Best of our wild blogs: 16 Apr 13

From the days of Temasek
from Hopping Around

Mantis Shrimps of Singapore (ONETWOTHREE DEATH!)
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

A Wild Place Near Punggol Waterway
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Whipping Around – Spidey Galore #4
from My Itchy Fingers

Seagrass-Watch check up on Chek Jawa
from wild shores of singapore

Small abandoned net at Chek Jawa (15 Apr 2013)
from Project Driftnet Singapore

Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot Takes Yellow Flame Nectar
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Double bad: Chinese vessel that collided with protected coral reef holding 22,000 pounds of pangolin meat from news by Jeremy Hance

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Building underground: Singapore's underbelly could have 'several tiers'

Utilities, train stations, cable tunnels could sit at different depths: Experts
This year, three sinkholes have appeared from Keppel to Woodlands due to water pipes bursting and construction on the Downtown Line. Will such incidents rock the country's underground ambitions? Feng Zengkun and Grace Chua report.
Straits Times 16 Apr 13;

THE Downtown MRT line has been having a downer of a year.

First, its construction was blamed for cracks in houses in the nearby Watten Estate in Bukit Timah last September.

Next, the Land Transport Authority revealed a month later that its price tag had soared by more than 70 per cent since 2008 to $20.7 billion, partly due to rising construction costs and the need for more stringent safety requirements.

Now, the line has been fingered in a cave-in on Woodlands Road.

Engineers have said that delving underground has risks that cannot be eliminated, but the train line's litany of woes suggest problems tougher than the rocks.

This is worrisome as Singapore will have to develop its underground in other ways, especially in the light of the recent White Paper's population projections, they said. The paper lays out plans for up to 6.9 million people here by 2030. A complementary land use plan by the National Development Ministry added that Singapore will have to expand its uses of underground space.

By putting more industrial utilities such as power plants underground, for example, surface land can be released for people's living and civic uses and for green spaces, said engineering firm Tritech Group's executive director Cai Jun Gang.

So far, Singapore has built an ammunition storage facility, a Common Services Tunnel for utilities and the Jurong Rock Cavern to store petroleum products beneath the ground.

Eight engineers told The Straits Times that Singapore's underbelly could have several tiers:

Utilities such as water and gas pipes, from near the surface to about 20m deep;
Train stations and tunnels, offices, malls, carparks, laboratories and other facilities intended for people at 15m to 40m deep; and
Other uses that involve fewer people, such as cable tunnels, oil storage caverns and reservoirs, from 30m to 130m deep.

A 1999 study commissioned by the Government and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) found that the school could have subterranean lecture theatres and cinemas beneath its campus.

The Ministry of National Development will also complete a study this year to see if facilities such as reservoirs, power plants and landfills can be clustered underground to save surface land.

The engineers said Singapore has several underground rock formations that can be tapped.

Bukit Timah, Bukit Gombak and Woodlands have granite and norite under them. "These are strong crystallised rocks... which are much harder than concrete," said Mr Chong Kee Sen, vice-president of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES).

Limestone deposits stronger than concrete also lie beneath Changi and a 10km stretch of land from Telok Blangah to West Coast Road, including Kent Ridge and Boon Lay.

Dr Zhou Yingxin, a senior principal engineer with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), has said that the deposits are enough to "build an underground city", although more studies are needed to determine the amount of usable space.

In the east, material known as old alluvium - mainly cemented sand and clay - can be used for underground construction, added Professor Leung Chun Fai from the National University of Singapore Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The main challenges to digging deep are safety, cost, large variations within the rock formation and Singapore's tropical weather.

Over time, high temperature and rainfall, which seeps into the rocks' cracks and erodes them, have broken down rocks and soil in the Jurong area as deep as 40m below ground, said Dr Chew Soon Hoe, an IES council member who specialises in geotechnical and geological engineering.

Such weathered rocks are weak and soft, making underground construction more difficult as more support systems are needed. Cement grout, for example, may have to be pumped into the ground to strengthen the soil.

Even if there is more suitable rock at greater depth, the shallow, weaker rock has to be reinforced for maintenance and vertical access shafts during construction, adding to costs, added Dr Chew.

The soil and rock formation in Singapore is notorious for having very high variations in rock levels, strengths and properties, said the engineers. The Jurong formation, for example, consists of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, shale and limestone, while the Kallang formation has loose sand, soft clays and silt overlying other rocks. Rock composition can vary both vertically and laterally.

The latest geology study by DSTA, NTU and the Building and Construction Authority in 2009 mapped out the types of geologic formation expected in various parts of Singapore, but did not specify the depth of each soil and rock type in much detail.

Said Dr Grahame Oliver, an NUS senior lecturer who teaches geoscience: "We know very little about Singapore's geology below about 50m under the surface."

Mapping, studying and determining the rocks' extent and structure may be tedious but is necessary for safe underground construction, IES's Mr Chong said.

Study soil before starting projects
Feng Zengkun and Grace Chua Straits Times 16 Apr 13;

THOROUGH soil investigations must be carried out before an underground construction project starts.

These usually take one to six months and make up to 10 per cent of the project's cost, said engineers.

Boreholes are drilled to extract soil samples, which are tested to determine their strength, permeability, compressibility and other engineering properties.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has requirements for the number of boreholes to be drilled based on the project's size, such as its depth and length.

The engineers said their peers should get foundation records of structures near the projects from the owners or the BCA.

"Many buildings in Singapore undergo renovation and could have different types of foundation. This could cause cracks in the buildings during underground construction," said Mr Lim Peng Hong, a fellow at The Institute of Engineers, Singapore and former president of the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore.

During construction, instruments such as settlement markers, water standpipes, piezometers and tilt and vibration meters should be installed to monitor ground conditions, and to provide early warning of potential damage to nearby buildings.

Engineers have to submit safety plans and monthly reports on the instruments' readings to the BCA.

With good site investigations, risks and surprises during construction can be minimised, said Associate Professor Leong Eng Choon from NTU's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The engineers said it is impossible to have a "100 per cent accurate" picture of the underground rock and construction's effects.

The records of older buildings may be missing, for example, and it may be difficult or too costly to dig too many boreholes in Singapore's built-up environment. Singapore's shallow ground may also be crowded by buried utilities such as electricity cables, water and sewage pipes, and telephone lines, said NTU Assistant Professor Louis Wong, an expert in rock mechanics and underground engineering. These present an obstacle to ground investigations.

Still, risks of incidents such as sinkholes can be reduced by investing in better technology and learning from other countries, the engineers said.

NUS' Dr Grahame Oliver recommended doing more extensive seismic surveys using multiple survey methods. "In this way, areas suitable for deep underground construction can be identified. Future underground projects are likely to be deeper than 50m," he said.

A registry of boreholes and soil data will also help engineers, said Mr Lim. "It is not possible to drill boreholes inside an occupied building, but engineers can interpolate from boreholes in the vicinity. There will always be roads serving all structures, and therefore space to carry out soil investigations," he said.

Last year, the BCA, Land Transport Authority, Singapore Accreditation Council and the Geotechnical Society of Singapore jointly launched an accreditation scheme for site investigation firms to improve the industry's standards.

The Singapore Geology Office was also set up in 2010 under the BCA to create a database on the country's geology to facilitate underground developments. A spokesman said that surveys are being carried out using boreholes up to 200m deep.

It is also using sound waves and borehole televiewers to identify dangerous rock faults and fractures. It declined to say when the work would be done.

While underground construction may be up to four times pricier than for a surface project, Singapore may not have a choice in future, said the engineers.

"You can build up, but there is a limit, because we have airports. You can reclaim, but there is also a limit, as you need to keep fairways and anchorages for your port," BCA chief executive John Keung has said.

He added: "The only thing left is to go underground."

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Sustainable transport 'needs new thinking'

Higher motoring costs, managing peak hour demand among ideas
Christopher Tan Straits Times 16 Apr 13;

A PAY-AS-YOU-DRIVE tax on motorists, flexible work times that get around public transport rush hours and encouragement for car-sharing, walking and cycling.

These were among ideas floated by four experts yesterday at a seminar on sustainable urban transport policies.

A major underlying theme of the debate, held at the National University of Singapore (NUS), was whether the country is devoting too much land and resources to transport.

Panellist Anthony Chin, a transport economist at NUS, questioned land use management as the Republic's economy switches from manufacturing to high-value activities such as research and development.

Roads take up about 12 per cent of Singapore's land area, with a similar amount taken up by housing.

"But if you include the airport and port, the percentage (for transport) is much higher," Prof Chin said.

"Do we need a physical port/airport to be a maritime/aviation cluster in the future?" he asked.

The two currently impinge on space available for other uses, he said, adding that in turn, that would drive up land prices and the cost of doing business and living in Singapore.

He said an area used up by a downtown port could instead be used for high-density mixed development.

Prof Chin also said Singapore should move away from building infrastructure to deal with transport needs at peak times - such as by encouraging working from home or flexible hours.

Professor Paul Barter of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said some roads here are too wide and carparks too cheap.

While Singapore has a sound policy of restraining car ownership, he said, not enough is being done to make the city more liveable - the ultimate goal of any car-curbing policy.

In fact, quite the opposite has been happening with motorists enjoying relatively high speeds while pedestrians and places take a back seat.

"Traffic congestion gets more attention than it deserves," he said.

Prof Barter said redevelopment policies had stipulated that building owners in the city must provide adequate parking, and that these carparks are "subsidised" because space used for carparks was not factored in as part of the gross floor area calculated.

Professor A.P.G. Menon, a retired traffic planner who now teaches at the Nanyang Technological University, said: "We have provided enough for motorised traffic. It's time now to do more for non-motorised traffic."

He recalled a time when Singapore had bicycle lanes - for instance, along MacPherson Road in the 1960s - but they were converted to car lanes by the mid-1970s.

Prof Menon also pointed out that building more roads is not the answer, as new ones will quickly fill up. No city in the world has managed to build itself out of congestion, he added.

Prof Menon proposed instead the introduction of reversible traffic flow, in which more one-way lanes are provided to coincide with traffic flows in the morning and evening peak hours.

He also cited the high number of expressway incidents that hold up traffic. For instance, in July 2008, nearly 900 breakdowns were recorded on expressways.

Mr Adrien Moulin of the Belgium-based International Association of Public Transport spoke of cities "reclaiming" urban areas, such as Tokyo revitalising space around train stations by intensive redevelopment and Seoul tearing down a highway to restore a river.

Responding to a question from the floor on how Seoul's moves contrast with Singapore's plan to build a road through Bukit Brown cemetery, a site deemed by many to have natural and heritage value, Prof Barter said sacrifices would have to be made if a city wants to cater to driving.

He also felt that there could have been better public engagement ahead of the announcement.

"Government does not make enough effort in engaging," Prof Barter said. "There's a lot of secrecy in the Singapore Government.

"The cost-and-benefit assumptions were not made public... so people are naturally sceptical because they don't see the analysis."

'Pay as you drive' scheme suggested to ease Singapore's traffic congestion
Experts are suggesting that Singapore implements a 'pay as you drive' policy, which they say may be more effective in tackling traffic congestion.
Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Channel NewsAsia 15 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE: Experts are suggesting that Singapore implements a 'pay as you drive' policy, which they say may be more effective in tackling traffic congestion.

They are also calling for current transport policies to gear towards greater sustainability and mobility.

These suggestions were floated at a seminar held at the National University of Singapore on Monday.

Owning a car in Singapore can be costly.

Motorists pay for the Certificate of Entitlement (COE), the Additional Registration Fee (ARF)... and with the recent loan curbs, more cash upfront as well.

Experts believe the high costs motivate car owners to maximise the use of their cars to get their money's worth.

This in turn adds to the problem of congestion.

Currently, about four in 10 households in Singapore own at least a car.

Prof Paul Barter, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said, "Singapore has a very high level of car use per car, each car is used around 20,000 kilometres per year, whereas for European or Japanese cities per year, it is more like 10,000 to 12,000 kilometres per car.

"So even though we have very low car ownership, we still have a lot of traffic because those car owners use the car more. Ideally cars would be cheaper in the future but perhaps more expensive to use, more expensive to park."

So one sustainable way could be to peg the costs with usage or distance travelled.

Prof Barter said, "At the moment you buy a COE which has 10 years, you pay ARF which last the whole time and those two amount to almost $100,000 typically for a car. What if instead of that, you bought 50,000 kilometres worth of car taxes when you bought your car, and 50,000 kilometres later you have to top up for another 50,000 kilometres of those taxes, COE and ARF, then you have the incentive not to use your car to make them last longer, so pay as you drive. This will be a way to make it more affordable, but still control traffic."

He said tracking distance can be possible should authorities go ahead with plans to implement the next generation Electronic Road Pricing system which leverages on GPS.

Experts agree there's room to make the public transport become more reliable, particularly for buses.

But other than implementing bus priority measures more aggressively, there's the need to better integrate the bus and MRT networks better to improve mobility.

And so experts are calling for a bus rapid transit or BRT system where buses travel at high frequencies on dedicated bus lanes, to be linked to the MRT system.

Associate Prof Anthony Chin, Department of Economics at NUS, said, "Transportation and mobility is part of that quality of life that we should address. It's not just about ERP, its not just about COE, because we know what the consequences are. At the end of the day, we need to talk about, for example, getting to work, fitting it into a reasonable lifestyle, reducing the stress of travel and so on and so forth.

"I want to know that when I go to the bus stop, the bus comes in five minutes. Can it be done for certain precincts to have a BRT, why not? Give it a try for the newer estates and that will improve the connectivity from the neighbourhood to the MRT stations."

Experts also called for authorities to have more open discussions about the cost-benefit analysis of transport policies, before implementing them.

- CNA/de

Pay-as-you-drive scheme suggested to curb congestion
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 16 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — A pay-as-you-drive distance-based system and heftier parking fees were some measures transport academics mooted yesterday as alternative methods to restrain car usage and curb traffic congestion.

Speaking at a seminar on sustainable urban transport held at the National University of Singapore (NUS), transport economist Anthony Chin noted that the current system of having to fork out large upfront costs — through Certificate of Entitlement (COE) premiums and Additional Registration Fees (ARF) — to buy a car has led to a “sunk-cost effect”, in which car owners choose to drive every day to get their money’s worth. This has led to high vehicle-usage even though Singapore has low car-ownership numbers, added Associate Professor Chin of the Economics Department at the NUS.

Currently, about four in 10 households in Singapore own at least a car, with each vehicle used around 20,000km annually — about twice the mileage when compared to cars in European or Japanese cities.

Dr Paul Barter, an urban transport policy scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, proposed a distance-based method in which car buyers pay the cost of COE and ARF for pre-determined distances which they can drive. For example, if a motorist purchases 50,000km worth of taxes under such a system, which will require him to pay additional taxes beyond that mileage, it could prove to be an incentive for motorists to ensure that they use the car only when needed.

Dr Barter added that the fringe costs of car usage, such as parking, should also be re-looked. He said: “Ideally, cars would be cheaper in the future, but more expensive to use and ... to park.”

Pointing to the current system in which developers of commercial buildings are required to build in a minimum area of parking space, Dr Barter argued that the current policy of providing free gross-floor-area (GFA) allowance for parking spaces in buildings is, “in a way, subsidies for Central Business District parking”. This, he felt, goes against charging buyers high ARF for their cars.

Dr Barter said: “I don’t think Singapore should be in the business of subsidising parking at all ... we’ve got our policies going against each other. We need to line them up. My suggestion is, eliminate both the GFA-free allowance and (parking space) requirements and allow developers to choose how much parking space they want to build.”

Besides the two main thrusts of traffic control and improving public transport, Dr Barter also suggested that some emphasis should be placed on creating more “liveable places” for everyone. He said: “We could re-prioritise ... so it’s not just reducing traffic, not just so that the MRT and buses work well, but also creating liveable places, so that Singapore streets can be great places.”

Former Chief Transportation Engineer for the Land Transport Authority Gopinath Menon, who spoke on the role of infrastructure and traffic control, felt that building more roads cannot be a way to eliminate traffic congestion.

Citing the example of North Bridge and South Bridge roads, which he felt had lost its cultural value, Dr Barter called for better urban planning.

“One of the dividends from controlling traffic within limits is that ... they could be much less traffic-dominated. Cars can still get around, you can still go there to park, you can arrive in them, but they should not be highways. They should be places to arrive at, not places to rush through,” he added.

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China, India, Singapore could join new Arctic Circle forum

Deborah Zabarenko Reuters 15 Apr 13;

(Reuters) - China, India, Singapore and other countries far from the Arctic Circle could be part of a new global forum to widen the discussion about the fate of the planet's Far North, Iceland President Olafur Grimsson said on Monday.

The non-profit forum, Arctic Circle, will hold its first meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, in October.

Such a gathering is needed, Grimsson said, because, while most countries have a stake in the melting of Arctic ice, only eight - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States - are members of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental group set up in 1996.

Some non-Arctic countries can observe the deliberations, but they have no formal voice on the Council about sustainable development and environmental protection in the region.

The Icelandic leader said he had discussions about the Arctic this year with officials from China, India and Singapore. The first agenda item of these discussions was when these countries would get a seat on the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Circle forum will be "an open, democratic tent where everybody who wants to participate will actually be welcome," Grimsson said at an event at the National Press Club.

He said concerned citizens, representatives of non-governmental organizations, scientists, researchers can join governments and corporations to be part of this discussion.

And while it may take a while for the Arctic Council to decide which countries might become permanent observers at its meetings, these same countries can send representatives to the Arctic Circle to make the case for inclusion.

He also mentioned that China and Iceland announced a new free trade agreement on Monday.

Arctic sea ice is a key indicator of climate change and a powerful global weather-maker. Last year, Arctic sea ice melted to its lowest levels on record, authorities have said.

Besides making global sea levels rise and influencing world weather, the ice melt means new water routes are opening between Europe, Asia and North America, a trend that will have a profound impact on global shipping.

Last year, as summer sea ice shrank, the first Chinese icebreaker made the trip from Shanghai to Iceland via the Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast.

By mid-century, the quickest way to get goods from Asia to the U.S. East Coast might well be right over the North Pole, according to a University of California-Los Angeles study.

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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China: Business in big cats

Natalie Heng The Star 16 Apr 13;

Report reveals how China’s policies are encouraging the breeding of an endangered species for commercial gains.

IN FEBRUARY, a report detailing how China’s laws and policies are fuelling growth in the domestic trade in captive-bred tiger parts hit headlines. However, the plight of the tiger was eclipsed by more pressing issues this year – dire threats facing sharks, rhinos, elephants, rosewood, ebony and freshwater turtles dominated the meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in March.

As the conference came to a close however, there was at least some indication that CITES parties were taking the issues highlighted in the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report, Hidden In Plain Sight: China’s Clandestine Tiger Trade, seriously. The report’s authors (whose organisation specialises in undercover exposés of crime against wildlife and the environment) blogged that certain CITES parties (China, Thailand and Indonesia) had wanted to push back the deadline of a review on efforts to combat and end the illegal trade in parts and products of captive-bred tigers, to 2016. They were voted down however, with a majority in favour of speeding up the deadline to the middle of 2014.

This is good news, considering that the report indicates that China’s domestic trade in tiger parts is putting a major damper on what has thus far been a commendable series of global efforts to wrest Panthera tigris from the brink of extinction. Up until now, international commitments and national action plans have been based on the assumption that there is a full tiger trade ban in China – historically, the world’s largest consumer of tiger parts and products. As the report indicates, however, the reality on the ground is that state policy is stimulating a legal domestic trade in captive-bred tiger skin, thereby creating a market for illegal poachers to sell to.

China’s lack of clarity on the legality of tiger bone wine, too, is spurring millions of dollars worth of investment from private enterprises looking to profit from its production. In the meantime, concerns abound that dead tigers from farms, zoos and wildlife rescue centres might be used to supply “tiger bone wineries”. In fact, the sale of tiger bone wine in tiger parks and zoos seems to be fairly common.

Since 2000, at least 5,559 Asian big cats have been intercepted in the illegal trade. Going by the International Criminal Police Organisation’s (Interpol) estimate that contraband seized is generally about 10% of what is being trafficked, this represents the death of at least 1,031 tigers, 4,189 leopards, 152 snow leopards, 26 clouded leopards, and 17 Asiatic lions.

In the last 50 years, the world has lost three subspecies of Panthera tigris. It is now listed as a CITES Appendix I species, where international trade in its parts and products is prohibited. There is thought to be just 3,200 tigers left in the wild.

Even so, the illegal trade in almost all tiger species has escalated in recent years. Intelligence plus historical information on markets and trafficking routes suggest that 90% of this trade is destined for China. China’s wild tiger population has plunged from 4,000 in the 1940s to between 40 and 50 tigers today. However, its wildlife and agricultural laws actually promote the breeding, domestication and utilisation of wildlife for “economic growth” and “conservation”. This has pushed its captive-bred tiger population up from 20 in 1986 to 5,000 or more today, spread out across 200 farms and zoos.

The wildlife conservation community, however, sees the existence of farms and stockpiles of parts as a threat to conservation. The commercial sale of certain products derived from captive-bred tigers in China is legal. For a while, many assumed that the trade ban mentioned in an order issued by China’s State Council in 1993 (prohibiting the use, manufacture, sale, import and export of medicines derived from tiger bone and rhino horn, and products claiming to contain these) applied to all tiger products. In fact, it only applied to the use of tiger bone in medicines.

In 2005, news that China was re-opening the trade in tiger parts sparked international discussions and in 2007, CITES parties decided that tigers should not be bred for their parts and derivatives, and this rule applied to both international and domestic trade. China later announced that it could not comply with the prohibition as it “interfered” with its sovereignty over domestic trade in CITES-listed species. When asked about the matter at last year’s conference on Global Tiger Recovery Programme, Chinese delegates said that use of tiger skins was allowed for scientific and education purposes, and China has a domestic trade prohibition on the use and sale of tiger bone in medicines.

Open to abuse

A pilot project to allow the marking and utilisation of wildlife products was made public in 2003, and over the years, China has made references to a domestic policy of labelling and registering skins for likely future use. In 2007, it issued a notification declaring that skins of captive-bred tigers and leopards are “of legal origin”. Since then, regulatory systems have been introduced to allow the commercial sale of skins from captive-bred tigers prepared as luxury skin rugs.

EIA investigators, however, found that there is a fine line between legal and illegally sourced skins, due to weaknesses in the permit system. The only link between the permit and the captive-bred skin it was issued for, is a photograph and that is too small to match the stripe patterns. They also reported that there are overlaps between the handling of captive-bred and wild-sourced skins. Factory owners claimed to process both types of skins in the same factory. Traders in known hot spots for illegal tiger skins confirmed that skins sourced from India and Nepal were most often destined for China.

The investigators also reported that over the course of several days, traders offered them the fresh skins of three tigers, one leopard and one snow leopard. A substantial discount was offered for skins purchased without permits. Checks by EIA indicated that captive-bred tiger skins are likely to cost 1.5 to three times higher that skins from wild tigers, making the latter a cheaper option. China has declined to provide information to the EIA on the number of farmed tigers and their locations, and stockpiles of skins and bones.

And contrary to repeated assertions by China that it is committed to the 1993 State Council order prohibiting the use of tiger bone for medicine, the EIA found that a government notification in 2005 stipulated that only operations with 500 tigers or more could apply for permission to supply hospitals with tiger bone wine. The wine is marketed to elite clients and, according to one distributor, to guesthouses and restaurants catering to high-ranking officials.

One reason why China has been able to say it is committed to the 1993 State Council order is that the finished product does not actually contain a piece of bone, as production methods involve soaking tiger bones in vats of wine to make a “stock” that is mixed with other ingredients.

The EIA report claims that tiger bones sourced from captive tigers are not being destroyed. Instead, breeders are accumulating a massive stockpile, which is being registered and labelled, potentially fuelling speculation of future trade. Exposés in the past have revealed that a number of farms, zoos and rescue centres offer tiger bone wine for sale.

The EIA says there is reason to believe that officials and businesses in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam seek to follow in China’s footsteps.

In 2009, a Laos businessmen who owns a farm with over 250 tigers, called for amendments under ASEAN, so that tigers could be treated as “other agricultural animals”. Last year, Vietnam submitted a proposal – which was turned down – for dead tigers from captive breeding facilities to be used to make specimens and traditional medicine on a pilot basis.

Growing incidences of the illegal trade in captive-bred tiger parts across South-East Asia are troubling. Thailand, Vietnam and Laos also have captive breeding tiger facilities. And circumstances of seizure incidents (involving 260 live tigers, or tiger carcasses) in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia, indicate some are likely to have originated from captive breeding farms.

The EIA points out that current pro-use policies are being championed by only a handful of Chinese officials in a few departments. It is still not too late for China’s new government to amend laws and policies to reflect the value of live, wild tigers, over body parts.

Hidden in Plain Sight: China’s Clandestine Tiger Trade

Meet our tiger protectors
The Star 16 Apr 13;

LOCAL and foreign poaching syndicates are emptying our forests of tigers, their prey and other wildlife. Between 2010 and 2011, close to 1,000 snares were detected in three priority tiger landscapes – Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau-Rompin.

This is why it is crucial that rangers, who are positioned at the front line of defence against poaching, must be equipped, trained and motivated.

To show support for forest guards, park wardens and field enforcement officers operating from boreal forests in Russia to the steamy jungles of Sumatra, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) launched its Cards4Tigers initiative on World Ranger Day last July.

Since then, 100,000 postcards and e-cards have been mailed from all over the world, to the delight of rangers in Cambodia, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Nepal. The initiative features a rare opportunity to discover the people who have dedicated their lives to patrolling and guarding our vast wilderness. In the WWF website, for instance, one can meet Khairul Azmi Taharin, a 25-year-old forest ranger who is one of just seven staff who patrol the 117,550ha Royal Belum State Park in Perak. He recounts what it was like to come face-to-face with an armed poacher in the forest.

● To send greetings to the rangers, visit

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China bird flu: Reported H7N9 cases rise to 60

BBC 14 Apr 13;

China has reported 11 fresh cases of bird flu, with the virus now appearing in the central province of Henan and the capital Beijing.

The new cases of the H7N9 strain bring the total number of reported cases to 60. Two more people have now died.

Authorities believe the virus is being spread through direct contact with infected poultry.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission.

Michael O'Leary, the WHO's representative in China, said cases did not appear to be connected.

"There's no way to predict how it will spread but it's not surprising if we have new cases in different places like we do in Beijing," he told reporters.

On Saturday a seven-year-old girl became Beijing's first confirmed case of the H7N9 strain.

Two cases were reported in the central Henan province, while the others were seen in and around Shanghai, where the virus first appeared in February.

Two new deaths announced on Sunday were also in Shanghai, bringing the total number of dead to 13.

There are no reported cases outside the country, according to the WHO.

Nineteen people who had close contact with the two new victims in Henan had shown no signs of infection, China's state news agency Xinhua said.

International health experts have commended China on its transparency in reporting the spread of the virus, in sharp contrast to its handling of a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, when 8,096 people were infected worldwide and 744 died.

Bird flu: Posters up at Changi, Seletar airports
Karamjit Kaur Straits Times 16 Apr 13;

POSTERS are up at Changi and Seletar airports to advise arriving travellers and returning residents to be vigilant against the H7N9 strain of bird flu and a deadly new Sars-like virus.

The advisories went up last evening at the arrival halls, amid a growing number of confirmed H7N9 bird flu cases in China.

So far, the virus has infected more than 60 people, including a four-year-old child in Beijing.

Contacted last night, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) stressed that the notices at the airports are a "precautionary measure".

The World Health Organisation has not recommended travel restrictions nor border controls, as there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the Influenza A (H7N9) virus nor the Novel Coronavirus (NCoV), she said.

"The posters serve to heighten public awareness and to remind travellers to monitor their own health and seek early medical attention if needed," she said.

Travellers are advised to look out for signs and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as fever and coughs, and seek early medical attention if they display these symptoms.

On Saturday, The Straits Times reported that Changi Airport had conducted a briefing last Tuesday to update airlines on plans to issue health leaflets to all travellers arriving from China and the Middle East.

Apart from the H7N9 virus, global health authorities are also keeping a close eye on the Novel Coronavirus - a new deadly virus from the same family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

Nine of the 15 people confirmed to have been infected with the Novel Coronavirus have died. Most cases have been in the Middle East or affected people who had recently travelled to the region.

The MOH will continue to monitor the situation and work with other agencies to institute appropriate control measures as the situation evolves, said its spokesman.

Building from past experience with Sars in 2003 and the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, Singapore has a "whole-of-government" national crisis management system in place with plans and capabilities to deal with a pandemic if one should occur, the ministry has said.

Airlines are also keeping their staff informed of the latest.

Singapore Airlines spokesman Nicholas Ionides said on Friday that the airline is well prepared to work with the public health authorities if the need arises.

The carrier recently provided information about H7N9 to its employees, which included a reminder to staff to follow good health practices, he said.

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Biofuels: 'Irrational' and 'worse than fossil fuels'

Matt McGrath BBC News 15 Apr 13;

The UK's "irrational" use of biofuels will cost motorists around £460 million over the next 12 months, a think tank says.

A report by Chatham House says the growing reliance on sustainable liquid fuels will also increase food prices.

The author says that biodiesel made from vegetable oil was worse for the climate than fossil fuels.

Under EU law, biofuels are set to make up 5% of the UK's transport fuel from today.

Since 2008, the UK has required fuel suppliers to add a growing proportion of sustainable materials into the petrol and diesel they supply. These biofuels are mainly ethanol distilled from corn and biodiesel made from rapeseed, used cooking oil and tallow.
Deep fried fuel

But research carried out for Chatham House says that reaching the 5% level means that UK motorists will have to pay an extra £460m a year because of the higher cost of fuel at the pump and from filling up more often as biofuels have a lower energy content.

The report say that if the UK is to meet its obligations to EU energy targets the cost to motorists is likely to rise to £1.3bn per annum by 2020.

"It is hard to find any good news," Rob Bailey, senior research fellow at Chatham House, told BBC News.

"Biofuels increase costs and they are a very expensive way to reduce carbon emissions," he said.

The EU biofuel mandates are also having hugely distorting effects in the marketplace. Because used cooking oil is regarded as one of the most sustainable types of biodiesel, the price for it has risen rapidly. Rob Bailey says that towards the end of 2012 it was more expensive than refined palm oil.

"It creates a financial incentive to buy refined palm oil, cook a chip in it to turn it into used cooking oil and then sell it at profit,"

"It is crazy but the incentives are there."

There are also worries that taking EU land out of production to grow rapeseed oil in particular is creating more climate problems than it solves. The more fuel of this type that is put into cars the bigger the deficit created in the edible oils market. This had lead to increased imports of palm oil from Indonesia, often produced on deforested land.

"Once you take into account these indirect effects, biofuels made from vegetable oils actually result worldwide in more emissions than you would get from using diesel in the first place," said Rob Bailey.

"Plus you are asking motorists to pay more for the fuel - it makes no sense, it is a completely irrational strategy."
Biofuel benefits

The European Biodiesel Board (EBB), which represents the industry across the EU, said it was aware of the problems caused by the mandate. But it believes that biofuels have many positives.

"Blaming biofuels for all the troubles in the world is a bit too exaggerated," said Isabelle Maurizi, project manager at the EBB.

"It has brought lots of benefits. It has improved the security of our diesel; it has reduced EU dependency on animal feed imports, thanks to the rapeseed we grow for biodiesel."

"If there was no biodiesel farmers would just make their land idle - no food, no feed!"

As the UK hits the 5% of liquid fuels mark, the government faces some difficult decisions on how to move forward on this issue as it faces tripling the costs for motorists by 2020.

Insiders suggest its preference would be to try and get agreement in Brussels on the impacts of indirect costs which might constrain what counts as biofuel. However getting agreement from countries with powerful agricultural sectors who benefit from the current arrangement will be difficult.

"When you have a lobby which includes the agricultural sector and the oil sector it is very hard for Governments to make a U-turn," said Rob Bailey.

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Want to Slow Sea Level Rise? Curb Four Pollutants

Becky Oskin Yahoo News 16 Apr 13;

Sharp reductions in short-lived airborne pollutants could significantly slow sea level rise before 2100, a new study finds.

The four pollutants — black carbon, methane, ozone and hydrofluorocarbons — all cycle through the atmosphere more quickly than carbon dioxide, which lasts for centuries in the troposphere, the part of the atmosphere we live in and breathe. Carbon dioxide is the main culprit in Earth's warming temperatures, which impacts sea level rise both by the expansion of water as it warms and by the melting of glacial ice.

Cutting the air pollutants, which all also act to trap heat in the atmosphere and last anywhere from a week to decade, worldwideby 30 to 60 percent over the next several decades would lower predicted sea level rise by 22 to 42 percent by 2100, according to the study, published yesterday (April 14) in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Sea levels are expected to rise between 7 inches to 6.6 feet (18 centimeters to 2 meters) this century, according to a 2007 assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The higher tides will bring more coastal flooding and bigger storm surges, the IPCC report warned.

Though the four pollutants are known contributors to climate change, policymakers tend to focus on carbon dioxide, the 800-pound-gorilla of global warming, when it comes to reducing emissions. Frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations on cutting carbon dioxide, the research team decided to investigate other ways to slow the planet's warming, according to a statement from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, which participated in the research.

"To avoid potentially dangerous sea level rise, we could cut emissions of short-lived pollutants even if we cannot immediately cut carbon dioxide emissions," NCAR's Aixue Hu, lead study author, said in the statement. "This new research shows that society can significantly reduce the threat to coastal cities if it moves quickly on a handful of pollutants."

The study models relied on emissions cuts beginning in 2015. Hu and his colleagues tested the effects of lowering atmospheric levels of the four gases and particles by 30 to 60 percent over the next several decades, the steepest cuts believed possible by economists, the study said.

Even if these cuts are made, though, carbon dioxide is still the main threat, the authors said.

"It must be remembered that carbon dioxide is still the most important factor in sea level rise over the long term," Warren Washington, a study co-author at NCAR, said in the statement. "But we can make a real difference in the next several decades by reducing other emissions."

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