Best of our wild blogs: 29 Aug 12

8 Sep (Sat): FREE Chek Jawa boardwalk tour with the Naked Hermit Crabs from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Singapore climate change documentary Cool Red Dot airs tonight!
from Green Drinks Singapore

Pulau Ubin’s Sensory Trail closed, Aug – Oct 2012
from Otterman speaks

Adult Pied Fantail feeding a juvenile Rusty-breasted Cuckoo
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Rainforests decline sharply in Sumatra, but rate of deforestation slows from news by Rhett Butler

One extinction leads to another...and another
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Second of three dinosaurs for museum arrives

Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 29 Aug 12;

THE second of three dinosaurs that will be the crown jewel of the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum has arrived.

The 24m-long Apollo, or Apollonia, was packed into 14 crates and shipped from a laboratory in Utah. After a month-long voyage, it arrived last Friday.

"We are relieved," said Professor Leo Tan, 67, director of special projects at the Faculty of Science dean's office. "At least two of the three are here. Mother and child are reunited."

The first, baby dinosaur Twinky, arrived in April this year and has been stored in a secret high-security location.

The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore had just finished raising funds to build a 7,500 sq m purpose-built museum on campus when it heard last year of the discovery - made between 2007 and 2010 - of three diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs that were buried together in a quarry in Wyoming.

Its successful $8 million bid to buy the trio followed an intense two-month fund-raising drive.

The three sets of dinosaur bones will form the centrepiece of the new museum when it opens in 2014.

The third dinosaur, Prince, is being prepped in the Utah lab and will arrive by the end of next year.

Professor Peter Ng, 52, director of the Raffles Museum, said that while Apollo is twice the size of Twinky, the process of shipping it here was easier this time as there was a precedent.

Foreign paleontologists will authenticate Apollo's bones and put them through CT scans.

The museum has now embarked on its third phase of fundraising.

It needs to raise $10 million in endowment for professorships, fellowships and staff costs.

"This is the last hurdle," said Prof Ng.

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Singapore haze: PSI reading still in moderate range

Claire Huang Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading is in the moderate range at 59, as of 4pm on Tuesday.

In recent days, Singapore's air quality has dipped, with the PSI slipping from good to moderate in parts of the island.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said Singapore is currently in the Southwest Monsoon season, which typically lasts from June to September or early October.

It's the traditional dry season for the southern ASEAN region.

NEA said an escalation of hotspot activities in Sumatra and Borneo can be expected during extended periods of dry weather.

And this can lead to transboundary smoke haze in the region.

The impact of the smoke haze on Singapore is dependent on factors such as the proximity and extent of the fires, the strength and direction of the prevailing winds, and the incidence and amount of rain.

The PSI reading is updated daily at 8am, noon and 4pm.

- CNA/cc

PSI at noon is 60, in the moderate range
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading on Tuesday at noon is 60, in the moderate range.

On Monday, Singapore's air quality worsened slightly, with the PSI slipping from good to moderate in parts of the island. The PSI reading was between 33 and 53.

On 25 August, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said Singapore is currently in the Southwest Monsoon season.

The Southwest Monsoon season, which typically lasts from June to September or early October, is the traditional dry season for the southern ASEAN region.

During this season, the prevailing winds blow predominantly from the southeast or southwest.

NEA added that periods of dry weather, interspersed with occasional thundery showers in the afternoon and "Sumatra" squalls in the predawn and early morning, are common.

It said an escalation of hotspot activities in Sumatra and Borneo could be expected during extended periods of dry weather. This could lead to transboundary smoke haze in the region.

The impact of the smoke haze on Singapore is dependent on factors such as the proximity and extent of the fires, the strength and direction of the prevailing winds and the incidence and amount of rain.

The PSI reading will be updated daily at 8am, noon and 4pm.

- CNA/xq

Moderate haze spreads islandwide
Straits Times 29 Aug 12;

HAZY skies, confined to northern Singapore on Monday, spread across the island yesterday.

As of 4pm yesterday, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings ranged from 51 to 59, in the "moderate" range.

Readings of 50 and below are "good", and readings over 100 are "unhealthy".

The north, which registered a high of 53 on the PSI on Monday, went up by five points to 58 yesterday. The eastern part of Singapore was the worst hit. It recorded a high of 59 on the PSI.

The National Environment Agency's (NEA) response to media queries on Monday attributed the polluted skies to south-westerly winds carrying smoke from forest fire hot spots in Sumatra.

In a health advisory on its website, the NEA urged children, the elderly, and those with heart or lung diseases not to engage in prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion.

Dr Koh Sek Khoon, 50, from Toa Payoh Clinic and Surgery, said that "the full force of the haze" had yet to be felt.

If the haze worsened, he said, doctors would likely see a spike in patients.


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Indonesia: Haze chokes Batam, will soon reach Singapore

Fadli The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 12;

Batam and surrounding areas were covered in haze on Sunday and Monday due to smoke from fire hot spots in a number of provinces in the southern part of Sumatra.

The haze has reduced visibility from 10,000 meters to 5,000 meters.

The Hang Nadim Airport’s office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG), Philip Mustamu, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that a number of hot spots had been detected in Jambi, South Sumatra and Lampung on Sunday and Monday.

The hot spots found in the three provinces originated from forest fires, but whether or not they were set intentionally remained unclear.

“I have no authority to answer whether the fires were set intentionally, but the hot spots apparently originated from forest fires,” Philip said.

He said that 160 hot spots had been detected by radar and the air pollutant concentrations due
to haze particles had restricted visibility at Hang Nadim Airport.

According to the Batam BMKG, visibility is variable at Hang Nadim Airport due to the haze.

On Sunday, visibility was recorded at between 6,000 and 7,000 meters, then on Monday it dropped to 5,000 meters, while on Tuesday it gradually improved to above 8,000 meters after rain began to fall in a number of locations in Batam.

Visibility is poor for flights when it is measured at between 1,000 to 2,000 meters.

During normal conditions, visibility at the airport is up to 10,000 meters.

“Despite that, airport operations continue as normal. Take-off and landings are being carried out regularly, although pilots need to be extra careful,” said Philip.

Hang Nadim Airport navigation technical group head Ricard Silitonga confirmed Philip’s remarks, saying that despite the drop in visibility, navigation activities operated as usual and there were no delays or flight cancellations for incoming or outgoing flights.

“So far, there has been no disruption in airport activities due to the haze,” Ricard said.

According to Philip, the haze covering Batam will not disappear during periods of bright sun-
shine but should fade with adequate rainfall.

Rain which started falling at 1 p.m. on Tuesday in Batam, is expected to get rid of the haze, especially if it is sufficient to extinguish the hot spots in Sumatra.

“It is raining today, so we hope the haze will disappear by itself, especially if the hot spots have been put out,” said Philip.

Whether the haze will reach Singapore and other neighboring countries may be only a matter of wind and time.

Singapore was covered in a thick haze in October 2010, however Singapore’s port and Singapore’s Changi airport still functioned as normal.

The haze at that time reportedly came from 97 hot spots in Riau province in the first week of October, 2010.

The number of hot spots jumped to 251 in the second week of October but declined to 219 in the third week before further declining to 65 over the next several days.

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Thailand: Tiger conservation gains threatened by proposed dam

WWF 28 Aug 12;

Bangkok, Thailand – The controversial Mae Wong dam in western Thailand represents a significant new threat to the country’s wild tiger population, and jeopardises the continued success of conservation efforts in Mae Wong National Park, warns WWF.

As opposition to the dam project builds, the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and WWF today released rare video footage of a tigress and her two cubs in Mae Wong National Park, close to the proposed dam construction site.

The 20-second footage, retrieved from camera traps in May, offers hope for the survival of the species and evidence of the success of joint efforts by the Thai government, public sector and communities to manage and restore Thailand’s western forest complex, a crucial tiger habitat.

“As tigers need large amounts of food, especially when they are nursing their young, the new footage indicates that prey in the Mae Wong-Klong Lan forests is abundant enough to support tiger reproduction and recovery,” said Rungnapa Phoonjampa, Manager of WWF-Thailand’s Mae Wong- Klong Lan National Parks Tiger Recovery Programme. “The camera traps captured many tiger prey species including gaur, barking deer, wild pig and deer, as well as other mammals, including tapir, serow, Fea's muntjac and elephant. In all over 30 mammal species were captured on film.”

Numbers of the Indochinese tiger, found in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, are in steep decline due to shrinking habitat, the illicit trade in tiger parts for traditional medicines, and depletion of tiger prey species. Fewer than 300 wild tigers are estimated to remain in Thailand.

Camera traps are part of collective efforts by the DNP and WWF-Thailand to track the tiger population in this part of the Western Forest Complex, which includes 17 protected areas covering over 19,000 km². Camera trapping in Mae Wong has so far recorded the presence of 9 tigers and 2 cubs, much higher than initially expected by WWF researchers. One of these tigers was previously caught on camera in the Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in July 2011, located 40 kilometres from Mae Wong, revealing the movement of tigers from Huay Kha Khaeng into Mae Wong.

The conservation efforts in Mae Wong and Klong Lan national parks build on commitments made at the 2010 Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. During this high-level Summit, the Thai government along with the 12 other tiger range states committed to doubling the numbers of wild tigers by 2022. They also presented the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, which aims to conserve and recover tiger populations and their prey and clamp down on poaching.

“The recent camera trap footage, along with the encouraging data we have on tiger prey species, shows the conservation work of the DNP and WWF-Thailand is on the right track,” added Rungnapa. “The Mae Wong and Klong Lan forests are not only critical tiger habitat, they are also home to other threatened species. By protecting the tigers, we really can protect so much more.”

However, the new THB 13 billion (US$400 million) dam project proposed for the Mae Wong river threatens the survival of Thailand’s tigers and conservation work in Mae Wong national park, as well as the adjacent UNESCO World Heritage Site of Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary.

The dam will destroy over 20km² of the national park, submerging an area where sambar deer, an important prey species for tigers, are found and had through successful conservation efforts recovered to a healthy population. New access roads would also risk increasing poaching pressure.

WWF and other NGOs opposing the dam project have asked the government to consider alternative measures to mitigate flood and drought problems. These measures include better water management, improved irrigation, and building smaller dams outside protected areas.

“Years of successful conservation efforts will be washed away if the dam construction goes ahead, “added Rungnapa. “The Mae Wong dam must be stopped or we risk losing our tigers and so much more that Thailand loves and reveres.”

Endangered Tiger Cubs Caught on Camera Near Proposed Dam
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Yahoo News 29 Aug 12;

Two endangered tiger cubs and their mother have been caught on film in Thailand near the site of a proposed hydroelectric dam.

The black-and-white footage, taken in May, shows a mother tiger investigating a camera trap near the Mae Wong River. After a moment, her two cubs bound through the woods after her.

The tigers are three of the fewer than 300 wild Indochinese tigers left in Thailand, according to the WWF, which released the video of the cubs and mama tiger, along with the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

Panthera tigris corbetti is an endangered subspecies of tiger found only in southeast Asia. Conservation agencies estimate that there are fewer than 1,500 in the wild today, with Thailand hosting a few hundred. According to the advocacy group Tigers in Crisis, one Indochinese tiger is lost to poachers each week, on average. The big cats are also threatened by shrinking habitats and loss of prey. [See Tiger Cubs Video]

Now, environmental groups are crying out against a proposed $400 million dam project on the Mae Wong River. The dam would inundate more than 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) of land in Mae Wong National Park. The dam, and others planned along with it, would also cut the region's fish supply by 16 percent, according to a study released Monday (Aug. 27) by WWF and the Australian National University. That food supply would have to be replaced by agriculture, according to the report published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

The WWF and other conservation agencies worry that the dam project would also bring new roads into tigers' forest habitat. Those roads, in turn, may bring more poachers into the region.

"The good news is that the footage tells us our tiger conservation efforts are on the right track and that this area is succeeding in helping wild tigers reproduce," Rebecca Ng of WWF's Greater Mekong program said in a statement. "If the dam is built, it will literally wash away years of conservation efforts and risks the future of tigers in Thailand."

The Thai government says that the project will help ease problems of drought and flooding in the region, according to the Bangkok Post. Environmental groups are taking the issue to court, filing a complaint with the country's Central Administrative Court alleging that the prime minister and cabinet violated the constitution by approving the Mae Wong dam before environmental impact studies were completed.

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The spiralling cost of invasive species

Richard Ingham AFP Yahoo News 27 Aug 12;

Some aliens arrived as stowaways. Others were brought in deliberately, for fun or profit. And others were so tiny that nobody noticed them until way too late.

They became a nightmare. They killed and devoured natives, stole their homes, sickened them with pathogens.

Sci fi? No: the alien invasion is happening right now.

It could be occurring in your garden. In the forest where you like to feel in harmony with Nature. It is almost certainly unfolding on the farms which produce your food.

It's the tale of species that Mankind brings to new habitats where they spread uncontrollably, ousting endemic wildlife and becoming major pests.

"Invasive species have a huge impact worldwide. In some countries, the cost is astronomical," says Dave Richardson, director of the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at South Africa's University of Stellenbosch.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), staging a conference in South Korea next month, says foreign encroachment is the third biggest source of species threat.

Take the American grey squirrel -- "a rat with good PR," say enemies -- which is displacing Britain's scrawnier red squirrel. Or the Burmese python, gorging on small mammals in Florida's Everglades.

Invasive species inflict more than $1.4 trillion (1.12 trillion euros) in damage each year, or five percent of global GDP, according to an estimate made 11 years ago.

"Those numbers are controversial because it's difficult to put finite figures on these sorts of things," said Tim Blackburn, director of the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London.

"But the impacts are pervasive and affect so many aspects of life. The cost has the potential to escalate as we take more species to more areas where they don't naturally occur."

Many costs are indirect. For instance, US farmers use truckloads of pesticides to control foreign weeds, while in central Europe, their counterparts are surrendering tracts of land to the giant hogweed, a toxic Asian shrub.

There is the bill from the European rabbit, introduced for food by British settlers to Australia and New Zealand only to become cursed for ravaging grasslands and crops.

In the southern United States, Asian carp were imported in the 1970s to help clean up algae in commercial catfish ponds. Flooding washed the carp into the Mississippi River system, where they now threaten commercial and game fishing in the Great Lakes.

Invasive species have followed Man throughout his odyssey.

Polynesians wiped out innumerable bird species as they island-hopped across the Pacific over eight centuries, bringing in rats that had stowed away on their ocean-going canoes.

The trend accelerated in the early- to mid-19th century.

European species were shipped out to the colonies in Africa and Australasia to provide food or company, and exotics were brought back to Europe.

"There was a great flowering of 'acclimatisation societies', which were specifically set up to introduce new species to areas around the world," Blackburn recounted.

"In fact the Zoological Society of London, the organisation I work for, envisioned a golden age where we would have herds of elands roaming over the south of England."

Faster travel -- steamship, then jet plane -- accelerated the problem as global trade really took off.

Headaches include the zebra mussel, which has infested US waterways after hitching a ride from Europe in ships' ballast water. Another is the verroa mite, reported in countries in three continents, which is wiping out honey bees that pollinate many crops.

Even tinier is the chytrid fungus being spread to wild amphibians through the sale of pet frogs and frogs for food. As frog numbers plummet, insect populations surge -- another hidden cost.

In many countries, national border controls are often lax and laws are riddled with loopholes because of interest groups that trade in non-native species, said Richardson.

He said he knew of nowhere that firmly applies "polluter pays" principles, whereby someone who introduces a pest pays the bill to get rid of it.

As for international cooperation, there has been progress -- for instance, in marine conventions which oblige ships to exchange ballast water in mid-ocean.

But "in many instances, treaties and conventions do not have teeth," said Richardson.

Eradicating these threats is costly and often impossible, for it requires lots of manpower, sometimes over many years. Introducing a predator animal or insect to attack the invader sometimes makes things worse.

Jean-Philippe Siblet, director of Natural Heritage at France's Museum of Natural History, said eradication had to be "smart".

Conservationists must distinguish between useful, introduced species and those that become a burden.

"It's the globalisation of nature, and we're going to have a hard time stopping it," he said.

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U.N. body urges G20 action on food prices, waste

Patrick Lannin PlanetArk 28 Aug 12;

U.N. body urges G20 action on food prices, waste Photo: Christian Hartmann
?Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 26, 2012.
Photo: Christian Hartmann

The world's top farm producers in the Group of 20 countries must agree coordinated action to ease worries about food prices, the head of the United Nations food agency said on Monday, as he and other experts bemoaned a huge global waste of food and water.

The third price surge in four years has come after drought in the United states and poor crops from Russia and the Black Sea bread basket region.

Senior figures from the G20 will discuss the food price rises this week, but any decisions on action are unlikely before a mid-September report on grain supply, officials have said.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General Jose Graziano Da Silva said he would not characterize the current food price rise as a crisis, but it could reach that level next year if harvests in the southern hemisphere were disappointing.

"We need coordinated action and I believe that the G20 is responsible enough for this action," da Silva told a news conference during a conference on water in the Swedish capital.

The annual World Water Week conference looks at how resources are used and the link between water and food security.

Speaking to Reuters, da Silva said any coordination should involve avoiding unilateral export bans and encouraging substitution of foods, for instance the eating of beans in Latin American and of casava in Africa.

He noted that between 85 and 95 percent of the crops most affected by the price rises, wheat and corn, came from the G20.

He said that even if wheat prices rose 10 to 20 percent that did not mean bread prices would rise by the same amount.

Da Silva noted that the food price rally was not as serious as in 2007/08, when there were violent protests in countries including Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti.

"There is no crisis," he told Reuters. "This kind of panic buying is what we need to avoid at the moment."

Da Silva and other experts at the conference said that there was also a massive waste of food in the world, an issue that needed to be resolved in order better to harness resources.

"Up to half of the food we produce never gets eaten," said Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute.

A quarter of the water used worldwide was used to produce more than one billion metric tons of food that nobody eats, he said.

Da Silva told the conference that one third of all food production was lost and that this was due to poor storage in developing countries, or being thrown away in rich countries.

He also said water security was a vital factor for food security and that food needed to be produced in a way that conserved water, used it more sustainably and intelligently, and helped agriculture adapt to climate change.

"We need to produce more with less," he added.

(Reporting by Patrick Lannin; Editing by William Hardy and Veronica Brown)

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Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists

Water scarcity's effect on food production means radical steps will be needed to feed population expected to reach 9bn by 2050
John Vidal 26 Aug 12;

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world's population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world's leading water scientists.

"There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations," the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.

"There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade."

Dire warnings of water scarcity limiting food production come as Oxfam and the UN prepare for a possible second global food crisis in five years. Prices for staples such as corn and wheat have risen nearly 50% on international markets since June, triggered by severe droughts in the US and Russia, and weak monsoon rains in Asia. More than 18 million people are already facing serious food shortages across the Sahel.

Oxfam has forecast that the price spike will have a devastating impact in developing countries that rely heavily on food imports, including parts of Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East. Food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries.

Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world's arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.

"Nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase," they said. "With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land."

The report is being released at the start of the annual world water conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where 2,500 politicians, UN bodies, non-governmental groups and researchers from 120 countries meet to address global water supply problems.

Competition for water between food production and other uses will intensify pressure on essential resources, the scientists said. "The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century. This will place additional pressure on our already stressed water resources, at a time when we also need to allocate more water to satisfy global energy demand – which is expected to rise 60% over the coming 30 years – and to generate electricity for the 1.3 billion people currently without it," said the report.

Overeating, undernourishment and waste are all on the rise and increased food production may face future constraints from water scarcity.

"We will need a new recipe to feed the world in the future," said the report's editor, Anders J├Ągerskog.

A separate report from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) said the best way for countries to protect millions of farmers from food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia was to help them invest in small pumps and simple technology, rather than to develop expensive, large-scale irrigation projects.

"We've witnessed again and again what happens to the world's poor – the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and already suffer from water scarcity – when they are at the mercy of our fragile global food system," said Dr Colin Chartres, the director general.

"Farmers across the developing world are increasingly relying on and benefiting from small-scale, locally-relevant water solutions. [These] techniques could increase yields up to 300% and add tens of billions of US dollars to household revenues across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia."

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