Best of our wild blogs: 23 Sep 14

Asian Glossy Starling: 1. Claiming roof space
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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She quits teaching to save sharks

Benita Aw Yeong The New Paper AsiaOne 23 Sep 14;

One is getting more than her feet wet to protect the environment. Another created an app to help the underprivileged.

When Miss Kathy Xu started diving with sharks, she was still a history and English teacher at a secondary school.

But during her dives, she found she had developed an emotional bond with the sharks, which prompted the 32-year-old to quit teaching.

"I realised that they were being fished and eaten at a rate that was unsustainable," she says.

Her dream was to enable the future generation to enjoy diving with sharks. So she set up The Dorsal Effect, an eco-tourism company which aims to provide an alternative - and more lucrative - livelihood to Indonesian shark fishermen.

"The fishermen in Lombok go on shark fishing trips that stretch up to 10 to 20 days each... they make only between US$50 (S$63) and US$100 per trip," says Miss Xu.

"Many of them go into debt because they need to buy bait and other supplies.

"By using their boats to take tourists out to sightsee and snorkel instead, they are killing fewer sharks and they also make a little more money."

With the help of a local photographer, who doubles as her translator, she organised the first boat trip in September last year.

Tourists pay US$120 for a one-day excursion. The fishermen, who also double as tour guides, can each make about US$150 per trip.

Miss Xu, who has never regretted her decision to quit teaching, is candid about the challenges she faces.

Her parents found it difficult at first to understand why she would leave her job for something that yields little financial returns.

"It's been a struggle to scale this business, as there are not enough visitors taking up the tours," says Miss Xu, adding that only four to eight people take up the tours each month.

She pumped most of her savings into the business but it's still in the red. She currently employs only one fisherman on a full-time basis.

She also teaches part-time in Singapore to take care of her personal and business expenses.

"There have been many times I've broken down and cried because money is so tight," she says.

"Maybe I'm stubborn, but I've not thought about giving up or setting a timeline for it to work."

Miss Xu is grateful for the help that has come her way, such as support from non-profit organisation, the Singapore International Foundation (SIF).

Last year, Miss Xu came up tops in the Young Social Entrepreneurs programme organised by SIF, which awarded her $10,000 in funding. So far, about $7,000 has been disbursed.

Aside from eco-tourism, Miss Xu also gives talks at schools on sharks and marine conservation.

"When I return to the schools, the children will tell me they remember the things I've spoken about and how they have told their parents that it's not good to each shark's fin. That keeps me going," she says.

Her dream is for The Dorsal Effect to expand to a point where people pay fishermen to tag sharks with tracking devices and to take care of them, instead of hunting the creatures.

In the meantime, she is looking forward to a group of 20 secondary school students who will be going on her eco-tourism trips during the November school holidays.

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Air quality to be in mid-to-high end of moderate range: NEA

Kelly Ng Today Online 23 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — After a weekend that saw the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) creeping into unhealthy levels, air quality is expected to be in the mid-to-high end of the moderate range today, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said last evening.

And in response to complaints by members of the public that the PSI readings on Sunday did not correspond to the visibly worsening air quality in many parts of Singapore, the agency said pollutant concentrations may be volatile from one hour to the next.

As of 8pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI reading was 76 to 85, within the high end of the moderate range.

The total number of hot spots detected yesterday in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan — which caused the haze experienced in Singapore — was 78 and 107 respectively, mostly in the southern parts of the islands. Smoke plumes and haze were visible in the vicinity of some hot spots in Sumatra.

Prevailing winds are forecast to blow mainly from the south-east today. While people can continue with their normal activities today, those who are not feeling well, especially the elderly, children and people with chronic heart or lung conditions should seek medical attention, the NEA said.

Earlier on Sunday evening, many TODAY readers had complained about worsening air quality in many areas of Singapore and a strong odour in the air — even though the PSI was still in the “moderate” range. The PSI reading caught up only on Sunday night, hitting a high of 129 at 9pm.

The complaints about PSI readings came despite the introduction of a new air quality reporting system in April, which is supposed to better reflect visibility levels during haze as it incorporates levels of fine particulate matter, PM2.5, into the PSI. Then, an NEA spokesperson had said the new system would pass the “window test” and “correspond more closely with what one sees”.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said yesterday: “The three-hour PSI at any time is based on PM2.5 concentration levels averaged over the previous three hours. As the hour to hour concentrations may be very volatile during a haze episode with short periods of transiently high PM2.5 levels, which can improve rapidly in the subsequent one to two hours, the three-hour PSI may not correspond to what one observes at that specific instant.”

It added that since April, the NEA has also made available one-hour PM 2.5 concentration levels on the NEA website, the haze microsite and myENV app. “Members of the public can make use of the three-hour PSI or one-hour PM2.5 concentration levels as a guide to adjust their immediate activities, like going for a jog outside,” the agency said.

A PSI reading of 101 to 200 falls within the unhealthy range, while a 51 to 100 reading is considered moderate.

Slight improvement in air quality in Singapore
Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 22 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: The skies were less hazy on Monday (Sep 22) as compared to Sunday. The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit the 'unhealthy' range at 8am but dropped to the 'moderate' range from late morning. The three-hour PSI reading as of 8pm was 62.

One doctor has advised residents to look out for any signs of haze sensitivity, which includes increased snoring and dryness of the throat. He added that the unpredictable hazy conditions make it difficult for some to self-medicate.

Said Dr Leong Chook Kit of Mission Medical Clinic: "They may leave the house thinking there is no haze in the morning so they do not take their medicine, or they do not even bring their mask along. But towards the evening when they have knocked off from work, the haze will come and they are stuck without their mask and without medicine."

- CNA/do

PSI to fluctuate between ‘moderate’ and ‘unhealthy’ range: NEA
Today Online 21 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE – The National Environment Agency (NEA) forecasts the island to experience slight haze as winds continue to blow from the southeast or south today (Sept 22), in their haze advisory released to members of the public yesterday.

“We may experience occasional hazy conditions during the day. The overall air quality tomorrow is expected to fluctuate between the high-end of the Moderate range and the low-end of the Unhealthy range.”

Singapore experienced a sudden deterioration in the surrounding air quality in the late afternoon yesterday, with reports coming in from certain parts of the island of a burning smell lingering in the air.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the swift increase in haze levels was due to a sizeable amount of smoke blowing in from Sumatra by prevailing winds.

“Singapore is experiencing deteriorating hazy conditions due to an incoming haze cloud we have detected southwest of Singapore,” said the agency in an advisory to members of the public released at 7pm yesterday.

“The total number of hotspots detected in Sumatra and Kalimantan today was 64 and 73 respectively, mostly in the southern parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Widespread smoke haze was visible in southern Kalimantan,” NEA added.

The three-hour Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) levels hovered around the “good” and “moderate” range for most of yesterday morning and afternoon but slowly crept up in the latter range from 1pm to 5pm. At 7pm, the reading inched closer towards the “unhealthy” range at 89 at the time when air quality can be clearly seen to be deteriorating. At 8pm, the PSI was well into the unhealthy range at 116. It registered a high of 129 before dipping slightly to 121 at 10pm. The 24-hour readings continued to hover in the “moderate” range, registering a low of 48-54 at 1pm and a high of 59-67 at 9pm.

Some members of the public complained on social media about a burning smell going around in the air, just as the island was gearing up for the Singapore Formula One race. NEA acknowledged “reports of burning smells in the central and eastern regions of Singapore” in their media advisory.

Last Thursday, Singapore also experienced PSI levels in the “unhealthy” range, registering the worst air quality readings this week when air quality hovered above 100 for most of the day.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in his Facebook post assured members of the public that the environment agency will keep them informed.

“The forecast for the 24-hour PSI over the next six hours is in the high end of the moderate range or even low unhealthy level,” he added.

Earlier this week, the NEA said that Singapore is expected to experience haze for the next two weeks due to prevailing wind conditions from the south-southeast or the south-west where Sumatra lies, with periods of consecutive dry days that are typical during this South-west Monsoon season.

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Malaysia: Restoring greenery at Pahang reserves

New Straits Times 23 Sep 14;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Rampant forest-clearing and illegal logging activities at the country’s largest hill retreat here has prompted the forestry department to embark on replanting activities to restore the greenery.

Besides serving as a water-retention agent, the trees would also reduce the risk of soil erosion and flooding.

Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia director-general Professor Datuk Dr Abd Rahman Abd Rahim said several types of saplings had been identified for the project, including pines such as casuarina and the dark red meranti.

“The Pahang Forestry Department has already started the project, where they replanted timber saplings in forest reserves, which were damaged due to uncontrolled land-clearing activities.

“The department also seeks the assistance of environmental-based non-governmental organisations, university students and the locals to help with the programmes.

“At the same time, we will monitor and take action against those who damage the timber saplings at the forest reserves,” he said after participating in a replanting programme at the Terla Forest Reserve here yesterday.

Rahman said his department were focused on combating the encroachment of forest areas for farming activities, which are on the rise.

“I have instructed the state Forestry Department to conduct patrols, nab the culprits and bring them to court.

“This is the only way to teach them a lesson and put a stop to their activities.

“Our enforcement team will work together with the local councils to look into the matter.

“They continue to destroy the forests despite being warned and punished by the authorities,” he said, adding that the public could act as the department’s “eyes and ears” by reporting any illegal land-clearing activities.

Cameron Highlands, famous for its tea and strawberries, made headlines for the wrong reasons last year when irresponsible quarters encroached the forest reserves to set up vegetable farms, which had contributed to soil erosion and river pollution.

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Indonesia in Grip of a Water Shortage

Jakarta Globe Jakarta Globe 22 Sep 14;

Jakarta. Hundreds of villages across Indonesia are facing a clean water crisis as dry season sets in in earnest following a drawn-out rainy season.

In East Nusa Tenggara, one of the country’s poorest provinces, residents in 170 villages in 17 districts have been forced walk dozens of kilometers to fetch clean water for cooking and washing.

“All the water sources are dried up because of the dry season,” Tini Thadeus, the head of the provincial disaster mitigation agency, or BPBD, said on Sunday.

“People must walk long distances to find water. Or else they have to buy it at an expensive rate.”

Nearly 40,000 people in the province are facing a water crisis, according to the BPBD.

Private operators are going around the villages selling water from tanker trucks, at a cost of Rp 5,000 (42 US cents) a liter.

“Such a crisis can only be tackled by getting a water supply from other regions,” Tini said.

For now, authorities in East Nusa Tenggara have requested Rp 15 billion in emergency funding from the central government in Jakarta to address the crisis.

Tini said the money would be used to drill hundreds of wells throughout the province.

“All we can do is wait for our funding request to be approved. Until then, we will try to cope with the problem ourselves,” he said.

The water shortage has also taken a heavy toll on rice cultivation in the province, with no water available for irrigation. Farmers in 16 of 22 districts and cities in the province have reported a failed harvest.

Several districts in East Java, Central Java and West Java as well as in Sumatra have been facing similar problems.

In Malang, East Java, residents in a number of villages have asked for water to be trucked in from other areas.

Hafie Lutfi, the head of East Java BPBD, said that more subdistricts were facing a clean water crisis.

“Even those that have never faced a water shortage before are now asking for water shipments,” he said.

On Madura Island, off the East Java mainland, reported that as many as 262 villages in three districts were facing a water shortage. Residents in those villages have complained in particular about the inability to water their crops.

Meanwhile, hundreds of villages in Kudus and Banjarnegara districts in Central Java are facing similar problems, while reported that residents in least eight subdistricts in Garut, West Java, have been unable to get access to water for their daily needs.

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Indonesia needs law on climate change: Walhi

Senin Antara 22 Sep 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The environmental non-government organization Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Walhi) has urged the government to pass a law to prevent climate change intended to reduce national emission levels and address climate change through adaptation and mitigation.

"The law on climate change should be immediately enforced. It is not fair that the impacts of climate change should be borne by the next generation," Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi)'s Campaign Manager, Edo Rakhman remarked here on Monday.

He pointed out that the law should serve as a foundation for the government to draft a policy and implement development programs.

Emission reduction can be achieved by immediately passing a moratorium to halt the clearing of primary forests and peatlands and the use of coal for producing electricity, Edo remarked.

"The government should maximize the utilization of renewable energy resources that are abundantly available in Indonesia such as geothermal, solar energy, sea waves, and biomass," he stressed.

Indonesia needs a legislation that seriously sets and regulates climate change and its impacts.

Moreover, the legislation should also make the government accountable to the people as climate change affects the social and economic life of the community.

"The moratorium must also be included in the climate change law as sometimes it can still be violated using the policies implemented through regional autonomy," Edo affirmed.

He noted that the implementation of a moratorium in some provinces or districts is not optimal as the local administrations do not give importance to enforce the policy.

The presidential instructions are not enforced as the regional heads use spatial regulations and their local autonomy, which allows them to issue permits for plantation or forest management.

In fact, climate change has a wide-ranging impact on the environment. This condition should not be simply regarded as a common phenomenon or natural process alone, but instead, must be viewed as a consequence and an impact of human intervention.

"Industrial activity, energy, technology, agriculture, natural resource exploitations, and others lead to increase in emissions and are associated with human activities," Edo remarked.

Currently, Indonesia is one of the five largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world arising due to deforestation and forest degradation.

Despite the Indonesian governments commitment to reduce emissions by 26 percent by the year 2020, however, the results are yet to be seen.

As of now, forest and peat fires continue to occur and adversely affect the country and the neighboring countries, Edo added.

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Increased concern over latest strain of avian influenza in Southeast Asia

FAO urges continued vigilance to safeguard poultry and livelihoods
FAO 22 Sep 14;

A recently-emerged strain of avian influenza virus in poultry in Southeast Asia known as A(H5N6) represents a new threat to animal health and livelihoods and must be closely monitored, FAO said today.

Chinese authorities first reported the influenza A(H5N6) virus in poultry in April 2014. Since then, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Viet Nam have also detected the H5N6 virus in poultry.

"Influenza viruses are constantly mixing and recombining to form new threats," said FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer, Juan Lubroth. "However, H5N6 is particularly worrisome, since it has been detected in several places so far from one another, and because it is so highly pathogenic, meaning infected poultry quickly become sick and, within 72 hours, death rates are very high."

The fact that the virus is highly virulent in chickens and geese and potentially spread across a large part of Southeast Asia translates into a real threat to poultry-related livelihoods. Poultry contributes to the incomes of hundreds of millions of people throughout the subregion.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which works together with FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to support countries' responses to animal and human disease threats, is also monitoring the situation closely.

"An effective surveillance and an early detection of animal disease at source are two main keys to reduce the risk of dissemination and to ensure safe trade. The OIE calls on its 180 member countries to respect their commitment and to immediately notify on WAHIS any outbreak detected on their territory," said OIE Director-General Bernard Vallat.

Limited threat to human health

Only one case of H5N6 has been reported in humans after contact with exposure to poultry shortly after its detection in China. The person later died. There have been no other human cases. Though the scientific community is still in the process of understanding the dynamics of this new strain, it is unlikely that H5N6 represents an immediate and significant threat to human health.

"Current evidence suggests H5N6 poses a limited threat to human health at this stage," said WHO epidemiologist Elizabeth Mumford. "It's been detected in multiple places in poultry, yet we only have one human infection reported. This suggests that the virus does not easily jump from animals to humans. Of course, we still need to remain vigilant, because prevalence in poultry and therefore human exposure could increase during the winter."

Even if the public health risks posed by H5N6 currently appears to be low, other pathogens, including other subtypes of influenza viruses such as H5N1 and H7N9, still can present cause for concern. FAO and WHO recommend consumers follow appropriate hygiene, food preparation and food safety guidelines. These include: washing hands often, cleaning utensils and surfaces used during food preparation, and eating only well-cooked poultry meat products. People should also avoid handling sick birds or those that have died of illness.

FAO and WHO are stressing that at this time it is critical for countries in Southeast and East Asia -- especially those with links to poultry production and trade -- to ramp up efforts to detect and report influenza viruses in poultry and monitor for any human infections.

All human infections with non-seasonal influenza viruses are reportable under the 2005 WHO International Health Regulations. It is critical that influenza viruses from animals and people are fully characterized in appropriate animal or human health influenza reference laboratories.

FAO urges continued vigilance, preparedness

An H5N6 outbreak or outbreaks could potentially overwhelm animal health systems in Southeast Asia. An earlier strain of the virus, H5N1, has already impacted the livelihoods of millions of people and caused billions of dollars of damage.

FAO is urging countries to remain vigilant in the face of this new viral threat to animal health. In order to prevent its further spread, the Organization is recommending that governments support poultry producers in following essential biosecurity measures and standard hygiene precautions. In collaboration with OIE, priority actions need to be focused on prevention, early detection, immediate reporting and rapid response.

FAO influenza programmes have been supporting preparedness in countries throughout Asia and the world since 2004. With resources for this work dwindling, the Organization continues to call for funds to ensure international and regional cooperation and strengthen the global response to avian influenza as a threat to animal health, public health and vulnerable livelihoods.

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New report identifies actions needed to curtail illegal ivory and rhino horn trafficking

TRAFFIC 22 Sep 14;

Illegal rhino horn trade has reached the highest levels since the early 1990s, and illegal trade in ivory increased by nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011, according to a new report by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partner TRAFFIC.

“This report provides critical insights into often violent and complex trade networks that will help countries target their law enforcement efforts. Wildlife trafficking not only endangers rhinos, elephants, and many other wildlife species, but also threatens national and international security as well as local livelihoods,” said Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator at USAID.

The report, Illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn: an assessment to improve law enforcement, is a key step to achieving USAID's vision to adapt and deploy a range of development tools and interventions to significantly reduce illegal wildlife trafficking. The report was prepared by the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC in partnership with USAID. The assessment uses robust analysis to identify capacity gaps and key intervention points in countries combating wildlife trafficking.

Seizure data indicate that “the fundamental trade dynamic now lies between Africa and Asia,” according to the report. In China and Thailand, elephant ivory is fashioned into jewelry and carved into other decorative items, while wealthy consumers in Vietnam use rhino horn as a drug which they mistakenly believe cure hangovers and detoxify the body.

Rhinos and elephants are under serious poaching pressure throughout Africa, with even previously safe populations collapsing: Central Africa’s forest elephants have been reduced by an estimated 76 percent over the past 12 years while in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, elephant numbers have fallen from 70,000 in 2007 to only 13,000 by late 2013.

A record 1004 rhinos were poached in 2013 in South Africa alone—a stark contrast to the 13 animals poached there in 2007 before the latest crisis began.

Record quantities of ivory were seized worldwide between 2011 and 2013, with an alarming increase in the frequency of large-scale ivory seizures (500 kg or more) since 2000. Preliminary data already show more large-scale ivory seizures in 2013 than in the previous 25 years. Although incomplete, 2013 raw data already represent the greatest quantity of ivory in these seizures in more than 25 years.

Both rhino horn and ivory trafficking are believed to function as Asian-run, African-based operations, with the syndicates increasingly relying on sophisticated technology to run their operations. In order to disrupt and apprehend the individuals behind them, the global response needs to be equally sophisticated.

“There’s no single solution to addressing the poaching crisis in Africa, and while the criminals master-minding and profiting from the trafficking have gotten smarter, so too must enforcement agencies, who need to improve collaborative efforts in order to disrupt the criminal syndicates involved in this illicit trade,” says Nick Ahlers, the leader of the Wildlife TRAPS Project.

Rhino horn is often smuggled by air, using international airports as transit points between source countries in Africa and demand countries in Asia. Since 2009, the majority of ivory shipments have involved African seaports, increasingly coming out of East Africa. As fewer than 5 percent of export containers are examined in seaports, wildlife law enforcement relies greatly on gathering and acting on intelligence to detect illegal ivory shipments.

The report recommends further developing coordinated, specialized intelligence units to disrupt organized criminal networks by identifying key individuals and financial flows and making more high level arrests. Also critically important are improved training, law enforcement technology, and monitoring judiciary processes at key locations in Africa and Asia.

For further information contact:
Richard Thomas, Global Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC. Email:, Tel: +44 1223 651782, Cell: +44752 6646216.

For further information, please see:
● Illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn: an assessment to improve law enforcement (PDF, 3 MB)
● What USAID is doing to combat wildlife trafficking:
● U.S. National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking:

(1) The USAID-funded Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife-TRAPS) Project is an initiative that is designed to secure a transformation in the level of co-operation between an international community of stakeholders who are impacted by illegal wildlife trade between Africa and Asia. The project is designed to increase understanding of the true character and scale of the response required, to set priorities, identify intervention points, and test non-traditional approaches with project partners.

(2) About USAID: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is responsible for the majority of overseas development assistance from the United States Government, and works to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing security and prosperity for America and the world. USAID’s Biodiversity Policy, announced in July 2014, describes the fundamental importance of biodiversity to human well-being, and the value of conservation approaches in advancing Agency development objectives.”

(3) About TRAFFIC: TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of IUCN and WWF.

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