Best of our wild blogs: 28 Feb 13

Northern Expedition featured in Knowledge Enterprise
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Job opportunity: Help us out at the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey! from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

sunda pygmy woodpeckers @ pekan quarry, Ubin - Feb2013
from sgbeachbum

Greening the Rooftops
from mndsingapore by Minister Khaw Boon Wan

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Singapore's Earth Hour to encourage lifestyle changes

Channel NewsAsia 27 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) will partner Singapore companies for this year's Earth Hour to encourage Singaporeans to make four lifestyle changes in support of the environment.

The lifestyle changes are to reduce the use of plastic bags, turn up their air-conditioning by one degree, switch to energy-efficient LED lights, and take short showers.

Corporate partners IKEA, Philips Lighting and Marina Bay Sands have issued challenges to the Singapore public through the Earth Hour "I Will If You Will" platform for three key actions.

Home furnishing retailer IKEA has pledged to have a free reusable Blue Bag Day if 20,000 people in Singapore pledge to use reusable bags instead of plastic bags.

Philips Lighting will provide LED and other sustainable lighting solutions to 1,000 lower-income families if 100,000 Singaporean families convert to LED lighting solutions.

Integrated resort Marina Bay Sands will be engaging its staff and partners in several challenges.

Among them is a challenge to its top 20 vendors to raise their air-conditioning temperatures by one degree.

If this is met, Marina Bay Sands will fulfil the promise to raise its air-conditioning by one degree in its back-of-house and various public areas for one day every month of the year, beginning from Earth Hour 2013.

The public can take up these challenges from today via the Earth Hour microsite at

Earth Hour 2013 takes place at 8.30pm on Saturday, 23 March 2013.


Three companies challenge Singapore to reduce its carbon footprint
Kelly Ng Today Online 28 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE — Three corporations have issued a challenge to Singapore to reduce its carbon footprint, ahead of Earth Hour next month.

Marina Bay Sands (MBS) has pledged to raise its air-conditioning by 1°C in the back of the house and various public areas for a day each month for a year, if its top 20 vendors do likewise. The integrated resort operator has also agreed to turn off all non-essential facade lighting on the first Tuesday of each month, if at least 20 other buildings in the Marina Bay district participate in Earth Hour.

While its challenges are targeted at organisations, two other companies have directed theirs at households. Furniture retailer IKEA will hold a free reusable blue bag day if 20,000 people here pledge to forgo plastic bags for reusable bags, while Philips Lighting will provide sustainable lighting to 1,000 lower-income families if 100,000 Singaporean families convert to LED solutions.

These pledges are in line with efforts made by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore to garner support from individual Singaporeans, with the group’s Chief Executive Elaine Tan noting that simple actions can have a huge collective impact. “With the Government’s projection of population growth, there is an urgent need ... to change our consumption patterns now,” she said.

Earth Hour, which was first introduced to Singapore in 2009 by the WWF, will be celebrated here on March 23. Individuals can accept challenges and pledge their own at

Generate your own power by dancing at Earth Hour
Straits Times 28 Feb 13;

PARTICIPANTS at this year's Earth Hour will have to dance and generate their own electricity for a film screening at The Float @ Marina Bay.

Special dance mats, which will fill an area of about 22 sq m and can accommodate 80 people at a time, will convert kinetic energy from the dancing into electricity to power the outdoor screening.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan said the March 23 event will show "it is possible to power a sustainable city using clean and renewable energy".

"We are trying to connect people from a symbol (of turning their lights off for one hour), to a very tangible action that they can relate to," said Ms Tan.

WWF Singapore is hoping to attract more than 2,000 participants for the event.

Earth Hour is a global movement which started in Sydney in 2007. It encourages people to switch off their lights for one hour to raise awareness about climate change.

WWF - the main organiser of Earth Hour activities - will also continue with last year's "I Will If You Will" campaign, which encourages people to keep up Earth-friendly practices beyond the annual event.

This year, WWF Singapore hopes to get buildings and households to turn up air-conditioning by 1 deg C. Marina Bay Sands, which has pledged its support for the "One Degree Up" movement, is encouraging its key suppliers to do so.

WWF Singapore also wants to promote the use of environmentally friendly LED lighting. Philips Lighting will provide LED and other sustainable lighting solutions for free to 1,000 lower-income families if 100,000 Singaporean families convert to LED lighting solutions.

WWF Singapore also hopes Singaporeans can adopt "green" habits such as taking shorter showers and using fewer plastic bags.


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Malaysian Nature Society dares politicians to declare green stand

The Star 28 Feb 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) has for the first time in its 73-year history challenged politicians to declare their “green stand” in the upcoming general election.

Its president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed said the society would encourage the public to support political parties and candidates who pledged to protect the environment by addressing weaknesses in the forest management system.

He said MNS had compiled 10 requests for change, including mandatory public consultation before degazettement or conversion of any forest reserve.

Other requests include calling for all clearing and logging within permanent forest reserves and state land forests to be carried out, with the consent of the local communities, as well as with the compliance of existing plans such as the National Physical Plan and the Central Forest Spine masterplan.

“We see that the forests, whether under Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, are still being cleared. We want an environmental policy that will halt unsustainable development,” he told the media yesterday.

MNS executive director Mohamed Shah Redza Hussein said MNS would analyse the manifestos of each political party and the candidates at the federal and state levels and make its results known to the public.

“With 4,000 members, we managed to mobilise almost 90,000 signatures for our Belum-Temengor campaign within a short time. We speak with the voice of our grassroots supporters,” he said, adding that sustainable development and environmental conservation were important issues to voters today.

MNS conservation head Balu Perumal pointed out that every state had been troubled by environmental problems for decades.

GE13: ‘Green pledges’ a good start to save environs
The Star 7 Apr 13;

PETALING JAYA: Barisan Nasional’s manifesto includes some promising “green pledges” and represents a good start towards environmental management, said Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed.

“For example, Barisan said it would allocate more space for green lungs within major cities. This commitment will help us in our fight to ensure Bukit Kiara in Selangor is gazetted,” he said.

Dr Maketab added that it was encouraging that both Barisan and Pakatan Rakyat’s manifestos for the 13th general election were committed to sustainable handling of Malaysia’s natural resources.

However, he noted that the critical issue of latex timber clone plantations was left out by both sides.

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Malaysia: Rescuers save 10 pygmy elephants

The Star 28 Feb 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Quick action by wildlife rescuers saved a herd of 10 Bornean pygmy elephants that had wandered off their range and ventured as close as 10km from the east coast town of Lahad Datu.

The rescue unit from the Sabah wildlife department captured and relocated the nine female adults and the lone male, a four-year-old calf, in an operation from Jan 18 to Jan 25.

Disclosing details of the eight-day roundup here yesterday, unit senior officer Jibius Dausip said the elephants had ventured more than 45km from the Tabin wildlife reserve.

“We received a call from Sri Tungku Simpang Ladang Permai, near Lahad Datu, that the elephants were roaming near his house,” he said.

Wildlife rangers rushed to the scene and captured the elephants using tranqualiser darts.

Department veterinarian Dr Diana Ramirez said the female elephants were transported to the Tabin reserve, with two of the largest animals fitted with satellite collars provided by the Danau Girang Field Centre.

The calf was transferred to the Low Kawi wildlife park, near here. “Its trunk was severely injured, probably from a snare trap. Without captive intervention it would have little chances of survival in the wild,” she said.

Department senior veterinarian Dr Senthivel Nathan said: “We are studying the possibility of releasing future translocated herds together.”

He said they were not able to translocate and release the current herd together due to logistical reasons. “That might also cost more.”

Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goosens said two elephants fitted with satellite collars by the centre showed they had not ventured into plantations around Tabin.

“If they return in the vicinity of Lahad Datu, we will advise plantation owners on how to fence their land to avoid any intrusion.”

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Thai premier accepts half-million signature petition from WWF to ban ivory trade

WWF 27 Feb 13;

Bangkok, Thailand – WWF today handed over a global petition calling for a ban on the trading of ivory in Thailand to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a move that aims to spur legal reforms in the country that will help prevent the slaughter of up to 30,000 wild African elephants a year.

“We already have the existing laws to protect wildlife, and elephants are culturally important to Thailand,” Prime Minister Shinawatra said at a special handover event on Wednesday. “We will take the issues raised by WWF into consideration.”

The Thai government on Wednesday also said that Prime Minister Shinawatra will preside over the opening day of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) taking place in Bangkok this week.

As the host of this critical wildlife trade negotiation, WWF calls on Prime Minister Shinawatra to take bold action to shut down Thailand’s ivory markets. Thailand is the world’s largest unregulated ivory market.
The petition - which had over 500,000 signatures from over 200 countries and territories on 27 February - is part of a WWF and TRAFFIC campaign calling for an announcement by the Thai Prime Minister to ban all ivory sales in Thailand.

“If host-nation Thailand fails to take bold action - and that means nothing less than a ban on all ivory trade - then Thailand's wild elephants could be next,” said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign leader in WWF-Thailand.

“Perhaps as few as only 2,500 wild elephants are left in Thailand. That's as many elephants as were wiped out each month in Africa in 2012 to fuel demand for ivory trinkets,” added Ongsiriwittaya.

The sale of ivory from wild elephants is currently illegal for CITES-host Thailand, but the sale of ivory from Thai domestic elephants is legal. Determining whether ivory products are derived from wild elephants or domestic animals is extremely difficult, and enforcement agencies are currently unable to detect illegal ivory entering the Thai trade.

Crucially, the nation’s status as an international transportation and shipping hub ensures that a steady stream of black market purchasers enter the country to buy ivory products. It also facilitates smuggling of raw ivory into Thailand, since illegal shipments are easily hidden in the many thousands of containers entering Thai ports everyday.

“While the Thai government has tried several times to reform the law in recent years, nothing has changed. The reality is that the existing legal framework does not prevent Thailand from being the laundering hub for illegal ivory,” said Ongsiriwittaya.

Hollywood actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio has also appealed to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban ivory trade ahead of CITES.

"Illegal wildlife trade is the most urgent threat facing species like tigers, rhinos and elephants. These animals are being killed every day to feed an escalating demand for their body parts," DiCaprio said.

WWF and TRAFFIC recently called on governments CITES to consider formal trade restrictions against some of the worst offenders in the illegal ivory trade, including Thailand, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Local warming: U.S. cities in front line as sea levels rise

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 27 Feb 13;

The signs of rising water are everywhere in this seaport city: yellow "Streets May Flood" notices are common at highway underpasses, in low-lying neighborhoods and along the sprawling waterfront.

Built at sea level on reclaimed wetland, Norfolk has faced floods throughout its 400-year history. But as the Atlantic Ocean warms and expands, and parts of the city subside, higher tides and fiercer storms seem to hit harder than they used to.

Dealing with this increased threat has put Norfolk at the forefront of American cities taking the lead on coping with intense weather, from floods to droughts to killer heat, without waiting for the federal government to take the lead.

In Norfolk, home to the largest U.S. Naval base and the second biggest commercial port on the U.S. Atlantic coast, floods are a perennial problem that has worsened in recent decades, Assistant City Manager Ron Williams Jr told Reuters.

The relative sea level around Norfolk has risen 14.5 inches (.37 meter) since 1930, when the low-lying downtown area routinely flooded. The floods are worse now, because the water doesn't have to rise as high to send the river above its banks and into the streets, Williams said.

At the same time, severe storms are more frequent.

"We've had more major storms in the past decade than we've had in the previous four decades," he said.

Extreme rainfall events have increased too.

Williams does not call what's happening in Norfolk a symptom of climate change.

"The debate about causality we're not going to get into," he said.

Still, many scientists see the frequent flooding as consistent with projected consequences of rising global temperatures, spurred by increased emissions of greenhouse gases.


No matter what city leaders call it, some of their actions speak louder than words.

Williams said Norfolk, a city of 243,000, needs a total investment of $1 billion in the coming decades, including $600 million to replace current infrastructure, to keep the water in its place and help make homes and businesses more resilient.

Paying for it will be a burden, Williams said. The city is working with the state legislature and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and hoping federal block grants will help too.

One proposed project, a flood wall to protect the historic Ghent neighborhood and others, would cost an estimated $20 million to $40 million.

Williams said a similar barrier completed in 1970 banished perennial floods from what is now the high-rise downtown. That provided a great return on a $5 million investment, Williams said, with $500 million in assessed real estate value in the area that used to flood but now doesn't.

These measures have made Norfolk a leader for other coastal cities on how to adapt to climate change, said Cynthia Rosensweig, a NASA climate scientist who advises New York City on its response. Rosensweig, Williams and others note that building resilience into infrastructure before disasters hit is far less expensive than rebuilding afterwards.

Henry Conde, a retired U.S. Navy captain who lives in Ghent, said he and his neighbors feel the flood threat viscerally: "There's a low-grade fever, so to speak, or an awareness throughout the year. People are always on edge."

Armpit-high waders, stand-alone generators and sump pumps are standard equipment for when the floods come and the power goes out, Conde said in an interview at his 115-year-old home. Winter nor'easters can be just as bad as summer hurricanes and preparing for the worst beforehand instead of mopping up later is simply an economic reality, he said.

Superstorm Sandy's strike on New Jersey and New York in late October heightened awareness of the need to prepare for incoming water. Sea levels are rising along almost every part of the U.S. coastline, except in Alaska, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( here ).

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. cities see environmental shifts that can be linked to climate change, but they lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to planning how to adapt to these changes and assessing how vulnerable they are, according to a survey by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the non-profit International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI.

U.S. cities have traditionally focused more on mitigating climate change than adapting to it, the opposite of most cities in the developing world, where vulnerability to climate-fueled natural disasters is already high, said ICLEI's U.S. program director Brian Holland.

More than 1,000 city leaders have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (here), in which they promise to try to beat global targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions in their communities and urge Congress to pass carbon-cutting laws.

But labeling it global warming can be dicey, given that there is still controversy, particularly among politicians, over whether human activity is contributing markedly to increasing temperatures.

"Given the politicized view of climate change in this country, it seems that some cities are emphasizing risk management - that way they can get on with the important tasks of reducing risk and safeguarding local residents and municipal assets," said MIT's JoAnn Carmin, author of the 2012 survey of 468 cities worldwide, including 298 in the United States.

Still, city leaders can often reach consensus and act more easily than some members of Congress can, said Jim Brainard, the Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana, and head of the Energy Independence Task Force for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. One reason for this is that lobbyists opposed to climate measures rarely target mayors or other community leaders, he added.

(Reporting By Deborah Zabarenko.; Editing by Ros Krasny and Andre Grenon)

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Feb 13

Life in Mucous
from Pulau Hantu and Seahorse Bonanza

Random Gallery - Banded Swallowtail
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Leatherback Sea Turtle Could Be Extinct Within 20 Years at Last Stronghold in the Pacific Ocean

Science Daily 26 Feb 13;

An international team led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has documented a 78 percent decline in the number of nests of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) at the turtle's last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean.

The study, published online Feb. 26 in the Ecological Society of America's scientific online journal Ecosphere, reveals leatherback nests at Jamursba Medi Beach in Papua Barat, Indonesia -- which accounts for 75 percent of the total leatherback nesting in the western Pacific -- have fallen from a peak of 14,455 in 1984 to a low of 1,532 in 2011. Less than 500 leatherbacks now nest at this site annually.

Thane Wibbels, Ph.D., a professor of reproductive biology at UAB and member of a research team that includes scientists from State University of Papua (UNIPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia, says the largest marine turtle in the world could soon vanish.

"If the decline continues, within 20 years it will be difficult if not impossible for the leatherback to avoid extinction," said Wibbels, who has studied marine turtles since 1980. "That means the number of turtles would be so low that the species could not make a comeback.

"The leatherback is one of the most intriguing animals in nature, and we are watching it head towards extinction in front of our eyes," added Wibbels.

Leatherback turtles can grow to six feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are able to dive to depths of nearly 4,000 feet and can make trans-Pacific migrations from Indonesia to the U.S. Pacific coast and back again.

While it is hard to imagine that a turtle so large and so durable can be on the verge of extinction, Ricardo Tapilatu, the research team's lead scientist who is a Ph.D. student and Fulbright Scholar in the UAB Department of Biology, points to the leatherback's trans-Pacific migration, where they face the prevalent danger of being caught and killed in fisheries.

"They can migrate more than 7,000 miles and travel through the territory of at least 20 countries, so this is a complex international problem," Tapilatu said. "It is extremely difficult to comprehensively enforce fishing regulations throughout the Pacific."

The team, along with paper co-author Peter Dutton, Ph.D., discovered thousands of nests laid during the boreal winter just a few kilometers away from the known nesting sites, but their excitement was short-lived.

"We were optimistic for this population when year round nesting was discovered in Wermon Beach, but we now have found out that nesting on that beach appears to be declining at a similar rate as Jamursba Medi," said Dutton, head of the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center's Marine Turtle Genetics Program.

The study has used year-round surveys of leatherback turtle nesting areas since 2005, and it is the most extensive research on the species to date. The team identified four major problems facing leatherback turtles: nesting beach predators, such as pigs and dogs that were introduced to the island and eat the turtle eggs; rising sand temperatures that can kill the eggs or prevent the production of male hatchlings; the danger of being caught by fisheries during migrations; and harvesting of adults and eggs for food by islanders.

Tapilatu, a native of western Papua, Indonesia, has studied leatherback turtles and worked on their conservation since 2004. His efforts have been recognized by NOAA, and he will head the leatherback conservation program in Indonesia once he earns his doctorate from UAB and returns to Papua.

He has worked to educate locals and limit the harvesting of adults and eggs. His primary focus today is protecting the nesting females, eggs and hatchlings. A leatherback lays up to 10 nests each season, more than any other turtle species. Tapilatu is designing ways to optimize egg survival and hatchling production by limiting their exposure to predators and heat through an extensive beach management program.

"If we relocate the nests from the warmest portion of the beach to our egg hatcheries, and build shades for nests in other warm areas, then we will increase hatching success to 80 percent or more," said Tapilatu.

"The international effort has attempted to develop a science-based nesting beach management plan by evaluating and addressing the factors that affect hatching success such as high sand temperatures, erosion, feral pig predation and relocating nests to maximize hatchling output," said Manjula Tiwari, a researcher at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif.

Wibbels, who is also the Ph.D. advisor for Tapilatu, says that optimizing hatchling production is a key component to leatherback survival, especially considering the limited number of hatchlings who survive to adulthood.

"Only one hatchling out of 1,000 makes it to adulthood, so taking out an adult makes a significant difference on the population," Wibbels said. "It is essentially the same as killing 1,000 hatchlings."

The research team believes that beach management will help to decrease the annual decline in the number of leatherback nests, but protection of the leatherbacks in waters throughout the Pacific is a prerequisite for their survival and recovery. Despite their prediction for leatherback extinction, the scientists are hopeful this species could begin rebounding over the next 20 years if effective management strategies are implemented.

Journal Reference:

Ricardo F. Tapilatu, Peter H. Dutton, Manjula Tiwari, Thane Wibbels, Hadi V. Ferdinandus, William G. Iwanggin, Barakhiel H. Nugroho. Long-term decline of the western Pacific leatherback,Dermochelys coriacea: a globally important sea turtle population. Ecosphere, 2013; 4 (2): art25 DOI: 10.1890/ES12-00348.1

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African rhinos targeted by criminals, group says

Robert Evans PlanetArk 27 Feb 13;

Illegal killing of African rhinos is on the rise with at least 745 poached last year and over two a day being shot by poachers so far this year, the International Union for the conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported on Tuesday.

The Swiss-based inter-governmental body said the poaching rate - driven by the Asian demand for the animal's horn for use in Chinese traditional medicines - could threaten the rhino's long-term survival.

"Well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates are feeding the growing black market for rhino horn," said a statement from Mike Knight who chairs a team of experts within IUCN Special Survival Commission.

"High levels of consumption, and especially the escalating demand in Vietnam, threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades," Knight declared.

IUCN says the two principal rhino species, the Black and the White, total some 26,000 in Africa, just 5,055 Black rhinos and 20,405 White.

Poaching of the animals between 2011 and 2012 rose by 43 percent for a total of 745 animals, bringing a decline of 3 percent in the total population, the organization reported.

The statement said the crime syndicates involved in the lucrative but illegal trade used Mozambique, from where many poachers crossed into South Africa, as a major transit point to ship the horn, mainly to China and Vietnam.

South Africa's Kruger National Park near the Mozambique border is home to the world's largest rhino population. A total of 668 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year, according to the IUCN.

(Reported by Robert Evans, editing by Paul)

African rhinos won’t hold out for much longer, IUCN experts warn
IUCN 26 Feb 13;

Gland, Switzerland, 26 February 2013 – Nearly 2,400 rhinos have been poached across Africa since 2006, slowing the population growth of both African rhino species to some of the lowest levels since 1995, according to the latest facts revealed by IUCN experts.

Rhino poaching increased by 43% between 2011 and 2012, representing a loss of almost 3% of the population in 2012, according to IUCN’s Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) African Rhino Specialist Group. Experts predict that if poaching continues to increase at this rate, rhino populations could start to decline in less than two years’ time.

“Well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates are continuing to feed the growing black market with rhino horn,” says Mike Knight, Chairman of the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, a group of rhino experts within IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “Over the past few years, consumer use of rhino horn has shifted from traditional Asian medicine practices to new uses, such as to convey status. High levels of consumption – especially the escalating demand in Viet Nam – threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades.”

There are currently 5,055 Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and 20,405 White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in Africa. Although these numbers have increased slightly over the last two years, there is no room for complacency. In 2012, at least 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa – the highest number in two decades – with a record 668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone. In 2013, one rhino has been lost to poaching every 11 hours since the beginning of the year – a rate that is higher than the average for 2012.

Illegal trade in rhino horn is coordinated by well-organised criminal syndicates which transport the horns primarily to Viet Nam and China. Mozambique has also been identified as a key driver of poaching activities, with poachers making cross-border raids into the South African Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest rhino population. Mozambique is also a major transit point for illegal horn to Asia.

IUCN experts call upon the international community – especially the key consumer and transit states such as Viet Nam, China and Mozambique – to urgently address the crisis by strengthening and enforcing regional and international trade laws, particularly in relation to rhino horn.

“The rhino community is encouraged by the signing of a recent Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and Viet Nam to address the rhino poaching epidemic as well as other conservation issues,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “However, it needs to be reinforced with tangible government action on both sides. International and regional collaboration needs to be strengthened, as does sharing of information, intelligence and expertise to address wildlife crime issues.”

Updated facts on the rhino crisis come on the eve of the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that will take place from 3 to 14 March in Bangkok, Thailand. Illegal rhino horn trade will be one of the many issues discussed at the meeting.

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Feb 13

Chek Jawa intertidal walks 2013 open for booking from 1 Mar
from wild shores of singapore

singing free-range magpie robins @ chek jawa mangroves - Feb2013 from sgbeachbum

Don’t Miss! Sunday March 3 Tour
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

New PhotoBlog Post: Birding Photography Adventure @ Berlayer Creek from Photojournalist

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Making better use of land, moving ops abroad

$60m plan deviates from 'old' thinking of keeping jobs at home
Jonathan Kwok Straits Times 26 Feb 13;

THE Government has unveiled a $60 million grant to help firms make better use of Singapore's scarce land - even assisting some firms to move abroad if core functions stay here.

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the Land Productivity Grant will support companies wanting to intensify the use of land here.

He said the offer to help firms move abroad would save land and that business associations such as the Singapore Business Federation-led SME Committee had asked for the incentive.

Mr Tharman did not mention how much each firm can expect to get under the grant.

Experts said the relocation grant is a bold move and deviates from the Government's traditional thinking of keeping jobs within Singapore.

"It's an acceptance of the fact that in order to compete globally, some things cannot be done in Singapore any more," said Ms Tan Bin Eng, a partner at Ernst & Young.

"Some activities may need to be done offshore."

Ms Tan said that traditionally, the focus was on keeping jobs in Singapore but now the Government is effectively saying it is more important that small and medium-sized enterprises are productive and globally competitive.

"In order to do that, some jobs need to be offshore and they are willing to step in to help the SMEs in this respect," said Ms Tan.

"The Land Productivity Grant is good, in terms of a signal."

Mr Cheng Liang Chye, managing director of food ingredients firm SMC Food 21, said his firm already has plans to move more operations to Malaysia, and has already purchased land there.

"This will come as a bonus," he said.

More details need to be announced about the qualifying criteria for firms and the payout they can receive, but Mr Cheng said the money would be useful to help firms defray the costs of moving.

Firms will need to spend money on relocating equipment, while costs will be incurred when staff travel between Singapore and the other country, he noted.

Engineering firm HSL Constructor, which has overseas offices but is not looking to open more, also welcomed the scheme.

The firm, whose operations include marine civil engineering and ground engineering, acquired some land here from JTC Corp in 2011 and is now developing it to the maximum plot ratio.

"We look forward to how the Government can help us" with the cash for firms intensifying land use, said managing director Lim Choo Leng.

"We are using a big sum of money and investing heavily to intensify the land use. We have to maximise the land allocated to us as we are a land-scarce country."

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Fuel-efficient cars worth the higher price: Study

Pump savings of $540 over five years; rebates for such cars fuel good returns
Christopher Tan Straits Times 26 Feb 13;

FUEL-EFFICIENT cars are generally costlier than less economical models but the potential savings at the pumps make them worth the higher purchase price, an academic paper has concluded.

Buyers tend to fork out 0.6 per cent more for every 10 per cent improvement in efficiency, the study by two economists from the Ministry of Trade and Industry found.

But this is cancelled out by the savings over five years of driving with an annual average mileage of 19,100km, which works out to about $540 in real terms.

The paper, by senior economists Kenny Goh and Huang Jianyun of the ministry's economics division, also suggested that buyers would be given a strong incentive to switch to fuel-efficient models by the new Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS). This programme, which kicked in last month, grants rebates of up to $20,000 for cars that emit no more than 160g/km of carbon dioxide.

Using a statistical model that filters out various other attributes that might influence a vehicle's price, the economists found that the CEVS boosts the returns on investing in a fuel-efficient car by almost 10 times.

The paper, entitled The Costs And Benefits Of Fuel-Efficient Cars: How High Are The Returns?, was released last Friday.

Its authors said the views expressed were their own and "do not necessarily reflect those of the Ministry of Trade and Industry or the Government of Singapore".

Motor industry players have noticed that buyers are becoming more concerned about fuel efficiency. They say one reason is rising pump prices. The cheapest petrol is now $2.20 a litre before discount - 40 per cent higher than four years ago.

Motor Traders Association vice-president Glenn Tan said: "Now that a car costs so much, people have become more conscious of running costs. Every little bit contributes to total ownership cost."

The new fuel economy label displayed on all showroom cars - which became mandatory last month - has also helped raised consumer awareness. It not only states the fuel consumption of the vehicle but also rates its fuel efficiency against rivals.

Car dealers said while the CEVS has given buyers an incentive to opt for fuel-efficient cars, the rebate of up to $20,000 is actually smaller in real life. This is because the tax cut translates to a smaller scrap value when the vehicle is finally deregistered.

Mr Ron Lim, general manager of Nissan agent Tan Chong Motor, said the scheme had also contributed to "more and more cars" crowding the small-car certificate of entitlement category.

Smaller vehicles tend to pollute less and many stand to benefit from the scheme. "Ironically, this will only push up prices, and whatever tax rebate one gets is eventually thrown back into the system," said Mr Lim.

Only three electric cars on the road
Straits Times 26 Feb 13;

DESPITE the hype about electric cars, only three were on Singapore's roads as of last month, official registration data has revealed.

A quirky Corbin Sparrow three-wheeler, a Tesla sports car and a retrofitted BMW flew the flag for the zero-emission fleet - out of Singapore's total passenger car population of 618,000.

Battery-powered vehicles arrived in Singapore two years ago, but motor traders cite high costs and the unavailability of charging infrastructure as the main reasons for the near-zero take-up by consumers. To date, four manufacturers have brought in electric models for a test-bedding exercise led by the Energy Market Authority (EMA).

Test-bed cars are exempt from certificate of entitlement (COE) premiums and other car taxes, but can be registered only by companies, institutes and government agencies. The exercise will log data such as daily mileage, destinations and charging patterns.

Out of an intended test fleet of about 90 cars, the EMA said 71 have already been put on the road by various test-bed participants. They are 23 Mitsubishi i-MiEV subcompact hatchbacks, 25 Nissan Leaf compact hatchbacks, 10 Smart micro-minis and 13 Renault Fluence ZEs - none of which is included in the official registration data.

The authority said it has another 12 applications for the test- bed, which started in mid-2011 to gauge the viability of electric cars in the local environment.

Forty-seven charging stations have been set up here, with three capable of fast charges of under an hour. Normal charges can take eight hours.

The EMA said the average daily distance clocked by the test fleet was 41km - shorter than the average distance of 55km clocked by motorists in fuel-powered cars.

Trial participants have had a generally positive experience.

Company director Y.Y. Ke, 57, who has driven the i-MiEV for about 14 months, said: "People who have complained about range anxiety don't use the car enough and don't know its characteristics. My longest drive on a single charge was 120km and I still had about 10 per cent left in it."

Engineer Eu Pui San, 56, has clocked 19,000km on an i-MiEV and found it dependable.

"There are no mechanical or electrical issues, but you must plan your trips," he said.

Like others, Mr Eu said electric cars are still too expensive for most consumers.

For instance, the Renault Fluence ZE costs around $89,000 under the test-bed scheme, but almost $200,000 if registered as a normal car. The estimated price includes COE and carbon rebates. The i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf are expected to be around $200,000 if registered outside the test-bed.

Under the Carbon Emissions- based Vehicle Scheme, most electric cars qualify for the maximum $20,000 tax rebate. But Mr Eu, a senior vice-president of Senoko Energy, said this is insufficient to make electric vehicles affordable for ordinary consumers. "Perhaps the batteries - which account for more than half the cost of an electric car - can be excluded in our tax computation," he said.

Meanwhile, it is not clear if a plan to attract more new-technology vehicles to be test-bedded here has gained traction since it was announced in 2010.

The tax-free scheme set aside for more than 1,200 such vehicles - which was expected to cost the Government $75 million in revenue - is administered by the Economic Development Board. The EDB would not comment when asked how many cars have been granted test status under this scheme.


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Malaysia: Clouded leopard's death to be investigated

New Straits Times 26 Feb 13;

KUCHING: Sarawak's Forestry Department has ordered "a full and urgent investigation" into the killing of a rare and highly endangered clouded leopard in Saratok last week.

The department, in expressing its regret over the shooting of the leopard, said initial reports indicated the leopard had inadvertently wandered into the compound of a government agency.

A member of the public, who was unaware of the animal's totally protected status, shot it dead.

"I am deeply saddened by this incident," said its director and and the state's Controller of Wildlife Datuk Ali Yusop in a statement.

He said the incident served to remind the department of the need to redouble its efforts to educate the public on the importance and necessity of protecting endangered flora and fauna.

"I wish to reiterate to the public not to approach, catch or harm any unknown and non-threatening wild animal they may come across."

Clouded leopards, the largest cats in Borneo, are also found in India, southern China, mainland Southeast Asia and Sumatra.

Despite their wide range, they are thinly dispersed and their total population worldwide is estimated to be fewer than 10,000.

They get their name from the distinctive "clouds" on its coat -- ellipses partially edged in black, with the insides a darker colour than the background.

The clouded leopard has remarkable tree climbing abilities for such a large predator, (1.5m from the nose to the tip of the tail), which allows it to hunt in the rainforest canopy as well as on the ground.

Its remarkably long canine teeth has earned it the title of the "modern day sabretooth tiger".

Its teeth, along with its pelt, have made the clouded leopard a target of illegal hunters. Its survival is also threatened by habitat loss.

In Sarawak, the clouded leopard is a totally protected animal under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998.

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Australian endangered species: Sea snakes

Kate Sanders, University of Adelaide Science Alert 25 Feb 13;

Short-nosed (Aipsyurus apraefrontalis) and Leaf-scaled (A. foliosquama) sea snakes are restricted to coral reefs in Western Australia. Both species are known from Ashmore and Hibernia Reefs, while the Short-nosed has occasionally been found between Exmouth and Broome. As closest relatives, they are both around 80 centimetres long and are banded purplish-brown. They are distinguished by the size and shape of their heads – hence their common names.

Both species forage in crevices and burrows on shallow reef flats and edges and have powerful venom with which to subdue their prey. Little is known of their diets other than Leaf-scaled sea snakes feed on a variety of reef fishes such as wrasse and gudgeons, whereas the few diet records available for Short-nosed sea snakes suggest they might prey mostly on eels.

The Short-nosed and Leaf-scaled sea snakes are fully marine and rarely come ashore. They belong to the Hydrophiini – a group of more than 60 species that evolved from Australia’s venomous land snakes and are now found throughout the Indo-West Pacific.


Short-nosed and Leaf-scaled sea snakes were prolifically abundant on Ashmore and Hibernia Reefs during the 1970s and 1990s. However, Mick Guinea and colleagues have documented dramatic declines in both species since 1998. No Short-nosed or Leaf-scaled sea snakes were recorded on either reef during intensive surveys between 2001 and 2012.

The status of Short-nosed sea snakes on the Western Australian coast is unknown, but the few scattered records between Exmouth and Broome suggest they were never widespread.

Both species are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.


The reasons for the severe declines of Short-nosed and Leaf-scaled sea snakes remain a mystery. Nine other sea snake species have disappeared from Ashmore and Hibernia over the last 15 years, yet their habitats are intact, and snakes are not affected by over-fishing. This may suggest major environmental change, perhaps related to surface water temperatures, salinity and rainfall patterns, and sedimentation. In the same period seismic surveys for oil and gas have increased, using air gunning, although the impact on sea snakes is unknown.

Whatever factors are responsible, they have not only affected the snakes in shallow coral areas but also species that once occupied the reef edges, seagrass beds and deeper waters surrounding the reef.


Continued surveys of the sea snakes are vital. These should focus on Ashmore and Hibernia reefs, but should also include coastal reefs where the Short-nosed has been recorded and might still exist. If the Leaf-scaled sea snake is not already extinct, there may yet be time to enact a recovery plan for both species.

We need a better understanding of environmental and direct human threats to sea snakes. First, environmental conditions on Ashmore and Hibernia reefs should be compared to reefs that still support healthy numbers of sea snakes. Studies of the impact of seismic air gunning on sea snakes are also urgently needed and will soon be underway.


Solving the mystery of the decline of Short-nosed, Leaf-scaled and other sea snakes in Ashmore and Hibernia will require a multidisciplinary effort. However, if sea snakes are indeed a miner’s canary of coral reef health, understanding their disappearance should be a top priority for marine conservation.

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Caribbean coral reefs have stopped growing

James Cook University Science Alert 25 Feb 13;

Many Caribbean coral reefs have either stopped growing or are on the threshold of starting to erode, which new evidence has revealed.

Associate Professor Scott Smithers, from James Cook University was a part of a seven-member team of international scientists that carried out work at reefs across the Caribbean over a two-year period.

Coral reefs build their structures by both producing and accumulating calcium carbonate, which is essential for the maintenance and continued growth of coral reefs.

The research team discovered that the amount of new carbonate being added by Caribbean coral reefs is now significantly below rates measured over recent geological timescales, and in some habitats is as much as 70 per cent lower.

Associate Professor Smithers said coral reefs formed some of the planet’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, and provided valuable contributions to humans and wildlife.

However, their ability to maintain their structures and continue to grow depended on the balance between the addition of new carbonate, which is mostly produced by corals themselves, set against the loss of carbonate through various erosional processes, he said.

Associate Professor Smithers said traditionally there had been a focus on how coral reef organisms coped under present environmental conditions, but little on how coral reefs as physical structures were faring.

“We decided to give it a go by quantifying the amount of skeleton laid down by reef organisms each year to build the reef framework and comparing that to the amount of physical and biological erosion,” he said.

“We found that many reefs in the Caribbean are now in a precarious balance with very slow growth rates or erosion common.”

Associate Professor Smithers said he was invited to collaborate on the project in his role as a geomorphologist.

“I look at how reef structures grow, and the landforms and features formed by reef growth processes,” he said.

“I was working with an international team made up of scientists with particular skills required to work out the reef growth - and destruction - budgets.”

Associate Professor Smithers said “budgets” was a term geomorphologists used when talking about sediment or calcium carbonate.

The sediment that is produced or deposited is compared to what is eroded or withdrawn, and there is a net amount. If it is positive, growth is occurring, if it is negative, the structure is breaking down.

The field sites were in located in the Bahamas, Bonaire, Belize and Grand Cayman Island.

“I was able to participate in the field work at the first three sites, but was teaching at the time of the Grand Cayman visit.

“All members of the team were involved in refining the methodology for calculating the budget, and then making the budget calculations based on field data.”

The study could have implications for the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the world, despite the fact that different reefs behaved in different ways, he said.

“We hope to perform the same calculations for a variety of sites within the Indo-Pacific in the next few years.

“The reason we focused on the Caribbean reefs first is because we wanted to get the methodology developed and refined - and that is easier to achieve on Caribbean reefs because they are taxonomically and structurally less complex than reefs in the Indo-Pacific.

“This relative simplicity made the measurements and calculations necessary to derive the budgets more easy than if we had begun by focussing on reefs outside the Caribbean.”

Associate Professor Smithers said while this project was his first opportunity to see a lot of reefs in the Caribbean, he was “shocked” by what he saw.

“Although there were some areas where the reefs seemed OK, they were generally very poor in terms of coral cover and fish compared to most reefs on the GBR,” he said.

“There are clearly parts of the GBR that are not in great shape, and there is evidence from some reefs that changes have occurred over historical timescales, but I doubt that many have reached the point we established for the Caribbean reefs where they are no longer actively building - but we need to confirm this by applying the technique here.”

The research was recently published in Nature Communications, an online multidisciplinary journal dedicated to publishing high-quality research in all areas of the biological, physical and chemical sciences.

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New Maps Depict Potential Worldwide Coral Bleaching by 2056

Science Daily 25 Feb 13;

In a study published February 24 in Nature Climate Change researchers used the latest emissions scenarios and climate models to show how varying levels of carbon emissions are likely to result in more frequent and severe coral bleaching events.

Large-scale 'mass' bleaching events on coral reefs are caused by higher-than-normal sea temperatures. High temperatures make light toxic to the algae that reside within the corals. The algae, called 'zooxanthellae', provide food and give corals their bright colors. When the algae are expelled or retained but in low densities, the corals can starve and eventually die. Bleaching events caused a reported 16 percent loss of the world's coral reefs in 1998 according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

If carbon emissions stay on the current path most of the world's coral reefs (74 percent) are projected to experience coral bleaching conditions annually by 2045, results of the study show. The study used climate model ensembles from the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Around a quarter of coral reefs are likely to experience bleaching events annually five or more years earlier than the median year, and these reefs in northwestern Australia, Papau New Guinea, and some equatorial Pacific islands like Tokelau, may require urgent attention, researchers warn.

"Coral reefs in parts of the western Indian Ocean, French Polynesia and the southern Great Barrier Reef, have been identified as temporary refugia from rising sea surface temperatures," said Ruben van Hooidonk, Ph.D., from the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) at the University of Miami and NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. "These locations are not projected to experience bleaching events annually until five or more years later than the median year of 2040, with one reef location in the Austral Islands of French Polynesia protected from the onset of annual coral bleaching conditions until 2056."

The findings emphasize that without significant reductions in emissions most coral reefs are at risk, according to the study. A reduction of carbon emissions would delay annual bleaching events more than two decades in nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the world's reef areas, the research shows.

"Our projections indicate that nearly all coral reef locations would experience annual bleaching later than 2040 under scenarios with lower greenhouse gas emissions." said Jeffrey Maynard, Ph.D., from the Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l'Environnement (CRIOBE) in Moorea, French Polynesia. "For 394 reef locations (of 1707 used in the study) this amounts to at least two more decades in which some reefs might conceivably be able to improve their capacity to adapt to the projected changes."

"More so than any result to date, this highlights and quantifies the potential benefits for reefs of reducing emissions in terms of reduced exposure to stressful reef temperatures."

"This study represents the most up-to-date understanding of spatial variability in the effects of rising temperatures on coral reefs on a global scale," said researcher Serge Planes, Ph.D., also from the French research institute CRIOBE in French Polynesia.

The researchers involved in the study all concur that projections that combine the threats posed to reefs by increases in sea temperature and ocean acidification will further resolve where temporary refugia may exist.

Journal Reference:

R. van Hooidonk, J. A. Maynard, S. Planes. Temporary refugia for coral reefs in a warming world. Nature Climate Change, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1829

Scientists create new maps depicting potential worldwide coral bleaching by 2056
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science
EurekAlert 25 Feb 13;

New maps show how rising sea temperatures are likely to affect all coral reefs in the form of annual coral bleaching events under different emission scenarios

MIAMI – February 25, 2013 -- In a study published today in Nature Climate Change researchers used the latest emissions scenarios and climate models to show how varying levels of carbon emissions are likely to result in more frequent and severe coral bleaching events.

Large-scale 'mass' bleaching events on coral reefs are caused by higher-than-normal sea temperatures. High temperatures make light toxic to the algae that reside within the corals. The algae, called 'zooxanthellae', provide food and give corals their bright colors. When the algae are expelled or retained but in low densities, the corals can starve and eventually die. Bleaching events caused a reported 16 percent loss of the world's coral reefs in 1998 according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

If carbon emissions stay on the current path most of the world's coral reefs (74 percent) are projected to experience coral bleaching conditions annually by 2045, results of the study show. The study used climate model ensembles from the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Around a quarter of coral reefs are likely to experience bleaching events annually five or more years earlier than the median year, and these reefs in northwestern Australia, Papau New Guinea, and some equatorial Pacific islands like Tokelau, may require urgent attention, researchers warn.

"Coral reefs in parts of the western Indian Ocean, French Polynesia and the southern Great Barrier Reef, have been identified as temporary refugia from rising sea surface temperatures," said Ruben van Hooidonk, Ph.D., from the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) at the University of Miami and NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. "These locations are not projected to experience bleaching events annually until five or more years later than the median year of 2040, with one reef location in the Austral Islands of French Polynesia protected from the onset of annual coral bleaching conditions until 2056."

The findings emphasize that without significant reductions in emissions most coral reefs are at risk, according to the study. A reduction of carbon emissions would delay annual bleaching events more than two decades in nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the world's reef areas, the research shows.

"Our projections indicate that nearly all coral reef locations would experience annual bleaching later than 2040 under scenarios with lower greenhouse gas emissions." said Jeffrey Maynard, Ph.D., from the Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l'Environnement (CRIOBE) in Moorea, French Polynesia. "For 394 reef locations (of 1707 used in the study) this amounts to at least two more decades in which some reefs might conceivably be able to improve their capacity to adapt to the projected changes."

"More so than any result to date, this highlights and quantifies the potential benefits for reefs of reducing emissions in terms of reduced exposure to stressful reef temperatures."

"This study represents the most up-to-date understanding of spatial variability in the effects of rising temperatures on coral reefs on a global scale," said researcher Serge Planes, Ph.D., also from the French research institute CRIOBE in French Polynesia.

The researchers involved in the study all concur that projections that combine the threats posed to reefs by increases in sea temperature and ocean acidification will further resolve where temporary refugia may exist.

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Indonesia's Palm Oil Blues Spreading to Africa: Report

Hayat Indriyatno Jakarta Globe 23 Feb 13;

Major palm oil producers accused of destroying Indonesia’s forests and driving its iconic wildlife to the verge of extinction are now taking their practices to the relatively pristine forests of the Congo Basin, an environmental group has warned.

In its report “Seeds of Destruction” released this month, the Rainforest Foundation UK said there was “a real and growing risk that some of the serious, negative environmental and social impacts resulting from the rapid expansion of palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, such as widespread deforestation, social conflict and dispossession, could be repeated in the Congo Basin.”

“This report shows that some of the same major players behind oil palm production in Southeast Asia [such as Sime Darby, Goodhope, Wilmar and FELDA] are now turning their attention to Africa,” RFUK said.

The report said the companies were turning to the Congo Basin region, which includes Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, among others, because of lower land and labor costs and preferential access to the European Union market.

It warned that unless the African governments were fully aware of how these companies were operating in Indonesia and Malaysia, they could suffer from the same problems seen in Indonesia.

“Of the companies which have been identified as being behind specific developments, or are otherwise known to be seeking oil palm land in the Congo Basin, three — Cargill, Sime Darby and Wilmar — have been found in the past to be involved in illegal and destructive oil palm development in Indonesia,” the report said, citing independent claims made by the environmental groups Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and AidEnvironment.

It added that the negative environmental and social impacts “typical of [palm oil] developments in Indonesia have already been well-documented at ... Sime Darby’s concession in Liberia.”

RFUK listed the negative impacts as deforestation and loss of biodiversity, increased carbon emissions from the clearing of primary and peat forests, conflicts with indigenous residents over land rights, pollution of local water resources and poor working conditions for local laborers.

To avoid these problems, it recommended greater transparency in the palm oil contracts, ensuring respect for local communities and empowerment of smallholder farmers, among other measures.

The increased expansion into Africa by Southeast Asian palm oil firms grabbed headlines last month when farmers in Liberia denounced the “modern slavery” visited upon them by an Indonesian company, Golden Veroleum Liberia.

“The Indonesians came here for the first time in September 2010,” resident Benedict Manewah told AFP.

“They said, ‘We have a concession agreement, your president has sold it to us.’ Three months later they came back ... and they started to destroy the properties, farmlands, crops, livestock and houses.”

Sime Darby, from Malaysia, was the subject of similar complaints in Liberia.

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Best of our wild blogs: 25 Feb 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [18 - 24 Feb 2013]
from Green Business Times

An Afternoon Trip To Mandai Track 15
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

rufous woodpecker @ berlayar creek - Jan2013
from sgbeachbum and rufous woodpeckers @ chek jawa mangroves

Singapore's shores featured in SIF magazine
from wild shores of singapore

Slender Squirrel
from Monday Morgue

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High-speed rail station 'may be in east or west'

Straits Times 25 Feb 13;

NORTHERN Singapore is unlikely to host the station for the proposed high-speed railway between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

He pointed to two factors: a large number of developments in the north and current plans for another transport connection, the Rapid Transit System (RTS), between Woodlands and Johor Baru.

Speaking at an event to announce preliminary plans for the new Woodlands Regional Centre yesterday, he noted that while plans are still being discussed, the landing point here is unlikely to be in the north because "in the north with our developments, as you can see, it will be quite congested".

"With the rapid transit between JB and Singapore there, it is actually quite good for connectivity. So for the high-speed train, maybe we want it to be elsewhere, which means either the eastern side or the western side."

The highly anticipated RTS - linking a station near Republic Polytechnic in Woodlands and JB Sentral in Johor Baru - is scheduled to be completed by 2018.

The high-speed rail project, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak last Tuesday, will slash travel time between KL and Singapore to 90 minutes by 2020 when it is slated to be completed.

The journey between the two cities now takes about four hours by car.

Other transport links will also help fuel the growth of the Woodlands Regional Centre.

They include the new Thomson MRT Line that will be opened in stages from 2019 to 2021.

The future North-South Expressway will connect Woodlands, Sembawang, Yishun, Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Toa Payoh with the city centre.


Read more!

Bringing new life to Woodlands

Wong Wei Han Today Online 25 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE — One precinct will be a lush, green waterfront leisure hub, while the other will be a pedestrian-friendly zone of retail shops.

These preliminary plans for Singapore’s third regional centre in Woodlands were unveiled yesterday, as the Government looks to make Woodlands the “key commercial cluster” of the north and decentralise commercial activities to other parts of Singapore.

Speaking at a community event yesterday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the developments, along with the new transport infrastructure planned for the area, will improve the quality of life for current and future Woodlands residents.

He also gave the assurance that the developments would not drive housing prices there out of control. “Please don’t worry. As I’ve always maintained — public housing will always be affordable … I am confident because we are the ones who set the price for new HDB flats,” said Mr Khaw. “BTO prices will be linked in relation to the median income of the targeted population, so we can always make sure that new BTO prices will be affordable for new families starting up. That is a promise that we can deliver.”

The Woodlands Regional Centre is another step in the Government’s regionalisation strategy, which saw Tampines and Jurong developed into regional centres in 1992 and 2008 respectively.

Mr Khaw said Woodlands would have unique features, with one of the proposed precincts built around Woodlands Waterfront. Named Woodlands North Coast, this precinct will be a leisure destination covering the area between Republic Polytechnic and the waterfront, with a mix of business, residential and lifestyle developments.

The other precinct, Woodlands Central, will be a pedestrian-friendly retail hub built around Woodlands MRT Station. Current proposals include a pedestrian mall flanked by low-rise commercial buildings, the Urban Redevelopment Authority said.

Transport links will be given a boost with two new stations — Woodlands and Woodlands North — which are part of the coming Thomson Line.

The Woodlands North Station will serve as an interchange to the future rail link to neighbouring Johor. Mr Khaw said there are plans to site an immigration clearance facility there, but said it is unlikely for the high-speed rail system between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to be sited in Woodlands.

In total, Woodlands Regional Centre will take up around 100 ha of land. In comparison, Gardens by the Bay is only about 60 ha, Mr Khaw said.

Details of the developments within the centre, which should take at least a decade to complete, would be released later this year as part of the draft Master Plan. The last Master Plan was released in 2008.

Woodlands residents TODAY spoke to expressed excitement over the plans, but some were concerned over space constraints as more residents are attracted to living there.

“Currently Woodlands only has one mall, cinema and stadium — they will be packed once the estate becomes more developed,” said a resident who gave his name as Mr Neo.

Nearby neighbourhoods like Sembawang and Yishun should be developed in line with Woodlands Regional Centre “to help disperse the residents”, he added.

Another resident, who only wanted to be known as Peter, said the plans should also cater to other demographic needs. “We have an ageing population, so hopefully all age groups will be able to enjoy the developments once they are complete in about 10 years or so,” he said.

Give your feedback on plans for the Woodlands Regional Centre at

Woodlands Regional Centre to have two distinct precincts
Hetty Musfirah Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: The upcoming Woodlands Regional Centre, which aims to bring jobs closer to homes in the north, will have two distinct precincts.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed this as he unveiled preliminary plans for the area on Sunday.

The plans are part of Singapore's draft masterplan for land use which will be exhibited later this year.

The two precincts will be developed from some 100 hectares of land.

70 percent will be used for the Woodlands North Coast, which will include the area between the Republic Polytechnic and the Woodlands Waterfront.

The Woodlands North Coast is envisioned to be a unique waterfront and leisure destination for Singapore. The intention is to create a mix of business, lifestyle and residential developments, all within the lush greenery and waterfront environment.

Woodlands Central - which is the area around the Woodlands MRT station - will form the other precinct. It will be turned into a pedestrian-friendly regional retail hub.

"There will be more shopping malls, more HDB BTOs, more private condominiums, ECs, and of course, commercial activities and therefore jobs, jobs for the people, so that the people do not have to travel very far to go to their workplaces," said Mr Khaw.

The Woodlands Regional Centre will be served by two new MRT stations (Woodlands and Woodlands North stations) on the Thomson Line which will be completed by 2019.

The Woodlands North station will serve as an interchange to the future rail link to neighbouring Johor.

Mr Khaw said there also plans to site an immigration clearance facility there.

But he said it is unlikely for the high-speed rail system between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to be sited in Woodlands, "because in the North, with our developments, as you can see, would be quite congested".

"And with a rapid transit between JB and Singapore, that is quite good for connectivity. So, for fast-speed train (system), maybe you want it to be elsewhere which means eastern side or the western side," said Mr Khaw.

The minister said it will take about 15 to 20 years to develop the Woodland Regional Centre.

Even with the developments, new housing will always be kept affordable, assured Mr Khaw.

"Yes, all these are beautiful plans, very good and exciting, but can I afford the housing here? Please, don't worry, don't worry, as I have always maintained that public housing will always be affordable," he said.

"Why am I so confident? I am so confident because we are the ones who set the price for the new HDB flats. It is not left to the market. I have shown how it can be done during the last one and a half years. I have unpegged the relationship between resale flats. We just stabilise. That is the objective.

"We stabilise the BTO prices and the prices will be linked to the median income of the targeted population. So we can always make sure that the new BTO prices will be affordable for new families starting up, and that is a promise which we can deliver."

Members of the public are invited to give their feedback on the Woodlands Regional Centre, including the names for the two precincts.

- CNA/ir/fa

Woodlands to become waterfront metropolis
70ha of waterfront for business, lifestyle and residential uses; 30ha for retail hub
Jessica Lim Straits Times 25 Feb 13;

RESIDENTS in northern Singapore may soon get their own mini-metropolis when Woodlands is transformed into a waterfront destination that is also rich in jobs.

These preliminary plans were unveiled yesterday by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan for the regional centre that will serve as a major commercial node in the north.

The centre, stretching from the north coast fronting the Strait of Johor to the centre of Woodlands, offers 100ha for development.

It will have two distinct precincts. The 70ha Woodlands North Coast, an area between Republic Polytechnic and Woodlands Waterfront, is slated to be turned into a lush waterfront environment with a mix of business, residential and lifestyle uses.

The other precinct - Woodlands Central - a 30ha area around Woodlands MRT station and Causeway Point mall, is envisaged as a pedestrian-friendly retail hub. Low-rise commercial developments will have activity-generating uses on the first storey to create a vibrant street experience.

Detailed plans will be unveiled later in the year as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Draft Master Plan.

It typically takes 15 to 20 years for a centre to mature as time is needed to introduce detailed land-use plans, sell sites and build infrastructure. Success also depends on factors such as the economic climate and demand.

"We already have Causeway Point, but we need to build up much more. So there will be more shopping malls, more HDB (flats), BTO (flats), more private condos, executive condominiums and, of course, commercial activities and therefore jobs," said Mr Khaw. He was speaking to about 700 people who had turned up for a community event in Woodlands yesterday.

He added that jobs created will mean that "they don't have to travel very far to go to their workplaces".

Woodlands town now has about 230,000 residents.

Singapore's first two regional centres were launched in Tampines in 1992 and in Jurong in 2008. Plans for a fourth, in Seletar, will be announced in due course.

Regional centres, an idea announced in 1991, aim to decentralise Singapore to guard against congestion and over-development in the Central Business District (CBD) and the Marina Bay areas.

The Woodlands Regional Centre is also part of the new North Coast Innovation Corridor - a commercial belt from Woodlands and Sembawang to the future Seletar Regional Centre and Punggol.

Analysts said the new centre is likely to attract firms that complement labour-intensive industries across the Causeway.

"These could be companies that do research and development, or product design. That could be done here, but they may have their labour-intensive production and distribution arms in Iskandar," said Mr Danny Yeo, group managing director of property consultancy Knight Frank. Iskandar in Johor has been earmarked for projects such as retail, industry and education.

"It's the best of both worlds," he added, pointing to the new transport connections that could ease the flow of workers between both countries.

Sembawang GRC Member of Parliament Hawazi Daipi has high hopes that the plans will inject more life into Woodlands, which currently has only one mall.

He also suggested that the URA turn a temporary coastal promenade in Woodlands into a permanent feature, and that public courtyards be built.

Woodlands resident Vivekanand Ayyasami, 38, hopes the area will become a regional attraction. The IT professional and father of one, who lives in a three-room flat, spends 40 minutes getting to his CBD office by train. "If I could have a good job near my home, I would definitely consider it."

The URA has launched a website ( where the public can find out more and give feedback on preliminary plans.

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Tuas coal power plant: More economical for now, but what about the long term?

Richmond Lee Today Online 25 Feb 13;

I refer to Tuas Power’s new Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex, which uses low-sulphur coal to generate power.

Oil and gas prices are subject to volatility, and burning coal for power could stabilise our utility bills for now. However while coal is a cheaper and more abundant fuel, it is much more polluting than gas or oil, adding health costs to society and damage to our environment.

Unfortunately, quantifying the health and environmental impact as a result of burning coal now is tricky as these effects will only be apparent many decades later.

Possible effects include more cases of asthma due to increased exposure to particulate matter — or in the worst-case scenario, higher incidence of lung cancer — or mercury emissions leading to higher mercury levels found in fish reared locally for food.

Power generation companies have assured that the process of burning coal here is subject to stringent regulations, with filters to remove the particulate matter and only low-sulphur coal being used. However, the process of digging for coal and treating it to remove sulphur and mercury are already environmental costs at the source.

We are not better off just because we are using “cleaner” coal at the expense of others.

Another concern is that the premium on low-sulphur coal could increase due to supply constraints, and we may be compelled to switch to the more polluting type of coal in our plants in the spirit of economics.

And can we be assured that environmental standards will be strictly adhered to many years down the road when the filters start to degrade?

The more sustainable solution remains making our homes and industries more energy efficient and cutting back on energy consumption. As for the burning of coal, there must be consensus on the health and environmental impact versus economics.

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Singapore can be a role model as a sustainable city: Balakrishnan

Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 24 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore does not have to sacrifice green spaces to be a beautiful and sustainable city, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

He added Singapore can become a role model for the world to achieve this.

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to the media during his visit to the Bukit Timah Market and Food Centre on Sunday morning to unveil a new lift for the centre.

He said high density living is the most sustainable and green way of life on the planet and which Singapore can take the lead.

He said: "The most amazing thing about Singapore is that almost half of our land is covered in green. But equally, you realise that this has been achieved because we have been able to go high-rise. Because so many of us live in apartments, and that also give the fantastic landscape, cityscape of Singapore and the bright lights at night.

"So the point I'm making is we have to stop thinking in terms of zero-sum games, that I can only have this or that and not go, but to actually exercise imagination and to make it even better."

On Sunday morning, Dr Balakrishnan, who is the adviser to the Bukit Timah Grassroots Organisations and the area's MP Sim Ann unveiled a new lift for the centre, which they hope will provide easy access for customers and stall holders with heavy goods.

Ms Ann said: "We do have a number of elderly residents and it is a mature estate and I think for them to climb up and down the stairs especially after having done their shopping is not very convenient. Some of them have also told me it is quite painful to do that, so I think with the lift, it improves the situation."

Dr Balakrishnan said the government has improved this food centre over the years based on feedback from patrons and stall holders and will continue to do so.

He added that Singapore will need many more of such places with an authentic identity of its own.

Dr Balakrishnan said hawker centres can be cosy and unique places within the high density urban environment Singapore is moving towards.

His vision of the city, he said, is to make most things, including school, eating places and work, within a walking range of up to 400 or 500 metres.

On the negative reactions from some Singaporeans towards the Population White Paper, Dr Balakrishnan said the high level of emotions is a good thing as it shows Singaporeans care deeply about the country.

He said: "Well, actually part of me is actually quite glad because it shows that the people loves Singapore, people care deeply about the future, care deeply about what happens to our identity our children our livelihood and to our senior citizens. So the level of emotions to me is a good thing. I would be far more worried if people say I don't care, so let's recognise and give credit to Singaporeans for that. That we all care and care very deeply."

He added: "At the end of the day, the government has to do the right thing for the long term good of our people but has to convince our people. If we cannot convince people, then these plans will not work."

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Land scarce Singapore looks underground for space

Heather Tan Associated Press Inquirer 22 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE—Already one of the most densely populated countries in the world, tiny land scarce Singapore is projecting its population to swell by a third over the next two decades. To accommodate the influx, its planners envisage expanding upward, outward and downward.

The population target of 6.9 million people, an increase of 1.3 million from the present, is contentious in a country where rapid immigration has already strained services such as public transport and contributed to surging home prices and a widening wealth gap. It sparked a rare protest last week, with some 3,000 people gathering in a park that’s the only approved area for demonstrations.

Singaporeans, whose forebears mostly hailed from southern China, fear their falling birth rates combined with the relentless immigration will reduce them to a minority in their own country. Adding a new dimension to their complaints is the idea that planners want underground living to leap off their drawing boards and become a solution to overcrowding.

State media is already championing the idea. In September, the Straits Times newspaper characterized underground living as the “next frontier” for Singapore. It said Singaporeans may one day “live, work and play below ground in vast, subterranean caverns that make today’s underground malls look like home basements.” The Building Construction Authority, which oversees a new agency responsible for surveying underground, said it could become reality by 2050.

The public’s reaction has included derision and disbelief.

“Why pull me down,” said Patricia Bian-Hing, a retired 87-year-old businesswoman. “The only time I will go underground peacefully to live will be in my coffin.”

But experts are calling for an open mind about the possibility.

“Singaporeans are dismissing this prospect because it is new, not because it is unworkable or implausible,” said Jeffrey Chan, an assistant professor of architecture at the National University of Singapore.

“Astronauts who live in space stations, despite the abundance of direct sunlight have to live in shade most of the time, and they are only debilitated from the lack of gravity, not light,” he said. “Hence, I think if there are any biologically-imposed constraints, psychologically or real, these biological constraints can be overcome through new habits or technologically.”

With about 675 square kilometers (261 square miles) of land, Singapore is only 3.5 times the size of Washington DC and has limited options for increasing its space. Land reclaimed from the sea already accounts for a fifth of its landmass and Singapore’s appetite for imported sand for reclamation has caused tensions with neighboring countries concerned about coastal erosion. But its ruling People’s Action Party, in power since 1959, sees a bigger population as crucial to its goal of transforming Singapore into what it calls a leading world city.

The government’s new plans call for releasing land for housing and industry by closing golf courses and military training grounds and paving over some of the island’s nature reserves. That along with reclamation will free some 5,200 hectares (52 square kilometers, 20 square miles) of land to help accommodate an additional 700,000 homes and new shops and factories over the next 20 years. The projected increase in available land lags far behind the planned population increase so projects to put industry and other activities underground are already advancing on several fronts despite the technical challenges and significantly higher costs of subterranean construction.

“Going underground is one option for Singapore as it frees up surface land,” said David Tan, assistant chief executive officer of Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore’s main development body.

The JTC is studying construction of an underground science complex beneath an existing science park that’s used by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Projected to cost 50 percent more than a similar facility above ground, it would go down 30 storeys — 80 to 100 meters — and house laboratories, offices and a data center.

The corporation has already overseen construction of a massive underground oil bunker in rock caverns that freed up a surface area equivalent to six petrochemical plants. The island also saved 300 hectares of space by putting an ammunition bunker underground.

A possibility explored for several years is an underground extension of Singapore’s Nangyang Technological University after a 1999 study by the government and the university found at least part of the area beneath the campus could be turned into rock caverns. Planners envisage four underground levels that could accommodate lecture theatres, cinemas, libraries, offices, laboratories and car parking.

“If we think about it, there are already underground spaces here in Singapore and throughout most major metropolitan regions,” said Erik L’Heureux, an architecture professor NUS.

“We already have underground train stations and malls, and there are already many buildings here that take advantage of spaces below ground so the real questions are how much time will one spend underground, what goes on there, and how far down from natural light and fresh air.”

For the Singapore for Singaporeans camp, the space squeeze has only highlighted the costs of the government’s population and economic policies. Its efforts to attract high-skilled professionals in finance, science and other industries it wants Singapore to be known for has resulted in nature sanctuaries and cemeteries being overrun by golf courses and luxury condominiums.

“Ultimately it will be Singaporeans who will suffer,” said Rachel Mun, a 33-year old sales assistant. “As it is, Singapore is already bursting with people and things we once depended on like transportation, have become exhausted because of the influx of commuters.”

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Malaysia: Timber! Kedah’s crying hills keep dying

Embun Majid and Kow Kwan Yee The Star 25 Feb 13

JITRA: Even as the issue of extensive logging activities in Pedu and Gunung Inas in Kedah remains very much in the news, yet another hill in the state has been found stripped of its forests.

An area covering 145ha about the size of 180 football fields at the Bukit Perangin Forest Reserve has been cleared of trees for timber.

The PAS-led state government reportedly approved logging in the area more than a month ago.

The concession is believed to have been awarded to high ranking officers in the Kedah Civil Service (KCS) and the land would be re-planted with rubber trees.

It is also learnt that the state government had approved a total of 780ha about the size of 963 football fields in the same area for the same purpose.

Deputy Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Mohd Johari Baharom, who visited the site over two days after being alerted by locals, was shocked by the rape of the hill.

The Kubang Pasu MP said excessive and indiscriminate logging had laid the land bare, polluting the water in Sungai Kechik, Sungai Badak and Sungai Wang Perah, which are used by locals.

The three rivers flow into Sungai Temin, which provides raw water to the Mukim Temin and Jeragan water treatment plants.

“The outcome of the logging activities will also affect farmers in Kubang Pasu, Temin, Hosba, Binjai and Malau, which are under the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada),” he said here yesterday.

He said that although the logging activities were legal, it should not have been done to the extent of causing adverse environmental effects.

Mohd Johari also questioned whether the state had done an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the land clearing.

“I don't think the Department of Environment would give the green light for logging in the area.

“Although this is not a water catchment area, the state must be responsible and take care of the ecosystem,” he said.

Mohd Johari said he would write to the state government to immediately stop logging activities in the area.

He said he would also raise the matter with the Natural Resources Ministry and the Department of Environment.

“If the state government refuses to stop, we will bring the people to the place to see the ecological damage to the hill for themselves,” he said.

Meanwhile, people in nearby Kampung Wang Perah, Kampung Bukit and Kubang Betong said the wanton logging in the forest reserve area was worrisome.

Kampung Wang Perah villager Abu Bakar Salleh, 43, is sad to see the trees in the forest reserve area destroyed.

“If we do not stop it now, the damage in future could be worse,” he said.

Villager Che Tom Musa, 62, who has been living there for 45 years, said this was the first time the forest reserve area was being cleared.

“I hope the state will stop the logging immediately because we will face problems arising from the land clearing,” he said.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak declined to comment on the logging in Bukit Perangin.

“I think the Forestry Department knows about the logging activities there, so please ask them,” he said.

Kedah Forestry Department director Ku Azmi Ku Aman said many approvals had been given to logging activities in the area.

He declined further comment until he was certain about the specific area.

“We have approved many logging activities there, so I do not know the exact location of the site,” he said.

Ku Azmi said the department had yet to receive any formal complaint about logging in the area.

Rampant logging in state since 2008
The Star 25 Feb 13;

JITRA: Rampant logging activities have been going on in Kedah since 2008 in spite of concerns over the need to preserve the environment.

Large scale logging began in Gunung Inas, Baling, in late 2011 where 5,000ha of the 15,000ha of the pristine Bukit Bintang forest reserve were cleared for a “Ladang Sejahtera” (Peaceful Plantation) rubber replanting project.

Alarm bells rang again soon after when it was found that about 400ha of forest reserves near Tasik Pedu had been logged to develop an eco-tourism project.

The barren hilltop is located near Pedu Lake, a vital water catchment area for Kedah.

Bukit Perangin is the third such area in the state that has come under the spotlight for rampant land clearing.

Although logging in the 145ha had been found to be were done legally, there are concerns about long-term effects to the environment.

People in three nearby villages are worried over the impact of the state government's supposed approval to another rubber plantation project involving 780ha of land in the surrounding area.

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Best of our wild blogs: 24 Feb 13

2 Mar (Sat): FREE Chek Jawa boardwalk tour with the Naked Hermit Crabs from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Unmanicured green space
from Life's Indulgences

Butterfly of the Month - February 2013
from Butterflies of Singapore

A morning in Tampines Eco
from Rojak Librarian

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