Best of our wild blogs: 19 Mar 13

Sat 23 March – Special Tour
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Wed, 20 Mar 2013, 6.15-7.45pm @ LT31: Urban Wildlife Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation Policy: Meet the BES Lecturers from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Singapore has wild dolphins, otters, dugongs, sea turtles and more! from wild shores of singapore

Random Gallery - Blue Glassy Tiger
from Butterflies of Singapore

Cycle Ubin!
from Otterman speaks

Read more!

Sinkholes are part of rapid urbanisation: Experts

They urge more preventive steps; LTA says roads checked regularly
Daryl Chin Straits Times 19 Mar 13;

ROADS in Singapore are checked for potholes, cracks or other physical defects regularly, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday.

Highways and major roads, for instance, are inspected every two weeks, and smaller roads every eight weeks. Inspections are also carried out immediately when members of the public call in, added a spokesman.

It was explaining its procedures for road maintenance, following queries from The Straits Times on the sinkholes that have appeared in recent months.

Experts say that sinkholes are part and parcel of the rapid urbanisation that Singapore is undergoing, and existing measures could be tightened to prevent any incidents.

There have been four cave-ins in three areas so far this year.

Two of them - one in Woodlands Road last Saturday, and one in Keppel Road in January - were caused by burst water pipes, the authorities said.

A sinkhole also appeared in Clementi earlier this month. Four days after it was filled in, the road gave way again. The LTA is still investigating this.

The lane-wide depression in Woodlands appeared next to a construction site for the MRT's Downtown Line 2. Experts say sinkholes are caused by several factors, including water pipe leakages, excavation works and rainwater, which may erode the sand and silt underground.

When the soil matter directly beneath the roads trickles to deeper cavities and the surface collapses, a sinkhole forms.

It does not help that Singapore has a complex network of utility lines such as power cables, water pipes and sewage lines running underground at depths of 3m to 6m.

"Older infrastructure works may not be exact to what's on a map, and contractors sometimes have to pin down exactly where these lines run, and isolate or divert them properly," said Associate Professor Leong Eng Choon from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Working on water pipes can be tricky as they are held together by joints, which may leak when moved even slightly.

Singapore's highly built-up environment also makes erosion, which happens gradually underground, harder to detect until the sinkhole appears.

The train network is set to double over the next 17 years, with two new lines and three extensions. On its part, the LTA said it conducts engineering assessments, which check the geological properties on the ground and can take several years, before the start of any road or rail construction.

It also looks out for any unexpected ground movements around the project when works are carried out.

Mr Chong Kee Sen, vice-president of the Institution of Engineers Singapore, said the current framework is already comprehensive. "Whatever regime you put in, such incidents are bound to happen. The key issue lies in how fast we deal with it," he said.

But Prof Leong said there is always room for more stringent site investigations before and during works.

Motorists, too, have become more aware.

Flight steward James Chua, 31, said he has been paying more attention to the roads.

He said that with construction works taking place everywhere, drivers not only need to keep an eye out for other vehicles, but also check whether the road itself is sound.

Read more!

Changi mulling over need for fourth runway

It is part of a larger study on runway capacity, even as 3rd strip is planned
Karamjit Kaur Straits Times 18 Mar 13;

A big question is how the development will impact Changi Coast Road, transport and airport experts said. Options include removing the road or a diversion, in which case it would most likely be moved closer to the coast, they said.

CHANGI Airport is studying the need for a fourth runway to cater to more flights in the coming decades, even as plans are finalised for a third landing and take-off strip.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is seeking consultants to look into the feasibility and benefits of a fourth runway, The Straits Times found out.

When contacted, a CAAS spokesman said the authority is undertaking a study to determine technical and other details for the implementation of a three-runway operation.

She said: "We will also be taking the opportunity to assess the potential incremental benefits that additional airport infrastructure in the future could bring about."

Speaking during last Wednesday's Budget debate, Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said Changi Airport will have a third runway by the end of this decade.

It will be on a plot of reclaimed land near the airport, with Changi Coast Road separating them.

The new runway will be redeveloped from an existing one that is now used for military purposes.

Industry watchers expect that when a fourth runway is eventually built, it will be at the same site.

The 1,080ha site has been earmarked for the construction of a new mega terminal, as well as supporting facilities like an air cargo centre, by the mid 2020s.

Actual plans will be finalised and unveiled this year, said Mrs Teo in Parliament.

She did not give specifics but added that existing roads may also have to be diverted.

A big question is how the development will impact Changi Coast Road, transport and airport experts said. Options include removing the road or a diversion, in which case it would most likely be moved closer to the coast, they said.

With air traffic growth in the Asia-Pacific region outpacing that of other regions, industry experts have warned that countries that do not invest in their airports risk losing business to rivals.

Changi Airport, which handled a record 51.2 million passengers last year, is now building Terminal 4 and expanding Terminal 1.

The added capacity will enable Changi to handle up to 85 million passengers a year compared with the current 73 million by 2018.

Ms Angela Gittens, director- general of Airports Council International, a global trade body that represents major airports, said Singapore, as well as countries like China and Malaysia, is on the right track. But others like India, Indonesia and Vietnam need to catch up, she told The Straits Times during a recent visit here.

Based on data collated by aviation consultancy firm OAG, airports in the region will grow at an annual rate of between 4 per cent and 14 per cent over the next few years.

If plans by Asean countries to lift regional flying restrictions on member-country airlines materialise by 2015, they will also add more pressure to existing and planned infrastructure, added OAG's Asia-Pacific vice-president Mario Hardy.

"The impact on travellers will be an increasing amount of flight delays due to air traffic congestions, busy airport terminals unable to cope with the traffic going through, and longer lines at security, immigration and Customs."

Read more!

CITES: Lifeline for species

Tan Cheng Li The Star 19 Mar 13;

Conference takes decisive action to halt decline of endangered species.

THE world’s biggest wildlife conference concluded last week with some great strides in the global effort to stamp out illegal wildlife trade and ensure sustainability of future commerce in a range of valuable species.

When the two-week meeting of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok drew to a close on Thursday, there were agreements to step up efforts to reverse the dramatic increase in the poaching of elephants and rhinoceroses; introduce trade restrictions to protect endangered tropical trees, sharks and freshwater turtles from over-exploitation; and co-operate to counter wildlife crime.

More than 350 threatened species won increased protection at the meeting, at which there were over 2,230 participants from the 170 countries that are parties to the treaty, conservation groups, observers and the media. The member countries also declared March 3 as World Wildlife Day.

“The meeting was very fruitful, and a big step forward for Parties to better regulate trade in wildlife and to further conservation efforts for species seriously threatened by illegal trade,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, deputy director for wildlife trade monitoring body TRAFFIC South-East Asia.

“It is unfortunate that international trade levels are a threat to so many species, and ideally, it would be great to see species recovering and removed from the list in the future, but sadly, harvest and trade of many species is a growing threat.”

Some of the major outcomes of the meeting:

Shield for turtles

Over 30 species of freshwater turtles – including all those native to Malaysia – received enhanced protection from over-harvesting for the international pet and meat trades. Four species were up-listed to Appendix I of CITES and so can no longer be traded: big-headed turtle, Burmese star tortoise, Myanmar narrrow-headed softshell turtle, and striped narrow-headed softshell turtle. Fifteen box turtle species and eight softshell turtle species from Asia, and three freshwater turtle species from North America, were added to Appendix II, which allows international commerce but only with the appropriate permits demonstrating legal and sustainable sourcing.

Another 15 box turtle species already listed in Appendix II are now subject to “zero quota for wild-caught specimens”, which means only captive-bred specimens are allowed for commerce. The Malaysian species in this category are the Malaysian giant turtle, yellow-headed temple turtle and painted terrapin. However, a proposal to ban trade in the rare Roti Island snake-necked turtle was rejected after Indonesia, the range state, assured delegates that the conservation threats were being addressed through a conservation programme. Laundering of wild-caught specimens through captive-breeding facilities in Indonesia appears to be a method by which this turtle continues to enter international trade.

Tortoises and freshwater turtles are among the most seriously threatened groups of animals in the world. Two years ago, experts warned that 80% of Asia’s 86 turtle and tortoise species were at risk of global extinction.

“As tortoises and freshwater turtles are so seriously affected by illegal and unsustainable trade in South-East Asia, the listing of the species provides the authorities with a more comprehensive set of tools to combat the illegal trade and to work towards population recovery,” said Shepherd.

He said all species of tortoises and freshwater turtles native to Malaysia are now protected by CITES. “Most were already listed, but the remaining few unlisted species were moved to Appendix II at the meeting. This closes any potential species identification loopholes authorities in Malaysia may have had – basically, if it is a native tortoise or freshwater turtle from Malaysia, CITES regulations apply.

“This provides Malaysia with a real opportunity to control trade and to work towards ensuring illegal and unsustainable trade is not a threat to Malaysia’s native species.”

While the listings mark a significant step for global reptile conservation efforts, Shepherd asserts that they need to be backed up by effective implementation of trade regulation measures.

Sharks triumph

Five shark species won international trade protection in what is seen as a breakthrough in efforts to save the world’s oldest predator from extinction due to rampant demand for its fins. The listing of the oceanic white-tip, the porbeagle shark and three types of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, great and smooth) in Appendix II (controlled trade allowed) requires countries to regulate commerce by issuing export permits and to provide evidence that the fish has been harvested sustainably and legally.

The listing has been hailed as a landmark moment for CITES because previous attempts to protect these sharks have failed, largely due to opposition from shark-fin-consuming and -producing countries such as Japan and China. At the meeting, however, support from Latin American and West African countries, and the promise of cash from the European Union to help change fishing practices, won the day.

“This is an historic day for marine conservation,” said Glenn Sant, marine programme leader for TRAFFIC. “Shark populations in freefall have been thrown a lifeline today ... CITES has finally listened to the scientists.”

The five species join the great white shark, the whale shark and the basking shark, which already enjoy international trade controls. Humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation. It says 90% of the world’s sharks have disappeared over the past century, mostly because of over-fishing in countries such as Indonesia. Conservationists say sharks are slow to reproduce and will be threatened with extinction without better monitoring and management. They also argue that “finning” – slicing the valuable fins from live sharks – is inhumane, as the rest of the animal is typically dumped back into the ocean.

Another victory for ocean lovers is the listing of manta rays in Appendix II. These rays, whose wingspans can reach 7m, are principally targeted for their gill plates, which are processed and sold as a purifying tonic, but are also harvested for their meat and skins. Populations are being devastated off the coasts of Sri Lanka and Indonesia to feed a newly created Chinese medicine market.

The rays are slow-growing with low productivity, making them highly susceptible to over-fishing. Just three years ago, scientists confirmed the existence of two separate species within the group. Manta rays tend to congregate at well-known aggregation sites and follow regular migration pathways, which makes them easy targets from fishing fleets. Around 5,000 are estimated to be killed each year, generating US$5mil (RM15.5mil) for traders, but where protected they bring in US$140mil (RM434mil) from tourism.

Another fish that benefited from the meeting is freshwater sawfish, which can no longer be traded after being added to Appendix I. They are virtually extinct over much of their former west Pacific range, and have not been seen for decades in Indonesia and Thailand. Now restricted to northern Australia, they are sought for their fins and saws, and by aquariums.

Logging reprieve

Dozens of commercially exploited tropical hardwood, long subjected to uncontrolled and illegal harvest, will be placed under international trade controls. The Appendix II listing for ebony from Madagascar as well as rosewood from Thailand, Vietnam, Latin and Central America, and Madagascar, will make it harder for illegal loggers to sell their timber overseas. The exporting countries will have to issue export permits and ensure the sustainability of the species in the wild.

Conservationists welcome the listing, as commercially exploited timber species have previously featured little within CITES.

Rampant logging – even within protected areas – threatens Madagascar’s 80 species of ebony as the wood is highly prized, mostly ending up in China and Europe where they are turned into musical instruments, for example piano keys, and decorative items, such as chess pieces.

“Without the protection of CITES to regulate international trade, the unsustainable illegal harvest will bring these species to the brink of extinction in 10 to 20 years,” said Juan Carlos Cantu of Defenders of Wildlife.

The Bangkok Post reported that two-thirds of Thailand’s wild Siamese rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) stocks have been depleted over the past six years because of logging and habitat loss. According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, Thailand had banned logging of rosewood and other precious wood species in 1989 but huge demand and weak law enforcement sees Thai rosewood, which can fetch up to US$50,000 (RM155,000) per cubic meter, being smuggled into neighbouring countries and shipped to end-users, principally China, where the wood is used for luxury Hongmu antique-style furniture. In Vietnam, heavy illegal logging has led to the rosewood tree population plunging by around 60% over the past decade.

CITES also agreed to create a system of certificates for musical instruments crafted with materials from protected species – ranging from pianos with ivory keys to guitars made from ebony and violin bows crafted with tortoise shell – so that these can roam the globe more easily with their own “passports”. Such instruments currently need a new permit each time they cross borders. In the case of species banned from international trade, the certificates will only be available for instruments made before the protection took effect.

Curbs on ivory

Conservation bodies say that poaching of elephants has reached crisis levels, with up to 30,000 elephants being slaughtered annually to feed the illegal ivory trade, which has doubled since 2007. It is estimated that only about 420,000 to 650,000 elephants remain in Africa. In Thailand, a top market for ivory, criminals exploit legal trade in tusks from domesticated Asian elephants to sell illicit stocks of African ivory.

Delegates endorsed several measures that will curtail ivory laundering. Governments now have to report their ivory stockpiles annually to prevent the stash from being illegally traded. There have been previous cases of ivory missing from government-held stockpiles. Also, ivory seizures of more than 500kg will be forensically examined to determine their country of origin. An Ivory Enforcement Task Force will be created to improve enforcement collaboration between countries.

Eight nations were accused of failing to counter the illegal flow of ivory along the trade chain – China and Thailand as end-use markets; Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam as transit countries; and Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as source and exit points in Africa. But these countries avoided sanctions after committing to take action. Six have submitted draft action plans while China and Tanzania will do so by May. Under treaty rules, CITES member states can recommend that parties stop trading with non-compliant countries in the 35,000 species covered under the convention.

“Malaysia is not a consumer of ivory, but it is being used as a transit point,” said Shepherd. “In transit countries, such as Malaysia, the key really is to remove the elements that attract smugglers. If there are individuals or companies established in Malaysia and taking advantage of the ports, then investigative efforts should be made to put these people out of business.

“Joint investigations with source and consumer countries should be initiated and CITES, as an international tool, should be used to the fullest extent to prevent shipments of ivory moving through Malaysia. Malaysia has made some very significant seizures and has been recognised as taking action against the illegal international ivory trade. The key now is to deter smugglers and illegal dealers from using Malaysia.”

The meeting also acknowledged the need for campaigns to curtail consumer demand for ivory and countries will also have to report on measures taken to prevent illegal trade in live captive elephants. This move will support endangered populations of the Asian elephants that are subject to animal trafficking in countries such as Thailand and Myanmar.

Rhino rescue

Some progress was made in the conservation of critically endangered rhinos. Two of the worst offenders in the rhino horn trade, Vietnam and Mozambique, were given until 2014 to clean up their act or face trade sanctions by CITES.

Rhino poaching has hit record highs – 668 South African rhinos were killed by poachers last year, and close to 150 have died so far this year – and is currently exacerbated by increasingly sophisticated criminal networks. Consumption in Vietnam has grown massively, fuelled by claims that rhino horn cures cancer and hangovers.

Vietnam is now required to implement strategies to reduce consumer demand and ensure that horn traffickers are strongly punished. Mozambique, a major transit country for rhino horns, must strengthen legislation and enforcement to reduce trade flows exiting the African continent. It is currently only a misdemeanour to smuggle rhino horns through Mozambique. The country shares a border with South Africa’s Kruger National Park, home to most of the world’s rhinos and also the epicentre of illegal killing.

“The recommendation to implement a demand reduction strategy for an endangered species is a welcome first for CITES,” said Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC director of advocacy. “Enforcement efforts to stem poaching and trafficking may be futile without complementary efforts to reduce demand for these illegal products.”

The meeting requested member countries to prosecute horn smugglers under a combination of relevant legislations which carry appropriate penalties that will act as effective deterrent.

Other outcomes

The meeting also agreed to develop a reporting mechanism on the illegal killing and trade of great apes. According to the United Nations Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) Stolen Apes report, which was launched at the meeting, 22,218 great apes were taken from the wild between 2005 and 2011 to be traded illegally on international markets, primarily for the pet trade.

Trade in the West African manatee, that is hunted for its meat and oil, has also been banned while added to Appendix II were New Zealand green geckos and Mangshan pit-viper (endemic to south China).

A proposal by the United States to ban cross-border trade in polar bears and their parts was rejected, however, following an impassioned appeal by Canadian Inuits to preserve polar bear hunting in their communities. Polar bears are currently listed in Appendix II, so their trade is merely regulated.

There are between 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears living in the wild in Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway, according to the most recent analysis, which was conducted in the early 1990s. Scientists project that as Arctic summer sea ice shrinks, many polar bear populations could decline by 66% by mid-century.

Stolen for shows
Illegal trade robs the wild of thousands of great apes annually.
The Star 19 Mar 13;

SOME 3,000 great apes are lost from the forests of Africa and South-East Asia each year in an illicit trade with links to organised crime. Stolen Apes: The Illicit Trade in Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orang Utans highlights the growing links to sophisticated transboundary crime networks, which law enforcement networks are struggling to contain.

The report by the United Nation’s Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) estimates that some 22,218 great apes have been lost since 2005 – either sold, killed during the hunt, or dying in captivity – with chimpanzees comprising 64% of that number.

The report examined confiscation records, international trade databases, law enforcement reports, and arrival rates from sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres between 2005 and 2011.

Over the past seven years, 643 chimpanzees, 48 bonobos, 98 gorillas and 1,019 orang utans are documented to have been captured from the wild for illegal trade. Stolen Apes says that each great ape confiscated or confirmed in the illegal trade represents many more that died either during the capture or the trafficking process.


“The taking of great apes from the wild is not new – it has gone on for well over a century,” said UNEP executive director. Achim Steiner, “But the current scale outlined in this report underlines how important it is that the international community and the organisations responsible for conserving endangered species remain vigilant, keeping a step ahead of those seeking to profit from such illegal activities.”

All great apes are endangered and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as Appendix I animals. Yet the report reveals that the illegal trade has shifted from being a by-product of traditional conservation threats such as deforestation, mining and bush-meat hunting to a more sophisticated business driven by demand from international markets. These markets include amusement parks, circuses, zoos and wealthy individuals seeking exotic pets as status symbols. Great apes are even used in tourist photo sessions on Mediterranean beaches and boxing matches in Asian safari parks.

Since 2007, standing orders from zoos and private owners in Asia have spurred the export of over 130 chimpanzees and 10 gorillas under falsified permits from Guinea alone, an enterprise that requires a coordinated trading network through Central and West Africa. A safari park in Thailand admitted in 2006 that it acquired at least 54 orang utans from Borneo and Sumatra.

“It is important to establish baseline figures for the illegal trade in great apes, even if these numbers only hint at the devastation,” said Doug Cress, coordinator of GRASP. “Great apes are extremely important for the health of forests in Africa and Asia, and even the loss of 10 or 20 at a time can have a deep impact on biodiversity.”

The illicit trade is increasingly linked to organised crime, and sophisticated transboundary networks now move great apes along with other contraband such as ivory, arms, drugs, rhino horn and laundered money. A smuggler recently apprehended in Cameroon was transporting a live chimpanzee wedged between sacks of marijuana.

Profit margins are high for the criminal networks. The report found that a poacher may sell a live chimpanzee for US$50 (RM155), whereas the middleman will resell that same chimpanzee at a mark-up of as much as 400%. Orang utans can fetch US$1,000 (RM3,100) at re-sale, and gorillas illegally sold to a zoo in Malaysia in 2002 reportedly went for US$400,000 each.

Poor prosecution

Law enforcement efforts lag far behind the rates of illegal trade. Only 27 arrests were made in Africa and Asia in connection with great ape trade between 2005 and 2011, and one-fourth of the arrests were never prosecuted. The loss of habitat in Africa and Asia further drives the illegal trade, as it promotes contact and conflict between apes and humans. Great ape habitat is being lost at the rate of 2% to 5% annually. By 2030 less than 10% of the current range will remain on current trends.

In South-East Asia, the conversion of rainforest for agro-industry is directly linked to the illegal trade, as orang utans are flushed from the forest and end up being captured, killed, or trafficked. Extractive industries such as logging, mining, and petroleum exploration create transportation and trade routes that facilitate the illicit traffic of great apes. – UNEP

Read more!

U.N. bodies want to tackle drought to avert food crisis

Emma Farge PlanetArk 18 Mar 13;

U.N. agencies want to strengthen national drought policies after warnings that climate change would increase their frequency and severity.

Droughts cause more deaths and displacement than floods or earthquakes, making them the world's most destructive natural hazard, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, one of the groups taking part.

"We must boost national capacity to cope before droughts occur," Ann Tutwiler, FAO deputy director-general told the five-day talks on drought in Geneva attended by scientists, politicians and development agencies.

"Unless we shift towards such policies, we face the prospect of repeated humanitarian catastrophes and the repeated threat of drought to global food security."

In 2012, the United States experienced the worst drought since the 1930s "dustbowl", pushing grains prices to record highs. In the past years, droughts have also affected the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region as well as China, Russia and southeast Europe.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in December that extreme weather was the "new normal", adding that drought had decimated essential crops from the United States to India, from Ukraine to Brazil.

"No one is immune to climate change - rich or poor. It is an existential challenge for the whole human race - our way of life, our plans for the future," he said at the time.

However, governments have often been slow to act on drought as, unlike other natural disasters, they tend to develop more gradually and often do not generate an instant media buzz.

"As opposed to other natural disasters it's a slow creeping phenomenon," said Mannava Sivakumar a director for the World Meteorological Organisation's (WMO) climate prediction and adaptation division who assisted with the talks.

"If people say let's what and see what happens, before you realize it, you see crops dying, orchards dying and millions of dollars in damage," he added.

The four U.N. bodies that launched the "National Drought Management Policies Initiative" were the FAO, the WMO, the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification and the U.N.-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development.

The project aims to develop early warning systems, following the example of the U.S. National Integrated Drought Information System, and mitigation measures which might include helping farmers change their planting schedule to adapt to water shortages.

They said they would proceed through four regional workshops in eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean throughout 2013.

The conference also urged governments to develop stronger regional and global cooperation to improve observation systems and to put in place national emergency relief measures.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

Read more!