Best of our wild blogs: 12 Dec 12

from Butterflies of Singapore

Research Assistant position at NTU Marine Ecology Research Group
from ecotax at Yahoo! Groups

Job Vacancies at ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society)
from Green Business Times

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Clementi 'farm' project delayed

Bad weather, snags push launch date back from late 2012 to end of January
Grace Chua Straits Times 12 Dec 12

ONCE an illegal farm, it is now a sprawling patch of bare earth, with puddles of water slicked with anti-mosquito chemicals doused by pest control workers.

The area in Clementi has been earmarked to become an official community garden, with plans including paved paths, solar lighting and a water supply.

But the date for its completion has been pushed back from late this year until the end of January after hitting a series of snags.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) previously managed the state land and it is now leased to the Bukit Timah Citizens' Consultative Committee.

An SLA spokesman said illegal structures had to be dismantled and removed, the land had to be cleared, ponds had to be filled and the ground had to be levelled before the handover.

There is also a major active gas pipe running under the stretch of land, so "the contractor was instructed to take special care in carrying out their works. In addition, the contractor was told to preserve as much of the greenery as possible," the spokesman said.

"The site preparation works were further aggravated by the rainy season, resulting in an unforeseen delay of six weeks from the original target date (for the site preparation) of end-August 2012."

The 1,800 sq m plot between Sungei Ulu Pandan and the former Malayan Railway track, near Clementi avenues 4 and 6, used to be farmed illegally by residents, mostly elderly.

Once, labourers and retirees gathered to chit-chat near a small shrine they had built there.

Other farmers had installed ponds and an outhouse, and grew bananas, sweet potatoes and other vegetables and fruit.

In March, nearby residents complained of smoke from burning leaves.

Bukit Timah Member of Parliament Sim Ann, who oversees the area, stepped in and helped develop the plan for the official community garden, and the farmers moved out in June.

The 18 farmers who registered to garden on smaller plots at the redeveloped site will be able to do so for $60 a year.

Mr Lester Yeong, 35, whose father is one of those registered, said he reckoned the new garden, smaller than the old farmland, would be done by late January.

But around the edges of the empty patch, beyond the official community garden site, there are signs of planting coming back: cramped rows of sweet potato leaves and long beans, squat banana trees jostling for space with papaya trees.

"I thought I might as well clear the long grass," said Madam Siow Siew Eng in Mandarin. She is 72 and sells her all-organic harvest to residents for spare cash.

"Doing this here, it makes me very happy."

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Malaysia: RM60m ivory tusks seized

G. Surach New Straits Times 12 Dec 12;

PORT KLANG: THE Selangor Customs Department on Monday foiled an attempt by an international syndicate to smuggle 24 tonnes of elephant tusks and ivory handicraft worth RM60 million at the North Port here.

State Customs director Datuk Azis Yacub said enforcement officers seized two containers scheduled for transshipment to China following surveillance since Friday.

They discovered 1,500 African elephant tusks hidden in a secret compartment under several pieces of wooden blocks. The goods were declared as "Acajou-type" mahogany wooden floor tiles on the shipping bill of loading.

Azis said syndicates were using Malaysian ports as a transit point to ship such goods to the far east, noting that several cases of ivory smuggling had been detected in the past two years.

"In the latest case, the goods came from the port of Lome in Togo and were heading to China when we intercepted them."

He said the syndicate behind the smuggling operations had used ship-switching tactics by first sailing from Togo via the ship Marivia before embarking at the port of Algeciras in Spain.

"In Spain, they switched the containers to the CMA CGM Titus ship prior to sailing here," he said, adding that the containers were about to be switched to another ship when Customs enforcement officers intercepted them.

Azis dismissed the involvement of locals in the syndicate but added that a Klang-based company was being investigated under Section 133 (1)(a) Customs Act 1967 for false declaration.

He said the seized tusks would be handed to the Wildlife and National Parks Department.

In January, an attempt by an international syndicate to smuggle 500kg of elephant tusks worth RM2.4 million was foiled by Customs officers while in December last year, another attempt to smuggle 15 tonnes of elephant tusks and ivory handicraft worth RM4 million was foiled at the West Port.

Massive African ivory seizure in Malaysia
TRAFFIC 11 Dec 12;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 11th December 2012 – Royal Malaysian Customs have made their largest ever seizure of ivory in transit through the country, finding 1,500 pieces of tusks hidden in wooden crates purpose-built to look like stacks of sawn timber.

The ivory, stashed in ten crates which were divided between two containers, were shipped from the port of Lomé in Togo and were headed to China, the Selangor State Customs Director Dato’ Azis Yacub told a press conference today.

The shipment also transited through Algeciras in Spain before it headed for West Port in Port Kelang, one of Peninsular Malaysia’s busiest container terminals.

The two containers, declared to be carrying “wooden floor tiles acajou”, were held on December 7th and inspected last night. After removing the top layer of the crates, officers found the ivory in a secret compartment measuring about one metre deep.

A Malaysian company based at the port is being investigated and if convicted, the company could face up to RM500,000 in fines and individuals a maximum of five years in jail, or both.

Togo is known to be a major source of ivory exiting Africa. Although it has never reported a seizure to ETIS (the Elephant Trade Information System, managed by TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to CITES), the country is regularly implicated in reported seizures.

This is the fourth seizure of African elephant ivory at Port Kelang and the sixth in the country since July 2011. In September 2011, 695 elephant tusks weighing close to two tonnes were seized in Port Kelang and in January this year, another seizure in December 2011 yielded 1.4 tonnes of ivory, and in January this year, a consignment weighing 492 kilogrammes was also seized there, seizures have also were been made in other ports of Penang and Johor. Tentatively, the Customs Department has estimated the weight of yesterday’s seizure at a staggering 20 tonnes.

Concern over Malaysia’s role as a transit point for illegal ivory shipments was highlighted at a meeting of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) this July: the country was asked to report on what action it has taken to address the issue.

Azis called on the public to continue providing the department with information that would help them stop more shipments like these. He assured that informants identities would be kept confidential and a financial reward would be paid if the information led to a successful case.

“TRAFFIC commends the Customs Department on its vigilance and hopes to see it pursue all leads towards finding the criminals that are using Malaysia as a transit point for ivory,” said Dr William Schaedla, TRAFFIC’s Director in South-East Asia.

“We also urge authorities to ensure proper systems are in place to catalogue and stockpile the seized ivory,” Schaedla.

TRAFFIC also encourages all the countries implicated in the seizure to investigate the case thoroughly, so that those behind the shipment can be traced and brought to justice.

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China at the centre of 'illegal timber' trade

Environmental groups accuse ports and cities of being a centre for illegally logged wood despite international conservation treaties
Laurence Caramel and Harold Thibault Guardian Weekly 11 Dec 12;

China is at the centre of a vast global traffic in illegally logged timber that is destroying entire swaths of forest around the world.

Academic research and NGOs such as WWF and Global Witness have already revealed the existence of illegal trading networks in central Africa, Burma and Russia leading directly to Chinese ports or cities. Now for the first time fingers are pointing directly to Beijing and holding public enterprises and local government officials responsible for this highly lucrative illegal trade.

The British NGO, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), published a detailed report at the end of November called "China, appetite for destruction". It reveals just how China's appetite for wood has grown in the past decades as a result of consumption by the new middle classes, as well as an export-driven wood industry facing growing demand from major foreign furniture and construction companies.

China has become the leading importer, consumer and exporter of the world's timber. Its own forests provide less than 40% of its needs. According to the report, "in response to severe flooding in 1998, China adopted a Natural Forest Conservation Programme […] and embarked on a massive programme of reforestation […] The government spent $31bn on tree planting between 1999 and 2009."

But the gap between domestic supply and demand has continued to grow. In 2011 China imported 180m cubic metres of wood products, 28% more than in 2010 and 300% more than in 2000. According to the EIA, last year one-third of all the timber sold worldwide was bought by China, with little regard to its origin.

Unlike the US, the EU and Australia, which, under pressure from public opinion, have adopted legislation banning illegal timber imports, China has made no such move. The government has only signed bilateral agreements with the US, Europe, Indonesia and Burma, the benefits of which have yet to be demonstrated.

After analysing trade data for 36 supplier countries, the EIA has concluded that approximately 10% of the logs and sawed timber is illegal, representing "turnover" of $3.7bn. Public enterprises, often controlled by provincial governments, play a strategic role in this trade, says the EIA, citing illegal imports from Indonesia and Mozambique. The report describes corruption networks in countries with weak governments such as Burma, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Rosewood trafficking is especially lucrative. Although rosewood is classified as an endangered species by the International Trade Convention, trade in that wood has risen dramatically, triggered by demand from well-off Chinese households for reproductions of Qing and Ming dynasty furniture. It is now sourced in Madagascar, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and Belize, and rosewood imports to China rose from 66,000 cubic metres in 2005 to 565,000 cubic metres in 2011.

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International Trade in Live Corals Could Help Preserve Wild Corals and Coral Reefs Ecosystems, Study Suggests

Science Daily 11 Dec 12;

The international trade in corals used to be primarily a curio trade of dried skeletons, but now focuses on live corals for the marine reef aquarium trade. A team of Roger Williams University (RWU), Boston University (BU), Conservation International(CI), and the New England Aquarium (NEAq) researchers has been studying this relatively new development and have published their findings about this unique trade and its long-term implications.

The article, "Long-term trends of coral imports into the United States indicate future opportunities for ecosystem and societal benefits," appears in the December issue of the journal Conservation Letters.

Assessing 21 years of live coral import data for the United States, the researchers found that the coral trade increased over 8% per year between 1990 until the mid-2000s, and has since decreased by 9% annually. This decrease is mostly due to the current economic climate. The timing of the peak and decline varies among species, and is a result of the rising popularity of mini-reef ecosystem aquariums, the global financial crisis, and an increase in domestic aquaculture production.

The live coral trade for home aquariums has traditionally been viewed in absolute terms as a threat to these undersea areas of high biodiversity. However, realities are often grey. In the case of coral reefs, supplying the home aquarium trade with locally cultivated corals can provide real economic benefits to small island communities, and thus, an incentive to protect the reefs from which the mother colonies are obtained.

In their article, the researchers highlight this dichotomy and demonstrate that recent changes in the trade of live corals for the reef aquarium hobby are resulting in new opportunities for conservation. "The trade has moved from a wild harvest to mariculture production, a change sparked by long-term efforts to produce a sustainable income to small island countries such as the Solomon Islands and also by the government of Indonesia," says Andrew Rhyne, lead-author and Roger Williams University assistant professor of marine biology and research scientist at the New England Aquarium. This shift from a wild fishery to a mariculture product poses new opportunities and challenges for conservationists.

Coinciding with the publication of this study, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just proposed to protect 66 stony corals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). An unintended consequence of this ESA listing would be to eliminate the benefits of the trade revealed by the study, which include elevated value for intact coral reefs, and an income source that is sorely needed in these island nations where hundreds of millions of people rely on reef resources for subsistence.

According to the researchers, the trade is still rapidly evolving, creating challenges, such as the addition of new species that outpace effective management strategies. "New species in the live coral trade initially command high prices, but as they become common the price drops with feedback effects to the trade," said Les Kaufman, co-author and Boston University professor of biology and research fellow at Conservation International.

"The live coral trade offers opportunities for coral reef ecosystem conservation and sustainable economic benefits to coastal communities," says Rhyne. Co-author, Michael Tlusty of the New England Aquarium adds, "that the realization of these externalities will require effective data tracking."

Coral reefs are under numerous human induced threats. These include the global threats of warming oceans that are becoming more acidic, and local threats such as improper land use resulting in increased nutrient loading, and overfishing, which can trigger an ecological cascade resulting in blooms of seaweed that inhibit coral growth.

While western countries are the source of the major threats to these corals reefs (because of globally-distributed carbon emissions), island nations have more than income at stake. Trade can be a powerful conservation incentive, but this emerging local conservation tool is at risk of being lost due to the well-intended but rigid rules of the ESA, here invoked to protect corals and coral reefs globally from the billions of tons of carbon released into the atmosphere by developed nations. A more selective regulatory approach that gives credit to local efforts to manage reef resources wisely may be warranted.

Journal Reference:

Andrew L. Rhyne, Michael F. Tlusty, Les Kaufman. Long-term trends of coral imports into the United States indicate future opportunities for ecosystem and societal benefits. Conservation Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2012.00265.x

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Illegal wildlife trade threatens national security, says WWF report

WWF 12 Dec 12;

NEW YORK - Perceived by organized criminals to be high profit and low risk, the illicit trade in wildlife is worth at least US$ 19 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking, according to a new report commissioned by WWF.

Besides driving many endangered species towards extinction, illegal wildlife trade strengthens criminal networks, undermines national security, and poses increasing risks to global health, according to the report, Fighting illicit wildlife trafficking: A consultation with governments, which will be unveiled today at a briefing for United Nations ambassadors in New York.

“Wildlife crime has escalated alarmingly in the past decade. It is driven by global crime syndicates, and so we need a concentrated global response,” says Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.

“It is communities, often the world’s poorest, that lose the most from this illicit trade, while criminal gangs and corrupt officials profit. Frontline rangers are losing their lives and families that depend on natural resources are losing their livelihoods,” he said.

Much of the trade in illegal wildlife products is run by sophisticated criminal networks with broad international reach. The profits from wildlife trafficking are used to purchase weapons, finance civil conflicts and underwrite terrorist-related activities, the report finds.

The involvement of organized crime syndicates and rebel groups in wildlife crimes is increasing, according to interviews with governments and international organizations conducted by global advisory group Dalberg on behalf of WWF.

Report respondents agree that the absence of credible law enforcement, prosecution, penalties and other deterrents to wildlife trafficking reduces the perceived risks for criminal groups. They also say that consumer demand is exacerbated by the increased accessibility of illegal wildlife products through the internet.

“The demand for illegal wildlife products has risen in step with economic growth in consumer countries, and with the ‘easy money’ and high profits to be made from trafficking, organized criminals have seized the opportunity to profit,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Report interviewees stressed that illegal wildlife trade is almost always seen by governments as exclusively an environmental problem and is not treated as a transnational crime and justice issue.

“Governments need to address wildlife crime as a matter of urgency,” Leape said. “It is not just a matter of environmental protection, but also of national security. It is time to put a stop to this profound threat to the rule of law.”

Government officials say that a systematic approach is needed to fight illicit wildlife trafficking including greater resourcing, inter-ministerial cooperation, and the use of modern intelligence-led investigative techniques to identify and prosecute wildlife criminals.

Finally, governments and non-governmental organizations have an important role in holding countries publicly accountable for delivering on their international commitments, the report says. The Elephant Trade Information System, executed by TRAFFIC, and the recent WWF Wildlife Crime Scorecard provide examples of reporting initiatives that highlight countries failing to uphold their commitments.

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