Best of our wild blogs: 21 Aug 15

Elbowed Pierrot butterfly puddling on a crab
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Otter family spotted having a fun time at Marina Bay

AsiaOne 20 Aug 15;

A family of otters was spotted again frolicking at Marina Bay last weekend, attracting a crowd of excited onlookers who whipped out their cameras to capture the group in action.

Among the people enjoying their antics was tour guide Edna Ong, who managed to snap photos of a pair having a meal of fish.

The otters have become a relatively common sight, she said. She sees them every one to two months while conducting tours along the Kallang River.

This has made her rather attached to them. "I start to miss them if I don't see them for months," said Ms Ong, who is in her 50s.

Otters were also spotted at Punggol Waterfront and East Coast Park earlier this month, according to the Otter Watch Facebook page, which is a project to consolidate otter sightings in Singapore.

The otter is a threatened native species that is found in both marine and freshwater habitats. It typically thrives around mangroves, river mouths and natural shorelines.

Singapore is home to both the smooth-coated and small-clawed otters, with the former spotted at places like the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Punggol Waterfront and Sungei Buloh more regularly over the last few years.

The small-clawed otters are less common here but can be found in areas such as Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin.

Mr N. Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences, said the number of otters here has increased over the years. They have also become more visible as they have started families.

A female otter at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, for instance, gave birth to triplets early this year. The family of five was seen at Lower Peirce and MacRitchie reservoirs last month.

As to whether the otter population will reach a tipping point, and if they will one day become pests, Mr Sivasothi said that is unlikely.

"It depends on whether they have food, a place to hide and surfaces to dry up on," he said. "Finding such a place here is limited so that will limit the numbers."

Members of the public are advised to keep their distance when they spot wild otters so as not to provoke them.

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Singapore increases potable water supply to Johor amid dry spell

The Republic will supply about 22 million gallons of potable water per day - up from 16 million gallons per day - to Malaysia's Johor state, which has begun rationing amid dry weather, says PUB.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: PUB has begun supplying more potable water to Malaysia’s Johor state, which is facing a dry spell, Singapore’s national water agency said on Thursday (Aug 20).

This followed a request from Johor’s water regulatory body Badan Kawalselia Air Johor (BAKAJ) for an additional 5 to 6 million gallons of potable water per day amid low supply, PUB said in a news release.

"This arrangement is temporary and subject to regular review. This will not affect the water supply in Singapore. There has been some rain in Singapore and PUB has increased its production of NEWater and desalinated water to meet local demand, allowing water levels in local reservoirs to remain healthy," the PUB said.

The Malaysian state began water rationing in parts of Johor Bahru from Aug 16, PUB added. The rationing will last until Sep 15.

The dry weather has affected water levels in Johor’s Sungei Layang dam, said PUB. Water levels in Johor’s Linggiu Reservoir has also fallen to an all-time low of 54.18 per cent from 54.5 per cent two weeks ago, added PUB, which operates the reservoir.

PUB typically supplies about 16 million gallons of potable water per day to Johor at the state’s request, said the agency. Following the latest request, Singapore will temporarily supply a total of 22 million gallons of potable water per day to meet Johor’s needs during the dry spell, PUB added.

Singapore currently imports water from Johor under the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement which expires in 2061, while Johor buys 16 million gallons per day of treated water back from Singapore.

- CNA/xq

Singapore to supply more water to Johor as drought bites
Today Online 21 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE — National water agency PUB has agreed to Johor authorities’ request for Singapore to supply more potable water to the state in light of the dry weather afflicting the state’s water supply, it said in a statement today (Aug 20).

Since last Friday, PUB has drawn an additional 5 to 6 million gallons per day of potable water from the Johor River Waterworks it operates at the Kota Tinggi district to supply to Johor Bahru. Water-rationing was implemented in parts of the city starting last Sunday and lasting till Sept 15, after the dry weather severely affected water levels in the state’s Sungei Layang dam.

The request comes after the Johor authorities sought late last year to impose higher land-assessment tax on the Johor River Waterworks, Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in Parliament earlier this week.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, said PUB is not obliged to pay the higher tax amount, which is twice that of the next-highest rate in the state, because PUB’s operations in Johor are governed by the 1962 Water Agreement. Under the agreement, which expires in 2061, Singapore buys raw water from Malaysia and, in turn, Malaysia buys treated water from the Republic.

Over the years, PUB has supplied, at Johor state’s request, about 16 million gallons of potable water per day to it. PUB said the current arrangement of supplying about 22 million gallons of potable water per day to Johor is temporary and subject to regular review.

It added: “This will not affect the water supply in Singapore. There has been some rain in Singapore, and PUB has increased its production of NEWater and desalinated water to meet local demand, allowing water levels in local reservoirs to remain healthy.”

Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan visited the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor earlier this month, after water levels there had dipped to historic lows because of the dry weather. The reservoir improves the yield of water from the Johor River, from which Johor and Singapore draw water. Water from the reservoir is released into the river to prevent saltwater from the sea to intrude into the river, as salty water cannot be treated by the water plant further downstream.

The facility extracts and treats up to 250 million gallons of water a day from the river, in accordance with terms under the 1962 Water Agreement. The volume is equivalent to 60 per cent of Singapore’s daily water needs.

In its statement today, PUB said the water level at the Linggiu Reservoir has inched up slightly to 54.18 per cent, from 54.5 per cent two weeks ago.

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Air quality 'may turn unhealthy' as haze returns

120 hot spots detected mainly in southern half of Sumatra, says NEA
Feng Zengkun and Wahyudi SoeriaatmadjaIndonesia Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Aug 15;

Singapore may have some haze today and the air may even become unhealthy, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned yesterday evening.

It said that healthy people should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities, while the elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise doing such activities.

Those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid such exertion, and people who do not feel well should seek medical attention, the NEA added.

The agency said that 120 hot spots were detected in Sumatra, Indonesia, yesterday, mainly in the southern half of the island, and smoke plumes with slight to moderate haze were visible from some of the hot spots.

"With the prevailing winds forecast to blow from the south-west, occasional hazy conditions can be expected," said NEA.

It added that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which indicates the air quality, is expected to be in the high end of the moderate range of 51 to 100, and may even enter the low end of the unhealthy range.

The 24-hour PSI, which is published online hourly, averages air quality readings in the previous 24 hours. Air is unhealthy when the index crosses 100.

The 24-hour index was in the moderate range across the island from morning to night yesterday, and was slightly higher in the west. The NEA highlighted that the haze was blown in from fires in Sumatra.

Mr David Law, 18, a full-time national serviceman, said the smell of the haze had lingered throughout the day at his training grounds near Clementi. "It was serious to the extent that my throat felt uncomfortable when I was outside," he said, adding that he spent most of the day indoors for training.

Separately, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency (BNPB), told The Straits Times that efforts to contain the fires are ongoing, and they involve BNPB, the forest ministry, the military, the police and local residents.

BNPB has deployed three aircraft to do cloud seedings and six helicopters for water bombing in Riau. Cloud seeding in Riau has also been carried out since June 22 and more than 100,000kg of chemicals have been used to induce rain. "The threats of forest and land fires will increase as the weather will get hotter," Dr Sutopo said.

Slightly hazy conditions expected on Friday, more than 900 hotspots in Indonesia
Chew Hui Min and Lee Min Kok Straits Times 20 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE - Occasionally hazy conditions can still be expected on Thursday night and on Friday (Aug 20 & 21), the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) may also rise to the low end of unhealthy levels again.

"For the rest of today and tomorrow, with the prevailing winds forecast to blow from the southwest, occasional hazy conditions can still be expected," NEA said in statement on Thursday evening.

"The 24-hour PSI is expected to be in the high-end of the moderate range and may enter the low-end of the unhealthy range", if wind conditions persist, it added.

Air quality is considered to be moderate when the PSI readings range from 51 to 100, and unhealthy when it hits 101 to 200.

Slight hazy conditions have been prevalent since Wednesday, and the three-hour PSI hit 103 at 5pm on Thursday (Aug 20).

It fell slightly to 100 at 6pm, then to 82 at 9pm. The 24-hour PSI remained in the moderate range.

There were complaints of a strong burning smell in various parts of the island.

The number of hotspots has increased again in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan in the past few days, said Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency (BNPB), in a Blackberry message.

The southern part of Sumatra is seeing its haze situation worsen as efforts to contain fire has been more focused on the central part of Sumatra, in Riau, the Indonesian province second closest to Singapore.

On Thursday (Aug 20), 720 hotspots were detected in Sumatra and 246 hotspots in Kalimantan, based on the images from the Modis (Terra-Aqua) satellite, according to Dr Sutopo.

The NEA advised members of the public, in particular the elderly, pregnant women and children to avoid exerting themselves outdoors for long periods of time.

Those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid outdoor activities. The agency advised those who are not feeling well to seek medical attention.

The environment agency also forecast thundery showers for Singapore on Friday morning.

3-hour PSI in Singapore briefly crosses 100-mark
NEA said in an advisory in the evening that 120 hotspots were detected on Sumatra on Thursday (Aug 20).
Channel NewsAsia 20 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crossed the 100 mark for the first time on Thursday afternoon (Aug 20), as the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the slightly hazy conditions were due to smoke from fires in Indonesia.

The three-hour PSI at 5pm in Singapore peaked at 103, while the 24-hour PSI was at 68-82, within the Moderate range. As of 7pm, the 3-hour PSI at 7pm dipped to 94, while the 24-hour PSI stood at 67-80. A 24-hour PSI reading of above 100 is considered to be in the Unhealthy range.

NEA said in an advisory in the evening that 120 hotspots were detected on Sumatra on Thursday. It said for the rest of Thursday and Friday, occasional hazy conditions could still be expected, even though thundery showers are forecast for Friday morning.

"The 24-hr PSI is expected to be in the high-end of the Moderate range and may enter the low-end of the Unhealthy range if the prevailing winds continue to blow from the southwest," it stated.

NEA said given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, healthy people should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities. The elderly, pregnant women and children, as well as those with chronic lung or heart disease especially, should avoid outdoor physical exertion.

- CNA/dl/xq

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Indonesia: Companies blamed for hectares of peatland fires in Jambi

Jon Afrizal and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 21 Aug 15;

It is believed that oil palm plantations and industrial forest companies have played roles in the spreading of fires currently burning hundreds of hectares of peatland in West and East Tanjungjabung regencies, Jambi province.

“Fire mitigation is urgent. The government, as the license issuer, should have asked the companies to be responsible for keeping their respective areas free of fire,” the assistant coordinator of the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI) Warsi, Kurniawan, said on Thursday.

Kurniawan blamed the fires on the canalization and drainage system developed by plantation and industrial forest companies on peatland. He said the canals dried out the surface of the peatland, making it easier for fires to start.

He also said that under the prevailing policy, authorities could monitor the minimum water level of 40 centimeters on peatland as required by Government Regulation No. 71/2014.

The government, according to Kurniawan, could also demand that canals have gates that can be opened and closed. That way, during the dry season the canal gates could be closed to help slow down the decrease in the water level on peatland.

He said that although managing peatland for industrial and economic purposes was allowed, there were tight rules on how to exploit peatland and how to build canals on it as stipulated in Agriculture Ministerial Decree No. 14/2009 on peatland utilization.

“In practice, many of the canals were not built according to the regulation. Enforcement is also not effectively conducted,” Kurniawan said.

Jambi was initially recorded as having 670,413 hectares of peatland. Of the area, 86,442 hectares have been converted into industrial forests and 136,396 more are managed by large-scale oil palm plantation companies.

KKI Warsi, however, noted that of the peatland issued concession licenses, 29,701 hectares had a depth of more than 4 meters, meaning that they should have been categorized as conservation areas.

Meanwhile in Riau, hot spots were reported to have been emerging in nine regions, namely Indragiri Hulu, Pelalawan, Indragiri Hilir, Kuantan Singingi, Kampar, Rokan Ulu, Bengkalis, Meranti Islands and Siak.

“Of the hot spots, 58 have been identified as fire spots with a reliability level of over 70 percent, indicating forest and land fires,” said the head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Pekanbaru office, Sugarin.

He said the most fire spots, or 29, had been detected in Indragiri Hilir, followed by Pelalawan with 15.

Sugarin said an increase in the number of hot spots was also detected in other regions across Sumatra Island, where a total of 720 hot spots were detected on Thursday morning.

Smoke from forest fire forces plane to redirect 20 Aug 15;

Thick smoke filling the air in Jambi province in Sumatra prevented a plane carrying Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin from landing at Sutan Thaha Syaifuddin Airport in Jambi on Thursday. The plane was redirected to land at Hang Nadin Airport on Batam Island, Riau Islands province.

“The Garuda Indonesia plane taking Minister Lukman Harun failed to land at the airport. Other planes also could not land because the vision was reportedly less than 1,200 meters,” said Jambi provincial administration spokesman Junaidi as quoted by Antara.

Lukman, who was on an official visit to the province, was scheduled to arrive at the airport, where acting governor Irman and other officials had been waiting since 7 a.m. to welcome him. Lukman was scheduled to arrive at 7:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, the Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) reported that the number of hot spots in Jambi increased to 299 on Thursday from 107 on Tuesday. BMKG information official Kurnia Ningsih said that the condition was based on the monitoring carried out at 5 a.m.

Head of Jambi Disaster Management Ageny Arif Munandar said fire fighters found it difficult to extinguish the fire as the forest fire spread rapidly.

He said that the firefighting had also involved military officers and other volunteers, but water bombing from the air would be helpful.

He called on local governments to send letters of recommendation to the governors so that the provincial administration could immediately ask the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) to take part in the forest fire fighting. “We need quick action to demand water bombing and help from the central government,” Arift added.​ (bbn)(++++)

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Indonesia: Govt plays down fallout from El Niño

Ganug Nugroho Adi, The Jakarta Post 20 Aug 15;

The government has said that the El Niño weather phenomenon would not wreak havoc on the country’s agricultural sector and that harvest failure would cause minimal damage.

Inspector general of the Agriculture Ministry Justan Riduan Siahaan said that only a small area of paddy would be affected by El Niño.

“I don’t have the exact figure, but the minister himself has said the national figure [of paddy affected by El Niño] would be 17,000 hectares,” Justan said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He said that the extreme weather phenomenon would only affect areas south of the equator and a small area of Java and West Nusa Tenggara.

Climate experts have warned that this year’s El Niño was likely to match the intensity of the record-breaking weather phenomenon in 1997, which induced a prolonged drought and widespread bush fires in the country.

The Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology said that Java had borne the brunt of the weather phenomenon as indicated by the very low rainfall.

“The dry season in Java is especially severe this year. Since June, rainfall in Java has amounted to less than 60 millimeters per month, even less than the average set by the [Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency] BMKG for the dry season, which is at least 150 mm per month. It’s the same with what we had in 1997,” said Tri Handoko Seto, the head of the center told a press briefing on Tuesday.

Although the BMKG said that El Niño had yet to reach its peak, a number of regions have been affected by severe drought.

In Boyolali, Central Java, locals have resorted to consuming muddy water left at the bottom of creeks in the areas that were almost dry.

Some people have separated dirt from water by distilling it in a container overnight.

“We have no other option but to do this. There’s no more running water as the rivers and creeks have ran dry. We’re taking what’s left,” said Supardjo, one of the locals, on Wednesday.

He said that the local government had not provided enough emergency water supplies for people in
the area.

“There are more than 200 people here. The clean water the government sent was only enough for 50 people and the last distribution was two weeks ago,” he said.

In Jambi, meanwhile, local authorities said that they had experienced problems extinguishing fires that razed forests in the area.

Head of Jambi’s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) Arif Munandar said that firefighters had trouble finding water sources to put out the raging fire.

He said that some regions, such as East Tanjung Jabung regency, were completely dry, preventing firefighters from working effectively.

“We need a water bomber to drop water from the air,” Arif said as quoted by Antara.

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Malaysia: Orang utan back at Bukit Piton

The Star 21 Aug 15;

LAHAD DATU: The northern portion of the Ulu Segama-Malua fo­rest, once ravaged by logging and fires in the 1980s and 1990s, is now beco­ming more habitable for its prized inhabitants – the orang utan.

Today, some seven years after a 10-year project was started in 2008 to reforest and rehabilitate the orang utan habitats in North Ulu Segama Forest Reserve (now known as Bukit Piton Forest Reserve), a 50-minute drive from here, its success is evident.

As Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said: “It is probably one of the few examples in the world where a very bad story has been turned into something that we can be proud of!”

The credit mainly goes to the state government, which works in collaboration with Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) – Sime Darby Bhd’s philanthropic arm – on the project, as well as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Sam said WWF had documented the primates frolicking in the rehabilitated forest close to the department’s base camps.

“They are even coming near the base camps. We’ve given them a sense of security.

“I’ll tell you this – if the orang utan is going to survive as a species in this world, chances are you’ll find most of them in Sabah because we know how to rehabilitate their ha­­bitats,” Sam told a press conference at the department’s headquarters in Sandakan recently, following a media visit organised by YSD to Bukit Piton Forest Reserve.

YSD’s reforestation and orang utan habitat rehabilitation project there, costing RM25mil, is aimed at restoring 5,400ha of heavily degra­ded forest, as well as to enhance biodiversity conservation and re­store the area’s flora and fauna.

According to YSD, the project has facilitated the reclassification of the area into a Class 1 Forest Reserve in 2012, thus protecting it from future logging activities or development.

In the mid-1980s, there were some 20,000 orang utan thriving in their five main natural habitats in Sabah, according to WWF statistics. By 2004, their numbers had dropped 40% to 11,000, no thanks to defores­tation and logging.

In 2007, WWF reported that the Ulu Segama-Malua forest was home to a large number of orang utan. Unfortunately, the very existence of its estimated 3,500 orang utan was being threatened by their logged forest environment, as well as the limited sources of food and shelter.

The department had also acknow­ledged two habitats in Ulu Segama – one in Malua with 700 orang utan and the other in Bukit Piton with 350 – were at a “very critical stage”.

Besides the depleting sources of food, the fact that both Malua and Bukit Piton have rivers separating them from the rest of the forest also contributed to the severity of the situation as the orang utan could not swim across the rivers to “migrate” to other parts of the forest in search of fruit trees.

“This raised the potential of them being stranded there and starving as well,” Sam explained.

He believed that the YSD-Sabah government project had succeeded in creating some kind of bond between the primates and the human beings.

“They are becoming more fami­liar with us,” he added.

The project also focused on the planting of tree species which bore fruits favoured by the orang utan.

Some 95 species, including seraya punai, binuang, bayur, petai, telisai, sengkuang, durian, rambutan and sepat, will be planted during the duration of the project. In fact, some of the trees are already fruiting.

Ulu Segama-Malua district forest officer Indra Purwandita Henry Sunjoto said the replanting process there was different from conventional planting catering to logging.

“We have to be very careful in terms of the species that we choose as they have to suit the specific locations where they are being planted.

“Not every point (in the forest) needs to be replanted. Points that already have natural plants provi­ding fruits for the orang utan are kept intact,” he said, adding that it cost RM5,000 to execute and replant each hectare. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Sumatran Rhino vanishes from Malaysian jungles

PATRICK LEE The Star 21 Aug 15;

PETALING JAYA: The Sumatran rhino is now extinct from Malaysia's jungles, a group of scientists has found.

In a report under the international-based journal Oryx, they wrote that other than two rhinos caught in 2011 and 2014, there had been no more signs of the animal in the wild here - even after years of searching.

"As of June 2015, no further signs of the species have been found in Sabah, and it is safe to consider the species extinct in the wild in Malaysia," the report, co-authored by 11 experts worldwide read.

There are only three Sumatran rhinos in captivity in Malaysia, all in the state of Sabah. The last sighting of the rhino in the Peninsular was in 2007.

Less than 100 animals exist in Indonesia's Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Borneo Rhino Alliance head Datuk Dr Junaidi Payne told The Star that the Sumatran rhino was doomed by a lack of breeding and that it was hunted by poachers.

He said every rhino still living today had to be closely managed, with a combined effort of regional nations.

"We should certainly be thinking of boosting Sumatran rhino numbers through a single programme that is not based on nationalistic thinking," he said.

Dr Payne, who is one of the report's 11 co-authors, is currently working with the Sabah government to make the state's female rhinos pregnant artificially.

He had previously implied that if no rhino embryos could be made by mid-2017, it might become extinct here.

The Sumatran rhino is Malaysia's last surviving rhino species. Its cousin, the Javan rhino, went extinct here after the last of its kind in Malaya was shot in 1932.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry could not be reached for comment.

Sumatran Rhino Goes Extinct in the Wild in Malaysia
Ashley P. Taylor Yahoo News 31 Aug 15;

The Sumatran rhino is now considered extinct in the wild in the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia, according to a new study.

No wild Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) have been found on the Malaysian peninsula since 2007, and what are thought to be the last two female rhinos in Malaysian Borneo were caught and placed in captive breeding programs in 2011 and 2014.

Now, fewer than 100 of the species remain in the wild, researchers estimate, distributed among three wild populations on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

In order to save the Sumatran rhino from extinction, it will be necessary to designate the regions where rhinos breed as protected areas, called intensive management zones (IMZs), and to consolidate other, isolated rhinos into these zones to maximize their chances of reproducing, the researchers said. While Asian governments approved the IMZ strategy (along with several others) in 2013, they have yet to be implemented, the scientists wrote in the study.

"We've reached a point of no return," said study lead author Rasmus Havmøller, a graduate student at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the Natural History Museum of Denmark (affiliated with the University of Copenhagen)."[Sumatran rhino] densities are so low. What we need to do is go out, find out where the rhinos are, firstly, bring them together, secondly, … and then ensure their protection within these areas."

Sumatran rhinos once ranged across most of Southeast Asia, but now Indonesia is the only nation where they breed in the wild.

The rhino's major decline, from both poachingand logging, took place in the 1980s, Havmøller said. Now, the problem is that so few rhinos live in the wild that males and females rarely meet in their native habitats.

"Thus they just spiral into extinction by themselves," Havmøller told Live Science. "After being heavily poached and getting into low numbers, it's been the lack of breeding that's the primary cause for their extinction."

A compounding problem is that when female rhinos go for too long without being pregnant, they tend to develop cysts and tumors in their ovaries that may prevent them from carrying a pregnancy if and when they do mate, the researchers said.

In April 2013, at the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit in Singapore, rhino experts outlined four strategies for protecting the region's remaining rhinos, which the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Bhutan, India, and Nepal agreed upon in the Bandar Lampung Declaration that same year. The new study reviews these strategies, which, the authors argue, must be put into practice to prevent the Sumatran rhino's total extinction.

The first strategy is to manage the remaining Sumatran rhinos not as three separate populations but as one "meta-population." A related goal is to create intensive management zones, the researchers said. Key to the success of these protected areas, Havmøller said, is the ability to capture wild rhinos outside the IMZs, bring them in, move animals from one area to another — to prevent inbreeding, for example — and perhaps, as assisted reproductive technologies in rhinos become more feasible, transport eggs and sperm from one region to another. The animals also need to be able to cross international borders, the researchers added.

The summit attendees also recommended establishing Rhino Protection Units — teams of people, usually including armed park rangers, charged with monitoring the animals, looking for signs of rhinos, and scouting for and arresting poachers — at rhino breeding sites. These units have been established already, but they need to be fortified, by adding more people, running more frequent patrols, and better training unit members, Havmøller said.

The last strategy is to improve captive breeding programs, which currently include nine rhinos. Attempts to breed rhinos in captivity began in 1985; from then until 2001, 45 rhinos in captivity at different breeding sites produced no offspring. Since 2001, four Sumatran rhinos have been born in captivity from two breeding pairs through traditional mating. Scientists are working to add assisted reproductive technologies, such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, to their toolkit in hopes of increasing captive breeding success, the researchers said.

"The political will to actually make this happen is definitely what's the greatest barrier," to putting these strategies into practice, Havmøller said. Managing the remaining Sumatran rhinos as a meta-population would require countries to establish policies for rhino capture and transport among management zones and across international borders he added. Funding is another limitation, the researchers said.

But saving the Sumatran rhino will require governments and other parties involved to make changes quickly because, as the researchers wrote in the study,"the current conservation actions for the Sumatran rhinoceros may not be adequate to prevent the species' extinction."

The research was published online Aug. 3 in Oryx, the International Journal of Conservation.

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Malaysia: Endangered turtle saved and released back into the wild

The Star 21 Aug 15;

KOTA KINABALU: An endangered Asian giant softshell turtle rescued from a market here has been released into the wild at Danau Girang in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

A member of the public, Serene Voo Nyuk Wei, saved the 15kg turtle by buying it for RM700 from a tamu (local market) in Donggongon-Penampang in July and giving it to the Wildlife Rescue Unit for conservation.

“I love and respect all living creatures. I knew that buying that animal would encourage the trade, but I could not face up to the fact that this poor turtle was going to end up in someone’s soup,” said Voo, who lives in Kota Kinabalu.

Dr Diana Ramirez, an assistant manager with WRU, said they conducted a full medical check-up on the turtle.

“It had a slight malformation on the carapace but after a few days of observation and receiving vitamin supplements, we decided that it was a good candidate to be released back into the wild,” Dr Ramirez said.

The turtle is listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List and listed on Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. However, it is not listed on Schedule 1 or 2 of the Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.

“Like many other freshwater turtles in the region, the greatest threat to this species of turtle is hunting for trade, followed by habitat destruction due to deforestation, logging, forest fires and conversion of land for agriculture, settlements and transmigration,” Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens said.

He said the turtle usually measured between 70 and 100cm, and could weigh up to 100kg.

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Indonesian police fire tear gas, water cannon at Jakarta protesters

Reuters 20 Aug 15;

Residents facing eviction from a flood-prone part of Indonesia's capital of Jakarta clashed with police on Thursday, prompting security forces to fire tear gas and water cannon.

Land disputes are common in Indonesia, where efforts by government and business to acquire and clear property are frequently held back by overlapping permits and a legacy of unclear land titles, often resulting in violence.

At least two police officers and three residents were injured in Thursday's clashes, according to police, adding there were 27 arrests.

The latest clash centres around efforts by Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama to remove squatters and demolish housing along the banks of Jakarta's Ciliwung River in Kampung Pulo, which frequently floods during the monsoon season.

According to Jakarta Police chief Tito Karnavian, the government hoped to relocate residents from some 546 dwellings in Kampung Pulo, but many had asked for compensation instead of the alternative housing on offer.

(Reporting by Djohan Widjaya and Tommy Ardiansyah; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Myanmar: Land Vanishes Under Monsoon Floods in New Satellite Image

Elizabeth Goldbaum Yahoo News 21 Aug 15;

A river in Myanmar appears swollen with monsoon rain in a new photo taken from space.

The Irrawaddy River flooding in a false-color satellite image taken Aug. 3, 2015. NASA Earth Observatory image using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Irrawaddy River flooding in a false-color satellite image taken Aug. 29, 2013. NASA Earth Observatory image using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The overflowing Irrawaddy River — the longest river in the country — is emblematic of the worst floods to hit the Southeast Asian nation in decades. The torrential rains have displaced thousands of people and caused over 70 deaths, according to local coverage in The Star Online.

In May, just a few months prior to the floods, Myanmar farmers faced hot, arid weather that threatened to destroy their crops, as it did last year. Aerial images of the same spot on the river from two years ago, in August 2013, show a much thinner line of water that weaves between little islands. But now, intense monsoon rains have submerged the little islands and are damaging crops in the region.

Although flooding is not unusual in Myanmar, the current flood is bigger than any seen in the last several decades, according to NASA. Cyclone Komen, a tropical storm that made landfall on July 30 and spun through the country, likely boosted the ferocity of the floods, NASA officials said.

The rains have caused many rivers throughout Myanmar to overflow, including the Irrawaddy River, which extends more than 1,300 miles (2,000 kilometers).

The aerial views of the Irrawaddy River, captured by the Landsat 8 satellite, are composites of natural- and false-color images. Land areas maintain natural colors, and look brown and green in the satellite photos. Areas covered by water are highlighted with false color to look bright blue, according to NASA.

Without the added blue colors, the floodwaters would be difficult to distinguish from land, since water picks up loose brownish sediments, agency officials added.

Floods and other natural disasters are expected to become more common as the Earth warms, according to the International Disaster Database.Texas and Oklahoma felt the effects of devastating floods linked to El Niño in May, and floods are more frequent now in the central United States, according to a study published in February in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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July was hottest month recorded worldwide: U.S. scientists

Valerie Volcovici and Susan Heavey PlanetArk 21 Aug 15;

July was the warmest month ever on record worldwide and 2015 has been so far the hottest year, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday, just over three months to go before world leaders seek to reach a climate agreement in Paris.

In its monthly global climate report released online on Thursday, NOAA said many countries and the world's oceans experienced heatwaves, with the Earth's oceans temperature also hitting record highs last month.

This July was the all-time highest monthly temperature in the records that date back to 1880, at 61.86 degrees Fahrenheit (16.61 degree Celsius), according to NOAA.

The first seven months of 2015 comprised the warmest such period on record globally, at 1.53 F (0.85 C) above the 20th century average, and surpassing the previous record set in 2010 by 0.16 F (0.09 C), it said.

The record comes after NOAA and the U.S. space agency NASA said in January that 2014 was the Earth's hottest on record, a fact used by the White House and the United Nations to make the case for immediate action to combat climate change.

One of the goals of the UN climate talks is to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which scientists say is the limit beyond which the world will suffer ever worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration unveiled the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of its broader climate change strategy that aims to slash carbon emissions from the country's power plants.

The U.S. agency says that the rapid rise is mainly attributable to humans burning fossil fuels.

The United States wants to play a leading role to secure a global climate change deal in Paris this December.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Marguerita Choy)

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Humans are 'unique super-predator'

Jonathan Amos BBC 21 Aug 15;

Humans should focus on the "interest", not the "capital" in the system - say the authors

Humans' status as a unique super-predator is laid bare in a new study published in Science magazine.

The analysis of global data details the ruthlessness of our hunting practices and the impacts we have on prey.

It shows how humans typically take out adult fish populations at 14 times the rate that marine animals do themselves.

And on land, we kill top carnivores, such as bears, wolves and lions, at nine times their own self-predation rate.

But perhaps the most striking observation, say authors Chris Darimont and colleagues, is the way human beings focus so heavily on taking down adult prey.

This is quite different from the rest of the animal kingdom, for which the juveniles of a species tend to be the most exploited.

Part of this is explained by the tools that human hunters exclusively can deploy.

We can tackle adult prey at minimal cost, and so gain maximum, short-term reward, explained Prof Darimont from the University of Victoria (UoV), Canada.

"Advanced killing technology mostly excuses humans from the formerly dangerous act of predation," he told reporters.

"Hunters 'capture' mammals with bullets, and fishes with hooks and nets. They assume minimal risk compared with non-human predators, especially terrestrial carnivores, which are often injured while living what amounts to a dangerous lifestyle."

Predator 'financials'

This concentration on large adult prey is triggering extinctions, as well as driving an evolutionary shift towards smaller fish sizes and disrupting global food chains, say the authors.

Prof Tom Reimchen, a UoV co-author on the study, uses a financial analogy to explain the damaging consequences of hitting adult populations hardest.

He calls the adults the system's "reproductive capital" - the equivalent of the capital held in a bank account or a pension fund. And he says we are eating into this capital when we should really be living off the interest - the juveniles, which many species will produce in colossal numbers, expecting a good fraction to be doomed from the moment they are born via predation, starvation, disease, accidents and more.

The heavily biased preference for adults was not a sustainable strategy long-term, which ought to be clear from fundamental biology, argued Prof Darimont: "In the overwhelming number of cases as fishes age, they become more fecund. That is to say, they produce more eggs, have more babies, and, in fact, in many cases, many of those babies are more likely to survive and reproduce themselves.

"So when a predator targets that reproductive age class and especially the larger more fecund animals in those populations, we are dialling back the reproductive capacity of populations."

Wolf and salmon

However, much of the standard conservation management today is based on the notion that it is the "tiddlers" that should be let go, to ensure robust numbers for the next generation. Trawl nets are often designed specifically to support this approach.

Doing it the other way would be challenging, but the technical solutions were available, said Prof Reimchen.

"There are traps that can define the entrance to a net, which then very easily allows you to exclude fish above a certain size - in other words, the reproductive capital. Once the motivation is in place, clever people will work out how this transition from the reproductive capital to the interest could be brought about."

As for quotas, these should more closely align with the numbers taken out by natural predators, the team suggests.

Human population

Dr Chris Carbone studies predator-prey relationships for the Zoological Society of London, UK.

He described the research as an interesting study that aimed to put some actual numbers on phenomena that many in the field would recognize.

But he cautioned that as broad as the investigation was, the data was still sparse, especially in the marine environment.

And as for refocusing the age class to take more juveniles, Dr Carbone argued that it would very much depend on the species in question. Not all species would react in the same way. But he said there was perhaps an even more fundamental problem, which was the density of human predators versus their prey.

"We exist at vastly higher densities than natural predators," he told BBC News.

"It might be that 100 zebras could support a lion, but in the case of humans we can outnumber our prey in many instances, and that throws the system. So even if we didn't have the efficient hunting technology, we'd still have problems with sustainability."

Human 'super-predators' should change hunting, fishing habits
Kerry Sheridan AFP Yahoo News 21 Aug 15;

Miami (AFP) - Humans are super-predators that upset the natural balance on Earth by killing far too many adult animals and fish, scientists said Thursday, urging a focus on catching fewer and smaller creatures.

People tend to kill adult fish at 14 times the rate of marine predators, said the findings in the journal Science.

And humans slaughter large land carnivores such as bears and lions at nine times the rate of predatory animals in the wild.

Based on a survey of 2,125 predators around the world on both land and in the water, scientists found that people cause "extreme outcomes that non-human predators seldom impose," said co-author Chris Darimont, professor of geography at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

These include extinctions, shrinking numbers of fish, smaller sized fish, and disruptions to global food chains.

These impacts are made possible by humans' unique approach to hunting -- using weapons and external energy sources like fuel to power our hunts, searching for the biggest catch possible and acting as suppliers for other hungry mouths in faraway places, he said.

This is in sharp contrast to the way the marine world operates, with most predators focusing on juvenile prey taking only about one percent of adults.

"Our impacts are as extreme as our behavior and the planet bears the burden of our predatory dominance," said Darimont.

- New approach -

If humans want to continue to see large beasts like rhinos, elephants and lions in the wild, as well as ensure the health of ocean life, scientists said big changes are needed.

"We're suggesting a new and perhaps transformative way to consider what sustainable exploitation could be," said Darimont.

He said the recent outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion may be an indicator that societies are ready to at least cut back, if not stop all together trophy hunting of large beasts.

"If future generations of people are to see these magnificent animals, then this requires cultivating new tolerance for living with them," he told reporters.

"This might include increasing revenues to local communities derived not from hunting, but from non-consumptive uses such as eco-tourism, shooting carnivores with cameras, not guns."

- Smaller fish -

When it comes to fishing, Darimont and co-author Tom Reimchen urged a focus on younger, smaller fish.

Currently, humans tend to focus on catching the biggest fish, because they provide more food and they are easier to process than smaller fish, which are often thrown back.

But these adult fish are valuable when it comes to reproduction, and should be spared so that they can release more eggs over their adult lifespan, the authors argued.

Reimchen's research showed that predatory fish and diving birds overwhelmingly kill juvenile forms of freshwater fish and generally take no more than two percent of the adult fish.

Salmon fisheries run by people harvest about half of all adult fish.

"It is not simply the issue of shifting the extraction rate to juveniles," said Reimchen, a biology professor, adding that humans would have to drastically cut their fishing quotas in order to better resemble the behavior of other predators.

"If you use natural predator-prey quotas as some type of sustainable guide, we would be talking perhaps close to an 80 or 90 percent reduction in our global take," said Reimchen.

Such sweeping changes may be hard to make, but an accompanying editorial by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University argued that humans may be unique in that regard, too.

"We have the unusual ability to analyze and consciously adjust our behavior to minimize deleterious consequences," Worm wrote.

"This final point, I believe, will prove critical for our continued coexistence with viable wildlife population on land and in the sea."

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