Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jan 12

Mummy civet with her three babies!
from Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Gordonia penangensis: A Treasure on Keppel Island
from Flying Fish Friends

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Why fishing is not allowed along the Berlayer Creek

Visitors urged to be considerate to others: National Parks Board
Letter from Kartini Omar General Manager, Parks, National Parks Board Today Online 18 Jan 12;

WE THANK Ms Mary Maloney for her letter, "Boardwalks for walking or ...?" (Jan 14).

We agree with Ms Maloney that what she saw at Labrador Park and Changi Boardwalk were instances of inconsiderate behaviour.

We would like to take this opportunity to explain why fishing is not allowed at or along the Berlayer Creek and the Bukit Chermin Boardwalk in Labrador Nature Reserve.

The boardwalk is narrow, hence the casting of lines and hooks, as well as lines left dangling by the side of the railing pose a danger to other visitors.

In a small coastal creek, driftnet fishing can take away many small marine animals that are important to the ecosystem there.

Driftnets that get stuck in the small creek will also damage the natural habitats in the area.

Those who fish in prohibited areas in parks can be fined S$200 in the first instance. We will step up patrols in the area.

For the safety of other park visitors, cyclists need to dismount and push their bicycles along the Berlayer Creek and Bukit Chermin Boardwalk.

We have advised cyclists to take heed of the signs along the boardwalks, and will continue to do so.

Our parks and gardens are for the enjoyment of everyone. We urge all visitors to be considerate to others, and help keep our parks and gardens litter-free.

NParks to step up enforcement action at park connector
Straits Times Forum 20 Jan 12;

WE SHARE Mr Wang Eng Hin's concern that some park users' irresponsible behaviour has resulted in litter along the Punggol Park Connector Network ('Punggol's dangerous anglers'; Tuesday).

Currently, our contractors clean up the Punggol Park Connector Network (PCN) on a daily basis. We had informed Mr Wang earlier that we would be deploying more cleaners to maintain the area. We will be stepping up enforcement action along Punggol PCN as well.

Our parks and gardens are for the enjoyment of everyone. We urge all PCN users to be considerate to others, and help keep our park connectors litter-free.

Kartini Omar (Ms)
General Manager, Parks
National Parks Board

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Cambodia: Extremely Rare Turtle Is Released Into the Wild

ScienceDaily 18 Jan 12;

The Wildlife Conservation Society, in conjunction with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, just announced the successful release of a Southern River terrapin (Batagur affinis) -- one of the most endangered turtles on earth -- into the Sre Ambel River in Cambodia. The turtle was released on January 16th at a ceremony attended by officials, conservationists, and local people.

The female turtle, which weighs approximately 75 pounds (34 kilograms), is fixed with a satellite transmitter that will allow conservationists to track its whereabouts -- the first-ever satellite monitoring study for this species.

Captured in the Sre Ambel River by local fishermen in April, 2011, the turtle is one of an estimated 200 adults remaining in the wilds of Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It was voluntarily turned it over to the WCS Cambodia turtle team instead of being sold into the black market trade where it would have been sent to food markets in China. The population in the Sre Ambel River is estimated at less than ten nesting females. Thus, this individual is extremely important for maintaining genetic diversity of this species that has already suffered drastic population declines.

WCS believes the population has an excellent chance of recovery as the coastal mangrove forests of Southeastern Cambodia are some of the largest and most pristine in Southeast Asia, spanning some 175 square miles (more than 45,000 hectares). These habitats are crucial to numerous aquatic and terrestrial animals and are vital nursery areas for marine fisheries.

Conservationists will monitor the turtle's movements to see how it utilizes this region. Of particular interest is how the turtle navigates through commercial fishing grounds, as well as areas where it could be threatened by other factors such as habitat destruction by sand mining or conversion of mangrove forests into shrimp farming facilities.

WCS notes that numerous studies on similar long-lived species have shown that as little as a five percent increase in annual adult mortality can cause populations to go extinct. "By reducing the adult mortality of the Southern River terrapin, even by fractions -- as little as ten animals a year per population in this circumstance -- we can have immediate and long-term positive impacts on the remaining wild populations of this critically endangered species" said Brian D. Horne of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Heng Sovannara, Deputy Director of Cambodia's Fisheries Administration's Conservation Department, is extremely hopeful that the release will enhance efforts to conserve the species. "By identifying areas that are most utilized by the turtles, we can pinpoint our efforts to reduce the turtles being caught as fishery by-catch as well as targeted hunting," he said.

Dr. Sonja Luz, Deputy Director of Conservation & Research for Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said: "This project will contribute greatly to a much brighter future for this critically endangered terrapin. Hopefully, more public awareness and education opportunities will arise from this and allow us to create better protection tools and a safer environment for these amazing reptiles."

In 2000, a small population of Southern River Terrapins, Batagur affinis, was found in the Sre Ambel after many years of being considered locally extinct.

The turtle was once considered solely the property of the King of Cambodia, but has been decimated by overhunting over the past two decades.

Following the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime, the Cambodian people were left in severe poverty, and with the growing international demand for turtles in China for human consumption, literally thousands of turtles were captured and sent to China for much needed income by the country's impoverished people.

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Killings Draw Indonesia's Tigers Closer to Extinction

Alina Mustaidah Jakarta Globe 18 Jan 12;

At least 40 endangered Sumatran tigers were killed during 2011, an official said on Tuesday.

Darori, director general of forest protection and nature conservation at the Forestry Ministry, unveiled the figure during a workshop for the implementation of the National Plan for the Revival of the Sumatran Tiger.

The official blamed the impact of growing human settlements on forests and illegal poaching as the main causes behind the deaths.

Darori did not give precise details on the recorded deaths but said that the Sumatran tiger population stood at fewer than 400. He said that from the nine tiger species in the world, three of them were already extinct. Two of the extinct subspecies are specific to Indonesia, the Java and Bali tigers.

Noviar Andayani, country director at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said other extinct tiger subspecies included the Caspian and South China tigers.

“Five other species may soon also become extinct if no according attention is paid to their habitat,” Noviar said.

An estimated 3,200 tigers are left in the world, she said, attributing their dwindling numbers to illegal tiger organ trade, expansion of agricultural lands and plantation and logging.

“Without any immediate response to save them, wild tigers may become extinct by 2022,” Noviar said.

In the latest case of a tiger death, efforts to save a male tiger, about 5 to 6 years old found trapped in a forest in Bengkulu with spear and airgun wounds, failed. The tiger, which had been flown to Java and treated at the Taman Safari park in Cisarua, died of its injuries.

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Sumatran Tiger Given a Fighting Chance by Global Initiative
Jakarta Globe 18 Jan 12;

Indonesia is set to get Rp 300 billion ($33.3 million) to double its wild tiger population by 2022, as part of a global initiative to bring the iconic species back from the brink of extinction.

Endah Murningtyas, the deputy for natural resources and the environment at the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), said on Tuesday that the funding would come from the Global Tiger Recovery Program, an initiative of the World Bank.

She said the money would be released over several years, with the eventual goal being to double Indonesia’s population of Sumatran tigers from the current estimated 450-700 adults.

The Sumatran tiger, the smallest of the five remaining tiger subspecies in the world, is also the most threatened. Categorized as critically endangered, it is just a step away from being extinct in the wild.

It is the only tiger left that is endemic to Indonesia. Two other subspecies, the Javan tiger and the Balinese tiger, were driven to extinction in the 1930s and 1980s.

Darori, the Forestry Ministry’s director general of forest protection, said efforts to save the species had so far focused more on rehabilitating tigers caught in traps or in conflict with humans, with little emphasis on actual conservation.

He attributed this to the dearth of funding allocated for the conservation of tigers and their habitats. He said the funding would go some way toward making up for the shortfall, but stressed that more money should also be raised domestically for the cause.

“We invite companies to contribute through their corporate social responsibility programs,” Darori said.

“The total amount of CSR funding from companies in Indonesia is around Rp 20 trillion a year, so if we could just set aside Rp 1 trillion for tiger conservation, it would go a long way.”

He said there were still only a handful of companies active in conservation efforts. Among them are the Artha Graha Group, which funds a tiger conservation zone inside the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southern Sumatra, and Asia Pulp & Paper, which is developing a tiger observation center in Riau.

Darori said the Forestry Ministry was also planning to set up a 300-hectare tiger park of its own. 


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Rainforest in Transition: Is the Amazon Transforming before Our Eyes?

David Biello Scientific American Yahoo News 18 Jan 12;

The Amazon rainforest is in flux, thanks to agricultural expansion and climate change. In other words, humans have "become important agents of disturbance in the Amazon Basin," as an international consortium of scientists wrote in a review of the state of the science on the world's largest rainforest published in Nature on January 19. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) The dry season is growing longer in areas where humans have been clearing the trees—as has water discharge from Amazon River tributaries in those regions. Multiyear and more frequent severe droughts, like those in 2005 and 2010, are killing trees that humans don't cut down as well as increasing the risks of more common fires (both man-made and otherwise).

The trees are also growing fast — faster than expected for a "mature" rainforest — according to a network of measurements.

The exact cause or causes of this accelerated growth—which means the Amazon's 5 million square kilometers of trees are now sucking in and sequestering some 400 million metric tons of carbon per year, or enough to offset the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Japan—"remains unknown," the researchers wrote in the review.

"When we measure that a particular stand of mature forest is accumulating carbon, it is difficult to say whether that might be due to recovery from some unrecognized disturbance long ago or whether it is due to more recent changes in climate and CO2," explained Woods Hole Research Center Senior Scientist and Executive Director Eric Davidson, lead author of the review, in an e-mail. Candidates include recovery from the potential wide-scale disturbance by pre-Columbian human societies now beginning to be uncovered or the increasing availability of some formerly limiting factor, such as atmospheric carbon dioxide.

In fact, increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere—now roughly 392 parts per million and rising—may be fertilizing the rainforest and preventing even greater impacts from reduced rainfall, although this question, Davidson and his colleagues wrote in the review, "may be one of the largest unknowns for the future of the Amazon forests."

What is known is that the forest clearing that has already gone on is decreasing forest rainfall. The Amazon produces roughly a third of its own precipitation—trees release moist air that then falls back as rain to nourish other trees (the rest comes from the Atlantic Ocean). But the air above cleared land warms faster and therefore rises more quickly, drawing the moist air from surrounding forested areas away. In fact, the conjunction of cleared and forested lands actually creates wind known as a vegetation breeze. But that breeze tends to blow rainfall away from the forest and over the surrounding pastures instead. It also weakens the continental-scale low-pressure system that draws rainfall over the Amazon.

The southern and eastern portions of the Amazon are the most affected, according to this review. For example, the southeastern Amazon around one of the local tributary rivers—the Tocantins—has seen pasture and cropland increase from 30 percent to 50 percent of the land between 1955 and 1995. As a result, that river now carries 25 percent more water. Another southeastern tributary, the Araguaia, now carries 28 percent more sediment—precious soil lost during downpours from surrounding, expanded agricultural fields.

Agroforestry and other techniques for better environmental management of such agriculture remain rare, despite their proven ability to help balance increased food production with ecosystem services like carbon sequestration. On the whole, cutting down trees so that the Amazon covers only roughly 80 percent of the land it once did seems to have tipped the rainforest from being a sink for global CO2 emissions to a net source, although this calculation remains highly uncertain, the scientists noted. In addition, the entire rainforest may be transitioning from a relatively undisturbed ecosystem to what scientists like to call a "disturbance-dominated regime," or a biome that has become an "anthrome"—a landscape dominated by human impact.

The good news is that Brazil has in recent years begun to restrain such deforestation: annual rates fell from 28,000 square kilometers in 2004 to less than 7,000 in 2011. "Brazil is poised to become one of the few countries to achieve the transition to major economic power without destroying most of its forests," the researchers wrote in their conclusion. New laws currently under consideration may put that potential in peril, however, by allowing a return of previously banned forest-clearing practices. "There is considerable progress toward improved management of the impacts of development in the region," Davidson noted in his e-mail, "but there is still much work to be done."

Amazon Basin shifting to carbon emitter: study
AFP Yahoo News 20 Jan 12;

The Amazon Basin, traditionally considered a bulwark against global warming, may be becoming a net contributor of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a result of deforestation, researchers said on Wednesday.

In an overview published in the journal Nature, scientists led by Eric Davidson of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts say the Amazon is "in transition" as a result of human activity.

Over 50 years, the population has risen from six million to 25 million, triggering massive land clearance for logging and agriculture, they said.

The Amazon's carbon budget -- the amount of CO2 that it releases into the atmosphere or takes from it -- is changing although it is hard to estimate accurately, they said.

"Deforestation has moved the net basin-wide budget away from a possible late 20th-century net carbon sink and towards a net source," according to their paper.

Mature forests such as the Amazon are big factors in the global-warming equation.

Their trees suck up CO2 from the atmosphere through the natural process of photosynthesis.

But when they rot or are burned, or the forest land is ploughed up, the carbon is returned to the air, adding to the greenhouse effect.

The paper estimates that the biomass of the Amazon contains a whopping 100 billion tonnes of carbon -- the equivalent of more than 10 years of global fossil-fuel emissions.

Global warming, unleashing weather shifts, could release some of this store, it warned.

"Much of the Amazon forest is resilient to seasonal and moderate drought, but this resilience can and has been exceeded with experimental and natural severe droughts, indicating a risk of carbon loss if drought increases with climate change."

The paper also noted that there had been extreme droughts and floods on the Tocantins and Araguaia basins, whose rivers drain the heavily deforested Cerado region.

"Where deforestation is widespread at local and regional scales, the dry season duration is lengthening and wet season discharge is increasing," it warned.

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China report spells out "grim" climate change risks

Chris Buckley Reuters 17 Jan 12;

(Reuters) - Global warming threatens China's march to prosperity by cutting crops, shrinking rivers and unleashing more droughts and floods, says the government's latest assessment of climate change, projecting big shifts in how the nation feeds itself.

The warnings are carried in the government's "Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change," which sums up advancing scientific knowledge about the consequences and costs of global warming for China -- the world's second biggest economy and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution.

Global warming fed by greenhouse gases from industry, transport and shifting land-use poses a long-term threat to China's prosperity, health and food output, says the report. With China's economy likely to rival the United States' in size in coming decades, that will trigger wider consequences.

"China faces extremely grim ecological and environmental conditions under the impact of continued global warming and changes to China's regional environment," says the 710-page report, officially published late last year but released for public sale only recently.

Even so, China's rising emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels, will begin to fall off only after about 2030, with big falls only after mid-century, says the report.

Assuming no measures to counter global warming, grain output in the world's most populous nation could fall from 5 to 20 percent by 2050, depending on whether a "fertilization effect" from more carbon dioxide in the air offsets losses, says the report.

But that possible fall can be held in check by improved crop choice and farming practices, as well as increased irrigation and fertilizer use.

China is the world's biggest consumer of cereals and has increasingly turned to foreign suppliers of corn and soy beans.

The report was written by teams of scientists supervised by government officials, and follows up on a first assessment released in 2007. It does not set policy, but offers a basis of evidence and forecasts that will shape policy.


"Generally, the observed impacts of climate change on agriculture have been both positive and negative, but mainly negative," Lin Erda, one of the chief authors of the report, told Reuters.

"But steadily, as the temperatures continue to rise, the negative consequences will be increasingly serious," said Lin, an expert on climate change and farming at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

"For a certain length of time, people will be able to adapt, but costs of adaptation will rise, including for agriculture."

Under different scenarios of greenhouse gas levels and their effects, by the end of this century China's average atmospheric temperature will have risen by between 2.5 degrees and 4.6 degrees Celsius above the average for 1961-1990.

Water, either too much or too little, lies at the heart of how that warming could trip up China's budding prosperity.

"Climate change will lead to severe imbalances in China's water resources within each year and across the years. In most areas, precipitation will be increasingly concentrated in the summer and autumn rainy seasons, and floods and droughts will become increasingly frequent," says the report.

"Without effective measures in response, by the latter part of the 21st century, climate change could still constitute a threat to our country's food security," it says.

Under one scenario of how global warming will affect water availability, by 2050 eight of mainland China's 31 provinces and provincial-status cities could face severe water shortages -- meaning less than 500 cubic meters per resident -- and another 10 could face less dire chronic shortages.

"Since the 1950s, over 82 percent of glaciers have been in a state of retreat, and the pace has accelerated since the 1990s," the report says of China's glaciers in Tibet and nearby areas that feed major rivers.


In low-lying coastal regions, rising seas will press up against big cities and export zones that have stood at the forefront of China's industrialization.

In the 30 years up to 2009, the sea level off Shanghai rose 11.5 centimeters (4.5 inches); in the next 30 years, it will probably rise another 10 to 15 centimeters.

China's efforts to protect vulnerable coastal areas with embankments are inadequate, says the report, noting their vulnerability to typhoons and flood tides that global warming could intensify.

There are sure to be shifts in Chinese crop patterns as well, says the report. More rice and other crops will probably grow in the northeast, thanks to warmer weather and possibly more rain. In the northwest cotton-growing region of Xinjiang, shrinking water availability could lead to a "marked decline in agricultural crop productivity".

In northern and southwest areas, winter wheat harvests could shrink due to shifting seasons and less rain when it is needed. Corn-growing regions will need more irrigation and fertilizer.

"Future climate warming will therefore increase the costs of agriculture," says the report.

China, with 1.34 billion people, already emits a quarter of the world's CO2, with the United States the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The report forecasts China's CO2 emissions could reach between 9 and 9.5 billion tons in 2020, given the government's goal of cutting the carbon pollution emitted for each unit of growth by 40-45 percent compared to 2005 levels.

China's emissions totaled 8.3 billion tons in 2010, according to BP Statistics, representing annual growth of 10.4 percent.

The report says China's emissions reduction efforts up to 2020 will cost 10 trillion yuan ($1.6 trillion), including 5 trillion yuan for energy-saving technology and new and renewable energy.

"Many cost-effective and mature technologies for energy saving and new and renewable energy have already been widely applied," it says. "In the future, controlling greenhouse gas emissions will require more costly and less mature technologies."

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by David Fogarty)

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