Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 12

Oil-slicked Tanah Merah still reefy
from wild shores of singapore

nest I eaglet I @ Pasir Ris - 22Apr2012
from sgbeachbum

Weaver Ant Mimicry
from Macro Photography in Singapore

From Lornie Trail To Rifle Range Part 2
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Random Gallery - The Brown Awl
from Butterflies of Singapore

Mobile field guide on Birds of Singapore
from Rojak Librarian

A Walk @ Chinese & Japanese Garden
from Nikita Hengbok

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Singapore's parks and nature reserves are 'virtually devoid of wildlife'

Nature parks
Straits Times Forum 25 Apr 12;

'Introduce native fauna like the mousedeer, jungle fowl and civet cat.'

MR AJIT KANAGASUNDRAM: 'Our parks and nature reserves, such as the ones at MacRitchie and Bukit Timah, are beautifully landscaped but are virtually devoid of wildlife. The National Parks Board (NParks) should introduce native fauna like the mousedeer, jungle fowl and civet cat. This will increase biodiversity and be interesting for wildlife enthusiasts. Tourists could be taken on nature walks to see them. The NParks and Singapore Zoo could do this as a joint project.'

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Dino Twinky is here

Baby dinosaur one of trio bought for museum to be built at NUS
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 25 Apr 12;

Prof Leo Tan inspecting a crate containing parts of Twinky's tail bone. Twinky arrived last Wednesday packed in 12 crates on a 20-foot container. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

IT SPENT one month at sea, journeying from the rugged, expansive and cold American state of Utah to the flat, small and tropical island of Singapore.

And last Wednesday night, Twinky, the baby dinosaur, arrived in its adopted land - packed in 12 crates on a 20-foot container.

But it will be a while before Singapore will unveil the rare 12m long find at its new home, as the yet-to-be-built Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will be ready only in two years' time.

The 7,500 sq m purpose-built museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will house not just Twinky and two larger dinosaurs, but also one of the biggest collections of South-east Asian animals in the region.

For now, Twinky will wait patiently in an undisclosed temperature-controlled and secure warehouse for its star turn - and the arrival of its 'parents'.

Twinky, Apollo and Prince were found buried together in a quarry in Wyoming between 2007 and 2010.

When the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS heard of the discovery last year, it made a successful bid to buy the trio for $8 million.

The museum's team, headed by Professor Leo Tan, 67, and Professor Peter Ng, 52, went on an intense two-month fund- raising drive to buy the giant, pre-historic creatures.

They sealed the deal when Mrs Della Lee, wife of Lee Foundation chairman Lee Seng Gee, stepped in to top up the $2 million collected.

Prof Tan, director of special projects at the Faculty of Science dean's office, is impatient for the arrival of Apollo and Prince.

He said: 'The sooner we get them here, the better. We want them in our hands, on our soil. It belongs to the people of Singapore.'

The duo, both 24m long, are affectionately referred to by the museum as Twinky's parents.

The trio, 80 per cent complete when found, are diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, one of the biggest animals to walk the Earth some 150 million years ago.

Apollo is expected to arrive within six months, while Prince will arrive in time for the museum's opening.

Prof Tan said the hardest part of the legal paper chase was getting the assurance that the dinosaurs' seller, Dinosauria International, had the right to prospect on the land leased to them by the quarry's owner.

The NUS team also had to ensure no one else had laid claim to the bones.

The museum is embarking on another drive to raise between $5 million and $10 million to pay for professorships, fellowships and the cost of exhibition.

As for what to do with Twinky between now and the museum's opening in two years' time, Prof Tan said the team is still working out plans but there is a possibility of showcasing it for fund-raising purposes.

But there will be no loan of the dinosaurs to museums. 'The risk is too great. We'll always worry, what happens if there is a fire?' said Prof Tan.

But the team is open to working with other museums on joint projects. It will also let corporations and individuals sponsor the display of Twinky at private events.

'People will see him before the opening. It is just a matter of when, how and in what form.'

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Malaysia: 3 dead turtles with shells cut off found on island

Roy Goh New Straits Times 25 Apr 12;

PROTECTED SPECIES: Hawksbill turtles' eyes also poked protected

Lodge employees removing a dead hawksbill turtle found on Pulau Mantanani Kecil in Kota Belud.

KOTA KINABALU: THREE dead turtles with their shells removed were found on the shores of Pulau Mantanani Kecil in Kota Belud recently.

The hawksbill turtles were found by employees of a backpackers' lodge on the island between Sunday and Monday. An employee said that apart from the shells, which appeared to have been uniformly cut, the eyes of the turtles were also poked.

The shell of hawksbill turtles, known as tortoiseshell, is used to make combs, guitar picks, knitting needles and ornaments.

Since 1973, the trade of tortoiseshell worldwide was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Tortoiseshell is preferred because of its durability.

State Wildlife and National Parks Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said officers would go to the island to investigate the incident.

"Hawksbill turtles are protected reptiles in the state."

The shells could have been cut by poachers, said Ambu.

In 1996, Malaysia and the Philippines had set up an area to protect turtles in Sulu Sea. The Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area covers three islands in Malaysia and six in the Philippines.

'Do more to stop turtle cruelty'
Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 28 Apr 12;

KOTA KINABALU: THE recent discovery of three dead hawksbill turtles minus their shells and with their eyes gouged out at Mantanani Islands, off Kota Belud, has caused concern among tourists, conservationists and tourism authorities.

Although they agreed that the incident was an isolated one, all are in favour of more efforts to be taken to prevent a recurrence.

Marine conservation officer Lionel Aaron Lingam, who was among the first to spot one of the turtles, then barely alive at Mantanani Kecil on April 20, called the incident "shocking".

Lionel was with 20 local and foreign divers and staff of Mari Mari Mantanani Dive Lodge where he works, preparing diving gear at the jetty when he spotted the turtle.

"I asked one of the staff to check on it.

"He told me that the shell was white.

"I then sensed something was wrong.

"The guests were angry and saddened.

"They asked me why such things happen.

"I was lost for words," he said, adding that the turtle died 20 minutes later.

Another hawksbill turtle was spotted by a boatman later in the evening between Mantanani Kecil and Mantanani Besar.

The third turtle was found on Saturday morning.

"I've never come across such incidents.

"It was cruel and I believe it was done by the islanders.

"But there is no proof."

Mantanani Islands comprises of Mantanani Besar which is populated and Mantanani Kecil and Lungisan, which are famed for their dive spots.

Mantanani Kecil is also gazetted as a bird sanctuary.

An avid diver and traveller, Jack Otter, also expressed his anger over the incident after reading about it on the New Straits Times' website.

The 46-year-old Australian believed the practice of killing marine turtles for their shells was isolated, but added that awareness must be instilled among islanders.

He said the authorities should take the matter seriously because marine awareness, especially among the islanders, was still low.

"I understand that it is somehow normal for them, who view it (killing turtles for their meat and shells) as a source of income, because they haven't been educated of their importance.

"For islanders who work with the resort, there is no problem because they are exposed to marine conservation efforts and programmes.

"However, for those who are not directly involved with tourism or the resort, there is a crucial need to change that practice and their perception.

"It's difficult, but it can be done slowly."

Otter also called on the state government to gazette Mantanani Islands as a marine park.

Sabah Tourism Board member Clement Lee had also raised concerns over the cruel treatment, describing the turtles' fate as similar to sharks.

Lee, who is also Borneo Divers Mabul Resort managing director, said he had never encountered such an incident in his 30 years of diving, adding that education was important to begin with.

"I've never seen it in Mabul, or other parts of Sabah.

"What happened is a warning for the authorities to do something about it."

Since 1973, the trade of hawksbill turtles' shells worldwide has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

In 1996, Malaysia and the Philippines set up an area to protect turtles in the Sulu Sea.

The Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area covers three islands in the country and six in the Philippines.

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Vietnam's mangroves trees threatened by rising tide of deforestation

clearances could contribute to coastal erosion and prove a missed opportunity to prevent climate change
Alisa Tang Guardian Weekly 24 Apr 12;

Standing at the entrance to Lang Co town hall, 69-year-old Mai Truc Lam gestured to the two-story building, the sun-drenched parking lot and two-lane road in front, and described the small coastal community as it once was.

"We are standing in an area that used to be mangroves," the weathered fisherman said, and then described the negative impact deforestation has wrought on the area's sea life. "Now, we do not see some species of fish here anymore."

A few minutes' drive away, on a sliver of sand that forms the Lap An Lagoon on the central coast of Vietnam, lies a modest grove of trees – some evergreens that shed a path of soft needles, and where the land meets the sea, Lang Co's few remaining hectares of mangroves, perched above the water upon their stilted, flying buttress-like roots.

Some of the mangrove trees have torpedo-shaped seeds, which have poked into the ground and given birth to a new generation of delicate seedlings, all too easily trampled upon by oblivious passersby. Yet these remaining mangroves face the threat of being razed entirely to make way for a golf course as part of local economic development plans – part of a global development trend that has seen the clearance of as much as 50% of the world's mangroves over the past half a century.

Mangroves grow along the ocean coasts of 118 countries – with a quarter of the world's 40m hectares being in south-east Asia – but with widespread deforestation due to population pressure, expansion of shrimp farms and development, scientists fear mangroves may disappear altogether in as little as 100 years. At their best, mangroves form a vast coastal barrier of trunks and roots against the sea, controlling erosion, protecting communities from storms, and providing an environment for greater fish diversity.

Furthermore, scientists last year unveiled research pointing to mangrove forests as ideal repositories for carbon storage – containing an average of 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare, compared with 300 tonnes per hectare of tropical forest – which could help to fight climate change by keeping carbon locked away on land and out of the atmosphere. The scientists found that most of the carbon in mangrove forests – 49% to 98% – is stored below ground in thick, tidally submerged soil in which decomposition is anaerobic in the absence of oxygen. Yet with mangrove conservation up against economic development, the more obvious path to money wins.

"My sense in Lang Co, and in provinces across Vietnam, is that economic development has become a driving force so dominant that environmental precautions have fallen by the wayside," said Evan Fox, a coastal planning consultant. "In villages where local governments are searching for ways to bolster their economic output, it is difficult to justify preservation of an area if managers and local people cannot discern its tangible benefit."

There are laws that protect the forests and mangroves in Vietnam, but enforcement can be lax, rendering such regulations impotent. "My interpretation is that it's illegal but everything is negotiable in Vietnam and since there is no consequence for breaking the law (at least in the environmental domain), mangroves get cut. Anyway, since there are so many conflicting laws, you can probably legalise what you've done by reference to a previous law," said Jake Brunner, programme co-ordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Vietnam.

Shrimp farms have been one of the big drivers behind mangrove loss. A 2011 analysis of images of Vietnam's southern Mekong delta – an area that is typically mangroves – found that from 1973 to 2008, more than half of the mangroves were converted into shrimp farms, causing serious erosion. Nonetheless, communities and governments have taken little notice of the protective services that mangroves provide until a disaster of epic proportions strikes – such as the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed some 180,000 people in western Indonesia's Aceh province.

"In Aceh, after the tsunami, the result wouldn't have been like this, if we still had mangroves," said Daniel Murdiyarso, a scientist with the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research and one of the researchers behind the mangrove carbon-storage findings.

Disaster management and risk reduction are now squarely on the Indonesian government's radar, but in most countries – and most of the time – the impact of climate change is incremental and therefore unlikely to spur governments and communities to action. When typhoons have hit Vietnam, mangroves have helped to save lives.

"That's when people noticed that where there were mangroves, people survived," Brunner said. "Thailand and Indonesia suffered a very high magnitude event, the tsunami, and that sent a very clear message. In Vietnam, there have been higher frequency, but lower magnitude events, so it hasn't quite had the same impact, and you still see mangroves being lost."

Initiatives like the Mangroves for the Future (MFF), established after the 2004 tsunami and co-chaired by IUCN and the UN Development Programme, offer grants to communities like Lang Co to protect their mangroves. Since 2008, MFF has implemented about 90 projects in its eight member countries across south and south-east Asia. The $29,000 project in Lang Co – $23,000 from MFF and $6,000 from the grantee organisation, the Centre for Community Research and Development (CCRD), and the local community – is to focus on supporting natural regeneration of existing mangroves, which is less expensive and more effective than planting. According to CCRD, Lang Co had about 100 hectares of mangroves two decades ago, but today only five hectares of poor-quality mangroves remain.

Under the MFF grant, the Lang Co fishing association has been tasked with looking after these mangroves. Local fishermen will be trained in mangrove and aquatic resource management and protection.

Alisa Tang is a Bangkok-based freelance journalist who reports and edits for organisations including the Centre for International Forestry Research, which supported her reporting trip to Vietnam.

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