Best of our wild blogs: 11 Jun 13

DO something! 20 Jun (Thu): Nature and the Big City - the Leafmonkey Workshop returns from wild shores of singapore

Seagrasses of Singapore (Part 1)
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Random Gallery - Blue Pansy
from Butterflies of Singapore

Finding a lost pangolin and the reality of hunting pressure in the forest from sundapangolin

NASA: Deforestation jumps in Malaysia
from news by Rhett Butler

Illegal wildlife trade flourishes in Sumatra
from news by Rhett Butler

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Wildlife after death: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

Half a million specimens of South-east Asian animals are stored at the NUS faculty of science
Corrie Tan Straits Times 11 Jun 13;

The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research's public gallery looks like it has just been ransacked.

Exhibits are gone from the walls. An eclectic mix of colourful information panels, seemingly pushed together at random, form an impenetrable wall. Cardboard boxes and conservation-grade packing paper take up most of its floor space.

Tucked away on the third floor of the concrete maze that is the National University of Singapore's faculty of science, the cramped 200 sq m gallery looks even smaller when Life! visits. But have no fear - nothing has been stolen. This is simply part of the big move to a spanking new building.

When the museum opens its doors in the second half of next year, the 8,500 sqm, seven-storey Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will be home to a priceless collection of about 500,000 specimens of vertebrates and invertebrates, along with three dinosaur fossils. This is more than three times the size of the Raffles Museum's current storage facilities.

For now, the rest of the specimens are under lock and key in the back rooms. It closed to the public in March for the small team of staff and four curators to start on their daunting task: cleaning the thousands of specimens both wet and dry, taking inventories and chasing researchers and students to return specimens they have taken out on loan.

All of the specimens shown to Life! by collections manager Kelvin Lim, in his 40s, do not usually go on public display.

He explains: "Type specimens are the original specimen which the species is described from. We usually don't display or let people play with it. Especially when something is known from only one or two specimens, it's quite precious."

The geography and sociology graduate from NUS has been working at the museum since 1991. As exhibition manager of the public gallery when it opened in 2001, he was in charge of its layout and design. One of his main interests is in documenting the diversity of fishes, amphibians, reptiles and mammals found in Singapore.

He shows Life! a drawer full of three- striped squirrels that are extinct here. When packed tightly, dozens of the dark brown creatures can fit into a single drawer. The reason why most of the animal specimens are stiff and flat is a practical one.

Mr Lim says: "They are preserved in such a way that you can store them in a small space. If you were to mount them in a life-like pose, one specimen would take up a lot of space. When they're flat, you can stack them up and put them in a box."

Specimens that need to be stored in ethanol, such as fish, are kept in a different room on the floor below. The museum also receives calls to pick up roadkill - including pangolins - once or twice a year.

The collection has grown from 160,000 in 1988 - when President Tony Tan, then education minister, opened the Zoological Reference Collection at the NUS science faculty - to half a million today.

The new building will be located about 850m from the current premises. NUS has raised $46 million for a purpose-built museum that will house one of the largest collections of South-east Asian animals in the region.

But there is still some way to go. The museum needs another $10 million in endowment for professorships, fellowships and staff costs. Members of the public can give to this fund-raising drive at

In the vault


Year of founding: 1849, as part of the old Raffles Museum, which was mooted by Sir Stamford Raffles who was himself an avid naturalist. In the 1970s, the museum inherited the natural history collection after the old Raffles Museum was renamed the National Museum of Singapore. It was closed in March to prepare for the move to the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Year it will reopen: Next year

Floor area: 2,200 sq m

Number of visitors last year: 5,856

Number of artefacts: About 500,000

Oldest known artefact: Believed to be a flycatcher, a type of bird collected in Malacca in 1862. However, it was acquired by the museum only in the early 1970s when the zoological collection of the old Raffles Museum was transferred to the National University of Singapore.

Most common animal groups: Fish and crabs. These animals are the research subjects of a number of professors, staff and graduate students associated with the museum.

Mr Kelvin Lim, collections manager at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, highlights six specimens from the museum’s collection:


The museum has one specimen of this golden-brown, cat-like creature, collected on Sipora Island in October 1924. Sipora is one of the four Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra, where the Mentawai Palm Civet is endemic.

The wild population numbers of this particular palm civet are unknown and it is considered by some researchers to be a subspecies of the Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), the mascot of the Raffles Museum.


The fish pictured was bought from a fish market in Sarawak in January 1996. The museum has three specimens in total.

Very little is known about the habits of this fish, save for the fact that it lives in large muddy rivers where it is possibly a bottom-dwelling carnivore. So far, this species is known only from the rivers of Sarawak and is very rare in museum collections. Wild populations have not been studied.


This species was named last year, in memory of the late NUS biology lecturer, Professor Navjot Sodhi, who was highly regarded in the fields of ecology and conservation biology. Out of the two specimens presently known of Sodhi's snail, the museum has one. This species was found in the forests of Terengganu in Malaysia and nothing is known of its habits and biology.

Kenyirus is named after Lake Kenyir, where the terrestrial snail was discovered in 2006 in the rainforest surrounding the lake.


The English naturalist W.F. Lanchester discovered this elusive crab on Singapore's shores in 1900. The tiny creature has been found only in Singapore's coastal seas so far and has not yet been collected anywhere else.

The museum has two specimens of the Rubble Crab and the one photographed was obtained at Sentosa in 1982. It is possible that this crab may in fact be common, but due to the fact that it looks almost like a coral pebble, it is very difficult to detect.


The Bornean Bristlehead pictured here was collected at Mount Dulit in Sarawak in October 1891. It is one of three specimens in the museum's collection.

This bird is named after the coarse and stiff feathers on its yellow head. It is endemic to the island of Borneo where it lives in lowland rainforest in flocks of six to 10 birds in the forest canopy and appears to feed largely on insects.


The museum has four specimens of the Kinabalu Ferret-Badger, a brown animal with white stripes. They were collected in 1929 from Mount Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

This species is endemic to the montane forests of Sabah on Borneo. It is nocturnal and rarely seen and also scarce in museum collections. It apparently feeds on earthworms, insects and other small animals.

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'Cut number of cleaners' to keep Singapore clean

Move will make people think twice before messing up public areas
David Ee Straits Times 11 Jun 13;

IT IS a suggestion that sounds perverse: keeping Singapore clean by cutting the number of cleaners here and cleaning up after Singaporeans less regularly.

But the head of the Keep Singapore Clean Movement Liak Teng Lit is convinced that this is what needs to done to make people think twice before they litter or leave a mess in public areas.

The Government is cleaning Singapore so efficiently that people are conditioned to behave badly, he told The Straits Times, ahead of the Keep Singapore Clean conference on June 29.

"We rely too much on cleaners. It is because they are cleaning so much that people don't even feel it when they litter.

"You find litter everywhere, but most Singaporeans don't see it because it is cleared at dawn."

Singapore has about 70,000 cleaners, a third of whom are foreigners. Those contracted by the National Environment Agency and town councils clean public areas and estates up to three times daily, beginning at dawn.

Mr Liak said that Singaporeans' reliance on cleaners extends to many families with domestic help and those who eat out.

"In hawker centres we eat like pigs, with food and tissue all over the tables. It's a disgrace. We don't eat like that at home."

The group chief executive officer of Alexandra Health is leading by example at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, which his group runs. There, cleaners vacuum offices just once every few weeks, leaving staff to ensure their own spaces are hygienic and tidy. Staff and members of the public are also encouraged to return their own trays at the food court.

So far, he estimates that about 30 per cent of staff have taken his message to heart. Some even pick up litter thrown by members of the public.

He is drawing other similarly civic-minded organisations such as schools and malls to the cause and is planning to start a ground-up movement which begins with personal responsibility.

For example, students could be made responsible for keeping their own classrooms and common areas clean, leaving cleaners to take on the heavy-duty work.

More than 50 organisations have already committed to the initiative he calls "Bright Spots".

It will be featured at the conference and include pre-school chain NTUC First Campus, the Ascendas group and several government agencies.

Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary William Wan noted that Singapore is already struggling to recruit cleaners because of low wages.

"The day will come when we will have not enough cleaners. Who will we rely on? It is only good sense if people do their part and don't litter," he said.

But National University of Singapore sociologist Daniel Goh was not persuaded.

"Those who pay conservancy fees for cleaning common areas would expect that it be done. This won't automatically stop the litterers," he said.

However, volunteer neighbourhood watch groups are an example of people uniting and taking responsibility for their community. "The difference is, littering doesn't carry the same sense of urgency as security," he said.

Ultimately, people first have to care if anything is to change, said Mr Liak. "It's all about being considerate to the next person.

"Wherever you are, don't leave a mess behind. We need to create that vision. Hopefully there are enough people who feel the current state of affairs is not good enough."

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Malaysia: Wildlife traders netting sales online

P. Aruna The Star 11 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Local wildlife traders are resorting to private chats and exclusive groups over the Internet to sell exotic animals following the enforcement of the Wildlife Con­servation Act 2010.

While the online trade was still rampant, the sales are done in more “secretive” ways, said wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic South-East Asia senior communications officer Elizabeth John.

“Previously, Malaysians negotiated the sales of exotic and endangered animals on public forums and popular trading websites.

“While some may still use these websites, now the traders use private messages to communicate instead of stating everything in the open,” she said here yesterday.

Under the Act, anyone who sets or uses any snare for the purpose of hunting faces harsher penalties, with fines ran­ging between RM50,000 and RM100,000, and jail time of up to two years.

It was reported yesterday that between 2008 and last year, enforcement officers from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) found and destroyed 2,377 snares set by poachers in forests and protected forest reserves.

The global illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated US$5bil (RM15.46bil) to US$20bil (RM61.84bil) annually, with China, the United States and Europe the prime markets.

Meanwhile on Facebook, a Ma­­­laysian user was found openly selling a critically-endangered bird, a yellow crested Cockatoo, for RM5,000.

The man posted a photograph of the exotic bird, found in Indonesia, along with his phone number.

A user had even replied to the advertisement, asking for the price for a pair of the bird.

A check on a local online forum, under the topic “exotic animals”, showed a user seeking to buy a crocodile and inquiring the price.

Another local website had users trading the Indian Star Tortoise, which is banned from export, and the Radiated Tortoise and Ploughshare Tortoise, both of which are critically endangered.

Elizabeth said it was difficult to catch those trading wildlife on­- line as their identities were kept secret.

“This is why it is so important for Internet users to immediately re­­port to the authorities if they suspect such activities online.”

Perhilitan said it was in the midst of investigating the online trade of two Asian Leopard Cats and a Blood Python, adding that another case involving the sale of two Lesser Bird of Paradise was brought to court last year.

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Malaysia: Sabah islands set to become marine research centre

The Star 11 Jun 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Three islands in Sabah – Billean, Lankayan and Tegaipil – are set to become part of a centre for international research into tropical coral reef ecosystems.

The centre, which encompasses the islands under the Sugud Islands Conservation Area, off Sabah’s east coast, will also see efforts being undertaken to restock commercially important and threatened marine species in the state.

The Sugud Islands Marine Research Centre (SIMRC), covering 46,317ha in shallow reef area, was set up following a memorandum of understanding signed between the Sabah Wildlife Department, Reef Guardian Sdn Bhd and Cardiff University on Sunday.

State Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming, who witnessed the signing, said the centre would enhance research and conservation of the marine ecosystem and scientifically assess the success of the conservation area.

“This will definitely increase the interest of local and international scientists for coral reef ecosystem research in the region as well as boost eco-tourism in the east coast of Sabah,” he said.

Cardiff University research associate Dr Benoit Goossens said the centre would provide a world-class education and research facility with the necessary structure and resources to study advanced marine ecosystem science, particularly in the field of small tropical islands and coral reef ecology.

“We will offer field courses to our students and others to undertake training at the centre,” he said.

He added that, among others, it would help to raise funds for goods and extra laboratory equipment.

Reef Guardian research officer and SIMRC manager Davies Austin Spiji said the centre would assist in efforts to restock commercially important and threatened marine species in Sabah through mariculture practices.

The centre will also promote awareness on conservation among local stakeholders.

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Malaysia: Cleaner flows to keep rivers clean

Meng Yew Choong The Star 11 Jun 13;

The importance of keeping rivers clean is seldom highlighted.

Throughout the whole of last year, Malaysia has been talking about clean rivers, and more so after the multi-billion ringgit River of Life (RoL) project was launched two years ago.

RoL is a Federal initiative to improve the water quality of the Klang River from something untouchable (categorised as either a Class IV or V river) to something that is suitable for recreational use (or close to Class IIb).

A class IV or V river can either be polluted with excessive levels of sediment, heavy metals or microbial life, such as the Eschericia coli (E. coli) bacteria or worse, the Enterococcus sp. and Cryptosporidium.

Most people still associate cleaning up rivers with installing boom traps to collect floating rubbish or throwing mudballs infused with a bacterial mix that is touted as a miraculous solution that will turn even the most putrid waterway into something clean.

While harvesting rubbish does have a role, it is the capture of the invisible stuff like dissolved heavy metals, fine suspended solids and nutrients (anything containing nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium) that will finally elevate the river to a more desirable state.

Capturing rubbish, while needful, tantamounts to picking up after the people. This alone is not sustainable, and in fact, does little to clean up a highly polluted river, argues river expert Dr K. Kalithasan.

Harvesting physical rubbish is an ongoing process as it is both the logical and expedient thing to do, and most municipalities do it. For example, Kuala Lumpur City Hall nets in at least 20 tonnes of river trash daily.

“No doubt, rubbish is an eyesore, and floating rubbish is the easiest to take care of. But it is time we stop judging whether a river is clean or dirty just by the amount of rubbish or even the colour of the water,” said Kalithasan of non-governmental organisation Global Environment Centre (GEC).

Data from the Drainage and Irrigation Department show that improperly treated or untreated sewage and wastewater from businesses are a significant source of pollution in rivers. For the Klang River, urban domestic pollution is the highest pollution contributor.

“We cannot just rely on gross pollutant traps (GPTs) and rubbish traps as they do not solve the problem at the source. The fact is that other significant pollutants are the many harmful suspended or dissolved chemical compounds in the water,” said Kalithasan.

Man-made inputs like soil erosion, surface runoff, faecal matter, detergent, urban domestic waste, industrial effluent, fertiliser runoff and residential waste all affect river quality.

Sewage is a significant source of pollution that can impede river cleansing efforts. According to Datuk Ahmad Suhaili Idrus, a Pemandu director for National Key Economic Areas (Greater KL/Klang Valley), improperly treated wastewater has the potential to impede the success of the RoL project that covers a portion of the 120km-long Klang River.

Sewage, which encompasses grey water like those from bathrooms and kitchens, should not be discharged into open drains but into the sewerage system.

Eateries are also a culprit when they discharge wastewater from their cleaning operations, or worse, allow oil and grease into open drains. Other than this, there is also seepage from improperly constructed landfills or illegal dumpsites all over the Klang Valley.

Though oil and grease (O&G) is biodegradable, their presence in the river raises the demand of oxygen, other than choking aquatic life by forming an impermeable film on the water surface.

The problem can be contained by the mandatory requirement (at least in Kuala Lumpur) for grease traps but KL City Hall does not have a standardised design for it.

“All commercial premises dealing with food must have it. Unfortunately, when it comes to monitoring its efficiency, there is no emphasis on how to maintain it.

“Who is going to collect the waste oil from the trap when it is full? Right now, the user installs it merely because the law requires it, and that’s about it,” said Mohd Ridhuan Ismail, executive director at the sewerage regulatory department of the National Water Services Commission.

He feels that local authorities should compel eateries to connect their washing basins to the septic system, instead of discharging directly into the drain. A proper setup means the wash water will flow through a strainer, then the grease trap, and, finally empties into the sewerage system. Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) confirms that the biggest problem it faces is (solidified) O&G in sewerage pipes. Hardened O&G leads to blockages.

Part of the sewage pollution problem is inherited. The thousands of sewage treatment plants (STPs) built before 1999 follow a standard that is outmoded now.

“Discharge from these STPs can never meet current environmental standards, no matter how well they are operated,” said Ridhuan.

IWK was awarded the concession by the Government in 1994 to manage sewerage services nationwide.

Since then, it has taken over the sewerage services from local authorities in all areas except Kelantan, Sabah, Sarawak, parts of Terengganu that come under the Central Terengganu Development Board (Ketengah), and parts of Johor that come under Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang, and the South-East Johor Region Development Authority (Kejora).

IWK operates around 4,700, or about half the STPs in the country, and it still “discovers” forgotten or dilapidated small STPs on a regular basis.

“A lot of STPs are owned by private parties such as hotels and institutions. We believe that there are about 4,000 STPs that are privately managed or forgotten, and it is quite difficult for us to monitor them,” said Ridhuan.

“IWK also needs to improve as not all of the 4,700 STPs are operating well. STPs built after 1999 are designed to meet new requirements, but under actual operating conditions, some do not meet the requirements all the time. For those located in the Klang Valley, the ROL programme will upgrade these plants or rationalise them by closing off smaller plants and rerouting the sewage to larger plants.”

Having fewer but more efficiently managed larger plants will enable the Department of Environment to monitor them. IWK maintains 79 regional facilities which are linked electronically to its headquarters and state DOE offices. These larger plants are said to consistently comply with current environmental standards.

“DOE is actually after the smaller plants as they are often the ones that fail to comply,” said Ridhuan.

IWK maintains that the load of biochemical oxygen demand, suspended solids, oil and grease, and ammoniacal nitrogen from its treated discharge in 2011 was below permissible levels, indicating “that our plants are generally functioning well in treating the sewage effluent before discharging into the waterways,” according to its 2011 performance report.

In Selangor, the South Klang Valley sewerage catchment is identified as one of the critical sewerage service areas due to its large number of housing and commercial lots, and wedged between these developments are a host of STPs and individual septic tank systems.

A RM110mil contract has been given out by the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry for works associated with sewerage rationalisation in Klang, which falls within the South Klang sub-catchment.

Expected to be completed in January 2017, this rationalisation is part of the works proposed under the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley National Key Economic Area.

Under this project, a number of old STPs will be closed down, new pumping stations built along with new trunk sewers to channel the existing flow to larger regional STPs. This rationalisation will increase the operating efficiency and lower the operational expenditure of the sewerage system at sub-catchments.

While the Government takes care of the big ticket items like river cleansing, there is much to be done to educate the public on their role in clean rivers, added Kalithasan.

“People want to flush and forget, and don’t want to know where it all ends up. We still have people who are not paying their sewerage bills or desludging their individual septic tanks regularly. People just don’t see the importance of that.”

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Indonesian President: Environmental NGOs Are Friends, Not Foe

Ezra Sihite Jakarta Globe 10 Jun 13;

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sought to bolster his environmental credentials on Monday by inviting pressure groups and environmental observers to both scrutinize and provide expertise to improve Indonesia’s environmental record.

“I invited Greenpeace to partner with Indonesia with the aim of providing criticism and to correct us if there are things that are not yet right. We also ask for their views or recommendations or the best option from the perspectives of good environmental management,” Yudhoyono said.

The remarks formed part of a speech at the State Palace to mark World Environment Day.

While apparently inviting criticism of Indonesia’s environmental policy, the president invoked a popular West Sumatran saying (“If the food is not good, tell me about it. If the food is good, then tell others about it”) to emphasize that credit should be given when credit is due.

“I want to provide an example: we should not be against environmental NGOs, They should be made partners and friends so that the future of the environment and the state becomes better,” he said.

SBY Now Welcoming of Foreign NGOs
SBY’s new stance belies his administration and party’s hostility to foreign NGOs
Novi Lumanauw & Ezra Sihite Jakarta Globe 10 Jun 13;

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has embraced foreign nongovernmental organizations as valuable partners in the development process, in a marked break from his own party and administration’s often hostile attitude to such groups due to their criticism of government policies.

Speaking at an event at the State Palace on Monday that was meant to mark World Environment Day, which was last Wednesday, Yudhoyono said it was important for the government to work together with foreign NGOs.

“Don’t be against foreign NGOs. Make them your partners, your collaborators and friends,” he said.

“Work with them, not against them. That way we can ensure a better environment and a better country in the future.”

He added that a lot of suspicion among most Indonesians remained, propagated by politicians, including the notion that foreign NGOs in the country were working on their own insidious agendas and did not have Indonesia’s best interests at heart.

Yudhoyono said this kind of misconception was particularly evident in the environmental sector, with green groups commonly seen as opposing forest clearing for oil palm and pulp and paper plantations in a bid to undermine Indonesia’s economic development.

“There are still some problems on that front. We have a lot of work to do to resolve our environmental issues, so let’s partner up with [the foreign NGOs] to work on these issues together,” he said.

He cited Greenpeace as a prime example of a group that his administration was working closely with on environmental affairs, noting that although it was often harshly critical of government policies, the two sides shared the same goals of achieving sustainable development.

“I’ve invited Greenpeace to partner with Indonesia, for the purpose of pointing out and correcting any steps we take that aren’t right,” he said.

“We also want them to offer their views and recommendations, as well as the best options for moving forward, in the best interests of the environment.”

While inviting criticism on Indonesia’s environmental policies, the president invoked a popular West Sumatran saying “If the food is not good, tell me about it. If the food is good, then tell others about it,” to emphasize that credit should be given when it was due.

Democrat legislators have been among politicians pushing for foreign NGOs to either be more closely monitored or expelled from the country. Chief among them is Marzuki Alie, the gaffe-prone speaker of the House of Representatives, who famously raised eyebrows in April 2011 when he called for the United Nations Development Program’s office at the House complex to be shut down, mislabeling it as a foreign NGO.

Authorities have been paying particular attention to Greenpeace for its various campaigns pressuring major companies regarding their questionable environmental stewardship.

Last week, Yudhoyono visited Greenpeace’s iconic ship, the Rainbow Warrior, at Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok Port — almost three years since his administration barred the same vessel from docking in the country in the wake of its campaigning against pulp and paper and palm oil companies.

The government also barred the Greenpeace UK director from entering the country in October 2011 for a forestry conference, even though he arrived with a valid visa. The government said the reason for the refusal was a “state secret.”

A week later, a Greenpeace forest campaigner was deported from the country. By November, authorities in Jakarta had ordered the organization to leave its office in Kemang on the grounds that the area was strictly a residential zone, despite the fact that hundreds of office, commercial and entertainment businesses also operate in the same area.

Critics say Yudhoyono’s change in attitude toward foreign NGOs is part of a wider campaign to polish his image in the final year of his presidency.

Still, the president managed to get riled by a television report on deforestation in the country and the impact to the iconic and critically endangered orangutan, saying that such coverage was unbalanced and only focused on “the extreme negatives” found in Indonesia.

“I woke up at about 3:30 this morning and I watched a foreign TV channel, let’s call it A. I saw a long report about deforestation in Indonesia,” he said.

“If such reports are exaggerated, we have to call them out. Just because a program is interesting, that doesn’t mean it should leave out the overall situation in Indonesia. It’s that kind of perspective we need to correct if it gets out of balance.”

While not naming the channel, the president was most likely referring to Al Jazeera and an episode on its hour-long Witness program titled “Green: Death of the Forests.”

The station describes the program as “a visual essay about deforestation in Indonesia as experienced by a dying orangutan whose habitat has been destroyed.”

The show airs again at 8 a.m. on June 11 and 1 p.m. on June 12.

Indonesian Growth Must Not Threaten Environment: SBY
President marks World Environment Day by urging government at all levels to factor in nature
Jakarta Globe 11 Jun 13;

Economic development in Indonesia should not come at the expense of the environment, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said during celebrations to mark World Environment Day at the State Palace on Monday.

“One should not go to the extremes, such as by saying, ‘It is OK for the environment to be damaged, what’s important is that our economy continues to grow,’ ” the president said, adding that the government was committed to preserving the environment. “Development that damages the environment is not a choice for us.”

In his speech, Yudhoyono called on every level of the government, especially regional leaders such as governors, mayors and district heads, to share his concern toward the environment. He called on regional governments to review policies that may endanger the environment.

“It displeases me if there are those among us, including governors and others, who are negligent toward the environment,” he said. “In gubernatorial elections, vote for those who care about the environment. [Those] who really care, not just during their campaign.”

Yudhoyono said he was aware of many regional leaders who issued business licenses that contravened the 2009 Environmental Law. “These licenses do not fulfill the environmental aspect of the requirements,” he said.

In response to those problematic licenses, the president said he had asked Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi to cancel regional policies that were inconsistent with national laws.

He encouraged regional heads to implement policies according to the law, adding that he did not want to hear of governors or other regional heads being caught by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), the police, or prosecutors for environmental violations.

“This is not just about the standards of the environment, but also about the law,” he said.

“As leaders we [should] care for our environment, considering our future generation is part of the leadership, part of our responsibility,” he said.

World Environment Day, which is endorsed by the United Nations, this year fell last Wednesday.

A billion trees

During a meeting with Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo on Friday, Yudhoyono said he was committed to protecting the nation’s forests.

“Surely Greenpeace knows that we are highly committed to protecting the environment. We plant one billion trees every year in hope of growing a greener and healthier Indonesia in the next 30 years,” Yudhoyono said. He added the government would continue to push for the protection of forests and fight illegal logging.

The president said efforts to protect Indonesia’s nature would go on at least until he left office late next year, before which time significant progress was promised.

“I admit there are several issues and challenges that need sorting, but these things will be answered in the future when the public’s awareness and understanding has increased,” he said.

In his speech at the palace, Yudhoyono said that environmental issues should be included in the school curriculum.

“The six years of elementary level and three years of middle school … is a formative period for students, meaning it is still possible to build children’s characters at those ages,” the president said.

Yudhoyono said he had instructed Education Minister Mohammad Nuh to include environmental studies in the national curriculum. The curriculum would include climate change.

The president encouraged teachers to foster care for the environment among their students through activities such as tree planting.

In his speech, Yudhoyono recalled being angered during a school visit when he came upon poorly maintained rooms.

“Even the teachers’ room was a mess,” he said. “Discipline, love for each other, honesty, all of those qualities can be formed from an early age.”

Enforce the law

Several environmentalists said that Yudhoyono could achieve much for the environment by enforcing existing laws and punishing those people damaging the environment and illegally cutting the country’s forests. Such action would not require additional regulations.

“We have enough laws and regulations. The president only needs to punish people or officials violating them, such as illegal loggers and companies or individuals burning the forests,” said Syahganda Nainggolan, chairman of the Sabang-Merauke Circle. He said illegal logging and environmental damage would not be reduced if there was no deterrence through punishment of guilty parties.

At Monday’s celebration, the president also awarded several individuals, organizations and government representatives for their contribution to preservation of the environment.

The president handed out 18 Kalpataru awards, seven Adipura Kencana awards, 33 Adipura awards to cities receiving the award for the first time, 22 Adiwiyata Mandiri awards and six awards for government entities that had compiled the best Regional Environment Status report.

The event carried the theme “A Change of Behavior and Consumption Habits to Save the Environment.”

“There is an urgent need for each entity, be it an individual or an organization or a country, to change its consumption and production habits or its lifestyle, and strive for sustainable behavior,” Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said at the event on Monday.

While the Yudhoyono administration has talked up its green credentials and commitments, critics say its actions are often inconsistent with its rhetoric.

A key forest-clearing moratorium was meant to go into force at the start of 2011, but the supporting regulation was not signed by Yudhoyono until May that year.

Several months later, it emerged that an ecologically important swath of the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, orangutan and elephant, had been removed from the original map of protected areas, and was only reinstated following a public outcry.

Critics also argue that Yudhoyono’s new-found concern for the environment is just an image-burnishing measure for his final year in office, given that much of his nearly nine-year presidency was marked by the unbridled clearing of forests to make way mostly for oil palm plantations.

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Asian tigers at risk from domestic dog distemper virus

Mark Kinver BBC News 10 Jun 13;

Some of the world's rarest big cat species are facing a potentially deadly threat from a virus carried by domestic dogs, a wildlife expert has warned.

John Lewis, director of Wildlife Vets International, said there was evidence that Indonesian tigers were at risk.

Canine distemper virus has evolved in recent decades from infecting only dogs to affecting other animal groups.

Dr Lewis plans to work with Indonesian vets to develop a strategy to protect the nation's tigers from the virus.

A close relative of measles, Canine distemper virus (CDV) was first described at the beginning of the 20th Century and has been cited as contributing to the demise of the thylacine (commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger as a result of the black stripes on its back).

"If you wind the clock back about 30 or 40 years, it was a dog disease - it was a canine virus and only affected dogs," Dr Lewis explained.

"But in the intervening years, the virus has evolved and has changed its pattern of animals it can infect to include marine mammals (such as seals) and big cats."

Reservoir dogs

He told BBC News that CDV needed a reservoir, like a population of dogs, to remain effective as a pathogen.

These conditions were present when the first case of the disease affecting wild big cats was documented, he recalled.

"In the mid-1990s, in the Serengeti, Africa, about 30% of the lions died from CDV, which came from dogs in surrounding villages.

"It has also been recognised in the Asian big cat populations," he added.

"Since 2000, in the Russian Far East, there have been a few cats reported as behaving strangely and coming into villages, apparently not showing much fear towards people.

"In the past few years, tissue from at least a couple of those cats have now been confirmed as showing the presence of CDV infection.

"There have not been too many cases at the moment, we think about three or four, but we think there could have been more that have gone undiagnosed."

While some tigers appear as if they are able to build up a reasonable immunity response, most of the animals do succumb to the disease if they are exposed to the virus.

Dr Lewis explained that symptoms manifested themselves in a number of ways:

"Some will die as a result of respiratory problems, such as pneumonia for example.

"Some will have neurological problems, such as losing the fear of people or having seizures."

But, he added: "We do not have enough information on CDV in tigers to know what percentage go on to die; we just have a little bit of data from zoos and a little bit of data from the wild.

"There are a lot of cases of distemper in the region and tigers are partial to eating dogs.

"For a tiger to take a dog on the periphery of a village is not usual at all, so you do have the circumstances that would bring tigers into contact with CDV."

Although it was assumed the cause of CDV infection in tigers was a result of coming into contact with dogs carrying the virus, Dr Lewis said that a research project was under way to look at the source of CDV in Amur tigers (also known as Siberian tigers) in the Russian Far East.

Worrying signs

The behaviour change in tigers was particularly worrying, Dr Lewis observed.

"This puts them at big risk because they lose their fear of poachers or they bring themselves in situations of conflict, such as playing with traffic."

On a recent visit to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, he said conversations with local wildlife vets seemed to indicate that CDV could already be present in the population of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger.

They told him that they had seen strange behaviour displays by tigers, such as the big cats coming into villages and losing their fear of people.

"To me, that suggests that distemper is already beginning to have an impact on tigers in Sumatra," he warned.

"But before you say 'yes, that is definitely the result of CDV', you need diagnostic testing of brain tissue.

"The big threats facing tigers are habitat loss and degradation and poaching, but I think the third big threat now is likely to be disease, particularly one like CDV."

The Sumatran tiger is only found on the island and population estimates suggest that there are fewer than 700 left in the wild, of which only 40% are viable mature individuals.

Dr Lewis is returning to Sumatra in September to bring together all the vets from all the different areas that come into contact with tigers.

"The goal is to thrash out a very simple way of deciding what samples need to be taken from all tigers that are handled by humans throughout Sumatra, in order to help us with diagnostics," he explained.

"We also need to thrash out what samples need to be taken from domestic dog populations.

"We need to work out where we can send these samples for laboratory testing. We need to work out how we are going to store and move these samples.

"Once we have got that nailed down then we start work and try to design some sort of mitigation strategy, and that won't be easy."

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Waiting on new climate deal 'will set world on a path to 5C warming'

International Energy Agency chief economist says rising emissions make limiting increase to 2C 'extremely challenging'
Fiona Harvey 10 Jun 13;

The world cannot afford to wait for a new global climate change agreement to come into force in 2020, because doing so will mean an end to hopes of limiting global warming to moderate levels, one of the world's foremost authorities on energy has warned.

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy rose by 1.4% in 2012 to a record high of more than 31bn tonnes, according to a report from the International Energy Agency on Monday, driven in part by a striking 6% rise in emissions from Japan following its phase-out of nuclear power and continuing growth in emissions from China.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, and one of the world's most respected energy experts, told the Guardian that greenhouse gas emissions were continuing to rise so fast that pinning hopes on a replacement for the Kyoto protocol would set the world on a path to 5C of warming, which would be catastrophic.

Birol urged governments to take urgent action on improving energy efficiency, replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon power, stopping the construction of inefficient power plants and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, as low or no-cost ways of reducing emissions quickly. "This will not harm economic growth, and they are policies that can be taken in a fragile economic context," he said.

The IEA has calculated that making clean energy investments sooner would be cheaper than leaving them until after 2020. About $1.5 trillion should be spent before 2020 to meet climate targets, it found, but if the investments are left until after 2020 it will take $5tn to achieve the same results.

Governments are negotiating under the United Nations to forge a global deal on emissions that would be signed in 2015 but not come into force until 2020. Until then, most countries have their own voluntary goals to curb carbon, but these fall well short of the cuts scientists say are needed to limit temperature rises to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, which is regarded as the limit of safety beyond which warming is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

Birol said: "I am very worried about the emissions trends. The chance of keeping to 2C is still there, technically, but it is not very great. It is becoming extremely challenging."

Officials are meeting in Bonn this week in the next round of the ongoing UN talks, and Birol urged "a change in political mood" in the run-up to the 2015 deadline. He noted that there were a few positive trends among the rising carbon levels identified by the IEA, the gold standard on energy and emissions data. Emissions from energy in the US are now at levels not seen since the mid 1990s, having dropped by 3.8% in 2012 due to the effects of the shale gas boom that has led to gas replacing coal.

But Birol warned that this could not be replicated globally: "Shale gas is not a panacea. It can only be helpful if we see these other low-carbon technologies also [coming into widespread use] if we are serious about 2C."

Birol also saw positive trends in China, the world's biggest emitter. Although China's emissions rose by more than 300m tonnes, this was one of the smallest annual increases in two decades, Birol said. "The Chinese government has made huge efforts in energy efficiency, and a major effort on renewable energy such as hydroelectricity and wind."

Lord Stern of Brentford, author of the landmark Stern review of the economics of climate change, said the IEA report showed the importance of making investments quickly in cleaner energy. He said: "Government-induced policy risk from lack of clarity on energy and climate policy is, in many parts of the world, a major deterrent to long-term investment. This is surely unacceptable at a time of idle resources, low interest rates, strong liquidity within much of the private sector, attractive medium-term prospects for low-carbon growth and a climate at great risk."

He added: "The IEA has also warned of the dangers of locking in fossil fuel infrastructure, which would need to be retired early, at great additional cost, in order to meet the 2C target. The IEA's message is crystal clear: dither and delay in making the transition to a low-carbon energy system will be risky and expensive."

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