Best of our wild blogs: 5 Feb 12

Life History of the Blue Glassy Tiger
from Butterflies of Singapore

Calophyllum pulcherrimum: Additions to the Flora of Keppel Island
from Flying Fish Friends

Smilax mass flowering
from Urban Forest

Year of the Dragon: Seamoths
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

brown-throated sunbird @ pasir ris - Jan2012
from sgbeachbum and a coppersmith barbet @ bukit brown - Jan2012 and the last starling @ bukit brown - Jan2012

Mangrove celebrations at Sungei Buloh
from wild shores of singapore

Indonesia to create the world's largest palm oil and rubber company
from news by Rhett Butler

Read more!

Shop, eat, save the Earth

Concerns about the environment are influencing consumers in their shopping habits and lifestyle choices
Kimberly Spykerman and Natasha Ann Zachariah Straits Times 5 Feb 12;

Talk about a sea change. At weddings 15 years ago, senior marketing manager Low Mei Lin and her husband were the only ones leaving their bowls of shark's fin soup untouched. But not now.

At recent weddings she attended, more than half of the bowls of the traditional delicacy remained unconsumed on the banquet tables, shunned by those worried about its association with animal cruelty.

This is a turnaround for a dish that for generations has been a part of Chinese culture. Some young couples are now doing away with it entirely at their wedding celebrations.

The slippery slide of the gelatinous soup from treat to travesty is the fin edge of the wedge marking the rise of the ethical consumer in Singapore.

The trend hit headlines recently when NTUC FairPrice, the largest supermarket chain here, said it will stop selling shark's fin products from April, following a public outcry.

But the trend is not just concentrated on shark's fin.

Singaporeans from all walks of life are increasingly buying organic and fair trade products, wearing eco-friendly clothes, becoming vegetarian and doing their bit for the environment in general, going by growing sales of such items and the rise in businesses catering to these conscientious consumers, a check by LifeStyle has found.

Fuelling the green-is-good message is social media, which provides a platform for activists, and the fact that celebrities are making it hip to hug Mother Earth.

For example, popular entertainers such as Nikita star Maggie Q and Hong Kong singer Karen Mok have always been outspoken about their stance against wearing clothing made of fur.

A recent episode of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's travelogue, Gordon's Great Escape, was a hot topic on Facebook for its focus on how sharks are slaughtered for soup. In the show, he also went to restaurants to implore diners not to consume the dish.

Mr Louis Ng, founder and executive director of local animal advocacy group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), said: 'Once people become aware of the issues, they will take action, so businesses need to be socially responsible if they want to win the consumer dollar.'

Noting that Singaporeans are becoming more aware and taking action, he added that Acres has 20,000 supporters on its database who volunteer to help with road shows and its undercover investigations into the illegal sale of exotic animal parts.

This is a far cry from when he started out 10 years ago and was considered a maverick of sorts. Back then, he had only a staff of nine including himself.

The warm fuzzies about furkids has been noted by Hong Kong-based Peta Asia Pacific, an affiliate of United States-based advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).

Singapore is one of the top countries that request information about animal welfare issues, such as how to make the transition to a vegetarian diet and where to buy cosmetics that are not tested on animals, said Peta.

As for shunning shark's fin, other supermarkets making the move besides FairPrice are Carrefour and Cold Storage.

Luxury hotels have joined the non-feeding frenzy, including Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts group, which announced last month that it would cease to offer shark's fin as well as overfished species such as bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass.

The list of hotels includes Fairmont Hotel Singapore, The Fullerton Hotel and Capella on Sentosa. Capella even gives incentives such as one night's accommodation to bridal couples who eschew shark's fin for alternatives such as fish maw soup.

Even Chinese restaurants such as Taste Paradise have noted more requests to swop shark's fin soup in set menus. Owner Eldwin Chua said this trend started about two years ago and his staff usually accommodate such requests.

But saving animals is just one of many social causes Singaporean consumers are embracing.

Others hand over their dollar only if they are certain that the items they eat or use are organic and have not harmed the environment or that fair trade practices, where farmers are paid equitable amounts for their produce, have been observed.

Mr Jared Tham, for example, has been buying fair trade products such as tea, cookies and chocolate for more than five years. The 33-year-old, who does research and events for the Lien Centre for Social Innovation, said he was introduced to the concept of fair trade by his friends.

He pays a premium of 10 to 15 per cent on these products but says he does not mind because fair trade addresses important issues such as environmental protection and equitable wages.

'I'm willing to pay more because fair trade reflects my values and I'm happy to do my part. Singapore is a nation of shoppers, so there is the potential for shopping to make a big difference,' he added.

As for those keen to go organic, it is easy to find such produce at supermarkets here these days.

FairPrice's range of organic products, which includes fresh produce, groceries and household items, has ballooned to more than 800 varieties from fewer than 200 in 1998.

Organic food is known to be more eco- friendly as fewer harmful pesticides are used in the farming process, while organic products such as shampoo do not contain synthetic chemicals that harm, for example, the water supply.

Sales of organic products at FairPrice's selected supermarkets also soared by 35 per cent last year compared to the previous year, said Mr Tng Ah Yiam, the supermarket chain's managing director of group purchasing, merchandising and international trading.

'We have observed organic products gaining popularity among our customers in recent years, as they place greater importance on sustainable and ethical consumption and are also increasingly healthconscious and concerned about food safety and quality,' he said.

Indeed, organic produce stores are now a more common sight in heartland areas and organic farms in Singapore have been doing brisk business, despite the fact that organic produce comes with higher prices. There are at least four organic farms and easily more than 20 organic grocers and retailers here.

For example, Quan Fa Organic Farm has seen sales increase by between 10 and 20 per cent every year since it started in 1999, said Mr Liao Junjie, 24, who helps his father run the place. This is despite the fact that a 250g packet of vegetables can cost $2, almost double the price of non-organic ones.

Mr Loh Teik Beng, who is in his 40s and runs a two-month-old organic grocery store called Country Farm Organics in the Jurong neighbourhood, said business at his outlet has been good.

'Customers are already very aware and knowledgeable about organic products,' he said, noting that most of them are Singaporeans aged between 30 and 50. The brand also has outlets in other heartland areas including Ang Mo Kio, Yishun and Marine Parade.

And the responsibility revenue stream does not stop at food.

Four-year-old cosmetics store Bud, which specialises in organic make-up as well as hair and body products, has enjoyed a spurt in sales of between 15 and 20 per cent each year. Mr Eric Chew, the owner of the stores which are located at Mandarin Gallery and Square 2, said that people are starting to wise up to the health benefits of organic products.

Guardian Pharmacy told LifeStyle that it has been bringing in popular organic brands of skincare, hair and body products, as well as supplements to meet increasing customer demand.

British-based department store brand Marks & Spencer reported that sales here of its fair trade products, such as coffee, tea, and sugar, have grown over the years, though it declined to reveal exact figures.

Even eco-fashion is cottoning on in Singapore.

Some fashion lovers are donning clothes made of bamboo - a material that is highly renewable because it is naturally pest-resistant, grows fast and can help rebuild eroded soil.

Ms Kim Rose Allen, 29, who runs a clothing shop at hipster hangout Haji Lane, said that a growing number of Singaporeans now patronise her store, compared to when she first started two years ago and saw mainly Caucasian customers.

'They like the designs as well as the philosophy behind them. While the clothes may be more expensive than the usual cotton types, it is a small price to pay to be environmentally friendly,' she said. The clothes in her shop range from $35 for a camisole or sleeveless tank to $139 for a dress.

Some jewellery designers here are also using their creativity to make pieces out of natural materials that would otherwise have gone to waste, such as wood shavings and leaves. Others, such as Goya Design, make bags out of recycled paper.

And one cafe group, Food For Thought, is providing a clever way to raise awareness about the environment. It does not charge for water but encourages customers to put money in a 'water jar'. The funds collected will go to well-building projects in other countries.

It also shares mission statements about poverty, hunger and environmental issues on the cafe walls. A percentage of the cafe's profits also goes to charities such as WorldVision.

The group started in 2007 with a small cafe in North Bridge Road that seats about 20. It closed that outlet and in December, opened a larger one at the Botanic Gardens that seats 300. It has another branch in Queen Street. Both are usually packed to the gills.

Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, 35, one of the cafe's directors, said: 'We primarily wanted a place that offered good food and served up good values on the side, and we are very happy and encouraged about how people are responding to that.'

Straits Times 5 Feb 12;

Her conversion to a more earth-aware lifestyle started with her going vegetarian in 2009. Then, in 2010, she started using hair and body products, even toothpaste, that were chemical-free.

But last year, teacher Grace Wee decided to go a step further and started riding a bicycle to work so that she could reduce her carbon footprint.

The 27-year-old leaves her home in Toa Payoh almost every day at 6.30am when the roads are less crowded and cycles to the School of the Arts in Dhoby Ghaut, where she teaches dance. The trip takes about 20 minutes.

'It's a good lifestyle change. I get exercise and fresh air,' she tells LifeStyle.

Ms Wee, who is single, says her environmental 'awakening' started in 2004, when she was studying dance in Melbourne and then later in New Zealand.

'There's a lot of greenery and land there and I appreciated how people took care of it. Here in Singapore, I realised we are not very conscious of the environment and how polluted it is,' she says.

'It's about being aware of the products that you eat and use. I felt guilty for contributing to the problem.'

Her next step is to try and eradicate the consumption of palm oil from her lifestyle. She wants to do this because of heavy deforestation to make way for oil palm plantations, but she admits her plan might be difficult because many products contain palm oil, such as biscuits and baked goods.

Educating others around her about protecting the environment is important, she emphasises, but it is essential not to be 'overbearing'.

She does this in small steps, such as reminding her parents and younger sister to switch off the lights in the house and taking her own mug to work rather than using takeaway styrofoam or plastic cups.

'Whenever there is an opportunity, I will explain to people. You can't just tell them what to do,' she says.

But she admits that it is hard to be eco-friendly all the time. One of her pet peeves is how paper is wasted when she has to print consent forms or reports for her students.

'Of course I feel guilty. But this can't be avoided,' she says.

Kimberly Spykerman

Green campaigner
Straits Times 5 Feb 12;

Cosmetic and skincare companies, beware. Green advocate Olivia Choong is coming for you.

The 33-year-old is on a mission to get Singapore consumers to read the labels of what they put on their faces, starting with The Safer Skin Campaign this month.

She has started the online awareness campaign in the hope that people will read the labels of what goes into their skincare products and demand non-toxic consumer products from the industry.

She says: 'The beauty industry is big business but no one in Singapore is pushing for them to use and make products that are safe for our skin and the environment. Consumers have to put pressure on these companies as they are the ones using the products.'

The campaign is one of many green projects she has been involved in since her teenage years.

Ironically, it was a punishment that started her on the road to eco-awareness, arising from an incident during her boarding-school days in Perth, Australia.

She was caught eating in the dormitory with a room-mate one night and the guilty pair were made to empty milk cartons for recycling out of the trash.

By the time she returned to Singapore in 2004, she had become a consumer with a conscience, but she admits she did not examine the issue in any depth then.

'I just did it because it was the social norm. I didn't ask questions because it was just what people in Australia did. It was their duty to keep the environment clean.'

It was only in 2007, after watching the Live Earth benefit concerts, where celebrities sent out public service announcements about critical environment issues, that she dug more deeply.

'There were so many other pressing issues about the environment, such as global warming and animal rights. It got me thinking that we're heading for a brick wall and we're not doing anything about it.'

She started Green Drinks Singapore that same year. The local chapter of a global non-profit movement aims to connect businesses, the Government, people in education and non-governmental organisations and other environmentalists to share their green knowledge and collaborate.

Today, the group boasts about 1,400 members on Facebook, aged between 18 and 60, from all walks of life. Every month, about 80 turn up at locations around town for discussions on the environment or documentary screenings in support of the movement.

She also runs a public relations agency, Sustainable PR, which helps companies with their green efforts.

In addition, she has joined advocate organisations for issues such as those surrounding the conservation of Bukit Brown cemetery and the Rail Corridor at the old KTM railway track.

She has been a pescatarian since last year, eating fish but not meat, after 21/2 years of being a vegetarian. She had to change her diet for health reasons.

As far as walking the talk goes, she sticks to public transport and has no plans to own a car.

'Now I consider myself an environmental activist. I'm taking action and I want to push for more awareness. People have to see that conservation is important.'

Natasha Ann Zachariah

Vegan family
Straits Times 5 Feb 12;

Quek Xufeng is five years old and, rarely for kids these days, he has never tasted a hamburger.

Just like his parents, he is a vegan and does not eat anything that is of animal origin. This rules out meat, fish, eggs and milk products, although he does sometimes consume products such as a gelatinous dessert made of sea algae and sugar.

The first time he asked if he could have a burger, his mother, property agent Hong Meishan, 34, posed this question to him: 'If I cut your flesh and ate it, would you feel pain? Then how do you think the animal will feel?'

Little surprise then, that Xufeng has not asked for a hamburger since.

Madam Hong, who became a vegan about eight years ago for animal welfare reasons, says she hopes raising her only son this way will help him develop compassion for animals and a desire to contribute to saving the Earth.

She has not been without her detractors. Her parents did not share her beliefs and felt that Xufeng needed meat in his diet to be healthy. But she insists that he is no less healthier than his peers who eat meat.

The boy eats tofu, nuts and beans for protein and she also feeds him herbal supplements.

She also keeps up with dietary research and maintains a strict 'colour code' when it comes to whipping up her son's meals.

The colours of vegetables are an indication that they are good for certain parts of the body, she says. For example, vegetables that have a red hue are good for the heart, while greens are good for the liver.

Madam Hong also substitutes cow's milk with oat, barley, sesame and brown rice milk. And the bread the family eats is baked by her and contains no milk or butter. She uses olive oil as a substitute.

In keeping with eco-friendly living, she buys vegetables from an organic farm rather than at the market. She spends about $500 just on vegetables for her family of three every month.

She also recycles plastics and metals and converts reusable items such as cartons and toilet paper rolls into playthings for her son.

She also does not use leather, in keeping with her belief of kindness to animals.

But it is not easy to live green, she admits. She and her husband, Mr Quek Sio Hua, 46, who runs his own transportation logistics firm, both own cars - a necessity as their jobs require them to get around a lot.

'I do what I can. The Earth is sick. If everybody can do a little bit, it will really help,' she says.

Kimberly Spykerman

Vegan factory owners
Straits Times 5 Feb 12;

So you want to do something for the environment. You avoid shark's fin soup, eat organic food or 'like' an eco-page on Facebook. But a Singaporean couple have gone a whole lot further than that.

Mr Desmond Tan, 52, and his wife, Vivien, 50, sold their house to set up a vegan food-processing factory.

They made the decision in 2009, with their two children, after having a family meeting about it.

They then sold their Eunos terrace house - and moved into another terrace house which they owned and had previously rented out - and used the proceeds of $200,000 to set up a food factory, Olive & Green, in Admiralty's FoodXchange hub.

Mrs Tan, who, with her husband, used to work on a production line of an electronics firm, says: 'The earth is experiencing global warming. By going vegan, we are doing our part to save the planet. The plus side is that it is healthy and you won't have so many people falling ill from junk or poorly cooked food.'

Their beef with food today is the inhumane ways in which meat is farmed from animals and how artificially produced ingredients such as trans fats make food unhealthy.

What started as a way for the family to lose weight has turned into a green love affair. Sixteen years ago, Mrs Tan put the family, including their children, on a raw food diet. They never ate out or cooked their food. They later became vegans after Mrs Tan felt that veganism was a healthier alternative.

A vegan diet excludes meat, eggs, dairy products and all other animal-derived ingredients.

It was easy converting their children then as they were still young, says Mrs Tan.

'I would fill their lunch boxes with celery, salads and carrots. With no pocket money, they had to just eat what I gave them for recess. They had no choice.'

She saw the benefits of the diet as her children became fitter and did not fall sick easily.

On her parents' unusual dietary regiment when she and her brother were children, daughter Pinru, 21, says: 'I didn't think that the food tasted bad and after eating it for so long, we just got used to it.'

Today, the Tans' son, Qin Shen, 22, studies business management at the National University of Singapore and helps out at the factory when he is not at school, while Pinru works with her parents full time.

Their factory operates seven days a week and supplies food to organic and vegan food shops as well as customers who order online.

Mrs Tan runs the baking and production side with her daughter, while Mr Tan is in charge of creating new recipes, sourcing for new importers to work with and making deliveries.

The company churns out more than 12 different types of organic vegan breads such as sprouted quinoa olive oil buns, wholemeal olive oil bread and banana olive oil bread.

It also sells organic honey and oils such as Salmiana Agave nectar and Hippocrates Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil and uses only distilled water in its cooked food products.

Products are sourced from countries such as New Zealand, the Philippines and Cyprus, which can be expensive. For example, a box of organic cherries from New Zealand costs $45 a kilogram, while ginger from Australia costs $38 a kilogram. The prices of their organic goods are 20 to 30 per cent higher than non-organic produce.

Mr Tan says that the factory is only starting to break even after two years of pumping in $10,000 of his own money monthly. The factory needs about twice that amount every month to pay the bills, including the $3,500 rent.

Even then, the company gives away some products for free to spread the word about the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. Every last Sunday of the month, it holds a dinner-cum-lecture at the factory. About 50 to 60 people turn up each time. There are often new faces amid family and friends.

Mr Tan says: 'People come because they want to learn health tips from us and find out how to change their diet as well as ask questions about why certain food is bad for us.'

He quips: 'In the past, people would just turn up during dinner time for the free food and leave after that.'

While it might seem like a lot of work for their beliefs, the Tans are not content with being pamphlet-pushers.

Mrs Tan says: 'Handing out information alone doesn't do anything. You just read it but nothing has changed. I've seen videos of how animals are slaughtered or reared inhumanely. By setting up this factory, I'm doing my part and I can spread the message.'

To make veganism more appealing to meat-lovers, Mr Tan experiments regularly with recipes he finds on the Internet to see what he can make with the ingredients he has. Every month, he tries to develop two new products.

He says: 'We want to set the example by leading this lifestyle. And now that we have done it for so long, we can help other people who want to try it as well.'

Natasha Ann Zachariah

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RWS dolphins can still be returned to the wild

Sunday Times 5 Feb 12;

My children and I are encouraged that an influential person like Dr Lee Wei Ling has expressed sympathy for the captive dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) ('Confessions of an embarrassed omnivore'; last Sunday).

We agree that the treatment of farm animals is often cruel and ought to be improved, but it is not unnatural for humans to eat meat.

It is, however, completely unnecessary to incarcerate wild animals for human entertainment.

Dr Lee expressed her reservations over calls to release the dolphins. Her concerns are not misplaced. Returning captive animals to the wild is not easy. But two wrongs do not make a right.

The capture of 27 dolphins near the Solomon Islands that resulted in the subsequent death of two of the dolphins, not to mention the unaccounted number of orphaned calves, is wrong. Keeping the dolphins captive indefinitely for fear of exposing them to the dangers of their natural home does not make up for the first error.

It does not absolve RWS from doing the right thing: to rehabilitate and return these animals to the wild in a scientifically sound manner. There is a large body of evidence on good practice guidelines for re-introducing captive animals, including cetaceans, to the wild.

We believe RWS has the resources to achieve these goals.

Associate Professor Umapathi Thirugnanam

25 dolphins doing well under RWS' care
Straits Times 12 Feb 12;

The letter by Associate Professor Umapathi Thirugnanam ('RWS dolphins can still be returned to the wild'; last Sunday) warrants clarification on certain misperceptions.

As we have stated before, the collection of our dolphins for our Marine Life Park was done in accordance with regulations stipulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. We took a responsible stand on the size, age and status of each dolphin, ensuring that none of them was a young calf or lactating mother.

After a year in our care, two of our animals succumbed to a water-borne bacterial infection called melioidosis, a disease that afflicts dolphins, both in facilities and in the wild.

The park is conducting field research on melioidosis in Singapore. This is one of many ways that we will contribute to the advancement of marine science and the conservation of bottlenose dolphins.

Today, records show that mortality rates of bottlenose dolphins in facilities compare very favourably against those of their species living in the wild. Many established marine parks also have bred bottlenose dolphins, a sign that they can thrive under human care. Our 25 dolphins have been in our care for more than three years now, and are doing well.

Well-run zoological facilities can play a significant role in motivating communities of people to care more about animal life. We look forward to taking our visitors on an inspiring and learning journey when they visit our park, which is scheduled to open this year.

Krist Boo (Ms)
Senior Vice-President
Resorts World Sentosa

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Malaysia: Army and Police called to stop illegal logger in wildlife sanctuary

Heavy firepower
Zora Chan The Star 5 Feb 12;

KUCHING: Illegal loggers, particularly those alleged to have connection to shady underworld dealings, have been a bane of the Sarawak Forestry Corporation’s (SFC) existence for years.

Well, not anymore if Santubong MP Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar’s game-changing proposal is thrashed out, and executed.

He wants SFC to call for back-up from the army and the boys in blue to help stem the perennial problem of encroachment where shadowy figures have been known to log timber in the Samunsam Wildfire Sanctuary in Lundu District.

The sanctuary covers an area of about 16,700ha and is some 100km from here.

Wan Junaidi says he has lodged reports on such activities to the police and SFC some time ago after learning that Samunsam, the state’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, had been encroached on and logged for its timber in recent years.

“The law is there to protect the area but enforcement must be carried out. SFC needs to get the army and police to assist it to stop the encroachment and harvesting of timber and other wildlife in Samunsam.

“If the army and police are afraid of gangsters, I don’t know who else can govern the country. That should not be an excuse,” he told The Star here recently.

Wan Junaidi, a former policeman, said the army and police had fought the communists and protected the country from grave danger in the 1960s and therefore, was confident that they could combat gangsterism.

“In the past, we chased after communists in the jungles, but now the gangsters are there — they are not hiding. I can’t accept the excuse that because of gangsterism, we can’t enforce the law.

“So what else next? Are we to allow gangsters to rule the country because they are gangsters?” he pointed out.

He added that the present timber industry needed to play its part in stopping illegal logging by going for high value-added products instead of high volume of raw timber.

Wan Junaidi said while he understood the concerns of local conservationists on the plan to build the 23km road cutting across the sanctuary to connect Telok Melano and Telok Serabang from Kampung Pueh in Sematan Sub-District, the infrastructure was pivotal for the well-being of the villagers.

“In every positive thing we do, there will be negative impacts. We build roads, there will be accidents. So are we to stop building roads? Are we to stop people from buying and driving cars and motorcycles?”

He conceded that the proposed road would give easier access to poachers and illegal loggers to Samunsam than now but with stringent enforcement, the sanctuary would be protected.

“Even now without the road, Samunsam is being disturbed. That’s why enforcement is important. The law is there and it must be observed and enforced, otherwise it is useless,” he reiterated.

Presently, to reach Telok Melano, located near the tip of the state in Tanjong Datu, one has to take an hour’s boat ride.

The proposed road would also eventually bring electricity supply and treated water to the fishing village which also provided homestays for visitors, said Wan Junaidi.

It would be a boon to the tourism industry in the area, known for its pristine beaches between Lundu and Sematan, he said.

He had spoken to Special Functions Minister and Tanjong Datu assemblyman Tan Sri Adenan Satem recently that the project had been approved by the state government and now awaiting funding from the Federal Government for implementation.

“I was told verbally that the Chief Minister has also given the green light for the road to cut across Samunsam,” he said, stating that Samunsam’s status as a protected area was one of the reasons the project took a long time for approval.

Last year, the Malaysian Nature Society, through its Kuching branch, had voiced its concern on the proposed project as the road would provide easy access to poachers, which would be detrimental to wildlife conservation in the sanctuary.

The society had said if the proposed project was deemed essential, it strongly urged the relevant authorities to ensure that a detailed environmental impact assessment (EIA) be done prior to giving the final approval.

It also urged the state government to make the draft of this detailed EIA available for public review and that steps would be taken to ensure consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, including SFC and State Forest Department, local communities, and concerned NGOs, to explore other viable options that would not be detrimental to an already beleaguered sanctuary.

The last known operation against illegal loggers was in 2006 when 15 SFC officers, assisted by General Operations Force personnel, investigated two areas in Samunsam — Sungai Limo and Kampung Serabang on April 17.

They found traces of illegal logging, and having determined the modus operandi of the culprits, continued their probe the following day but at nearby Ulu Sungai Samunsam Buta.

This time, the team chanced upon two men in the act of cutting down trees.

They were subsequently nabbed and two chainsaws, a machete and a homemade shotgun were confiscated.

General manager Wilfred Landong was quoted on SFC’s website as saying the exercise was just one of the successful implementation of a holistic protection plan to ensure a more effective protection of the state’s biodiversity and forest resources, particularly in totally protected areas.

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Indonesia: Wild bull population in Ujung Kulon believed flourishing

Antara 4 Feb 12;

Labuan, Banten (ANTARA News) - The exact population of the wild bull (Bos Javanicus Javanicus) in the Ujung Kulon National Park (TMNUK) is still unknown but park officials believe it is flourishing.

"We have so far not conducted a head count but based on sightings made through video traps we believe their number is quite large," Hendra Purnam, a TNUK officer in charge of valuations and data collecting, said here Friday.

The bull population was believed to be flourishing because the animals had access to plenty of natural food and were being carefully protected.

The wild bull was living in a 30,000-hectare forest area in the park together with other rare species such as the one-horn Javanese rhinoceros, tiger, eagle and owa (a primate).

The wild bull was to be found only in Indonesia and Burma. In Indonesia, their habitats were located in Kalimantan and Java.

The TNUJK management was tightly protecting the rare animals, especially from illegal hunting activity, he said. The only enemies of the wild bull were tigers and forest dogs.

Hendra also said the park management had also observed the one-horn rhinoceros population through video traps and now estimated there were 35 of them in the park. (*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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Indonesia: Rebel hero who has 'betrayed' the last of Aceh's orang-utans

Governor has dismayed supporters by allowing the destruction of a Sumatran forest where the apes live
Kathy Marks The Independent 31 Jan 12;

When the former rebel leader Irwandi Yusuf became governor of Indonesia's Aceh province, he proclaimed a "green vision" for the war-torn region. Aceh's lush forests – still relatively pristine despite decades of civil conflict – would not be sacrificed for short-term profit, he promised. True to his word, he even chased down illegal loggers in his own jeep.

But, five years on, Mr Irwandi has dismayed supporters by authorising the destruction of a peat swamp forest which is one of the last refuges of the critically endangered Sumatran orang-utan. The move breaches a presidential moratorium – part of an international deal to save Indonesia's forests – as well as legislation protecting a conservation area where the Tripa swamp is located.

Aceh lies at the north-western tip of Sumatra, where three-quarters of the Tripa forest has already been replaced by palm oil plantations. Conservationists warn the remainder – home to the densest population of Sumatran orang-utans – is crucial to the ape's survival.

Global demand for palm oil is blamed for widespread forest destruction by the two main producers, Indonesia and Malaysia. The lowland forests, on Sumatra and Borneo, shelter the last orang-utans on the planet. The granting of a new permit to one of Indonesia's biggest palm oil companies, PT Kallista Alam, threatens another 4,000 acres of Tripa peatland. Although the area is comparatively small, the move could set a dangerous precedent, according to Ian Singleton, who runs the Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme. "If this goes ahead, no forest is safe," he said.

Mr Irwandi, 51, used to be idolised by many Acehnese. He was a leader of the rebel movement, which fought for independence from Indonesia for 30 years, and was in prison in the capital, Banda Aceh, when the province was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2004. The walls of his jail came crashing down. "I didn't escape from prison – it escaped from me," he said later. After fleeing the country, he helped negotiate the peace deal that granted Aceh limited autonomy and he became governor in 2006.

There are believed to be only 6,600 Sumatran orang-utans left in the wild, with up to 1,000 in Tripa on Aceh's west coast. Palm oil, along with the timber and paper industries, represents their biggest threat. The cheap and versatile oil is used in soap, biscuits and biofuels, and countless other products.

The peat swamps are renowned for their biodiversity and harbour a dozen endangered species including the white-handed gibbon, clouded leopard and giant soft-shelled turtle. They also hold massive carbon stocks which are released as trees are burnt and chopped down.

In Aceh, some locals call oil palm the "golden plant", the cash crop they hope will lift them out of poverty. In Tripa, though, the conversion of an ancient forest to a monoculture is causing hardship to communities, which depend on the peatland system for drinking water, fish and medicinal plants. Villagers, who accuse the palm oil companies of taking their land, have filed a criminal complaint against the governor.

Mr Irwandi – whose actions have been linked by some observers to his campaign to be re-elected next month – is also being sued by WALHI Aceh, an environmental group. "We're really disappointed with our governor," said Muhammad Nizar, the group's campaigns director. "It seems like he tries to get a good image in Indonesia and abroad, but he doesn't really care about the forest."

The two-year moratorium on new permits to log or convert primary forest and peatland was signed last May by the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as part of a $1bn (£637m) deal with Norway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters, largely because of rampant deforestation.

But even without the moratorium, Tripa, a key orang-utan habitat because of its abundant fruit trees, should enjoy legal protection because it falls within a conservation area known as the Leuser Ecosystem. A vast swathe of tropical rainforest, it is the last place on earth where elephants, rhinos, tigers and orang-utans are found in one spot.

Mr Singleton said satellite imagery showed that Kallista Alam had been felling and draining the peat forest since 2010, long before the permit was granted. He alleged that the company had also lit illegal fires – seen by The Independent in June 2009 on Kallista's estate – to clear land in Tripa, designated a priority conservation site under the United Nations' Great Ape Survival Plan.

Environmentalists say orang-utans are under increasing pressure as their habitats and food sources shrink. The apes stray into fields on the edge of forests to raid fruit trees and are shot at by farmers, who capture their babies and sell them as pets. There are also claims orang-utans discovered in forests being cleared for palm oil are systematically slaughtered.

In the Indonesian part of Borneo, four employees of a palm oil company, Khaleda Agroprima Malindo, were arrested last month on suspicion of killing at least 20 orang-utans. Khaleda allegedly ordered its workers to carry out the "pest control" programme, offering a bounty of 1m rupiah (£72) per orang-utan. Those arrested include the senior estate manager and a supervisor. The company has denied the allegations.

The controversy in Aceh is embarrassing for President Yudhoyono, who stressed to an international conference in Jakarta last September the need to "walk the talk ... not just talk the talk" in relation to protecting Indonesia's forests.

A spokesman for Mr Irwandi has said that correct procedures were followed in granting the permit to Kallista Alam. However, the Indonesian Forestry Ministry said that if the new concession was inside peatland, it would be in breach of the moratorium. Kallista Alam could not be reached for comment.

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Science behind the European big freeze: is climate change bringing the Arctic to Europe?

Steve Connor The Independent 4 Feb 12;

A loss of sea ice could be a cause of the bitter winds that have swept across the UK in the past week, weather experts say

The bitterly cold weather sweeping Britain and the rest of Europe has been linked by scientists with the ice-free seas of the Arctic, where global warming is exerting its greatest influence.

A dramatic loss of sea ice covering the Barents and Kara Seas above northern Russia could explain why a chill Arctic wind has engulfed much of Europe and killed 221 people over the past week.

The death toll from Arctic blast has been particularly severe in the Ukraine, where many of the dead have been people sleeping on the streets. Heating and food tents have been set up to ease their hardship. In Romania 24 people are known to have died and 17 in Poland.

A growing number of experts believe complex wind patterns are being changed because melting Arctic sea ice has exposed huge swaths of normally frozen ocean to the atmosphere above.

In particular, the loss of Arctic sea ice could be influencing the development of high-pressure weather systems over northern Russia, which bring very cold winds from the Arctic and Siberia to Western Europe and the British Isles, the scientists believe. An intense anticyclone over north-west Russia is behind the bitterly cold easterly winds that have swept across Europe and some climate scientists say the lack of Arctic sea ice brought about by global warming is responsible.

"The current weather pattern fits earlier predictions of computer models for how the atmosphere responds to the loss of sea ice due to global warming," said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "The ice-free areas of the ocean act like a heater as the water is warmer than the Arctic air above it. This favours the formation of a high-pressure system near the Barents Sea, which steers cold air into Europe."

Sea ice covering the Barents and Kara Seas has been exceptionally low this winter, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado. But air temperatures above the Barents and Kara Seas have been higher than average. The relatively mild westerly winds that have kept Britain from freezing much of this winter have been blocked by fierce high pressure over north-west Russia, centred on an area just south of the Barents Sea.

Studies by scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research have confirmed a link between the loss of Arctic sea ice and the development of high-pressure zones in the polar region, which influence wind patterns at lower latitudes further south. Scientists found that as the cap of sea ice is removed from the ocean, huge amounts of heat are released from the sea into the colder air above, causing the air to rise. Rising air destabilises the atmosphere and alters the difference in air pressure between the Arctic and more southerly regions, changing wind patterns.

Professor Rahmstorf said the Alfred Wegener study confirms earlier predictions from computer models by Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute, who forecast colder winters in western Europe as a result of melting sea ice.

Dr Petoukhov and his colleague Vladimir Semenov were among the first scientists to suggest a link between the loss of sea ice and colder winters in Europe. Their 2009 study simulated the effects of disappearing sea ice and found that for some years to come the loss will increase the chances of colder winters.

"Whoever thinks that the shrinking of some far-away sea ice won't bother him could be wrong. There are complex interconnections in the climate system, and in the Barents-Kara Sea we might have discovered a powerful feedback mechanism," Dr Petoukhov said.

But UK climate researcher Adam Scaife said other complexities are almost certainly influencing the current cold spell. "There is a pretty clear link between the current event and the upper level winds... The winds up at 30km (18.6 miles) altitude are very weak," he said. "We have verified several times using computer model experiments that this leads to high pressure across northern Europe and cold winter conditions in the UK as we see now."

Thirty degrees below – and at least a hundred dead: Europe's big freeze
Shaun Walker The Independent 3 Feb 12;

With record snowfalls, icy winds, and thousands of people trapped in remote villages, much of Central and Eastern Europe is in the grip of a cold snap that has caused more than 100 deaths. Temperatures in parts of Ukraine and other Eastern European countries are hovering around -30C (-22F).

The Adriatic islands of Croatia have had a rare dusting of snow, while in Romania, parts of the Black Sea have frozen over. Several towns in Bulgaria have recorded their lowest temperatures since records began more than a century ago,

At least 11,000 people were trapped in mountain villages in Serbia yesterday as ice and snow made roads impassable. Emergency crews were working to gain access to deliver supplies as the country tackled its coldest winter for decades.

"The situation is dramatic. The snow is up to 5m high in some areas. You can only see rooftops," said Milorad Dramacanin, a member of a helicopter evacuation team. Among those airlifted to safety were mourners who had travelled to a funeral but were unable to get back.

In neighbouring Bosnia, supplies were flown to isolated villages, where locals were forced to dig paths into thick snow that resembled tunnels, and said they had little hope of proper access to the outside world until spring. Some villages have been without electricity for days.

The worst-hit country is Ukraine, where dozens of homeless people have died. Authorities said yesterday that 63 people had died in the past few days, with 41 dying on the streets, eight in hospitals and 14 at home. Nearly 1,000 have been hospitalised with hypothermia or frostbite because the temperature has consistently remained below -20C and on some nights has dipped below -30C. Shelters for the homeless across are handing out tea, coffee and pork fat, while hospitals have been told not to discharge homeless patients.

There have also been deaths in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. In Poland, the victims have also mainly been homeless people, primarily those who fell asleep in unheated buildings. A further 11 people have died since Friday from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Polish fire service. The victims had been using makeshift charcoal heaters in an attempt to warm up.

In many parts of Russia, extreme winter temperatures are normal, and life in cities is continuing more or less as usual, albeit with rather more grumbling. In St Petersburg, where temperatures have dipped below -30C this week days, experts have advised residents to change their diet to keep healthy. "You must not eat fresh vegetables in winter, especially during the peak cold periods," said Pavel Gorbenko, a professor of nutrition. He suggested that Russians should increase their intake of fermented cabbage, as well as use heavy fats such as lard, rather than cooking with light oils. "In winter in -20C, a person cannot survive on sunflower oil, he will either get ill or will slowly fade away," Mr Gorbenko said.

In Siberia, temperatures were even lower, with some regions dipping as low as -50C. In the city of Barnaul, all long-distance buses were cancelled; the drivers said if they broke down en route it would mean certain death for all the passengers.

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