Best of our wild blogs: 10 Dec 11

Wild carnivores going to Geylang East Public Library, Sat 10th Dec 2011!
from Toddycats!

The Toddycats are going to Geylang!
from The Lazy Lizard's Tales

Shorebirds: Godwits
from Life's Indulgences

Singapore Has Mantidflies!
from Macro Photography in Singapore

paradise tree snake @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

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Why dead specimens are reserved for museum

Straits Times Forum 10 Dec 11;

THE flora and fauna in our parks and nature reserves are managed with a priority for conservation, research and education ('NParks should share dead specimens' by Mr Ken Mar; Thursday). Dead fauna found in our parks and nature reserves are sent to the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in the National University of Singapore, which is the national depository for animals in Singapore for long-term research and science.

These specimens are preserved in a variety of ways so as to maximise their research, conservation and educational value. Study of our dead fauna is important to biodiversity conservation and management in Singapore as it allows us to understand changes in biodiversity better, such as changes in diet, growth patterns and breeding cycles.

There are actually very few of such specimens, and it is in the interest of the conservation of Singapore's biodiversity to retain them for long-term research rather than commercial purposes.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew
Commissioner of Parks & Recreation
National Parks Board

NParks should share dead specimens
Straits Times Forum 8 Dec 11;

WHAT is the rationale for the National Parks Board (NParks) to reserve animal, insect, bird and fish carcasses in the parks and reserves exclusively for the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research?

By contrast, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority does not object to taxidermists like me collecting these specimens, provided we obtain the required licences. The problem is that the area under its jurisdiction is small compared to that of NParks.

Denying taxidermists access to these specimens prevents them from carrying out their work and improving their skills.

NParks justifies its practice by citing the law, which prohibits the collection of dead specimens for taxidermy. My trade apparently contravenes the law's objective of the protection, conservation, research and educational purposes of local wildlife.

Apart from research, I wonder how dead fauna helps in the protection and conservation of the species. I hope the law will be reviewed to remove the museum's monopoly.

Ken Mar

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Land to be acquired in Upper Paya Lebar

Widening of road will affect six properties and two public plots
Christopher Tan, Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

SIX private properties and two public plots along Upper Paya Lebar Road will be affected by land acquisition so that the dual three-lane road can be expanded to add one more lane in each direction.

It is the second time in about a decade that properties in the area are making way for a road project, and the fourth time this year that announcements of road projects involve land acquisition.

Despite the newly completed Kal-lang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) and Bartley-Tampines Viaduct, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said Upper Paya Lebar Road needs to be widened to better connect residents in the north-east to the growing industrial hub in Paya Le-bar, Ubi and Eunos.

An LTA spokesman said Upper Paya Lebar Road sees a traffic volume of 3,500 vehicles an hour during the morning and evening peak periods. 'It takes about three changes of traffic lights to clear key junctions,' she added.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said five private properties along the 1.3km stretch between Boundary and Bartley roads will have part of their plots acquired. A sixth - a backlane behind a row of shops - will be completely acquired.

The five affected are Lam Soon Tang Chong Huay, which houses a clan association; Fa Hua Monastery, a Buddhist institution; antiques trader Just Anthony; the open carpark space in front of shophouses near How Sun Road; and part of the carpark of Da Jin Factory.

The private plots to be acquired add up to 1,608 sq m.

The expanded road will also eat into 1,468 sq m of public land. These are the green spaces in front of Blocks 158 to 161 in Hougang Street 11, and state land leased out to Lincoln Collegiate of Business & Technology near Lorong Lew Lian.

The SLA said land owners have been notified, and the authority will take over the plots by the end of next year. Compensation amounts will be announced between June and September.

The LTA will start work in the middle of next year, and complete it by 2014.

For residents and businesses in the area, this is not the first time that the road is encroaching onto their land.

In 1998, 15 units in Elling Court in Upper Paya Lebar Road and 12 units from an unnamed development were acquired for the Bartley Road extension. Plant nurseries at the junction of Bartley and Upper Paya Lebar roads had to go too.

Shortly after that, more properties made way for the KPE. A total of 17 homes and 121 commercial properties occupying 48,000 sq m of land in the vicinity and elsewhere were demolished.

Land acquisitions for road projects made the news this year.

They include the North-South Expressway Phase 1, where 56,000 sq m was acquired, including 25 terrace houses in Marymount Terrace.

North-South Expressway Phase 2, announced recently, involves nearly 25,000 sq m of land to be acquired. Although a relatively small plot, it affects 567 Housing Board flats and 187 shops and eating houses, and three communal facilities - making it the single biggest property acquisition here.

The biggest land consumption project announced this year, however, does not affect the living, but the dead.

In September, the LTA said a new road will run through Bukit Brown cemetery to alleviate jams in Lornie Road. The project, which will affect some 5,000 out of 100,000 graves there, has incurred the ire of conservationists.

The latest project to widen Upper Paya Lebar Road has raised some concerns too.

Mr Gary Ang, 42, co-owner of Tai Seng Turtle Soup restaurant, will be affected when part of an open carpark area in front of his row of shophouses goes.

He said almost all his customers drive to his eatery. 'Customers are already complaining that they can't find parking space,' he said. 'We might move out. We are already looking for a new place.'

Engineer Edward Tan, 46, who lives in the area, said traffic is relatively free-flowing even during peak hours for those who use the underpass to or from Paya Lebar Road.

But those using the surface road to turn into Bartley Road in the morning face a jam primarily because of parents dropping off their children at Maris Stella High School.

These vehicles often occupy two lanes of Bartley Road, causing a tailback of traffic coming from Paya Lebar and Upper Paya Lebar roads. 'It clears up once you pass Maris Stella,' he said.

Observers point out that traffic along Upper Paya Lebar Road may soon spike as a number of landed property plots are converted into condominium projects.

Neither the LTA nor SLA had information on other road-related land acquisitions. SLA did not comment when asked if there would be more in the near term.

Road-widening work to ease congestion along Upper Paya Lebar Road
Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 10 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE - An additional lane will be added in both directions to a 1.3km stretch of Upper Paya Lebar Road by 2014 to help ease traffic congestion and meet future needs.

According to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), this stretch currently experiences high traffic volumes - especially at key junctions and intersections during peak hours - and sees an average of 3,500 vehicles per hour.

By 2020, traffic along this road is expected to increase by about 25 per cent due to redevelopment and growth of the area. When widening work is completed, the LTA said the road would provide motorists with better connectivity to areas in Paya Lebar, Ubi and Eunos.

To facilitate the widening work, the Government will acquire 1,608.2 sq m of private land along Upper Paya Lebar Road under the Land Acquisition Act.

No residential areas would be affected in the acquisition, said the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) yesterday, as they would comprise the backlane of a row of shophouses, and the frontages, such as open spaces and grass verges, of five properties.

For example, a building extension of Fa Hua Monastery, which runs along the perimeter of the compound, will have to be demolished. Reverend Zhen Ding, who is in charge of the monastery, was concerned about the devotees' safety as the worship area will now be closer to the road. The LTA said it would be reinstating the boundary wall, the front fa├žade and the roof and the monastery would be compensated.

An open car park in How Sun Road will also be affected. With a shortage of available parking, Mr Gary Ang, the owner of Tai Seng Turtle Soup restaurant, intends to relocate his business. "Ninety per cent of our customers drive here," he explained. "Some even call me to reserve the car park for them."

The back lane of a row of shophouses near Paya Lebar Crescent will be converted into a service road for the loading and unloading of goods.

The SLA and LTA said yesterday they would continue to be in touch with the affected landowners to assist them with their queries and concerns, and to minimise disruption to their operations.

The affected landowners were informed from last Thursday about the acquisition and their land would be acquired by December next year. Widening work for the road will start in the middle of next year, but work on the affected private lands will only start in 2013.

Partial acquisition of Upper Paya Lebar Rd to ease congestion
Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: A part of Upper Paya Lebar Road will be widened by 2014 to improve traffic flow between the residential areas in the Northeast, and the industrial parks in Aljunied, Ubi and Eunos.

The 1.3-kilometre stretch is between Upper Serangoon Road and Bartley Road.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said a lane will be added in each direction of the carriageway, to relieve existing peak-hour congestion and meet anticipated future increase in traffic.

LTA said that with redevelopment and growth in these areas, the traffic along Upper Paya Lebar Road is expected to increase by up to 25 per cent by 2020.

Some private land along the affected road, amounting to 1,608.2 square metres, will be acquired for the widening works.

This includes the backlane of a row of shophouses near Paya Lebar Crescent, which will be converted into a service road for the loading and unloading of goods.

Another five properties will also face partial acquisition.

This includes the grass verge of the Lam Soon Tang Chong Huay, nine car park lots of Da Jin Factory and the open space at Just Anthony Furniture Shop.

The Fa Hua Monastery will also have to bid farewell to a building extension, which was constructed without approval from the authorities three years ago.

The monastery runs half yearly camps for 100 children during school holidays, and participants sleep in the hall.

Its supervisor - Reverend Zhen Ding - said such activities will now have to be scaled back.

LTA said it will rebuild the compound wall after the acquisition.

An open car park in front of some shophouses along How Sun Road will also be affected, with eight car park lots acquired.

Shop owners told Channel NewsAsia that having fewer car park lots will hurt their business.

As it is, there's already a shortage of available parking, said Gary Ang, the owner of Tai Seng Turtle Soup restaurant.

"The car park (situation) here is quite terrible. It's free parking. A lot of people come and park, like the lorries. They park at night, (and) drive away next morning.

"I think we will relocate our shop. Because 90 per cent of our customers drive here. Now my customers don't come. Some even call me to reserve the car park for them."

The back lane of a row of shophouses near Paya Lebar Crescent will also be acquired, to be converted into a service road for unloading goods.

Channel NewsAsia understands there were plans to convert the lane into a car park to ease the parking situation, but plans will now be shelved.

But owners of a coffee powder factory said unloading of goods at the back, will mess up their operations.

Cynthia said: "We roast our coffee bean here, and we need a clean place. If you unload the coffee bean from the back, they will dirty my place and there're a lot of dust here."

Landowners will receive their notices on Friday.

The affected lands will be acquired by December 2012.

Widening works for the road will start in mid-2012, but works on the affected private lands will only start in 2013.

- CNA/ck

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Mangroves spruce up waterway

Saplings of 22 species planted along banks of Punggol Waterway filter bacteria, prevent soil erosion
Shuli Sudderuddin Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

TESTS by Ngee Ann Polytechnic students show that the water quality in the Punggol Waterway is improving after mangrove trees were planted along its banks.

Saplings of 22 species - including endangered ones - were planted in an area spanning 480 sq m in the eastern part of the waterway in June and July.

It is a project by the HDB Building Research Institute (BRI) to further enhance the 4.2km waterway which was opened officially on Oct 23.

The man-made waterway cuts across Punggol town and runs between Sungei Punggol and Sungei Serangoon.

The Housing Board is working with the polytechnic's civil and environmental engineering students to monitor the results of the mangrove initiative.

The students will visit the area twice a month over three years to collect water samples and test their quality.

Mangrove trees are known for phyto- remediation or their ability to take in nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from the water and reduce algae growth.

Dr Katayon Saed, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer who specialises in environmental engineering, said introducing mangrove trees along the waterway helps filter contaminants from the water and prevents soil erosion.

'They definitely improve the area as a recreational facility because the water is cleaner and it is a breeding habitat for lots of life. It's added value for residents,' she said.

Dragonflies, birds, fish, monitor lizards and the occasional freshwater otter have been spotted.

Earlier in the year, the BRI team's challenge was to find out which mangrove trees could grow in freshwater as they normally survive in brackish water.

BRI engineer Seow Wei Kiong said the institute tested 28 species of saplings in its freshwater pond in Woodlands in March. Six species were found to be unsuitable.

In June, saplings of the 22 freshwater- tolerant species - between 0.3m and over 1m tall - were bought. They were planted over two months in 80m-by-3m plots on either side of the waterway.

The saplings are expected to reach maturity in 10 to 15 years' time, and grow to heights of up to 8m.

If this first phase proves successful, a second phase of planting 2km of mangroves, with 1km on either bank, will be implemented after 2013.

Said Mr Mohamad Jauhari Johari, a 19-year-old Ngee Ann Polytechnic student involved in the project: 'We've been testing the water quality twice a month since April and there has been some improvement. And as Singapore is not known for having many mangroves, this has become a really special place.'

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Profiting from a vibrant civil society

The non-profit sector's initiatives can complement government programmes
Laurence Lien, For The Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

CIVIL society needs to step up and do much more to help meet the increasingly complex needs of the Singaporean community.

Since Independence, Singapore's progress - including its social development as measured by key social indicators - has been nothing short of dramatic.

The state has been the dominant authority in bringing this about while civil society and the non-profit sector have mostly played a supporting role in state-directed programmes. (In Singapore's context, 'civil society' is sometimes used in a way that connotes something more political and adversarial than the non-profit sector, which need not be the case. I use both terms in this article interchangeably.)

Civil society in Singapore can and should learn to do more: Non-profit organisations (NPOs) need to play a complementary role in society and be innovative in their own right. NPOs can uniquely help create an environment where Singaporeans feel empowered to start new ground-up endeavours, where civil society is able to do things that the Government cannot do.

It may not be self-evident in a state where the Government is so dominant that there are indeed areas of social and community interventions that the Government simply cannot take on. Humans are more than material beings, and NPOs can provide for social, spiritual and emotional needs better.

For example, halfway houses which treat recovering drug addicts use religion for rehabilitation, which would be prohibited in state-run establishments (as most are religion-based).

NPOs are better placed to provide customised solutions to heterogeneous needs. Government programmes are like big stones filling a container, while NPO programmes, with their closeness to the ground are like small stones filling the remaining gaps. The Government's subsidy and income redistribution schemes cannot precisely meet the unique needs of each recipient, nor be too broadly generous - it would be too administratively costly, inefficient and unsustainable to operate.

Government schemes tend to provide subsidies to individuals based on criteria related to income or implied wealth (for example, dwelling type), and are not typically based on actual needs. Yet we know there are many who fall through the cracks, such as those with unavoidably high household expenses, taking care of a sickly parent or a disabled child.

This is where NPOs can come in. They can be a rich source of innovation and experimentation. The state is sometimes not in the best position to develop new policies and services, or to drive innovation. In social policy, government programmes, once adopted, tend to have to be deployed nationally. Citizens do not take kindly to beneficiaries being a narrow pilot group. Moreover, there can be heavy political costs in withdrawing a programme even if it proves ineffective.

Governments are thus typically conservative in implementing new interventions, and there is a tendency in policymaking to value stability over radical innovation.

On the other hand, the non-profit sector can attract the contributions of people, including private sector entrepreneurs and philanthropists, who can deploy their entrepreneurial know-how, long-term focus, initiative and instinct for risk-taking. Closer to the ground, NPOs are better able to identify opportunities for innovative intervention.

The public sector should welcome and even encourage the proliferation of new ideas from this sector - competition can lead to better approaches and models for Singapore.

Finally, there is power in civil society organisations (CSOs) that governments do not have. CSOs have more moral authority in dealing with one another and with beneficiaries than government agencies may have. In government programmes, entitlement sets in more quickly. For example, philanthropic organisations can have a higher degree of convening power in bringing NPOs together to work collaboratively towards a common cause, as they are seen as more neutral and having less of a specific agenda than government agencies.

If the Government gives a dollar, there is little appreciation from the recipients, as they would consider it their right to receive that benefit as citizens and taxpayers. But if a neighbour helps out and gives a dollar, there is deep gratitude and even shame, as it is voluntarily donated out of goodwill and compassion.

Similarly, a volunteer might succeed with a difficult patient where a professional nurse might not, through diversionary therapy efforts. Appreciated as a compassionate person rather than someone who is only doing his job, the volunteer can offer reassurance and comfort, persuading the patient to comply with his medication or therapeutic regimens. The prescription may be the same but the results achieved can be starkly different.

The Government should refrain from undertaking activities that the community, family and individuals can take on, stepping in only when these initiatives exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups. The Government can play the important primary role of empowering civil society efforts to fulfil these needs in the community.

We need to emphasise the importance of smaller communities or institutions, such as the family, religious organisations and voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. Each of these social groups has something unique to offer to the community.

It is only when individuals are able to exercise self-determination and contribute meaningfully to the communities they live in, that they feel they are fully human - and fully citizens of this country. This is when a place becomes a home.

The Government plays a strong role in supporting NPOs by substantially funding many community-based services. The reality in Singapore is that NPOs have in most cases become subcontractors, delivering social services on behalf of the Government.

The brains and heart of social intervention remain with the state, while NPOs simply follow the piper's tune and those with competing models of intervention are often viewed as threats.

Many NPOs lose their own sense of aspiration, and some, for example, would typically not take on new programmes - no matter how socially beneficial - if they do not get the green light and funding from a government agency to do so. For example, family service centres are part of a national system running mostly core, homogeneous, funded programmes.

We are severely under-delivering on the promise of civil society. Civil society will only truly thrive when it serves a complementary function, not when NPOs are vendors and substitutes for government funding and provisioning.

We urgently need to encourage more civic-minded individuals to express their values, interests and visions of the public good, and inject energies and creativity into how society solves its problems.

So what can we do to build up the non-profit sector?

First, we need to expand the organisational capacity of NPOs. Nurturing leadership and talent are key. Effective, committed and passionate leadership - both at the board and management levels - can transform the sector and their organisations. Talented young people need to see the non-profit sector as a viable career.

NPOs also need to make the conditions conducive to attract talent. While the sector's wages are a significant discount against private sector salaries, this 'passion' discount cannot be so large as to grossly disadvantage the individual and his family.

There is also a need for NPOs to move upstream to tackle root causes rather than the symptoms of social problems; to pursue justice, not just charity; to be impact-driven, and not output-driven; be willing to take risks and adopt new business models, rather than look to the Government for solutions.

NPOs should strengthen their organisations by being clear on their strategies, institutionalising processes, seeking strategic relationships, mobilising community resources, and improving their productivity through technology.

The Government, on the other hand, needs to focus more on enabling and empowering the sector. Enabling means building capability, particularly in developing leadership and soft infrastructure, such as technology development and process improvements. Empowering means a real ceding of power, decision-making and ownership of projects, with a tolerance for a degree of messiness and inefficiency.

NPOs should be equal partners and co-creators; for example, information and knowledge from the Government's vast database of administrative and survey data need to be made more readily available to NPOs.

Apart from letting NPOs do their own strategic planning and research, and interpret their own sense of reality, it is a concrete demonstration of co-ownership. Instead of leaving many small gaps across the funding spectrum, the Government should plug the gaps in their retained areas of priority and fund those areas more generously.

As Singapore matures, civil society too must mature. Rather than being omnipresent, the Government should be prepared to cede control in some areas - particularly where new thinking is required - while allowing civil society to flourish. And civil society must step up to the plate.

The writer is the chairman of Lien Foundation, the chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre and the Acting CEO of the Community Foundation of Singapore. He previously served in the Singapore Administrative Service for 14 years.

A version of this article appeared in the latest issue of Ethos, a journal of the Centre for Governance and Leadership under the Civil Service College.

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Saving the tiger

One year after much-hyped summit, the big cat's fate still hangs by a thread
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

BANGKOK: In 1894, when Rudyard Kipling penned The Jungle Book, there were 100,000 tigers in the wild. Today, their numbers have plunged to a fearfully vulnerable 3,000.

To save the majestic big cats, a Tiger Summit was held in November last year, the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Now, just over a year since the much-hyped Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, conservationists see pockets of hope while taking stock. But all agree that much, much more needs to be done on the ground.

The summit itself was supposed to be a 'game changer' in bringing heads of government and top officials to the table, along with conservation organisations and the World Bank. The 13 'tiger range' countries committed to an ambitious goal: doubling the number of tigers in the wild by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

To meet that target, much has to be done to address two major threats that could drive tigers to extinction - poaching and habitat loss.

Restoration of lost habitat 'corridors', which would enable isolated remnant tiger populations to link up, is critical if the animals are to breed and raise their numbers.

As it is, viable tiger populations - those with sufficient numbers of both sexes to breed - are thought to no longer exist in China, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Elsewhere, Thailand is thought to have between 250 and 300 tigers left in the wild. Malaysia may have up to 500, but they are under severe threat from poachers.

Indonesia, which lost the Balinese tiger in the 1950s and the Javan tiger in the 1970s, has about 400 Sumatran tigers left. India officially has up to 1,700 tigers, but independent conservationists believe the number is closer to 1,200.

Linking up forest 'corridors' is a complex and tedious business. In most cases, human populations need to be moved - a process that is under way in some areas but invariably takes years.

Meanwhile, protection is critical if the tiny pockets of remaining tigers in the wild are not to be wiped out. And this is where the battle becomes truly difficult. 'It's painfully clear that the poachers... are getting more efficient,' Dr William Schaedla, the regional director for Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, noted four months ago, after a dozen illegal snares were discovered in the jungles of Perak, Malaysia.

'This begs obvious questions about whether the enforcement authorities are managing to keep pace with the criminals. Sadly, it appears they are not,' he said.

The foot soldiers of tiger protection are poorly paid, face formidable odds and work in hazardous conditions.

A case in point: Forest ranger Sommai Chidchai, 29, was patrolling in Thailand's Pang Sida National Park in June when he tripped a wire connected to a loaded rifle hidden in the bushes. The weapon - meant to kill wildlife - went off, sending a bullet through his leg.

Urgent need to save last breeding grounds

He was initially given just US$16 (S$20) in compensation by the Thai government. After non-governmental organisation (NGO) Freeland Foundation gave him US$160, the government raised the compensation to the same amount.

Rangers like Mr Sommai are often raw 20-somethings who have to brave leeches and mosquitoes, driving rain and the scorching sun while on patrol for days on end. When they come across a poacher, he could be a harmless village lad out to get a wild boar or a battle-hardened former soldier armed with an automatic rifle out to shoot a tiger.

Rangers protect hundreds of square kilometres of forest land, but they are paid only US$100 to US$160 a month, with no medical scheme or insurance.

'The importance of wildlife and ecosystem protection is simply not acknowledged in their financial remuneration,' said wildlife conservation veteran Belinda Stewart-Cox, in Thailand. 'The message this conveys is that these guys are right at the bottom of the pile.'

NGOs like the Freeland Foundation sometimes step in to help, offering training and funding for equipment.

Mr Tim Redmond, a member of Freeland, believes more could be done officially: 'Some of the (forest protection staff) we work with are earning the same amount they did 20 years ago. There are no allowances to buy food or petrol unless an NGO supports them. They have GPS (Global Positioning System) sets and no money to buy batteries.

'Having said that, they are often good guys, and proud of what they do.'

With all its problems, Thailand is still ahead of its neighbours Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar in tiger conservation. In these three countries, the pay is even lower and resources even harder to come by.

There is also added pressure from land-clearing and development, which has accelerated at a rapid pace in the past five years in Cambodia, said Phnom Penh-based Matthew Maltby, a projects officer for the NGO, Fauna & Flora International.

A paper in the journal PLoS Biology in September last year noted: 'Strategies to save the tiger must focus first and foremost on protecting... remaining concentrations of tigers.'

The paper identified 42 'sources sites' with viable breeding populations.

'The immediate priority must be to ensure that the last breeding populations are protected and continuously monitored,' said the authors - wildlife biologists and conservationists from several countries, including Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Thailand. 'Without such protection, all other efforts are bound to fail.'

But protection - with its neverending vigilance against poachers - is an exercise marked by difficulties and setbacks.

India has dozens of tiger reserves, but in recent years, two - Sariska in Rajasthan state and Panna in Madhya Pradesh state - had all their tigers wiped out by poaching gangs.

The reason: Protection is often patchy. Mr Ravindra Juyal, who is in charge of Ramnagar forest division on the fringes of Corbett Tiger Reserve, said his staff sometimes do not have the money to buy diesel for their jeeps to mount patrols on his patch.

Clearly, funding is a problem. According to one estimate, at least US$5 million to US$6 million is spent every year on tigers by conservation organisations.

But often, the money is spread thinly over too many areas. Governments spend more but bureaucracies are often inefficient and corrupt, and the money that reaches the field, where it truly matters, is sometimes barely enough.

Ms Debbie Banks, a tiger campaigner with London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, pointed out that 'a wildlife department needs to be made up of committed, trained and well-resourced officers who see protection as a priority and have the skills to fight crime'.

'I'd question whether the forest service of many tiger range countries is set up to do that,' she said.

As for punishment, the problem has long been in ensuring successful prosecution, even if efforts are being made to stiffen the penalties. In India, the punishment is five to seven years in prison, but fewer than 20 people have been convicted of killing a tiger.

On a brighter note, determined protection efforts do work. In north-east India, Kaziranga National Park has a high density of tigers because its wildlife department protects the reserve with fierce dedication. Kaziranga has an area of 430 sq km with 65 to 70 tigers. Another tiger reserve, Buxa, also in India's north-east, is almost twice as large but has half the number of tigers. In Buxa, protection is weak and poaching for wildlife as well as forest produce is rampant.

The big cat is resilient and breeds well with enough pristine habitat and prey. In Thailand, the existence of tigers was recently confirmed in Thap Lan National Park, where there was previously thought to be virtually none.

But with tiger numbers so low and many small populations isolated from one another, it is possible that if they do not recover, and if remnant populations are killed off by poachers, the big cat may be extinct in the wild in a decade or two.

Activists worry that while the Tiger Summit may have raised global awareness of the problem, the pledges made by the parties involved are not binding.

Official resources are inadequate to the task, and things have not gone further downhill only because of the efforts of various NGOs.

So, a year on, the tiger's future still hangs by a thread.

Freeland's Mr Redmond observed recently that 'tigers in South-east Asia have survived this long because they fear everything. They sneak around'.

A sad state of affairs for one of nature's most fearsome predators.

Rise of 'tiger farms' amid roaring trade
Farms in China pose new threat with push to get tiger trade ban lifted
Grace Ng, China Correspondent Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

BEIJING: The recent spotting of a wild Siberian tiger near a remote reservoir in the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang sparked great excitement in China.

News of the sighting of the two- year-old male in October grabbed headlines nationwide and even made it to state TV. But just five days later, the carcass of a tiger - probably the same one - was found, a rusty hunter's snare around its neck.

It was a blow to those fighting to save China's endangered tigers. The Siberian is one of the world's rarest tigers, and China has only about 20 left in the wild.

Pitted against the conservationists are an army of poachers and growing numbers of affluent Chinese willing to pay handsomely to consume tiger parts.

Roaring sales of tiger meat and 'tiger bone wine' - which can cost as much as 1,000 yuan (S$200) for a small flask - have turned China into the world's largest market for such products, despite a ban imposed on the trade since 1993.

The bones are touted to guarantee long life and as treatment for rheumatism and arthritis. Tiger eyeballs are said to cure epilepsy, their whiskers to stop toothache and their penises to aid sexual potency.

While there are no official estimates of the value of this underground trade, some non-profit conservation agencies put it in the region of millions of US dollars a year. The going rate for a pelt is reportedly more than 200,000 yuan and a paw, 8,000 yuan.

With prices of tiger parts continuing to climb, it is no wonder poachers are drawn to the trade. Although poachers who kill tigers face the maximum death sentence, there has been no recent record of anyone being executed for the crime.

In 2009, a man in Hubei province was reportedly sentenced to 18 years' jail for killing a tiger to sell its parts. In another case in the same year, the ringleader of a group of poachers was given 12 years' jail and fined 480,000 yuan.

Another man in Jilin city who trafficked tiger parts was sentenced to five years' jail and fined 100,000 yuan in 2005, according to The penalties for trafficking of tiger parts vary according to the value of the trade.

Meanwhile, activists worry about a new threat: the rise of 'tiger farms'.

Close to two dozen were in existence last year, and altogether they have bred some 6,000 tigers in captivity - more than the number existing in the wild.

Some are run like zoos or wildlife theme parks, complete with gift shops and animal feeding shows.

Many of them aim to convince the Chinese government to lift its ban on trade in tiger parts, say conservationists.

Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain Village in Guilin, which opened in 1993, is one of the largest of tiger-breeding operations. Some of its 1,500 animals roam in fenced-in areas, while many more are kept crammed in iron pens.

An American diplomat who visited Xiongsen undercover described a 'circus-like environment' where 'several tigers were being struck with a metal pole, while others were whipped'.

Other tiger protection activists who visited such farms spoke of sick and malnourished animals and dubious practices.

'These are speed-breeding factory farms,' Ms Judy Mills of Conservation International told the BBC. According to her research, farm tigresses produce cubs at about three times their natural rate, bearing up to three litters a year. The cubs are often taken away from their mothers before they are properly weaned.

According to local media, at least 11 Siberian tigers starved to death last year in one farm in Shenyang.

Critics such as the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based organisation, have warned that the farms' push to sell tiger parts legally would make it 'easier for black marketers to 'launder' their wild-killed animals by selling them as farm-raised'.

As Professor Mang Ping, a leading Chinese animal rights activist, told the China Daily this week: 'It is difficult to judge whether tiger parts products come from wild tigers or not. Therefore, wild tigers will be in danger.'

The World Bank, which is party to a tiger conservation programme, has called for these farms to be shut down, citing similar concerns.

But some people, like Mr Zhang Chengzong, a manager of the Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, see things differently.

He and other breeders argue that it is very expensive to maintain the tigers, and a lifting of the ban will help in the funding of raising tigers.

China, with the support of the World Wildlife Fund, is aiming to double its tiger population to 40 by 2022. It has joined a programme to breed tigers in the wild. And about 90 Chinese volunteers will embark on a mission next month to clear Heilongjiang of all tiger traps.

Professor Jiang Guangshun of the Northeast Forestry University warned it would not be easy. 'Some of these traps could have been set as long as 10 years ago. Because they are well-hidden, it is difficult to thoroughly clear them all.'

Such efforts notwithstanding, some wildlife activists want a greater show of commitment from Beijing. They point to the ambiguities in the official position.

While killing a wild tiger for trade attracts the death penalty, the sale of tiger parts from animals which die of natural causes is technically allowed. This enables Xiongsen and other farms to operate in a grey area of the law, using the bones of animals that have died naturally in captivity to produce 'medicinal' wine. Meanwhile, other parts of their carcasses are reportedly kept in freezers, awaiting the day the ban on their sale is lifted.

'One of the biggest contributions China could make to reducing illegal trade of tiger parts is to devalue wildlife parts and products, by destroying its stockpile of tiger parts,' said Ms Grace Gabriel, Asia regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Only by doing so, she said, will it send a strong and unequivocal message to the world that tiger poaching, trade and consumption is not tolerated.

Background story


Tigers are the largest of all the Asian big cats, but their number in the wild is at an all-time low, just over 3,000.

Tigers face unrelenting pressure from poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss.

The illegal trade in tiger parts has led to more than 1,000 wild tigers being killed over the past decade, according to Traffic International, a wildlife trade monitoring network.

Tigers are extinct in 11 countries they once roamed, and are in a precarious state in many of the current 13 - Russia, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and China.

Three tiger sub-species - the Bali, Javan, and Caspian - have become extinct in the past 70 years.

The six remaining sub-species - Siberian, Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, South China and Sumatran - are all threatened. The South China tiger may have disappeared from the wild, with no sightings for nearly 40 years.

Since October 1987, tigers have been listed as an Appendix I species (threatened with extinction) under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This means all commercial trade in the animals or their parts is banned.


Living with tigers: An uneasy co-existence
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

DHIKULI (India): It was late afternoon in northern India. Soon it would be twilight. As we moved through the teak plantation with its tangled undergrowth, leaves crunched under our boots in the silence of the gloomy forest.

We were following the trail of a tiger that had killed and dragged away a bullock.

When we finally found the dead animal, it was lying in heavy foliage, its neck broken and parts of its rump chewed away. Tigers habitually rip open their kill from the rump and pull out the entrails, leaving them aside before starting to eat the rest of the carcass.

The big cat was probably nearby. Close to the kill, we found saucer-sized pug marks in soft sand.

The bullock belonged to Ms Madhvi Devi, a woman in her 30s who lives in a village in the forest. Ms Devi, who was among our search party of four, stood next to the dead animal as a photograph was taken of her holding a small blackboard with details of the kill marked down in chalk.

A few minutes later, she was given 1,500 rupees (S$37) in compensation.

The picture was for the records of the interim relief scheme of The Corbett Foundation (TCF) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The scheme pays villagers when their livestock is killed by tigers and leopards outside the legal boundaries of Corbett National Park, north India's most significant tiger habitat.

The park and surrounding forest are classified as a tiger reserve. There are an estimated 200 tigers within the sprawling 822 sq km reserve.

The relief scheme was started by TCF in 1995. The aim is to soften the blow of losing a milk-producing or draught animal and make it less likely that villagers will kill the predator in revenge or at the bidding of a poacher. In 1998, the WWF began funding it.

The amount given varies according to the animal. The market price of the livestock is usually higher, but this cash is paid out immediately.

Ms Devi should get money from the state government as well, but the system is slow. The divisional forest officer of the area, Mr Ravindra Juyal, says the bureaucracy is still processing compensation claims dating back to 2009.

On-the-spot payment under the scheme makes up somewhat for the inadequacies of the official system. As Ms Devi said to me: 'I am uneducated, I don't know how to fill out forms, and anyway, I won't get the money for years, so why bother? You are the only people who compensate us.'

TCF was founded in 1994 by Mr Dilip Khatau, a former textile and shipping tycoon who is now a Singapore resident. He grew up in Africa and returned to his native India to give something back to the jungles he used to roam as a young man during his holidays.

The foundation works among forest communities living on the edges of Corbett National Park, providing health care for locals, wildlife conservation awareness programmes for local schoolchildren, as well as running the interim relief scheme.

Money is paid only if it can be confirmed that the livestock has been killed by a tiger or a leopard, hence the importance of investigating each death.

The scheme covers a vast area in which there are 334 villages. The number of kills per year has been edging up.

Compensation paid under the interim relief scheme in 2009 totalled a relatively paltry $45,327. The number of kills that year was 1,124 - up from 972 in 2008, and 737 in 2007.

The scheme may be keeping the tigers in these forests alive. Dr A.J.T. Johnsingh, one of India's foremost wildlife field biologists, has likened the tigers in these peripheral forests to 'patients in intensive care'.

'The interim relief scheme is the oxygen that in this case indirectly helps keep them alive,' he said.

Tigers do not know legal boundaries as they roam the national park. Outside the park, there are reserve forests, but these are mixed-use forests also inhabited by people: tribal cattle herders as well as farmers with livestock and crop fields.

Over the years, tiny hamlets strung around the edge of the forest have grown into towns. Roads have been widened and traffic has multiplied. Tourist resorts eat into the edges of the jungle. It all adds up to a steady erosion of tiger habitat.

As a result, cattle have become targets for hungry tigers. Occasionally, tigers have turned into man-eaters, or in accidental encounters, mauled local people in the forest cutting wood.

There is no question that the tiger is on the losing end in such conflicts.

'Problem' tigers are shot or trapped and removed - if they are lucky, to deep inside the national park, and if unlucky, to a zoo.

'Conflict between humans and wildlife has become increasingly frequent and hostile in recent years,' noted a WWF report on the interim relief scheme, released in September.

'Human-tiger conflict poses a significant threat to tiger conservation.'

These forests are the trenches of tiger conservation, where the giant cat is vulnerable to poachers who can kill it for next to nothing, with a wire snare, for the Chinese market.

They are also vulnerable to revenge killing. In September, in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a tiger which was killing livestock was trapped and beaten to death by angry locals.

This is where the WWF/TCF scheme comes in. There is a simple index of the success of paying local communities compensation. The WWF report notes that there have been no cases of tiger poisoning in the area since the mid-1990s.

The support of local communities is critical if tiger conservation is to have any chance of success. The money may be small in dollar terms, but it means a lot to locals living hardscrabble lives in a tiger habitat.

Nirmal Ghosh has written three books on Indian wildlife and natural history, and has been involved in tiger and Asian elephant conservation for over 20 years. He is a TCF trustee.

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Malaysia: Tenth Hornbill Species Found In Ulu Muda Forest

Bernama 9 Dec 11;

ALOR SETAR, Dec 9 (Bernama) -- The Wrinkled hornbill was finally spotted in the Ulu Muda forest in Padang Terap, making it one of only two sites in Malaysia where all 10 hornbills species are found.

Earth Lodge Sdn Bhd Director, Hymeir Kamarudin said a pair of hornbills 'Rhyticeros corrugates' were seen flying across the Muda River near Earth Lodge, an ecolodge at Kuala Labua, Ulu Muda.

He said in a statement here Friday that the important sighting was made by the Lodge's guests, comprising prominent bird watchers.

"The all black belly, wing and top half of its long tall feathers together with its smaller size compared with the Wreath hornbill and Plain-pouched hornbill convinced all bird watchers that it was without a doubt, a Wrinkled hornbill," he said.

Prior to the sighting, Ulu Muda was known as the only site in Malaysia where the rare and globally endangered hornbill and Plain-pouched hornbill were found in large numbers and where nine of the 10 Malaysian hornbills species existed.

"The missing hornbill at that time was the Wrinkled hornbill," Hymeir said.

According to him, this large contiguous forest area was gaining popularity among local and foreign bird watching community as an important bird watching destination.

Hymeir said the Birdlife International and its Malaysian partner, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) have listed Ulu Muda as an Important Bird Area (IBA) in their 2007 publication, 'Directory of Important Bird Areas in Malaysia - Key Sites for Conservation'.

"To date, Ulu Muda boasts of 260 species of birds. With all 10 species of Malaysian hornbills now recorded, Ulu Muda becomes an even more important area for biodiversity conservation and ecotourism," he said.

Ulu Muda area also serves as an important water catchment area for three dams, the Ahning, Pedu and Muda.


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Prime Indonesian Jungle To Be Cleared For Palm Oil

Jakarta Globe 9 Dec 11;

Aceh. The man known as Indonesia's "green governor" chases the roar of illegal chainsaws through plush jungles in his own Jeep. He goes door-to-door to tell families it's in their interest to keep trees standing.

That's why 5,000 villagers living the edge of a rich, biodiverse peat swamp in his tsunami-ravaged Aceh province feel so betrayed.

Their former hero recently gave a palm oil company a permit to develop land in one of the few places on earth where orangutans, tigers and bears still can be found living side-by-side — violating Indonesia's new moratorium on concessions in primary forests and peatlands.

"Why would he agree to this?" said Ibduh, a 50-year village chief, days after filing a criminal complaint against Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf.

"It's not just about the animals," he said, men around him nodding. "Us too. Our lives are ruined if this goes through."

Irwandi — a former rebel whose life story is worthy of a Hollywood film — maintains the palm oil concession is by the book and that he would never do anything to harm his province.

But critics say there is little doubt he broke the law.

The charges against him illustrate the challenges facing countries like Indonesia in their efforts to fight climate change by protecting the world's tropical jungles — which would spit more carbon when burned than planes, automobiles and factories combined.

Despite government promises, what happens on the ground is often a different story. Murky laws, graft and mismanagement in the forestry sector and shady dealings with local officials means that business often continues as usual for many companies.

"This is really a test case," said Chik Rini, a World Wildlife Fund campaigner, noting that while it's not uncommon for timber, pulp, paper and palm oil companies to raze trees in protected areas, few developments occur in areas that seem so obviously off limits.

"If they get away with it here, well, then no forests are safe."

Ibduh, the village chief, sits on the floor of a house rolling a cigarette as he and other men try to understand why — after years of stalling — Irwandi agreed on Aug. 25 to give PT Kallista Alam a permit to convert 4,000 acres of peat swamp forest in the heart of the renowned Leuser Ecosytem.

In addition to being home to almost every large animal found in Disney's adaptation of "The Jungle Book," it's teeming with thousands of plant and insect species, many yet to be identified.

Irwandi says there's nothing amiss with the concession. "I know what I have to do for the people of Aceh," the 51-year-old says, alleging that political opponents in coming provincial elections are trying to turn the tide against him.

But Ahmad Fauzi Mas'ud, spokesman for the Forestry Ministry, agrees with critics that things don't sound right.

"We haven't received the documents for this license yet," he said by telephone as he boarded a plane in the capital Jakarta.

"But if it's inside peatland, it can't be converted."

A copy of the map of the new concession, obtained by The Associated Press, has it sitting squarely on a parcel of peatland forest identified as off limits under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's moratorium enacted in May.

For environmentalists, it's an all too familiar story.

Fifty years ago in Indonesia, more than three-quarters of the archipelagic nation of 240 million people was blanketed in tropical rain forest. But half those trees have since disappeared.

Aceh offered a uniquely clean slate when its separatist insurgency came to an end after the devastating 2004 tsunami. The decades-long conflict had kept illegal logging at bay.

Irwandi, well-educated with a laid-back style and quick wit, made protecting Aceh's forests one of his first goals when he surprised the pundits and won the governorship in 2006.

He was a former rebel, but not the fighting kind. For years, he'd led the propaganda campaign for the insurgents who saw the government in Jakarta as self-serving and corrupt.

He was serving a nine-year sentence for treason when the tsunami hit, crashing down the walls of the prison.

"I didn't escape from prison," the rebel-turned-politician likes to say. "It escaped from me."

Irwandi fled to Jakarta, then Malaysia and finally Finland where he ended up joining exiled leaders of the Free Aceh Movement in negotiating an end to fighting after the tsunami — with both sides eager to end the suffering.

After his return and election win, Irwandi immediately banned logging in Aceh. To this day, he can often be seen pulling over on the side of the road when spotting a pile of recently felled trees. He also makes spot checks at old logging camps and saw mills.

Which is why his turnabout on the Tripa swamp forest — home to the world's densest population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans — has left Ibduh and other villagers so confused and angry.

Already excavators have started knocking down trees and churning up soil.

Drainage canals also have been built and villagers' drinking wells are already noticeably drier as result, they say. Security forces are deployed by the palm oil company along the perimeter of the forest, guns raised when anyone tries to enter.

Ibduh and other older men recall happier times when they could still earn money collecting rattan, honey and herbs for traditional medicine. Not long ago, they say proudly, pristine swamps and the Tripa river were teeming with catfish so large that many of them were able to earn enough at the local market to go to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage.

Even now, gliding in a small wooden boat down the broad river that slices through the spectacular Tripa forests, saltwater crocodiles can be seen slipping silently from view. A rhinoceros hornbill lifts off with a gentle helicoptorish whoosh.

And as skies darken, troops of monkeys clamor in the branches above to settle in for the night.

"But for how long?" asks Safari, 32, one of the men. "When that forest is cleared, these animals will all be gone, every last one of them."

Associated Press

Ministry to Probe Aceh Forest Clearing Permit
Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 14 Dec 11;

The Forestry Ministry has promised an “intensive probe” into a controversial permit issued by Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf for a pristine, wildlife-rich forest to be razed and replaced by a palm oil plantation.

Hadi Daryanto, the ministry’s secretary general, said on Monday that under the terms of a forestry moratorium for primary and peat forests, the permit should never have been issued.

“It’s clearly a violation because the area in question is a peat forest,” he said.

“On the moratorium map it’s clearly marked out as protected, but in the revision that followed, it was somehow excluded. That exclusion in itself is also a violation because it occurred after the moratorium went into effect.”

Hadi was responding to revelations by the nongovernmental organization Greenomics Indonesia that a revision to the original moratorium map shrunk the forested area under protection and authorized the issuance of a permit to clear 1,065 hectares of forest inside the Leuser ecosystem in Aceh’s Nagan Raya district.

The area is identified as home to the world’s densest population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, and also hosts large numbers of critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

Plantation firm Kallista Alam has already begun clearing trees and draining the peat swamp.

In a press release, Elfian Effendi, the Greenomics Indonesia executive director, said the revision showed that “the area concerned was no longer colored red, as it had been in the original map.”

“In fact, the peatland that is no longer colored red exceeds the area of the palm plantation concession granted by Irwandi,” he said.

Greenomics urged Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the chairman of the national task force on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), to publicly explain why the revision allowed for the exclusion of peat forests from the moratorium.

“This is especially important given that Kuntoro told Reuters news agency on December 8 that the opening up of peatland in Kuala Tripa, the area where the palm plantation license was issued by Irwandi, was a grave mistake,” Elfian said.

“Kuntoro also advised the Aceh administration to review its decision to grant the palm plantation license and to seek alternative land for the development of such plantations.”

He added that Kuntoro’s statement as well as those from the Forestry Ministry appeared to be at odds with the revision.

“The secretary general of the Ministry of Forestry, Hadi Daryanto, has stated that the license issued by the Aceh governor violates the indicative moratorium map,” he said.

“If that’s the case, why has the minister of forestry now gone ahead and removed the peatland area in question from the revised map?

“This is a truly embarrassing state of affairs. The implementation of the moratorium has been characterized by a lack of synergy and coordination.”

Elfian added that the central government would have to “investigate its own actions” to find out how the implementation of the moratorium could have been bungled so badly.

Aceh Forest Permit Breaks ‘Several’ Laws, Activist Says
Jakarta Globe 16 Dec 11;

The Aceh governor’s approval of a forest-clearing permit for an ostensibly protected area violates a rash of national laws and regulations beyond just a deforestation moratorium, activists say.

Kamaruddin, a lawyer for the Coalition of Communities Concerned for Tripa, said in a statement that the violation of the permit moratorium for primary and peat forests “does not substantively affect the legal infractions that community members” reported to police last month.

The controversy stems from the issuance of a permit to clear 1,605 hectares of forest inside the Leuser ecosystem in Aceh’s Nagan Raya district.

Earlier this week, nongovernmental organization Greenomics Indonesia revealed that a revision to the original moratorium map, based on a Forestry Ministry decree, had shrunk the forested area under protection. The moratorium itself is based on a presidential instruction.

“Greenomics unfortunately failed to point out that the new concession breaks several national laws and regulations, in addition to the presidential instruction, all of which have higher legal status than the minister of forestry’s decree,” Kamaruddin said.

He cited one of the laws being broken as the 2006 Law on the Governance of Aceh, which “mandates the protection of the Leuser ecosystem and its restoration,” as well as requiring development in the province to be sustainable.

The second law violated by the permit, Kamaruddin said, was the 2007 Spatial Planning Law, and a derivative government regulation “in which the Leuser ecosystem was established as an area of national strategic importance for environmental protection.”

“Therefore the issuance of any exploitation permits contradictory to this function within the Leuser ecosystem constitutes a criminal act,” he said.

The area is identified as home to the world’s densest population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and also hosts large numbers of critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

Plantation firm Kallista Alam has already begun clearing trees and draining the peat swamp.

Read more!

Australia: Devil of a disappointment as tumour disease spreads to isolated pocket

Sue Neales The Australian 10 Dec 11;

THE devastating cancer that has killed thousands of endangered Tasmanian devils has spread to a new part of the island state.

The discovery this week of a sick animal with the devil facial tumour disease near the west coast mining town of Zeehan has destroyed hopes of a naturally resistant population living on Tasmania's wild west coast.

It is the first time a sick devil has been found so far south and west, says Howel Williams, director of the state government's Save the Tasmanian Devil program.

The discovery has hastened moves to establish a new isolated population of healthy devils offshore from Tasmania's east coast, on Maria Island.

Mr Williams said an application to relocate 50 devils to Maria Island National Park was submitted to federal Environment Minister Tony Burke several days ago.
Free trial

The shift requires federal approval as the introduction of the carnivorous Tasmanian Devil on to Maria Island -- which is currently devil-free -- could affect other threatened species.

Mr Williams said the discovery of the diseased devil near Zeehan, more than 60km southwest of other sick or dead animals found near the farming area of Waratah, was inevitable and disappointing. "It's further west than we would have liked and perhaps happened a bit sooner than we had hoped, because we thought the surrounding wild terrain would have been a bit more of a barrier," said Mr Williams, an expert on the species.

DFTD was first discovered in northwest Tasmania in 1996 and has since wiped out massive numbers of the threatened creatures, found only in Tasmania.

The disease, a rare infectious cancer thought to be spread by biting, is hard to detect until hideous tumours and gaping wound appear on the devils' heads, not long before death.

But Mr Williams said the discovery of the diseased devil at Zeehan -- confirmed in pathology tests this week -- did not change the plans for a conservation strategy for the species.

He is pleased great progress has been made with breeding healthy devils in zoos and animal centres around Australia, ensuring the species will not become extinct.

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Most extensive coral bleaching found off Florida coast this summer since monitoring began in 2005

Associated Press The Republic 9 Dec 11;

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — Bleaching of Florida's coral reefs has reached a new high.

The Nature Conservancy said on Friday that the most extensive bleaching since monitoring began in 2005 occurred this summer.

Coral that's under stress expels the colorful algae that live in its tissues, exposing its stark white skeleton.

Bleaching makes the coral susceptible to disease and is a major contributor to the decline of reefs.

The Nature Conservancy's Florida coastal and marine resilience director, Chris Bergh, said the findings were not surprising. That's because 2011 is tied for the 10th hottest year on record.

Bleaching and paling at rates of up to 50 percent were found through most of the Florida Reef Tract that extends from the Florida Keys to Martin County.

Coral bleaching threatens South Florida reefs
David Fleshler,Sun Sentinel 15 Dec 11;

An ashy pallor has spread across South Florida's coral reefs over the past few months, as stressed corals expelled the algae that gives them color.

The worst case of coral bleaching since surveys began in 2005 struck reefs from the Florida Keys through Martin County, harming the base of the region's most biologically productive and economically important marine ecosystem.

A survey coordinated by The Nature Conservancy, involving 13 dive teams from government agencies, universities and non-profit groups, found that 21 to 50 percent of colonies checked in the Keys, Broward County, Biscayne Bay and Martin County had bleached or turned pale. Palm Beach County saw less bleaching, with three to 6 percent of colonies affected.

"It's really widespread," said James Byrne, Marine Science Program Manager for The Nature Conservancy. "We've seen it in past years in one or two areas, but we've never seen it across the whole reef."

Corals, tiny animals that build skeletons of calcium drawn from seawater, contain photosynthetic algae that provides them with energy and gives reefs their rainbow colors. When stressed, the corals expel the algae, making the corals more vulnerable to disease.

Often compared to tropical rainforests for their biological diversity, coral reefs provide habitat for a vast variety of fish, crustaceans, sponges and other sea creatures. The are a vital part of the South Florida tourist industry, supporting fishing, diving and snorkeling businesses.

It's too soon to know the impact, but scientists will be watching over the next few months to see if the coral recovers, Byrne said. They may well recover without damage, if no further stresses – such as severe cold this winter – cause additional bleaching, he said.

Bleaching has emerged as a worldwide threat, largely due to climate change, said Andrew Baker, associate professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

"The evidence is incontrovertible that the world is getting warmer," he said. "There is no doubt that we're seeing warmer than usual conditions at a much more regular rate than 30 years ago and that's causing coral bleaching."

Beginning with a mass bleaching in the eastern Pacific, he said, there have been several cases that wiped out vast stands of coral reef. The largest took place in 1997 and 1998, when the warming of the western Pacific killed up to one-sixth of the world's coral reefs.

"It's a huge problem, and we're seeing more of it," Baker said. "Coral bleaching is probably responsible for killing more coral worldwide than any other stressor, and it's all been in the last 30 years."

Chris Bergh, director of coastal and marine resilience for The Nature Conservancy, attributed the South Florida bleaching to a warmer climate.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that coral bleaching was so prevalent given that to date 2011 is tied for the tenth hottest year on record," he said. "This is troubling because this is a La Nina year and these are supposed to be cooler than normal here in South Florida."

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Thailand: Drought threat increasing as reserves fall

Provinces without irrigation most at risk
Bangkok Post 10 Dec 11;

Some provinces could be hit with drought next year due to dwindling water reserves, says Anond Snidvongs, the water management adviser to the Flood Relief Operations Command.

As the floods are receding, drought could emerge as a new problem hitting some areas next year especially in provinces which do not benefit from the Royal Irrigation Department's irrigation system, he said.

"The severe cold this year points to a drought crisis next year," Mr Anond said during the launch of, the web TV outlet of the Thai Society of Environmental Journalists (Thaisej).

He said massive drainage of water during the flood period could also lead to drought.

Dams and reservoirs normally store 6-7 billion cubic metres of water largely for agricultural purposes during the dry season.

But the floods this year forced officials to drain up to 2 billion cu/m of water from flooded areas, he said.

The water reserve could potentially drop to 5 billion cu/m by year's end and 4 billion cu/m by the time the new rice season arrives.

Mr Anond said the country still lacks an adequate management system to retain water supply for all areas.

Provinces which do not benefit from the department's irrigation network will be threatened by drought but those such as Lop Buri, Saraburi, Ang Thong and Ayutthaya which reap the benefits are likely to be spared, he added.

As the rainy season has passed, Mr Anond urged people to carefully use water now, to save it for when drought eventually comes.

The academic, who is the director of the regional climate research agency Start, said that parties should work out a common stance on flood prevention schemes.

"If people are concerned only about protecting their own assets from the flood, they will care less about the impacts of flood prevention schemes on the environment and on the general public," he said.

The floods also exposed flaws in wastewater and rubbish management at times of disaster.

The management system was designed to handle waste in normal situations. In the post-disaster period, the amount of water pollution and garbage has increased.

Kasemsan Jinnawaso, director-general of the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion, said he believed Thais had a better understanding about water resources and the relations between upstream and downstream rivers as a result of the floods.

He said the public should pay serious attention on disaster drills. The government would have to learn how to prepare for disasters economically.

Vanchai Tantivitayapitak, president of the Thaisej, urged government agencies to work together to prevent future disasters. They should pool the best officials to work on the issue regardless of their political affiliation, he added.

The floods gave political parties an opportunity to pay more attention to environmental issues because the effect of the floods is still evident.

The government could use this opportunity to take action against people encroaching on floodways, he added. State agencies have stressed the need to tackle encroachment on natural drainage systems. They say floods are "man-made" to some extent, as natural drainage passages and water retention areas are obstructed by the construction of housing estates, roads and hotels.

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Durban climate talks: Hidden costs of annual negotiations

A member of Oxfam protesting against the use of coal-based energy on Durban's beachfront yesterday. The UN said it would offset some 1,844 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from delegates? journeys to and from the conference. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Grace Chua Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

DURBAN: It is a time-honoured irony that each year, thousands of people must travel from all over the world to take part in the annual United Nations climate change negotiations.

And each instalment of the talks involves reams of paper, water and energy. Each day, a small forest's worth of documents and fliers are distributed, including, on Wednesday, a 138-page tome that was only a draft.

So greening the two-week COP-17 meeting in Durban, South Africa, is not without challenges as many solutions have hidden costs.

On Thursday, the UN said it would offset some 1,844 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from 398 secretariat staff and 369 supported delegates' journeys to and from the conference. 'Offsetting, using quality credits, is an important part of the secretariat's efforts to reduce its emissions,' said Ms Christiana Figueres, executive secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The carbon credits come from a South African brick factory, which switched from using coal to natural gas.

Directly burning natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal burning. But the extraction of natural gas can result in leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that lingers in the atmosphere and has far more global warming potential than coal.

What's more, there are more than 22,000 participants and observers at the meeting. That works out to over 90,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from their travel, going by UN figures.

There are other solutions, such as shuttle buses that transport participants from their hotels to the international convention centre (ICC). But these run on fuel that is likely to be derived from coal, as South Africa continues to be a coal-producing nation.

Finally, a telepresence centre has been set up outside the ICC for ministers and non-governmental organisation representatives to hold virtual press conferences. It is used nearly every day and is free for the summit's duration. But its small rooms can seat just a few participants.

'It will take a few years before we can make the COP meetings completely virtual,' explained Cisco senior manager Henrik Kjaer who is in charge of the telepresence facility. He added that the UN negotiations are 'very tough' and not all participants will be amenable to a virtual discussion.

While greening a major event is challenging, it has been tried before. Last year's Vancouver Winter Olympics tried to be sustainable, monitoring buildings' energy use and handing out medals made from recycled metal.

UNFCCC's Ms Figueres said: 'Climate change is a shared responsibility. We all have to take stock, and then look for ways to do our part, to walk the talk.'

Talks drifting towards failure
Bid to keep Kyoto Protocol alive is doomed without support of US, China, India
Straits Times 10 Dec 11;

DURBAN (South Africa): The US, China and India appeared poised to scuttle attempts to save the only treaty governing global warming, Europe's top negotiator said last night, hours before a 194-nation UN climate conference was to close.

After two weeks of negotiations, talks went through the night with delegates struggling to keep Durban from becoming the graveyard of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

'If there is no further movement from what I have seen until 4 o'clock this morning, then I must say I don't think that there will be a deal in Durban,' said Ms Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action.

The proposed package would see the European Union extend its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but only if all other countries agree to negotiate a new treaty with legally binding obligations for everyone, not just the wealthy Kyoto group.

The EU has said it will not renew its emissions reduction pledges, which expire in one year, without agreement to begin work on a treaty to replace the Kyoto accord that would compel all countries to control their emissions, including the US and China - the world's two largest polluters. The United States never ratified the protocol, though it has made voluntary efforts to reduce emissions.

The EU won critical support late on Thursday from an alliance of small islands and the world's poorest countries - about 120 nations all in - for its proposal to start negotiations now on a deal to take effect in 2018 or possibly after 2020.

Brazil and South Africa also said they would accept binding emissions limits under a new agreement. The two are among the countries in the so-called developing world that emit the most greenhouse gases.

Ministers or senior negotiators from 28 countries then worked late through the night to try to bring the US, China and India on board.

Ms Hedegaard said these three countries are still not on board and could scuttle the deal. Both China and the US have said they would be amenable to the EU proposal to negotiate a post-2020 agreement, but each attached riders that appeared to hobble prospects for unanimous acceptance.

The US, whose Congress is generally seen as hostile on the climate issue, is concerned about conceding any competitive business advantage to China.

China, too, is resisting the notion that it has become a developed country on a par with the US or Europe, saying it still has hundreds of millions of impoverished people.

Rich countries are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions while developing countries take voluntary actions.

Three UN reports released in the last month show time is running out to achieve change. They show a warming planet will amplify droughts and floods, increase crop failures and raise sea levels to the point where several island states are threatened with extinction.

South African President Jacob Zuma has said Durban will be a failure if a Green Climate Fund, designed to help poor nations tackle global warming and nudge them towards a new global effort to fight climate change, is not put into force.

If the discussions hold to form, envoys will extend discussions and release their decisions today.


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