Best of our wild blogs: 17 Mar 12

28 Apr (Sat): Semakau Mini Documentary contest
from wild shores of singapore

Black beetles
from The annotated budak

Tiger Shrike’s Unique Bill
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Action taken over illegal use of state land: SLA

The SLA will seek views of grassroots groups on possible interim useof land for community
Letter from Julia Poh Head, Corporate Communications Singapore Land Authority
Today Online 17 Mar 12;

We refer to the letter, "Illegal use of State land for almost 30 years?", from M Lukshumayeh (Today, 16 March 2012).

The State land near Blk 305 Clementi Avenue 4 was part of the land formerly occupied by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) which has reverted to the State.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) had recently received feedback from the residents in the vicinity about the frequent burning of branches and leaves, which not only affects the air quality but also poses a potential fire hazard.

Upon inspection, we found that some individuals have not only encroached on State land for their own personal use, but also erected illegal structures. Some have fenced up parcels of land and padlocked them for their exclusive use.

The illegal structures include make-shift sheds and a toilet.

SLA officers also found several ponds with stagnant water, which are potential mosquito breeding grounds. (Please see

In the interests of the residents living in the area, the Government's immediate priority is to stop the burning of leaves, and to commence vector control measures.

SLA would also like to emphasise that State land belongs to all Singaporeans. Individuals cannot simply lay claim on State land for their private use.

As for the "kampong/farm" use of the land suggested by the writer, SLA understands that the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC's Bukit Timah Division already has a community garden at Block 307, and a new one is being planned for nearby.

SLA will seek and consider the views of the grassroots organisations, and determine whether the land near Blk 305 can be put up for interim use and managed by the grassroots organisations for the benefit of the wider community.

Illegal use of State land for almost 30 years?
Letter from M Lukshumayeh
Today Online 16 Mar 12

I REFER to the report "Residents illegally using State land in Clementi must own up" (March 14).

It is puzzling that, despite the illegal use of State land at Clementi Avenue 4 for almost 30 years, the authorities had not acted any earlier till a resident complained about burning leaves a few weeks ago.

The National Environment Agency's concern is about mosquito breeding, while the Singapore Land Authority is concerned about the illegal use of State land.

Why did these agencies not act before the complaint by the resident about burning leaves, taking into account the concerns?

Were the agencies and the grassroots organisations of Holland-Bukit Timah all unaware of the farming activities taking place on the said land?

Whatever it may be, the kampung/farm use of the land should be supported and preserved.

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PUB starts Monday to divert sewer pipe in Stamford Canal

Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB will commence work on Monday to divert a sewer pipe in Stamford Canal.

It was a measure recommended by a panel of flood experts to improve the flow capacity of the canal.

The 12-metre long, 457mm diameter sewer pipe currently cuts across the canal near Killiney Road.

PUB will construct a new sewer pipe under Orchard Road, and sewer flow will be diverted to this new pipe.

The existing sewer pipe that runs across the Stamford Canal will be removed thereafter.

The project is expected to be completed by January 2013.

PUB said the work will not affect traffic in the area as the new sewer pipe will be laid using a pipe-jacking method without excavating the road.

However, hoardings will be erected at the open green space near the junction of Orchard Road and Killiney Road to facilitate the works.

Pedestrian walkways along the hoardings will be temporarily narrowed to accommodate the construction work, but they remain passable to the public at all times.

PUB said a large proportion of the work will be carried out from 7am to 6pm, and the contractor will employ a silent piler to reduce construction noise.

PUB will also commence works in May to remove a NEWater pipe in the canal and line the canal wall with polymer coating.

The initiatives will increase the flow capacity in the Canal by an estimated 10 per cent.

- CNA/ck

Works on Stamford Canal kick off Monday
Today Online 17 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE - To improve the flow capacity of the Stamford Canal, the PUB will divert an existing sewer pipe located inside the canal.

Work will begin on Monday to build a new sewer pipe under Orchard Road. When completed, sewer flow will be diverted to this new pipe, and the old pipe - which currently cuts across the canal near Killiney Road - will be removed.

The diversion of the existing sewage pipe from Stamford Canal was among the measures recommended by a panel of flood experts commissioned after flooding on Orchard Road in 2010.

Work is expected to be completed by next January, the PUB said in a statement released yesterday.

It said the works would not affect traffic in the area as the new sewer pipe will be laid using a pipe-jacking method that does not require the road to be excavated.

The work will largely be carried out during the day from 7am to 6pm, and the contractor will use a silent piler to reduce construction noise.

However, part of a nearby pedestrian walkway will be temporarily narrowed to accommodate the construction work but will remain passable to the public at all times.

The PUB also plans to remove a NEWater pipe in the canal and to smoothen the canal wall with a polymer lining.

A tender for these works has been called and the works are expected to commence in May.

"Together, these initiatives will increase the flow capacity in the canal by an estimated 10 per cent," the PUB said.

PUB to divert sewer pipe in Stamford Canal
Straits Times 17 Mar 12;

NATIONAL water agency PUB will start work to divert an existing sewer pipe in Stamford Canal to improve its flow capacity on Monday.

The 12m-long, 45.7cm diameter sewer pipe now cuts across the canal near Killiney Road.

The change will entail constructing a short length of sewer pipe under Orchard Road. The existing sewer pipe that runs across the Stamford Canal will then be removed, said PUB in a statement yesterday.

The works will not affect vehicular traffic in the area as the new sewer pipe will be laid using a pipe-jacking method that does not require the road to be excavated.

PUB said a large proportion of the works will be carried out during the day from 7am to 6pm.

Besides diverting this sewer pipe, PUB has also scheduled works to remove a NEWater pipe in the Canal, and to smoothen the canal wall with a polymer lining.

These will increase the flow capacity in the canal by an estimated 10 per cent, the PUB said.


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Bonsai tree trade closing net on near-extinct Vietnamese monkey

One of world's rarest primates, the white-headed langur, numbers around 70 as increasing deforestation uproots habitat
Marianne Brown 16 Mar 12;

Squelching his way along a muddy trail in one of Vietnam's most famous national parks, Vu Huu Tinh points to some pits in the forest floor. "This is where the trees used to be," he says.

We are just a few kilometres from the protected home of one of the world's rarest primates, the Cat Ba angur, or white-headed langur. Only 70 are known to survive on the island of the same name, off the coast of north Vietnam, following decades of hunting. But conservationists have warned that there is another threat: intruders taking the trees themselves.

One kind of tree is targeted in particular. The Ficus benjamica, a common sight across south-east Asia, is a kind of strangling fig popular among bonsai growers. Small trees are taken out at the root, or their stems are removed to sell to nurseries for up to $1,000, where they are potted and pruned into shape for sale. The older the plant, the more valuable it is for the bonsai industry. That, says bonsai expert Nguyen Cong Chi, is why many are taken from the forest.

Chi cares for around 700 bonsai trees at a nursery in Hanoi, and some of them are more than 150 years old. "You can tell the age of the plant by the colour and texture of the bark," he said. Some of his trees sell for up to $350,000.

Experts discourage people from using trees from national parks, said Do Phuong, chairman of the Vietnam Natural and Traditional Beauty Association.

"We ban our members from taking bonsai from protected forests, and if we discover someone doing so, we will expel them from our organisation," he said.

However, the temptation for poor farmers living near Cat Ba national park to sell the trees is great, said conservation officer Pham Van Tuyen. "It just takes a couple of hours to go into the forest and take a tree but it can take 30 to 40 years to grow one." With hunting becoming more difficult as animals grow scarcer, Tuyen said local people are plundering the trees instead.

Both Tuyen and Tinh work for the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project, set up in 2000 by the German Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations and Münster zoo. Scientists had just declared the species one of the rarest primates in the world with less than 60 individuals left. The project employs local people to protect the langur instead of hunting it and runs education programmes in surrounding communities.

Despite their hard work, continued intrusion into the park to get trees is upsetting the already fragile ecosystem and encouraging opportunists to use the forest more often, said project manager Rick Passaro.

"The island is so rich in biodiversity," he said. "Recently rangers found a species of snake never recorded on the island before. Scientists just found two new species, one bat and one gecko, but the large animals are in deep, deep trouble."

Tinh said at the rate the forest is being destroyed: "There will be nothing left in the park, not even trees."

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World's Largest Conservation Area To Protect African Wildlife

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 16 Mar 12;

Wildlife in Africa got an extra level of protection Thursday (March 15) with the official creation of the world's largest international conservation area spanning the borders of Botswana, Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The new Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) spans 109 million acres, almost three-quarters the size of Texas. The protected area combines 36 individual nature preserves and the land around them.

KAZA is home to 44 percent of Africa's elephants, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Six hundred plant species and 3,000 species of birds also live in the preservation zone, which contains famous Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on Earth. The preservation area includes the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a wetlands that provides refuge and water to crocodiles, lions, leopards, hyenas, rhinoceroses, baboons and more, including the endangered African wild dog. [See images from the protected area]

Many of these animals are vulnerable to human encroachment, especially poaching. In 2010, for example, 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa, largely to meet demand for their horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine.

The cross-border KAZA cooperation is years in the making. In August 2011, the governments of the five nations involved signed a "memorandum of understanding" and committed themselves to developing the area. Thursday's (March 15) treaty-signing ceremony makes the deal official.

The conservation of KAZA still faces challenges, from a growing human population (the WWF estimates that 1.5 million people depend on the resources found in the area) to the area's vastness, which makes management more difficult. But conservationists hope that the linked park systems will reopen migration routes for animals and promote cross-border cooperation in protecting wildlife.

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Monarch Butterfly Numbers Take a Hit

Andrea Mustain Yahoo News 17 Mar 12;

Monarch butterflies have taken a hit this year, according to researchers who monitor the colorful insects' numbers at their traditional overwintering grounds in a forest in central Mexico.

This winter's surviving population covers only about 7 acres (2.89 hectares), almost a third less than the area the butterflies covered in the 2010-2011 season.

Each winter, the world's monarchs gather in a single swath of evergreen forest in Michoacán, Mexico, to spend the cooler months clustered together in a state of torpor, blanketing the trees by the thousands.

This so-called "supergeneration" flies from its birthplace, in the northern United States and Canada, to the same patch of Mexican forest, year after year.

The announcement from researchers with WWF and Mexico's National Commission for Natural Protected Areas appears to confirm the fears of some biologists, who said it was likely that scalding temperatures and extreme droughts affecting Texas and other parts of the United States in 2011 would take a toll on the butterflies.

The migrating monarchs can survive for only so long without nectar or water, and the leg of their journey through parched regions of the U.S. was likely a difficult one.

"I call that a thousand miles of hell, from Oklahoma down to Mexico," Chip Taylor, a professor and insect ecologist at the University of Kansas, and the director of Monarch Watch, a nonprofit outreach organization, told OurAmazingPlanet in November.

In recent years, winter monarch colonies appear to be shrinking. Since 1994, the average coverage is 18 acres (7 hectares), but the lowest numbers ever recorded have all occurred in the last 11 years, with a new record low in 2009 of a mere 5 acres (2 hectares) — an area only about one-eighth larger than the average Walmart Supercenter store.

Overall, monarch populations have declined significantly over the last two decades. Deforestation in Mexico has been a factor, according to some biologists. Taylor says agricultural practices in the United States also play an outsize role in the butterflies' demise.

The liberal use of herbicides has killed off milkweed — the only plant upon which the butterflies lay their eggs — from some 140 million acres (57 million hectares) in North America the last 10 years, Taylor said.

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Air pollution 'will become bigger global killer than dirty water'

OECD report says pollution will become biggest cause of premature death, killing an estimated 3.6 million people a year by 2050
Fiona Harvey 15 Mar 12;

Urban air pollution is set to become the biggest environmental cause of premature death in the coming decades, overtaking even such mass killers as poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water, according to a new report.

Both developed and developing countries will be hit, and by 2050, there could be 3.6 million premature deaths a year from exposure to particulate matter, most of them in China and India. But rich countries will suffer worse effects from exposure to ground-level ozone, because of their ageing populations – older people are more susceptible.

The warning comes in a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is a study of the global environmental outlook until 2050. The report found four key areas that are of most concern – climate change, loss of biodiversity, water and the health impacts of pollution.

If current policies are allowed to carry on, the world will far exceed the levels of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are safe, the report found. "I call it the surrender scenario – where we would be if governments do nothing more than what they have pledged already?" said Simon Upton, environment director at the OECD. "But it could be even worse than that, we've found."

The report said that global greenhouse gas emissions could increase by as much as half, as energy demand rises strongly, if countries fail to use cleaner forms of energy. Water demand is also likely to rise by more than half, and by 2050 as much as 40% of the global population is likely to be living in areas under severe water stress. Groundwater depletion would become the biggest threat to agriculture and to urban water supplies, while pollution from sewage and waste water – including chemicals used in cleaning – will put further strain on supplies.

However, the OECD study alsos said that there are some actions that governments can take quickly to tackle some of the key problems. For instance, many governments treat diesel fuel for vehicles differently than petrol for tax purposes, with tax breaks that encourage the take-up of diesel. But although diesel vehicle fuel produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than petrol, it is far worse for spewing out small particulate matter, which is bad for urban pollution. "In environmental terms, there is no reason to give diesel tax breaks over petrol," said Upton.

Governments could also remove other environmentally harmful subsidies, such as fossil fuel subsidies and subsidies for water that encourage irresponsible use of the resource. Biofuels are another potential danger area, because although they can emit less carbon than conventional fossil fuels, they also contribute to reducing biodiversity and put further strains on water use, so governments should consider carefully whether to go down the biofuels road, Upton warned.

Upton said that if governments took action now, and developed long-term views of these environmental problems, it would give them a much greater chance of avoiding the worst outcomes. "The key thing is that these four biggest problems are interconnnected – biodiversity is affected by climate change and land use, water is linked to health problems, for instance. You can't solve any one of these in isolation. So to be effective, governments have to focus on all of these four and look very closely at the connections between them," he said.

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Gear change on road to Rio?

UN Security Council Reform of the UN's internal democracy is urged
Richard Black BBC News 15 Mar 12;

One of the biggest questions being asked in the lead-up to the Rio+20 conference this June is also one of the oldest.

In a nutshell: does the way humanity governs itself need a series of tweaks or a complete overhaul, in order to meet the broadest ambitions of improving the lot of the planet's poorest, safeguarding nature and making the global economy more sustainable?

It's a question that one academic grouping, the Earth System Governance Project, has spent a decade researching.

The group has published many research papers along the way, and some are pretty specialised. But this week they lay out the top-level conclusion in a short article in the journal Science.

It is that in order to "change course and steer away from critical tipping points... that might lead to rapid and irreversible change", something radical is needed.

"This requires fundamental reorientation and restructuring of national and international institutions toward more effective Earth system governance and planetary stewardship," they write.

Theirs is a seven-point plan:

*reform the UN's environmental agencies and programmes
*morph the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) into something more representative and influential
*deploy innovative technologies such as synthetic biology and geo-engineering, with rules and safeguards
*reflect sustainability concerns in economic and trade institutions
*introduce qualified majority voting when making international decisions on environment and sustainability
*strengthen the voices of citizens as opposed to bureaucrats in global decision-making
*support developing countries more to ensure fairness.

Some of these are already being addressed in the Rio process, especially the first two; although their CSD proposal contains the innovative element of adjusting the weight given to each country's representation so that the G20 grouping accounts for 50% of the votes.

This might appear undemocratic; but actually it would ensure the voting reflects the size of countries' populations more accurately than it does now, though also skewing things towards the rich.

The most radical idea in procedural terms is introducing majority voting in UN fora to prevent a few recalcitrant nations from blocking the will of the vast majority.

There have been many times in the past when just one or two countries held up progress in UN processes such as the climate change convention - and the same issue is now being raised within the EU, where last week Poland on its own managed to block the setting of tougher carbon emission targets.

On the other hand, some countries' protests clearly matter more than others.

Whereas the 2007 UN climate summit in Bali hinged on whether the US would block the will of every other country on the planet - it eventually chose not to - the objections of Bolivia at the equivalent meeting in 2010 were basically ignored by everyone else, who decided in that case that a consensus could leave one nation out.

One suspects this particular reform would be tough to push through; and it isn't the only one.

As so often in environmental and sustainability circles, the plan contains no shortage of ideas on what should be done, and why, and by when.

The politics of how to make it all happen are a different matter.

In this case, how to get economic bodies to put Rio+20 notions at the centre of their decision-making, how to persuade governments to give up their right of veto, how to project the concerns of citizens through the blockage of bureaucracy - these aren't in the prescription.

And that "how?" issue is the toughest part of making a real transition.

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