Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jul 11

From Whence We Came: The History & Future of Singapore’s Raffles Museum from Raffles Museum News

Pentaceraster sea star featured in poster
from wild shores of singapore

Mega Marine Survey featured in the Good Paper
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Feeding behaviour of juvenile munias
from Bird Ecology Study Group

How to get rid of your seemingly unstoppable pond algae
from Water Quality in Singapore

Why people care about a cause
from blogfish

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Uniquely Singapore: Singapore's biodiversity

Straits Times 23 Jul 11;

THE Singapore tarantula and Singapore whiskered bat are some of the island's true blue natives, found nowhere else in the world.

Among the handful of creatures and plants in this category - many of them endangered or extinct - is the cream-coloured giant squirrel.

With a body length of 38cm and a longish tail, it was one of the largest squirrels around, and was named by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1821.

Once abundant in the woods of Singapore, the rodent was trapped for food and its habitats were destroyed. No sightings of the species have been reported for the last 15 years and it is feared to have become extinct.

There are no birds, reptiles or fishes on the list, but there is an amphibian.

The mysterious black caecilian was collected in 1847 after being dug up in a garden in Thomson Road. The snake-like amphibian, now placed at London's Natural History Museum, is the only one of its kind found.

Others are still clinging on.

Three species of freshwater crab, for instance, can still be found in places such as Nee Soon Swamp Forest and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

One of them, the Singapore crab, was first discovered by crustacean expert Peter Ng in 1986.

Distinguishable by a bright orange band just below the eyes, it does well in hill streams and very clean water.

Tiny havens for wildlife
Straits Times 23 Jul 11;

BUKIT Timah Nature Reserve and MacRitchie Reservoir are home to some of Singapore's remaining tiny pockets of primary forest.

Nee Soon swamp, next to Upper Peirce Reservoir, is the only freshwater swamp here.

These precious areas of habitat contain some of the country's richest and most diverse wildlife.

In fact, Singapore's biodiversity as a whole remains so rich that more than 100 species completely new to science have been found here in recent years. These range from new species of moss to fishes, spiders, shrimps and barnacles.

Nee Soon Swamp Forest is the last refuge for many local species, including plants, fishes, amphibians and reptiles.

Over at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve - home to what is believed to be among the world's oldest small rainforest reserves - trees tower 80m into the sky.

The area holds 40 per cent of Singapore's native plants, many of which are found nowhere else here.

At Labrador Nature Reserve, its short 300m stretch is a tiny cradle of intertidal biodiversity, including seagrass, molluscs and crustaceans, and rich fish life.

On the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin, Chek Jawa is an oasis for coastal creatures living relatively untouched by urbanisation and offering a glimpse of what the island's shores must have looked like in the 1950s and earlier.

And it is bird heaven at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

More than 200 bird species have been recorded in the 130ha plot on the north-western tip of Singapore.

Estuarine crocodiles, monitor lizards and smooth-coated otters have also settled down there.

Marine life is rich, with Singapore waters home to 250 hard coral species, for instance, almost a third of the global total.

They can even thrive alongside man-made developments. Testimony to this is the Keppel Bay marina on the heavily built-up southern coast, where careful planning ensured salt-water denizens such as clown fish, sea fans and cave corals could call it home.

A future of green and blue
Straits Times 23 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE'S green and blue heritage - its verdant havens of flora and sparkling waterways - looks bright.

This is thanks to an ambitious billion-dollar plan to improve energy efficiency, lift recycling levels, expand green spaces and open up reservoirs and other waterways.

The main strategy is to stick to the Singapore approach in other fields: pursue long-term growth coupled with far-sighted planning, flexibility and a good measure of common sense.

Singapore has been spreading its green mantle since the 1960s, when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew envisioned tree-lined expressways to impress investors.

Today, agencies such as the National Parks Board, PUB and researchers here play key roles in research, public education, reforestation and clean-up projects.

The PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme, for instance, conserves freshwater life in and around the drainage system while getting the public involved in the effort.

A Park Connector Network used by cyclists, joggers and walkers links people to parks and nature sites around the island, providing not only recreation but also eco-links for animal and plant life.

Farther afield, the Pulau Semakau landfill has received international acclaim for being a wildlife haven rich in mangrove swamps, forests and coral beds.

In recent years, more and more Singaporeans have begun to share Mr Lee's passion for greening the environment.

Non-governmental organisations have also had a strong voice in protecting native biodiversity, with the Nature Society (Singapore) leading an ever-growing pack that includes new groups, online communities, websites and blogs.

More people are volunteering time to make a contribution to conservation. Others are making environmentally conscious choices such as buying energy-efficient appliances as well as recycling household waste.

And between 2008 and last year, more than 270 companies contributed more than $6 million to projects ranging from coral nurseries to planting trees.

Former national development minister Mah Bow Tan laid out this vision for Singapore.

'Our blue and green spaces will be seamlessly integrated, as we landscape our waterbodies to create active, beautiful and clean waters,' he said.

'There will be more skyrise greenery, covering our built environment with a lush, vertical green mantle. We will create an environment where biodiversity can thrive, and where our natural heritage can be safeguarded.'

Alien invasion
Straits Times 23 Jul 11;

NOT only have Singapore's native plants and animals lost most of their living space to construction, but they have also had to jostle with alien species.

Being a major trading hub has led to some unwanted immigrants in Singapore, including disease-spreading brown rats and American cockroaches.

Hundreds of such species have made a home here, invading air, water and land. Some of the more common ones include the water hyacinth, guppies and pigeons.

While only a minority of introduced species cause problems, ecologists worry about them all because it is impossible to predict who the trouble-makers will be.

Apart from spreading parasites and disease, they also compete with native plants and animals for food and space, or damage infrastructure.

And once they take root here, they are usually here to stay. For instance, tens of millions of dollars are spent here every year to control the rat, crow and cockroach populations, and to remove floating plants choking the reservoirs.

Singapore's bustling ornamental fish, plant and pet trade has also seen exotic species such as freshwater stingrays and arowana breeding in the reservoirs.

Even the forest reserves are not immune, and have been hit with the pest plant Koster's curse and the aggressive yellow crazy ant.

Back from the brink of extinction
Straits Times 23 Jul 11;

THE banded leaf monkey is one of many plant and animal species creeping back from the jaws of extinction here.

Once widespread on the island, its numbers shrank to just 10 in the 1980s.

Almost nothing is known about the shy primate, which is about 60cm tall with an even longer tail, making conservation efforts difficult. So National University of Singapore researchers worked with the National Parks Board and Wildlife Reserves Singapore to painstakingly monitor and count the species, and found a ray of hope - its numbers had quadrupled to 40.

Genetic tests on the animals' faeces also showed that the monkeys are the same subspecies as their neighbours in Johor, which means that animals could be translocated from either location to boost populations and ensure their survival.

Efforts to boost biodiversity range from a butterfly trail along Orchard Road to seeding corals in surrounding waters.

With more than half the world's people living in cities and 60 per cent projected to do so by 2030, the nation's success is being used as a template for protecting plants and animals in an urban setting.

The Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity, highlighted in a new local nature encyclopaedia launched this week, is a case in point. The tool, proposed by former national development minister Mah Bow Tan, was specially designed to monitor, assess and manage the status of biodiversity in urban areas.

The first index of its kind, it is gaining momentum and is being tested in over 40 cities, which use it to quantify their plants and animals, determine what ecosystems give free 'services' such as providing oxygen or absorbing floodwater, and what is being done to preserve them.

Said Dr Lena Chan, deputy director of the National Biodiversity Centre of NParks, which is coordinating the index: 'What started out as a simple monitoring tool is now being used all over the world as a diagnostic kit to see where the holes are and which components are weak.

'In Singapore, we're now beginning to apply it in different projects to ensure that biodiversity planning is incorporated into masterplanning guidelines.'

Professor Leo Tan, director of special projects at the university's science faculty and chair of the book's editorial advisory committee, added: 'Singapore is a good example of what can be done to ensure sustainability. For the first time we have authentic data that can show the successes, threats and losses, and the potential hope for mankind.'

Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the Tropical Marine Science Institute, noted that the book added to this effort because it not only charted the local environmental landscape over the last 200 years, but also did some 'crystal ball gazing'.

'Balancing the often conflicting needs of economic development, conservation and preservation of a country's natural heritage is never easy, and in Singapore's case, it has been a monumental challenge.

'To reach the next lap, Singaporeans must not only know their past, but also appreciate their present and have hope in their future, and I hope the book will be a catalyst for this.'

Life in an urban jungle
New book showcases the more than 40,000 native species of flora and fauna here
Chang Ai-Lien Straits Times 23 Jul 11;

AGAINST all odds, nature abounds in spectacular diversity in our midst.

Urban Singapore is teeming with wildlife, as the country's first biodiversity encyclopaedia shows in bounteous detail.

Filled with photographs, the 552-page book showcases everything from abalone - there are seven species here - to zooxanthellae, single- celled plants living in the tissue of corals.

Sixty-five scientists, nature experts, policymakers and environmental activists produced the mammoth tome, which also chronicles successes, threats and losses in wildlife conservation here.

The book took three years to compile and was brought to life by conservation champions Leo Tan and Peter Ng, professors at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Faculty of Science, with the help of a chief adviser, Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh.

'Bit by bit, this story came together, and it was a story worth telling,' said Prof Ng, who also heads the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. He was one of the book's editors, together with Professor Richard Corlett and Associate Professor Hugh Tan, his colleagues.

Its chapters cover the environmental scene in the country over the last 200 years, how it has tried to balance the often conflicting needs of economic development, conservation and preservation of natural heritage, and its hopes for the future.

Singapore Biodiversity - An Encyclopedia Of The Natural Environment And Sustainable Development also comes with an A to Z guide on virtually every known organism here.

The Republic is home to more than 40,000 native species of flora and fauna which have survived despite extensive habitat destruction.

Prof Tan noted that even biologists and scientists from overseas found this hard to believe, and were quick to underestimate Singapore's rich natural treasure trove.

'Then when they are finally convinced to come here to collect specimens, whether insects or crabs or coral, they are surprised time and time again.'

He added: 'The book also paints the landscape of Singapore's future and will hopefully inspire young people to play a role in shaping it.'

Indeed, some young people will get a chance to do so soon, as a result of the book's publication.

Donations towards producing the encyclopaedia - from ExxonMobil Asia Pacific, Keppel Corp, the Lee Foundation, Ngee Ann Kongsi and businessmen Sam Goi and Oei Hong Leong - were matched by $1.1 million in government funding, which will go into an endowment fund for a new Bachelor of Environmental Studies degree at NUS.

The undergraduate course is being developed and will be taught by professors from eight faculties, with the first batch of 50 students starting next month.

NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan noted that today's environmental issues are complex, spanning many fields.

The programme would nurture graduates who are able to think deeply and broadly, he said, and help to develop novel solutions for Singapore and beyond.

Prof Leo Tan added: 'Each faculty contains experts in their own fields with their own priorities.

'Getting this diverse group together was something of a miracle, but it was necessary because the environment cannot be dealt with by one person or group.'

The book, which was launched on Monday by the university's chancellor, President S R Nathan, is on sale at major bookstores for $65 (excluding GST).

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Parts of KTM railway to be retained

Sections of track at the railway stations and on two steel bridges to be kept
Grace Chua Straits Times 23 Jul 11;

SOME sections of the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway tracks will be retained, the Nature Society and other heritage interest groups said yesterday.

They emerged from a meeting with government agencies to report that sections of the track at the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah railway stations, and those on two steel bridges at Dunearn Road and the Rail Mall, will be kept under existing plans to conserve the stations.

The civic society groups did not, however, have information on the length of these conserved sections. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) confirmed the information following the meeting the groups had with Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin and representatives from the Ministry of National Development and its associated agencies.

The future of the railway land, a 26km stretch from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, has been a matter of intense interest lately.

For weeks, members of the public have made postings on the civic groups' Facebook page, asking for the tracks to be retained.

And in the ST Forum Online page on July 11, reader and avid cyclist Patrick Low pleaded: 'Before the bulldozers and excavators remove everything, let us think about the possibility of preserving sections of the railway.'

The 26km stretch of KTM railway land reverted to Singapore on July 1.

The authorities already have plans to make the Tanjong Pagar station a national monument and the Bukit Timah one, a conserved building.

But the URA and Singapore Land Authority had announced that the tracks and some structures would be removed and handed back to Malaysia, in line with the agreement between the two sides.

This is what touched people's sentiments. Aside from lobbying the authorities, hundreds of nostalgia-hunters have descended on the tracks in recent weeks to see the place and take photographs.

This week, the tracks were closed off for the removal work, though a 3km stretch from Rifle Range Road to Rail Mall will remain open to the public until the end of this month.

Mr Leong Kwok Peng, vice-president of the Nature Society, part of the group which has pushed for a 'green corridor' to be developed in the railway land, said ground feelings on preserving sections of the track are probably mixed: 'There are some who want the tracks to be there, but there are others who feel it's a hindrance to walking and cycling.' He pointed out, however, that the tracks served a symbolic function.

'If you call Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah railway stations, you must have something to show that they were railway stations, so it's a good-to-have for history and heritage.'

The civic groups and the government agencies yesterday also discussed plans to engage the public, for example by holding an exhibition on the railway and having dialogues with residents and schools along the railway line.

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Heritage academy launched

Nicholas Yeo Business Times 23 Jul 11;

THE National Heritage Board (NHB) Academy marked its official launch yesterday with partnerships with the internationally acclaimed Smithsonian Institution (SI) and the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore (TMIS).

Under a memorandum of agreement with SI, NHB Academy and the renowned Washington institution will co-develop training curriculum and workshops for museum professionals, as NHB Academy moves towards making Singapore a regional hub for museum scholarship.

The collaboration will run for two years, with the first workshops beginning in November.

The NHB Academy's memorandum of understanding with TMIS will include collaborations to strengthen training curriculum and deliver heritage-based workshops for tourist guides.

NHB chairman Tommy Koh, NHB CEO Michael Koh, SI director of international museum professional education programmes Elizabeth Duggal and TMIS CEO Loi Hai Poh signed the agreements yesterday.

'The NHB Academy will continue to invest in capability development partnerships to develop our local museum and heritage professionals to create more world-class home-grown exhibitions, programmes and tours to fuel the growth of Singapore's heritage scene,' said Alvin Tan, director (heritage institutions and industry development).

The NHB Academy was set up in June 2010 to serve as a specialist in professional museum training and to promote Singapore as a regional hub for museum scholarship. 'It was the brainchild of Prof Tommy Koh,' said NHB's Mr Koh.

The Smithsonian Institution is one of the world's most renowned museum institutions, and it is the world's largest museum and research complex consisting of 19 museums.

Workshops on best practices in the museum and heritage sector
Today Online 23 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - Plans are afoot to enhance the skills of professionals in Singapore's museum and heritage sector, with the National Heritage Board (NHB) Academy inking agreements with the Smithsonian Institution (SI) and Tourism Management Institute of Singapore (TMIS) to raise the standards of Singapore's museum and heritage industry.

The NHB Academy and the SI will co-develop the training curriculum and organise workshops for museum professionals over a period of two years.

The workshops, to begin in November, will aim to equip local museum professionals with the knowledge of international best practices as well as core skills in the areas of curation, exhibition management, collections management and conservation.

The academy will also collaborate with TMIS to strengthen the training curriculum and deliver heritage-based workshops for tourist guides, with funding support from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. The workshops will familiarise tourist guides with local cultures, museums and heritage centres, and the history and heritage of our heartlands.

The series of workshops kicked off yesterday with a lecture on Peranakan culture.

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Interview with Jane Goodall: A singular passion

Audrey Phoon Business Times 23 Jul 11;

Small actions can make a big difference, and for those who aren't convinced there is living proof in the form of Jane Goodall. Here, the world's most well known ecological activist shares her story and methods for effecting change in a resistant field.

JANE Goodall was just four years old when she began studying animals and sharing her findings. That's when she hid in a henhouse for several hours to observe a hen laying eggs. 'When I saw the eggs come out, I was really excited. My mother remembers me rushing towards the house covered in straw to share the news,' she recalls.

Dr Goodall was here recently to speak at the Ideas for a Better World forum organised by the Singapore International Foundation. Now 77, and looking astonishingly fresh-faced after just two hours of sleep, she has built a career around her passion for animals.

Over the years, there have been many similar episodes to those in the henhouse. They vary in length and scope (from hours with chickens to moments with giraffes and years with primates) but the one that really put her onto television screens and newspapers around the globe began in 1957.

At a friend's invitation to stay at her family's farm and experience the African wildlife, the Londoner embarked on a 22-day solo passage to Kenya, or what was then known as the British protectorate of Tanganyika. Recalling the journey, she says cheekily: 'It was wonderful. I had so much fun and of course I flirted with the sailors; just a few lovely shipboard flirtations. But I'm not talking about jumping into bed with people - we didn't in those days. Today it could mean something different.'

Such girlish concerns, however, went out the window when she saw her first wild giraffe soon after her arrival. Subsequently, instead of joining the party circuit like her friends, she sought out the Kenyan archaeologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey, who in 1960 assigned her to do a field study of a group of wild chimpanzees in western Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park. The plucky young Dr Goodall then set up camp amid the park's steep valleys and tropical rainforests for a year and a half, most of it spent in the sole company of the primates and one native cook, who was her only link with the outside world.

'I would set out at 5.30 in the morning when it was dark, not knowing what I'd see that day,' she says of her routine there. 'Back then we didn't know what we take for granted now in the primate world, so a lot of things were very new and surprising.'

In fact, much of mankind's currently accepted knowledge about chimpanzees was acquired by Dr Goodall herself during that stint. While at Gombe, she made several significant discoveries, such as learning that primates are capable of rational thought and emotions, and that they make and use tools - things that scientists had earlier presumed only humans could do. Her work in Africa established her as one of the world's leading authorities on chimps and helped her develop a reputation as one of the world's most effective ecological activists; she is perhaps the only one whose very name is something of a brand.

That name is today stamped on everything from international conservation programmes and books, to movies and toys such as Mr H, which Dr Goodall has brought with her to this interview. The cuddly monkey, who is beadily observing the proceedings from a side table, is her official mascot; for US$15 on the Jane Goodall Institute website, he can be yours, too. 'We try to sell things that have a message, and he has a big message - he represents peace and hope,' says the good doctor, who is also a United Nations Messenger of Peace and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Softly softly
Some, understandably, have scoffed at this rather fuzzy and commercial method of conveying a serious message. Yet that soft approach is surely why Dr Goodall is such a success at connecting with people and effecting change. While she is on the road a punishing 300 days a year on average to raise awareness of ecological issues, her campaign has never had an aggressive tone to it. 'With corporations, governments, individuals - it's the same. You've got to find a way to talk to them and you can't do it through the head, you have to find a way through the heart,' she reasons. 'And you can't do it by being accusing and pointing a finger. You can only do it by talking, finding who the people (at the root of the problem) are, and basically by telling stories. That's the way I work, anyway.'

It's an approach, she says, that she has adopted from her Gombe companions, for whom 'support is key'. Chimpanzees also often show patience and affection towards one another and refrain from punishing their young, waiting it out until the child knows it has done something wrong, which pays off in the long run, observes the primatologist. 'Offspring brought up this way go on to play a higher role in society - the males are high ranking and the females grow up to be good mothers. The others have difficulty forming relaxed relationships and they don't do very well.'

To maintain the research at Gombe, which is now the world's longest continuous wildlife study, the 'chimpanzee lady' - as Dr Goodall is sometimes better known, although 'it doesn't bother me because it means that people are on the right path' - set up the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in 1977. But out of necessity its focus has broadened to include chimps in other areas, wildlife in Tanzania and the promotion of conservation in general. 'In the old days, communities living in the forests were sensibly sustainable, but money changed them. Now they're paid to hunt animals commercially and foreign logging companies have opened up forests with roads that enable hunters to go out and bring meat out on trucks, which is totally unsustainable. So we're trying to counteract this.'

So far the JGI has helped conserve more than 11,000 sq km of forest in three chimpanzee-range countries, and provided over 600,000 people with access to improved livelihoods and infrastructure via the programmes that it runs. These include the TACARE programme, which partners with communities to create sustainable livelihoods while promoting conservation goals; and Roots & Shoots, which targets youth in 127 countries and which Dr Goodall is particularly proud of.

'I think the most important thing to realise is that I could kill myself raising money for chimps and saving forests or whatever, but if we're not raising the next generation to be better stewards than us, what's the point?' she muses. 'So Roots & Shoots is the future, and the potential for young people to change the world is hugest. Children change their parents and their grandparents, and some of those parents and grandparents are powerful people, who then change their own behaviour. In that way you've just swelled the outreach and the potential for change.'

She relates one first-hand experience of this: One man was the director of a big primate research lab, where the conditions were horrible. Dr Goodall talked about the lab in none too glowing terms. 'Unknown to me, his daughter was in the audience, and she went back crying to her father. He hated me at first, but then he thought about it and found the funds to change things. The lab is miles better now. Later on, he came to me and said he realised what he was doing was wrong.'

Of course, the responsibility to change the way we live doesn't rest solely on the shoulders of the younger generation, Dr Goodall emphasises. 'It's honestly a mixture. The potential for governments to introduce legislation is huge too, as is the potential for corporations to help. Initially some of the steps that businesses took to show more corporate social responsibility were just green washing; they didn't do much about it. But I find more and more corporations now where people genuinely want to make a difference. They realise that resources are not unlimited.'

What, then, is an effective way for businesses to go about change? 'The first thing is to assess if you have any environmental damage, what it is and in what ways you can do something about it. Secondly, if you're doing it in the developing world, how fair are you being to people you employ? So often people are not being paid fairly. And the other thing is, if a big MNC goes in and says it wants to grow some kind of crop for its own country and its own buyers, the local people get pushed out and their cultures swept aside. The money goes into government pockets and the people get poorer and poorer.

'This crippling poverty gets worse all the time. And crippling poverty destroys the environment, because people have to somehow feed themselves, so they cut down the last trees even though they know it's going to be a desert. But what can they do? The corporations really have to start changing the way they operate.'

Making a difference

Meanwhile, for their part, individuals should 'push towards green energy and sustainable living',' Dr Goodall suggests. 'Even houses in England, where there's hardly ever any sun, have solar panels now. And the British government pays half towards solar energy. Then there's windpower, tides, methane ... all the landfills could be turned into energy too, and in some cases they are.

'We also need to reduce population growth and materialistic society's obsession with buying stuff. We need so little - a roof over our heads, some food, some clothes ... personally I don't like shopping but I realise you have to look nice - otherwise it's rude. But that's it.'

With the advancement of technology and a wider web of communication channels, the world's awareness of ecological issues is at an all-time high. Yet very few people have changed their behaviour, Dr Goodall laments, citing a recent survey which showed that while there is widespread awareness of climate change in the UK, not many people are doing anything about it.

'People care but they don't know what to do. They think 'oh, I'm just one person and there's nothing I can do, it's up to governments and corporations, not me'. But my message is that every person makes a difference every day. You make an impact and you have a choice. Once people get that and think about the consequences, they start making a change. A small change may be nothing, but multiply it by a million people and it's huge.'

If it's tough enough to change one's lifestyle, imagine what it must be like to coax billions of people to do the same. But mention that to Dr Goodall and she retorts with a spirited flick of her snow-white ponytail: 'The world is stubborn, but so am I. I was brought up never to give up, that's what my mother said when I wanted to go to Africa. It was the dark continent with no planes going back and forth; it was a frightening place and I was a girl. Of course people laughed at me. But there was my mother saying, if you really want something, work hard, take advantage of opportunity and never give up. You'll find a way.'

Jane Goodall
Primatologist and ecological activist

1934 Born in London

1957 Sets sail in the Kenya Castle to visit a friend's farm in Kenya. Meets archaeologist and paleontologist Louis Leakey, who hires her as an assistant

1960 Sets up camp in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park; lives for a year and a half observing chimpanzees

1962 Leakey sends her to Cambridge University to get a PhD in Ethology

1977 Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) established to support ongoing Gombe research project

1991 JGI's global youth programme, Roots & Shoots, launched. Today it has more than 10,000 groups in over 100 countries

2002 Named UN Messenger of Peace

2004 Made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire

2007 Singapore branch of JGI founded; it becomes part of the institute's network of 26 offices worldwide

2010 Her latest documentary, Jane's Journey, one of the most in-depth films on the ecological activist, is released. The Gombe project, the world's longest continuous wildlife study, commemorates its 50th year with a global celebration

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Just Off Jakarta, an Island of Trash

Jakarta Globe 23 Jul 11;

Once renowned for its pristine beaches, Untung Jawa Island, just an hour’s boat ride from Jakarta, is now known as “trash island.” With hundreds of tons of styrofoam, plastic and the occasional dead body washing ashore, the locals have had enough.

Untung Jawa is part of the Thousand Islands, a string of 105 tropical islands in Jakarta Bay. Once a popular tourist destination, thirteen heavily polluted rivers that flow from Jakarta harbor out to the islands mean they are now being hit by daily waves of trash.

Between the island’s two harbors hangs a 100-meter-long net designed to trap the mountain of styrofoam and plastic that pours in every day. Untung Jawa village chief Eko Suroyo says the net is only moderately effective.

“Because there is so much trash we use this net to prevent trash from coming ashore. It doesn’t always work, but at least we can minimize the amount of trash,” the village chief said.

An average of 100 tons washes up on the island, he said, made worse every day by strong easterly winds that carry more rubbish from the bustling metropolis of nearly 10 million people, whose sewage system is almost non-existent.

Eko says the situation has reached a crisis point.

“No wonder the mayor of Thousand Islands calls this an island of trash! Any kind of trash is available here,” he said. “From mineral water bottles, instant noodle packages, sandals, and even a dead body. Yes, a dead body! Once we had two dead bodies floating ashore in the same week!”

The smell of rotting, salty trash fills the air in Untung Jawa even with the 11 official beach cleaners working hard all day.

“Sometimes we have to swim out into the water to collect trash. Sometimes there are jelly fish that sting us and sometimes I step on nails or glass. That’s the risk involved of being a cleaning officer,” said a beach cleaner named Ali.

Rusli, another beach cleaner on the island, which has a population of about 2,000, says tourists often ask him where the rubbish comes from.

“The trash is constant. We’ve tried our best to clean the beach, and then another wave comes and brings more and more trash,” he said. “I really worry about what the tourists think of our island.”

Fellow rubbish collector Ali says it’s bad for business.

“Tourists complain whenever they want to swim or play water sports. They ask why there’s so much trash on the island. I tell them it’s not our trash, this is from Jakarta,” he says.

For others, the waves of rubbish are an opportunity.

Fifty-three-year-old Samin used to be a fisherman but now survives by collecting and selling bottles to local recyclers.

Samin makes just $1 per kilogram but his neighbor Numpati makes $150 a month by turning the trash into recycled handbags and laptop bags.

“I just looked around to find new models and styles for my bags,” Numptai said. “Recently I have been inspired by the bags I see actresses carrying.”

Numpati said she learned how to make the bags in a government training session and now sells them to tourists, in exhibitions and even in the Netherlands.

There are, however, mounds of rubbish on Untung Jawa that can’t be recycled and most of it ends up in a government-run incinerator.

“We get up to 10 or 20 tons of trash a day, but I can only burn around one ton a day,” said the incinerator operator, Suherman. “If I push the machine too hard, it breaks. So after working for one hour I give it a rest for about half an hour and then start it up again”

With the constant waves of trash, village chief Eko says the governments of Jakarta and West Java should do more to stop the rubbish at the source.

“I don’t ask too much, just prevent the trash coming to our island. If it stops, we can grow our tourism industry. These provinces have to take this seriously. We have to change our mind-set; the ocean is not a huge trash can. Oceans and rivers are our future.”

Asia Sentinel

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From poo to expensive brew

New Straits Times 22 Jul 11;

THERE is gold in faeces, literally speaking. This is at least true in the droppings of civets. The wild creature, which belongs to the cat family (felidae), is locally known as musang, or luwak in Indonesia.

Civet is one of the worst pests for farmers, besides monkeys, squirrels and rodents. Most farmers trap the cats to kill them, but some farmers see civets as money spinners.

The omnivorous civet is a nocturnal predator, and feeds on fruits, berries and small birds.

Civets are said to pluck and consume coffee berries at night, and discharge the faeces at intervals just before dawn.

Farmers say it is easy to spot a civet's stool, which resembles the tubes of soggy nuts found in a nutty-rich chocolate bar, and smells like raw chocolate.

The stools are collected, rinsed and the beans separated, sun-dried, roasted and ground into powder -- this is kopi luwak, or civet coffee, the most expensive coffee in the world, with the beans fetching a price of up to US$1,000 (RM3,100) per kilogramme.

Civet coffee originated from Indonesia during the Dutch occupation.

Records show the Dutch introduced the premium arabica coffee as a cash crop in Sumatra and Java, but prevented the native farmers from plucking the berries for their own consumption.

To fulfil their craving for the coffee, the natives started collecting the faeces of civets, and processed them into coffee beans.

They brewed coffee from the semi-fermented beans and sensed a unique aromatic flavour in the beverage. Soon, the news reached the Dutch, who tried, and later got addicted to the beverage.

Today civet or luwak coffee beans are the most prized and highly sought after commodity, not only in Indonesia, but in other South East Asian countries, including Malaysia.

As civet droppings are not found in large quantities, it explains why the coffee commands such a high price in the market.

Although it is not easy to get roasted civet coffee beans in the country, the coffee is available in limited outlets, with varying prices.

A coffee outlet in Kuala Lumpur has tagged a mug of civet coffee at RM168, while in Johor Baru, it is sold at two Kopitian outlets at RM50 each per mug.

In neighbouring Singapore, it is priced at about S$60 (RM145) a mug, and in Taiwan, 500 yuan (RM50) a mug.

As the beverage is fetching such a good price, some farmers in Johor have started collecting civet faeces to supplement their income.

Farmer Phang Kim Yon, 40, of Bukit Batu in southern Johor, said there are two coffee harvesting seasons a year, which are also the best time to collect the faeces.

"They are everywhere. Sometimes, I find it along rural roads. Civets can be fussy. They only feed on the berries of certain trees and they know how to choose the best coffee berries," he said.

Records show civet coffee taste better as it is the product of enzyme reaction in the digestive tract of the civet.

A kilogramme of civet faeces can produce about 500g of roasted coffee beans.

Due to the good prospect of civet coffee, farmers are hoping that the government will promote the growing of coffee trees by offering incentives as a bigger harvest would mean more faeces for collection.

They are also hopeful the government will promote the locally-produced kopi luwak, which is still obtained through the natural way.

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Indonesia: Electric Fence For Javan Rhinos Divides Opinion

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 21 Jul 11;

Is an electric fence the key to saving the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros? The government seems to think so, but environmentalists say the idea is a dangerous waste of time.

A proposal has been made to put up an electric fence around the 3,000-hectare Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area (Jarhisca) in Banten’s Ujon Kulon National Park.

But Mamat Rachman, a wildlife expert and head of an environmental risk assessment team charged with monitoring the park, said on Wednesday that the fence would cause far more problems than it would fix.

“We have already assessed the plan, and we have clearly stated that if they put fences in those areas it will have a considerable ecological and social impact,” he said. “We recommend the government be really careful about implementing the proposal.”

Mamat said Ujung Kulon was a unique landscape that should not be developed, especially with fencing. “It would inhibit not only the movement of the rhinos but also other animals in the area,” he said. “Moreover, if there was a tsunami or eruption, for instance, all the rhinos at Jarhisca could be wiped out.”

He said the site was also home to panthers and leopards that hunted wild boar and deer.

“If the fence blocks their ability to find prey, they might go to the villages and hunt livestock,” he said. “So you will most likely have more cases of humans and animals coming into conflict.”

The government established Jarhisca in June last year within Ujung Kulon, on the western tip of Banten. Its main aim is to preserve the dwindling number of reclusive Javan rhinos.

The idea of electric fencing came from the Indonesian Rhino Foundation (YABI), a nongovernmental organization supported by the Forestry Ministry. It proposed putting up at least 20 kilometers of electric fencing in the eastern part of the park and two kilometers in the western part.

A plan has been drawn up to divide the 78,000-hectare national park by electric fence into three areas. The 3,000-hectare Jarhisca would be in the center, there would be 19,000 hectares for densely populated areas in the eastern part of the park, and 56,000 hectares for the western part, which is also considered an area for rhinos.

Darori, director general of forest protection and nature conservation at the ministry, said he supported the plan because it was the best hope for the rhinos.

“We want to place all the Javan rhinos in the site and put up fences so that their breeding is not disturbed by humans or other animals,” he said.

The ministry estimates that only 50 Javan rhinos remain in Ujung Kulon. Under its Javan Rhino Action Plan, the government is looking to boost the population to 70 or 80 individuals by 2015. By 2075, the total wild population is hoped to reach 1,000.

Marcellus Adi, a veterinarian specializing in rhinos for the past 20 years, said the only way to save the Javan rhino was to improve its habitat.

“Jarhisca is inspired by the sanctuary in Way Kambas [for Sumatran rhinos] but the fence there is only around 200 hectares and doesn’t drastically divide the park,” he said.

“If they want to build a sanctuary, they only need several hundred hectares and it does not have to be fenced.

“Moreover, they should start with a complete census for Javan rhinos because how can you increase its population if you don’t know how many are out there.”

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It's Alive! Extinct Toad Lives on in Lab

Remy Melina, LiveScience Yahoo News 22 Jul 11;

An extremely rare, toad that's extinct in the wild is thriving in a lab environment, but researchers are still trying to determine whether it's safe to reintroduce the species into the wild.

A population of the tiny toads was first found in 1996 living near the bottom of a waterfall where Tanzania's Kihansi River plunges more than 3,000 feet (.9 kilometers); the beginning of the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the river led to their discovery.

The toads flourished living by the vertical wetland created by the forceful spray that came off of the waterfall's pounding water.

The Kihansi spray toad is golden yellow in color, with pale white, nearly translucent skin on its abdomen that makes its intestines visible through its skin. The toad weighs only a few grams and belongs to a unique group of amphibians that give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. After delivering their babies, the toads carry their young on their backs.

"After much searching, it turned out to be a truly endemic and unique species," James Gibbs, a conservation biologist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, N.Y., said in a statement. "They have never been seen anywhere else. It might be the four-legged vertebrate species with the smallest range in the world."

The construction of the dam reduced the waterfall's spray to the toads' habitat, and consequently, their numbers quickly declined. In an effort to conserve their population, 500 of the species were moved to New York's Bronx Zoo, but their numbers continued to dwindle in the wild to the point of extinction.

Some of the toads were then transferred to the Toledo Zoo in Ohio, where researchers were able to sustain about 50 of the toads. Soon, the toads were reproducing in the lab and their captive population rebounded. Their recovery has been so successful that the Tanzanian government is planning to reintroduce the species back into the Kihansi River Gorge.

ESF researchers are currently studying the effects that the chytrid fungus, which is causing declines among amphibians worldwide, could potentially have on the reintroduced toads. They are also testing to make sure that the area by the dam has stabilized enough to provide a suitable habitat despite pesticides in the river — particularly endosulfan from upriver agriculture.

"Nobody wants to put lots of toads back if they're going to suffer and not succeed in the restored habitat," Gibbs said.

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Zimbabwe arrests 10 for rhino, elephant poaching

AFP Yahoo News 23 Jul 11;

Authorities in Zimbabwe have arrested 10 people for poaching and unlawful possession of elephant tusks and rhino horns that they were suspected of selling to Chinese buyers, police said Friday.

The suspects, including four former soldiers and four farmers, were arrested in two separate operations and were apparently targeting Chinese buyers.

"I can confirm the arrests but I can't comment further," national police spokesman Oliver Mandipaka told AFP.

In the first operation, six suspects were found with two fresh rhino horns weighing 4.6 kilogrammes (10 pounds) when they fell into a police trap at a local shopping mall, according to the state-owned Herald newspaper.

The horns were valued at $120,000 (83,300 euros) by the national wildlife authorities.

The other group was arrested while trying to sell four elephant tusks in the capital, the paper said, adding that both groups had approached a Chinese businessman trying to sell him the horns.

Poaching for rhino horns and elephant tusks is a major problem in Zimbabwe, where wildlife management deteriorated during the country's decade-long economic crisis.

Conservation groups have built protective pens for the targeted black rhino, with only a few hundred remaining in the country.

Parks authorities say poachers have killed at least 10 rhinos since the beginning of the year.

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Coral reef species may adjust to climate change

Nicky Phillips Brisbane Times 22 Jul 11;

MANY of the world's coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, could survive the coming decades if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, a study has found.

While past research had predicted large-scale destruction from global warming was inevitable, recent studies have shown some species were more capable of adapting than others.

But the capacity for these corals to adjust could be greatly reduced by human activities such as over-fishing, pollution and habitat destruction.

As part of the study, published in the journal Science, scientists reviewed the most recent research on the effect of climate change on coral reefs, as well as evidence from the fossil record.

A marine biologist and study leader, John Pandolfi, said the response to climate change varied dramatically between regions.

''We can't say everywhere is doomed in two decades because CO2 is this level and pH is that level; it's just not that black and white,'' said Professor Pandolfi, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

''Our expectation is that some regions are less likely to completely collapse in the next few decades than others.''

A marine biologist and co-author of the study, Sean Connolly, also from the centre, said there was good evidence to show that past global warming and ocean acidification had had devastating impacts on coral reefs.

There was also evidence that marine species coped differently to ocean warming and coral bleaching.

He warned that the findings did not mean coral reefs were out of danger.

"There is no doubt that unchecked global warming would have a devastating affect on the world’s reefs," he said.

"If we do nothing, by later this century then all bets are off," Professor Connolly said.

"There is a wide range of responses to climate change among different organisms; some are already suffering with the climate change that has happened already, while others aren’t doing so badly," he said.

There was also uncertainty around which species would be able to adapt to rising temperatures and ocean acidification in time, he said.

Ocean acidification occurs when excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean. Too much carbon dioxide reduces the availability of calcium carbonate, the building block of coral skeletons.

The rate of adaptation for many species could be increased if human activities such as fishing and runoff were managed appropriately.

To increase the ability for a species to adapt to one stress, others needed to be reduced, Professor Connolly said.

"The organisms that have an unusually good ability to cope with high temperatures and ocean acidification have to be able to survive and reproduce offspring that also have those tolerances. But if there is also a lot stress from coastal development [and] runoff then they can die out," he said.

Authorities also needed to ensure populations of marine species did not decline dramatically.

"If you reduce a population size you reduce its ability to adapt rapidly to environmental change," he said.

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Maldives must face climate displacement

UPI 22 Jul 11;

MALE, Maldives, July 22 (UPI) -- The Maldives needs domestic reform and international support to offset climate change risks that threaten to inundate the island nation, a U.N. official said.

"The impacts of climate change on the ordinary lives of the people of the Maldives are real and clearly visible," said Chaloka Beyani, the U.N. special envoy on human rights of the internally displaced, in a statement. "Addressing these impacts through mitigation and adaptation measures is necessary and urgent and will require partnerships with the international community."

Beyani said the Maldives needs a law on disaster risk reduction that addresses issues such as climate change-induced displacement.

Rising sea levels and global climate change threaten to submerge the Maldives within decades.

Beyani said climate change threats reach to issues such as the right to housing and safe water. Meanwhile, suffering brought on by coastal erosion and rising sea levels are too obvious for the country to ignore.

"I saw that Maldivians have a history of resilience that can be harnessed to address these new challenges in locally suitable ways," Beyani said. "It is also essential to put in place climate change-induced displacement preparedness measures applying a human rights-based approach and mechanisms for the participation of affected communities."

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