Best of our wild blogs: 29 Sep 12

Call of the Pin-striped Tit-babbler
from Bird Ecology Study Group

New articles on Nature in Singapore website
from Raffles Museum News

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Extend Singapore laws to haze culprits

Geh Min and Ivan Png for Straits Times 29 Sep 12;

INCE the mid-1990s, the haze seems to have become an annual but unhappy ritual for Singaporeans. Planters in Sumatra set fires to clear their land. South-west and south winds blow the noxious particles towards Singapore.

Singapore ministers intercede with the government of Indonesia. Meanwhile, the National Environment Agency (NEA) carefully monitors wind directions and posts hourly updates of the Pollutant Standards Index.

Earlier this week, Asean environment ministers met in Bangkok. As they have many times before, they discussed the issue of haze.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre reported that this year, the number of hot spots in Sumatra has reached a new high, exceeding the levels in 2006.

As usual, the ministers turned attention to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Since Asean members signed the agreement in 2002, all except Indonesia have ratified it.

In principle, a multinational agreement should resolve the haze problem. For instance, in 1991, Canada and the United States signed a bilateral Air Quality Agreement, committing to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The two chemicals cause acid rain. Between 1990 and 2008, Canada had reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by 63 per cent. Over the same period, the United States reduced its emissions by 56 per cent.

So, the Asean environment ministers urged Indonesia to complete the ratification of the agreement. But, even if Indonesia did ratify the agreement, we might still have to hold our breath.

Open burning is already illegal under Indonesian law but, as Mr Sudarsono, of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, remarked: "(We) don't hear anything about regulations being enforced... So as long as they're never enforced, people will keep on burning the forests."

Singapore should not just wait for a change in wind direction or for the Indonesian government to rise to the occasion. There are two ways in which we could move forward.

One is to hold the perpetrators of the haze accountable. If a factory in Jurong emitted smoke or chemicals, it would violate Singapore's Environmental Pollution Control Act. And the NEA would vigorously prosecute the offender and stop the emissions.

Why should our law be any different for an Indonesian plantation? Whether the emissions come from Jurong or Jambi, the harm to our health, especially to that of children and older people, is the same. The harm to our economy - as tourists switch to other destinations and businesses choose other locations - is the same.
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Singapore's laws should apply to all polluters, wherever they may be located. In the early years of the haze, the open burning was blamed on small farmers, who ostensibly lacked the resources to clear their land in a less harmful way.

Now, Asean ministers have squarely placed the blame on big business. Unlike smallholders, corporate wrongdoers should be relatively easier to identify and, with their business and financial connections to Singapore, easier to prosecute.

If necessary, the Environmental Pollution Control Act should be amended accordingly. Lest some worry that Singapore is extending the reach of its national laws, it is worth recalling an obvious precedent. In 2007, Parliament amended the Penal Code to make sex with young people in other countries a criminal offence in Singapore.

The other way forward is to engage with Indonesian people on the ground. A good example is the Harapan Rainforest Initiative. An international consortium of non-governmental organisations including BirdLife International, Burung Indonesia, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has secured a 100-year licence to conserve and protect 100,000ha of lowland forest in the provinces of Jambi and South Sumatra.

Singapore Airlines is a financial sponsor of the Harapan Rainforest Initiative. The initiative directly protects the forest and the wildlife from cutting and burning. In addition, it provides local people with employment, and hence a stake in conservation.

More Singapore businesses should engage in efforts to provide meaningful economic opportunities to the people of rural Sumatra.

They and their families would be much better off (financially and physically) working on environmentally sustainable activities than clearing forests through open burning. The result could be a win-win for both Indonesia and Singapore.

Geh Min is a consultant ophthalmologist and past president of the Nature Society. Ivan Png is Lim Kim San Professor at the NUS Business School and professor of economics and information systems, National University of Singapore.

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Singapore population up at 5.31 million, 82% residents live in HDB flats

Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's population has increased, due to growth of both the resident and non-resident populations.

The Department of Statistics (DOS), in its Population Trends 2012 report released on Friday, said the country's total population stood at 5.31 million as at end June 2012, up 2.5 per cent from a year ago.

It said there were 3.29 million Singapore citizens and 0.53 million permanent residents, and the rest were non-residents.

The number of Singapore citizens grew by 0.9 per cent, comparable to the growths in the last couple of years, while the number of permanent residents increased marginally by 0.2 per cent.

Growth in the number of non-residents was at 7.2 per cent, slightly higher than last year's 6.9 per cent. But DOS said it was significantly lower than the double digit percentage increases of 14.9 per cent seen in 2007 and 19.0 per cent in 2008.

An estimated 3.14 million Singapore residents were living in HDB flats this year, accounting for 82 per cent of Singapore residents, said the report.

It said there were 10 planning areas where at least 90 per cent of Singapore residents were staying in HDB flats. The proportion of HDB dwellers was the highest in Punggol, followed by Woodlands.

There were five planning areas with more than 200,000 Singapore residents, with Bedok, Jurong West and Tampines each having over 250,000 residents. Bedok had the highest number of residents at 295,200. The other two planning areas with more than 200,000 Singapore residents in 2012 were Woodlands (247,800) and Hougang (217,400).

The proportion of elderly aged 65 years and over was generally higher among Singapore residents staying in older estates. In 2012, the proportion of elderly was the highest in Outram, Downtown Core, Rochor, Queenstown, Bukit Merah, Toa Payoh and Kallang.

In contrast, the proportion of children aged below 5 years was generally higher among Singapore residents staying in relatively newer estates.

In 2011, HDB 4-room flats remained as the most common type of dwelling among resident households, at 32 per cent.

The next common type was HDB 5-room & executive flats (25 per cent), followed by HDB 3-room (20 per cent).

Those staying in condominiums and private flats formed another 11 per cent.

Reflecting the ageing population, the report said the median age of the resident population went up further to 38.4 years in 2012, compared to 38.0 in 2011 and 37.4 in 2010.

The proportion of Singapore residents aged 65 years and above rose to 9.9 per cent from 9.3 per cent last year.

This resulted in the ratio of residents aged 20-64 years to elderly residents aged 65 years and above trending downwards. The report said there were 6.7 residents aged 20-64 years to each elderly resident, compared to 7.2 last year.

Female residents outnumbered their male counterparts in Singapore. The sex ratio was 970 males per 1,000 females, down from 972 in 2011.

Turning to marriages, the report said a total of 27,258 marriages were registered in 2011, which was 12 per cent higher than the 24,363 registered in 2010. This was a rebound after a dip in 2010.

In 2011, 75 per cent or 20,315 marriages were first marriages where neither party had previously been married.

As for the fertility rate in Singapore, DOS said total live-births rebounded and increased by 4.4 per cent to 39,654 last year, from 37,967 in 2010.

Singapore's resident total fertility rate rose slightly from 1.15 in 2010 to 1.2 in 2011.

The department also noted the increase in the proportion with no children among married women in their thirties.

The proportion who was childless grew from 15 per cent in 2001 to 21 per cent last year among married resident women aged 30-39 years.

As for educational profiles, the population report said the educational levels of the resident population continued to improve over the years.

The share of university graduates also increased significantly from 14 per cent in 2001 to 25 per cent in 2011.

The population report was the eighth edition of an annual series that puts together different aspects of demographic statistics in one volume.

It comprises five sections, namely, "Population", "Households and Housing", "Family Formation and Dissolution", "Fertility" and "Mortality".

The report can be accessed online at the DOS website.

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Indonesia's Aceh revokes palm permit after legal challenge

Reuters 28 Sep 12;

(Reuters) - Indonesia's Aceh province has revoked a controversial permit issued to a palm oil firm accused of breaching a ban on forest clearing, a spokesman said on Friday, in a rare climbdown following a legal challenge by environmental groups.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by saving Indonesia's dwindling tropical rainforests, the world's third-largest, a pledge that won the promise of $1 billion from Norway should he succeed.

But the effort is being hampered by soaring global demand for palm oil, used in everything from biscuits to biofuel. Indonesia is the world's top producer of the edible oil, whose exports earn the country $20 billion a year.

Last year, the governor of Aceh breached a two-year ban on issuing permits to log and convert forests by giving permission for PT Kallista Alam develop 1,605 hectares (4,000 acres) of swamp, which includes protected peatlands.

The Aceh governor's move prompted legal action from environmental groups and probes by the police and government bodies, which led to the permit being revoked this week.

A spokesman for the Aceh province said the permit had been revoked on Thursday, and notification sent to Kallista Alam.

"It is important that there is rule of law in business and investing in Aceh, which provides benefits to the community," Muhammad Zulfikar, director of the Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), said in a statement.

Officials of PT Kallista Alam could not immediately be reached for comment.

Former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf issued the permit to open 1,605 hectares of land for palm oil in the Tripa peatland area in August last year.

In the last few years, Indonesia has seen rapid growth in production of palm oil, with output this year expected to be between 23 million and 25 million metric tons (27.6 million tons), with around 18 million metric tons exported.

(Reporting by Reza Munawir in Aceh; Writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Large Seagrass Find Along Sarawak's Turtle Island Waters Due To Reef Balls

Bernama 28 Sep 12;

KUCHING, Sept 28 (Bernama) -- The recent discovery of large seagrass acreage along the coast of Pulau Talang-Talang Besar near here indicates the success of the Sarawak Forestry Corporation's (SFC) reef ball project to prevent trawlers from encroaching into the waters off the turtle island.

SFC managing director/chief executive officer Datuk Ali Yusop said it would also promote the growth of seagrass found at a depth of between 30 and 40 feet, which was the main diet of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and dugong, besides being a habitat for many marine animals.

"Sarawak has long been a model state in environmental protection, with laws and legislative framework established to complement the efforts of the federal government, where several national parks, namely Tanjung Datu, Talang Satang, Similajau and Miri Sibuti, were gazetted for the purpose of marine conservation," he said.

Ali, who is also Controller of Wildlife, said this today, following SFC's successful reef cleaning and reef ball monitoring exercise, in conjunction with the month-long Malaysia Day celebrations along the coast of the island.

Assisted by 27 volunteer divers from here, including students from Uninversiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), it is aimed at inculcating awareness on the importance of reef and marine life, as well as to promote constructive partnership between SFC and the general public in the protection and conservation of marine creatures.


Seagrass find 'a boon for turtles'
New Straits Times 30 Sep 12;

KUCHING: A "huge seagrass" patch has been discovered at a depth of between 9.1m to 12.2m off Pulau Talang Talang Besar near Sematan.

The patch was found during a reef cleaning and reef ball monitoring exercise carried out jointly by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak students and volunteer divers two weeks ago.

The discovery is a significant find in the conservation of the endangered turtles as seagrass is an important diet of sea turtles.

The managing director and chief executive officer of the Sarawak Forestry Corporation Datuk Ali Yusop said the discovery was a good indication that the reef ball project, that was started in 1998, had successfully prevented trawlers from encroaching the waters off the island.

Talang Talang Besar is an important turtle nesting island in the state.

Ali said the reef cleaning and reef ball monitoring had promoted the growth of the seagrass, the main diet of Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and dugongs (dugong dugon).

The cleaning and monitoring of the reef balls, aimed at inculcating awareness on the importance of reef and marine life as well as to promote collaboration and constructive partnership between corporation and the public in the protection and conservation of marine creatures, was held in conjunction with Malaysia Day celebrations.

This is the third consecutive year this exercise was organised.

"Coral reefs conservation is vital for the wellbeing of marine life.

"In Malaysia, the Federal Government has taken the initiative in conserving coral reefs by gazetting the majority of them as marine parks."

He added that compared with past years, not much rubbish was collected during the exercise this year.

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Four Leopards a week enter India’s illegal wildlife trade

TRAFFIC 28 Sep 12;

At least 4 Leopards a week are entering the illegal wildlife trade in India © TRAFFIC New Delhi, India, 28th September 2012—At least four Leopards have been poached and their body parts entered into illegal wildlife trade every week for at least 10 years in India, according to TRAFFIC’s latest study “Illuminating the Blind Spot: A study on illegal trade in Leopard parts in India” launched today by Dr Divyabhanusinh Chavda, President, WWF-India.

The study documents a total of 420 seizures of Leopard skins, bones and other body parts reported from 209 localities in 21 out of 35 territories in India during 2001–2010.

Statistical analysis is used to estimate the additional levels of “undetected trade” and concludes that around 2294 Leopards were trafficked in India during the period—an average of four animals per week over the 10 year period.

Leopards Panthera pardus are fully protected under India’s domestic legislation, and commercial international trade is banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

“TRAFFIC’s objective analysis has cast new light onto the sheer scale of the illicit trade in Leopard parts in India, which has hitherto been overshadowed by the trade in another of the country’s national icons, the Tiger,” said Dr Chavda at the launch of the report.

“Without an effective strategy to assess and tackle the threats posed by illegal trade, the danger is that Leopard numbers may decline rapidly as happened previously to the Tiger,” he further added.

Density map showing seizure "hotspots" Click to enlarge Uttarakhand emerged as a major source of Leopard parts in trade, while Delhi was found to be a major epicentre of the illegal trade, along with adjacent areas of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

Dr Rashid Raza, Coordinator with TRAFFIC in India and the lead author of the study said: “Even though reports of illegal trade in Leopard body parts are disturbingly frequent, the level of threat to Leopards in the country has previously been unrecognized, and has fallen into our collective ‘blind spot’.”

Close to 90% of reported Leopard part seizures in India comprised solely of skins, making them the dominant body part found in illegal trade during the 10 year period. Other body parts, particularly bones, are known to be prescribed as substitutes for Tiger parts in traditional Asian medicine.

It is believed most Leopard parts are smuggled out of India to other countries in Asia, often via the porous border with neighbouring Nepal. Earlier investigations indicated many of the Leopard parts found for sale in northern Myanmar, northern Laos and the ethnic Tibetan regions of China originated from India.

The report recommends the establishment of a Task Force to tackle illegal trade in the areas identified as having the highest levels of Leopard-related crime, as well as better regional co-operation between source, transit and market countries through initiatives such as the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN).

An official database along the lines of “Tigernet”, used for Tiger conservation in India, would also help monitor the illegal Leopard part trade. Studies are also needed to assess the levels of threat from human-Leopard conflict in the country, according to the report.

Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India said: “The Leopard is among the most charismatic large animals in the world, and plays an important ecological role in the forests it inhabits.”

“Any increase in external market demand could easily lead to a decimation of Leopard numbers in India, but I am hopeful this latest analysis will provide the impetus to catalyse effective conservation action; particularly increased effectiveness of law enforcement initiatives to curtail the illegal trade in Leopard body parts.”

TRAFFIC’s work on the Leopard trade in India is supported by WWF-India and WWF-UK.

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