Best of our wild blogs: 8 Aug 12

Nature Society (Singapore)’s Position Paper on Wild Pigs in Singapore pdf on the Nature Society (Singapore) website

Birds fishing along Rochor canal
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Random Gallery - Club Silverline
from Butterflies of Singapore

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No outsiders allowed for boar culling: NParks

Animal welfare groups' request to be present turned down
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 8 Aug 12;

THE National Parks Board (NParks) has turned down requests by animal welfare groups to observe the culling of wild boars in the Lower Peirce area.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) told The Straits Times they wanted to be present to ensure the method used is humane.

But NParks said on Monday in response to queries that no outsiders would be allowed to observe the culling for safety reasons.

"The operation will be carried out by a small number of handlers. For safety reasons, and in order not to distract the handlers or animals, we'll not be allowing anyone else into the area," said NParks conservation director Wong Tuan Wah.

He said the agency is still working with Wildlife Reserves Singapore on a method to sedate and euthanise the boars. "The animals will be put down in as humane a manner as possible," he said.

Asked how many boars would be killed and when the culling would take place, an NParks spokesman said there were "no new updates".

The animal has been in the spotlight since The Straits Times reported in June that NParks was considering ways to cull the population at Lower Peirce. The decision triggered numerous letters to The Straits Times Forum Page, both for and against the culling.

NParks has defended the need to do so, citing the danger posed to people and the damage the boars have caused to the Lower Peirce forest.

In June, a wild boar believed to be from the Lower Peirce area wandered into the nearby Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and charged at a security guard and a five-year-old boy.

NParks estimates that there are 80 to 100 wild boars in the Lower Peirce area, based on its observations of two herds.

Scientific studies on boar population densities in other countries such as Malaysia indicate this number is too high for the 1.5 sq km Lower Peirce area, but some have called for NParks to conduct local studies before culling the animal.

SPCA executive director Corinne Fong said NParks should not exclude outsiders from observing the culling.

"It's a shame (NParks) is not opening this up to outsiders. That would give the public more assurance that everything will be done properly and humanely," she said.

Said Acres executive director Louis Ng: "We still don't support the culling but third parties could help audit the operations and make sure future rounds of culling are done better."

But Dr Diong Cheong Hoong, who has researched wild pigs in Borneo, Malaysia and Singapore, said sedation and euthanisation is a well-established culling method.

"Having more people will only agitate the boar in the trap more," he added.

Instead, NParks could share with the groups its culling procedure and the backgrounds of those carrying it out, he said.

NParks has said it may be necessary to cull the boars on a regular basis if the population continues to grow. It has also said it will consider other options such as removing their food source, which includes oil-palm plants, in the Lower Peirce area, though this must be weighed carefully as other animals may rely on the food.

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Scientists call for access to South China Sea

Researchers face hurdles studying marine species in disputed waters
Grace Chua 7 Aug 12;

EVEN if South-east Asia's politicians cannot agree on who owns which islands in the South China Sea, its scientists, at least, are working together.

Last week, some 40 scientists from eight Asean nations, China and Hong Kong, and other international experts, met here for a workshop on the South China Sea's marine life.

The workshop, organised by Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and sponsored by the Singapore Government, was the group's fourth formal meeting.

The first, in 1997, resulted in a multinational expedition in 2002 to the Indonesian Anambas and Natuna islands, during which new species were discovered by the scientists.

Studying the region's marine life is vital for its countries to prepare for the impact of climate change, to conserve coral reefs and to keep its fishing grounds sustainable, said Professor Peter Ng, museum director and chair of the workshop held at the National University of Singapore's Kent Ridge Guild House.

The South China Sea has its own unusual marine biodiversity, he said, as sea-level changes in past Ice Ages meant there were isolated pockets where new species could evolve.

But now the region is threatened by climate change, development, overfishing and pollution.

"Even in non-contested areas, whatever goes wrong can affect us because the seas are connected," he said.

"What we know right now is just scratching the surface."

One obstacle is access, he explained. Islands such as the Spratlys are hotly contested because they affect national boundaries.

Although they are rich in oil and gas deposits, and are good fishing grounds, claimant nations do not allow other countries' scientists in.

Even researchers from neutral countries face a diplomatic minefield, Prof Ng said.

When it comes to asking for permission to research islands whose ownership is in dispute, for example, "whomever we ask, we're in trouble", he said.

Joint expeditions such as the Anambas venture and a series of bilateral ones by Vietnam and the Philippines are one way around the problem, said Vietnamese researcher Vo Si Tuan of the Institute of Oceanography, who added that high-level agreements are necessary for such work.

The bilateral expeditions between 1996 and 2007, for example, stemmed from a meeting between Philippine president Fidel Ramos and Vietnamese president Le Duc Anh in 1994, Dr Vo said.

At the workshop last week, checklists of species records were updated with new research. Ms Youna Lyons, a legal scholar from the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore, proposed a master database, open to all, that mapped the distributions of various species of corals and other animals.

Scientists at the workshop raised the idea of another multilateral expedition, especially to contested islands, or piggybacking on existing bilateral ones.

"The fact that it's been done before with Anambas means it can be done again," Prof Ng said.

"If scientists can cooperate, it may be symbolic - let's put aside our differences and get things done.

"We need to open up these places to more experts going in, not just from Asean but also from around the world."

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Floods bring Philippine capital to standstill

Mynardo Macaraig (AFP) Google News 7 Aug 12;

MANILA — Torrential rains brought the Philippines capital to a standstill Tuesday, forcing at least 20,000 people to flee their homes as floodwaters covered half the sprawling city, authorities said.

Schools, financial markets and most government and private offices were shut as key roadways in Manila -- a metropolis of some 15 million people -- were submerged by waters that in some areas reached neck-deep.

Residents of low-lying slums fled the huge shantytowns lining Manila's rivers and sewers for the safety of schools, gymnasiums and government buildings as the downpour generated by seasonal monsoons struck overnight.

Army trucks hauled stranded residents from their homes, while enterprising children fashioned crude rafts out of scrap wood and banana tree trunks and charged people to ferry them around.

Power was turned off in some parts of the capital as a precautionary measure as the waters seeped into electrical facilities, the city's power distributor said.

In some areas of the city, people were trapped on the second floor of their houses by the fast-rising waters, said Cora Agulan of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

She said there were many calls for help but in some areas it was too dangerous for rescuers to try to reach those stranded.

"The current is too strong so we have to tie our rubber boats with ropes to keep them from being swept away," she said.

Rosario Brutas, a market vendor in Bacoor, a town south of Manila, said she and her husband woke on Tuesday to discover their home already partly submerged.

"We woke up before dawn to find our bed afloat," the 32-year-old told AFP from a hospital courtyard where her family and their neighbours had taken refuge.

Bad weather from seasonal southwest monsoons has pounded Manila and nearby areas for over a week since Typhoon Saola brushed past the country's north.

Before the latest deluge, the death toll from eight days of sustained rains had reached 53 with more than 268,000 people forced to flee their homes across the country, according to disaster authorities.

No new casualties were reported from the overnight rains.

But Jean Navarez from the state weather service warned that the floods could worsen as the La Mesa dam, Manila's sole reservoir, began letting off water that would swell surrounding rivers.

"If we put it in a percentage, at least 50 percent of Metro Manila is flooded," she told AFP.

"There will be heavy rainfall for the next 24 hours. The floods will increase," she added.

Government weather forecaster Bernie de Leon said that in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning, 323 millimetres (13 inches) of rain fell on the capital, compared to average monthly rainfall of 504 millimetres for August.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said that while some 20,000 people fled to evacuation centres overnight, many more sought refuge in relatives' homes.

The La Mesa dam overflow and a high tide on Manila Bay conspired to worsen the flooding, it said.

Monsoon rains swamp Philippine capital, markets shut
Reuters 7 Aug 12;

MANILA (Reuters) - Deadly torrential rains submerged much of the Philippine capital and surrounding areas on Tuesday, forcing nearly 270,000 people to flee their homes with more flooding expected in the north of the country as a tropical storm passes through the region, officials said.

Steady rains for the past 10 days, killing more than 50 people, are set to continue until Wednesday, the Philippines weather bureau said, fuelled by tropical storm "Haikui" in the Philippine Sea northeast of Taiwan. The storm is headed for China's Zhejiang province where more than 250,000 people have been evacuated ahead of expected landfall late on Wednesday.

"It's like Waterworld," said Benito Ramos, head of the Philippines national disaster agency, referring to a Hollywood movie about a flooded world.

Schools, financial markets, and public and private offices were ordered shut, including outsourcing firms whose corporate clients are mainly from the United States and Europe.

Disaster officials said over half of Manila was swamped by floods as high as three meters, worsened by a high tide and the release of water from dams in surrounding provinces.

President Benigno Aquino, in an emergency meeting briefly interrupted by a power failure at the main army base in Manila, ordered officials to exert maximum effort to aid residents in flooded areas. Officials have deployed army troops, police and emergency workers with rubber boats and amphibious trucks.

The monsoon rains, which dumped about 300 mm (12 inches) or three times the daily average of 80-100 mm from late Monday to Tuesday, were the heaviest in three years, the weather bureau said.

Typhoon Ketsana, which swamped 80 percent of the capital in 2009, aided a monsoon downpour of more than 450 mm (18 inches) in a 24-hour period.


Most major roads in Manila were inundated by knee- to waist-deep floodwaters. Some flights were delayed or canceled. Power, water and communications in flooded areas were disrupted.

Some of the affected residents were marooned on the roofs of their houses.

"There are about 5,000 people here," said Ester Ronabio, a public school teacher and volunteer in one of the temporary shelter areas in low-lying Marikina City in the eastern part of Manila. "We can't control the flow of people."

In a sign of the difficult scramble to move people to safety, Aquino appealed to an anti-graft court to release dozens of rubber boats held as evidence in a case against senior police officials for use in evacuation efforts.

Residents of Manila expressed concern the rains were a repeat of Typhoon Ketsana which killed more than 700 people and destroyed $1 billion worth of private and public property.

"The floods are so deep where we live, we don't want a repeat of Typhoon Ketsana a few years ago," Melanio David, a father of four, told Reuters. "We got scared so we evacuated last night."

($1 = 41.8500 Philippine pesos)

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco and Ed Lane)

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Thai villagers in legal challenge against Laos dam

AFP Yahoo News 8 Aug 12;

Thai opponents of a planned multi-billion dollar dam in Laos submitted a lawsuit to a court in Bangkok on Tuesday seeking to prevent their country buying power from the hydropower project.

Fifty Thai villagers representing communities along the Mekong river filed the suit against the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the energy ministry and the Thai cabinet at the Administrative Court.

"The river is our life. A dam will definitely affect our lives," said 52-year-old Niwat Roykaew, who lives alongside the Mekong in the northern Thai province of Chiang Rai with his family and relies on it for water and fish.

Communist Laos, one of the world's most under-developed nations, hopes the Xayaburi dam will help it become "the battery of Southeast Asia".

Thailand has agreed to buy most of the electricity generated by the project, but Cambodia and Vietnam fear the dam could decimate their farming and fishing industries.

Laos has promised not to start construction of the actual dam structure until the concerns of its neighbours have been answered, although it says preparatory work has begun.

Environmentalists fear the proposed 1,260 megawatt dam will have disastrous environmental effects and harm the livelihoods of millions of people.

Opponents hope that a court ruling in their favour will cause Laos to rethink its plan.

"We are confident if there is no demand, there will be no supply," said Pianporn Deetes with International Rivers, a campaign group involved in the legal challenge.

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Putting a price on the rivers and rain diminishes us all

Payments for 'ecosystem services' look like the prelude to the greatest privatisation George Monbiot 6 Aug 12;

'The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying 'This is mine', and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, 'Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody'."

Jean Jacques Rousseau would recognise this moment. Now it is not the land his impostors are enclosing, but the rest of the natural world. In many countries, especially the United Kingdom, nature is being valued and commodified so that it can be exchanged for cash.

The effort began in earnest under the last government. At a cost of £100,000, it commissioned a research company to produce a total annual price for England's ecosystems. After taking the money, the company reported – with a certain understatement – that this exercise was "theoretically challenging to complete, and considered by some not to be a theoretically sound endeavour". Some of the services provided by England's ecosystems, it pointed out, "may in fact be infinite in value".

This rare flash of common sense did nothing to discourage the current government from seeking first to put a price on nature, then to create a market in its disposal. The UK now has a natural capital committee, an Ecosystem Markets Task Force and an inspiring new lexicon. We don't call it nature any more: now the proper term is "natural capital". Natural processes have become "ecosystem services", as they exist only to serve us. Hills, forests and river catchments are now "green infrastructure", while biodiversity and habitats are "asset classes" within an "ecosystem market". All of them will be assigned a price, all of them will become exchangeable.

The argument in favour of this approach is coherent and plausible. Business currently treats the natural world as if it is worth nothing. Pricing nature and incorporating that price into the cost of goods and services creates an economic incentive for its protection. It certainly appeals to both business and the self-hating state. The Ecosystem Markets Task Force speaks of "substantial potential growth in nature-related markets – in the order of billions of pounds globally".

Commodification, economic growth, financial abstractions, corporate power: aren't these the processes driving the world's environmental crisis? Now we are told that to save the biosphere we need more of them.

Payments for ecosystem services look to me like the prelude to the greatest privatisation since Rousseau's encloser first made an exclusive claim to the land. The government has already begun describing land owners as the "providers" of ecosystem services, as if they had created the rain and the hills and the rivers and the wildlife that inhabits them. They are to be paid for these services, either by the government or by "users". It sounds like the plan for the NHS.

Land ownership since the time of the first impostor has involved the gradual accumulation of exclusive rights, which were seized from commoners. Payments for ecosystem services extend this encroachment by appointing the landlord as the owner and instigator of the wildlife, the water flow, the carbon cycle, the natural processes that were previously deemed to belong to everyone and no one.

But it doesn't end there. Once a resource has been commodified, speculators and traders step in. The Ecosystem Markets Task Force now talks of "harnessing City financial expertise to assess the ways that these blended revenue streams and securitisations enhance the ROI [return on investment] of an environmental bond". This gives you an idea of how far this process has gone – and of the gobbledegook it has begun to generate.

Already the government is developing the market for trading wildlife, by experimenting with what it calls biodiversity offsets. If a quarry company wants to destroy a rare meadow, for example, it can buy absolution by paying someone to create another somewhere else. The government warns that these offsets should be used only to compensate for "genuinely unavoidable damage" and "must not become a licence to destroy". But once the principle is established and the market is functioning, for how long do you reckon that line will hold? Nature, under this system, will become as fungible as everything else.

Like other aspects of neoliberalism, the commodification of nature forestalls democratic choice. No longer will we be able to argue that an ecosystem or a landscape should be protected because it affords us wonder and delight; we'll be told that its intrinsic value has already been calculated and, doubtless, that it turns out to be worth less than the other uses to which the land could be put. The market has spoken: end of debate.

All those messy, subjective matters, the motivating forces of democracy, will be resolved in a column of figures. Governments won't need to regulate; the market will make the decisions that politicians have ducked. But trade is a fickle master, and unresponsive to anyone except those with the money. The costing and sale of nature represents another transfer of power to corporations and the very rich.

It diminishes us, it diminishes nature. By turning the natural world into a subsidiary of the corporate economy, it reasserts the biblical doctrine of dominion. It slices the biosphere into component commodities: already the government's task force is talking of "unbundling" ecosystem services, a term borrowed from previous privatisations. This might make financial sense; it makes no ecological sense. The more we learn about the natural world, the more we discover that its functions cannot be safely disaggregated.

Rarely will the money to be made by protecting nature match the money to be made by destroying it. Nature offers low rates of return by comparison to other investments. If we allow the discussion to shift from values to value – from love to greed – we cede the natural world to the forces wrecking it. Pull up the stakes, fill in the ditch, we're being conned again.

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Green growth not targets needed for 2015 climate deal

Nina Chestney and Alister Doyle PlanetArk 7 Aug 12;

Green economic growth rather than strict targets for cutting greenhouse gases needs higher priority if the world is to reach a deal to fight climate change by a 2015 deadline.

Despite growing scientific evidence of a warming world, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and United Nations talks aimed at doing something about it are moving at a glacial pace.

Years of talks have failed to deliver a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which set emissions targets for industrial nations. And despite agreement last year to set up a fund to raise aid for poor nations to help them cope with the effects of climate change, it took until last week just to decide who would sit on its governing panel.

"It's going to be very difficult to reach a deal by 2015," said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. He said new approaches were needed to permit economic growth that does not damage the environment.

Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. climate change secretariat in 2009 when a summit in Copenhagen tried and failed to reach a global deal, called for a re-think to allow greener economic growth, especially for poorer nations.

"The climate change negotiations have focused very heavily on targets, legally-binding regimes and consequences if you fail (to cut emissions)," he told Reuters.

"Not nearly enough focus has been on how we can create an architecture ... which allows countries to engage on climate change while at the same time growing their economies and lifting people out of poverty," he said.

De Boer, who is now an advisor to accountancy firm KPMG, said there should be more focus on measures such as cleaner standards for power plants, steel mills, paper production or vehicles. Aid to Mali, for instance, could be directed to steel mills to make them as efficient as those in Germany.


Late last year, a United Nations climate conference in South Africa agreed that countries would reach a new worldwide deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2015 so it could come into force by 2020. Until now, only developed nations have had targets to limit emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, which was due to expire at the end of this year but will now be extended.

Emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, rose 3.1 percent in 2011 to a record high, 2011 was the 11th warmest year since records began in the mid-19th century and the decade ended in 2010 was the warmest, U.N. data showed.

Mistrust between rich and poor nations, arguments about who is historically responsible for global warming and fears about the impact of cutting emissions - mainly from burning fossil fuels - on economic growth are among factors braking action on climate change and the increase in floods, heat waves, droughts, crop failures and rising seas that scientists say it will bring.

Under current climate goals, rich nations have promised to cut emissions by 2020 while developing nations led by China and India are seeking to slow the growth of their emissions. Both sides fear restraints will hamper their economic progress.

Last year's agreement in Durban, South Africa, to work out a pact for all nations was hailed by some as a breakthrough. Many of the most vulnerable states, like low-lying Pacific island nations that fear rising sea levels, want faster action.

"Unless there is immediate progress to dramatically reduce emissions we are moving rapidly to a point where we will have to begin a conversation about adaptation and the relocation of vulnerable populations at a previously unimaginable scale," said Marlene Moses, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States.

At a May meeting in Bonn, work on seemingly basic procedural issues was slow and old differences resurfaced.

And it took nations - ranging from oil producers like Saudi Arabia to countries like Bangladesh that are vulnerable to rising seas - eight months to agree the group's board members for a meeting of a Green Climate Fund.


Given slow progress in the U.N. process, some countries, including the United States, are moving forward independently, although some have been helped by a stagnant global economy.

U.S. President Barack Obama aims to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, despite no Senate legislation.

"It's entirely possible that the United States will achieve that target, or close to it," Stavins said.

Obama has not trumpeted the advances, he said, as action on climate change is probably not a vote-winner for the November election. Low natural gas prices are causing a shift from coal while fuel efficiency standards for cars and other pollution rules for power plants are also motivating cuts.

Other top emitters are also moving forward, like China, the European Union, Australia and South Korea, with carbon trading schemes, clean technology investment and national legislation.

China plans to cut the amount of carbon emitted per unit of economic output by between 40 and 45 percent by 2020 compared to 2005. A report by BP said China's emissions reduction efforts to 2020 will cost 10 trillion yuan ($1.57 trillion).

Many countries "are undertaking measures to meet their pledges, even though the (pledges) are not strong enough," said Jennifer Morgan of the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

Even so, world carbon dioxide emissions rose three percent last year, putting China's emissions close to those of Europe's per capita, according to a report last month.

"The new data will certainly play a role in the discussions on current and future action and underline the urgency and need to act," said Juergen Lefevre, an EU climate change negotiator.

The European Union has promised to cut emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

Countries have collectively promised to limit temperature rises to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times, seen as a threshold to dangerous changes in the Earth's climate. Current targets and policies are insufficient to reach that goal, the United Nations says.

Climate talks resume later this month in Bangkok when senior officials will prepare for a meeting of environment ministers at the end of the year in Doha, Qatar. Doha's focus will be on deciding the countries involved and the length of an extension to the Kyoto Protocol.

"We hope that we can persuade others to join (Kyoto)," Lefevre said, referring to the fact that just the European Union and some smaller nations covering only 15 percent of global emissions have committed to more cuts under a Kyoto extension.

Japan, Russia and Canada have said they will not set new targets under Kyoto, while the United States never ratified the 1997 pact. Other large emitters Australia and New Zealand are as yet undecided.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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