Best of our wild blogs: 24 Mar 12

from The annotated budak and Nameless soldier

Sharing about our shores at NUS, and Life Science Honours Poster Day from wild shores of singapore

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker feeds chick at HDB area
from PurpleMangrove

Courtship of Spotted Doves and an intruding Javan Myna
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Raffles Museum Toddycats’ preparation for Singapore World Water Day Exhibition (Sat 24 Mar 2012) from Toddycats! and more details of the exhibition

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Dolphin therapy for terminally ill at Sentosa's Underwater World

Hospice patients have fun day out at Sentosa's Underwater World
Judith Tan Straits Times 24 Mar 12;

MOST of the patients have been diagnosed by doctors as having only a year to live, so staff and volunteers at HCA Hospice Care often take them out on excursions.

On Wednesday, more than 30 patients spent the morning and a good half of the afternoon at Underwater World Singapore in Sentosa.

Among them was ovarian cancer patient Chong Ah Chiew, 74, who, with pants rolled above her knees, got to wade into the Dolphin Lagoon to meet pink dolphin Han.

'I was told she has a temper, but she was gentle and friendly with me. She did not even baulk when I went near,' said Madam Chong, grinning happily from the experience.

It might have been her first time getting into the lagoon, but for many of the others, it was their first visit to the tourist attraction.

Some of the patients, who are attending day care at the HCA Hospice, were in wheelchairs, and others had feeding tubes attached. They went in vans, accompanied by volunteers.

Singapore Hospice Council (SHC) chairman R. Akhileswaran said: 'For some, the disease is in remission, while for others, it might be their first time at the Underwater World and, sad to say, it could well be their last.'

Most of the patients attending day hospice care suffer from life-limiting conditions, including end-stage cancer.

They also have been diagnosed by their doctors as having only a year to live.

When they go for excursions, 'usually, it is to somewhere simple like the park or the beach', Dr Akhileswaran said, adding that the volunteers have to be trained first to understand how to take care of a terminally ill person.

'And organising an outing for the terminally ill sometimes can be a logistics challenge - ensuring that everyone's nutritional and physical needs are met.

'We are fortunate to have good people to help out here,' Dr Akhileswaran said.

Senior nurse manager Angela Tan, 56, said transport was arranged islandwide to pick the patients up from their homes.

'Not all will arrive at the same time so often we and the host organisation have to play it by ear. We cannot stick rigidly to a given programme,' she added.

Unfortunately, five patients missed the dolphin show on Wednesday because the van they were in was stuck in bad traffic caused by an accident along the Pan-Island Expressway.

But all made it in time for lunch and a tour of the tourist attraction.

Underwater World's general manager Peter Chew, 31, said hosting the hospice has been 'great for the staff'.

'It takes them away from the day-to-day dealings and commercial objectives of the job and places them in a place of compassion and higher service.

'They learn to handle situations outside of the comfort zone and turn out better for the experience,' he added.

SHC vice-president Seet Ai Mee, 68, hopes more such places would open up their facilities for hospice patients to visit.

'Because many of such patients would never have the chance to travel out on their own, and would probably never have a second chance to do so in their limited lifetime,' she said.

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Bird smuggling: Trader fined $6,000

Straits Times 24 Mar 12;

A MALAYSIAN man was yesterday fined $6,000 for trying to smuggle three birds through the Woodlands Checkpoint on Wednesday.

Yee Shen Yaw, 38, had packed the birds into narrow PVC pipes hidden under a piece of cloth in his car.

He was charged with importing the animals into Singapore without a licence, and unreasonably causing unnecessary suffering to the animals.

Yee, who is a trader dealing in bird cages and bird food, tried to enter the country at about 6.45am.

He had placed the pipes in a basket covered with a face towel on the front passenger seat of the car.

Investigations by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority revealed that the three feathered stowaways were Oriental White-eye songbirds, also known as mata puteh in Malay.

He had purchased them for RM400 (S$164) in total from a friend in Malaysia.

The birds had been packed in the pipes, which measured just 3cm in diameter and 9.5cm in length, for more than six hours - the time he took to travel from Kuala Lumpur to the checkpoint.

Yee was fined $3,000 on each of the two charges.

He could have been jailed for up to 12 months and fined up to $10,000 on each charge.

In mitigation, he pleaded for leniency and said this was his first offence. He added that the birds were meant as a gift, and he had not been planning to sell them here.

In January, a man who tried to smuggle 302 birds into the country was fined $18,000 for the same offences and an additional charge of not providing the birds with food and water.

Site engineer Winston Boo Kiang Cheng, 38, had smuggled the birds in such dismal conditions - stuffed into small trays and cages, a narrow plastic pipe and two cardboard toilet-paper rolls - that two-thirds of them died.


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Threatened species used in traditional chinese medicine

Prized ingredient
Straits Times 24 Mar 12;

Animal ingredients such as rhino horn and tiger bone have been used in traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) for centuries. Last month, a pharmaceutical firm's bid for listing on the Chinese stock exchange - to raise money to increase its stock of farmed bears - set off a public protest against the move. The Straits Times highlights some of the imperiled species used in TCM

Click for larger image

Cruel ingredient in TCM 'cooling drink'
Straits Times Forum 5 Apr 12;

IN ADDITION to the illegal animal products used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are many products from legally killed endangered animals that are widely sold in Singapore ('Prized ingredient'; March 24).

One such animal is the critically endangered saiga antelope. This animal is widely hunted for its horns, which are used to make the 'antelope drink' sold under the label 'cooling drink' by some TCM halls.

If demand for its horns does not subside, the saiga is expected to become extinct within the next decade.

The only sign that the drink is made from saiga horns may at times be its scientific name, cornu saigae tataricae, listed under the ingredients.

The horns grow only on male saigas, which are killed in order to retrieve the horns. Because saigas are hunted from the wild, demand for the antelope drink directly affects wild populations.

I have spoken to many people about the antelope drink, and realised that the general perception is that the horns may come from farmed antelopes, or wild antelopes that are in abundance. Almost everyone I spoke to was not aware that the drink is made from a critically endangered species, as it is so widely available in Singapore.

On a positive note, a cruelty-free alternative to the antelope drink is readily available. Most bottled 'cooling drinks' or 'antelope horn drinks' found in supermarkets such as FairPrice or Carrefour contain an alternative TCM ingredient called gypsum fibrosum. This mineral compound serves the same purpose, cooling the body of 'heatiness', but minus the killing.

When buying a TCM or food item, consumers can exercise care in checking its ingredients, and also by taking note of its price.

When a TCM item is priced at a premium rate, it is usually because it is made of 'rare' ingredients, as the shop owners describe it.

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Project: Wild

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Singapore to join climate change group for cities

Straits Times 24 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE will join a prestigious international climate group to learn how to reduce its carbon footprint.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which includes other cities such as Berlin, Hong Kong, London, New York and Tokyo, encourages members to share their best environmental practices.

The Republic's involvement is timely because it was ranked poorly in a recent survey on countries' carbon footprints, although the Government has disputed the ranking.

Last month, researchers from Canada's University of British Columbia ranked Singapore last among 150 countries in terms of ecological health.

The researchers took into account the countries' economies, consumption and waste, and their local resources such as agricultural land and energy.

Earlier this month, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu addressed the study, saying Singapore fared poorly because it is land-scarce and depends on imported resources.

'From the water we drink to the food we consume... we run an 'ecology deficit' to sustain our country,' she said.

As part of the international climate group, the Republic will share its expertise on water management. It will also participate in the group's initiatives and develop case studies.

The C40 - which now has 58 member cities - also works with organisations such as the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and former United States president Bill Clinton's Clinton Climate Initiative.

However, Singapore will be an 'observer city', which means it will not be part of statements issued by the group.

This is because Singapore is also a country, which has different constraints compared to cities, said the National Climate Change Secretariat, which coordinates Singapore's domestic and international policies, plans and actions on climate change.

In 2009, Singapore announced that it would cut carbon emissions by 7 per cent to 11 per cent by 2020 if no global, binding deal was reached, and by 16 per cent if one was.


Singapore in global 'green growth' effort as C40 observer city
Channel NewsAsia 23 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore signed on Friday a Memorandum of Understanding with the Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) to participate in the international climate action group as an observer city.

The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) said Singapore was invited to join the C40 because of its achievements as a global city with a proven record in achieving economic growth and environment sustainability.

C40 has also expressed interest in Singapore's experience in areas such as land transport and water management.

Singapore will only participate as an observer because of its unique circumstances as a city-state and will not be party to communiqu├ęs issued by the C40 group.

Both sides will work together to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and support measures to avoid the harmful impacts of climate change.

These will include Singapore's participation in C40 initiatives, as well as the development of case studies to share knowledge with other cities.

Singapore is interested in learning from the best practices of C40 cities, in areas such as developing low carbon strategies and deploying solutions to reduce emissions.

The C40 has 58 cities, such as Berlin, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, London, New York, Sao Paulo, Seoul and Tokyo.

It collaborates on climate change-related initiatives with organisations such as the World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Clinton Climate Initiative.

- CNA/wm

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Global cyber anti-garbage drive shifts into gear

AFP Yahoo News 24 Mar 12;

Cyber-environmentalists said Friday 80 countries have joined the World Cleanup 2012 campaign which will see volunteers across the globe use the Internet to target illegal trash dumps for cleanup.

Portugal and Slovenia kick off the unprecedented six-month-long global anti-dumping campaign on Saturday, with Tunisia joining in Sunday.

"The aim of the action is to solve the illegal dumping problem on a local and global level both short- and long-term by engaging a large part of society in the cleanup," Tiina Urm, World Cleanup 2012 spokeswoman told AFP on Friday.

Urm added that the broad grassroots focus on illegal dumping was also aimed at "engaging experts, political and local leaders to find more sustainable systemic solutions."

The campaign started in 2008 in Estonia, where organisers created special software to map and photograph 11,000 illegal garbage dumps across the Nordic nation of 1.3 million people.

In what proved to be an unprecedented success, over 50,000 volunteers collected 10,000 tonnes of illegal garbage from roadsides, forests and towns in just five hours.

Organisers decided to go global after the campaign spread like wildfire to 15 more countries including India, Slovenia, Serbia, Finland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Cambodia, Russia, Hungary and Brazil.

"Everyone eager to join can get the list and timetable of the countries attending the action from our homepage:", Urm told AFP.

Portuguese organisers are expecting to draw 100,000 volunteers Saturday, but complain support from local authorities has been more difficult to muster this year due to economic hard times.

"This time around, getting the support of the local municipalities, has been more difficult. It's clear that they simply have much less resources at hand to help us," Carlos Evaristo, an activist from Portugal said in a press release.

Evaristo is one of more than 100 national and local coordinating volunteers who have worked for six months to plan this unprecedented global clean-up.

Slovenians will also be sweeping up for a second time around. They are the current world record holders of the movement, having drawn a whopping 14 percent of the country's two million citizens into the action in 2010.

This year they are hoping for a quarter million people to pitch in.

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Tanzania: Rising Tides Threaten Coastal Towns

Kizito Makoye AllAfrica 23 Mar 12;

Surging Indian Ocean tides have forced hundreds of people in northeast Tanzania's Pangani District to abandon their homes, as higher seas increasingly threaten settlements along East Africa's coastline.

Several towns and villages are suffering flooding and intrusions of salt water, which are damaging property and tainting clean water supplies. Scientists and government officials attribute the problem partly to climate change, but crumbling sea defences are also to blame.

The increasing disaster threat has led government officials to urge residents to move to higher ground, and to promise to repair seawalls. But the country's key tourism industry remains at risk as rising seas and worsening storm surges erode beaches and coastal infrastructure, experts say.

In Pangani Diustrict's Buyuni village, which lies just a stone's throw from the shore, over a dozen families have abandoned their homes after they were flooded by the sea and sought refuge with friends and relatives in safer areas, according to village chairman Saleh Ali.

Fisherman Vicent Magomba, 51, is increasingly worried about the security of his family home as sea water is eroding its foundations.

"I don't have peace of mind because I do not know when the water will destroy my house completely, and I do not have money to build another one," he said.

Waves have left watermarks on the walls of most of the village's brick houses, a clear indication of the threat their occupants face.

The government has blamed the effects of climate change for the rising level of the Indian Ocean, which is disrupting life in many coastal settlements - from Pemba Tanga Bagamoyo to the country's largest city, Dar es Salaam.

"There is no doubt that sea-level rise has been inundating infrastructure, including roads and shallow water wells, in coastal towns," Teresa Huvisa, minister of state responsible for the environment, told AlertNet in a telephone interview. "This is a deepening development challenge the country is facing."

Henry Laswai, a professor of climate science at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, said human-induced climate change can directly affect sea level through a process known as thermal expansion, when warmer temperatures cause water to expand.

Other factors contributing to sea level rise include the melting of glaciers - some of the world's largest reservoirs of fresh water.

"When the temperature exceeds a particular level, glaciers and ice sheets will lose mass, as is the case with glaciers on (Tanzania's) Mount Kilimanjaro," Laswai explained.


Pangani residents say their problems began a few years ago when a 2km concrete buffer wall built in the German colonial era was badly damaged by waves. Sea water poured through into the streets.

A large part of the sea wall has now been completely eroded, and when high tide comes, nearby residents brace for repeated flooding.

But the flooding has also been worsened by clearing of mangroves which once formed a natural buffer against the ocean waves.

Rubera Mato, an environmental engineer at Ardhi University, said mangrove trees - which thrive on salty water - have for years proven effective in protecting against sea erosion.

District authorities have now warned Pangani residents living in flood-prone areas to take precautions, such as moving to higher land.

Rafael Samson, a district natural resources officer, told AlertNet villagers could no longer sleep at night because they are afraid of high waves.

"We have asked them to move their belongings to safer ground, and if they ignore this warning they will be endangering their own lives," he said.

Vice President Mohammed Gharib Bilal visited Pangani in January, telling residents the government was "fully aware" of what was happening and understood their predicament.

"Do not be afraid - we will help you to solve this problem as soon as we possibly can, but you must protect the environment to the best of your abilities," Bilal told a rally.

He assured local people the government was taking steps to address soil erosion on the coastal strip, and would reconstruct the damaged wall to hold back ocean tides.

According to the vice president, the sum of 2.3 billion Tanzanian shillings (around $1.5 million) has been earmarked for the work.

But Costa Magali, a Pangani district welfare officer, blamed the government for delays in releasing the money to rebuild the wall despite knowing about the problem for some time.


A study published last year, commissioned by Britain's Department for International Development, and authored by local and foreign scientists, spells out how East Africa's coastal zone is increasingly threatened by rising seas.

The research, entitled "The Economics of Climate Change in Tanzania", calls for integrated coastal zone management to prevent disasters posed by rising seas.

"The coastal zones of Tanzania contain high populations, (and) significant economic and important ecosystem services. These areas are at risk from sea level rise," it says.

It cites the case of Dar es Salaam, the country's commercial capital, where around 8 percent of the land area, 140,000 people and economic assets worth more than $170 million are located in vulnerable areas. So far, Tanzania's government has not put in place sufficient measures to deal with climate risks, the report said.

Pius Yanda, a scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam, said the tourism industry in East Africa's coastal communities and small island populations is particularly at risk as rising seas erode beaches and degrade coastal areas.

"Sea-level rise threatens the tourism industry through damage to tourism infrastructure and loss of property which would reduce the potential economic benefits of tourism," he said.

Higher sea levels, changing rainfall patterns, food insecurity from recurring droughts, depleted fisheries and increased coastal erosion all threaten to make life harder on East Africa's coasts, and potentially to reduce the area of habitable land in the region, Yanda said.


In Pangani, loss of drinking water - as well as seawater intrusion into homes - may be one of the biggest threats.

Residents in Pangani town are already experiencing severe shortages of drinking water as a result of the seawater intrusions - a problem Mohammed Hamis, a district environmental engineer, links to climate change.

"The quality and quantity of surface water has particularly been affected," he said. Salt water intrusion in the Pangani River has penetrated as far as 8 km inland due to the rising level of the Indian Ocean, Hamis said.

That means fresh water must be pumped to Pangani town residents when the tide is low, or their supply will be tainted with salt water, he said.

"We are now thinking of moving the pump house further upstream to avoid supplying residents with salt water," he explained.

In addition, many small rivers that feed into the Pangani River have become seasonal, flowing only in the rainy season when there is plenty of fresh water, Hamis said. Others have dried up completely.

In some parts of the district, people who get their water from wells are finding that deep wells in particular are becoming increasingly salty, he said.

"Rising sea levels have not spared deep wells. Many of them now produce salt water that is not fit for human consumption," he warned.

Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

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2001-2010 warmest decade on record: WMO

AFP Yahoo News 24 Mar 12;

Climate change has accelerated in the past decade, the UN weather agency said Friday, releasing data showing that 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record.

The 10-year period was also marked by extreme levels of rain or snowfall, leading to significant flooding on all continents, while droughts affected parts of East Africa and North America.

"The decade 2001-2010 was the warmest since records began in 1850, with global land and sea surface temperatures estimated at 0.46 degrees Celsius above the long term average of 14.0 degrees Celsius (57.2 degrees Fahrenheit)," said the World Meteorological Organisation.

Nine of the 10 years also counted among the 10 warmest on record, it added, noting that "climate change accelerated" during the first decade of the 21st century.

The trend continued in 2011, which was the warmest year on record despite La Nina -- a weather pattern which has a cooling effect.

The average temperature in 2011 was 0.40 degrees Celsius above the long term average, said the WMO.

"This 2011 annual assessment confirms the findings of the previous WMO annual statements that climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

"The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impacts on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans," he added.

The UN weather agency noted that during the decade, "numerous weather and climate extremes affected almost every part of the globe with flooding, droughts, cyclones, heat waves and cold waves."

Historical floods hit Eastern Europe in 2001 and 2005, Africa in 2008, Asia and Australia in 2010.Global precipitation -- including rain or snow -- reached the second highest average since 1901. The highest average was recorded for the decade 1951-1960.

Meanwhile for the North Atlantic basin, the 10 years marked the highest level of tropical cyclone activity, including Hurricane Katrina which struck the United States in 2005 and Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar in 2008.

Mankind Kept 2011 Global Temperatures Near Record: WMO
Emma Farge PlanetArk 26 Mar 12;

Mankind Kept 2011 Global Temperatures Near Record-WMO Photo: Ivan Alvarado
A farmer inspects flowers in a conservatory on a farm in Petorca town, some 120 km (75 miles) north of Santiago February 3, 2012. Chile has around 77 communes in three regions that have been put under a state of agricultural emergency.
Photo: Ivan Alvarado

Human activity kept global temperatures close to a record high in 2011 despite the cooling influence of a powerful La Nina weather pattern, the World Meteorological Organization said on Friday.

On average, global temperatures in 2011 were lower than the record level hit the previous year but were still 0.40 degrees Centigrade above the 1961-1990 average and the 11th highest on record, the report said.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud warned that the consequences of global warming could be permanent. "The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impact on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans," he said.

La Nina, a natural weather phenomenon linked to heavy rains and flooding in the Asia-Pacific and South America and drought in Africa, was one of the strongest in the past 60 years and stayed active in the tropical Pacific until May 2011.

Further signs of man's contribution to climate change will put the biggest polluters in the spotlight after they agreed for the first time last December at U.N. climate talks in Durban to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics of the agreement have said that the plan was too timid to slow global warming.

The WMO, part of the United Nations, said that elevated temperatures had contributed to extreme weather conditions such as intense droughts and flooding and droughts in east Africa and North America.

Global tropical cyclone activity was below average last year but the United States had one of the most destructive tornado seasons on record, the report said.

Another impact of high temperatures was shrinking Arctic sea ice and its extent was the second-lowest minimum on record and the volume was the lowest.

The WMO also said that the decade between 2001-1010 was the warmest ever recorded across all of the world's continents ahead of the release of its 'Decadal Global Climate Summary'.

2010 tied for the warmest year since data started in 1880, capping a decade of record high temperatures that shows mankind's greenhouse gas emissions are heating the planet, two U.S. agencies said.

(Additional reporting by Nina Chestney in London; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Looking to Rio+20, world must act on sustainable development, says UN forum

UN News Centre 23 Mar 12;

The international community must “reset the global development agenda” and strengthen its commitment to sustainable development, a United Nations-backed conference in Istanbul heard today.

Organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in conjunction with Turkey’s Ministry of Development, the Global Human Development Forum gathered more than 200 leading development experts, civil society activists, private sector representatives and UN officials from around the world to tackle the need for reinforced global and national sustainable development strategies.

“Sustainable development recognizes that our economic, social and environmental objectives are not competing goals that must be traded off against each other, but are interconnected objectives that are most effectively pursued together in a holistic manner,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a message addressed to conference participants.

The two-day Forum concluded with the adoption of the unanimously-approved Istanbul Declaration calling on the international community to take bold action against social inequities and environmental deterioration when delegates meet at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, in Brazil in June.

“We need an outcome from Rio +20 that reflects this understanding and that relates to the concerns of all,” Mr. Ban added.

Noting that economic development has frequently meant environmental degradation and increased inequality, the Declaration also urges members of the global community to ensure that their development strategies promote key elements such as social inclusion, social protection, and equity.

In addition, it also endorses UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Report –“Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All” – stressing the need to maintain progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 while building a consensus for a new post-2015 global development framework.

“In 2011 and so far in 2012, we have heard clear warnings from nature that humanity is arrogantly pushing her boundaries, just as we have heard societies demanding human rights and justice, opportunities and decent jobs, affordable health care and energy access,” said the Director of UNDP’s Bureau of Development Policy, Olav Kjorven.

“Responding successfully will require decision-makers from across the environmental, social and economic divides coming together to create the future we all want,” he concluded.

More than 100 Heads of State will be attending the conference, making it one of the largest such high-level gatherings in recent times.

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