Best of our wild blogs: 17 Jan 14

Seahorses and other spineless wonders!
from Pulau Hantu

Say hello to the brown anole
from Life's Indulgences

Strangling figs and their host trees
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Man jailed 15 months for smuggling rhinoceros horns

Channel NewsAsia 17 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE: A Vietnamese man was on Thursday sentenced to 15 months in jail for smuggling rhinoceros horns worth S$1.7 million through Singapore.

The 22-year-old had eight horns, weighing almost 22 kilogrammes, in his luggage bag in January 10 when he passed through Changi Airport in transit to Laos from Dubai.

He was immediately arrested.

Investigations revealed that the accused had travelled to Mozambique to buy the horns to be brought back to Vietnam for sale.

To evade checks, he had also travelled to other African countries before taking a flight from Uganda to Vietnam via Dubai, Singapore and Laos.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore experts said the horns were taken from the African black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), which is a critically endangered species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA), permits are required for any import, export and re-export of CITES species, including their parts and products.

It is also an offence under the ESA if the species or their parts and products are not accompanied by proper CITES permits when they are in transit or being shipped through Singapore.

Penalties for infringing the Act include fines of up to S$50,000 per species (not exceeding a maximum aggregate of $500,000) and/or up to two years' imprisonment.

- CNA/ms

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Malaysia: Whale beaches in Bintulu

Dennis Wong New Straits Times 17 Jan 14;

SAVED: It swims back into the sea two hours later

BINTULU: A JUVENILE fin whale was found beached near Kampung Kuala Tatau here yesterday.
People were alerted about the stranded 12m-long calf about 10am after a villager saw it spouting water from its blowhole.

Masuhut Ayub, 55, who spotted the whale, said: "The water shot up 2m high. I decided to take a look, and only then realised the whale was stranded on the shore."

He alerted other villagers to help bring the mammal back into the sea, but their efforts were hampered by the low tide.

"All we could do was keep the whale wet, as its skin was showing signs of stress from being exposed to the sun.

"We believe that the whale could have found its way here during the low tide in the morning," said Masuhut.

Villagers took turns to pour water on the whale, while waiting for the tide to rise.

They believed that it may have lost its way, following bad weather the previous day.

The whale managed to swim back into the sea two hours later, at high tide about noon.

On Dec 28, the carcass of a short-finned pilot whale was found washed ashore at Pasir Panjang in Santubong, near Kuching.

The Sarawak Forestry department said it was the first discovery of the whale species in the state. The pilot whale's discovery marked the 16th species of marine mammal found in Sarawak.

Whale stranded in Bintulu
The Star 17 Jan 14;

BINTULU: A whale, which was still alive, was found stranded on the Kuala Tatau beach early Wednesday morning by a family who were out walking on the beach.

Rosmiros Mesral, 50, said she and her family members found the whale stranded motionless on the beach.

"Initially, I did not expect this large object on the beach to be a whale. I moved closer and realised it was indeed a whale. I immediately called my husband and children," she said when contacted Thursday.

The mother of three said the whale started to move after her son poured water on its head.

"The whale started to move and my family and I were shocked to see tears flowing from its eyes.

"Sympathising with its condition, we started pushing the whale towards the sea. It was difficult but we succeeded in pushing it back into the sea by 11 am," she said.

Rosmiros regarded the incident as strange because there had never been such an incident on the Kuala Tatau beach in the past.

"I was born in Bintulu. This is the first time this strange incident took place. It could be due to the weather and the condition of the sea which caused it to be stranded," he said.

News on the finding of the whale was disseminated widely on the social media since yesterday leading rise to various speculation among the local populace.

Among others, the fear of a recurrence of tsunami and there were others who connected the incident to monsoon season. - Bernama

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Beijing's mayor urges "all-out effort" to curb air pollution

Sui-Lee Wee PlanetArk 17 Jan 14;

Beijing's mayor pledged on Thursday to cut coal use by 2.6 million tonnes and set aside 15 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) to improve air quality this year as part of the city's "all-out effort" to tackle air pollution, state news agency Xinhua said.

The announcement by Wang Anshun came as the capital was blanketed in its worst smog in months. An index measuring PM2.5 particles, especially bad for health, reached 500 in much of the capital in the early hours.

A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

Coal-burning boilers inside Beijing's fifth ring road - covering the built-up area of the city - will be eliminated and measures taken against coal burning in the capital's periphery, Xinhua quoted Wang as saying.

The city also aims to ban all heavily polluting vehicles this year, cut new car registrations and promote new energy vehicles, Wang said.

Beijing reported 58 days of serious pollution last year, or one every six to seven days on average, Xinhua quoted Zhang Dawei, director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center, as saying.

Separately, Xinhua said China had shut down 8,347 heavily polluting companies last year in northern Hebei province, which has the worst air in the country, as the government moves to tackle a problem that has been a source of discontent.

Local authorities will block new projects and punish officials in regions where pollution is severe due to lax enforcement, Xinhua cited Yang Zhiming, deputy director of the Hebei provincial bureau of environmental protection, as saying.

High pollution levels have sparked widespread public anger and officials concerned about social unrest have responded by implementing tougher policies.

Hebei, the country's biggest steel producer, is home to as many as seven of its 10 most polluted cities, Xinhua said, citing statistics published monthly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Pollution in Hebei often spreads to neighboring Beijing and Tianjin.

Some small high-polluting plants are being relocated to remote areas to avoid oversight, Xinhua quoted Yang as saying. He said the government would "beef up the industrial crackdown".

China has drawn up dozens of laws and guidelines to improve the environment but has struggled to enforce them in the face of powerful enterprises.

On Wednesday, China's commercial capital, Shanghai, introduced emergency measures, allowing it to shut schools and order cars off the road in case of severe smog.

Hebei plans to slash crude steel output by 15 million tonnes in 2014 and cut coal consumption by the same amount as part of anti-pollution measures.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Hotter longer, Australian heat wave pressuring commodities

Matt Siegel and Colin Packham PlanetArk 17 Jun 14;

Australia can expect even longer and hotter heat waves than the one now scorching wide swathes of the country, a climate research group said on Thursday, raising questions about its long-term position as an agricultural powerhouse.

A blistering heat wave has settled over Australia's south and southeast for nearly a week, with soaring temperatures causing worry after players and fans alike collapsed at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in Melbourne.

Temperatures on Thursday continued to rise, with the mercury in Melbourne set to tick over at 44 Celsius (111 Fahrenheit), two degrees higher than Wednesday when one player, Canadian Frank Dancevic, hallucinated the cartoon dog Snoopy before fainting during a match.

Adelaide's expected 46C, though, will earn the distinction of being the world's hottest city on Thursday, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organisation.

The privately run Climate Council, which includes former members of a government-funded climate change watchdog shut by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's conservative government last year, warned in a report that Australia had only begun to feel the impact of climate change.

The heat wave, says the report's author, Will Steffen, follows the felling of a host of temperature records in 2013, including the hottest year on record.

"Australia has always had hot weather. However, climate change is loading the dice toward more extreme hot weather," Steffen said.

Hoping to do avert disastrous climate change, Australia aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, a target that requires a cut of 431 million tonnes of CO2 between now and 2020.

The government released details of a A$1.55 billion ($1.37 bln) Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) last month but some experts say design flaws and a lack of clarity mean it is unlikely to meet its climate targets.

Phil Cohn, co-founder of clean technology project developers Ramp Carbon, told Reuters the biggest problem with the ERF is that it sets no overall cap on emissions for Australia, meaning there would be no mechanism to ensure pollution doesn't spiral.

"If we emit more in sectors that don't participate much in the ERF auctions, we are going to miss the target," he said.


Prolonged heat waves would threaten Australia's agricultural production and undermine its policy of being the "food bowl of Asia", analysts said.

"It will be much harder to maintain production if you have such extreme weather events," said Paul Deane, senior agricultural economist at ANZ Bank.

"Higher temperatures tends to lead to more evaporation of any rain, all of sudden the water availability for crops is reduced, which will have a big impact on crops like wheat and sugar."

Australia is the world's second largest wheat exporter and the third largest raw sugar exporter.

While the wheat harvest is now complete for the 2013/14 season, saving broadacre farmers from the brunt of the current heat-wave, livestock farmers across the east coast are struggling.

Benchmark Australian beef prices, the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator, have fallen almost 10 percent in the last month as farmers, struggling to find sufficient water and food for animals, send increased numbers to slaughter.

Australia's cattle herd will fall to 25 million head during the 2013/14 season, the lowest since the 2009/10 season, due to increased slaughtering, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences said in December.

Australia, the world's third largest beef exporter, is forecast to sell 1.085 million tonnes in the current season, buoyed by increased slaughter rates and strong Chinese demand.

Australia must invest in greater research to understand how the intensifying heat waves will have an impact across a wide range of infrastructure, Steffen says.

"It is essential that we understand the influence of climate change on heat waves to ensure that health services, transport providers, farmers and the community are prepared for what is happening now and what will happen increasingly in the future," he said.

(Additional reporting by Stian Reklev; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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UN climate report urges quicker switch to low-carbon global economy

Emissions still increasing, according to leaked IPCC findings, with urgent action required to avert worst effects
Associated Press 17 Jan 14;

Delaying action on global warming will only increase the costs and reduce the options for dealing with its worst effects, according to a draft report by UN experts.

The final draft of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global warming will continue to increase unless countries shift quickly to clean energy and cut emissions.

A leaked version circulating with media outlets and news agencies says that despite national policies and international efforts emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are warming the planet grew 2.2% per year on average between 2000 and 2010, compared with 1.3% per year from 1970 to 2000.

The two main drivers were a sharp rise in economic growth and a steady growth in the world's population, the report said. The largest contributor to global emissions was the burning of oil and coal and the draft report says its contribution is expected to rise. Unless "explicit efforts" are made to reduce emissions, the experts warn, increased conservation and efficiency will not be enough.

With increasing demand for energy and the growing use of coal to generate electricity, the experts say emissions from the sector are projected to double or triple by 2050 from the level in 2010 unless improvements in clean energy are "significantly accelerated".

International climate negotiators agreed at the 2009 UN climate change conference in Copenhagen that global warming this century must increase by less than 2C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Scientists say that target requires atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, to stay below 530 parts per million (PPM). The level recently surpassed 400PPM.

The report said the majority of scenarios to stay below 530PPM throughout the 21st century would require reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% of 2010 levels by 2050. The experts call for new patterns of investment and a transformation into a low-carbon economy.

The global total annual investment in the energy system is presently about US$1.2tn. The experts estimate that in order to stabilise the atmospheric concentration of CO2 between 430 and 530ppm investment in fossil fuels would have to decline by $30bn a year between 2010 and 2029, while investment in non-carbon producing energy sources would have to rise by $147bn a year.

The report argues many renewable energy technologies are increasingly efficient and cost-effective but need support if their market share is to increase.

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