Best of our wild blogs: 15 May 15

Help needed for bulk purchase of marine guidesheets
wild shores of singapore

Black-shouldered Kite regurgitation or vomiting?
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Fears grow that invasive bird species may cause havoc here

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 14 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — Recent sightings of a destructive non-native bird species have alarmed some bird enthusiasts here, who have urged a relook of import policies for invasive species.

They fear that the Red-billed Quelea — sometimes referred to as “feathered locusts” as it damages crops and lives in huge flocks — will wreak environmental havoc by affecting native bird species here, if their numbers grow.

The bird is believed to have entered through the cage-bird trade, as it is found in Africa and is not a migratory species. It is considered the most abundant bird species in the world.

In the last two months, the Red-billed Quelea has been photographed at least twice here. Nature photographer Johnson Chua spotted it last month at Punggol Barat and sent the photo to Nature Society member Francis Yap, who sought the help of Dr Dieter Oschadleus from the University of Cape Town to identify the bird.

Mr Yap found another picture of the bird taken in March through his Facebook network. He then did some research and posted an article titled “World’s most destructive bird species now in Singapore” on the Nature Society’s Singapore Bird Group blog on Tuesday (May 12).

Calling for an import ban on the “environmentally and economically destructive” species, Mr Yap wrote that he has observed a drop in the number of native munias and weavers, after African grassland bird species including weavers, waxbills and queleas were released here in recent years.

He lauded the authorities’ efforts in urging people not to release animals in the lead-up to Vesak Day — the Operation No Release campaign will take place from tomorrow to the end of this month — but said the import of “dangerous species” should be banned in the first place by the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Imports of other alien species should be limited in the months leading up to Vesak Day, Mr Yap wrote, noting that quelea numbers have become “unstoppable” in their native land.

“What happens when this species takes hold in our region? Rice is an important crop for our neighbours and they are involved in high-yield agriculture,” he added.

But Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt, from National University of Singapore’s Department of Biological Sciences, believes the Red-billed Quelea poses “zero threat” to Singapore at this stage. “It would only have a chance to become established if many more individuals escape and reproduce in the Singaporean wild, which is unlikely,” he said. “Even if they do grab a foothold, they’re unlikely to persist for long because they’re badly adapted to Singapore’s super-humid climate, being birds of drier savannas and steppes.”

There is no case in the world where the quelea has been introduced and become a serious pest bird, Asst Prof Rheindt added.

Dr Oschadleus agreed, but said that in Australia and the United States, the bird is listed as a species to be particularly alert about as its introduction could potentially cause serious problems.

The AVA told TODAY that although no import restriction exists on the Red-billed Quelea, none have been recorded being brought in since 2010. There were no sightings of the bird in AVA’s urban bird survey last year and this year, and AVA has not received any public feedback on it to date, a spokesperson added.

Mr Chua, a member of the Nature Photographic Society, Singapore, told TODAY he visited Punggol Barat a week after he sighted the species, but did not see it this time.

Spotted: Destructive birds from Africa in S'pore
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 May 15;

One of the world's most destructive birds has been seen in Singapore, but experts say the species has almost no chance of taking root and causing environmental havoc here.

The red-billed quelea, which has been called a "feathered locust" because it lives in large flocks that destroy crops, has been photographed at least twice here in the past two months.

The non-native bird is believed to have entered through the caged-bird trade as it is native to Africa and not a migratory species. The photographed birds may have escaped from their owners or could have been released as part of religious festivities.

On Tuesday, Nature Society member Francis Yap wrote an online post titled "World's most destructive bird species now in Singapore", which described the sightings and called for a ban on the import of dangerous species such as the quelea.

He added that one of the photographed queleas was a breeding female ready to lay eggs, based on its plumage in the photo.
Nature guide and part-time lecturer Lim Kim Seng said that if the bird proliferates here, it could compete with other birds with the same diet, such as munias, and lead to their decline.

"The quelea could clump in the thousands and deprive other birds of space to breed."

But Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt from the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences said the quelea is unlikely to pose a threat to Singapore's native birds.

He noted that the sightings so far have been of isolated birds. It would take many more birds for them to gain a foothold here.

"Many of these African birds, including the quelea, are also from the dry savannas," he said. "Singapore's humid climate is not optimal for them. It is very unlikely that you would see flocks of the quelea here, unless people suddenly start releasing dozens or hundreds of them."

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said there is no import restriction on the bird, but its records show none has been brought in since 2010. There were also no sightings of the quelea in its urban bird survey last year and this year and it has not received any public feedback on the bird to date.

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Singapore on its way to realising vision as City in a Garden

As part of the National Parks Board’s Streetscape Greenery Master Plan, about 28,000 trees were planted across the island last year – one-and-a-half times the average number of trees planted annually in recent years.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 15 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Each year, up to 2,000 trees are introduced to Singapore's roads, parks and state lands. This is part of efforts by the National Parks Board (NParks) to enhance greenery and boost biodiversity, in a rapidly growing urban environment.

Singapore's journey to become a Garden City began in 1963, when founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launched a tree-planting campaign. It was his vision to cultivate greenery and soften the harshness of the metropolis. As the country continues to urbanise, it is moving towards becoming a City in a Garden.

NParks' Streetscape Greenery Master Plan is a blueprint to introduce a wide variety of new plant species along the roads. The plants are sourced from nurseries and nature reserves in Singapore, as well as botanic gardens across the region.

They all begin their journey in NParks' tree banks. There are five such tree banks across the island, and they are home to more than 5,000 trees of 70 different species.

Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, streetscape director at NParks, explained: “Once we have evaluated the species suitable for introduction, we’ll bring in a small quantity of these trees to be planted in our tree banks. This allows us to monitor the growth and performance of the tree species in a local context and we will observe whether they are able to withstand the stress in the urban environment, for example, if can they survive through prolonged periods of dry spell.”

The plants are chosen based on several criteria, such as their growth habits and aesthetic values.

Mr Oh added: “We’re also looking for species to see whether they can provide good shade, greenery to the urban environment, to soften the urban environment. We look at whether the species is easy to maintain, and of course whether it can add some colour to the landscape."

For instance, the White Meranti trees, which are found in Singapore's forests, are now thriving along Eng Neo Avenue.

Last year, about 28,000 trees were planted across the island, one-and-a-half times the average number of trees NParks has planted annually in recent years.

- CNA/hs

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Bigger push to get Singaporeans to recycle

HDB residents to get starter kits; activists call for more engagement
SAMANTHA BOH Straits Times 15 May 15;

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) is stepping up its efforts to encourage more households here to recycle with a new recycling starter kit.

In a tender document, the agency said the kit will comprise educational materials, such as information on the different types of waste, a guide on how to set up a recycling system and stickers that act as recycling reminders.

"The educational materials at home serve as a quick guide to help households understand more about recycling in their community, start recycling at home, and guide their family members to recycle," said NEA in the tender.

The kits will be distributed to HDB residents, with the primary target being household decision markers who are not recycling due to perceived inconvenience or lack of knowledge about what can be recycled.

The NEA also intends to reach out to those who are already recycling but are not clear about the overall recycling process or have doubts that items deposited in recycling bins really get recycled. It also hopes to appeal to young children and youth with the kit's detachable visual reminders.

NEA also wants void deck posters that direct residents to the nearest recycling bins, according to the documents.

The tender closes on May 20.

The agency's latest efforts come as the country saw a 1 percentage point drop to 19 per cent in the domestic recycling rate last year. The overall rate also fell 1 percentage point to 60 per cent, with industries being the main contributor of recyclables.

Green groups said the kit and void deck posters are a step in the right direction as they tackle the most common barriers to household recycling. But there must also be engagement with residents.

Mr Eugene Tay, founder and director of consultancy Green Future Solutions, said the NEA should work with non-profit groups and volunteers on face-to-face sessions with residents.

Mr Kavickumar Muruganathan, lead environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council, said it is important to ensure that the effort "does not result merely in heightened awareness, but leads to behavioural change and action".

He added that incentivising households could also help spur recycling rates.

This proved successful in the South West District, which has a weekly "Trash-for-Cash" programme, where residents could exchange unwanted items for necessities such as rice. The scheme contributed to the 2,350 tonnes of recyclables collected in 2013.

In Marine Parade GRC, an electronic waste recycling pilot with a charity element yielded positive results too. Panasonic Asia Pacific donated energy-saving light bulbs to needy households based on the amount of e-waste collected. A total of 10,204kg of recyclables were collected in seven months.

Seamstress Ong Beng Choo, 54, agreed that incentives would work better as she believes habits die hard. She has been recycling items for 10 years now but has hardly converted anyone despite telling her friends and family about the merits of recycling.

"It is not that they don't know, but that they don't want to because they find it troublesome," she said.


Quantifying recyclables

A PROJECT is being conducted to quantify the amount of recyclables collected in the blue recycling bins at HDB blocks.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is doing that at 30 blocks in Choa Chu Kang and aims to develop and promote "routine" recycling in HDB households, said tender documents put up by the agency in March.

A contractor is to supply a manual pallet lift equipped with weighing scale to measure the weight of the recycling bins, and manpower to count the number of items in the bins. Additional recycling data will also be collected.

The contractor is also tasked to measure the contamination rate of recyclables found in each of the blue bins.

Contamination of recyclables by food, liquid or other wet waste has been an issue as many people are not aware that they have to clean their recyclables before depositing them in the bins. When that happens, entire truckloads of recyclables have to be rejected, and the items incinerated instead.


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Wanted: Ideas for underused and overlooked public spaces

The ideas will serve as an inspiration for future PubliCity programmes, and up to 10 winners will win S$1,000 cash, the Urban Redevelopment Authority says.
Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia 14 May 15;

SINGAPORE: The public can now send in their ideas on how to transform underused and overlooked public spaces such as spaces between buildings, areas below flyovers and forgotten backlanes, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Thursday (May 14).

The competition, called "My Ideas for Public Spaces", will serve as an inspiration for future PubliCity programmes, and up to 10 winners will win S$1,000 cash, the agency said in its press release.

"The URA is looking for ideas that can creatively transform these spaces, making them inviting and accessible for the community," it said. "The public should also consider how their ideas relate to the surrounding context, and whether they can be easily implemented and sustained in the long run."

Participants who are interested in this year’s competition can submit their entries by hand or mail between May 14 and Jun 26. The winning entries will be announced later this year. More information can be found on URA's portal.

This is the second time the competition is being held. The first edition was held in late 2013, and ideas were sought for four spaces - The Lawn @ Marina Bay, spaces along the Singapore River Promenade, an open space in Kampong Glam, and Woodlands Civic Plaza.

URA hopes the ideas from the public will result in a sense of ownership of these spaces.

Ms Tracey Hwang, director of the Urban Planning department of the URA, said: “In contrast to the previous competition where we selected four specific spaces, this time around, we're letting the public select their own spaces so that they can select spaces familiar to them and think of ideas that cater to their need in their neighbourhood."

- CNA/kk/hs

Got an idea to transform a space in Singapore? You are wanted
AsiaOne 14 May 15;

SINGAPORE - If you have an idea on how to transform underused or overlooked pockets of public spaces in Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is looking for you.

To sweeten the honey pot, URA is offering 10 winning ideas $1,000 in cash each.

The competition - called "My Ideas for Public Spaces" - aims to inspire people to transform forgotten spaces into something more meaningful.
The public can submit ideas for forgotten spaces such as:

The ideas should transform these spaces creatively, making them inviting and accessible for the community in relation to the surrounding context, and whether they can be easily implemented and sustained in the long run.

The first edition of the competition was conducted in 2013 for four spaces - The Lawn @ Marina Bay, spaces along the Singapore River Promenade, an open space in Kampong Glam, and Woodlands Civic Plaza.

Over 160 entries were submitted, of which 11 received awards.

"We were delighted with the many innovative ideas received in the first competition and have adapted some of them for our PubliCity projects," Mr Ng Lang, Chief Executive Officer of URA said.

"With the spotlight turning to 'forgotten spaces' this year, we hope the public can apply the same inventiveness to turn these overlooked spaces into delightful, meaningful ones that the community can enjoy."

The entries inspired the first series of PubliCity pop-up projects, URA said. These include 'Chairs in Squares', 'Picnic in the Park' and 'Play Space'. 'Picnic in the Park' took place at the Sultan Gate open space in Kampong Glam.

Participants who are interested in this year's competition can submit their entries by hand or mail between May 14 and June 26. The winning entries will be announced later this year.

The public can visit for more competition details.

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Malaysia: Sarawak lost RM41mil due to illegal logging last year

TAN YI LIANG The Star 14 May 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Sarawak lost RM41mil in revenue due to illegal logging last year and forestry officials and other agencies have pledged to come down hard on illegal operators.

Sarawak Forestry Department operations and investigation unit chief Abdul Wahab Haji Ahmad hoped that Ops Gergaji, which started on Tuesday, would send a strong signal that the state government views illegal logging seriously.

"We do not want these loggers damaging our environment.

"We do not want landslides or degradation of the quality of water in the interior of Sarawak. The people living there have no tap water.

"They rely on the water they get from the small rivers. We do not want this to go on," Abdul Wahab, who is with the Department's Prevention and Enforcement Division, told a press conference.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) froze 375 accounts totalling over RM560mil in its latest strike against illegal logging and timber corruption in Sarawak under Ops Gergaji.

More than 500 logs were seized in the joint operation conducted by 400 personnel from the MACC, police, state Forestry Department and the Inland Revenue Board across the state.

The raids were carried out simultaneously at 13 locations in Miri, 12 in Kuching and Sibu, six in Bintulu, three in Bakun and two in Kapit.

Asked about the seized logs, Abdul Wahab said the Forestry Department had its own procedures in disposing the logs, adding that the logs "will not go back to the people who felled them."

Sarawak MACC director Datuk Badrul Shah Norman said the Commission was looking at more than illegal logging in Ops Gergaji.

"We are looking at corrupt activities and leakage in government revenue.

"We wanted to send a message that we will not tolerate illegal logging or leakage,he said.

He said that Ops Gergaji took about six months of planning before it went into full swing on Tuesday.

"We had to plan and pinpoint the correct spots where illegal logging was taking place, and we had to be very discreet to ensure there was no leakage of information.

"It took us four months to analyse the data collected from the various agencies, and we were assisted by images from the Forestry Department which we compared with the concessions that had been granted," said Badrul.

"The MACC seized voluminous amounts of documents such as bank vouchers and ledgers from the companies that were raided.

"We are studying the ledgers to check if any financial impropriety has taken place," said Badrul.

He added that there was no time frame for the completion of Ops Gergaji as raids also depend on weather conditions.

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Reducing deforestation in Malaysia’s Bornean states of Sarawak & Sabah

WWF-Malaysia 12 May 15;

11 May 2015, Kuching: According to the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) recent 2015 Living Forests Report, deforestation is severe in Borneo, one of the 11 places in the world projected to have the most deforestation in the next 15 years.

The report projected that in a no-intervention scenario, up to 170 million ha of forests could be lost between 2010 and 2030 in the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest and Gran Chaco, Borneo, the Cerrado, Choco-Darien, the Congo Basin, East Africa, Eastern Australia, Greater Mekong, New Guinea and Sumatra.

WWF-Malaysia’s Chief Executive Officer Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma announced that tangible actions are being taken to address deforestation, particularly in Sarawak and Sabah. He said that both state governments have been very cooperative and supportive towards these initiatives which generated positive results in the recent years.

WWF-Malaysia works closely with Sarawak and Sabah governments to address the deforestation rate in both states through various conservation initiatives. These initiatives include enhancing protected areas, conservation spatial planning, responsible forestry and forest certification which could reduce deforestation rate and create a balance between development and conservation.

In Sarawak, Dr Dionysius said a notable collaboration to address deforestation with the state government is the Systematic Conservation Planning to produce maps showing areas for priority conservation.

“These maps would incorporate elements of Totally Protected Areas, sustainable development that needs strong conservation measures such as sustainable forest management and key watersheds for protection and management of ecosystem services areas such as water source. The maps would also include wildlife corridors connecting Totally Protected areas and fragmented forests across the state,” he said.

Through this systematic identification of priority conservation areas, the remaining intact forests could be protected while areas designated for permanent forest estates can be fast-tracked for forest management certification.

Dr Dionysius explained that degraded areas that still contain vital conservation and ecosystem service values can undergo forest restoration by planting indigenous trees.

He also stressed that WWF-Malaysia calls for enhanced conservation measures to reduce deforestation. “The Sarawak government needs to accelerate gazetting its initial target of having one million ha of Totally Protected Areas, and six million ha for Permanent Forest Estates which are vital for biodiversity conservation and protection of ecosystem services. Sarawak must also ensure that these Totally Protected Areas and Permanent Forest Estates are managed properly and sustainably.”

In Sabah, WWF-Malaysia collaborates closely with the Sabah Forestry Department on initiatives that reduce deforestation rates. One of the initiatives is to identify more forest areas for protection to help achieve Sabah government’s goal of bringing 30% of the land area of Sabah under protection.

“Some of the new areas have already been gazetted as protection forest reserves in November 2014, thus effectively stopping the risk of deforestation of those areas,” said Dr Dionysius.

“WWF-Malaysia also advocates for wider buffers for existing protected areas and restoration of natural forest cover to such buffer areas,” he added.

Imbak Canyon Conservation Area, for example, gained a wider protection forest buffer in November 2014 when 19,510 ha of adjacent logged forests were reclassified as protection forests. Such a wide buffer is expected to regenerate and reduce the threats of poaching, fire and other disturbances from reaching the core parts of Imbak Canyon.

Another initiative to reduce deforestation in Sabah is through responsible forestry. WWF-Malaysia provides technical support to forest reserves undergoing certification for responsible forest management meeting the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards.

Dr Dionysius further elaborated that “as part of the certification process, High Conservation Value assessments are carried out, which identify habitats of value to certain endangered species, areas providing considerable watershed services, riparian forests, etc. to be protected from conversion to plantations and other land uses. A globally-recognized certification such as FSC will promote responsible forest management, including retention of land under natural forest cover, and high conservation value management”.

“Most importantly, we have been assisting the Sabah government for many years to progress towards Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) readiness stage, so that the avoidance of deforestation, sustainable forest management and forest restoration achieved by the government and other forest licence holders can eventually be financially rewarded,” Dr. Dionysius concluded.

The projected figures of deforestation in WWF’s “Living Forests: Saving the Forests at Risk” report may be shocking but they certainly serve as an important reminder that more needs to be done to reduce deforestation in Borneo.

As a non-profit organization at the forefront of conservation in both Sabah and Sarawak, WWF-Malaysia is committed to continue its efforts to work with the state governments to ensure that the grave projections of the report will not become a stark reality.

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Malaysian Nature Society: Tapir extinct in Sabah first

Daily Express 14 May 15;

Kota Kinabalu: Tapir mammals once roamed the lush green forests of Borneo including what is Sabah today. But alas, it went extinct leaving only skeletal or fossil remains as proof of its existence in this part of Southeast Asia, with few left in Peninsular Malaysia.

This was revealed by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) activist SM Muthu when asked by Daily Express as to why he was wearing a tee shirt with the tapir motif instead of the rhinoceros which is on the verge of extinction in Sabah.

"A professor gave a talk in the past on this at this very room in this hotel about the tapir history in Sabah," Muthu said on the sidelines of the launch of a guidebook on the Begonia of Borneo at the Hyatt Regency, here, recently.

Tapir, with a life span of 25 to 30 years, looks like a pig with a trunk. They are actually related to horses and rhinoceroses. This eclectic lineage is an ancient one — and so is the tapir itself. Scientists believe that these animals have changed little over tens of millions of years.

Tapirs have a short prehensile (gripping) trunk, which is really an extended nose and upper lip. They use this trunk to grab branches and clean them of leaves or to help pluck tasty fruits.

Tapirs feed each morning and evening. During these hours they follow tunnel-like paths, worn through the heavy brush by many a tapir footstep to reach water holes and lush feeding grounds. As they roam and defecate they deposit the seeds they have consumed and promote future plant growth.

Though they appear densely built, tapirs are at home in the water and often submerge to cool off. They are excellent swimmers and can even dive to feed on aquatic plants. They also wallow in mud, perhaps to remove pesky ticks from their thick hides.

The world's biggest tapir is found in the Old World — Southeast Asia. The black-and-white Malayan tapir can grow to 800 pounds (363 kilogrammes).

It inhabits the forests and swamps and are endangered or threatened, largely due to hunting and habitat loss.

"It is more poignant to show that the fate of the tapir here is what will befall other iconic animals of Sabah, not only the rhinoceros, if we do not do something positive to prevent unsustainable practices," Muthu stressed.

The tapir, like the colours of the panda, is the logo of the Malaysian Nature Society formerly known as the Malayan Nature Society. The panda is the logo of the WWF which recently commended governments on Borneo Island for their actions in checking deforestation.

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El Niño near-certain to last through summer: U.S. climate center

Marcy Nicholson, Chris Prentice and Luc Cohen in New York and David Adams in Miam
PlanetArk 14 May 15;

The El Niño climate phenomenon is almost certain to last through the Northern Hemisphere summer, the U.S. weather forecaster said, raising the chance of heavy rain in the southern United States as well as South America, and scorching heat in Asia that could devastate crops of thirsty food staples like rice.

El Niño also reduces the likelihood of a busy hurricane season, which lasts from June to November and can disrupt energy operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

In its monthly report released on Thursday, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said El Niño, a phenomenon which warms sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, had a 90 percent likelihood of continuing through the summer. In April it estimated the odds at 70 percent.

El Niño conditions will likely last through the end of the year, the CPC said, pegging the chance at 80 percent.

"[El Niño]'s definitely upon us and it should remain so for the next few months," said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with Maryland-based MDA Weather Services.

A strong El Nino last appeared in 2009-2010 and resulted in significant spikes in sugar, cocoa and wheat prices.

If a strong El Niño does develop the likely U.S. impacts include wetter conditions across the southern U.S., from drought-stricken California through Texas to Florida, said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist for Weather Underground.

Recent rains across the central and southern Plains and reaching as far as southern California "could be seen as a sneak preview," he wrote on his blog.

But the El Niño effect did not guarantee drought relief for the Golden State, he said. "The strong El Niño of 1987-88 ... produced a drier-than-average winter from California to Washington," he wrote.

While El Niño tends to suppress hurricane formation, that does not necessarily rule out a powerful storm, Masters added, citing "the anemic 1992 season" which included the catastrophic Hurricane Andrew which struck South Florida.

Forecasters have already predicted a below average Atlantic hurricane season.

Thursday's report helped cocoa futures prices move higher due to prospects for drier weather in top-growing region West Africa, said Nick Gentile, managing partner of NickJen Capital in New York.

The CPC report said that by early May weak to moderate El Niño conditions were reflected across the equatorial Pacific.

The CPC said there was still "considerable uncertainty" about the potential strength of the event.

(Editing by Alden Bentley, Lisa Von Ahn and Richard Chang)

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