Best of our wild blogs: 13 May 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [6 - 12 May 2013]
from Green Business Times

Lessons to a Child, from Mother Nature
from Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

BESG to expand its coverage beyond birds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Big Sisters islands have 'big' stuff...
from Psychedelic Nature and wild shores of singapore

May 19 Hills 3 & 4 Tour
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Saturday morning at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park
from The Green Volunteers

四月双溪布洛华语导游 Mandarin guide walk@SBWR, April (XXXX)
from PurpleMangrove

Fig Snail
from Monday Morgue

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Trade your child's smartphone for a nature trek

Straits Times Forum 13 May 13;

MR BRADY Barr lamented that "today's children have lost touch with nature" ("Children are key to nature's future"; last Friday).

In the train or on a bus, I cannot help but observe that youngsters are glued to their smartphones, iPads and video games.

Our children are IT-savvy but few take the time to keep in touch with nature and the things that nature has provided for us.

Dr Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who led the team that separated Iranian twins Laleh and Ladan Bijani in Singapore in 2003, said that when he was in school, his biology teacher gave him squirrels to feed and a tarantula to observe.

He discovered the wonders of using a microscope to study water specimens and learnt about paramecium and amoebas.

This started him on a journey of discovery, which led him to become a leading neurosurgeon at the age of 33.

Perhaps our teachers and parents need to take their young children to visit not the manicured Botanic Gardens or Gardens by the Bay, but places where they can truly connect with the wonders of nature.

A visit to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve will introduce children to the Malayan water monitor (Varanus salvator) and the white-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus).

Take them to the beach at Kranji Reservoir Park to learn about the signaller crab (Metaplax elegans) and the mud creepers (Cerithidea obtusa), which can climb up a tree trunk.

Take them on a cycling trip to Chek Jawa and they will not fail to learn about the red flowers of Lumnitzera littorea and the palm (Nypa fruticans), which gives us the attap chee in ice kachang.

Parents can also take their kids to the firefly forest, fruit farm, bee farm and crocodile farms in Johor - they are only an hour's drive from Woodlands.

Their geography lessons will come alive at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as they observe a real tropical rainforest.

Much can be learnt from watching veterinarian Luke Gamble and herpetologist Austin Stevens on Animal Planet.

But while they are a feast for the eyes, nothing matches a child's fascination and wonder when he touches a living organism in the forest, a river or the beach.

Heng Cho Choon

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Malaysia: River Keeper Unit established in Sabah to protect elephants

Muguntan Vanar The Star 12 May 13;

KOTA KINABALU: A special River Keeper Unit has been established in Sabah's Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS), an initiative aimed at protecting Borneo pygmy elephants and other wildlife.

"Honorary wildlife wardens" from local communities will be tasked with checking for illegal activities such as encroachment on reserves, illegal logging and hunting along the river.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said the unit will complement efforts of his department as their resources were insufficient to cover the whole state.

He said the River Keeper Unit would assist in monitoring wildlife as well as threats to wildlife along the river and within the LKWS.

The unit is headed by community members Mohd Syafendy Yajit and Sudirman Sawang, who are well suited for the job as both have years of experience working with the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme under HUTAN, a French NGO involved in conservation activities.

HUTAN's scientific director Dr Marc Ancrenaz said that the local wardens also had a lot of field experience with elephants.

"The unit will conduct day and night patrols to monitor and prevent illegal activities such as encroachment in riparian reserves, illegal logging and hunting along the 260 kms of river within the LKWS, from Lokan to Abai villages," Dr Acrenaz added.

The River Keeper Unit was established jointly by the Wildlife department, HUTAN and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and is being funded by Elephant Family and the Kinabatangan-Corridor of Life Tourism Operators Association (KiTA).

The River Keeper Unit will be based at the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) in Kinabatangan and will also monitor tourism activities along the Kinabatangan river, stopping any boats getting too close to the elephants.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said although tourism can boost economic development, ill-managed activities could also be a nuisance to elephants and their habitat.

"With this in mind, one of the major roles of the River Keeper Unit will be to investigate elephant responses to tourism activities along the Kinabatangan and to come up with wildlife-watching guidelines that will be provided to the different tour operators in the Kinabatangan with the goal of minimizing tourism disturbance for wildlife," he said.

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South Korea to release dolphin back into wild

AFP 10 May 13;

SEOUL — A 13-year-old dolphin was Saturday being transported to an ocean pen off a South Korean island for training to prepare it for release back into the wild after four years in a Seoul zoo, officials said.

The female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, which had been at Seoul Grand Park Zoo since 2009, was flown by a special charter jet to the southern island of Jeju accompanied by an 11-member team of veterinarians and zoo keepers.

"It is not only a matter of one dolphin going home but a matter of the relationship between animals and humans, between Mother Nature and humans," Seoul mayor Park Won-Woon said.

Television pictures showed the famous dolphin called "Jedol" being transferred by stretcher to a vehicle for its journey to the airport and its flight to Jeju.

The costs for releasing the dolphin were raised through donations led by animal right activists.

Jedol will join two other dolphins in an open ocean cage in Jeju for adjustment training before being set free as early as next month.

In March last year, Seoul Grand Park Zoo suspended a popular dolphin show starring Jedol and two other dolphins over claims by activists that they were captured illegally.

The zoo decided to return Jedol to the wild but keep the two others because they were too old and weak to be released.

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Deutsche Bank and IFC accused of bankrolling Vietnam firms' land grabs

Report claims that families in Laos and Cambodia have been forced off land or are expected to work on rubber plantations
Kate Hodal in Bangkok and Chris Kelly in Phnom Penh 13 May 13;

Two Vietnamese firms bankrolled by Deutsche Bank and the International Finance Corporation – the World Bank's private lending arm – are leading a wave of land grabs in Cambodia and Laos, causing widespread evictions, illegal logging and food insecurity, according to a report.

The study, concluding a year-long investigation by the watchdog Global Witness, names two of Vietnam's biggest companies, the privately owned Huang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and state-owned Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG), as the businesses behind the land grabs. It claims they are working with the explicit support of the Cambodian and Laotian governments, who have authorised the land developments.

"We've known for some time that corrupt politicians in Cambodia and Laos are orchestrating the land-grabbing crisis that is doing so much damage in the region," said Megan MacInnes, head of Global Witness's land team, in a statement. "This report completes the picture by exposing the pivotal role of Vietnam's rubber barons and their financiers, Deutsche Bank and the IFC."

Global Witness researched land deals between the two governments and the firms, and found that HAGL and VRG had together been handed more than 200,000 hectares (nearly 500,000 acres) of land, including protected forest with rosewood, in which to grow rubber.

Land was often sold without villagers' consent or knowledge and without compensation, the report alleges. Families were forced off their land or expected to work for the rubber plantation, although jobs were few and far between.

"When they resist, communities face violence, arrest and detention, often at the hands of armed Cambodian security forces who are on the investors' payroll," the report claims.

Villagers in Laos and Cambodia have made similar allegations to the Guardian, describing, on camera, threats of violence, food insecurity, and apparent impunity on the part of the companies. "They invaded our rice fields. They just invaded," said one villager in Laos who lost her land to a HAGL concession. "I went to stop them and told them: "Do not bulldoze our rice fields … They said: 'Why should we stop? The government granted them to us'," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another Lao villager who also lost his land to HAGL, said: "We lost about 60% of our rice fields – the company bulldozed all of them. Our village's graveyards were [also] completely bulldozed … They did not compensate us for anything."

Those who did complain to the government were told not to bother, as the companies were acting within their legal right, said a villager in Cambodia, who lost his land to VRG.

"We used to file complaints but the forest administration explained to us that we didn't need to protest … [that] it's a waste of time," he said. "The company is legal. They're not a private company operating on their own."

Land is a particularly contentious issue in Cambodia and Laos, as few people have deeds to their property. In Cambodia private property was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, while in Laos all land technically belongs to the state.

According to Global Witness's investigation, HAGL and VRG's operations in Cambodia and Laos are being funded, either directly or indirectly, by Deutsche Bank and the IFC.

The report alleges the IFC invested $14.95m in a Vietnamese fund that holds 5% equity in HAGL, while Deutsche Bank owns some $4.5m-worth of HAGL shares. Deutsche Bank is also said to have 1.2m shares in a subsidiary company of VRG amounting to more than $3m.

HAGL and VRG are huge players in the Vietnamese domestic rubber market but have tapped their land supplies dry. They have consequently set their sights further afield, expanding their operations to Cambodia and Laos, two of south-east Asia's poorest nations that also happen to be hungry for investment.

Current figures show that Cambodia has leased nearly three-quarters of its arable land – 2.6m hectares – in economic land concessions (ELCs), 80% of which were turned into rubber plantations, and 14% of which went to Vietnam.

Five of Cambodia's most powerful tycoons were the primary recipients of these ELCs, the report alleges, which also claims that 70% of those ELCs handed out in 2012 were located in national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and protected forests.

The Lao government, in turn, has leased 5% of its arable land – 1.1m hectares – as ELCs.

In both countries, the Global Witness report alleges, many of the ELCs are contravening both countries' laws and are directly causing deforestation.

"When people have attempted to get their land and forests back, they have been threatened, detained and even shot at by security forces on the payroll of concessionaires," the report claims.

Those implicated in the allegations have denied wrongdoing. In a statement sent to Global Witness and seen by the Guardian, VRG said it had a licence to operate in Cambodia and Laos and claimed to "absolutely observ[e] national legal regulations of the host country".

HAGL released a statement confirming that the company's subsidiaries invested in rubber plantations in each country but the firm "denies seizing land, illegally exploiting wood and other corruption [sic] behaviours in Laos and Cambodia".

Deutsche Bank rebutted Global Witness's claims that it was "financing Vietnamese rubber companies" and said, in a statement: "Deutsche Bank is not providing financing to Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group [HAGL] … or Vietnam Rubber Group [VRG].

"The DWS fund shares referred to are held on behalf of investors. Deutsche Bank provides only clerical trustee services to HAGL, as it does to thousands of listed companies globally."

In a written response to Global Witness seen by the Guardian, the IFC confirmed its shares in HAGL and said: "IFC works with financial intermediaries, such as funds, because they can contribute to sound, inclusive, and sustainable financial markets that are essential to eradicating poverty and job creation."

It continued: "We ensured that [the investment fund used to buy shares in HAGL] … demonstrated a commitment to environmental and socially responsibility."

When asked about ELC operations in Cambodia's rubber plantations, a spokesman, Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, of the land management ministry, and Chan Sarun, minister of agriculture, both declined to comment.

Vietnam accounts for one-third of the world's rubber market, which is dominated by the production of tyres and tyre products.

Cambodia is an increasingly dominant player in this production, where rubber exports bring in some $200m a year and make the nation the world's ninth-largest natural rubber producer.

This year, Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, said he hoped one in every 10 Cambodians would soon be working in rubber and predicted a rapid growth of the industry.

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WHO says new coronavirus may be passed person to person

BBC News 12 May 13;

The World Health Organization says it appears likely that the novel coronavirus (NCoV) can be passed between people in close contact.

This comes after the French health ministry confirmed a second man had contracted the virus in a possible case of human-to-human transmission.

Two more people in Saudi Arabia are also reported to have died from the virus, according to health officials.

NCoV is known to cause pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have expressed concern over the clusters of cases of the new coronavirus strain and the potential for it to spread.

Since 2012, there have been 33 confirmed cases across Europe and the Middle East, with 18 deaths, according to a recent WHO update.

Cases have been detected in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and have spread to Germany, the UK and France.

"Of most concern... is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person," the World Health Organization said on Sunday.

"This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and so far, there is no evidence to suggest the virus has the capacity to sustain generalised transmission in communities," the statement adds.

France's second confirmed case was a 50-year-old man who had shared a hospital room in Valenciennes, northern France, with a 65-year-old who fell ill with the virus after returning from Dubai.

"Positive results [for the virus] have been confirmed for both patients," the French health ministry said, adding that both men were being treated in isolation wards.

Meanwhile, the Saudi deputy minister of health said on Sunday that two more people had died from the coronavirus, bringing the number of fatalities to nine in the most recent outbreak in al-Ahsa governorate in the east of Saudi Arabia, Reuters news agency reports.

The Saudi health ministry said that 15 people had died out of the 24 cases diagnosed since last summer.

WHO officials have not yet confirmed the latest deaths.

In February, a patient died in a hospital in Birmingham, England, after three members of the same family became infected.

It is thought a family member had picked up the virus while travelling to the Middle East and Pakistan.

Novel coronavirus is from the same family of viruses as the one that caused an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) that emerged in Asia in 2003.

However, NCoV and Sars are distinct from each other, the WHO said in its statement on Sunday.

Coronavirus is known to cause respiratory infections in both humans and animals.

But it is not yet clear whether it is a mutation of an existing virus or an infection in animals that has made the jump to humans.

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