Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jan 13

Remembering Bukit Brown
from Rojak Librarian

Life History of the Banded Lineblue
from Butterflies of Singapore

Baya weavers feeding on grass seeds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Singapore could have 7m people by 2030

Current trends suggest a 32% jump in population, says DBS Vickers
Straits Times 19 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE'S population could hit seven million in about 20 years - up from five million now - if current growth trends continue, a research house says.

DBS Vickers said yesterday that the population is growing faster than it had earlier anticipated.

It said current trends suggest a jump of 32 per cent by 2030, from the current 5.3 million.

DBS Vickers, which specialises in equity research, made these forecasts in a report that gave stock picks on the listing companies likely to benefit most from a much larger population size.

Singapore's population grew by 2.4 per cent a year between 2009 and 2012, faster than the 1.5 per cent growth DBS Vickers had projected back in 2009.

The strong rate of growth was all the more surprising given that the Republic went through a recession in 2009, it said.

"In the previous (severe acute respiratory syndrome) downturn, Singapore saw negative non-resident growth for two years in a row, in 2002 and 2003," it noted.

DBS Vickers said it is also expecting the Government to raise its population planning parameters from the previous 6.5 million to seven million as well, when a Population White Paper is released later this month.

"There will likely be no mention of timeframe, but in our base scenario, we are projecting it to reach seven million by 2030, implying average growth of 1.5 per cent per annum."

DBS Vickers also expects the White Paper to focus substantially on falling birth rates and the ageing population.

The topic of Singapore's rising population has been a hot issue in recent years, with calls made by several sectors of society for the Government to moderate the flow of people to the Republic.

In turn, the Government has committed to ramping up a range of infrastructure projects, including public housing and transport.

Yesterday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said there will be as many as 200,000 new homes by 2016.

On Thursday, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said the Government intends to double the rail network by 2030.

But while these projects could signal that the Government is preparing for a larger population, Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin did not think those moves mean it is preparing to raise its planning parameters.

"I think the Government was caught flat-footed before when the population surged in the past five years," he said. "So they are now simply preparing for a scenario where Singapore could see that kind of size."

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Shawn Lum on Pasir Ris woodland

Keep or clear? It's not so clear-cut
Straits Times Forum 19 Jan 13;

THERE have been a number of resident-based efforts to save patches of woodland in the past few months. The latest ("Fight to save forest patch hots up"; Jan 9) was the topic of Dr Wee Yeow Chin's letter ("Not all green patches worth preserving"; Jan 11).

An interesting and important point was raised - what constitutes a wild area worth saving, given the trade-offs between conservation, ecosystem services, allocated uses of land and economic development, among other factors?

Biodiversity value runs the spectrum from a pristine rainforest to a species-poor grassland. Given such extremes, it is easy to make a case for keeping the former but not the latter.

If, however, a nature area lies somewhere in the middle of the biodiversity spectrum, the case for clearing or keeping is not as straightforward. For example, if an internationally threatened migratory bird species stops there, clearing a woodland patch might have global repercussions for that species.

There is also the future biodiversity potential of an area. Many of our richest biodiversity sites today were once spent agricultural lands that nature reclaimed and gradually enriched, becoming havens for wildlife many decades later.

Small patches of nature may serve some purposes - noise mitigation, reducing the localised "heat island" effect, accumulating biomass, reducing run-off and more - far better than manicured parks.

Most importantly, there is a personal benefit - aesthetic, psychological, emotional or even spiritual - for people who live near tiny pockets of nature.

Such areas might not interest a biodiversity specialist, but for the residents, who are the ultimate stakeholders in a neighbourhood, these areas may be priceless and provide meaning to their lives, ground them in a community, and provide a platform for inter-generational and cross-cultural engagement.

It is an encouraging sign that residents are increasingly speaking up for what is important to them.

Finally, wide-eyed innocents may later turn out to have been visionaries. Twenty years ago, my predecessors at the Nature Society were criticised by some for proposing that naturally formed wetlands be incorporated into future parks in the Marina Bay district.

Nature areas on prime reclaimed land may have seemed preposterous then, but today, those wildlife-rich areas in the district that we suggested retaining are the site of a green attraction that incorporates newly constructed wetlands - the Gardens by the Bay.

Shawn Lum
President, Nature Society (Singapore)

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Join hands to handle disasters: Asean chief

Zubaidah Nazeer Straits Times 19 Jan 13;

JAKARTA - The severe flooding in Jakarta shows the need for Asean nations to work together to protect the environment and prepare for such disasters, especially in the face of climate change, says the group's new Secretary-General, Mr Le Luong Minh.

"How to overcome the effects of climate change and the issue of environmental protection are always high on the Asean agenda," he said, in an interview at his office in the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta yesterday, noting that many Asean countries are prone to climate-change effects of extreme weather.

The Jakarta disaster comes just 10 days after the Vietnamese diplomat took over as Asean Secretary-General from Dr Surin Pitsuwan, a former foreign minister of Thailand.

Fortunately for Mr Minh, the secretariat is not in a flooded area of the capital. Therefore, he has been able to proceed with his busy schedule of engagements and meetings with diplomats, business leaders and state visitors.

But he said the flooding was evidence of the effect of extreme weather patterns and noted that Asean countries are vulnerable to them.

Parts of Vietnam's own coastline face erosion and some of its regions are below sea level and, thus, also in danger.

"My own country is one of four countries with the highest (risk) of falling victim to rising sea levels," Mr Minh said, adding that at least a quarter of its 90 million population could be affected, if not displaced.

Other Asean nations have also experienced natural calamities recently.

Last month, a tropical storm killed more than 1,000 people in the southern Philippines.

Monsoon rains have also drenched areas along Malaysia's west coast.

Asean's Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management, or AHA Centre, has been set up to coordinate information on regional disasters and provide help.

Last Saturday, it saw the official launch of a state-of-the-art disaster response and monitoring system.

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Attacks on humans prompt Nepal to cap wildlife growth

Navin Singh Khadka BBC News 18 Jan 13;

Officials in Nepal have said they will now have to put a cap on the growth of wildlife including endangered species like tigers and rhinos.

They say it is a result of significant increase in loss of human lives from attacks by wild animals.

The problem is especially acute in buffer zones between human settlements and national parks.

In recent years, Nepal has developed a successful protection programme for many endangered species.

The Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal has more than 500 rhinos, up from half that figure few years ago, and more than 125 tigers.

The Bardiya National Park in the west now has more than 80 elephants, almost 10 times as many as there were in the 1990s.

In the Himalayas, the numbers of endangered species like snow leopards and red pandas have been growing as well.

And the country has nearly 24% of its land area as protected areas, including national parks, conservation areas and wildlife reserves.

With all these achievements in nature conservation, however, Nepal has also witnessed a rising number of human deaths and property losses because of wildlife.

In the last five years, more than 80 people have been killed by wild elephants while 17 of the animals died in retaliatory killings, according to forest ministry officials.
Elephant protest

Last month, local people in Chitwan, southern Nepal, staged a strike and demanded that a rogue elephant be killed after it had taken the lives of three people.

A few months ago, a leopard in western Nepal caused terror as it killed more than a dozen people within a matter of weeks.

In eastern Nepal, herds of wild elephants continue to rampage, demolishing human settlements and raiding crops.

Meanwhile, common leopards are increasingly attacking children and livestock in the hilly region.

Further north, in the trans-Himalayan region, locals continue to complain about snow leopards preying on their livestock.

Although forest ministry officials are yet to compile the latest data on these losses, they do admit that such incidents have gone up remarkably.

"Before, we used to record about 30 human deaths because of wildlife attacks annually but in the past few years the figure appears to have risen significantly," said Forest Ministry spokesman Krishna Acharya who, until recently, headed Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

He added: "The time has now come for us to determine how many such wildlife species we can have in our protected areas."

WWF's Nepal country director, Anil Manandhar, said the problem had become quite serious.

"This is now something that could become the biggest threat and setback for Nepal's success in wildlife conservation," he explained.
Buffer zones

Wildlife experts say human settlements known as buffer zones around national parks have become flashpoints for human-wildlife encounters.

"The numbers of rhinos and tigers are increasing in the national park and they are moving out in search of food and space. Meanwhile, the increasing human population needs more of the natural resources available, and that competition creates conflict," said Mr Acharya.

Most of Nepal's national parks and protected areas are either in the Himalayan region or in the Tarai area, the southern plain land that border India.

Yet, wildlife-related loss of lives and properties are also increasingly being seen in the mid-hill region, geographically located between the Himalayas and Tarai plain land.

Conservationists point at the growing number of attacks on children and livestock by common leopards because this region has seen huge success in community forestry.

"We have been hearing complaints from farmers that community forests have more wildlife than in some national parks and therefore they are suffering losses of lives and properties," said Yam Bahadur Malla, country director for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Nepal.

He also suggested it was necessary to scientifically demarcate the boundaries of national parks, as some species involved in the attacks were sometimes found outside the existing boundaries.

Forest ministry officials, however, said the chances of expanding existing protected areas were very slim because Nepal had already made huge swathes of land available for nature conservation.

Mr Acharya said the details of plans to limit wildlife growth were yet to be worked out but he added that one of the ideas would be to relocate some of the wildlife species.

"We have listed nine such species that can be trans-located from where there are quite many of them to where there are very few and such species include animals involved in conflicts with humans," he said.

Mr Acharya also hinted that Nepal will now not commit to protect more wildlife than the amount its protected areas could sustain.

"For instance, we have said we will double the number of tigers to 250. But as we cannot expand our protected areas, we will not be able to commit more than that," he said.

"Nor can we add new conservation areas."

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Vietnam Ministry reveals national strategy for environment protection

MONRE shows bad panorama of Vietnam’s natural environment
VietNamNet Bridge 18 Jan 13;

Natural resources have been degrading and getting exhausted, the biodiversity has got degraded, while climate changes have turned unpredictable. These are the main points of the picture about Vietnam’s environment.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) has announced the approval of the national strategy on the environment protection by 2020 with the vision until 2030.

Land, water, air all get polluted

According to the ministry, though Vietnam spends VND6,590 billion dong from the state budget and $3.2 billion from the ODA capital (official development assistance), very modest achievements have been made in the environment protection, while the number of polluters has been increasing rapidly, thus leading to the higher pollution level in many areas.

The land resource in rural area has degraded due to the abuse of chemical substances used in agriculture production. The total inorganic fertilizer used in agriculture is estimated at 2.5-3 million tons a year, of which 70 percent cannot be absorbed by plants and they are discharged to the environment.

In urban areas, people have suffered from polluted water resources due to the uncontrolled industrial production. Only 60 percent of industrial zones reportedly have waste water treatment systems, while nearly 100 percent of waste water from residential quarter has been discharged directly to the environment, without treatment.

The soil in the northern mountainous areas and Central Highlands has suffered the erosion level of 34-150 tons per hectare per annum. The Mekong Delta is facing the salinization.

The surface water has been degrading and turned polluted. In central provinces and Central Highlands, 50 percent of the stream output has been exploited, while the limit is just 30 percent. All the lakes, canals and ponds in big cities have got polluted, and many of them have turned into the waste water reservoirs.

On the three big river valleys of Nhue – Day, Cau and Dong Nai, the surface water quality monitoring in recent years all showed that the water quality is below the standards.

Especially, Vietnamese now have to live in a polluted atmosphere, especially in big cities like Hanoi and HCM City.

Alarm rung about species extinction

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in 1996, only 25 species in Vietnam were listed as “endangered,” while the figure soared to 47 in 2010. These include the species which are not in high danger in the world, but in high danger in Vietnam.

This has been attributed to the sharp decrease of the natural ecological systems which has led to the disappearance of the areas – the ideal living environments for creatures.

With the forest cover area of up to 40 percent of the total land area, the forest area has increased, but the forest quality has decreased. A report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) released in September 2012 showed that while the forest area increased by 127,000 hectares over 2010, the natural forest area decreased by 20,000 hectares.

Especially, only 0.57 million hectares of primeval forests has been left, mostly in preventive forests or sanctuaries. Forests of different kinds have been in the danger of being eliminated to give place to hydropower plants.

Mangrove swamps disappearing gradually

The mangrove swamp area has reduced by 50 percent in comparison with 1943 to 160,000 hectares. The sea dyke system has the length of 2,483 kilometers, but 55 percent of the length has not been protected by the preventive forests any more.

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Vietnam and Cambodia hit back at landmark Laos dam

Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Paul Carsten Reuters 18 Jan 13;

(Reuters) - Vietnam urged Laos to halt construction of a $3.5 billion hydropower dam pending further study, environmental activists said on Friday after a meeting of the Mekong River Commission.

The activists said Cambodia, also downriver from the Xayaburi dam, accused Laos during heated discussions on Wednesday and Thursday of failing to consult on the project.

The dam in northern Laos, the first of 11 planned for the lower Mekong river running through Southeast Asia, threatens the livelihood of tens of millions who depend on the river's aquatic resources, activists say.

"Vietnam requested that no further developments on the Mekong mainstream occur until the Mekong mainstream dams study agreed upon at least year's Council Meeting is completed," International Rivers, an NGO devoted to river conservation, said in a statement.

"The Cambodian delegation asserted that Laos had misinterpreted the Mekong Agreement."

Officials from Cambodia and Vietnam were not immediately available for comment.

Ministers from member countries that make up the Mekong River Commission (MRC) overseeing the river's development -- Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand -- met in northern Laos on Wednesday and Thursday.

The MRC is bound by treaty to hold inter-governmental consultations before dams are built. But members have no veto.

"In the absence of an agreement, other countries can disagree if they like but this can't stop Laos," said Jian-hua Meng, a specialist in sustainable hydropower at the World Wildlife Fund.

"The role of the MRC is now being questioned along with the level of investment put in the organization."


In December 2011, MRC member states agreed to conduct new environmental impact assessments before construction proceeded, but last August Ch Karnchang PCL, the Thai construction company behind the project, said it had resumed work.

A groundbreaking ceremony in November signaled the formal start of construction, said Meng.

Ch Karnchang's 50 percent-owned subsidiary, Xayaburi Power Co, has received a 29-year concession from the Laotian government to operate the dam's power plant and Thailand is set to buy around 95 percent of the electricity generated.

Milton Osborne of the Lowy Institute, an Australian foreign policy think tank, said Xayaburi marked a turning-point that would enable others to build their own dams, including Cambodia.

He described as a "monstrous disaster" a proposal for a Chinese power company to build a dam at Sambor in northeastern Cambodia, on a tributary of the Mekong.

"It would be so disastrous, blocking one of the main fish migratory systems," he said by telephone.

Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia share the lower stretches of the 4,000-km (2,500-mile) Mekong. Activists say dams could threaten food security in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The river provides up to 80 percent of the animal protein consumed in Cambodia and sediment and changes to river flow threaten the Mekong Delta, which contributes half of Vietnam's agricultural GDP.

Cambodia approved its own hydroelectric dams in November.

A second Cambodian project, the Lower Sesan dam in northern Stung Treng province, is a joint venture between Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese companies. Campaigners say it would reduce the fish catch in a country with malnutrition issues.

(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Alan Raybould and Ron Popeski)

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