Best of our wild blogs: 22 Sep 12

“Photographing” Birds, the Early Days: “Pioneer” Bird Artists
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Singapore can do more for animal welfare

Straits Times Forum 22 Sep 12;

IN ADDITION to the welfare of pets and farm animals, the Government should also look into taking proactive steps on wildlife conservation ("Let's talk about animal welfare"; Sept 14).

Singapore is a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

At meetings of member countries, animal protection proposals are discussed. Countries then vote in acceptance or rejection of the proposals to protect animal species. Each country is entitled to a single vote, and Singapore's vote is represented by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

If two-thirds of the member countries vote against a proposal to protect a particular species, the proposal falls, regardless of the animal's conservation status, be it endangered or critically endangered.

Many considerations, such as economic impact, support from citizens and political relationships with countries that could be potentially affected by the new proposal, often take precedence over the need to conserve a particular species.

As a result, many proposals to protect endangered animal species have been consistently rejected throughout the years by different countries, due to a variety of reasons that disfavour protection of an animal species.

Today, many endangered species are still freely sold in Singapore.

Critically endangered southern bluefin tuna and endangered bluefin tuna are sold as sashimi in Japanese restaurants. Chinese restaurants are still selling shark's fin relatively freely, despite the fact that many shark species are threatened by extinction today.

Horns of critically endangered saiga antelopes are still being used to make "cooling drinks" in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

More than 70 per cent of local TCM stores are either selling full-sized horns, horn shavings or drinks made from their horns, because traders are allowed to sell their horns as long as they have a Cites permit.

At the Cites Conference of the Parties in March next year, a proposal to legalise the elephant ivory trade will be brought to the table for voting, putting the lives of elephants on the line once again.

Because the AVA holds a vote in Cites, Singapore has an important role to play towards conservation.

At the upcoming conference, the Government should vote based on environmental responsibility. All products derived from endangered animals must be banned.

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Project: WILD
Project: FIN

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Government launches websites to bust myths

Rachel Chang Straits Times 22 Sep 12;

IN A bid to cut through the swirl of rumour and distortion online, the Government has quietly launched a few "myth busting" initiatives.

The first is a new section on its website called "Factually". Since May, it has collected a series of primers on hot topics like the national reserves, certificates of entitlement and procurement processes.

They aim to give bite-sized answers to questions that have arisen over controversial decisions, such as the one in March to give $1.1 billion to bus operators to ramp up services.

Taking things one step further, the Housing Board (HDB) two weeks ago started a new website known as HDB Speaks.

A first for government agencies here, its sole purpose is to address topics of controversy, like the affordability of resale HDB flats. One was recently been sold for more than $1 million.

Replete with bright graphics and written in a conversational style, it is a far cry from HDB's more sober main website, and aims to be a place where people can "get the facts on the myths about HDB" - its tagline.

Both initiatives are works-in- progress, said the agencies in charge.

A Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) spokesman said that Factually "is intended to be a convenient, central and credible platform" for a summary of key facts on certain policy decisions.

It is not meant to be a comprehensive source, and information on specific policies can be found on ministry or statutory board websites, he said.

There are currently only 14 primers in the Factually section. The first was posted in mid-May, and the latest two weeks ago.

The Straits Times understands that it takes considerable time for the relevant agencies to compile the information for Mica.

This is also why Factually has not gone fully "live" as a stand-alone website, like HDB Speaks, nor been widely publicised.

HDB Speaks, on the other hand, contains a wealth of talking point issues divided between "evergreen" ones, like why HDB cannot get rid of the cash-over-valuation practice, and "online buzz" ones that make the headlines, like whether or not flats have shrunk.

New media analysts said these were smart moves for the Government to make in an oft-hostile online space, but noted that success depends on how able they are to gain traction with online opinion leaders, and keep up with cyberspace's fast pace.

Mr Aaron Ng, a new media and communications lecturer at the National University of Singapore, said that the half-truths and distortions circulating online come from "the lack of first-hand information", which Factually and HDB Speaks attempt to correct.

But it must be timely, he warned. "There are fewer chances of things spiralling out of control if they are on-the-ball when clarifying with facts," he noted. "A stitch in time saves nine."

Singapore Management University social media specialist Michael Netzley said that "top-down" information provided by government agencies will not make much of a dent unless they are then picked up and used in online conversations.

"Peers listen to peers. People today are generally less interested in what you say about yourself and more interested in what others say about you."

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MEWR launches commemorative book

AsiaOne 21 Sep 12;

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) will be releasing a book on Singapore's transformation from a third world slum into a first world eco-city in conjunction with its 40th anniversary.

Titled "Forging a green tomorrow: Singapore's environmental journey from slum to eco-city", the publication includes colourful graphics and anecdotes from key figures who have worked with the agency.

The commemorative book will also highlight key infrastructure developments and achievements such as Singapore's first incineration plant at Ulu Pandan and various other initiatives into modern sanitation.

Readers will also have the chance to be in the know about the Ministry's future aspirations in terms of environmental and water sustainability for Singapore, and their plans to realise these objectives.

Mr Melvin Koh, Acting Director of 3P Network at MEWR, said, "The book showcases the tireless efforts of many people over the past 40 years in the area of environment management, and how going forward, a close partnership with the community is necessary."

Mr Koh, who headed the production of this publication, also said that the book allows readers, especially the youth, to have better understanding of the local environment and motivate them to take ownership and play a greater role in protecting it.

The book will be available in schools and public libraries, and a PDF version will be ready for download on MEWR's website after its official launch at the Singapore Environment and Water Awards Ceremony on Sept 28.

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Malaysia: Trap set for sun bear near village

T.N. Alagesh New Straits Times 22 Sep 12;

NEIGHBOURHOOD FORAGER: Wildlife officers plan to relocate it away from people

KUANTAN: THE state Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) yesterday set up a cage to trap a foraging sun bear which had destroyed coconut trees at Taman Pandan 2 and Kampung Lubuk Puyu here.

Perhilitan enforcement officers set the trap after confirming the presence of the endangered mammal following several days of surveillance.

Using cooking oil and jackfruit as bait, officers placed a large iron cage near a forest area in Kampung Lubuk Puyu, where the world's smallest bear species is said to be holed up.

State department director Khairiah Mohd Shariff said the foods used as bait was a favourite of the species.

She said residents had reported that the young sun bear, which is also known as the honey bear, was believed to have climbed and destroyed several coconut trees in the area.

"The animal could be hungry as it was often spotted foraging for food and wandering into the neighbourhood at night.

"We have advised residents not to feed the animal as it might start associating with humans and roam around their backyards for food."

She said officers would be sent out to patrol the area regularly and to keep a close eye on the trap.

Residents were also reminded to inform the department if they spotted the animal.

Anis Fauzi, 23, said some of the villagers were scared to go out at night for fear that the bear might harm them.

"However, since the bear was first spotted after Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the animal has not caused any problems and would run away when it saw humans.

"We hope the animal will be captured soon and moved to a more suitable place. It deserves a better home and proper food," he said.

The sun bear, a protected species, made headlines last week when a villager who recorded the animal running in the neighbourhood uploaded the 47-second video clip on his Facebook page.

A report was lodged with the department soon after.

In July 2008, the department had used rice and cooking oil as bait to lure an 80kg sun bear, which had been seen foraging in Kampung Sekor, Pekan for months, into a cage trap.

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Indonesia: Australia committed to resolve Timor Sea pollution from Montara oil spill

Antara 21 Sep 12;

Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (ANTARA News) - The Australian government will continue to hold talks with the Indonesia government in order to resolve the pollution problem in the East Nusa Tenggara waters, according to Australian ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty.

"The Australian government remains committed to settle the pollution issue," he said here on Friday.

He made the statement in response to a question about what remedial steps the Australian government had taken after the Montara oil well explosion in Australian waters on August 21, 2009, caused pollution in the Timor Sea.

Greg was here to oversee the implementation of various development programmes financed by the AusAID. He said the Australian and Indonesian governments were still discussing ways to find the best possible solution to the oil pollution problem in the Timor Sea.

"Dialogues have continued between the two countries to find the best solution to minimise the impact of the pollution," Greg noted.

Earlier, PTTEP Australasia admitted that the Montara oil well explosion caused pollution in the Timor Sea. As the operator of the oil well, it agreed to take responsibility for the impact of the pollution.

West Timor Care Foundation (YPTB) chairman Ferdi Tanoni said the oil pollution caused by the explosion had severely affected seaweed farmers in Kupang district, East Nusa Tenggara.

"People living along the coast in Kupang, who are mostly seaweed farmers, have suffered because of the oil spill from Montara. The productivity of their seaweed farms has drastically reduced in the past two years and they have even stopped farming for the fear of incurring losses," he added.

According to a report prepared by an investigation commission from Australia, some 2,000 barrels of oil and gas and poisonous condensate leaked to the Timor Sea daily, polluting more than 90,000 square kilometres of its waters.

Meanwhile, independent geologists in Australia and Indonesia stated that the Montara well spilled out 5,000-10,000 barrels of oil a day to the Timor Sea and 95 percent of the polluted waters were in Indonesian territory.

The contamination of the Timor Sea extends to the waters around Rote Ndao district, the Sawu Sea (especially near the coast of Sabu Raijua district), the south of Timor island (including Kolbano and Wini in South Timor Tengah), and the eastern part of Flores.

Ferdi said PTTEP Australasia was ready to accept recommendations from the commission in charge of investigating the issue.

He pointed out that the company had also broken laws on off-shore drilling, greenhouse gas emissions and oil storage.

Ferdi said he had called on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to instruct the Minister of Transportation to cooperate with YPTB in resolving the issue.

"This was important because there was an impression that the Indonesian government had closed its eyes and ears to the pain that people had been going through after the incident," he added.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Myanmar's struggling Dawei: Southeast Asia's largest industrial complex

Japan, Thailand race to rescue of Myanmar's struggling Dawei
Jason Szep and Amy Sawitta Lefevre Reuters 21 Sep 12;

(Reuters) - After months of negotiations and failed promises, a proposed multi-billion dollar Myanmar port and special economic zone that could transform Southeast Asian trade appears back on track.

Thai banks aim to keep the project afloat with short-term loans until an expected Japanese loan of up to $3.2 billion can be secured, officials and sources familiar with negotiations told Reuters.

Thailand's largest construction firm, Italian-Thai Development Pcl ITD.BK, signed a deal in 2010 to build a deep-sea port and Special Economic Zone SEZ.L in southern Myanmar's coastal Dawei into Southeast Asia's largest industrial complex.

But the project foundered, as the Thai builder failed to secure $8.5 billion to finance construction of its first phase -- roads, utilities and a port.

Underlining Dawei's strategic importance, Japan and Thailand have since intervened to rescue the project.

"Italian-Thai has had difficulty in mobilizing the funding. So now the Thai government has effectively taken over the project," Thaung Lwin, chairman of the Dawei SEZ told Reuters. "The next step is to invite Japan", which he said is committed to seeing the project succeed.

Since the Thai and Myanmar governments agreed on July 23 to connect Dawei to the Thai port of Laem Chabang, 100 km southeast of Bangkok, Thai banks led by Bangkok Bank BBL.BK and Siam Commercial Bank SCB.BK have arranged a 10 billion baht bridge loan to sustain it for another 8-10 months, Somjet Thinaphong, managing director of the Dawei Development Co, an Ital-Thai unit, told Reuters in an interview.

That loan would be followed by a soft loan from the state-backed Japan Bank for International Cooperation to finance the basic port and road infrastructure needed to push the project forward, he added. A source involved in the negotiations said the soft loan could total $3.2 billion. Thaung Lwin of the Dawei SEZ said he expected Japan to emerge as the project's biggest shareholder.

As the former British colony embarks on its most dramatic changes since a 1962 military coup in what was then Burma, mega-projects like the $50 billion 250 sq km (155 sq mile) Dawei SEZ hint at what lies ahead. Super-highways, steel mills, power plants, shipyards, refineries, pulp and paper mills and a petrochemical complex are part of it, as are two golf courses and a holiday resort.

Road and rail routes could link Dawei to neighbors China, India and other parts of Southeast Asia, allowing cargo to bypass the narrow and congested Strait of Malacca to forge shorter trade routes from the Middle East and Africa to China and Japan. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a grouping of 10 countries, hopes Dawei will play an important role in its ambitions for a common market in 2015.

For Japan, a better-connected Southeast Asia makes it easier to sell their products and knit together a vast network of suppliers to Japanese-owned factories and manufacturing plants, which include autos and electronic goods.

"Before the yearend, we will have major progress," Pisanu Suvanajata, Thailand's ambassador to Myanmar, said in an interview with Reuters.


Just months ago, the project was nearly left for dead, a casualty of simmering local resentment and fragile financial backing. About 30,000 people, mostly impoverished rice, cashew and rubber farmers living in thatch-roof huts, are slated to be moved during 10 years of planned construction.

In the Dawei region, many worry about the potential environmental toll and health risks from a project that would be four times bigger than Thailand's largest industrial estate, Map Ta Phut, where pollution between 1996 and 2009 may have contributed to at least 2,000 cancer-related deaths, according to environmental activists who sought legal action to halt the estate in 2009.

Emboldened by the government's surprise suspension of the $3.6 billion, Chinese-led Myitsone dam project last year after weeks of public outcry, residents have pushed hard against Dawei. In response, the government scrapped plans for a 4,000 megawatt coal plant. That's been replaced by plans for a "clean coal" plant that can generate 400 megawatts, said Thaung Lwin of the Dawei SEZ. So-called clean-coal technology involves capturing carbon dioxide and other toxic emissions, and either storing them deep underground or piping them to oil and gas fields.

"If it is clean coal technology, then we will allow it," he added. "Our president visited Japan and saw the clean coal technology at J-Power Group."

But that may not be enough to pacify local residents. Activists who have organised protests against Dawei say it is unclear what types of companies will set up there. Thaung Lwin said he expected Nippon Steel and petrochemical makers to build factories in Dawei.

Local activists raised a banner this week along a recently built highway from Dawei to Thailand that says: "Stop Building Another Map Ta Phut" in Dawei.

"I wish for the project to continue only if the local people agree to it," said Saw Khu, chairman of a 12-village committee formed to study the project's impact on the area. He says Italian-Thai has not done enough to explain the potential pollution risks from the proposed industrial zone.

His and other villages have poured over maps that show where a proposed oil refinery and petrochemical factory will replace rice fields, cashew and rubber trees and jungle.


Once infrastructure is in place, Italian-Thai plans to allocate 17 percent of the complex to heavy industries including steel, petrochemicals and oil. It expects construction of the 400 megawatt plant to take at least four years to set up. Gas and hydropower plant are expected to follow.

The project received a much-needed boost on July 23 when Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Myanmar President Thein Sein pledged to open three additional border crossings along the Thai-Myanmar frontier to help with security and logistics. Next month, Yingluck and Thein Sein will meet again to discuss further support for Dawei.

Pisanu, the Thai ambassador, said Thailand has served as a go-between for Italian-Thai and the Myanmar government as they renegotiate the 60-year concession signed by Italian-Thai in November 2010 to develop Dawei. Under that deal, Italian-Thai had a controlling 51 percent stake in Dawei Development Corp. Max Myanmar Group, owned by Burmese tycoon Zaw Zaw, had 25 percent. The Myanmar government had the rest.

Italian-Thai said it would remain the biggest shareholder in the first phase of the project, but a new consortium is expected to emerge, with shares held by the Thai, Japanese and Myanmar governments along with some private companies.

"In the consortium, the Japanese government will take some share. For the Myanmar government, the share will be given to Japan," said Thaung Lwin, chairman of the SEZ. "The Japanese government will help get the private sector involved."

Somjet said he expected the share of Zaw Zaw's powerful Max Myanmar to be diluted, but that the full terms are likely to be discussed at the next meeting between the Thai and Myanmar governments, tentatively scheduled for early October.

"Both the Thai and Myanmar governments would heavily get involved in the road-link and port simply because those are public projects and not totally commercial," said Somjet, head of the Dawei Development Co.

"Financially, if governments get involved, they have to help make it a success." (Amy Sawitta Lefevre reported from Bangkok; Additional reporting by Thu Rein Hlaing in Yangon; Editing by Martin Petty and Ken Wills)

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