Best of our wild blogs: 18 Feb 12

一月华语导游 Madarin guide walk@SBWR, Nov(XXVI)
from PurpleMangrove

Green Drinks – Save the Oceans: Feed the World
from Green Drinks Singapore

Protecting Vernal Hanging Parrots through ecotourism
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Johor unveils new plans for waterfront

Firm takes charge, kick-starting plans for high-end development
Carolyn Hong Straits Times 18 Feb 12;

JOHOR BARU: After years of uncoordinated planning among different landowners, Johor has now unveiled a masterplan to build a glittering waterfront facing Singapore from swampy and reclaimed land, having consolidated 3,000 acres (1,210ha) of prime land under one company.

The land bank stretching 25km and flanking the Causeway was recently parked under a company called Iskandar Waterfront Holdings (IWH), in a bid to kick-start development plans. Previously, the land was held by several state and federal government firms.

'It's been a long, long time that we were singing different songs,' said businessman Lim Kang Hoo, who owns 60 per cent of the joint venture while a Johor state firm, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor, owns the rest.

Now, we are very focused and it's become clearer who's driving the development,' Mr Lim said.

The federal government's property firm Iskandar Investment has a significant stake in some of IWH's land bank farther west from Johor Baru, close to the new Nusajaya township where attractions like Legoland are coming up.

The waterfront development, with a gross development value of RM80 billion (S$33 billion), was launched five years ago as part of the Iskandar Malaysia special economic region in south Johor.

Iskandar Malaysia aims to leverage on its proximity to Singapore and attract investments from global firms looking for a cheaper location. The plan is to develop high-end infrastructure, as well as international-class housing, entertainment, schooling and amenities to attract expatriates and Singaporeans to live in Johor.

Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the waterfront masterplan last Sunday, and pledged RM200 million in federal funds for infrastructure. The masterplan envisions skyscrapers, residential blocks, hotels and waterfront homes. There will also be retail and food outlets and parks.

A contractor from Selangor, Mr Lim, 57, came into the picture rather unexpectedly in 1997 when the Asian financial crisis dashed the Johor government's plan to develop the waterfront land. He formed a partnership with the state government, and took over its debts on the land known as Lido Beach, now renamed Danga Bay, about 5km from Johor Baru city centre.

He said he has spent 15 years to undertake infrastructure works, which are now largely complete. This includes reclaiming 200ha to 240ha of land.

'All the land here was underwater, and the rivers were choked with rubbish, human waste and animal carcasses. And the smell ... it took a long time,' he said.

Today, his offices stand on the reclaimed land on Danga Bay. It, however, remains pretty bare except for a short stretch with a marina and convention centre. This may change soon as a large parcel of land nearby is being developed in a joint venture with a Malaysian property company, Dijaya Corporation.

The first building to be constructed will be a luxury waterfront condominium, Tropez. About 20 per cent of the 1,149 units have been sold to Singaporeans. Mr Lim has also entered into a joint venture with Singapore's Azea Residences and Australia's Walker Group.

'We are seeing a lot of interest now, especially after the two governments (Malaysia and Singapore) shook hands,' he said, referring to the settlement of the railway land issue in Singapore. 'It triggered a lot of investor interest in Iskandar as a whole.'

What's in store for new development

An international financial and commercial centre: Located close to downtown Johor Baru. Skyscrapers and other amenities have been planned to attract financial players to the Iskandar zone.

Danga Bay: On its 808ha that includes reclaimed land, there are plans to build offices, residences, hotels and retail and food outlets. It now has a marina, several restaurants, a convention centre and some commercial lots.

Tebrau Coast: A high-end waterfront housing development called Senibong Cove is under construction by the Walker Group of Australia. The development is along a river and features a long boardwalk for residents.

About 404ha of land will also be reclaimed.

Venice@Danga Bay: To be built by a river, it plans to focus on waterfront dining, retail and leisure activities.

Redevelopment of the Johor Baru Central Business District: While not strictly part of the waterfront development, the Iskandar Waterfront Holdings has been given the task of redeveloping the dilapidated city centre which is about 485ha in size. About 1.2 million people live in Johor Baru.

The redevelopment will see the clean-up of a river that flows through the city centre, a redesign of traffic flow, a clean-up of the town and the sprucing up of its heritage area. It is expected to cost RM1.5 billion (S$622 million) over the next five years.

Several parcels of state land, such as the old prison and old Customs land, will also be redeveloped.

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Malaysia: Rogue elephant caught, hunt for 8 more goes on

New Straits Times 18 Feb 12;

KOTA BARU: A bull elephant which led a herd of pachyderms in a series of rampages resulting in the destruction of farm crops in several villages in Gua Musang has finally been captured.

The elephant named "Awang Serian", leading a herd of eight, had been causing havoc the last few months. It also caused the villagers to live in fear.

Rangers from the state wildlife department captured Awang after they spotted the pachyderm roaming in Kampung Serian about 11.15am.

The department's director, Rahmat Topani, said the elephant, weighing about four tonnes, was caught by rangers after they waited for the pachyderm to emerge from the jungle.

"The team began their operation (to capture) from Feb 14 onwards after receiving reports that a herd of nine elephants had entered several farms belonging to local villagers, destroying their crops.

"They had been waiting for the elephants since then, but Awang only emerged today (Feb 16)."

He said besides Kampung Serian, the herd had also destroyed crops in Kampung Kasturi 2 and Kampung Bukit Mior.

He said Awang was estimated to be between 35 and 40 years old, and was the first elephant to be captured by the department this year.

Rahmat said the department would continue to track down and capture the remaining eight elephants that were believed to be hiding in the nearby jungles.

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Indonesia: Illegal logging threatens Raflesia flower in Bengkulu

Antara 17 Feb 12;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - Illegal logging in the protected Bukit Daun forest, Bengkulu, threatens the habitat of the world`s largest flower, the Raflesia Arnoldi, a botanical researcher said.

"The protected Bukit Daun forest is one of the original habitats of the Raflesia Arnoldi. Damage to the forest will also endanger the rare flower," Agus Suyatya, a researcher with Bengkulu University. said here on Friday adding that researchers had found 16 Raflesia Arnoldi flowers inside the protected forest last year.

He urged the local government to take preventive action against illegal logging that can endanger the Raflesia Arnoldi`s habitat in Bengkulu.

Rafflesia is the largest, heaviest, rarest and one of the most smelly flowers in the world. In full bloom , its crown can reach a diameter of 1 meter and weigh about 10 kgs.

Interestingly, Rafflesia is a parasitic plant without any leaves, stems and roots.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Thailand: Phuket coral bounces back from bleaching blight

Phuket Gazette 17 Feb 12;

PHUKET: Considerable improvement in the condition of bleached coral reefs around Phuket and along the Andaman Coast has been noted by government researchers, it was announced at a meeting early this week.

Boonchob Sudthamanaswong, Director-General of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources Andaman Coast Group (DMCR-Andaman), chaired a seminar at the Phuket Merlin Hotel on Monday to discuss government plans to restore damaged marine resources as well as review progress in the the development of environmental monitoring systems in Phuket and the other five Andaman Coast provinces of Ranong, Phang Nga, Krabi, Trang and Satun.

After the seminar, Mr Boonchob told the media there have been great improvements in the conditions of coral reefs in the region since the devastating coral bleaching episode in 2010.

“Because of global warming there was coral reef bleaching in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Our department has worked to try and restore the reefs back to their original condition,” said Mr Boonchob.

Coral bleaching is a natural process triggered by an increase in sea water temperature, Mr Boonchob explained.

“I am happy to announce that more than half of the coral damaged has already returned to its original condition,” he concluded.

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Battle to save Thai rosewood forests

Big criminal networks behind illegal logging
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 18 Feb 12;

BANGKOK: Hand-carved rosewood beds, tables and cabinets from China fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, making a few people rich but leaving Thailand's forests much poorer. Trees are being chopped down at an alarming rate in Thailand's last remaining rosewood forests in the north-east, the country's officials warned.

In the last month alone, 61 illegally harvested rosewood logs worth more than 11 million baht (S$452,000) were seized by police and forestry officials in the province of Si Sa Ket. Most were freshly cut and many were as long as 3m.

Mature trees are now hard to find there despite a nationwide logging ban and a network of protected areas. Across the region, roughly the size of the entire island nation of Sri Lanka, a special rosewood task force works deep in the forests and on rivers and highways to root out loggers and smugglers.

It is a daily - and nightly - battle.

One cubic metre of rosewood costs about 200,000 baht in Thailand - by the time it is smuggled into China, it is worth two million baht. Often, the wood is carved into furniture or figurines - the popular Laughing Buddha is a good example.

Big illegal operations ship rosewood in containers with false labels from major ports.

In October 2007, police raided a warehouse in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok, seizing more than 1,000 illegally harvested logs of rosewood ready to be shipped out of Klong Toey port in the capital. A Taiwanese man was arrested and charged with attempting to export the logs, which were worth more than 100 million baht, and dodging timber export taxes.

Rosewood is also extracted from the country by what one Thai police colonel called 'an army of ants'. The wood is chopped into pieces in the forest or in small rogue sawmills and often stashed in the forest for weeks.

Later, it is smuggled north to China piece by piece, often through Laos and Cambodia, in small boats, trucks, minivans and even small cars with the seats removed to make space for a few pieces.

Not surprisingly, the business is nasty and vicious, usually organised by transnational criminal networks which will deal with anything that delivers a profit - including drugs and wildlife. Tigers are a favourite commodity.

The more than 1,000 rangers of Thailand's Illegal Rosewood Logging Suppression Task Force are armed and they often get into firefights with loggers. In the last year alone, Thai patrolmen shot and killed 14 illegal Cambodian loggers.

Last month, the body of a Thai ranger was found at the Thai-Cambodian border. He had been missing since taking part in a crackdown on rosewood logging last November. But 12 Thai police officers were also implicated in the illegal rosewood trade last year.

In a report released on Wednesday in Bangkok to coincide with high-level meetings of environmental and wildlife crime enforcers from across the region, the independent Britain-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said: 'Official corruption facilitates the trade at every stage, from forests to borders or ports.'

Timber smuggling is usually controlled - not just in Thailand but also across South-east Asia - by 'large sophisticated criminal syndicates on an industrial scale', said EIA campaigner Faith Doherty.

Noting that many prominent public personalities across the region had built their fortunes by stealing natural resources, she added: 'The criminal justice system has been largely ineffective. To be honest, it's quite a joke.'

Mr Justin Gosling, an environmental crime officer with Interpol's Bangkok office, emphasised that there is a need for proactive intelligence gathering and sharing.

'The problem is that a seizure of a consignment is like finding a dead body,' he said. 'The crime has already been committed. It is a very reactive response. What we are calling for is for environmental crime to be taken as seriously as other kinds of serious crime.'

In the case of rosewood, the dwindling supply may have prompted people to stockpile it, driving prices even higher, Thai officials said.

'There are no more big trees left now,' said Mr Theeraphat Prayoonsithi, deputy director-general of the department of national parks.

The department has a budget for planting more than one million rosewood saplings - but the tree grows slowly, taking 30 to 40 years to reach a girth equal to that of a big man.

Thai enforcers want an increase in penalties for rosewood smuggling from the US$1,600 (S$2,000) fine and one-year jail term now. For a major smuggler, that is small potato. But any increase in penalties will have to be passed by Parliament, they said.

'We need to have the maximum penalty we can get,' said Mr Theeraphat.

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Tasmanian devil genome mapping may help humans too

Maggie Lu-YueYang Reuters Yahoo News 17 Feb 12;

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Scientists have mapped the genome of Australia's endangered Tasmanian devil for the first time and found that deadly facial tumors decimating the species evolve very slowly, making it possible help might be found before the animals vanish forever.

Not only that, scientists at Australian National University said Friday that their discovery, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, could help untangle the process of how human cancers evolve.

Tasmanian devils -- popularized by Looney Tunes' fierce cartoon character "Taz" -- are carnivorous marsupials the size of a small dog. The facial tumor disease has ravaged the wild population, confined to Australia's island state of Tasmania, since being discovered in the mid-1990s.

Scientists believe that unless help is found, the wild population could be extinct within several decades.

But the mapping carried out by researchers led by Janine Deakin found that, at the genetic level, the tumors evolve very slowly, making it easier to study them -- and, possibly, circumvent them.

In addition, this may offer an unusual chance to study how human cancers develop, Deakin added.

"Because we find the devil tumor is evolving so slowly, we can use that as a model to look at cancers in humans. It is a bit more like slowing down the whole process in human cancers," she said.

"In human cancers the change happens so rapidly we don't have a chance to look into what the mechanisms are. And we can do that with the devil."

The Tasmanian devil tumor is spread by skin-to-skin contact and kills by deforming the animals, which then die through starvation or suffocation.

Deakin's team also found that significant fragments of the chromosomes in devils affected by the tumors had been jumbled, like a jigsaw puzzle put together the wrong way.

"One (chromosome) in particular has been completely shattered, which means genes are not in an appropriate order," Deakin said.

That discovery could lead to more avenues of investigation.

A previous U.S. study of two Tasmanian devils showed that the population already had low genetic diversity, which likely made them vulnerable to the cancer.

(Editing by Elaine Lies and Robert Birsel)

Tasmanian devils' killer disease genome mapped
Mark Kinver BBC News 17 Feb 12;

Researchers have sequenced the genome of the killer disease that is driving the remaining wild populations of Tasmanian devils towards extinction.

They hope the genetic data will offer clues on how to suppress the spread of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), which is transmitted via biting.

Since DFTD was first recorded in 1996, populations in some areas are estimated to have declined by up to 90%.

Details of the research have been published in the journal Cell.

DFTD refers to a fatal condition that is characterised by the appearance of facial tumours.

As these develop into large cancerous growths, the animal finds it hard to eat. As it becomes weaker, it is unable to compete with other animals for food.

Researchers say that affected animals appear to die within three to five months of the lesions first appearing.

The international team of scientists that sequenced the genome (complete set of genetic material) of DFTD built on earlier work that sequenced the genome of the Tasmanian devil itself, and the combined work could play a role in preventing the continual spread of the contagious cancer.

"We can now look for mutated pathways that might be responsible for the cancer's growth, which may offer potential targets or ideas for therapeutic interventions that could help the devils in the wild," explained co-author Elizabeth Murchison, a researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK.

"It has also allowed us to identify a number of genes that have a number of mutations, which makes it different to a normal devil's genome," she told BBC News.

"Of course, we are also keen to develop vaccines that help the devils' bodies detect that the cancer is foreign, and by using these genes that are different between the cancer and the host, they may present ideas for developing vaccines."

'Immortal devil'

Dr Murchison added that the sequencing also allowed the researchers to understand the dynamics of the disease.

"Because the cancer is spread by living cancer cells, it actually arose from one individual devil," she said.

By using "genetic detective work", Dr Murchison and the team said the disease first arose in a female more than 15 years ago.

"As far as we know, it was just a normal, wild Tasmanian devil but for some reason it developed this tumour that became transmissible."

As the cancer cells were passed from one animal to another over the years, the original host was nicknamed the "immortal devil".

"She is, in a way, living on long after her own death," observed Dr Murchison.

Previous research revealed that DFTD was spread by biting, which played a major part in the devils' social interaction, such as mating and competing for food.

"Normally, a cancer that arises within the body of one person dies when that person dies," she explained. "It doesn't normally have an existence outside the body of its host.

"What is so unusual about the devils' cancer is that it has been able to survive after the death of its host.

"This has been facilitated by the fact that devils do bite each other, which has created a route for the transmission for the cancer."

The rapid spread of the contagious DFTD saw a steep decline in the wild population of the devils, prompting the Australian government in May 2009 to list the species (Sarcophilus harrisii) as Endangered.

As the world's largest marsupial carnivore is only found in the wild within Tasmania, the species is also listed as Endangered by the IUCN's global Red List of Threatened Species.

The outlook for the devils was so bleak that it prompted the government-backed Save the Tasmanian Devil Program to establish an "insurance population" in 2005.

This involved placing more than 270 disease-free devils in captivity in case it became necessary in the future to re-establish a healthy wild population.

But Dr Murchison added: "My goal is to do something to stop the spread of the disease in the wild before it is too late, [but] the wild population is declining at a very rapid rate, and there are some fears that the species in the wild could go extinct in 20-30 years.

"It would be impossible to re-introduce devils into the wild until we were certain that there were no diseased devils left out there, otherwise the [reintroduction] would be pointless because the disease would just come back again."

Explaining why it was important to continue research into developing a treatment for DFTD, she said: "Even if we do have to wait to re-introduce devils into the wild, it is going to be really important to be able to prevent those devils from getting the disease, and suppress the disease, just in case there are still reservoirs of it still left in the wild."

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Mobile marine reserves may end slaughter of endangered sea life

Steve Connor The Independent 18 Feb 12;

The indiscriminate slaughter of vast numbers of turtles, sharks, albatrosses and other endangered marine animals that get unintentionally caught by fishermen as "by-catch" could be prevented by a radical proposal of mobile marine reserves, scientists said yesterday.

Protected areas of the ocean where commercial fishing is banned would work far better if they were not static conservation areas, as they are at present, but moveable reserves that take into account the mobile nature of sea life, they said.

The proposed new conservation zones would not impose fishing restrictions in one place, but shift location according to where threatened species are expected to be found. The idea has resulted from a revolution in satellite and tagging technology that has allowed scientists routinely to monitor the seasonal movements of marine creatures, which would have been impossible a decade ago.

Scientists said existing marine protection areas (MPAs), where fishing is controlled to enable wildlife to recover, frequently fail to do their job because the endangered animals simply migrate to unprotected regions where they get caught accidentally.

This is believed to be the main reason why populations of loggerhead and leatherback turtles, both critically endangered, have slumped dramatically in recent years as commercial fishing with nets and extremely long fishing lines has become more intense.

Leatherback turtles have suffered particularly badly in the Pacific Ocean where populations have fallen by more than 90 per cent in just 20 years. Sharks and albatrosses have also declined significantly as a result of being caught accidentally by fishermen.

Creating mobile protection areas monitored by satellite would enable some of the world's most endangered species to recover, as well as allowing fishermen to ply their trade in other parts of the ocean where by-catch is less likely, said Larry Crowder, professor of marine biology at Stanford University in California.

"Small, stationary reserves do little to protect highly mobile animals, like most fish, like the turtles and sharks and seabirds. You might say that the only way to achieve conservation of these kinds of organisms is to protect them everywhere in the ocean," he said.

"But we don't need to close the entire ocean; we only need to close the place where they are concentrated," he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.

Satellite tagging and other ways of monitoring the movements of marine creatures have shown that sea life tends to congregate near oceanographic features such as "upwellings", where rising currents bring minerals to the sea surface, and "convergence zones", where ocean currents collide. "Those are where everything in the ocean goes to feed, and the fishermen understand that," Professor Crowder said. These features tend to move, taking sea life with them.

"Satellite technology, tagging and acoustic technology allows us to look into the ocean and figure out who is going where," he added. "The time is ripe for the idea of mobile marine protection areas and a good candidate to consider is the North Pacific convergence zone. We know it moves seasonally. In the summer it's about 1,000 miles north of Hawaii and in the winter, it is further south."

Caught in the net: Threatened species


The number of leatherback turtles in the Pacific have declined by 90 per cent in 20 years with by-catch a main cause. The loggerhead turtle has been hit particularly hard by shrimp trawling.


They can become caught on fishing lines and drown. The northern royal albatross is an endangered species.


An estimated 50 million sharks are caught unintentionally every year. The angel shark, vulnerable to by-catch, is now one of the five most endangered shark species.

Charlie Cooper

Protection zones 'should go mobile'
(UKPA) Google news 18 Feb 12;

Mobile protection areas that follow the movements of fish, turtles and sea birds may be the best way to safeguard creatures in the oceans, a leading expert claims.

The "pelagic" conservation zones would not impose fishing restrictions in one place, but shift location according to where threatened species are expected to be.

US marine biologist Professor Larry Crowder believes advances in satellite tagging and oceanography has made the change from static Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) feasible. He points out that such a system could actually benefit fishermen by allowing for more flexibility.

Once an endangered species moved out of a zone they wanted to fish in, they would no longer be restricted in that area.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada, Prof Crowder said: "We think of protected areas as being a place and we think of that place as being locked down to a map but places in oceans aren't locked down to maps, they move.

"Now the science is in place both in terms of tagging technology for the organisms that you're concerned about and the underlying oceanography."

Animals migrate across the oceans in search of food and to find mates. But such behaviour can be influenced by factors such as ocean floor geology and currents, said Prof Crowder.

The North Atlantic Convergent Zone, for instance, was a massive front where two current systems meet, causing a concentration of food and marine species. Its location changed with the seasons.

"That moves 1,000 miles north and south seasonally," said Prof Crowder. "In the summer it's 1,000 miles further north than in the winter. If you decide to protect something there it makes no sense to protect in that dimension, in latitude, because the feature moves."

International agreements might be needed to make mobile marine protection areas workable in the open ocean, Prof Crowder acknowledged. But he pointed out that there were already international agreements for mining the ocean floor.

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Poachers slaughter 200 elephants in Cameroon national park in six weeks

Armed groups from Chad and Sudan blamed for unprecedented killing in Bouba Ndjida national park, fuelled by demand for ivory
Reuters 17 Feb 12;

Poachers have killed more than 200 elephants in six weeks in Cameroon, in a "massacre" fuelled by Asian demand for ivory.

A local government official said heavily armed poachers from Chad and Sudan had decimated the elephant population of Bouba Ndjida national park, in Cameroon's far north.

"We are talking about a very serious case of trans-frontier poaching, involving well-armed poachers with modern weapons from Sudan and Chad who are decimating this wildlife species to make quick money from the international ivory trade," said Gambo Haman, governor of Cameroon's northern region.

Speaking on local radio, Haman said some of the poachers were on horseback and operated with the help of the local population, who were given free elephant meat and were glad to be rid of animals that damage their crops.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) said cross-border poaching was common during the dry season but the scale of the killings so far this year was unprecedented.

"This latest massacre is massive and has no comparison to those of the preceding years," the group said in a statement.

Citing a record number of large scale ivory seizures in 2011, Traffic, a conservation group that tracks trends in wildlife trading, has warned of a surge in elephant poaching in Africa to meet Asian demand for tusks for use in jewellery and ornaments.

Underlining the clout of the poaching force, Haman said a group of 50 had killed six Chadian soldiers who tried to arrest them as they fled with the ivory.

"In January we counted 146 [elephant] carcasses and since the beginning of this month we've had close to 60 already. This may only be a tip of the iceberg as some may have been killed in parts of the park that we cannot access," Haman added.

Cameroon has dispatched a rapid-reaction force to the area but Haman said there were not enough troops to cover the remote park.

Ifaw said it was not clear how many elephants remained in Cameroon. A 2007 estimate put the figure at between 1,000 and 5,000.

Traffic has said that the spike in poaching and illegal ivory trade in Africa is a direct consequence of China's investment drive into the continent.

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