Best of our wild blogs: 12 May 14

An Afternoon Walk Along MacRitchie Reservoir Trails
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Night Walk At MacRitchie Reservoir (09 MY 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG and Late Afternoon Walk At Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (10 May 2014)

Article Alert! – Giant clam shells host a multitude of epibionts
from Neo Mei Lin

Coffee culture & appreciation – where does Kopi Luwak fit in?
From Project LUWAK SG

Snakeskin Gourami @ Sungei Buloh
from Monday Morgue

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Indonesia’s current leaders will push for haze treaty despite change in govt

NG JING YNG Today Online 12 May 14;

NAYPYIDAW — Even though Indonesia would soon be run by a new government, its incumbent leaders would continue to push for an imminent ratification of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreement on transboundary haze pollution, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said yesterday.

When asked whether he was optimistic that the treaty would be ratified before the next government takes over, Dr Marty told TODAY it is “certainly the intention of the current government to push for as early a ratification of the agreement as possible”.

“We will see when the time comes, but we will certainly continue to make the kind of efforts that are needed to make sure we make progress,” he added.

Indonesia concluded its legislative election on Friday when the final results were announced. Its presidential election will be held in July. Dr Marty acknowledged that the elections could have “inadvertently or indirectly” affected parliamentary proceedings, but he hoped steady progress could be made as far as the ratification is concerned.

Indonesia is the last ASEAN country yet to ratify the agreement, which was signed in 2002. In March, its Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said he hoped it could be done by last month. Subsequently, another official said it could be done by October.

During the ASEAN Summit over the weekend, Singapore’s leaders called on their Indonesian counterparts to ratify the agreement and cooperate on the haze-monitoring system — developed by Singapore — which aims to take perpetrators to task.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he hoped Indonesia would be able to ratify the agreement “before they get caught up in other matters”.

On the haze-monitoring system, Mr Lee reiterated it depends on cooperation from the countries involved. “The ball is in their court now,” he said.

In April, Singapore’s Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan expressed frustration after Indonesia and Malaysia said they were unable to share concession maps.

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Dialogue on palm oil sector's role in haze

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 12 May 14;

The annual haze and the palm oil industry's role in it will be a key focus at the upcoming, first-ever Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources.

The event aims to improve companies' use of the world's resources and raise public awareness and support for firms that adopt long-term, environmentally responsible practices.

The dialogue will include representatives from governments, non-government groups and multinational firms like consumer goods giant Unilever.

The world is connected by trade and finance, said Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) chairman Simon Tay, whose independent think-tank is organising the May 20 event.

"Agriculture producers, traders, banks and consumer goods manufacturers have a role to play... to prevent forest and land fires that cause transboundary haze pollution," he said.

Palm oil firms like Singapore- based Wilmar International and Malaysia's Sime Darby will also take part in a panel on sustainability in business. Both were blamed for last year's haze, but they said they have strict no-burning policies and denied involvement in fires that caused the pollution.

Wilmar also announced a new "no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation" policy last December. The firm pledged to ensure that its plantations and suppliers provide products that are free from links to deforestation or the abuse of human rights and local communities. It will also protect land that has great conservation value.

The dialogue, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Singapore hotel, will also tackle broader issues such as climate change and corporate social responsibility in general.

Mr Agus Purnomo, the Indonesian president's special staff for climate change, will give a keynote address on the country's aspirations and challenges in sustainable development.

Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, will also give a keynote speech on the Republic's vision on sustainability and the haze.

One of the dialogue's panels will focus on the ways development projects are financed.

"Many global traders, resource owners and other supply chain players are based or listed in Singapore," the SIIA said in its description of the panel.

"The manner in which project financing is carried out determines if sustainability principles are adhered to."

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Reptiles turning up in the oddest places

The New Paper AsiaOne 12 May 14;

So big, neighbours thought it was komodo

The reptile, which measured about a metre long, hung perfectly still above his neighbour's gate.

Mr Ganwani Lachman, 58, a sales manager, thought it was fake when he saw it around 1.30pm on Tuesday. "It didn't look real to me at first. It looked like a dummy", he told The New Paper.

Nevertheless, it attracted a lot of attention from 15 to 20 neighbours, who gathered excitedly outside the first-storey unit of Block 425, Canberra Road in Sembawang.

One of them even thought the reptile, a monitor lizard, was a komodo dragon.

Mr Lachman, who was on his way to lunch with his wife, snapped a few photos of the lizard, then left.

When they arrived home later around 7pm, the lizard was gone.

At about 8pm, Mrs Sirya Lachman, also 58, went to the rubbish chute outside their eighth-storey flat.

On her way back, the businesswoman noticed another crowd of 20 to 25 people gathered downstairs.

The lizard was back and had made itself comfortable on the gate of the unit next to where it was first spotted.

About 20 to 25 minutes later, officers from the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres) arrived to take the reptile away. Acres said the lizard was a clouded monitor lizard, one of two species commonly found in Singapore.

It does not pose any danger unless provoked and, while it is carnivorous, feeds on only dead animal matter and the occasional small bird or egg.

If threatened, it may turn aggressive and whip its tail at attackers. It has also been known to bite if intimidated.

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Authorities look towards tougher stance against animal abuse

Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 11 May 14;

SINGAPORE: The authorities are looking at toughening legislation against animal abuse and will deal with such cases strongly.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said this during a speech at a charity dog walk on Sunday morning.

138 people with their four-legged companions attended the charity dog walk at West Coast Park, organised by animal welfare group Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD).

The walk was entered into the Singapore Book of Records as the largest pack walk in Singapore.

Later, owners bonded with their pets at a carnival.

The money raised from the event will go towards funding rescue programmes by SOSD, as well as to the costs of housing these abandoned and rescued dogs.

On average, SOSD gets about 20 to 30 new dogs each month.

Mr Lee noted that SOSD and other similar groups have to deal with many cases of pet abandonment, neglect, and abuse.

He said: "We will be taking legal changes to make pet abuse and animal abuse a much tougher offence, and we will deal with it strongly.

“How you treat animals - like many other things that you deal with in life - is a reflection of how as a society we are maturing, (how) we're advancing, and so it's important for us to look at this aspect as well."

Activists suggest that harsher penalties - like jail terms - could prove more effective.

For example, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) proposed a jail term for a businessman who was recently sentenced to the maximum S$10,000 fine for animal cruelty.

Separately, in a Facebook post earlier this week, Law Minister K Shanmugam said he and Mr Lee have been discussing the issue of improving management of stray animals with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and animal welfare groups.

“We met up with several AWGs (animal welfare groups) such as SOSD, SPCA and ACRES to discuss their concerns and possible solutions," he wrote.

He added that last month, Mr Lee led a small group of officials, vets and representatives of animal welfare groups to Australia to get a better understanding of Australian practices, and visited their animal shelters.

Mr Shanmugam also said that the AVA recently engaged an international animal control expert to help with acceptable animal trapping practices.

Animal welfare groups were also invited to attend the training sessions with the expert, Brian Faulkner, an animal control consultant from the UK.

But finding space for these animals is not easy.

Dr Siew Tuck Wah, president of SOSD, said: “We wish to continue saving the dogs, but the big problem is finding homes for them. Finding homes is a big problem because of current legislation where HDB flats cannot keep larger dogs.

“If there are more homes for rescued dogs, it will solve a big part of our problem."

SOSD has applied to join Project Adore, a pilot programme that allows HDB flat owners to adopt mongrels under a specific set of requirements.

Currently, with authorisation from the HDB, Action for Singapore Dogs and SPCA, HDB flat owners can adopt mongrels if they are below 50cm tall and weigh less than 15kg.

The animal has to undergo a basic obedience training course with an approved trainer, and the owner must inform the director of his housing constituency of the adoption.

- CNA/xq

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Prolonged dry spell looms over Malaysia

Tashny Sukumaran and Michelle Tam The Star 12 May 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians might have to brace for more than just water rationing and hot weather during the second half of the year when the El Nino weather pattern is predicted to hit the country.

El Nino, a periodic warming in the waters of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, is expected to bring about a prolonged dry spell, seriously affecting farmers who grow rice, vegetables and fruits and also adversely impact the country’s oil palm industry.

With padi farmers facing the biggest brunt, the country’s rice stockpile is expected to drop, raising questions of food security.

Agriculture and Agro-based Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said rice growers needed a lot of water.

“We can get water for other agriculture areas but not for padi fields. Water must flood the fields and cannot be less than the needed amount,” he said.

Ismail Sabri said the ministry was making plans to brace for El Nino and had held discussions with Department of Irrigation and Drainage, rice farmers and others in the industry.

He said it was vital to identify the padi areas, explaining that situations were different in the various states.

“As the padi season and harvest cycles differ in the states we will have to look at strategies to use for methods of water retention,” he said.

Ismail Sabri said areas under the Kemubu Agricultural Development Authority (Kada) and the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada) were not expected to face serious problems as both had enough irrigation but other growing areas that required water to be channelled in from elsewhere would face difficulties.

As for fruit and vegetable production, he said the ministry was identifying the types of produce that would be affected the most.

“If we cannot produce the adequate amounts, we will increase imports. The ministry will make sure that there is enough supply,” he added.

The ministry’s deputy secretary-general, Datuk Mohd Arif Abdul Rahman, said the country would rely on the national rice stockpile and also on rice sourced from Thailand and Cambodia.

He said even if prices go up because of shortage, the price would remain the same as it is a controlled item

Meanwhile, Bernama reports that Mada is making preparations to ensure the water supply system in the area is not interrupted.

“We expect the channelling system for the first padi season not to be affected because the water was supplied in three phases – on March 26, April 9 and April 23.

“What worries us is that we are entering the second season which begins in September until February.

“We need to monitor the occurrence of the phenomenon,” Mada chairman Datuk Othman Aziz said yesterday.

He said the process of channelling water to the padi areas depended upon water levels in the three Mada dams, but the priority was on domestic usage.

Rare plants and animals also at risk
The Star 12 May 14;

PETALING JAYA: It’s not just consumers and farmers who need to be wary of El Nino. Rare plants and animal species found in the forest reserves of Borneo are at risk too.

Malaysian Nature Society communications head Andrew Sebastian said the warm weather could lead to a shorter flowering period for plants, affecting insects.

“This in turn affects birds and the wildlife that feed on insects and so on. The whole food chain is impacted,” he told The Star.

Borneo is home to at least 15,000 different plant species, 5,000 of which are endemic to the area. The island is also home to many rare and diverse insect species and an average of three new species are discovered every month.

A study reported in the journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, stated that Borneo’s 130 million-year-old rainforests would be threatened by the inevitable dry spell.

“The small number of species that cannot adapt well to drought conditions will be at even greater risk of dying off,” it noted.

El Nino is also expected to hit the oil palm industry, with Bloomberg predicting that prices could hit RM3,500 per tonne.

Indonesia and Malaysia produce 86% of the world’s stock, and the threat of inadequate rain had already been affecting prices.

Groups: It’s time Malaysia became self-sufficient
The Star 12 May 14;

PETALING JAYA: The El Nino phenomenon has drawn attention to Malaysia’s food security situation, as noted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

In his report, Oliver De Schutter pointed out that Malaysia’s food trade deficit had grown from RM1bil in 1990 to RM13bil in 2013.

He said Malaysia was not self-sufficient in the production of rice, fruits, vegetables, beef, mutton and milk.

De Schutter warned that the focus on export-led commodity production made Malaysia vulnerable to price shocks in the international markets as the country depended on imports for basic food staples.

Padi growing expert and rice consultant Ho Nai Kin said Malaysia should work towards self-sufficiency.

“Good land is being used for non-agricultural purposes,” he pointed out. “No amount of money spent can make a difference unless we use our natural resources constructively.”

Consumer groups blamed the Government for not being concerned about ensuring food security, especially the supply of rice.

Consumers Association of Penang president SM Mohamed Idris said Malaysia should not depend on imports.

“Rather than blame environmental problems, we should encourage padi farming,” he said.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) deputy president Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah said due attention had not been given to food security in Malaysia’s development plans.

“It could be cheaper to import, but what if the countries we buy from face shortages? They may sell less and we will be in trouble,” he said.

After the rice crisis of 2008, the Government increased its national stockpile from 92,000 metric tonnes to 292,000 metric tonnes.

In 2012, Malaysian produced 1.68mil tonnes of rice and imported 1.01mil tonnes, placing the country at the self-sufficiency level of 62.4%.

A dry wind blowing our way
ADIE SURI ZULKEFLI New Straits Times 12 May 14;

SOUTHWEST MONSOON: It's expected to bring less rainfall, says Met Dept

KUALA LUMPUR: MALAYSIANS are bracing for the southwest monsoon and another dry spell set to begin from the middle of this month and end in September.

However, during this time, rain is expected to fall in the mornings, especially in coastal areas of west coast states in the peninsula, said the Meteorological Department.

It said the southwest monsoon was expected to bring less rainfall than normal next month in all states before returning to normal levels between July and September, except in Sarawak.

Sarawak is expected to be much drier than normal next month, in July and September, except for August, when rainfall levels will be normal.

For more information on weather conditions, call 1-300-22-1MET or go to the department's website at

In Pendang, the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada) said it would hold a meeting with the relevant agencies to discuss preparations for the dry spell and the risk of El Nino striking Southeast Asia.

Its chairman, Datuk Othman Aziz, said among the topics to be discussed was how to ensure ample water supply during the dry spell, which could last up to six months.

Mada manages three main dams in Kedah -- the Pedu, Muda and Ahning -- which irrigate over 96,000ha of padi fields in Kedah and Perlis, as well as for general consumption in the domestic and industrial sectors.

Othman said cloud seeding was an option at three catchment areas should the dry spell continue beyond September.

"It is difficult to say how long the dry spell will last but we will study contingency plans to ensure ample water supply for the state," he said after attending Mada's "Meet the Customers" session in Kobah yesterday.

Othman said the water storage at the three dam's stood at 1.5 billion cubic metres, enough to cater to two padi planting seasons, besides domestic and industrial use.

The raw water storage had helped Kedah brace for the prolonged dry spell earlier this year.

"Normally, there would be rainfall by September, but if the dry spell goes on beyond the normal period, we might have to consider rescheduling the second planting season."

The Kedah padi planting sector contributes 40 per cent to the nation's padi production.

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Malaysia: Consultation as a solution

sharyn shufiyan The Star 11 May 14;

Before any 'development' projects are done, discussions should be held to see if the people affected derive benefits...or problems.

Social Impact Assessments (SIAs) are a method to review the impacts of development projects on communities.

The social impacts of such projects affect the way people live and work, their safety and security and how they relate to one another.

In my previous work, I often conducted SIAs to assess existing and potential impacts of plantation operations on workers and surrounding local communities. A key component of an SIA is consultation with stakeholders.

We would interview key individuals, organise group discussions, and conduct participatory activities such as mapping, games and role-playing. Often a passing manager (or an eavesdropping one!) would hear the screams and laughter coming out of our consultation area and they would wonder what we were doing.

“Oh, just playing some games,” we would reply cheekily. Games and role-playing exercises were often used to get our participants comfortable and accustomed to us, and to ease them into discussing more sensitive or difficult issues that they might otherwise feel they could not talk about openly.

Unfortunately, SIAs are often treated like adopted children. Emphasis would often be given to environmental impact assessments (EIAs) as they are a regulatory requirement. Often times, the SIA is a (mere) component of an EIA and they do not come as two separate reports.

I get really peeved when I see an SIA being part of an EIA. For me, unless an SIA is conducted thoroughly and presented as a full report, the assessment may not be comprehensive enough and issues may easily be sidelined or missed.

Often times, feedback from stakeholders can easily be taken at face value without probing deeper. There were a few instances when analysing past reports, that our team found gaps that would require further investigation. We felt like we were detectives tracking trails of non-compliance!

Many of the social and community-related issues that we have right now are often due to a lack of consultation with workers and local communities.

All it takes is to have regular consultation with the workers, to give a platform for them to share their views and opinions, to raise issues, grievances or suggestions for improvement, to bargain collectively – to be represented. Some companies would set up a “joint consultative committee” to represent workers, as foreign workers are prohibited from joining unions in Malaysia. But unfortunately, this is not yet a common practice in labour-intensive industries such as construction and agriculture.

Recently I was in Johor Bahru, tagging along with my dad who interviewed someone from the Seletar Orang Asli community. The Seletar’s main source of income comes from fishing and harvesting sea products such as clams, crabs and prawns. They rely heavily on the mangroves to maintain healthy populations of marine life.

But the mangroves are rapidly depleting due to the reclamation projects of the Iskandar Region. Mangroves are highly sensitive ecosystems; they protect shorelines from big waves and erosion, provide breeding grounds for fish, crabs and prawns and also furnish habitats for various birds, reptiles and mammals. The loss of mangrove ecosystems have not only an environmental impact, but social and economic ones as well.

It’s easy to take consultation for granted but it can be lifesaving. Heck, it should be standard operating procedure. Some of these issues can be avoided if a SIA is conducted prior to the development (not after when you realise you have a problem and need to solve it).

Companies can identify existing local communities, draw boundaries to take into consideration ancestral land, consult local elders on the location of culturally sensitive areas such as burial grounds, community farms and reserves. Areas which people depend on for income such as rivers, mangroves and coastal areas can also be marked out.

If a project affects a community’s source of livelihood, then consultation is crucial to find ways to solve the problem. At least, the people are informed prior to the development taking place and both parties can take the necessary action to move forward.

However, companies will usually not go through the hassle because that will mean a setback to their project plan and time is money. But it can save a lot of people from major headaches. And if you’re unlucky, a legal suit can prove to be just as expensive.

Sometimes the communities don’t even want the project to be in their area in the first place.

SIAs are not conducted just to point out negative impacts, but to identify potential areas that should be managed for improvements.

It gives an opportunity for stakeholders like workers and local communities, a chance to be heard, to negotiate, to be represented. We can easily avoid problems for everyone – if only people take the time and effort to consult one another.

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