Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jul 13

Cowrie surprise at Sekudu
from wild shores of singapore

Pied Fantail Fledglings
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! Peacock Pansy
from Butterflies of Singapore

Rare animal species and Buddhist monks in danger of losing their home to cement quarry from news by Jeremy Hance

Sinar Mas buys stake in Indonesian pulp, paper, and tissue firm from news by Rhett Butler

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Growing hot spots on Sumatra raise fears of haze returning

Grace Chua Straits Times 23 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE has registered its concerns to the Indonesian authorities over the rising number of hot spots amid fears of a repeat of last month's haze episode.

Indonesia has acknowledged that there has been "new sporadic burning". There were 252 fire hot spots on Sumatra yesterday, including 167 in the province of Riau, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Last month, when the haze was at its worst, there were more than 400 fires on Sumatra.

NEA chief executive Ronnie Tay has contacted the appropriate ministers in Indonesia to express Singapore's concerns and extend assistance to detect and put out the fires early. Indonesia's deputy minister for environment and social vulnerability, coordinating ministry for people's welfare, Mr Willem Rampangilei, admitted that there has been "new sporadic burning".

An NEA spokesman said: "He assured Mr Tay that the Indonesian government is monitoring the situation and taking various actions on the ground to suppress the fires, such as cloud seeding and water bombing efforts.

"He added that law enforcement and socialisation efforts on the ground have been strengthened, and the deployment of additional police and troops to the Riau area will be considered urgently in a high-level inter-agency meeting."

Cloud seeding is done to induce rain to help put out the fires.

Singapore's air quality until 4pm today is expected to be good to moderate, although this could change with the wind, the NEA said. Lately, it has been blowing in a southerly direction, buffeting any haze away from the Republic.

The 24-hour PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) is expected to be in the good band, or less than 50. The 24-hour PM2.5 reading is expected to be slightly elevated, but normal activities can continue.

Experts said this year's dry season is especially arid.

Nanyang Technological University weather researcher Koh Tieh Yong said computer simulations indicate winds from the south are likely to persist for the next day or two, so the haze might not return yet.

"Overall drier weather may hang around for the next 10 to 15 days despite occasional showers," he said. "So if the number of hot spots in Riau and Jambi does not decrease, any subsequent change in the wind direction to blow from the west or south-west would increase the risk of haze in Singapore."

Mr Dedi Hari, World Wide Fund for Nature Indonesia's forest fire mitigation coordinator, said the hot spots are mainly in peat areas around the districts of Rokan Hilir, Dumai and Bengkalis, and were caused by dry, hot weather.

Assistant Professor Jason Blake Cohen, a climate researcher in the National University of Singapore's civil and environmental engineering department, said the fires are very likely man-made. Fires started by lightning and other natural causes in South-east Asia are "extremely rare", he said.

The increase in hot spots comes after last week's Asean meeting on transboundary haze in Kuala Lumpur, at which Indonesia declined to make its concession maps public, agreeing only to share them with governments.

The maps show the areas where companies are allowed to carry out activities such as growing palm oil.

Dr Nigel Sizer, director of think-tank World Resources Institute's global forestry initiative, said the new hot spots are a "cause for great concern".

The lack of published maps makes it harder for non-governmental organisations, local governments and government agencies - especially in Riau - to respond quickly, he said.

"The key thing in the immediate term is to respond rapidly and try to put the fires out before they become larger," he added.

Singapore expresses concern to Indonesia as hotspots in Sumatra rise
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 22 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has expressed its concern to Indonesia over the sudden spike in the number of hotspots in Sumatra and added that the region will be shrouded by smoke haze if the hotspots continue to remain high.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said this comes as satellite data shows a marked increase in the hotspot numbers in the last two days.

There were 261 hotspot counts on July 21 and 252 hotspots on July 22.

NEA said its Chief Executive Officer, Ronnie Tay, wrote to his Indonesian counterpart Indonesian Deputy Minister for Environmental Degradation Control & Climate Change, Mr Arief Yuwono to register this concern.

He also called Indonesian Deputy Minister for Environment and Social Vulnerability, Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare, Mr Willem Rampangilei.

Mr Tay extended Singapore's support and assistance to Indonesia's efforts to prevent the haze from recurring.

This is in the area of early detection and the suppression of fires, as well as in offering an aircraft to assist in cloud seeding operations.

NEA said Mr Tay urged Indonesia to take immediate action and give an update of its efforts to tackle the fires.

Responding to this, Indonesia's Deputy Minister Rampangilei shared that there has been new sporadic burning.

He assured Mr Tay the Indonesian government is monitoring the situation and is taking action through cloud seeding and water bombing efforts.

NEA said it will continue to monitor the situation.

Meanwhile, NEA said it has advised the interim ASEAN Coordinating Centre through the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre that Alert Level 3 for Sumatra has been activated.

- CNA/fa

Singapore registers concerns over spike in hotspots
NEA CEO writes, calls Indonesia officials
Today Online 23 Jul 13;

Daily detected hotspot count. Image:

SINGAPORE — As the number of hotspots suddenly spiked over the last two days, the Republic today (July 22) registered its concerns with Indonesia over hotspot counts.

In a letter and call to Indonesia officials, National Environment Agency (NEA) Chief Executive Ronnie Tay raised concerns that the region would “once again be shrouded by smoke haze if the hotspots in Sumatra continue to remain high”, said the NEA in a statement.

Mr Tay also sought an “urgent update” of Indonesia’s efforts to tackle the fires and urged Indonesia to take immediate action.

Said NEA: “Mr Tay reiterated Singapore’s offer to provide support in the early detection of hotspots and suppression of fires, as well as to renew our standing offer of an aircraft to assist in cloud seeding operations.”

Yesterday and today, hotspot counts rose to 261 and 252, respectively. This is a marked increase from 159 hotspots on July 20 and 43 on July 19 and between 0 to 3 hotspots between July 14 to 18.

Yesterday, the NEA cautioned that hazy conditions may return to the Republic in the coming days, if dry weather persists in most parts of Sumatra and wind direction changes in the next two days.

Indonesian Deputy Minister for Environment and Social Vulnerability, Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare, Mr Willem Rampangilei, whom Mr Tay had called, said there has been “new sporadic burning”, said the NEA.

“He assured Mr Tay that the Indonesian government is monitoring the situation and taking various actions on the ground to suppress the fires, such as cloud seeding and water bombing efforts.”

Mr Rampangilei also said that the government has strengthened law enforcement and socialisation efforts, and the deployment of additional police and troops to the Riau area “will be considered urgently in a high level inter-agency meeting”.

The NEA said it will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with its Indonesian counterparts on the transboundary haze issue.

The NEA has also advised the interim ASEAN Coordinating Centre, through the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), that Alert Level 3 for Sumatra has been activated.

The ASMC has a regional warning system for the fire and haze situation based on three levels of alert. Alert Level 3 is activated when there are 250 hotspots or more detected on two consecutive days with dry weather conditions persisting and prevailing winds blowing towards other ASEAN countries. When Alert Level 3 is triggered, a panel of experts from the member countries may be deployed to the affected country, with the country’s consent, to assist in assessing the situation and provide their recommendations on resources that need to be mobilised to mitigate the fires and transboundary haze pollution.

Singapore is represented by experts from the SCDF in the panel and hosts the ASMC that supports the panel.

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Indonesia set to begin cloud seeding as haze threatens

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta
Straits Times 23 Jul 13;

INDONESIA will begin cloud seeding to induce rain over Riau province as early as today, officials say, as the smoke from forest fires returned to shroud parts of the province and neighbouring Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur and Muar.

The skies are still clear in Singapore, but the National Environment Agency (NEA) says that the haze may return if the wind changes direction. Today's air quality until 4pm is expected to be good to moderate.

NEA chief executive Ronnie Tay yesterday registered Singapore's concerns over a sudden spike in the number of hot spots in Sumatra in a letter to Mr Arief Yuwono, Deputy Minister at the Environment Ministry. He also extended Singapore's support and assistance to Indonesia.

The number of forest-fire hot spots in Sumatra rose sharply at the weekend.

Yesterday, the PSI hit hazardous levels in parts of Riau, which affected several flights in the morning. For instance, the Pollutant Standards Index reading was 619 in Rumbai, north of provincial capital Pekanbaru.

Satellite readings showed 252 hot spots across Sumatra yesterday, with 167 in Riau. The province had 173 hot spots on Sunday, up sharply from 63 a day earlier.

In Malaysia, the Air Pollutant Index reading in places such as Malacca, Muar in Johor and Cheras in Kuala Lumpur was above 100, which is in the unhealthy range.

The return of the forest fires before October, when the dry season ends, had been anticipated.

But the sharp jump in the number of hot spots over the weekend came as a surprise, said Mr Heru Widodo, head of the weather modification team at the Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT).

"We have not had the clouds to seed the past several days, but we should see them back above Riau on July 23 or July 24, according to the latest weather forecast," he told The Straits Times.

Forest fires sent pollution levels to record highs in Riau province and also Malaysia and Singapore last month.

After declaring the haze in Riau a national emergency, Jakarta took charge of efforts, including intensive cloud-seeding and water-bombing operations. Soldiers were sent in to help put out the fires. They were pulled back gradually after the emergency status was lifted on July 10.

Additional reporting by Lester Kong in Kuala Lumpur

Indonesia: Three flights delayed due to haze in Pekanbaru
Antara 22 Jul 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau Province (ANTARA News) - At least three flights from Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport, Pekanbaru city, to Jakarta and Malaka (Malaysia) were delayed on Monday morning due to haze reducing visibility.

"This morning the visibility is only 300 meters while normal visibility to conduct flight service is 1000 meters and above. Hence we delay some flights," Airport Duty Manager Hasnan said here on Monday.

The visibility started to get back to normal condition on Monday noon.

Meanwhile according to ANTARA`s observation local people have started to feel the effect of haze in their respiratory system.

"I don`t bring face mask today because I thought the haze has really gone since last month," Anton (42) said.

Spokesman to National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo confirmed the re-emerge of haze in Pekanbaru city citing drought season that started to come in mid July as the cause of it.

Update from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said up till Monday morning there were 220 hot spots spread out in Riau province namely in Rokan Hilir district (148 spots), Rokan Hulu district (38), Siak district (31) and Bengkalis district (22). The agency indicated the hotspots as the locations of forest fires.

Last June 17, the Riau province`s government declared an emergency status for haze. Hundreds of families were forced to evacuate as haze had affected them and fire had almost reached their homes.

Meanwhile, the Police of Riau have arrested 23 suspects in connection with forest and peat land fires in the province. It was said that the suspects had deliberately burned forest in order to open a new plantation.

(Reporting by Fazar Muhardi/translating and editing by Amie Fenia Arimbi)

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Malaysia should take firm stand on haze, says EPSM

The Star 23 Jul 13;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia should follow Singapore’s no-nonsense attitude in confronting the annual haze menace, says the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia (EPSM).

According to EPSM president Nithi Nesadurai, the response from the Singapore Government was strong and swift following the choking smog that enveloped the country last month.

“We, on the other hand, seem to have a very accepting and understanding attitude, even during the years when we bore the worst of the haze,” he told The Star.

Nithi said such an attitude did not give Indonesian authorities a sense of urgency to resolve the issue permanently.

“We should take a firm stand. We have a very good relationship with Indonesia, and we should use it to express our frustrations when we need to.

“It’s not about saying nice things to each other all the time,” said Nithi, who also called for a more proactive instead of reactive stance from Asean nations.

Pointing out that the intergovernmental ministerial steering committee meeting should have taken place earlier in the year instead of after another haze episode, he argued that preventive action was possible, noting the “crystal clear skies” over Malaysia when it hosted the 1998 Com­monwealth Games as opposed to the horrific haze the country experienced in 1997.

“This is the time every year when they start clearing forests. But it’s only when the haze appears that everyone starts running up and down,” said Nithi, who also condemned those conducting local open burning, adding that they could not possibly be ignorant that such activities were illegal.

173 Hotspots Detected In Riau, Haze Is Back
Ahmad Fuad Yahya Bernama 22 Jul 13;

JAKARTA, July 22 (Bernama) -- The haze is back to blanket Riau and reduce vision Monday morning, to 70 metres at the Pekanbaru Airport, and 800 metres in Dumai.

This was caused by the increase in the number of hotspots detected in Riau, to hundreds, to indicate simultaneously that there was a recurrence in the burning of forests in a number of places in the province.

The hazy situation also affected arrivals and departures of aircraft to and from the Pekanbaru Airport, in Riau.

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) of Indonesia said, to date, satellite monitoring detected 173 hotspots in Riau.

This included 69 hotspots in Rokan Hilir, Bengkalis (41), Rokan Hulu (nine), Siak (20), Dumai (12) and one each in Kampar, Pelalawann and Kepulauan Meranti.

BNPB said smoke from the forest fires had badly affected the quality of air in a number of areas in Riau.

BNPB Information, Data and Public Relations Centre head Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the agency had coordinated aid to the Riau Government by providing two Hercules C-130 aircraft and four Casa aircraft for cloud seeding operations to avoid the haze disaster.

Water bombing operations were ongoing, using three BNPB Bolco helicopters and a Sikorsky helicopter which could carry 4,500 litres of water to be dropped on the hotspots in Riau, he said in a statement on Monday.

Equipment and soldiers were also in readiness to be mobilised if the situation warranted it.

The peak of the forest and peat fires is from August to October, whether in Sumatera or Kalimantan.

According to BNPB, 99 per cent of the forest fires were due to deliberate burning and in this regard, the agency had urged the authorities to be stern in their enforcement to deter and stop the burning of forests in Indonesia.


Haze back after false lull
Isabelle Lai The Star 23 Jul 13;

PETALING JAYA: The haze is back in the Klang Valley, Putrajaya, Pahang and Johor, and is expected to spread further inland over the next few days, said the Meteorological Department.

Its central forecasting office director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said visibility in the Klang Valley had “reduced markedly” in a day, with the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang recording visibility of up to 2.5km yesterday afternoon.

“While this later improved, some areas in Petaling Jaya and Subang still had reduced visibility of up to 3km and 4km respectively,” he told The Star.

As of 5pm yesterday, the Department of Environment’s Air Pollutant Index recorded four areas with unhealthy air quality – Bukit Rambai in Malacca (119), Banting in Selangor (110), Muar in Johor (103) and Cheras in Kuala Lumpur (110).

Readings for Malacca city, Nilai and Port Klang hovered dangerously close to the unhealthy mark at 99, 96 and 94 respectively.

No readings were available for Putrajaya, which the DOE attributed to a technical error at the station.

The return of the haze comes just days after Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said his country hoped to ratify the 2002 Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution early next year after last week’s meeting with four of his Asean counterparts.

The treaty aims to stop transboundary haze by requiring parties to prevent burning, monitor prevention efforts, exchange information and provide mutual help.

At the meeting, the ministers had commended Indonesia for its ability to put out the land and forest fires, resulting in a drastic drop in fires.

Its effort had included waterbombing raging fires on plantations in Riau and cloud seeding.

Last month, air quality levels turned hazardous in some parts of peninsular Malaysia as well as Singapore, resulting in the closure of schools and a spike in respiratory illnesses.

Muhammad Helmi said the haze was spreading at a slow rate with the light wind pattern, which was expected to remain steady throughout the week.

He said the haze had also reached parts of Pahang and Johor, and would move northwards to Perak and Penang.

“The main reason for the spread has been the jump in the number of hotspots in Sumatra,” he said, adding that drier weather conditions in the region would contribute to an increase in Indonesian forest fires.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest reading on Sunday, Sumatra has 261 hotspots.

This is yet another sharp spike from 159 on Saturday, 43 on Friday and three on Thursday.

Malaysia also showed a jump in the number of hotspots to 19 on Sunday from five on Saturday.

The Singapore-based Asean Spe­cialised Meteorological Centre’s latest haze map showed moderate haze had spread from central Sumatra, where many hotspots are clustered together, towards peninsular Malay­sia.

Singapore’s The Straits Times Indonesian correspondent in Jakarta meanwhile reported that two Dumai-bound flights were forced to return to Pekanbaru yesterday morning due to poor visibility from the haze.

It said the airport in Dumai was closed for over a week when the haze last month was at its worst.

Muhammad Helmi said light to moderate rainfall was expected over the Klang Valley and Pahang, and slightly heavier rainfall over Johor after Thursday.

“There will be some reduction in the haze after the rain, but exactly how much haze it clears up remains to be seen,” he said.

Air quality worsens
Hashini Kavishtri Kannan New Straits Times 23 Jul 13;

RIAU FIRES: Four areas record unhealthy Air Pollutant Index readings

KUALA LUMPUR: THE air quality in several parts of the country deteriorated yesterday as even more fires in Sumatra were detected.

The number of hot spots also increased, adding to the haze.

If there were only two spots considered "unhealthy" on Sunday, yesterday the number rose to four.

The Department of Environment (DoE) said the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), based on satellite imagery from the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, detected 261 hot spots in Indonesia on Sunday, up drastically from the previous day's tally of 159.

In Malaysia, there were 19 hot spots, with the most being in Johor (seven), followed by Kelantan and Pahang (four each), Perak (two) and one each in Selangor and Sabah. On Saturday, there were only five hot spots in the country.

The haze hovering over the country was mostly because of forest fires in Indonesia.

"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," the DoE said.

On Sunday, Bukit Rambai in Malacca and Cheras here were the only two areas deemed unhealthy, with Air Pollutant Index (API) readings of more than 100.

At 3pm yesterday, the two areas had increased to 126 and 117. They were joined by Banting in Selangor and Malacca city in the unhealthy category, with API readings of 111 and 105, respectively.

Muar registered 100 on the API.

Two hours later, however, Malacca city fell back into the moderate level at 99, only to be replaced by Muar, which went up four points.

Bukit Rambai (119), Cheras and Banting (110 each) remained in the unhealthy category.

Nilai and Port Klang recorded readings close to the unhealthy level with 96 and 94, respectively.

Fishing folk land poor catch
New Straits Times 23 Jul

MUAR: The return of the haze in the Straits of Malacca forced many fishermen to stay on land yesterday, with only about seven per cent of the 1,000-odd boats here leaving for the sea.

Fishermen cast their nets within three nautical miles off the Muar coast and hauled up fish worth between RM200 and RM500, barely enough to cover expenses, including fuel, wages, food and drink.

Although the sky was sunny, it was hazy, and the condition worsened at noon with visibility reduced to one nautical mile.

Chia Tee Tee, 61, said when he left Parit Jawa fishing village with three assistants at 5am yesterday, the sea was normal.

"A few hours later, haze enveloped the Straits of Malacca, reducing visibility to one nautical mile. It worsened towards noon."

Another fisherman, Tan Yong Hwee, 53, said he and his two assistants fished at the coastal areas, to avoid collision with vessels travelling along international waters because of the hazy condition.

Tan said some fishermen suffered runny noses, red eyes, coughs and skin irritation after being exposed to the haze.

Muar-Batu Pahat Fishermen's Association president Ser Boon Huat said more fishermen would abandon their outings as the haze was expected to worsen in the next few days, according to reports from the Department of Environment.

Ser also called on fishermen to light up their boats during the day to avoid collision with other vessels plying the international waters.

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Seletar residents launch book on area's rich heritage

Melody Zaccheus Straits Times 23 Jul 13;

KEEN to share the beauty of their estate, eight Seletar residents have spent the last 18 months putting together a 282-page book detailing the rich history and heritage of their neighbourhood.

Down The Seletar River: Discovering A Hidden Treasure Of Singapore features little-known historical nuggets, anecdotes, 19th-century paintings and archive photos of the area.

It was produced to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Seletar Hills Estate Residents' Association (Shera) whose chairman Percival Jeyapal, 71, was also the project's director.

Particularly fascinating for him was learning about the gravestone of Jane Buyers near the Seletar Country Club. She was the wife of shipbuilder JC Buyers, who worked in Singapore from 1863 to 1885.

"There are few incidents of gravestones that go back so far in time," said Mr Jeyapal. "To find a gravestone in a remote part of the island which used to be a mangrove swamp points toward colonial shipbuilding activity in the area."

The book is divided into five sections. It starts by tracing the area's history from the early 1800s when the Orang Laut, or sea people, made it their home.

It then delves into the lives of immigrants from China and India who settled there and grew pepper, gambier and rubber.

It also details life during the inter-war years, when the British set up a military airbase.

It goes on to chronicle the housing rush at Seletar Hills, the development of Jalan Kayu and memories and stories of Seletar residents today.

"It was important for us to tell the story of Seletar and how it evolved from its roots as a backwater estate, through the eyes of its occupants," said primary author Eugene Wijeysingha, 79, a retired principal.

Seletar, as defined in the book, includes Jalan Kayu, Seletar airbase and parts of Ang Mo Kio, Yio Chu Kang and Lorong Buangkok.

Featuring a foreword by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the project was supported by the National Heritage Board, Bukit Sembawang Estates, Fairview Developments and Tuan Sing Holdings.

The book will go on sale from Saturday at its official launch at Seletar Country Club. It is priced at $40, but members of Shera and residents can purchase it for half that. Proceeds will go to the President's Challenge.

"Few people realise the history of this beautiful estate," said project manager Ginger Tiah, 66. "I'm glad we can leave such a legacy behind so that future generations will know the people and stories behind its development."

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Tokay geckos: No miraculous cure

Natalie Heng The Star 23 Jul 13;

Wild wonders : Tokay geckos were the subject of an elaborate hoax that fooled gullible consumers into parting with thousands of dollars in the belief that the reptile could cure cancer and AIDS.

Yet another wild creature sought after as traditional medicine.

MONEY does not fall from trees, but just a few years ago, the arboreal tokay gecko was as good as gold for opportunists looking to make a quick buck.

It all began with the belief that an enzyme from the reptile’s saliva could cure AIDS, cancer and even the H1N1 influenza.

The web exploded with a mad scramble of posts, chat-threads and forums featuring discussions on the lucrative gains to be made from selling tokay geckos. Internet postings advertised stocks, catering to a surge in demand from gullible consumers based mostly in Malaysia and Singapore.

If the banter was to be believed, tokay geckos were going for anything between a few thousand to a few million ringgit. When the trade was investigated by wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, it appeared that much of the online hype was hot air: none of the surveyed dealers advertising tokay geckos for sale online appeared to be actually selling them.

Was this a widespread Internet scam? Authors of the report The Trade in Tokay Geckos (Gekko gecko) In South-East Asia: With A Case Study On Novel Medicinal Claims In Peninsular Malaysia think so. They say their findings support claims by private dealers who said this was the case.

Tokay geckos were worth no more than US$25 (RM76) on the international pet trade but in late 2009, authorities all over South-East Asia began seizing illegally-trafficked live specimens. Newspapers abounded with reports that catching or farming the critters had become a new and lucrative side business for villagers.

Traffic’s investigations uncovered pockets of dealers, mainly scattered across the states of Kedah and Kelantan, who attested to transactions worth tens of thousands of ringgit per gecko. One dealer claimed that during the peak of the trade (2009 to 2011), he was selling 100 geckos a week to consumers in Singapore, Malaysia, and even Europe, as a cancer treatment. He charged RM19,000 per gecko. He also highlighted the potentially violent nature of the trade – hold-ups and robberies during deals were a real risk. He said that the syndicate which he used to work for had lost over RM100,000 to dodgy Thai and Laotian dealers.

Greed seems to have given rise to enterprising claims, coupled with ever-more ambitious prices. It was also rumoured that the larger geckos, those weighing 400g or above, produce “an enzyme” that could cure AIDS. These are said to be worth over RM3mil each. One dealer alluded to cheats injecting silicon or force-feeding the geckos with metal pieces, in order to achieve the higher weight. Researchers are doubtful that tokay geckos can naturally reach that size.

Traffic found nothing to support the credibility of the claims. What it did find was a huge inconsistency in prices. Some traders priced their geckos at RM580 and others, at RM50,000. This points to the lack of any real or established market value for the “commodity”, further supporting the theory that there is no such value, and that it all began as a hoax.

Geckos traded for novel medicinal claims appeared to have been collected from the wild in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, and transported overland to Malaysia. One news report detailed how over 1,000 tokay geckos were discovered in the trunk of a car.

Fortunately, the heyday of the gecko miracle cure has died down. “Such trade has been substantial, but it has declined massively,” the Traffic report concluded. The medicinal claims are unfounded – a tokay gecko is just a colourful lizard and, as of 2011, a protected species in Malaysia, requiring a licence for trade and possession, thanks to its inclusion under the new Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

During the course of the study funded by WWF-Malaysia and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Traffic uncovered a larger concern: the colossal international trade in tokay geckos for traditional medicine. Although localised population declines (in Bangladesh) are thought to have resulted from the trade in tokay geckos for novel medicinal claims, on a regional scale, the number of animals removed from the wild for this purpose appears to be relatively small. Given the wide range and abundance of the species, the trade for novel medicinal claims is unlikely to pose any serious threat to wild populations.

Tokay geckos have long been traded for traditional medicine. An estimated 15 million dried tokay geckos have been imported into Taiwan since 2004, 71% of which were legally sourced from Thailand, and the rest from Java, Indonesia. In 2011, a shipment of 1.2 million illegally harvested tokay geckos were intercepted from Java en route to Hong Kong. Unlike the novel medicinal claims trade which is mainly in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, the trade for traditional medicine in East Asian countries, such as China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan, is huge.

Tokay geckos are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat skin ailments, asthma, diabetes and cancer. Recently, clinical tests on mice have shown that derivatives from tokay geckos have anti-tumour properties. However, experts have criticised the study for featuring poorly- designed controls, insufficient sample sizes, transferring results based on one species (Gekko japonicas) to another (the tokay gecko or Gecko gecko).

The World Health Organisation has stated that there is no scientific evidence that geckos can cure AIDS or cancer, and no information on the safety of exposure to geckos.

And yet, the trade seems to be booming. Though widely considered a common species, few population studies have actually been done on the tokay gecko, which has a striking appearance, being blue-grey in colour, with spots ranging from reddish-orange to whitish-yellow. Its conservation status has not been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Of the few studies that have been done, however, their numbers have generally been found to be declining. This is the case in Java, Indonesia and north-eastern Thailand, and in the past, mainland China. In Nepal, they are considered rare and in Vietnam, they are listed as a threatened species. Their status remains undocumented in other states.

Though breeding facilities are said to exist, it is thought that virtually all trade is supplied from animals harvested from the wild. There are hundreds of such facilities in southern China, and some in Vietnam. However, such farms are unable to meet the demand from the traditional Chinese medicine sector.

In Java, where there are at least two registered breeders and exporters, dealers have voiced their scepticism as to whether the breeding facilities are genuine. Tokay geckos fetch US$1 (RM3) each. Dealers think such a low sale price would make captive breeding financially unfeasible.

Traffic thinks that the current situation warrants the inclusion of tokay gecko in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This listing permits trade as long as it does not harm wild populations and the animals have been legally obtained, and possess appropriate export permits.

Despite the fact that tokay geckos have a large geographical distribution and high reproductive rates, and can thrive in human-dominated environments, populations are still susceptible to over-harvesting, says Traffic.

“This is evidenced by the declines of wild populations in Thailand and Java, as well as the past deterioration in mainland China, as a result of trade for traditional medicines.”

More research is needed to quantify the extent of trade and the volume of tokay geckos harvested from the wild. That way, harvests can be monitored and modified, depending on population trends.

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Malaysia: Logging and sand mining led to RM60m loss, say farmers

New Straits Times 24 Jul 13;

PADI PRODUCTION: Main water source for fields drying up due to sand mining

KOTA BARU: CONTINUED logging and sand mining have been said to be the main factors for the shallowing and sedimentation of Sungai Kelantan to the extent of hampering work to irrigate padi fields in the state.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that of greatest concern was the reduction in annual padi production, which resulted in padi farmers incurring losses.

"This was not created deliberately to bring down the Kelantan government. If the state doesn't cooperate with the Federal Government to tackle the issue, it will not end and the Kelantan people will continue to be the victims.

"Each year, we dig out mud opposite the pump house using hundreds of lorries.

"I urge the state government to assist the people in the state and not to depend on the Federal Government alone to do it," he said after a briefing and breaking of fast at the Kemubu Agricultural Development Authority (Kada) here yesterday evening.

Present were Kada general manager Ibrahim Mat and Kok Lanas state assemblyman Datuk Md Alwi Che Ahmad.

Ismail Sabri said total padi production under Kada's supervision had dropped from 205,000 metric tonnes to 192,000 metric tonnes and this had not only affected farmers but also the state and country.

He said his ministry would endeavour to find the best approach to resolve the problem.

Yesterday, more than 3,000 farmers in the Kada area were reported to have lost revenue amounting to about RM60 million when 10,000ha out of 18,900ha of padi fields could not be cultivated due to the drying of the water source from Sungai Kelantan.

They comprised farmers in three districts, namely Pasir Puteh, Bachok and Kota Baru. Bernama

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Malaysia: 49 pangolins seized from taxi

Najihah Roslan New Straits Times 23 Jul 13;

BOUND FOR CHINA: Thai cabbie hired by syndicate to smuggle out animals

BUKIT KAYU HITAM: POLICE rescued 49 pangolins when they detained a Thai taxi driver at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex border checkpoint on Sunday.

Initial investigations showed that the 57-year-old taxi driver was hired by an international syndicate to deliver the animals.

The scaly anteaters, worth RM50,000, were believed to be destined for the Chinese market. They were found alive in the boot of the taxi when the man was nabbed at 7pm.

General Operations Force officer Assistant Superintendent Rosdi Ghani said the suspect, a full-time taxi driver in Thailand, was hired to smuggle the pangolins out of Malaysia.

"These exotic animals were supposed to be shipped to China via Thailand,"

Pangolin soup is extremely popular in China.

Their scales, which some believe to have healing properties, are widely used as an ingredient in traditional medicine.

"In Thailand, the meat could cost up to RM350 per kilogramme. Just imagine how much money the syndicates from China are willing to pay for this endangered species," Rosdi said.

He added that the case had been handed over to the state Wildlife and National Parks Department for further action.

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Taiwan aquarium slammed over blotched release of whale shark

Focus Taiwan 22 Jul 13;

Taipei, July 22 (CNA) An animal rights group on Monday accused Taiwan's largest aquarium of endangering the life of a whale shark because standard procedure was not followed during its release earlier this month.

The 6.5-meter-long whale shark, which was released on July 10 by the aquarium in southern Taiwan's Pingtung, was stranded near the shore twice before it was towed out to sea, said the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST).

It is uncertain whether the shark survived since it suffered numerous wounds during the release process and apparently had difficulty adapting to its new environment, according to the staff of the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium.

"The aquarium was not freeing the shark, it was killing the shark," said EAST Chief Executive Officer Chu Tseng-hung.

The group said the aquarium should not capture any more whale sharks and should try to improve its wildlife management, including the way it releases marine animals.

In response, museum director-general Wang Wei-hsien said the release of the shark was carefully planned and rehearsed many times.

"We tried our best to protect the shark," he said. "It just didn't occur to us that it would refuse to swim away but rather would linger near the shore."

Wang said further studies will be carried out to learn from the problematic case .

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)

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Indonesia: Mini cities planned on reclaimed land in Jakarta

APLN eyes Rp 50 trillion flagship project in Java Sea
The Jakarta Post 22 Jul 13;

Publicly listed developer PT Agung Podomoro Land (APLN) is planning to develop mini cities worth billions of dollars on reclaimed land in northern Jakarta.

President director Trihatma Kusuma Haliman said the company had obtained the principal permit for the project — Pluit City — and was currently assessing the environmental impact of the project.

“We will apply for a reclamation permit once the assessment is completed,” Trihatma told The Jakarta Post in an interview last Friday.

“We hope to start the project soon.”

APLN intends to create three islands in the Java Sea waters and connect each with bridges and a highway to mainland Jakarta.

Thousands of houses, apartment units and other supporting facilities will be built on the three islands, which will be able to host around 700,000 people, according to Trihatma.

APLN will also develop dikes and brick walls to protect Jakarta’s mainland from the sea as well as preserve the mangrove forests, according to Trihatma.

The revitalization of a fishing kampong in Muara Angke may also be undertaken.

“The total investment for the three islands may reach Rp 50 trillion [US$4.95 billion],” Trihatma said.

“The project may take 10 years for development.”

Given the amount of investment and the project’s length, APLN will need to allocate at least Rp 5 trillion every year.

Trihatma said that as a listed public company, APLN would face no significant problems in raising the funds for the project.

APLN recently sold Rp 1.2 trillion in debt papers — the first part of its Rp 2.5 trillion continuous bonds issuances.

APLN shares were traded at Rp 345 apiece on Friday, unchanged from the previous closing.

The company reaped Rp 272 billion in net profit in the first quarter of the year, a slight 3 percent increase from the same period last year.

Its cash and cash equivalent stood at Rp 2.6 trillion as of the end of March.

“This will be APLN’s flagship project. In Jakarta’s [mainland] we can only develop a complex rather than a complete zone,” Trihatma said.

“On this reclamation area, we can develop what we want perfectly based on our own concept,” he said, adding the company had covered swamps in Sunter, North Jakarta, for the project and would now cover the sea.

Green Lake, another of the company’s projects, is a superblock development on 4 hectares of land in Sunter.

APLN is also now developing a superblock called Green Bay Pluit on a 12-hectare site on the North Jakarta coastline that will be close to the Pluit City project.

APLN’s Pluit City project is part of the Jakarta administration’s plan to develop the northern territory as the mainland area is close to residential saturation.

Jakarta — the country’s 740-square-kilometer capital city — is currently home to more than 10 million people.

The administration is planning to reclaim more land and create 17 new islands.

The creation of the landfill islands was first proposed by former Jakarta governor Fauzi Bowo as the first step in building a Rp 280 trillion giant sea wall.

A number of developers are reportedly seeking to take part in the reclamation project.

The reclamation project has drawn criticism from environmental activists and experts who argue it will damage sea resources and hamper the flow of water from rivers running through the capital, which in turn will make the annual Jakarta flooding even worse.

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