Best of our wild blogs: 4 Oct 13

Coastal Trash at Northern Ubin [Chinese News Report]
from Peiyan.Photography

Down Memory Lane - Small Red Bob
from Butterflies of Singapore

Lime butterfly avoiding the rain
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Andie Ang receives the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Grant
from The Biodiversity Crew @ NUS

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Let's not monkey around with wildlife plan

Wild boars in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Monkeys breaking into Bukit Timah homes. As development encroaches on nature areas, more cases of human-animal conflict will arise. Culling cannot be the solution. What's needed is a proper long-term plan to manage wildlife.
Feng Zengkun, Straits Times, 3 Oct 13;

A RATHER sensational poster made in Singapore went viral online recently. It depicted a sad-looking monkey and a caption: "Every time you complain, a monkey dies somewhere."

It's exaggerated, but that poster is an allusion to the view that when it comes to conflict between human and animal, it's always the poor beast that loses out.

It also stems from a fear that Singapore's animal welfare authorities such as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and National Parks Board (NParks), which manages parks, are too quick to use culling to manage animals.

That's not quite a fair view.

What is fair to say, though, is that incidents of human-animal conflict are on the rise, and will continue to increase as Singapore becomes more densely populated. Development encroaches into wildlife habitats, and the disrupted wildlife encroaches into residential areas and enters homes.

That's a recipe for conflict.

Rather than being quick to cull, or sticking with piecemeal reactions to individual incidents, Singapore needs a more holistic wildlife management plan. In the same way that the country needs a long-term infrastructure plan for transport or housing, it needs to develop a long-term plan for managing wildlife that balances animal welfare with public safety concerns. But to do this, it needs to do two things better: study more options other than culling to manage animals, and collect better data on Singapore's wildlife.

A beast of a nuisance

BUT first, let's get a grip on the nature of human-beast conflicts.

The AVA received more than 9,500 cases of feedback about animal-related issues last year. This was up by 20 per cent from 2011. A 24-hour hotline it introduced in August last year likely spurred the spike.

Nearly all - 95 per cent - of the feedback in 2011 and 2012 was about animal nuisance, strays, people feeding birds, and requests to borrow or pick up traps the AVA lends out to catch monkeys. Only about 5 per cent alleged cruelty to animals.

Complaints about monkey nuisance are up: 1,460 complaints in the first eight months of this year alone. That compares with 920 for the whole of last year, and 730 in 2011. Common complaints are of monkeys breaking into homes and taking food or attacking pets.

Apart from monkeys, wild boars also irk people. Two people were slightly injured last year when two wild boars from Lower Peirce wandered into nearby Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. NParks culled the area's boars after assessing that the animals were breeding faster than the habitat could support, and that it was not feasible to relocate them.

To cull or not to cull

ONE issue is that some animal lovers perceive the AVA as an agency that is too quick to cull.

In July, activists were upset that the AVA had culled almost 360 macaques - a breed of monkey - in the first half of this year. This was more than in the last two years combined and about one-fifth of the Government's estimate of fewer than 2,000 monkeys here. While animal lovers thought it was overkill, those living near nature areas know that macaques continue to thrive and forage in rubbish bins.

The authorities have also culled stray cats and dogs they cannot re-home. Culling to control overpopulation is an accepted part of good animal management practice globally.

To be fair, Singapore's small space means its wildlife options are limited. The AVA told The Straits Times: "Relocating the aggressive and nuisance-causing animals merely transfers the problem from one estate to the next."

And since animal-human encounters may lead to injuries, safety issues are paramount. A spokesman said: "AVA is the lead agency for animal welfare issues, but we are also concerned with stray and wild animals posing a public safety and health risk (such as rabies). That is our first priority in the management of wildlife and stray animals."

The AVA and NParks have other methods to control animals, including sterilising stray cats, reminding people not to feed wild animals, and monkey-proofing some rubbish bins.

But experts say more can be done. In Hong Kong, the government plants fruit trees within reserves to attract monkeys and keep them away from homes. Over 1,500 macaques have been sterilised since 2007. The AVA and NParks said in June that they were studying sterilisation for macaques too. Natural barriers are also an option. In Africa, rows of spiky cacti deter coyotes.

Animal activist group Acres has hired two full-time staff to herd monkeys back to the reserves in conflict-prone areas like Bukit Timah. Bali and Gibraltar used this method with some success against monkey incursions.

Acres executive director Louis Ng said the primates tend to stick to specific routes. "If you can stop the animals from getting near homes in the first place, you prevent the complaints. Culling does not work as well because if you remove one troop of monkeys, another will come and take its place," he said.

An animal census?

BUT to truly nip human-animal conflicts in the bud, several experts said more information is needed to formulate a long-term wildlife management plan.

Strix Wildlife Consultancy firm director Subaraj Rajathurai said scientific counts of the animals, their distribution and studies on the plants and fruits that sustain them in the reserves are needed.

"We know some of this already but the information is scattered among universities, nature groups and the authorities here. We need to organise the data better, for example through a central repository like the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research," he said.

Other crucial information includes the animals' ranging patterns and behaviour. Some monkeys learn when rubbish bins are cleared and show up then, said primatologist Agustin Fuentes, who researches monkey-human interactions. Understanding animals' seasonal diet can also help keep them within nature reserves.

The Nature Society assessed that wild boars were likely proliferating in Lower Peirce due to abundant sea apple and oil palm plants there. NParks is removing some of these food sources.

To be sure, some promising studies are under way. Last October, NParks said it would monitor the boar, sambar deer and banded leaf monkey in the nature reserves: study where they are found, estimate their numbers, and track their movements and other behaviours.

The AVA is reviewing the recommendations of a study on managing mynahs here.

These are good starts, but several activists said they wished the scope of these projects, their timeline and even progress can be shared so other researchers can help with the studies.

Given the scale of the work involved, a proper wildlife census and study of the creatures' diverse habitats can be conducted only with state support, tapping the knowledge and tremendous energy of existing animal and nature groups. With good information, a long-term flora and fauna policy can then be set out, spelling out animal density and conservation goals. Such a plan will then guide responses to human-animal encounters.

The missing link

WHILE state and animal groups play an important role, the missing link is residents. Their involvement is critical to a wildlife plan.

Moulmein-Watten Neighbourhood Committee chairman Fong Kwok Shiung said: "In my estate, there are a lot of children and elderly folk who would not know how to protect themselves in an encounter."

Residents need to be better educated so they know what to do - and what not to do - in wildlife encounters. Despite public education campaigns, some people persist in the irresponsible act of feeding monkeys, says the AVA. This alters some monkeys' behaviour, causing them to eschew natural habitats to chase after food handouts from humans.

Nature Society's Mr Tony O'Dempsey said that those living near nature reserves should keep food items out of sight and use monkey-proofed bins to dispose of food waste. Fruit trees - a strong draw for the creatures - may also have to go.

Said Mr O'Dempsey: "If you choose to live next to a forested area, you should expect to have to deal with these issues. The Government should not be responsible for problems caused by residents' inadequate precautions."

If residents, activist groups and the state work together to balance animal welfare with public safety, there's a good chance the dire warning in that poster will remain just a joke and never come true.

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Pulau Ubin: Rustic or just rusting away?

Conserve or develop: Views differ on how to breathe new life into island
Melody Zaccheus and David Ee, Straits Times, 4 Oct 13;

LIFE seems to be ebbing away from the island of Pulau Ubin.

Its population has dwindled from 2,000 between the 1950s and early 1970s to just 38 today.

Its once-thriving town centre is a shadow of its former self, with several provision shops and a restaurant closing over the past few years. Several villagers call it a ghost town on weekdays.

'After a while, you see the same person pacing the town centre. It's most likely the same villager you saw in the morning, rather than a fresh face from the mainland,' said Ms Doreen Lim, 52, who has been living on the island for the past 18 years or so.

Ubin's charm has always lain in its quiet rural surroundings with kampung houses and forest paths, reminding Singaporeans of a slower time in years past.

But the plunge in resident numbers has re-ignited a continuing debate - how much should be conserved, and how much developed to breathe new life into Ubin?

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, hit the headlines in April when a notice by the Housing Board led islanders to believe that 22 homes would be evicted for the development of an 'adventure park'.

The Government has since clarified that the island is to be kept in a 'rustic state for as long as possible'.

Instead, its latest plan, announced on Wednesday, involves the National Heritage Board possibly publishing an e-book on little- known facts about the island and initiatives such as cooking classes, a documentary on the island's boat operators and virtual tours of the town centre.

Some heritage and environmental groups believe the Government needs to go further in actively conserving the island's cultural heritage and nature, but not go so far as to erode its rural feel.

Singapore Heritage Society honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua envisions Ubin as a place where mainlanders can go to for a quieter life.

Ubin is 'the ideal locality to engender a new kind of kampung community where Singaporeans can return to their roots after retirement for instance', Dr Yeo told The Straits Times.

Nature Society president Shawn Lum thinks that the island's secondary forest, which grew back as rubber plantations became disused, could be slowly restored to its original primary state by growing endemic species such as Meranti, a hardwood tree.

At the same time, introducing boardwalks through the forest - as has been done at Chek Jawa, an intertidal area on Ubin's east coast rich with rare marine life - would help attract more visitors.

This resonated with Ms Lim, who also owns Pulau Ubin Explorers Services and conducts guided tours of the area.

'Ubin is a very beautiful island and there are thousands of plants and animal species here,' she said.

'My husband and I have spotted hornbills, owls, eagles, wild boars, sea otters crossing a swamp, mouse deer and even pink dolphins since we started living here in the mid-1990s.'

But heritage enthusiast and blogger Jerome Lim, a naval architect, believes Ubin should be left rustic. 'Ubin is unstructured and unmanicured. It has a certain charm that no urban planner can replicate. Orderly trees, benches, lamps and footpaths will only ruin its look.'

Former National Parks Board chairman Leo Tan agreed.

'We always think of planning as 'Oh, we must do this, we must do that'. We should let Ubin evolve naturally,' he said.

Dr Lum, though, said the island should not be left to decline into 'a museum' but be kept vibrant and alive with ground-up efforts.

Take Madam Samsiah Abdullah, for instance. The 57-year-old religious teacher's Malay kampung home, which is more than 100 years old, opens its doors to visitors interested in the past. The house also hosts cooking workshops.

Madam Samsiah said she has very fond memories of the island and hopes that it can stay as it is.

'This is the only place in Singapore where you can experience kampung life as it used to be. If this is taken away, then there will be nothing left for us to pass on to future generations.'

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BCA wins international award for its green building movement

Janice Tai, Straits Times, 3 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE'S Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has received a leading global award for its efforts to help the environment.

It is the first government agency outside America and Europe to be honoured with the International Star (I-Star) for Energy Efficiency prize.

The authority's chief executive, Dr John Keung, received it from US Senator Mark Warner at an award ceremony dinner held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington on Wednesday (yesterday morning, Singapore time).

The award was one of seven given out by a non-profit US-based energy-efficiency coalition called the Alliance to Save Energy.

"BCA is our first award recipient hailing from Asia and we are proud to recognise the important transformation of Singapore's built environment which serves as a strong, energy-efficiency model not only for cities in their region but around the world," said the group's president Kateri Callahan.

BCA plans to increase energy efficiency, water conservation, and environmental quality and protection for at least 80 per cent of all buildings in Singapore by 2030. There are about 1,700 green buildings here today, up from 17 in 2005.

Close to 40 per cent of the electricity consumption in the highly urbanised city-state comes from buildings, said Dr Keung.

"(Thus), by simply being able to make our buildings - both old and new - more energy efficient, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint, and we are well on our way to achieving our 2030 target."

BCA Wins Prestigious International (I-STAR) Award for its Outstanding Achievements and Commitment to Green Buildings
Singapore is the first country outside of America and Europe to receive this Award, conferred by the US-based energy efficiency coalition, Alliance to Save Energy
BCA media release 3 Oct 13

Singapore, 3 October 2013 - The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore has received the International Star (I-Star) for Energy Efficiency award for its commitment to achieve a national target of greening at least 80 per cent of all buildings in Singapore by 2030 and for its achievements thus far. BCA is the first government agency outside of America and Europe to be honoured with this prestigious award, given out by the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), a non-profit US-based energy efficiency coalition that promotes energy efficiency worldwide through research, education and advocacy.

Since 1993, the annual Stars of Energy Efficiency Awards has been a preeminent showcase for energy efficiency's most industrious advocates and innovators, recognising individuals, organisations, companies, learning institutions and government programmes that have demonstrated a significant and tangible commitment to the cause of energy efficiency both in United States and abroad.

The Award was presented to BCA on 2 October 2013 (Eastern Standard Time) at the Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency Awards Dinner held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. BCA Chief Executive Officer, Dr John Keung, received the Award from U.S. Senator Mark Warner (Virginia), who is ASE's Honorary Chair.

"We are very honoured to receive this distinguished I-Star Award from the Alliance to Save Energy and to be part of this Awards ceremony with the international energy efficiency community here," said Dr. John Keung. "This award is a testament to the commitment and effort that we have put in to develop and drive sustainable construction and green buildings to ensure that Singapore and its residents can enjoy a healthier, more liveable and sustainable built living environment now and in the future. As a highly urbanised city-state, Singapore's buildings account for close to 40% of the nation's total electricity consumption. As such, by simply being able to make our buildings - both old and new - more energy efficient, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint, and we are well on our way to achieving our 2030 target."

One of the seven Awards conferred by the ASE, the I-Star Award recognises outstanding contributions to Energy Efficiency achieved through special projects or activities overseas that are led by nominees based outside of U.S. territories. The nominees are judged based on their outstanding contribution to energy efficiency beyond the expected norm, innovation and creativity to overcome challenges and establish leadership within the sector, and the ability to act as a best practice example and catalyst that spurs others in the industry towards further efficiency gains.

"I am excited and proud to present our prestigious I-Star Award, which recognises excellence in energy efficiency by a foreign government body, to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore," Alliance President Kateri Callahan said. "BCA is our first award recipient hailing from Asia and we are proud to recognise the important transformation of Singapore's built environment which serves as a strong, energy efficiency model not only for cities in their region but around the world."

The Award recognises BCA for its efforts in driving the green building movement in Singapore through its Green Building Masterplan and its commitment to increase energy efficiency, water conservation, and environmental quality and protection for at least 80 percent of all buildings in the country by 2030. The Green Building Masterplan has been instrumental in helping to grow the number of green buildings in Singapore by almost a hundred-fold, from just 17 in 2005 to about 1,700 today. This translates to 49.5 million m2 of Gross Floor Area (GFA), or 21 percent of Singapore's total GFA.

The built environment sector plays a critical role in helping Singapore achieve a more sustainable future. To fulfil the national target, BCA is currently working on the details of the 3rd Green Building Masterplan, which will guide Singapore's green building journey over the next five years. The 3rd Green Building Masterplan will place more emphasis on stakeholder engagement and collaboration to create a deeper community involvement in the sustainable development. In addition, the Masterplan will continue its focus in developing industry standards which include applications for zero and net-positive energy buildings and low-energy high-rise buildings, the monitoring and verification of building energy performance, energy certification for buildings, green leasing, and green procurement practices.

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Asian rhino conference hailed as major step forward

AFP 4 Oct 13;

Jakarta — Environmentalists on Friday hailed measures including tough anti-poaching initiatives to help boost the dwindling population of Asian rhinos agreed at an international conference in Indonesia.

Officials from Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal held a two-day meeting this week on Indonesia's western Sumatra island to discuss the plight of the animals.

Two out of three Asian rhino species -- the Sumatran and Javan rhinos -- are critically endangered, and the third, the greater one-horned rhino, is classified as vulnerable.

The populations have dwindled rapidly as poachers hunt the animal for its horn which is highly valued for use in traditional Chinese medicine, and the WWF says only around 3,500 rhinos remain in the wild in Asia.

At the meeting of Asian countries with rhino populations in the city of Bandar Lampung, the participants agreed to try and increase the populations of Asian rhinos by at least three percent annually by 2020.

The agreement set out steps to increase the populations, such as improving biological monitoring and management and carrying out tough anti-poaching operations.

Protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature hailed the agreement as a "major step towards Asian rhino recovery".

"The number of surviving Asian rhinos, especially of Javan and Sumatran rhinos, is currently so low that maintaining their populations is not enough to secure their survival," said Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN's species survival commission.
"What we need to see is the recovery of these species and a steady increase of their populations."

The WWF hailed the agreement made at the conference, which concluded Thursday, but urged governments to follow through with concrete action.

"Now is the time for action, to implement these methods where they are needed most," said Dr. Christy Williams, from the WWF's Asian rhino and elephant programme.

The IUCN said there could be fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos, and there were only an estimated 50 Javan rhinos, remaining in the wild.

There are around 3,300 greater one-horned rhinos mainly in India and Nepal, the IUCN said.

As well as their horns, other rhino parts are also valued in traditional medicine and fetch a high price on the black market.

Asia’s first Rhino Range States meeting secures government-level agreement to bolster conservation efforts
WWF Indonesia, 4 Oct 13;

WWF applauds the world’s first meeting of Asian Rhino Range States, but warns that at-risk rhino populations in Asia will continue to drift towards extinction unless proven methodologies for boosting rhino numbers are more broadly implemented. Moreover, the momentum of past successes must be maintained in the face of growing pressure from poaching.

The Asian Rhino Range States Meeting, hosted by Indonesia, concluded with consensus among the government representatives from Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal that maintaining populations and preventing extinction is not enough --- the species needs to recover. Endorsing the plan to raise the numbers of the greater one-horned Java and Sumatran rhinos, WWF also emphasized to the meeting participants that while consensus is valuable, the species needs action more than words. “We have outstanding success stories across Asia. Nepal and India have both successfully expanded their rhino populations,” explained Dr. Christy Williams, WWF Asian Rhino and Elephant Programme, “Their methods have been shared with the region. Now is the time for action, to implement these methods where they are needed most.”

The international community has paid significant attention to the plight of the black rhinoceros and white rhinoceros across Africa, but relatively little focus has been given to the Asian species. However; there are far fewer rhinos remaining in Asia: as of March 2013 there were only 3,500 rhinos in Asia (compared to over 25,000 across Africa). Some species remain by a thread, in single populations numbering less than 50 animals.

However, there are proven examples of rhino populations bouncing back from similar numbers. Committed action by governments has resulted in the rhino population more than doubling in numbers in the Indian State of West Bengal over the last 13 years. Strong actions against poaching of rhinos in Nepal and India have seen rhino numbers recover. Noted Anwar Purwoto, Forest Freshwater and Terrestrial Species Programme Director of WWF-Indonesia, “these success stories are highly heartening for bringing Indonesia’s rhinos back from the brink.”

“In India, we faced a situation where rhinos were hunted and poached almost to the brink of extinction”, said Dr. Dipankar Ghose, Director, Species and Landscapes, WWF-India. “With increased protection, monitoring and conservation efforts by the government and civil society, India greatly strengthened the number of rhinos over the course of four decades. However, the recent rise in cases of rhino poaching with sophisticated weapons indicate the involvement of organized crime syndicates and is a cause of serious concern."

Implementing these conservation techniques, and maintaining the momentum where they are in play, is now more critical than ever as the three Asian rhino species: the greater one-horned rhinoceros, the Javan rhinoceros, and the Sumatran rhinoceros remain on the IUCN Red List of threatened species; the greater one-horned as Vulnerable and the Sumatran and Javan rhinos as Critically Endangered.

Building on the meeting’s call to fight poaching, WWF emphasized the need for key rhino horn consuming countries to commit to key measures in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Added Anwar Purwoto, “Indonesia has taken an important step by hosting this conference; and now we have in our hands proven, effective conservation measures. What comes next, and what we are confident on seeing from the Indonesia government, is political will to achieve the national rhino population targets.”

Indonesia kicked off the conference on a high note, announcing that three months of research --- conducted with WWF-Indonesia as a partner --- has paid off with the first known visual evidence of the Sumatran rhinoceros in the forests of East Kalimantan.

Major step towards Asian rhino recovery
IUCN, 3 Oct 13;

At a meeting of the five Asian Rhino range states - Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal - a common action plan was agreed today with the aim of increasing the populations of Asian Rhino species by at least 3% annually by 2020. This agreement, called the Bandar Lampung Declaration, was reached after two days of negotiations at the Asian Rhino Range States Meeting held in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia, hosted by the government of Indonesia and facilitated by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC).

“Our decision to host this meeting reflects Indonesia’s determination to do everything we can to save our species of rhino,” says Zulkifli Hasan, Minister of Forestry, Indonesia. “We have found that when a species becomes extremely rare, occurring at a very low density, such as the Sumatran Rhino, we need to take special measures to ensure that the animals can find each other and breed.”

The commitment outlines specific conservation actions that are necessary to secure a steady growth rate of all three Asian Rhino species – Sumatran, Javan and Greater One-horned. These include improving the biological management and monitoring of the species, strengthening the protection of their habitats, performing strict anti-poaching operations, introducing tougher penalties for those that illegally kill Asian Rhinos, and maintaining the ban in the international trade of all rhino products.

“The number of surviving Asian Rhinos, especially of Javan and Sumatran Rhinos, is currently so low that maintaining their populations is not enough to secure their survival,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN SSC. “What we need to see is the recovery of these species and a steady increase of their populations. Seeing all Asian Rhino range states agree on a common and very specific action plan is a major step towards achieving this goal.”

Pressure from illegal hunting on all species of rhinos has grown seriously in recent years, mainly due to a significant increase in non-traditional use of rhino horn and a rise of rhino horn trade in Asian markets, especially in Viet Nam and China.

The Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ and its total population could be fewer than 100 individuals. An estimated 50 individuals of the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), also listed as Critically Endangered, survive in Java’s Ujung Kulon National Park. The Greater One-horned Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), with estimated 3,339 individuals mainly in India and Nepal, is listed as Vulnerable and could easily be lost if current trends in the illicit trade in rhino horn continue.

The agreement was reached based on the latest knowledge on the status and trends of the three species provided by the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group.

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Malaysia: Vital to protect Lambir Hills, says Len

Borneo Post, 4 Oct 13;

MIRI: Efforts must be made to ensure that Lambir Hills National Park is protected and preserved.

Assistant Minister of Environment Datuk Len Talif Salleh said the park is one of the richest in terms of biodiversity in the state.

He said it has attracted thousands of scientists from all over the world and is a research and training ground for scientists and researchers from world-renowned universities such as Kyoto, Harvard and Oxford.

“It is important that in our eagerness to develop ourselves, we do not neglect the need to preserve the rich biodiversity that we have here,” Len said in a speech for the closing ceremony of ‘Nature n U 2013’ yesterday.

His speech was read by Lambir assemblyman Ripin Lamat.

Len said the camp’s theme ‘Living in a resort city’ was ideal for Miri, which has the potential to generate a huge amount of tourism revenue.

“I hope that Mirians will continue to treasure it and make full use of this park, which is practically in the backyard, for educational and recreational purposes,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ripin said concerted efforts are needed from both the private sector and government to further promote the park.

“We welcome more tourism players to promote Lambir National Park, which can be used to hold jogathons, cross country races and jungle trekking,” he said.

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Malaysia: No ban on shark fin yet — Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) deputy GM

Borneo Post, 4 Oct 13;

MIRI: Sarawak has not taken any step to ban the sale and consumption of shark fin unlike in neighbouring Brunei.

This was disclosed by Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) deputy general manager of Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation Division (PABC) Oswald Braken Tisen.

“Not all sharks are protected species and selling of shark’s fin and consuming it is still not against the law,” Oswald told members of the press yesterday.

As not all sharks are categorised as protected species, he said the state still allowed people to sell sharks fin and consume it in restaurants.

Meanwhile, Brunei is reported to be the first Asian country to ban shark products effective January next year. Brunei’s Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar said the government is giving all retailers of shark fin and shark cartilage products a grace period of six months to clear their stock before the ban is enforced.

“We understand businesses would still need to clear their current stock so we will be using this grace period to educate the public on the decision to ban shark products,” he said.

The minister also said that effective January 2014, the ban will be legislated into Brunei’s law and routine checks on establishments would be conducted to ensure the ban is adhered to. The ban was announced at the launch of ‘Celebrate the Sea Festival 2013’ to mark World Oceans Day, and has made Brunei the first country in Asia to ban the product, according to non-governmental organisation, WildAid.

Meanwhile, Sabah is following in Brunei’s footstep to ban the sale of sharks fin.

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Malaysia: Perhilitan: Species of bats in Cave Villa not under our purview

Steven Daniel and Bavani M, The Star, 4 Oct 13;

AS THE furore over bats being forced out of Cave Villa, a tourist attraction in Batu Caves rages on, there seems to be confusion on which agency has jurisdiction on the matter.

According to a Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) spokesman, they had sent a team to the area yesterday but the species living in the two caves operated by Cave Villa did not fall under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and as such were beyond their purview.

However, Selayang Municipal Council (MPS) president Mohd Azizi Mohd Zain said Perhilitan should investigate the matter.

“The council is prepared to conduct its own investigations.

“I cannot comment on Perhilitan’s behalf but when my officers do the site inspection soon, we will invite Perhilitan,” he said.

Mohd Azizi expressed concern over the chemicals used by the pest controllers to chase away the bats, as the area is popular among Malaysians and tourists.

Selangor executive councillor for Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment, Elizabeth Wong was shocked that the bats were treated in this way.

“Bats play an important role in our ecosystem. Some of these bats fly as far as Hulu Selangor and other fruit orchards and help pollinate the plants.”

She said any action which might affect the environment or eco-system must be properly assessed and researched before being implemented.

The Malaysian Nature Society in a statement said bats were essential for a healthy cave eco-system.

“Perhaps the Cave Villa management lacks environmental knowledge. The Malaysian Nature Society will be pleased to provide an environmental education programme to enhance their awareness on cave management,” said its head of communications, Andrew J. Sebastian.

Cave Villa is among several structures built in the Batu Caves area. Many Hindus said some of the projects undertaken have no religious significance while environmentalists have raised concerns over the impact of development on the flora and fauna in the area.

In July, the National Heritage Department said Batu Caves did not meet the criteria to be declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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Thailand: Activists want govt to block Laos dam plan

Bangkok Post, 4 Oct 13;

Environmentalists and local residents have urged the government to protest against plans by Laos to build a hydropower dam on the Mekong River, saying the project will destroy livelihoods and the river ecosystem.

The Lao government last month notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its decision to push ahead with development of the Don Sahong Hydropower Project in the Siphandone area of Champasak province _ two kilometres from the Lao-Cambodian border.

Teerapong Pomun, a member of Thailand's Living Rivers Siam Association, yesterday said his group and its allies would submit a letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra demanding the government raise concerns about the dam construction.

Ms Yingluck should call on the Lao government to follow the "prior consultation process", an MRC regulation which states that any dam project along the Mekong requires feedback from neighbouring countries, he said.

Mr Teerapong said the Lao government claimed the dam would not be situated on the mainstream Mekong River, a claim he refutes.

Vientiane has said the 260-megawatt dam will be situated on the Hou Sahong, which is "one of the braided channels of the Mekong River".

Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator at International Rivers, said the dam site is an important feeding and breeding ground for Mekong fish.

"The dam will deplete food security of the people in the Mekong downstream countries. We have to trade off fertile ecological systems and fish stocks with the dam, which will produce only a small amount of electricity," she said.

The MRC yesterday issued a statement confirming the Lao government will start building the dam next month.

"Lao PDR submitted the project as an intra-basin water use on the Hou Sahong channel under the process of notification. This will enable the notified member countries to foresee the project's water use and any impact stemming from this," MRC Secretariat CEO Hans Guttman said.

He added Vientiane has indicated its willingness to discuss the project with other MRC member countries.

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Thailand: Phuket wild boars ravage football-golf greens

Phuket Gazette, 30 Sep 13;

PHUKET: A sounder of wild boar has settled on an 18-hole “Football Golf Course” in Chalong as their preferred dining area, but in the pigs’ quest for cuisine, they've left damaging divots on the greens.

“Our course is currently under attack by wild boars, which are rampaging through it at night and ripping up our greens,” said Neil Simmons of Phuket Games Zone, located in Soi Palai (map here).

“You hardly ever see them. They come and go, and the attacks always happen at night,” he said.

The sounder was first spotted about six months ago, and has since ripped large gashes in the greens at holes 7, 8 and 10.

Attempts to snare the big brown boars have been fruitless.

“They’re just too clever,” Mr Simmons said.

“We borrowed a wooden-cage trap from a neighboring pig farmer, but the squealers just didn’t take the bait. I also set down some rope snares, but they avoided those too,” he explained.

Last week, the pig farmer’s dogs bailed up a baby pig, but some of the larger specimens seen roaming around the course have been estimated to weigh 60 to 70kg.

Players are asked to notify course management if they spot any of the porkers.

In the meantime, play on the course continues.

“The damage in the rough areas hasn’t been that bad, but we have had to work hard to smooth out the damage to the greens,” Mr Simmons said.

The greens have been sufficiently smoothed over and no mulligans will be offered for shots that players claim were affected by an uneven surface, he added.

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Thailand: Rihanna loris pics prompt call for tougher tout penalties

Bangkok Post, 29 Sep 13;

PHUKET: Photos posted online of pop star Rihanna posing with an endangered slow loris on Phuket last week show criminal penalties for wildlife traders are too weak, one of the island's top police officers says.

Kathu district police deputy superintendent Akanit Danpitaksat admitted soft punishments make it almost impossible for officers to stamp out the trade in protected wildlife on the island.

"The punishment is up to the court's consideration. However, it is too soft to stop them," he said.

Touts, who charge money _ usually around 100 baht _ for tourists to take photos with rare animals such as slow lorises and iguanas, are able to resume business almost immediately after being arrested, because the penalties are so weak.

Bangkok Post Sunday visited Soi Bangla, Phuket's main tourist strip, almost a week after Rihanna posted the slow loris pictures, but the wildlife touts seemed to have disappeared. Residents on the island say this is an anomaly, as the touts have been a regular and highly visible attraction on Patong's main tourist strip for many years.

Pol Lt Col Akanit, however, claimed the police response to the Rihanna photos, which included the arrest of two alleged touts, was not a mere publicity stunt. "We normally survey and check for this illegal activity every night, not just because those pictures were posted by Rihanna," he said. "We have erected signs telling people that the loris shows are illegal."

Pol Lt Col Akanit admitted that despite the campaign, there are still some wildlife touts wandering Soi Bangla. He said detecting the animals, particularly lorises, can be difficult as they are small and can easily be hidden from police view.

Petra Osterberg, an experienced volunteer at the Phuket Gibbon Project rehabilitation centre, said Thailand's image as an eco-tourism destination means travellers arrive here expecting to see wildlife. Many are ignorant to the fact that the animals paraded by touts are protected.

"The slow loris is an endangered wild animal," Ms Osterberg said. "They like to stay still at the same place and do not often move. They might attack when they feel uncomfortable, such as when people want to take a picture with them ... and loris bites are highly poisonous."

Ms Osterberg said almost all slow lorises seen in tourist areas have had their teeth removed to nullify this toxic bite.

"Cutting slow loris teeth can affect their nerves, and when they are rescued from traders, they cannot return to the wild as they do not have teeth," she said.

"I hope authorities will enforce the law to protect this endangered wild life before they all become extinct."

Phuket animal worker admits letter to Rihanna is ‘a long shot’
PHUKET: A letter to Rihanna written by a volunteer at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, pleading for the superstar singer to raise awareness about the plight of the loris has gone viral on the internet.
Claire Connell, The Phuket News, 27 Sep 13;

Read the full letter here.

Helen Thompson, a British zoologist and long term volunteer at the Gibbon rescue centre, first published the public “letter” via her Facebook page last week, after Rihanna photographed herself with an endangered slow loris on Bangla Rd while on holiday in Phuket.

The letter, addressed “Dear Rihanna,” outlines the issues surrounding the loris trade on Phuket, including the inhumane treatment they often receive and the fact they often have their teeth cut out or trimmed to prevent them from biting tourists.

“Please help us raise awareness about this problem by speaking out against it and asking your fans not to have their photo taken with exotic animals when abroad,” Ms Thompson wrote in the letter.

“A simple message from you via Facebook or Twitter will reach millions of people who would otherwise be unaware of the nature and severity of this issue.”

There has been no response from Rihanna or her PR team.

Ms Thompson told The Phuket News today she knew the Facebook posting was “a long shot”, however, she thinks there’s a “reasonable chance Rihanna, or at least someone close to her, has or will see it”.

“I sent a copy to Rihanna and her record company every way I could find, for example, through their websites, Facebook and Twitter.

“The letter has also been shared and liked several hundred times via Facebook and Twitter. A drop in the ocean that may be, but it only takes the right person to see it and think, ‘Yes, this is good PR for Rihanna’, and something will happen.

“Social media and the internet have really changed the way communication works, and this kind of campaign can sometimes be effective.”

Ms Thompson said she wrote the letter because she believes it is possible to bring the animal photo trade to an end, “but to do so we need to get the right information through to the right people”.

“Someone like Rihanna has the power to reach millions of people from almost every walk of life.

“If she did openly come out and criticise the trade it would put this issue out into the mainstream media and get the attention of many people who otherwise might not give these kinds of issues a second thought.

“Working at the Gibbon Project, I’ve spoken to so many tourists who are horrified to learn the truth about the trade but who sadly already had their photo taken with an animal because they simply didn’t know any better.

“I’m not naive, I know it’s a long shot, but if it helps to raise peoples awareness of this problem, even just a little, then at least it will have done something.

“As they say, an opportunity missed is an opportunity lost,” she told The Phuket News.

An open letter to Rihanna
Helen Thompson, 23 Sep 13;

Dear Rihanna,

You recently posted some pictures on Instagram from your visit to Thailand last week. One in particular caught my attention, a picture of you with a cute and adorable baby loris on your shoulder. I want to make you aware that the use of wild animals as photo props is an illegal activity in Thailand. It is contributing to the decline of several already endangered species and is responsible for many acts of animal cruelty.

Every year millions of tourists come to Phuket and Patong, many of whom will be given the opportunity to have their photo taken with wildlife, such as the slow loris you encountered on Bangla Road. The invitation to handle one of these exotic animals is very appealing. Their large eyes and fluffy appearance make them irresistible to many people. Sadly, few visitors realise the true cost of their souvenir photograph.

My name is Helen Thompson, I'm a British Zoologist currently working at an animal rescue centre on Phuket that cares for more than fifty primates. Most of these animals were rescued from use in the tourist trade and many suffer from physical and psychological disorders as a result of their prior treatment; photo prop animals are often physically abused, mutilated and drugged to ensure they are safe for tourists to handle.

Much of the work we do involves educating tourists about photo prop animals and the cruelty they commonly endure. For example, few people are aware that the slow loris is venomous, a single bite from which can cause serious infection and even death. Because of this, it is common practice within the photograph and pet trade to cut or pull their canine teeth to prevent them from biting. This is usually done with simple tools such nail clippers or wire cutters and without any form of anaesthetic. Many lorises die as a result of this practice, either due to blood loss or prolonged infection in their teeth and gums.

The name slow loris comes from their iconic behaviour of moving very slowly. Many people find this behaviour endearing but don't release it is actually a response to fear and an indication that the animal is stressed. Most animals used within the photo trade are very young because they are typically docile and more easy to handle. Although they are nocturnal, many are used during the day and will be drugged or physically shaken every few minutes to prevent them from going to sleep. Being continually passed from person to person, along with the ongoing exposure to loud noises and bright flashing lights, is extremely stressful for them and contributes to the death of many of the animals. Most will only survive a few short months.

Sadly law enforcement efforts have had little impact on the photo prop trade here on Phuket because there is a substantial amount of corruption and organised crime in the area. With so many tourists coming to Phuket every year, the trade is certain to continue for as long as visitors are happy to pay for photos with animals.

The act of having a photograph taken with a loris may seem like harmless fun,but in fact it supports an exceptionally cruel trade that results in the needless suffering and death of thousands of these beautiful animals every year. Please help us raise awareness about this problem by speaking out against it and asking your fans not to have their photo taken with exotic animals when abroad. A simple message from you via facebook or twitter will reach millions of people who would otherwise be unaware of the nature and severity of this issue.

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards

Helen Thompson
Gibbon Rehabilitation Project

Phuket police arrest third loris tout on Bangla Rd after Rihanna photo
PHUKET: A third loris tout was arrested around 1am today (September 25) after police caught him on Bangla Rd – the latest in a series of arrests made by Phuket police in response to singer Rihanna photographing herself with one of the endangered animals on Friday.
Naraporn Tuarob, The Phuket News, 25 Sep 13;

The loris which will be returned to the wild in Thalang.

Pichet Pimrat, 27 years old and in the yellow shirt, faces police.

Pichet Pimrat, 27, was caught with a loris when Pol Lt Col Pongpichan Chayanonpirai, of Kathu Police walked down Bangla Rd while on duty.

“He might have not noticed I was coming. He had one loris with him so we seized it, and we will later send it back to Khao Phra Taew Forest Preserve [in Thalang],” Lt Col Pongpichan Chayanonpirai said.

Pichet’s arrest this morning follows two arrests by officials – a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old – on Saturday night, after officials raided Patong’s Bangla Rd. They leapt into action in response to the photo Rihanna posted on Instagram of herself posing with a loris.

When asked if this latest arrest was part of the raids by police ordered by Phuket Governor Maitree Intusut after Rihanna’s photo made global headlines, Lt Col Pongpichan said, “No. Actually the police go out and patrol the area everyday.”

“I have told my police team to keep a strict eye out for this, but the loris is a small animal. The touts keep the animal in their bag, and on Soi Bangla, there are hundreds of tourists who carry bags and cameras. It is quite hard for us to notice.”

Yesterday, International Animal Rescue Chief Executive Officer Alan Knight told The Phuket News that he was “upset that Rihanna doesn’t know better”.

“I would love to take her around our [slow loris rescue] centre in Indonesia and show her the pain these poor creatures are forced to endure for a few people’s so called pleasure,” he said.

Phuket News: Animal rescue group: 'I'm upset Rihanna doesn't know better'
PHUKET: The CEO of an animal rights group which runs the largest slow loris rescue centre in the world has spoken out, saying he is 'upset Rihanna doesn't know better' and that he would like to show her around the Indonesian rescue centre, 'to show her the pain these poor creatures are forced to endure for a few people's so-called pleasure'.
Claire Connell, The Phuket News, 24 Sep 13;

International Animal Rescue Chief Executive Officer Alan Knight, OBE, spoke to The Phuket News this evening about the issues surrounding Rihanna being photographed holding an endangered slow loris on Bangla Road on Friday night (September 20), while on a visit to Phuket.

The Instagram photo and news surrounding it has gone global, with many people outraged at the popstar's apparent ignorance of the issue of slow lorises and other endangered animals on the streets of Thailand and wider Asia.

Phuket officials leapt into action once news broke, and on Saturday night arrested a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old tout. Police in the past have attempted crackdowns but say the touts are hard to find.

Earlier today, Patong Municipality councillor and president of the Patong Entertainment Business Association Veerawit Kruesombat said crackdowns on Patong’s loris touts and sex shows (which Rihanna also tweeted about) are a “flash in the pan” and will fizzle out within a month.

Mr Knight said he first saw the news of the photo of Rihanna with the loris via Facebook.

"I feel very frustrated when I see people handling wildlife, we should leave animals in the wild.

"I am upset that Rihanna doesn't know better. I would love to take her around our [slow loris rescue] centre in Indonesia and show her the pain these poor creatures are forced to endure for a few people's so called pleasure," he told The Phuket News.

"I really hope that the police in Phuket will enforce the laws of the land and prevent all wildlife trade in the future.

"There is a lot of information about the trade in lorises, we just need to get the information out there.

"To be photographed, this loris would need to have been captured from the wild. Lorises are the only venomous primate. The hunters that take these lorises from the wild cut their teeth using toenail clippers. I have taken a series of photos of this happening (in Indonesia)... so I am against having lorises as pets as the majority are forced to experience pain due to having their teeth cut out."

International Animal Rescue runs the largest slow loris rescue centre in the world, based in Indonesia.

"We study the biology of the wild loris and provide a habitat for them in captivity that is as close to the wild habitat they are used to. This will allow them to be released," Mr Knight said.

Two held over Rihanna loris photo
Bangkok Post, 24 Sep 13;

A man and a teenage boy have been charged with possessing a protected primate after pop star Rihanna posted a picture of herself online cuddling a loris in Phuket, Krathu district chief Veera Kerdsirimongkol says.

The singer posed with the tiny, large-eyed slow loris on a night out in the tourist resort of Phuket on Friday, posting a picture on Twitter and Instagram, apparently without realising that the use of endangered animals as a prop for tourist snaps is illegal.

The image generated outrage from animal lovers concerned about rampant exploitation of animals on the island.

After the Rihanna-with-loris picture went viral, Mr Veera ordered local officials to stake out Soi Bangla in the Patong area where the picture was believed to have been taken.

Watchara Thanapipatkul, 20, from Bangkok, and a 16-year-old, were arrested with two lorises aged between one to two years. Police said they were offering the animals as photo props for tourists.

They were charged with possessing protected animals, Mr Veera said, adding that the lorises have now been taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Thalang district.

Rihanna's tweet on the selfie with the animal seemed to be an attempt at humour.

The star was in Phuket filming a music video. She filed numerous tweets and Instagram updates during her stay, including this one, which caused the controversy.

Rihanna's Twitter 'selfie' with protected primate in Thailand leads to two arrests
Rihanna spent a weekend at the beach in Thailand snapping pictures that led police to arrest two people for allegedly peddling protected primates.
Josie Ensor and agencies,, 22 Sep 13;

Rihanna snuggled up to a furry primate called a slow loris and tweeted: "Look who was talkin dirty to me!" Photo: Instagram

On a break from her Diamonds World Tour, Rihanna stopped in Thailand to visit the island of Phuket, where she befriended some local wildlife.

She posted a link on Twitter to an Instagram photo that showed her in sunglasses snuggling up to a furry primate called the slow loris, and tweeted Friday: "Look who was talkin dirty to me!"

The slow loris, a squirrel-like animal with big eyes, is native to Southeast Asia and is listed as a protected species.

"Phuket authorities were alerted to the picture (of Rihanna), and last night police arrested the two individuals who brought out the loris as a photo opportunity for tourists," a Phuket district chief, Weera Kerdsirimongkon, said by telephone Sunday.

Police confiscated two lorises from the pair - a 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy - who could face charges of possession of protected animals. The charge carries a penalty of up to four years in prison and a 40,000 baht ($1,300) fine.

Weera said authorities have tried for years to crack down on the problem of vendors exploiting wildlife, particularly in popular tourist areas where people pay to pose for pictures with elephants, orangutans and other animals.

"It's like a cat-and-mouse game. But this time it's bigger because a celebrity like Rihanna posted the picture, and there were more than 200,000 'likes' from around the world," he said.

Rihanna also posted pictures of herself playing with a herd of elephants in the street Friday night, after which she tweeted: "They all hail Empress when She walk by."


On the same night, she tweeted a few unprintable comments about what she apparently witnessed at an adult show in one of Phuket's red-light districts.

Saturday's tweets were devoted to the beach and photographs of the singer in a black bikini on a boat surrounded by turquoise water with limestone cliffs in the distance.

Before leaving Thailand on Sunday, she tweeted from the airport: "Gave the immigration guy my passport and he handed me this in return without a word. Lol." It was a picture of the singer that said "I love Rihanna."

Her next stop was Singapore before heading to Australia and New Zealand.

Two loris touts arrested in Phuket raid ordered by Gov after Rihanna photo
PHUKET: Two loris touts, aged 16 and 20, were arrested in Phuket tonight (September 21) after officials raided Patong's Bangla Road, in response to singer Rihanna posting a photo of herself with an endangered loris.
The Phuket News, 21 Sep 13;

The 20 year old tout, Watchara Pipattanakul, with his loris.

R&B singer Rihanna, who is currently in Phuket, took a photo of herself with a loris while out on Bangla Road and posted it on Instagram yesterday. The photo sparked outrage from many people due to the long-running endeavours by animal welfare groups to keep the animals in the wild and away from tourists.

Lorises are an endangered species and it is illegal for touts to charge tourists money in return for photos with the cute animals. Several touts were arrested in June but despite promises of crackdowns, police say they are unable to track down the touts easily.

Earlier today, Kathu District Chief Veera Kerdsirimongkol ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Kathu Superintendent to 'urgently investigate' the issue of lorises on Bangla Road.

Later this evening, an official order from Phuket Governor Maitree Intusut arrived, and officials were told to complete a raid on Bangla Road. Wildlife Suppression Patrol Officers worked together with police during the raid. This is the first of many planned for the area, officials said.

Two touts were arrested and taken to Kathu Police Station, where they were presented to the media at around 9pm tonight.

Awat Nithikul, the leader of the patrol officers and Senior Forest Academic at Khao Phra Taew Forest Preserve, told The Phuket News, "I had an order from the Phuket Governor to do a raid today after Rihanna posted a photo of her with the loris."

"It is very difficult to do the raids because the touts have spies. If someone hears that the police are coming their way, there will be a person who calls the touts and tells them to move.

"But this is a big deal because it might affect Thailand's reputation."

The two arrested touts are waiting to be bailed, and the two lorises will be returned to a national park in Phang Nga.

Thailand: Furry furore as Rihanna poses with endangered loris
Bangkok Post, 22 Sep 13;

Pop star Rihanna has sparked controversy after posting a photo on the internet of herself holding a protected slow loris, the Bangkok Post reports.

This photo on Rihanna's Instagram feed of her and an endangered loris got wildlife activists in a tizzy.

The US-based Barbadian R&B singer arrived in Phuket last week and has posted several photos on her Instagram account, including ones with the endangered loris and elephants at an unidentified location.

Local wildlife advocates have alerted authorities to the picture of Rihanna with the slow loris, which is sometimes illegally used as a photo prop in tourist areas.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNWPC) has responded by urging residents to help identify where Rihanna was pictured holding the slow loris.

The Phuket News reported on its online edition yesterday that the picture is believed to have been taken on Bangla Road, off Patong Beach in Kathu district.

DNWPC deputy director-general Theerapat Prayurasiddhi yesterday said he would send officials to look into accusations of wildlife abuse if he receives specific information about where animals are being used as photo props.

"Phuket is big. We need more information before we can act," he said.

Mr Theerapat added that some zoos had obtained a licence to possess wild animals for tourist entertainment.

"If [these photos were taken] at a registered zoo with legal permission to keep animals, then we can do nothing," he said.

The slow loris is a small primate with soft fur and large eyes. Its cute appearance makes it popular with tourists visiting Thailand.

All species of slow loris (Nycticebus coucang) are protected by the Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) under Appendix I, which bans international trade for commercial purposes.

The Rihanna incident came to light shortly after the Phuket Wan tourism news website reported a group of wildlife activists were raising funds for the establishment of a loris rescue centre on the tourist island to save the cute creatures from being exploited on Bangla Road.

The fund-raising activity was part of the Loris Awareness Week last week.

Kathu district chief Veera Kerdsirimongkol said that he had ordered environmental officials and the Kathu superintendent to "urgently investigate" the issue of lorises on Bangla Road.

Mr Veera also responded to Twitter posts on Rihanna's account referring to bizarre sex shows in Phuket.

Sex shows were completely against the law, Mr Veera was quoted as saying.

"The authorities and law officials have surveyed the area to arrest and fine those involved [in staging sex shows]," he said.

"But the shows still happen."

Phuket chief orders action after Rihanna loris photo
PHUKET: Kathu District Chief Veera Kerdsirimongkol has ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Kathu Superintendent to 'urgently investigate' the issue of lorises on Patong's Bangla Road, after superstar songstress Rihanna was photographed holding one.
The Phuket News, 21 Sep 13;

Rihanna has been sighted on the island at Phuket Fantasea, and posted photos on her Instagram account of her travels. In several photos it looks like she is on Bangla Road - and one photo shows her holding an endangered loris. Rihanna has thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram, and the loris photo had 220,000 likes by Saturday night.

The photo has sparked outrage from many people due to the long-running issue of protecting the lorises in Thailand, and endeavours by animal welfare groups to keep them in the wild and away from tourists. They are an endangered species and it is illegal for touts to charge tourists money in return for photos with the cute animals. Several touts were arrested in June but despite promises of crackdowns, police say they are unable to track down the touts easily.

Today (September 21) Mr Veera said he had told both the Superintendent and the Ministry to investigate the lorises on Bangla Road again.

"Please investigate and prosecute, as per your authority and duty," he told them.

Also creating reaction were Rihanna's tweets via social networking site Twitter, about her experience at a sex show, including one tweet which said the following: "Either I was **** wasted last night or I saw a Thai woman pull a live bird, 2 turtles, razors, shoot darts and ping pong, all out of her *****"

Other tweets about the sex show followed, with Rihanna saying she was "traumatised".

When The Phuket News called Mr Veera to inform him of these tweets, he said the sex shows were "completely against the law".

"The authorities and officials who are involved with the law have surveyed the area to arrest and fine those involved. But they [the shows] still happen.

"Since I first started in this position I have ordered that officials must be strict and work to control these sex shows. They really ruin Phuket's image."

Rihanna pictured with a loris on Phuket's Bangla Road?
PHUKET: It has been confirmed by Britain's Daily Mail newspaper that superstar songstress Rihanna was indeed in Phuket last week, spending a couple of days on the island before her Diamonds World Tour last night in the Philippines.
The Phuket News, 21 Sep 13;

The 25-year-old posted a number of fun Instagram pics from her night out in Phuket, where the R&B singer was greeted by several species of native animals, The Mail reported.

One of the photos shows Rihanna at Phuket FantaSea, and another appears to show Rihanna with an endangered slow loris - likely on Phuket's Bangla Road.

The slow loris in Phuket has been a long-running issue on Bangla Road, with touts illegally using the endangered animal to solicit money from tourists. While several arrests were made in June, many touts continue to operate, with police saying it is hard to find them because they hide when police show up.

Earlier in the week on Monday (September 16) Facebook fan page Rihanna Thailand posted a picture which seemed to show the Bajan beauty arriving at an airport in Thailand.

It was also stated that she was staying at Sri Panwa in Phuket. However, Sri Panwa have since told The Phuket News that she was not not staying at the property.

Later reports had her booked into a villa at Paresa on the west coast.

Since then Rihanna has posted a number of photos on her Instagram account of her time in Phuket, including many with elephants.

"'They all hail Empress when She walk by,' she tweeted as she got up close and personal with a herd of tame elephants in the street," wrote the Mail.

"The singer appeared to be having a ball in the pictures, that showed her dressed in black pants and a strapless matching top with zipper detail down the back.

"Her dark locks were pulled back into a messy braid, with her face framed by a wispy fringe," gushed the newspaper.

"Large barely tinted sunglasses adorned her face despite it being dark outside and a long gold chain hung around her neck.

"In another snap, RiRi snuggled up to a cute slow loris - a strepsirrhine primate native to South and Southeast Asia.

'"Look who was talkin dirty to me! #Thailand #nightlife,' she captioned the sweet selfie.

"The star also posted a funny shot with her in the foreground and a scantily-clad woman dressed as a possible bride complete with jewelled bikini top and crown alongside a leotard-wearing man - both of whom appear to be yelling at the singer.

"'She was either tryna get married to me, or asking for the rest of my crop over costume! #Thailand #$treetLife,' she explained of the scene."

Rihanna's next gig is in Singapore tomorrow.

Read more!

Siberian tiger back from the brink of extinction in northeastern China

Chinese efforts to save endangered Siberian tiger appear to be paying off - their numbers may have doubled in recent years
South China Morning Post 4 Oct 13;

In a lifetime of herding, Liu Xiangqing had never seen cows so scared.

Normally, at 6am, they would be gathered together, contentedly chewing and grazing in the dawn light. But this June morning, they were scattered through the pine scrub, pacing with agitation, their ears alert.

Liu took a quick head count and realised one was missing, a two-year-old bull.

By the time the remains were located, the tail and thighs were missing, the entrails spilled in the dirt. There was a gash in the neck; claw marks raked down the torso. It was a sure sign: the Siberian tiger was back.

"In my whole life, I'd never seen a real tiger, but I knew it couldn't be anything else," said the elfin-like Liu, 52, who grew up in the remote village of Jintang in Jilin province , which is wedged between the borders of Russian and North Korea.

Once believed nearly extinct in China, the Siberian tiger, the largest member of the cat family, is making a comeback, the result of a decade-long effort to restore its natural habitat by banning logging, hunting and trapping.

Although they weigh as much as 300kg, Siberian tigers are elusive creatures that slink into the forest when humans approach. Villagers learn that a tiger has been on the prowl when they spot paw prints (or pug marks, as they are known) the diameter of melons. Or, as is happening more frequently in China, they discover that livestock is missing or mauled.

Four cows were killed in five days in May in another village near the border. One of the largest of Liu's cattle, a 590kg bull, lost his tail to a tiger but stayed alive by fighting back.

In March, a farmer investigating a noise pointed his flashlight into the darkness and saw a tiger with claws dug into a cow. He chased it away by banging a metal bucket and setting off a firecracker.

In China, the number of Siberian tigers living in the wild (far smaller than those in captivity) has been listed in government statistics at between 18 and 22 for some years, said Li Zhixing, who has worked for decades on tiger protection.

Nobody knows the exact number, because the Chinese don't have tracking collars on the tigers, but Li believes there could be as many as 40 now and that the population is growing.

"I personally think the number of tigers has doubled in the last decade and that the area populated by tigers has become much larger," said Li.

Li credits campaigns to restore the degraded forests in China and Russia. Russia began tiger-protection efforts in the 1940s and has the largest population of Siberian tigers, between 400 and 900, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

In recent years, however, China has caught up and might even be moving ahead in creating tiger-friendly habitat, Li said.

"Russia has fewer people than China, so it is a better place for tigers. But they are doing a lot of logging and burning off of agriculture fields after harvest, and the tigers don't like that," said Li, 60, a native of Hunchun , the largest city in the region. "It is not hard for a tiger to jump over the barbed-wire fences at the border and come to China."

Although Chinese still buy illegal body parts of tigers - poached in India or killed in captivity - for traditional medicine, the wild tigers have not been hunted in China since the 1950s, Li said. In fact, hunting of all animals except rats is banned.

But many people in the poorer villages near the Russian border trap other animals, which Li believes also has an effect on tigers.

The trapping sets off a destructive cycle; if humans catch deer and wild pigs that are the tigers' natural prey, the tigers in turn are prompted to hunt the humans' livestock.

"Getting rid of the traps is absolutely critical to making a better environment for the tigers," said Li, who was making the rounds recently in the villages near the border, distributing beekeeping equipment to encourage an alternative livelihood to trapping wild animals.

The Chinese government has also sought to improve the public's attitude toward tigers by compensating farmers for pilfered livestock. Liu, for example, expects to receive about HK$4,000 for the young bull killed in June. Chinese newspapers now contain numerous articles about tiger attacks on farms, further raising awareness.

In Jilin province, the Forestry Ministry has designated a wildlife preserve containing 108,700 acres of spruce, pine and larch forest, the favourite habitat of the tiger. In August, scientists released 37 deer into the preserve to attract tigers as well as leopards, another endangered species native to the region.

"If you want to protect tigers, you have to protect their food supply," Zhang Changzhi, a scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, which is sponsoring the project, said as he toured a reserve in Wangqing county recently.

Heat-detecting cameras attached to trees attest to the success of the project; they have produced three photographs of leopards and one of a tiger.

Tigers are endangered throughout the world: their population in the wild has dwindled from an estimated 100,000 in the early 20th century to as few as 3,200 today. Siberian tigers, also known as Amur or Korean tigers, are among six surviving subspecies and are native to the boreal forests, or taiga, of China, Russia and North Korea.

Chinese efforts on behalf of the Siberian tiger have won worldwide praise among environmentalists. A 2010 report in the journal of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies compared China's preservation efforts favourably with India's and ventured that China might even earn the right to claim it "saved the tiger".

Chinese have been amazed not only by the apparent growth of the tiger population but also by how far they have spread. It made headlines around China this year when tigers were seen near Jiamusi , a city 225 kilometres from the Russian border.

"My father used to tell how he once helped Russians hunt tigers, but in my lifetime - and I'm almost 50 - there hadn't been tigers around here until now," said Che Shiguo, a farmer from the outskirts of Jiamusi, in Heilongjiang province.

He said he saw a tiger devouring a three-month-old calf in August. He screamed, and the tiger ran away. "If not, I would probably have been eaten by the tiger too," Che said.

The last time a tiger killed a human in China was 2002, and that was considered a freak incident, the result of an angry, wounded animal that had fallen into a trap. In 2006 and 2007, people were injured in tiger attacks near Hunchun , but both survived.

"We never go out into the mountains now alone. We are always in groups of two or three so there is somebody to scare off the tiger," said Qi Shuyan, 46, who works on the same ranch in Jintang as Liu Xiangqing.

Li, the tiger expert, says attacks are relatively rare because of Chinese respect for the tiger, revered by many as a mountain god.

"There is a superstition here that a tiger will only attack you if you do something bad," Li said. "Sometimes when people encounter a tiger, they don't run, they just kneel and pray."

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China is 'polluting' Mt. Fuji, warns Japan study

Yahoo! News, 4 Oct 13;

Tokyo (AFP) - A Japanese study is claiming that toxic air pollution from China is to blame for high mercury levels atop the country's beloved Mount Fuji.

The research will likely do little to help simmering hostilities between the Asian giants, a relationship marred by historical animosities and territorial disputes.

"Whenever readings were high, winds were blowing from the continent (China)," Osamu Nagafuchi, the lead scientist on the study, told AFP on Thursday.

Fuji was chosen "because it's a place unaffected by urban pollution", said Nagafuchi, an environmental science professor at the University of Shiga Prefecture.

Pollution levels on Mt. Fuji have been monitored annually since 2007, he said, adding the decision to carry out the study on the 3,776-metre (12,389-feet) peak had nothing to do with it being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this year.

The UNESCO designation led to a surge in visitors to the iconic peak -- which figures heavily in Japanese art and literature -- during this summer's climbing season.

Mercury levels around the top of peak were up to double levels found in other places free of heavy pollution, according to the survey, conducted in August with non-profit group Valid Utilization of Mt. Fuji Weather Station.

The levels were as high as 2.8 nanogrammes of mercury in one cubic metre of air.

That is above levels around 1.0 to 1.5 nanogrammes normally detected in clean places, but still below the 40 nanogramme government threshold for posing risks to human health. A nanogramme is one billionth of a gramme.

The higher-than-expected readings are likely due to Chinese factories burning coal, which releases mercury and other toxic elements -- such as arsenic -- which were also elevated, Nagafuchi said.

The study comes as fast-industrialising China wrestles with a severe urban air pollution problem linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

Last month, China vowed to reduce levels of atmospheric pollutants in Beijing and other major cities by as much as 25 percent to try to improve their dire air quality.

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Hong Kong: Plenty of land outside country parks could be used for development

Before building in country parks, the government has plenty of other options - land already zoned for housing, brownfield sites and green belt
Olga Wong, South China Morning Post, 4 Oct 13;

Opponents of housing development in Hong Kong's cherished country parks are on the move.

About 1,000 people took to a Tai Tam hiking trail on Sunday in protest after development chief Paul Chan Mo-po floated the idea of allowing homes to be built in the previously untouchable rural havens.

But two veteran town planners have taken a different approach: digging out suitable sites outside the parks, as proof the government isn't trying hard enough. Investigations by the South China Morning Post have also turned up sites long earmarked for development which remain vacant.

"We do have land. It's just the government is taking the easy way out," said Ng Cho-nam, a professor of urban planning at the University of Hong Kong, who spent six years studying rural development plans for the Town Planning Board until 2010.

Professor Chau Kwai-cheong, a member of the Town Planning Board and a Chinese University academic, doesn't entirely agree.

"It's not easy at all," he said. "I don't think there would be less opposition if parks are downsized, compared to developing new towns on agricultural land."

But one thing they do agree on is that there is plentiful green belt land of lower ecological value than the parks that could easily be developed. They also spelt out conditions for the development of green belt sites, set up as a buffer between the urban areas and the countryside.

The Post was also able to identify inefficient use of land in the form of dozens of sites earmarked as comprehensive developments areas, or CDAs, which have lain idle for more than 10 years after being zoned for housing and mixed-use development.

The debate on slicing off country park land for housing has raged since Chan made his remarks more than a month ago, with some developers, property experts and pro-establishment lawmakers backing the idea.

But the outcry from the community at large has put other ministers off backing Chan's suggestion. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who pledged in his manifesto to defend the country parks, said there was no change in the government's position.

The investigation of land supply by the Post and the experts was prompted in part by a mistake Chan made in the blog post in which he floated the idea.

Chan wrote that country parks represented 70 per cent of the city's territory, which includes Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, New Territories and all outlying islands.

The true figure for parkland is 40 per cent , with the remaining 30 per cent taken up by wild, uncontrolled woodland, shrubland, grassland, wetlands, barren land and bodies of water. That statistic begs the obvious question: is the city making good enough use of the remaining 30 per cent?

It may sound like a matter of simple mathematics. But data made available by the Planning Department does not provide a straight answer.

A land utilisation map, available from the Lands Department, shows existing land uses based on satellite images. But the map does not give details of what the land is zoned for. Without that information, it is difficult to identify where new housing could go.

For further details the Post trawled through more than 100 outline zoning maps. This made it possible to see how urban, green belt and country park land slotted together

Hong Kong has a total of 153.9 sq km of green belt areas, taking up 13.8 per cent of the city's land. The official definition says such areas define the limits of urban and suburban development and are characterised by features such as foothills, knolls and woodland. As well as containing the urban sprawl, they offer recreational outlets for the enjoyment of the community.

The zoning is also intended to conserve the natural environment and neighbouring sites of ecological value, including country parks and sites of special scientific interest. Therefore, there is a general presumption against development on green belt sites, except on a tiny scale and according to conditions set by the Town Planning Board.

Significant areas

Planning Department figures show that a total of 98 developments, all consisting of village houses, were approved on green belt areas over the past five years. The developments occupy just two hectares of land.

"We are not supposed to build on these areas," Ng said. But at the Post's request, he singled out a few possible sites for housing.

"My message is that there are other options before looking into the country parks," he said.

Chau, who chaired the Country and Marine Parks Board between 2003 and 2007, said choosing green belt sites for development required care.

"We can only consider building on seriously eroded granite landscapes and must avoid the ecologically sensitive sites, like fung shui woods," he said.

In total, the two urban planners identified three significant areas of the northern New Territories that could be considered for the development of flats: Ngau Tam Mei in Yuen Long, Hung Lung Hang in northern Sheung Shui and Chau Tau, to the south of the Lok Ma Chau border crossing.

More than 34 per cent of the land - 316.7 hectares - in Ngau Tam Mei has been zoned as green belt, at Shek Wu Wai, San Tin Barracks and to the south of Ngau Tam Mei Valley. Next to the green belt land is a large area used for open-air storage, covering about 90 hectares, and two sites zoned for mixed development, totalling 53 hectares, which have been left empty for 18 years.

The site's present zoning means it could, with the permission of the board, be used for golf courses, firing ranges, crematoriums or columbariums.

As for Hung Lung Hang, a popular spot for waste collection and sorting operations, more than 245 hectares of land is designated as green belt - covering mountain ridges from Tsung Shan, Ma Tau Leung, High Hill, Cham Shan and Cheung Po Tau. The area is less sensitive, as the government suggested in its outline zoning plan that small-scale housing developments may be permitted with or without conditions.

Green belt sites around Chau Tau make up 188.6 hectares of the San Tin area, where flats are one type of development that can be approved by the board.

Overall, the three sites the professors identified would yield 750 hectares of land, more than twice the area of the former Kai Tak airport site, which will eventually yield more than 16,000 flats as well as a new stadium and the cruise terminal, already open.

The three sites are not remote or inaccessible and transport links could be expanded if the government's railway development strategy is fully realised.

Both Chau Tau and Ngau Tam Mei are sites for stations on the proposed Northern Link from Kam Sheung Road Station on the West Rail Line via Sheung Shui on the East Rail Line to Lok Ma Chau.

Despite these sites' acceptability, the two professors urged strict conditions be put in place for building flats on green belt areas: it must be considered only after brownfield sites are exhausted; only public flats should be built, and development should be of an appropriate scale and include sufficient community facilities. Lastly, the development must be accompanied by an effective population policy to ensure there will not be an endless need for more housing.

"The government should first develop brownfield sites before considering building on the green belt," Ng said. Brownfield sites are those formerly for industrial or commercial use but now being used for open storage, car repair workshops or holding areas for cargo. Such sites are scattered across Yuen Long, Tuen Mun and Sheung Shui. Such activities have spread fast, as land owners look to take advantage of lax government enforcement by making profitable use of unused agricultural land.

While the Lands Department cannot say how much land close to the border is being used to store cargo, it said 471 hectares of land had been zoned for open storage. Satellite images, however, show cargo storage occupies an area more than three times that size - some 16 sq km.

Endless task

The Post's review of the status of CDA sites also found at least 13 undeveloped sites in the New Territories, with a total size of 119 hectares. The figure excludes sites earmarked for the development of new towns in Hung Shui Kiu and Kwu Tung North.

Chau also put forward another suggestion, which touches on the thorny issue of village houses to which all indigenous male villagers in the New Territories are entitled. "Villagers have a role to play in saving land resources too," he said. "Many indigenous villagers have become urban dwellers and their linkage to villages no longer exists."

He said the government should encourage villagers to redevelop villages, including more than 100 hectares in Pat Heung, into a new town of high-rises with modern facilities. His suggestion echoes an idea put forward by rural strongman and Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat.

Chau urged the government to take a step back and take a holistic approach to the housing problem. "With no offence and discrimination, we should find out who is living in subdivided flats and for whom we are really sourcing land," said Chau. "If we turn a blind eye to the rising number of new immigrants who are comparatively reliant [on government help] and receive little education, the quest for land and flat construction would become an endless task."

Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the government's target of building 470,000 flats in the next decade was, in part, meant to satisfy demand from those living in substandard conditions. But the government has yet to complete its population policy, which is intended to address issues including the ageing population and shrinking workforce.

Whatever the results of the policy, which is due to go out for public consultation this month, experts agree taking short cuts to solve land woes is not the answer.

"The parks should be saved for future generations," said Dr Wong Fook-yee, a retired senior official who managed the city's country parks for almost 30 years. "Our decision determines how they will get on with their life.

"While birds and animals do not have a voice, can you imagine the US government suggesting downsizing Yellowstone National Park for flats?"

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Hong Kong: As Others Struggle, New Hong Kong Biodiesel Plant Powers Ahead

Te-Ping Chen, Wall Street Journal Asia, 4 Oct 13;

Biodiesel has faced a backlash in recent years, as critics charge the industry with razing land and pushing up food costs. But as its competitors struggle, one company based in Hong Kong is moving ahead with a US$165 million plant that turns recycled cooking oil into biodiesel, which it says could eventually power every diesel-fueled vehicle in the smoggy city.

When the 18,000-square-foot, or 1,672-square-meter, plant begins operating this month, it will be one of about a dozen globally of its kind, according to ASB Biodiesel Chief Executive Anthony Dixon. Controlled by majority shareholder Al Salam Bank-Bahrain, the plant will use the city's densely packed scale to collect used cooking oil in the region and from 4,000 restaurants across town, more than doubling the local capacity for producing biodiesel.

Mr. Dixon said the company chose to build its plant -- ASB Biodiesel's first -- in Hong Kong because of the city's infrastructure, logistics and a need to clean up the city's dirty air.

"What sets us apart from 95% of all the other biodiesel plants is we have the ability to process really difficult wastes," such as grease-trap oil and used cooking oil, Mr. Dixon said. That shrinks the plant's carbon footprint compared with others that process pure rapeseed, palm oil and or other food crops, he said. When burned, waste oil biodiesel is also generally cleaner for the air than diesel, emitting lower levels of pollutants, including particulate matter.

Regionally, according to the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance, countries from Malaysia to the Philippines are requiring their fuel mix to include blends using some percentage of biodiesel. However, ASB Biodiesel will sell its Hong Kong-manufactured biodiesel in Europe. The European Union has mandated that by 2020, 10% of transport energy must be renewable. Biodiesel made from waste also commands premium prices there.

Hong Kong doesn't require the use of biodiesel, and a government spokesman said the city -- home to some of China's worst roadside air-pollution levels -- isn't actively considering similar requirements. Hong Kong has about 120,000 diesel-powered commercial vehicles, the oldest of which the government says cause 80% of roadside air pollution and which it intends to scrap by 2020 through a US$1.5 billion subsidy plan.

Steve Choi, executive director of fellow Hong Kong biodiesel producer Dynamic Progress International, said the city's biodiesel industry has struggled without government mandates. Obtaining waste oil is particularly difficult, he said, as the amount producers can afford to pay per drum is considerably less than the 100 Hong Kong dollars (US$13) mainland Chinese buyers will pay for used cooking oil, which is then resold -- despite its often toxic nature -- for use in restaurants across the border.

"It is just so painful," said Mr. Choi, adding that his company's unprofitable plant produces about 60 tons of biodiesel per month, well below its initial projection of 50 daily tons. "Money talks, and people walk," he said. Dynamic Progress sells all its biodiesel locally to private companies.

During its first year, ASB Biodiesel expects to get about 20% of its waste oil from Hong Kong -- a figure it hopes to eventually raise to about 45% -- and plans to source the rest from countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Like Mr. Choi, Mr. Dixon of ASB said higher prices offered by mainland buyers are a challenge for some in the industry.

"Nobody can compete with unscrupulous recycling of waste oil into the food market," he said. Still, he said the company is attracting restaurants and established chains that don't want to taint themselves by selling into a dubious supply chain.

"We're able to compete on the basis of transparency and reliability," he said. "Every single liter of waste cooking oil that we collect, I can tell you where it came from and where it ends up."

While some green groups have praised the recycling of cooking oil, others have expressed reservations. Friends of the Earth Europe biofuels campaigner Robbie Blake cites concerns in the EU that companies have sold virgin palm oil as waste oil because it sells for a higher premium.

He also noted that a trial round-trip flight from Amsterdam to Paris powered by a 50% biodiesel mix in 2011 required the equivalent of 10 years' of used cooking oil from each passenger. "The trouble is that cooking fat will only drive you so far," he said.

Without more government support, said University of Hong Kong professor Dennis Leung, Hong Kong's industry is likely to sputter.

"Whether a driver [in Hong Kong] uses biodiesel or not depends on their own wishes," he said. "And it's still more expensive than normal diesel, so of course not everyone makes that choice."

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