Best of our wild blogs: 8 Feb 13

Bottom of the Singapore sea: it's alive!
from wild shores of singapore

Random Gallery - The Courtesan
from Butterflies of Singapore

Happy thoughts! Otterman’s Holt says “Happy Teacher’s Day”
from Otterman speaks

Catching Borneo's mysterious wild cats on film
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Illegal to keep snakes as pets: AVA

Straits Times 8 Feb 13;

WITH the year of the Snake about to hatch, authorities are keeping an eye out for anyone selling or buying these reptiles as auspicious pets.

It is illegal to keep, import or sell snakes as pets in Singapore, said the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) in an advisory released yesterday.

Snakes could be a public safety risk, said the AVA, and in any case, many species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). Anyone caught smuggling, possessing, displaying, or advertising animals in stores or online risks incurring penalties of up to $50,000 per specimen and/or a maximum jail term of two years.

In the last year of the Snake in 2001, the AVA dealt with seven cases of illegal trade or possession of live snakes, their parts and products, which resulted in 46 live snakes being seized.

Since then, the AVA has handled 72 seizures of 231 live snakes, most of which found homes at Wildlife Reserves Singapore. One case of illegal possession or trade is being investigated.

Anyone with reliable information on such activities in Singapore should contact AVA at 6325-7625 or

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Singapore also urged members of the public to keep snakes out of their homes.

SPCA director Corinne Fong said the society has yet to find specific cases of snake possession and sales this year, but cited past cases of rabbits being discarded after the Lunar Year of the Rabbit as cause for preemptive action this time.

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Malaysia: 'There's no illegal logging in Lojing'

Sharanjit Singh and Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 8 Feb 13;

IN DENIAL: Kelantan govt claims area all logged out before 1990

GUA MUSANG: Rampant jungle clearing, hill cutting and river pollution covering massive areas of the Lojing Highlands have continued unabated, a New Straits Times aerial survey revealed.

Huge swathes of highlands have been stripped bare of trees, and there are signs that the clearings had taken place just recently, despite the state government's contention that Lojing had been cleared of timber before 1990.

Rivers are clogged with earth and the once clear waters are now the colour of teh tarik.

Frustratingly, despite concerns over the potential of irreversible environmental damage in the area, the Kelantan government has brushed aside these "unfounded" fears, and labelled them as nothing more than just a "misunderstanding".

State Islamic Development, Education and Dakwah Committee chairman Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, when confronted with questions about the environmental degradation, admitted that land in Lojing -- bordering Pahang's Cameron Highlands -- was being cleared to make way for farms and mixed-development projects.

He denied that any logging was going on there.

"There is no logging being done in Lojing as claimed by the media because there is no timber left there. The area was logged out even before we (Pas) came to power in 1990.

"There are only bamboo and small trees left and they were cleared as the area is being developed to be planted with oil palm and rubber trees."

Amar said the state government had given the green light to several companies and agencies to clear land at Lojing Highlands and the projects started "a few years ago".

However, contrary to his statement, clear signs of ongoing hill cutting and land clearing are going on at the highlands.

Bulldozers could be seen clearing the hillslopes and there were also signs of recent landslides which occurred close to the Gua Musang highway. Amar said the state government had given land in Gua Musang and Lojing to state agencies, including Kelantan State Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), Kelantan Islamic Foundation (YIK) and Kelantan Darulnaim Foundation (YAKIN), which later leased the land to a few companies.

He added that development of the land was needed because Lojing was located on high land and bordered Cameron Highlands.

"For Gua Musang, the setting up of the new town will boost tourism in the vicinity."

Amar said the state government was constructing two new towns in Sigar and Pos Brooke, and plans have also been drawn up for resorts in the area.

Pressed on the logging taking place in Lojing, he said the issue of illegal logging highlighted by the media might be a "misunderstanding". Amar said the logging could have been taking place at another area near Gua Musang.

"The media must give details on the area involved before they expose it to the public.

"In Gua Musang, there are few projects that the state government had carried out and they include those set aside for the 'Ladang Rakyat Projek,'" he said.

Commenting on the same issue, state deputy forestry director (development division) Mohd Fauzi Abu Bakar said the department had yet to receive any reports of illegal logging.

He welcomed those with information to inform the department.

"We will take immediate action if there are illegal logging in the state and will not hesitate to nab those involved."

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WWF plans to use drones to protect wildlife

The green group says by the end of the year it will have deployed 'eyes in the sky' in one country in Africa or Asia
Adam Vaughan 7 Feb 13;

Conservation group WWF has announced plans to deploy surveillance drones to aid its efforts to protect species in the wild, as the South African government revealed that 82 rhinos had been poached there since the new year.

The green group says that by the end of the year, it will have deployed "eyes in the sky" in one country in Africa or Asia, with a second country following in 2014 as part of a $5m hi-tech push to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

A record 668 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa alone last year, and a single shipment of ivory seized in Malaysia in December weighed almost as much as all the illegally traded ivory since in 2011, which was itself a record year for seizures. And poachers have kept up their hit rate since the beginning of 2013, according to figures from the South African government. "The Kruger National Park remains the hardest hit by rhino poachers this year, having lost 61 rhino to mostly foreign poachers," a government spokesperson said. "Twenty-one poachers have been arrested, 14 of them in the Kruger National Park."

The criminal trade has become so serious that last year the US intelligence community were ordered to track poachers by then secretary of state Hillary Clinton, with a WWF report in December warning the multibillion dollar trade was now threatening national security in some countries.

WWF's three-year project also involves combining data from unmanned aerial vehicles, cheap mobile phone technology tracking animal movements, and handheld devices carried by rangers, in a bid to outsmart often heavily armed poachers who bribe corrupt officials to avoid patrols and find wildlife.

Allan Crawford, project leader for the WWF Google technology project, who had just returned from the Kruger national park where many of South Africa's rhinos are being killed, told the Guardian: "It's a very scary prospect for rangers … they could run into very heavily armed gangs of poachers, there's usually four or five of them, sometimes with dogs. They've also got wild animals to contend with – one ranger was recently attacked by a lion. They're outnumbered, and sometimes poachers have night-vision equipment. There aren't enough resources to tackle this in South Africa at the moment. This is where the new technologies come in, to help them."

Drones are already being used by conservationists to monitor wildlife, such as orangutan populations in Sumatra, anti-whaling activists are using them against the Japanese whaling fleet, and a charity in Kenya recently beat its target of raising $35,000 in crowdfunding for a drone to protect rhinos and other wildlife in the country's Laikipia district. One South African rhino farmer is even planning to put 30 drones in the sky himself. But the way the three key technologies are being used by WWF is "unprecedented", Crawford said.

A pair of drones will be used in each of the two countries selected, which the group hopes to name within weeks, with plans to ultimately be operational in four sites by 2015, with different terrains. Crawford said the software and drones, which would be operated by rangers or local law enforcement, would "generate a strategic deployment of rangers in the most cost effective way, so they can form a shield between animals and poachers."

The drones would likely cost in the tens of thousands of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands, he said, adding that "if governments wanted to, they could deploy [more expensive] high altitude drones that can stay up high in the sky, and track poachers to get the middle men and whole trade line." The funding for WWF's project comes from a Google grant awarded last December.

"We've got to crack this problem because it's getting out of control," Crawford said. "The poachers seem to have figured out how to get round existing anti-poaching methods." But he admitted anti-poaching efforts could get caught up in an arms race, and that it was a "risk" that poachers may get their own drones. "It will be an escalation like that until we change the cause, which is demand in Asia."

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World food prices stable, low stocks pose risk of spikes: U.N.

Catherine Hornby PlanetArk 8 Feb 13;

World food prices stabilized in January after falling in the previous three months, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday, but it warned that adverse crop weather could cause violent price spikes due to tight grains stocks.

Global food prices surged in mid-2012 following the worst U.S. drought in more than half a century and dry weather in other key grains exporters, raising fears of a food crisis similar to the one in 2008.

But prices eased in the last three months of 2012 due to expectations that large South American production will replenish tight global cereals supplies.

On Thursday Brazil said it would produce a record 83.4 million metric tons (91.93 million tons) of soybeans this season due to unprecedented expansion in area planted after a disappointing harvest last year, and also forecast a record corn crop.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said its food price index, which measures monthly price changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 210 points in January, unchanged from December.

The Rome-based agency raised its view of world cereal output in 2012 to 2.302 billion metric tons, up 20 million metric tons from its previous forecast, but still 2 percent lower than the bumper crop in 2011.

Its outlook for world cereal stocks by end of season in 2013 remained unchanged at 495 million metric tons, down 3 percent from their opening level.

"We should be expecting excellent crops in 2013," said FAO senior economist Abdolreza Abbassian. "But the weather could turn negative, and because we are in a tight situation, prices could react violently and rise," he said.

FAO expects wheat output to increase in 2013, due to a 4-5 percent increase in the winter wheat area in the EU and good weather. However the outlook is less favorable in the U.S. due to dry conditions in some areas.

It said that prospects were also good for the maize crop in South America's main producing countries.


An increase in production is crucial for markets, Abbassian said, because demand is also likely to rise as economies start to recover in 2013.

FAO raised its estimate for world cereal use in 2012/13 by 0.6 percent to 2.326 billion metric tons, up nearly 13 million metric tons from the 2011/12 season.

A weaker dollar is boosting demand for dollar-denominated commodities, Abbassian said, and rising oil prices will underpin food prices in coming months, he said. Higher energy prices increase transport costs which farmers pass on to consumers.

"There could eventually be some support from the energy prices and economic growth could lead to higher animal feed use," he said.

In January, FAO said a rise in oils and fats prices was offset by falling cereals and sugar prices. Dairy and meat prices were roughly stable.

A separate report by G20 food market body, the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), noted on Thursday that maize prices had started to pick up in mid-January on expectations of higher feed use and concerns about weather in South America.

The FAO's index is below a peak of 238 points hit in February 2011, when high food prices helped drive the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.

In the summer of 2012 it began surging to levels close to those seen in 2008, when riots, some deadly, broke out in several poor countries.

(Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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