Best of our wild blogs: 12 Feb 13

CNY Day 2: St John's Island
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore

蛇年快乐!Happy new snake year! - I'm back! :)
from Psychedelic Nature

Big Sisters in the year of the water snake
from Peiyan.Photography

Black Baza feeding on praying mantis
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Pity the pangolin: little-known mammal most common victim of the wildlife trade from news by Jeremy Hance

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MRT line across catchment area could affect an integral space

Vinita Ramani Mohan Today Online 12 Feb 13;

I was appalled to read that the Land Transport Authority proposes to build a Cross Island Line by 2030 that will cut across the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (“Nature group concerned about impact of MRT line”, Feb 4).

The catchment area encloses parks and reserves that are protected under the Parks and Trees Act. What clauses permit the construction of such a line?

A viable public transport system is vital in a city where cars are unaffordable. But the catchment area is also integral to providing Singaporeans with much-needed space for recreation, community building and family bonding. The proposed line would disrupt this.

The Government has been trumpeting that we are not merely a “garden city”, but a “city in a garden”.

However, along with the Parliament passing the White Paper, which projects a population of up to 6.9 million in 2030, citizens like myself doubt whether we will be living in such a city in the coming decades.

A significant population increase and deforestation would make us no different from any other polluted, overcrowded city. The only difference is that we would have no rural outback or hinterland to which to retreat.

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Malaysia: Proposed regulations to limit types of snakes kept as pets

Natalie Heng The Star 12 Feb 13;

Proposed regulations will limit the types of snakes which can be kept as pets.

FENG shui experts have foreseen that 2013 will be a year of peace and prosperity but on the other hand, things do not seem to be in favour of this year’s zodiac animal, the Snake.

The reptiles are widely traded but to what extent, no one knows for sure because very little of the trade in Asia is regulated, according to Chris Shepherd, deputy director of wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC South-East Asia.

“There are hundreds of species of snakes in Asia, and the vast majority of them are not protected by national laws,” he says.

Trade figures supplied by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) show that around 298,000 pieces of snake skins, 406 live snakes, 12,508kg of meat and 82 snake products were exported in 2011.

However, these figures only refer to species listed as “tradable” (which includes pythons, cobras and rat snakes) under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

There are hundreds of other species of snakes – file snakes and sea snakes (traded for skins) as well as others traded for meat and as pets – for which the trade is completely unregulated, says Shepherd.

“For example, there are indications that Malaysia may in fact, have a huge trade in sea snakes (to make shoes, handbags, belts and other leather goods). They are not protected (nationally), neither are they listed on CITES. It’s just a free-for-all.”

New controls

That the extent of so much trade remains largely unknown is one of our biggest problems, according to Shepherd.

And as trade is increasing, species are likely to decline. “There is very little funding for organisations like ours to do research on snake issues,” he says.

It is still early days, but new regulations being drafted under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 could mean better controls over the snake trade.

The draft Pet Shop Regulations 2012 will only allow a small number of snake species for sale as pets by local shops: reticulated python, blood python, Burmese python, ball python and boa constrictors (except species listed as “totally protected” in the Act).

Trade in these species will require a licence, and can only be conducted within a licensed premise, on the condition that traders keep a record of all trade conducted. Violators of these rules may be fined up to RM100,000 and jailed for up to five years.

Perhilitan law and enforcement director Burhanuddin Mohd Nor says the proposed regulations is to discourage trade in wildlife and lessen public demand to keep wildlife, especially within an urban setting. It also aims to encourage respect for wildlife as potentially dangerous animals.

“The draft regulations are aimed at creating awareness and instilling a sense of responsibility among the public who own wildlife as pets,” he says.

There have, in the past, been cases of pet owners releasing their unwanted animals into the wild, after having either tire of them or finding that they were too hard to handle.

Burhanuddin says the impact of such introductions into the wild can be devastating, so the department is taking a precautionary approach to prevent them from happening.

The proposed regulations have created unrest amongst Malaysia’s growing community of reptile hobbyists and have, in fact, served to consolidate the group.

Mohd Nazri Hassan Basri, 46, says he founded the Malaysian Association of Reptiles and Exotic Animal Keepers (Marak) in response to the proposed regulations, apart from promoting responsible pet-keeping.

He thinks the regulations will do more harm than good. “It is hampering our efforts to develop the hobby because it will mean many snakes can no longer be bought legally from pet shops.

“It punishes responsible pet owners by making it difficult to acquire these pets legally, and may push hobbyists underground. There are people breeding with the intention of selling.

“Recent trends see some people doing this with reticulated and Burmese pythons, and sugar gliders.”

He says Marak, which has yet to be registered, wants hobbyists to be responsible. “That’s why we encourage people to buy from established breeders. Sometimes, when you go to pet shops, you don’t know where they get their animals from.”

Another group formed last June with the specific purpose of lobbying against the legislation is the Association of Zoo Operators, Breeders, Entrepreneurs and Rearers of Wildlife Malaysia (P4PHM), which unites an otherwise segmented wildlife industry under one voice.

Along with the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (Mazpa), it was one of the organisations consulted by Perhilitan during the drafting of the regulations.

“We (P4PHM) are all very saddened by the regulations. We agree with the rationale behind banning venomous snakes such as cobras, sea kraits or vipers because of the risk factor towards the hobbyists.

“However, there are many other non-venomous snakes, such as mangrove snakes, dog tooth tree snakes, whip snakes and paradise tree snakes (which cannot be traded under the Pet Shop Regulations 2012) that are harmless,” says a representative of the 3,700-strong group.

It has appealed to the government to consider allowing trade in non-venomous snakes. It also says that the proposed regulations will effectively restrict hobbyists from keeping many native snake species as pets.

“We understand that the main motive of the regulations is to control illegal trafficking of wildlife, but we have to understand that illegal players don’t abide by the rules, and will still go underground at the end of the day.”

P4PHM also notes that of the five snakes allowed to be sold as pets under the proposed regulations, three – the reticulated python, boa constrictors, and Burmese python – should only be reared by experienced handlers.

Stemming illegal trade

Technically, species listed as “protected” (in Schedule One) in the Wildlife Conservation Act can be traded or owned so long as one gets a permit or licence from Perhilitan.

However, pet owners must supply a receipt of purchase issued by a licensed trader (which lists the trader’s updated stock list) to Perhilitan, in order to obtain a licence to keep the animal.

In effect, by restricting the number of snakes species that can be sold in pet shops, the new regulations will make it difficult for hobbyists to legally own protected species.

Traffic thinks the new regulations will encourage legal trade and more effective enforcement over illegal traders.

Its legal officer Shenaaz Khan says that despite the existence of legitimate pet owners who are merely interested in owning an exotic pet, such ownership can be abused.

“A pet shop is in no position to ascertain what the acquisition of exotic pet is truly for. These regulations appear to be implicitly designed to curb the illegal trade in wildlife for which many pet shops and zoos serve as fronts.”

P4PHM, however, thinks that pet owners can play a role in conservation, and points out that captive breeding enables the perpetuation of a species, which might be facing threats in the wild.

If someone’s pet snake reproduces, the owner simply has to report its offspring to Perhilitan, which will add it to the original licence (if the animal is a protected species).

Traffic, however, does not believe captive breeding is a viable solution to the problems faced by endangered wildlife.

For one thing, it can be difficult to know if someone is going beyond just being a hobbyist, and using the premise of legal ownership to disguise illegal trade activities.

“In many cases animals are being caught from the wild and then passed off as captive-breds,” says Shenaaz.

“Therefore, in restricting the trade as a whole, there will be fewer places for those engaging in illegal trade activities to hide.”

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Malaysia: Groups seek mandatory fines for wildlife trader

Groups seek justice for animals
The Star 12 Feb 13;

PETALING JAYA: Wildlife conservation groups have called for the mandatory fines to be imposed on the wildlife trader who was convicted for possession of tiger skins and bones, and African elephant tusks.

Mohd Nor Shahrizam, 30, was sentenced by the Alor Setar Sessions Court to a total of 60 months – 24 months for possession of eight tiger skins, another 24 months for keeping 22 whole tiger bones, and 12 months for the nine tusks – but because the judged ordered the sentences to run concurrently, he would only be in jail for 24 months.

To top that, no fines were imposed.

A wildlife prosecution officer in Kedah has been reported as saying that the prosecution planned to appeal to seek a fine.

Malaysian Conservation Alli­ance for Tigers (Mycat) said that a mandatory fine – the minimum being RM100,000 – would be in accordance with the Wildlife Conservation Act, which involves the keeping of tigers or their parts.

“Yet, Mohd Nor Shahrizam, found guilty on two charges under this clause, was not fined. Not even the minimum RM200,000 he should have been slapped with in this case,” said the group.

“So it’s 24 months for 22 tigers. A little over a month in prison for each tiger that Malaysia has lost forever,” said Mycat.

The group said the judgment was like “the blow of a sledgehammer” to those in enforcement and conservation who had been toiling to keep tigers from the brink of extinction.

Mycat said it also wanted to see authorities “dig deeper” into the case, alleging that Mohd Nor Shahrizam was only part of a larger criminal trafficking network.

“Will Malaysia ever join the ranks of countries like India, Nepal and Indonesia, which have taken down some of their countries’ biggest wildlife smuggling rings?” it said.

The group urged that the authorities fight harder to ensure protection and justice for the last 500 tigers for the sake of the country’s wildlife and image.

Mohd Nor Shahrizam was caught with the items when the Department of Wildlife and National Parks raided his house in Kampung Sungai Dedap, Kota Sarang Semut, last February.

Judge Mohd Rosli Osman granted the defence a stay pending an appeal and ordered that Mohd Nor Shahrizam’s bail, initially set at RM70,000, be raised to RM80,000.

Dept wants wildlife trader to pay dearly
Nuradilla Noorazam New Straits Times 21 Feb 13;

APPEAL AGAINST LIGHT SENTENCE: Man who possessed endangered animal parts only jailed 2 years

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has requested an appeal to be filed against the light sentence imposed on a wildlife trader for possession of tiger skins, bones and elephant tusks.

A Perhilitan spokesman said the two years' jail imposed on Mohd Nor Shahrizam, 30, by the Alor Star Sessions Court recently was too lenient and disproportionate to his crimes.

"We have submitted a request for an appeal against the sentence as it does not include any fine against the culprit.

"By right, those caught with possession of tiger body parts face a mandatory, minimum fine of RM100,000, and mandatory imprisonment. However, in this case, the culprit was only jailed and not even ordered to pay the minimum fine as prescribed in the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010," the spokesman said.

It was reported that wildlife conservation groups were outraged that the court had only jailed Nor for a total of 60 months -- 24 months for possession of seven tiger skins, 24 months for keeping 22 whole tiger bones, and 12 months for having nine elephant tusks.

However, because the judge ordered the sentences to run concurrently, Nor would only be in jail for 24 months. He was caught with the wildlife body parts in Kampung Sungai Dedap, Kota Sarang Semut, Kedah.

Malaysia Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MyCAT) had described Nor's conviction as a "featherlight sentence".

The group urged for the mandatory fine to be imposed and for a deeper investigation into the case as it is believed to involve a high-profile international trafficking ring.

The tiger population in Malaysia is estimated to be just around 500, compared with the 1950s when 3,500 were estimated to roam the jungles.

Records showed that wildlife traders were usually let off with relatively light sentences.

Last year, four men were acquitted after killing a tiger in 2010, despite the fact that all four had admitted to the offence.

Another high-profile case involved international wildlife trafficker Anson Wong Keng Liang, who successfully reduced his jail sentence from five years to 17 months after an appeal.

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Malaysia: Rape of the forests in Kelantan

Syed Azhar The Star 12 Feb 13;

KOTA BARU: The aerial view of Kuala Krai and Gua Musang in Kelantan’s southern region shows areas of rampant land clearing and wanton destruction of virgin forests.

According to a Kelantan-based non-governmental organisation, Young People against Corruption (Ombak), the devastation covers at least five hills between Kuala Krai and Gua Musang.

“The pictures and video show that in some places, land has been cleared for logging far more seriously than the case of Lojing in Gua Musang.

“Many hills have been stripped clear of trees,” said Ombak president Wan Khairul Ihsan Wan Muhammad. The NGO went on a helicopter ride to check the area last Friday.

He said the environmental ruin, stretching to the Pahang-Kelantan and Kelantan-Perak borders, could not be seen from human settlements and roads.

He estimated that thousand of hectares of forest reserve land or land earmarked for logging activities had been cleared.

Describing it as “rape of the forested hills”, he said logging was being done in the middle of forest reserves stealthily to avoid public detection.

“Forests are cut down in the mid-section, leaving a buffer zone of trees that are untouched as a smoke screen to cover up the action.

“Bertam is one of the areas. Thousands of hectares have been logged or converted into commercial plantations.

“They cannot be seen from the road but are very visible from the air.

“This also explains why the colour of the Kelantan river is constantly murky like teh tarik,” he added.

Wan Khairul Ihsan also claimed that active logging was going on in Kuala Betis, Lojing, based on video evidence of logs being stacked up and waiting to be brought out from the area despite the recent denial by senior exco member Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah.

“We have all the proof to show the rampant land clearing activities and serious environmental degradation and polluted rivers.

“We are identifying the affected areas through the use of global positioning system coordinates and if the state government wants evidence we are prepared to show them,” Wan Khairul added.

“The problem is real and it is causing serious environmental problems not only to the rivers but is also destroying the forest ecology,” he added.

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Malaysia: Man survives panther attack

New Straits Times 12 Feb 13;

GUA MUSANG: A panther attacked an Indonesian worker who was spraying insecticide at an oil palm estate at Felda Perasu here on Sunday.

Alip Abil, however, was lucky to escape death as a co-worker came to his aid. He was rushed to the hospital, where he received 50 stitches.

Alip, 33, said he had gone to the estate with six others. Upon arriving, they split up to work in different parts of the estate.

"It was 8.30am and I had just started spraying the insecticide when an animal suddenly jumped on my back. I thought it was a wild boar and put up a fight but the pain was unbearable and I shouted for help," he said at the workers' kongsi.

Alip said his friend, Nuraidi Marsudi, 26, rushed to help while the other five ran off.

"Only when Nuraidi told me that it was a panther did I realise that I was struggling with a ferocious animal. This news frightened me further, as I believed I was facing certain death.

"But I was lucky as Nuraidi reacted quickly by taking a sharp stick and prodding the panther's mouth, forcing it to release me.

"It then turned on Nuraidi. Since he had a sharp stick, the panther did not put up a fight and left the area.

"I was semi-conscious when they took me to Gua Musang Hospital. I am glad that I am still alive after the attack."

Nuradi said the panther became aggressive when he poked it with the stick. However, it decided to leave soon after.

He said the panther was as big as a large goat and that it was knee-high in height.

There have been frequent sightings or attacks by tigers in Kelantan, but an attack by a panther is rare.

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New group seeks to save near-lawless oceans from over-fishing

Alister Doyle Reuters 10 Feb 13;

(Reuters) - The high seas that cover almost half the Earth's surface are a treasure trove with little legal protection from growing threats such as over-fishing and climate change, according to a new international group of politicians.

"High levels of pillage are going on," David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary, told Reuters. He will co-chair the Global Ocean Commission, which will start work this week and give advice to the United Nations on fixing the problems.

Over-fishing and environmental mismanagement cost the world economy $50 billion a year and about three-quarters of world fish stocks are over-fished or fished to the maximum, according to World Bank and U.N. data.

"The hidden depths are a treasure trove, and a treasure trove that we neglect or raid at our peril," Miliband said of the high seas, the area beyond national limits that stretch 200 nautical miles from coasts.

His co-chairs will be former Costa Rican president Jose Maria Figueres and Trevor Manuel, a minister in the South African cabinet in charge of planning.

The commission will include ex-cabinet ministers from nations such as Chile, Australia, Indonesia, Canada and Nigeria, as well as business leaders and Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It will produce advice in 2014.

Miliband said vast areas of the oceans, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, were "a neglected area of global governance" despite a 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Commission says the high seas are under severe and increasing threat from over-fishing, damage to habitat, climate change and ocean acidification caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


There are some regulatory mechanisms - the Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority was set up in 1994 to control mining of deep-sea deposits such as nodules rich in manganese, iron, aluminum and copper.

And a 2001 U.N. pact seeks to control stocks of fish such as highly migratory tuna, sailfish, swordfish and sharks. Regional fisheries management groups also try to oversee the high seas.

But the Commission says tougher rules and "future-proofing" are needed - to take account of emerging risks and technologies that could make mining or oil and gas drilling more feasible in the ocean depths, perhaps down to 5,000 meters (16,400 feet).

The drilling group Transocean says one of its oil and gas drillships in 2011 set a world record by drilling in the seabed off India at a depth of 3,107 meters.

"The global ocean is essential to the health and well-being of each and every one of us," Figueres, the former Costa Rican head of state, said in a statement.

"It provides about half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs about a quarter of our carbon dioxide emissions; but we are failing to manage it in ways that reflect its true value."

Miliband said the 1982 UNCLOS pact had not properly anticipated, for instance, that giant trawlers could stay at sea for weeks, freezing and processing fish before returning to port.

Ole Kristian Fauchald, a law professor at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo, said possibilities for change included limiting the use of "flags of convenience" that let fishing vessels register in nations that are lax in imposing U.N. rules.

And ports could be stricter in refusing access to ships pillaging the high seas. Cutting subsidies to fishing fleets would also help, despite a lack of progress at the WTO, he said. U.N. studies estimate subsidies at up to $34 billion a year.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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