Best of our wild blogs: 29 Sep 15

You CAN make a difference for our Marine Park!
wild shores of singapore

The Posy Portrait
Saving MacRitchie

Plantain Squirrel feeding on banana flower nectar
Bird Ecology Study Group

As haze chokes Sumatra, farmers ask Jokowi for greater land rights
Mongabay Environmental News

Rare spotted leopards sighted on Malaysian Peninsula
Mongabay Environmental News

Shell ends Arctic oil bid
Mongabay Environmental News

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Indonesia Vice-President: Singapore should help solve haze issue, not just talk about it 28 Sep 15;

The Indonesian government welcomed any country, including Singapore, that wanted to help extinguish forest and land fires in the country to remove the haze, said Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

"Go ahead, we are open. Singapore can come and see for themselves if they want to help. Don't just talk [about it]," said Kalla on Sunday in New York, United States, as quoted by Antara news agency.

Previously, Singapore expressed frustration with Indonesia regarding the smog that has affected the country.

Kalla said that the Indonesian government had worked hard to eliminate the fires but it was difficult to do in a short time.

"The problem is, in addition to the hot weather, the fires in Indonesia are worsened by the wind," said Kalla.

He mentioned the forest fires in California as an example of a similar incident that was hard to extinguish in a short time.

"We have done all that we can do. Since it has affected other countries, if they want to help, then go ahead," said Kalla.

Separately, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said she had communicated with Singapore's foreign minister to explain the steps that had been taken by the Indonesian government.

"Indonesia is very serious about solving the issue and the efforts include law enforcement and education," said Retno. (kes)

Indonesia open to help from any country, including Singapore: VP Jusuf Kalla
"Singapore, please come if you want to help. Don't just talk," Mr Kalla was quoted by Indonesian news agency Antara News as saying.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government is open to help from any country, including Singapore, if they wish to assist in fighting the forest fires that are causing the haze in the region, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Sunday (Sep 27).

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York, Mr Kalla said the Indonesian government has noted Singapore’s protests against the haze.

"Please come, we are open. Singapore can see for itself. Singapore, please come if you want to help. Don't just talk," local news agency Antara News quoted Mr Kalla as saying.

Mr Kalla said Indonesia has explained that it is working hard to put out the forest fires, but it is difficult to solve the problem within a short period of time.

"The forest fires in Indonesia are helped by the dry weather and winds," he said.

This is not the first time Mr Kalla is inviting Singapore to help. On Sep 15, he appealed to Singapore through local media to help fight the fires, and was quoted as saying: “Singapore, please come. Singapore also knows that the natural disaster can happen anywhere.”

The Singapore Armed Forces had offered to send C-130s for cloud seeding and Chinooks to carry large water buckets to douse the fires.

However, Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has declined Singapore's assistance, and said that her country is trying to handle the crisis on its own. Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi also said that she has spoken with her Singaporean counterpart to explain the steps that Jakarta has taken.

"Indonesia is very serious about resolving the fires, and this will be complemented with law enforcement and education," said Ms Retno.

- CNA/hs

SAF ready to support Indonesia’s haze mitigation efforts, reiterates Ng Eng Hen
Today Online 28 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — On a two-day working visit to Indonesia that began today (Sept 28), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen discussed the haze situation in Indonesia with his Indonesian counterpart and reiterated that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was ready to support Indonesia’s haze mitigation efforts, if and when activated.

During his meeting with Indonesian Defence Minister General (Rtd) Ryamizard Ryacudu, the two ministers also reaffirmed the close and long standing bilateral defence relations between Indonesia and Singapore and discussed ways to enhance bilateral defence cooperation.

The details of the meeting were released in a statement by the Ministry of Defence today.

Singapore and Indonesia engage in regular professional exchanges and long standing bilateral exercises such as Exercise Elang Indopura, Exercise Safkar Indopura and Exercise Eagle Indopura.

As part of the visit, Dr Ng today called on Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs General (Rtd) Luhut Pandjaitan. He also inspected a Guard of Honour with Gen Ryacudu.

Read more!

Malaysia says not hazy enough to sue companies

Today Online 28 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia has not yet reached the stage where it needs to sue the companies responsible for creating the haze crisis in Malaysia, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said.

Deputy minister Hamim Samuri told local daily Utusan Malaysia that the priority now was to expedite the process of finalising the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Malaysia and Indonesia on a haze prevention programme.

“Malaysia is not yet at the level to sue but my ministry will continue to monitor from the international laws aspect in regards to this haze pollution problem,” he told the Malay language daily.

On Friday (Sept 25), Singapore announced that it had served preventive measure notices on four Indonesian companies deemed responsible for the latest bout of haze, which forced schools islandwide to shut down.

The notices require the firms to deploy fire-fighting personnel to extinguish or to prevent the spread of any fire on land owned or occupied by them, and to discontinue any burning activities on such land, among other things.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, schools in three states and two federal territories where the air pollutant index (API) recorded unhealthy levels, were shut down today.

As of 9am, Bandaraya Malacca recorded the highest reading at 134, with areas in, Sarawak, Negri Sembilan, Johor, Selangor and Putrajaya still at unhealthy levels. MALAY MAIL ONLINE

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Malaysia: ‘Too early to say if Singapore law effective’

New Straits Times 28 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will need to pass a law similar to Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to take legal action against firms suspected of starting haze-related forest fires abroad.

Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish said the Singaporean law, passed last year, allowed regulators to fine or sue individuals or companies for activities leading to haze in the city-state.

“Essentially, anyone that contributes to the exporting of haze to Singapore can be made to pay substantial damages,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.
However, he said, it was too early to see whether such a law would prove effective, given the difficulties in establishing a causal link between the companies and the rising levels of air pollution.

“One of the big challenges is proving that the company being sued is the source of the haze in Singapore,” he said, adding that the law had been criticised by some Indonesian officials for overstepping judicial boundaries.

While no plans for similar laws have been announced here, Malaysian authorities could punish local companies based in Indonesia for failing to take action to prevent fires, Faizal said.

He said major Malaysian companies that operated or owned subsidiaries in Indonesia had put in place policies against harmful practices, such as slash and burn, but some entities faced problems in monitoring their estates for fires caused by other reasons.

Some fires, he said, were caused by land clearing carried out by illegal trespassers or by villagers living in or near the estates.

“Many companies have strong policies in place, but the situation is more complex on the ground.”

“In such cases, it could be possible for the Malaysian government to take action against the firms for negligence,” he said, citing the case of a Malaysian plantation manager who was convicted by an Indonesian court last year for being negligent in supervising the estate owned by his employer, PT ADEI Plantation and Industry.

ADEI, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, was also fined for violating Indonesia’s Environmental Protection and Management Law 2009.

Faizal was speaking in response to Singapore’s announcement on Saturday that it had filed legal notices against five Indonesian companies blamed for farm and plantation fires.

The companies were multinational Asia Pulp and Paper, Rimba Hutani Mas, Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and Wachyuni Mandira.

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Malaysia: ‘No manipulation of API’

MINDERJEET KAUR New Straits Times 28 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Department of Environment (DoE) yesterday denied manipulating the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings, but admitted that Malaysia’s measurement of air pollution was different from Singapore’s.

This admission comes after a social media storm on Saturday when people noticed the stark difference in air pollution readings between Malaysia, especially in southern Johor, and Singapore as choking haze blanketed the two countries.

DoE director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said the government was not watering down the API readings, and that the difference in readings stemmed from Singapore’s inclusion of a sixth parameter in determining the state of air quality.

Malaysia measures five parameters to determine API: carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide and particulate matter (PM10).

Since April last year, Singapore has included a sixth parameter, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5), when calculating its measurement of air quality, called Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).

However, Halimah denied that Malaysia’s API methodology was outdated.

“Malaysia is aware of Singapore adding the PM2.5 matter as the sixth component to calculate PSI readings.

“Our method is not old. It is just that Singapore has included a new component to its readings. We are monitoring and studying its readings,” she told the New Straits Times yesterday.

She said the department was in the final stages of working on the budget to include the sixth component in API calculations, adding that her department would release a statement on the matter today.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency website said that previously, PSI was calculated based on the average of PM10 readings over the last three hours.

Under the new system since April last year, PSI was calculated based on PM2.5 concentration levels, as it was the main pollutant of concern in haze.

Environmental Protection Society Malaysia vice-president Randolph Geremiah said Malaysia should not compare itself with other countries without understanding the different methods used by experts.

“Methods and equipment change very fast in science. But if the situation indicates that it is time to have better equipment, then it is time to have better equipment.”
Randolph said Malaysia should upgrade facilities to measure API, as haze was occurring every year.

Malaysia releases hourly API readings from 52 stations.

Singapore’s PSI readings hit the hazardous range (above 300) on Thursday evening and climbed to 341 at 5am on Friday, while in Johor Baru, API readings were in the unhealthy band of between 139 and 192.

When API readings are in the 101 to 200 band (unhealthy), people are advised to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities.

Readings of between 201 and 300 are considered very unhealthy, while readings above 300 are considered hazardous.

At noon yesterday, the DoE website listed five areas recording very unhealthy API readings.

Selangor was the worst-hit state, with Shah Alam recording an API of 272, followed by Port Klang (245) and Petaling Jaya (223). The other two areas with very unhealthy readings are Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur (253) and Putrajaya (207).

By 6pm, the API in these five areas moved to the unhealthy band, with Shah Alam recording an API of 185, followed by Batu Muda (181), Port Klang (179), Petaling Jaya (168) and Putrajaya (165).

Another 15 areas recorded unhealthy API readings at 6pm yesterday.

They are Bukit Rambai (106) and Bandaraya Melaka (104) in Malacca; Nilai (114), Port Dickson (114) and Seremban (131) in Negri Sembilan; Jerantut (115) in Pahang; SK Jalan Pegoh, Ipoh, (115), Seri Manjung (120) and Tanjung Malim (145) in Perak; Kuching (124), Samarahan (142) and Sri Aman (172) in Sarawak; Banting (156) and Kuala Selangor (145) in Selangor; and Cheras (155) here.

The public can visit the website,, for the API readings.

We Benefit From A Clearer Picture, Not From A Hazy Picture
A Commentary By Sakina Mohamed Bernama 29 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- A thick blanket of haze enveloped several parts of Malaysia last Saturday, but seemed to not be reflected in the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings online.

Unhappy Malaysians took their ire to social media, spreading claims ranging from the API reading being 12 hours behind to it being purposefully manipulated.

Further strengthening such speculation was the distinct difference between API readings in Singapore to the just neighbouring Johor.


The matter was exacerbated when PKR Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen attributed the overt discrepancy in API measurements between the two countries to Malaysia using a "lower standard of API measurement".

"Most countries, including Singapore and Indonesia now measure particulate matter of 2.5 microns or PM2.5.

"Malaysia is still measuring particulate matter of 10 microns or PM10. This practice results in overall and substantially lower measurements in Malaysia," he said in a statement.

Wong said as a result of that Malaysians would have a more positive but "illusory picture" of the nation's air quality.

The Department of Environment (DOE) has denied such claims and maintains that it has not been watering down API readings to placate the public.

Its director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan clarified that the difference in readings was due to Singapore's inclusion of a sixth parameter in determining the state of air quality.

However, it did not deny Wong's quoting of a 2012 media report that said the DOE had planned to implement the PM2.5 measure next year, under its Clean Air Action Plan.

A news report today quoted Halimah as saying that the department was in the final stages of working out the budget to include the sixth component.


While it is commendable for the DOE to move to a better standard of measuring air quality, we must not forget that the main concern with the haze is its impact on public health and the domino effect of that on the nation.

It is difficult for the average Malaysian to gauge the level of air quality other than concluding from what they see with their naked eye and how their bodies react to the smog.

However, the DOE has explained that visibility levels are not reflected in API readings, which only measure dust particulates smaller than PM10. So a thick haze may not be a measure of how unhealthy the air is.

Visibility levels are updated in real time while API readings are updated over a span of 24 hours. This would explain why unhealthy readings take time to show in the hourly API updates, and why visibility levels do not correspond with API readings.

Thus it is unsurprising that the majority of Malaysians rely very much on the government and its mechanisms to tell them when to don a haze mask and when to keep their children out of school.

An inaccurate or delayed reading could result in a number of things. Those unaware of an unhealthy air quality may still go about their routines without a particulate mask. Later, many of them would find themselves lining up at public hospitals seeking treatment for breathing problems.

Parents would be forced to take leave to attend to their ailing children. Companies might find some of their operations crippled due to the sudden number of employees taking leave. All of these indirectly add to the socio-economic burden of the country.

Delayed updates on API readings also pose another problem. When school closures are announced at the eleventh hour, how do parents come up with alternative arrangements for their children while they are at work?

Some parents may be lucky enough to have understanding employers and extra leave days. Others, though, may have run out of precious leave days or are simply in a work environment without leeway for such emergencies.

Some, whose employers view sudden leaves as detrimental to company productivity, may even find their jobs on the line.

The haze is a recurrent problem which root cause has yet to be tackled over the years, neither are there any indication that it would be resolved in the near future. The best that Malaysia can do is to spare no effort at employing the latest measures to alert its citizen and put them on guard, as the benefits of this move would far outweigh the costs.

(This commentary is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect BERNAMA s stand or views on the matter)


State govt allocates RM6m to build four API measuring stations in Johor
New Straits Times 29 Sep 15;

JOHOR BARU: The State Government, via the Department of Environment, has allocated RM6 million to build four more Air Pollutant Index (API) measuring stations which are expected to be ready in April.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the construction of the stations would increase the number of stations in the state to eight and boost the effectiveness of the information service to the people.

“Prior to this, we only depended on mobile measuring equipment to obtain API readings for places without a station,” he said after officiating the closing of a function ‘Say No to Obesity’ at Sekolah Kebangsaan Kempas, here, today.

He said the new stations would be built after suitable sites had been identified, including in developing areas such as Pengerang, Segamat and Pontian.

Commenting on the different API readings between Malaysia and Singapore, he said the two countries did not use the same API measurements, as such the readings were not the same.
“Their readings use different calculations, Singapore is using PM2.5 while Malaysia is using PM10.

“Singapore is also using more sensitive equipment to calculate in terms of dust suspension, so the reading is also not the same,” he said.

Meanwhile, the programme saw 33 obese pupils taking part in a six-month motivation and exercise programme from March and ending this month. – BERNAMA

Read more!

Malaysia: Johor and Malacca schools closed

The Star 29 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: The Education Ministry has ordered the closure of all schools in Johor and Malacca today due to the haze.

Both states recorded unhealthy levels in the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings as of 4pm yesterday.

The closure will involve 1,178 schools and 618,326 students in Johor, and 314 schools and 156,635 students in Malacca.

Schools in other parts of the country that were closed yesterday will open as usual today.

The ministry said API readings as of noon yesterday came down in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Tanjung Malim (Perak), as well as Sri Aman, Kuching, Betong and Samarahan in Sarawak.

“Therefore, schools in the area will be open as usual (on Tuesday). The ministry would also like to remind the state education departments as well as the district education offices nationwide to continue monitoring the API readings.

Air quality with API readings of 0-50 is categorised as good, 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 (very unhealthy) and 301 and above (hazardous).

In Johor Baru, state Entrepreneur Development, Cooperative, Educa­tion and Information Com­mittee chairman Md Jais Sarday said students having respiratory problems should get a report from a clinic or hospital if they were unfit to attend classes.

Such reports were necessary for students who could not come to school for long periods of time due to respiratory illness, he said.

Meanwhile, a Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd spokesman said two flights enroute to Kuching and Kuantan respectively were diverted back to the Kuala Lumpur Inter­national Airport.

The Kuantan flight was rescheduled and departed at 2.58pm.

The spokesman said a few flights from KLIA2 to Pontianak, Pekan Baru and Palembang were cancelled due to the haze.

AirAsia Bhd said several flights were disrupted due to visibility below the minimum level as of 4.30pm yesterday.

“Affected passengers were notified and attended to accordingly at the airport. AirAsia will continue to monitor the situation closely and keep our passengers informed with the latest information,” it said.

A Firefly Airlines spokesman said only one flight from Subang to Pekan Baru was cancelled while one flight to Kerteh was delayed for 30 minutes.

Johor to set up four more API measurement stations
MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star 28 Sep 15;

JOHOR BARU: Four more Air Pollutant Index (API) stations will be set up at several locations in the state by next year.

"The districts that do not have the API stations have to depend on mobile IPU readings, which are not that accurate," said State Health and Environment exco Datuk Ayub Rahmat, adding that Johor currently has four such stations.

"By April next year, we will have four more stations that would give us better readings when there is a haze," he said.

Ayub said this when met after officiating the closing ceremony of "No Obesity" program held at SK Kempas here.

Haze-hit schools to open as usual tomorrow

PETALING JAYA: Schools in several states that were closed due to the haze are to open as usual tomorrow (Tuesday.)

The Education Ministry said the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading as of noon Monday showed improvement for Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Tanjung Malim (Perak), as well as Sri Aman, Kuching, Betong and Samarahan in Sarawak.

“Therefore, schools in these areas will be open as usual on Tuesday. The ministry would also like to remind the state education departments as well as the district education offices nationwide to continue monitoring the API readings.

“If the API readings reach unhealthy levels (101-200) or very unhealthy (201-300), then state education departments and the district education offices can refer to the circular dated August 7, 2013,” the ministry said in a statement.

Runway at Kuching International Airport reopens
SHARON LING The Star 28 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Hazy conditions and low visibility caused the Kuching International Airport (KIA) to be temporarily closed for about two hours Monday morning.

Senior airport manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim said the runway was closed at 7am due to the thick haze and reopened for flight operations at 9.10am.

"As at 9am, there are 25 flights cancelled, comprising 12 departures and 13 arrivals. We expect some delays in flight movement and will update from time to time," he said.

Earlier posts on social media pages of Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) had said that the airport runway was declared closed by the Department of Civil Aviation and airport authorities as visibility was only 350m.

It was later updated saying that while the airport was now reopened, all passengers arriving and departing from KIA should check with the respective airlines on their flight schedules as some flights could be delayed.

At 9am, the Air Pollutant Index (API) was 117 in Kuching and 129 in Samarahan.

Seven other areas in Sarawak recorded moderate readings while Kapit had good air quality of 50.

26 flights at Kuching Int'l Airport cancelled, 8 flights delayed
GOH PEI PEI New Straits Times 28 Sep 15;

KUCHING: A total of 26 flights departing and arriving at the Kuching International Airport (KIA) had been cancelled as the runway was closed for two hours until 9am today.

KIA Senior Manager Mohd Nadzim Hashim said the closure had affected more than 3,000 passengers and the departure hall was crowded with those stranded at the airport for their next flight.

"The situation in the morning was badly affected by haze with visibility of 350m, it's very risky for aircraft to take off or land, hence, the DCA has ordered to close the runway at about 7am," he said when contacted.

Due to the closure, a total of eight flights were delayed later at 11am, involving 1,000 passengers.

Among those stranded at the airport were a group of 20 students from SMK St.

Teresa, which was heading to Kuala Lumpur for a Petronas event as well as a group of primary pupils from Penang who were scheduled to leave the state capital at 9.35am.

It was learnt that the group of 29 pupils and three teachers were in the city for a study trip over the weekend.

They are expected to be taking another flight available in the evening.

Read more!

Malaysia: More rain expected from next month

The Star 29 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: More rain is expected from October when the wind pattern changes.

Meteorological Department spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said the wind is expected to start changing its direction by late tomorrow.

“The impact will be seen the following day. We can expect more rain to come after that,” he said.

Dr Hisham said most of the rain would be in the northern states and Kelantan.

The department’s atmospheric science and cloud seeding division director Maznorizan Mohamad said they would activate cloud seeding operations depending on weather conditions.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the weather conditions in Malaysia were influenced by the presence of Typhoon Dujuan in Taiwan.

“Generally, many places are not expected to receive rain. However, based on the weather patterns, there can be early morning showers in some areas of the west coast and west of Sabah,” he said in a statement yesterday.

He said the hazy conditions were due to south-west winds from Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Based on satellite images, four hotspots in Kalimantan and 61 hotspots in Sumatra were detected. No hot spots were detected in Malaysia.

As of 5pm yesterday, nine areas recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings. The areas were Larkin Lama (116), Muar (122), Pasir Gudang (115) in Johor, Malacca (136), Port Dickson (111) and Seremban (104), Kuching (116) and Samarahan (117) in Sarawak.

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Malaysia: Johor battling smog and rise in dengue cases

The Star 29 Sep 15;

JOHOR BARU: The haze has come at a bad time for Johor with health officials here already having their hands full fighting a sharp increase in dengue cases.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said many officials from other districts have had to come to help in the fight against dengue, conducting spot checks at residential and business premises.

“What we are worried about is the number of patients who will be warded in various government hospitals in Johor, either due to dengue, respiratory-related illnesses or other type of sickness.

“We have enough manpower and medicine but it is the number of available beds in hospital wards that we are concerned about,” he said, adding that Johor has about 3,812 beds from 12 government-run hospitals.

Speaking to reporters at the closing ceremony of the “Say No to Obesity” programme here yesterday, he said the haze had caused a deterioration in air quality for almost two months now and there were 19,655 respiratory-related cases recorded during the first two weeks of the month.

Ayub also said that the state government would set up four additional haze detectors in Batu Pahat, Segamat, Pontian and Pengerang next year.

“We already have four such detectors in Johor Baru, Muar, Kota Tinggi and Pasir Gudang,” he said.

On the dengue situation, he said that in the first nine months of the year, 10,660 dengue cases were reported in Johor with 32 deaths –an increase of 163% compared to the same period last year.

Read more!

Malaysia hopeful of stabilising rabies outbreak

Given current statistics and with proper vaccination and education, it is expected there will be no new rabies cases within three to four months, a veterinary official told Channel NewsAsia.
Sumisha Naidu Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian veterinary officials are hopeful that a rabies outbreak in its northern states will stabilise in a few months, as animal rights groups' continue to protest the precautionary mass culling of stray dogs.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia to mark World Rabies Day on Monday (Sep 28), the deputy director-general of the Department of Veterinary Services, Dr Kamarudin Md Isa, said given current statistics and with proper vaccination and education, it is expected there will be no new rabies cases within three to four months.

More than 2,600 stray dogs have been put to sleep so far since one tested positive for rabies in late July. That was the first rabies case in Malaysia in almost two decades and authorities believe rabid dogs from neighbouring Thailand may be to blame.

Across Perlis, Kedah and Penang, at least 42 dogs have tested positive for the disease that can be fatal to both humans and dogs.

Fears of an epidemic and limited amounts of available vaccine have led to affected states culling stray dogs.

There has been backlash from animal rights activists but the greatest outcry has come from Penang, where people are volunteering to house dogs to spare them from the government ordered cull.

But their resources are limited.

Penang non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Save Our Strays are appealing for items to help with the care of the stray dogs they are taking in, such as cages, food, dog leashes and medication.

In Kuala Lumpur, Tong War Yee has volunteered to collect the supplies and send them to Penang. "There's many people in KL willing to help them but they don't have the transport to Penang so I decided to find a lorry and store room right here," said the 24-year-old volunteer.

Malaysian veterinary officials are aware of the backlash against the large-scale cull and have ordered more than 50,000 doses of vaccine to boost supplies. But they say the putting down of dogs cannot be avoided completely.

"Many people see this as not a good idea because they say that it's not the dogs’ problem but once the dogs are infected they become a risk to the main population, so we need to remove the risk," said Dr Kamarudin.

But it is a risk that may always persist in Malaysia as long as it has a stray dog population.

"We really need cooperation by all parties, not just blaming government, authorities, departments for taking up measures to reduce the risks,” Dr Kamarudin. “They also should be able to come up with their own plan, how to make sure these stray dogs aren't stray anymore, how to take care of the stray dogs so they become a population that can be managed."

On this, the government and animal groups can agree. They say Malaysians need to be more responsible in spaying and neutering their pets so no animal is left vulnerable on the streets to rabies or any other disease.

- CNA/ec

Read more!

Malaysia: Flood project threatens Penang fireflies

New Straits Times 28 Sep 15;

GEORGE TOWN: Air Hitam Dalam in Sungai Dua and Sungai Prai, both on mainland Penang, used to be firefly colonies.

That was more than 10 years ago. Today, the sites no longer draw fireflies.

The inability of berembang trees to grow in Air Hitam Dalam and pollution in Sungai Prai from nearby factories have been blamed for the firefly population’s demise.

The trees, scientifically known as Sonneratia caseolaris, are important to the creatures’ existence.

Malaysian Nature Society Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar said the only remaining site for firefly watchers was Sungai Kerian in Nibong Tebal.

“There has yet to be much development and pollution in that part of town. The berembang trees, coupled with the mangrove peat swamp along the coast, serve as a natural habitat for fireflies.”

Nevertheless, the site is under threat by a flood-mitigation project in Nibong Tebal.

No one knows how many fireflies live in the berembang trees along Sungai Kerian, as official studies have yet to be carried out.

Tan Chin Hock, proprietor of tour operator Amazing Nibong Tebal, who took the New Straits Times on a visit to the site recently, said there were more than 10,000 fireflies in the area.

He said there were more fireflies downstream compared with upstream, as clearing work for the flood-mitigation project began there.

The 8km river flows along Kampung Sangland (upstream) to Tanjung Berembang (downstream). The flood-mitigation project is 30m from the riverbank.

“This (firefly colony in Sungai Kerian) is a heritage in itself, and as such, we are trying our best to protect it from harm.

“We hope the project will not affect the firefly colony. If it does, this part of our heritage may be gone forever.”

Tan, who is involved in the Penang Ecotourism Preservation Association, appealed to the state Irrigation and Drainage Department to allow berembang trees to be grown on land near the jetty.

“It is not something easy to do, but we have managed to do it.

“We need a bigger place for the purpose. I hope the department will allow us to use its land for the said purpose.

“That way, we can attract more fireflies to our shores.”

Read more!

Indonesia: Endangered primates struggle amid deforestation, food scarcity

N. Adri, The Jakarta Post 28 Sep 15;

Conservationists have warned that massive mangrove deforestation in Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan, has put the local population of proboscis monkeys, known in the area as bekantan, under severe threat as it has forced the endangered animals to fight each other for food or starve to death.

Primate researcher Stanislav “Stan” Lhota of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, the Czech Republic, who has been conducting research on the proboscis monkeys and other primates in Balikpapan Bay for the last 15 years, expressed concern that more of the animals would be found dead within the next few years in the area due to starvation.

“The Mangrove Center forest has been too small to accommodate the current size of the bekantan population,” Stan told The Jakarta Post recently, referring to a part of the mangrove forest on the northern bank of Balikpapan Bay that has become a natural habitat for the bekantan population.

The number of sea rambai (Sonneratia caseolaris) trees, whose leaves are the main food source of the monkeys, has continued to decline in the area mainly due to deforestation to establish new housing or industrial complexes, according to Stan.

Those in unaffected parts of the area, meanwhile, have been struggling with overconsumption as more bekantan flock to their area in search of food. Possible evidence of food scarcity in the area emerged last week after local residents found a dead bekantan floating in a river that flows through the Mangrove Center.

Agus Bey, a local figure who initiated the rehabilitation of the Mangrove Center area, said the carcass of the bekantan had been first spotted by a forest ranger.

“The carcass weighed about 20 kilograms when we lifted it from the river,” said Agus, adding that no wounds or signs of violence had been detected on the carcass.

Agus said that based on the condition of the carcass the primate had died because of old age or after it lost a fight with younger bekantan. He also denied the possibility that it died due to starvation or poisoning.

“From its weight and physical appearance, this bekantan was well fed,” Agus said.

The carcass was buried in an empty area of land near the Mangrove Center post in Graha Indah, Agus said. Agus said he had also reported the finding to the East Kalimantan Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

The bekantan has been on the endangered species list of Switzerland-based environmental organization International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) since 2000.

The species has also been on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ (CITES) list of animals that are banned from being traded internationally.

The estimated population of bekantan on Borneo Island in 1987 was 260,000. That figure, however, drastically decreased to only around 25,000 in 2008.

Stan, meanwhile, estimated that there are currently 1,400 bekantans in Balikpapan Bay.

Earlier this year, a female bekantan was found with wounds all over her body on Takung waters near Semayang Port, Balikpapan.

East Kalimantan BKSDA forest ecosystem control officer Amos Robi Simon said the bekantan had eventually died despite intensive treatment given by four veterinarians.

Amos said the four-year-old bekantan could have died because of depression due to its wounds and being separated from its group. The bekantan are known as a species that lives in groups and are not familiar with humans.

“When first treated, it weighed 4.5 kilograms. It’s too skinny for a bekantan of that age,” Amos said, adding that it could have been wounded in a fight with other monkeys after being separated from its group.

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Indonesia: Vice-President Kalla promises to prepare regulations on land governance 28 Sep 15;

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the government would improve Indonesia’s land governance by halting the issuance of permits for converting natural forests into industrial forests.

Such measures, he said, needed to be conducted concerning the impact of forest damage, which had continued to grow at an alarming rate.

He asserted that the government had prepared a regulation to stop the opening of plantation land.

“There will be no more new land to boost production. There must be no more exploitation of peat land," said Kalla. He was speaking during a meeting with representatives of 10 civil society organizations on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York from Sept. 25 to Sept. 27.

Kalla said he had conveyed the government’s plan to businesspeople, members of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin). The Vice President also encouraged all Indonesian businessmen to change their paradigm in carrying out their business activities. To boost their production, he said, the country’s businesspeople should push forward a land intensification measure instead of expanding the amount of land they are using.

“The current haze disaster is proof of a land governance problem we are facing. Forests have been destroyed while peat land is converted,” said Kalla.

He further said the government would be tougher and more careful in making decisions on its next development policies.

“We [Indonesia] have made mistakes in three policies areas, namely on forestry, coal and palm oil sectors. This should not happen again in the future,” said Kalla.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) executive director Abetnego Tarigan said Kalla’s idea on the need for Indonesia to leave its land-based economic policy was the right choice as extensive environmental damage would decrease the quality of the country’s economic growth in the future.

“Moreover, state revenues from the land-based economic sector have continued to decrease due to poor handling of environmental damage and heavy burdens of environmental recovery efforts, such as the haze problems, which have been occurring for the past 15 years,” said Abetnego.

He said goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a 15-year global development program, adopted in the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit in New York on Friday, had asked all UN member countries to protect, recover and promote the use of the terrestrial ecosystem.

“The government has been called on to manage forests in a sustainable way, to combat decertification, to prevent and recover land degradation and to halt the loss of biodiversity,” said Abetnego.

Citing the latest data, he said the deforestation rate in Indonesia had reached 1.1 million hectares per year. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Chronic haze leaves locals in anger, frustration

Jon Afrizal and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 28 Sep 15;

Smoke from massive land and forest fires has continued to blanket much of Sumatra and Kalimantan, frustrating local residents whose activities have been severely disrupted by the environmental crisis.

In Jambi, the local branch of the Indonesian Advocates Association (Peradi) and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) are planning to file a class-action lawsuit against 15 companies deemed responsible for land and forest fires in the province.

“Due to the haze, schools are temporarily shut down, airports are unable to operate and people are suffering from acute respiratory infections [ISPA]. We will file our lawsuit soon to the court,” Peradi’s Jambi branch chief Suratno said Sunday.

Jambi Walhi executive director, Musri Nauli, said the NGO’s latest data showed that fires had burned 33,000 hectares of land in Jambi.

“We are demanding the 15 companies to jointly pay Rp 7 trillion [US$478.8 million] in compensation [to local residents] and another Rp 44 trillion for the recovery expenses,” Musri said.

Over the past weeks, air pollution from fires in peatland and plantations has severely affected several regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan, including Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, West Sumatra and Central Kalimantan. The ongoing crisis has also been exacerbated by this year’s prolonged dry season, caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

In Pekanbaru, Riau, thousands of passengers were stranded at Sultan Syarif Kasim (SSK) II International Airport on Sunday, as 36 flights were cancelled after visibility at the airport dropped to only 50-300 meters, Antara news agency reported.

Meanwhile, a number of regions in the eastern and central parts of West Sumatra province have also been blanketed by thick haze over the past four days.

Andika, a resident of Limapuluh Kota regency, said visibility in his hometown was only 100 meters. Light rain on Saturday night had not cleared up the haze, he said.

“We have to drive very carefully and leave the lights on to avoid traffic accidents,” Andika told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

In Dharmasraya, a regency bordering Jambi and Riau, the local environment agency on Sunday declared the air pollution level in the region as “dangerous”.

Agency head Rahadian said downpours had reduced the intensity of haze in the region earlier this month. The haze, however, has thickened again due to the absence of rain over the past two weeks.

“The haze thickened on Thursday with the air pollutant standard index [ISPU] at an “unhealthy” level. The next day, the index increased to “dangerous” level [and has remained there] until today [Sunday],” Rahadian told the Post.

Thick haze in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, also reduced the visibility in the city to only 10-20 meters on Sunday.

“To be honest, we can no longer stand inhaling this thick haze,” Antonius, a local resident, said, as quoted by Antara.

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Peru says to crack down on palm oil-related Amazon deforestation

Hugh Bronstein PlanetArk 28 Sep 15;

Peru will confront the deforestation of its Amazon region by issuing a decree next month putting palm oil plantations under federal rather than local authority, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said on Sunday.

With big areas of Peru already stripped of natural vegetation, largely due to farming, Pulgar-Vidal said it was important to strengthen regulations on palm oil. He expects the decree within two weeks. "It's ready to go," he said.

Demand for palm oil, a cash crop widely used in food and cosmetics, has fueled deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil plantations are relatively new to Peru and other South American countries.

"Part of the problem is that land use procedures are too easy in some cases, and managed by regional governments that are not strong enough to deal with the problem," Pulgar-Vidal said on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Forests worldwide play a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; chopping them down worsens global warming.

Over the last decade an average total of 13 million hectares of forest have been cleared annually. Tropical forests are particularly hard-hit.

"Since 2008 the national government has delegated land use decisions to regional authorities, including the right to offer palm oil concessions," Pulgar-Vidal said. "We recognize that was not a good decision."

"The idea of the new regulation is to have clearer land use rules, so that Palm oil plantation are limited to already-deforested areas of the country."

Forests cover 30 percent of the planet's surface and are home to an estimated 350 million indigenous people whose cultures and livelihoods depend upon them.

"In Peru the biggest driver of deforestation is migratory agriculture, mostly poor people who migrate from the Andes to the Amazon. Illegal mining is also a big problem," Pulgar-Vidal said. "The decree will affect everything related to land use ... I hope it will take effect in no more than two weeks."

(Additional reporting by Mitra Taj in Lima; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Corals off South Florida hit with severe bleaching

Corals off the South Florida coast are turning white and dying, in a severe outbreak of coral bleaching.
David Fleshler Sun Sentinel 28 Sep 15;

Corals are turning chalk white and dying on reefs stretching from the Florida Keys to Palm Beach County, in what experts call one of the worst episodes in two decades of coral bleaching.

Under stress from unusually warm water, the corals are expelling the tiny bits of algae that give them their fiery streaks of red, orange or green color and that provide the coral with nutrition.

Divers have reported tracts of corals that have lost their living tissue, leaving ghostly white skeletons. Bleaching leaves coral vulnerable to diseases that can be fatal, although some corals do regain their color and survive.

Federal and state officials say the bleaching started this summer, as ocean temperatures peaked. The danger is expected to diminish as cooler weather arrives, but many coral communities, which support a vast range of fish, crabs and other marine life, may not be able to recover.

"It's significant impact, and it's permanent," said Margaret Miller, ecologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center. "Corals do not grow back very effectively. So that's a permanent loss to our coral community. It just becomes rock."

Brian Walker, research scientist at Nova Southeastern University's Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, said the bleaching appears to be particularly severe from Biscayne National Park to Hillsboro Inlet in northern Broward County. Among the hardest-hit species are pillar corals, maze corals, star corals, and staghorn corals.

These include corals off Broward and Miami-Dade counties that had survived 200 or 300 years. Scientists have found that some of these old corals have lost nearly half of their living tissue.

"These corals are very important because they have proven to be quite resilient, withstanding everything over the last couple hundred years," Walker said. "Understanding how these resilient corals respond to present environmental conditions informs us of how the environment has changed. The fact that they are dying now after living hundreds of years, may indicate that their surroundings are much more stressful than ever before."

The corals form the only major reef tract in the continental United States and support fishing, diving and snorkeling. Reporting the bleached and dead corals are scientists from government agencies and universities, as well as volunteer divers, in a system coordinated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection..

The sick corals off the South Florida coast are part of a worldwide bleaching outbreak that includes the coral reefs of Hawaii and other Pacific islands and is projected to reach Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia. The last global coral bleaching event occurred in 1997 and 1998, when 15 to 20 percent of the world's coral reefs were lost, DEP said in a statement.

Asked to describe what he's seen, Walker said, "Many white colonies, some diseased colonies, and many corals that have recently died. These are identifiable by exposed fresh skeleton without any tissue or bare colonies covered with a layer of turf algae. Some sites appear to have over 50 percent of the colonies affected."

Scientists say it will be difficult for South Florida's reefs to make up for the loss of coral. Although coral larvae settle out of the water onto rocks and found new colonies, this doesn't happen to a sufficient extent to make up for the losses, Miller said.

"It's a bad situation for the corals out there right now," she said.

Bleaching episodes have increased in duration and severity in the past few decades, according to National Marine Fisheries Service. Miller said climate change is likely to be a long-term factor in increasing the number of bleaching episodes, although it would be difficult to tie any particular episode to global warming.

This year, for example, there is a strong El Niño, the periodic warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean along the equator, she said, which is a factor in the bleaching taking place across the globe.

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