Best of our wild blogs: 8 Nov 11

No camera? Draw lor.
from Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

Tambja nudibranch meets current
from Pulau Hantu and Sand-diver attacks!

111106 Ubin forest late afternoon to night
from Singapore Nature

Oriental Scops Owl spotted at Kent Road, Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Worthwhile wait to the Lost Coast
from Psychedelic Nature

Seagrass Month on SeaWeb
from World Seagrass Association

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Healing Garden's toxic plant section to open for guided tours

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 7 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's first Healing Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens is home to some 500 species of plants with healing properties.

Though they may look harmless, about 200 of them belong to the toxic plant section.

Dr Nigel Taylor, director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, said: "The majority of plants in the world are toxic or at least inedible to some degree, so we shouldn't conclude from seeing there's a toxic plant section that all the other plants are safe. They're not."

"The majority of plants are to some degree poisonous. However, the plants at this part of the Healing Garden are particularly toxic and they can only be used for healing purposes in very small amounts."

One such plant is the Indian Tree Spurge.

Dr Taylor explained that the plant's sap can cause blindness, and death if ingested.

However, he added that if "treated in the right way, made into a poultice it can help in the healing of bones."

Other plants include the Dumbcane and the Oleander, which could affect your nervous system or cause death if eaten.

The toxic plant section is currently closed to the public.

It is only accessible through guided tours, which begin in the first quarter of next year.

For now, visitors can enjoy viewing the other "not-so-toxic" healing plants.

Visitor Mr Jimmy Wong said: "We came here out of curiosity, and we saw that it's very informative, very educational."

Ms Sybil Schwencke said: "I think it's very good to take time off and calm down here."

The 2.5-hectare garden is open from 5:00 am to 7:30 pm daily.

- CNA/cc

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Floods show what lies ahead for sinking Bangkok

Amelie Bottollier-Depois AFP Yahoo News 7 Nov 11;

The Thai capital, built on swampland, is slowly sinking and the floods currently besieging Bangkok could be merely a foretaste of a grim future as climate change makes its impact felt, experts say.

The low-lying metropolis lies just 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of the Gulf of Thailand, where various experts forecast sea level will rise by 19 to 29 centimetres (7 to 11 inches) by 2050 as a result of global warming.

Water levels would also increase in Bangkok's main Chao Phraya river, which already overflows regularly.

If no action is taken to protect the city, "in 50 years... most of Bangkok will be below sea level," said Anond Snidvongs, a climate change expert at the capital's Chulalongkorn University.

But global warming is not the only threat. The capital's gradual sinking has also been blamed on years of aggressive groundwater extraction to meet the growing needs of the city's factories and its 12 million inhabitants.

As a result Bangkok was sinking by 10 centimetres a year in the late 1970s, according to a study published last year by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

That rate has since dropped to less than one centimetre annually, they said, thanks to government measures to control groundwater pumping.

If those efforts continued, the report authors said, they hoped the subsidence rate could slow by another 10 percent each year.

But Anond disputed their projections, saying Bangkok was still sinking at "an alarming rate" of one to three centimetres per year.

While scientists may argue over the exact figures, they agree about what lies in store for the sprawling megacity.

"There is no going back. The city is not going to rise again," said the ADB's lead climate change specialist David McCauley.

Faced with the combined threats of land subsidence and rising temperatures and sea levels, the World Bank has predicted that Bangkok's flood risk will increase four-fold from now by 2050.

And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has classified the Thai capital among the 10 cities in the world facing the biggest potential impact from coastal flooding by 2070.

For now, Bangkok is relying on a complex system of dykes, canals, locks and pumping stations to keep the rising waters at bay.

The flood protection efforts, however, failed to prevent an onslaught of run-off water from the north from swamping at least one-fifth of the capital.

The murky floodwaters, triggered by three months of heavy monsoon rains, are edging in on Bangkok's glitzy downtown area, threatening luxury hotels, office buildings and shopping malls.

Rapid urbanisation is one reason why the inundations are affecting the sprawling city so badly, according to experts.

As the area that needs flood protection gets larger and more built-up, the water "has fewer places to go", said Francois Molle, a water management expert at France's Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement.

Molle said that in the long term, Bangkok would eventually be under water. "The only question is when."

Experts say Thai authorities must address the capital's land use and planning challenges and consider relocating factories or industrial parks in flood-prone areas.

Or even moving the entire city.

"It may be appropriate for the people who want to be dry 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to be setting up a new city," said Anond.

"We do have areas where we can develop a new city that would be completely dry. There's a lot of land in this country," he said.

It may sound like a drastic scenario, but there is little doubt that Bangkok will have to act if it wants to avoid the fate of the fabled sunken city of Atlantis.

"To remain where it is, the city will need better protection," said Robert Nicholls, a professor of coastal engineering at Britain's University of Southampton.

He said he expected Bangkok's current flood misery to "trigger massive investment in defences over the next 10 to 20 years".

Dealing with the phenomenon will be expensive elsewhere too. Across the Asia-Pacific region the ADB has estimated it will cost a minimum of $10 billion a year to adapt to climate change.

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Malaysia: Tapirs losing out

Tan Cheng Li The Star 8 Nov 11;

Tapirs are another casualty of our dwindling forest cover and expanding development.

BENDUL, the Malayan tapir, is a sorry sight. Unlike the other tapirs at the Sungai Dusun Wildlife Conservation Centre which have hefty, robust bodies, Bendul is almost all skin and bones. Her coat is dull and grey, not a healthy shine like that on the others. Her ribcage shows under her skin and her body is badly scarred.

She was named after the place where she was found loitering in late September, a village in Ulu Bendul some 16km from Seremban in Negri Sembilan, and arrived at the centre wounded and starving.

“After trapping her, we had planned to return her to the forest but when we saw that she had a bullet wound which was infested with maggots, we decided to bring her here,” says Mahathir Mohamad who heads the Sungai Dusun centre, located in the upper reaches of Selangor about 90 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur.

From the tell-tale size and shape of the wound, wildlife officers believe Bendul had been shot by wild boar hunters, probably mistakenly. “Villagers say they have seen the tapir with two young. We searched but could not find the juveniles. We believe they have also been shot,” says Mahathir.

At Sungai Dusun, a 4,330ha sprawl of protected peatswamp and lowland dipterocarp forest near the Selangor-Perak boundary which is both a rescue and captive breeding centre, Bendul is seen chomping on the leaves of the mengkirai, nangka and mahang trees which keepers have collected from the forest. Soon, she will be fed nutrition-laden pellets to fatten her up. At the centre, she joins six other tapirs – four of which are captive-breds and two, also rescued tapirs.

Bendul is the latest statistic in a growing list of displaced tapirs. As forests give way to human settlements, plantations and industrial development, and are fragmented by roads, tapirs are crowded out. They now number only between 1,100 and 1,500 in Peninsular Malaysia, and can no longer be found in Borneo.

The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has recorded an upward trend in tapir displacements: five cases in 2006, 25 in 2007, 39 in 2008, 22 in 2009 and 41 in 2010. Of the 142 cases seen during that period, the majority (95) were of tapirs which had ventured out of their normal habitats into villages, plantations, logging areas, forest fringes and roadsides. Fifteen were roadkills, 12 were wounded tapirs which eventually died from the injuries, and 20 were tapirs sent to Sungai Dusun, Zoo Melaka and other protected areas.

The cases mostly occurred in Pahang (46) and Johor (32), followed by Negri Sembilan (21), Selangor (17) and Terengganu (15).

“Habitat disturbance and fragmentation appear to be the main factors forcing the tapir out of its habitat to seek food near forest fringes, plantations and human settlements. Activities like housing, logging, construction of highways, railways and dams all lead to the loss of tapir habitat,” says wildlife officer David Magintan at the 5th International Tapir Symposium in Kuala Lumpur last month.

And although tapirs are not targeted by hunters, they get caught in snares set up for other animals like deer, wild boar and tigers.

Magintan says measures to reduce the displacements include erecting animal crossings under viaducts, putting up “tapir crossing” roadsigns and creating forested corridors to link fragmented forests.

Electric fences installed to prevent wild elephants from entering villages can also deter tapirs, he adds.

The Sungai Dusun centre has housed a total of 34 tapirs since conservation work on the species started there in 2007. The numbers vary yearly due to mortality as well as releases to wild areas and other captive facilities.

The centre is now left with seven tapirs, following the sudden deaths of seven individuals over two weeks late last year, an occurrence which appears to replicate the 2003 tragedy in which Sungai Dusun’s whole population of five rare Sumatran rhinoceros died over an 18-day span from septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Last year’s tapir fatality between Sept 17 and Sept 29 was attributed to infection caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, according to a press statement by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. To save the remaining six tapirs from further infection, it said antibiotics and anti-protozoa prescription for blood parasite were administered, and the animals were moved from the paddocks and night stalls into forested enclosures.

Today, there are seven tapirs at Sungai Dusun. Four are males: Boy (from Singapore Zoo), Kemat (rescued from Terengganu), Junior and Satria (both born at Sungai Dusun). The females are Mala (born in Zoo Melaka), Perabong and Bendul (both rescued from Negri Sembilan).

To date, the centre has seen eight births, the latest being that of Satria, in June 2010.

The plan all along was to release captive-breds into the forests of Sungai Dusun and other areas where the species has become depleted. However, introducing man-raised animals into the wild is no easy task. Last year, an attempt to introduce the tapir Mala into the Sungai Dusun forest came to naught as the Zoo Melaka-born animal found its way back to the paddock soon after its release.

Furthermore, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protocol prohibits re-introductions into areas which house an existing population of the species. Sungai Dusun itself has wild tapirs, as do most forest reserves in the country, albeit in declining numbers.

One tapir, Ketupat, was released in 2009 into Sungai Dusun forest and three captive-bred tapirs – Khai, Ujang and Suraya – have been sent to Taman Negara in 2009 and 2010. Recent visitors to the park have observed two tapirs there – Khai and Tahan (a captive-born from Zoo Melaka). They say although both have been released into the wild, they return to the vicinity of the park headquarters every few days.

Following the string of tapir deaths, captive-breeding of the species at Sungai Dusun has ceased, though that of the Malayan porcupine continues. Mahathir says the centre might no longer be a suitable site what with oil palm estates, villages and other developments marching right up to its edges.

“Just last year, a poultry farm opened a kilometre away and livestock such as cattle and buffaloes graze just outside the reserve. There is a risk of these domestic animals transmitting harmful pathogens to the tapirs,” he says.

With the suitability of Sungai Dusun as a captive-breeding facility in question, there are talks of setting up a similar facility elsewhere as a replacement. However, some scientists see no point in further captive-breeding of the tapir, seeing that such animals would merely be to stock zoos both here and abroad.

On the brink
Tan Cheng Li The Star 8 Nov 11;

THE Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus) is the largest of the world’s four tapir species. The other three species – lowland, mountain and Baird’s – are found in Central and South America. Once distributed over South-East Asia, the Malayan tapir is now confined to Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, and continues to decline in numbers in all four countries.

“Only the first two countries have significant populations and habitat remaining. The decline in population is the result of continued habitat loss from illegal logging and the lack of protection of most areas still containing significant populations,” says Dr Alan Shoemaker at a tapir symposium in Kuala Lumpur last month.

A member of the Tapir Specialist Group in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Shoemaker says populations in Myanmar are especially at risk as they are restricted to rainforests in the Tenasserim Range where only 5% of the forest is protected. In Sumatra, he says, over 50% of the remaining habitat is outside tapir domain and hunting is uncontrolled. In Thailand, 40% of the remaining forest is unprotected.

“Only the population in Malaysia appear, although perhaps falsely, to be secure and even that population only appears to be around 1,500 to 2,000. Because individual tapirs are now known to travel greater distances than previously thought, even this “safe” population is probably much lower.”

For all these reasons, the conservation status of the species was elevated from “vulnerable” to “endangered” in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species in 2008.

According to the IUCN, Malayan tapir numbers have halved in the past three generations (36 years), driven primarily by large-scale conversion of lowland tapir habitat to oil palm plantations and other human-dominated land-use. It says remaining populations are isolated in existing protected areas and forest fragments, which are discontinuous and offer little opportunity for genetic exchange for these forest-dependent species.

Hunting is also cause for concern in the future as already reduced and isolated sub-populations would be at great risk for extirpation. Scientists says local extinction or population declines of tapirs can disrupt some key ecological processes such as seed dispersal and nutrient recycling, and eventually compromise the integrity and biodiversity of the forest ecosystem.

Hopeful news

For the Malaysian tapir population, biologist Dr Carl Traeholt remains optimistic as he considers the situation here to be better than in other range countries, where the species is under great pressure.

“Malaysia has taken efforts to protect the tapir. It has over 40% forest cover and if we can keep it as it is now, we can safeguard the species. The crucial thing is that there is no more significant habitat loss. As long as we control habitat destruction, we are going in the right direction.”

Also critical to tapir conservation is implementation of the national Tiger Action Plan, a document finalised in early 2009 which spells out the actions needed in order to boost tiger numbers.

Conservation strategies in the plan includes securing and expanding tiger refuges, improving forestry management, linking fragmented forests with vegetated corridors, stricter enforcement against poachers and wise land-use to overcome man-tiger clashes.

“If we can implement the tiger protection plan successfully, there will be a spill-over effect ... we can also conserve the tapir,” says Traeholt, who for the past decade, has conducted camera trapping, radio telemetry and captive-breeding research on the species here.

He says there will be a regional meeting next year to draft guidelines on ex-situ conservation of the Malayan tapir, particularly on regional standards on husbandry and care. Captive animals, being housed in different environmental condition from the wild, have been known to develop clinical pathologies related to stress, diet or the enclosure environment. Symptoms often become complex to diagnose. There have been cases of tapirs in European zoos contracting tuberculosis and at one zoo in Argentina, corneal ulcer.

In Myanmar, little is known about the status and distribution of tapirs. Only one protected area in southern Myanmar, the 1,700sqkm Taninthayi Nature Reserve, conserves tropical rainforests and affords protection for tapirs, tigers, Asian elephants and other biodiversity, according to Nay Myo Shwe of the Myanmar Forest Department.

“Hunting, and habitat loss and degradation are major threats to tapirs in and around Taninthayi,” he says at the symposium. Between March and June, surveys were conducted using camera-traps, tracks and signs. Nay says that from interviews with 119 villagers and military staff, it was found that a third had eaten tapir meat in the last 14 years and hunters – some were after elephants – had killed at least 26 tapirs in the past 20 years. The survey also shows that tapirs were accidentally killed in pit fall traps and during commercial logging prior to the reserve being gazetted (from 1989 to 1996).

Nay says the priority for now is to curb poaching and accidental killings of tapirs. In response to the threat, a ranger training programme was established to raise capacity for patrolling and law enforcement.

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Indonesia: Tiger Kills Five-Year-Old Indonesian Girl

Jakarta Globe 7 Nov 11;

Bengkulu. A Sumatran tiger attacked and killed a five-year-old girl as she played in a plantation near her village in Bengkulu province over the weekend.

State news agency Antara identified the victim as Fitria binti Judin, from Cirebon Baru village, Kepanghiang district.

Supartono, an official from the Bengkulu Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said on Monday that two other siblings escaped the attack unharmed and ran seven kilometers back to Cirebon Baru to raise the alarm.

The deceased was found 20 meters from a hut.

Her leg had been chewed off before the tiger had fled back to the forest, Supartono said.

He said Forestry Police were investigating whether or not the hut was located inside the Bukit Daun protected forest.

If the attack occurred outside the park boundaries, the tiger would be tracked down and relocated, he said.

There are an estimated 300 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, with grave fears held for their future survival in the wild given rampant deforestation, the trade in the endangered animals for use in Chinese traditional medicines and Indonesia’s rampant corruption.


Sumatran tiger kills five-year-old girl
Antara 7 Nov 11;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - A five-year-old girl, Fitria binti Judin, was mauled to death by a wild Sumatran Tiger on her parents` farm in Bukit Dendan village, in Bengkulu province``s Kepahiang district, a local nature conservation official said.

Supartono. the head of Bengkulu`s Natural Resources Conservation Agency, said on Monday the incident happened on Saturday (Nov 5).

"The tiger attacked when Fitria was at the farm with her two siblings. It was drizzling and they were playing outside the house when suddenly a tiger came out of a nearby forest and attacked the little girl straightaway," said Supartono.

On seeing their little sister in the clutches of a tiger, the two other kids screamed in horror and ran to the nearest village, 7 kilometers from the farm, for help.

Villagers who came to the farm later found Fitria`s dead body 20 meters from the farm house. Her entire left leg was missing, apparently eaten by the tiger.

Supartono said conflicts between tigers and humans rarely happened in the region, and Saturday`s incident could have happened because the farm and house were located in the Bukit Daun forest conservation area (where humans were not supposed to live).

It was decided to assign six forest rangers to determine the farm`s exact geographical bearings to see whether it was indeed located within a forest conservation area.

If the farm and house proved to be located outside the forest conservation area, Bengkulu`s Natural Resources Conservation Agency would catch the tiger and relocate it.

Supartono said the incident was also an indication that the conditions wildlife habitats in the region were beginning to deteriorate due to illegal logging.

According to the agency`s records, a total of 7 human-tiger conflict cases had happened in the province in 2011, namely in the five districts of Lebong, Seluma, North Bengkulu, Kaur, South Bengkulu, and Kepahiang.

In two of the conflicts, two people were killed causing the suspected tigers to be moved to the Tembling Conservation Park in Lampung province. (*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Greenpeace Can’t Prove Indonesian Rainforest Used for Packaging: Asia Pulp & Paper

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 7 Nov 11;

Environment group Greenpeace Asia Pacific is sticking to claims that paper company Asia Pulp & Paper used Indonesian rainforest fiber in toy packaging.

Following a press release from APP rejecting the claim, Greenpeace’s forest campaigner Bustar Maitar said the activists stood by their assertion.

In its release, APP said that Greenpeace had sent samples of paper packaging APP made for toys such as Barbie to be analyzed to determine the origin of its raw materials.

According to APP, the US-based paper-testing company, Integrated Paper Services, never made any determination about the country of origin of fibers in the products it analyzed for Greenpeace.

APP quoted part of a letter from IPS responding to a query about the testing. “IPS is only able to determine the types of fibers present in such samples,” Bruce Shafer, chief executive of IPS, was quoted as saying by APP.

“We have not, and are unable to, identify country of origin of the samples. Therefore, we are unable to comment on the credibility of the statements Greenpeace has made regarding country of origin.”

IPS added that it stood by the finding that the samples contained mixed tropical hardwood. Finding mixed tropical hardwood in paper indicates that at least some of the raw materials originated in natural forests with high biodiversity — mixed species — rather than from monoculture pulpwood plantations.

Since APP’s paper mills are all in Indonesia, Greenpeace argued that the mixed tropical hardwood found in APP’s products logically must have come from Indonesian forests.

“In their [APP] release, IPS does not deny that they found mixed tropical hardwood. We sent IPS samples of APP products, so where did the tropical hardwood come from if not from Indonesian forests?” Bustar said.

APP’s Aida Greenbury told the Jakarta Globe that the packaging contained both recycled fiber and sustainably certified fiber, which meant the mixed tropical hardwood could have come from overseas.

“Some of the recycled materials are imported, as per standard practice in the paper industry worldwide,” Aida said.

“We think Greenpeace owes the global toy industry an explanation. It has campaigned against them to stop doing business with both APP and Indonesia on the basis of a completely unsubstantiated and false claim.”

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Asia-Pacific: Locals 'can play key role in helping forests recover'

Mark Kinver BBC News 7 Nov 11;

Involving local groups has been a key factor in halting the loss of forest cover in the Asia-Pacific region, a UN study has concluded.

The report found that low-cost projects offered communities an incentive to protect the habitats in return for job opportunities and income sources.

Such schemes also enhanced ecosystems, restored biodiversity and increase carbon storage, the authors added.

The results were published at the start of the UN Asia-Pacific Forestry Week.

Despite the threats from illegal deforestation, forest fires and climate change, the Forest Beneath the Grass report - produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) - said the region had "not only stopped the drastic decline in forest cover of the 1990s", but had actually increased tree cover over the past decade.

"The Asia-Pacific region has accomplished this feat of reversing the trend of forest loss faster than any other region in history," said Eduardo Rojas, assistant director-general of the FAO's Forestry Department.

Helping hand

The report credited "assisted natural regeneration" (ANR) projects as one of the key factors in turning the net loss of tree cover into an annual net gain.

ANR is a forest restoration and rehabilitation technique that converts grass dominated areas into productive forests, based on the natural process of plant succession, encouraging the regeneration and growth of indigenous tree species.

One of the most invasive grass species is Imperata cyclindrica, also known as blady grass. Native to the region, it thrives on disturbed soil - such as roadsides and felled forests. Once established, it quickly forms a monoculture and suppresses other species from becoming established.

As opposed to more resource-intensive programmes, such as agro-forestry schemes or large-scale plantation projects, the authors highlighted how ANR schemes were relatively passive and cheap, allowing local communities to become actively involved.

They added that while the vast grasslands provided grazing sites for cattle and roofing material, there were relatively few other benefits when the potential productivity of the area was taken into account.

The scheme follows a number of stages, including:

site selection,
modifications to encourage growth of preferred species,
possible supplementary planting,
site protection and monitoring.

"The success of ANR is dependent on the effective involvement of local residents in its implementation," explained FAO senior forestry officer Patrick Durst, who presented the report's findings at a news conference in Beijing.

"It is important that local communities are given incentives and ultimately benefit from [the] programmes."

The benefits come in a number of guises, such as a diversity in harvestable crops, cost-effective land management, hunting grounds, and improved ecological services.

According to the FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment, the region recorded an average annual net gain of 1.5m hectares of tree cover over the past decade.

However, deforestation remains a global concern, with 13m hectares - with a large volume being primary, natural forests - being lost each year over the same period.

Mr Rojas observed: "The rate of deforestation is still very high in many countries and the area of primary forest - forests undisturbed by human activity - continues to decrease.

"Countries must further strengthen their efforts to better conserve and manage them."

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