Best of our wild blogs: 10 Jan 12

Prickly day at Cyrene with Shell volunteers
from wild shores of singapore

Berlayar Creek - some animal residents - Jan 2012
from sgbeachbum

Sun 12 Feb 2012: 7.00am - The Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk
from Habitatnews

2012 - Free Chek Jawa Boardwalk trips on the 2nd Saturday of each month
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

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Rail Corridor reopens for public visits

Grace Chua Straits Times 10 Jan 12;

THE former Malaysian railway land reopened to the public yesterday, six months after it was returned to Singapore.

Old tracks and equipment have been removed, and the snaking 26km stretch has been levelled and turfed.

Walkers or sightseers are now free to roam along the Rail Corridor, which runs from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands.

However, three sites remain closed because they have been earmarked for improvement works. These are at Jalan Hang Jebat, Ghim Moh Road and Kampong Bahru Flyover.

Once the works are completed, they will be opened for interim community use from April. That means people can enter the sites for picnics, sports or other activities without having to make a formal booking.

They were picked because they are accessible to the public, not too far from residential areas and have the right kind of terrain, said a spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority. These are general criteria used to identify all sites designated for community use, she added.

The historic Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which has been designated a national monument, also remains closed for maintenance and structural inspections. Information on its reopening will be provided in due course, said the authority.

Avid nature photographer Richard Koh, 56, last shot the railway tract before Malayan Railway trains stopped running last June. He said: 'I'm about to go there and take another look.

'We should maintain this corridor as it is for as long as possible, for future generations to enjoy it as well.'

Malaysia returned the site to Singapore in July, in exchange for land parcels in Marina South and Ophir-Rochor.

SLA identifies sites along Rail Corridor for interim community use
Channel NewsAsia 9 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has identified three sites along the Rail Corridor and adjacent vacant state land for interim community use.

These sites are near Jalan Hang Jebat, Ghim Moh Road and Kampong Bahru Flyover.

SLA said it is carrying out improvement works at these sites, which have been cordoned off for safety reasons.

They will be progressively opened (for interim community use) from April 2012.

It said the public can enjoy free access to these sites for recreational activities with no advance booking required.

SLA said the sites will be available until long-term development plans for the Rail Corridor and its surroundings are determined.

As for the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, SLA said it will remain closed for now for maintenance works and structural inspection.

Information on its re-opening will be given in due course.

SLA has also urged the public to exercise caution and be responsible for their safety when accessing the Rail Corridor.

They are also reminded not to litter or deface the railway structures.

Separately, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is doing a comprehensive review of development plans for the former railway land and surrounding areas.

URA will study the proposal to maintain a continuous green link along the Rail Corridor while balancing the need for development.

The public is welcome to provide suggestions and ideas on its future use (of the Rail Corridor) to enhance the living environment.

- CNA/cc

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Options narrow for Stamford Canal

Esther Ng Today Online 10 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE - Ponds to hold rainwater could be built upstream of Stamford Canal - blamed for the Orchard Road floods - to alleviate future floods in the area.

Revealing this option in Parliament yesterday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan also rejected suggestions to deepen the canal given its existing depth. Another option is to build a diversion canal from the upper third of the Stamford Canal drainage area to the Singapore River, he added.

But even as the PUB is studying options to raise the capacity of the Stamford Canal - which needs to increase by 30 per cent to reduce the risk of flooding - there are constraints, said Dr Balakrishnan.

For one, the detention ponds - which are about the size of 40 to 50 Olympic-size pools - will not come cheap. "Putting aside land in precious real estate, in the Orchard Road area, is something which we don't enter lightly," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Alternatively, building a diversion canal will cost between S$300 million and S$400 million. "To now embark on further surgery on Stamford Canal will cause enormous disruption to the services and operations, to the pedestrian and vehicular flow along Orchard Road," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"We're constrained on the ground and there will also be major financial and fiscal factors that we have to take into account."

Asked by Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng why the canal could not be deepened, Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that it was already very deep, and it is not the objective to create a "Stamford basin".

"We need to either slow down the rate of inflow into Stamford Canal through detention ponds or have an alternative bypass," he reiterated.

Could the loss of open spaces from large-scale development have contributed to flooding, and will the ministry require developers to submit environment impact studies prior to construction, asked Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong.

Dr Balakrishnan replied that the expert panel - which was assembled after the flash floods - will publish its findings this week on whether urban build-up had contributed to the problem.

He acknowleged that "greater collaboration" among planning authorities was essential to make future developments "sensitive and rational" in coping with the changing climate.

One finding from the Metereological Service Singapore is that rainfall has become more intense over the past 30 years. As such, Singapore now sees a lot more flash floods - "transient localised episodes" of about 30 minutes - instead of prolonged flooding.

Referring to the latest incident on Dec 23, Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that Orchard Road remained "passable" to traffic due to the completion of road-raising work in June.

"Extensive measures" taken by building owners also meant that flooding was "confined" to the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza, he noted.

As for claims that the Marina Barrage had contributed to the flooding, Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that the water level of the barrage did not affect the "hydraulic situation" of water in the upper reaches of Orchard Road as the "platform level" of Grange Road was eight metres above mean sea level.

The barrage also helps "protect" low-lying areas such as Chinatown, he added.

Not feasible to expand canal under Orchard Road: Minister
It has reached full drainage capacity, says Balakrishnan
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 10 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE does not intend to be like Venice, with canals everywhere, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament yesterday.

'So there has to be a reasonable limit to how much we prepare for the future,' he said, referring to the floods that have occurred in Singapore over the past two years.

He was responding to MP Ang Wei Neng's question on why the Stamford Canal cannot be deepened.

While he acknowledged the Stamford Canal's capacity needs to be increased by 30 per cent in the long run, widening and deepening it will not be feasible.

'In the case of Stamford Canal, which lies under Orchard Road, we have run out of drainage capacity,' he said, explaining that there is always a drainage reserve factored into all drains.

Any works to the 4km-long canal will cause massive disruption to traffic and businesses along Orchard Road, he said.

Part of the canal was full when prolonged and intense rain fell on Orchard Road on Dec 23 last year, causing flooding in Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza.

The canal also could not cope during a downpour in June 2010, dramatically causing the junction of Scotts Road and Orchard Road and two malls to be submerged, ringing up an estimated $8 million in damage.

Dr Balakrishnan attributed these two incidents, and another in June last year that caused flooding in the Tanglin area, to more intense rain and increasing urbanisation.

After the 2010 flood, national water agency PUB raised a 1.4km stretch of Orchard Road between Orange Grove Road and Cairnhill Road, which it said prevented the road from being flooded during subsequent heavy rains.

It has also stepped up checks on canals and drains during the current north-east monsoon season, to make sure they are not blocked.

Last month, it revised the drainage codes for new buildings and buildings to be redeveloped, so they must have higher platform levels and drainage capacities.

The Stamford Canal, which serves the Orchard area, starts at the Botanic Gardens and Dempsey Hill, passes through the Bras Basah area and the city centre, and flows into the Marina Reservoir.

He said while there has been much speculation over the role of the Marina Barrage, it has helped to maintain the water level in the Marina Reservoir below the mean sea level. If not for the barrage, seawater would raise the water level in the reservoir, which could lead to flooding in nearby low-lying areas such as Chinatown.

Given the constraints of the Stamford Canal, the Environment Ministry is studying alternative methods to prevent flooding in the area; the study will conclude in May.

He gave details on some of the ideas, including a water retention pond to hold rainwater and a diversion canal to bring floodwater into the Singapore River. Both options would be very costly, he said.

For the retention pond, he said: 'We would need land two to three times the size of a football field. Putting aside land like that in precious real estate in the Orchard Road area is something we should not enter into lightly.'

The pond should have a capacity of 40 to 50 Olympic-sized pools, and is meant to retain water upstream.

He added a diversion canal would cost between $300 million and $400 million.

'In the long run, these need to be done,' he said.

In the short term, more measures can be implemented to prevent the floods or reduce their impact, he added.

The ministry is investing more into infrastructure such as sensors, closed-circuit television monitors and data collectors to better predict the storms and keep tabs on possible floods, he said.

Assistant Professor Vivien Chua of the National University of Singapore's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering suggested ways the ministry could speed up water flow within the canal, which was mooted by Dr Balakrishnan.

'Friction to fluid flow can be reduced by smoothening the canal banks and bed... and removing coarse sand and gravel on the bed,' she said, adding that this would help transport water away from the flood-prone areas more quickly.

PUB should not have used the word "ponding": Balakrishnan
Hetty Musfirah Channel NewsAsia 9 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE: The capacity of Stamford Canal will be increased by at least a third to reduce the risk of flooding along Singapore's shopping belt of Orchard Road.

Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Monday, that a consultancy study is underway and is expected to be completed by May.

He said such projects can be costly, but his ministry is prepared to undertake longer term investments.

But he cautioned that Singapore faces constraints.

Dr Balakrishnan said said: "I think many members will be familiar that whenever PUB has a drain, we have a drainage reserve.

"In other words, we always have space where if we need to deepen or widen a drain, we will take land from the owners or public utilities.

"Well in the case of Stamford Canal, which lies under Orchard Road, we've run out of drainage capacity. Secondly, to now embark on further surgery on Stamford Canal, would cost enormous disruption to services and the operations, pedestrian flow and vehicular flow along Orchard Road. I put all this because I want you all to understand that we are constrained."

The Stamford Canal starts upstream at the Botanic Gardens and Dempsey Hill, passes through Bras Basah and City Hall areas, before draining into the Marina Reservoir.

The area of special concern is a basin between Cuscaden and Cairnhill Roads at Orchard Road.

There have been three episodes of flooding in this area over the past eighteen months.

Dr Balakrishnan said the episodes are part of a larger pattern of rainfall change in Singapore over the past decades.

On 16 June 2010, some 100mm of rain fell in the area over two hours, causing Orchard Road between Cuscaden and Cairnhill Roads to flood to a depth of 300mm.

On 5 June 2011, some 124mm of rain fell over about four hours, and caused the Tanglin area to be flooded to a depth of 100mm.

Compared to the incidents on 16 June 2010 and 5 June 2011, the latest incident on 23 December 2011, saw the heaviest rainfall of 153 mm recorded over three hours.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Orchard Road remained passable to traffic due to the completion of road raising works in June 2011.

But he noted that any form of flooding needs to be addressed.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The technical difference between a flood, a flash flood and a pond - let me just say that as far as I'm concerned.

"PUB should not have used the word, "ponding".

"As far as I'm concerned, I call a spade a spade, a flood is a flood.

"As long as there is water accumulating somewhere, where it is not supposed to be, as long as it has implications on human safety, on business operations, that is a flood, that is a problem that needs to be resolved, PUB and the building owners must resolve it."

Dr Balakrishnan said PUB is evaluating various options.

This include storm water detention ponds in the upstream section, or a new canal to divert storm water from upstream portions of the catchment to the Singapore River.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "These detention ponds are not going to be cheap, to give you an idea of scale, they have a capacity of 40 to 50 Olympic sized pools.

"We will need land two to three times of a football pitch, putting aside land like that in a precious real estate in the Orchard Road area, I think members will agree, (it) is something we don't enter into likely.

"I set this very simple challenge to PUB. Let's us assume that we will continue to have storms, exactly similar to what we have in the last three episodes. In fact, let us assume further.

"Let us assume that it may be even worse than that. The reply that the engineers came back to me is, is that "if we want to able to be almost guaranteed that we can cope with similar storms of the last eighteen months, then in the long run we need to increase the capacity of Stamford Canal by 30 per cent."

Dr Balakrishnan said flood protection measures undertaken by building owners in Orchard Road over the past 18 months were generally effective, except for the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza that were overwhelmed by the heavy downpour on 23 December.

PUB is already working closely with the building owners at Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza to fine tune their flood protection measures, and review operating procedures.

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has met the building owners of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza, and is reassured that they will do their best to collaborate with PUB in resolving localised flooding problems."

Dr Balakrishnan said the panel of experts appointed middle of last year to review the overall drainage design and flood protection measures, is expected to complete its work by this week.

Their findings and recommendations will be shared with the public.

- CNA/ck

Expanding Stamford Canal among flood prevention options
PUB may also build canal to S'pore River or keep storm water in upstream section
Chuang Peck Ming Business Times 10 Jan 12;

(SINGAPORE) Stamford Canal will have to be expanded by at least a third to reduce the risk of flooding along Orchard Road.

'PUB is evaluating various options to increase the overall capacity of Stamford Canal,' Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament yesterday.

A study, due to be completed in May, will consider the option of keeping storm water in the upstream section, or building a new canal to divert storm water from upstream portions of the catchment to the Singapore River.

While there is an urgency to enhance the drainage, Dr Balakrishnan said that the options are very costly - between $300-400 million - and are technically complex in an intensely developed area.

Stamford Canal drains a catchment area of 631 hectares, which starts upstream at the Botanic Gardens and Dempsey Hill and extends downstream through Bras Basah and the city centre.

The stretch that is of particular concern is the basin between Cuscaden and Cairnhill Roads, which include Singapore's shopping belt Orchard Road, where there have been three episodes of flooding over the past 18 months.

The most recent, on Dec 23 last year, saw some 153 millimetres of rainfall recorded over three hours. If the stretch along Orchard Road was not raised, the flood would not have been confined just to Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza which are in the vicinity, said Dr Balakrishnan, who was replying to queries about the recent flood by Members of Parliament Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Yaw Shin Leong (Hougang).

Orchard Road itself would 'almost certainly' have faced flooding, affecting traffic flow, the minister said, adding that it was spared and remained passable to traffic despite the even heavier downpour on Dec 23.

'The completion of road raising works in June 2011 provided additional flood protection by preventing storm water from overflowing onto the road,' he said.

The flood protection measures undertaken by building owners on Orchard Road over the past 18 months were generally effective - except for the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza, which are old buildings, said Dr Balakrishnan.

On the technical difference between a flash flood and a pond, he said: 'PUB should not have used the word 'ponding'. As far as I am concerned, I call a spade a spade. A flood is a flood.'

Dr Balakrishnan added: 'As long as there is water accumulating somewhere where it is not supposed to be, as long as it has implications on human safety or business operations, that is a flood, and that is a problem that needs to be resolved. PUB and the building owners must resolve it.'

A spokesman from his ministry said that the minister has met the owners of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza, and is reassured they will do their best to collaborate with PUB in fixing the localised flooding problems.

Liat Tower is building a 60 centimetre-high wall to stop rainwater from overflowing from its internal drain into the basement, while Lucky Plaza will be installing flood barriers to prevent water from the pavement flowing into the basement.

PUB is also working closely with the owners of the buildings to fine-tune their flood protection measures and review operating procedures.

Addressing speculation about the role of the Marina Barrage in floods, Dr Balakrishnan said that gates and pumps at Marina Reservoir removed tidal influence from the various drains feeding into the reservoir, helping to keep low-lying areas in the city such as Chinatown free from floods.

But the Marina Barrage has no effect on the upper reaches of Orchard Road, he said.

After investing over $2 billion in drainage infrastructure in the past three decades, low-lying, flood-prone areas in Singapore have been reduced from 3,200 hectares in the 1970s to about 49 hectares today.

But Dr Balakrishnan said that increasing rainfall intensity and rising urbanisation pose an ongoing challenge for Singapore's drainage infrastructure.

Basement shops come up with flood solutions
Straits Times 10 Jan 12;

BESIEGED shop owners in the basements of Lucky Plaza and Liat Towers have come up with solutions of their own after the flood last month, the third in two years.

At Liat Towers, the building management has invested in a $17,000, 60cm-high wall to keep flood water from turning its basement into a pond again. It has also hired a consultant to assess whether its pumps are sufficient.

The management had previously spent $220,000 on pop-up floodgates, and $11,000 on small flood barriers in front of fast-food outlet Wendy's, coffee outlet Starbucks and clothing retailer Massimo Dutti to block flood water.

Mr Chik Hai Lam, the building's supervisor, said: 'We don't expect the Government to pay for any of this, but after the consultant comes, if we upgrade the pump system, we'll have done everything we can.'

Over at Lucky Plaza, the shop owners in the basement, who have also been thrice unlucky, have improvised their own flood barriers.

Heaps of sandbags sit beside drains, ready to soak up water and blockade the entrances if the drains overflow.

Mr Elton Chow, 54, whose Stitchwell Clothiers is near the basement entrance, keeps an eye on the drains. 'If it fills up, we start shouting and alert everyone on the floor,' he said.

Many shopkeepers have installed cabinets at least a good 10cm off the floor to protect their goods.

Mr Lee Siew Kau, 63, who owns shoe shop Relantino Leathers, has fashioned a makeshift threshold from a piece of metal and two rubber wedges. He said: 'If I see the water coming, it takes me 10 seconds to put it at the door.'

The building management is considering installing more pumps to get water out onto the main road, said Mr Chow.

'Right now, we share three vacuum pumps among the shops, so if the water gets in, it's difficult to clean up,' he said.

The management has also obtained in-principle approval from the relevant government agencies to put up flood barriers.

Yesterday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament that the floods in the Orchard Road area were part of changing rainfall patterns.

'What we are confronted by today are transient, localised episodes typically lasting up to about half an hour or so, and these occur in areas where rainfall intensity has temporarily overwhelmed the local drainage systems.'

He added that Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza are buildings that are more than 30 years old, 'and their basements really make them vulnerable'.


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Malaysia: New wildlife haven for Sabah

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 10 Jan 12;

A BORNEO Elephant Wildlife Sanctuary will be established on a 2,000-hectare site in Kinabatangan as a refuge for elephants and other wildlife affected by land clearance activities in Sabah.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) yesterday inked a Memorandum of Understanding to enable this initiative, which consists of an elephant/wildlife rescue facility and a research and education division, with manpower working on rescue and translocation operations.

The MoU was one of the five signed during the opening ceremony of the two-day Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium 2012, which was launched by Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

SWD director Dr Laurentius Ambu, who signed the MoU with MPOC chairman Datuk Lee Yeow Chor, said MPOC would allocate an initial funding of RM5 million while several non-governmental organisations from Japan also made a pledge of RM1.5 million.

"Work to set up the sanctuary has already started, including soil survey, initial master planning and levelling of land," he said after the signing ceremony.

"This sanctuary can hold 15 to 20 elephants at a time. There are 60 to 100 elephants waiting to be rescued from remote areas in Sabah like Kalabakan. So you can see how important the sanctuary is for elephants that are outside totally protected areas."

He said the elephants were within plantations or fragmented forest reserves, where they were displaced and had problems migrating or getting from one place to another.

"We may not be able to accommodate all of them, but will try to bring in elephants or wildlife which are injured and eventually release them once they are healthy. We will try to find some place for them," said Dr Laurentius.

The Borneo Pygmy elephants, which are endemic to Borneo, are smaller than other Asian elephants and are found mainly in Sabah. Their population is estimated at about 2,100 to 2,200 to date.

On whether they expected breeding in captivity at the new sanctuary for the Borneo Pygmy elephants, Dr Laurentius said: "One of our objectives will be research and we are expecting breeding to happen .... the area is also a natural area where breeding can take place."

To date, SWD has recorded three elephants bred and born in captivity since 2008 at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, a rehabilitation centre managed by the department.

On whether the department would consider relocating the bull elephant that gored a 26-year-old Australian to death to the new sanctuary, Dr Laurentius said they had not been able to locate the elephant due to the vast size of the land in Tabin Wildlife reserve.

In early December, Sydney-based veterinarian Jenna O'Grady Donley died of injuries from the first such fatal attack in Sabah.

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Malaysia: The hunt continues

Anthony Sebastian The Star 10 Jan 12;

Hunting of wildlife for their meat is still a common occurrence in Sarawak.

SOMETIME in December 2011, this clouded leopard lost its head. A friend had photographed the gruesome scene in the town of Kapit in Sarawak. There were other killed animals nearby too, wild boars and deer. This scene plays out daily in towns in Sarawak.

When this picture arrived in my inbox, I, too, lost my head. I felt a deep welling of anger rise within my body. It made my head swell, and tears came. Yes, I cried. For the un-necessary loss. The flesh of the leopard has been eaten, and provided (hopefully) a nice meal for someone. It has passed like so many others before it, and so many others yet to die in our forests.

Hunting is the bane of the state. It is a curse we have struck upon ourselves. The hunter thinks himself some kind of hero, some kind of brave macho type who can take a gun, go into the forest and shoot a wild animal. He thinks it’s cool.

But it is not. Human beings have progressed. Today’s big-game hunters are those who bring those inspiring, vivid, jaw-dropping images we watch with awe on television. These days, we can watch them in high definition: wild animals in all their glory, titans of the oceans brought right in front of our eyes like never before. These hunters use cameras of every form, harnessing every bit of technology and skill to stalk these wild animals, and capture them for us to see. These are the hunters we respect. They do not kill.

Let us explore some of the myths about hunting in Sarawak:

> Hunting is in our culture. It is our way, our Sarawakian way.

Rubbish! For 10,000 years, the natives of Sarawak lived in the rainforest. They were adept hunters, able to live off the forest. They had skills that allowed them to do this, and this is their tradition. This is their pride and glory. They hunted to live. And they had rules. They had adat. There was always this underlying rule of law between the forest and the people. Hunting today respects none of these adat. Hunting today is solely for sport and profit. It is no longer culture by any definition.

> There are plenty of animals in our forests; hunting a few has little effect.

Wrong. Our forests are shrinking faster than you can read this. And the wildlife that used to be there has all but gone. All our big game have been hunted out. Yes, we used to have rhinoceros and wild cattle. Even our hornbills have lived out their long years and are dying out, and no young hornbills are being added. We are indeed the former land of the hornbill. The rusa (or payau) is the largest mammal still living in Sarawak. Ask any tour operator, and they will tell you: “If you want to see wildlife, go to Sabah. Sarawak’s forests are empty.”

> Our National Parks are protecting our wildlife, so we are okay.

Wrong again. Today, if you are a hunter of any repute, chances are you will be hunting inside Sarawak’s national parks. Why? Because there is nothing to shoot outside these last refuges. Sneaking in is simple, because boundaries are vast, and patrols are non-existent. Samunsam Wildlife Sanctuary, west of Sematan, was set up to protect wildlife strictly – no tourism, no visitors of any sort, only for wildlife. Today, illegal loggers are having their way throughout the sanctuary, logging every single part of it. Hunters have free range within the sanctuary, shooting bears, leopards and proboscis monkeys to extinction. And that is a wildlife sanctuary in Sarawak.

> Indigenous people depend on wildlife for food.

Depends. You first need to define where an indigenous person lives, and what he does for a living. Sarawak’s indigenous people are mostly part of the economy these days. Only a small minority depend on the forest for their protein. These people rightly co-exist with the forest, and hunt for a living. However, how many of the hunters in Sarawak fit this bill?

> Eating wildlife is something special, it is good for us.

Rubbish again. Contrary to the boastful claims of those who regularly consume wild animals, wild meat does not taste as good as the beef, chicken, duck or lamb we buy from the markets. Neither does wild meat have any special medicinal properties. It is all in the mind. People like to eat something special, something different. In the past, when we had a special guest, we would go out and hunt some animal to honour our guest. The honour was in the effort to serve him meat, not in the providing wild meat.

> Restaurants serving wild meat – if I don’t eat it, someone else will.

How about this: if we all don’t eat it, they will stop serving it. Once they stop serving it, they will stop buying it. Once restaurants stop buying wild meat, hunters will stop hunting far more than they need to eat themselves. And, once they stop hunting for commercial gains, our wildlife will begin to recover. Once Sarawak forests are full of wild animals, people will stop going to Sabah.

Lastly, this animal that lost its head in Kapit is a Bornean clouded leopard. It is found only on Borneo, and is the largest cat in Sarawak. It is a very rare animal, and in great danger of being hunted out. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful of the world’s large cats, and lives most of its life up in the trees.

If this article makes just one Sarawakian decide that he will stop eating wild meat, this leopard would not have lost its head in vain.

> Anthony Sebastian is an environmental consultant and a former president of the Malaysian Nature Society.

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Malaysia: Bid to smuggle elephant tusks worth RM2.4mil foiled

The Star 10 Jan 12;

PORT KLANG: The Selangor Customs Department has foiled an international syndicate’s attempt to smuggle about half a tonne of elephant tusks worth RM2.4mil into the country.

State Customs director Datuk Azis Yacub said his officers discovered the tusks last Friday when inspecting a shipping container, which had been put down in the declaration form as carrying polyester and nylon strand matting.

“After checking the container, which was shipped from South Africa, the Customs officers found the tusks stashed in 53 television boxes.

“The boxes were kept at the back of the container along with some used tyres.

“So far, we have not made any arrest as we are currently investigating the company involved in handling the goods and its modus operandi,” he told reporters at the state Customs Department here yesterday.

Azis said it was rare for a syndicate to try to smuggle tusks into the country, adding that Malaysian ports were usually used as a transit point.

Last year, there were four attempts by syndicates to smuggle ele- phant tusks into the country, the biggest of which was worth RM4mil involving 15 tonnes of tusks and ivory handicraft at West Port here.

Elephant tusks seized
G. Surach New Straits Times 10 Jan 12;

AN attempt by an international syndicate to smuggle in 500kg of elephant tusks worth RM2.4 million through West Port was foiled by Customs officers yesterday.

Selangor Customs director Datuk Azis Yacub said enforcement officers seized a container, which arrived from Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday.

On inspection, they discovered African elephant tusks in 53 television set boxes.

"The goods were declared as polyester and nylon strand matting in the ship's bill of lading.

"The boxes were kept at the back of the container along with some used tyres."

It is believed to be the first attempt to smuggle elephant tusks into the country. Previously, the country's ports were used as transit points to ship such goods from Africa to Far East countries.

Azis believed that locals were involved in the syndicate. He said they were investigating a local forwarding company.

"We are investigating the method of operation of the syndicate because the smuggled goods were meant for local use, contrary to the previous notion that local ports serve as a transit point to avoid direct shipment of these illegal goods," he said, adding that no arrests had been made so far.

He said they would send the tusks to the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) once their investigations were completed. The case is being investigated for false declaration and smuggling.

It was reported that Perhilitan said it would intensify investigations under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008.

Azis urged the public to inform the Customs Department of any suspected smuggling via their toll-free line 1-800-88-8855.

Meanwhile, in Butterworth, Customs officers arrested a local man who attempted to smuggle 11.55kg of syabu into the country at the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas on Sunday.

State department director Datuk Zulkifli Yahya yesterday said the man, in his 40s, was detained on arrival from Guangzhou.

Officers from the department's narcotics enforcement division inspected the man's luggage after sensing something was amiss based on images obtained from the luggage scanner.

"Their suspicion was proven right when they found five boxes containing the syabu with a street value about RM2.88 million."

Additional reporting by Adie Suri Zulkefli

Malaysia seizes half a tonne of ivory
TRAFFIC 9 Jan 12;

Port Klang, Malaysia, 9th January 2012—Malaysian Customs Department in Port Klang has seized close to half a tonne of ivory exported from Cape Town, South Africa; the third ivory seizure at this port in just over six months.

Malaysia was listed as the final destination, making this an unusual development, as in all previous large ivory seizures in Malaysian ports, Malaysia was simply a transshipment point for the smuggled ivory.

The 492 kg of tusks were individually bubble-wrapped and then packed in cardboard boxes. The boxes were hidden in a container filled with used tyres and flooring material. The shipment was falsely declared as polyester and nylon strand matting.

The shipping manifest listed a Malaysian company as importer and Port Klang as the final destination, Selangor State Customs Director Dato’ Azis Yacub told reporters at a press conference today.

“Although this is a small seizure, many elephants were needlessly killed,” Azis said.

“Our investigations will now focus on why Malaysia is being used as an end destination,” he added.

There have been no arrests resulting from the seizure which took place on 6th January in West Port, a major container port in the Port Klang complex.

However, Azis said a shipping agent was being questioned in connection with the case. The seizure itself is being investigated under Malaysian Customs Act as a case of fraud.

Under the Customs Act 1967, those found guilty of using fraud to smuggle prohibited goods into the country are liable to a fine between 10 and 20 times the value of the smuggled goods or a maximum three years in jail, or both.

Malaysian Customs made four other sensational ivory seizures in 2011, collectively weighing a total of some six tonnes. These represent the largest haul of ivory ever recorded in Malaysia and served to confirm the country as a primary transit country for illegal trade on to end-use markets in China and Thailand.

In December, TRAFFIC called 2011 the worst year for ivory seizures as it saw a record number of large ivory seizures globally, weighing an estimated 23 tonnes and representing more than 2,500 elephants. There has been a sharp rise in illegal ivory trade since 2007.

Although official confirmation of the volume of ivory involved in some cases has not yet been registered, what is clear is the dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures, over 800 kg in weight, that took place in 2011—at least 13 of them.

A conservative estimate of the weight of those seizures in 2011 puts the figure at more than 23 tonnes, a figure that probably represents some 2,500 elephants, possibly more.

This compares to six large-scale seizures globally in 2010, whose total weight was just under 10 tonnes.

“Malaysia has ramped-up its efforts to stem ivory smuggling through the country and that’s great news, now thorough diligent investigations both in Malaysia and South Africa, arrests and prosecutions must follow,” said TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Senior Programme Officer Kanitha Krishnasamy.

“Other countries in the region should also be on alert because as enforcement increases in Malaysia, smugglers will adapt and seek other transshipping routes within the region,” she added.

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Colorful New Snake Species Discovered in Tanzania

Remy Melina Yahoo News 10 Jan 12;

A new type of snake, a species of bush viper, was discovered in southern Tanzania during a recent biological survey. The snake's exact location is being kept secret to protect the visually striking black-and-yellow snake from illegal pet collectors.

The new species, named Matilda's Horned Viper (Atheris matildae), is described as having hornlike scales above its eyes and measuring 2.1 feet (60 centimeters). The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) researchers who conducted the survey named the new species after the daughter of study co-author Tim Davenport, director of WCS's Tanzania Program.

The brightly hued snake bears a resemblance to the Usambara bush viper (Atheris ceratophora), although their scales differ and the new species is considerably larger.

The viper's habitat is estimated to only stretch across a few square miles of remote forest located in a mountainous region in southwest Tanzania. The area is already severely degraded as a result of logging and charcoal manufacture, and the quality of the habitat in continuing to decline, according to the study authors.

The researchers have not disclosed the exact location of the snake's habitat to protect the species from poachers who illegally hunt rare exotic animals. Wildlife trade is now the second-largest illegal trade in the world — following the drug trade — and reptiles make up a large portion of illegally trafficked animals, according to the researchers.

The illegal hunting of reptiles in the wild can have devastating effects on their populations. In many parts of Africa, poaching is the single biggest threat to the existence of many species in the wild, according to the WCS.

Poaching could especially pose a threat to the Matilda's Horned Viper because African bush vipers of the genus Atheris are popular pets in many countries due to their attention-grabbing, colorful appearance. The continuing degradation of their natural habitat may also seriously threaten A. matildae's population.

The researchers have established a small captive breeding colony for the new snake and expect the species to be classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The study describing the discovery of the new species was published in the December issue of the journal Zootaxa.

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'Extinct' Galapagos tortoise may still exist

Richard Black BBC News 9 Jan 12;

A giant Galapagos tortoise believed extinct for 150 years probably still exists, say scientists.

Chelonoidis elephantopus lived on the island of Floreana, and was heavily hunted, especially by whalers who visited the Galapagos to re-stock.

A Yale University team found hybrid tortoises on another island, Isabela, that appear to have C. elephantopus as one of their parents.

Some hybrids are only 15 years old, so their parents are likely to be alive.

The different shapes of the giant tortoises on the various Galapagos islands was one of the findings that led Charles Darwin to develop the theory of evolution through natural selection.

The animals are thought to have colonised the archipelago through floating from the shores of South America.

Colonies on each island remained relatively isolated from each other, and so evolved in subtly different directions.

C. elephantopus is especially notable for its saddleback-shaped shell, whereas species on neighbouring islands sported a dome-like carapace.

Three years ago, the Yale team reported finding some evidence of hybrids around Volcano Wolf at the northern end of Isabela Island, in amongst the native population of Chelonoidis becki.

They speculated that through careful cross-breeding, it might be possible to re-create the extinct lineage - a process likely to take many generations.

Now, in the journal Current Biology, they report that this might not be necessary. A further expedition to Volcano Wolf found 84 tortoises that appear, from genetic samples, to have a pure-bred C. elephantopus as a parent.

Thirty of these are less than 15 years old; so the chances of the pure-blood parents still being alive are high, given that they can live to over 100 years old.

"Around Volcano Wolf, it was a mystery - you could find domed shells, you could find saddlebacks, and anything in between," recounted Gisella Caccone, senior scientist on the new study.

"And basically by looking at the genetic fingerprint of the hybrids, if you do some calculations you realise that there have to be a few elephantopus around to father these animals.

"To justify the amount of genetic diversity in the hybrids, there should be something like 38."

This number appears to include both males and females, given that some of the hybrids carry C. elephantopus mitochondrial DNA, which animals inherit exclusively from their mothers.

The theory is that some of the tortoises were probably taken by whaling ships that sailed from Floreana via the relatively remote Volcano Wolf en route to multi-year cruises in the Pacific looking for sperm whales.

Some of the giants made it to shore on Isabela, somehow, and established a presence.

The tortoises made an ideal food stock for whaling ships, as they can go without food for months and provided a source of fresh meat whenever the captain decided to kill them.
Needles, haystacks

The giant tortoises are so large, growing to nearly half a tonne, that you might think the elusive C. elephantopus would be easy to find.

The reality is rather different, according to Dr Caccone.

"The landscape on Volcano Wolf is hard, the vegetation thick with lots of bushes and nooks, and the carapaces are translucent so you need a trained eye to see the shininess of the shell," she told BBC News.

"The thing that struck us is that no-one knows what the population is on Volcano Wolf. We took 40 people [on our last expedition], and we had to stop collecting basically when we finished our supplies."

That trip took samples from over 1,600 individuals - which could be a small fraction of the population, indicating just how big a role the giant tortoises play in the ecosystem of the islands.

The Yale team now plans to discuss with Galapagos authorities whether to mount further exploratory expeditions, or whether to press ahead with a captive breeding programme.

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Indonesia: Jakarta on alert against Chikungunya outbreak

The Jakarta Post 9 Jan 12;

JAKARTA: Following an outbreak of Chikungunya in Depok, one of Jakarta’s buffer zones, that has affected 200 people, the Jakarta Health Agency is on alert against a possible outbreak in the capital.

On Friday, agency head Dien Emmawati said that maintaining environmental cleanliness was the key to avoiding the disease.

“Chikungunya fever is caused by the Aedes mosquito, the same type that spreads dengue fever. We use the same method to stop the infection,” she said.

Dien stressed that the “seal, dry and bury” method worked well in preventing mosquito-borne diseases. She also said that people should regularly clean their water sources as they were potential mosquito-breeding grounds.

“Such methods have reduced the dengue fever rate effectively. We can apply the same methods to prevent Chikungunya,” she said.

Previously, residents and health officials quarantined parts of Limo, Depok, after hundreds of people contracted the disease in the past month.

More disease outbreaks in rainy season
Xinyan Yu,The Jakarta Post 9 Jan 12;

With the heaviest rainfall expected to occur in January and early February this year, the rainy season may heighten risks of more disease outbreaks in Indonesia, but the seasonal impact on bird flu is unclear, according to an official at the Health Ministry.

The public needs to be warned of diseases like influenza and diarrhea caused by viruses, dysentery and leptospirosis caused by bacteria and parasites from septic tanks, animal waste and contaminated water and noncontagious diseases like asthma and rhinitis, said Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the director general of Disease Control and Environmental Health at the Health Ministry in a ministry’s report.

The report emphasized the importance of water usage, advising people to frequently wash hands with soap and clean water, use sanitized toilets, remove larvae in homes, school and offices, throw daily garbage in designated places, refrain from spitting and use personal protective equipment like rain boots and repellents to avoid leptospirosis and dengue fever infections.

According to the report, the ministry will increase disease surveillance, and support local health departments to improve methods in monitoring environmental risk factors like water sanitation, environmental hygiene and mosquito control, especially in flood and flood-prone areas. If needed, water purifies will be provided to areas difficult to get clean water.

Tjandra denied that hot and rainy weather had a direct impact on bird flu transmissions.

He said: “Common flu cases are definitely on the rise, but for bird flu, there were only 11 cases last year, and given the small number, it’s not clear whether there is a significant link between bird flu and humid weather.”

Ngurah Mahardika, a flu specialist at Udayana University, was quoted by The Jakarta Post in November as saying that bird-to-human transmission of the disease was more likely during wet weather, because viruses survive longer in high humidity.

The comment was made in response to fatalities caused by H5N1 virus in Bali two months ago.

Tjandra confirmed that there had been no human-to-human transmission of H5N1 viruses in Indonesia up until now, but that the possibility of an outbreak still existed.

He said, “Since a few years ago when we had more than 100 cases of death from bird flu, the pandemic has been decreasing over the years, but there is still potential [for an outbreak].”

He suggested that people avoid contact with poultry and report suspicious symptoms to the health authority as soon as they appeared.

In December, an official at the Health Ministry said that the number of bird flu infections had declined over the past few years.

However, Indonesia remains the virus’ “hot spot”, as backyard poultry farms remain the backbone in supplying meat for the population.

Rita Kusriastuti, director of animal-borne infectious disease control at the Health Ministry, said low figures in bird flu infections did not necessarily mean the worst was over, as chickens kept by residents in backyard farms had the potential to transmit the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (H5N1).

“It’s not surprising that up until now we have had to stay alert to bird flu,” she added.

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Spill Study Explains How Bacteria Cleansed Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Gautam Naik Wall Street Journal 9 Jan 12;

A fortuitous combination of ravenous bacteria, ocean currents and local topography helped to rapidly purge the Gulf of Mexico of much of the oil and gas released in the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, researchers reported on Monday.

After spewing oil and gas for nearly three months, the BP PLC well was finally capped in mid-July 2010. Some 200,000 tons of methane gas and about 4.4 million barrels of petroleum spilled into the ocean. Given the enormity of the spill, many scientists predicted that a significant amount of the resulting chemical pollutants would likely persist in the region's waterways for years.

According to a new federally funded study published Monday by the National Academy of Sciences, those scientists were wrong. By the end of September 2010, the vast underwater plume of methane, plus other gases, had all but disappeared. By the end of October, a significant amount of the underwater offshore oil—a complex substance made from thousands of compounds—had vanished as well.

"There was a lot of doomsday talk," said microbiologist David Valentine of the University of California at Santa Barbara and co-author of the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But it turns out "that the ocean harbors organisms that can handle a certain amount of input" in the form of oil and gas pollutants, he said.

A year ago, Dr. Valentine and other scientists published a paper describing how naturally occurring bacteria had apparently devoured much of the toxic chemicals released in the BP spill. That federally funded study, published in the journal Science, triggered disbelief among other researchers who questioned whether microbes could gobble up that much gas and oil so quickly.

Dr. Valentine and his colleagues have now used a computer model to explain just how that scenario might have played out. "The skepticism was certainly one of the contributing factors that spurred us to go and do this [new] study," he said.

It was an intricate challenge. The first step was to estimate the flow rate of the various hydrocarbons from the well over the 87 days that the spill continued. The researchers identified 26 classes of such chemicals; they then had to figure out which of these chemicals stayed in the deep plume that remained more than 1,000 meters underwater, and which ones rose up to the surface. For example, in the plume, certain chemicals dissolved completely in the water, including the methane gas, while some of the oil droplets were atomized and remained suspended in the water. A lot of the surface oil evaporated or washed up on Gulf shorelines.

Next, the scientists set about identifying the main species of oil-and-gas-eating bacteria that lived in the deep Gulf. They identified 52 main species of such microbes. The scientists also estimated how quickly the bacteria consumed oil and gas, and how much the bacteria colonies grew.

The final step was to model the complex movement of the water in the Gulf to determine where the oil and gas—and the bacteria—got transported. Igor Mezic, a colleague of Dr. Valentine's and also a co-author, had published a study in 2011 predicting where the BP oil slick had spread. That analysis included data from the U.S. Navy's model of the Gulf's ocean currents and observations of the water's movements immediately after the spill and for several months after it ended.

The UC Santa Barbara researchers decided to marry their two computer models—the one about the spill-eating bacteria with the one that captured the movement of water. When they ran the joint model, they found that it helped to explain the puzzle of the rapidly vanishing oil spill.

The model showed that the topography in the Gulf had played a vital role. Since the gulf is bounded on three sides by land—north, east and west—the water currents don't flow in a single direction as in river. Instead, the water sloshes around, back and forth, as if it were trapped in a washing machine.

An initial population of bacteria encountered the spill near the BP well, its population grew, and then it was swept away by the ocean currents. But when the water circled back—that washing-machine effect—it was already loaded with these hungry bacteria, which immediately went on the attack again, mopping up another round of hydrocarbons. These repeated forays over the BP well, by the ever-growing bacterial populations, sped up the rate at which the methane and offshore oil got devoured.

Dr. Valentine suggested that oil companies ought to ascertain the currents, water motion and native microbial community in the water before embarking on any major offshore drilling project. "Then, if there is an event, we'd be many steps ahead of understanding where the oil may go and what the environment's response may be," he said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research.

How Going with the Flow Helped Microbes Eat BP's Oil Spill
David Biello | Scientific American Yahoo News 10 Jan 12;

Microbes kept the oil and gas spewing from the Macondo well from becoming even more of a disaster, preventing the Deepwater Horizon blowout from deeply befouling the Gulf coast. But these hydrocarbon-chompers got an assist from the Gulf of Mexico the prevailing tides and currents helped keep hydrocarbon-eating microbes on the job, according to the results of a new model published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on January 9.

Simply put, the study sought to answer the question: how did five families of bacteria keep 4.1 million barrels of oil (and billions of cubic feet of natural gas) from becoming a bigger disaster? And, additionally, why didn’t they suck all the oxygen out of the water while they were at it?

The answer appears to be ocean currents, according to a computer model:

Water mixing ensured that the 200 billion grams of hydrocarbons injected into the Gulf of Mexico became, ultimately, some 100 sextillion microbial cells of propane- and ethane-consuming Colwellia, aromatic-eating Cycloclasticus, methane-munching Methylococcaceaa, alkane -eating Oceanospirillales. They also ensured that hydrocarbons were introduced into waters already hosting microbe blooms spurred by earlier oil and gas releases. The team of researchers suggest that this “autoinoculation” early blooms drifting back to the spill site and chowing down anew allowed the microbes to work fast over the course of the months-long disaster as well as keeping oxygen depletion from growing too severe in any one place.

The model isn’t perfect it failed to precisely match observations of where the oil (and microbial) plume traveled but it does explain why oil and gas consumption can proceed so fast, even when it’s microbes (and not humans) doing the hydrocarbon consuming.

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