Best of our wild blogs: 9 Feb 13

Singapore Biodiversity Zodiac - Year of the Snake
from Darwinian Left. Of all things evolved

High power
from The annotated budak

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Three Nominated MPs vote 'no'

Leonard Lim Straits Times 9 Feb 13;

THREE Nominated MPs joined nine Workers' Party MPs and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam in opposing the Population White Paper, casting a "no" vote though the motion was amended.

Ms Janice Koh, Mr Laurence Lien and Ms Faizah Jamal did so for varying reasons, ranging from the environmental impact of further growth to concerns over whether Singapore could absorb more foreigners.

The vote was taken after Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang called for a division - which means each Member's vote is recorded, in this case by MPs keying in their votes electronically instead of giving a verbal "aye" or "no". Eight Members were absent for the vote, including Mr Inderjit Singh who stood out among the PAP MPs for his strong criticism of the White Paper on Tuesday.

When asked if he had absented himself, the Ang Mo Kio GRC MP replied: "All I want to say is I was not present for the vote." In a Facebook post earlier, he wrote: "I spoke from my heart and will do what I can to change things."

One NMP, academic Eugene Tan, opposed the White Paper in his speech but abstained from the vote after listening to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's pledge to act on the concerns raised.

Fellow NMP, Ms Koh, used her speech to highlight deficits in three areas - psychological, social and cultural - and said that these must be dealt with even as Singapore readies the physical infrastructure for a bigger population.

One, more can be done to assure citizens they are not discriminated against. The figure of 6.9 million people in 2030 may be a planning parameter, but it is hard to swallow it psychologically, given current bottlenecks, she said.

Two, Singapore's social deficit, she said, was a result of rapid immigration, and puts the country at risk of racial and class divisions. Finally, she highlighted the "glaring omission" of the arts in the Land Use Plan, linked to the White Paper.

Ms Koh, a TV and stage actress, noted the White Paper wants Singapore to be a liveable, lively and well-loved city, but does not earmark new spaces for heritage, culture and the arts.

Making a point that was picked up by PM Lee, she added: "It is one thing to build a liveable city. The harder question is how do we build a loveable one?"

Ms Faizah, speaking on Wednesday, accused the Government of stressing economic expansion at the expense of the environment. The nature advocate wants infrastructure plans to undergo an environmental impact assessment and its findings made public.

On Thursday, Mr Lien said the White Paper did not go far enough in restructuring the economy, and the population projections and intake of new citizens were too large.

He produced his own forecasts, insisting they could still bring growth. "We can live with a cap of the population at six million by 2030 and still be very dynamic," he had said.

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AVA to monitor wellbeing of dolphins at Resorts World Sentosa

Channel NewsAsia 9 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) has filed an official request with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) to investigate possible animal cruelty by Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).

In a statement on Friday, ACRES said: "Despite appeals from ACRES and members of the public not to, on 7th and 8th December 2012, RWS went ahead and held fireworks displays near the enclosures the wild-caught dolphins were confined in."

AVA said that it had visited RWS during a fireworks display in January and found that the dolphins were not affected by the pyrotechnics.

It added that it would continue to monitor the wellbeing of the dolphins at RWS.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson of the Marine Life Park (MLP) at RWS which houses the dolphins said they were doing well.

The spokesperson added that the park places the highest priority on the health and comfort of all its animals, and would never, under any circumstances, compromise their well-being in any way.

MLP's facility is designed such that all other activities and operations in the resort would not adversely impact the animals, and an experienced team of animal husbandry professionals constantly monitor the dolphins.

- CNA/al

RWS fireworks caused stress to dolphins: ACRES
Kelly Ng Today Online 9 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE - Animal welfare group ACRES has filed an official request with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to investigate possible animal cruelty by Resorts World Sentosa’s (RWS) staging of a fireworks display near its dolphin enclosure on its opening nights in December.

The group’s move comes after it asked but failed to convince RWS not to hold the 12-minute fireworks displays near to the enclosures of the 24 dolphins in the IR’s oceanarium on Dec 7 and 8 last year. It had also gone to the AVA prior to RWS’ opening, although the authorities found that nothing amiss with the dolphins during a visit last month.

In a press statement yesterday, ACRES’ chief executive Louis Ng said: “ACRES is concerned that the dolphins may be terrified by, or suffer, as a result of fireworks displays.”

The group pointed out that scientific research shows that noise causes distress to cetaceans, a group of marine mammals with very sensitive hearing, including dolphins, whales and porpoises.

Mr Ng expressed doubt that the dolphins were unaffected by the fireworks. “The enclosures are open air, so there is no way the facility could have prevented causing stress to the dolphins,” he said.

In response to TODAY’s queries, RWS asserted that it places “high priority” on the animals in its Marine Life Park. The park facility is also designed such that other resort operations will not adversely affect the animals’ welfare, it added.

“Our dolphins are currently doing well at the park. We place the highest priority on the health and comfort of all our animals, and would never compromise their well-being in any way,” said a park spokesperson.

An AVA spokesperson said it will continue to monitor the well-being of the dolphins in RWS.

This is the latest in a string of protests by ACRES against RWS’ decision to bring in the dolphins which were caught off the Solomon Islands. For instance, it worked closely with Philippine non-governmental organisations to block the export of the dolphins — the animals were kept and trained at Subic Bay, Philippines — to Singapore last year.

In November, the third of the 27 dolphins initially caught en-route here. KELLY NG

Acres seeks probe into fireworks near RWS dolphins
Jessica Lim Straits Times 9 Feb 13;

NON-PROFIT animal rights group Acres has called on the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to investigate possible animal cruelty by Resorts World Sentosa. The issue is a 12-minute fireworks display held near the enclosures of the wild-caught dolphins at the integrated resort in December.

"The fireworks displays may have compromised the dolphins' welfare, as the close proximity and loud noises may have disorientated and distressed them," said Mr Louis Ng, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) chief executive yesterday. When contacted, the AVA said it visited RWS during a fireworks display in January but found that the dolphins were not affected. The Straits Times understands this display was on a smaller scale but at a similar location.

Marine Life Park - where the dolphins are housed - has refuted Acres' allegations. A spokesman said the park is designed so that activities around it will not impact animals inside it.

However, Mr Ng said that it was impossible to prevent the sound of fireworks from reaching the dolphins in an open-air enclosure. Cetaceans - a group of mammals that include whales, dolphins and porpoises - are known to have sensitive hearing, he said, adding that scientific research has shown that noise is a known cause of stress for them.

Acres had previously made an appeal to RWS to refrain from setting off the fireworks.

The fireworks were set off on Dec 7 and Dec 8 to mark RWS' grand opening night. Its Marine Life Park, which opened on Nov 22, has been dogged by controversy since plans to house dolphins there were announced. The dolphin enclosure is not yet open to the public.

Animal rights groups including Acres and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had called for RWS to abort its plans for the dolphins as early as 2009. The calls grew louder in 2010 when two dolphins died at a holding area in Langkawi in Malaysia, and when one of the 25 dolphins died on its way to Singapore in November last year.

When contacted, a spokesman from Marine Life Park said that the dolphins were "doing well".

"We place the highest priority on the health and comfort of all our animals, and would never, under any circumstances, compromise their well-being in any way," he said.

When contacted, the AVA confirmed that they received an e-mail request from Acres yesterday. "We will continue to monitor the well-being of the dolphins at RWS," said its spokesman.

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More than 2000 live snakes seized in Bangkok Airport

TRAFFIC 8 Feb 13;

Predictions for the Year of the Snake which begins on Sunday, say it isn’t a good one for those born under that Chinese Zodiac sign. It may also be a bad year for its namesake if a seizure of over 2,000 snakes in the Suvarnabhumi Airport last night is anything to go by.

More than 2,000 rat snakes and cobras, packed in blue mesh bags which were in turn hidden in over 200 polystyrene boxes, were part of a shipment declared as fresh fruit.

The shipment had been flown to Hong Kong on 5th February where it was rejected by Hong Kong Customs and returned to Thailand as it lacked documentation.

Thailand’s CITES officials and Airport of Thailand officers co-operated to access the shipment upon its arrival in Bangkok. The boxes were then then inspected by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and found to contain the snakes.

Authorities told a press conference that the shipment belonged to exporter AK International Co Ltd.

The case is being investigated under the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act (WARPA) and Thai Customs Laws. Snake species involved are protected under Thai laws and CITES legislation.

TRAFFIC urged authorities in Thailand and Hong Kong to work together towards determining the parties behind the shipment.

This seizure follows the discovery of 600 deadly cobras in the back of a truck at a checkpoint south of Bangkok last November. A suspect arrested in this case confessed to authorities that he was delivering the snakes to northeast Thailand where they were to be smuggled over the border into Laos.

Zodiac animal themed items are usually in high demand every Chinese New Year. While these are usually decorations and trinkets made in the image of animals, occasionally the animal itself is in demand.

News reports in Malaysia for instance, have quoted pet shop owners saying that they are seeing an increased demand for pet snakes, with one shop reporting sales of 30 snakes in recent days.

Snakes are traded for their skins, meat, gall bladder and venom. Large seizures of illegally traded snakes are common in the region.

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Malaysian state scales back Borneo dam plans

Dan Martin (AFP) Google News 8 Feb 13;

KUCHING, Malaysia — A Malaysian state minister Friday said the government would not push ahead with building a dozen new dams on Borneo island, acknowledging they have caused outrage from local tribes and environmentalists.

The proposals sparked fears that the dams would destroy pristine rainforests, endanger wildlife, and displace natives in Sarawak, a Malaysian state crossed by powerful rivers with rich jungle habitats.

"It is not a firm plan to build 12 dams. I don't think we will need that. We will only need four," James Masing, Sarawak's state minister of land development, told AFP in an interview.

Masing said the government was backing off in response to widespread criticism. Protests over the years have seen activists and locals staging blockades of roads into dam areas.

"I'm pleased that this type of thing (protests) takes place. Not all that we do is correct, and this shows we need to refine our plans and think again," he said.

The now-complete Bakun mega-dam, which is not part of the new dam proposal, has already been dogged for years by claims of corruption in construction contracts, the flooding of a huge swathe of rainforest and the displacement of thousands of tribespeople.

Despite that, the government mooted constructing more dams as part of an industrial development drive to boost the resource-rich state's backward economy.

Another dam at Murum, also deep in the interior, is nearing completion and two others are in the planning stages as part of the new proposal.

Together the four dams -- at Bakun, Murum, Baleh and Baram -- are already expected to put out nearly 6,000 megawatts of power, six times what Sarawak currently uses, Masing said.

"The protests are becoming more vocal on the ground so (the dam rethink) is a very good development for me," said Peter Kallang, member of a Sarawak tribe and chairman of SAVE Rivers, an NGO that has campaigned against the dams.

However, he said plans for the Baram and Baleh dams should be scrapped as well, noting that the Baram dam would displace about 20,000 people, compared to about 10,000 at Bakun, and destroy irreplaceable forest.

He said SAVE Rivers last month organised a floating protest along the Baram river that cruised down river for three days and was met with support along the way by local tribespeople.

Kallang and other activists have also travelled abroad to lobby against the dams, including meeting officials of Hydro Tasmania, an Australian corporation that advises the Sarawak government on the dams.

The Tasmania government corporation pledged in December after meeting the activists that it would pull its personnel out of Sarawak by the end of 2013, Kallang said.

Sarawak's tribes -- ethnically distinct from Malaysia's majority Malays -- fear that they will lose their ancestral lands and hunting and burial grounds, as the government encourages them to make way for projects and move into new settlements.

Those are equipped with medical clinics, electricity, and Internet access. But village elders and activists say alcoholism, drug use, and crime are on the increase and anger is rising over continuing encroachment on native lands.

In one of the blockades in 2011, Penan tribespeople blocked roads into their lands for a week to protest logging and alleged river pollution by Malaysian firm Interhill until the blockade was dismantled by authorities.

The Swiss-based jungle-protection group Bruno Manser Fund says about 90 percent of Sarawak's rainforests have been damaged as the state government has opened up virgin forest to loggers and palm-oil plantations.

Critics also allege chief minister Taib Mahmud, who has ruled Sarawak since 1981, has enriched himself and his family through corrupt timber and other dealings, and have called the dams white elephants.

Taib has dismissed the corruption allegations.

Critics of Taib accuse the federal government of failing to act against him because his tight control of Sarawak has kept it a vital ruling coalition stronghold.

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