Best of our wild blogs: 16 Jul 13

11 Aug Kranji Countryside Run
from Kranji Countryside Run

Sunday 21 Jul Heritage Tour with Keng Kiat
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History. and 27 July Sat Special to Ong Sam Leong

Will the City in a Garden concept include our wild shores too?
from wild shores of singapore

Singapore Festival of Biodiversity
from Singapore Nature

Highlights of the Festival of Biodiversity 2013
from wild shores of singapore

TeamSeagrass at the Festival of Biodiversity 2013
from teamseagrass

Crabs at the Festival of Biodiversity!
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Mega Marine Survey at the Festival of Biodiversity
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Straw-headed Bulbul feeding chick
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Featured video: Indonesian community uses mapping to fight palm oil takeover from news

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Sweating the small stuff

Tiny creatures often play outsize ecological role, say scientists who study them
Grace Chua Straits Times 14 Jul 13;

Many a biologist has got her start reading books, visiting zoos or watching nature documentaries as a child.

But some of earth's small denizens, huddling in deep-sea colonies or marching across the surface of the planet, are less charismatic than monkeys or elephants, barely of note to the average human unless they sting or bite.

The scientists who study these creatures are a different breed.

They go on scuba dives and traipse about beaches to collect what lives in fish gills or hides under rocks.

Or they pore over microscopes for hours staring at dung flies.

What drives them to do so?

Often, it's chance, the lure of finding something new, or the knowledge that the small stuff often plays an outsize ecological role, they say.

British biologist J.B.S. Haldane once noted that if a Creator existed, he or she must have "an inordinate fondness for beetles".

Indeed, beetles and other insects are so numerous that the weight of all of them put together has been estimated to be more than the weight of all humans combined, pointed out National University of Singapore (NUS) evolutionary biologist Rudolf Meier, who studies the evolution of sepsid flies.

"In some tropical rainforests, the main plant eaters are insects, the main predators are again insects.

"Whoever only studies vertebrates and ignores insects will never understand these environments," Professor Meier said.

To study these less-than-charismatic creatures, one must be a little peculiar.

In secondary school, Prof Meier said, he liked rearing insects whose juvenile forms looked different from their adult ones.

"What could be more interesting than seeing caterpillars turning into butterflies?"

And when asked why he was interested in bryozoans, Dr Kevin Tilbrook of the Queensland Museum joked: "Isn't everyone?"
Bryozoans, swaying gently in an ocean current, might look like corals, but they are colonies of tiny animals, each with their own organs and digestive systems.

In the ecosystem, they provide food for other animals, and researchers are fascinated by their diverse range of shapes and forms.

But more importantly, because they fossilise, they can provide key evidence that swathes of land were once under water millions of years ago.

It was chance that drew Dr Tilbrook into studying bryozoans.

He started out in the United Kingdom studying fossils, then moved to the tropics where they are less well-studied, to look at live ones.

In fact, those in Singapore have never been studied before.

During a dredge this year, Dr Tilbrook found "the whole seafloor covered with bryozoans - not what I expected at all".

Singapore's water tends to be clouded with sediments, but fast currents might provide the clearer water bryozoans prefer.

It's not all field trips in exotic locales, though.

Prof Meier might spend as much time breeding dung flies, sequencing their genes and peering down a microscope at their private parts as trawling the Congo for rare flies.

Dr Niel Bruce, also of the Queensland Museum, was lured into studying tropical isopods as an undergraduate on "false pretences".
"There was one project that said 'Taxonomy of isopods of the Red Sea' - it sounded like you could go and do field work there." While this turned out to be untrue, his fascination with marine isopods carried on.

Isopods are mostly tiny, delicate crustaceans similar to woodlice.

In the ocean, they are scavengers, and can serve as a barometer of water quality and habitat disturbance.

In an expedition here earlier this year, he found Singapore has some 60 to 70 species - most of which have never been scientifically documented.

Dr Bruce said: "I don't want to just describe new species. You have to prioritise - new genus or form, or whether your finding extends a known species' range. You're looking for added value."

Sometimes that value helps stave off an invasive species infestation.

For example, ornamental fish from South America or other regions may carry isopod parasites.

If they get into the Australian or Singaporean ornamental fish trade, "there's no saying what they would do", said Dr Bruce.

So it's important to know what species those parasites might be, to work out what to do about them.

Likewise, bees play such a large ecological role as pollinators of crops and native vegetation, so it's important to study how environmental changes affect their number, size and behaviour, said NUS bee researcher John Ascher.

And even tiny bryozoans contain compounds, called biostatins, that have been found to have anti- cancer properties.

Still, some researchers' esoteric fields baffle even their nearest and dearest.

"At parties, I tell people I'm a marine zoologist first," said Dr Bruce.

Prof Meier also tells others he's a biologist, as some people may react with disgust to insects.

And 15 years ago, Dr Tilbrook found his first new bryozoan species, and, delighted, named it after his mother.

"I'm sure she's phenomenally proud of me," he said. "But I'm still not sure she completely understands what I do."

Related links
More about the Southern Expedition in Singapore on the Mega Marine Survey blog

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NParks mulls taking over private spaces to have more greenery

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 16 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE — With space a constraint urban planners face, the ability to “think out of the box” and maximise land available will be key in ensuring that Singapore grows as a garden city, said National Parks Board Chief Executive Poon Hong Yuen.

One way, he felt, would be to take over spaces managed by private companies, such as transport operators for example, so that train stations, especially those near parks, can have more greenery.

Speaking at a Centre for Liveable Cities lecture yesterday, Mr Poon said: “Currently, greenery within stations (and) greenery within your own private compound is your business. We are thinking (about) how to do it in a way which is more seamless, makes use of our expertise, and also ... with a skill that’s more efficient.”

Dr Shawn Lum, President of the Nature Society, who was also a panellist, brought up the possibility of planning in a “strategic and systematic way” to better connect nature reserves to parks and urban areas.

Acknowledging that development is a necessity, he felt that it is possible for an ecosystem with a rich biodiversity of plants and animals to be found in urbanised developments.

Pointing to the example of a canal near Sungei Bedok which supported a thriving community of mudcrabs and mudskippers, he felt it is possible for Singaporeans to embrace such co-existence.

Roof-top gardens could be a reservoir of insect life if the public can accept the idea, he said.

Dr Lum stressed that it should not be left to “a few nature lovers” to ensure Singapore’s biodiversity is maintained.

“There are five or six million people out there who just take these things for granted. That, to me, would be the challenge … how (to) successfully engage the community to realise that it’s beautiful, it has benefits,” he said.

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Haze-hit nations say ASEAN meet unlikely to clear the air

Channel NewsAsia 15 Jul 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Officials from five Southeast Asian nations met Monday to discuss the hazardous smog that blights the region every year, but the worst-hit countries have held out little hope of an early solution.

The officials from the ASEAN countries that form the bloc's "haze committee" began two-day talks on Indonesian forest fires, before their environment ministers meet Wednesday.

Forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in June left neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia choking on the worst haze in more than a decade.

The air pollution deterred tourists, forced schools to close and caused a spike in respiratory illnesses.

But the two worst-hit nations and green activists hold out little hope of a significant outcome from this week's meeting.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted in early July the forest fires in Indonesia would take "a very long time" to eradicate because of the country's sheer size.

"I know that there will be a spirit of cooperation but I think solving the haze issue will take a very long time, with the best will in the world," he said.

Malaysia's environment minister Palanivel Govindasamy refused to be drawn on immediate solutions to the haze which sent pollution levels to a 16-year high, forcing a state of emergency in two southern districts.

"Our job is to work closely with Indonesia and our ASEAN partners on the haze meeting. Once an agreement is reached we can go forward," he told AFP, after stressing "long-term solutions" would be the focus of the meeting.

The three nations along with Brunei and Thailand have met on 14 previous occasions since 2006, but have little to show for it.

Willem Rampangilei, Indonesia's deputy coordinating minister of people's welfare, said fighting haze was a "national priority" for his country and it would take legal action against slash and burn offenders.

"Of course this is our wish ... there will be no more haze," he told AFP on the sidelines of the meeting.

Asked if those causing the smog would be prosecuted, he said: "Sure, sure, sure."

Yeah Kim Leng, group chief economist of RAM Holdings, said the haze crisis would have a "serious knock" on regional economies if not resolved.

"We need to find a permanent solution. If not, it will have a serious impact on tourism which is a key foreign exchange earner for Malaysia and Singapore," he said.

The main obstacle appears to be internal Indonesian politics, because slash-and-burn remains the cheapest -- albeit illegal -- way to clear land for agriculture.

Jakarta has sought parliament's approval to ratify a 2002 pact on haze pollution which has been signed by all its partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But the proposal was rejected in 2008.

The treaty has been resubmitted to the current legislature, although no timeline for ratification has been given.

Singapore and Malaysia have demanded Indonesia punish those behind the blazes.

But Jakarta says some fires have been set in plantations owned by its neighbours, especially Malaysian palm oil firms.

An analysis by the World Resources Institute of the mid-June haze revealed that half of the fire alerts in Sumatra were in oil palm and pulpwood plantations.

"It is highly likely that severe burning seasons like the one we have seen over the past several weeks will be repeated," it warned.

The haze has been a bone of contention in ASEAN for nearly two decades, with the worst haze crisis in 1997-1998 estimated to have cost the region $9 billion.

- AFP/ac/gn

Clear skies in Dumai but for how long?
Authorities scale back anti-haze efforts, but fears of dry weather continue
Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta Straits Times 16 Jul 13;

AS SOLDIERS and firefighters from Jakarta pull out of Riau province and environment ministers from the region meet in Kuala Lumpur, life is back to normal for residents in Dumai, the Indonesian city at the epicentre of the region's worst haze to date.

Clear skies came just in time for the start of Ramadan last week. Said trishaw driver Ujang, 45, who has one name: "Thank God, the good weather has improved my takings, and made up for losses during the haze."

But, amid the bustle in the streets and markets, there are worries that any prolonged period of dry weather coming up, combined with the pullout of the heavy military and relief presence, may see open burning resume and take residents back to square one, disrupting their health and livelihood.

The national disaster authorities lifted emergency status last Thursday, 20 days after it was declared, but they will remain on the lookout for any recurrence until the dry season ends in October.

Four helicopters and an airplane for water-bombing and cloud-seeding sorties will remain in Riau in case fires flare up again, the National Disaster Management Agency said.

On Sunday, 226 Marines left Dumai for Jakarta in a gradual pullout of troops and police deployed to put out and investigate forest fires that, coupled with shifting wind patterns this year, sent pollution levels to record highs in Singapore and peninsular Malaysia.

Another 375 Marines sent to Bengkalis, one of the worst-hit regencies, were also pulled back.

Residents forced to relocate because of the haze have also returned home. Dumai resident Wan Umar Dani, 26, said he took his wife and their three-year-old son to neighbouring West Sumatra province for almost a month as he was concerned for their health.

"If it happens again, I will temporarily move again," he said, urging the authorities to keep a closer watch on plantations so the haze does not recur. "They have to act tough on land owners found to have carried out burning."

So far, only one land owner has been named a suspect.

Indonesian National Police spokesman Ronny Sompie told reporters last week that PT Adei Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), was allegedly responsible for illegally burning to clear land for cultivation.

Another 24 individuals have been identified as having started fires in Riau.

Yesterday, KLK took out an ad in the Jakarta Post in response to a report on its involvement.

It cited a local forestry official saying the fire was started in an area the company had set aside for conservation, but which the community living near its estates was trying to clear for cultivation.

Adei had in fact taken quick action to help douse the fire, it said.

Other pulp and paper companies cited as culpable by non-governmental outfits have issued similar rebuttals.

Meanwhile, the toll is just starting to be tallied up. The Riau Health Agency said at least 10,000 people have developed acute respiratory infections from the haze, more than half of them children under five years of age.

In a report on Indonesia's economy this month, the World Bank estimates the total cost and risk to the overall economic outlook from the haze is "likely to be in the billions of dollars", from resources deployed to put out the fires to degradation of forest and land assets.

It noted that the 1997-1998 haze episode cost South-east Asia some US$9 billion (S$11.4 billion).

"Today, with more sophisticated agriculture and tourism industries in place and higher population density in these areas, the economic losses could be even higher," the bank said.

But, as many in Riau note, the haze has become a persistent problem that is hard to pre-empt.

Clearing land is also a source of income for many and, with each dry season, some of the land will inevitably be burnt.

Additional reporting by Rezi Andika Putra in Dumai

Haze - A Legal Perspective
A news focus by Ismail Amsyar Mohd Said
Bernama 15 Jul 13;

KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 (Bernama) -- Malaysia, Singapore and other Asean nations have raised concerns over the dangers of the annual "migration" of haze from Indonesia to its neighbouring countries.

Amid the recent haze pollution which badly struck Malaysia and Singapore ,Asean countries have urged Indonesia to quickly ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (ATHP), which was signed in June 2002.

Indonesia is the only Asean member that has not ratified the agreement, which was enforced in November 2003, even though the country is singled out regularly as the "biggest contributor" to the transboundary haze problem.

Now, the question arises as to whether any legal action could be taken against Indonesia, in light of the recent haze, which was the worst-ever air pollution crisis in the region. In fact, the air pollution index (API) in Muar had skyrocketed to 746 � more than twice the standard hazardous level.

The haze spread to Malaysia and Singapore due to the forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Reports have stated that clearing land by burning forests is still practised in Indonesia despite a total ban by the government.

According to Dr Mohd Yazid Zul Kepli, Assistant Professor in the International Law department, International Islamic University s Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws, a positive aspect on the issue was that Indonesia has agreed to bring forward the Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution to July 15-17 from Aug 20-21.

Speaking to Bernama, he said that the legal aspect concerning the agreement could offer some remedies, but a comprehensive solution covering political, economic and social areas is also necessary.

He said that from a legal perspective, it was wrong to assume that a state is helpless when another state refuses to ratify an international environmental law.

"Countries are sovereign entities and cannot be dictated by others. But it doesn t mean that harmful actions should be tolerated, without providing legal remedies," he said.

He said under the domestic law, a house owner, who started a fire on purpose or by accident, would be liable for any loss or damage caused to the neighbours, noting that a similar doctrine has been developed in international law.

He cited the 1941 Trail Smelter dispute, which involved a smelter in Canada, where smoke from the smelter spread across the border, causing air pollution in the US. In this case, an international tribunal held Canada responsible for the environmental damage and ordered it to pay for the damages, he said.

According to Yazid, this is the fundamental principle of international environmental law � activities conducted in a state should not cause transboundary harm.

He further explained that while it is possible to bring Indonesia to the international court and claim for compensation, it is a challenging task as Indonesia s consent might be required for this purpose.

In such a situation, it is better to address the matter peacefully in a bilateral discussion and in a regional forum since claiming compensation from Indonesia is not necessarily a positive action.

According to Yazid, if a state fails to comply with the Asean agreement, it is considered to have breached international obligations. In this case, he believes that punishments should be in line with the nature of agreements.

However, no one can force any country to accept any international convention or agreement; once a country accepts an agreement voluntarily, the country should fulfill its obligation, he said.

The Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution is the first regional arrangement in the world to bind a group of contiguous states to tackle transboundary haze problem that results from land and forest fires.

The agreement requires relevant parties to cooperate in developing and implementing measures to prevent, monitor, and mitigate transboundary haze; respond promptly to a request for relevant information sought by a state or states that are or may be affected by such transboundary haze problems; and take legal, administrative, or other measures to fulfill their obligations as per the agreement.

Explaining further on the legal aspect, a researcher at Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) Jakarta, Laely Nurhidayah, said that there were two international frameworks that can be used to address the transboundary haze pollution in the Asean region namely the customary international law and treaties.

The customary international law s framework involves the state responsibility s principles namely the duty to prevent transboundary pollution and duty to compensate, she said in her paper The Influence of International Law upon Asean Approaches in Addressing Transboundary Haze Pollution in the Asean Region.

Laely who is currently doing her Phd in Law at Macquarie University, Australia, had presented the paper at the 3rd National University of Singapore (NUS)-Asian SIL (Society of International Law) Young Scholars Workshop in 2012.

She made available the paper when contacted by Bernama on the haze issue.

She said that these principles, known as the no harm principle, state that: States have, in accordance with the Charter of United Nations and the principle of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and development policies.

The States also have the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Legally, these principles can be effective in addressing the transboundary haze pollution problem because according to the principles, State has an obligation not to cause environmental damage to other countries and to pay compensation for the damage caused, she said.

However she said that the principles were constrained by the rule of State sovereignty, reflected in the Asean Way , especially in developing a State responsibility and liability system at regional level, which is not a politically viable option.

Laely quoted a statement by former Asean Secretary-General, Rodolfo Severino in 1999, who said that the 10-member Asean countries cannot sue polluting members, which are responsible for transboundary pollution because of the grouping s principle of non-intervention.

She said that Asean has adopted the customary international law no harm principle into its legal framework, particularly as stated in article 3(1) of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP), but with the addition of the words harm to human health of other States .

Article 3(1) reads: The parties have, in accordance with the Charter of United Nations and the principle of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and development policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment and harm to human health of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

This agreement however does not contain any rule on State liability as to damage, she said citing Article 27 of the AATHP, which stated that any dispute between Parties as to the interpretation or application of, or compliance with, this Agreement or any protocol thereto, shall be settled amicably by consultation or negotiation.

Laely explained that Asean is relying more on prevention and cooperation measures rather than establishing a liability regime or adopting formal legal instruments to protect the environment in addressing shared environmental problems.

She also noted that the agreement does not directly forbid certain types of conduct but instead, merely encourages the parties to promote zero burning policies and reiterated that the provisions in the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution do not contain any obligation to make compensation.

With the meeting on the Transboundary Haze Pollution brought forward it is hoped that Asean will be able to tackle and take another look into the issue in the spirit of togetherness, so that there won't be anymore "finger-pointing."


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Hard work finding eco-palm oil goods

The onus is on consumers to push manufacturers to act sustainably
Grace Chua Straits Times 16 Jul 13;

SHOPPERS here can buy Fair Trade coffee, organic chocolate and Singapore Green Label notebooks. But they will struggle to find such labels for sustainable palm oil.

Sumatran palm oil plantations clearing land by burning are being blamed for last month's haze, the worst ever recorded in Singapore.

Many people have suggested consumers put pressure on the industry to become more transparent.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said during the crisis: "I am sure consumers will know what to do."

Sustainably grown and independently certified palm oil is available. About 16 per cent of the world's palm oil is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO - a global association of industry and non-government organisations. But the products here bearing the RSPO trademark, meaning they are made with palm oil produced in an eco-friendly way, consists of just a handful of Body Shop soaps.

Complex supply chains and low palm oil prices mean few manufacturers use only certified palm oil. Oftentimes, firms which commit to buy this will mix it with non-certified oil, so they do not have to build separate processing plants - that way, they can still hit their certified targets.

Alternatively, they buy GreenPalm certificates to show they support the sustainable version. Growers get a certificate for each tonne of sustainable palm oil produced. Buyers in distant countries can purchase these certificates to offset physical sustainable oil if there is none readily available.

To be certified sustainable, mills and growers must meet a set of criteria that include no burning except in limited circumstances, transparency, maintaining customary land use and labour rights and plans for improvement.

The process can be completed in three months but depends on the site's size and amount of oil produced, said a spokesman for BSI, an independent certification firm. The certification lasts five years, subject to annual audits.

"The additional cost is about $5 per tonne of certified palm oil," said a spokesman for Singapore-based Golden Agri-Resources, which aims to certify all its pre-June 2010 plantations by 2015. Last week, palm oil prices were hovering around RM2,300 (S$914) a tonne.

If chocolate and soap makers want to use only certified oil for RSPO-trademarked products, they must process them separately from ordinary palm oil, which adds to costs, said World Wide Fund for Nature palm oil spokesman Adam Harrison.

Even so, that does not stop manufacturers from buying and using certified palm oil; just that the end products will not be labelled as such.

Unilever aims to buy all its palm oil from certified suppliers by 2015, while agribusiness giant Cargill has a 2015 target for Europe and 2020 globally.

"Other manufacturers and in particular traders including some of the Singapore-based giants like Wilmar need to show the same level of responsibility," said Mr Harrison. Some of Wilmar's suppliers were caught clearing land by setting illegal fires.

But, he added, India and China each buys as much palm oil as Europe and the US combined. So the WWF and RSPO, of which the former is a member, are trying to recruit makers and retailers.

Palm oil may be listed in ingredients as "vegetable oil" so consumers have a hard time telling if a product contains it or is sustainable. But the European Union is set to label all products containing it by late next year.

Another worry, said agribusiness analyst Khor Yu Leng, is that small growers - of the sort caught setting fires illegally in Sumatra - face cost and operating constraints, so getting them certified to high standards is costly. "The next stage is, there needs to be more inclusiveness."

This week, officials from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are discussing the haze at a three-day Asean meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

But consumers still have a role to play. "It's the processed and packaged foods that drive the increase in oil and fat consumption," Ms Khor said. "If nobody wants to change their behaviour, their consumption habits, it's not very realistic."

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19 caught for having illegal pets in 2012

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 15 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Pythons and crocodiles are some of the illegal pets authorities have seized from Singapore homes in the past 10 years.

In 2012, 19 people were caught having illegal wild animals, the highest since 2006. The number for the first half of 2013 is 10.

Experts said these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Two albino hedgehogs and two sugar gliders were selling on a local website for S$2,650 in total.

The hedgehogs were found covered in faeces and the gliders were kept in tiny food containers. The animals became some of the latest wildlife seizures by Singapore authorities.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it acted on a tip-off, and the man hawking the animals online is assisting with investigations.

The animals have been sent to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore for care and custody.

Louis Ng, executive director of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said: "Pretty appalling conditions that these animals are housed in. Bear in mind that these are exotic species, so they were probably smuggled into Singapore in probably even more appalling conditions."

Sting operations in recent years have uncovered endangered animals like ball pythons, star tortoises, and even slow lorises available on the market.

While such operations work to put off illegal sellers for a while, some said a more preventive strategy is needed to stop illegal wildlife from coming into Singapore in the first place.

First, the buying has to stop, said Mr Ng.

He said: "If people buy them, people will try to smuggle them into Singapore because there're profits to be made.

"Second is to have sniffer dogs at our border checkpoints that can sniff out wildlife, they can sniff out animal parts, like tiger parts, bear parts, so that there is a very effective deterrent."

According to wildlife trade monitor TRAFFIC, one dog and its handler can carry out a relatively thorough search of passengers and baggage for wildlife contraband in the same time it would take 36 customs officers to perform a cursory examination.

European countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, and the UK are already using wildlife sniffer dogs at their airports.

China began training its first wildlife sniffers - three Labradors - in June.

Authorities investigated 13 cases of online sales of illegal wildlife or their parts like python bone and tiger skin in Singapore between 2010 and 2012.

But the bigger problem, said Acting Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Dr Chris Shepherd, is what comes in and passes through the country.

In January, Singapore customs intercepted 1.8 tonnes of illegal ivory in transit. It had been declared as waste paper.

AVA statistics show over the past ten years, there were about 24 such seizures of illegal wildlife or their parts and products every year on average.

Dr Shepherd said: "Here in Southeast Asia we're just scratching the surface. The trade here is enormous. Wildlife sold in Singapore, we're not sure what the levels are, but it's definitely happening and I think those seizures reflect a very tiny percentage of it. Singapore is in a great position to really be a leader in Asia in tackling the illegal trade for a number of reasons. One, there are resources available, or that could be made available to tackle this trade.”

The country's small size and efficiency also give it a good opportunity to knock out major illegal wildlife trade routes in the region, Dr Shepherd added.

Import and export opportunities like airports and checkpoints are limited in Singapore, Dr Shepherd said, which means less ground to cover in terms of enforcement, compared to neighbouring giants like Myanmar and Thailand.

- CNA/xq

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Malaysia bans export of five types of fish

Straits Times 16 Jul 13;

JOHOR BARU - The Malaysian authorities have suspended the export of five types of fish to overseas markets, including Singapore, for up to two months.

The ban, imposed without prior notice for unspecified reasons, came into effect last Wednesday and will continue until Sept10, China Press reported.

Fish included in the export ban are kembung, pelaling, cencaru, selayang and selar, the report said.

At a press conference held on Sunday, fish distributors for Singapore said that they, as well as their transport operators, had received a notice from Malaysia's Fisheries Development Authority (LKIM) informing them of the ban about three days before it came into effect.

The operators send about 20 lorries of the five types of fish to Singapore daily. Last Wednesday, lorries transporting a consignment of fish to Singapore were stopped by Malaysian Customs.

Speaking at the press conference, the distributors said they hoped the Malaysian authorities would look into the matter and ensure that the ban would not affect their livelihoods, or have any impact on the economy.

Johor Democratic Action Party chief and Skudai state assemblyman Boo Cheng Hau, who was present at the press conference, urged the LKIM to inform operators in advance about such bans in future to give them time to adjust.

The official LKIM website did not mention the ban although an announcement was posted on its official Facebook page, reports said.

Malaysia's Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry also did not display any notices on the ban on its website.

Transport operators said the ban was due to the coming Hari Raya Aidilfitri festival, although no official reasons were given by the authorities.

Malaysia bans export of 5 types of fish to Singapore 16 Jul 13;

Malaysia's Fisheries Department has announced a sudden ban on the exports of five species of oceanic fish to Singapore.

The ban will last for two months.

Malaysian newspapers report that the banned fish are: kembung, pelaling, cencaru, selayang and selar.

Exports of these fish account for about 20 per cent of Singapore's supply of fresh fish.

It is believed that the ban is meant to ease the shortage of such fish during the Ramadan fasting period.

The sudden ban has taken many fish merchants by surprise, leaving them unable to ship their stock through the Johor Customs in time.

They stand to suffer major losses as a result.

Fish wholesaler, Lim Ah Lik, imports as much as three tonnes of the five kinds of fish from Malaysia every day.

The sudden ban has resulted in a large batch of his stock getting stuck in Malaysia.

He had to sell them there instead at a huge loss.

Mr Lim said the fish typically fetch about $3 to $6 per kg in Singapore, but prices have been rising since last week.

He expects to see prices rise further in the coming days.

Mr Lim said the affected fish merchants will meet on Wednesday to discuss the matter.

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World experts: all pangolin species at risk from illegal trade

TRAFFIC 15 Jul 13;

Singapore, 15th July 2013—A recent gathering of global pangolin experts has concluded the scaly mammals are more threatened now than ever, with all eight species threatened by illegal trade for their meat and medicinal use of their scales.

Currently international trade in the four species of Asian pangolin is not permitted under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), while international trade in the four African species is only allowed provided the correct CITES permits accompany shipments—however, this is rarely the case.

The landmark meeting on the conservation of pangolins was organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

The conference noted that at least 218,100 pangolins had been seized between 2000 and 2012—a figure likely to represent only a fraction of those being illegally traded. Ninety per cent of these were seized from mainland China, Hong Kong, and four South-East Asian nations—Indonesia, Malaysia, Viet Nam and Thailand. Live animals and meat represented some 60% of all pangolins seizures, while the rest included scales and whole carcasses.

It saw the gathering of Asian and African pangolin experts, who kick-started the process of re-assessing the status of the world’s eight pangolins species for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Red List is recognized as the most comprehensive and globally accepted evaluation of the conservation status of plant and animal species.

The first pangolin assessment was carried out in 2008 when only two of the eight pangolin species—the Sunda Pangolin Manis javanica and the Chinese Pangolin M. pentadactyla—were listed as Endangered. The latest information presented at the Conference suggests that populations of all eight pangolin species are in serious decline and an update of the Red List will reflect this.

Research also indicates that the main threats to pangolins have escalated over the years, with illegal trade contributing more significantly to the problem than habitat loss, in part driven by the rising prices paid for pangolins on the black market.

During the meeting, TRAFFIC highlighted the scale of the pangolin trafficking problem in China and Malaysia, the former a significant consumer country, the latter a source and transit point. TRAFFIC raised the need for stiffer penalties and more effective prosecution efforts to secure convictions.

“Enforcement efforts should not end at seizures—they are only the first of several steps needed to dismantle wildlife smuggling rings,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Acting Director of TRAFFIC in South-East Asia.

“Agencies must be proactive, weeding out the ringleaders behind smuggling operations and putting them out of business.

“Investigators and prosecutors must also prepare thoroughly so that when cases are presented in court they are strong enough for the judge to make a ruling fitting the crime.”

Cases highlighted by TRAFFIC during the meeting included the sentencing of a Malaysian national to life imprisonment for trafficking 2,090 frozen pangolins and 1,800 kg of scales from Malaysia to Guangdong, China, in 2010. He was arrested in China and sentenced along with four others convicted in the same case who received between five and 10 years each in prison.

Comparatively, the highest sentence meted out thus far in Malaysia was in June 2013, against a group of six men who attempted to smuggle 150 pangolins across the country’s land border with Thailand. Their fines totalled RM330,000 (approximately USD103,000), and each man was sentenced to a year in jail. In a separate case in 2012 two businessmen were jailed just one day and fined RM100,000 (USD31,342) each for the illegal possession of 135 pangolins.

Experts agreed that a suite of actions was crucial to curbing this trade. The Conference proposed ramping up law enforcement efforts, improving habitat protection, reducing consumer demand, and improving community stewardship in and around pangolin habitats as key components in any plan to tackle the poaching and trade of pangolins.

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Indonesia: Farmers, Poachers Suspected in Elephant Kill

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 15 Jul 13;

Banda Aceh. A male Sumatran elephant aged about 30 found dead in Aceh Jaya district over the weekend is the third wild elephant death in Aceh in three months.

Amon Zamora, head of the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency, said on Sunday that the carcass was found by Ranto Sabon village locals on Saturday morning. He believed a person deliberately killed it using a steel booby trap set using a tree.

“It’s very likely that someone killed [the elephant], because the ivory [tusks] had already been removed by the time it was located. We have asked for help from the police to investigate and try to find out who did this,” he told the Jakarta Globe.

“We are trying hard to capture the individual or individuals who may have killed this elephant for whatever reason, because that is an action that is forbidden by Indonesian law.”

Armidi, the chief law-enforcement official in the Forestry and Plantation Office of Aceh Jaya district, said the heavy trap had been installed on a fallen tree and angled so that the sharp steel spikes would enter the animal’s head.

“By the time the police arrived at the place where the elephant was found, the trap had already been removed by the [perpetrator],” Armidi said.

He added that details regarding the type of implement used to kill the animal had been supplied by people living in the area as well as surmised from marks left on the tree.

Ranto Sabon residents identified the animal as one that had regularly been eating crops planted in the area. They spoke of various unsuccessful attempts to drive it off, including using fireworks.

Armidi said the most recent skirmish with the elephant had been on Friday but that “almost every day that elephant would enter farms” in the area.

According to Ranto Sabon village chief Amiruddin, the presence of the elephant made residents anxious. “People have suffered losses [because of the elephant] and that’s why they put up traps in various locations,” he said.

He said that in view of people’s substantial losses, he could not stop them, adding that reports to the Conservation Response Unit requesting that the animal be dealt with had not received a response.

CRU is a program of Fauna and Flora International Indonesia that attempts to manage human-elephant conflicts by moving tame elephants into conflict areas.

Amon said humans and elephants were in an ongoing struggle for space in 19 of 23 Aceh districts, with Aceh Jaya, North Aceh, South Aceh, East Aceh, Aceh Singkil, and Pidie among the most conflict-prone areas.

“The conflict is caused by roads used [as corridors] through which the elephants pass while foraging. We have warned the residents several times against [creating obstructions], but they’re still continuing to do it.”

Amon said “the population growth for elephants in Aceh is actually pretty good because in a group of elephants there would always be one baby.”

But he noted that elephants were frequently being killed by farmers seeking to protect their crops, as well as by poachers seeking ivory.

In May, a 10-year-old male elephant was found dead near Bangkeh village in Pidie district.

Two months later a 2-year-old elephant died after living for two months as a “pet” for a household in Blang Pante village in North Aceh.

The elephant was reportedly left behind by its mother and captured.

Humans have also clashed with tigers over land further south in Sumatra.

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Seas may rise 2.3 meters per degree of global warming: report

Erik Kirschbaum Reuters 15 Jul 13

(Reuters) - Sea levels could rise by 2.3 meters for each degree Celsius that global temperatures increase and they will remain high for centuries to come, according to a new study by the leading climate research institute, released on Monday.

Anders Levermann said his study for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research was the first to examine evidence from climate history and combine it with computer simulations of contributing factors to long-term sea-level increases: thermal expansion of oceans, the melting of mountain glaciers and the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

Scientists say global warming is responsible for the melting ice. A U.N. panel of scientists, the IPCC, says heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels are nudging up temperatures. A small number of scientists dismiss human-influenced global warming, arguing natural climate fluctuations are responsible.

"We're confident that our estimate is robust because of the combination of physics and data that we used," Levermann told Reuters. "We think we've set a benchmark for how much sea levels will rise along with temperature increases."

Sea levels rose by 17 cm last century and the rate has accelerated to more than 3 mm a year, according to the IPCC. A third of the current rise is from Antarctica and Greenland.

Almost 200 governments have agreed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times and plan to agree, by the end of 2015, a deal to curb emissions.

Global average surface temperatures have risen by 0.8C (1.4F) since the Industrial Revolution and the IPCC has said temperatures are likely to be 0.4 to 1.0 degrees Celsius warmer from 2016-35 than in the two decades to 2005.

"In the past there was some uncertainty and people haven't known by how much," Levermann said. "We're saying now, taking everything we know, that we've got a robust estimate of 2.3 meters (7 feet, 6.6 inches) of rising sea per degree (Celsius) of warming."


Some scientific studies have projected sea level rise of up to 2 meters by 2100, a figure that would swamp large tracts of land from Bangladesh to Florida.

David Vaughan, head of the Ice2sea project to narrow down uncertainties about how melting ice will swell the oceans, has said sea levels would rise by between 16.5 and 69 cm under a scenario of moderate global warming this century.

Vaughan told Reuters the biggest impact rising seas will have is that storms will be more destructive in the near future.

"It's not about chasing people up the beach or the changing shape of coastlines," he said. "The big issue is how the storms will damage our coasts and how often they occur. That'll increase even with small levels of sea rise in coming decades."

Climate skeptics, however, say the evidence is unconvincing. Measurements of changing temperatures are unreliable, contradictory and unsupported by solid historic data, they say.

They question the accuracy of computer climate forecasts and point to historic, cyclical changes in the world's temperature as evidence that global temperature changes are natural. Others say the evidence shows temperatures have stopped rising and that the sun plays a bigger role than human activities.

"Continuous sea-level rise is something we cannot avoid unless global temperatures go down again," Levermann said. "Our results indicate that major adaptation at our coastlines will be necessary. It's likely that some currently populated regions can't be protected in the long run."

(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Patrick Graham)

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'Social, environmental risks' to Asia's growth

Fiona Chan Straits Times 16 Jul 13;

ASIA'S growth prospects are being threatened by rising income inequality and environmental degradation, a regional poverty-fighting organisation has warned.

A new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report noted that the region's economic policies have brought prosperity to many parts of Asia but neglected to tackle social and environmental problems.

"The strong priority on growth meant that the non-economic dimensions of development... have been generally underemphasised," said Mr Peter Petri, Carl Shapiro Professor of International Finance at Brandeis University in the United States, and Mr Vinod Thomas, the ADB's director-general of independent evaluation, who co-wrote the report.

"Asian economies typically kept social expenditures low and focused investments on economic infrastructure," they added.

This has led to income gaps widening over the last two decades, according to the report. Developing Asia's Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, rose about 1.4 per cent a year between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s.

"The income distribution is worsening, and possibly undermining demand, in countries that are home to 80 per cent of the region's population," the authors said. "The trends suggest that inequality in Asia is still rising and neither national nor international trends... promise early improvements."

Environmental conditions in Asia are also deteriorating, the report noted. Developing Asia now accounts for 35 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions - twice its share of global economic output - and this is projected to rise to 44 per cent by 2030.

Much of this is due to China and India, the largest and third-largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world respectively, the report said.

If left unchecked, the growing emissions could raise global temperatures by 5 deg C by the end of the 21st century, according to the World Bank.

This would likely "depress crop yields, decrease water availability, and raise risks of intense weather events", added the ADB.

Its warnings join those of the International Monetary Fund, which in April cautioned that unequal income growth could cause Asia's economies to stagnate.

The ADB is urging the region's policymakers to broaden its successful "evidence-based policy- making" - a pragmatic trial-and- error approach - to one that adds the goals of social inclusion and environmental sustainability to economic progress.

"Evidence is now telling us that future growth will likely depend on halting today's negative social and environmental trends," said the report.

If policymakers fail to take heed, not only will economic growth be hurt, but so will "social cohesion and the legitimacy of governments", it concluded.

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