Best of our wild blogs: 14 Jun 13

Thursday (20th June 2013), 7-10pm: Nature and the Big City by The Leafmonkey Workshop from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Bukit Brown : Our Roots, Our Future
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History. and The Talks

Video clip of talk on "Singapore’s Underwater Meadows" by Dr. Len McKenzie from teamseagrass

Damselflies in dews!
from Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Nesting Pressure For Bulbuls
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Random Gallery - Pea Blue
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Shutterbugs on the prowl

Photographing nature can be challenging but rewarding, and people of all ages are getting into it
Lea Wee Straits Times 14 Jun 13;

They often draw curious stares from strangers as they point their big cameras and long lenses at seemingly nothing on a tree, a flower or a patch of grass.

Their objects of interest - birds, butterflies and insects - may not be obvious to the inexperienced eye. But to nature photographers, these subjects are their passion pursuits, and it is one that more people are getting interested in.

The Nature Photographic Society (Singapore), the oldest such group around, has seen membership grow from a handful in 2000, when it was first set up, to 158 members now.

Its 20-hour nature photography course, held over five Saturdays once a year for about 25 people, has been fully booked since it was introduced for members and the public in 2006. Last year, the society had to do two runs.

Other smaller groups of nature photographers have also sprung up in recent years. ButterflyCircle, a group of about 30, was set up in 2006 by architect Khew Sin Khoon, 54.

Another informal group consists of more than 10 macro photographers who got together around 2009. They shoot mainly spiders and other creatures as small as 1mm.

Then there are the individuals. Some specialise in taking photos of mammals or dragonflies and damselflies, while others focus on intertidal marine life or plants. Each has his own blog to showcase his photos. These groups and individuals not only make photography trips to nature areas here but also overseas.

Mr Dennis Ho, 47, vice-president of Nature Photographic Society (Singapore), said nature photography has become more accessible due to the rise of digital photography and social media.

He said: "In the past, you needed to wait for your film to be developed to find out how a shot went. Now, you take a shot and you can see how it turns out immediately. And when you post it on Facebook, you get feedback on how to improve. You learn very quickly how to take a good photo."

The nature shutterbug appears to have bitten people of both genders and from different age groups and professions.

Jonathan Soong, 14, one of the youngest members of the ButterflyCircle, aims his camera at a butterfly at Gardens by the Bay. -- PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

For instance, the youngest members of ButterflyCircle are students aged 12 and 14 while the oldest is a retiree and a former fighter pilot, aged 64.

Groups or individuals spend hours in the field studying their pet pursuits, so that they can capture the best shot.

Bird photographers such as Mr Ho usually set off early in the morning to catch their favourite subjects in action in the forest, grassland or garden.

They may park themselves 10 to 20m away from a bird's nest, with their long telephoto lens balanced on top of a tripod, waiting for hours, over a few days or weeks, to capture prized shots such as those of the adult bird feeding its young.

Those who photograph forest mammals such as the lesser mousedeer need even more patience, as these animals are very shy and elusive. They are also becoming less common here, said engineer Chan Kwok Wai, 37, who takes photos of wild animals.

Meanwhile, the challenge for members of ButterflyCircle, who go out every weekend to "chase butterflies" in nature areas, is to find situations when these skittish subjects pause for a few seconds, for instance when feeding on a flower, for them to sneak up and snap a shot.

Those with a passion for dragonflies and damselflies must be prepared to wade through water, as businessman Anthony Quek, 46, did, to get a series of images of two rare damselflies engaged in behaviours such as mating and egg laying.

Shooting even tinier animals such as insects and spiders is backbreaking work for the macro shooters, who may have to contort their bodies to get close to their subjects. But it was all worth it for game studio manager Nicky Bay, 35, whose photo of a ladybird-mimicking spider last year stirred up such interest that it was published on several websites overseas, including that of the Telegraph newspaper in England.

For freelance writer Marcus Ng, 38, joy is visiting seashores when the tide is low to capture photographs of crabs, fish and other intertidal marine life, while for public servant Teo Siyang, 29, happiness is taking photographs of plants.

But it is not just about taking pretty photos. Some photographers have "loftier" aims. Mr Teo for instance, set up a plant identification website,, last year to provide the public an easy way to identify the plants in Singapore and, in the process, better appreciate them. He has taken photos of 111 plant species and hopes eventually to cover the more than 4,000 plant species here.

Dr Cai Yixiong, 48, president of Nature Photographic Society (Singapore), agreed that photography is a good tool for promoting nature appreciation.

A trained zoologist, he said: "When people see our photos, they often cannot believe that the plant or animal can be found in Singapore. They then start to appreciate what we have."

The photographic society and other groups such as ButterflyCircle also meet regularly at the Biodiversity Roundtable of Singapore, initiated by National Parks Board and other parties last year, to exchange ideas on ways to conserve nature in Singapore.

The ButterflyCircle also helps the board conduct surveys on butterflies. The group's founder, Mr Khew, who is the author of two books on butterflies here, said: "It's a natural progression. After taking photos of beautiful butterflies, you would want to find out more about them through research and to protect them through conservation for future generations to enjoy."


Some nature photographers go so close to nesting sites that the adult birds stay away from the nest and their babies' feeding routine gets disrupted. Others remove leaves to get a clearer view of birds and expose them to predators.

These practices are frowned upon by other members of the community. The Nature Photographic Society (Singapore) set up a code of ethics in 2009 for members when they are out in the field. Here is an extract.

Habitat and environment

Do not destroy or damage the environment or habitat where photographic subjects are located.
Stay on existing roads, trails and paths to photograph. Otherwise, keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.
Do not litter in the field. Take nothing but photographs and videos, leave nothing but footprints.

Subject Welfare

Learn the animal's behaviour and know when to back off and not to interfere with its life cycle.
Know your equipment such as the minimum focusing distance. There is no point moving a few centimetres towards a subject when you are using a longer macro lens
Avoid stressing the subject. If it shows stress, move away and use a longer lens.
Do not force a subject into an unnatural environment in order to take a good photo.
Before publicising the presence of a rare subject, evaluate the potential disturbance to it and its environment.

The Nature Society (Singapore) also has a code of ethics for nature lovers and photographers on its website

Book it

Where: Science Centre Singapore, Movie Studio
When: June 22 and 29, 1 to 6pm
Admission: $95
Info: To register, e-mail Go to

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Indonesia: Green Activists Sound Warning on Foreign Investments in Oil Palm Estates

Hayat Indriyatno & Diska Putri Pamungkas Jakarta Globe 14 Jun 13;

Environmental activists have responded with alarm to new data showing Indonesia has the third-biggest area of land in the world given over to foreign control since 2000, warning of dire implications to the country’s rainforests, wildlife and indigenous communities.

The Land Matrix Partnership’s Global Observatory, a crowdsourced database launched earlier this week, put the estimated figure of foreign land deals in the country at 2.84 million hectares, mostly for oil palm plantations.

That puts Indonesia behind only South Sudan, at 4.09 million hectares, and Papua New Guinea, at 3.91 million hectares.

The Land Matrix Partnership, an independent land monitoring initiative that includes groups such as the International Land Coalition and the University of Bern’s Center for Development and Environment (CDE), defines a land deal as “an intended, concluded or failed attempt to acquire land through purchase, lease or concession.”

The database focuses only on major land deals of more than 200 hectares that involve the “potential conversion of land from smallholder production, local community use or important ecosystem service provision to commercial use.”

As of Thursday evening, the database, which is updated constantly, showed that there were 85 transnational deals for Indonesian land, coming from places as far afield as the United States and Belgium, to Sri Lanka and South Korea. However, Malaysian companies were the biggest investors, responsible for 32 deals covering a combined 1.27 million hectares, or nearly half the total area.

The biggest identified land contract was for 300,000 hectares for the Malaysian conglomerate Genting to develop oil palm plantations in Papua. The Global Observatory noted that the deal was concluded by 2011 but operations had not yet begun.

The next biggest contract was for 299,262 hectares in Sumatra, also for oil palms and also for a Malaysian company, Sime Darby. The plantations are already in operation, according to the database.

Oil palm plantations dominated the amount of foreign land investment, accounting for 2.45 million hectares, or 86 percent of the total area.

Aditya Bayunanda, the global forest and trade network national coordinator for WWF Indonesia, said the figures put into perspective the amount of forest being cleared for commercial plantations and helped explain why Indonesia was a major carbon dioxide emitter.

“There are more negative implications than positive ones for the environment as a result of foreign or domestic companies using Indonesia’s land for oil palm plantations,” he told the Jakarta Globe.

He added that besides the obvious loss of valuable forest habitats and the biodiversity they supported, there was also an impact on local communities, many of whom were currently in conflict with the new concession holders over areas that they had long considered ancestral lands.

“There’s a huge gap between land ownership by local people and by foreign companies. As a result of this gap, we get land disputes as well as social discrepancies between locals who work for the foreigners and those who don’t,” Aditya said.

He warned that such disputes, if conflated with existing social and economic grievances, could prove extremely dangerous, especially in Papua, which for decades has been the scene of an armed insurgency and is now becoming a prime target for plantation and logging firms looking beyond the fast-diminishing forests of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Aditya said that a positive development on this front was a recent Constitutional Court ruling on indigenous community management of forests.

The court ruled in May that indigenous people had the right to manage forests where they lived, which Aditya said was important in preventing foreign or domestic developers from clearing the land for commercial use.

However, observers say the complex matter of how to define indigenous land could give rise to even more problems.

Aditya also noted that the amount of oil palm plantations being developed would severely hamper the government’s bid to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

A recently extended moratorium on issuing new forest-clearing permits for primary and peat forests will be of little help in reversing the deforestation trend, he argued, given that most of the land deals identified in the new database predated the moratorium that first went into force in May 2011.

“The moratorium is more about preventive action than about fixing the problem. The government doesn’t appear to be making any real steps to fix the deforestation problem, and its policies only tend to be stop-gap measures to stop the problem from getting bigger,” Aditya said.

Dedi Ratih, the forest program campaigner at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), agreed that national policies to tackle carbon emissions were inadequate in light of the amount of forests being cleared.

“The government’s decision to extend the forest-clearing moratorium is simply not enough to mitigate the negative impact of the huge amount of land being allocated for oil palm plantations, or to support the government’s campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Aditya urged the government to learn how to more efficiently allocate land for commercial use, by looking at other countries as examples.

“Malaysia has very strict rules for land usage. They have regulations stipulating how much land may be used for oil exploration, for forestry and so on,” he said.

“So it figures that most of the foreign companies that manage land for oil palm plantations here come from Malaysia.”

The Global Observatory listed Malaysia as the No. 2 country for the amount of foreign land investments made since 2000, behind only the United States.

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Indonesia: Illegal logging damages Krinci Seblat National Park

Antara 14 Jun 13;

Musi Rawas, South Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Illegal logging is growing rampant damaging the Krinci Seblat National Park in the regency of Musi Rawas of South Sumatra , local people said.

High quality trees are cut everyday transported with dump trucks to a sawmill in that area, a Kota Tanjung villager, Damari, said on Friday.

Damari said he and other villagers are paid to cut the trees, but he did not say who paid them.

"We are only paid just enough for food. We have to accept the offer even if we know it is against the law. Otherwise we would not be able to support our families and repay debts," he said.

He said illegal logging had continued for a long time with no intervention from the law in the interior area 170 kilometers from Lubuklinggau.

Trucks loaded with tree logs are free through the forest away from the public roads to the sawmill, he said.

M Daud , head of the Ulu Rawas sub-district, was not available for comment , but local people said hundreds of cubic meters of logs were taken away by trucks from the forest everyday to a timber processing plant at Rawas Ulu near the Sumatra highway.

Most of the forests in the sub-district of Ulu Rawas in the regency of Musi Rawas are part of the Krinci Seblat National Park, which is protected by law.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Many thriving species at risk from climate change

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 13 Jun 13;

Many species of birds, amphibians and corals not currently under threat will be at risk from climate change and have been wrongly omitted from conservation planning, an international study said on Wednesday.

The Amazon rainforest was among the places where ever more types of birds and amphibians would be threatened as temperatures climbed, it said. Common corals off Indonesia would also be among the most vulnerable.

Overall, up to 41 percent of all bird species, 29 percent of amphibians and 22 percent of corals were "highly climate change vulnerable but are not currently threatened", the team of scientists wrote in the journal PLOS ONE.

"It was a surprise," said Wendy Foden, of the global species program of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who led the study. Experts had expected far more overlap between species threatened now and those vulnerable to global warming.

Conservation priorities should be revised to take account of the emerging climate risks, for instance to decide where to locate protected areas for wildlife, the scientists wrote.

"Climate change is not the biggest threat, yet," Foden told Reuters in a telephone interview. Loss of habitats driven by a rising human population, over-exploitation and invasive species are now the main causes of extinctions, the study said.

The study drew on the work of more than 100 scientists. The IUCN groups governments, scientists and environmental groups.


Birds including the Emperor Penguin and the Little Owl and amphibians such as Rose's rain frog or the Imitator Salamander - none of which are now threatened - were among those at risk as temperatures rose.

The study focused on birds, amphibians - which include frogs, newts and salamanders - and corals partly because the IUCN has recently published global assessments of each.

The scientists used a new scale to judge the vulnerability to climate change, based on each creature's likely exposure to climate change, sensitivity to change and the ability to adapt.

Chris Thomas, a professor of biology at York University in England who was not involved in the study, welcomed the attempt to map climate risks, but said there were many uncertainties.

"The tragedy of this is that we need to make a lot of decisions about conservation ... before we know what will happen," he said.

A U.N. panel of scientists has estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the world's species are likely to be at increasing risk of extinction if temperatures rise more than two or three degrees Celsius (3.6-5.4F) above pre-industrial levels.

Almost 200 nations have set a goal of limiting warming to below 2C, a target set to be breached on current trends of rising greenhouse gases.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Tide of humanity, as well as rising seas, lap at Kiribati's future

David Gray PlanetArk 14 Jun 13;

The ocean laps against a protective seawall outside the maternity ward at Kiribati's Nawerewere Hospital, marshalling itself for another assault with the next king tide.

Inside, a basic clinic is crowded with young mothers and newborn babies, the latest additions to a population boom that has risen as relentlessly as the sea in a deeply Christian outpost where family planning is still viewed with skepticism.

It is a boom that threatens to overwhelm the tiny atoll of South Tarawa as quickly as the rising seas. Some 50,000 people, about half of Kiribati's total population, are already crammed onto a sand and coral strip measuring 16 sq km (6 sq miles).

"Climate change is a definite long-term threat to Kiribati, there's no doubt whatsoever about that," says Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia who has been visiting South Tarawa since 2005.

"But that doesn't mean it's the biggest problem right now ... Any first-time visitor to Tarawa is not struck by the impacts of sea level rise, they're struck by how crowded it is."

Low-lying South Pacific island nations such as Kiribati (pronounced Kee-ree-bahs) and Tuvalu, about halfway between northeast Australia and Hawaii, have long been the cause célèbre for climate change and rising sea levels.

Straddling the equator and spread over 3.5 million sq km (2 million sq miles) of otherwise empty ocean, Kiribati's 32 atolls and one raised coral island have an average height above sea level of just two meters (6-1/2 feet).

Studies show surrounding sea levels rising at about 2.9 mm a year, well above the global average of 1 - 2 mm a year.

Kiribati President Anote Tong has grimly predicted his country will likely become uninhabitable in 30-60 years because of inundation and contamination of its fresh water supplies.


While climate change poses a serious longer-term threat, many people, including Tong, recognize that breakneck population growth is a more immediate problem. South Tarawa' population density of more than 3,000 per sq km is comparable to Los Angeles or parts of London - without the high rises.

The government fears South Tarawa's population could double to more than 100,000 by 2030 unless the birth rate and internal migration slows.

Rudimentary huts of little more than timber sleeping platforms and palm thatch roofs line a single dusty road running the length of the atoll. Dotted among them are pig pens, chicken coops, overcrowded grave sites and the blasted relics from one of the bloodiest battles of World War Two.

Bwabwa Oten, Kiribati's director of hospital services, says current annual population growth in Kiribati is close to 6 percent, with overcrowding a major contributor to disease and an infant mortality rate among the highest in the region.

The church plays an integral role in the South Pacific and efforts to limit birth rates have run into resistance. Large families are also traditional in the region, which has one of the world's highest rates of teen pregnancy.

Describing the population surge as "a menace", Tong has called on churches to help curb growth by allowing their members to use birth control.

"Religion is incredibly powerful in the Pacific and there is quite an overt suspicion that, when we are talking about family planning, it in fact means family stopping," said Bronwyn Hale of New Zealand-based Family Planning International, which is working to promote sexual and reproductive health in Kiribati.

Progress is being made, with clinic visitor numbers up and a growing acceptance of the threat of over-population.

"Right now, population is the major issue, the number one issue we should face," said Peter Itibita, a member of the Mormon Church in South Tarawa.

Many health problems also stem from a lack of clean water as rising salinity and pollution affect underground water, with diarrhea outbreaks caused by contamination from human and animal waste and other pollutants.

Nawerewere Hospital also has problems, with new mothers spilling from overcrowded wards onto verandas and into corridors.

"Sometimes with the new babies, we don't have the water to wash them," says Rina Tabi, a maternity ward nurse.

Plans are underway for solar-powered energy and desalination plants but the cost of building and maintaining them is a challenge for cash-strapped Kiribati, which relies on aid and royalties from foreign fishing fleets.


The complexities of sea level change are becoming more apparent and there is little doubt that nations like Kiribati will be among the most affected. But it is equally clear that vulnerable states like Kiribati are responsible for less than 0.1 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

According to the United Nations, population growth in the Pacific has consistently exceeded all other regions except Africa for the past 30 years and is likely to remain higher than the global average for the next 40-50 years, even though barely 10 million people are dotted across the world's biggest ocean.

There is also a history of concern about Pacific over-crowding, with dire predictions of population growth outstripping food production dating back to the 1960s.

Barry Coates, executive director of Oxfam New Zealand, said populations of fragile atolls had long-developed resilience in dealing with resource shortages, cyclones and other periodic climatic events.

"But what is happening now is that the pressures of population growth and climate change are overwhelming the traditional coping mechanisms," Coates said.

The Kiribati government has also been looking at radical options for feeding and housing its people, including negotiating to buy land on nearby Fiji.

Larger Pacific neighbors New Zealand and Australia are likely to play a big role if large-scale migration is needed, and Western governments are under pressure to create a new refugee category for those fleeing the effects of climate change. A test case from Kiribati was rejected in New Zealand in 2012 and changes to international law will likely be needed.

(Additional reporting and writing by Lincoln Feast in SYDNEY; Editing by Paul Tait)

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