Best of our wild blogs: 11 Dec 12

Phenomena - Of Binos and Birding

A Commanding Work of Art
from Butterflies of Singapore

Pellet casting: Collared Kingfisher and possibly, Banded Woodpecker
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Cameron Highlands in terrible shape due to land clearing and water pollution

Isabelle Lai The Star 11 Dec 12;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Once famed for its cool temperatures and verdant growth, Cameron Highlands is now battling unsustainable land clearing and water pollution.

Rampant land clearing for agricultural cultivation riddles the hills, carried out by farmers who either do not have a permit or are flouting regulations.

Heavy machinery are also seen working during the weekends, when their use is prohibited.

Some of the land clearing is being done on hillslopes, which are clearly “class three” or “four”, meaning those above the 30-degree gradient. This poses high risks of landslides and soil erosion.

When it rains, especially during the current inter-monsoon season, muddy water gushes down the slopes into rivers which have turned a murky teh tarik colour.

Some of the clogged drains and streams have already begun overflowing each time it rains, flooding the roads nearby.

The situation is compounded by huge stretches of farms being covered with white, plastic sheets, causing rainwater to travel swiftly into the rivers without being “filtered” through the ground.

Soil erosion is not the only cause of river pollution at the hills; pesticides used at the farms are also washed into the once pristine rivers.

The Star visited several locations, including Sg Menson, 49 Mile, Blue Valley and Kuala Terla, all of which were suffering from extensive land clearing.

There was little or no evidence of any effort by farmers to create a proper drainage system, including setting up silt traps to prevent soil from washing into the rivers or streams.

Many farmers have also neglected to follow the requirement of maintaining a buffer zone between their farms and the rivers.

A drive along the inner road at Sg Menson showed kilometres of farms bordering the polluted river with no buffer zone.

At another area in Sg Menson, gully erosion has already taken place with hectares of land having been steadily cleared.

From the deep cracks and chasms in the ground, it is clear that tonnes of soil have been washed down the steep slopes into the river.

At 49 Mile, farmers have voiced opposition to the illegal land clearing by others who have polluted their only source of water.

Near Blue Valley, workers' quarters have been built near the main road, where toilet sewage pipes empty waste into the river.

The situation is similar in Ringlet, where a farmhand reported frequent skin problems or respiratory diseases as he and his workmates had to drink and cook with water from the same river.

Residents in Tanah Rata have expressed unhappiness over what they deem “rampant illegal clearing”, claiming that it has affected their health as well as jeopardised the future of Cameron Highlands as an agricultural area and a tourist destination.

Last month, massive soil erosion from an allegedly illegal land clearing near the Kuala Terla water treatment plant caused the only access road to the plant and the farms to give way after heavy rainfall.

A landslide also occurred the same day on the Tanah Rata-Ringlet road, causing a one-and-a-half hour traffic jam in both directions.

Illegal land clearing fouls water source for 13 farms in Cameron Highlands
The Star 11 Dec 12;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Farmer S. Surender is more than happy to serve his guests a glass of thick, brown teh tarik that is, if they do not mind drinking heavily muddied water.

His farm in 49 Mile is among 13 farms here where the water supply has been polluted by illegal clearing by another farmer.

Outraged, the affected farmers have lodged two police reports against the errant farmer.

Land Office enforcement officers have since ordered the land clearing to stop.

But a site visit by The Star showed that workers were still busy preparing the cleared land at the top of the hill for agricultural cultivation.

A further site deeper into the jungle shows another large area, possibly around 8ha, that has also been cleared, which could potentially affect the second water pond used by the farmers.

The son of the farmer involved in the illegal land clearing claimed they had a permit from the Land Office. However, he was unable to produce it.

“We have a permit but I don't know how we obtained it. That was handled by my father. I haven't seen it. We already told the Land Office people that we will fix the water pollution problem by making a new pond and installing pipes,” said K. Jeyagobi, 35.

He also claimed that the problem with the authorities had been settled.

He insisted that the water pollution was due to the current rainy season and denied that the further clearing of the hill had been done by his farm.

Surender, meanwhile, said he and other affected farmers had to depend on nearby farms for their drinking water as their only source of clean water had been polluted since mid-November.

“My workers are complaining that they are suffering from diarrhoea and other problems from drinking the polluted water. They have no choice and I can't afford to buy mineral water for them every day,” he said.

Farmer K. Selvarajah, 44, said they had demanded to see the permit or licence but had received evasive replies.

“No one is supposed to clear more land here. The authorities have frozen the permits but these people are still doing it. What is happening to Cameron Highlands?” he said.

Fellow farmer Jaow Au Au, 56, agreed there were many farmers who flouted the laws including by using illegal pesticides and irresponsibly channelling their farm waste to the rivers.

“The pesticide, the human or animal waste, it all goes into the river and travels downstream. Is it any wonder people fall sick?” he said.

TOL freeze blamed for illegal clearing
The Star 11 Dec 12;

PETALING JAYA: Some farmers take the risk to clear land illegally in Cameron Highlands to open up new agriculture farms as no new temporary occupation licences (TOL) are being issued for development in the highlands.

Federation of Malaysian Vegetable Growers Association said the issuance of new TOLs for land cultivation in Cameron Highlands had been frozen so there was no chance for new farmers to apply.

“So, some take risks to make a living,” said its secretary-general Chay Ee Mong yesterday.

He declined to comment when asked why vegetable growing was becoming lucrative, especially in the area.

Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob had said that no new TOL would be issued in the Cameron Highlands.

‘Uphill task to ensure farmers do what’s right’
The Star 11 Dec 12;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: A combination of difficult terrain and farmers' attitudes has led to rampant land clearing in Cameron Highlands, says district officer Datuk Ahmad Daud.

He admitted that although enforcement had been carried out frequently, the officers were hindered by the time taken to drive along the steep inner roads, which turn muddy and impassable whenever it rained.

“For example, I have to take two hours to reach Sg Menson in a four-wheel drive,” he said.

He added that he would “try his best” to combat the problem.

On the farmers, Ahmad claimed that some of them went ahead with illegal land clearing activities despite being told not to by the enforcers.

He also said pollution to the rivers here was a major problem during the rainy season.

Ahmad said the Land Office was working with the district Drainage and Irrigation Department on a campaign to educate farmers on disposing their farm waste responsibly.

He said the farmers were responsible for creating a buffer zone between their farms and the rivers, although many had ignored this.

“We will try our best to persuade them,” he said.

“That's the only way I cannot force them.”

'Land grab' by Cameron Highlands farmers
Govt has refused to issue new licences, to protect the environment
Lester Kong Straits Times 22 Dec 12;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS (Pahang) - The Malaysian government's refusal to issue new land licences to farms in an effort to prevent further damage to the environment has ironically resulted in farmers clearing land illegally to enlarge their vegetable and fruit farms.

Cameron Highlands, originally gazetted for tea, fruit and vegetable plantations, has become a major tourism attraction known for its cool climate, hotels and fresh grocers.

But farmers literally have had no room to grow here since the Pahang state government stopped issuing temporary operating licences in the 1990s in response to environmental concerns.

As a result, many farms have been inching into state land, causing landslides and silt to flow into the region's 126 rivers.

Mr Chay Ee Mong, secretary of the Cameron Highlands Vegetable Growers Association, said only 1,620ha out of 4,850ha of farms here cultivated vegetables. Tea plantations take up 2,420ha, while the rest are for growing flowers.

"We need an extra 3,000 acres (1,200ha) for vegetables, but I think this figure will be impossible to obtain," he told The Straits Times.

Vegetables from the Cameron Highlands are harvested year round and in high demand by Singaporeans as it only takes an overnight lorry trip to reach stores in Singapore, Mr Chay says.

But without new licences, farmers cannot expand their farm sizes, said Mr Kwang Keh Chong, 72, who owns a 17ha vegetable farm here.

Furthermore, banks will not lend them the money they need to modernise their farms for higher yields because of the risk that the land could be reclaimed by the government at any time.

As an established farmer who exports a third of his 1,000-tonne monthly produce to Singapore's NTUC FairPrice alone, Mr Kwang can afford expensive farming equipment that has helped his business. He is the only Cameron Highlands farmer with a RM600,000 (S$240,000) tomato sorting machine.

"How will small farmers be able to afford equipment like this?" he asked during a tour of his farm in Kampung Raja, a three-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Attempts to contact Cameron Highlands district officer Ahmad Daud for comment have not been answered. But in a report by The Star last week, Datuk Ahmad was quoted as saying his office was cooperating with the Drainage and Irrigation Department to teach farmers how to create buffer zones between their farms and rivers. But he added that enforcement is difficult because of muddy roads leading to remote farms that take hours to reach.

There are no official figures on how much land has been illegally cleared but the Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands group said it is "substantial".

Mr Ramakrishnan Ramasamy, the group's chief, said a lot of government and non-government effort has been spent teaching farmers high-yield farming techniques that allow them to sustain farming without needing to expand it, but these have fallen on deaf ears.

Mr Kwang said he sympathises with his fellow farmers in the Cameron Highlands, who only hold 0.8-1.2ha on average and said the costs involved in adopting such practices were too high for them. He believes a minimum of 2ha is needed for them to make a comfortable living with profits to save for expansion or buy better farming equipment.

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Malaysia: Experts sent to conduct operation on elephants

Simon Khoo The Star 11 Dec 12;

TEMERLOH: Five personnel with expertise in catching and taming wild elephants from the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah have been sent to Sungai Siput to conduct an operation.

Its elephant unit chief Nasharuddin Othman said the team was needed to assist the Perak Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to track down a herd of wild elephants.

“We received information that a herd of about eight elephants are running loose in the jungle and posing a threat to nearby villagers.

“If left unchecked, it may encroach into vegetable and fruits farms belonging to the villagers.

“Some villagers have alerted Perhilitan that the elephants are wandering around for food at night and early morning due to the current fruit season,” he said.

Nasharuddin said several foot prints and stools were detected in the surroundings but they had yet to locate the leader of the herd.

He said efforts would be on-going to trap the pachyderms and relocate them to a suitable site.

“We would continue to assist Perhilitan personnel to monitor the situation closely at the villages to prevent any untoward incident.

“Villagers should not resort to rash action for their own safety,” he said.

Nasharuddin said so far, there was no report of personal sightings by the villagers except for complaints of losses in fruit bunches worth thousands of ringgit.

He urged villagers who stumble upon the pachyderms to report to the authorities immediately so that prompt action could be taken to trap and relocate them.

“If provoked, the elephants may retaliate, resulting in damages or injuries to villagers,” he said.

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Malaysia: Breathing space for wildlife

Natalie Heng The Star 11 Dec 12;

Development, logging and agriculture have already eaten away at vast tracts of forest. What is left is fragmented and of limited use to wild animals. This is why it is important to connect the tracts of good-quality forest that we do have.

A NATION resplendent with the grandeur of its wilderness – that is how we want the world to see us. Natural heritage forms an inextricable part of the Malaysian national identity, a fact evident in the tigers flanking the shield in the Malaysian coat of arms, and the rainforest so prominently featured in the Tourism Ministry’s “Malaysia Truly Asia” promotion campaign.

But with a growing population of 29 million exerting pressure for land to be developed into houses, commercial centres, farms and roads, the question of whether or not this image remains an identity backed by substance hinges on how we choose to expand.

Some tracts of forest are more important than others when it comes to strategic conservation, which is what prompted the formulation of the Central Forest Spine Master Plan, a policy under the National Physical Plan. It is to guide town planning efforts, and lists out key areas of forest which need to be protected. Under it, 20 primary and 17 secondary linkages act as forest corridors, creating a crucial link along the backbone of Peninsular Malaysia’s Environmentally Sensitive Area Network.

Development, logging and agriculture have already eaten away at vast tracts of forest, and much of what is left outside of this network is fragmented and of limited use to animals such as tigers, which require large territories to find sufficient food. This is why it is important to link up the tracts of good-quality forest that we do have.

So far, there have been some positive developments in favour of the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan, the latest being the Terengganu government’s announcement that it will freeze all development projects along an area that falls under Primary Linkage 7, a stretch of forest which connects Malaysia’s largest national park, Taman Negara, to other forests in the state. The decision was announced by state Industry, Trade and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Toh Chin Yaw after researchers presented their findings from months of survey.

The research group Rimba recorded 40 mammal species in the area, 15 of which are listed as “endangered” globally. These include the Asian elephant, the Malayan tiger, the Sunda pangolin, the white-handed gibbon and the Asian tapir.

There is hope that action will be taken for another important wildlife corridor that is similarly rich in fauna. Work by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) at the site known as Primary Linkage 2 points to the need to protect a stretch of state-land forest. Currently vulnerable to development, this area forms an important connection between the Belum and Temengor forests in Perak.

Natural treasures

The Belum-Temengor Forest Complex is key tiger country and the only place where one can spot all 10 species of Malaysian hornbills. It is made up of two large forests – 1,175sqkm of the Royal Belum State Park to the north and 1,477sqkm of the Temengor Forest Reserve to the south, both of which are separated by the Banding Forest Reserve, located towards the lower half of the Belum Forest Reserve, and an unprotected strip of stateland forest.

The latter, which does not currently enjoy any form of legal protection from development projects, forms a significant component of the 278.9sqkm of forest corridor identified as Primary Linkage 2. This stretch of state land runs 2.4km along the East-West Highway (also known as the Gerik-Jeli highway) and constitutes a key crossing point for wildlife moving between Belum and Temenggor.

Studies by WWF in 2010 and 2011 show how critical the area is to wildlife. Their survey of 156sqkm of forests revealed that 11 out of the 12 large mammals known to occur with the Belum-Temengor landscape, occurred within the Primary Linkage 2 corridor.

Among the animals surveyed were the tiger, elephant, gaur, tapir, sambar deer, serow, barking deer, sun bear, wild dog, wild boar and golden cat. The only large mammal not detected was the leopard.

Nine tigers, three of which were breeding females with a combined total of eight offspring, were recorded within the study site, while breeding signs were found for the gaur, sambar deer, elephant and sun bear – all indicating how critical this patch of forest is. Animals – including the tiger, the elephant, the tapir, the wild boar, the golden cat, he binturong, the large Indian civet, the masked palm cat, the yellow-throated marten, the Malayan weasel, the banded leaf monkey, the slow loris and the pangolin – are also known to use forests on both sides of the highway. The researchers recorded much roadkill, indicating that vehicular traffic currently poses a threat towards their movement.

Various conservation strategies are recommended under the CFS Master Plan to protect the Primary Linkage 2 wildlife corridor: conversion to protected status, freezing of land alienation for development and agriculture, establishment of wildlife crossings, and increased enforcement efforts.

Threat from development

Over the years, there have been threats of development on this important piece of land. For example, the CFS Master Plan listed infrastructural developments by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) in Primary Linkage 2.

Subsequent checks with the universities indicate that the UPM development will be on Pulau Banding in Temengor Lake, while UUM has shelved plans to acquire land for development on Pulau Banding.

WWF, in its report Management Recommendations On Ecological Linkages: Findings From A Study On Large Mammal Habitat Use Within The Belum-Temengor Corridor, recommends that other ongoing developments be ceased.

It says forest clearance for the Puncak Baring Highland Agriculture Project has extended beyond boundaries demarcated within the CFS Master Plan, while forest clearance for a rubber plantation for the Banun orang asli resettlement scheme has extended beyond boundaries identified within the Hulu Perak district local plan.

Last year, The Star reported on land clearing for an oil palm plantation on land owned by the Perak State Agricultural Corp, in the area. The activity has stopped but conservationists are worried similar scenarios will continue to arise as long as the state land remains unprotected. Ironically, the entire stretch of the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex, including Primary Linkage 2, is zoned as an Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1 – where no development save for low-impact nature tourism is allowed – under the National Physical Plan.

An encouraging development is the Perak Forestry Department’s announcement in May that it will gazette 24,738ha of state land as Permanent Reserved Forest. A portion of this area is within the Primary Linkage 2 wildlife corridor. The precise areas to be gazetted are currently being identified by the relevant departments.

This development will fulfil, in part, one of WWF’s recommendations in the report: that the entirety of Primary Linkage 2 be gazetted as Permanent Reserved Forest under the Forestry Act 1984, with the exception of the Orang Asli Reserves identified within the Hulu Perak District Local Plan. It also made several other recommendations:

> Wildlife sanctuaries – Gazette two blocks of forest spanning 62sq km in the area, found to be used most by wildlife, into wildlife sanctuaries. Permanent Reserved Forests are managed sustainably for environment and socio-economic purposes, and therefore do not necessarily offer a permanent refuge for wildlife.

> Anti-poaching measures – Primary Linkage 2 has been identified as a poaching hotspot. It has over 100 access routes, many of which are old or active logging roads from the Gerik-Jeli Highway. WWF suggests systematic anti-poaching patrols along the highway and forest. It also recommends the closure of old logging roads, and manned patrols along all main access roads.

> Water catchment forest – Some 59.7sq km of stateland which forms part of the Royal Belum State Park water catchment should be classified as Water Catchment Forest under the Forestry Act. The state land sandwiched between the Belum and Temengor forests is not just important for wildlife, but also communities living in the area. It overlaps with the water catchment for Sungai Ruok and Sungai Tiang, the main water supply for an orang asli settlement within the Royal Belum State Forest. Both rivers are also income-generating eco-tourism sites – the Tiang is popular with anglers, while the Ruok features waterfalls and rafflesia sites. Both have been gazetted as Conservation and Resources Protection Zones by the Perak Fisheries Department.

> Facilitate wildlife movement – Another recommendation, the construction of two viaducts along the Gerik-Jeli Highway, is already on course to fruition. Earlier this year, the Government announced an allocation of RM60mil for the construction of an underpass to enable wildlife to cross the highway. The Wildlife and National Parks Department is currently conducting a study via camera-trapping at the area.

WWF stresses, however, that the viaduct would have to be subjected to continuous monitoring and patrolling efforts, as viaducts are often target areas for poachers. To reduce roadkill and increase safety for road users, it suggests some simple measures such as safety signposts, speed limits and speed breakers.

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Rare cat filmed up close in Borneo

Matt Walker BBC Nature 10 Dec 12;

One of the world's most rare and elusive cats, the Sunda clouded leopard of Malaysia, has been filmed up close.

A biologist holidaying in Malaysia has captured unique footage of a young female leopard resting in the forest.

Previously, this top predator has only been filmed fleetingly and at a distance, with the first wild footage to be made public captured in 2010.

The Sunda clouded leopard was only discovered to be a distinct species in 2007.

Experts say the footage is extraordinary, believing it to be the only close-up film of the cat in the wild.

Clouded leopards are the smallest of the so-called big cats, living in southeast Asia.

They are not true leopards, being more distantly related to leopards, snow leopards, lions and tigers than those big cats are to each other.

For many years, experts thought there was a single species of clouded leopard.

Then in 2007, Mr Andreas Wilting of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany and colleagues discovered there are actually two distinct species.

The clouded leopard of mainland Asia and Taiwan kept the traditional species name Neofelis nebulosa, and the Sunda clouded leopard living on Borneo and Sumatra, was named Neofelis diardi.

Both species are elusive, but the Sunda clouded leopard is rarely sighted or photographed.

In 2010, Mr Wilting and colleagues captured the first wild footage of the cat to be made public, when during a night survey, they encountered a Sunda clouded leopard walking along a road.

Now Dr Jyrki Hokkanen, a keen wildlife videographer, has obtained much more detailed film of the cat.

Dr Hokkanen studied for a doctorate in biology at the University of Leeds, UK, before becoming a scientific visualisation specialist in Finland.

On 2 August this year, he was holidaying at the Danum Valley, within Malaysian Borneo, exploring the forest at night with his wife and a guide, using torches to illuminate any wildlife.

"We saw an unusually big pair of eyes about ten metres ahead," Dr Hokkanen told BBC Nature, describing the encounter. "The eyes pointed at us and did not move and a round face was just about visible in the flashlight."

Dr Hokkanen began to film the animal which then moved through the vegetation and disappeared.

"I knew it had been a cat," he said. "It could not have been anything other than the Sunda clouded leopard."

Dr Hokkanen, his wife and guide continued forward on the trail they were walking, in an attempt to find the animal again.

"Then suddenly an eye shine appeared very low, now on the right hand side. This was not what we expected, since the cat had disappeared to the left. Through my viewfinder I saw a leopard raising up from the undergrowth, where it had been hiding, and looking at us."
Young female

Experts, including Mr Wilting and Andrew Hearn of the Wildlife Conservation Unit at the University of Oxford, UK, have reviewed the footage, which they say is exciting.

Another expert, Fernando Najera, who manages a clouded leopard (N. nebulosa) captive breeding centre in Thailand, said that the cat's size and appearance, including the length of its adult teeth, suggest it is a young female, perhaps 18 months old, rather than a cub.

"The clouded leopard basically just tolerated us, but it also occasionally appeared to be amused by the flickering light, like a kitten," added Dr Hokkanen.

"A couple of times it licked its nose, perhaps to moisten its nostrils, and sniffed the air. A yawn revealed its huge canines, [the] longest in all cats relative to size."

The Sunda clouded leopard faces an uncertain future: it depends on forest yet its habitat on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra is being cleared at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world, according to the International Union for the Conservation for Nature (IUCN).

A year earlier in 2011, Dr Hokkanen also managed to film a marbled cat, currently considered to be one of the world's least known cat species, and listed as endangered.

The marbled cat looks much like a miniature clouded leopard, with a cloud-like spot pattern and long tail.

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Indonesia: Bali police confiscate 33 rare sea turtles

Antara 10 Dec 12;

Denpasar, Bali (ANTARA News) - The Water Police Unit of Bali confiscated 33 rare sea turtles from a boat in the Tanjung Benoa Beach, Bali, since the boat did not have the proper legal documents.

"We suspect the sea turtles were deliberately being brought into Bali. However, we have not identified their owners. Once we find the owners, we will be able to look into the origins of the sea turtles," said Kombes Pol Hariadi, Head of Public Relations of the Bali Provincial Office, on Monday.

The sea turtles, comprising hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), were seized by the police at the Tanjung Benoa Beach, at 12.30am on Monday.

According to the Bali Police, the owner of the boat was waiting at the shore to receive the turtles. However, the police managed to confiscate the boat and the sea turtles, before they could reach the owner.

The police believe that the turtles were transferred from another boat (larger) to this boat in the middle of the water body.

During the ambush, the police did not find a single crew member aboard the unnamed boat.

The Bali Police will hand over the turtles to the Natural Resource Conservation Agency.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Agreement with Vietnam ‘marks turning point’ for rhino conservation

Sue Blaine BD Live Yahoo News 10 Dec 12;

WATER and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday with her Vietnamese counterpart that aims in part to curb rhino poaching, in a move hailed as a turning point in the fight to protect the pachyderm from extinction.

Conservationists see Vietnam as key to curbing the poaching that feeds the illegal horn trade that could render rhinos extinct in the wild in 50 years if rates of poaching are not reduced, despite South Africa still having positive growth in its rhino population.

Several opportunities to sign the memorandum of understanding have been missed since Vietnam first promised to do so last year, and the actual signing, in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Monday was welcomed by the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) and the wildlife trade-tracking organisation Traffic.

“WWF and Traffic welcome the new agreement, which marks a turning point in efforts to protect Africa’s rhinos,” said Jo Shaw, WWF-SA rhino co-ordinator.

The memorandum refers only in general terms to addressing illegal wildlife smuggling, but there were “clear indications” that rhino horn trafficking would be “top of the new agenda on co-operation between the two nations”, WWF-SA said.

The memorandum was signed by Ms Molewa and Vietnamese Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Cao Duc Phat.

618 rhinos killed in SA this year

South Africa is home to more than 80% of the world’s rhinos. Poachers have all but eradicated rhinos from the rest of Africa and South Africa’s estimated 22,800 are under threat from syndicates that sell the horn in Asia for up to $60,000/kg.

Traffic rhino and elephant expert Tom Milliken said: “We finally have a piece of paper, now let’s see action. There are a number of things that Vietnam can do immediately, like amend its legislation to make the display and offer of ‘fake’ rhino horn a crime.

“Right now, ‘fake’ rhino horn is publicly displayed all over the country. Unfortunately, it’s not a crime, but rather a potent signal and masks illegal sales of real rhino horn.

“Vietnam needs to move quickly to make all rhino horn trade — real and fake — illegal and demonstrate good intentions for the future implementation of this important memorandum of understanding.”

Nongovernmental organisations pivotal to getting the memorandum on the agenda were excluded from the signing, a spokesperson said from Asia.

Ms Molewa said the “continued slaughter” of rhinos, a “national treasure”, was “cause for immense concern”.

Thus far 618 rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year, according to Department of Environmental Affairs statistics. This exceeds by far any previous record, with last year’s 448 the highest before this.

Mr Milliken said rhino horn trade in Vietnam was inextricably linked to the country’s rising economic fortunes. Vietnam’s 87-million strong population — the world’s 13th largest — is now enjoying the fruits of unprecedented growth. The country is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and its gross domestic product growth is estimated to reach 6.3% next year.

Vietnam, a known destination for much of illegal rhino horn poached in South Africa, has posted the highest wildlife crime score in the WWF 2012 Wildlife Crime Scorecard report released earlier this year.

Saving South Africa’s rhinos — more than 80% of the global population — is urgent. If poaching increases at the same rate as it has over the past two years, the species could go into decline from 2016 and become extinct in the wild by 2050, says South African National Parks wildlife veterinary services head Markus Hofmeyr.

Between July 2009 and May 2012, 48% (185) of the 384 foreigners who hunted rhinos in South Africa were Vietnamese. It is estimated that since 2003 Vietnamese hunters have paid more than $22m to hunt rhinos in South Africa.

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Factbox: Key decisions at Doha talks on climate change

Andrew Allan, Ben Garside, Daniel Fineren, Stian Reklev PlanetArk 11 Dec 12;

Following are major decisions by almost 200 nations at U.N. meeting on climate change in Doha, Qatar, November 26 to December 7:


The conference agreed to an eight-year extension to 2020 of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding U.N. pact for combating global warming.

It now obliges about 35 industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average of at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the period 2008-12. Nations will pick their own targets for 2020.

But backers of Kyoto will dwindle from 2013 to a group including the European Union, Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Norway. Together they account for less than 15 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

Others of the original Kyoto group -- Russia, Japan and Canada -- are pulling out, saying that it is time for big emerging economies led by China and India to join in setting targets for limiting their surging emissions.

The United States signed but never ratified Kyoto, arguing that it would cost U.S. jobs and wrongly omitted goals for developing nations. Developing nations have insisted on keeping Kyoto as a sign that rich nations are leading.

Under Saturday's extension, there will be a possibility for tightening targets in 2014. The European Union, for instance, has promised cuts of at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.


Countries laid out a timetable for working on a new global deal, due to be agreed in 2015 and to enter into force from 2020 that would apply to all nations. Kyoto now only sets targets for industrialized nations.

Negotiations would be split into two "work streams" - one looking at actions to combat climate change from 2020 and another to look into how to step up ambition before 2020.

They agreed to hold a first session of talks from April 29 to May 2, 2013, in Bonn, Germany, perhaps another in September 2013, and at least two sessions in 2014 and two in 2015.

The talks are named the "Durban Platform" after the South African city that hosted talks last year where the new push for a global deal from 2020 was decided.


The conference stopped short of obliging developed nations, facing austerity at home, to give a timetable about how they would achieve a promised tenfold increase in aid to $100 billion a year by 2020.

The text "encourages developed country parties to further increase their efforts to provide resources of at least to the average annual level of the (2010-12) period for 2013-15." It would extend work on identifying new sources of funds by another year.

Developed nations agreed at a summit in 2009 to give developing nations $10 billion a year in aid to help them adapt to a changing climate for 2010-12. They also set a separate goal of $100 billion for 2020 but did not say what would happen from 2013-19.


The meeting agreed ways to address rising losses for developing countries from the impacts of climate change, ranging from droughts to a gradual rise in sea levels.

It decided to set up new arrangements to address loss and damage, including perhaps a new international mechanism at a next meeting in 2013. The text includes no promise of new cash.

Delegates said that the United States was the most adamant that any new project would not be in addition to a $100 billion funds promised from 2020 to help the poor.

(With additional reporting by Andrew Allan, Ben Garside, Daniel Fineren, Stian Reklev; Editing by Stephen Powell)

Factbox: What do the Doha talks mean for the carbon market?
Nina Chestney, Barbara Lewis, Andrew Allan and Ben Garside PlanetArk 11 Dec 12;

U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar, were unlikely to have any impact on depressed carbon markets, analysts said.

Extended debate gave the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only global pact on curbing climate change, a fragile lifeline.

But it did nothing to raise ambition on cutting emissions, which could have helped to reduce a surplus of offsets and emissions allowances that have crushed markets.


After years of haggling, the European Union came up with an internal agreement on how to deal with its surplus of international allowances, known as Assigned Amount Units (AAUs).

The EU text was agreed with minor changes in the final package of agreements known as the Doha Climate Gateway.

Under the EU deal, allowances would be carried over into a second Kyoto commitment period, but buying of them would be limited to 2 percent of the purchaser's national allocation.

There was no decision on cancellation after 2020 of surplus permits -- as demanded by developing nations.

But the handful of nations likely to purchase the allowances -- Australia, the European Union, Japan, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland -- made declarations saying they would not buy them, ensuring they have limited market value.


The $215-billion offset market allows governments and companies to invest in emission reduction projects in return for tradeable credits (Certified Emission Reductions), which they can use to meet international climate targets.

But the Clean Development Mechanism has suffered from the failure of the talks to deliver deep emissions cuts.

Prices have collapsed from above 22 euros ($28.44) in 2008, just before the failure of U.N. talks in Copenhagen to get nations to agree to binding emission caps, to about 50 cents.

A U.N.-commissioned report in September said that unless nations took on deeper cuts or a reserve bank was set up to buy surplus credits, the scheme could collapse.

Doha talks reached no agreement on a solution.

"As with Durban (climate talks) last year, the outcome will not surprise the market and so is unlikely to affect the price of EU allowances or CDM credits," said Jonathan Grant, director of sustainability and climate change at PwC.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney in London and Barbara Lewis, Andrew Allan and Ben Garside in Doha; Editing by Stephen Powell)

Poor to seek U.N. climate change compensation scheme in 2013
Alister Doyle PlanetArk 10 Dec 12;

Developing nations will push next year for a radical U.N. mechanism to compensate them for the impact of climate change, such as droughts or rising sea levels, despite reluctance among wealthy states which would have to foot the bill.

A meeting of almost 200 countries in Qatar in the past week agreed steps towards addressing losses and damage from global warming in what some analysts called a big shift for the United Nations-led talks.

Developed nations fear such a system could be hugely costly for Western governments, most of which are struggling now to cut huge budget deficits. The United States insists any money would have to come from $100 billion in aid already promised from 2020 to help poor countries cope with global warming, delegates said.

Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Programme, warned developing nations against expecting too much of "pretty stressed Western economies".

"In the end, you can't squeeze blood from a stone," she told Reuters at the November 26-December 8 conference in Doha.

Developing nations are nevertheless signaling a big push in 2013. "We look forward to the establishment of the international mechanism next year," Nauru's Foreign Minister Kieren Keke said at the end of the meeting, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

If set up, the new system could help nations to recover from storms that may become more powerful due to climate change. In the Philippines, typhoon Bopha has killed 540 people in the past week.

Many experts point to one of the worst extremes in Grenada, where Hurricane Ivan caused damage in 2004 costing twice the Caribbean island's entire annual economic output.

"Of course it won't ever be big enough to satisfy everyone who comes along and cries," George Prime, Grenada's Environment Minister, said of the likely funds.

"It's not just the cost. An event like that raises your debts and you can't get loans," he told Reuters. "It also takes money away from other spending, like on health and education." Ivan killed 39 people in Grenada.


Until a few years ago, the focus in U.N. talks on climate change was on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from factories, cars and power plants. That shifted in the mid-2000s to include ways to adapt to floods, heatwaves and rising seas.

Now, the push to set up ways to compensate for loss and damage is an admission that there will be changes - such as sea level rise or ocean acidification - that can't be adapted to.

"If an island is gone you can't just adapt to that. It's a complete transformation. With a disappearance of glaciers the water supply is gone. This is going far beyond traditional management," said Juan Pablo Hoffmaister of Bolivia.

"It's a fundamental shift in the way we talk about climate change," said Nick Mabey, chief executive of the London-based E3G think-tank.

AOSIS has proposed a three-part mechanism based on insurance against extreme weather, compensation for creeping problems such as sea-level rise and new efforts to assess risks.

The agreement in Doha, where the main decision was to extend the U.N.'s existing Kyoto Protocol for slowing global warming, is vague. It speaks of setting up new "institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism" in 2013.

It does not mention any new money; delegates say developed nations insisted on leaving that out.

Some advances have been made. Hurricane Ivan led to creation of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, offering insurance of up to $100 million per weather event.

(editing by David Stamp)

Despair after climate conference, but U.N. still offers hope
Barbara Lewis and Alister Doyle PlanetArk 11 Dec 12;

At the end of another lavishly-funded U.N. conference that yielded no progress on curbing greenhouse emissions, many of those most concerned about climate change are close to despair.

As thousands of delegates checked out of their air-conditioned hotel rooms in Doha to board their jets for home, some asked whether the U.N. system even made matters worse by providing cover for leaders to take no meaningful action.

Supporters say the U.N. process is still the only framework for global action. The United Nations also plays an essential role as the "central bank" for carbon trading schemes, such as the one set up by the European Union.

But unless rich and poor countries can inject urgency into their negotiations, they are heading for a diplomatic fiasco in 2015 - their next deadline for a new global deal.

"Much much more is needed if we are to save this process from being simply a process for the sake of process, a process that simply provides for talk and no action, a process that locks in the death of our nations, our people, and our children," said Kieren Keke, foreign minister of Nauru, who fears his Pacific island state could become uninhabitable.

The conference held in Qatar - the country that produces the largest per-capita volume of greenhouse gases in the world - agreed to extend the emissions-limiting Kyoto Protocol, which would have run out within weeks.

But Canada, Russia and Japan - where the protocol was signed 15 years ago - all abandoned the agreement. The United States never ratified it in the first place, and it excludes developing countries where emissions are growing most quickly.

Delegates flew home from Doha without securing a single new pledge to cut pollution from a major emitter.

So far, U.N. climate talks have missed just about every deadline. The rich nations of the world promised two decades ago to halt their rise in greenhouse gases. They failed. Next, they promised a sequel to Kyoto by 2009. They failed again.

Now they have a 2015 deadline to get a new global, binding deal in place, to enter into force after the extension of Kyoto expires in 2020. For the first time, it would apply to rich and poor countries alike. But with the world's nations divided over who must pay the cost, the task of reaching accord seems beyond the capabilities of the vast corps of international delegates.

Meanwhile, the world's weather is only getting more unstable. As the Doha talks dragged on, Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines left nearly 1,000 people dead or missing.

Hurricane Sandy last month was a reminder that even rich countries are not safe from extreme weather, which scientists say will become ever more common as the world heats up.


A series of reports released during the Doha talks said the world faced the prospect of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2F) of warming, rather than the 2 degree (3.6F) limit that nations adopted in 2010 as a maximum to avoid dangerous changes.

According to the World Bank, that would mean food and water shortages, habitats wiped out, coastal communities wrecked by rising seas, deserts spreading, and droughts both more frequent and severe. Most impact would be borne by the world's poorest.

"The alarm bells are going off all over the place," Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said. "We are in a crisis and treating it like a process where we can dither away forever."

Action at ground level has had a positive impact, even as the U.N. dithers. Investment in carbon-free renewable energy hit a record $260 billion in 2011.

In the United States, the discovery of techniques to produce natural gas from shale has cut the cost of gas, which has reduced emissions from the world's biggest polluter by replacing coal, a bigger carbon emitter, for power generation.

But although U.S. emissions - nearly a quarter of the world's total - have fallen, for the world as a whole this year they are expected to rise by 2.6 percent, up by 58 percent since 1990. Emerging economies led by China and India account for most of the growth.

Although frustrated by days and nights of haggling, ministers still back the United Nations as part of the solution.

"It's clear to me that this process is the only global framework we have and since this is a global problem, it has to be addressed globally," Denmark's Energy Minister Martin Lidegaard told Reuters.

"But obviously, this can't stand alone. Nations can't continue to hide behind the process. There's a direct link between what we deliver at home and here. We desperately need to combine action by regions, municipalities, citizens with this global approach. That is becoming more and more evident."

Negotiators say ultimately politicians - distracted by other events - need to become engaged.

"It (the environment) is no longer on the front page with the political and financial crisis. That is the reason why heads of state have to turn to this," the European Union's chief negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger said.


The conference is an easy target for cynics - not least because it was held in Qatar, a desert kingdom that exports carbon-producing fossil fuel and uses the proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle for many of its 2.5 million people.

A country that burns fuel to desalinate water and build golf courses in the desert seems like an odd place to talk about curtailing consumption. But supporters say bringing producers like Qatar into the consensus for change is a step forward.

Business leaders are also getting involved.

"A lot of CEOs from the region have turned up. A lot of them are talking about sustainability and resource efficiency. That's no longer a dirty word," said Russel Mills, global director for energy and climate policy at Dow Chemical Co.

Dow, like many other big industrial firms, keeps a close eye on U.N. carbon policy because of the United Nations' role as "a kind of central bank" for pollution allowances.

The most developed carbon trading scheme is the European Union's, which has lurched from crisis to crisis. The value of EU Emissions Trading Scheme permits sank to a record low this month under the burden of surplus allowances during a recession.

But other jurisdictions such as Australia, California, South Korea and even China believe they can learn from Europe's mistakes and are developing their own emissions trading. Such schemes could be the planet's best hope of survival, and the United Nations is likely to play a role.

"Economy-wide carbon pricing, whether carbon taxes or cap and trade, is the only approach that can conceivably achieve the targets scientists advocate," Robert Stavins, a professor of business and government at Harvard in the United States, said.

"Also, it will be most the cost-effective and therefore in the long run the most politically-viable approach."

Still, even with the best of intentions, U.N. diplomats are unlikely ever to deliver change at the pace scientists seek.

"Science is demanding immediate and drastic action," Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters. "Policy, economics and financing cannot move in drastic fashion."

(Editing by Peter Graff)

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