasingly pervasive in our oceans. Bycatch, pollution, habitat destruction, unsustainable fishing, oil and gas exploration and development, shipping, aquaculture, marine debris and climate change are all taking their toll on whales and their habitats, and in turn, are threatening the local communities that depend on coastal environments for their livelihoods and survival.

The IWC has already made considerable progress on cetacean conservation, but more needs to be done to secure the survival of all species. A good place to start would be to increasing funding for the conservation programmes currently underway by IWC and its committees. Governments should also use this week to share intelligence about conservation methods that can be implemented independently in their own waters to reduce the numerous threats facing whales, and to drive the IWC towards addressing important conservation issues such as noise pollution in our oceans.

Smart solutions to ship strikes

Ship strikes are one of the many growing threats to whales across the globe, and can also cause significant damage to vessels and injury to passengers. The IWC Ship Strikes Working Group is examining the problem and suggesting measures to reduce the risk of ships hitting and killing whales, such as speed reductions and alternative route planning. Also in the works through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a mandatory code for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters, known as the Polar Code. WWF encourages governments participating in the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee this week to ensure that effective measures to reduce the risk of ship strikes are included in the Polar Code. The waters around the earth’s poles are two of the most important habitats for cetaceans globally.

Western gray whales on the brink

WWF is extremely concerned about the impact of industrial activities on critically endangered Western North Pacific gray whales in the Russian Far East. Oil and gas operations close to the whales’ feeding grounds are of particular concern as the loss of just one or two breeding females each year could lead to extinction of the population. The impacts of multiple industrial activities that took place last year in the waters around Sakhalin Island are likely to have been severe, yet Sakhalin Energy, a consortium of Shell, Gazprom, Mitsui and Mitsubishi, has announced plans for the development of an additional oil platform. Twenty NGOs have signed a Statement of Concern opposing the platform, which could have a potentially devastating impact on the whales.

The Russian Government took a bold step for Western gray whales by imposing a regulation that will require developers in a new oil exploration block to conduct activities only from late November to late May, when the whales are away from their summer feeding grounds. WWF asks Russia to expand that requirement to all exploration blocks in the vicinity of Western gray whale feeding area, and to reject proposals from Sakhalin Energy for the construction of a new offshore platform. WWF also invites governments of other Western gray whale range states to amplify Russia’s conservation efforts by implementing similar time-space closures for cetacean populations in their own waters where oil and gas operations may occur.

Noisy oceans

Whales use sound as their primary sense to communicate, to find food, find a mate and to avoid predators. Excessive noise in the ocean can impede the ability of whales to conduct these basic tasks and even cause hearing damage. Industrial activities such as shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction or military activities are creating a cacophony of noise that can have a severe impact on the ability of whales to survive. To experience for yourself what it’s like to be a whale in noisy waters visit our new interactive website Don't be a Buckethead.

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