Best of our wild blogs: 13 Mar 14

Butterflies Galore! : Suffused Flash
from Butterflies of Singapore

Heron Watch - participate in the second island-wide survey of resident herons of Singapore from Habitatnews

Conservationists catch wild Sumatran rhino, raising hope for world's most endangered rhinoceros from news

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Indonesia: Team formed to hunt for land burners in Riau

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 13 Mar 14;

The Riau Police have established a team to hunt for forest and land burners as open burning activities have become more rampant in the province.

Excessive burning has aggravated thick clouds of haze affecting areas in Riau and has forced the provincial administration to extend its smoke emergency status until March 26.

The joint team comprising police and military personnel, forest rangers, as well as prosecutor offices and National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) officials, is divided into nine groups consisting of between 50 and 70 personnel each.

Riau Police chief Brig.Gen.Condro Kirono said similar teams were formed in the past.

“They all worked on their own, however. Now, they are united under one command,” said Condro, who is also deputy commander for law enforcement at the Riau haze mitigation task force.

He was speaking after dispatching the team in a ceremony at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru on Wednesday.

“We deliberately formed a team to hunt for alleged land burning perpetrators so that, from now on, law enforcement can be carried out widely,” Condro said.

He further said police and military personnel involved in the operation would be equipped with weapons to create a deterrent effect.

Two locations that will reportedly be the main targets of the team are Giam Siak Kecil biosphere reserve area in Bukit Batu district, Bengkalis and peat forests in Teluk Meranti district, Pelalawan.

Five groups have been dispatched to Giam Siak Kecil to hunt for thousands of illegal loggers who have destroyed the conservation area while the remaining four groups will be sent to Teluk Meranti to prevent fires in the peat forests from spreading.

“Teluk Meranti was one of areas that was worst hit by forest fires in Pelalawan,” said Condro.

There was a significant rise in the number of hotspots detected in Riau on Wednesday. According to satellite observations by the Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), the total number of hotspots in Sumatra had reached 2,390, 2,046 of which were in Riau.

“[On Tuesday] there were only 63 hotspots in Riau,” said the BMKG Pekanbaru’s head of data and information, Slamet Riyadi. (tjs/ebf)

Task force deploy 558 personnel to hunt down forest encroachers
Antara 13 Mar 14;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Riau Haze Emergency Task Force has deployed 558 personnel to hunt down forest encroachers and arsonists that caused forest, plantation and peat-soil fires in Riau.

"The deployment of hundreds of personnel is to strengthen the legal enforcement," Chief of the Riau Police Brigadier General Condro Kirono, in his capacity as the commander of the task forces legal enforcement unit, stated here on Wednesday.

The personnel include police officers, military officers, forest rangers and members of the intelligent agency, he pointed out.

The 558 personnel are divided into nine teams with each consisting of 62 people. The legal enforcement operation will be organized until March 26.

Four teams are deployed to Pelalawan District with the focus on Meranti Gulf that shares border with the Kerumutan sanctuary, where a number of hotspots were detected, he added.

The other five teams are deployed to Bengkalis District and they will particularly hunt down those who had encroached the Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu biosphere reserve.

"The teams going to Bengkalis could also go to Rupat Island where a number of hotspots have been detected," he explained.

The Riau police have detained 36 people who allegedly set fires illegally to clear land for farming and plantation.

Of the 36 detainees, 16 were encroachers of the Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu biosphere reserve.

The Riau military office has also detained a military officer identified by as Chief Sergeant Sudigdo alias Digdo, who was suspected of having financed the encroachment. (*)

Editor: Heru

Schools closed in Tanahdatar due to choking haze
The Jakarta Post 12 Mar 14;

The Tanahdatar regency administration in West Sumatra suspended school activities on Wednesday due to the thick and choking haze blanketing the city over the last few days.

“As air pollution has reached a very hazardous level, the authorities are forced to send students home from several schools so as to protect their health,” Tanahdatar Regent M. Sadiq Pasadigoe said on Wednesday as quoted by Antara news agency.

Desrizal, spokesman of Tanahdatar regency administration, said that all students from kindergartens to senior high schools had been instructed to remain at home.

"The school closures will be from Thursday to Saturday. If the haze problem worsens, the closures will be extended," he said.

Sadiq said that the thick haze in the regency was sparked by uncontrolled peatland and forest fires in neighboring Riau province.

The thick haze has disrupted the daily activities of local people with visibility dropping sharply and many residents suffering from respiratory illnesses.

“We've asked the residents to reduce outdoor activities,” said Sadiq, adding that he would encourage residents to pray for rains on Friday. (yln)

Thick haze disrupts flights in Riau and Bengkulu
The Jakarta Post 12 Mar 14;

Dense haze blanketing Riau, caused by haze forest and peatland fires from rampant slash-and-burn techniques for land clearance, forced authorities to suspend flights at Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in Pekanbaru on Wednesday as the air-pollution situation deteriorated.

"From morning till noon not a single airplane attempted to land," Sultan Syarif Kasim airport duty manager Hasnan said as quoted by Antara news agency.

Despite the disruption, however, the airport remained open and the authorities would order closures if the facilities were severely affected, he said.

He explained that visibility at around 9:30 a.m. was only 300 meters, far below the minimum requirement of 1,000 meters. These conditions continued until noon, when the visibility increased to 600 meters.

Haze has disrupted flight activities in Riau for a month causing delays, diversions and cancellations of flights. In normal conditions Sultan Syarif Kasim airport accommodates around 80 flights per day, each carrying 100 to 150 passengers.

The haze problem not only disrupted flights to Pekanbaru, but also to Fatmawati Soekarno Airport in Bengkulu on Wednesday.

“Two flights [scheduled to arrive in Bengkulu] were diverted to Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport in Palembang [South Sumatra] due to the haze,” said Bengkulu Transportation Agency chief Eko Agusrianto.

Eko explained that it was impossible for the flights to land as visibility was only around 200 meters in Bengkulu. (atw)

Haze Forces Indonesian Province To Shut Down Airport
Bernama 13 Mar 14;

JAKARTA, March 13 (Bernama) --- Thick haze from land-clearing bushfires in Riau province of Sumatra led the closure of a main airport in the province on Thursday, China's Xinhua news agency reported an official as saying here.

The decision to halt operation of Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport was made by airliners following the worsening of feasibility that impaired operations, said transport ministry Bambang spokesman Ervan.

"The airliners decided to stop the airport operation today ( Thursday), tomorrow and the day after tomorrow as the feasibility is very short, it is only 400 meters," Ervan told Xinhua by phone.

"The resumption of operation would be done once there is a certainty" on the improvement of air quality particularly feasibility, he said.

Days prior to the closure more than 60 flight schedules had been aborted as thick smog worsened feasibility, according to Transport Ministry E.E. Mangindaan.

The thickening haze has also worsened air quality in the province, and the number of people suffering from respiratory trouble increased to a staggering 42,000, according to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of national disaster agency.

Indonesia has scrambled to extinguish blaze in the bush as farmers or companies make way for plantations in Riau province, home to the world's largest palm oil industry. Satellite observation on Tuesday detected 145 hotspots in the province.

Indonesia has been battered by land-clearing bush fires since the 1990s, as the haze engulfed neighboring Asean countries and caused losses of several billion US dollars.


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Vegetation fire breaks out along Woodlands Road

Reshma Ailmchandani Channel NewsAsia 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: A vegetation fire broke out along Woodlands Road on Wednesday at 7.05pm.

Pockets of fire in an area the size of one football field was extinguished using one water jet.

Two fire engines were also dispatched, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said, and no injuries were reported.

Three other fires were spotted on Wednesday.

The SCDF said there were 198 vegetation fires from January to February this year, a jump from 25 fires compared with the same period last year.

Most of the vegetation fires in January and February were minor in nature and there were no reported injuries from the vegetation fires.

Although there is an increase from last year, the figures are still lower when compared with the peak periods in 2005 and 2009.

In 2005, there were 532 fires in January and February, and in 2009 there were 341 fires during the same period.

SCDF advises the public not to throw lighted materials such as lighted cigarette butts onto grass patches, fields and rubbish dumps.

It added that the public should not discard unwanted items such as furniture, beds and mattresses at grass areas, fields or gardens as they can serve as additional fuel to burning vegetation.

Home owners with grass compounds should keep grass trimmed and watered, and incense papers should be burnt in incense burners such as those provided for by the town councils.

The burners should be placed on flat open ground at a safe distance from combustible materials and electrical sources (e.g. switch room).

After a prayer session, one should check around for smouldering incense in the vicinity and ensure that it is completely extinguished.

- CNA/gn

Fires break out as dry spell continues
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 13 Mar 14;

Four vegetation fires were reported around Singapore yesterday, with firefighters taking four hours to put out a blaze in an area measuring about eight football fields near Aviation Park Road. There were 198 vegetation fires in the first two months of this year, compared with 25 fires in the same period last year. Commenting on a bushfire at MacRitchie Reservoir in a Facebook post last week, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan had reminded the public to be careful and protect parks during the dry spell, which began on Feb 17.

Four vegetation fires reported around Singapore
Today Online 12 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Four vegetation fires were reported around Singapore today (March 12), with firefighters taking four hours to put out one of the blazes in an area measuring about eight football fields near Aviation Park Road.

The fire, which was reported at 4.09pm and involved pockets of fire, was extinguished using seven water jets, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). Close to 20 fire engines, Red Rhinos and support vehicles were sent to the scene.

Vegetation fires were also reported along Woodlands Road, Kheam Hock Road and Jalan Bumbong today. There were no reported injuries in all four incidents and investigations are ongoing.

The fire along Woodlands Road was reported at about 7.05pm. There were pockets of fire in an area measuring one football field. The fire was extinguished using one water jet, said the SCDF, which sent two fire engines to the location.

There were 198 vegetation fires for the first two months of this year, as compared to 25 fires for the same period last year. The SCDF said steps have been taken to monitor hot spots to detect fire risks and mitigate fires in light of the dry spell that Singapore has been experiencing since January.

Bush fires break out in Changi and Bukit Brown
David Ee, and Yeo Sam Jo The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Mar 14;

Firefighters spent two hours putting out a large fire at Bukit Brown Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon as Singapore's spate of bush fires continued during the record-breaking dry spell.

The blaze near Kheam Hock Road covered an area the size of 1½ football fields, according to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), which was alerted to it at 11.55am.

Two fire engines and one Red Rhino were deployed.

A second bush fire on Wednesday near Aviation Park Road in Changi took firefighters about four hours and seven water jets to extinguish. SCDF was alerted to the blaze at 4.09pm. It involved "pockets of fire" in an area about eight football fields in size. Five fire engines, five Red Rhinos and nine supporting vehicles were sent.

No injuries were reported in both fires.

There have been 198 bush fires in the first two months of this year, compared with just 25 during the same period last year, latest SCDF figures show.

Last Wednesday, a patch of forest near the MacRitchie Reservoir nature trail caught fire, while blazes have also broken out in vegetated areas in Yio Chu Kang, Punggol and Jurong East in the past fortnight.

Singapore is enduring one of its longest stretches of dry weather with barely any rain. Last month was the driest since 1869.

February is typically drier than other months here, which can lead to a higher risk of fires starting as vegetation dries out.

An SCDF spokesman said most of the fires have been minor, and there were no injuries.

The number of bush fires this year has already eclipsed the 185 for the whole of last year.

But it still pales in comparison to 2005, when a long dry spell sparked 800 fires, some of which even forced residents to evacuate their homes.

The SCDF said it is closely monitoring the trend and has stepped up patrols in vegetated areas. It has also sent an advisory asking government agencies in the Wildfire Task Force Committee to put in place fire prevention measures on land under their jurisdictions.

These include trimming vegetation more frequently, keeping land moist and building fire breaks or barriers to contain their spread.

Biggest fire the size of 8 football fields
Anne Hwarng The New Paper AsiaOne 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - With the dry spell lingering, bush fires broke out around the island on Wednesday, including at a patch of forest near Woodlands Bus Interchange, at Bukit Brown cemetery and within 4km of Changi Airport.

Ms Michelle Xu, 32, was initially disturbed by smoke from the fire at Woodlands at around 7pm. She then saw from the window of her 15th-floor flat that the fire had grown.

"I was surprised at how big the fire became. It was burning up an area about the size of two basketball courts," said the shift manager.

The fire was later extinguished by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Earlier, there was a bush fire about 4km from the Changi Airport Tower.

Pockets of fire covered an area of about eight football fields near 9, Aviation Park Road.

The SCDF received a call about the fire at 4.09pm and it took about four hours to extinguish it.

Over at Bukit Brown, pockets of fire were spreading over an area of about one football field, with smoke trails seen from as far as Holland Village.

The SCDF was alerted at 11.55am to the fire, off Kheam Hock Road.

Officers used three water jets to tackle the fire within two hours.

When The New Paper arrived at the scene at around 4.20pm, there were still small pockets of fire in the forest.

The SCDF was carrying out damping-down operations to prevent deep-seated embers from reigniting the forest.

A member of the Heritage Singapore - Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group, Mr Chew Kheng Chuan, 56, tipped off TNP. The remains of his great grandfather, Mr Chew Boon Lay, a Singapore pioneer, rest there.

At press time (for Thursday's publication), SCDF was unable to confirm the number of bush fires on Wednesday. No one was injured.

How to prevent bush fires

The Singapore Civil Defence Force's appeal to the public to help minimise bush fires:

- Do not throw lit materials such as cigarette butts onto grass patches, fields or rubbish dumps.

- Do not discard unwanted items such as furniture, beds and mattresses on to grassy areas/fields/gardens as they can serve as additional fuel to burning vegetation.

- Keep grass trimmed and watered if you have grass compounds.

- Burn incense papers in burners and ensure that it is completely extinguished before leaving the site.

Bush fires

JAN & FEB 2014: 198
JAN & FEB 2013: 25
(Most of the fires in January and February were minor. There were no reported injuries.)

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Food waste a big concern: Maliki

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Singapore needs to cut food waste, and its food industry should share resources such as procurement and equipment to improve food security.

These were the recommendations of an inter-ministry committee formed in 2012 to tackle Singapore's food security risks and vulnerabilities, Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman said in Parliament on Monday.

Some companies are already cooperating, he said. For example, the Restaurant Association of Singapore set up an online portal that allows restaurants to automate procurement processes, and so far, 62 restaurants have signed up. But food waste from households, food manufacturing and catering, retail, malls and other sources is still a concern, he said.

"In 2012, about 703,200 tonnes of food waste was generated in Singapore. This is equivalent to, on average, an individual wasting about 650 bowls of rice per year."

So, the National Environment Agency, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, and Spring Singapore are developing guidelines for food manufacturers and retailers to manage food waste, while the NEA and AVA are "looking into developing a comprehensive public education outreach programme" on food waste targeted at schools, the community and retailers.

Dr Maliki also said that diversifying Singapore's food sources "will continue to be our core strategy" for food security.

Still, Singapore produces some of its fish, leafy vegetables and eggs locally. So, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority will pay 70 per cent of restocking costs for fish farms which suffered losses during a spate of mass fish deaths last month.

Dr Maliki also said the AVA will review and strengthen the current alert system that warns fish farmers of adverse environmental conditions, and "work with the fish farms to develop a more sustainable sea-based farming system so that they are less susceptible to changes in environmental conditions".

For those keen on small-scale community farming, Dr Maliki said all new multi-storey carparks in HDB estates will get facilities such as planter beds and irrigation systems for community farms.
- See more at:

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Malaysia: Haze intensifies as 11 areas record unhealthy API readings

D. Kanyakumari The Star 13 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: The haze in Malaysia is worsening as 11 areas recorded increasingly unhealthy API readings as of 8am on Thursday.

The Klang Valley and Negri Sembilan recorded most of the high readings
The area with the highest reading is Kuala Selangor (155) followed by Nilai (143), Port Klang (137), Banting (134) and Putrajaya (124).

Other areas include Bukit Rambai (117), Seremban and Batu Muda (112), PJ (107), Shah Alam (103) and Sri Aman (101).

Areas like Sri Aman, Shah Alam and PJ actually recorded moderate readings as of 6am but worsened.

Other areas recorded moderate and healthy readings.

An API of between 51 to 100 is considered moderate, 101-200 unhealthy, 200-300 very unhealthy and 300 and above hazardous.

Air quality worsening in Selangor, Seremban
The Star 13 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Unhealthy air levels have been recorded in Port Klang, Nilai, Banting, Putrajaya, Cheras, Kuala Selangor and Serem-ban.

According to the Department of Environ­ment’s website, the air pollutant index (API) in Port Klang was 142 as at 5pm yesterday.

At noon, the reading in Port Klang was 132, progressively increasing to 133 at 1pm, 135 at 2pm, 136 at 3pm and 139 at 4pm. In Nilai, the API reading was 107 from noon to 2pm, rising to 108 at 3pm, 112 at 4pm and 118 at 5pm.

Banting experienced moderate API readings before 2pm but the air quality worsened to 113 at 3pm, 135 at 4pm and 107 at 5pm.

Putrajaya, Cheras, Kuala Selan-gor and Seremban experienced­ moderate readings early yesterday but the air quality worsened­ later.

At 5pm yesterday, API levels in Putrajaya was 110, Cheras 108, Kuala Selangor 104 and Seremban 102.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 moderate, 101 to 200 unhealthy, 201 to 300 very unhealthy, and 301 and above hazardous.

Unhealthy API levels may cause chest discomfort, coughs and shortness of breath.

Meteorological Department national weather centre director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said it was not unusual for parts of Malaysia to experience hazy conditions during this time of the year as it was the dry season due to the end of the north-east monsoon season.

Firemen working non-stop Department responding to 500 calls every day this month
austin camoens The Star 13 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Fire and Rescue Depart­ment continued to have its hands full dealing with widespread incidents of peat and bushland fires nationwide.

Its director general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said his department responded to a total of 6,463 fires, of which 5,256 were peat, bush and open fires for the past 12 days.

“On average, we have been responding to 500 calls every day this month for peat, bush and open fires.

“Just between 8am Tuesday and 8am yesterday, we responded to 643 calls regarding these fires,” he told The Star yesterday.

On states with the highest number of fires during that timeframe, Johor came out tops with 110, followed by Kedah (81), Perak (79), Selangor (74), Negri Sembilan (68), Malacca (57), Penang (50), Pahang (33), Sarawak (33) and Terengganu (18).

“We are still battling fires in Terengganu, Selangor, Pahang, and Perak.

“In these areas, we combated fires over a total of 2,931ha (7,244 acres) and have put out fires covering about 1,213ha (2,998 acres) of that figure,” he said, adding that his men were working themselves to the limit to fight these fires.

He said these fires were also contributing to the unhealthy air quality that several states were subjected to at the moment.

Wan Mohd Nor added that water shortage was also affecting operations to fight fires.

“If the weather pattern holds steady, we can expect more fires to start,” he said, urging people to refrain from burning rubbish, throwing cigarette butts indiscriminately as well as using fire for land clearing.

Water levels in Sungai Selangor Dam nearing critical level
patrick lee The Star 13 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Water levels in Selangor's dams are reaching critical levels, with its largest - the Sungai Selangor Dam - recording a mere 40.53% capacity as of 8am Thursday.

According to the Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) website, the Sungai Selangor Dam which serves over 60% of the Klang Valley and Selangor's 7.1 million people was at 40.99% capacity at the same time Wednesday.

This was consistent with a statement by the Selangor government in early Feb that said that water in the dam was diminishing by 0.4% every day, a matter caused by a heatwave in the Peninsular lasting several weeks and lack of substantial rain in water catchment areas.

Selangor's other dams also showed worryingly low water levels: Batu (90.72%), Langat (61.53%), Semenyih (77.49%), Sg Tinggi (71.22%) and Tasik Subang (91.63%)

A previous The Star report cited sources saying that water levels at dams would be deemed critical if they were below 40%.

However, LUAS director Md Khairi Selamat disagreed with this figure, adding that the dam's critical capacity level was at 30%.

"If it continues like this, that is if it doesn't rain at all, we have about 30 days before it (Sg Selangor Dam) reaches critical level," he told The Star.

Selangor's depleting water resources have led the state to set up water rationing measures for the whole of March.

The state is currently going through a third phase of this measure, which according to the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) affects 722,032 households or about 3.6 million people.

As such, many households in the state have to face a two-day on and two-day off water availability pattern.

Brief rainfall in certain parts of the state has barely helped to increase water levels.

Cloud seeding operations have also been put on hold indefinitely as aircraft meant for this have been deployed to aid the search and rescue mission for missing flight MH370.

Meanwhile in Johor, thousands of households there will be forced to rely on water tankers due to dried-up rivers.

According to SPAN, the Sembrong Timur water treatment plant serving the Kluang district can now only produce less than 0.4 million litres (MLD) of treated water a day, as opposed to 31 MLD on normal days.

Johor water operator Syarikat Air Johor has mobilised 23 water tankers and 88 static tank to serve 4,075 water accounts there.

In the Mersing district, the Congok Dam has reached critical levels at 4.47m, forcing a two-day on and two-day off water release pattern for 6,418 accounts there.

In the Kulaijaya district, up to 1,172 accounts will be affected by a 12-hour on and 12-hour off water release pattern.

Finally, 4,839 accounts in Kota Tinggi district will be affected by a one-day on and one-day off water release pattern.
SPAN added that the water rationing measures for the affected Mersing, Kulaijaya and Kota Tinggi accounts will last from March 17 to March 31.

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'Shocking' scale of pangolin smuggling revealed

Ella Davies BBC Nature 12 Mar 14;

Official records show that pangolins are being illegally traded on a "shocking" scale, according to a report.

The globally threatened animals are sought for their scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Approximately 10,000 seizures are made every year but experts warn the illegal trade is far more extensive.

Chinese enforcement officials worked with researchers from the UK to assess the extent of the problem.

Zhao-Min Zhou, from the Public Security Bureau for Forests in China's Yunnan province, worked with researchers from the University of Oxford to analyse official records of pangolins seized from smugglers.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

"The numbers of pangolins traded are shocking, and all the more so considering the pharmaceutical pointlessness of the trade. This trade is intolerably wasteful," said Prof Macdonald, director of the University of Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), and a co-author of the paper.

He praised the leadership of Mr Zhou in the study, which gives conservationists the first glimpse of official records of seizures.

The research team uncovered records that 2.59 tonnes of scales, representing approximately 4,870 pangolins, along with 259 intact pangolins (220 living; 39 dead) have been seized since 2010, resulting in 43 enforcement cases.

There are eight species of pangolin, four of which are found in Asia and four of which live in Africa.

Chinese and Sunda pangolins are listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Indian and Philippine pangolins are considered Near Threatened, as are Africa's giant and white-bellied species.

The animals roll into a ball for protection but this only makes it easier for poachers to collect and transport them unnoticed.

n traditional Chinese medicine, roasted pangolin scales are thought to detoxify and drain pus, relieve palsy, and stimulate lactation.

Rapid economic growth in Asia has resulted in soaring demand in recent years.
Pangolins by post

In addition to smuggling whole animals, traffickers use the postal system to transport their contraband.

In the report, Prof Macdonald and colleagues highlight that last November, Beijing customs officials intercepted five parcels of pangolin scales weighing 70kg each.

They subsequently discovered a further tonne of scales had been shipped in this way since April, the equivalent of 1,660 individual animals.

Prolific smugglers have received prison sentences from 11 years to life but with demand out-stripping supply, the trade is only becoming more lucrative.

According to the report, pangolin scales are currently worth £360 ($600) per kilo, twice the amount they traded for in 2008.

Pangolins only give birth to one offspring per year and conservationists warn that current declines are unsustainable.

Richard Thomas, from the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, described the animals as "overlooked" in comparison with the more "charismatic" targets of smugglers.

"Poor old pangolins are a bit of a forgotten species. There's been a lot of attention to the big iconic animals: elephants, rhinos, tigers but not much attention to pangolins."

He explained that Asian species of pangolin are protected under CITES legislation and have a "zero quota", meaning their removal from the wild for international trade is illegal.

TRAFFIC staff in Asia are helping to train customs and postal workers to help them detect smuggling attempts and raise awareness of the animals' plight.

"We've uncovered a disastrous situation and currently all the omens for the pangolin are bad but hopefully by drawing attention to this useless trade, international opinion may contribute to changing the situation of the pangolin," said Prof Macdonald.

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Erosion of forests and grasslands triggers alarm bells in Asia and the Pacific

FAO urges member countries to consider restoration programmes
FAO 12 Mar 14;

12 March 2014, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – Forest loss and degradation remain major problems confronting the Asia-Pacific region which, if not addressed, will leave future generations a legacy of damaged ecosystems and irrecoverable losses of biodiversity, FAO is warning.

Forest and grasslands cover 57.5 percent of Asia-Pacific’s massive land surface and provide vital ecosystems that support agriculture and livelihoods, which in turn ensure food security and nutrition for billions of people.

These lands offer vast potential to contribute to climate change adaptation by ensuring long-term contributions to community resilience, livelihoods and poverty alleviation, while at the same time capturing mitigation benefits through carbon sequestration.

However, increased pressure from livestock production has led to serious degradation of grasslands in Asia with far-reaching consequences, including desertification and dust storms. A loss of perennial grasses and shrubs for grazing livestock can lead to the loss of pastoral livelihoods, poverty, migration and periodic scarcity of meat and dairy products.

“It’s estimated that more than two million hectares of grasslands are being degraded in Asia every year,” said Patrick Durst, FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer, adding that there are also “roughly 400 million hectares of degraded forestlands in the region that are badly in need of restoration.”

In a presentation to the 32nd FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Durst explained that restoring forests and grasslands can provide a range of ecosystem-derived environmental, social and economic benefits.

These include biodiversity support, ecosystem services, climate change adaptation and mitigation, rural development, employment generation and poverty alleviation.

Over the past several years, forest and grassland restoration has captured significant international attention with a number of new initiatives and institutions emerging to promote restoration. A number of countries have also established their own national restoration programmes, and significant progress is being made, especially in forestry.

“The good news in forestry is that the Asia-Pacific region has actually increased forest cover over the past decade, thanks mainly to large-scale efforts in China, India and Viet Nam,” according to Durst. “But a much more comprehensive effort is needed across the region.”

Several factors are restraining any wider move toward more development and implementation of restoration approaches. A clearer commitment is needed by policy makers if the region is to move forward with sustainable restoration of grasslands and forests. Key drivers of change and areas of opportunity for restoration include increasing commitment and political will, payment for environmental services, improved governance, developing capacity in sustainable resource management and accessing markets.

FAO strongly promotes forest restoration and rehabilitation in Asia and the Pacific through a range of initiatives that contribute directly and indirectly to restoration objectives. Increased support to countries is possible from FAO for forest and grassland restoration, with an emphasis on enhancing community resilience, exploring opportunities for innovative financing, assisting in advocacy and awareness raising, creating enabling environments, and facilitating cross-sectoral collaboration at landscape levels.

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U.N. climate talks make shaky start to year as procedures questioned

Ben Garside PlanetArk 12 Mar 14;

U.N. climate negotiations resumed on a shaky footing on Monday as some delegates questioned how the meeting was being run amid calls for more urgency at the talks, which after two years have made scant progress towards a global climate change deal.

Diplomats from almost 200 nations gathered in Bonn, Germany, vowed to speed up work towards agreeing a 2015 pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions that U.N.-backed scientists say is causing extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

The preliminary talks are the first of a series this year aimed at working out the main elements of an agreement to bind all nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 and raise funds to tackle climate change across the developing world.

But in a sign of trouble in negotiations that have made tortuous progress over two decades, Monday's talks were peppered with procedural concerns.

"The challenge is ... to shift from an informal mode of work to a formal, transparent and participatory negotiating process... The time for that is now," said Naderev Sano of the Philippines, speaking on behalf of a negotiating group of developing countries that includes India, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He was referring to the system of "open ended" consultations held over the past two years of talks rather than a more formal drafting of texts in smaller groups.

Artur Runge-Metzger, a German diplomat co-chairing the negotiations, insisted the process was moving forward.

"We have clear deadlines and are working diligently to meet those deadlines," he said.

Delegates agreed last year that a new global deal, due to be struck in Paris in 2015 and to enter into force from 2020, would be made up of what they called "intended nationally determined contributions" from both rich and poor nations.

The European Union said parties needed to agree by the year-end a list of elements that all nations must include in these contributions to allow each country to submit them by the first quarter of next year.

The two biggest emitters, the United States and China, have pledged to work closely together on the process but appeared at odds in their formal submissions ahead of the meeting.

The United States has insisted the agreement should break down a barrier under a previous agreement that placed different burdens on developed and developing nations to reduce emissions.

In its submission, China reminded developed nations of their responsibilities under the UNFCCC to "take the lead" on emission cuts and demanded they set deeper 2020 reduction targets by as soon as April.

"Talks here must not lead to a re-writing of the Convention," said Rene Orellana of Bolivia, which is chairing the G77 negotiating group of developing countries.

(Reporting by Ben Garside)

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