Best of our wild blogs: 15 Nov 2013

Oriental Pied Hornbill feeding and vocalisation
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Powered by Google, high resolution forest map reveals massive deforestation worldwide from news by Rhett Butler

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Separate areas for people, monkeys will help us co-exist

Winnie Yeo Boon Eng Today Online 15 Nov 13;

I wish to highlight an incident, with no intention of blaming either party, that shows the problem of wild monkeys co-existing with humans in a modified natural environment. (“People who feed macaques should be held accountable”; Nov 13)

On Saturday, an elderly man with a backpack fell off the boardwalk between the forest and the water at MacRitchie Reservoir in an attempt to avoid monkeys that appeared to attack him. He had avoided eye contact while walking towards them, as is advisable.

But after two of them approached him aggressively, he moved quickly to the edge of the walkway and missed his footing. The monkeys might not have intended to attack him, but they may have been attracted to his backpack, which could have contained food.

The forest is home to monkeys, but it has also been modified into an environment suitable for human beings. Both parties have as much right to be there. However, peaceful co-existence is now impossible.

The accident would not have happened if the territories for monkeys and humans were clearly defined.

There should be signs to prohibit people from going into the deeper part of the forest, while monkeys should not be permitted to roam the forest edge, which has been modified for human use.

If segregation can be achieved, then similar accidents can be prevented in future.

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Nature reserve worth more than cost to save it

Ong Jun Yuan Today Online 15 Nov 13;

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) plans to build the Cross Island Line (CRL), slated for completion in 2030, as part of the expansion of Singapore’s MRT network.

The current proposed route would cut through our Central Catchment Nature Reserve and “severely degrade ancient, species-rich and highly complex ecosystems”, according to the Nature Society (Singapore), which has proposed an alternative route.

Despite the talk of losing biodiversity and damaging our forests, these issues carry little weight with ordinary citizens who have no particular passion for nature.

We are more concerned about bread-and-butter issues such as transportation and construction costs, travelling time and how these affect our daily life.

If the Nature Society’s proposal is accepted, construction costs and travelling time would increase.

Yet, while cost is one of the main considerations of any project, I believe there is a case for avoiding the reserve.

First, one should consider the cost as being distributed over the years until the CRL is completed.

What may seem like a big amount, say S$1 billion, would work out to about S$66.7 million per year over 15 years, an increase of 0.125 per cent of our country’s yearly budget, based on the current budget of S$53.4 billion.

This is a small price to pay for preserving our reserve. While it may be argued that the money could be better spent on other programmes to benefit the population, could their success be guaranteed? The effect of preserving a nature reserve cannot be disputed.

A similar event happened before. In 1986, the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) was built, separating the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from the Central Catchment forest.

Today, the construction of Eco-Link@BKE, a collaboration between the National Parks Board and the LTA, serves to link the two nature reserves again, albeit only along a fraction of the swathe that was cut to construct the BKE.

This will provide a bridge for animals to once again move across freely. So, it can be seen that the Government recognises the value of our nature reserves and biodiversity.

As of now, the CRL’s route has yet to be finalised. What may seem like a simple map exercise, a line drawn on paper, may have permanent effects in future.

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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Wildlife sanctuary for rescued animals opens

Siau Ming En Today Online 15 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE — Rescued and rehabilitated wild animals, previously caged in a quarantine facility, can now be cared for at the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society’s (ACRES) new wildlife sanctuary.

Built by more than 100 volunteers over six months, the new sanctuary at ACRES Wildlife Rescue Centre was yesterday officially opened by Minister of State (National Development) Desmond Lee.

“I think that (this) kind of community involvement is the kind of involvement that we would like to encourage — getting involved, getting your hands dirty, working the ground,” he said.

Together with ACRES volunteers, Mr Lee helped to release 46 animals, including turtles and an iguana, into the 300 sq m sanctuary. ACRES rescues some 200 animals every month, mostly injured or abandoned victims of the illegal wildlife trade.

The sanctuary will allow the animals to roam outdoors after they have been treated for their injuries and free up space in the current quarantine facility, which has reached its full capacity, said ACRES Chief Executive Louis Ng.

A programme is also underway with the aim of eventually releasing the animals back into the wild in their native countries. There are plans, for instance, to release a star tortoise, dubbed Big Momma, back to India. She was smuggled here and was among the animals released yesterday.

But the entire process could take years because of all the paperwork required, said Mr Ng. In some countries, including India, there are additional requirements, such as a year-long quarantine before the animals can return, he added.

Mr Ng revealed that ACRES will be building more enclosures, such as an upcoming one for snakes. But he said that, amid the rescue work, there is a vital need to educate the public about the illegal trading of wild animals.

“If people stop buying, people will stop smuggling them,” he added.

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Public service is about working with citizens to "achieve better outcomes"

Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 14 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Placing citizens at the centre of what the public service does is more than just delivering good service.

It is also about creating opportunities for Singaporeans to go beyond being customers to being partners, collaborators, and co-creators in achieving better public outcomes.

This was the message from Head of the Civil Service Peter Ong to public servants on Thursday.

Mr Ong said: "To truly be citizen-centric, we will increasingly need to work across multiple agencies as one public service. We must put aside differences in organisational cultures and divisions of responsibilities to give our citizens seamless and coherent experiences."

Mr Ong was speaking at an awards ceremony that recognises innovative ideas and projects by public officers and agencies that have made an impact within and beyond their organisations.

And to promote further innovation across the entire public service, Project Tomorrow was launched on Thursday to harness the ideas of all public officers.

They will be encouraged to make suggestions beyond their own agencies and develop government-wide solutions.

They can submit their ideas and suggestions through a mobile app, and these will be made available on the government intranet for other officers to comment, vote or improve on.

- CNA/gn

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Q&A: Indonesia Still at High Risk for Catastrophic Fires

Lusha Chen IPS 14 Nov 13;

Lusha Chen interviews Dr. NIGEL SIZER of the World Resources Institute

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2013 (IPS) - In June, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were enveloped in haze as hundreds of forest fires burned across the island of Sumatra, in the worst pollution crisis to hit Southeast Asia in more than a decade.

An analysis by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute (WRI) determined that 150,000 square kilometres burned – more than twice the size of Singapore. Worse, nearly three-quarters of the fires in the study area burned on peatland (a soil layer composed of partly decomposed organic material, often several metres deep), which acts as a sink to absorb planet-heating carbon dioxide.

Dr. Nigel Sizer, the director of WRI’s Global Forest Initiative, spoke with IPS correspondent Lusha Chen about the obstacles they confronted in investigating the fires, and what countries in the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can do to prevent this recurring environmental catastrophe.

Q: Regarding the most recent fires across Sumatra, what efforts are being undertaken and what efforts should be taken to investigate the cause of the fire and potential culprits?

A: Achieving full accountability for the fires in Sumatra is important, but it will not be easy. Officials in Indonesia, Singapore, and elsewhere are currently investigating who started the fires and who is legally responsible. Several companies that operate palm oil and pulpwood concessions, as well as a few individuals, have already been implicated.

Still, it remains to be seen exactly who will be officially prosecuted and what the penalty will be. Knowing who is legally responsible can be determined only after careful collection of evidence and proper due process.

A major hurdle is that land ownership information in Indonesia is complex, difficult to obtain and opaque. Analysis from the World Resources Institute found that determining who is legally responsible managing the land where fires occurred is a huge challenge.

For example, although many fires were concentrated in company concession lands set aside for palm oil or pulpwood development, simply identifying which companies manage the land proves very difficult. The company concession data are inconsistent between the Ministry of Forestry, the provincial and district governments, and even more so with the self-reported data from the companies.

Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia should work together to try and unravel the complex ownership structures of the companies, and their subsidiaries, to understand who manages the land where fires may have occurred.

Q: In the report, you called on ASEAN leaders to act together to stop the pollution. Did this happen at the recent meeting in Brunei?

A: In October the heads of state from the ASEAN countries took some positive steps towards combatting the illegal and harmful fires that cause the haze. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand agreed to adopt a joint “haze monitoring system” and share digital land-use and concession maps on a government-to-government basis. These are good steps towards transparency and accountability.

But much more progress needs to be made. The governments stopped short of making concession and land use data entirely public, which would allow for independent monitoring of fire-prone areas by civil society. The ASEAN governments can also do more to ensure that companies operating in multiple countries in the region are held to responsible for their operations in Sumatra.

Ultimately, enforcement on the ground in Indonesia remains the most important thing. The risk of further fires will remain high unless the no-burn policies as strictly enforced at a local level. This will require support from national and local governments, as well as corporate buyers and consumers who purchase commodities produced in the area.

Q: How seriously are the fires contributing to Indonesia’s GHG emissions, and what are the long-term consequences if the problem is not addressed?

A: The fires are an enormous contributor to Indonesia’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and will have profound impacts on the country’s climate strategies.

Calculating the emissions from the fires is be extremely difficult, due to uncertainly in the depth and quantity peat, a soil layer of partly-decomposed organic material that can emit large amounts of gas when burned. According to estimates from Indonesia’s national office on climate change*, changes in land use (including fires) and the effects on peatland account for 79 percent of Indonesia’s total emissions. This is globally significant, as Indonesia is, by some accounts, the third largest emitter in the world.

The Indonesian government has pledged to cut emissions 26 percent (or 41 percent with international assistance) by 2020 compared to business-as-usual. It will be very difficult for them to meet this ambitious goal without addressing the issue of fires on forest and peatland.

Q: Slash-and-burn is a very traditional way to clear the land for planting. What efforts should be taken at the grassroots level?

A: We need greater awareness and political will from the leaders on the ground. Elected officials, local governments, and local communities need to take strong action to ensure that illegal burning is controlled. Local farmers should be given alternatives to burning, such as access to mechanised equipment that can make clearing and planting easier.

It is also vital that major plantation companies prohibit their local company operators and suppliers from burning land. Similarly, corporate buyers of commodities like palm oil and pulp and paper should ensure that their supply chains are not linked to companies suspected of burning.

Getting the markets to send the right message will help ensure that local farmers and company operators understand the damage that the fires cause.

Change on the ground cannot happen without them.

(*Citation: DNPI (2010) Indonesia’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve. Dewan Nasional Perubahan Iklim, Jakarta, Indonesia.)

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Malaysia: Maliau Basin off limits for another 50 years

Muguntan Vanar The Star 15 Nov 13;

KOTA KINABALU: The Maliau Basin, Sabah’s Lost World that is described as a “Jurassic Park sans dinosaurs”, will not be touched for another 50 years.

This commitment was renewed under a 10-year strategic conservation plan for the sprawling 20,000ha area in Tawau, in the south central part of Sabah, at a management plan stakeholders workshop for the basin here.

Yayasan Sabah’s conservation and environmental management general manager Dr Waidi Simun said the ban would not be lifted under the second plan from 2014 to 2023.

“This area will remain out of bounds to anyone – including our rangers – until the expiry of the 50-year commitment,” he said at the start of the workshop for the Maliau Basin Conservation Area here yesterday.

The stakeholders meeting was opened by state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Nyuk Ming.

“It is part of our commitment to allow future generations to study an area totally untouched by man,” Dr Waidi said, adding the first 10-year plan was from 2003 to this year.

He said under the first plan, a Maliau Basin Studies Centre was set up at the southeast edge of the basin for research, conservation, education and eco-tourism purposes.

Various international and local organisations have helped to build satellite camps, trail and bridge construction, observation towers, a Maliau skybridge and a reception and information building.

He said under the next plan, more intensive research in the area would be carried out, as the first plan had focused on auditing the area and placing basic infrastructure facilities.

Opening the meeting, Pang said efforts were still under way to place the Danum-Maliau-Imbak (DaMal) area as a World Heritage site.

“The nomination of DaMal was endorsed through the state cabinet and submitted to the National Heritage Department by my ministry.

“The final dossier is expected to be completed by the end of this year,” he said.

The Maliau Basin contains an unusual assemblage of 12 forest types, comprising mainly lower montane forest dominated by majestic Agathis trees, rare montane heath forest and lowland, and hill diperocarp forest.

There is also the seven-tier Maliau Falls.

Keen visitors must obtain permission to enter the Maliau Basin in advance from Yayasan Sabah.

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