Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jan 13

2 Feb (Sat): World Wetlands Day - Wetlands take care of water
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Asian Openbill migrating south
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Checking out marine life of Chek Jawa with TeamSeagrass
from Peiyan.Photography

Giant octopus on a busy Changi shore
from Peiyan.Photography

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Population projected at 6.9 million by 2030 with strong Singaporean core

Imelda Saad, Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 29 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's population could hit 6.9 million in 2030 - up from the current 5.3 million - if strategies outlined in the White Paper on Population to mitigate the country's ageing and shrinking population are met.

The population projection also takes into account a lower GDP growth rate beyond 2020.

The White Paper on Population, released on Tuesday, is the first comprehensive report to outline the country's strategy to ensure a sustainable population.

The numbers are grim -- by 2025, Singapore's citizen population size will start to decline.

Between now and 2030, over 900,000 baby boomers will retire from the workforce -- that is more than a quarter of Singapore citizens.

At the same time, Singapore's fertility rate has been falling. For the past 30 years, the total fertility rate (TFR) has been below the replacement level of 2.1.

Last year, the TFR was about 1.3, according to preliminary figures.

By 2030, more people will exit than enter the workforce. By 2050, there will be more people above the age of 50 than younger Singaporeans.

It is an outlook that has prompted the government to say it needs to act now, before it is too late.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said: "This White Paper is the first time the government has set out a comprehensive population roadmap to strike the best balance in our population policies."

At the heart of the White Paper's strategy lies 3 principles -- maintain a strong Singaporean core, create good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, and have a high quality living environment.

Strategies to maintain the Singaporean core by encouraging marriage and procreation were released a week ago. But it will be a challenge for Singaporeans to replace themselves.

The proposal is to take in 30,000 new permanent residents (PRs) every year, which will keep the PR population stable at 0.5 to 0.6 million. From this pool, take in 15,000 to 25,000 new citizens each year to stop the citizen population from shrinking.

At this rate, by 2030, Singapore's resident population, made up of citizens and PRs will hit about 4.4 million.

Non-residents, making up mostly of transient workers, will hit 2.5 million -- up by about a million from the number today.

This will bring the total population numbers to between 6.5 and 6.9 million, by 2030.

Mr Teo said: "Going forward, we want to make sure that the roadmap that we have is an appropriate one, and if we focus on those key issues, making sure that we have enough young Singaporeans, a population structure that can provide for our seniors.

"Second, that we have an economic structure that will provide for good jobs that an increasingly better educated Singaporean population wants. And we can provide a high quality living environment.

"I think if we can do these three, then we look at the population number and the population we need to achieve these three objectives and that's the way we looked at it.

"So the growth rate of both the workforce and the population will be half to a third of what it has been in the last three decades, and we have to strike a fine balance because if we don't grow at all, or shrink, then we'll face all the problems of an ageing population, the lack of dynamism in the economy which some of you are concerned about.

"But if we grow too quickly, then we may go beyond the constraints we have. So we've been trying to find the appropriate balance."

The population projections are based on certain assumptions -- that the stretched productivity target of between 2 and 3 per cent for this decade is further moderated to between 1 and 2 per cent between 2020 and 2030; and a workforce growth rate that dips from the 3.3 per cent growth over the last three decades, to just 1 per cent between 2020 and 2030.

At those numbers, the country's GDP growth beyond 2020 will likely fall to between 2 and 3 per cent a year, from the current 3 to 5 per cent projection for this decade.

But the country's leaders stress that lower growth does not necessarily mean lower quality growth.

Mr Teo said the aim is for high quality productivity-driven growth that will create an economy that will provide better jobs for Singaporeans.

While the government is playing catch up now to ramp up infrastructure to support the current population, moving forward, the government said it will build ahead.

It also addressed concerns that Singapore may one day become congested like Hong Kong.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said: "Hong Kong in terms of density is much higher, and we must never try to reach that area -- whether in terms of household size, or in terms of crowdedness, or in terms of lacking in greenery and of course the other aspects of population, etc.

"I think we are far away from that and I think we have to keep it that way. I think whatever we do we are quite clear, keep quality of living high.

"In fact, good urban planning to achieve high quality of living is a top priority for the government because this is a key to our survival." Mr Khaw added that Singapore is unlike other cities which have hinterlands.

Long-term planning beyond 2020 includes setting aside land to build 700,000 more homes and doubling the rail network.

The White Paper on Population is the result of almost a year-long public consultation where the government received close to 2,500 responses.

The issues will be debated in Parliament in February.

- CNA/ck/sf/al

Infrastructure development to keep pace with population growth
Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 29 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE: The government is planning to build 700,000 new homes by 2030.

That is one of the long-term plans to support the projected increase in population which is expected to hit 6.9 million in about 20 years.

Some Singaporeans have observed that population growth in Singapore has outpaced infrastructure development in the last five years.

The government is now planning and investing in advance to accommodate a larger population.

Beyond just relieving strains on public transport and housing today are long-term plans to ramp up infrastructure developments to support a population of up to six million in 2020 and then a population of up to 6.9 million in 2030.

There are already plans to add 800 buses over five years, and by 2030, to double of the rail network to 360 kilometres.

This means the addition of three new MRT lines and an extension of two existing lines over the next nine years.

Come 2030, there will be another two new lines and three extensions, allowing eight in 10 homes to be within a 10-minute walk from a train station.

To further alleviate the strain on public transport, more jobs will be located near residential areas, reducing the need to commute.

The White Paper has named Woodlands, Serangoon and Punggol as possible growth areas to create more space for businesses. It also said the Jurong Lake District, Paya Lebar Central and One-North will be expected to mature by then.

More healthcare facilities are also in the pipeline with three general hospitals, five community hospitals and two medical centres set to open between 2014 and 2020.

On the way too are 200,000 new homes which will be ready by 2016.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said even more land has been set aside to build another 500,000 homes until 2030.

Mr Khaw is confident his ministry will be able to resolve the housing shortage and assured Singaporeans that there will be enough homes.

For first timers who had difficulty applying for a new flat, Mr Khaw said this problem has been largely resolved.

Mr Khaw explained: "There is some mismatch because of our balloting system. If you look at the figure, (there are about 15,000) new family formations every year but I'm building 25,000 new units a year and we have been doing so. This is into the third year now."

Possible sites for these new homes include new towns in Bidadari, Tampines North and Tengah but some will also be built in mature estates, allowing children to stay close to their parents.

"Wherever there are possible sites for development, we have to do so. And that's why sometimes it is a bit painful for us to have to remove some trees which I know many people are upset about. We are equally upset because I love trees… but sometimes it can't be helped because of larger objectives, larger benefits," he said.

Mr Khaw added that good urban planning to achieve a high quality of living is a top priority for the government.

There will be more green spaces and parks, and by 2030, at least 85 per cent of Singapore's households will live within 400 metres of a park.

The National Development Ministry is expected to release more details on land use plans this week.

- CNA/fa

Steps needed to convince S’poreans about population increase

Ashley Chia and Neo Chai Chin Today Online 30 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE — Judging from the immediate reaction to the Population White Paper soon after its release, the Government looks to have its work cut out to convince some Singaporeans that the nation can cope with 6.5 to 6.9 million people on the island.

Members of Parliament (MPs) TODAY spoke to acknowledged that steps have to be taken— including making sure the policies set in motion bear fruit — before Singaporeans can accept the increase in population.

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said: “It is not easy to convince (Singaporeans) because people will think that ‘every day I go to work, (it) is already so crowded’.”

She added: “No point talking to them about all these theories ... If you don’t help them to see, resolve the current problem, they won’t be convinced. My suggestion is that you have to resolve the current problem first.”

Some netizens felt the numbers were “frightening”, others noted that infrastructure today has yet to catch up with demand. An overseas Singaporean even wrote that he would stay away and not return to the Republic. Amid the chorus of doubters were some netizens who viewed the White Paper more positively, with one pointing out the need for a sufficient base of working-age people to support the growing ageing population.

Social and policy researchers suggested specifying the types of skills needed from foreigners and beefing up Singaporeans’ sense of security to get the public behind the new population projections.

Policymakers could spell out the areas or sectors where immigrants were needed, as is the practice in some other countries, said Institute of Policy Studies Senior Research Fellow Leong Chan-Hoong. “They may say, if you are an expert in biomedical science or if you are an expert in IT, the chances of getting a long-term residential visa or permanent residency will be much higher than someone else (without such skill sets).

“That kind of transparency and information will be more reassuring and helpful,” said Dr Leong, who added that resentment is generally of the policy towards foreigners, and not the foreigners themselves.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the social and psychological barriers would be harder to overcome than physical barriers when it comes to a higher population density. The “fundamental solution” lies in strengthening Singaporeans’ sense of security, which can lead to more generosity of spirit towards new immigrants and foreigners in our midst, he said.

On some Singaporeans’ resistance to more new immigrants, Ms Lee noted: “If Singaporeans can give birth to more children then, of course, we don’t have to bring in foreigners — that will be the most ideal.”

But she noted that with the dismal birth rates, it would be ambitious to think that they could be raised to such a level that Singapore will need fewer new immigrants in the future.

Now that the White Paper — nearly a year in the making — is out, Chua Chu Kang MP Zaqy Mohamad reckons it is time for more engagement: For Singaporeans to seek reassurance and ask questions, and for the Government to communicate its planning considerations. This way, a consensus can be forged and citizens can be assured that they would not be disadvantaged.

He said: “It has to be a process which the Government has to undertake in terms of helping (Singaporeans) understand the considerations ... Perhaps through the various dialogue platforms … we try to get some consensus.”

Singapore population to be half-foreign by 2030: govt
(AFP) Google News 30 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE — Foreigners could make up nearly half of Singapore's population by 2030, the government said Tuesday as it unveiled its politically sensitive projection for a city of up to seven million boosted by young immigrants.

In a white (policy) paper on population, the government said Singaporeans' flagging birth rates -- which have been below replacement levels for more than three decades -- necessitated immigration into the prosperous Southeast Asian nation.

The paper, released by the National Population and Talent Division, said the total population could range between 6.5 and 6.9 million by 2030.

Foreigners would make up nearly half the population by then, with the proportion of Singaporean citizens projected to fall to 55 percent, from 62 percent as of June 2012 when the population was 5.31 million.

The projection sparked furious online reactions from citizens, with some saying it was time to emigrate.

"This white paper from the government is a betrayal to local born Singaporean(s)," posted Mc Lee on the website of the Straits Times.

"It's hard to call a place home when you got no space & getting out & about is a constant death match," stated keenlen on Twitter.

"I guess migration plans for Singaporeans should begin soon. Singapore is slowly losing its nationality," Shane Goh tweeted.

Singapore's total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.20 children per woman last year is far below the 2.1 needed to sustain the native population, and has been so for more than three decades.

"We do not expect our TFR to improve to the replacement rate of 2.1 in the short term," the paper said.

"Taking in younger immigrants will help us top up the smaller cohorts of younger Singaporeans, and balance the ageing of our citizen population," it added.

"To stop our citizen population from shrinking, we will take in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year," it stated, adding that the immigration rate would be reviewed "from time to time".

Immigration has been a politically sensitive issue for the government, which has in recent years widened the door for foreigners to sustain the economy.

But their numbers were reduced following a social backlash, with foreigners blamed for problems including overcrowding, straining public services and driving up housing costs.

The study said the government would take steps such as expanding transport networks and building more public housing to support the increase in population.

Singapore this month also announced increased cash bonuses for parents of newborn babies and introduced paternity leave as part of a package of measures to boost the local population.

Related links
The Population White Paper can be read online at

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Dengue infections at five-year high

Experts fear major outbreak as signs show change of dominant virus type
Salma Khalik Straits Times 30 Jan 13;

THERE is still no sign of an end to the dengue epidemic, with last week's figure of 267 people down with the disease the highest weekly tally in more than five years.

And 85 people have already been infected in the first three days of this week, in a continuation of a steadily growing trend since mid-December.

Dr Mukund Doshi, a private specialist in internal medicine, said he has warded more than 30 patients in Parkway East Hospital this month alone.

He has between seven and 10 patients in the hospital at any one time, compared to a norm of three to four. The hospital is near the biggest cluster of cases today - in the Telok Kurau area - where 81 residents have fallen ill.

The internist, who has been practising for more than three decades, said the illness also appears to be more severe.

"Patients' blood platelet counts drop faster than usual, there is more vomiting and diarrhoea and many have high fever," he noted.

Platelets help blood to clot. A normal person has 145,000 to 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood. Dr Doshi said he has seen patients this month with counts of as low as 10,000.

But he has not seen any serious haemorrhaging cases this month, only some bleeding in the gums or nose, he added.

According to the Ministry of Health, six cases of the more serious dengue haemorrhagic fever had occurred this year.

The disease in the Telok Kurau cluster is caused primarily by the Den-1 virus.

One fear experts have is a change in the dominant virus type causing infections.

There are four dengue viruses, with Den-2 dominant in the past six years. A change in the dominant strain usually heralds a major outbreak.

Den-1 caused 10 per cent of the infections in 2011. The figure went up to 19 per cent last year, and 27 per cent in the first three weeks of this year.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency (NEA) said about two-thirds of the mosquito-breeding sites found in the Telok Kurau area were in homes.

Mosquito breeding was also detected at several construction sites. She said the contractors at seven sites had been handed fines of between $2,000 and $5,000 while the contractors at two other sites will be taken to court for repeated offences.

The NEA no longer fogs to kill mosquitoes "as it is neither sustainable nor effective", the spokesman said. Instead, it finds and destroys mosquito-breeding areas.

NEA steps up efforts against mosquito breeding during festive period
Channel NewsAsia 30 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) is stepping up efforts against mosquito breeding during the Lunar New Year period.

It is concerned that there will be a surge in the number of breeding places for the Aedes mosquitoes, which carries the dengue virus.

Based on the pattern between 2007 and 2012, the breeding of the Aedes mosquitoes found in ornamental containers per week in January and February is 2.5 times higher than that of other months.

On average, there are 37 breedings out of 10,000 inspections. For the remaining months, the average is about 10 in 10,000 inspections.

With many families using floral decorations such as Lucky Bamboo, Cherry Blossoms and Pussy Willow, NEA has urged residents to ensure that their vases and plant bowls do not become mosquito breeding grounds.

NEA is also stepping up efforts against littering during the festive period, when residents spring clean their homes. Residents should not clutter the neighbourhood with junk.

Those who want to throw away bulky items should get the town councils to dispose of them.

NEA officers will also be out to nab litterbugs, especially in areas where there are large crowds. These include events such as River Hongbao, CNY Tradefair @ Chinatown and Chingay Parade.


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Masidi: Death of 10 elephants is saddest day for conservation efforts in Sabah

The Star 30 Jan 13;

The only elephant to have been found alive, a 3-month-old named Kejora, seen here next to its at the side of its dead mother’s carcass. New Straits Times

KOTA KINABALU: The discovery of the deaths of 10 Borneo pygmy elephants in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve was the saddest day for Sabah's conservation efforts.

“This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state,” Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said.

“Though it might be too early to pinpoint a conclusive cause of death, poisoning seems to be the likely cause,” he said.

Masidi said he had directed Sabah Wildlife Department to set up a joint task force with relevant stakeholders such as the Forestry Department, Yayasan Sabah, WWF and police to further investigate these deaths and to get to the bottom of it.

“If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned I will make sure that the culprits are brought to justice and pay for their crime ” Masidi added.

Elephants are known to roam into plantations and villages where they cause severe losses to the owners.

Sabah Wildlife Department is usually called in to help in steering the elephants away from such places and in some cases they are moved to other forest reserves.

However, some people affected have resorted to poisoning the elephants to stop their menace and among the methods used are pesticides including rat poisons over the years.

State Wildlife director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said that they were scouring the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve area as well as places adjacent to it to see if any pesticides were used to kill the elephants.

Vet witnesses elephant calf tugging at its dead mother
Muguntan Vanar The Star 30 Jan 13;

KOTA KINABALU: It was a heart wrenching sight for veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan when he saw a Borneo pygmy elephant calf tugging at its mother which lay dead at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in Sabah's east coast Tawau district.

The Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian witnessed this while investigating the “mysterious” deaths of 10 elephants seven females and three males at Forest Management Unit (FMU) 23, a Yayasan Sabah concession area in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve about 130km from Tawau.

“I felt sad, I don't have the words to describe my feelings,” he said, adding that the three-month-old male calf named Kejora was sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo yesterday where staff are taking care of it including bottle feeding it.

The dead elephants aged between four-years-old to around 20 were discovered between Dec 29 and Jan 24 at a logging area between the famed Danum Valley and Maliau Basin in the south-eastern side of the central region of Sabah.

He said the area the elephants were found dead had about 1,000 of Sabah's estimated 2,000 pygmy elephant population.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said poisoning may be the main cause for the deaths of the elephants which they believed belonged to a single herd.

“Post mortem was done on all of them and it looks like their gastro-intestinal tract had severe haemorrhages and ulceration with some bleeding from the mouth and anus,” said Dr Ambu.

“We suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten (natural toxins or pesticides) but we are still waiting for the laboratory results of the chemical analysis from samples taken from the dead elephants to confirm the diagnosis,” he added.

Ambu said that the first report of the dead was made on Tuesday after WWF field officers carrying wildlife survey came to know of the death from workers about 5km from the gates of Syarikat Empayar Kejora Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary company of Yayasan Sabah.

He said that they could have consumed the poison elsewhere and walked several kilometres before collapsing in various areas close to the Empayar Kejora area.

“We believe that all the deaths of these elephants are related.

“We have stationed our team there to check the area and to further investigate if there are any more elephants involved,” he added.

Jumbos believed poisoned
Roy Goh New Straits Times 30 Jan 13;

10 DEAD: All were found to have badly damaged internal organs

KOTA KINABALU: A TRAIL of 10 dead elephants in one of the last bastions for the species in Sabah has raised concerns on how far people will go to protect their interest.

Carcasses of the Bornean pygmy elephants from a single herd were found near a logging camp and an oil palm plantation not far from the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, about 130km from Tawau, between Dec 29 and Jan 25.

The elephants were believed to have been poisoned with a rat poison-like chemical, large amounts of which may have been used in areas where they feed on.

Only a 3-month-old male baby elephant was found alive next to its mother and promptly sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here.

The odds of the elephant surviving, however, remained slim as it was still nursing from its mother.

Sabah Wildlife department director Datuk Laurentius Ambu yesterday said the discovery was disturbing because of the large number that were found dead.

"We are on the lookout if there could be more in the area, which is part of the Forest Management Unit concession held by Yayasan Sabah."

The 100,000ha concession area, between the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation Areas, accounts for nearly 1,000 or half the elephant population in the state.

Laurentius said the family of elephants live within a 400km square area.

"The dead elephants, three males and seven females, were found within an area of about 10 sq km radius but it may have consumed the poison elsewhere before dying near the logging camp."

A post-mortem have been conducted on most of the carcasses and senior veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan said all were found with badly damaged internal organs.

"There were no signs of external injuries such as gunshots or cuts.

"We have sent samples to the Chemistry Department as well as to the Veterinary Services Department to check on the possibility of bacterial infection.

"The livers were enlarge or inflamed, the lungs congested and there was internal bleeding in the intestines."

A task force made up of the Wildlife Department, Forestry Department, police, Yayasan Sabah and World Wildlife Fund has been formed to probe the findings.

Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun expressed shock on the death of the elephants.

"This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah."

Borneo pygmy elephants feared poisoned in Malaysia: officials
Angie Teo PlanetArk 30 Jan 13;

Ten endangered Borneo pygmy elephants found dead in a Malaysian rainforest in recent weeks may have been poisoned by something they ate, wildlife officials said on Tuesday.

Four elephants were first reported dead on January 23 and another four were found dead two days later in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, located in Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo Island.

The eight dead elephants were suspected to be linked with "two highly decomposed elephant carcasses" found earlier this year, said Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

A department veterinarian said no obvious external injuries were found on the animals, but they suffered from severe hemorrhages and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract.

"We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten, but we are still waiting for the laboratory results of the chemical analysis from samples taken from the dead elephants to confirm the diagnosis," senior veterinarian Sen Nathan said in a statement.

Seven of the dead elephants were females and three were males, ranging from 4 years old to around 20, the statement said.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates there are fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants found in the wild, with most of them residing in Sabah state. The elephant is smaller than other Asian elephants and their African relatives with larger ears and a gentle nature.

Officials declined to make further comment while the incidents were still under investigation by a special force set up to determine the cause of the deaths.

(Reporting by Angie Teo in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alden Bentley)

Three more elephants found dead
The Star 31 Jan 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Three more endangered Borneo pygmy elephant bodies were found in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, raising the death toll to 13.

State Tourism, Culture and Envi­ronment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun confirmed the latest discovery of a male and two female decomposing bodies in the area where 10 others were found since Dec 29.

There is a possibility that more may be found as wildlife officials believe that all the 13 elephants and a rescued calf were part of a single herd.

They are believed to have consumed some form of natural or pesticide poison while roaming in the Yayasan Sabah forest management unit 23 (FM23) that is locked between Sabah’s Maliau Basin and Danum Valley forest reserves.

Masidi said that there was growing suspicion of foul play in their deaths.

“No amount of laws and enforcement can be effective if people do not have the sense of responsibility that these animals belong to the people,” he said yesterday.

He has ordered his ministry’s permanent secretary Datuk Michael Emban to take over as chairman of the special task force set up to investigate the deaths, which have been dubbed a “conservationist nightmare”.

Meanwhile, the Sabah Wildlife Department is waiting for a chemist report on the possible causes of the elephant deaths.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman said the deaths of the elephants were “unacceptable”.

“I want no stone left unturned in this matter. The culprits must be brought to justice,” he said in a statement.

Musa said the state government viewed the matter seriously as Borneo pygmy elephants were an endangered species and were part of Sabah’s rich and exotic wildlife.

“People come from all over the world just to catch a glimpse of these animals. It is unfortunate that there are people who would resort to such a horrific act,” he added.

Calf not out of woods yet
Muguntan Vanar The Star 31 Jan 13;

KOTA KINABALU: The three month-old Borneo pygmy elephant calf, the sole survivor of a herd that was killed from suspected poisoning, is in good health although it is not out of the woods yet.

Named “Joe” by Wildlife Rescue Unit personnel, the calf, which was photographed trying to wake his dead mother up at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve on Jan 25, has been kept in quarantine and under watch by veterinarians and Lok Kawi Zoo personnel.

WRU veterinarian Dr Diana Raminez described the calf as bright, alert and active.

“These are good signs but he has to be watched for two weeks before he is out of any immediate danger,” she said.

One problem is that the 106kg calf has not been consuming enough milk possibly due to the stress of losing its mother and the 800km road journey to the Lok Kawi Zoo here.

Dr Raminez said a normal calf would consume 20 to 30 litres of milk daily.

But Joe is only taking half of that, she said, adding that it was bottle-fed every two hours.

“We don’t know if he might also have been affected by the poisoning,” she added.

She said the calf had also consumed its mother’s faeces, which is said to be normal behaviour, and there were signs that Joe’s weight had dropped by 10kg.

Dr Raminez, a Mexican working with the WRU, said Joe had become close to his carers, rangers Augustine David and Jibius Dausip, who were feeding him, and was behaving normally as he was curious about his new environment.

Initially called Kejora (which sounds feminine), he has been renamed Joe by the rangers.

He is the sole survivor from a herd of elephants found dead at Gunung Rara Forest Reserve about 130km from Tawau, Sabah.

The deaths are believed to have been caused by some form of poisoning, with post-mortem reports showing the intestinal tracts and other internal organs badly damaged.

While waiting for the chemist report to identify the type of poisoning, the Sabah Wildlife Department has set up a task force to investigate the deaths.

Dr Raminez said the chemist report would help determine the way Joe was treated.

Experts believe sprayed pesticides could not have caused the deaths, speculating that the elephants’ food source or known watering holes might have been poisoned.

Three more found dead
Joniston Bangkuai and Roy Goh New Straits Times 31 Jan 13;

ELEPHANT DEATHS: Task force discovers them while retracing route of dead herd

KOTA KINABALU: THREE more carcasses of the Bornean pygmy elephants were found yesterday near a forest reserve in Tawau where 10 were found dead earlier.

Members of a special task force assigned by the state Wildlife Department to probe the deaths were led to the latest finding after they caught a whiff of the foul smell while retracing the route the herd was known to follow.

The 10 dead elephants found earlier were discovered within the family's habitat measuring about 400 sq km in the area near the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, which sits between the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation areas, from Dec 29 to Jan 25.

However, a 3-month-old male baby elephant was found alive next to its mother and has been sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here.

State Wildlife director Datuk Laurentius Ambu said the latest discovery was made less than 2km from where some of the carcasses were found by the combined team of wildlife rangers, staff from Yayasan Sabah, police, World Wildlife Fund and Forestry department.

"The team has begun combing the route frequented by the family and it confirms our earlier fears that more may have died," he said on the deaths which they believe could have been caused by poisoning.

The unit will continue following the route and this includes checking on a nearby plantation, a logging camp and part of the forest reserve which is also within the Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Unit concession area of about 100,000 hectares.

Laurentius had said the area where the dead elephants were found has one of the highest concentrations of the unique Bornean pygmy elephants.

The carcasses found within a 10km radius earlier were of three males and seven females.

"We are not able to tell much about the three latest findings because they were highly decomposed, but they probably died about the same time as the others and were likely from the same herd."

Post-mortem on the carcasses found earlier showed badly damaged internal organs.

Samples has been sent to the Chemistry Department for further analysis and the Veterinary Services Department to check on the possibility of bacterial infection.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has described the deaths of the elephants as unacceptable and has directed the state Wildlife and Forestry departments to conduct an investigation.

"I want no stone left unturned in the investigation. The culprits must be brought to justice."

Members of the tourism industry in Sabah have also come forward to offer a RM10,000 reward for information.

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Tigers under threat from disappearing mangrove forest

Report shows vast forest, shared by India and Bangladesh, is being rapidly destroyed by environmental change
John Vidal 29 Jan 13;

Tiger in Sunderban mangrove forest
A tiger roams within the Sunderban, some 140 km south of Calcutta. Photograph: EPA/Piyal Adhikary Photograph: Piyal Adhikary/EPA

A vast mangrove forest shared by India and Bangladesh that is home to possibly 500 Bengal tigers is being rapidly destroyed by erosion, rising sea levels and storm surges, according to a major study by researchers at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and others.

The Sundarbans forest took the brunt of super cyclone Sidr in 2007, but new satellite studies show that 71% of the forested coastline is retreating by as much as 200 metres a year. If erosion continues at this pace, already threatened tiger populations living in the forests will be put further at risk.

Natalie Pettorelli, one of the report's authors, said: "Coastline retreat is evident everywhere. A continuing rate of retreat would see these parts of the mangrove disappear within 50 years. On the Indian side of the Sundarbans, the island which extends most into the Bay of Bengal has receded by an average of 150 metres a year, with a maximum of just over 200 metres; this would see the disappearance of the island in about 20 years."

The Sundarbans are known for vanishing islands but the scientists said the current retreat of the mangrove forests on the southern coastline is not normal. "The causes for increasing coastline retreat, other than direct anthropogenic ones, include increased frequency of storm surges and other extreme natural events, rises in sea-level and increased salinity, which increases the vulnerability of mangroves," said Pettorelli.

"Our results indicate a rapidly retreating coastline that cannot be accounted for by the regular dynamics of the Sundarbans. Degradation is happening fast, weakening this natural shield for India and Bangladesh.

"As human development thrives, and global temperature continues to rise, natural protection from tidal waves and cyclones is being degraded at alarming rates. This will inevitably lead to species loss in this richly biodiverse part of the world, if nothing is done to stop it.

"The Sundarbans is a critical tiger habitat; one of only a handful of remaining forests big enough to hold several hundred tigers. To lose the Sundarbans would be to move a step closer to the extinction of these majestic animals," said ZSL tiger expert Sarah Christie.

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China: Hydro dams could jeopardise 'Grand Canyon of the east', say green groups

Dams on China's last free-flowing river could harm ecosystems, displace people, and cause catastrophic seismic events
Jonathan Kaiman 29 Jan 13;

Chinese environmental groups warn that government plans for a slew of hydroelectric dams on the pristine Salween (Nu) river – often called the Grand Canyon of the east for its deep valleys and sweeping views – could jeopardise biodiverse ecosystems and indigenous cultures, and lead to potentially catastrophic seismic events.

China's state council released a notice last week revealing plans to proceed with over 60 new hydroelectric projects on three major rivers under the government's 12th five-year plan, from 2011 to 2015. Four of the projects lie on the upper reaches of the Salween.

Plans to build a cascade of 13 dams on the Salween – China's last free-flowing river – stalled nearly a decade ago under opposition from environmental groups and outgoing premier Wen Jiabao, an ostensible populist and trained geologist.

Five projects are being developed by the state-owned Huadian Group, according to the California-based NGO International Rivers. The company produces about 10% of China's power and is directly administered by a state council commission. Chinese environmental authorities have long considered hydropower an antidote to the country's overwhelming reliance on coal.

The river, also known as the Thanlwin, begins on the Tibetan plateau and winds through Thailand before ending in a Burmese estuary. Its headwaters support 5 million people from 13 ethnic groups, many of whom are subsistence farmers. Entire groups may have to be resettled, dealing a significant blow to their traditional way of life.

The government notice approves similar projects on the Jinsha river, a major headstream of the Yangtze, and the Mekong river, which is already heavily dammed. Two proposed projects border protected areas which contain 7,000 types of plants and up to 25% of the world's animal species, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Ma Jun, head of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that because local governments and state-owned enterprises profit enormously from building large-scale infrastructure projects such as hydroelectric stations, they often cut corners on legally required environmental impact assessments.

"We had a chance to review some of the summaries of the large dam projects on the Jinsha river – there are major gaps identified in those reports, and some of them are very basic ones," he said.

Scientists warn that building new dams in seismically active south-west China could expose residents to increased risks of landslides, mudslides and earthquakes. A recent analysis of up to 60 Chinese and American scientific papers suggested that the weight of water in the massive Zipingpu Dam reservoir may have caused the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed about 80,000 people.

The state council notice also mentions the Xiaonanhai hydropower station on the Yangtze river, a $4.75bn, seven-and-a-half-year project designed to have a capacity of 1.76 gigawatts to provide electricity to the sprawling south-western metropolis Chongqing.

Critics say that the project will displace about 40,000 people, submerge about 20 miles of arable land and destroy endangered fish species including the Dabry's sturgeon, a 140m-year-old "living fossil" which has appeared on a Chinese postage stamp.

Wang Yongchen, president of the Beijing-based environmental NGO Green Earth Volunteers, said that the new leadership's environmental record is uncertain, and that environmental NGOs will lose a key supporter when Wen steps down in March. "We wrote reports to the new leaders, but they haven't answered," she said. "We're still waiting."

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Beijing shuts factories, removes cars, but pollution stays high

Sui-Lee Wee PlanetArk 30 Jan 13;

Beijing temporarily shut down 103 heavily polluting factories and took 30 percent of government vehicles off roads to combat dangerously high air pollution, state media reported on Tuesday, but the capital's air remained hazardous despite the measures.

Air quality in Beijing has mostly stayed above "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels for about two weeks. On Tuesday, it hit 517 on an index maintained by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which described the pollution as "Beyond Index".

Pollution in Beijing regularly exceeds 500 on an index that measures particulate matter in the air with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers. Above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Earlier this month pollution hit a record, 30-45 times above recommended safety levels, blanketing the city in a thick, noxious cloud that grounded flights and forced people indoors.

Beijing's pollution problem has caused widespread public outrage, alarming the ruling Communist Party, which has failed to rein in pollution despite repeated pledges to get tough.

Premier Wen Jiabao told top leaders at a forum that the "recent fog and haze have affected the people's normal life and health".

"We should take effective measures to speed up the enhancement of our industrial structure, push for energy conservation and build an ecological civilization," Wen was quoted as saying on state television. "Use actions so that the people can see hope."

State news agency Xinhua said the Beijing municipal government held an urgent meeting on Tuesday "for the emergency work of controlling the heavy air pollution".

"All counties, departments, businesses and institutions should take the lead in suspending the service of 30 percent of official vehicles," Xinhua said. Beijing would also shut down 103 heavily polluting businesses.

But the emergency measures only last until Thursday.

The government has already announced that it would take 180,000 old vehicles off the roads in Beijing this year and control the "excessive" growth of new car sales in the city.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Floods hit two Australian states, thousands evacuated

James Grubel PlanetArk 30 Jan 13;

Massive summer floods have killed four people and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes across two Australian states on Tuesday, disrupting air and rail travel and coal production.

A deluge fed by the ex-tropical cyclone Oswald dumped more than 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rain in some areas of the Queensland and New South Wales states over the past three days, swelling rivers and swamping towns.

The worst-hit areas were around Bundaberg, Rockhampton and Ipswich in the Queensland state, and around the northern New South Wales towns of Grafton and Lismore.

A fleet of 14 helicopters rescued more than 1,000 people across Queensland overnight and rescue efforts continued on Tuesday.

"Across Queensland the wild weather has broken a lot of hearts," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

Among the four people killed was a three-year old boy, who died in hospital after being hit by a falling tree as he and his mother watched floodwaters in parts of Brisbane, Australia's third largest city.

In Bundaberg, one of the worst hit towns, more than 2,000 homes were swamped and 7,500 people evacuated. People clung to rooftops calling on passing boats to rescue them and television footage showed people being winched from floodwaters.

Brisbane residents have been warned to boil all drinking water as the city's main water treatment plant had been shut, unable to cope with the torrent of muddy water flowing down stream and swelling the Brisbane River.

But the floodwaters have peaked much lower than similar floods in 2011, which inundated Brisbane, and cost more than A$6.6 billion ($6.87 billion) to repair. The 2011 floods cut Australia's gross domestic product by 0.5 of a percentage point, cutting coal production in Queensland by A$6 billion and cutting agricultural production by round A$1.9 billion.

"It is far too early to be talking about the full financial impact," Treasurer Wayne Swan told reporters in Queensland.


The heavy rains inundated areas of Australia's eastern coalfields, dumping up to 400 millimeters of rain on Queensland's Bowen Basin, home to giant open pit mines owned by BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Peabody Energy and others.

A levee bank surrounding the Middlemount open cut mine in the Bowen Basin was breached and water flowed into the mine, according to part owner Yancoal, with production likely to be affected for three weeks.

Transport group Aurizon Holdings Ltd was forced to shut parts of its rail operations that haul coal to the port of Gladstone, a key export terminal on the eastern seaboard.

Aurizon said its Moura and Blackwater networks, which links coal mines in the Bowen basin to two export terminals at Gladstone, remain closed due to the rain and floods.

"Aurizon cannot fully assess some locations because the rail line is still under water. However the current expectation is that the Moura and Blackwater systems will be re-opened within seven to 10 days," the company said in a statement.

The floods were not expected to have a major impact on Australia's sugar crop, which has avoided major damage.

Insurer Suncorp said it had already received 4,500 claims related to Queensland's flooding and storm-related damage in Queensland, adding it was prepared for the financial impact.

The number of claims drove Suncorp's stock down 2.0 percent, although the company said it had made provisions for natural hazard claims of A$520 million for the 2013 fiscal year.

The Insurance Council of Australia said insurers had received 6,100 claims by early Tuesday, estimated to be wroth A$72 million, although more claims were expected.

Airline Virgin Australia cancelled 20 flights along the east coast, while Qantas Airways said its schedule was returning to normal on Tuesday after all flights to Queensland's Gold Coast were cancelled on Monday.

($1 = 0.9608 Australian dollars)

(Additional reporting by Jim Regan and Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry)

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