Best of our wild blogs: 22 Nov 11

26 Nov (Sat): Talk on "Singapore's Southern Haunt" by Debby Ng
from wild shores of singapore

Registration open for the 2011 Sungei Buloh Anniversary Walk
from Habitatnews

Sun 04 Dec 2011: "Identification, Conservation and Research of Singapore Avian Species" - seminar at Jurong Bird Park
from Habitatnews

Wed 23 Nov 2011: 7.00pm at *SCAPE- Simon Purser on "The Illegal Wildlife Trade, why should we care and what can we do about it?"
from Habitatnews

Tiny To Big Big Nudibranch @ Pulau Hantu
from colourful clouds

A Night of Hairy Huntsman Spiders
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Folivores – birds that feed on leaves
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Seahorses under stress
from news by Rhett Butler

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Lightning city

Tropical weather makes Singapore one of the world's lightning capitals
Feng Zengkun & Kezia Toh Straits Times 22 Nov 11;

THEY were watching television when the lightning bolt struck.

First, the family heard a clap of thunder, followed shortly afterwards by the clatter of tiles falling from the roof.

When the owner, who wanted to be known only as Ms Loh, went outside to investigate, she was horrified to see smoke rising from her three-storey house. 'The roof was smouldering,' she said.

The bolt, which struck last week, had torn up two tiles and burned through the heat insulation.

Ms Loh and her family, whose terraced house is on Frankel Terrace in Siglap, called the Singapore Civil Defence Force. They now face a wait for their insurance payment.

Yet it seems that they are not the only ones in this predicament. 'The insurance people actually told me that this is not uncommon,' said Ms Loh. 'They have seen this happen in private houses in Bukit Timah as well.'

Experts told The Straits Times that while incidents like this are rare, they do happen - especially as Singapore is one of the lightning capitals of the world.

The Republic has 0.35 lightning deaths per million people each year on average, compared to 0.2 in Britain and 0.6 in the United States.

It also experiences an average of 186 days of lightning per year, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA). This is due to the tropical weather conditions. Each square kilometre of land here can be struck up to 16 times each year.

This month - along with April and May - is one of the most lightning-prone because of the intense inter-monsoon weather conditions.

Last Saturday, two men were struck while fishing at Coney Island. One is dead and the other is in Changi General Hospital's intensive care unit.

Government agencies told The Straits Times that most public places are protected. For example, devices are fitted to the top of floodlight towers at stadiums. Public pools are equipped with lightning rods and the management is instructed to check the three-hourly storm forecasts on NEA's website.

Buildings, observation towers and other structures meant to house people are also supposed to be shielded by law. Gazebos in parks, for example, have metal roofs and are 'earthed' with thick metal strips to make them lightning-proof.

To protect children who are too young to understand the risks, the agency and the Education Ministry introduced an SMS alert system in 2007.

This tells school administrators and physical education department heads about the lightning risks in the neighbourhood and in areas where students are on excursion.

But experts said there are gaps in Singapore's lightning protection shield, such as the fact the SMS alert system is not available to the public.

They said it should at least be extended to other safety professionals such as lifeguards at beaches and pools. These guards should be instructed to evacuate the public once they receive the alerts.

'Unless someone asks them to get out of the place, people are likely to indulge and continue going,' said Professor Liew Ah Choy of the National University of Singapore's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

He added that open spaces should have mandatory lightning warning sirens. These are now only recommended in the Singapore lightning protection code.

The code also recommends that lightning detection and warning systems be deployed at temporary, ad-hoc activities such as fun fairs, trade fairs and outdoor events.

More public education is also needed to dispel myths, such as that wearing a raincoat provides protection against lightning, said Prof Liew. 'The electric current in lightning is too strong for that to work,' he added.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force provides a handbook that includes lightning protection advice. To download it, go to

Lightning-strike survivor still in intensive care
Victim drifting in and out of consciousness; experts say road to recovery will be long
Elizabeth Soh Straits Times 22 Nov 11;

DISPATCH rider Eng Yang Huat remains in intensive care, drifting in and out of consciousness, two days after being struck by lightning during a fishing trip to Coney Island.

Experts say it is too early to determine if the 41-year-old will recover fully, but most agree it will be a long, drawn out process.

Mr Eng, however, was lucky to have survived. His best friend Tan Guan Yin, 40, who was with him last Saturday, did not.

The two close friends had been fishing on Coney Island off Punggol, when they were caught in a thunderstorm and sought shelter under a tree. But lightning struck, killing Mr Tan instantly and leaving Mr Eng badly burnt.

Mr Tan, a bachelor, was cremated yesterday after his brother returned from Japan to see to the funeral arrangements.

Three of their friends, also fishing enthusiasts, visited Mr Eng at Changi General Hospital yesterday night but declined to speak to the media.

A dermatologist told The Straits Times yesterday that if Mr Eng was badly burnt as a result of being struck by lightning, the injuries to his skin alone will take at least a year to heal.

However, all hope is not lost for Mr Eng, as there are others who have been able to return to living a normal life despite being struck by lightning.

One of them is former school teacher Carolyn Lim, 31.

Five years ago, Madam Lim was struck by lightning when she was windsurfing off East Coast beach.

She was in a coma for six weeks but even after she regained consciousness, she was still unable to walk, talk or feed herself.

'Till now, I have no memory of that day, the accident, or the fortnight after... The subsequent two to three months are also sketchy.' she said.

She fell into depression but with the support of her then boyfriend William Ng and her parents, she managed to pull through and had a rapid recovery.

She also managed to train herself to speak again by reading books aloud - one word at a time - and regained the use of her right hand gradually by first learning how to use a spoon, a fork, and then chopsticks.

Today, Madam Lim is happily married to Mr Ng and is a mother to 14-month-old Isaac. Despite being wheelchair-bound, she carried Isaac for nine months like any other mother-to-be, and gave birth by caesarean section in September last year.

Madam Lim told The Straits Times that she is now focused on being a full-time mother, but she writes a blog and occasionally gives talks to share her experiences with others.

She has even penned a book about her struggle, entitled Making Pink Lemonade, which was published in 2009.

'Instead of dwelling on my misfortune, I prefer to count the blessings I've had since then, there have been many of these.' said Madam Lim.


Pasir Ris, March 2011

Insurance manager Tan Boon Kiat, 37, was struck by lightning and died while canoeing at Pasir Ris Park.

Tanah Merah, January 2011

Mr Chen Yuk Fu, 62, was hit while golfing at the 18th hole of the Laguna National Golf and Country Club's Masters course on New Year's Day.

He was hospitalised but survived despite burns to his head, neck and hand.

Tanah Merah, October 2009

Garment company owner Soh Lye Huat, 57, was struck by lightning at the 17th hole of the Tanah Merah Country Club Garden Course.

He went into a coma and died from multiple organ failure two weeks later.

His family sued the club in June this year. They claim that it failed to ensure there were effective procedures in place to warn golfers and others about lightning.

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Singapore: Additional measures as monsoon looms

Straits Times Forum 22 Nov 11;

PUB, the national water agency, thanks Mr Julian Ho ('Tackle flood worries'; Nov 15). With our abundant rainfall and relatively low-lying land, flood management is an ongoing challenge.

Over the past 30 years, the Government has invested $2 billion on drainage infrastructure and flood prevention to reduce flood-prone areas from about 3,200ha in the 1970s to about 56ha today.

PUB continues to spend more than $150 million each year improving existing drainage to increase flood protection.

These investments, coupled with careful planning, have relieved Singapore of prolonged and widespread floods. However, short bursts of intense rain can still cause localised flash floods.

Based on data from the Meteorological Service Singapore, the maximum rainfall intensities in Singapore have increased over the past 30 years. To address the impact of changing weather patterns, we have to constantly adapt our approach and review our drainage norms.

In the short term, we have accelerated works to upgrade our drainage system and ramped up maintenance efforts. At the same time, we are building up a network of sensors and closed-circuit television cameras to help provide alerts and shorten our response times.

Ahead of the north-east monsoon, PUB has also intensified drainage maintenance, cleansing and inspections, and also stepped up inspections on major construction works, to check for obstructions in drains and discharge of silty water.

For the long term, PUB is revising the code of practice to increase design standards to cope with more intense storms.

The expert panel appointed by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources will also give its recommendations to enhance Singapore's drainage design and flood protection measures in January next year.

In spite of our best efforts, there will always be instances when intense rain may lead to flash floods.

PUB will do its utmost to keep the public informed to minimise inconvenience. It will also investigate every flood incident to determine the follow-up actions required. In the case of Clementi Woods, PUB is working with the National Parks Board to install additional drainage outlets within the park, and this is expected to be completed in two weeks.

PUB also seeks the assistance of the public in our monitoring efforts, so our officers can respond more expeditiously. The public can inform PUB of flash floods via the 24-hour call centre on 1800-284-6600, Facebook or our iPhone app 'iPUBOne'.

Tan Nguan Sen
Catchment and Waterways Department

Tackle flood worries
Straits Times Forum 15 Nov 11;

GIVEN the flooding in Bangkok and recent flash floods here, what is the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources planning to improve drainage in urban areas?

Has sufficient funding been allocated to ensure that such improvements deliver an islandwide drainage system that can tackle challenges created by the combination of increasingly severe weather patterns and increasing urbanisation.

For example, flooding is common along the stretch of West Coast Road next to Clementi Woods Park when rainstorms strike.

The heavy run-off of water from high ground to low ground in Clementi Woods Park is obvious, with frequent overflowing of drains in the area and pooling on level ground.

The situation suggests that the land and the drains can no longer absorb the water run-off, which happened as recently as last Saturday afternoon.

The flooding was serious enough to trap a car, stalling it.

To the public, such flooding in Clementi Woods Park and other parts of Singapore seems symptomatic of an increasing inadequacy of parts of the national drainage grid to tackle flooding because it was not built to handle the changed weather patterns.

What are the effective additional measures to improve Singapore's drainage system to prevent, or at least mitigate, flooding and the ancillary concerns it causes?

Julian Ho

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Malaysia: Hundreds in relief centres after downpour in Johor, Terengganu and Kelantan

The Star 22 Nov 11;

PETALING JAYA: Hundreds of residents in Johor, Terengganu and Kelantan have been hit by floods following heavy rain and thunderstorms.

In Johor Baru, more than 490 residents were evacuated after floodwaters rose to about 1.2m at two villages in Skudai following a downpour on Sunday.

A total of 115 households from Kampung Laut and four from Kampung Poh Chir Leng were moved to SK Skudai flood relief centre.

Form Five student M. Manimengalai, 18, did not have time to grab her revision books but said she was not worried as she was prepared for her SPM examination.

Painter Wong Kok Pau, 35, said he built a 1.5m wall in front of his house in Kampung Poh Chir Leng 10 years ago to keep floodwaters out.

“But the drain in front of my house overflowed when it rained,” he said.

Nusajaya assemblyman Datuk Aziz Sapian said 495 residents from the two villages were evacuated to the flood relief centre.

“I was informed that two other areas in Gelang Patah Taman Damai Jaya and Kangkar Pulai were affected. But no one has been evacuated,” he said.

In Terengganu, two districts were badly hit, forcing the evacuation of 20 people.

A state National Security Council spokesman said they were moved out from Kampung Merbau Menyusut in Setiu yesterday after their houses were flooded.

“They are staying at the village mosque,” he said, adding that the Hulu Terengganu district was also hit with several Kampung Kolam Ajil and Kampung Telaga residents evacuated.

The levels of several major rivers have also risen with Sungai Nerus in Kampung Langkap rising above the 21.5m danger mark while the level of Sungai Tele- mong in Kampung Paya Rapat breached the 21m danger level.

Sungai Calok Setiu rose to 8.57m, higher than the 8.5m that it should be.

In Kelantan, there were flash floods in Kota Baru and Pasir Puteh. However, heavy rains and strong winds damaged several houses in the fishing village in Pantai Sabak near Kota Baharu. The roofs of some houses were blown away. - Bernama

Floods hit 3 states
Sharum Sayuthi, Ben Tan and Rizalman Hamim New Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Nov 11;

Heavy rainfall which lasted for six hours here on Sunday caused flooding at Kampung Laut and Poh Chee Leng near Skudai.

A total of 495 people from 119 families were evacuated as water rose to almost 2m in the areas.

As of late yesterday, the evacuees were still at the flood relief centre at SK Skudai despite the floods having receded.

"We still need to clean up our homes and we are also worried because it seems the rain will continue, especially in the afternoon," said Zailan Abd Kadir of Kampung Laut.

He said water level had risen very fast on Sunday evening, forcing his family to leave their house without saving any of their belongings.

M. Manimegalai, 17, who is sitting for his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia said he did not manage to save his books when his family were evacuated about 10pm.

"I am glad that one of my teachers fetched me to school this morning for the examination and I think I managed to answer the questions rather well," added the student of SMK Taman Desa Skudai.

There were at least nine other SPM candidates among the evacuees.

Nusajaya state assemblyman, Datuk Abd Aziz Sapian. who visited the evacuees said all assistance, such as food and blankets had been distributed by the Welfare Department.

"We are bracing for more floods in flood-prone areas," he said.

"The flooding was not because of poor drainage system as those had been taken care of during the menteri besar's recent visit here. It's because of the heavy rainfall."

In Batu Pahat, 23 people from four families were evacuated from their homes in Kampung Cahaya Baru and Kampung Parit Sagil in Air Hitam when water rose to more than 3m.

They were sheltered at the multi-purpose hall of Taman Cahaya Baru.

Johor State Security Committee secretary Mohamad Yusri Hashim said all agencies involved in flood relief efforts had been put on alert.

"We are monitoring the weather pattern and level of rainfall at all catchment areas and main rivers. This will enable us to promptly evacuate those in the affected area."

In KUALA TERENGGANU, Zarina Abdullah reports downpour in Hulu Terengganu, Marang and Setiu over the weekend forced some 50 people to leave their homes and take shelter at several relief centres.

Floodwater rose to more than 1.5m in villages Kolam, Kerbau Menyusut, Pengkalan Berangan and Marang.

However, all main roads in Terengganu remained open and there were no casualties to date.

A spokesman for the state Drainage and Irrigation Depatment (DID), said as at 5pm yesterday water levels at the Sungai Setiu river basin and Sungai Marang were at danger level, while at other rivers statewide, the situation had returned to normal.

Its 24-hour operation to monitor the flood situation since Sunday is still open.

For flood updates, the DID information centre is 09-6224072.

In KOTA BARU, Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah reports several low-lying areas, including 13 Avenue Garden in Kampung Wakaf Stan and Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra, were hit by flash floods yesterday following heavy rains since Sunday.

Water level was only knee-high, and residents claimed the poor drainage system were to blame for the floods.

"It happens every time there is a downpour," said resident Minah Daud, 61, when she woke up early yesterday for her subuh prayers at 6.30am.

A check along Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra showed that several shophouses along the road were also affected and the owners were busy moving their goods to a higher ground.

In KOTA KINABALU, a group of Tahfiz Al-Quran students were shaken after a night of heavy rain on Saturday cause a landslide to hit the city mosque here, reports Edmund Samunting.

The landslide had caused massive damage on the mosque's kitchen and storeroom, close to the students' hostel.

The mosque and hostel were located on a hill and no one was reported hurt in the 8pm incident.

Housing and Local Government Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin urged relevant departments to be prepared for possible landslides.

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Indonesia: Two Arrested in Orangutan Slaughter Case

Jakarta Globe 21 Nov 11;

Samarinda, East Kalimantan. Two people in Muara Kaman subdistrict in Kutai Kartanegara have been arrested in connection with a mass slaughter of orangutans, a village chief said on Sunday.

Kadir said he could not confirm the identity of the suspects or their alleged role in the case.

“National Police and Forestry Ministry officials arrived on Wednesday to probe the allegations,” he said.

Allegations of the mass killing of the protected animals first surfaced in September, though police at the time said they needed more evidence before a formal investigation could be launched.

Yaya Rayadin, a researcher from Mulawarman University in Samarinda, the provincial capital, said people in the area had been killing orangutans since 2008.

“The forests are the natural habitat of orangutans, including forests that have been converted into palm oil plantations,” the researcher said. “However, [the orangutans] adapt to changes very well and they survive by observing and learning from the environment around them.

“The only food available is palm, so they eat it.”

One orangutan is capable of eating fruit from up to 30 to 40 palm trees a day, he said. “Therefore, plantation firms consider them pests that must be controlled to prevent losses.”

Kadir said he was ashamed that his village was now associated with the massacre.

“The killings took place on the plantation, which is quite a distance from our village,” he said.

He admitted, however, that many of the villagers worked on the plantation and may have been involved in the slaughter.

A recent study estimates 750 orangutans are killed by people in Indonesian Borneo each year.


Manager Probed Over Orangutan Deaths
Farouk Arnaz Jakarta Globe 23 Nov 11;

Police are investigating the manager of a palm oil plantation for reportedly ordering two workers to slaughter orangutans in an attempt at “pest control,” an official said on Tuesday.

The manager of the Khaleda Agroprima Malindo plantation in Kutai Kartanegara district, East Kalimantan, is being treated as a witness, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution said.

“Our officers in the field are developing this case to determine whether we will go on to name him a suspect,” he said.

“All those involved in this incident and found to have committed a crime will be named a suspect.”

The announcement comes a day after police said they had arrested two workers from the plantation who admitted to trapping and shooting 20 orangutans and monkeys since 2008.

Saud said both the current plantation manager, identified only as P., and his predecessor, A., had ordered the animals killed because they had taken to eating palm fruit on the plantation. Neither has been taken into custody.

The company paid Rp 200,000 ($22) per monkey and Rp 1 million per orangutan, Saud said.

The workers, who are being detained at Kutai police station, could face fines of up to Rp 100 million for killing protected species under the 1990 Law on Natural Resource Conservation.

The evidence — 20 photographs of dead animals and some remains — is under examination as police are working to identify the people behind the policy of treating the endangered animals as pests to be killed.

Saud said that rumors of the involvement of a retired police general in the slaughter were absolutely untrue.

“There is no policy by police or retired police to kill orangutans,” he said.

Orangutans have long been extinct in Java and mainland Southeast Asia. Sumatra and Borneo are now their last refuge.

Police grill 25 witnesses in orangutan killing case
Antara 24 Nov 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) -The National Police have grilled 25 witnesses in the orangutan (pongo pygmaeus morio) and monkey killing case at Puan Cepak, Muara Kapan Sub District, Kutai Kartanegara District, East Kalimantan Province.

"So far, we have questioned around 25 witnesses. They consisted of PT KAM management officials, local residents and experts," Senior Commissioner Antonius Wisnu Sutirta, a spokesman of the East Kalimantan Police, said on the phone Thursday.

The Kutai Kartanegara police would continue to investigate the case to find more evidence and possible suspects, he said.

"The investigation is still going on, and there is a possibility that the number of suspects will increase. We will find out who had instructed (the orangutan murders) and who had paid them to commit the crime," Wisnu said.

PT Khaleda Agroprima Malindo (KAM) is a Malaysian oil palm company which considers orangutans and monkeys pests.

"According to the arrested suspects, they killed two orangutans and 20 monkeys , and the evidence was the animals` skeletons, an air rifle, spears and ropes," Wisnu said.

Police have named two suspects, namely M alias G and M, in the Kalimantan orangutan and monkey killing case .

The two suspects are pest eradication workers of PT KAM.

They said they had killed the animals on instructions from P and A , PT KAM managers, two years ago. They were paid Rp200,000 per one monkey and Rp1 million per orangutan.

They are now liable to a five-year jail sentence and payment of a Rp100 million-fine in accordance with Law No 5/1990 on Natural Resource Biodiversity and Ecosystem Conservation.

East Kalimantan Governor Awang Faroek Ishak recently denied the reports about orangutan killings in the province.

"I have reiterated that, the provincial government, the Kutai Kartanegara district administration and the local police did not find any evidence of orangutan killings," Awang Faroek told the media in the East Kalimantan capital of Samarinda, on November 18, 2011.

Police name two new suspects in orangutan killing case
Antara 25 Nov 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Police on Thursday named two more suspects in the case of orangutan (pongo pygmaeus morio) killings at Puan Cepak village, Muara Kaman sub district, Kutai Kartanegara (Kukar) District, East Kalimantan Province.

"Based on the investigation by the Kukar and East Kalimantan Police offices today, we name and detain two new suspects, namely W bin W, 29 years old and an employee, and PCH, 46 years old and a senior manager," Inspector General Saud Usman Nasution, a spokesman of the Indonesian National Police, said here on Thursday.

W was suspected as the person who had recruited the main suspect, caught and shot orangutans. He had also provided the facilities.

PCH, the senior manager, was the person who had suggested and instructed the establishment of a team to hunt pests (including orangutans and monkeys) in the plantation area of PT. Khaleda Agroprima Malindo (KAM), an oil palm plantation company belonged to Malaysia.

"For some others, we are still waiting for further investigation. For sure, whoever was involved in this case will be thoroughly processed, without discrimination, including the company`s employees or others," Saud said.

The National Police have grilled 25 witnesses in the orangutan and monkey killing case.

Police had earlier named two suspects, namely M alias G and M, in the Kalimantan orangutan and monkey killing case.

The two suspects are pest eradication workers of PT KAM.

They said they had killed the animals on instructions from PCH and A, PT KAM managers, two years ago. They were paid Rp200,000 per one monkey and Rp1 million per orangutan.

They are now liable to a five-year jail sentence and payment of a Rp100 million-fine in accordance with Law No 5/1990 on Natural Resource Biodiversity and Ecosystem Conservation. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

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Malaysia: Keep wildlife in the wild

T.N. Alagesh New Straits Times 21 Nov 11;

The Orang Asli prefer to keep protected species at home and Perhilitan has to convince them to surrender the animals

One wanted to raise a tiger cub, saying that it would fetch a lucrative price when sold later, while another demanded cash to return a baby tapir (Malayan Tapir).

Such situations were encountered by Pahang National Parks and Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) personnel when they responded to tip-offs and arrived at the doorsteps of the house owners, especially at the Orang Asli settlements in Pahang.

Its director, Khairiah Mohd Shariff, said it was not easy to convince the people to surrender the protected species, mostly involving animals barely a few months old.

She said when caught "red- handed" for keeping the animals, some owners would give lame excuses while others admitted that the animals under their care were meant for the cooking pot.

"Some claimed they found the animal injured in the jungle and brought it home to nurse it back to health.

"They later formed a close bond with the animal and decided to keep it.

"When our officers told an owner that it was an offence to keep the tiger cub, he replied that it was meant to be sold at a good price," she told the New Straits Times.

In a separate incident, Khairiah said an Orang Asli had refused to hand over a young female tapir in his possession and coldly said the animal would be served as an exotic dish.

"Even after realising that he could be in trouble for keeping the protected animal, he still refused to surrender it and demanded that we pay him for the animal.

"After agreeing to the amount, he surrendered the animal to us, but it took some time for our officers to coax him to part with the animal."

To help tackle such problems, Khairiah said they had appointed 10 Orang Asli to serve the department at several districts in Pahang.

"Apart from carrying out their routine jobs with the department, they will also play the role of ambassadors.

"The Orang Asli folk will also feel more comfortable contacting them to provide information about poaching activities in their area.

"In fact, we have seen results when some of the Orang Asli villagers acted as eyes and ears for the department about the wild animals reared in their neighbourhood."

Khairiah said investigations also revealed that some villagers had opted to keep and bottle-feed the young animals.

However, she said they had to learn that the animals belong in the wild and had their own moods, which could sometimes turn fatal.

"These young animals are like babies and love the attention they get from people. Trouble starts when the animals grow and become uncontrollable.

"People should not keep the young protected animals that they rescue from the jungle. Instead, they should always surrender the animals to Perhilitan and we will send it to zoos."

Khairiah said many people were still unaware of the amendments to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, which provided for stiffer penalties for offenders, since many had been found to be keeping protected animals, including civet cats and squirrels.

There are 2,120 protected endangered species and sub-species under the new law with several non-endangered animals, such as wild boars and monkeys. These animals are also protected to preserve the natural habitat.

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Hong Kong hotel group strikes shark fin off menu

Stephen Coates (AFP) Google News 21 Nov 11;

HONG KONG — One of Asia's most prestigious hotel chains said Monday it would stop selling shark fin from January, in a move hailed as a historic breakthrough by campaigners to protect the threatened predators.

The owner of the Peninsula Hotels group said the decision was made "in recognition of the threat facing the global shark population and in line with the company's sustainability vision".

"The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., parent company of The Peninsula Hotels, today announced that it will stop serving shark fin at all its group operations, effective 1 January 2012," the company said in a statement.

The company will honour banquet bookings involving shark fin products made prior to November 21, it added. Shark fin soup is an expensive staple at wedding parties and business banquets in the Hong Kong hotel.

Peninsula operates nine hotels including in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and New York.

Chief executive officer Clement Kwok said: "By removing shark fin from our menus, we hope that our decision can contribute to preserving the marine ecosystem for the world's future generations.

"As Asia's oldest hotel company, we also hope that our decision will inspire other hospitality companies to do the same and that our industry will play a role in helping to preserve the biodiversity of our oceans."

The ban was announced as the European Commission called for a full ban on shark finning at sea -- the practice of slicing off the valuable fins and throwing the body overboard to drown.

Environmental activists have long campaigned for governments to ban or severely restrict the sale of shark fin, commonly used in soup which is regarded as a delicacy and health tonic across much of Asia, especially China.

WWF-Hong Kong says the consumption of shark fins is a driving factor behind the threat to shark populations, with more than 180 species considered threatened in 2010 compared with only 15 in 1996.

An individual serving of shark fin soup includes about 30 grams (one ounce) of fin, and a 12-person bowl sells for HK$1,080 (about $140).

A kilogram (two pounds) of premium dried fin can fetch up to HK$10,000 on the street in Hong Kong, or as little as HK$200 for fins of lesser quality.

The demand is such that Hong Kong is the global focus of the shark fin trade, with WWF estimating that around half of the world?s fin catch passes through the city.

"Hong Kong is the global shark fin capital," WWF shark conservation programme officer Silvy Pun said, adding that this made Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels' decision all the more important.

"We think that this is a very brave act and it can inspire others to follow," she said.

Claire Nouvian, founder of the Bloom Association for marine conservation, said: "I view this as a historical tipping point in Hong Kong and sure hope it will spur change amongst other leading hotels in Hong Kong and its vicinity."

About 73 million sharks are killed every year, with Hong Kong importing about 10,000 tonnes of fins annually for the past decade, WWF said.

Shark fin soup is regarded as an important status symbol for hosts wanting to demonstrate their wealth in Chinese banquets, and is believed to have various health benefits in traditional medicine.

A Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels spokeswoman would not comment on how much shark fin the chain sold in a normal month. She said commercial considerations were not central to the decision.

"Shark fin is only a small part of the food and beverage selection that we offer to our guests," she told AFP, asking not to be named.

"Obviously the adoption of this policy will have some revenue implications but this is a challenge and we are happy to acknowledge that we are doing the best thing for the environment."

November to January is seen as the peak season for shark fin consumption in Hong Kong, because of end-of-year office parties and a number of "lucky days" which are popular wedding dates.

The European Commission called Monday for all vessels fishing in EU waters and EU vessels fishing elsewhere "to land sharks with the fins still attached", in a proposal that must be adopted by parliament and 27 member states in order to become law.

EU nations account for 14 percent of the world's shark catches.

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Chinese Medicine Driving Rhinos to Extinction

Benjamin Radford | Yahoo News 22 Nov 11;

Biologists and game park officials in South Africa say that rhinos are being slaughtered at the rate of one each day, and that most of these animals are killed to feed a demand for traditional Chinese medicines and cures.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 340 rhinos have been killed so far this year in South Africa, and the problem is getting worse. Last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature issued a report on endangered species, concluding that the western black rhino is now officially extinct. Two other species, the black and white rhinos, are also seriously endangered and could be gone from the wild within a few years.

The rhinos are being poached to extinction largely for their horns, which are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine. Sometimes the powder is added to food, or brewed in a tea, as some people believe that African rhino horns are a powerful aphrodisiac and panacea. These animals are not being killed for meat or to control their population, but because of misinformation and superstition.

It's not just rhinos that face this threat. Throughout Asia, the penises, claws and bones of various animals — including tigers, rhinos, and bears — are sold in folk medicine shops to cure everything from arthritis to asthma, impotence to cancer. Some people believe that tiger bones and claws can cure a variety of maladies, including back pain, arthritis and fatigue.

In July, officials along the border between Russia and China intercepted a truck carrying more than 1,000 bear claws and 26 elk lips — weighing 143 pounds in total — that were destined for medicine shops across Asia. The bears and elk were most likely left to bleed to death after their paws and lips were sliced off by the poachers.

Shark populations have also declined dramatically in recent years, due in part to the demand for shark fins, eaten as a delicacy and used in Chinese medicine. The live, but finless, sharks are often thrown back into the ocean to die.

There is no scientific evidence that any of these animal body parts treat or cure any disease or medical problem, but old beliefs die hard. The threat to Earth's biodiversity doesn't just come from pollution and human demand for food, and the extinction of the rhino reveals a dark side to belief in alternative medicines.

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"Green" palm oil demand growing, but not fast enough: WWF

* 87 out of 132 firms surveyed pledged to buy green palm oil by 2015
* WWF scorecard results released during RSPO meeting
* WWF says some buyers have fallen behind on their commitments
Niluksi Koswanage Reuters 22 Nov 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Manufacturers and retailers in Europe, Australia and Japan are buying more eco-friendly palm oil compared to two years ago although more firms need to display a stronger commitment to preserving forests, environment group WWF said on Tuesday.

A scorecard devised by WWF showed 87 out of 132 firms, including Nestle and Unilever , had pledged to meet their palm oil needs by 2015 or earlier from planters in Asia, Africa and South America who do not cut forests and destroy wildlife.

That signals growing demand for green palm oil, which now stands at half of the five million tonnes currently supplied to the market.

It also shows some progress from the first scorecard in 2009 when only 10 out of 59 European firms pledged to take up the edible oil from sustainable sources.

"There are no excuses for all companies not to take action now," said Adam Harrison, senior policy officer with WWF who represents the group on the industry-driven Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil's (RSPO) executive board.

"But 2015 is just around the corner -- all companies, even some of the top performers, need to move faster," he added.

WWF published the scorecard during the RSPO meeting in Malaysian's Borneo island state of Sabah where oil palm growers, consumers and environment groups assessed the edible oil's green credentials over the years.

The scorecard tracks the companies' purchasing decisions, green policies and willingness to join the RSPO.


WWF said the buyers scorecard showed the companies source just half of their palm oil needs from eco-friendly planters, a sign that their commitment to protect the environment was not too strong.

Data showed nearly half of the 43 retailers and more than a fifth of 89 consumer goods manufacturers scored poorly in taking responsibility for the environmental impact of their palm oil buying.

"So it is clear that some manufacturers and retailers have fallen behind on their commitments to 100 per cent sustainable palm oil, while others haven't even started at all," Harrison said.

The slow sales of eco-friendly palm oil have angered palm oil producers in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's top two exporters, who say they spend more per hectare to ensure they meet voluntary green standards set by the RSPO.

Last month, the Indonesian Palm Oil Association withdrew its membership from the RSPO, saying it the lobby was pandering to green groups. Indonesia is also starting a mandatory certification scheme for green production.

Malaysia's government also plans to start its own scheme for local growers.

The WWF urged palm oil buyers to become more transparent about how much they buy from environmentally friendly plantations, to encourage green practices.

"WWF wants far more openness in this industry. Unless there is greater transparency, oil palm growers will remain unwilling to commit to certification," said Harrison.

"If we want growers to act responsibly, buyers of palm oil need to show what their future demand for certified sustainable palm oil is going to be." (Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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Global cooperation needed to protect pathways of migratory species – UN

UN News Centre 21 Nov 11;

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) called today for the international community to step up its efforts to protect the pathways and networks of migratory species, which are being threatened by human activity, endangering the future of wildlife hubs.

According to UNEP, if action is not taken immediately, by 2050 there will be a loss of abundance and species of wildlife equivalent to eradicating all fauna and flora in an area roughly the size of the United States or China.

To mobilize a response to this issue, representatives from some 100 governments are meeting at a UN conference in Bergen, Norway, organized by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) of the UNEP.

The six-day conference taking place this week is putting particular focus on the importance of ecological networks as an efficient instrument to protect a wide range of migratory animals.

“For all the frequent travellers of the animal world, ecological networks are essential for their migration and survival. International cooperation is crucial to manage these large transboundary networks,” said CMS Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.

“The commitment of all countries is needed, so that future generations can still marvel at and benefit from these nomads connecting our planet.”

UNEP also launched a report at the conference on how to protect migratory networks, highlighting stories where international collaboration has led to positive outcomes. For example, in the Pacific island country of Palau, sharks that have roamed the oceans for over 400 million years were becoming endangered due to the demand for the fins for soup, but new measures helped not only to protect the species but also stimulate the local economy.

“Two years ago, Palau became the first country to declare its coastal waters a shark sanctuary –scientists now estimate that shark diving tours are generating around eight per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and that a single shark generates revenues from ecotourism amounting to 1.9 million over its lifetime,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.

Other successful examples include a 10-year programme to restore and conserve seven million hectares of wetland in China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia, which has boosted the prospects of survival for the Siberian crane and improved drinking water supplies, and a transboundary enforcement measure to protect the population of mountain gorillas on the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda.

In spite of these successes, UNEP expressed its concern about large countries which account for almost 36 per cent of the global land area that are still not parties to the Convention, posing challenges for protecting migratory species worldwide.

In addition, practices such as poaching are on the rise, particularly in the grasslands and savannahs of Africa and Central Asia.

“Organized poaching on animals such as rhinos, elephants and antelopes is increasing rapidly in Asia and Africa and support is desperately needed to address this at a wider international scale,” said Christian Nellemann, of UNEP’s GRID-Arendal centre in Norway.

UNEP’s report provides recommendations to secure ecological networks for migratory species. These include assessing national infrastructure development projects to ensure migratory pathways are not blocked, combating environmental crime, increasing anti-poaching training and enforcement, increasing marine protected areas, and restoring wetlands and coastal zones.

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