Rattled snake: Photographer caught on video hitting snake

David Sun, Ang Qing, The New Paper AsiaOne 30 Jul 15

Moving wild animals from their habitat for a photography session is frowned upon by nature lovers and professional photographers.

But that's what a group of photography enthusiasts did to a venomous snake. They even hit the reptile on the head.

Their foolhardy act was filmed and posted online.

It resulted in criticism from the public.

Last Monday, a 23-second video showing a group of photographers snapping photos of a snake at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was uploaded on Facebook.

It shows a man and a woman, believed to be part of a larger group, taking photos of a green snake coiled around a branch.

The man snaps five photos, with his camera flash on and his lens just centimetres away from the head of the snake.

The group speaks in Mandarin, discussing the camera angle and how to take the photo.

Towards the end of the video, the man picks up a stick from the ground and hits the snake on the head before moving away.

Comments on the video identify it as a pit viper, a snake species which can kill humans with its venom.

Mr Kennie Pan, 25, a wildlife photographer who uploaded the video, said the snake had been moved from its original spot by the group.

He told The New Paper he had been in the same area a few days before, on July 18.

He said: "I couldn't get good shots of it. So I decided to leave it and come back the next day to hopefully find it in a better position."


But the next day, he could not find it. This puzzled him as such snakes do not go very far. He said they usually only move higher up the trees.

He then bumped into his friend who jogs in the area frequently, and was told that the snake had been moved by a group of photographers.

Said Mr Pan: "He showed me a video he took of them, and it was very upsetting. They moved it about 5m away, and (looking at the video), it was clearly disturbed."

Mr Pan uploaded the video on his Facebook page and as of yesterday, it had been shared 370 times.

One of the shares was by the Herpetological Society of Singapore (HSS), which condemned the actions of the people in the video.

HSS is a group of enthusiasts who photograph snakes in Singapore.

Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan, 20, who is from the group, said he was outraged, describing the group's behaviour as abusive and irresponsible photography.

He said: "Imagine someone positioning you on a branch, prodding your head with a stick to make you face the right direction.

"I feel disturbed. It's an ongoing trend, to get the perfect shot. But it's not worth it to harass and unduly stress the animal this way.

"Within the nature photography community, there needs to be a code of ethics to prevent such incidents from happening."

Ms Ng Bee Choo, vertebrate study group chairman of the Nature Society Singapore, told The New Paper that such animals in nature reserves should be left alone.

"I think generally people can take pictures of them from a distance but they should not catch or touch them," she said.

Under Singapore's Animal and Birds Act, those found guilty of animal cruelty can be jailed for up to 18 months, fined up to $15,000, or both. For a second or subsequent offence, they could be fined up to $30,000, jailed up to three years, or both.

'Snakes just want to be left alone'

While on a nature walk, Mr Serin Subaraj, 20, saw a group of people trying to kill a snake with their walking sticks.

Instead of running away, he rushed forward to save it.

Mr Subaraj doesn't just love snakes, he is part of a group of snake enthusiasts, called the Herpetological Society of Singapore (HSS). Herpetology refers to the study of reptiles and amphibians.

HSS, which is unregistered, was founded in March. It currently has 21 members.

Over the last two years, its founding members - Mr Subaraj, Mr David Groenewoud, 22, Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan, 20, Mr Law Ing Sind, 19, and Mr Law Ingg Thong, 17 - would go around Singapore looking for snakes to photograph.

They search for these creatures at least once a week at places like Pulau Ubin and Pasir Ris Park.


All are students who met during nature walks. They started the group to correct misconceptions about snakes.

Mr Sankar said: "A common misconception is that snakes will come and find you. Snakes just want to be left alone."

According to the NParks website, there are more than 60 species of native snakes here. Some are venomous, such as the black spitting cobra, which is common in parks.

Ms Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), said: "People are not aware of native reptiles. Reticulated pythons are seen as anacondas. Monitor lizards are seen as Komodo dragons."

None of HSS' members has been attacked by snakes during their excursions.

Said Mr Sankar: "Snakes are beautiful and there's satisfaction in seeing an animal that's so rare.

"But we don't handle them unless there is a direct threat to their safety. For example, if a snake is crossing the road."

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Indonesia: Regents, mayors told to overcome fires, haze

Rizal Harahap and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 30 Jul 15;

The Riau administration has instructed 12 regents and mayors across the province to immediately overcome the land and forest fires as well as anticipate the worsening haze over the past few days.

“Regents and mayors have been asked to be quick and ready and optimize the role of district and village heads to monitor, supervise and prevent the fires as early as possible as well as to overcome the haze in their respective areas,” said the provincial administration first assistant Ahmadsyah Harrofie on Wednesday.

According to him, Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has also called the regional heads to ask for opinions from relevant agencies as well as guidance and existing regulations when determining the emergency status in their regions.

“An alert status must be determined through a coordinated meeting,” he added.

As of Wednesday, thick haze from land and forest fires was still blanketing a number of areas, such as Pekanbaru and Pelalawan regency, which led to limited visibility to reach only between 1.5 km and 2 km.

“Air quality is also categorized as unhealthy,” said Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) head Sugarin.

Based on satellite images gathered by the Pekanbaru BMKG on Wednesday morning, 40 hot spots were detected in seven regencies, 20 of them in Pelalawan, five in Indragiri Hulu, five in Indragiri Hilir, three each in Dumai city and Bengkalis and Siak regencies and one in Rokan Hilir.

Based on a recap conducted by the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) and relevant agencies, areas affected by fires in Riau from June 24 to July 26 had reached 1,264.75 hectares, of which 400 ha were found in Rokan Hilir, followed by Pelalawan (232 ha) and Bengkalis (177 ha). So far, only Meranti Islands regency has been reported free of fires.

“Of the affected areas, 1,125.25 ha have been extinguished,” said Riau BPBD head Edwar Sanger.

According to Edwar, the land and aerial task forces who were deployed from the land and Forest Fire Emergency Command Station at the Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru, are still making efforts to put out the fires.

“CN-295 planes have carried out 25 sorties to scatter 55.28 tons of salt to make artificial rain and a Sikorsky and a MI-171 helicopter have continued to conduct water bombing,” he said.

Separately, in North Sumatra, a number of incoming and outgoing flights at the FL Tobing Airport in Pinangsori district, Central Tapanuli regency, have been delayed due to haze from land and forest fires in Riau.

Airport manager Ambar Suryoko said on Wednesday visibility around the airport was only 2,000 meters at noon, thus endangering flights. Consequently, Ambar added, a number of flights were postponed until visibility improved.

Kualanamu BMKG data and Information Section head Mega Sirait said nearly all regions in North Sumatra, including Medan city, were covered by haze on Wednesday. She added the haze originated from land and forest fires in Riau.

Mega said in general, the haze from Riau had yet to disrupt people’s activities in the province, apart from the FL Tobing Airport and Aek Godang Airport in Padang Sidempuan city. Mega said flights at both airports were disrupted by the thick haze as they were located close to the North Sumatra-Riau border.

“Visibility at FL Tobing and Aek Godang airports were 2,000 and 4,000 meters respectively,” said Mega, adding visibility at the Kualanamu International Airport in Deli Serdang regency was very good at 8,000 meters and did not interrupt flights there.

Riau calls for private companies to help fight wildfires
Antara 29 Jul 15;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - It certainly is no easy task to break the vicious cycle of annual forest, peat land and plantation fires, which have affected Riau Province over the past 17 years.

Despite the Joko Widodo (Jokowi) administrations vow to end the misery of the people of Riau, who choke due to the smoke from haze caused by the wildfires, some 1,246 hectares of land, mostly peat land areas, was razed by fires over the last month.

Earlier this week, the acting governor of Riau, Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, reported the wildfires and the haze shrouding the provinces cities and villages to Forestry and Environmental Affairs Minister Siti Nurbaya in Jakarta.

The acting governor has urged private firms, particularly those engaged in rubber and palm oil plantations, to help douse the forest, peat land and plantation fires affecting the province at present.

"Today, we order private companies to take responsibility for the haze shrouding Riau. We are sure that their participation will help reduce the fire problem," Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, said in Pekanbaru, on July 28, 2015.

These companies must help extinguish the fires blazing in and around their areas and appeal to local residents to not set fire to land cleared for farming, he stated.

Moreover, Chairman of the Riau Chapter of the Association of Indonesian Forestry Concession Holders Ahmad Kuswara revealed that of the 58 existing forestry companies in Riau, 38 were members of the organization.

He also affirmed that these firms had been actively taking preventive measures against the fires by providing firefighting equipment.

Besides, of the existing 382 palm oil plantations in Riau, only 72 were members of the Riau Chapter of the Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Plantation Businessmen.

Furthermore, Kuswara believes that the fires were not set by companies that were members of his association, as they upheld the moral responsibility of aiding in firefighting efforts.

However, he suspects that new plantation firms that were clearing land for palm oil plantations were behind the fires.

In response to the governors appeal, PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) has deployed two helicopters and four pilots as well as hundreds of personnel to put out fires occurring outside the RAPP plantation area.

The pulp and paper industry has coordinated with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in the attempts to fight the fires.

Riau has declared July 1 to August 31, 2015, as a period of fire danger in all forest concession areas.

A total area measuring 1,246 hectares (ha) across Riau Province was razed by wildfires from June 24 to July 26, 2015, stated Chairman of the Riau Forest and Plantation Fires Task Force Major General Nurendi.

The worst affected district is Rokan Hilir, with 400 ha razed by wildfires, following by Pelalawan (232 ha), Bengkalis (177 ha), Dumai City (124 ha), Nurendi, who is concurrently commander of the Wira Bima 031 regional military command (Korem), noted in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau Province, recently.

The task forces personnel managed to put out fires in 1,125 ha of area, he remarked.

"However, due to the extreme hot weather and most of the affected land being peatland area, most of the fires reemerge if not supervised carefully," he pointed out, adding that he ordered his personnel to closely supervise the affected peatland areas.

In Gambut Jaya Kumpeh village, Muarojambi District, for instance, some 200 hectares of peatland have been razed by fires, which are now approaching residential areas.

The task force comprises joint teams from the Riau administration, the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI), the National Police, the Riau disaster mitigation office, and the Riau meteorology and climatology office.

According to Chief of the Riau disaster mitigation office Edwar Sanger, the office has deployed two helicopters: Mi 17 and Sikorsky to conduct water bombing activities over the fires. Sikorsky has a capacity to carry up to four tons of water during each sortie.

Besides this, a Hercules aircraft has also been deployed to conduct cloud seeding to produce artificial rains by using weather modification technology in Riau, which is currently being hit by El Nino-induced drought.

Sanger said the number of hotspots in the province has decreased thanks to rains and efforts to put out the fires.

In the meantime, the Terra and Aqua satellites detected 308 hotspots indicating wildfires on Sumatra Island, on July 26, 2015, Head of the Pakanbaru meteorology, climatology and geophysics office (BMKG) Sugarin said.

Riau was the largest hotspots contributor with 122 hotspots, followed by South Sumatra (59), Jambi (58), North Sumatra (25), West Sumatra (19), Bengkulu (10), Bangka Belitung (nine), Lampung (five), and Riau Islands (one), according to him.

In Riau Province, 44 hotspots were found in Pelalawan District, 17 in Bengkalis, 16 in Kampar, 14 in Indragiri Hulu, eight in Indragiri Hilir, seven in Dumai, five in Rokan Hilir, four in Kuantan Singingi, and two in Rokan Hulu.

On July 28, the number of hotspots across Sumatra, decreased to 148, including 45 in Riau.

The visibility in Pekanbaru on July 26 morning reached only one kilometer, which is the minimal safety limit for flights.

The air quality in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, was categorized as unhealthy due to the haze arising from the wildfires.

In Riau province, some 1,022 people fell ill because of air pollution.

Authorities have urged local residents, particularly expecting mothers, children and the elderly, to stay indoors as they are more prone to be affected by haze.

The health office of Riau province has distributed 3,000 medical masks to residents of Pekanbaru.

Dr. Yohanes of the health office said recently that the masks were given to passersby and motorcyclists in three locations---in front of the Riau governors office and the heroes cemetery, as well as at the SKA Mall.

The province currently has a stock of 20,000 masks.

"The public must get enough rest, eat nutritious food and drink adequate amount of water because haze can reduce our immunity," he pointed out.

The Indonesian government is gearing up to face the effects of El Nino, which could reduce precipitation by 40 to 80 percent.

This natural phenomenon is affecting the provinces of Sumatra, East Java, Bali, West and East Nusa Tenggara, and Papua in particular, from June to November this year.

Indonesia: New forest fires threaten Indonesia’s protected areas
Tjokorda Nirarta Samadhi Jakarta Globe 30 Jul 15;

Extreme haze caused by forest and bush fires throughout Sumatra and Kalimantan has been a perpetual problem affecting the quality of life and economy of local residents and neighboring countries.

As this year’s dry season approaches, the fires are just starting to pick up, especially in the fire-prone province of Riau in Sumatra, but they are already threatening some of the most biodiverse and carbon-rich ecosystems in the country — protected forests and peatlands.

According to NASA’s Active Fire Data on the Global Forest Watch Fires (GFW Fires) platform, half of the fire alerts in Riau are occurring in protected areas or those where new development is prohibited under Indonesia’s national forest moratorium.

And an alarming 38 percent of Riau’s fires are burning on carbon-rich peatlands, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and fueling global climate change.

During 2013-2014, fires in Indonesia brought about a haze crisis in Sumatra, Malaysia and Singapore, sparking a call for greater accountability from companies and the Indonesia government and resulting in Indonesia signing the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. With the dry season just starting in Sumatra, we are just beginning to see fire alerts increase. The World Resources Institute (WRI) will watch the situation closely over the coming months to see whether Indonesia’s commitment to reducing fires and haze pollution will be met.

As was the case last year, the greatest concentration of fire alerts is in Riau, which is among the top producers of palm oil and timber in Indonesia, and has one of the highest rates of deforestation.

In Riau, fire has long been used as a fast and inexpensive way to clear land and prepare it for planting. Research conducted by David Gaveau of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) indicated that determining the exact cause of the fires is complex, as they often occur outside of concession boundaries or in concession areas operated by smallholder farmers.

A large number of fire alerts are concentrated in Riau’s Tesso Nilo National Park, which has been significantly damaged by illegal encroachment in recent years. The approximately 83,000-hectare park lost more than half of its tree cover from 2001-2013, according to GFW data. The park is a habitat for critically endangered Sumatran elephants and tigers.

In the past week, 69 hotspots were detected in Tesso Nilo, of which seven were likely to be associated with forest clearing. Other active fires that did not meet the high confidence fire criteria are still likely to be fires, but are more likely associated with burning fields/grass or other conditions that result in lower-temperature fires. While we have yet to see a major spike in fire alerts in Riau, where the alerts are located thus far reveals regulatory and enforcement weaknesses.

As part of the national forest moratorium, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono prohibited the issuance of new development licenses in key forest areas, a commitment extended this year by current President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Despite the ban, the vast area of protected and moratorium forest is a de facto no-man’s land. The absence or inadequateness of the government’s capacity to monitor and protect the landscape resulted in many encroachments and illegal occupation that eventually increase the risk of forest degradation and fires.

Plus, the moratorium has known loopholes, such as allowing for the clearing of moratorium areas for food and energy crop development.

Inadequate oversight of protected areas is also a pervasive problem in Indonesia and has been particularly devastating to Tesso Nilo National Park. The government’s ambitious overhaul of the forest management system by setting up local forest management units (KPH) is one step in the right direction, but is not likely to have a significant impact without more capacity and resources to prevent such massive encroachment.

A prerequisite for good land-use management is an up-to-date, accurate and consistent geospatial information system; and unfortunately, Indonesia still lacks one.

Indonesia has launched an initiative to remedy this — the widely touted One Map initiative. To have a unified map that is up-to-date, accurate and agreed to by all key stakeholders is one tremendously difficult task in a country where concessions as large as tens of thousands of hectares are allocated based on a hand-drawn map.

One Map is not the goal, but more of a means to have a common “language” between conflicting and competing forest stakeholders and to employ data-driven, land-use policy making.

It is imperative for the government to accelerate and scale up the One Map process if Indonesia wants to gradually improve its land-use management and achieve more sustainable development.

Responsive action from the Environment and Forestry Ministry as well as the National Disaster Management Agency is needed to curb the already increasing number of fire hotspots.

But in the longer term, what is really needed is better, more strategic forest management. That means strengthening enforcement in protected areas, closing loopholes and accelerating the One Map process.

The writer is the director of World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia. The article was written with additional reports by WRI experts Lisa Johnston, Susan Minnemeyer and Nigel Sizer.

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Indonesia: Widespread crop failures as drought continues in Central Java

Suherdjoko, thejakartapost.com 29 Jul 15;

Thousands hectares of rice and corn in Central Java have experienced crop failure following the long dry season, an official said on Wednesday.

Central Java Plantation Agency’s agriculture subagency head Nuswantoro said crop failures had hit 6,578 hectares of paddy fields in Grobogan (2,322 ha), Blora (1,589 ha), Pati (717 ha), Demak (584 ha), Pemalang (188 ha) and Brebes (380 ha) among other areas.

“Minor, moderate and severe levels of drought have affected rice fields in 29 out of 35 regencies and cities during this year’s dry season. The drought also hit corn and soybean fields,” Nuswantoro said.

He said that 26,977 ha of rice fields are experiencing a minor level of drought, 7,672 ha are at moderate level and 2,845 ha at severe level.

Fifty-three ha of corn fields also experienced crop failure, while some 215 ha were experiencing a minor level of drought, 25 ha are at moderate level, and 54 ha at severe level.

Meanwhile, some 103 ha of soybean fields were experiencing minor drought and 134 ha at moderate level.

Also on Wednesday, Central Java Disaster Mitigation Agency stated that 17 areas in Rembang, Blora, Gorbogan,Pati, Wonogiri, Sukoharjo, Klaten, Boyolali, Banyumas, Cilacap, Purbalingga, Tegal, Pemalang, Demak, Purworejo, Kebumen, dan Jepara were facing clean water crises.

The National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) had that Indonesia would suffer the worst drought in the past five years in 2015.(+++)

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