Best of our wiild blogs: 24 Nov 12

Bidadari (18 November)
from Rojak Librarian

Dragonfly (41) – Nesoxenia lineata
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Plant-Bird relationship: 14. Miscellaneous trees and shrubs and their families
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Forests worldwide near tipping-point from drought
from news by Rhett Butler

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Dolphin deaths in transit rare: Experts

Procedure is safe but unnatural environment on trip may be stressful
Ng Kai Ling And Melissa Pang Straits Times 24 Nov 12;

IT IS rare for dolphins to die while they are being transported as all necessary precautions would have been taken to ensure their health and safety, two marine mammal experts said yesterday.

But, they added, the unnatural environment that the animals are exposed to during the journey can be very stressful.

On Thursday, a male bottlenose dolphin being transported to Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) Marine Life Park died suddenly less than an hour before its plane landed.

Wen Wen, estimated to be 10 years old, had been on a three-hour flight from Subic Bay in the Philippines. A necropsy - an autopsy for animals - has been performed and further tests will be done here and in the United States to find out how it died.

A Marine Life Park spokesman said yesterday that the other 10 dolphins that travelled with Wen Wen are under quarantine and being monitored closely. He also said RWS and park officials were deeply saddened by the death.

National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute biologist Elizabeth Taylor said it was "very rare" for dolphins to die in transit.

"It is usually a very safe procedure," said Dr Taylor, who heads the Marine Mammal Research Laboratory. She said the utmost precautions are usually taken to make sure the dolphins are safe.

She added that at 10 years old, Wen Wen was considered a young dolphin and in its prime.

The transportation of dolphins involves placing them in specially made stretchers and submerging them in a deep container filled with water, she said.

The dolphin's flippers are fitted into slots at the sides of the stretchers to ensure they are not tossed around in transit.

This suspended position is just one of several stress factors for the sea mammals, said American dolphin expert Ric O'Barry, speaking from Almeria in Spain, where he helps in dolphin rescue efforts.

"In their natural world, dolphins do not know gravity. It's alien to them and causes stress," said Mr O'Barry, who has helped transport dolphins in his 50 years of experience working with them.

More stress comes from the noise and vibration from cargo planes, which they are usually transported on. Their primary sense is their sense of sound, and the environment is very different from what they are used to in the ocean, he said.

Mr O'Barry said none of the dolphins he has helped to transport has ever died, but they were mostly short journeys done in cases of emergency.

Dr Taylor said it was hard to tell if the other dolphins would be affected by Wen Wen's death. "They do recognise other individuals, so they will know if one is no longer there, but we can't know for sure how they will feel."

The first batch of 14 dolphins to the park arrived without harm on Monday.

Of the 27 dolphins that RWS bought for its oceanarium, two others besides Wen Wen have died, in 2010 of a bacterial infection while in a holding pen in Langkawi, Malaysia.

Wen Wen's death has renewed calls among animal activists for RWS to return the remaining 24 dolphins to their natural habitat in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, where they were captured from.

The activists argue that these dolphins will not survive in captivity. They also claim the dolphins were caught unethically.

The Marine Life Park opened on Thursday, the last attraction at the $7 billion integrated resort to be ready. Its 8ha oceanarium is the world's largest aquarium and was part of the proposal which won Genting International the bid to build the Sentosa integrated resort in 2006.

RWS bought the dolphins from a Canadian dolphin trader in 2008 and 2009.

In 2009, RWS scrapped plans to have whale sharks, saying it might not be able to care for them. The park's staff include four veterinarians with a combined experience of successfully transporting more than 500 marine mammals, a spokesman said.

The dolphin exhibit - which will not feature live shows and will have opportunities for visitors to interact with the mammals - will be open to the public next year.

Subic dolphin dies on flight to Singapore
Inquirer 24 Nov 12;

MANILA, Philippines—Wen Wen, one of 25 dolphins transferred from Subic in the Philippines to a Singapore oceanarium despite protests from activists, died during its flight to the city-state on Thursday, the resort said.

The male dolphin, aged about 10, died suddenly less than an hour before the flight from the Philippines landed, a Marine Life Park spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson of the park—which opened to the public for the first time earlier

Thursday and is part of the Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) casino—said Wen Wen appeared fine when medically examined before the flight.

“We are deeply saddened… he will be sorely missed,” the spokesperson said.

He confirmed that the other 24 bottle-nose dolphins had arrived and were acclimatizing to their new home.

“No effort or resources will be spared in ensuring the health and well-being of our dolphins and all marine animals at Marine Life Park,” the statement said.

Wen Wen is the third dolphin to die out of 27 which RWS acquired from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific between 2008 and 2009.

Wildlife activists in the Philippines, however, are mad that the firm was able to ferry out the dolphins despite an ongoing court case and said Resorts World Sentosa and the government could expect a new round of lawsuits against them.

Trixie Concepcion of the Earth Island Institute decried the exportation of the dolphins from Subic to Singapore as “blatant disregard of Philippine laws and courts.”

She pointed out that a Quezon City court was still hearing their appeal seeking the extension of a temporary environment protection order (Tepo).

“And yet they flew the dolphins out of the country, it is a disrespect of our processes… the status quo should have been observed,” she said in an interview on Friday.

Concepcion pointed out that Wen-wen’s death only supports their argument that wild animals should not be transported.

“That is very stressful to the wild animals. And they die in the end,” she said.

Even though the dolphin died outside the country, Concepcion said they will file criminal charges under the Animal Welfare Act.

The animal welfare advocate said they will also pursue contempt charges against the government and Resorts World Sentosa.

“We are also contemplating a case before the Ombudsman against the government for obstruction of justice,” she said.

The activists had filed a lawsuit last month to stop the firm from taking the dolphins out of Subic, were they were kept and trained. They said the dolphins’ capture violated an international treaty on the trade in endangered animals and plants.

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 101 is hearing a case that the Philippine Animal Welfare Society and other groups filed against the Resorts World Sentosa and other government agencies seeking to stop the export of the dolphins.

The dolphins originally came from the Solomon Islands and were cared for in Subic before they were brought to Singapore.

Last month, the court issued a Tepo stopping the export of the dolphins but this order was only valid for 72 hours. The court did not extend the Tepo but is hearing the advocates’ appeal for its extension.

The first batch of 11 dolphins was reportedly transported on Nov. 19. The animal welfare advocates filed an urgent motion the following day. With a report from Agence France-Presse

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Seletar jetties in jeopardy - again

Seletar fishermen may have to move to make way for major road project
Straits Times 23 Nov 12;

AFTER shelling out thousands of dollars to hire professional engineers to certify their jetties safe, fishermen and jetty owners at Seletar thought they could continue to earn a living from the sea.

But their future remains uncertain, as the jetties might have to make way for a road project.

According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA's) 2008 Masterplan, which maps out development plans for the next 10 to 15 years, a major road could be built parallel to Lower Seletar Reservoir Dam, in Yishun Avenue 1.

When contacted, URA could not confirm details of the proposed road, or whether the jetties, sited on a reserved site, would be affected.

The jetties, just off the eastern corner of the dam, may be boxed between two major roads and have access to the sea cut off.

The 30 to 40 full-time fishermen there - most of whom head to waters off Pulau Ubin or Changi - fear it is only a matter of time before the jetties have to make way.

Their new concerns follow a recent scare over the jetties' future because of safety violations and illegal land use.

In 1993, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) approved the use of part of the picturesque Seletar Reservoir coast as a mooring spot for boats.

Over the years, long wooden jetties and structures were built that extended from the mangrove far out into the sea.

Both the MPA and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) declared these structures illegal in March, saying that although three temporary occupation licences had been issued for the use of state land since 1993, no approval had been granted for jetties and structures outside the licence boundary.

They noted that the structures lacked professional certification and posed a safety hazard.

However, if engineers could certify that the jetties were safe, they would not need to be removed.

An MPA spokesman said three of the four jetties have been certified safe by professional engineers, but they have to be inspected annually.

One jetty - which was not certified - has been dismantled. Fishermen from that jetty are believed to be now using Jenal Jetty, one of the three jetties that have been approved.

Most of the current jetty owners have been operating there for at least eight years.

Mr Yiew Lian, 60, a fisherman who docks his boat at a jetty owned by 76-year-old Toh Teck Yee, said the latter had spent about $2,000 to engage a professional engineer and make the necessary rectifications.

Another fisherman from a neighbouring jetty said he and others had pooled money to help the owner defray the cost of getting the jetty certified. "I contributed $50. What to do? There are no fish nowadays and I can't even feed myself," said the fisherman, who declined to be named.

These sums may not seem like much to some but the fishermen say they are significant given their meagre takings.

In a good month, these independent fishermen can earn $1,000. But, more often than not, they scrape by, as their catches have dwindled while prices of fuel have soared over the years.

When The Straits Times visited the place on Saturday, Mr Yiew had just returned from fishing off Pulau Ubin. His haul of mud crabs had fetched $80, out of which $50 went to foot the fuel bill.

"The $30 I earn does not take into account the amount needed to repair the nets. Compared to 30 years ago, the catch now fetches better prices but there are fewer fish," he said.

Fishermen said the fluctuating salinity of the reservoir after it was dammed and nearby land reclamation works had affected the quality and quantity of the catch.

"In the past, there was more salt water and our fish were so good that they were exported. Now water gets stuck in the reservoir and doesn't circulate," said a jetty owner who wants to be known only as Mr Teo.

With such bleak prospects, it is not surprising that the number of fishermen here is on the decline. According to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, which issues licences to commercial fishermen, there are 61 now. In 2009, there were 74. They sail out from locations such as Changi Creek, Pulau Ubin and Seletar.

Almost all the 30 to 40 fishermen in Seletar have been in this line all their lives. Some have retired, while those who continue are in their late 50s to 80s.

Some set up jetties as they live in the Seletar coastal area. It was once a fishing village for the Orang Seletar tribe, which made a living collecting shellfish and edible plants.

As most are illiterate and have lived from young by the sea, the fishermen hope the Government will find another site for the jetties if they need to be demolished.

"I think they will find another place for us; after all, we have shifted three times. Originally, we were at Punggol. What else can we do? We live here month by month," said Mr Teo.

Mr Oh Soon Chai, 54, who used to operate an illegal jetty in the area two years ago, said it is likely the jetties will have to go.

"The last time we were here, MPA told us we may have to move to somewhere near Yishun Avenue 6 and the Simpang area."

Should they be asked to go, some fishermen say they may take up menial jobs such as dishwashing or cleaning.

For now, they continue to fish and sell their catch to customers - mainly Yishun residents and nearby workers.

Crabs go for $18 a kilo, compared to $20 to $30 a kilo at supermarkets. Fish and prawns are also sold.

Said regular customer Lin, who paid $50 for 2.5kg of fish on Saturday: "It's cheaper and fresher than those in the market. I will order before I come, as there may not be enough for everyone if you just come.

"It's their livelihood and I hope they will still be around two to three years down the road."

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Malaysia: Twin threats to orang utan

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 24 Nov 12;

STUDY FINDINGS: Scientists say climate change, deforestation affect species' genetic pool

KOTA KINABALU: A RECENT scientific study has suggested that the dwindling numbers of orang utan in Borneo and the way the animal behaves have been affected by deforestation activities as well as pre-historic events like climate change.

In learning from the past, it highlighted the need to expand conservation measures to ensure no further drop in population.

The study was done by a team of scientists from various institutes in Portugal, Switzerland, France, Britain and Sabah's Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) between the years 2000 and 2012.

The paper, which used samples collected in six different study sites in Sabah and Kalimantan, was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Public Library of Science) last week.

The study found the Bornean orang utan experienced major changes and faced extinction since 2.5 million years ago due to climate change as well as the arrival of farmers. The recent threat comes from commercially-driven habitat loss and fragmentation.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens, co-author of the paper, said these results did not mean that recent forest exploitation did not leave its genetic mark on orang utan.

They hinted that older events also played a part in affecting the species genetic pool, he said.

Lead author Dr Reeta Sharma warned that recent forest fragmentation affected the genetic variability among the remaining population of orang utan.

Genetic variability in a population is important for biodiversity, because without it, it becomes difficult for a population to adapt to environmental changes, making it more prone to extinction.

Goossens said this called for stronger measures to prevent further drop in population.

"We need to expand conservation measures, such as protection of private land to connect the existing protected forest lots, corridor establishment, wildlife monitoring and law enforcement."

He added that this was also emphasised by state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, who had asked for a moratorium on any new land development in the Kinabatangan floodplain.

Return of the orang utan
Muguntan Vanar The Star 26 Nov 12;

KOTA KINABALU: The orang utan population in totally protected areas (TPAs) in Sabah's Lower Kinabatan-gan has risen by 20% with the increase in the number of protected forests, said a conservationist.

“The increasing population reflects a commitment by all, especially the state government, to protect more forest areas,” said orang utan conservationist Dr Marc Ancrenaz.

The latest good news came in the wake of a recent scientific study published in the PLOS ONE journal by a team of experts, who found that the Borneo orang utan began experiencing a major demographic decline between 200 and 2,000 years ago.

However, Dr Ancrenaz, who is co-director of the Hutan-Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Programme (Hutan-KOCP), did not disclose the number of orang utan within the totally protected forest areas.

The Sabah Forestry Department had recently increased the acreage under its totally protected forest reserves to further help in the conservation of orang utan and other species, such as the Borneo pygmy elephant, the Sunda clouded leopard, sunbear, hornbills and others.

“The areas recently re-gazetted as Class I (totally protected forest reserve) are lowland forests, which are favoured for agriculture development.

“But the state government has shown that it places more value on environmental security in the long term by making them TPAs instead of going for short-term profits,” said Dr Ancrenaz, a wildlife veterinarian who has been working on wildlife issues in Sabah since 1998.

In a statement, primotologist Dr Isabelle Lackman, who is a co-director Hutan-KOCP, said the biggest issue for orang utan conservation in Sabah remained the problem of isolation and fragmentation of protected forests.

“While the Kinabatangan area has been protected by the Sabah Wildlife Department since its gazettement in 2005, the sanctuary is very broken up with some forests being totally isolated.

“This is not healthy for the long-term survival of orang utan in the area,” said Dr Lackman.

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Poaching still biggest threat to recovery of world’s tiger populations

WWF 23 Nov 12;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Serious gaps in protection are leaving tigers exposed to poachers, a new WWF study says, but this could be reversed if more investments are made in staff, equipment, and training programs for rangers that are working to protect the scattered populations of the endangered species in the wild.

WWF released the findings today to mark the 2nd anniversary of the historic St. Petersburg Tiger Summit, a high-level meeting hosted by the Russian Government and World Bank that saw 13 tiger range governments pledge to double wild tiger numbers from the current 3,200 to 6,000 plus by 2022 (TX2).

Covering 135 critical areas within the 12 landscapes where WWF currently supports tiger conservation, the survey found many of the sites remain poorly managed and under-resourced and therefore remain highly vulnerable to poachers.

“Poaching continues to be the single-most immediate threat to the survival of the tiger in the wild and also the greatest barrier to achieving the TX2 goal,” said Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF's Tigers Alive Initiative. “If we don't work as fast as possible towards ending poaching in these places then we cannot trust that these last remaining populations of tigers, and their prey, are safe for longer term recovery of this endangered species.”

The survey also shows that the same sites are in danger of becoming “paper parks”, i.e.
parks that are legally protected but are not being actively managed and protected on the ground.

Although 90% of the sites surveyed are legally protected, less than half have protection-specific management plans (with the exception of Russia). Across South and Southeast Asia only 12% of sites had the full number of planned staff in place and over 50% were not trained or equipped to an adequate level.

"The report shows that while important government commitments have been made, and much action has been accelerated, we are still far from what is needed to establish the very basics of tiger recovery,” Baltzer added.

Moving forward: six ways to increase tiger numbers

The survey examined six key elements related to effective management and protection against poaching: legal protection status, protection management, effective patrolling, intelligence networks, arrests and prosecutions as well as training and resources for field staff.

Investments in these areas are needed to not only achieve Zero Poaching, but to demonstrate to that the commitments made at the Summit are being actively pursued and are evident in the increased efforts to protect tigers. WWF is committed to Zero Poaching and will use the survey results to help identify gaps for future investments.

Global Tiger Recovery Program and Cards4Tigers

The 2010 Tiger Summit, governments also endorsed the Global Tiger Recovery Programme, an amalgamation of national tiger conservation actions and global targets towards meeting the TX2 goal. As a follow-up to the Tiger Summit, government officials met during the 2nd Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation conducted in Bhutan in October 2012, where they committed to taking immediate and specific action over the next year to strengthen protection.

Since the Tiger Summit, WWF has been working with governments, NGOs and private partners to find ways to improve the effectiveness of ranger patrols through the development of law enforcement monitoring systems across Asia, training teams and key stakeholders in the latest methods in patrolling, prevention and conservation. WWF is presently supporting protection field staff and rangers through the Tigers Alive Initiative's "Cards4Tigers"

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Coastal Erosion Reaches Alarming Levels in Vietnam

Thuy Binh Inter Press Service Reuters Alertnet 23 Nov 12;

AN BIEN, Vietnam, Nov 23 (IPS) - For the last decade, many families in this southwestern Vietnamese province have been uprooted at least once every two years - but this is not due to economic or political upheaval.

Rather, extreme weather has forcibly turned many of these coast-dwellers into unwilling travellers, as raging storms and a rising sea level lead to continued loss of land - and home.

"Each year, sea waves have eroded about three to four metres of land," says a 47- year-old fisher from the Tay Yen commune. "Our family had to move five times, (and) now our house is four metres from the sea."

But this is obviously not far enough. Already, the floors of the house are wet with seawater and a tree standing in what was once the fisherman's front yard has now become the marker for his casting point.

The fisherman, who has lived in this commune for the last 20 years, says he would have pulled up stakes and moved on once more if only he had money.

He finds no comfort in the fact that throughout Vietnam's many other coastal communities, and even in the Mekong Delta, thousands of others are suffering the same plight.

Vietnam has long been subject to typhoons that would typically lash the central coast and the Mekong River Delta. But in the last several years those typhoons have become even more intense and, accompanied by a rising sea level, have put coastal areas and communities in the Mekong Delta at great risk.

Indeed, a December 2010 World Bank report said that Vietnam is experiencing longer typhoon and flood seasons while "storms are tracking into new coastal areas".

It also noted that Vietnam "may be one of the top five countries in the world likely to be most affected by sea level rise", adding that records already show a sea level increase of about three millimeters annually from 1993 to 2008.

The report lists coastal erosion among the effects of these changes, with some areas already experiencing erosion of about five to 10 metres a year, while others are suffering erosion of as much as one kilometre annually. Increased salinity of coastal aquifers and inundation can also be expected from significant sea level rise, it warned.

Already, says Tran Van Giang, vice chairman of Tay Yen commune, "Five out of six hamlets in the commune are directly affected by sea water."

Many areas in Kien Giang, located about 250 kilometres from Ho Chi Min City, are actually experiencing erosion of 25 metres a year, and experts estimate that as much as one-third of Kien Giang's coast has been lost to landslides.

That erosion has destroyed vast swathes of this southwestern province's famed mangrove forests, leading one provincial environmental official to lament, "Forest belts have been lost."

Officials from Binh Dinh province in south-central Vietnam are equally worried about continuing erosion there.

"Every year, at least two to three rows of houses were washed away (about 80 to 90 houses)," says Do Van Sang, director of the province's Centre for Land Development, which oversees reallocation and resettlement for households in the high-risk and affected areas in Binh Dinh.

"Local resistance efforts and local people could not keep up."

Meanwhile, Pham Van Hung, chairman of the people's committee of one of the coastal communes in Bin Dinh, points to increasingly vicious storms as the primary cause of property damage or outright loss.

"Since 2000," he says, "the area has been affected by the strong tides. Storms in 1998 and 2001 totally demolished 52 houses."

Other experts have cited the decimation of mangrove forests as a reason for increased damages.

Le Thi Huong, who has lived near the Mai Huong estuary in Kien Giang for three decades now, says that in the past, the mangrove forest in front of her house was as far as three kilometres from the coast. But now she estimates that the sea is just a few hundred metres away from the forest - or what's left of it, anyway.

Most of the forest's big trees are already gone. "Now, because of erosion, more trees are falling and dying," says Huong.

Still, some see hope in mangrove-restoration projects, including one that is currently being rolled out in Kien Giang.

At Vam Ray hamlet in Kien Giang's Hon Dat District, a 400-metre mangrove forest, part of a pilot programme by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), has been thriving.

Mangrove forests have long been seen as an effective method of erosion-reduction. GIZ says that a mangrove forest "can reduce wave energy from 50 to 67 percent".

The GIZ project is not the first of its kind in Kien Giang. The national government has been implementing mangrove reforestation projects here for the last 10 years. Its success rate, however, has been a discouraging 50 percent.

To ensure better results for its project, GIZ decided to concentrate on controlling two factors: waves and sludge. Nguyen Huu Hoa, head of agriculture and rural development in Kien Giang's An Bien district, believes that the GIZ project could be replicated and "the local people can do it by themselves".

But this approach has elicited a fair amount of debate.

Some experts have said the GIZ project may be difficult to replicate because of the costs, which, according to Kien Giang Science and Technology Department Deputy Director Phung Van Thanh, "are higher than the permitted state cost level".

He also worries that it may not be applicable in areas with serious erosion in the province, pointing out that the GIZ site experiences just 10-metre erosion annually, not even half as extreme as the levels in many areas in Kien Giang.

Dr. Le An Tuan of the Research Institute for Climate Change at Can Tho University worries about the long-term impact of such projects. The GIZ's narrow four-hectare mangrove forests have low resistance to the more intense storms these days, he says.

Additionally, the project could give a false sense of security to residents living in the mangrove project area - such as the 300,000 living within the parameters of GIZ Kien Giang project - and draw more settlers into a vulnerable location.

*This story, also published as a set of stories on the Hanoi Radio and Television online site, was produced as part of IPS Asia-Pacific's ‘Climate Change: A Reporting Lens from Asia' series.

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