Best of our wild blogs: 27 Aug 11

Tree Felling: The Saddest Sight in CIAG (City In A Garden)
from Flying Fish Friends

Malaysian Plovers
from Life's Indulgences

Olive-Backed Sunbird’s Affinity for Bicycles
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sand and Singapore
from The Diplomat blogs

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Counting birds is no flight of fancy

Trackers have to be quiet, brave rough terrain and learn to recognise bird calls
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 27 Aug 11;

COLLEGE lecturer Yong Ding Li can recognise at least 1,200 birds by ear.

The 27-year-old trains by listening to an online database of bird calls and by visiting forests around the region.

The skill may seem esoteric but will be useful tomorrow, when the Nature Society conducts its annual census on the autumn migration habits of birds.

Mr Yong Ding Li, on how the more experienced counters rely on their ears because it is faster

The census, one of seven the society conducts each year, helps to track changes in the bird population here.

Last year, volunteers counted 8,666 birds at 28 sites across Singapore during one census.

Mr Yong said more experienced counters rely on their ears because it is faster.

'If you spend all your time looking up at the trees for birds you will miss out on many of them,' he said.

The counters begin their work at 7.30am, when the birds are at their loudest, and stop at 10.30am, when bird activity generally dies down.

Each route of the census is conducted by at least two counters - one to track the birds and the other to take notes.

They follow a fixed route and note every bird they see or hear along the way.

When the tracker spots a new entry, he quietly points it out to the note-taker, who writes the entry in shorthand.

Mr Yong said difficulties include making sure each bird is new and not simply one that has flown further down the counters' path.

To address this, counters have to know if the species like to move around and how quickly they can travel.

He gave the example of babblers, elusive forest birds which like to remain at the same spot. 'So if you hear another one after 100 steps, it's probably not the same one,' he said.

It is a job that requires experience, and the ability to be quiet and careful in rough terrain.

This may be why most of some 200 bird counters here are middle-aged men who have time to spare for the activity, and who do not mind the outdoor nature of the work, counters told The Straits Times.

The Nature Society does not discriminate against novices, and pairs them with more experienced counters.

After each census - a gruelling three-hour test of concentration - the notes are collated by a coordinator at the society and published on its website.

Mr Yong said Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of the harder sites because the birds there tend to hide high in the trees and are hard to hear and spot. Experienced counters usually record some 25 to 30 species there.

The lack of experienced manpower is another problem the society faces, a reason for the wide estimates of the migratory birds which pass through or stay in Singapore, which range from 20,000 to 50,000.

Certain areas rich in bird life are also off-limits to the counters, such as the military zones of Pulau Tekong and the stretch of scrub, brushland and secondary forest from Lim Chu Kang to Raffles Country Club, which runs more than 10km.

Mr Yong said he knows there are many bird species in the two areas because he heard them during his national service.

'I mentally took notes when I was marching around,' he said.

Mr Alan Owyong, chairman of the bird group at the Nature Society, said more people have come forward to join the counts in recent year.

'But of course, we always welcome more,' he said.

Birds common to Singapore shores


Common in parks and secondary forests in many parts of Singapore.

Most easily spotted around the Singapore Botanic Gardens and on Pulau Ubin.


A colourful native woodpecker.

Found in parkland and secondary forests throughout Singapore.


Common in parkland, scrub and marshy areas in most parts of Singapore.


Common migratory bird of prey in Singapore.

Can be easily seen in the Southern Ridges in October and November.


Colourful garden bird found in parks, mangroves and even roadside trees in Singapore.

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20 endangered Siamese crocodiles hatch in Laos

Jerry Harmer Associated Press Yahoo News 26 Aug 11;

VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — One of the world's rarest crocodile species has moved a little bit further from extinction with the hatching of 20 wild eggs plucked from a nest found in southern Laos.

Experts believe there could be as few as 300 Siamese crocodiles remaining in the world's swamps, forests and rivers, so the discovery of the nest — the first found in the mountainous, jungle-clad country since 2008 — is a significant step in the rehabilitation of a species that was declared extinct in the wild in 1992.

Since then, tiny populations have been discovered in remote corners of its range, which used to include most of Southeast Asia. Still, the crocs remain critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, the acknowledged authority on the status of global biodiversity.

Under the soft red light of an incubator, the 20 baby crocodiles tapped and cracked their way into the world last week. Their nest was found in the southern province of Savannakhet in June by a team of villagers trained by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which is working to save the species in landlocked Laos.

"The feeling was one of elation," Chris Hallam, who coordinates the organization's crocodile project in Laos, told The Associated Press about the hatching.

"When you look at the global population and the population in Laos it represents quite a significant number of individual crocodiles," he said.

The crocs were hatched at the Lao Zoo, just outside Vientiane, where they were moved to protect them from predators such as snakes and monitor lizards.

Hallam said the crocodiles will be raised in captivity for 18 months before being released back into the wild.

And it seems they won't be alone. Villagers recently found another nest in Savannakhet with 20 eggs inside. Because those crocs are so near to hatching, conservationists decided to leave them where they are with village teams keeping an eye on them.

The Siamese crocodile grows up to 10 feet (3 meters) in length but is generally docile. Their passive nature made them all the easier to hunt. In recent decades thousands were captured and sold to crocodile farms that sprung up across Southeast Asia, feeding a vogue for its renowned soft skin and a taste for its meat.

Several thousand of the crocodiles remain in farms and in zoos, though many have been crossbred with bigger species, reducing still further the numbers of pure Siamese crocodiles.

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Malaysia national holiday snared by poachers

WWF 26 Aug 11;

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia – Fresh snares set for tigers have been discovered by WWF-Malaysia’s monitoring team only a short distance from the country’s East-West Highway, a major road that connects Peninsular Malaysia’s northeast to its northwest.

The discovery came just less than a month after the release of ‘On Borrowed Time’, a documentary that highlights the severity of the poaching and illegal wildlife trade in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex, a wildlife hotspot that is located in the northern state of Perak and crosses into Southern Thailand.

“Since early August, 12 snares have been detected and deactivated by the team, with even more expected to be found in the area. Based on the sizes and types of snare, it is very clear that poachers are targeting large mammals such as tigers,” said Dato’ Dr. Dionysius Sharma, CEO/Executive Director of WWF-Malaysia.

WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia immediately alerted the Perak Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) for the swift removal of these threats to wildlife.

Another camera-trap in the area captured a photo of possible poachers, just a day before the team trekked in to retrieve the cameras and detected the snares. The wire snares were camouflaged so well that the foot of one of the team’s field assistants had gotten caught in it.

The photo was shared with DWNP earlier this month to assist in their investigations.

WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia urge enforcement agencies to be vigilant in their monitoring and to conduct rigorous patrols on the ground. Poachers are likely to take advantage of the country’s national holiday period at the end August, which marks the end of Ramadan and Malaysia Independence Day. This is already evident from the snares that have been discovered in the past three weeks alone.

“It’s painfully clear that the poachers ravaging Malaysia’s wildlife are getting more efficient. This begs obvious questions about whether enforcement authorities are managing to keep pace with the criminals. Sadly, it appears that they are not. Even simple actions like regular patrolling and establishment of the planned multi-agency task force at Belum-Temengor are stalled,” said Dr. William Schaedla, Regional Director for TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

More alarmingly, a camera-trap placed in the area has also captured the photo of a three-footed Malayan sun bear. The injury seen in the photo is consistent with an animal having lost a limb while trying to free itself from a snare.

Under the new Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, any person who sets or uses any snare for the purpose of hunting can be subject to fines ranging from RM50,000 to RM100,000 (US$16,700 – US$33,500) and imprisonment for a maximum of two years.

At the launch of ‘On Borrowed Time’ last month in conjunction with World Tiger Day 2011, WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia called for a revitalisation of the Belum-Temengor Joint Enforcement Taskforce, the pursuit of poachers and encroachers to the full extent of the law and for all agencies working in the area to show equal effort and commitment towards enforcement.

From 2008 to 2010, 142 snares have been discovered and de-activated in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex. Over 400 wild animals, such as Sambar deer, pangolins, elephants and tigers have been poached inside the protected and numerous poacher camps have also been found.

Concern over rise in illegal wildlife hunting in Belum-Temengor forest reserve
Lee Yen Mun The Star 28 Aug 11;

PETALING JAYA: Poachers are getting more cunning and efficient, and many quarters are questioning whether the enforcement authorities are able to catch up with them.

Animal rights groups and wildlife enforcement agencies have ex-pressed concern that illegal poaching will increase at the Belum-Temengor forest reserve.

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic regional director Dr William Schaedla, who said poachers in the country were getting increasingly “efficient”, blames the availability of access roads through protected areas of the forest for facilitating the illegal hunting.

Dr Schaedla said poachers had become more brazen, judging by the latest discovery of 12 fresh snares by the WWF-Malaysia monitoring team near the East West Highway.

The shocking find was made in the first three weeks of this month alone.

“Based on the evidence gathered, poaching activities are becoming more regular because of the absence of patrols.

“We are worried that more wild animals will end up in the cooking pot during the holidays,” Dr Schaedla said when contacted yesterday.

A camera image produced by WWF-Malaysia showed a three-footed Malayan sun bear, which the organisation believes lost a limb while trying to free itself from a trap.

The Malayan sun bear, easily identified by the distinct crescent patch on the animal's chest, is an endangered species.

WWF-Malaysia and Dr Schaedla have raised questions over the ability of enforcement personnel in keeping pace with the criminals.

“Even simple actions like regular patrolling and setting up a multi-agency task force at Belum-Temengor have apparently stalled,” Dr Schaedla claimed.

WWF-Malaysia and Traffic South-East Asia have lodged reports of its findings with the Perak Wildlife and the National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

Perak Perhilitan chief Shabrina Mohd Shariff said there were many entry routes into the forest area, including the Royal Belum and Temengor forest reserves.

She, however, refuted the claims of animal rights groups that her department's officers had slackened in their patrolling efforts.

The department, she said, deployed a team of four to patrol East West Highway entry points every day from 8am to 5pm.

“We know our presence is important in deterring poachers. However, the Royal Belum Forest Reserve is under the jurisdiction of the state government and not the department,” Shabrina said.

“Following the report by the animal rights group, the state Perhilitan sent a nine-man team to survey the location of the snares.

“We found the camping site of a group believed to be that of illegal immigrants from Thailand numbering four to six persons,” she said.

The discovery of the snares came less than a month after Traffic and WWF-Malaysia released a public documentary featuring the severity of illegal wildlife trade in the area.

Under the New Wildlife Conservation Act, any person who sets up or uses any snare for the purpose of hunting is liable to a fine of up to RM100,000 and two years' jail.

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Indonesia: Coral reef destruction caused by Montara oil well explosion

Antara 26 Aug 11;

Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (ANTARA News) - Timor Sea observer Ferdi Tanoni said the destruction of coral reefs in Sawu waters in East Nusa Tenggara was caused by the 2009 explosion of an oil well in the Montara oil field.

He said here on Friday he disagreed with the view of the ministry of fisheries and marine resources that 90 percent of the coral reef damage was caused by blast fishing.

"I am convinced the damage to coral reefs in Sawu waters was caused by the explosion of the Montara oil well in the West Atlas Block in the Timor Sea on August 21, 2009 and not by blast fishing," he said commenting on the results of a fisheries ministry`s observation.

The chief of the Care West Timor Foundation (YPTB) based in Kupang said it was impossible for blast fishing to cause such damage because traditional fishermen never used explosives to fish in deep seas.

The Sawu waters which have been declared by the ministry of fisheries and marine resources as a national conservation area are the migration lane of various kinds of whales from the north to the south of Australia.

The Sawu waters are also the main crossing lane for passenger and cargo ships from and to Kupang through Tenau port, he said.

Tanoni who is also a former immigration agent of the Australian embassy said he believed the damage suffered by coral reefs in Sawu waters was the result of the Montara disaster that spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into Indonesian waters in the Timor Sea.

The crude oil spill was also accompanied by black tin and other hazardous materials which had later been submerged to the bottom of the sea by hazardous dispersant by the Australian Maritime Security Authority (AMSA).

He said the dangerous dispersant powder used by AMSA had also been used to overcome the oil spill in Mexico Bay some time ago but had later been stopped because of its potential danger to human health as well as coral reefs and other sea biota.

"Referring to the Mexico Bay case I am convinced the damage on the coral reefs in Sawu waters was the result of hazardous materials coming from the Montara oil well explosion and the dispersant used by AMSA," he said.

Based on that he said the YPTB and its alliances would file a lawsuit against PTTEP Australasia, the company that has polluted the Timor Sea to ask for its social, economic and health accountability for coastal residents in East Nusa Tenggara.

He said seaweed farming on coastal areas in the province has no longer produced harvests due to oil pollution while traditional fishermen`s catch has also dropped following the Montara oil well explosion.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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UN lifts Nigeria wildlife trade suspension

AFP Yahoo News 27 Aug 11;

The UN wildlife trade regulator said Friday it was lifting its 2005 suspension on wildlife commerce with Nigeria, citing the country's improved efforts to combat illegal trade.

"Nigeria has significantly reduced illegal trade," Juan Vasquez, a spokesman with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, told AFP.

He said that the regulator had called on states to suspend such dealings with Nigeria as it was the "hub" of much illegal wildlife trade in West Africa, notably in ivory but also in reptile skins.

"What has changed is political will, and the authorities have shown a positive engagement to stamp out illegal wildlife trade," Vasquez said.

The agency visited areas for black-market ivory commerce in 2010, but "ivory could no longer be found there", said the spokesman.

While he acknowledged that illegal trade has not disappeared completely, "there are now laws in place and being implemented which ensure that this trade is controlled".

"We will continue to monitor the situation, but we recognize the positive efforts of Nigeria," Vasquez said.

According to the CITES website, some 19 other countries, including Belize, India and Tanzania, among the 175 signatories of the convention are still subject to trade restrictions.

Vasquez added that trade restrictions exist for over 34,000 plant and animal species, some 900 of which are endangered.

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