Best of our wild blogs: 15 May 14

Little Grebes’ Chasing Display
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Did you see a civet inside the Science Centre?
from Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

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RWS dolphin death: Time to ban ‘swim with’ programmes

Jason Baker, Vice-President of International Operations, PETA Asia
Today Online 15 May 14;

The death of Sharmila, one of the captive dolphins in Resorts World Sentosa’s (RWS) Dolphin Island exhibit, should prompt RWS and other resorts to stop treating marine mammals like hotel amenities.

In the wild, dolphins swim up to 160km a day together in family pods. They navigate by bouncing sonar waves off objects to determine location and distance. In aquariums, these animals can only circle endlessly in small, barren, chlorinated tanks, which to them are the size of a bathtub.

Dolphins used in “swim with” programmes and other exhibits are far removed from all that is natural to them. Separated from their families and deprived of their natural instincts to forage for food, explore, raise families and communicate with other members of their own species, dolphins quickly become bored, frustrated and depressed. Many go insane. Their difficulty in adapting to this alien world can be seen in marine mammals’ dramatically diminished life expectancies in captivity.

As long as resorts and marine parks continue to exploit dolphins, dolphins will continue to suffer and die. RWS should rehabilitate and release its remaining dolphins, and Singapore should ban dolphin shows and “swim with” programmes, much like India, Costa Rica, Hungary and Chile.

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Singapore's ready if volcanic ash hits

Chitra Kumar Channel NewsAsia 14 May 14;

SINGAPORE: There are about 120 active volcanoes in the region around Singapore.

The last time Singapore's air quality was affected by volcanic ash from an eruption was when Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991.

At that time, air quality went into the moderate range of between 57 and 70 for three days from 17-19 June.

But with the possibility of future eruptions in mind, authorities in Singapore are putting in place systems to monitor the impact of volcanic ash.

In February this year, the eruption of Mt Kelud in Java caused flights out of Singapore to five Indonesian cities (Semarang, Solo, Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Bandung) to be cancelled.

And there have been other eruptions close by.

Mount Sinabung, located 650km from Singapore, erupted in 2010 and 2013; Mount Bromo in 2010; and Mount Merapi, the closest to Singapore at 400km away, in 2004 and 2010.

Air quality in Singapore was not affected following these eruptions.

Still, authorities are not taking things for granted.

Dr Benoit Taisne, Assistant Professor at Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, said: "The closest volcano to Singapore is Merapi in Sumatra, 400 kilometres away.

"We are working in collaboration with our colleagues from Indonesia to have more instruments on the ground to better predict the next eruption, and how violent the eruption will be.

"Since it is the closest one (to Singapore), it is the one mostly likely to inject ashes into the atmosphere that can affect Singapore.

"We need two to three years to have a good monitoring system on the ground, and then we will be capable of understanding the results for the long term."

Fong Peng Keong, director of Pollution Control Department at National Environment Agency (NEA), said: "Back in 1991, the Mount Pinatubo (eruption) actually affected the Singapore's air quality slightly.

"Our PSI actually went into the moderate range. The highest we recorded for three days was about 70.

"In the current context itself, well, the public need not be alarmed because we have the existing sensors in place.

"We have our MET service (Meteorological Service Singapore), which is working closely with research institutions such as Earth Observatory Singapore to get advanced warning.

"All these give us time to know in advance, of how volcanic ash will be affecting Singapore, and should volcanic ash be imminent in Singapore, we will actually put up advisories in regular NEA forums or NEA websites to keep the public well informed.

"Even our PSI will be able to record the changes in the weather in terms of air quality, if such an episode affects us."

- CNA/ir

Singapore to get volcanic sensor system
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 May 14;

SINGAPORE - Singapore will have a new sensor system on the island by the year end to get first-hand information about nearby volcanic eruptions.

It will enable the authorities to determine more quickly if and how the eruptions would affect Singapore - for example, if volcanic ash thrown up would reach the country.

The system will be installed by Nanyang Technological University's Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), which conducts fundamental research on volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and climate change in and around South-east Asia.

The sensors pick up low-frequency sounds or "infrasounds", including those emitted by the eruptions. These sounds, which cannot be heard by people, can travel thousands of kilometres and have a distinctive signature that is different from, say, infrasounds generated by airplanes.

Currently, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) receives advisories from Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres, such as the nearest one in Darwin, Australia.

There are nine of these around the world, including in Buenos Aires, Tokyo and London. They were set up by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, part of the United Nations.

The MSS also uses satellite images to track ash plumes, but images can be obscured by clouds or reflections from sunlight.

"With infrasound, if all goes well, you could have an alert of a nearby volcano erupting in under an hour," said Dr Felicia Shaw, who heads the MSS' Hazard Risk and Impact Assessment Unit. "Whereas right now we are waiting to hear from our data networks or for an observation from the satellite, which does erode our lead time."

The National Environment Agency, Ministry of Heath (MOH) and EOS organised a session yesterday for the media to learn more about nearby volcanoes and volcanic ash, although they stressed there was no imminent threat.

In fact, the Republic's air quality has not been affected by many recent eruptions, such as that of Mount Kelud in Indonesia in February.

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines was the second-largest in the 20th century, but air quality here was only slightly affected. The Pollutant Standards Index rose to the "moderate" range for three days, hitting 70 at its peak.

EOS principal investigator Fidel Costa Rodriguez said the volcano closest to Singapore is Mount Marapi in Indonesia. It is about 400km away and has "frequent but small" eruptions.

Dr Derrick Heng, group director of the Health Ministry's public health group, said there are few studies on the health impact of volcanic ash, but "there is some indication that it is less harmful compared to haze particles". Still, MOH considers the health effects to be similar to those of particulate air pollutants as a precaution, he said.

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Malaysia: Department warns effects of El Nino may be felt later

The Star 15 may 14;

PETALING JAYA: It will take a while before the effects of El Nino are fully felt and the delay may even be several months, said the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD).

“The El Nino lifespan is normally between six and 18 months. If El Nino is going to occur by next month, the significant impact can only be seen at the end of this year or early next year,” said MMD’s deputy director-general Alui Bahari.

The El Nino phenomenon is characterised by a band of unusually warm ocean water temperatures that periodically develops off the Pacific coast of South America that could cause extreme weather changes across the Pacific region such as fluctuating droughts, floods and scrappy crop yields in some regions.

“El Nino is a slow process. It takes a few months before the impact is felt by the country. Generally, Sabah and Sarawak will be affected the most when it comes to El Nino years,” said Alui.

Some of the countermeasures against prolonged drought would be cloud-seeding operations.


Alui added that further studies had to be conducted before the phenomenon, such as the overly hot Chinese New Year season leading to subsequent water shortages and the recent floods in Kuala Lumpur, could be attributed to climate change.

Department of Environment director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said her department would be on the lookout for open burning.

“We will step up our enforcement action, with land and aerial surveillance to curb open burning. There’s still a total ban on open burning in Selangor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya since March 2014,” said Halimah, who urged the public to cooperate and not to resort to open burning.

Forum Air Malaysia, an organisation formed to assist the National Water Services Commis­sion (Span), said the Government had to prepare well.

“It must ensure that there will be adequate water supply to all consumers during El Nino,” said manager Foon Weng Lian, who also urged Putrajaya to be more transparent in disseminating information.

Cabinet committee set up as Malaysia braces for El Nino
The Star 15 May 14;

PUTRAJAYA: A special cabinet committee has been set up as the country braces for the El Nino phenomenon from June to September due to the dry Southwest Monsoon, said Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili.

He said the committee would be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin while the secretariat would be hosted by the ministry.

"The special cabinet committee will monitor the devastating impact of the dry spell (brought about by El Nino) from various aspects, including weather changes, health and agriculture.

"The committee will also monitor and implement comprehensive mitigation measures at the national level to brace for the El Nino phenomenon in all economic and social sectors," he said in a statement on Thursday.

Ongkil said the committee would take over the role of the Water Crisis Committee, which was set up by the ministry during the water rationing exercise from January to April.

He said the committee would be made up of representatives from the Health Ministry, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the National Security Council.

Apart from the Malaysian Meteorological Department's forecast, he said the World Meteorology Organisation predicted that the El Nino phenomenon could persist from six to 18 months, and if this were to happen t would worsen the national water supply situation.

Meanwhile, Ongkili urged state governments to take immediate steps to ensure enough raw water supply and protect water sources to avoid inadequate supply of treated water to consumers.

While urging domestic and industrial users to use water prudently, he said industrial users should take steps to reduce the impact of water crisis by using underground water, recycling water, using water-efficient equipments, and increasing the capacity of water storage tanks. - Bernama

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Malaysia: Perhilitan rescues sun bear after week-long stakeout

desiree tresa gasper The Star 15 May 14;

JOHOR BARU: A sun bear, caged up and its paws destined to end up in soup, got a new lease of life when it was rescued by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

“Our officers from Johor and Kuala Lumpur conducted a week-long stakeout of a shop lot before moving in to rescue the bear on Tuesday,” said state Perhilitan director Hasnan Yusop.

The shop lot was along Susur 4, Jalan Tun Razak here. Five men were arrested to assist in investigations.

“After rescuing the animal, our specialist examined the bear and found it to be healthy,” he said.

The sun bear is under rehabilitation and will be eventually released into the wild.

“The animal is a protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, but is usually sold to restaurants who make soup from its paws.

“Checks revealed that a small bowl of bear paw soup could be sold between RM400 and RM900,” he said.

The case would be investigated under Section 68(1)(a) of the Act.

If found guilty, the persons involved could be fined up to RM100,000, or jailed up to three years, or both, if found guilty.

Hasnan urged anyone with information on poachers or illegal selling or keeping of wildlife to contact Johor Perhilitan at 07-223-0580.

Johor Malaysia Nature Society chairman Vincent Chow said more should be done to permanently shut down businesses selling such exotic meat.

He also urged the authorities to investigate cases where orang asli were used to hunt protected animals.

“According to our current laws, it is not an offence for the orang asli to capture any kind of wildlife for food, but this is being abused by poachers and those involved in the wildlife trade,” he said.

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