Best of our wild blogs: 1 Feb 13

What’s the future of Nature and biodiversity (and us who love them) in Singapore?
from Nature rambles

What shores will Singapore lose in 7-million population plan?
from wild shores of singapore

Black-naped Oriole manipulating a katydid
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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5,200 hectares more land to accommodate projected 6.9m population

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 31 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore plans to increase its land supply by nearly 8 per cent to 76,600 hectares to accommodate its projected population of 6.9 million by 2030, according to the Land Use Plan report released on Thursday.

Singapore's total land area now stands at 71,400 hectares.

The details came just two days after the release of the White Paper on Population outlining Singapore's strategies for a sustainable population.

About 60 per cent will be set aside for housing, industry and community facilities -- up from the current 52 per cent. And a large part of the additional land will come from reclamation and freeing up reserve land.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said: "Some Singaporeans, in fact, many say, 'How could it be? It's already so crowded -- 5.3 million -- buses (and) trains. How is it possible to have 6.9 million population? The planners must be mad!'

"I think that's a legitimate reaction and of course they ask good questions -- which is, how can you be sure, more population, but quality of life will remain the same but in fact even better?

"Actually the answer is yes, it's possible -- you can have a larger population and yet have a better quality of life, but conditions must be right.

"So what are those conditions -- one, there must be planning, which means good long-term planning and secondly, there must be good infrastructure that must be built ahead of demand.

"So if those conditions are there then you can (resolve) this seemingly difficult problem -- how to achieve better quality of life despite a greater or larger population.

"And we are confident because we have time, because we are talking about the future -- 2020, 2025, 2030 -- and as planners our mantra is the Boy Scouts' motto - 'prepare for the worst but hope for the best'.

"So in fact, from the planners' point of view, we need aggressive projection. The figure 6.9 sounds aggressive but from the planners' point of view, we need aggressive figures, aggressive projections, so that we can prepare for the worst.

"The worst is if we plan for the best and then the worst comes, then you'll be under providing as what happened in the last few years."

Some golf courses and military training grounds will make way for redevelopment.

There are now 18 golf courses in Singapore, covering about 1,500 hectares of land with leases that run for 30 years. The Law Ministry said the majority of the leases will expire between 2021 and 2030, adding that some of the golf courses would have to be phased out and the land put to other uses.

"We are working with the planning agencies over the next few months to provide clarity to the various golf courses on whether or not their leases can be extended," the ministry said.

To accommodate 700,000 new homes by 2030, there are plans for new towns, new homes in existing estates and more homes in the central region.

For example, Tengah -- a military training area -- will be transformed into a new town with about 55,000 homes. The plan is to consolidate military training activities at Tekong once reclamation there is complete.

Most of the reclamation will be done at Tekong -- an offshore island located on the north eastern part of Singapore, used for military training -- and Tuas, in the south western part of the island.

Beyond 2030, potential reclamation areas include Marina East, Changi East and Pasir Ris. These are also marked as reserve sites that can support future needs such as housing and industries.

Other possible future reclamation sites include clusters around the western islands and the southern parts of Singapore.

Another strategy is to go underground -- by expanding current uses of underground space -- for example, with train lines, underground expressways and retail malls.

The government is also exploring more uses for underground caverns for industrial and commercial developments.

Addressing concerns over the quality of life, policy makers have painted the picture of what is described as "highly liveable, high density towns".

These will be towns with a full range of amenities from childcare centres, hospitals and recreational nodes.

By 2017, 20,000 more childcare places will be made available near homes, transport nodes and workplaces, up from the current 92,000.

By 2020, there will be an additional 2,200 acute hospital beds -- 30 per cent more than the number available today.

In addition, there will be 1,900 community hospital beds added to the supply by 2020 -- up from the current 800 beds.

By 2030, at least 85 per cent of Singaporeans will live within a 10- to 15-minute walk to a park.

Plans are already underway to improve public transport connectivity by ramping up the rail network and improving bus connectivity. To alleviate congestion around main commercial centres, jobs will be brought closer to homes.

So there are plans for two new commercial belts in the northern and southern parts of Singapore.

The North Coast Innovation Corridor will be ready in about 10 to 15 years' time while the Southern Waterfront City is expected to be developed after 2027, when the existing port relocates to Tuas.

Mr Khaw said: "The underlying principle is not quantity, it's not statistics, the underlying principle is quality.

"In the next phase of development in Singapore, let us strive for quality. Quality living, quality worklife, quality environment, quality schools, quality pre-schools that have better balance in life. Quality in inter-people relationships, a much more gracious society.

"I think that is a life worth looking forward to and that is a vision that is within our grasp. We can achieve it with better resources and better attitude, it is totally within our grasp.

"This is not to say we don't have current problems, overcrowding etc etc but you know we are addressing that as fast as we can and they will be resolved.

"Please do give us some time but even as we resolve current problems, our eyes must be on our future.

"So the key is planning and infrastructure and with time, we can achieve both, so please don't worry."

- CNA/ck

Reclamation will add land the size of nine AMK towns
Straits Times 1 Feb 12;

SINGAPORE will grow its land area by 5,200ha through reclamation between now and 2030, to cater for a projected population of between 6.5 million and 6.9 million by then.

The increase in land area will be the size of nine Ang Mo Kio towns.

The Ministry of National Development's (MND) Land Use Plan, released yesterday, said land will be reclaimed as part of a wider urban planning strategy to support Singapore's growing population.

Besides reclamation, some reserve land, which is now vacant, will be developed. And other pockets of land with lower-intensity uses, such as old industrial areas and some golf courses, will be redeveloped.

Most of the land to be reclaimed will be at Pulau Tekong for military training use, and at Tuas Port and Jurong Island for use by industry. Other areas include Tuas and Pasir Panjang for industry and port use.

Singapore's total land area will grow to up to 76,600ha, up from about 71,400ha currently, said the plan.

The plan also outlined areas for reclamation beyond 2030. These include Marina East, Simpang, Changi East, Sungei Kadut, Pasir Ris, and around the Western Islands.

Experts The Straits Times spoke to said several matters to consider include territorial sea boundaries and environmental concerns.

Civil engineering professor Yong Kwet Yew at the National University of Singapore said that reclaiming land, even if within Singapore's boundaries, can have an impact on hydrodynamics and the tidal flow of waters in Singapore, as well as coastal waters of neighbouring countries.

Future reclamation will be more costly because the depths of water will be deeper, at 20m to 30m, with some areas going beyond that, he said.

That will require much more imported sand. Singapore has faced difficulty importing sand in recent years, as countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia moved to ban the export of sand to the Republic.

Prof Yong said that there are other more cost-effective ways to make room for more people. These include intensifying the use of existing land by building higher or underground. "These are 'low-hanging' fruits to work on, and if there is more demand for space, we can look at reclamation and use of space deep underground," he said.

The MND said the 2008 Master Plan is being revised and updated to support the Population White Paper. "Over the long term... we will continue to exploit technology and implement innovative solutions to optimise our land use," it said.


Golf courses to make way for housing needs
Straits Times 1 Feb 13;

SEVERAL sprawling golf courses will be cut up, moved or closed as the Government seeks land to house Singapore's growing population by 2030.

The Land Use Plan yesterday confirmed what many golfers had been fearing for several years: that the leases for their golf clubs might not be renewed.

The plan did not specify which of the country's 18 golf clubs - occupying some 1,500ha of land - would have to make way for redevelopment, but Keppel Club and the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) are tipped to be at the top of the list.

Both have eight years to run on their leases.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Law, which oversees the Singapore Land Authority, said the courses here are generally on a 30-year lease, and the majority of the leases will expire by 2030.

"Some golf courses would have to be phased out and the land put to other uses. For these golf courses, we would not be able to extend the lease," she said, adding that the ministry is now working with planning agencies to determine which golf courses can have their leases extended.

At least one club, Laguna National, is safe for now as it secured a lease extension last year to remain in its Tanah Merah location until 2040. Part of the deal, however, includes building a new hotel on its grounds.

While the Keppel Club has declined comment, its members told The Straits Times that they have been warned that the lease is not likely to be renewed.

This is because it sits on prime land just across from Sentosa, and the Keppel area has also been identified as a potential redevelopment site under the plan, though no further details were given.

Members were told of three possible outcomes: that the club might be relocated to Lorong Halus; moved to an empty plot in Seletar; or be allowed to lease one of SICC's courses.

Meanwhile, an SICC spokesman said it is still waiting for its landlord, the national water agency PUB, to give more details on lease renewal after writing in a number of times.

PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail said carving up SICC makes sense, given that it is the only one with four 18-hole courses.

SLP International's head of research Nicholas Mak added that the move was to be expected as such courses benefit a small minority.

He said: "Golfers, who make a small minority of the proposed 6.9 million people, can head to Malaysia if need be.

"Singapore must use its limited land in an efficient manner, to better handle the future."


Related links
Ministry of National Development Land Use Plan

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Three more nature areas to be conserved under land use plan

Tan Weizhen Today Online 1 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE — While policymakers seek to optimise land use, they have also identified more nature areas that will be conserved under the land use plan unveiled yesterday.

These areas are Jalan Gemala at Lim Chu Kang, as well as Beting Bronok and Pulau Unum, which are off Pulau Tekong.

According to the Ministry of National Development (MND), Jalan Gemala has varied habitats such as wet grassland, freshwater marshes, as well as tall secondary woodland and freshwater reservoir.

Beting Bronok and Pulau Unum contain a wide array of marine and coastal flora and fauna — including two locally-endangered mangrove plant species. Examples of the wildlife species found there are the Knobbly Sea Star and Thorny Sea Urchin.

This will bring the total number of nature areas that are conserved to 20, excluding the four nature reserves.

The MND said it will continue to allocate 10 per cent of total land in Singapore to greenery, which it considers to be a large proportion, as the island is highly urbanised.

Mr Yong Ding Li, a conservationist and member of the Nature Society, said that Jalan Gemala, which lies on the western fringe of Kranji Reservoir, is well-known for the existence of fireflies, while Pulau Unum is a “very pristine piece of mangrove”.

He said: “These areas are good to have, but to me, there are more important areas to be conserved.” He cited a patch of woodland in Ulu Pandan, which has been zoned for other development plans in the Urban Redevelopment Authority masterplan.

Tan Weizhen

Two new sites declared nature areas
David Ee Straits Times 2 Feb 13;

SOME species of rare plants and animals will get more protection in Singapore, with two new sites designated as nature areas in the Government's latest Land Use Plan.

In one, marshes, woodland, and a river system near Jalan Gemala in Lim Chu Kang will be conserved, though the exact boundaries are still unknown.

The other, off the northern shore of Pulau Tekong, comprises a submerged reef at Beting Bronok and coastal mangroves on the tiny island of Pulau Unum.

The move, which brings the number of nature areas in Singapore to 20, has been lauded by conservationists.

Nature areas, as defined under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan 2008, are identified for their biodiversity and "will be kept for as long as possible until required for development". Natural flora and fauna in these areas "will be protected from human activity" and ecological studies may be required before any future development.

Rare plants such as the Fox grape have been sighted in Jalan Gemala, while locally endangered mangrove and mollusc species are found at Beting Bronok and Pulau Unum. Sea stars and sea urchins can also be seen there.

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai called the northern coast of Pulau Tekong "a very important site" with birds such as the Blue Flycatcher, which are nearly extinct on the mainland.

Beting Bronok, said marine biologist Karenne Tun, 42, is a rocky intertidal area that is small but ecologically rich, with species similar to those found at Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin.

Access to the area is currently restricted due to its proximity to military areas on Pulau Tekong. It is not immediately clear if the public will be granted access.

Jalan Gemala, said Mr Subaraj, is less known among conservationists, but supports an important colony of fireflies.

"It's good that they're conserving these areas. It's a step in the right direction."

But nature lovers are concerned by other aspects of the new Land Use Plan. For instance, the sea around southern island Pulau Hantu has been earmarked for possible reclamation.

"That would be devastating to the marine ecosystem," said Mr Subaraj, referring to the coral reefs in the island's surrounds.

The island's nearby subtidal reefs account for over 10 per cent of those remaining here, said Dr Tun. Over 60 per cent of coral reefs here have been lost to development, leaving 5 to 10 sq km left.

In a statement, the Ministry of National Development said that there were "no immediate development plans" for Pulau Hantu, and that environmental impact assessments would be done before any reclamation work.

Conservationists are also calling for more clarity regarding the Government's plans for land use beyond 2030.

Said environmental blogger Ria Tan: "There's not enough detail on ecology in the report, so I'm not sure how much it's been factored in. I would like to know about the thinking that went on behind it."

Professor Victor Savage, who researches sustainable urban development at the National University of Singapore, added: "There could have been better clarification from the authorities... especially where (the plans) impinge on areas of natural value."

Read more!

Jailed a month for trying to smuggle in 44 birds

Khushwant Singh Straits Times 1 Feb 13;

A MAN who tried to smuggle 44 zebra doves into Singapore on his motorcycle after hiding them in two laundry bags was jailed for a month yesterday.

Malaysian carpenter Ng Chor Le, 42, bought 52 of the popular cage birds for RM160 ($65) and put 44 in the fabric laundry bags, which he hid under a raincoat on the front of his bike.

He was found out in a routine check by a Central Narcotics Bureau officer. Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to bringing in the birds without a licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and subjecting the birds to unnecessary suffering.

Three of the birds died and a post-mortem revealed they had suffered from marked dehydration and heat prostration. One also had a fractured wing. Ng admitted to AVA officers that he knew that the import of the birds was prohibited. He could have been fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to a year on each offence.

The court heard that Ng works in Johor and often visits his wife, who is also Malaysian but lives and works here.

Court papers state that birds can be imported only from countries that are free of bird flu and they must be quarantined for 21 days before being allowed in. AVA also requires them to be transported in containers that comply with international air transport standards. This means the cages are well ventilated with perches for the birds to rest and there is sufficient food and water.

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Malaysia: Revamp of jumbo plan on the cards

Muguntan Vanar The Star 1 Feb 13;

KOTA KINABALU: A revamp of Sabah's elephant action plan is on the cards after the death toll of the state's worst conservation tragedy climbed to 14 with the discovery of another dead Borneo pygmy elephant in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve yesterday.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the state government would re-look its conservation efforts and strengthen its elephant action plan to ensure that a similar tragedy “never reoccurs”.

“We just cannot have this repeating itself. We have to overcome any weaknesses and tackle the shortcomings,” he said.

Since Dec 29, wildlife rangers have recovered 14 dead elephants at the state-owned Yayasan Sabah's Forest Management Unit 23 (FMU) in the Gunung Rara area.

The FMU area involves various companies undertaking oil palm plantations, industrial timber planting and logging and most of the dead elephants, including the latest body, were found within a 10km radius.

Sabah Wildlife investigators, together with police, are trying to find the source of poisoning - widely speculated to be large doses of pesticides. Natural toxins have also not been ruled out. Police are also scouring for any criminal element over the incident.

So far, the actual source of poisoning has not been identified while wildlife officials are still waiting for the chemist's report.

The Malaysian Nature Society has called for steps to be taken to ensure that human-wildlife conflict is managed properly.

“MNS acknowledges that elephants can sometimes roam into villages and plantations, but proper measures should be taken to relocate these animals into other forest reserves instead of poisoning them.

“We hope that the local authorities will act swiftly to ensure endangered animals are not in jeopardy due to the lack of enforcement,” its president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed said.

Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens, an expert on the subject, said it was necessary to study the roaming patterns of the elephants and either take appropriate action to allow them to move safely or translocate them.

Another Pygmy elephant found dead
Roy Goh New Straits Times 1 Feb 13;

SENSELESS ACT: Authorities urge people to be more vigilant against cruelty to wildlife as death toll rises to 14

KOTA KINABALU: THE heartwrenching deaths of Bornean Pygmy Elephants caused by poisoning has prompted authorities here to plead with the people to be more vigilant against cruel acts inflicted on wildlife.

The death count of the elephants is now 14, with the latest carcass found near the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in Tawau on Wednesday night.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun described the discovery of yet another dead elephant "a nightmare".

He said while the authorities were trying their best to preserve and protect elephants, there were those who saw things differently.

"Enforcement of the law is important but it is equally incumbent for people in the state to consider the wildlife as their own.

"With such mindset and with the law to punish the wrongdoers, our wildlife would have a better chance of surviving," he said.

Masidi said the authorities were serious in nabbing those responsible for killing the elephants and a senior police officer in Tawau had also been roped in to help track the culprits.

A special task force has been formed to investigate the deaths and are currently tracking the route of the herd that died, apperently by poisoning.

Only a 3-month-old baby elephant, now named Joe, was found alive next to its dead mother which was among those that died.

It is now kept under round-the-clock supervision at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park here.

Meanwhile World Wildlife Fund-Malaysia executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma suggested that the central forest landscape in Sabah needs to be protected from being converted into plantations.

"All conversion approvals need to be reviewed by the Sabah Forestry Department and assessed not purely from commercial but the endangered species and landscape ecology perspectives," Dionysius said.

He said conversions result in fragmentation of the forests, which in turn results in loss of natural habitat for elephant herds, thus forcing them to find alternative food and space, putting humans and wildlife in direct conflict.

To prevent such conflicts, he said frequent and large scale patrolling was critical. However, he admitted that it was no easy task for the Sabah Wildlife Department to be everywhere as the area that needed patrolling was too vast.

"More resources, including manpower, hardware and finances, should be allocated for the Department. The existing honorary wildlife warden programme of the department is doing well and should be expanded."

'No more jumbo carcasses'
Kristy Inus and Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 2 Feb 13;

TRAGIC: However, likelihood of more Pygmy Elephant deaths not ruled out

KOTA KINABALU: EVEN though no more carcasses of Bornean Pygmy Elephants have been found in Tawau since Wednesday night, the special task force investigating the issue has not ruled out the possibility of more deaths.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said there could be more deaths if the motive behind the poisoning of the animals was "pest control".

He said members of the taskforce were currently combing a 10 sq km area where they estimate the particular elephant group had frequented.

"So far, in the last two days, we have not seen anything more. But if this (poisoning of elephants) is an act of pest control, (we are) more likely to see more bodies. However, this is something we have yet to confirm," he said yesterday.

Ten dead elephants were discovered near the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, which sits between the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation areas from Dec 29 to Jan 25. In the next few days, four more were found.

Located 130km from Tawau, the forest reserve is also within the Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Unit concession area.

Laurentius reminded people not to speculate on what happened before the result of investigations are known.

On a report by a local daily quoting non-governmental organisation Borneo Rhino Alliance that the elephants may have ingested poison by mistake, he said: "Let's wait for the results. It is not fair (for other parties) to speculate as the last time I only confirmed it as symptoms of poisoning."

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, meanwhile, gave his assurance that the country was committed towards protecting its forests and wildlife.

The Sabah government in particular, he said, has done its part in ensuring biodiversity was kept intact.

Besides the nation's pledge to maintain over 50 per cent of land under forest cover, the plantation sector also relied on increasing yield through productivity instead of clearing more lands.

"I think all of us are very sad in light of the Pygmy Elephants' deaths as they are part and parcel of the Sabah scenery.

"The palm oil industry in particular have vested interests in seeing nothing untoward happens to forests in the country, because it gives all plantation players a good image, which we would like to promote in this industry," Dompok said after a Chinese New Year walkabout in Donggongon town.

He said plantation owners here had also set aside areas for wildlife corridors, as part of their efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said they would investigate the matter together with the Forestry Department.

He said investigation papers had been opened under section 429 of the Penal Code.

Yayasan Sabah Group, in a statement, said it would cooperate with relevant departments in investigating the cause of death of the elephants at its concession area.

Its director Tan Sri Datu Khalil Datu Jamalul said the group, which is part of the special task force, would also work with relevant agencies to come up with corrective actions to avoid similar incidents in future.

Sabah offers RM40,000 reward
Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 6 Feb 13;

MYSTERY: Payment to informers if report confirms 14 Borneo pygmy elephants were poisoned

KOTA KINABALU: IF the chemist's report indicates that the 14 Borneo pygmy elephants were poisoned, the state government will offer a RM40,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprits.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said yesterday the chemist's report would be ready on Friday.

At a task force meeting on Monday, he was told that two senior police officers from Kinabatangan had been assigned to investigate the matter.

"The Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (Matta) has offered RM10,000 and they (task force) have asked the ministry to top it up.

"I found that there is a provision for this in the Wildlife Enactment and I agreed to top it up with another RM40,000. So the potential reward is RM50,000."

All eyes have been on Sabah since news of the death of 14 elephants near the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, 130km from Tawau, was published.

The Sabah Wildlife and Natural Parks Department believes that the endangered mammals were poisoned. It submitted samples to the Chemistry Department last week.

"Once the chemist's report is ready and if it shows conclusively that someone poisoned the elephants, we will start sending flyers to let people know about the reward.

"We are not saying that the elephants were poisoned. We are saying if the chemist's report confirms it, we will start looking for the culprits."

Cops locate logging firms over deaths of pygmy elephants
New Straits Times 7 Feb 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Police have identified logging companies carrying out work at the site where 14 Borneo pygmy elephants died mysteriously in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, 140km from Tawau, recently.

State police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said there were logging companies with 300 workers at the location.

"The Criminal Investigation Department is completing the investigation. We know that the place is remote but we also know which companies are working there," he said at the police headquarters, here, yesterday.

He added that police did not discount the possibility that the elephants were poisoned as the dead animals were found with their ruptured stomachs .

"We have to wait for the chemist's report to establish if it was poisoning.

"Only then will we continue our investigation."

On Tuesday, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said RM40,000 would be offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the deaths of the elephants. Bernama

Police: Pygmy elephants in Sabah were killed
Stephanie Lee The Star 7 Feb 13;

KOTA KINABALU: The 14 pygmy elephants found dead at a forest reserve near Tawau last month were killed, police said.

The criminal investigation department is completing its investigations under Section 429 of the Penal Code for mischief towards animals, which carries a maximum five years' jail upon conviction.

“Investigations indicated that the elephants were killed as autopsies found their intestinal tracts ruptured and there were other internal injuries,” said Sabah Commissioner of Police Datuk Hamza Taib.

He said that police had moved their investigations to several logging companies around the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, about 139km from Tawau.

However, he could not confirm if the elephants' deaths were caused by poisoning.

“We are still waiting for the chemist's report,” he said.

Comm Hamza said they had identified some of the logging companies, which had about 300 workers at the forest reserve.

Meanwhile, an additional reward of RM40,000 is being offered for information leading to the capture of those responsible for killing the animals.

A three-week-old male calf is the sole survivor of the massacre and is recuperating at the Lok Kawi zoo.

Apart from the police, the state Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry and Yayasan Sabah are also investigating the case.

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) had offered RM10,000 in reward and the state government has now offered RM40,000 more for any information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

“It is not the reward that matters. What's more important is the result of the case,” Comm Hamza said.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said he had been briefed on the matter by his permanent secretary Datuk Micheal Emban, who chaired the meeting of the task force on the dead elephants.

“If the chemist's report shows that there was intentional killing of the elephants, the ministry is ready to offer a reward of RM40,000 to the informant,” he said after launching the Malindo Air service for the Kota Kinabalu-Kuala Lumpur route here yesterday.

“So with Matta's offer, this brings the reward to RM50,000,” he said.

Move to send forensics samples overseas lauded
Kristy Inus New Straits Times 12 Feb 13;

INCONCLUSIVE RESULTS: NGOs urge for solution to human-wildlife conflict

KOTA KINABALU: HUTAN, a Sabah-based wildlife research and conservation non-governmental organisation (NGO), has supported the government's move to find out the cause of the deaths of 14 elephants in Tawau recently.

The government has sent samples to two specialised centres overseas for analysis.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun on Friday announced in Ranau that a second opinion was being sought from experts as preliminary test reports here were inconclusive.

Masidi had instructed the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) to send samples from the carcasses to the Ramathibodi Poison Centre at Mahidol University, Thailand, and Queensland Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Department in Australia.

Hutan co-director Dr Marc Ancrenaz, a wildlife veterinarian, said it was disappointing that after two weeks, the results were inconclusive.

"We still do not know for sure what killed the 14 elephants and left a baby orphaned. Sending the samples for verification overseas and having it double checked by other independent bodies is the best step at this time."

Ten dead elephants were discovered near the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, which sits between the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation areas, from Dec 29 to Jan 25. In the next few days, four more were found.

Acrenaz said since the NGO started working in Sabah 15 years ago, there had been a rise in human-elephant conflict resulting from the rapid reduction of elephant habitat, especially in agro-industrial landscapes.

"We are aware that agricultural development is an important source of revenue for the state, but what is needed now is to implement a sound land use solution to reduce such conflicts."

He, however, praised SWD's commitment in addressing the issue with other partners as well as releasing a multi-stakeholder five-year State Action Plan last year that contained effective recommendations to reduce human-elephant conflict.

Masidi said yesterday that he had conveyed the need for future solutions to the special task force investigating the current case.

"I told them to come up with a better framework policy to overcome this problem and reduce human-wildlife conflict," said Masidi.

On the samples, he said he received the report on Friday and gave the order to send out the samples to the overseas experts that same day.

Masidi said the move to have the samples tested overseas should not be viewed as a lack of confidence in local experts, but an indication of the government's commitment in getting to the bottom of the tragedy.

The findings would be compared with the results here and help eliminate any doubt or suspicions on its accuracy.

Read more!

Malaysia: Book on Islam and conservation available online

New Straits Times 1 Feb 13;

PETALING JAYA: In conjunction with Prophet Muhammad's birthday 1434H, WWF-Malaysia has made available online its reference book entitled Islam, Pemuliharaan Hidupan Liar & Anda (Islam, Wildlife Conservation & You) which underpins environmental consciousness and stewardship in wildlife protection.

Launched in July 2012 by Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) chairman Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the publication is the first of its kind in the country and a joint initiative between WWF-Malaysia and Ikim.

It was produced to provide a larger representation of the Muslim community in conservation efforts and highlights the conservation of species according to the teachings of Islam.

Not for sale, the book is targeted specifically at those in Muslim leadership positions nationwide, including imams, preachers and educators to champion environmental issues. Published in Bahasa Malaysia, the book will soon be translated into English to reach a wider audience.

"We are pleased to share the 160-page reference book on our website and members of the public, regardless of religion, can access this publication and learn about wildlife conservation through the Islamic lens," said WWF-Malaysia executive director and CEO Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma.

With special focus on Malaysia's national icons -- the tiger and marine turtle, both endangered species, Sharma said: "Now more than ever, we need to connect faith and conservation, which will stir action to reverse the trend of the dwindling population of these majestic species. Compassion and care is a thread that runs through every religion and it is hoped that the publication will resonate with readers."

The book has been an effective tool in reaching out to local communities. Last October, the Ma'Daerah Community Heritage Association, a community-based organisation championing turtle conservation in Kemaman, Terengganu, organised a one-day workshop with WWF-Malaysia which was attended by local imams and religious speakers. It was used in advocating the direct link between Islamic obligation and the environment, with special emphasis on turtle conservation. WWF-Malaysia aims to conduct similar workshops at other project sites.

The book was produced after a memorandum of understanding was inked between WWF-Malaysia and Ikim in December 2011.

Read more: Book on Islam and conservation available online - Central - New Straits Times

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Malaysia: Protect our water source, Cameron Highlands farmers urge Government

Isabelle Lai The Star 1 Feb 13;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Over 100 farmers in the Kampung Raja-Sungai Ikan area have banded together to protest land clearing plans in the area which they feel could jeopardise a vital water catchment area.

Kampung Raja village head Yong Leong Meng said such an occurrence would spell disaster for over 50 farms and thousands of people who were depending on it for irrigation and household purposes.

“We request that the Government stop the land clearing and protect our water source.

“We don’t want action to be taken only after something has happened and it is too late”, he said after the farmers raised banners and placards in protest against the planned development at Taman Desa Corina.

Yong said he lodged a police report on Jan 22 at the Kampung Raja police station, accompanied by 30 other residents and met District Officer Datuk Ahmad Daud on Jan 8 and yesterday.

Kampung Raja Water Catchment Protection Association president Chong ChanKong said land clearing in such a vital area could result in disastrous water pollution.

He added that not only could soil flood into and contaminate the dam, but it could also result in water supply to farms in the vicinity being cut off.

“We need trees and plants to ensure a good water catchment area.

“We can’t have them being cleared. Even if a legal permit has been granted, the developer must take into account the community’s needs and environmental impact. This could affect the local school as well as temple,” he said.

Ahmad confirmed meeting Yong but said that there were no problems with the water catchment area yet.

“If we receive any reports of the water catchment area being damaged, we will investigate and might revoke the licence,” he said.

Cameron Highlands MP Datuk S.K. Devamany said he did not see why the development should be carried out in the area as it was close to the main road as well as river reserve.

“There is a big bridge there, the only way into Taman Desa Corina. There are a few thousand people living there and the construction will be very dangerous to the movement of vehicles,” he said.

Meanwhile, water woes still continue for farmers at the 49th mile, whose water catchment area was damaged months ago by another farmer conducting illegal clearing in the area.

Farmer V. Selvadurai said the same farmer had begun the clearing work once more, completely des­troying the remains of the water catchment area.

'Don't blame land clearing'
New Straits Times 1 Feb 13;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The Cameron Highlands Land and District Office has set up a committee to advise some 60 vegetable farmers in Sungai Ikan, Kampung Raja, on the importance of practising proper agricultural activities.

Its district officer, Datuk Ahmad Daud, said at present, the farmers were carrying out their activities without proper control, which led to pollution of a river in the area.

"They have no control. They just dump fertiliser and pesticide wastes on the ground. When it rains, the wastes will flow into the nearby river, causing pollution," he said when met at his office yesterday.

Ahmad was commenting on claims by some farmers that land clearing activities by a farmer had caused pollution to a water-catchment pond in the area.

He said the farmers would be called in groups by the committee soon.

He also said his office was monitoring the land clearing activities.

Ahmad said the farmer concerned had not violated any of the conditions set by his office.

"The other farmers have requested the Land and District Office to issue a stop-work order on the land clearing activities.

"But this is unfair as the operator, who is conducting the land clearing, has not done anything which is against the regulations.

"However, I have given my contact number to the farmers. They can call me if the operator breaks any regulation and necessary action will be taken."

Farmers' representative Chong Nam Hong had claimed that the land clearing activities had polluted the water-catchment pond in the area and demanded the activities to be stopped.

The farmers also staged a peaceful protest near the water-catchment area yesterday to voice out their concern.

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Wave of Styrofoam from 2011 tsunami threatens Alaska environment

Yereth Rosen PlanetArk 31 Jan 13;

Alaska cleanup crews last year found some beaches covered with polystyrene foam that floated across the Pacific from the 2011 Japanese tsunami and threatens wildlife, a state official told legislators on Tuesday.

A main concern of environmentalists and officials is that the lightweight specks, which have been broken down by storms and waves, will harm small animals. They could choke or die slowly from malnutrition if pieces block their intestinal system, officials say.

So far, no dead birds have been found on the beaches, Elaine Busse Floyd, acting environmental health director for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, told lawmakers in her report. But officials are on the lookout for animals harmed by the ingested foam, she said.

Polystyrene foam accounted for 30 percent of the weight of the total debris, compared to the usual 5 percent rate before the tsunami, she said. Considering that it is so light, "it's a huge volume."

Closed-cell extruded polystyrene is often referred to as Styrofoam, a trademarked name owned by Dow Chemical Co which manufactures it for insulation and crafts, among other uses. It is not biodegradable because it resists breaking down in sunlight, so it can in theory last forever.

Scattered bits of foam are difficult to retrieve from the environment and are easily mistaken by animals for morsels of food, Floyd told a legislative committee in Juneau.

Animals are already munching on tsunami polystyrene foam, said Chris Pallister, president of the nonprofit Gulf of Alaska Keeper which conducted most of last year's beach cleanups.

"We have personally seen plenty of animals eating it, pecking at it, playing with it," Pallister said.

Cleanup crews have spotted foam bits in scat from bears and other animals, he said. "The question is, are animals metabolizing that or is it breaking down and being released into the environment?"

Pallister's group worked from May to October to clean up about 300 miles of beaches in outlying coastal areas. Other groups conducted more short-term cleanup projects.

Already, Gulf of Alaska Keeper is preparing for next summer's cleanup. "It's a pretty amazing sight when you go out to the coast and see nothing but Styrofoam as far as you can see," he said.

The material that has washed ashore in Alaska from the 2011 tsunami in Japan includes foam buoys and insulation ripped from people's homes, officials said.

Debris from the tsunami has also washed ashore in other U.S. states on the Pacific Ocean, including in Washington and Oregon where a Japanese dock turned up on the coast.

But the problem is particularly acute in Alaska because it has a longer coastline than other states, and many beaches are remote which makes cleanup difficult and expensive, Floyd said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)

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Growing palm oil could speed up climate change, study says

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 31 Jan 13;

Growing palm oil trees to make biofuels could be accelerating the effects of climate change, new research showed on Wednesday, adding further weight to claims the crop is not environmentally sustainable.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists examined how the deforestation of peat swamps in Malaysia to make way for palm oil trees is releasing carbon which has been locked away for thousands of years.

Microbes then penetrate the carbon and the harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is released, which is thought to be the biggest contributor to global warming.

Unsustainable methods of growing crop-based biofuels have come under fire as environmentalists question the emissions savings they make, the agricultural land they occupy and whether the growth of certain crops contribute to deforestation.

More than 80 percent of palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia. According to some estimates, an area the size of Greece is cleared every year for palm oil plantations.

As governments and companies look to biofuels to provide a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels in transport, the industry has expanded rapidly.

Palm oil is especially attractive because it is cheaper than rapeseed oil and soybean oil for biodiesel.

However, leaked European Union data has shown palm oil biodiesel to be more polluting than conventional gasoline when the effects of deforestation and peatlands degradation is taken into account.

In their study, the research team measured water channels in palm oil plantations in the Malaysian peninsular which were originally peatland swamp forest.

They found ancient carbon came from deep in the soil, then broke down and dissolved into nearby streams and rivers as deforestation occurred.

"We have known for some time that in South East Asia oil palm plantations were a major threat to biodiversity (..) and that the drainage could release huge amounts of carbon dioxide during the fires seen there in recent years," said Chris Freeman, one of the authors of the report and an environmental scientist at the University of Bangor in Wales.

"But this discovery of a 'hidden' new source of problems in the waters draining these peatlands is a reminder that these fragile ecosystems really are in need of conservation," he added.

There are approximately 28,000 sq km of industrial plantations in Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo and there are even more planned, making them a major contributor to peat swamp deforestation in the region, the paper said.

"Our results are yet another reminder that when we disturb intact peat swamps and convert them to industrial biofuel plantations, we risk adding to the very problem that we are trying to solve," said Freeman.

The research team included scientists from the British universities of Leicester and Bangor, the Open University, the Met Office Hadley Centre, the Natural Environment Research Council Radiocarbon Facility in Scotland, the University of Palangka Raya in Indonesia and water research institute Deltares in the Netherlands.

(Editing by James Jukwey)

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