Best of our wild blogs: 19 Jan 14

Life History of the Chocolate Demon
from Butterflies of Singapore

A Quick Morning Walk At Venus Drive (18 Jan 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

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Sinabung volcanic ash has low likelihood of affecting Singapore: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 18 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the likelihood of volcanic ash from Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra affecting Singapore is low.

NEA added the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is expected to remain in the ‘Good’ band.

Mount Sinabung has been in a state of intermittent volcanic activity since 15 September 2013.

NEA said to date, Singapore has not been affected by the volcanic ash from this volcanic activity.

The Meteorological Services Singapore (MSS) has been closely monitoring the situation as volcanic activity has intensified in recent days.

Based on dispersion model simulations by MSS and the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, volcanic ash is expected to move south but will be confined within the northern half of Sumatra over the next one to two days.

NEA said under current conditions, there may be a slight deterioration in air quality should some volcanic ash reach Singapore.

It added the amount of ash that may reach Singapore is likely to be small and the duration relatively short, posing little to no health risk to the public.

MSS will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates on developments.

- CNA/ec

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Malaysia: Massive floods due to climate change -- Prime Minister

The Star 19 Jan 14;

PEKAN: The massive floods in the east coast early last month was due to climate change and should not be blamed on anyone, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

He said the phenomenon was caused by centuries of unchecked development which had severely affected the environment.

“It afflicts every country in the world. In New York, the Arctic storm has caused the temperature to drop to -52°C.

”The cold left 21 people dead and the terrible condition has impacted the economy of the world’s superpower. We cannot blame anyone for this because this is the effects of our development,” Najib said at an aid presentation for flood victims and volunteer appreciation ceremony here yesterday.

He said the unusual rainfall of 777mm in Jabor, Terengganu on Dec 2 was more than double the amount of a month’s rain.

”The only thing we can do is to make careful preparations to reduce the impact of the floods,” said Najib, adding that the Cabinet had received proposals from the Flood Disaster Committee, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, to improve the flood management standard operating procedure to be more efficient.

He said among the upgrades suggested was for the Meteorological Department and the Irrigation and Drainage Department (JPS) to utilise the latest technology in improving its early warning systems.

”We have also asked JPS to prepare flood mitigation plans. However, the cost is very high and the Government has to consider the affordability first before making any decisions,” he said.

Najib said the flood mitigation measures put forward by Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said costs RM480mil while the plan to insulate the entire Sungai Isap in Kuantan would come up to RM700mil.

Besides that, the Government had to purchase boats, heavier trucks and other assets, he said.

On the flood assistance programme, Najib said up to 1,504 affected families in Pekan would receive RM750 in cash aid, a mattress, pillows, a kitchen stove, refrigerator, television set and rice cooker each.

Govt to boost anti-flood measures
New Straits Times 19 Jan 14;

PEKAN: Climate change and unpredictable weather patterns have prompted the government to further improve the country's flood warning system and mitigation plans to help reduce the impact of natural disasters in future.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the cabinet had accepted the recommendations made by the Natural Disaster Management Committee which, among others, proposed that the Meteorological Department and the Drainage and Irrigation Department use the latest technology for better weather forecasting and public announcements.

At the same time, he said the government would also consider the flood mitigation plans for areas affected by floods, which would involve huge allocations.

"Flood mitigation projects are costly and we need to look at our financial ability before we can approve them," he said at a function to distribute aid to flood victims in Pekan yesterday. He also presented certificates to volunteers.

Najib said the Terengganu state government had requested RM480 million for flood mitigation projects for the state, while Kuantan would require RM700 million to help resolve its flood problems.

He said the government would first procure more assets that could be used during natural disasters, including boats and larger trucks.

"We are also reviewing our standard operating procedures (SOP) to provide a more efficient machinery to assist victims when a natural disaster strikes."

Najib said climate change had also affected developed countries, including the United States, where the temperature in certain areas plummeted to negative 52 degrees Celcius recently due to an Arctic blast.

He said it was not right to blame anyone for the recent floods in the east coast and urged all parties to find ways to reduce the impact of the floods and to assist the victims.

Citing Pekan as an example, Najib, who is also its member of parliament, said the district was often flooded when high volume of water upstream of Sungai Pahang met the high tide.

"But now the floods are caused by heavy downpours, as seen on Dec 2," he said, adding the Kemaman district recorded an extraordinary amount of rainfall on the same day, which was higher than the whole month in previous years.

Najib said Barisan Nasional leaders would find ways to increase aid to flood victims, as the RM500 cash assistance for each family affected by floods was no longer sufficient.
"The BN government will always be with the people through thick and thin. I will ensure victims get more this time around."

A total of 1,504 families received RM750 cash assistance each with RM500 contributed by the Federal Government and RM250 from the state.

Each family also received various items, including a mattress and two pillows from Kelab Putera 1Malaysia, an LED television set from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, a refrigerator from the Pekan Umno division and a rice cooker, which was Najib's personal contribution.

Recipient Fatimah Ismail, 46, said the assistance given by the government proved that its leaders understood the difficulties faced by the people.

"We should be grateful, as our government provides us various types of assistance."

"If we look at other countries, their people were left struggling to rebuild their lives after natural disasters."

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Malaysia: Sun bear centre opens to public

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 19 Jan 14;

RAISING AWARENESS: It's the world's only NGO-run facility

SANDAKAN: After six years of toying with the idea, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is now accessible to the public who want to get close to the world's smallest bear.
The opening of the centre is expected to raise awareness and encourage research on the endangered species.

It is learnt that the conservation centre, housing 28 sun bears is the only facility of its kind in the world run by a non-governmental organisation.

It was set up in 2008 through the collaboration of the Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

Located next to the world renowned Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, its key facilities include an observation platform, boardwalk and a visitors' centre.

However, the two houses, which provide a natural habitat for the sun bears, are not accessible to visitors.

BSBCC founder Wong Siew Te said in its effort to raise awareness, the centre had moved forward to let the people get a better view and understanding of sun bears.

"Now, we can educate the public on the importance of sun bears and the forest.

"Research and rehabilitation will come next as this is a long-term project, and here to stay."
Sun bears are classified as a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, providing it the same status as the orang-utan and Sumatran rhinoceros.
Found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo, the exact number of sun bears in the wild is unknown.

This makes it even more pressing to reduce pressure on a species classified as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and at risk of becoming endangered.
Habitat loss and poaching for its parts for use in traditional medicine are among key threats that have led to a decline of by at least 30 per cent of its population in the last three decades.

Other threats include illegal capture for the pet trade and killed when wrongly perceived as pests.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said the department would endeavour to increase enforcement efforts in clamping down on those who keep the species as pets or trade its parts.

He stressed that no licence had been issued for anyone to own sun bears, except to the BSBCC and the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.

"Our department will also work tirelessly to ensure that sun bears can be released back into the wild, subject to their adaptation to the habitat.

"It is also our hope that this centre will facilitate research on sun bears and conduct outreach programmes to raise awareness on the dangers of keeping this species in captivity."

The centre is open daily from 9am to 3.30pm. Fees are RM5 for Malaysians above 17 and RM2 for citizens between 12 and 17.

The fee for foreigners is RM30 (above 17) and RM15 (between 12 to 17 years). Admission is free for children under 12.

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Malaysia: Johor - an ecotourism paradise

Mohd Farhaan Shah The Star 19 Jan 14;

JOHOR BARU: Johor’s rich flora and fauna will be promoted to both local and foreign tourists during Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

Tourism Ministry state director Mohammad Isa Abdul Halim said many tourists are attracted to Johor due to its attractive ecotourism packages.

He added that Johor has six national parks that are easily accessible and located along the state’s east and west coasts.

“Besides that, we also have many beautiful islands in our waters, with white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue waters.

“Our attractive ecotourism packages have attracted tourists from European countries, Japan and Singapore,” he said, before joining more than 600 riders at the Tanjung Piai National Park yesterday.

Mohammad Isa said Johor aims to get more than four million visitors to the state during VMY 2014. This is compared to three million visitors last year.

He said the ministry was working closely with stakeholders and industry players to make Johor a top tourist destination.

“We have the ingredients to make the state attractive to all tourists, no matter what they prefer,” he said.

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Malaysia not deterring ivory smugglers

Isabelle Lai The Star 19 Jan 14;

PETALING JAYA: Despite nine high-profile ivory seizures worth millions of ringgit since 2011, Malaysian authorities have yet to make any significant arrests that will help stamp out our reputation as a transit country for the illegal ivory trade.

According to Dr Chris Shepherd, regional director of wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic South-East Asia, intelligence-led investigations to break down the wildlife crime networks here are still not seen as a priority nor carried out to their fullest extent.

He pointed out that smugglers would not invest so much money in moving tonnes of ivory through Malaysia if they thought it was too risky.

“It’s like electricity. Smugglers look for the path of least resistance. If they think they are going to get away with it here, then they will do it here,” he told The Star.

Merely seizing shipments and arresting carriers or mules of the trade, he said, were not enough to deter smugglers from using Malaysia as a transit point.

“It’s just going to make the dealers lose some money, but that’s about it. Elephants are still going to be killed unless trade chains are broken and kingpins put behind bars,” he said.

One of the biggest concerns, he said, was that large volumes of ivory had slipped through Malaysia undetected on numerous occasions.

According to statistics from the Elephant Trade Information System (Etis), a database used to analyse global ivory trade patterns and seizures, 31 seizures involved Malaysia since 2011, with nine seizures here and 22 seizures elsewhere.

At least four of the cases listed Malaysia as an “importer” country, while the rest, which included Malaysia as a transit point, were destined for other countries in South-East and East Asia.

Shepherd acknowledged the hugely challenging task facing the Royal Malaysian Customs Department, given that millions of containers transit through Port Klang a year.

“It’s impossible to check all cargo. That is why working with source and importing countries is so important.

“Such collaboration would assist Customs and other Malaysian enforcement agencies in becoming a much more efficient force against the trade, acquiring more useful information, increasing interceptions and arrests, and ultimately reducing the flow of illegal ivory,” he said, stressing that it all came down to improved multi-agency cooperation and intelligence-led investigations.

For example, he said that Etis has now shown the country of Togo to be a prominent link to Malaysia for ivory smuggling, and has shown that over the past five years, many shipments were disguised as wood or wood chips.

“So, let’s increase our surveillance of wood chips coming in from Togo en route to Hong Kong,” he suggested, adding that the Etis database shows which countries have been sending ivory through Malaysia.

However, Dr Shepherd commended Customs for their initiative in fighting against illegal ivory smuggling, including working with Traffic South-East Asia to train its officers.

“We hope to see wildlife crime continue to become a higher priority for Customs, the judiciary, police and Department of Wildlife and National Parks. The highest levels of Government must recognise this as a serious issue,” he said, adding that this must in turn lead to increased levels of successful enforcement at ports, airports and borders.

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