Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jul 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [15 - 21 Jul 2013]
from Green Business Times

Celebrate our National Day with a mangrove cleanup @ precious Lim Chu Kang on Saturday, 10th August 2013! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Angry about litter on our shores? Learn more, DO something!
from wild shores of singapore

Predawn at Chek Jawa, after 10 years
from wild shores of singapore

Very long driftnet at Chek Jawa (21 Jul 2013)
from Project Driftnet Singapore

Short-banded Sailor
from Monday Morgue

Read more!

Haze may return to Singapore as Sumatra hot spots increase

David Ee Straits Times 22 Jul 13;

KEEP those N95 masks handy. The haze which choked Singapore last month could be making a comeback.

The number of forest-fire hot spots in Sumatra rose sharply at the weekend, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned in an advisory yesterday.

Satellite readings showed that there were 159 hot spots as of Saturday. Of these, 63 were in Riau province, central Sumatra, about 280km from Singapore.

By yesterday evening, the hot-spot count for the whole of Sumatra reached 261, as hazy skies returned to Dumai - the town in Riau at the epicentre of the recent haze. Visibility on the streets was down to under 200m, and residents expected the haze to worsen today.

Singapore is enjoying clear skies for now, as prevailing southerly and south-easterly winds mean smoke from the fires is not being blown here, the NEA said. But it added that some areas in Peninsular Malaysia had already been affected.

Bukit Rambai in Malacca recorded an Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 117 at 10pm yesterday, in the unhealthy range.

Malaysia's API and Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) are closely related, and any reading above 100 is considered unhealthy.

Dry weather conditions in Sumatra are expected to persist over the next day or two, the NEA said. It added: "Should there be a change in the wind direction to blow from the west, Singapore may then experience hazy conditions."

As of 11pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI was between 22 and 31, in the good range. The NEA said it would provide further alerts if it becomes more likely that hazy conditions will return.

Meanwhile, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu told reporters yesterday that Singapore would like to see more being done to educate Indonesian farmers not to start the fires.

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event in Jurong, she said: "I am glad that life can be normal again, but we shouldn't take it for granted."

Additional reporting by Zakir Hussain in Jakarta

Singaporeans should stay vigilant & not take clear skies for granted: Grace Fu
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 21 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Foreign Affairs Grace Fu has urged Singaporeans to stay vigilant and not take the clear skies for granted.

She was commenting Sunday on the 15th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze, which was held in Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2013.

She also described Indonesia's agreement to share digitised concession maps with other governments as a start, and feels more can be done.

Ms Fu said: “It's always about just building trust as well as confidence. We have shown that the system works. The technologies, platforms are already there. We have very good satellite pictures. We have very good ideas where the hotspots are.

"There is some information about concessions on the internet that has actually surfaced through non-government sources. We can put them together and start to piece the pieces together. So this is a good start for us to draw attention to answer to the public about the need for information. This will be a start, and if we can get more comfort from our counterpart, we hope that official data can also be put on the public platform."

- CNA/xq

Hotspots in Sumatra increasing, ASEAN Coordinating Centre alerted
Channel NewsAsia 22 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: There are now 261 hotspots in Sumatra, with haze affecting mainly Selangor and Malacca on Monday.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the National Environment Agency (NEA) had contacted the Indonesian authorities to register Singapore's major concerns and alerted the ASEAN Coordinating Centre.

Writing on his Facebook page, Dr Balakrishnan said although Singapore is currently spared because of the wind direction, Singaporeans all need to be vigilant and be prepared for any sudden change in the situation.

"Singapore will also work with NGOs to identify the companies with concession areas affected by fire. We need these companies and the Indonesian authorities to do their part to extinguish these fires," he added.

- CNA/de

Read more!

Malaysia: Haze is back with Riau hot spots

Hashini Kavishtri Kannan New Straits Times 22 Jul 13;

SMOKE AND ASH: Bukit Rambai in Malacca and Cheras in KL record unhealthy air quality

KUALA LUMPUR: A MONTH of respite is all we get. A drastic increase in the number of fires in Sumatra is bringing the haze back to the peninsula.

Already, satellite imagery has shown that smoke and ash from the hot spots in Sumatra are drifting to the west coast of the peninsula.

A statement from the Department of Environment (DoE) said the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, using satellite data downloaded from the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, revealed there were 159 hot spots in central Sumatra on Saturday, a huge jump from the 43 recorded the previous day.

"(The winds) are carrying smoke from the hot spots in central Sumatra, in particular Riau province, to the central region of the west coast of the peninsula."

Sources within said Malaysians could expect the bad hazy conditions they suffered at the end of last month to return in the next few days.

This is especially if the number of fires continues to grow.

As it is, two spots in the central west coast region of the peninsula recorded "unhealthy" air quality readings as of 3pm yesterday.

According to the DoE statement, the Air Pollutant Index (API) for Bukit Rambai in Malacca was measured at 111, while Cheras, here, just tipped the scale at 101.

Thirty other measuring stations recorded moderate readings, with several -- Malacca city (88), Port Klang (91) and Putrajaya (87) -- close to unhealthy levels.

An API reading of 301 or more; very unhealthy at 201 to 300 is considered hazardous; unhealthy at 101 to 200; moderate at 51 to 100 and good at zero to 50.

The statement reminded the public that its "no open burning" warning issued last month was still in effect.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the country was prepared to handle the situation, adding that the dry weather in Southeast Asia was expected to continue at least until September.

"Our advice for the people is to avoid open burning.

"Although the major contribution to the haze is Indonesia, we do not need our people to aggravate the situation."

Palanivel said the country was, as before, prepared to seed clouds if the situation took a turn for the worst, adding that the ministry had proposed that schools in areas with API readings of more than 200 be closed.

"We are also prepared to send our assistance to Indonesia to help them in overcoming the problem."

Last month's situation was the worst ever as API readings in various areas in the country hit hazardous levels.

An Asean forum was organised here last week in which Indonesia promised to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution brokered in 2002.

The republic is the only Asean member yet to ratify the treaty.

Bernama reported that Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) had issued the same warning asking citizens to brace themselves for the haze.

Over the next two days, said the NEA, dry weather was expected to persist in most parts of Sumatra.

"Should there be a change in the wind direction from the west, Singapore may experience hazy conditions," it said.

Its website reported at 4pm that there were 261 hot spots in Sumatra, 173 in Riau province alone.

Malacca hit by haze - again
Isabelle Lai The Star 22 Jul 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: As forewarned by the authorities, the haze has returned.

Two areas in Malacca were hit with Bukit Rambai recording an unhealthy Air Pollution Index (API) reading of 114 as of 4pm yesterday.

The reading for Malacca city rose from 70 as of midnight to 88 by 3pm, reducing visibility to the extent of slowing down traffic.

Department of Environment (DOE) director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) detected three hotspots in Sumatra on Thursday, which spiked to 43 on Friday and 159 on Satur­day.

“DOE is monitoring the situation closely and is looking out for any open burning,” she said.

ASMC’s hotspot map stated that four hotspots were detected in Johor as of early Saturday morning.

Meteorological Department central forecasting office director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said haze particles would be carried across to Peninsular Malaysia as the wind was still blowing from a southwesterly direction.

“The number of hotspots is also very important. If it increases, then even a light wind will carry the haze particles across,” he pointed out.

Fortunately, he said the current wind strength was weaker compared to several weeks ago when severe haze shrouded parts of the peninsula and Singapore.

Muhammad Helmi said drier weather was expected in the coming weeks due to changing weather patterns which could lead to the haze affecting the region again.

“If conditions worsen, we will look at the possibility of conducting cloud seeding again,” he said, adding that cloud seeding operations would not be successful if the weather was very dry.

Miserable Sunday sees many donning masks in Malacca
Allison Lai The Star 22 Jul 13;

MALACCA: It was a miserable Sunday as the haze returned to shroud the state, with locals and tourists putting on masks to protect themselves against the unhealthy air.

The impact was apparent in the city as many Ramadan bazaars here saw a poor turnout.

“It was very uncomfortable to do business in the open. Getting hit with less sales and leftovers is even worse,” said a chicken-rice seller who only wanted to be known as Kak Midah when met at the Taman Cheng Perdana Ramadan bazaar.

Murtabak seller Mohd Zamri Razak, 49, hoped the haze would go away for good.

“I cannot take it anymore. It is bad for health and affects our livelihood,” he lamented.

Accounts executive K.K. Lee, 35, who is asthmatic, said that his throat had felt uncomfortable since Saturday night and was worried about the haze coming back.

“It has and the air quality is bad. I was coughing the moment I woke up,” said Lee, who lives in Taman Cheng Perdana which is next to Bu-kit Rambai.

Chief Minister Datuk Idris Haron advised the people to take precautions and reduce outdoor activity.

“Children should not be allowed to play firecrackers and there should be no open burning,” he stressed.

He described the current haze situation as still manageable, adding that schools would remain open.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sanctuary for Bornean elephants in Sabah

Ruben Sario The Star 22 Jul 13;

KOTA KINABALU: A safe haven for the threatened Bornean elephants is taking shape in the wildlife-rich Lower Kinabatangan region at Sabah’s east coast – thanks to seven Japanese groups and companies.

The first phase of the Bornean Elephant Sanctuary (BES) project had seen the construction of an elephant handling paddock, staff quarters and a storage building at a cost of RM1.8mil.

Local non-governmental organisation Borneo Conservation Trust’s head of conservation and research Raymond Alfred said that the first phase of the sanctuary was built with funding from Asahiyama Zoo, Suraya, Hunting World, Tokio Marine, NTT Data Kirin, Taiseh and Yusen Logistics.

“The endeavour is what the Japanese describes as an ongaeshi project, which means giving back to nature,” explained Raymond.

Work on the second phase of the BES on a 25ha land, and costing about RM30mil, has already begun. It is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council has allocated RM5.2mil for this phase of the project.

“The council is also providing financial support in the preparation of the BES master plan at Lot 8 of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary,” said Raymond.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said that the BES would be able to accommodate between 12 and 16 elephants at any given time.

He said that the role of the BES would be to nurse injured elephants back to health before they were released back to the connecting forest and wildlife reserves.

“Rescued elephants will also be transported to the BES before they are released back to the wild,” he said.

Aside from elephants, BES will also serve as a transit centre to treat injured sun bears, proboscis monkeys, orang utan, clouded leopards and bantengs.

Borneo Elephant Sanctuary begins second phase
Ruben Sario The Star 21 Jul 13;

KOTA KINABALU: A safe haven for Sabah’s threatened elephants is taking shape in the wildlife-rich Lower Kinabatangan region on Sabah’s east coast, thanks to seven Japanese groups and companies.

The first phase of the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary (BES) project has seen the construction of an elephant handling paddock, staff quarters and a storage building at a cost of some RM1.8mil.

Helping to make BES a reality is local NGO Borneo Conservation Trust whose head of conservation and research, Raymond Alfred, said that first phase of the sanctuary was due to funding from Asahiyama Zoo, Suraya, Hunting World, Tokio Marine, NTT Data Kirin, Taiseh and Yusen Logistics.

“The endeavour is what the Japanese describes as an ‘Ongaeshi project’ which means ‘giving back to nature’,” explained Raymond.

Raymond said that work on the second phase of the BES on 25 hectares of land had already begun and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The second phase of the project is expected to cost between RM25mil and RM30mil.

“The Malaysia Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has already allocated a funding of RM5.2mil for this part of the project,” he said.

The council was also providing financial support in the preparation of the BES master plan at Lot 8 of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary,’’ Raymond added.

He said the master plan was being prepared by BCT together with the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD).

Sabah Wildlife director, Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said that BES will be able to accommodate between 12 and 16 elephants at any one time.

He said that the role of BES would be to nurse injured elephants back to health before they were released back to the connecting forest and wildlife reserves. Additionally, elephants that were rescued will also be transported to the BES before being released back into the wild.

Aside from elephants, BES will also serve as a transit centre to treat injured sun bears, proboscis monkeys, orangutans, clouded leopard and the banteng.

“The main role of the sanctuary is to support the implementation of the Elephant Conservation Action Plan in Sabah and provide treatment and care to injured elephants. BES will also function as an education and awareness centre on our elephant conservation programme,” said Laurentius.

He further explained that BES was crucial as the key habitats areas of the Bornean elephants in Sabah were fragmented and the key ecological corridor has been converted for other land use.

“The conversion of their key habitat areas have led to incidences of the human-elephant conflicts, which often leads to the elephants being injured or killed,” he said.

Read more!

Malaysia: Dr Chong's devotion to pangolins

George Town New Straits Times 22 Jul 13;

VANISHING ANIMAL: Much has been told about 'Sang Kancil', 'Si Belang' and 'Pak Belalai'. But little is known about 'Mat Tenggiling', the endangered anteater. Kenny Goh talks to Dr Chong Ju Lian, who hopes her work at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu can prevent it from going the way of the dodo

THE pangolin is a solitary, nocturnal mammal found only in Asia and Africa.

Its upper body is uniquely composed of thick, sharp scales to protect it from tigers, pythons and leopards. The scales are made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and fingernails.

It has a long, sticky tongue to lick up food, and the powerful front claws on its short, stubby legs are used to break open termite and ant nests, climb trees and burrow deep into the ground.

The animal has evolved into eight species.

The thick-tailed pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Philippine pangolin (M. culionensis), Malayan or Sunda pangolin (M. javanica), and Chinese pangolin (M. pentadactyla) are found in Asia.

The Malayan (Sunda) and Chinese pangolins are severely endangered because of illegal trade, habitat loss and a low birth rate.

The natives of Africa comprise the African white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantae), Temminck's ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) and black-bellied pangolin (Uromanis tetradactyla).

Pangolins reach sexual maturity after two years and can give birth up to two offspring per season. The babies weigh around 450g and have soft scales that harden as they grow.

They hitch a ride on their mother's tail for three months and after weaning, will be left on their own.

Dr Chong Ju Lian, when watching a video of a young pangolin being released into the wild, said she wasn't too optimistic about its newfound freedom.

"It's probably going to end up stewing in a pot somewhere later," she says with a sense of resignation.

Chong graduated in 2001 with first class honours in zoology. She went on to do her PhD in plant genetics but did not pursue the subject after finishing her doctorate in 2007.

This is because her passion lies in animal research and the opportunity to pursue her interest came after she started working as a lecturer in Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) the same year.

In 2008, she was given a RM105,000 grant by the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry to carry out her pangolin research.

Her team at UMT is acknowledged by the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world's largest conservation group.

She also has a licence from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to capture the Malayan pangolin in Peninsular Malaysia for research.

Chong said her interest to study pangolins started between 2006 and 2007, when she was reading about large seizures of the animal from illicit wildlife traders.

She could not find much data about pangolins in the country and the references she came across were compiled during the colonial era.

Current data on pangolins in Southeast Asia is collected by foreign research teams, and Chong realised that this is where she could contribute to conserve an endangered fauna by channelling her interest in biodiversity and genetics into the study of pangolins in Malaysia.

"Besides, they also look so cute," Chong says.

"They tend to roll up into a scaly, armoured ball as a self-defence mechanism. That's why they are easily caught by hunters.

"But they are actually agile and can dart around pretty fast. Their scales are sharp and can cause cuts, if you are not careful."

Chong conducts her research in the forests and oil palm estates of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, with the help of Perhilitan and the Orang Asli.

She has surveyed the different habitats of pangolins, observed how the Orang Asli hunt the animals and even studied the parasitic ticks that are found on them.

Although the ticks are not a serious threat to the species, the results of her team's study were novel enough to be published recently in a high-profile science journal.

Beginning 2010, over 22 months, Chong embarked on expeditions to Pos Pulat, an Orang Asli village in Kelantan, the Sungai Berua forest (linked to Taman Negara in Terengganu) and the Krau Wildlife Reserve in Pahang.

A total of 122 dens were found. In the forests of Krau and Sungai Berua, the dens were mostly inside dead tree trunks because of the abundance of termites.

In Pos Pulat, where jungles had been cleared to plant oil palm, the animals were found living inside boulder cavities.

This shows that the degradation of forest habitats can significantly influence the pangolins' choice of dens.

Within the same period, 44 Orang Asli hunters in Gua Musang and Hulu Terengganu were also interviewed. The Orang Asli say they usually hunt in groups of two or more. They track the pangolins to their dens by looking for signs such as fresh claw marks or the musky odour secreted by the animals.

Once the presence of a pangolin is detected, the hunters will lay a snare, such as a net or wire mesh, near or inside the den. When the pangolin tries to enter, its legs will become entangled and it is easily retrieved.

The pangolin trade is lucrative, with prices hovering between RM50 and RM300 per kg, depending on the season. A male pangolin can reach 14kg whereas a female is smaller.

With the fieldwork surveys completed, Chong is conducting DNA studies where she plans to compile a genetic profile of pangolin populations nationwide.

The data can be used for conservation work and breeding programmes.

Read more!

Malaysia: Save Dipterocap tree found in Bikam forest reserve from oil palm plantation

'Save keruing paya trees'
Roshidi Abu Samah New Straits Times 22 Jul 13;

ENDANGERED: Species found in Bikam forest reserve which is being cleared for oil palm plantation

BIDOR: THE keruing paya tree (Dipterocarpus coriaceus), an endangered species which only can be found in the peninsula at the Bikam permanent forest reserve near here, is facing the threat of extinction.

This was after the remaining 401.4ha of the forest reserve where it grows had been degazetted to make way for an oil palm plantation.

Besides the Bikam permanent forest reserve, the keruing paya species is found only in Sarawak.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman said 175ha of the forest had been cleared by a timber contractor for an oil palm plantation, while another 175ha was being cleared by a different timber contractor for the same purpose.

He said the remaining 51.4ha of the forest was expected to be cleared by another timber contractor after October.

"Other than the keruing paya, there are two other endangered species -- the merawan kelabu (Hopea glaucescens) and mata kucing beludu tree (Hopea myrtifolia) -- which are also affected by the activities.

"We hope the state authorities will put a stop to the forest clearing activities and spare the remaining area," he said during a visit to area yesterday.

Meor Razak added the forest clearingactivities had also affected the wildlife there, such as monkeys, panthers and gibbons.

He said SAM hoped and appealed to the state authority to regazette the Bikam forest reserve as a permanent forest and to classify it as either an education forest or a research forest for academics, researchers and the public.

He said SAM was prepared to conduct replanting of trees at the Bikam forest reserve for free if the state government would agree to regazette the entire area, including the harvested area.

"The decision to convert the Bikam forest reserve to oil palm plantation is also against the 2008 ruling by the Federal Government which stated that forest reserves are not to be converted for oil palm plantations," he added.

Read more!

Malaysia: Jumbo calf fitting in at sanctuary

T. N. Alagesh New Straits Times 22 Jul 13;

YOUNGEST RESIDENT: 3-month-old found near oil palm mill in Jerantut last week

TEMERLOH: BARELY a week ago, a 3-month-old elephant calf was found near an oil palm mill in Jerantut and almost died of starvation after being separated from its herd.

Now, the female calf is adapting to its new surroundings at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary in Lanchang, near here, under the watchful eye of its keepers.

Without its mother, the 40kg calf has to be fed specially formulated milk four times daily and is being monitored for any sign of illness.

Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) elephant unit head Nasaruddin Othman said they were initially worried when the calf refused to drink milk on the day it arrived.

He said it could have been because of stress, but the calf had, since then, developed a bond with its caretakers and began drinking milk from a bottle.

"The first few months are critical and I believe that the calf is slowly adapting to its surroundings.

"Just like us, the elephant calf stays close to its mother for the first couple of months and some continue to drink their mothers' milk for about two years or more.

"The calf is starting to get its first tooth and elephants usually do not eat solid food until they are about four to eight months.

"The formulated milk supplies essential nutrients and so far, the calf appears to be healthy," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

On July 14, a factory supervisor discovered the calf at Felda Lepar Utara 6 and alerted Perhilitan.

The calf was captured and ferried to the sanctuary in a one-tonne lorry.

Nasaruddin said the caretakers would gradually reduce the calf's milk intake and introduce it to solid food.

"Once it is able to consume solid food, we will start feeding it grass, leaves and papayas.

"We will also bring it into the jungle for walks and allow it to mingle with the other elephants at the sanctuary."

Nasaruddin said the calf was believed to be part of a herd of between 15 and 20 elephants.

"It could have lost its way after failing to keep up with the herd or was left behind when the herd fled into the forest.

"Initially, we wanted to leave the calf in the wild, so that it can reunite with its mother, but we were worried that it would end up starving if it was unable to find its herd."

He said once the calf was big enough to take care of itself, it might be released into the forest, adding that the priority now was to ensure that it received food and care.

The calf is the youngest elephant at the sanctuary, which has a total of 30 elephants, aged up to 70.

The oldest is Lokimala, a female elephant that arrived at the sanctuary in 1978 to help in the relocation of wild elephants.

Read more!

Malaysia: Protecting Batu Caves - It’s a matter of political will

Bavani M and Vincent Tan The Star 22 Jul 13;

Devotees and tourists thronging the main chamber of Batu Caves during Thaipusam. The annual Hindu festival fulfils the culture and tradition criterion that is required of Batu Caves to be a heritage site. — filepic

Devotees and tourists thronging the main chamber of Batu Caves during Thaipusam. The annual Hindu festival fulfils the culture and tradition criterion that is required of Batu Caves to be a heritage site. — filepic

THE Friends of Batu Caves Coalition says political will is needed to preserve the Batu Caves reserve and its eco-system, which is in danger of extinction.

The coalition, comprising the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and several non-governmental organisations, are concerned over the conservation of the limestone flora and fauna of the Batu Caves reserve area.

The group, which is working on implementing a law for the protection of hills and caves, is also pushing for the Selangor government to implement a law for the management of hills and caves.

“It is just a matter of political will because there is more than enough cultural, geological and ecological significance to justify an application to Unesco,” said its scientific adviser, Lim Teck Wyn, in an email to StarMetro.

He said Thaipusam could fulfil the culture and tradition criterion of the caves while the monolithic limestone karst outcrop of the reserve area could fulfil the criterion of natural beauty and aesthetics.

In addition, the caves’ marble rock-base was also representative of major stages of evolution, while the caves itself was a significant habitat for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including the trap-door spider.

On July 18, StarMetro reported that the National Heritage Depart-ment will not be nominating Batu Caves for consideration as a Unesco Heritage Site as it did not fulfil any of the 10 criteria listed.

“I was shocked to read the views of the National Heritage Department. How can they say they are not interested in the impact of the cable car on the site when the department itself had declared it to be a national heritage?

“Also, how can they say the site does not meet the criteria set by Unesco when there is a strong case for Batu Caves to meet many of the criteria,” he said.

The biological and ecological features of Batu Caves, in particular, have been documented as being of supreme and unique international value.”

Lim said the Batu Caves Trapdoor Spider, a species endemic to the area, had undergone a population collapse since the 1950s, according to a scientific paper studying the flora and fauna of Batu Caves.

Jointly authored by Teck Wyn, Max Moseley and Lim Tze Shen and published in the August 2012 issue of the British research journal Cave and Karst Science, the paper listed about 350 animal species that could be found in the Batu Caves complex.

These included the rare, endemic trapdoor spider, which could be found in the Dark Cave (Gua Gelap).

Similarly, a New York Times report in Oct 9 last year, titled “In the Dark Cave, Fearsome Living Fossils”, noted that the rare arachnid, evolved some 300 million years ago.

The paper noted that human activity in the caves, including guano (bat excrement) mining and the drainage of natural pools during the mid-20th century had caused some species endemic to the caves to disappear.

Limestone quarrying had also affected their habitat.

Officially known as Batu Caves Reserve, the 11ha area (including the temple complex) was gazetted in 1930 and is under the control of the State Secretary as no overall managing agency was ever designated.

In 2010, MNS began managing the Dark Cave under lease in an effort to help conservation efforts.

At present, Cave Management Group Sdn Bhd manages educational eco-tours through the cave, and it is hoped that a more thorough assessment of Batu Cave’s biodiversity and the extent of human impact can be conducted one day.

However, the overall management of the reserve is still fragmented, with the main temple cave (and development outside) managed separately by the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam, the Dark Cave under MNS, while a settlement known as “Kampung Gombak Indah” is located on the northeast of the reserve.

In 2011, MNS had submitted a document to the Selangor government proposing the set-up of a Batu Caves Management Committee to oversee management of the reserve, as there was no common platform for the existing parties to coordinate their activities. Such a situation remains until today.

NGOs seek change in running of Batu Caves temple
The Star 22 Jul 13;

SEVERAL Indian non-governmental organisations are calling for a change in how three important Hindu temples in the Klang Valley are run.

The Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Dhevasthanam or committee currently manages the Sri Subramaniar Temple in Batu Caves, Kortumalai Pillaiyar Temple in Pudu and Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee.

The committee’s existence and its functions and roles are governed by a 1930 court order.

The NGOs claim that a change is needed to promote good governance and better transparency in the management of Batu Caves.

The Malaysia Hindu Sangam said it was willing to work with other NGOs to make this happen.

“It time to re-look at the management, which is governed by archaic laws, for the betterment and future of Batu Caves.

“Batu Caves is our treasure and national pride, but the way things are being run now, maybe it is time to change; what was good in the old days may no longer be relevant today.

Hindu Sangam is willing to work with any other NGOs to make this happen as many parties are unhappy with the way the current committee is running things,’’ said its president, Datuk Mohan Shan.

He explained that Thaipusam was an important religious festival for Hindus. Today, however, the annual festival in Batu Caves has taken on a carnival-like atmosphere due to over-commercialisation

As Batu Caves was public property that belonged to the community, he said it needed to be managed by a professional body with relevant expertise.

“Apart from revamping the temple committee, Hindu Sangam also agrees with calls by environmental organisations to set up a permanent management committee to oversee the development and conservation of the iconic Batu Caves,” Mohan Shan said.

The Selangor Action Team, an Indian cultural organisation, is also in agreement with Mohan Shan, saying the time has come to revamp the way Batu Caves’ temple committee operates.

“The way things are being managed, such as projects being approved without proper documents, no public consultation and now, the news that Batu Caves may not make it to Unesco’s World Heritage list saddens me.

“All these prove that we need to re-look at the old court order and try to get it set aside to make way for a more transparent system that is open to public scrutiny,’’ its president L. Segaran.

He added that even simple things such as rubbish management during Thaipusam was not managed well; this year alone, a whopping RM158,000 was spent to clean up 450 tonnes of rubbish in Batu Caves folowing the festival.

“If things are managed in a professional manner, this would not happen,’’ said Segaran.

A former long-serving temple committee member, who sat on the board from 1954 to 1994, S. Panchacharam, said the powers of the temple committee are governed by a 1930 court order.

“The temple’s management committee is elected by the 66 committee members. The appointment of the board of management members is elected by ‘ubayakarars’ (contributors of the special prayers) biennially,’’ said the 85-year-old Pancha-charam.

“These ubayakarars comprise representatives from government bodies and the private sector, such as merchants, writers, masons and milkmen. Back then, they were considered the who’s who of society,’’ said Panchacharam.

“These men form the board of management by electing the chairman, temple trustees, secretary and treasurer, who then serve a three-year term,’’ he added.

According to Panchacharam, at the end of the three-year period, new trustees are appointed by the board of management following an election through ballot.

“Only committee members have access to temple accounts, which is why the old way of doing things is no longer suitable today.

“It would be better to amend the court order to limit the president to just a term or two instead of allowing people to stay on for years, which can lead to abuse of power,’’ said Panchacharam, who is a founding member of MIC.

“Alternatively, the 1930 court order can be set aside and a Hindu endowment board like in Penang or Singapore can be formed,’’ he said.

The current board of management of the temple is led by Datuk R. Nadarajah, who is the longest-serving chairman, having been in the position since 1991.

Lawyer Derek Fernandez said it was a norm back then, in the absence of a Societies Act, for a court order to establish temple trustees.

However, according to Fernandez, such a court order can be set aside, as in the case involving the Bukit Gasing Sivan temple trustees T. Maharathan and Datin Seri Indrani Samy Vellu.

“If circumstances are such that the trustees are not acting in the interest of the worshippers, new trustees can be appointed under existing laws and the court order revisited.

“The Attorney-General also has power as custodian of public interest to set aside the court order,’’ said Fernandez.

StarMetro earlier reported that several buildings and structures in the temple grounds had been erected without prior approval from the authorities.

Read more!