Best of our wild blogs: 16 Sep 11

Speaking up for the toddycats & getting all civety!
from The Diet of the Common Palm Civet in Singapore

Striated Heron Defending its Fishing Ground
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Mudskipper madness at Seletar
from wild shores of singapore

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Easier access to Kranji wetlands

Grace Chua Straits Times 16 Sep 11;

KRANJI Marshes, the wetland home of uncommon bird species, is set to become more accessible to visitors, as plans have been made for a new park connector to, and trails through it.

But before such facilities are even built in the 40ha area, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) wants to study plant and animal life there, and the quality of the water and how it flows.

This is so that it can minimise the environmental impact of building a park connector, trail and rest point in the project undertaken jointly with the National Parks Board and in consultation with the Nature Society (Singapore).

The area is home to grey herons and dozens of other bird species, as well as ferns, grasses and aquatic life.

The URA's tender for this 'biodiversity impact assessment' on Kranji Marshes said: 'The intention is not to over-develop the place, but to retain the existing ecological balance and biodiversity existing on site today.'

The impact study is expected to be done by the middle of next year, a URA spokesman said.

She added: 'With sensitively designed trails, the marshes can be enhanced as a laid-back, charming, 'countryside' destination with high educational value.'

The tender says that when developed, visitorship will be capped at about 100,000 a year - about the same as for Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve.

Dr Ho Hua Chew of the conservation committee of the Nature Society is concerned that this number is too high for a marshland habitat.

'Visitors will stand out in this kind of landscape, which will be disturbing to the wildlife,' he said.

He added that although the 100,000 cap is about the same as for Sungei Buloh, the latter is more than twice as big, and has dense mangroves along the visitor paths to act as screens.

He noted, for example, that a marsh pond at the end of Neo Tiew Lane 2 is now a breeding site for the rare purple swamp hen and common moorhen, and visitors could easily scare them off.

The Nature Society, members of which frequent Kranji Marshes, adopted a portion of the marsh in 2008 under national water agency PUB's 'Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters' programme.

Plans are also in the works to enhance and extend the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which may be linked with other mangroves, reservoirs and marshes in Lim Chu Kang and Kranji.

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Greening Singapore's urban landscape

Evelyn Choo Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) said it has received more than 200 suggestions on how to co-create a "City in a Garden" since it launched a public engagement exercise three weeks ago.

And more ideas are welcomed as it is a year-long exercise.

Kong Yit San, assistant chief executive at NParks, said: "We hope to have this much longer so that we can have more ideas coming in. At this stage, we are not sharing in detail about the suggestions that have come in, so that we do not steer people's mindsets or perceptions of how parks should be in the future."

About half of the suggestions received were on enhancing parks and streetscapes - such as planting more trees that provide shade.

About a quarter were on optimising urban spaces for greenery and recreation, like more rooftop gardens and solar panels on top of HDB flats.

In the meantime, NParks has launched the inaugural Parks Festival, starting this Saturday, to get more Singaporeans to visit more than 300 parks here.

The nine-day festival will include activities such as gardening workshops, art installations and a night forest exploration.

On the last two days of the festival, NParks is organising a mass cleanup of some of the major parks. It's hoped that this would foster a sense of ownership of the flora and fauna in Singapore.

- CNA/cc

Now, more reasons to hang out at a park at night
Bonfire, forest trek part of Parks Festival
Straits Times 16 Sep 11;

TO BEAT the heat, some events at the nine-day Parks Festival that will start tomorrow will be held at night.

The inaugural event, organised by the National Parks Board (NParks), aims to attract visitors to the more than 300 parks in Singapore.

Organisers say the hot tropical weather can often put a damper on nature activities.

'The biggest obstacle to people going to parks is the weather, whereas in cooler countries they would not mind going out in the midday sun,' said Mr Kong Yit San, assistant chief executive officer of NParks' park management and lifestyle cluster.

With this in mind, night-time activities have been arranged for park-goers to enjoy. They include a water art installation entitled WaterFire at Bedok Reservoir Park, where braziers in the river will be lit to create a mass bonfire, and a night-time forest exploration as part of an overnight camp at HortPark.

The festival also aims to bring greenery and nature closer to those thronging their usual haunts in the city.

This will be done through a container gardening workshop at City Square Mall and an art installation at Raffles Place Park. This will be created by the Sculpture Society and dedicated to the crimson sunbird, a native bird species.

Four-seater swing sets promoting the festival have been placed along the pedestrian walkway outside Ion Orchard and Ngee Ann City in Orchard Road.

Mr Kong explained: 'We want to remind people that there are parks where you can have leisure pursuits instead of just going shopping or to the cinema. Our goal is to find parks for everyone - for people to find a park they like through the events.'

Other activities being held as part of the festival include guided walks, such as an edible and medicinal plant tour, and a butterfly trail.

Most of the more than 90 planned activities are free.

In his National Day Rally speech last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong presented a vision of the country becoming a 'City in a Garden', and of parks and gardens in the heartland being linked with greenery across the country.

NParks' call for ideas three weeks ago, as part of its project to create more green spaces and improve existing ones, has garnered more than 200 responses.

These include suggestions to plant mini-gardens on top of bus-stop shelters, and planting more fruit-bearing trees in heartland gardens so they may attract smaller animals such as squirrels and small birds.

Small habitat ponds with their own ecosystems could also be set up around the heartlands, respondents suggested.

And some cyclists would like to see a cycling track connecting parks around the island.

About a quarter of the ideas received were on optimising urban spaces for greenery and recreation, such as having more rooftop gardens and turning schools into green buildings, NParks said.


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Australia: New species of dolphin discovered

BBC News 15 Sep 11;

Researchers have determined that dolphins found in southeastern Australia represent a previously unknown species.

Around 150 of the dolphins live around the Melbourne area and had until now been assumed to be one of the known bottlenose dolphins.

But detailed DNA studies and analysis of skulls in museums showed the two populations are in fact a new species.

The new classification as Tursiops australis is described in PLoS One. The common name of Burrunan dolphins derives from the Aboriginal Australian for "large sea fish of the porpoise kind".

Previous research had shown that the DNA found in the dolphins differed from that of the known bottlenose species Tursiops truncatus and Tursiops aduncus.

But in order to define a new species, more evidence is needed. Kate Charlton-Robb of Monash University in Melbourne and her colleagues studied dolphin skulls found in a number of museums, as well as more detailed analysis of DNA, to show that T. australis is clearly a different animal.

"This is an incredibly fascinating discovery as there have only been three new dolphin species formally described and recognised since the late 1800s," Ms Charlton-Robb said.

"What makes this even more exciting is this dolphin species has been living right under our noses, with only two known resident populations living in Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria state."

In fact, now that it is recognised as a separate species it may immediately qualify under Australia's criteria for endangered animals.

"The formal recognition of this new species is of great importance to correctly manage and protect this species, and has significant bearing on the prioritisation of conservation efforts," the authors wrote.

"This is especially crucial given its endemism to a small region of the world, with only two small known resident populations."

Port Phillip Bay's dolphins show they're definitively a class act
Bridie Smith Sydney Morning Herald 16 Sep 11;

MELBOURNE'S dolphins have officially been recognised as being in a class of their own. Originally thought to be one of the two recognised bottlenose dolphin species, Port Phillip Bay's dolphins have now been confirmed as a new species.

The findings, revealed yesterday in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE, means southern Australia is actually home to three species of bottlenose dolphin.

While she had long suspected this, it took Monash University PhD researcher Kate Charlton-Robb eight years to prove her case.

To do it, she compared the DNA, skull features and appearance of Port Phillip Bay's dolphins with other species to establish the coastal dolphins differed from all other dolphins worldwide.

Named Tursiops australis, the new species common name will be the Burrunan dolphin, after an Aboriginal word meaning ''large sea fish of the porpoise kind''.

Ms Charlton-Robb said that compared to the common bottlenose and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, the Burrunan dolphin had a smaller skull and beak as well as a difference in bone structure in the skull. At 2.5 metres long, the new species is smaller than the three-metre common bottlenose dolphin and its three-toned colouring is also unique.

''They're quite distinct from the larger bottlenose dolphins,'' she said. ''And the DNA is very distinct, with its own particular sequence.''

However, while a difference in appearance had been noted historically, often it was put down to variations between male and female.

Among the museum samples used in the study was one that dated to 1915. Originally identified as a female common bottlenose, DNA testing and skull morphology confirmed it was a Burrunan dolphin.

''That's been one of the great things,'' Ms Charlton-Robb said. ''These guys have been living under our noses, but this also showed that they've been here for a while.''

About 100 Burrunan dolphins live in Port Phillip Bay and they are also found in the Gippsland Lakes, where they number about 50. The small population has implications for genetic diversity of the species and Ms Charlton-Robb said she was keen to get the Burrunan dolphin listed as a threatened species.

''We'll be making all the efforts to try to conserve and protect them and get them listed,'' she said. ''But that's the next step.''

Just three new dolphin species have been formally described and recognised since the late 1800s.

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Haze: Hard to wean Indonesian farmers off slashing and burning

It's still cheapest way to clear land for farming, causing haze in region
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 16 Sep 11;

JAMBI: Farmers in the Indonesian province of Jambi are continuing the practice of clearing land by burning forests, setting off fires that have been raging for the past few weeks.

Despite local and international efforts to wean them off the traditional slash-and-burn practice - which is banned - it is the cheapest and easiest way to clear land for farming, and is also the main cause of the haze that recently enveloped parts of Singapore and Malaysia.

When The Straits Times visited the province on Sumatra island yesterday, the strong smell of burning vegetation hung in the air, and some residents could be seen going around with masks.

In Jambi city, the provincial capital, reports of respiratory ailments had almost quadrupled from 127 to 479 in the past two weeks.

But there were no fires to be seen. Intermittent showers in the past two days have helped to put out forest and plantation fires, bringing the count of hot spots in Jambi - which hit 88 last Thursday - to zero yesterday.

A hot spot is a fire covering at least 1ha that can be detected by satellite.

The heavy smoke over the area, however, bore testament to the size of the fires that had been burning here just last week. It was only because of the unseasonal heavy rain, that the province - and the rest of the region - enjoyed a temporary respite from the fires and resulting haze.

Fires in Jambi - 330km south of Singapore - and other Sumatra provinces are blamed for the haze that envelops Singapore and peninsular Malaysia each year.

This year, Jambi was one of the worst provinces hit by fires. Some 1,530ha of oil palm plantations and 420ha of forest area were destroyed in the past few weeks, according to its forestry agency.

Indonesian officials and weather forecasters, however, say the clear skies may not continue. The dry season here could last till early next month, and another dry spell could allow fires to be restarted.

Singapore's National Environment Agency said on its website that winds that have helped to blow away the haze are expected to continue to do so next week, but Singapore could still be affected by haze if there are fires in Sumatra.

Senior government weather forecaster Kurnianingsih, however, sought to ease concerns, telling The Straits Times yesterday: 'But we will not likely see a haze situation as intense as the one that just passed, because that was a result of an accumulation of hot spot activities that started in early August.'

The burning in Jambi suggests that efforts to wean farmers off clearing land using fire have not taken hold.

Singapore has tried to help through a $1 million collaboration with Jambi officials aiming to mitigate fires by teaching farmers zero-burning practices and training local officials to monitor hot spots.

Singapore now funds four air and weather monitoring stations that help to detect fires quickly. 'We have been using them and found them quite useful,' said a local forest protection agency official.

The Indonesian government has also started programmes to encourage aqua-culture, which does not require extensive forest clearing. And in the latest effort, Jambi's provincial government has been distributing equipment to turn unburnt tree logs into 'arang', a local version of charcoal that can be sold. 'But our problem is the funding,' said the official. 'Not every farmer gets this.'

But the authorities continue to struggle in their annual battle against the slashing and burning. Enforcing bans, officials say, is difficult because of the huge areas involved. And besides, poor farmers often have few other options when they need to clear land for agriculture. 'We're farmers,' said one Jambi resident. 'We can't hire tractors. Only corporations use tractors.'

For many, it's thus much easier - and cheaper - to just throw a match.

'It's a huge challenge because it's about people's economy,' said the senior Jambi forest protection agency official.

Some farmers do try to prevent the fires from spreading. One told The Straits Times that he digs ditches around his land and fills them with water before burning bushes and logs between them.

But this is still very risky, as Mr Mukri Priatna at the Indonesian Environmental Forum pointed out. A sudden and strong wind could spread the fire, he said.

'And these ditches can sometimes dry up unnoticed and lose their effectiveness as separators,' he said.

Until the next haze season, then
Straits Times Editorial 16 Sep 11;

SINGAPOREANS have grown accustomed to the sameness of ritual that comes with the haze season. Concerns are conveyed to the Indonesian authorities by Singapore and Malaysia, which unhappily are favoured in the direction of the ill wind bearing the smog and its acridity from burning forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Repeated offers are made to help put out forest fires, and satellite imagery on burning hotspots is shared. From the other side, there often comes a reminder that the suffering Indonesian people are affected the worst by the seasonal air pollution - and don't fussy neighbours overlook that.

Government officials in Jakarta, mindful of Asean camaraderie, may make polite noises about laws being enforced and provincial authorities doing all they can to wean farmers off old cultural practices of slash and burn to fertilise the soil for new plantings. (That is no political challenge: What about taking on the big plantation companies and pulp and paper mills denuding the land?) Sometimes, as happened last year, an addled junior minister could demand to know how anyone could be certain about the source of the haze as 'we haven't received official complaints from neighbours'. Meantime, environment ministers struggle to nudge Asean's biggest member along to be consistent in tackling an issue which is not just a matter of preserving the environment, but also about altering habits of localised subsistence economies far removed from the distant world of booming Jakarta.

And so, until next season. It is doubtful it does much good to press the point that, at some stage, transnational pollution spewed out with reckless disregard for neighbouring countries would subject an offending nation to international sanctions on grounds of damage to public health and sovereign economies. Treaty obligations under free trade agreements are another imponderable. But these are at best suppositions.

There is a better way. Indonesia is no longer regarded as an underachiever. The government is sensitive to how the world now perceives an Indonesia coming up in the world. It has sorted out democratisation and its institutions. Inward investments and consumer confidence are strong. It will be the next new member of the BRIC club of high-growth nations. Image building to fit the status would force the government to confront once and for all an issue which investors and international agencies would relate directly to the country's ability to tackle challenges. Rising powers which want to be taken seriously do not shrug off problems as beyond their control. They claim ownership and overcome them.

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Indonesia: Power struggle over forest land use

Bruce Gale Straits Times 16 Sep 11;

NEWS reports about rampant deforestation in Indonesia often refer to alleged corruption, poor law enforcement and the greed of logging and palm oil interests. But sometimes, the reviled companies are also victims.

Take Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), a palm oil plantation company in the Sinar Mas group which has recently been working hard to shed its negative image among environmentalists. In June, when environmental watchdog Greenomics Indonesia issued a press statement denouncing a sustainability report issued by GAR, it seemed that the company had been caught red-handed.

The report asserted that none of GAR's concessions involved forest land. Greenomics disagreed. To prove its point the organisation referred to a map of Central Kalimantan province issued by the minister of forestry on May 31. By this measure, it said, almost all of the company's concessions in the province involved protected forests. It said GAR was thus in clear violation of Indonesian law and should withdraw its report in order to avoid being accused of misleading the public.

A GAR spokesman told The Straits Times recently that the report was 'not based on complete information'.

A brief look at the history of palm oil regulation in the province is certainly enlightening. What Greenomics did not say was that the company had become the victim of a power struggle between the central and provincial governments over the conversion of forest land for other uses.

The story begins in 1993, when the provincial government issued a land use decree based on its interpretation of a 1982 decree by the ministry of agriculture.

In September 2000, a letter from the planning department in Jakarta's ministry of forestry and plantations appeared to legitimise the process. The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Straits Times, seemed to accept forest land use maps issued by the provincial government the previous year. Crucially, it noted that land set aside for development, residential and other purposes as determined by the provincial authorities could be used without the need to obtain forestry relinquishment permits from the ministry that would enable the land to be used for other purposes.

In subsequent years, the provincial government encountered little opposition from the forestry ministry when using these maps in the process of awarding important plantation concessions to companies such as GAR.

At the time, Indonesia was still struggling to come to terms with decentralisation laws passed by Parliament in 1999. Repeated Cabinet reshuffles in Jakarta left forestry officials in Jakarta with no strong leadership. In later years, the forestry ministry also experienced a reorganisation after it lost its authority over plantations.

However, the situation changed dramatically in September 2006, when Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban informed the provincial governor that his ministry did not recognise the province's decisions, and he was revoking the 2000 letter. Mr Kaban also insisted that companies that had acquired concessions on what the ministry regarded as forest land between 2000 and 2006 must obtain permits from Jakarta.

The provincial government has put up a stout defence of its rights, and the status quo has so far remained unchanged. The latest maps referred to by Greenomics nevertheless show that the dispute is ongoing, and that the forestry ministry remains determined to assert its authority.

Unlike Greenomics, most environmentalists I spoke to in Jakarta last month expressed sympathy with GAR. Even Greenpeace, which published a major report in July last year denouncing the company's environmental track record, conceded that the confusing legal situation in Central Kalimantan is primarily the result of bad governance.

Greenpeace spokesman Joko Arif believes that the saga is a good illustration of why the national moratorium on forest conversion announced in May this year does not go far enough. 'There should be a review of all concessions given on forest and peat land,' he said. 'The aim should be to determine which have been obtained legally and which illegally, and what the circumstances are'.

Lauded by many environmental groups for its positive response to criticism of its environmental record, GAR now boasts one of the most comprehensive forest conservation policies in the industry. 'If they implement it properly, it will be very good indeed,' one environmental activist told me.

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Al Gore's climate 'reality' campaign kicks off

AFP Yahoo News 16 Sep 11;

An Internet campaign spearheaded by former US vice president Al Gore to raise awareness about climate change began airing its day-long broadcast around the world on Thursday.

The project, called "24 Hours of Reality," features a multimedia presentation viewable online that showcases how extreme weather events like floods, fires and storms are linked to climate change.

By 1300 GMT, the live-streamed broadcasts delivered in 13 languages, viewable at, had drawn more than three million views, organizers said.

The hourly broadcasts are scheduled in various locations around the world, including Beijing, New Delhi, Jakarta, London, Dubai, Istanbul, Seoul and Rio de Janeiro.

They also aim to reveal how money motivates those who deny that human-driven pollution is contributing to climate change.

"Around the world, we are still subjected to polluter-financed misinformation and propaganda designed to mislead people about the dangers we face from the unfolding climate crisis," Gore said in a statement.

Celebrity actresses Renee Zellweger and Fran Drescher were added to the roster of appearances for Thursday beginning at 1600 GMT.

The campaign ends with the final presentation by Gore starting at 7:00 pm (2300 GMT) in New York.

Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on climate change.

A slideshow presented by Gore about the dangers of climate change was the basis of the popular 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," which grossed 49 million dollars worldwide.

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