Best of our wild blogs: 2 Apr 13

Bidadari: Birdwatchers and the call for its conservation
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Hermit crab view of Changi Beach
from wild shores of singapore

So long and see you soon!
from Raffles Museum News

Thurs, 4 Apr 2013, 2pm @ DBS Conference Room: Loke Hui Ling Lynette on Enhancing biodiversity on tropical seawalls: the role of habitat complexity in regulating the diversity and composition of intertidal communities from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Elegy for an urban graveyard

Banyan The Economist 1 Apr 13;

AT QING MING, the annual two-week-long tomb-sweeping festival that culminates this year on April 4th, Bukit Brown springs to life. The biggest Chinese graveyard outside China, its expanse of lush greenery in the heart of Singapore is for much of the year the peaceful haunt of joggers, birdwatchers, cyclists, strollers and the descendants of those buried there. At Qing Ming, this last group expands. The cemetery becomes crowded with clusters of the filial, visiting their ancestors’ graves. They come because they do so every Qing Ming. But this year, their visits have a greater significance: Bukit Brown is in danger, and has become embroiled in a debate over what sort of country Singapore wants to be.

They sweep their ancestors’s graves clean and slash back the foliage with which the jungle tries to reclaim untended tombs. They scrub the headstones and sometimes repaint the epitaphs. They burn joss and candles and strew coloured paper. They make bonfires of paper ghost-money and of gifts for the afterworld. One lucky grandmother this year got a new handbag, a pair of shoes and frock. A great-grandfather, dead these past 80 years, scored an iPhone5 (in replica but, one assumes, preloaded with all the apps a contemporary ghost might need). They leave offerings of fruit, cakes, tea and, sometimes, duck, fish, pork or cockles (to be consumed by the living, with the shells scattered about to symbolise money).

Little old ladies have to be carried up the muddy paths between the graves. Some families are in a rush, with other ancestors in other cemeteries to visit later on. Some make a day of it, taking time to fold the ghost money, and staying for a picnic of the foodstuffs the dead will not, after all, enjoy by themselves. Tai Liu Sai’s elderly great-grandson, who has rescued his grave even while a number of its neighbours have been subsumed by the undergrowth, does so because “I promised my granny.” When he is gone, his own daughter may not come; he does not want to burden her with the responsibility. Just down the hill is the grave of Lee Hoon Leong, a grandfather of Singapore’s founding prime minister, and great-grandfather of the incumbent. As of the morning of March 30th, it had not been swept during this Qing Ming.

This year the rituals have been tinged with a new source of melancholy. By the next grave-cleaning festival, Bukit Brown may have been transformed beyond any recognition, as work starts on the eight-lane expressway the government plans to carve through it. The sunnily inclined will point out that of over 200,000 graves now estimated to be in Bukit Brown and adjacent graveyards, only 3,746 will have to be exhumed to make way for the road. And in a gesture to the nature-lovers who have argued Bukit Brown is an invaluable haven for birds and animals, it is to be built as a flyover, so as not to impede their movement. But no one can doubt that the character of the place will change for ever, from as soon as construction begins.

The government is showing consideration for the people directly affected as well as for the fauna. Descendants of those in the graves that lie in the way of the road have until April 15th to register for exhumation, and until May 31st to arrange for their disinterment. The government has commissioned a team to document all that is known about the graves to be dug up. That task completed, it is also preparing an oral history of the nearby village of grave-tenders, headstone carvers, fruit-sellers and golf caddies (the posh Island Country Club is just across the road), which was cleared a generation ago. After the deadline, the government will, at the taxpayer's expense, arrange exhumations and cremations, and store the ashes for three years in a columbarium. Remains still unclaimed will then be dispersed at sea.

One tomb to be opened is occupied by a man who was tortured by the Japanese during their occupation of Singapore from 1942-45. His great-grandson says he died from being forced to drink unset cement. The authorities keep nagging the great-grandson to get on with exhumation. But he is biding his time, noting that very few others are doing anything. In fact, no more than about a third of the 3,746 graves to be disturbed have been registered. Only some 200-odd families have arranged private exhumations. When you are dead, passive resistance is the only form of protest left. But it can be quite effective.

Bukit Brown has become a focus for active protest, too. Here I should declare an interest: the protesters have my sympathy. Banyan, his family and their dog all love the place. They like its beauty, its trees (including some favourite specimens of my arboreal namesake), its birds and monkeys and the inexhaustible discoveries the tombstones offer. And we like the people who frequent Bukit Brown, including the diffuse but devoted band of activists who are dedicated to trying, almost certainly forlornly, to save it from the developers.

Naturally, I like to think that mine is more than a selfish sense of outrage. Bukit Brown is an important part of Singapore’s “heritage”. That should give it a certain protection, these days. Liew Kai Khiun, a local academic, noted in a post on a Malaysian blog how in the 1960s a government minister had dismissed objections to the clearance of anther graveyard by asking “Do you want me to look after our dead grandparents, or do you want to look after your grandchildren?”

These days, Mr Liew reckons, the government feels that it has to tread more delicately. It has just announced free entry for Singaporeans from May 18th to all national museums; and the government is to pump more money into television programmes exploring Singapore’s history. An explicit model is this year’s “History from the Hills”, which used Bukit Brown to tell Singapore’s story.

The rekindled interest in heritage is part of a broader conversation about what it means to be Singaporean, which in turn is bound up with the biggest political issues: population and immigration. Already, probably more than half of Singapore’s people were born elsewhere. Singaporeans are having very few children—their women’s average fertility rate is among the lowest in the world.

The government argues that, if living standards are to go on rising, the population has to grow. In January a government white paper on the population projected that it would increase from 5.3m now to 6m by 2020 and to 6.5m-6.9m by 2030. But this angered many of the less well-off Singaporeans, whose main daily grouses are the unaffordability of housing and the difficulty of getting onto the underground at rush hour. Many blame both problems, as well as their low wages, in part on an influx of foreigners.

So the government also talks of the importance of keeping a “Singaporean core”. For the ethnic-Chinese that make up three-quarters of that core, Bukit Brown—until it closed in 1973, the only municipal pan-Chinese cemetery, as opposed to those dedicated to different clans or dialect groups—is a central part of their heritage.

It is also the scene of an important battle in the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Jon Cooper, a British battlefield historian, paints a vivid picture of the horrors of that struggle, as young British soldiers from the 4th Suffolk regiment, newly arrived in Singapore after the long sea voyage, took shelter from an artillery barrage in the tombs of Bukit Brown, and fled through its tangled undergrowth and scattered structures as the Japanese advanced with naked bayonets and swords, and screams of “Banzai!”. Some were never seen again.

The expressway through Bukit Brown seems of questionable utility. The government has said it is needed to combat congestion on nearby roads, where, according to its forecasts, the volume of traffic will be 20% greater by 2020. Activists argue, first, that it would be better to find ways to curb car use, and, second, that the true point of the road is as the first step in a bigger plan. The whole area was designated for residential use as long ago as 1991.

This is what Singapore’s government has always done: look around corners on behalf of its people and then plan ahead, confident enough in its own infallibility and in the inevitability of its re-election to ignore pressure groups and resist pandering to populism. Even its critics concede it has been very successful. But times have changed. Social media have turned isolated, silent dissent into more concerted, vocal protest. In response, the government makes much these days of its willingness to “listen” and consult. The political opposition—with fewer than 10% of the seats in parliament—seems a long way from power. But it can no longer be dismissed as an irrelevance, and for now at least, the political momentum is with it.

In this context, the struggle over Bukit Brown takes on a wider meaning. Among the improbable coalition of birdwatchers, conservationists and heritage buffs trying to stop the road are a few who see a broader political goal: of testing the government’s promises of a new responsiveness. In that sense, as in many, the argument over the fate of the graveyard may look like a tussle over Singapore’s past. But it is really about its future.

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Malaysia: Letter to Political Coalition and Political Parties on “Addressing Environmental Concerns in Malaysia”

WWF 1 Apr 13;

In recent years, Green Economy has emerged as the concept that will enable progress in a sustainable manner, ensuring that natural capital which provides goods and services like raw materials, clean water and air, carbon sequestration and waste decomposition, is adequately recognised, accounted for and safeguarded.

Many countries, including Malaysia, have alluded to the importance of green economy as the way forward for development. However, the question remains on how committed is Malaysia in developing our nation to be a green economy?

Against the backdrop of Malaysia’s 13th General Elections, we, the undersigned environmental non-governmental organisations, are keen to understand the political coalition’s and parties’ stand and commitment towards addressing environmental concerns in Malaysia, in our quest to become a green economy.

We append here the letter “Addressing Environmental Concerns in Malaysia” that we have issued to the following political coalition and parties:

• Barisan Nasional
• Parti Keadilan Rakyat
• DAP Malaysia
• Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS)
• Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)

We appreciate if you could publish in full this letter in your media to create awareness among your readers on the need and importance of addressing environmental concerns in Malaysia in our quest to become a green economy.

We thank you in advance for your support.

Yours sincerely

• EcoKnights
• Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM)
• Global Environment Centre (GEC)
• Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)
• Partners of Community Organisations Sabah (PACOS)
• Reef Check Malaysia Bhd
• Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society (SWCS)
• Sustainable Development Network Malaysia (SUSDEN)
• Treat Every Environment Special Sdn Bhd (TrEES)
• Wetlands International (Malaysia)
• World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia)
• Water Watch Penang (WWP)

Download the full letter at

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Malaysia: Tapir hit by m-cycle, found with flesh cut off

New Straits Times 2 Apr 13;

Youngsters looking at the carcass of the tapir, which had the flesh near its neck cut off, in Kampung Hulu Cheka yesterday. Pic by Roselan Ab Malek

JERANTUT: Villagers at Kampung Hulu Cheka near here had a rude shock yesterday when they stumbled upon the carcass of a tapir that was missing a large chunk of flesh near its neck.

The animal, scientifically known as Tapirus indicus, was believed to have been hit by a motorcycle before having its flesh cut off.

It was understood that the stretch of road where the carcass was found had no street lights. The motorcyclist is being treated at Jerantut Hospital.

State Wildlife and National Parks Department director Khairiah Mohd Shariff said people should not have committed such an act, as it was an offence under the law.

"The tapir could have strayed from its natural habitat before it was hit."

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Malaysia: Friends of the forest

Meng Yew Choong The Star 2 Apr 13;

Enlisting local help to protect vulnerable peatlands.

IN the past, the people have always counted on the Government to supply manpower and resources to protect forests and wildlife. That model has had only limited success as forests, by their very nature, are difficult to secure from determined trespassers. It seems that conservation that involves locals is the way to go.

Take, for example, Selangor’s Raja Musa Forest Rehabilitation Programme, which is a collaboration between the state Forestry Department and Global Environment Centre (GEC), a Malaysia-based non-governmental organisation working on conservation of natural resources and climate change issues.

Other than the support of the state government, one key asset of the programme is the successful enlistment of the local community in not only regenerating the forest, but also in keeping intruders and squatters out. The volunteers call themselves Friends of the North Selangor Peat Forest. This largely pristine peatland forest measures around 73,400ha, which is about the size of Singapore.

The creation of the group drew from lessons learned in protecting the Kuala Gula mangrove sanctuary in Perak. In 2007, GEC had worked with the community there to establish the Friends of Mangrove to rehabilitate, protect and manage the Kuala Gula mangroves. Since the formation of the group, there has been discernible changes in the quality of the mangroves which support local fisheries and forestry efforts.

Nursing the forest

GEC is rehabilitating more than 1,000ha of degraded forest within and adjacent to the Raja Musa forest, which sits between Sungai Bernam and Sungai Selangor. About 3,000ha has been degraded by logging, encroachment by cash crop farmers and fires. Last year, fires affected more than 400ha inside and outside the forest reserve.

Phase 1 of the programme took place between December 2008 and November 2010 and was marked by many community tree-planting events. Some 2,000 volunteers planted more than 30,000 seedlings on 60ha of land.

Malaysia has about 1.54 million hectares of peat swamp forest, with more than 70% in Sarawak, less than 20% in Peninsular Malaysia, and the remainder in Sabah. Some 76,000ha of peat swamps remain in Selangor and the North Selangor block, consisting of the Sungai Karang and Raja Musa Forest Reserves, is the second largest block of contiguous peat swamp in the peninsula (the largest block is at the Pekan-Nenasi area in Pahang).

Peat is defined as a soil type containing at least 65% organic matter, typically formed from half-decayed leaves, stems and roots of plants that have accumulated in a water-saturated environment in the absence of oxygen. The peat layer can be a thick as 20m. Over millions of years, compressed peat can morph into coal.

Tree planting at Raja Musa will help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere. Peatlands store enormous amounts of CO2 but when burnt (whether as coal, lignite and other fossil fuels), the CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. Fires do not generally threaten pristine peat forest as the ground is moist but for peatland that has been disturbed, especially by uncontrolled drainage through man-made canals, fires can wreak havoc as the natural water table has been significantly lowered.

After several decades of logging, the Raja Musa forest is vulnerable to land conversion attempts. This occurred about 10 years ago. Poachers also enter the reserve using abandoned logging tracks and other paths created by illegal settlers. Incursions aside, GEC’s greatest fear is that the degraded peat will catch fire.

“Peatland fires and haze are the most serious environmental problems in Asean, impacting the health and livelihood of millions of people. In 2012, South-East Asia was seriously affected by fire and haze during an El Nino-associated drought cycle. Further fires are expected during the dry season this month,” said GEC director Faizal Parish.

In December 2010, a new phase in cooperation was initiated when Selangor Forestry Department and GEC signed a memorandum of understanding to support community-based forest conservation and rehabilitation.

In the second phase of work, GEC and the state are not only supporting replanting but also long-term protection of the forest. The initiative has received financial backing from the European Union, Bridgestone Tyre Sales Malaysia and HSBC Bank.

GEC now has the cooperation of four villages – Kampung Bestari Jaya, Kampung Ampangan, Kampung Seri Tiram Jaya and Kampung Raja Musa. The community is protecting the forest through fire prevention education, restoration of the natural water table by blocking free-flowing canals, encouraging natural flora regeneration, and replanting severely degraded areas.

“What we do here must also benefit the local community, which is often the first to be impacted by events in the forest reserve. We want them to be our eyes and ears, and hence, they must also stand to benefit from it.

“For example, some villagers are now growing tree seedlings. We buy from them, so they get some income,” said Faizal.

Other ways in which GEC helps the villagers are by giving them advice on how to improve their agricultural yield. “We have been getting plantation giants Felda and Sime Darby to give talks on best practices so that they can increase the productivity from existing plots. There is then less need to get things from the forest or to intrude there. Forest burning means no visitors as the area will be shrouded in haze, so all these rehabilitation and management (activities) are actually beneficial for them.” said Faizal.

The creation of the Friends of the North Selangor Peat Forest is one good example of community involvement in sustainable peatland management and peatland forest fire prevention that is promoted by the ASEAN Peatland Forests Project-SEApeat project ( Initiated in 2011, the project aims to improve environmental awareness, education and conservation of peat swamp forests in South-East Asia. In Malaysia, the Raja Musa forest was chosen as the pilot site.

People power

It is not only those who have a direct stake in agriculture who care about the forest. Syamsul Ramli and his wife Noor Hazan Morah Huddin, both 39 and from Kampung Bestari Jaya, are enthusiastic members of the volunteer group.

“When we were young, we had no idea what peatland was, other than the blackish water seen in its vicinity. We did not know about the combustability of peat, but we are now aware. GEC’s approach is effective, and our challenge now is how to attract more villagers to learn about peat. We still have a lot of work to do in order to arouse interest,” said Syamsul, who sells school reference books for a living.

Azmi Md Zaki, 39, is another enthusiastic volunteer. “When I was a kid, peat never entered my vocabulary. We just went around playing and swimming in the lakes and rivers. But when GEC came to the village to suss out the interest of the people in caring for peatland, I became aware, and my interest grew from then on,” said the company administration officer.

Group chairman Sariat Kadot, 55, revealed that illegal incursions into Raja Musa forest is now under control on account of regular motorcycle patrols in the forest, conducted by villagers who are self-employed or retired. “We will advise intruders about the no hunting, no fishing, and no open burning policies. There are some outsiders who challenge us. In those cases, we will jot down the details and file a report. Our job is only to advise, not to get into any violent confrontation. Those who come in to hunt illegally are not only armed, but are sometimes drunk, so we have to take precautions.”

With about 100 volunteers, the group is seeing more and more members starting to take an active role in forest management. Last year, some of them battled fatigue during Ramadhan (Muslim fasting month) to help fight an underground fire that eventually burned 400ha.

“We lacked the protective gear like those worn by firemen, but we joined in the fight just like the rest. Now, where can you find greater dedication than that?” asked Azmi.

With villagers like that looking out for the forest, it appears that Selangor’s commitment to rehabilitate the Raja Musa forest is heading down the right path.

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Indonesia seizes nearly 700 endangered turtles

(AFP) Google News 1 Apr 13;

TANGERANG, Indonesia — Indonesian authorities have seized nearly 700 endangered pig-nosed turtles at the main airport serving the capital Jakarta, an official said Monday.

The turtles, which were less than a month old, had been transported from the easternmost province of Papua to Soekarno-Hatta airport on a local carrier but their final destination was unknown, said quarantine official Teguh Samudro.

"We don't know where they were being sent as the address on the package does not exist," the official said. The turtles would be released back into their native habitat in Papua soon, he added.

The 687 pig-nosed turtles, a species distinguishable by its fleshy snout-like nose, arrived at the airport on March 15 but officials did not know who had sent them.

Under Indonesian law, the offence carries a maximum three-year jail term and a fine of 150 million rupiah ($15,406).

Pig-nosed turtles are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which imposes international trade restrictions to protect species from over-exploitation.

Quarantine officials foil attempt to smuggle 687 pig-nosed turtles
Antara 1 Apr 13;

Tangerang, Banten (ANTARA News) - Quarantine officials at Seokarno-Hatta Airport have foiled an attempt to smuggle 687 pitted-shelled turtles, chief of the airport`s quarantine office Teguh Samudro said.

"We discovered the smuggling attempt after their container got leaked," Teguh, the head of Soekarno-Airport`s Quarantine Office of Fisheries Quality and Security Control Agency (BBKIPM), said here on Monday.

He said that one-month old pig-snout turtles were dispatched from Papua on March 15 aboard of a Sriwijaya plane and had a transit at Makassar airport before arriving at Soekarno-Hatta airport.

But the officials could not disclose the passenger who brought the endangered species. They were suspicious to have fled when the turtles were confiscated by the officials.

Regional Conservation Director of the Ministry of Maritime and Fishery Affairs, Tonny Ruchimat said pig-nosed turtle was a protected species based on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Law N0 5 /1990, article 21, and article 40 point 2 and 4 of Government Regulation No. 7/ 1999 on plants and animals conservation.

"We are still investigating the sender of the young fly-river turtles. We are also examining why the animals could escape examinations at Makassar airport without the knowledge of officials," Teguh said.

The pig-nosed turtles have been handed over to the Directorate General of Forest and Nature Conservation (PHKA) for release to their habitat.

Last month, the Bengkulu Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) also released around 200 turtle hatchlings in Pasir Putih beach, Bengkulu province.

Turtles have been protected by the Indonesian government, but turtles poaching and illegal trading are still rampant in the country, Bengkulu BKSDA Chief Anggoro Dwi Sujianto said.

The turtles were hatched in Alam Air Hitam sanctuary, Mukomuko District, Bengkulu Province, and therefore some of the hatchlings were released in Mukomuko and the rest in Bengkulu city`s beach.

Turtles that hatch in Bengkulu beaches do not only come from the province but also from Thailand. Thai turtles come to Bengkulu waters only to lay their eggs, and they then disappear in Indian oceans.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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