Best of our wild blogs: 22 Oct 11

from The annotated budak

Butterflying in Orchard Road
from Urban Forest

Oriental Magpie Robin: Contractions of the vent
from Bird Ecology Study Group

About the Orang Seletar
from Otterman speaks

Read more!

Look beyond GDP measure of growth, urges MP

Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Penny Low, has called on the government to aim beyond the GDP measure of growth and look at a more holistic national measurement system.

Ms Low, who is on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Information, Communications and the Arts, Environment and National Development, said this in Parliament on Friday.

She said GDP does not give the finer points needed to understand if growth trickles down to the common man, and if it contributes to his or her sense of well-being.

Ms Low suggested taking into account personal capital - which refers to a person's value system, social capital - which looks at a community's wellness, and environmental capital - which takes into account environmental security and biodiversity.

She suggested commissioning a report on what the priorities of Singaporeans are, and the role that citizens, communities and businesses can play alongside the government.

Ms Low said: "Well-being is no fluffy stuff. In fact, people and communities with a higher sense of well-being are more adaptable and resilient. These are the exact future readiness traits needed for a more volatile and fast-moving world.

"And if growth in Singapore is conceptualised in the manner (that is) set out, we can continue to ensure our citizens have little affinity to be disillusioned, (unlike the) Occupy Wall Street protesters. We can continue to buck the trend and progress."

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli reminded Singaporeans not to lose sight of the nation's fundamentals, even as it undergoes adjustments.

In his parliamentary speech on Friday, Mr Masagos identified three areas as the cornerstone of Singapore's society.

These are: strong families that nurture and care for each other; citizens who contribute to the welfare of others; and a democratically elected Parliament and government that execute policies for the good of its citizens.

Mr Masagos said: "Even if we must extend more support to single mothers, we must not inadvertently destroy the institution of the families. Even as the government must do more to help the disabled, we must not unintentionally discourage philanthropy, charity and self-help initiatives.

"Even as we become more plural in Parliament and society, we should ensure that the heads, hearts and soul of our nation remain united, and are in harmony."


Going beyond GDP index: Call made by PAP MPs previously
Janice Heng Straits Times 22 Oct 11;

PEOPLE'S Action Party members called for measures of well-being that go beyond gross domestic product growth before this week's debate, Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said yesterday.

Ms Low told the House: 'It is important that this Government aims well beyond the GDP measure of growth.'

On Monday, Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), chairman of the Workers' Party, had proposed that Singapore consider a national index of happiness and well-being.

She noted that Singapore was a co-sponsor of a United Nations draft resolution, submitted by Bhutan, that called for such additional indices.

Besides sustainable, fair socio-economic growth, Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index takes into account issues of environment, culture, and governance.

Ms Lim's speech was met with scepticism from PAP MPs, who said Singapore was not comparable to Bhutan.

Yesterday, Ms Low noted that she - and other backbenchers - had called for such indices in previous Parliaments. She thanked other members of the House for joining the call.

GDP figures alone do not show whether growth 'properly trickles down to the common man', or whether it improves his sense of progress or well-being, said Ms Low.

She went on to suggest what an alternative index might look like. Besides economic capital, it would include personal, social, and environmental capital.

The first involves a person's values, health, and hopes; the second, social connection and the community's wellness; and the third, food security and environmental issues.

'It is time for our national measurement system to move from measuring just one aspect of our national assets - our economic capital - to an integrated, holistic measure of all four capitals,' she said.

The Government should commission a report to find out what Singaporeans 'really want' in these four areas, she said.

That could help in setting policy directions.

Ms Low also commended social enterprises, which help achieve quality growth by providing market solutions to social problems. Local restaurant chain 18 Chef, which employs former offenders, was one such example.

Such enterprises need support - for instance, in the form of grants, or hybrid regulation that allows them to tap help ordinarily reserved for non-profits.

'Grow it like a strategic industry,' she urged, 'because it is strategic to our inclusive and quality growth objective'.

Slower growth, if inclusive, 'may not be bad'
Benefits can be shared more widely: Experts
Aaron Low Straits Times 22 Oct 11;

SLOWER economic growth in Singapore may mean smaller pay rises, and companies in some sectors will shut down and move out of the country.

However, the outlook may not be all doom and gloom if a phase of slower growth means the concerns of some lower income groups are addressed by the Government.

A shift into the economic slow lane could translate into benefits shared more widely across the country, and a higher quality of life, if the idea of inclusive growth is pursued, said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

'There have been a lot of unhappy people complaining about housing and public transport, so if the Government addresses these, a slower but more inclusive growth rate may not be a bad thing,' said Mr Seah.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament on Thursday that a confluence of factors, including domestic constraints such as land and population, and rising competition may mean a slower pace of growth in the next decade.

Mr Lee said: 'If we can make 3-plus per cent over the next 10 years, I would say we would have had a good decade.'

On the outset, the more moderate pace of growth may mean slower incomes and job growth, said Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin.

Labour intensive sectors such as low-end manufacturing will probably move out in greater numbers and more quickly as many will not be able to cope with the new higher cost landscape, he said.

'Tighter foreign worker policies will make it harder for such firms to operate here,' he said.

Dr Chua also noted that the 'grow as fast as you can' model produced a surge in fiscal revenue and enabled the Government to give generous handouts in past Budgets and the fiscal flexibility to enhance the social safety net.

'Risks of a 'new normal' growth model, despite its focus on inclusiveness, is that lower growth also reduces fiscal surpluses,' said Dr Chua.

'That may, in turn, limit the extent to which the Government can dish out special transfers in future Budgets, including to lower-income households.'

Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng said the growth rates of the past pushed the economy to its limits, and nearly overheated the economy.

The economy posted an average annual growth rate of just under 6 per cent a year from 2000 to last year. This is higher than the long-term growth potential rate of between 3 per cent and 5 per cent.

'The transition towards this more inclusive slower pace of growth will be painful as policymakers unwind the excesses of the past model,' he said.

Job creation may slow as companies start moving out, and inflation may rise in the transition period. 'Wages may continue to rise due to restrictions on foreign manpower, but this in turn may translate into higher inflation as companies pass down the costs to consumers,' he said.

But economists also noted that despite the economy growing at nearly 6 per cent a year in the past decade, median incomes rose by just 1.2 per cent a year.

Part of the reason is that most of the growth generated was channelled towards company profits, and not worker pay, said Mr Seah.

'Changing this whole model requires a radical shift on our part,' he said.

Still, if the Government continues to spend on infrastructure and pays attention to those on lower incomes, Singaporeans may well end up a happier lot, said Mr Seah.

Similarly, Mr Manu Bhaskaran, chief executive of Centennial Asia Advisors and vice-president of the Economic Society of Singapore, said that if the Government pays more attention to improving the social safety net, Singaporeans would be better off.

'It is not headline growth alone that is important. It is the net impact on the welfare of Singaporeans,' he said.

Read more!

Singapore to have more climate specialists

New research centre will focus first on issues relevant to nation
Grace Chua Straits Times 22 Oct 11;

IT WILL no longer be a lonely job for the handful of meteorologists and climate scientists here.

Their numbers will increase because Singapore now plans to 'develop capabilities in climate science and modelling' within and beyond the Government, working with experts and institutions, said the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources in its addendum to the President's Address last week.

Till last year, none of the universities here had a division dedicated to earth and climate sciences. Now, Nanyang Technological University has one.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), on its part, is setting up the Centre for Climate Research Singapore within its Meteorological Service. It recently advertised for a director, research scientists and senior research scientists.

Climate scientists study how the atmosphere, oceans and land surface interact and try to identify predictable patterns.

The centre will start off by studying issues relevant to Singapore, for example, how intense storms called Sumatra squalls are formed. These are crucial because tropical climate and weather systems are less well-studied than temperate ones, and modelling phenomena like strong thunderstorms will be a challenge.

And as the impacts of man-made climate change hit, like more intense storms and floods, it will become more critical to understand what the future climate and weather patterns could be.

The Meteorological Service has about 40 meteorologists and the centre plans to have about 15 research scientists for now.

About $6 million is required each year over the next five years to get the centre going, said Meteorological Service director-general Wong Chin Ling.

Singapore needs to understand tropical climate over the long term - sometimes thousands of years, said Professor Kerry Sieh, head of the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), which is trying to fill some of the gaps in understanding.

For example, EOS researcher Adam Switzer looks at corals and coasts around the region to find out how high the sea level was in the past, or when there were big tsunamis or storms.

Meteorological Service models can project climate down to a 25km area now. Researchers like those at Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology's Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modelling are trying to refine that.

Retired geography professor Wong Poh Poh said data from various climate vulnerability studies should be shared with more researchers and the public. The scope of climate research, he added, should be broadened to include adaptation, for example, to sea-level rises, coastal erosion and sea-water infiltration into freshwater reservoirs.

But good people are hard to find, even as the EOS has just shortlisted candidates for its climate group leader. Climate experts are in short supply worldwide as institutions and governments facing climate change seek expertise and advice.

But Assistant Professor Koh Tieh Yong at EOS said not many climate scientists are needed to have a big impact.

And while undergraduates need a firm grounding in physics, chemistry and the earth's physical and chemical processes, they may not need dedicated climate-science training till the postgraduate level.

Prof Koh added that a little climate research can still yield a lot of applications. 'You need good people,' he said. 'You don't need many people.'

Weather whizz-kid
Straits Times 22 Oct 11;

OVER the past few decades, the Science Centre Singapore has given out tens of thousands of Young Scientist badges to primary school pupils who complete activities such as bird-watching and measuring rainfall.

For Dr Koh Tieh Yong, one of the first home-grown atmospheric scientists to teach at a university here, the Young Meteorologist badge was a sign of things to come.

'I got the ones for geology, meteorology and astronomy,' said the self-professed nerd, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who is now in his late 30s. 'I had my head in the clouds.'

Between primary school and university, that interest simmered on the back burner. He received a government scholarship to read physics at Imperial College, London, thinking he might become a meteorological service officer.The decision to study atmospheric science came easily because of its immediate relevance to society, Dr Koh added. 'You have more direct impact on people's lives than, say, astrophysics.'

After earning a doctorate in atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he came home to serve his bond as one of Singapore's first atmospheric research scientists.

Up until last year, Singapore did not have a university department dedicated to earth or climate science. He found an academic home first at the National University of Singapore and then at NTU's school of physical and mathematical sciences. He also holds an appointment at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, a research institute in NTU.

Dr Koh tries to model tropical weather systems on a small scale, as they behave differently from temperate weather systems. He and his team are also trying to find out what factors cause the strong storms called Sumatra squalls to start and move in from the west. Finally, he is trying to understand the effect of water vapour on weather. Water vapour carries heat as it rises and drives cloud formation.

In his spare time, the bachelor enjoys running. A row of souvenir medals from half-marathons lines a shelf - reminders from when he 'had more time'.


Read more!

Flash floods hit Little India, Ang Mo Kio

Shopkeepers in Serangoon area blame deluge on poor drainage
Kezia Toh Straits Times 22 Oct 11;

FLASH floods hit Little India, Ang Mo Kio and Serangoon, among other areas, after heavy rain fell islandwide between noon and 2pm yesterday.

The worst-hit was Upper Serangoon Road next to Woodsville Flyover, where it took an hour and 15 minutes for the flood waters to subside.

Works are ongoing in the area to build three road tunnels by the end of the year.

National water agency PUB is investigating the cause.

In Little India, Norris Road, Kampong Kapor Road and Owen Road were affected, as were the shopkeepers in Roberts Lane and Serangoon Road - who lamented that this was not the first time.

They blame it on poor drainage and the fact that there is a slight dip in Roberts Lane, so shops at the lower end bear the brunt of any overflow.

Mr Mannan Abdul, 32, the manager of a clothes retailer there, said that in nearly seven years of business, the shop has been affected by heavy rain once or twice a month.

But yesterday's flash flood is the worst he has seen in a year. He had to carry goods from the rear of the cramped shop to shelves at the front for safekeeping.

The waters came up to his ankles, he said.

In September last year, the shop suffered losses of nearly $800 when new shirts were soaked by dirty rainwater.

Mr Asad Chowdhury, 31, the manager of a provision shop in the same area, noted that the weather yesterday led to only 10 customers turning up, down from the usual 80 a day.

A drainage-improvement project is ongoing to alleviate flooding in Little India. Works to widen and deepen the drains along Syed Alwi Road and Kampong Kapor Road will be complete by the first quarter of 2013.

Road-raising works at Verdun Road - which was not affected by the deluge yesterday - have been completed.

Other areas hit by floods were a section along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, the junction of Jalan Pemimpin and Bishan Street 21, and the slip road from Kranji Expressway to Woodlands Road.

Waters in these areas subsided in 10 to 15 minutes, said PUB.

The National Environment Agency said on its website that showers with thunder in the afternoon are expected today and over the next two days.

Flash floods hit several areas around Singapore
Wayne Chan Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Flash floods hit several roads in Singapore, with heavy rain falling over many areas on Friday afternoon.

One of the affected roads was in the Upper Serangoon area - after PIE exit, next to the Woodsville flyover - where two lanes became impassable to traffic.

According to national water agency PUB, flash floods also hit Woodlands Road near the Kranji Expressway (KJE) slip road; the Little India area (Norris Road, Kampong Kapor, Owen Road); Ang Mo Kio Ave 5; and the junction of Jalan Pemimpin and Bishan Street 21.

The flash floods subsided within 15 minutes in most areas, except at Upper Serangoon Road where there are ongoing roadworks near the Woodsville flyover.

Floods at Upper Serangoon Road took more than an hour to subside, and PUB is investigating the cause.

In Little India, PUB has an ongoing drainage improvement project to alleviate flooding in that area. The project is expected to complete in first quarter of 2013.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said to expect light rain till 7pm Friday in various parts of Singapore.

Showers with thunder in the afternoon are also expected over the next three days.

- CNA/cc/ls

Read more!

ExxonMobil to keep upgrading Singapore ops

It'll continue expanding petrochem/refining operations to ensure it caters to demand in Asia, says retiring Asia-Pac chairman and MD
Ronnie Lim Business Times 22 Oct 11;

OIL giant ExxonMobil - already the largest player here with over US$10 billion of investments - will continue to upgrade its Singapore operations.

Its retiring Asia-Pacific chairman and managing director Kwa Chong Seng told BT yesterday that the company will continue expanding its petrochemical/ refining operations here to ensure it caters to fast-growing Asian market demand.

Following its latest mega US$5-6 billion second petrochemical complex here, which is scheduled to start up next year, ExxonMobil for instance broke ground in May for another major 'green' diesel project here, touted to cost another US$500 million.

The diesel hydrotreater plant will produce 25 million litres of Euro IV-specification diesel daily - or equivalent to the total clean product output from two medium-sized refineries - when it comes on stream by 2014, he said.

It exemplifies what ExxonMobil, the world's largest corporation, plans further here: to deepen the complexity of its Singapore manufacturing operations by building even more flexibility, including in its petrochemical crackers so that they can use more different feedstocks, and in its refinery to produce more products to meet swings in market demand.

This will enable its Singapore export facility to better cater to its target Asian market - especially China and India - which accounts for over 60 per cent of today's global energy demand, said Mr Kwa.

ExxonMobil announced yesterday that Mr Kwa, 65, who has led ExxonMobil's Singapore affiliate for 19 years, will retire at the end of this month, and will be succeeded by Matthew Aguiar, ExxonMobil Chemical Asia Pacific managing director.

Mr Kwa, who has been with ExxonMobil for a total of 42 years, said in the interview with BT that arising from the merger of two small, separate Esso and Mobil refineries here in 1998, ExxonMobil's Singapore operations have now become its biggest manufacturing base worldwide.

This was no coincidence as Singapore, he said, sits at the crossroads of the two largest markets of China (which alone accounts for 60 per cent of the Asian energy growth) and India (about 25 per cent).

'This is where we will continue to upgrade our refinery and petrochemical plants over the next 10 years . . . to build our increments and deepen our conversion capability including to produce more clean and environment-friendly products,' he said. 'We are studying several things, but it's too early to comment (what these projects are),' Mr Kwa added.

ExxonMobil's 605,000-barrels-per-day refinery currently feeds a 900,000-tonnes-per-annum (tpa) petrochemicals cracker complex.

By the middle of next year, a second one-million-tpa cracker under its new Singapore Parallel Train (SPT) complex, which also comprises six downstream plants as well as its own 220-megawatt cogeneration power plant, is expected to be completed.

Asked if the size of the Singapore refinery sets limits on whether ExxonMobil can have more petrochemical investments, Mr Kwa said: 'We need to digest this one (SPT) first before thinking of another.'

'With such a large cracker project, we need to make sure we get it up to maximum operating levels first, and then next, to see how we can get further output increments by debottlenecking or by tweaking it to get further improvements. So that's (the next cracker) some ways away.' 'From the refinery side, there's more we can do. For example, we've just broken ground on the hydrotreater and we need to look at the refinery here, which is still relatively low in conversion capability, to make it even more competitive,' he said.

While the Chinese may be building their own domestic refineries and petrochemical crackers, those projects are meant to cater just to fast-growing domestic needs, he said, citing a recent study which showed that China needs to build one petrochemical cracker a year just for this.

'The Singapore oil industry's role is to fill niches in that (China) market, and it needs to be competitive to do so. And that's where economies of scale and size matter as it makes us more efficient and competitive,' stressed Mr Kwa.

Read more!

Singapore to watch rice harvest in wake of Thai floods

Kor Kian Beng Straits Times 22 Oct 11;

ALTHOUGH the floods in Thailand are not expected to cause the price of Thai rice to soar, Singapore will keep an eye on its harvest next month to ensure supply is stable, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan yesterday.

In the meantime, Singapore will continue to expand its supply network by importing rice from countries like Vietnam, India and the United States, he added.

This diversification will help mitigate against any rise in the price of Thai fragrant rice, a Singaporean favourite, Mr Lee told Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) who had asked about the impact of Thailand's floods on the rice situation in Singapore.

Since January this year, the export price of Thai fragrant rice has risen by 9 per cent, in part due to severe floods which had destroyed rice crops and hence reduced supply for export.

Mr Lee said Singapore cannot do anything about it as its imports are only a fraction of the global rice trade. Last year, it was a mere 1 per cent.

But the low level of import means local demand can be met easily by other suppliers, said Mr Lee.

Half of Singapore's rice imports come from Thailand, although this demand is less than two per cent of the kingdom's total rice exports.

Besides importing rice from various countries, Singapore is doing several things 'to mitigate sharp price spikes and possible supply disruptions', Mr Lee said.

Its stockpile policy is to keep at least two months' supply among rice sellers.

Also, his ministry is working with major supermarket chains and retailers to highlight the other types of rice that are tasty and of good quality 'as well as other non-rice staples that consumers can consider as part of their healthy diet choice'.

These steps have prevented panic in the market, he added.

Rice importers have 'healthy' stockpile
Esther Ng Today Online 21 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - The price of Thai fragrant rice may have risen by 9 per cent since January, but Singapore's stockpile and its strategy of diversifying its rice supply sources have mitigated the effects of price spikes and supply disruptions, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan told Parliament on Friday.

He was responding to Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC), who wanted to know the impact of the severe floods in Thailand on rice prices here.

Mr Lee pointed out that only 10 per cent of Thailand's rice-growing areas were flooded. Fragrant rice, which accounts for 18 per cent of Thailand's total rice production, has a harvest next month, while white rice, which accounts for 82 per cent of its rice output, has three to four harvests a year.

Although about half of Singapore's rice imports last year came from Thailand, it was less than 2 per cent of Thailand's total rice exports. Moreover, Singapore now imports rice from more sources such as Vietnam, India and the United States, Mr Lee said.

Also, Singapore's rice importers keep a "healthy" stockpile of two month's supply.

To better educate consumers, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, through the Retail Price Watch Group, is working with major supermarket chains and retailers to highlight the variety of rice available that are high in taste and quality, as well as other non-rice staples that consumers can consider.

As for financial speculation on commodities, it has "not been seen in our contractual purchase between importers and exporters of the supply countries", Mr Lee said.

Price, supply of Thai rice in Singapore to stay stable
Hoe Yeen Nie Today Online 21 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - Despite severe floods in Thailand, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said the price and supply of rice in Singapore will remain stable.

Responding to a question by MP Foo Mee Har in Parliament on Friday, Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan noted that most of Thailand's rice fields have not been affected by flood waters, and the frequency of rice harvests will allow farmers to catch up.

Mr Lee also said that while Singapore has little control over global prices, its small import volume means it can easily buy rice from other countries.

He said competition among the large number of rice importers in Singapore will also prevent price shocks.

"In the local scene, we have 35 major importers, supplemented by about 70 smaller importers who purchase rice from some of the small markets like India and Pakistan. So I think we have sufficient competition within the local scene to ensure price stability," said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee inspected the nation's rice stockpile on Friday morning, and noted that stocks are ample as there is no disruption in imports.

The stockpile, comprising rice from various sources including Vietnam, India and Australia, has two months of rice supply for the Singapore market.

Mr Lee said: "There is no panic in the market because this industry ... has many buffers within each of the supply chains. For instance, we have our own stockpile, other countries do, and even the suppliers or intermediaries themselves keep a healthy stock level in terms of supply."

Price, supply of Thai rice in Singapore to stay stable
Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Despite severe floods in Thailand, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said the price and supply of rice in Singapore will remain stable.

Responding to a question by MP Foo Mee Har in Parliament on Friday, Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan noted that most of Thailand's rice fields have not been affected by flood waters, and the frequency of rice harvests will allow farmers to catch up.

Mr Lee also said that while Singapore has little control over global prices, its small import volume means it can easily buy rice from other countries.

He said competition among the large number of rice importers in Singapore will also prevent price shocks.

"In the local scene, we have 35 major importers, supplemented by about 70 smaller importers who purchase rice from some of the small markets like India and Pakistan. So I think we have sufficient competition within the local scene to ensure price stability," said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee inspected the nation's rice stockpile on Friday morning, and noted that stocks are ample as there is no disruption in imports.

The stockpile, comprising rice from various sources including Vietnam, India and Australia, has two months of rice supply for the Singapore market.

Mr Lee said: "There is no panic in the market because this industry ... has many buffers within each of the supply chains. For instance, we have our own stockpile, other countries do, and even the suppliers or intermediaries themselves keep a healthy stock level in terms of supply."

Price of rice may rise but ...
Republic safe from shortages because of strong S$, stockpiles and diversified sources
Teo Xuanwei Today Online 25 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - The strong Singapore dollar, existing stockpiles of rice and diversified sources will buffer Singaporeans against the "serious food shortages" that the United Nations (UN) has warned will hit parts of South-east Asia.

A UN report noted on Friday that countries in the region, including the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, have all lost substantial rice crops due to natural disasters in recent months. The report came as Thailand braces itself for six to eight more weeks of severe floods that have already damaged one-eighth of its rice farmland.

Economists contend that the worst case scenario for Singaporeans is a price hike, but not to the extent of the global rice shortage in 2008 which was caused by a perfect storm of factors such as drought and rocketing oil prices.

Said CIMB Research executive director Song Seng Wun: "Prices may inch up in the coming weeks and months because of supply disruptions but, because of the strong Sing dollar, a part of the hike can be mitigated."

According to latest official figures, food prices in general increased by 3.1 per cent last month, compared to the same period last year. Economists expect the rising food prices - which was a major contributor to inflation in the past year - to peak at around 4 to 5 per cent during the Chinese New Year period in January.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said: "There's not enough justification to raise the alarm right now ... Due to the slowing growth globally, there are deflationary pressures too."

Although rice export prices have climbed 9 per cent since January, major supermarket chains here told Today they have held rice prices stable for more than a year. NTUC FairPrice, for instance, even slashed prices of house brands by as much as 10 per cent.

Said FairPrice managing director (group purchasing, merchandising and international trading) Tng Ah Yiam: "As one of the major rice importers in Singapore, FairPrice stockpiles more than three months' supply of rice to ensure reliability of supply and stability of price."

He added: "In addition, prices of rice are kept stable due to our policy of diversified sourcing, forward buying, direct importing, bulk buying and contract prices with manufacturers."

Thai situation closely monitored

Last week, Thailand reportedly delayed shipments of rice by a few weeks as floods disrupted logistic systems.

According to rice importers, their suppliers in Thailand expect exports to resume after this week.

One of them, Mr Tang Teow Keng, said: "We have enough stockpile until at least January or February next year. It won't get to a stage where we will starve or be short of rice, the worst case is that prices may rise for a few months."

Last Friday, Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Lee Yi Shyan said in Parliament that the Republic will keep an eye on Thailand's rice harvest next month to ensure supply is stable.

He noted that half of Singapore's rice imports come from Thailand. But this demand is less than two per cent of Thailand's total rice exports, he added. Singapore also has a stockpile policy of keeping at least two months' supply among rice sellers. The Ministry of Trade and Industry is working with major supermarket chains and retailers to highlight non-rice staples and other types of rice that consumers can consider, Mr Lee had said.

Saga Foodstuffs managing director Goh Hock Ho told Today that unless the Thailand flood situation does not improve after a month - as his suppliers expect - there will be little impact for consumers in general.

Mr Ming Feng, from the Singapore General Rice Importers Association, pointed out that Thai fragrant rice imports can easily be substituted by supply from a range of other countries, such as the United States and India.

Still, retailers said they are monitoring closely the situation in Thailand, with Fairprice's Mr Tng reiterating that the cooperative is "committed to providing affordably priced essentials". Mr Tng added: "We will ensure that any price increase by suppliers is justified."

Read more!

Healing plants get their own display

Botanic Gardens sets up 2.5ha area with 500 species of medicinal plants
Huang Lijie Straits Times 21 Oct 11;

THE new attraction is shaped like a crouching human figure, with clusters of medicinal plants associated with different parts of the body.

This $8 million Healing Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens boasts 500 species of South-east Asian medicinal plants. The 2.5ha garden, launched yesterday by President Tony Tan Keng Yam, is part of ongoing efforts to enhance the 152-year-old Gardens, a cornerstone of the Government's vision of greening Singapore.

Mr Poon Hong Yuen, chief executive of the National Parks Board (NParks), said the theme of healing plants was chosen as it is a 'melting pot of South-east Asian tradition and plant sciences'. It aims to leave visitors marvelling at the many medicinal properties of common plants in the region.

While the garden is not meant to help prescribe herbs for ailments, Mr Poon said he hopes it will inspire visitors to do more with plants, such as growing them.

Staff took three years to scour the region to get cuttings and seeds from traditional medicine practitioners to populate the garden. The $8 million cost is comparable to that of other attractions launched previously.

New additions in the pipeline include a Learning Forest to be completed by 2013 that will feature conserved fruit and nut trees.

The cost of the attraction has not been finalised, but Singapore Press Holdings has pledged $1.2 million to the project.

The Gardens attracts more than three million visitors annually.

NParks is also canvassing for ideas on the development of the Gardens as part of its year-long public consultation exercise for its City in a Garden vision.

Since the exercise was launched in August, it has drawn more than 1,000 suggestions, with more than 10 per cent of them focused on the Gardens.

Preliminary ideas for the Gardens include having a people- mover system to improve accessibility, and having better lighting and holding events at night.

Mr Poon said the suggestions will be evaluated on grounds such as feasibility and popularity.

He added that the idea of boosting activity in the Gardens at night is 'well worth exploring' because it would be cooler then.

The public can go to to contribute their ideas.

New 'Healing Garden' in Singapore
Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore Botanic Gardens has launched 'Healing Garden', the largest garden in Singapore showcasing a collection of healing plants.

The 2.5 hectare garden was launched Friday morning by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

It showcases an extensive collection of 500 species of plants from South-East Asia.

Designed in the shape of a human body, the Healing Garden is laid out thematically relating to parts or systems of the body, such as "Head, Neck, Ears, Nose and Throat" and "Digestive and Related Systems".

It took three years to set up.

Dr Nigel Taylor, director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens said, "Visitors will be surprised by the plants they see in the Healing Garden because many plants that have traditional medicinal usage are actually common plants."

He said he hoped that through visiting the garden, people become more aware of this fast-forgotten knowledge.

Visitors can also download an iPhone application to find out more on the various plants found in the garden.

- CNA/cc

Read more!

Punggol Waterway to go

Punggol's new feature is set to inject excitement into the area while retaining a touch of its past
tay suan chiang Straits Times Life 22 Oct 11;

Putting the 'go' into Punggol, Singapore's longest man-made waterway - complete with boardwalks - officially opens tomorrow but excited residents are already hitting the planks.

The $225-million feature, called My Waterway@Punggol, was constructed by damming two rivers at the east and west of Punggol, the Sungei Serangoon and Sungei Punggol, to form two reservoirs to meet Singapore's increasing water needs.

Taking 2-1/2 years to construct, the waterway has pedestrian and cycling paths on both banks, four footbridges, viewing platforms, exercise and water- play areas and plenty of lush landscaping.

When Life! visited the waterway on Wednesday and Thursday, residents were already out, cycling and strolling.

They included housewife Yeo Lay Lay, 46, who was walking her dog on the 4.2km-long waterway when Life! met her on Thursday. 'I read about it in the newspapers and it looks ready, so I decided to check it out. There are not many people yet and it is really beautiful here.'

Surrounded by greenery and water, it is easy to imagine that you are in a rural area, rather than a township of nearly 23,000 families. The nearby HDB flats can be seen from along the waterway, but mostly there are large fields of grass and trees on both sides. These plots of land are for future residential development.

Plans to turn Punggol into a waterfront town were first outlined in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2007 National Day Rally speech.

In May 2008, a landscape masterplan competition for the waterway was announced. Local firm Surbana International Consultants was named the winner in December that year.

The waterway is not just beautiful, but it is eco-friendly, too. For example, about 3.3 million cubic metres of earth had to be removed from the site during construction. This was reused to fill low-lying areas around the waterway in preparation for future housing development sites.

Past preserved

Visitors will notice a shallow drain made of gravel on both banks. Called an eco-drain, it collects surface run-off and this is filtered through gravel before going into the 3m- to 4m-deep waterway. 'The eco-drain works as a natural filtration system and helps to cleanse the water,' says Mr Alan Tan, principal architect and deputy managing director at the HDB, which is in charge of the project.

At the waterway's eastern end is an area of mangroves. The remarkable thing about this is that mangroves usually grow in saltwater but the HDB has managed to grow 20 species in freshwater.

They enhance the water quality by taking in nitrates and phosphates, which decrease algae growth in the water. 'They also help to promote biodiversity. Birds, monitor lizards and mudskippers have already been spotted,' says Mr Tan.

As the waterway merges with Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs, the water has to remain clean. To help with this task, there are 15 types of water plants on the waterway's slopes to cleanse water run-off before it enters the waterway.

Aerators and jet fountains in the waterway help to circulate water and prevent algae growth. These dissolve oxygen in the water, helping to sustain aquatic life.

The area's history is also not forgotten. A 160m stretch of Old Punggol Road has been conserved as well as an old bus stop. Display panels on Punggol's history as a farming village, its flora and fauna that used to be seen here are also nearby.

Surbana's vice-president of landscape architecture Phang Hsueh Terng, who has been working on the project since Day One, says: 'The waterway will inject the area with recreation activities, while preserving its old charm and heritage.'

Punggol resident and student Michelle Tan, 18, plans to visit the waterway soon. 'It will add a cool factor to the neighbourhood and I no longer have to travel to East Coast Park to kayak.'


* From Punggol

MRT Station, the Heartwave Wall, a scenic spot along the waterway, is a five- minute walk away.

You can also take the LRT from Punggol MRT station to Damai LRT Station. Walk towards Punggol Road and you will find a walking path to the waterway.

* There are two carparks near the waterway. One is along Punggol Walk and the other, along Sentul Crescent.

The waterway is a minute's walk from both carparks.

Read more!

Taiwan shark finning ban set to go into effect next year

China Post 21 Oct 11;

TAIPEI--Taiwan will impose a ban next year on shark finning, the practice of removing the fins from sharks and throwing the bodies back into the sea, the Fisheries Agency said yesterday.

Taiwan will be the first Asian country to introduce the regulation that will require fishermen to unload the shark fins and bodies simultaneously, said Tsay Tzu-yaw, deputy director general of the Fisheries Agency.

Violators could face heavy fines or suspension of their fishing licenses, he said.

The new regulation is currently being implemented on a trial basis at several ports in Taiwan, Tsay said. Shark fin is a delicacy in local cuisine.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Pew Environment Group released photos and videos on its website of shark fishing in Taiwan. The group listed Taiwan as one of the countries that over-fish sharks and called for action to protect depleted shark species.

Pew said Taiwan has the fourth largest shark catches in the world after Indonesia, India and Spain. The four countries accounted for more than 35 percent of the total shark catches in the world, it said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sprucing up Mabul reefs

Andrew Sia The Star 22 Oct 11;

The sight of Mat Sallehs picking up OUR rubbish is both inspiring and embarrassing. Responsible tourism can help save our beautiful islands – and protect our seafood supply!

What’s wrong with this picture? One of Malaysia’s top scuba-diving destinations shares an island with a village of 2,000 people without any official garbage collection services.

Divers from around the world pay handsomely to see the marine life here. Yet one of the main attractions – turtles – are well known to choke (perhaps fatally) when swallowing plastic bags, which they mistake for their usual diet of jellyfish.

This is the situation in Sabah’s Pulau Mabul (the sister island to Pulau Sipadan). Many of the villagers here are Bajau and Suluk peoples, migrants who fled the turmoil and poverty of the southern Philippines.

Traditionally, they have roamed the seas between Sabah and Mindanao for centuries, and trash was never a problem when all that was being disposed were biodegradable fish scales or leaves used as wrappers. But what happens when plastic comes into the picture?

To help put things right, several dive resorts got together to organise a big clean-up during Mabul Marine Week in late September. Resort staff, tourists and villagers all chipped in to clear rubbish from white sandy beaches, while divers did the same under water.

“This shows what everybody can achieve when we cooperate,” said Stanley Sie, owner-operator of Sphere Divers. “Both big and small dive operators took part.”

During a clean-up that this writer took part in with some village children, we collected not only plastic bags but also used batteries, broken glass bottles, long strips of linoleum flooring, rusty metal sheets, shoes, pieces of styrofoam and even an old suitcase lying beneath the stilt-houses.

I was surprised that the kids helping me were actually living nearby, and that this was the first time they were cleaning up the seabed beneath their homes!

“Lain kali tak buang lagi (next time won’t throw again),” one of them promised.

“It’s difficult to change people’s habits,” said Sie. “We hope to make more impact with the children.”

Jamaluddin Sopo, the village chief and Umno branch leader here, explained, “The residents have simply thrown rubbish all this time because there were no regulations or punishments against it.”

However, Jamaluddin was happy to report that Mabul was a lot cleaner this year.

“At the mosque, I announced the event to people and asked them to help out with the cleaning,” said Jamaluddin, who is also imam of Mabul.

What about asking the Semporna district council to help collect rubbish regularly?

“Saya rasa malu mau mintak mereka kutip (I am embarrassed to ask them to collect),” he replied.

Ramesh Sundram, the manager of Borneo Divers Resort here, pointed out that typically, tourism operators hire boats to bring in supplies such as food and fuel from Semporna, on the mainland, and then send out their garbage when the boats return.

“According to the Majilis Daerah Semporna (district council), Mabul does not fall under their jurisdiction for garbage collection,” he noted. “So the resort operators have to do their own garbage disposal. A large resort will have to spend about RM60,000 a year to hire boats to come in and out regularly.”

The clean-ups have been going on for 14 years, with the first Mabul Marine Day organised by a resort back in 1997. In 2007, the event was extended to become Mabul Marine Week (MMW) with different resorts taking turns to chair.

The difference for MMW this year is that the resorts have pooled their resources to build two public rubbish disposal sites, so that the villagers will (hopefully) not throw their rubbish into the sea but at the dumpsites.

Rohan Perkins, this year’s organising chairman, said that a total of 10 jongkong (12m wooden boats) of rubbish were collected and shipped out to Semporna during MMW.

Rick Owen, one of the founders of Scuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort, commented, “We are not just businessmen who have invested in a resort. I myself am a marine biologist by training, and I’ve lived here for 10 years. I married a local girl and my one-year-old child lives here, too. So that’s why I want to keep this place clean and beautiful.”

Ramesh, who has been working here for eight years, commented: “This year’s clean up was much improved compared to last year’s, which was a bit slow. There was more cooperation among the resorts. Perkins kept pushing everyone to get involved, and I sent my staff over for the clean-ups.

“It takes time to spread awareness about not throwing rubbish. It helped that the local police asked all the villagers to come out and help with the clean-up. The fact that free food and goodies were given out also increased participation, I think.”

In his closing ceremony speech, Perkins said, “Let Mabul Marine Week not just be about taking nice photos. So much more remains to be done.”

Fish-eating humans
The Star 22 Oct 11;

Man-eating fish always stirs the imagination. However, the bigger problem is fish-eating humans who seem to be gobbling up all the fish in the world in a hurry.

Mabul Marine Week 2011 was not just about garbage disposal. Raising eco-awareness was another key plank of the event, and organising chairman Rohan Perkins spoke passionately about conservation in several resorts.

“There are seven species of sea turtles worldwide, and Sabah is very lucky to have four of them in its seas,” he told an audience of some 100 tourists one night. However, garbage, especially plastic bags, is a huge problem for turtles who mistake them for jellyfish.

“An autopsy of a dead turtle by a vet in Brisbane showed 68 plastic bags inside its stomach!” lamented Perkins, who is also manager and environmental officer at Scuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort.

Nevertheless, he is glad that the world-famous Pulau Sipadan has been declared off-limits to resorts (visitors make day trips there from Mabul instead) as this means that turtles can lay their eggs on the beaches there without human interference.

“If tourist resorts are built right to the sea’s edge, this means that turtles will have no beaches to nest on,” Perkins explained.

What about turtle eggs on Mabul itself?

According to Perkins, Scuba Junkie has taken the initiative to pay RM10 to locals for each turtle egg they find, which is about 10 times more than if they sold it to others for consumption in the markets on the mainland.

“When anyone discovers a turtles nest,” he explained, “they will receive a finder’s fee based on the number of eggs in the nest. Then trained staff will relocate the eggs to our turtle hatchery which is fenced up to keep out predators such as dogs.”

Sarimah Ibrahim, who was brought in by JSK Events as the goodwill ambassador for MMW, has done over 300 dives over the past 11 years.

“I am just a messenger. I love diving at Sipadan and Mabul, and I want to help conserve the marine life here,” she said. “I believe in using social media to promote causes, not so much to talk about make-up and such. When I tweeted about how a turtle had swallowed 68 plastic bags, it was retweeted over 200 times within 15 minutes.”

Sarimah joined Twitter just five months ago, and already she has 13,000 followers.

“I used to think that we are powerless to make a change. But after I discovered how fast information could be spread on social media, I know we can all do our part,” enthused Sarimah, who recently began working as a radio DJ for Era FM.

“I also hope that Astro will have more Bahasa Malaysia subtitles in their environment-related programmes.”

The real Jaws

Another talk that Rohan did during MMW was on shark conservation. As a Malaysian Chinese, I was struck by the YouTube clip featuring Chinese basketball star Yao Ming (search for his name and “shark fin’s soup” on the site).

And it was sobering to know that during his 90-minute talk, 12,000 sharks were killed around the world.

Sarimah commented, “Ten years ago, I didn’t know that sharks were thrown back alive into the sea to die after their fins had been cut off. That’s like cutting off a gorilla’s arms and leaving it in the jungle.

“As an emcee of dinner events, I have always been exposed to shark fin’s soup. And as an entertainer there were times I was forced to eat it so as not to appear uncool. But nowadays, I am happy to say that most dinner functions serve crab meat’s soup instead. Well done!”

Ironically for Perkins, it was the movie Jaws that got him into shark conservation.

“I was terrified by the movie,” he said. “But that also got me very interested in sharks. Now I know it was all make-believe and the fear of sharks is unfounded. I have dived all over South-East Asia with sharks and never had any problems.”

He noted that statistics of fatalities in the US for 2009 show 936,000 cases from heart attacks and 43,000 from traffic accidents.

“Only five died from shark attacks in 2009 but that, unfortunately, is what captures all the media attention,” pointed out Perkins, who explained that most attacks are “bump and bite” cases where a shark accidentally knocks into a diver and then bites.

“Divers should respect the fact that they are entering the shark’s realm. Keep your distance and please don’t go spearfishing and then hang a bunch of bleeding fish from your belt (blood attracts sharks),” said Perkins, adding that world fishing stocks have declined by 90% since 1988 and the real culprit is industrial-scale fishing.

“Big companies are using fishing lines full of hooks that are five miles (8km) long! The biggest fishing nets now can fit 13 Boeing 747 jets. Large-scale fishing is wasteful as one-tenth of the world’s catch of fish is thrown back dead into the sea (because of poor prices),” he lamented.

“Mitsubishi is the world’s largest exporter of tuna but it’s just one of their many businesses. Big companies can survive without fish but not ordinary fishermen. I come from Pembrokeshire, a fishing community in south Wales, and I will be the first to understand that people’s livelihoods need to be protected,” Perkins added.

This is where sustainable fishing comes in. While the movie Jaws hyped up a totally unreal shark threat, the real terror is what our human jaws are doing to fish life. We have to try to slow down consumption of fish that are close to extinction (see the list at In the meantime, tourism can help save marine life too. And no, they don’t even have to do any clean-ups!

“Just by being here, you are helping,” Perkins told his audience of tourists. “And some of the money you spend will go back to the community, whether it’s jobs in resorts, sale of souvenirs, or provision of services like transport.”

Indeed, the long-term income from tourists who pay to see living marine life obviously outweighs the short-term gain from killing them.

Read more!

Malacca First Location In Malaysia For Hawksbill Turtle-Based Ecotourism

WWF 20 Oct 11;

Padang Kemunting, October 20th, 2011 – The fate of hawksbill turtles in the state of Malacca will receive a boost with the launch of a pilot project on ecotourism aimed at increasing conservation efforts for this critically endangered species. Dubbed “Hawksbill Melaka” Ecotourism, (Ekopelancongan “Hawskbill Melaka”) the maiden project, a first for the country, was launched tonight at Ismah Beach Resort, Padang Kemunting, Malacca.

The launch was officiated by Rural and Agricultural Development State Committee Chairman, Datuk Perumal A/L Raju to kick start the partnership between Ismah Beach Resort with the Department of Fisheries Malacca and WWF-Malaysia aimed at responsible and sustainable turtle-based ecotourism in Malacca. “Through this partnership, Ismah Beach Resort will implement best practices and proper guidelines to ensure minimal stress/disturbance to turtles from tourism activities,” said Tuan Haji Ismail bin Haji Othman, Director of Ismah Beach Resort

“Hawksbills are a unique natural heritage to Malacca which can draw in tourists. Seeing that tourism is one of the main economic drivers for the state, hawksbill turtles have the potential to further enhance Malacca’s attraction as an ecotourism destination,” said Rosmawati Ghazali, Director of State Fisheries.

“We are confident that the implementation of low-impact ecotourism if done with adequate monitoring and control will be an effective strategy to drive protection of the species. It will also serve as an important asset to generate revenue. It is hoped that this commendable effort can be replicated by other tour operators in Padang Kemunting in the near future.”

The “Hawskbill Melaka” Ecotourism programme consists of a holistic educational activity designed for the whole family while minimising disturbance to turtles and their habitats. Proper protocols and trained guides and interpreters will be in place to ensure the sustainability of the programme.

According to Executive Director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia, Dato’ Dr. Dionysius Sharma, turtles are creatures that are very sensitive to light, noise and movement. Hence, uncontrolled mass tourism without restrictions is not a suitable option for turtle populations and habitats.

“It is hoped that this partnership and programme will be a start to sustainable turtle ecotourism along the Padang Kemunting beach. For this to happen, cooperation from all, including resort operators and the tourism industry, is needed to use proper guidelines and adopt changes to create a dark and secluded environment for nesting turtles along the Padang Kemunting belt.”

When practised diligently and consistently, low-impact turtle ecotourism will satisfy the heightened expectations of the tourists and be an effective conservation tool. It is an intervention that has helped turtle conservation in many parts of the world.

Meanwhile, the nearby Padang Kemunting Turtle Conservation and Information Centre will continue its important role in educating the public on the hawksbill turtles.

The “Hawskbill Melaka” Ecotourism programme will be implemented in 2012 and will be fully executed starting in 2013.

Malacca is an important refuge for the Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in West Malaysia. It is home to the largest population of nesting Hawksbill turtles with average annual nestings of 400.

Prime nesting beaches in the state are Pulau Upeh, Kem Terendak, Padang Kemunting, Tanjung Bidara, Balik Batu, Pasir Gembur, Tanjung Dahan, Tanjung Serai and Meriam Patah which contribute to approximately 80% of recorded nestings in the state.

Read more!

US Residents Say Hawaii's Coral Reef Ecosystems Worth $33.57 Billion Per Year

ScienceDaily 21 Oct 11;

A peer-reviewed study commissioned by NOAA shows the American people assign an estimated total economic value of $33.57 billion for the coral reefs of the main Hawaiian Islands.

"The study shows that people from across the United States treasure Hawaii's coral reefs, even though many never get to visit them," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "It illustrates the economic value of coral reefs to all Americans, and how important it is to conserve these ecosystems for future generations."

"We are pleased that research is being done to look at the value of Hawaii's coral reefs, but before we consider any potential applications of the study we will consult closely with local communities," said William J. Aila, Jr., chairperson of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The study employed a scientifically developed national Internet survey of more than 3,200 households -- a representative sample of all U.S. residents, not just Hawaii or coastal residents. From June through October 2009, the survey allowed the public to express its preferences and values for protection and restoration of the coral reef ecosystems around the main Hawaiian Islands. In this study, total economic value includes so-called passive use values, such as the willingness to pay to protect the coral reef ecosystem for future generations, as well as direct use values, such as snorkeling over a coral reef or consuming fish supported by coral reef ecosystems.

A panel of independent university and private scientists, from both Hawaii and the continental U.S., provided facts to the survey design team about the Hawaiian coral reef ecosystems and provided estimates of how the coral reef ecosystems would change in response to the two possible management options. The descriptions, including illustrations, of improvement to coral ecosystems gave survey respondents a clear understanding of what they were being asked to value and how the ecosystems would change as a result of the protection measures.

To estimate underlying values the public places on coral reef ecosystems, the study team presented survey participants with two specific measures to protect and restore coral reef ecosystems. One measure aimed at reducing effects to coral ecosystems from fishing, and another to repair reefs damaged by ships.

The main Hawaiian Islands consist of eight volcanic islands that range in age from active lava flows on the east side of the Big Island to seven million-year-old Kauai. Despite their economic significance, reefs near urbanized areas, such as Honolulu, Wailuku, and Kahului, have experienced increasing stress from ever-increasing population and other pressures.

The national survey was funded by NOAA and the National Science Foundation, and was designed to address the issue of Internet bias. The survey was conducted through two Internet panels; one recruited participants using controlled random digit dialing telephone surveys and the other using standard U.S. Bureau of the Census methods of randomly selecting households and going to each household to recruit participants via face-to-face interviewing.

Read more!

Record Jaguar Number Counted in Bolivia Rainforest Yahoo News 22 Oct 11;

A record number of jaguars have been identified in one of the world's most biologically diverse landscapes. Using technology first adapted to identify tigers by stripe patterns, researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society have identified 19 individual jaguars by spot patterns in the rainforests of Bolivia, a record number for a single camera trap survey in the country.

"We're excited about the prospect of using these images to find out more about this elusive cat and its ecological needs," said WCS conservationist Robert Wallace. "The data gleaned from these images provide insights into the lives of individual jaguars and will help us generate a density estimate for the area."

The images come from the Alto Madidi and Alto Heath, a region at the headwaters of the Madidi and Heath Rivers inside Bolivia’s Madidi National Park. The survey also included Ixiamas Municipal Reserve, created following a previous WCS survey in 2004 along the Madidi River, which revealed a high abundance of jaguars and other species such as white-lipped peccaries, spider monkeys, and giant otters.

"The preliminary results of this new expedition underscore the importance of the Madidi landscape to jaguars and other charismatic rainforest species," said Julie Kunen, director of WCS's Latin America and Caribbean Program. "Understanding the densities and ranging habits of jaguars is an important step in formulating effective management plans for what is arguably the most biodiverse landscape on the planet."

The cameras used are strategically placed along pathways in the forest and especially the beaches of rivers and streams for weeks at a time, snapping pictures of animals that cross an infrared beam.

The animals were identified from a total of 975 photographs, a record number of images due to the use of digital cameras as opposed to camera traps that use film. These allow researchers returning to the traps can download the images in seconds, rather than waiting days for film to develop.

Bolivian jaguar field biologist Guido Ayala noted that "series of digital images also capture more data than traditional film."

Madidi National Park is one of the top tourist attractions in Bolivia and is the centerpiece of a continuous chain of six national protected areas in northwestern Bolivia and southeastern Peru, one of the largest such complexes in the world.

Read more!

Bolivia cancels controversial Amazon highway

Gerardo Bustillos AFP Yahoo News 21 Oct 11;

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Friday he was scrapping a hugely controversial plan to build a highway through an Amazon ecological reserve that has triggered widespread protests.

Morales told reporters he had sent an amendment to Congress, controlled by government supporters, halting plans for the road through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS).

"Therefore, the issue of the TIPNIS has been resolved," Morales said. "This is governing by obeying the people."

Morales made the announcement just ahead of a meeting with representatives of around 2,000 indigenous people who entered La Paz on Wednesday after a two-month march from their homeland in the Amazon lowlands to press him to cancel the highway.

The decision also "declares the TIPNIS an untouchable zone," which strengthens protection against oil and gas mining and logging in the area, and also allows police to remove any outsiders that may enter the zone.

Amazon natives feared that landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people -- Bolivia's main indigenous groups and Morales supporters -- would flood into the road area and colonize their land.

The marchers, who set out in August and trekked 600 kilometers (370 miles) to the capital, were met as heroes as they entered the city in the high Andes and made their way to camp out near the presidential palace.

Protest leaders however were cautious when they heard the news.

"We must first talk to the president, establish the rules of the game to begin a dialog, and only then we will analyze" Morales's proposal, said Fernando Vargas, one of the leaders.

Therefore the 16 demands of the protesters "remain in effect," he said. "For us, nothing has been resolved."

Other protester demands include an end to oil and gas extraction and exploration in the Aguarague National Park, in southern Bolivia, and the right to seek compensation for the negative effects of global warming.

Government officials have said that those demands will be rejected.

About 50,000 people from three different native groups live in the remote territory in the humid Amazon lowlands.

The Brazil-financed road project was part of a network linking land-locked Bolivia to both the Pacific through Chile and the Atlantic through Brazil, key outlets for Bolivian exports.

The government has said it would be too expensive to build the highway around the preserve.

Morales, the country's first indigenous president, has come under tremendous popular pressure to end the project.

A police crackdown on a march against the highway that left 74 people injured in late September triggered widespread anger, a general strike, and the resignations of several top government officials, including two ministers.

Government ombudsman Rolando Villena congratulated Morales for having "taken such a wise decision, because that puts an end" to months of protest marches.

Indigenous Amazon protesters gathered in the city of Santa Cruz cheered, calling it "a defeat for Evo."

Read more!