Best of our wild blogs: 10 Aug 12

Singapore Species
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Champerai Trail on National Day
from Urban Forest

Archdukes @ USR
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Brown-throated Sunbird and the fruits of the Pagoda Flower
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sightings at Sungei Tengah
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

STOMPer reels in 'sea monster' with many writhing legs at Changi Beach Club from Lazy Lizard's Tales

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Seven rare rhinos spotted in Indonesian jungle

AFP Yahoo News 9 Aug 12;

This handout photograph taken in 2011 and released by the Leuser International Foundation shows a Sumatran rhinoceros at the Mount Leuser National Park on Indonesia's Sumatran island. Hidden cameras have spotted seven critically endangered Sumatran rhinos for the first time in 26 years in the Mount Leuser national park. (AFP Photo/)

Seven Sumatran rhinos have been captured on hidden cameras in an Indonesian national park where the critically endangered species was feared extinct, a conservationist said Thursday.

The Sumatran rhino had not been sighted in the Mount Leuser National Park on the northern tip of Sumatra for 26 years, the project's team leader Tarmizi of the Leuser International Foundation said.

"This discovery can allay doubts over the rhino's presence in the park," Tarmizi told AFP, adding he hoped the discovery would encourage more efforts to conserve the species.

Images of the rhinos were captured by 28 infrared cameras set up between June 2011 and April this year and confirmed six female and one male rhino appearing in 1,000 photo frames.

The Sumatran rhino population has dropped 50 percent over the past 20 years, and there are now believed to be fewer than 200 left in the world.

The rhinos are commonly targeted by poachers and rampant illegal logging has destroyed much of their habitat.

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Philippine floods a man-made disaster: experts

Mynardo Macaraig (AFP) Google News 9 Aug 12;

MANILA — Deadly floods that have swamped nearly all of the Philippine capital are less a natural disaster and more the result of poor planning, lax enforcement and political self-interest, experts say.

Damaged watersheds, massive squatter colonies living in danger zones and the neglect of drainage systems are some of the factors that have made the chaotic city of 15 million people much more vulnerable to enormous floods.

Urban planner Nathaniel Einseidel said the Philippines had enough technical know-how and could find the necessary financing to solve the problem, but there was no vision or political will.

"It's a lack of appreciation for the benefits of long-term plans. It's a vicious cycle when the planning, the policies and enforcement are not very well synchronised," said Einseidel, who was Manila's planning chief from 1979-89.

"I haven't heard of a local government, a town or city that has a comprehensive drainage masterplan."

Eighty percent of Manila was this week covered in waters that in some parts were nearly two metres (six feet and six inches) deep, after more than a normal August's worth of rain was dumped on the city in 48 hours.

Twenty people have died and two million others have been affected, according to the government.

The deluge was similar to one in 2009, a disaster which claimed more than 460 lives and prompted pledges from government leaders to make the city more resistant to floods.

A government report released then called for 2.7 million people in shantytowns to be moved from "danger zones" alongside riverbanks, lakes and sewers.

Squatters, attracted by economic opportunities in the city, often build shanties on river banks, storm drains and canals, dumping garbage and impeding the flow of waterways.

The plan would have affected one in five Manila residents and taken 10 years and 130 billion pesos (3.11 billion dollars) to implement.

But squatter communities in danger-zones have in fact grown since 2009.

"With the increasing number of people occupying danger zones, it is inevitable there are a lot people who are endangered when these things happen," Einseidel said.

He blamed the phenomenon on poor enforcement of regulations banning building along creeks and floodways, with local politicians often wanting to keep squatters in their communities to secure their votes at election time.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Manila, vital forested areas have been destroyed to make way for housing developments catering to growing middle and upper classes, according to architect Paulo Alcazaren.

Alcazeren, who is also an urban planner, said the patchwork political structure of Manila had made things even harder.

The capital is actually made up of 16 cities and towns, each with its own government, and they often carry out infrastructure programmes -- such as man-made and natural drainage protection -- without coordination.

"Individual cities can never solve the problem. They can only mitigate. If you want to govern properly, you must re-draw or overlay existing political boundaries," he said.

Solutions to the flooding will require massive efforts such as re-planting in natural drainage basins, building low-cost housing for the squatters and clearing man-made drainage systems, the experts said.

"It will cost billions of pesos but we lose billions anyway every time it floods," Alcazeren said.

Meanwhile, with Environment Secretary Ramon Paje warning that intense rains like those this week will become the "new normal" due to climate change, there have been concerns about the city's ability to lure and keep foreign investors.

However American Chamber of Commerce president Rhicke Jennings said Manila remained an attractive destination.

"Companies will continue to invest in the Philippines for all its positive qualities," he said, citing well-trained Filipino staff and pointing out there were key parts of the city with good infrastructure that did not badly flood.

Jennings highlighted the rise of the outsourcing sector in the Philippines as evidence that foreigners would not abandon the country because of floods.

Companies such as JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Accenture have all set up backroom operations in recent years, mostly in slick new parts of Manila where infrastructure is state-of-the art and which did not flood this week.

From virtually nothing a decade ago, 600,000 people are now employed in the outsourcing sector and the industry is expecting that number to more than double by 2016 as more foreign firms move in.

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Indonesia: Local politics could exacerbate natural disasters

Sita W. Dewi,The Jakarta Post 9 Aug 12;

A green group has blamed local politics for contributing to the swift environmental degradation that eventually led to more frequent natural disasters.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said that it has recorded an increase in the number of disasters and casualties caused by environmental degradation.

“The cause of this increasing frequency of natural disasters and the numbers of their victims are investment policies which are not environmentally-friendly,” Walhi disaster management division head Mukri Friatna said in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post.

Mukri said that investment policies were designed to benefit local leaders who need cash to contest local elections. “The high cost of politics at the local level has encouraged local leaders to abuse their authority, including issuing pro-business policies,” he said.

The group has recorded dozens of flash floods and landslides across Indonesia this year, 22 of which killed at least 65 people.

Walhi recorded 452 flash floods and landslides in 2011, killing 371 people. In 2010, 428 flash floods and landslides occurred, killing 635 people. Walhi data also shows that 324 people were killed in 447 flash floods and landslides in 2009.

Mukri said that natural disasters, mostly caused by environment degradation as a result of unchecked business expansions, had also caused local administrations to spend more on relief and recovery efforts.

“For example, material losses caused by a flash flood in Padang [West Sumatra] in July reached Rp 46 billion [US$4.87 million]. That excludes economic losses and the costs of reconstruction and rehabilitation, which could reach another Rp 50 billion. Let’s say the amount of the regional budget stands at Rp 150 billion, Rp 100 billion would be used to cover all the costs,” Mukri said.

Mukri said that as natural disasters increase, they will affect the distribution of local budgets, especially on education and health.

The flash flood that hit six districts in Padang late last month, damaged innumerable buildings and displaced hundreds of residents. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has estimated that material losses caused by the flash flood could reach Rp 40.66 billion.

Mukri said that despite the severity of these disasters, the government remains in dark over the real causes.

“The BNPB always blames the disasters on high intensity of rain. They do want to further explain the root of all the problems—which is environmental degradation,”
he said.

Siti Zuhro, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said that the new political landscape in the reform era had affected on how the country’s natural resources were exploited.

“After reform, Indonesian politics are more fragmented. We have gone through multiple multi-party systems and imposed regional autonomy since 2001. Since 2005, we have implemented regional direct elections. Those new episodes have a direct correlation to our natural resources’ exploitation,” she said.

Siti pointed out that regional autonomy had given power to local leaders to manage their regions and encouraged local leaders to boost locally-generated revenue (PAD), which led to numerous bylaws, most of which were problematic.

“Regional autonomy has given local leaders the confidence to issue regulations, which are not entirely environmentally friendly,” she said.

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Threatened shark species turning up in US restaurants

(AFP) Google News 9 Aug 12;

WASHINGTON — Threatened shark species are being used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, in several US cities, according to an unprecedented study based on DNA testing.

Thirty-three different species of sharks turned up in samples collected in 14 cities and analyzed at Stony Brook University's Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in New York.

"US consumers of shark fin soup cannot be certain of what's in their soup," said Demian Chapman, who co-led the DNA testing, in a statement Wednesday. "They could be eating a species that is in serious trouble."

Scalloped hammerhead sharks, listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, was among the species found on the menus of US restaurants where shark fin soup can sell for as much as $100 per bowl.

Others included smooth hammerheads, school sharks and spiny dogfish, all listed as vulnerable to extinction, as well as a variety of near-threatened species such as bull and copper sharks.

"This is further proof that shark fin soup here in the United States, not just in Asia, is contributing to the global decline in sharks," said Liz Karan, of the Pew Environment Group, a foundation that supported the study.

"Sharks must be protected from overfishing," said Karan, manager of Pew's global shark conservation program, "and any international trade in these vulnerable and endangered species must be tightly regulated."

The study marks the first time that DNA testing has been used to ascertain the different kinds of sharks used to make shark fin soup in the United States on a large nationwide scale.

Samples were collected in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Atlanta, Georgia; Boston; Chicago; Denver, Colorado; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Houston; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; New York; Orlando, Florida; San Francisco; Seattle and Washington.

The study, to which the Field Museum in Chicago contributed its DNA expertise, is to figure prominently in a television program on sharks on the Discovery science channel next week.

Up to 73 million sharks are killed around the world every year to supply an Asian-driven demand for shark fin soup, the Singapore branch of the WWF conservation organization says.

Since sharks are slow-growing and mature at a late age, they are particularly vulnerable to the danger of extinction, with potentially serious knock-on effects for lower rungs of the oceanic food chain.

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US drought, food prices fan fears of new crisis

Catherine Hornby and Karl Plume PlanetArk 10 Aug 12;

Global alarm over a potential repeat of the 2008 food crisis escalated on Thursday after data showed food prices had jumped 6 percent last month and importers were snapping up a shriveled US grain crop, helping drive corn prices to a new record.

The day before a critical government report on the state of the US corn and soybean crops, which have been decimated by the worst drought in over five decades, the United Nation's food agency warned against the kind of export bans, tariffs and buying binges that worsened the price surge four years ago.

"There is potential for a situation to develop like we had back in 2007/08," the Food and Agriculture Organisation's senior economist and grain analyst Abdolreza Abbassian told Reuters.

"There is an expectation that this time around we will not pursue bad policies and intervene in the market by restrictions, and if that doesn't happen we will not see such a serious situation as 2007/08. But if those policies get repeated, anything is possible."

So far, most governments have refrained from trade intervention. Russia's deputy prime minister said this week he saw no grounds to ban wheat exports, as the country did in 2010, but he did not rule out protective export tariffs after the end of the 2012 calendar year.

Abundant rice supplies, sluggish economic growth and relatively lower oil prices may also help temper the rally in prices, Abbassian added.
But signs of unusually large early buying and extra stockpiling are emerging. US corn export sales over the past week jumped to the second-highest in 10 months, if the sales figure includes a near-record one-time purchase by private importers in Mexico, the world's No. 2 importer.

A mix of high oil prices, growing use of biofuels, bad weather, soaring grain futures markets and restrictive export policies pushed up prices of food in 2007/08, sparking violent protests in countries including Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti.

Unlike that demand-driven spike, however, the current rally in grains has been fuelled largely by a dire drought covering the US Midwest. After slashing its corn crop estimate by 12 percent last month, the US Department of Agriculture is expected to report a further 15 percent decline in a report on Friday, providing the most authoritative view yet of the weather damage to the world's biggest grower.
Benchmark Chicago corn prices for December delivery, already up more than 60 percent since mid-June, reached a new record of nearly $8.30 per bushel. Soybeans jumped 3 percent.

The price surge is also reviving a debate over the role of financial speculators in commodity markets. Big banks and institutional investors were often blamed for inflating prices back in 2008, although academic and government studies have offered conflicting views over the cause.

Commerzbank said it had joined two of its German peers in restricting food-related investments by stripping agricultural products from its ComStage ETF CB Commodity EW Index TR, a small $145 million commodity index fund.

The bank declined to say why it had made the change, but lobby groups and traders said the motive seemed clear.

"Climbing prices are creating reputational risk for banks," said Alexis Dawance, former manager of the agriculturals-focused Global Agricap Fund.

"The big grain traders probably have much more impact in food and commodity trading, but this is part of the bigger picture, with all the fat cat bashing that has been taking place. ... If food prices continue to rise you will see this happening more and more."
Whether the major global grain merchants emerge winners or losers from the latest spike is an open question.
The largest among them, Cargill, reported the lowest quarterly earnings in over two decades for the period ended May 31, prior to the US drought, and conceded that it had been flummoxed by markets that it had long mastered.

"Cargill's global market analysis of supply and demand, and our trading expertise are long-standing strengths," CEO Greg Page said. "Even so, we did not trade as well in this year's markets, which were driven as much by the economic and political environment as by the fundamentals."

The FAO Food Price Index, which measures monthly price changes for a food basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 213 points in July, up 6 percent from 201 points in June, the FAO said in its monthly update.

The rise, which followed three months of declines, was driven mainly by a surge in grain and sugar prices, while meat and dairy prices were little changed, the FAO said.

Although below a peak of 238 points in February 2011, when high food prices helped drive the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, the index is still higher now than during the food price crisis in 2007/08.

Higher food prices mean higher import bills for the poorest countries, which do not produce enough food domestically, and a strong dollar would deepen that impact.

"The very strong appreciation of the dollar, and the surge in prices, is basically a double blow which is going to be quite stressful for some of the more fragile countries," Abbassian said.

The weather outlook appears grim. While mature US summer crops are now mostly immune to worsening drought conditions, crucial harvests in places like India and Australia could be endangered by El Nino, which typically curbs rainfall.

The US government forecaster warned on Thursday that El Nino now appeared almost certain to set in within the next two months, although it would likely be weak to moderate strength. El Nino is a periodic warming of the tropical Pacific and brings shearing winds that hamper storm formation in the Atlantic and produce heavy rains in the eastern Pacific.

In the span of just a few months, what was to have been a year of plenty, helping replenish depleted global stockpiles, has instead become cause for alarm.

"What is quite certain is that it is not going to be a season where prices fall below the previous year, which is what we had anticipated," said Abbassian. "It is going to be another season of very high prices."

(Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt and Veronica Brown in London; Writing byJonathan Leff; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jackie Frank)

FAO Food Price Index up 6 percent
Grains and sugar drive increase
FAO 10 Aug 12;

The Index, which measures the monthly change in the international prices of a basket of food commodities, averaged 213 points, up 12 points from June. That was still well below the peak of 238 points reached in February 2011, however.

The Index's sharp rebound was mostly driven by a surge in grain and sugar prices. International prices of meat and dairy products were little changed.

The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 260 points in July, up 17 percent, or 38 points, from June. That was 14 points below its all-time high of 274 points in April 2008.

Drought damage

The severe deterioration of maize crop prospects in the United States following extensive drought damage pushed up maize prices by almost 23 percent in July.

International wheat quotations also surged 19 percent amid worsened production prospects in the Russian Federation and expectations of firm demand for wheat as feed because of tight maize supplies.

However international rice prices remained mostly unchanged in July, with the FAO overall Rice Price index stable at 238, barely one point above June.

July also saw a sharp increase in the FAO Sugar Price Index, which leaped 12 percent, or 34 points, from June to a new level of 324 points. The upturn, ending a steady fall since March, was triggered by untimely rains in Brazil, the world's largest sugar exporter, which hampered sugarcane harvesting. Concerns over India's delayed monsoon and poor rains in Australia also contributed.

Meat prices down

In contrast the FAO Meat Price Index averaged 168 points in July, down 1.7 percent, or 3 points from June and the third consecutive monthly fall. Market weakness characterized the four major meat sectors, in particular pigmeat, which saw prices fall by 3.6 percent.

Dairy prices averaged 173 points in July, unchanged from June, after five straight months of decline.

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