Best of our wild blogs: 4 Dec 12

from The annotated budak

Random Gallery - Pea Blues
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Bid to protect 'bird haven' at Bidadari

Nature Society wants part of site slated for new HDB town conserved
David Ee Straits Times 4 Dec 12;

NATURE lovers are planning a campaign to protect part of the former Bidadari cemetery, slated to be a new Housing Board town, because it has become a haven for birds - some endangered.

Several ecologists say the area has been observed to support the highest density of migratory birds in forests here, more so than even the Central Catchment Area.

The Nature Society plans to submit a proposal to the authorities this week, asking them to conserve the undulating 24ha grove of trees behind Woodleigh MRT station as a bird sanctuary.

Enthusiasts have also set up a Facebook group to document different species spotted there.

The patch of woodland, formerly the Muslim section of the cemetery, has become overgrown since the graves there were exhumed in the early 2000s.

The society has recorded 59 migratory bird species there, more than at any other site in Singapore. A few are highly endangered, such as the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher.

Hornbills, owls, eagles and parrots are among other birds that have been recorded in the area.

This is particularly impressive given the small size of the area, said Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairman of the society's conservation committee.

He said: "The area is definitely worth conserving because of its importance as a haven for migratory birds coming down from temperate zones in winter."

Ecologist Yong Ding Li's research on the area suggests that it lies "on a migratory pathway used by thousands of birds headed to Indonesia, some that hail from as far as Kamchatka in Russia".

The Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Master Plan 2008 has demarcated part of the area in question as parkland. However, its proposed park boundary differs significantly from the Nature Society's (see graphic).

Whether the conventional notion of a public park will tally with that of the society's proposed sanctuary is also unclear.

But Dr Ho sees this as a good sign. The common location of both proposed spaces means that "a win-win situation" is possible, he said.

Dr Ho pointed out that the area's accessibility makes it especially suitable for nature education. The sanctuary could be "a nature park", he said, and residents could make use of existing paths.

A spokesman for the Housing Board said that in building the new town "it is inevitable that some trees may have to be removed in the process". The HDB said it would consider conservation, other competing interests and public feedback in its plans.

It did not elaborate on the boundaries of the proposed park designated in URA's Master Plan, citing the ongoing tender process.

Dr Wee Yeow Chin, co-founder of the Bird Ecology Study Group, said that the Nature Society should be prepared to compromise and work constructively with the authorities.

The society's Bidadari conservation plan follows a campaign by nature groups earlier this year against construction of a road through Bukit Brown cemetery.

In that instance, the Government paid partial heed, changing part of the road into a bridge to allow wildlife to cross beneath.

Other petitions this year by residents in Upper Bukit Timah, Bedok and Pasir Ris to save woodlands in their neighbourhoods did not succeed.

But back in 1989, the society did convince the Government to conserve Sungei Buloh as a wetland reserve, staving off plans to turn it into an agro-technology park.

Work on the Bidadari site is expected to begin before the year ends. The new town, which may be completed by 2018, is planned to include some 12,000 homes.

The Housing Board's vision for the estate, revealed in July, includes emphasis on the site's existing greenery and past heritage.

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Wild bananas growing near Dairy Farm Rd?

Straits Times 4 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE is no banana republic.

Despite its great variety of native trees, from tembusu to teakwood, historical records show no native species of wild bananas here - just the domesticated, seedless, garden variety kinds planted on school grounds and community plots. Some are ornamental, while others produce plump, sweet fruit with no or few seeds.

However, amateur naturalist Tang Beng Yong thinks he has found some. As he tramped around an open patch of trees along Petir Road, near Dairy Farm Road, the trainee teacher spotted the trees and hiked down a slope for a closer look. The fruits are less than 10cm long, have skinny stems and are full of large black seeds. They are edible but have "more seeds than flesh," said the 41-year-old.

He thinks they were not cultivated and are true wild bananas, and plans to try to germinate the seeds at home. "People don't normally go around planting wild bananas as they are not as good for eating as cultivated varieties."

But Associate Professor Hugh Tan, of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore, does not think they are wild or native species. He believes they could be varieties that were introduced here then abandoned when kampungs were cleared.

Today's domesticated bananas are variants of two ancestral wild species native to South-east Asia. But the most common commercial varieties today, like the large yellow Cavendish bananas seen in markets, have little resistance to some diseases.

They are clones unable to evolve resistance, while diseases evolve faster than new fungicides can be developed.

Bananas can be propagated sexually by seeds, or asexually by large shoots they put out called suckers, which are clones of the parent plant. Seedless commercial bananas must reproduce asexually.

Prof Tan said large plantations which have only one variety of banana plant may be at risk. He added: "If one plant is infected by disease, all the rest of the plants are equally at risk."

To ensure growers cultivate many varieties that are resistant to different diseases, consumers should eat as many varieties of bananas as possible.

So could Mr Tang's discovery be worth growing?

Prof Tan said: "They are valuable in the sense that if they can persist for years in the Singapore environment without human assistance, they may be well-suited to the climate, soil, and pests."

The Singapore Botanic Gardens also has a rainforest patch with banana trees that look similar to those found by Mr Tang. Its director Nigel Taylor said: "We are unable to say conclusively whether the bananas at Dairy Farm or the Botanic Gardens are native to Singapore."

When Nature Society president and plant ecologist Shawn Lum saw the Dairy Farm bananas, he exclaimed: "That looks like the wild type."

A seed or small plant could have been deposited there by a human or a bat. Another theory is that the species could be a genetic throwback that is somehow producing seeds.

But Dr Lum said DNA tests in the lab would need to be done to see what the Dairy Farm banana plants are related to. He added: "In either case, you've got a botanical thriller on your hands."


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Malaysia: Two men and a forest

Tan Ju-Eng The Star 4 Dec 12;

A passion for trees see two men growing a jungle.

IT takes a willing teacher and a committed student to realise a dream as big as growing a jungle. In this case, oil palm planter Geoffrey Cooper has tree specialist James Kingham as his guru and he can now show off his gene bank of endangered jungle plants at his plantation in Pantai Remis, Perak.

Cooper, with his curiosity for jungle plants, met Kingham 10 years ago at the latter’s 150ha nursery in Tanjung Malim, Perak. His eagerness and passion matched Kingham’s passion for propagating jungle trees and creating awareness on the role of trees in bringing a balance to biodiversity.

Cooper’s knowledge on jungle trees was limited but he was ready to learn. He spent many of his early years in the Bukit Raja Estate before going for further education at the age of 18. Cooper is an accountant but his interest in agriculture took him to Africa where he spent a year in an agriculture college and another four years in Zimbabwe before returning to work with plantation company, United International Enterprises Malaysia (UIEM).

About 4 1/2 years ago, Cooper, who is one of the few European planters in Malaysia, presented Kingham with a 20ha piece of land that UIEM had set aside for restoration.

It was the beginning of a long standing relationship between the two, who eventually established the Cooper-Kingham reserve which is also a gene bank for endangered jungle plants. But the beginning was as hard and rough as the degraded soil they had to work with.

“All the good soil had been taken and this was a very degraded area. We tried to grow small coconuts. We couldn’t. With just the subsoil left we were able to restore the area and now timber trees like meranti are thriving here. With information from James, we were able to grow a lot of food chain trees so that the birds will have food, shelter and a nesting environment,” says Cooper, who manages a 10,000ha estate.

Kingham is a retired planter who relies on his knowledge and experience to help him work with the degraded soil.

“Deep down, I knew, if forest trees were cared for properly over the first three years, they can be adaptable and will grow well,” he said.

Cooper has 220 species of trees in his reserve and 70% are food chain trees. Currently, there are more than 7,500 trees which he hopes will eventually increase to 20,000 and 1,000 species.

Speaking ever so convincingly about the viability of the project, Cooper’s enthusiasm is infectious and you can’t help but join him in picking and tasting fruits from the trees, smelling every flower and peering up tree branches to look for birds’ nests. Although he walks through the reserve every day, Cooper still moves from tree to tree, rattling off their names, with a child-like excitement.

Apart from his own nursery, Kingham is confident that Cooper’s seed bank will be able to provide seedlings for all endemic tree species in the future.

“I will collect all the rare and endangered dipterocarps and put them here because I know Geoffrey will be able to propagate them,” Kingham says.

He explains that his idea of bringing a balance to biodiversity is not about planting trees with high commercial value but rather trees that will provide food for big birds like hornbills and small animals.

“We do not want a forest with the silent syndrome,” adds Kingham.

The seedlings that are planted along the riparian reserve in the plantation are germinated from seeds in Cooper’s seed bank. The riparian reserve is a strip of land that runs along the river that acts as a buffer for flood and a corridor for wildlife.

Kingham wants to encourage planters to germinate their own seedlings from seeds in their own nurseries so that more trees can be planted. This, he believes, can also fulfil the needs of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

“Planters are the last frontier who are able to do good for the environment. Who else can do it? The people in town have no room, no resources and no land (to grow the trees). We have all the knowhow, resources, manpower and land.

“The sustainability of this project is dependent on the company. The support from the directors, managers and shareholders. We all have shelf life and it is up to the company and directors to push this on to the new generation of planters to take over when it’s time for me to hang up my boots,” says Cooper.

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Indonesia: Sumatran tiger tresspasses village, preying on cattle in Bengkulu

Antara 3 Dec 12;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - The conflict between human and Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) recurred in Bengkulu as the critically endangered species was reported to prey on some cattle in Suban Village, Semidang Alas Maras Subdistrict of Seluma District.

A resident of Suban Village, Samsul, said some goats belonged to local residents were preyed by the big cat, and the tiger was reported to wander around the village.

"We are so worried and unable to do our daily routines such as cultivating the garden and rice field because we are afraid of meeting the tiger," Samsul said here, Monday.

The tiger was reported to prey at night on the resident`s cattle and sometimes dogs.

The residents are also afraid of human casualty as there was an incident of a tiger attack that killed a resident some years ago.

"We are asking the government and other authorities to help catch or drive away the tiger," Samsul said.

Head of Natural Resource Conservation Agency of Seluma, Jaja said the Agency had deployed a team to the village to respond to the report.

Suban village is located near the forest area, yet the tiger`s natural habitat has been diminishing due to encroachment and deforestation that cause the tiger loses its natural prey and consume the residents` cattle.

"We recommend the local resident to stay alert, especially when doing their routines. The team is working to capture and move the tiger," Jaja said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Norway Pledges to Help Protect Indonesia’s Forests

Firdha Novialita & Charlotte Greenfield Jakarta Globe 2 Dec 12;

Norway sent a delegation to Indonesia in the past week to discuss sustainability issues such as reducing the destruction of the Southeast Asian nation’s forests and curbing greenhouse gases.

As Indonesia tries to improve its living standards across the country, the cost to the environment is immeasurable as land is cleared for gathering lumber and setting up palm plantations. More funding is needed to combat the destruction of the nation’s forests and to reduce air pollution, and Norway has set aside $1 billion for Indonesia in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

A champion of sustainable resources, and with a $656 billion sovereign wealth fund to back it, the Scandinavian country is also trying to influence other nations such as Brazil and Guyana to follow its lead to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, including by protecting forests. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, and preserving forests helps to reduce greenhouse gases.

“The most cost-efficient way by far of reducing carbon emissions is preserving rainforests,” Trond Giske, Norway’s minister of trade and industry, said in Jakarta on Tuesday. “So, by one billion [dollars] we can help the climate maybe five times or 10 times more than spending it in other areas.”

Indonesia represents about 3 percent of the world’s forests, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and daily clearing in remote areas such as Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua is reducing acreage each year and threatening native animal species such as the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros and the pygmy elephant. The United Nations’ REDD program estimated that in the period of 2003 to 2006, about 1.17 million hectares of forest was cleared or degraded annually. That annual loss is equivalent to more than double the total area of Brunei. Indonesia’s land covers 1.9 billion hectares.

As of 2005, Indonesia ranked third among 16 developing nations in the Asia-Pacific region by household carbon dioxide emissions, at 150 million metric tons, according to a report this year by the United Nations Development Program. Coal-fired plants that produce electricity also contribute to air pollution.

The amount being set aside by Norway for reducing reforestation, though, is small compared to what the Indonesian government says it needs. The UN-REDD program in Indonesia itself has a budget of $5.6 million, according to its website.

Hadi Daryanto, secretary general of the Forestry Ministry, said that the ministry needed at least $5 billion to $10 billion each year in its fight to reduce carbon emissions through programs such as education and raising awareness among Indonesians living on the edge of rainforests.

“The first approach that we use is through persuasion or education,” he said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe on Friday, adding that illegal logging is still occurring, but the ministry has tried its best to persuade and educate the local people.

With REDD+, referring to reduction practices plus a strategy in conservation and sustainable management, data about Indonesia’s forested area have been gathered and can be used in formulating guidelines for a program in protecting existing forests, Hadi said.

The government, companies, local people and activists are involved in producing the REDD+ Safeguard Information Systems.

“This is the most progressive, or we can say, ready-to-use, database. It’s also describing information about people’s rights and environment problems,” Hadi said. “Under law, there is a regulation about damage to the forest. We are still trying to persuade and educate the people, companies or even NGOs [nongovernment organizations],” he said.

The ministry, Hadi added, also plans to expand protected areas to include all peatlands and secondary forests.

Sanctions or any legal maneuvers have been strictly enforced against companies or people who do not protect the environment, Hadi said.

“We continuously take legal moves and also coordinate with the police,” he said. “And we hope the local and international trade also support this effort by not accepting noncertified wood.”

Activists, though, want more urgent action to preserve forests for their fauna and for animals to live in their natural habitats. An orangutan died from burns in West Kalimantan in late August when villagers tried to drive it out of a plantation area because of a lack of understanding in cohabitation between animals and humans in fringe areas.

“Illegal logging is one of the biggest problems we have in Indonesia,” said Dannissa Aryani, an environmental activist and member of the Greenweb Indonesia community.

“It’s making animals lose their shelter. In the end, they will die of hunger, some of them dead at the hands of people themselves,” Dannissa said. “Talking about the budget to save our nature, I think the budget will never be sufficient. With or without other countries, we still need to work on it.”

Greenpeace says on its website that it is campaigning for an immediate moratorium on forest and peatland destruction in Indonesia, and for zero deforestation by 2015. USAID is also working with the Indonesian government to help reduce by half greenhouse gas emissions and also to reduce by 50 percent the rate of forest degradation.

At the recent 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, one of the important issues discussed was the adaptation to climate change.

Ari Muhammad, Indonesian program coordinator for Climate Change Adaptation, an NGO, said the Indonesian delegation hoped that it could reach a deal on steps that could be quickly implemented like financing, technology transfer and capacity development. He hoped the plan would be implemented in three years.

A report released on Friday by Climate Action Tracker, which tracks global warming, showed that Indonesia received a medium rating for its efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Norway is trying to lead by example in reducing air pollution. The nation of about five million people says it gets all of its electricity from water generation and is investing in other forms of renewable energy as it pledges to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020.

NASA said in a January report that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere exceeded 390 parts per million and would continue to rise. In 1880, when global temperatures were first recorded, it was about 285 parts per million, and by 1960, the average concentration had risen to about 315 parts per million, NASA said.

Norway is also appealing for both rich and poor nations to become involved in the fight as it strives to limit the increase in the global average surface temperature — which currently stands at 15 degrees Celsius — to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius.

NASA estimated that net global warming was about 0.4 degree Celsius between the 1880s and 1970s and expected temperatures to rise even further. The US agency estimated that 2011 was the ninth warmest year in data going back to 1880, but that nine of the 10 warmest years were in the 21st century.

“The US has to be on board, China has to be on board, the rest of the world has to be on board and then we can have a framework to efficiently, on a global scale, reach the 2 degree goal,” Norwegian Trade Minister Giske said.

“We believe that’s still possible, but we’re running out of time. Thus, it also has to be said that the systems of spending the Norwegian money on preserving the rainforest is put in place, because we think that prosperous agricultural activities, prosperous legal use of good logging, prosperous industries can be combined with stopping climate change.”

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