Best of our wild blogs: 8 May 15

Celebrate World Biodiversity Day with a coastal cleanup @ Lim Chu Kang Beach!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

World Migratory Bird Day – A Blast from the Past.
Singapore Bird Group

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum highlights Singapore’s giant clam research
Neo Mei Lin

Olive-backed Sunbird collecting fruits of Porophyllum ruderale (F: Asteraceae)
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Animal smugglers go to great lengths to avoid detection, causing harm to creatures

AUDREY TAN Straits Times 7 May 15;

SINGAPORE - A pig-tailed macaque and common palm civet being kept illegally at a car workshop were seized by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) on Wednesday. Both animals were found in two small cages at the back of the Hougang workshop.

When The Straits Times visited SMC Auto Engineering Works in Defu Lane 9 during the AVA raid, the macaque was swinging around the cage and had a thick metal chain around its neck.

The civet, which is a nocturnal creature native to Singapore and usually found in trees and high places, was curled up motionless in a corner. Its cage was littered with scraps of food, including apple and pork slices, with flies buzzing around it.

The animals were likely secured through the illegal wildlife trade, which animal groups say is thriving here, given Singapore's status as a global port.

The Straits Times looks at the lengths that animal smugglers go to illegally bring in such animals.

Puppies hidden under car seat

A Malaysian man was sentenced on April 16, 2015 to eight months' jail for smuggling seven puppies into Singapore and for animal cruelty. Mohamad Ashwin Nazri pleaded guilty to importing two Japanese spitz, two golden retrievers and three poodles in a car from Malaysia without a licence on March 30, 2015. -- PHOTO: AGRI-FOOD AND VETERINARY AUTHORITY

A Malaysian assistant pub manager, Mohamad Ashwin Nazri, 25, was jailed for eight months in April 2015 for trying to smuggle in seven puppies into Singapore and for ill-treating them.

The two Japanese Spitz, two golden retrievers and three poodles were likely to have been sedated to prevent them from moving and making any noise when they were being transported here from Johor on March 30.

No food or water was provided for the puppies, which were later found on the floorboard under the seat. Two died and four had to be put down after contracting an infectious disease.

Twelve birds stuffed in PVC tubes

A Singaporean man smuggled 12 birds from Vietnam by hiding them in PVC tubes with perforated holes. He was jailed for three months in April 2015.

Herman Rahmat, 38, who was unemployed, brought in nine white-rumped shama, two red-whiskered bulbul and a magpie robin without a licence in 2014.

All the birds were found alive, but eight of them died within three days from cranial trauma with accompanying haemorrhage, swelling and dehydration.

Hedgehog in shoebox; gecko in plastic container

The two hedgehogs in a shoebox which were discovered at the Woodlands Checkpoint. Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers found the hedgehogs hidden inside a shoebox, while the gecko was placed in a small plastic container in the 26-year-old man’s zip pouch in the Singapore-registered cab. -- PHOTO: AGRI-FOOD AND VETERINARY AUTHORITY/ICA

A taxi passenger was caught trying to smuggle two hedgehogs and a gecko into Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint in February this year.

Officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) found the hedgehogs in a shoebox and the gecko in a small plastic container in the 26-year-old man's zippered pouch. He was fined $1,500 and the three creatures were taken to the Singapore Zoo.

Puppies bagged in cloth bags

Thirteen puppies were discovered during a routine check at Woodlands Checkpoint on Sept 9, 2014. A 33-year-old Singaporean woman was arrested for attempting to smuggle them into Singapore. -- PHOTO: IMMIGRATION & CHECKPOINTS AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE

Former dog breeder Sharon Tan Mei Hua, 33, smuggled 13 puppies from Malaysia in her car via Woodlands checkpoint. She was jailed for four months in November 2014.

The 13 sedated puppies, including three Japanese spitzs, two pomeranians, a Siberian husky and five poodles, were found on Sept 9. They were alive and found hidden in cloth bags under the front seats and the glove compartment of her Nissan car. They were then taken to an AVA facility for quarantine.

Exotic and endangered animals found in Toa Payoh flat

Ong Ming Shiang was fined a total of $41,000 on Feb 6, 2014, after pleading guilty to contravening the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act and the Wild Animals and Birds Act. He kept 32 animals - some of which were endangered - in his Housing Board flat in Toa Payoh North. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

In the biggest seizure of illegal wildlife from a home in 11 years, Ong Ming Shiang, 33, was fined in February 2014 a total of $41,000 under the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act and the Wild Animals and Birds Act.

He had 32 animals, some of them endangered, in his Housing Board flat in Toa Payoh North. They included three rare ball pythons, two Indian star tortoises, a slow loris, three black- tailed prairie dogs, two sailfin dragons and five ornate horned frogs.

It is the highest fine imposed on an individual for the possession of illegal wildlife here. The 32 animals were then taken to the Singapore Zoo.

Indonesia: Birds stuffed in plastic drinking bottles

A policeman holding a water bottle with a yellow-crested cockatoo inside, at the customs office of Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, East Java province, on May 4, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

A 37-year-old man was stopped by Indonesian police on Monday for smuggling in 24 birds stuffed in plastic bottles, including 21 critically endangered yellow-crested cockatoos.

The birds in their plastic prisons were found by Indonesian police at the Port of Tanjung Perak in Surabaya, Indonesia. They were then cut free and given medical attention. They have since been sent to Indonesia's natural resources conservation office, which deals with wildlife-trafficking cases.

The birds can fetch about $1,300 each, and were to be smuggled out of Indonesia to be sold on the black market. If found guilty of smuggling, the man who was from near Surabaya could face up to five years in prison

Australia: Bird eggs hidden in passenger's crotch

In May 2014, a 39-year-old Czech man was caught by customs officials at Sydney airport for having 16 wild-bird eggs in the crotch of his pants. The man arrived on a flight from Dubai when customs officials examined his baggage.

AVA rescues monkey, civet caged at workshop
AUDREY TAN Straits Times 7 May 15;

A MONKEY and civet kept illegally at a car workshop were yesterday seized by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and taken to the Singapore Zoo, following a tip-off from a local wildlife rescue group.

The pig-tailed macaque and common palm civet were found in two cages at the back of the Hougang workshop.

When The Straits Times visited SMC Auto Engineering Works in Defu Lane 9during the AVA raid yesterday, the macaque was swinging around the cage and had a thick metal chain around its neck. The civet, which is native to Singapore and usually found in trees and high places, was curled up motionless in a corner.

Both cages were about thigh high and an arm's length wide.

Mr Louis Ng, chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), the group that alerted the authorities, said both animals were kept under poor conditions.

Civets are nocturnal creatures, so keeping one where there is a lot of noise and light is cruel, while confining the macaque to a small cage is a form of abuse, he said.

Acres took cheek swabs from the macaque, which is not native to Singapore. The DNA collected could reveal where it came from, and can hopefully be returned to.

The group has successfully returned monkeys to India and Africa in the past. Mr Ng believes the macaque is likely to have been secured through the illegal wildlife trade, which animal groups say is thriving here, given Singapore's status as a global port.

Nanyang Technological University Assistant Professor Michael Gumert, who studies macaque behaviour, said: "Monkeys learn socially, and without experience with a troop, they would be unable to learn how to navigate, find food, or detect dangers in the wild."

A check with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority listed SMC Auto's owner as Mr Low Eng Pau, who could not be reached. Those working at nearby firms said they did not know about the animals. Mr George Tan, the owner of recycling firm Fook Seng Fatt across the road, said SMC Auto had moved there about three months ago.

People cannot keep, trap or kill wild animals here without a licence. Those found guilty under the Wild Animals and Birds Act face a maximum fine of $1,000 per animal.

The pig-tailed macaque is a protected species. Those found with such a species can be charged under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, which carries a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine per specimen and a two-year jail term.

An AVA spokesman warned: "Wild animals are not suitable pets as some may transmit zoonotic diseases to humans. Wild animals that are non-native to Singapore may also be a threat to our biodiversity if released into the environment."

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Civic District undergoing facelift to be more pedestrian-friendly

Channel NewsAsia 7 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Civic District is undergoing a facelift, which involves the moving of trees and the landscaping of open spaces near the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. It is an engineering feat that National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has lauded in his blog.

The Civic District is home to several arts institutions. Apart from the Asian Civilisations Museum, the area also boasts the National Gallery and Victoria Theatre.

The authorities hope that the presence of the new trees will rejuvenate the area and make it more pedestrian-friendly.

"These are your first class arts and culture developments,” said Mr Bernard Chan, a senior architect of the Conservation and Urban Design Group at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). “So what we want to do is to come in and create a nice lawn for which these developments can sit within, so we have got a garden setting with monuments nestled within it.”

He added: “The other thing that was important for us is to create an environment that is safe and comfortable for pedestrians. With that, we have started to remove some roads, Old Parliament Lane, that will be paved over and made pedestrianised."

It takes about two weeks to move each mature rain tree, which is about 40 years old and weighs more than 90 tonnes. They had to first be inspected by an expert to ensure that they were in good condition. The area around the trees was then excavated before the trees were lifted and moved.

Said Mr Chan: "I think for most of us the transplant itself is quite mechanical, but it is really the tender loving care that the team puts into the roots and the trees that will really ensure the survival of the tree."

Esplanade Park will also see some new trees. The National Parks Board’s director of Streetscape, Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, said: “In the 1960s to the 1980s, this was a popular meeting place for couples. It was commonly referred to as 'gor zhang chiu kar', or under the shade of the five mature angsana trees. In the 1990s unfortunately due to a fungal wilt disease, all these trees had to be removed.

“As part of the improvement of the park at Esplanade, we will be transplanting five mature angsana trees back to the site. This will help to bring back a sense of nostalgia back to the site."

Works around the Civic District will be fully completed by October 2016.

- CNA/hs

Angsana trees transplanted at Esplanade Park
AMANDA LEE Today Online 8 May 15;

SINGAPORE — It is called Esplanade Park now but, from the 1960s to 1980s, the popular spot for lovebirds was known as “gor zhang chiu kar”, Hokkien for “under the shade of five trees”, in reference to the prominent, strapping Angsana trees there.

After a fungal disease attacked the tree species, the five mature trees had to be removed in the 1990s.

In a few months though, the public will get to relive the vibes of “gor zhang chiu kar” again, when five new Angsana trees that the National Parks Board’s (NParks) horticulturists have fortified to be resistant to the fungus are transplanted into Esplanade Park.

The transplanting is part of moves to pedestrianise the Civic District, including the planting of an eighth mature rain tree at a new 4,400 sq m lawn in front of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall yesterday to provide shade.

In a blog post yesterday on the rejuvenation of the Civic District, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan urged visitors to go and enjoy the enhancements made by NParks.

“We are putting a lot of thought and passion into the rejuvenation of the Civic District. We want an integrated arts, culture and lifestyle precinct set in a lush, green environment,” he wrote.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s senior architect Bernard Chan said the main objective of the project was to provide a nice environment for Singapore’s world-class arts and culture monuments.

“So what we want to do is come in to create a nice lawn (on) which these developments can sit,” said Mr Chan. “We have got a garden setting with monuments nestled within it.”

On a media tour of the area yesterday, NParks Director (Streetscape) Oh Cheow Sheng said the transplanting of the mature Angsana trees to Esplanade Park would “help to bring back a sense of nostalgia”.

By specially propagating new Angsana trees that are genetically resistant to the fungus that had wreaked havoc on the species, NParks’ horticulturists managed to see 115 of these plants to maturity.

NParks has also developed modular suspended pavement systems that can be installed under roads and paved surfaces to allow for greater rooting and breathing spaces. These polypropylene structural cells are being tested under a row of 22 Kayu Arang trees along Queen Elizabeth Walk, which is part of the Jubilee Walk.

NParks senior researcher Genevieve Ow Lai Fern said the technology would extend the space for tree roots and increase soil volume.

“Essentially, when we improve the underground conditions, it will translate to overall healthier trees,” she added. Mr Khaw said more volume and colour are being added to the landscape, with Pigeon Orchids and Staghorn ferns to be planted on trees there.

“Old favourites”, such as the Mussaenda Queen Sirikit, Thai Gardenias and Frangipani Singapore White will also be reintroduced, he added.

8 trees transplanted to new lawn in front of Victoria Theatre
AMANDA LEE Today Online 7 May 15;

SINGAPORE — Eight mature trees have been transplanted to a new lawn in front of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

This is one of the initatives between the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to enhance greenery and landscaping in the Civic District, which was disclosed at a media tour today (May 7).

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan also wrote in his blog post today about the ongoing efforts to enhance greenery within the Civic District.

“We are making good progress in our effort to pedestrianise our Civic District,” said Mr Khaw. “Specifically, we are creating a lawn in front of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall”.

He said the plan calls for the transplanting of eight mature rain trees to the front of the national monuments.

Elaborating on the rejuvenation of the Civic District, Mr Khaw said: “We want an integrated art, culture and lifestyle precinct set in a lush, green environment.”

Other initiatives include reinstating five Angsana trees at the Esplanade Park. In October, the NParks and URA will be transplanting five mature trees back to the park, where a fungal disease called “Fusarium” struck down the original five in the 1990s.

This would bring back memories of many young couples who used to sit under the shade of the five trees, said Nparks Director (Streetscape) Oh Cheow Sheng.

90-tonne raintree transplanted to Civic District
Samantha Boh The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 May 15;

An eighth raintree was successfully transplanted to a new location in front of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall yesterday, adding to a row of seven other raintrees that had been moved there earlier as plans to pedestrianise the Civic District progressed.

With the nearby Old Parliament Lane paved over to turn it into a pedestrian path by July, walking in the Victoria Theatre and Asian Civilisations Museum area will be even more of a breeze.

Stepped waterfront plazas and a playground will be built at Esplanade Park.

The walkway in front of the National Gallery will also be widened.

Writing in the Ministry of National Development's blog yesterday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "We are putting a lot of thought and passion into the rejuvenation of the Civic District. We want an integrated art, culture and lifestyle precinct set in a lush, green environment."

The eighth raintree, which weighs 90 tonnes, was the second largest and final tree to be transplanted.

The process took two weeks to complete, which included having the tree pruned to minimise stress from water loss.

The seven other trees transplanted earlier are in good health, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the National Parks Board (NParks).

Other works are also under way around the Civic District to enhance its greenery, including the installation of structural cells at Queen Elizabeth Walk, which are being placed under roads and paved surfaces.

They allow tree roots to branch out wider and deeper without becoming obstructed. From mid-this month, biostimulants will be applied to mature trees to improve soil structure, among other benefits.

NParks is also reinstating five Angsana trees to Esplanade Park in October. The place was a popular meeting place for couples between the 1960s and 1980s.

The five Angsana trees were removed in the 1990s as they were affected by a fungal disease that also killed many mature Angsana trees elsewhere in Singapore, Mr Khaw said in the blog.

New Angsana trees that are genetically resistant to the disease have since been propagated by NParks' horticulturists.

The five new Angsana trees at Esplanade Park will be from among these trees.

During a media tour of the area yesterday, Mr Bernard Chan, senior architect at URA's conservation and urban design group, said there are also plans to provide infrastructure such as electricity and water at the new lawn in front of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

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Indonesia: 28 hotspots across Sumatra Island, BMKG reveals

Antara 7 May 15;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) announced that 28 hotspots have been detected across Sumatra Island, including seven in Riau Province on Thursday.

"Based on the satellites monitoring on May 7, 2015, at 5 a.m. local time, in Riau, maximum hotspots were detected in Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir districts, Head of the BMKG Pekanbaru Chapter Sugarin stated.

In the province, two hotspots were respectively found in Pelalawan and Rokan Hilir, and one each in Kampar, Indragiri Hilir, and Siak.

The agency had earlier alerted the Riau provincial government regarding the possible re-emergence of forest fires in late May.

"Beginning May, Riau will experience dry season until September 2015," he remarked.

Wind is forecast to blow from the South to the Northeast and North directions, which implies that the haze originating from forest fires might cross over to neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

"If there is haze due to the forest fires, for sure, it will reach the neighboring countries," he stated.

Therefore, he lauded the Riau provincial government for declaring an emergency status until October 2015 to enable the authorities to implement the necessary measures.

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Indonesia: Activists urge Jokowi to renew forest-clearing ban

Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s moratorium on deforestation will soon come to an end
Kennial Caroline Laia Jakarta Globe 7 May 15;

JAKARTA — Environmental activists have called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to extend and strengthen a forest-clearing moratorium that runs out this month.

The moratorium on issuing permits to clear peat and primary forests was introduced on May 20, 2011, by then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and slated to run for only two years. Mr Yudhoyono extended it in 2013 on a temporary basis for a further two years, and activists say Mr Widodo now has the chance to make a lasting positive impact by giving the moratorium a firmer legal basis.

Any extension to the moratorium “must stipulate punitive measures for people or companies that violate it”, Mr Zenzi Suhadi, a forest campaigner for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, or Walhi, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.

“This is needed to curb (the illegal) issuance of licences for forest exploitation, whether for mining or for large-scale plantations,” he added.

He noted that the moratorium as enforced by the Yudhoyono administration was for all practical intents toothless, noting that the Forestry Ministry issued mining and agriculture concessions for 12 million ha of forest land, much of it ostensibly off-limits under the moratorium, between 2011 and last year.

“During this period, there was no punishment for the violators,” Mr Suhadi said. “The next moratorium should include punitive measures to ensure that no one hurts the environment.”

He also said it was important that the moratorium be supported by a new agency “to supervise its implementation as well as enforce the law”.

Mr Suhaidi urged the government to consider extending the moratorium period as a two-year moratorium is not as effective as expected.

The original moratorium was enacted as part of a deal that would see Norway provide up to US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) in funds for climate change mitigation projects in exchange for demonstrable protection on Indonesia’s part of high conservation value forests, including peat forests, which store enormous amounts of carbon dioxide.

As part of the agreement with Oslo, Jakarta agreed to set up a Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) management body. But the body was folded into in the Forestry and Environment Ministry in January, prompting critics to question Mr Widodo’s commitment to combat deforestation and climate change.

In the time since the moratorium went into force, nearly 970,000 ha of peat forest have been cleared, half of that total coming from the heavily logged Sumatran provinces of Riau and Jambi, showed a study by Walhi and environmental non-governmental organisation Kemitraan.

The study also found that in some regions, up to four-fifths of the primary and peat forests identified as off-limits for new concessions are already protected under prevailing zoning regulations, hence the moratorium is doing little to expand the scope of forest protection.

Progressive revisions have also seen the map of areas protected under the moratorium shrink, with dozens of concessions issued across the country for land that was at one point included in the moratorium map, says Mr Hasbi Berliani, Kemitraan’s programme manager for good governance.

“It is really crucial for the government to strengthen (a) few points in the moratorium to protect other areas (that) haven’t been included within. As long as the moratorium doesn’t include it, it’s useless,” Mr Berliani said.

Mr Suhadi echoed the sentiment, saying that what Indonesia really needed was not a moratorium on new concessions, but a termination programme for existing licences. “The situation is critical,” he said, noting that when the moratorium was renewed in 2013, it included new concessions for energy and food production, thanks to what he called corporate lobbying. “This cost the country 1.2 million ha.”

“This year, there’s the possibility of intervention from the biofuel and food lobbies, and exemptions for border regions,” Mr Suhadi added.

The Forestry and Environment Ministry says it wants to extend the moratorium as part of a wider programme to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 26 per cent by 2020, and has welcomed suggestions of environmental groups in drafting an extension. THE JAKARTA GLOBE

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UN climate chief says technology has changed carbon politics

Associated Press Yahoo News 7 May 15;

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Technological advances that have reduced prices and improved efficiency of renewable energy have helped transform the politics around climate change since 2009 when an attempt to forge a global deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions failed, the U.N. climate chief said Thursday.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said countries were ahead of schedule in negotiating a landmark agreement on curbing greenhouse gases that can be adopted at a Paris summit in December.

"We're in a very, very different position to Copenhagen not just from a procedural point of view, but from many other points of view," Figueres told reporters during a visit to Australia.

Figueres, who became the U.N. climate chief in 2010 following the Copenhagen summit's failure to reach agreement on cutting emissions, said technological advances were the first of several factors that had created "a very changed political environment."

The price of solar panels has plummeted 80 percent since Copenhagen. Panels are also 40 percent more efficient, thanks to technologies that include Tesla batteries that can store solar electricity in homes.

The cost of solar power was already the same or cheaper than power from the grid in at least 60 countries, she said.

Investments in solar, wind and geothermal energy technologies have increased massively since Copenhagen, demonstrating "confidence that the investment into clean technologies is viable and is profitable," she said.

Last year, a record $271 billion was invested in renewable energy, with the growth of renewable electricity capacity outpacing the growth in fossil fuel-fired capacity, she said.

The number of laws and regulations around renewable energy and climate change had increased 20-fold since Copenhagen, indicating that the world's regulatory framework was headed toward a cleaner energy mix, she said.

U.N. negotiators in February produced an early draft of what eventually should become a landmark climate deal in Paris. The draft was produced four months ahead of schedule. The latest version has just 47 pages.

"That is remarkably different to where we were in the lead up to Copenhagen where we did not have an official negotiating text, where we had 300 pages of compilation of texts, but certainly no negotiating text," Figueres said.

The Paris agreement isn't expected to stop climate change, but would be the first time that all 194 countries agree to do something about it. Previously only rich countries have committed to limit their emissions of global warming gases, primarily carbon dioxide, from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

The slow-moving U.N. talks got a boost last year when top climate polluters China and the U.S. jointly announced emissions-limiting pledges for the Paris deal, which would take effect in 2020.

Scientists say the emission cuts are needed to make sure that global warming doesn't reach dangerous levels.

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