Best of our wild blogs: 27 Dec 14

Civet roadkill recovery – small actions can save the lives of wildlife
from Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Birdwatching in Bidadari - Raptors spotted (December 2014)
from Rojak Librarian

Cave Nectar Bats taking nectar from banana flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Hornbills move into suburban Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

The False Curry Leaf Tree, a bird magnet
from Singapore Bird Group

Unidentified Non-Flying Objects, Common Sights & Watery Forests
from Winging It

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Malaysia: Dept defers report on Forest City

SIM BAK HENG New Straits Times 27 Dec 14;

JOHOR BARU: THE Department of Environment (DOE) has deferred its decision on the detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) report on the controversial Forest City project following recommendations by a panel of experts to minimise impact on the Straits of Johor.

The recommendations would be incorporated into the DEIA, and its implementation would be monitored by government agencies.

The experts, from various departments, such as the Marine Department, the Drainage and Irrigation Department and the Johor Baru Tengah Municipal Council, together with academicians, attended a meeting on Tuesday to evaluate the Forest City DEIA report.

It is learnt that some of the experts had given their recommendations on mitigation and rectification measures and shared the same interest of preventing the straits from further damage.

“The matter has not been finalised. There are procedural matters that need to be ironed out. However, a decision will be made soon,” said a panel expert who attended the meeting. Based on anecdotal evidence, another expert said the DEIA report was likely to be accepted after the recommendations from the experts had been included.

“The announcement is a matter of time. When it is hard to reverse a decision, the only way is to minimise its impact, and this is the least we can do. If the ultimate goal is to reject the report, it doesn’t make sense to go through such a lengthy process to incorporate the recommendations.

“The DOE may just say no immediately,” added the expert.

The project’s estimated cost is RM600 billion.

The project, an ambitious endeavour involving four reclaimed islands, generated controversy because of the massive work involved, environmental issues and concerns raised by Singapore.

The DEIA report had to be revised following a diplomatic note from Singapore, which had asked for details on the project and its impact on the Straits of Johor as the project was near the border.

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Malaysia evacuates 120,000 as floods spread to Johor

PM Najib cuts short US holiday to oversee relief operations
Straits Times 27 Dec 14;

KUALA LUMPUR - Nearly 120,000 Malaysians have been forced out of their homes in the worst flooding in decades, a disaster that has forced Prime Minister Najib Razak to cut short a holiday in the United States.

Kuala Lumpur has also cancelled its annual New Year celebration, in a mark of respect for the record number of evacuees, with several state governments following suit.

At least five people have been killed by the rising waters, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

As of 3pm yesterday, 118,896 people had been moved to flood relief centres, mostly in the northern states of Kelantan (45,467), Pahang (35,736), Terengganu (31,001) and Perak (6,119).

Johor became the latest state to be affected, with 214 displaced in the towns of Kluang and Muar yesterday. Flood waters in the southern state were still rising in the afternoon, a National Security Council spokesman was reported by Bernama news agency as saying.

Datuk Seri Najib will touch down in hardest-hit Kelantan today, according to a government statement. He deemed it necessary to "personally oversee the response", following reports that the situation had worsened.

"I am deeply concerned by the floods. I feel for the people who have lost their homes, and the families who have lost loved ones," he said in the statement yesterday, adding that he would chair disaster relief meetings to seek new measures once he returned from the US.

The Prime Minister had come under criticism after photos of him playing golf with US President Barack Obama in Hawaii surfaced earlier this week while tens of thousands, including in his home state of Pahang, were being forced out of their muddy homes.

But Mr Najib said he has been in "constant contact with" relief teams "who have assured me that they are doing everything they can to help those who have been affected".

"But I want to see the situation for myself and be with the people," he added.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been in charge of relief operations in Mr Najib's absence and ordered more assets to be deployed yesterday, after describing the floods as worse than anticipated. "We are using seven helicopters... these may not be enough," he was quoted by Bernama as saying in Kelantan.

International Trade and Investment Minister Mustapa Mohamed also admitted that government relief efforts needed to be improved, as distribution of aid in his home state of Kelantan was hindered by waterlogged roads.

Although year-end flooding is common in the north-east due to the monsoon season, rainfall in the past week has been excessive, and the damage has been exacerbated by deforestation that activists say is among the worst in the world.

In a rare piece of positive news, however, around 100 tourists stranded in the national forest reserve Taman Negara have been rescued and taken to a relief centre, reported AFP.

Flash floods have also hit Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas in the Klang Valley.

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No respite for east coast states
New Straits Times 27 Dec 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: There will be no let up in the harsh weather conditions, as the next round of heavy rain is expected to hit the east coast states, as well as Perak, Sabah, Sarawak and Johor tomorrow.

Meteorological Department National Weather Centre senior meteorological officer Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said the new phase could last about a week.

“If the next phase is made up of continuous rainfall, there is a possibility that the floods might get even worse in the east coast states, as well as Perak.

“There is a high chance Johor might also be flooded this time around, especially in the eastern and central parts. Sabah and Sarawak will also experience very heavy rain and flooding too,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

Hisham said Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Negri Sembilan would experience heavy rain spillover.

However, Hisham added that Kelantan and Terengganu were experiencing very little rain that had allowed water to recede but water flow had been hindered by high tides.

He said twice-daily high tides at 11am, and between 8pm and 9pm, have seen the tides coming in at 1.5m in Kelantan, above 2m in Terengganu and 3m in Pahang had caused a reverse flow.

“When a high tide occurs, the sea level will rise, not allowing water from the rivers to flow back into the sea, creating a reverse situation.”

Blame it on the moon, too
The Star 27 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: The massive flooding of Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast states is not just due to extremely heavy rainfall – the moon has something to do with it as well.

According to the Malaysia Meteorological Department (MMD), the gravitational pull of the moon can lead to higher than normal high tides, more so when it is at its closest to the earth, a position also known as perigee.

The moon was at perigee at Dec 24 at 16:44 GMT (or 12.44am on Christmas Day here), where it was as close as 364,791km from Earth, appearing as a super moon, or a larger than usual moon, even to the most casual of observers.

The gravitational pull of the moon can generate extreme high tides at this position.

MMD spokesman Dr Mohd Hisham Anip said that it was understood that continuous strong winds brought lots of moisture and created dense clouds in our region.

“The wind came from the western Pacific and China, and we haven’t understood how this year differs from previous years,” Dr Mohd Hisham said yesterday.

He said more studies needed to be conducted on the effects of high tide when augmented by the new moon and perigee.

“The good news is that the peak of the high tide is over, which was on Dec 23 and 24,” he said.

“All we know is the high tide is coming and it is higher than usual,” he said, adding that extremely heavy or prolonged rain that coincides with higher than usual tides is usually a recipe for flooding as the river mouth is effectively “blocked” by a wall of water.

MMD said further episodes of high tide is expected to come again on Monday, and this would probably affect Pahang, Johor and Sarawak.

The not so good news is that the rainy season is expected to end only by the middle or end of February.

Dr Mohd Hisham also revealed that in a “normal” month, rainfall averages between 500mm to 600mm in a month for the east coast.

“But areas such as Kuala Krai in Kelantan, Kuantan in Pahang and Gong Badak in Terengganu received more than 1,000mm of rainfall this month.”

Rail service to east coast halted
The Star 27 Dec 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) has stopped its rail service to the east coast as its coaches are submerged in the floods that had hit the region.

Three hundred bridge tracks, 10 train stations and 19 coaches are affected by the floods, either submerged entirely or partially by waters up to 3m high, according to the rail company.

“This is the worst flood the company has seen since 1969,” said KTMB chairman Datuk Nawawi Ahmad.

“We are sad to say we have stopped our east coast operations since Monday and the situation is expected to last till the end of next month,” he told a press conference here yesterday.

Eight intercity and express trains have been cancelled from the Chegar Perah station in Pahang to Tumpat in Kelantan.

With 800 staff members of KTMB affected, Nawawi said the company wanted to send food and basic necessities to them but, without a single landing pad for helicopters, they can only airdrop the items.

“In the east coast, train services are an important form of transportation for the people, especially when roads can’t be used.

“Train stations used to be shelters for flood victims, too, but this time, we are heavily affected as well,” said Nawawi, who estimated losses of about “a few million ringgit” for the company.

“We have to see where the waters recede. There is a possibility of more train losses in this disaster,” he added.

KTMB sent out a team of volunteers to bring aid to the victims yesterday and a flood operation centre has been set up to monitor train operations and other flood-related matters.

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Malaysia: A green heartache

KIRANA ASTER New Straits Times 27 Dec 14;

It’s been another year of goals that have fallen frustratingly short in conservation, writes Kirana Aster

AS 2014 comes to an end, conservationists in the country are taking stock of the successes and failures in addressing environmental issues. From plant life to iconic animals and habitats, the “business as usual” approach towards our natural heritage continue to provide challenges for those working in the frontlines of conservation.


With increasing threats to biodiverse sites, the past year hasn’t seen new areas gazetted as protected. Surin Suksuwan, a natural resources management specialist, says that several significant conservation areas have yet to be provided the protection status despite many years of advocacy by NGOs.

Among the unprotected areas of special concern are Gunung Kanthan, a limestone hill in the Kinta Valley, the Ulu Muda forests and the seagrass bed of Pulau Merambong, off the southern coast of Johor, which are currently under serious threat from quarrying, logging and coastal development.

Says Surin: “The limestone hill Kanthan is home to rare endemic species such as the Kanthan Cave trapdoor spider (Liphistius kanthan), which is designated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “red list”. The limestone hill also harbours at least three new species of plants which were recently discovered by scientists from FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia), namely Meiogyne kanthanensis, Gymnostachyum kanthanense and Vatica kanthanense.

“Botanists also suspect that the critically-endangered Paraboea vulpina of the African violet family had become extinct on Gunung Kanthan due to quarrying in the northern portion of the mountain for the production of cement. Currently, none of the hills in Perak have been gazetted for protection although conservation of the State’s limestone hills has been incorporated into the Ipoh local draft plan 2020 and the Perak structure plan 2020.”

On the coastal front, the seagrass bed at Pulau Merambong is the biggest such ecosystem (about 40ha in size) in the country, and together with the mangroves of nearby Sungai Pulai (a Ramsar wetlands site), are important nursery grounds for many commercially important fishes. Several rare and endangered species including the spotted seahorse, Hippocampus kuda, and the dugong, are dependent on seagrass for their survival.

The fragile ecosystem of the seagrass bed can’t tolerate the siltation and pollution caused by coastal development in the area which includes the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and the Tanjung Bin powerplant.

This year, villagers strongly objected to the proposed Forest City project at the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) hearing. The controversial project will see four man-made islands built in the waters in Tanjung Kupang between southwest Johor and northwest of Singapore. The project lacked details on the impact on sea life, and will likely lead to flash floods in the area and loss of livelihood.

While we can’t ignore the bleak outlook, Surin says that recent announcements made by the new Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, offers a ray of hope for many who have long despaired over the state of natural resources management in Sarawak.

The new chief minister has made positive statements about gazetting more national parks, in addition to his strong remarks about tackling illegal logging and corruption in the State. He plans to establish another 20 protected areas in Sarawak but has yet to provide further details.

Sabah also delivered some positive news this year, says Surin. “In a historic event at Batu Puteh along the Kinabatangan River, Sabah kick-started the first officially sanctioned removal of oil palms that had allegedly been illegally planted in violation of riparian reserve laws. A special task force is being set up to reclaim river banks illegally cultivated by planters, and the State’s Tourism, Culture and Environment assistant minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming has promised that there’ll be more to come in a move that will help mitigate human-elephant conflict.”


Data undertaken by FRIM in recent years (FRIM is stock-taking over 8,000 species in the plant kingdom) points to a grim outcome: Many of our native plants are on the decline.

Through the ongoing project Safeguarding the Plant Diversity of Peninsular Malaysia (initiated in 2005), plants are documented in detail along with their conservation status.

Based on the assessment, 97 species (10 per cent) were listed as “critically endangered”, of which 33 were plants threatened with extinction, while 133 (13.6 per cent) were classified as “endangered”, 148 (15.2 per cent) as “vulnerable” and 29 (three per cent) as “rare”.

Dr Lillian Chua, Senior Research Officer, Forest Biodiversity Division, FRIM, says that the stock-taking is dynamic, with the latest update held several months ago. “So far FRIM has covered only 16 per cent of Peninsular Malaysia’s flora which is estimated at 8,500 vascular plant species. We expect more species to end up in the Malaysia Red List but because of the increase in number of species being assessed, the percentage of threatened species is expected to reduce slightly.”

In the peninsula, many populations of dipterocarps are on the decline mainly due to changes in land use and harvesting. These threats have changed in form and severity over time. Pristine and semi-pristine lowland forests are now mainly confined to protected areas in national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, State parks, permanent reserved forests and other areas within the Totally Protected Areas network.

Says Chua: “Land is a State matter and mainstreaming biological diversity into land use planning is in its infancy, both at the Federal and State levels. But the level of awareness is growing and there have been more proactive measures taken by stakeholders since the reports were published. Primary stakeholders such as Forest Department Peninsular Malaysia and the State forest departments are using the list as guidance document to help improve sustainable management practices, particularly in relation to forest certification.”

However, she says that if conservation measures aren’t stepped up, species such as Hopea bracteata var. penangiana (Dipterocarpaceae; merawan ungu) and Hopea subalata (Dipterocarpaceae; merawan kanching) which are listed as critically endangered in the Malaysia Red List will be the first to disappear.

“We can’t afford to lose more plants such as the Shorea kuantanensis (Dipterocarpaceae, meranti dammar hitam) whose habitat has been turned into an oil palm plantation.”

Despite no fewer than 230 plant species on the verge of extinction in Peninsular Malaysia, Chua nevertheless remains positive about conservation efforts to prevent more species from disappearing forever.

“The level of awareness is increasing fast and there are greater initiatives at the policy ranks to mainstream biodiversity considerations into national and State planning.”


In September this year, a statement by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (Mycat) provided another blow to wildlife conservation — the Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni) is on the edge of extinction.

New estimates in 2014 by experts put the remaining population of wild Malayan Tigers at 250-340, less than the previous estimate of 500.

This indicates that the Malayan tigers meet the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species’ criteria for a “critically endangered” listing. It has been classified as “endangered” since 2008 and the target for the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan for Malaysia to double the population of wild tigers by 2020 is unachievable in this timeframe.

The Malayan tiger is believed to be most threatened by the illegal wildlife trade with tiger parts in high demand as traditional medicine. Intense poaching has reduced the tiger population over the last few decades. Other contributing factors include defragmentation of their habitats and a decline in tiger prey, especially sambar deer.

Among immediate efforts to reverse this situation include the setting up of tiger patrol units in the Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau-Rompin tiger priority areas, undertaking a comprehensive national tiger survey in the peninsula’s remaining forest landscape and strengthening existing forest and tiger conservation mechanisms.

Already declared “functionally extinct” in Malaysia, the Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus Sumatrensis) will be the first mammal species to become extinct in Malaysia if breeding programmes are unsuccessful.

Their population has dramatically declined over the years due to loss of fertile lowlands for human occupation and relentless hunting of the species whose horns are used in traditional Chinese medicine. According to Datuk Dr John Payne, executive director of Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) who was speaking at a talk organised by Mindset — The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus in Kuala Lumpur recently, the low rhino population is a result of chronic hunting, and rare mating. Thus, it’s just a matter of time before death rate exceeds birth rate and extinction occurs. “It’s a miracle that this rhino isn’t already extinct. There may now be as few as three remaining Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, two females and one male, all in a fenced, managed facility in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah.”

He says leaving them alone in the wild and hoping for natural recovery doesn’t work. Establishment of national parks, guard forces, wildlife corridors, public awareness and habitat management can’t achieve that. Captive breeding might be the last hope for the survival of the species.

Says Payne: “Bora’s priority is to produce lots of baby rhinos as soon as possible. Species on the edge of extinction need the following measures to be taken: Increase birth rates, and ring remaining rhinos into fenced-managed facilities and privately-owned land to manage them.”

With the development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) techniques in recent decades, the best and possibly only way is to produce embryos in a lab. Indonesia is now in a better position to take the lead where this is concerned.

Payne has no doubts that Malaysia would be keen to collaborate if invited. He concludes: “Bora advocates for the establishment of a lab, either in Malaysia or Indonesia, in which Sumatran rhino embryos can be produced with an international team of cutting-edge experts conducting the necessary procedures. Imagine what an Indonesia-Malaysia based collaboration could do: The first critically endangered wildlife species to be rescued from the edge of extinction through international collaboration in the species’ home countries.”

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