Best of our wild blogs: 2 May 12

4-9 May: Traditional Wayang at Pulau Ubin with free ferry ride
from wild shores of singapore

Insights into the history of conservation in Singapore
from Nature rambles

Random Gallery - The Green Baron
from Butterflies of Singapore

coppersmith barbet @ pasir ris
from sgbeachbum

Chronicles of the Olive-backed Sunbird
from Bird Ecology Study Group

四月华语导游 Mandarin guide walk@SBWR, April(XXIX)
from PurpleMangrove

Purple crab mania!
from Raffles Museum News

New video documents nearly all the world's remaining Javan rhinos from news by Rhett Butler

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Anti-shark's fin campaign catching on with MPs?

Cheow Xin Yi Today Online 2 May 12;

SINGAPORE - Even as an animal welfare group prepares to submit a formal proposal to the authorities for the banning of the shark's fin trade here, a movement to get the dish off the dining table is catching on among some Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders.

At least three wards - Chong Pang, Canberra and Cashew - have stopped serving shark's fin soup during grassroots functions.

Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament (MP) K Shanmugam, who looks after the Chong Pang ward, told Today: "I took the view that we should avoid shark's fin on the menu for functions which Chong Pang organises. I spoke with my grassroots leaders and they were supportive of the move."

Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law and Foreign Minister, said the decision was made in June last year after an animal welfare forum held by Chong Pang Community Club in collaboration with the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES).

He added that, personally, he had decided for some time not to consume the dish.

At a youth forum in 2010, Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, along with other MPs present, was asked if he would refrain from serving the Chinese delicacy during constituency dinners.

Dr Lim, who takes care of the Canberra ward, replied that he did not think he would and, while he did not want any sharks to become extinct, he pointed out that not all shark populations were endangered.

Alluding to his earlier comments, he told this newspaper that his position remains unchanged. The recent decision is not a "ban" per se, he said.

"The step forward was not an official position ... part of it was also not to be too 'extravagant'. Nutrition-value wise, other things are more nutritious. Fish maw is better," said Dr Lim, who added that the issue is sensitive and "not everybody" will agree with the decision.

Cashew ward is under the charge of Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan. Grassroots leader Linda Ng said a "conscious effort" has been made to replace shark's fin with fish maw at the ward's functions since late last year. Their reasons included budget considerations and residents' preferences, as well as "the knowledge of how shark's fin is created" as a dish, said Mdm Ng, who chairs a residents' committee.


While the debate worldwide rages over the impact of shark's fin consumption, major supermarket chains here have recently pledged to stop its sale. Activist groups have also launched anti-shark's fin campaigns here.

ACRES executive director Louis Ng said his organisation - together with Shark Savers and Project: FIN - hoped to submit a formal proposal by the middle of the month to the National Development Ministry, asking the Government to consider a trade ban on shark's fin.

He said the proposal will include academic and scientific references to the decline in shark populations and propose how Singapore can implement the ban, drawing examples from other countries.

On getting buy-in from MPs and grassroots leaders to stop serving shark's fin at constituency functions, Mr Ng said ACRES decided to focus on Chong Pang with hopes of it becoming a "model constituency" rather than approaching all 87 MPs.

He said: "When you start on something, it's very hard for people to follow, but as soon as they see that one constituency has jumped on the bandwagon, slowly others will start."

The strategy appears to be making headway: Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa said he might take the cue from Mr Shanmugam and Dr Lim. "I will certainly study this carefully and take a stand later on," said Mr Liang, who looks after Zhenghua ward.

However, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who takes care of Nee Soon South ward, said she will not be part of the "bandwagon", as Mr Ng put it.

She said: "To me, it is more critical to look into housing for Singaporeans and energy conservation … I believe there are some who want (shark's fin) and some who don't want it. So I will let them decide and come to a consensus."

SharkAid campaign reaches Singapore
Melissa Chong Channel NewsAsia 1 May 12;

SINGAPORE: A global effort to save the sharks reached Singapore's shores on Tuesday.

For the first time, local celebrities and conservationists stood in unison at a public concert, SharkAid 2012, at Cathay Cineleisure.

The event is organised by Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) and Shark Savers Singapore.

Singapore, which is the first stop of SharkAid, has one of the highest per capita consumers of shark fin soup.

It ranks second, behind Hong Kong, in the size of the trade in shark fins.

In a survey of 500 Singaporeans, half of the respondents who consume shark fin soup said they continue to consume the soup because the dish was placed in front of them and they didn't want to see the food wasted.

A carnival was also held to engage Singaporeans on the role of sharks in the marine ecosystem.

Jonn Lu, director at Shark Savers Singapore, said: "Singaporeans are foodies and we love our food. If we want our chilli crab, lobsters or stir fried prawns, it is in our selfish interest to save sharks because without sharks, all commercial fisheries are going to be affected."

SharkAid 2012 is part of the international Shark Savers movement with some 24,000 members in 99 countries.

- CNA/fa

Let us take the initiative in conservation efforts
Letter from Michael S Smith Today Online 1 May 12;

I REFER to your report "Goal to make S'pore free of shark's fins" (April 23), about some organisations pushing for a ban on the trade in shark's fins in Singapore.

An Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority spokesman was quoted as saying that "it will continue to monitor the conservation status of sharks and restrict trade in any species which is endangered".

It was stated that Singapore follows the lead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which decides every three years if an animal is threatened with extinction.

The problem with Singapore's choice to be a follower, rather than a leader, is that CITES is not an organisation capable of determining which animals are threatened with extinction.

Many of the people who manage that trade organisation have a conflict of interest, in that they represent traders of such animals or animal parts.

They have a vested interest to find the few scientists who will agree with their assertion that animals such as sharks are plentiful, so that they and their supporters can continue to trade in products such as shark's fins.

Singapore must do its own research or look at independent research, to make its own decision as to which species are endangered. After that, Singapore should pass its own laws to regulate trade in applicable species. It is time that we step up to be a leader in Asia.

We can make S'pore fin free
Letter from Murali Sharma Today Online 1 May 12;

I REFER to the report "Goal to make S'pore free of shark's fins" (April 23) and applaud the anti-shark's fin fraternity for persevering.

They have not been discouraged by their small inroads previously and have ratcheted up their efforts year after year.

This year, they are adopting a multi-pronged course of action, from reaching out to the heartlands and schools, to media campaigns, which should bring substantial progress.

Two local communities, Chong Pang and Canberra, should be congratulated for banning the delicacy from the table at official functions.

Hotels and others who support this campaign are also to be congratulated, as they are likely, at least in the short term, to lose some business. Traders and supermarkets seem likely to follow.

For their media campaign, perhaps the organisers could consider featuring international and local celebrities and VIPs to increase awareness.

I remember reading that former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's daughter refused to have shark's fin soup at her wedding banquet.

Such publicity may get Singaporeans' attention.

Ultimately, it is about attitudes. People have long associated the serving of shark's fin as a status symbol, one that reflects the host's wealth.

So, it must be taught from young, when habits form the foundation of adult behaviour, that this is about upsetting the ecological balance of the oceans. Talks in school can, therefore, play a vital part in this campaign.

Each time a person decides not to serve shark's fin at an official or celebratory dinner, it has a salutary effect on fin consumption in Singapore and perhaps sends a message to other consumers.

Shark numbers are declining, so let us all do our part in this noble cause.

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AVA confiscates 'tiger teeth' from Waterloo St stall

Raid on woman's makeshift outlet comes after tip-off from Acres
Bryna Sim Straits Times 2 May 12;

THE Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) yesterday raided a makeshift stall which was selling what appeared to be tiger teeth.

This came after a tip-off from the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), a local animal advocacy group.

The AVA confiscated three 'tiger teeth', each about 8cm long. It is unclear if the teeth are real, but the woman who sold them claimed they were.

Acres' executive director Louis Ng yesterday said a member of the public alerted it to the sale of the teeth at a stall outside Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Waterloo Street at about 1pm.

Mr Ng went to the venue and saw a woman peddling pieces of jade and five alleged tiger teeth, which were displayed openly on the ground.

Vendors nearby sold items like flowers and incense, and some offered fortune-telling services.

When Mr Ng, posing as an interested buyer, inquired about her wares, the woman told him that the teeth were genuine and from China.

She also said she had landed in Singapore from China on Monday, and wanted to sell these items.

'It was a blatant advertisement of illegal items,' said Mr Ng, who then tipped off the AVA.

But by the time an AVA officer arrived about an hour later at 4pm, two men had purchased two of the five teeth. Mr Ng could not stop them from buying the teeth because Acres does not have enforcement powers.

He said that the AVA officer also posed as a buyer and asked the woman if the teeth were authentic, and if she knew that selling them here was illegal. 'She replied that she only knew the sale of tiger skin was illegal here,' said Mr Ng.

The AVA officer then identified himself, seized the remaining teeth and closed the stall.

Mr Ng said the fact that two of the teeth were sold so quickly shows that enforcement needs to go hand in hand with awareness.

Tiger teeth are popular as lucky charms and are believed to give protection and power to the individual who possesses them. But Mr Ng said there is 'no scientific backing' to these ideas.

The last time someone was caught selling tiger parts here was in 2010. Two separate individuals were then trying to sell pieces of tiger skin and a whole tiger pelt. The pelt was going for $400, and the pieces at $128 each.

The sale of tiger parts is banned worldwide. Tigers are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which 175 countries have ratified, including Singapore.

Singapore law provides another layer of protection in the form of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, which states that importing, exporting, re-exporting or possessing any Cites species without a permit can land one a fine of up to $50,000 a species, with a cap of $500,000, and/or two years in jail.

The penalties apply even if the parts are fake.

An AVA spokesman confirmed that the items were seized, and added that the seller is assisting the authority with the investigations. Mr Ng said that those who have bought the alleged tiger teeth can contact Acres' 24-hour hotline on 9783-7782.

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Jetties at Seletar being made safe - and legal

Only one is being dismantled after safety checks; floating storage containers are gone
Jose Hong Straits Times 2 May 12;

THE owners of the illegal jetties off the eastern corner of the Lower Seletar Reservoir Dam are making their structures safe - and legal.

One month after the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) held a meeting with the owners, the area where the jetties are situated has changed significantly.

Gone are the floating storage containers in the sea, and one of the jetties is being dismantled. The remainder are in the process of being certified safe by professional engineers.

Before the authorities stepped in, there were at least four illegal jetties in the area.

A hundred metres out into the sea were several floating storage platforms which fishermen used to keep their equipment.

Both the MPA and the SLA declared these structures illegal, saying that although three temporary occupation licences had been issued to jetty owners for the use of state land since 1993, no approval was granted for the construction of the jetties and structures outside the licence boundary.

They also noted that the structures lacked professional certification and therefore posed safety hazards. However, if engineers could certify that the jetties were safe, they would not need to be removed.

A statement issued by the MPA said that now, the jetty owners have engaged their own professional engineers to ensure that the floating platforms within the licence boundary are certified safe.

They are in the process of rectifying the floating platforms according to the experts' recommendations, the statement added.

Mr Kelanasari Eeban, 42, whose family has operated Jenal Jetty for 15 years, said he had engaged a professional engineer about two weeks ago and was now working to make his jetty safe.

According to its statement, the MPA 'is working closely with the craft owners to complete the necessary removal and upgrading by May'.

Unlike the jetties, the floating storage platforms in the sea had to be removed. The SLA has already stated that it is prepared to provide more space on the shore to store equipment if the jetty owners apply for it.

According to an SLA spokesman, 'two licensees have been granted additional storage space in response to their request'. In the light of this, the temporary occupation licence fees 'have been increased accordingly'.

Farthest from the entrance to the area stands a jetty that is now being dismantled. It was built a year ago after some fishermen had a serious disagreement with the operator of another jetty.

In a previous interview with The Straits Times, their appointed spokesman, Mr Aron Christopher, 52, admitted that they were taking a 'gamble' with the authorities.

The gamble seems to have failed. However, the MPA said Mr Christopher will be able to continue with his activities by using one of the approved floating platforms that is within the licence boundary.

Related post
Illegal Seletar jetties have to go Jose Hong Straits Times 28 Mar 12;

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HDB blocks fitted with tremor sensors

Devices placed in 46 blocks to track quake vibrations, alert HDB
Amelia Tan Hui Fang & Lee Jia Xin Straits Times 2 May 12;

THE tremors were so strong, the bed was shaking and she could hear the door chain rattle.

Ms Ida Jamil recalled how she felt nauseous as the vibrations from a 7.6-magnitude earthquake off Sumatra shook her Sengkang flat in 2009.

'We were so worried; it was the first time I felt such a strong tremor,' said the 34-year-old civil servant.

To deal with the concerns of residents like Ms Ida, sensors that monitor tremors have been installed in 46 blocks of Housing Board flats across Singapore.

When the sensor detects seismic vibrations, the device sends a text message alert to the HDB.

Engineers are then sent to inspect the buildings to ensure that they remain structurally sound.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a HDB spokesman said last week that the sensors are an 'additional safety precaution' rather than an early warning system for earthquakes.

Work to install the sensors began in 2007. Ms Ida's block in Sengkang was installed with the sensors in March this year and is one of the more recent blocks to have the system.

Experts like Professor Richard Liew, programme director at the department of civil engineering at the National University of Singapore, said the sensors are a long-term measure to monitor the health of buildings.

The sensors detect ground vibrations, which are in turn affected by several factors - the height of the structure, construction materials, ground conditions and the type of building.

Prof Liew added that data collected from the sensors can be used to determine whether an earthquake code of practice is needed in future. Unlike countries such as the United States, Singapore has not adopted an earthquake code as it is outside the quake zone.

The HDB is not the first agency here to install tremor sensors in buildings.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has also been running a pilot study looking into how buildings respond during tremors since 2006.

Sensors used by the BCA, which measure how intensely building structures vibrate, have been installed in 36 commercial and residential buildings islandwide.

Mr Ong Chan Leng, director of BCA's special functions division, said the sensors complement inspections by engineers in the event of tremors.

No building in Singapore has been structurally affected by earthquakes, said the BCA.

Meanwhile, residents in Sengkang said they now feel safer because of the tremor sensors installed by the HDB.

'It's good to know that measures are taken - sometimes, we don't feel the vibrations, but these readings will tell,' said estate agent Andrew Yeo, 57.

Ms Ida's husband, Mr Mohd Anis, agreed. The 36-year-old civil servant said: 'At least there's a proper system in place now, rather than just a visual inspection. It's a good move.'

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Malaysia: Electric fence stops intruding elephants

New Straits Times 2 May 12;

JELI: More than 200 Orang Asli villagers in Kampung Sungai Rual here are relieved with the erection of an electric fence to check intruding elephants.

The Orang Asli said they were glad that the fence had been completed as it prevented elephants from destroying their crops including oil palm and bananas.

Ajang Ludin, 43, thanked the government especially the Wildlife Department for their concern about the community's welfare.

"We suffered huge losses previously when our crops were destroyed by elephants and our houses damaged, However, it has now ended," said Ajang on Sunday.

The 15km electric fence -- which also covered Kampung Kuala Long, Kampung Belahat, Kampung Pasir Dusun and Kampung Lubok Bongor -- were completed by the state wildlife department at the end of last year at a cost of about RM1.4 million.

Ayub Zakaria, 31, said the fence would ensure that elephants did no stray into the villages to forage for food.

"We also do not have to fear about getting into the path of the big mammal and can go about doing our work without disturbance," he said.

Kelantan wildlife director Rahmat Topani said the project in Jeli, the first in the state, would help to prevent about 50 elephants in the Gunung Basor forest reserve from wandering into nearby villages including the Orang Asli settlement.

"The electric fence project was the best solution to put a stop to the elephant attacks," said Rahmat, adding that it was estimated that there are about 200 elephants in Kelantan.

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China: 32 Dead Yangtze Porpoises Worry Wildlife Experts

Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Yahoo News 2 May 12;

More than 32 Yangtze finless porpoises have been found dead in the Dongting and Poyang lakes in China in the last two months, leading wildlife experts to worry whether the rare animals are being pushed closer to extinction, the World Wildlife Fund has reported.

Yangtze finless porpoises live mainly in the freshwater Yangtze River and the two lakes, where the bodies of more than 32 of them have been found since March 3. One of the porpoises was pregnant, according to the blog Save Yangtze Finless Porpoise.

"This tragedy shows that Yangtze finless porpoise is facing enormous challenges," said Lei Gang, head of WWF China's Central Yangtze program, in a statement. "The porpoise deaths illustrate that without effective measures to fundamentally reverse the trend of ecological deterioration, [the] future of the incredible creature is far from certain."

After examining the dead porpoises, scientists were left with a long list of possible culprits, including electro-fishing, strikes by boat-engine propellers, food shortages and pollution.

In electro-fishing, which is illegal, people use storage batteries to fire huge electric charges into the Yangtze and then collect the dead fish that float to the surface, according to an EDGE blog entry by Sam Turvey, who has studied wildlife along the Yangtze, including the Yangtze dolphin or baiji.

An autopsy report released April 17 by the Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences suggests two of the finless porpoises were killed due to electro-fishing and boat-engine propellers.

Some experts have noted that climate change has lowered water levels in the Yangtze and its lakes, making it more difficult for porpoises to find food, but the researchers have yet to find any evidence that lack of food is resulting in porpoise deaths.

A 2006 IHB survey found about 1,800 Yangtze finless porpoises in the Yangtze River and connected lakes, but that number has been decreasing. From 2006 to 2010, the number of Yangtze finless porpoises in just the Dongting Lake decreased to 198.

Rather than relocate the porpoises, local government officials, along with cetacean experts with the WWF, are considering conservation measures in the Dongting Lake.

In addition, the local government plans to implement a ban on illegal fishing (including electro-fishing), regulate sand dredging and limit boat speeds, according to the WWF.

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Peru probes mystery pelican deaths

AFP Yahoo News 1 May 12;

A team of ornithologists were investigating the mysterious death of nearly 600 sea birds found on the beaches of northern Peru, government officials said.

The investigation follows a probe into the deaths of more than 850 dolphins that have washed ashore since January along the same 170-kilometer (100-mile) stretch of coastline in the northern departments of Piura and Lambayeque.

Peru's Oceanic Institute (IMARPE) said that, as of Sunday, they had found 538 dead pelicans and 54 dead Peruvian Boobies. They also found the carcasses of five sea lions that washed ashore and the decomposed remains of a turtle.

The Ministry of Production, in charge of fisheries, said in a statement that early results suggest that the birds died on the beach, and did not wash ashore dead.

Deputy Environment Minister Gabriel Quijandria said on April 19 that the dolphins were likely killed by a highly infectious virus known as morbillivirus.

Experts however are awaiting test results to know whether they can rule out environmental pollution or other factors.

"It's not the first time this has happened. There have been other instances in Peru, Mexico and the United States," Quijandria added.

Ninety-five percent of the deaths affected bottle-nosed dolphins, officials said.

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Cambodia Lodges Dam Protest with Laos

Radio Free Asia 1 May 12;

Cambodia has called for an immediate halt to the construction of the Xayaburi dam in an official protest note to Laos, officials said in a statement released Tuesday, as opposition to the hydropower project gained momentum in Thailand.

Lim Kean Hor, Cambodia’s water resources minister and its representative to the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental body of four countries that share the river, demanded in a letter to his Lao counterpart Noulinh Sinbandhit that construction on the dam be suspended pending an environmental impact assessment.

“Cambodia’s position is that Laos should halt the dam construction while the environmental impact study is being carried out,” the Cambodian minister said in the April 24 statement, according to Cambodian online newspaper CEN.

He urged Laos to stick to commitments made at an MRC summit in December, when member countries agreed in principle that further studies were needed on the impact of the dam before it could be built.

The letter comes weeks after Sin Niny, vice-chairman of Cambodia’s Mekong Committee, threatened that Cambodia could file a complaint against Laos in an international court if it allowed the dam —which would be the first mainstream dam on the Lower Mekong—to be built without regional consensus.

Since the December agreement to suspend construction, the Thai company Ch. Karnchang announced it has signed contracts for the construction of the dam beginning March 15.

Through the MRC, established in 1995, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam have agreed to a protocol for consulting with and notifying each other about use of Mekong resources, but the organization has no binding jurisdiction.

Thai protests

Meanwhile in Thailand, which will buy nearly all the power generated by the hydro-electric project, opposition to the dam has escalated, with representatives from the country’s riparian provinces holding a demonstration outside a MRC conference in Phuket on Tuesday.

About 30 protesters representing members of riparian communities in Thailand’s eight provinces along the Mekong gathered outside the MRC’s Mekong2Rio conference, an international gathering of on transboundary water resources management.

The group’s protest followed larger demonstrations last week outside the Bangkok headquarters of Ch. Karnchang, which will be building the dam, and Thai banks providing loans to finance the project.

The protesters are concerned that the dam, which would block fish migration on Southeast Asia’s main waterway, could not only impact the lives of millions in the region who rely on the river for their food and their livelihoods, but also pave the way for other hydropower projects on the river.

At least 11 other dams have been proposed on the mainstream Lower Mekong, in addition to five already built on the upper part of the river in China.

The protesters were allowed a brief meeting with the MRC’s chief executive officer Hans Guttman, who told them only preliminary construction had begun around the Xayaburi site and that the commission would consider the concerns of local people, according to Thailand’s The Nation newspaper.

Power study

The day before the protests, representatives from more than 130 civil society groups issued a statement backing a report that proposes an alternative power plan for Thailand that excludes the Xayaburi dam.

The report, produced by Thai energy experts Chuenchom Sangasri Greacen and Chris Greacen, was presented to the country’s Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday and recommends Thailand seek sources of energy with environmental impact less damaging than that of the Xayaburi dam.

The report, “Power Development Plan (PDP) 2012 and a Framework for Improving Accountability and Performance of Power Sector Planning,” criticizes the country’s plan for investing in energy infrastructure and recommends ways where energy use could be reduced.

“If we can invest in the know-how to manage energy consumption, in sustainable energy, and in production efficiency, not only will the price of electricity be lower, but we can also avoid … importing energy from high-impact dams such as Xayaburi,” Chuenchom Sangasri Greacen told RFA.

She said that Thailand’s energy planning process is flawed and that the country should invest in efficiency measures and alternative energy instead.

“We have a better alternative,” she said. “According to energy conservation policy, we should be invest more in the area of producing better electrical devices, or the standard of buildings instead of building new power plant, or building hydroelectric dams that create impacts to environment.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer and Lao services. Translations by Samean Yun and Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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