Best of our wild blogs: 5 Nov 15

Workshop for Marine Park volunteers
wild shores of singapore

8 animals that need the MacRitchie Forest to Live
Love our MacRitchie Forest

Publication Alert! – Tridacna noae species taxonomy and systematics updates
Neo Mei Lin

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Indonesia: Number of hotspots in Sumatra drops significantly

Antara 4 Nov 15;

Padang, W Sumatra (ANTARA News)- Only 13 hotspots indicating forest and plantation fires were detected across Sumatra Island on Wednesday morning, a sharp drop from 200 recorded on the previous day.

Based on monitoring conducted by the Terra and Aqua satellites, six hotspots were found in South Sumatra, four in Lampung, two in Bangka Belitung Islands, and one in West Sumatra, Budi Satria, the head of the Koto Tabang meteorology section, noted.

However, the NOAA-18 satellite detected 36 hotspots across Sumatra Island on Wednesday morning.

"The NOAA-18 satellite detected 20 hotspots in Bangka Belitung Islands, six in Lampung, six in South Sumatra, and four in Jambi," he remarked.

In the meantime, the number of hotspots in Indonesia has, in general, decreased significantly over the last few days.

"The number of hotspots has decreased significantly," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), recently reported.

In addition, rains received in the past couple of days have improved the air quality and visibility in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Moreover, the BNPB had seeded 284.9 tons of salt (NaCl) in the skies above Sumatra and Kalimantan islands to produce artificial rain as part of the efforts to extinguish forest and land fires in the two regions.(*)

President calls for thorough handling of forest fires
Antara 4 Nov 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo has called for a thorough handling of forest and land fires, including taking preventive steps to avoid their recurrence in future.

"This momentum must be utilized, and we must focus on prevention for the future. Hence, we will conduct a review on several rules, including laws and government regulations as well as governor regulations that permit the burning of forest and peatland areas," he affirmed while opening a limited meeting on handling forest fires at his office here on Wednesday afternoon.

Despite latest reports indicating a drop in the number of fires and rains being experienced in several regions, the president called for continued efforts to handle and prevent forest fires.

"Thank God, according to the latest report I received, the number of fires has dropped significantly in Sumatra. There are still 53 fires in Sumatra and 124 in Kalimantan. The number has dropped considerably because the figure earlier reached more than one thousand," he stated.

One of the efforts to be undertaken to prevent their recurrence in future is to improve the regulations, he added.

"A review will also be conducted on all licenses and concessions, especially those granted to peatland areas, and I have instructed the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to not issue new licenses for peatland exploitation," he remarked.

To ensure effective and continued handling and prevention of forest and peatland fires, the government plans to set up a special task force to deal with it, he emphasized.

"A special measure is needed especially for dealing with peatlands. We will discuss about setting up a special institution, body, or task force through a presidential decree that would move fast. We must ensure that in the next dry season, there will be actions. The efforts will continue even after the onset of the rainy season," he stressed.

Regarding blocking canal development, he affirmed that it would continue to be implemented to restore the peatland areas.

President Widodo called for the involvement of peat experts to ensure the correct handling of peatland areas.

"Yesterday, I received a team of peat experts from the Gajah Mada University. They have given comprehensive inputs, and I have asked the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to continue to involve them. The experts will plan the management of peatland areas in the future. It is clear what we have to do, and this afternoon, we will follow what I have said," he noted.

The meeting was attended by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Coordinating Minister for Political, Security and Legal Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Puan Maharani, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Rizal Ramli, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Darmin Nasution, Military (TNI) Commander General Gatot Nurmantyo, National Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti, Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya, Minister/State Secretary Pratikno, and Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung.(*)

Government prepares plan for sustainable peat areas
Ina Parlina and Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 4 Nov 15;

Amid complications in extinguishing peatland fires in large parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the government plans to acquire the help of academics and locals and brainstorm solutions for sustainable peatland management.

Among the experts, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo consulted with a number of University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) lecturers, including Azwar Maas, a professor with expertise on peatland management, and UGM rector Dwikorita Karnawati, on Tuesday at the State Palace.

With research dating back to 1974, the UGM team presented a number of feasibility studies, including one conducted between 2014 and 2015, to the President, who was accompanied by a number of Cabinet ministers, including Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono.

Azwar highlighted the importance of “bringing back the natural function of restoring [underground] water of the peat domes [located under the peat areas]”.

The UGM team also said that comprehensive topographic mapping of peatland was also essential and should be the first step in seeking better peatland management.

UGM forestry expert Oka Karyanto said dried peat was not only prone to fires but also warned that it caused subsidence, saying that Indonesia might lose around 10 percent from the total area of peatland in the country — mostly in the coastal areas — in the future.

Dwikorita said that future efforts to prevent fires and peatland damage “need to be done by integrating [...] social, technical and political aspects” in peatland and plantation management.

Both Siti and Basuki said their offices would follow up on UGM’s input following Jokowi’s instruction.

“The Forestry Ministry will combine UGM’s recommendations and other recommendations and might launch a pilot project for the mapping activities, peat fire prevention and mitigation efforts soon,” Siti added.

Basuki said the government only had about two months for the mapping activities and around eight months to prepare measures to face next year’s dry season.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Panjaitan said that the government had shown great intent in collaborating with experts to find a permanent solution to the peatland problem.

In addition to UGM, Luhut revealed that the government was keen on working with a local Dayak tribe group from Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

“The government will work with UGM on the peatland conundrum. We will then talk with a team from Central Kalimantan — part of the Dayak tribe — about land management in Pulang Pisau, which will become a pilot project for a [nationwide] solution to the problem,” Luhut said on Tuesday.

Luhut previously said after a meeting with the House of Representatives that the government had stumbled on a complication having to do with the extinguishing of peatland fires, which often reignited underground despite the state’s best efforts.

Luhut said the El Niño effect had not been adequately anticipated, resulting in persisting hot spots brought about by a prolonged dry season.

Meanwhile, Luhut said that mitigation efforts to address the haze resulting from such fires had gone quite well. “We evaluated our mitigation efforts in Sumatra and Kalimantan and the amount of haze has been prominently reduced; around 5 to 10 percent of it remains,” he explained.

Moving forward, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Puan Maharani told reporters that the government would prioritize implementing policies that take account of social and health effects brought about by the haze.

According to her, President Jokowi has instructed that such humanitarian efforts be implemented in concert with mitigation efforts under the coordination of Luhut.

“Handling the social impact and the effects on public health will be a top priority,” she said on the sidelines of the meeting on Tuesday.

Regulation readied to restrict slash-and-burn practices
Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 4 Nov 15;

The government plans to revise regulations related to the forestry sector in a bid to put an end to the annual forest fires that have put the lives of millions of people at risk.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry said on Tuesday that the government was considering including provisions in some laws that would put more emphasis on sustainable land clearing and management practices in addition to restricting slash-and-burn practices.

“We are looking for input from multiple parties before we issue a ministerial regulation replacing the law. This draft will fix or reconsider Article 69 [of Law No. 32/2009], which allows people to clear land by burning up to 2 hectares based on local practices,” the ministry’s secretary-general, Bambang Hendroyono, said during a coordinating meeting on forest fires with local government officials in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The stipulation has been abused by local farmers as well as big firms engaged in slash-and-burn practices.

In the planned revision, the government will forbid all slash-and-burn practices on peatlands even if those practices clock in under 2 hectares and have been practiced locally for decades.

“The point is to protect peatlands from any kind of slash-and-burn practice,” Bambang said. “Even if the peatlands are located in secondary forests, not primary forests, they are still off-limits.”

He said that all slash-and-burn practices would be banned during the dry season, both in peatland and non-peatland areas.

Furthermore, the government will also make it illegal for anyone to build canals to dry out the surface of peatland. Such a process tends to make peatland more combustible.

The planned ministerial regulation follows President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s instruction to revamp the country’s forestry sector on the back of the annual forest fires, which reached catastrophic levels this year because of the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“There has been a presidential instruction. We will use it as a role model [for the ministerial regulation],” Bambang said.

He said such a ministerial regulation was badly needed because the rainy season this year was predicted to last only until January 2016.

“Even though it’s already raining now, we are racing against time again. There’s a high chance that El Niño will come again [next year]. According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency [BMKG], the dry season will come again in February next year, which means that we only have November, December and January [to prepare for the next dry season],” said Bambang.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, meanwhile, said the government had not decided whether there would be a direct stipulation in the new ministerial regulation banning local farmers from conducting slash-and-burn practices.

“It looks like [the restriction] is a done deal. But we don’t know yet [what kind of regulations we will use],” she said on Tuesday, arguing that all parties wanted the slash-and-burn practices to be further restricted.

Besides that, Siti said that the government was also preparing technical guidelines for regional governments on how to implement sustainable land and forestry management and cultivation.

The document will include guidelines for damage recovery after land and forest fires, managing burned-up forest areas, identifying damage and managing peatland ecosystems.

“The document will be ready later this month,” Siti said.

Australia provides equipment to fire affected areas
Antara 4 Nov 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Australian Government has expanded its contribution to Indonesian efforts to mitigate the effects and spread of the forest and peat fires which are causing widespread health issues across Indonesia.

Through the Indonesian Red Cross, Australia will help provide vital equipment in Riau, East Kalimantan and West Kalimantan to give immediate relief to communities suffering respiratory and other illnesses as a direct result of the smoke haze.

"Through the Indonesian Red Cross, we can reach out to those communities worst affected with safe houses, ambulances, medical teams, emergency oxygen and 30,000 face masks," Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson said as quoted by the Australian Embassy here on its official website on Wednesday.

According to Indonesian authorities, more than 500,000 Indonesians are suffering from respiratory problems caused by the haze. Australias contribution of AUD300,000 to the Indonesian Red Cross will support its health activities in the three provinces over the next three months.

It follows the deployment of two aircraft, a Lockheed L100 Hercules water tanker, "Thor" and a support plane which joined international efforts, dropping more than 300,000 litres of water in South Sumatra last month.(*)

Want to Stop Fires? Protect the Peat, Academics Tell Joko
Jakarta Globe 4 Nov 15;

Jakarta. A team of academics commissioned by the president to come up with solutions to the perennial problem of forest fires has issued a report echoing everything that environmentalists have been saying for years.

The Working Group for Forest and Peat Fires, headed by Gadjah Mada University rector Dwi Korita, submitted its report to President Joko Widodo on Tuesday, highlighting the need for an “integrated” response to the “social, technical and political aspects” of the problem.

“We also need to pay attention to the legal aspect, as well as the regulations and the spatial planning,” Dwi told reporters at the State Palace in Central Jakarta.

The report recommends, among other things, coming up with a single, undisputed map of all forest areas and concessions in Indonesia, and digging canals to restore water to peat forests drained for farmland.

“We need to have a detailed map of all the peat land all over Indonesia – not only the depth, but also the topography as well, to allow the canals and water restoration project to start within the next few months,” Joko said.

Environmentalists have long called for a single-map system to better manage and monitor Indonesia’s forestry sector. They have also spoken out against the draining of peat swamps, permitted by regional authorities, because of the huge amounts of greenhouse gases released during the conversion of peat forests to farmland.

Forest fires in Sumatra, Kalimantan and other parts of Indonesia this year have triggered the daily release of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the entire economic activity of the United States. More than half of the fires occurred on peat land.

Muhammadiyah calls for jihad against forest fires
Slamet Susanto and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 4 Nov 15;

The central executive board of Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah has called for a ‘constitutional jihad’ consisting of the annulment of laws and government regulations that have allowed land and forest fires to rage across large tracts of land.

“We have had a meeting with provincial executive boards and agreed to conduct the constitutional jihad,” Rahmawati Husein of Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center told a discussion forum on the haze held in Yogyakarta on Tuesday.

“Constitutional jihad”, she said, was mandatory because many laws and regulations had been misappropriated.

As an example she said that Article 69 (2) of Law No. 32/2009 on environment management and Protection allowed a family to burn a maximum of two hectares of land under certain circumstances.

“What if 1,000 or 2,000 families do that burning, not to mention corporations disguising themselves as individuals and burning land for financial gain?” Rahmawati said.

According to her, one concrete example of this constitutional jihad could be examining and proposing annulment or amendment of laws and regulations down to the regional level that permit land clearing by burning.

Another speaker at the discussion forum, Eko Priyo Purnomo, said that there was no need for the Indonesian government to ask other nations to help deal with the fires.

As the world’s lungs, he said, Indonesia had been maintaining the world’s natural balance, allowing other countries to receive a free supply of oxygen for eight months.

“Not even thanking us, they scream when the haze reaches them,” he said.

Meanwhile in Riau, two months of school holidays caused by the haze has made students in the province lag behind in school.

Because of this, the provincial administration has asked the central government to postpone the national examinations to make up for the affected schedule.

“The postponement will give the students time to catch up,” Riau Education Agency head Kamsol said, adding that the proposal had been sent to the relevant ministries.

He said if students were forced to stick to the same schedule as the rest of the nation, the pressure might be too intense and students could fail.

“No region wants to have many of its students fail the exam because they had a long holidays due to the haze,” said Kamsol, adding that the proposal had received support from other provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan affected by haze.

He hoped that the related ministries would consider the proposal and make it as a reference to come up with a special policy on the national exam for haze affected regions.

“If otherwise, the alternative is by lowering the standard scores for school and university enrolments specially made for haze-affected regions,” he said.

Kamsol also said that to catch up on missed time, his office had instructed all schools to focus on subjects categorized as basic competence for the final examinations.

Teachers, he said, were also obliged to prepare and provide summaries of the curriculum modules so that the subjects’ core materials could be absorbed sufficiently by the students in the relatively short time before the semester exam scheduled for Dec. 17 to 23.

“Subjects that are not that needed such as local studies and sports can be reduced or even omitted temporarily, and extracurricular activities can be too,” Kamsol said, adding that schools were also obliged to provide additional school hours of two subject hours per day.

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Malaysia: Water levels at Johor dams still critical

ZAZALI MUSA The Star 4 Nov 15;

JOHOR BARU: Water levels at the Sungai Layang and the Sungai Lebam dams remain critical although heavy rain was recorded in several parts of south Johor.

This is because cloud seeding operations conducted from Oct 12 to 31 failed to bring rain to areas near the two dams.

According to SAJ Holidngs Sdn Bhd (SAJ) corporate communications head Jamaluddin Jamil, no rain was recorded over the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams.

“Hopefully, the authorities will ex­tend cloud seeding in view of the critical water levels at the two dams,’’ he said when contacted.

Jamaluddin said the water level at the Sungai Layang dam had dropped to 19.42m (critical level) from 23.50m while the Sungai Lebam dam had gone down to 8.42m from 12.27 on Oct 29.

The Sungai Layang dam supplies water to 580,000 consumers in Pasir Gudang and Masai, mostly industrial users and several parts of Johor Baru.

The Sungai Lebam dam in Kota Tinggi, channels water to about 66,496 users in Mukim Tanjung Surat, Mukim Pantai Timur, Mukim Pengerang and parts of Kota Tinggi.

“As the water level is still critical, we have decided to extend the scheduled water rationing (SWR),” said Jamaluddin.

The SWR has been extended until Nov 15, affecting thousands of users in several parts of Johor Baru, Masai, Pasir Gudang and Pengerang in Kota Tinggi.

Johor PKR deputy chairman Jimmy Phua Wee Tse said this was the first time thousands of residents in the southern parts of Johor were facing water supply issues.

Phua said he wanted to know whether the development of the multi-billion ringgit Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex in Kota Tinggi was the main reason for the water crisis.

12 water firms pledge to work together during crisis
MAZWIN NIK ANIS The Star 4 Nov 15;

PUTRAJAYA: Twelve water concessionaires nationwide have come together, pledging to share water supply, manpower and equipment to help consumers during a crisis.

The concessionaires – along with the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) – have come together to formalise their cooperation during crisis such as floods, drought and others.

They are SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd (Johor), Syarikat Air Darul Aman Sdn Bhd (Sada), Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd, Jabatan Bekalan Air Labuan, Syarikat Air Melaka Berhad, Syarikat Air Negri Sembilan Sdn Bhd, Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang, Pengurusan Air Pahang, Lembaga Air Perak, Jabatan Kerja Raya Perlis, Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) and Syarikat Air Terengganu Sdn Bhd.

Yesterday, the companies inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which will see them helping one another not just in the form of supplying clean water but in manpower and equipment such as lorries, static tanks and portable generators.

Under the agreement, the concessionaires also agreed to send a team to assist others under the MOU within 24 hours of the crisis as well as provide advice and technical input.

SPAN chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Ridhuan Ismail said the floods which hit the east coast states last year saw water operators helping out their counterparts in Kelantan and Terengganu.

“Taking a leaf from the episode, the concessionaires want to make their collaboration official and to rope in SPAN to coordinate assistance from these companies as well as from other agencies and bodies,” he said during the signing ceremony.

The cost of providing assistance, including supplying water and equipment, will be borne by the concessionaires offering the help.

Mohd Ridhuan said the inking of the MoU was timely to prepare for any flood.

He said although no operators had submitted request for assistance, the companies and SPAN could start preparing a list of aid that would be useful during floods.

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NParks starts new guided walks of Eco-Link@BKE

Chew Hui Min, Nurulnadiah Md Noh, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) will conduct public guided walks of the Eco-Link@BKE for the first time on Nov 21, Dec 5, Dec 19 and Jan 9 next year.

From March 2016 onwards, NParks will also conduct monthly guided walks of the bridge, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said on Wednesday (Nov 4).

The first of its kind in South-east Asia, the Eco-Link@BKE aims to restore the ecological connection between two nature reserves - Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment area - forests separated by the Bukit Timah Expressway since 1986.

The $16 million bridge opened in October 2013, and is located about 600m north of Rifle Range Road, between the Pan-Island Expressway and Dairy Farm exits.

Since its opening, access to Eco-Link@BKE was restricted to allow the vegetation to grow and the animals get used to the bridge without human disturbance.

NParks has assessed that limited guided walks are feasible with minimal disturbance to the animals, as the vegetation is now denser.

"Like all other ecological linkages we have island-wide such as nature ways, streetscape gardens or the creation of habitats in our parks, it is the community who inject soul and meaning into these green spaces. The public guided walks at the Eco-Link@BKE would allow the community to appreciate the rich variety of life within our midst," Mr Lee said during a media tour.

"I hope that through such nature expeditions, more Singaporeans will fall in love with our environment and be inspired to do their part to conserve our precious natural heritage," he added.

During these walks, members of the public will learn about the types of animals that are dependent on the bridge and how they use it to find safe passage between nature reserves.

They will also get to know the interesting facts about both Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment area.

Eco-Link@BKE to open to public for guided tours
The public will be able to join guided tours of Eco-Link@BKE, an ecological bridge which allows animals to cross between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
Olivia Quay and Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 4 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: The public will get able to access the Eco-Link@BKE ecological bridge for the first time, in guided tours conducted by the National Parks Board (NParks).

As part of the Clean and Green SG50 campaign this year, NParks said on Wednesday (Nov 4) that it will be organising guided tours on Nov 21, Dec 5, Dec 19 and Jan 9. From next March, NParks will organise guided walks on a monthly basis. During these guided tours, the public will learn about the species of animals that are dependent on Eco-Link.

Members of the public will be able to walk along this pathway on the Eco-Link@BKE, during the monthly guided walks conducted by NParks. (Photo: NParks)

Access to Eco-Link was restricted since its completion in 2013. The past two years were meant for vegetation to grow, as well as giving animals a window to get used to the bridge without human disturbance.

Eco-Link@BKE is an ecological bridge that arches over the Bukit Timah Expressway, connecting Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve. It provides a safe path for animals to cross, allowing interaction of wildlife between the two nature reserves.

The improved interaction will in turn prevent genetic isolation, and promote a wider spread of their genetic pool, while reducing the occurrence of inbreeding and boosting the survival of the species, said NParks.

Native animals such as this emerald dove are now able to travel between nature reserves and expand their habitats with the bridge. (Photo: NParks)

According to NParks, camera traps have recorded various species of birds and snakes crossing the bridge, as well as rarely-sighted animals such as the lesser mousedeer and the sunda pangolin, a critically endangered species.

NParks also said that there have been fewer pangolin deaths from road accidents. An average of two pangolins were reported killed on the road per year, between 1994 and 2014. There were zero such deaths from April 2014 to October 2015, after the bridge was built.

- CNA/xq

Nature-conservation bridge to open for guided tours
STACEY LIM Today Online 4 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE — For the first time, the public will be able to walk along a 62m-long ecological bridge that was built two years ago to create a path for animals to move between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve without the risk of being run over by vehicles.

The bridge, called Eco-Link@BKE, is typically not open to the public to allow animals to use it without human disturbance, and allow the vegetation over it to grow, providing additional cover for wildlife. But the National Parks Board (NParks) is organising guided walks — on four days in all — so that the public can better understand its role in conserving Singapore’s natural heritage.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve were once connected by forest, until the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) separated them in 1983.

Since the bridge was built, NParks has seen the number of reported pangolin roadkill fall from an average of about two per year in 1994 to none since 2014.

The agency also said the rarely sighted Sunda Pangolins, which are critically endangered, have also been spotted using the bridge.

The S$16 million bridge was the result of suggestions pooled from the public consultation for the Singapore Green Plan in 2005. Speaking during a media tour today, NParks conservation director Wong Tuan Wah pointed out that Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is much smaller in size as compared to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Hence, the bridge is important in preventing genetic recession and inbreeding, especially for the animal population in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, as it helps “increase the genetic viability of the population itself and to encourage the animals to live longer”.

NParks said its camera traps on the bridge have captured native animals such as Slender Squirrels, Common Palm Civets and various species of birds and snakes crossing it. The Lesser Mousedeer, which was previously only found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, was also spotted earlier this year at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

“While there is no photographic evidence of the Lesser Mousedeer crossing into Bukit Timah Nature Reserve via the Eco-Link@BKE, it is likely that it had used the bridge, as there is no other feasible way,” said NParks.

It added that as the vegetation on the bridge grows taller and denser, more animals are expected to use it, such as the Banded Leaf Monkey, a critically endangered species, the Malayan Colugo, and bird species that are dependent on tall trees and shrubs as cover to move from one area to another.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee told reporters during the media tour: “It is reassuring that the bridge gives (animals) a better chance of survival, and, in fact, to flourish in this highly urbanised Singapore. Because Singapore is not just about concrete, or steel, or glass, or roads, or buildings, it is also about the green spaces that we work very hard and pro-actively to cherish, to protect, and more importantly, to enhance.”

The cameras along Eco-Link@BKE have also captured a less-welcome presence on the bridge — humans. People are not allowed to use the bridge, and NParks will issue a warning, and fine repeat offenders.

The public guided walks will be held on Nov 21, Dec 5 and 19, and Jan 9. During the guided walks, the public will learn about the types of animals that are dependent on the bridge, and how they use it to find safe passage between nature reserves.

Two sessions will be held each day, lasting 90 minutes. The walks are offered free of charge, but prior registration is required on a first-come-first-serve basis and each walk only accommodates 20 people.

Take a walk along bridge specially reserved for animals
Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - A unique $16 million bridge reserved for animals such as civets and pangolins is opening its doors for the first time to another species - humans.

In the next two months, the National Parks Board (NParks) will conduct eight guided walks of the Eco-Link @ BKE, South-east Asia's first ecological bridge. This will become a monthly affair from March.

The 62m bridge, which was completed in 2013, has so far been seen only from a distance by motorists on the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE). It was built to reconnect the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve to allow wildlife in both areas to safely cross the BKE, which separated the two forests when it was built in 1986.

Access to it has been restricted so far to give plants time to grow and allow animals to get used to the bridge. NParks has since assessed that limited guided walks can be done with minimal disturbance.

During the media tour of the Eco-Link @ BKE yesterday, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said it is important to strike a balance between protecting the area and helping the public understand the role the bridge plays in conservation.

"Unless we have public understanding and acceptance, it will not give us the impetus and community support to do even more," said Mr Lee.

During the guided walks, visitors will be able to learn more about the different kinds of animals that use the link as well as interesting facts about both nature reserves. To minimise disturbance, the number of visitors will be limited to 20 a tour and they will use only a small pathway at the side of the bridge.

Since 2013, NParks has worked with the community, including student groups, to carry out projects such as animal surveys, and plant more than 3,000 native flora on the bridge. Some of these can grow up to 15m and are meant to simulate the natural habitat of animals.

Plants are also grown at the edge of the bridge to create a buffer against noise and dust pollution so that animals will not be inhibited from using it.

Already, more than 15 species of mammals and birds have been spotted using the green corridor. They include the common palm civet and the critically endangered Sunda pangolin - all captured on cameras installed at the site.

While the ecological corridor is the region's first, it is not new in other parts of the world like Germany and the United States. Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said that there had been initial concerns about whether animals would really use the bridge, given the traffic noise and the exposed environment.

"Wildlife is starting to come and the vegetation is starting to grow... So I'm delighted, and whatever initial concerns or worries that we had, luckily turned out not to have materialised," he said.

The results so far are encouraging, said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, NParks' director of conservation.

He highlighted how the number of pangolin road kills have gone down. According to NParks, there were no reports of pangolin road kills from April last year to last month. From 1994 to 2013, an average of about two pangolins died on the road each year.

When the vegetation grows even more, he hopes that other animals like the elusive banded leaf monkey will also make use of the bridge.

NParks starts new guided walks of Eco-Link@BKE
NParks press release 4 Nov 15;

Regular monthly walks will also commence from March 2016 onwards

4 Nov 2015 — The National Parks Board (NParks) will conduct public guided walks of the Eco-Link@BKE for the first time on 21 Nov 2015, 5 Dec 2015, 19 Dec 2015 and 9 Jan 2016, in conjunction with Clean and Green SG50. The first of its kind in Southeast Asia, the Eco-Link@BKE is an ecological bridge that spans across the Bukit Timah Expressway, connecting Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Its main purpose is to restore the ecological connection between two nature reserves, allowing wildlife to expand their habitat, genetic pool and survival chances.

From March 2016 onwards, NParks will also conduct regular monthly guided walks of Eco-Link@BKE. This was announced by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, during a media tour of Eco-Link@BKE on 4 Nov 2015. He said, “As a City in a Garden, we must always strive to enhance and protect the diverse biodiversity that co-exists in our living environment. The Eco-Link@BKE effectively expands the habitat, mating and foraging ranges of animals, boosting their survival chances. Soon enough, many more species of animals, even those rare and critically endangered ones may start using the bridge.”

“However, like all other ecological linkages we have island-wide such as nature ways, streetscape gardens or the creation of habitats in our parks, it is the community who inject soul and meaning into these green spaces. The public guided walks at the Eco-Link@BKE would allow the community to appreciate the rich variety of life within our midst. I hope that through such nature expeditions, more Singaporeans will fall in love with our environment and be inspired to do their part to conserve our precious natural heritage,” he added.

After its completion in 2013, access to Eco-Link@BKE was restricted to allow the vegetation to grow and the animals to get used to the bridge without human disturbance. Now that the vegetation is denser, NParks has assessed that limited guided walks are feasible with minimal disturbance to the animals. During these guided walks, members of the public will learn about the types of animals that are dependent on the bridge and how they use it to find safe passage between nature reserves. The walks will also present interesting facts about both Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Since 2013, NParks has partnered the community such as institutions, volunteers and students to carry out research projects such as animal surveys and bird banding, as well as to plant more than 3,000 native plants to turn Eco-Link@BKE into a green corridor for animals to cross. Through photos from camera traps placed on the bridge, NParks has recorded populations of native animals such as Slender Squirrels, Common Palm Civets and varies species of birds and snakes crossing it. Rarely sighted animals such as the Sunda Pangolins, a critically endangered species, have also been photographed. In particular, the Lesser Mousedeer, which was previously only found in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, had been sighted earlier this year at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. While there is no photographic evidence of the Lesser Mousedeer crossing into Bukit Timah Nature Reserve via the Eco-Link@BKE, it is likely that it had used the bridge, as there is no other feasible way.

NParks has also been tracking pangolin road kills for the last 20 years on major roads that surround the two nature reserves. Ever since tree planting at Eco-Link@BKE was completed in the first quarter of 2014, the number of reported pangolin road kills has decreased, from an average of about 2 per year from 1994 to 2014 to none from April 2014 to Oct 2015. As the vegetation on the bridge grows taller and denser, more animals are expected to use it to get from one nature reserve to another. This may include the Banded Leaf Monkey, a critically endangered species, the Malayan Colugo, and bird species such as the Babblers, Asian Fairy Bluebird and Greater Green Leafbird, which are dependent on tall trees and shrubs as cover to move from one area to another.

Having a safe way for animals to cross from one nature reserve to another is important for several reasons. The interaction of wildlife between the two nature reserves – previously not possible before Eco-Link@BKE was completed – prevents genetic isolation and promotes a bigger spread of their genetic pool, reducing the occurrence of inbreeding and ensuring a higher chance of the survival of the species. In the longer term, the Eco-Link will help to restore the ecological balance in these fragmented habitats. Plants which are pollinated and dispersed by animals such as the Singapore Durian (Durio singaporensis) and Singapore Walking Stick Palm (Rhapaloblaste singaporensis) will also benefit from the Eco-Link@BKE.

NParks remains committed to striking a balance between conserving Singapore’s biodiversity and offering recreational opportunities for the public. Hence, as part of Clean and Green SG50, NParks will be offering public guided walks of Eco-Link@BKE on 21 Nov 2015, 5 Dec 2015, 19 Dec 2015 and 9 Jan 2016. Each date consists of two walks, with each able to accommodate 20 people. The 1.5 hours walk is free of charge, but prior registration is required on a first-come-first-served basis. Interested participants may register at from 8 November 2015 at 10am. Registration is compulsory and visitors who turn up without registering will be turned away. Details of the regular monthly walks from March 2016 will be announced at a later date.

Fact sheet about the Eco-link

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Are other firms escaping shame, blame?

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Nov 15;

More companies in Singapore have distanced themselves from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) over its supposed links to the haze. As of yesterday, 114 had declared that they were not using products of firms such as APP, which has been accused of having fires on its concessions.

APP suggests it is paying a price for being too open.

It has made available all of its suppliers' concession maps to the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI) "as part of our commitment to transparency", APP managing director of sustainability Aida Greenbury told The Straits Times.

Since other pulp and paper producers and oil palm and agricultural firms do not share such information, observers say it is hard to nail them if there are fires on their concessions. It also gives the "incorrect impression that APP has the most fires on its suppliers' concessions", Ms Greenbury added.

APP - Indonesia's largest pulp and paper firm - came under the spotlight last month, when the National Environment Agency (NEA) served it a notice under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, to request that it provide information on its subsidiaries and measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires on their concession lands.

Of the firms against which NEA acted then, APP was the only one with a presence in Singapore.

The notice sparked a chain reaction. The Singapore Environment Council suspended the use of its green label on APP products, and supermarkets such as FairPrice and Giant pulled APP products off their shelves.

There were also calls for people to boycott APP products, which range from Paseo brand toilet rolls to FairPrice brand facial tissue.

So has APP been made a scapegoat for being transparent, and are other culprits getting away?

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said that there may well be other culprits who are escaping the shame and the blame. "But what the likes of APP cannot avoid (acknowledging) is that the land that they own or have control over is on fire," he said.


Still, the situation on the ground is murky. Concession maps are key to fighting the haze crisis, as they could help to identify the culprits whose lands are on fire.

The government in Jakarta has added to the difficulty. In August, the Indonesian government said concession maps are classified information and it is a breach of law to disclose them even on a government-to-government basis. Singapore has also made repeated requests for the Indonesian government to share information on errant companies to no avail.

The WRI runs Global Forest Watch Fires, an online forest monitoring and fire alert system that provides detailed mappings and analyses of forest fires around the world.

The platform uses satellite data, wind direction data as well as maps of land cover, protected areas and concession areas for commodity production, some of which are submitted by companies directly, while others are shared as part of public government data sets.

A spokesman for WRI said APP has shared online not just its own concession maps, but also those of its suppliers. "Other companies, including APP's competitors, have not been so transparent and we hope these companies will be more forthcoming to help all find a solution to the crisis," he added.

Nor is the government in Jakarta helping. Environmental group Greenpeace told The Straits Times: "RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) member palm oil companies - which indicated they planned to release concession maps to the public and to organisations such as WRI - were threatened with legal consequences by the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture if they released such information."


It depends on who you ask.

Ms Greenbury cited WRI data showing that only 16 per cent of fire alerts between July 1 and Oct 8 this year were from pulpwood plantations. For the same period, 20 per cent of fire alerts were on palm oil concessions, 8 per cent on logging concessions and 56 per cent from outside concessions, she said.

The implication: Why blame APP when pulpwood plantations were responsible for so few of the fires?

But wait. Citing longer-term data from Jan 1 to Oct 22 this year, WRI said that while 12 per cent of fire alerts in Indonesia had occurred on pulpwood concessions, the picture was different when one zoomed in on Sumatra, which is responsible for pushing much of the haze towards Singapore. In Sumatra, 30 per cent of fire alerts came from pulpwood concessions.

In Kalimantan, on the other hand, more fires occur in oil palm concessions (23 per cent) than pulpwood (8 per cent) ones, the data showed.

Data from Eyes on the Forest, a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) collaboration, showed the Sinar Mas Group/APP corporate group has had the highest number of hot spots this year. APP is a unit of the Sinar Mas Group.

WWF Singapore director of communications Kim Stengert pointed out that Sinar Mas Group/APP had 39 per cent of all high-confidence hot spots in Sumatra, and 53 per cent of high-confidence hot spots on Sumatra's peat this year.

So does that make APP the big culprit? Greenpeace said that, as it is the biggest concession holder in Indonesia with a legacy of deforestation, and the only one that released accurate concession maps, it is not surprising that APP hosted most of the hot spots.

But it added: "We cannot tell you how bad the situation is for other companies because none of them volunteered the same level of information. It makes you wonder, what do they have to hide?"


At the heart of the problem are the fires in Indonesia's peatland.

Greenpeace South-east Asia researchers looked at 112,000 fire hot spots recorded from Aug 1 to Oct 26 this year. Almost half the fires were on peat soils, which make up only 10 per cent of Indonesia's land mass.

"There can be no question that the root cause of the fire crisis is decades of forest and peatland destruction by pulp and palm oil companies," said Indonesia forest campaigner at Greenpeace South-east Asia Teguh Surya.

The organisation is demanding an immediate ban on further development in the peatland and an end to clearing forests there. It even wants critical peatland areas re-flooded to reduce the risk of more fires.

Interestingly, it is the much- maligned APP - which Greenpeace says has a legacy of deforestation in Sumatra - that recently implemented a peat policy and action plan to start protecting and restoring peatlands across its suppliers' operations.

Ms Greenbury also told The Straits Times that APP brought in two amphibian water-bombing planes, each with a 12,000-litre water capacity, to help fight fires in South Sumatra and beyond.

While companies like APP have acted, observers say that it will require strong political will to get other culprits to do the right thing.

Said SMU's Prof Tan: "Once you have political will, then the issues that come with enforcement will be avoided. Until then, even our efforts to enforce our Transboundary Haze Pollution Act are crippled without the co-operation of the Indonesian authorities.

"It is not that there are no laws, or that the laws are inadequate in Indonesia. It's just that they are not being enforced."

Dr Jonatan Anderias Lassa from Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies added that governments have a role to play in reducing the risk of haze. "And one of the measures is to control the burning of the peatland," he said.

So are firms which are less forthcoming with their concession maps getting away with it?

For now, perhaps.

But as Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli indicated, there are moral as well as physical consequences to this.

He told the media: "I hope these people will sleep well... Over time, they will see the damage they have done to people, animals, land. It's horrendous... If you are humane and human, these things will (prick at) your conscience."

Read more!

Fix Indonesia's land use crisis to tackle the haze

David Fogarty, Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Nov 15;

While people in neighbouring countries wring their hands in despair over the haze, in fact, Indonesian companies can do the right thing to reduce the fires that foul the air every year.

Private enterprises, particularly palm oil firms, are key to any solutions to tackle the haze and promote responsible land use.

In Indonesia, oil palm plantations take up about 11 million ha of land, according to the US Department of Agriculture. There are about 4.5 million ha of pulpwood plantations.

A study published last year found that between 2000 and 2010, oil palm development accounted for 678,668 ha of natural forest destruction in Sumatra. Nearly 90 per cent of this deforestation was driven by private enterprises, followed by smallholdings (10.7 per cent) and state-owned plantations (0.9 per cent). This is according to the study by researchers from ETH Zurich, Bogor Agricultural University and the Centre for International Forestry Research in Bogor.

The government, of course, has a role to play, but the key to sustainable solutions to prevent haze is companies, which are a major cause of the fires and deforestation.

While there are plenty of examples of good company practices that show that being greener doesn't hurt profits, in Indonesia, too many companies are focused on short-term gains. They have little incentive to change destructive practices and know that compliant or ignorant government officials will not intervene. For decades, many companies have illegally grabbed lands, cleared the forests and booted out local communities, all with the government's blessing.

This foolish development paradigm has set Indonesia up for massive destruction that has become one of the world's worst environmental crimes. Some companies are already changing and adopting better practices. Their leadership is key.

Here are some solutions to Indonesia's land use crisis:


Draining swampy peatlands is a bad idea. Dried-out peat is flammable, releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases, and the land subsides over time. There are an estimated 2 million km of drainage canals in Indonesia's peatlands, many built by companies.

These need to be blocked.

A programme funded by the Canadian government and run by Wetlands International, a global NGO, involved blocking dozens of canals in Central Kalimantan in part of a 1 million ha peatswamp that was drained for a failed rice-growing plan in the 1990s. Once dammed,the reflooded areas were less prone to blazes. The canals behind the dams also filled with fish during the wet season, providing locals with an extra supply of food and income during drier months.

Villagers could also grow rattan, native rubber trees, sago palm and other crops in the reflooded landscape, pointing to alternative crops which companies could grow that are far less destructive.

President Joko Widodo, during a visit to Riau last year, took part in damming a canal with villagers.

He promised to restore peatlands and crack down on companies that continue to clear forests and peatlands.

He needs to make good on that promise.

Some companies have already built dams but experts say maintaining high water levels needs to be managed across the landscape, not within a single concession.


The national government already bans development of new peatland concession areas under a moratorium but does not cover development within existing concessions if the peat is less than 3m deep.

Some companies, such as Wilmar, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL), have imposed voluntary bans on deforestation and development on peat areas and these pledges are monitored by NGOs.

APP is also mapping out all its existing pulpwood concessions on peatlands, a first for an Indonesian company, and has pledged to restore some areas, as has APRIL.

More than half of Indonesia's roughly 20 million ha of forested peatlands have now been developed, deforested, drained or burnt.


Voluntary industry standards can work, particularly when consumers demand sustainably sourced products.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), while not perfect, sets standards for the palm oil sector that have improved practices, particularly for managing plantations on peatlands.

As of this month, the RSPO has only 107 members in Indonesia covering 1.3 million ha, or about 12 per cent of total plantation area. Indonesia has its own standards that all palm oil firms must adhere to but these are regarded by some industry analysts as less rigorous than the RSPO's.

Major buyers, though, such as Nestle, Kelloggs, Hershey and Procter & Gamble have made deforestation-free palm oil sourcing pledges, providing much-needed leverage. More such pledges are needed.

Once an industry sets its mind to sustainable production, the effects can be remarkable. In Brazil, a moratorium on forest conversion established by Brazilian soya giants in 2006 dramatically reduced deforestation for soya crop expansion in the Amazon, a study released in the journal Science early this year found.

Before the moratorium, 30 per cent of soya expansion occurred through deforestation. After the moratorium, only about 1 per cent of the new soya expansion came at the expense of forest,? according to Holly Gibbs of the University of Wisconsin-Madison as reported by environmental news site Mongabay.


Indonesia's palm oil yields are about half Malaysia's and could be significantly raised through investment in better practices. Some of the bigger players are already doing this and helping smallholder communities who supply them.

Trials by US company Cargill, in a 2013 case study on industry best practices by Daemeter Consulting, have shown yields in Indonesia could almost be doubled, with higher yields possible even on marginal soils. This demonstrated that degraded areas could be brought under cultivation, leaving remaining forested areas untouched.

Researchers caution that higher yields would mean more profits for companies and are an incentive for yet more expansion. So higher yields need to be twinned with strong and enforceable conservation rules.

As the push for greener commodities grows, so too is the government's push for expansion - despite low world palm oil prices. The government wants production of 40 million tonnes by 2020 versus a forecast 31.5 million tonnes this year.

Indonesia's palm oil industry association GAPKI wants more expansion on peatlands, regardless of the risks. Global consumers, Indonesians and their neighbours should tell GAPKI to rethink its vision, which will cause more deforestation and fires.

The blind focus on palm oil at the expense of other food crops is also endangering Indonesia's long-term food security. Indonesians need a better deal from companies and their politically connected masters.

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NEA calls for proposals on mechanical and biological treatment facility

AsiaOne 4 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - The National Environment Agency (NEA) has called for local and international companies to submit concept proposals for a pilot mechanical and biological treatment facility here.

The pilot facility will be developed with a centralised, integrated mechanical and biological treatment, or alternative technologies, to maximise recycling and resource recovery from domestic waste.

NEA said in a statement that it will be assessing the pilot facility's effectiveness in complementing the existing waste treatment infrastructure and its potential to be an alternative method of treatment of domestic waste. At present, about 80 per cent of domestic waste is disposed of at the Waste-to-Energy (WTE) incineration plants.

The Tuas South Ave 2 facility is expected to process at least 300 tonnes of domestic waste per day over a 20-year period.

It will be privately financed, built, owned and operated.

The Request for Proposal will open from today till February 2, 2016.

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Malaysia: Long-term Impacts of Haze on Malaysian Wildlife

WWF-Malaysia 30 Oct 15;

30 Oct 2015, Petaling Jaya: Uncontrolled fires across Indonesia, particularly within peatlands, have caused large amounts of smoke and haze to drift into neighbouring countries on almost an annual basis for 40 years. The haze is known to have negative effects on human health, climate, the economy and environment and yet, the perils of the haze have not been studied extensively and its impacts, especially on wildlife, remain unrealised or poorly understood. The haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia is likely to incur negative impacts on wildlife in Malaysia.

Specific study on the effect of haze has not been made and the phenomenon also does not occur throughout the year for us to form detailed conclusions. In fact, the effects could likely be only realised over the long term but nevertheless, one can draw parallels to studies that have similar causal conditions as the haze, mainly in which smoke blocks out the sunlight penetration and flow, and increases concentrations of carbon dioxide, chemicals and pollutants in the air. This causes decreased photosynthesis and transpiration in plants, which in turn affects the food chain for wildlife and influences animal health and behaviour.

Acid rain is precipitation containing harmful amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids, which originate from major components of haze such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide. Acid rain damages trees and causes soils and water bodies to acidify, making the water unsuitable for some fish and marine life as a more acidic environment could detrimentally affect calcifying species such as clams, oyster, sea urchins, shallow water corals and calcareous plankton.

In addition to this, animals, like humans, can experience health problems if they are exposed to sufficient concentrations of airborne toxins over time. For example, a wildlife rescue centre in Borneo recently reported that upper respiratory tract infection, dehydration and malnourishment are among the major problems faced by the orang utans in their facilities, and so depending on the level of pollutants in the air, this may also contribute to birth defects, reproductive failure and disease in animals. The singing behaviour and communication of gibbons is also known to be disrupted by the thick haze, in which long term effects are also linked to reduced reproductive capacity.

In the honey collection industry – both wild and farmed – smoke is used to disrupt communication between bees, in order to minimise bee attacks and to ease the honey collection process. Prolonged haze has been known to reduce the colonies of bees settling on trees, thereby likely causing massive declines in bee populations over the long term which would then have a trickling effect on tree and fruit pollination in the forest ecosystem. As sunlight penetration is affected, trees and flowering plant reproduction will also likely be altered. As such, fruit-eating mammals and birds will be affected most, since these tree resources take many years to mature, flower and produce fruit. Primates and hornbills are in this category, and both are already under extreme pressure due to habitat loss and hunting.

Haze also affects the fireflies, the ecotourism icons of Southeast Asia. It is well recognised that most firefly species emit lights at night primarily for mate selection and to serve as a warning signal to predators. In the thickhaze, it is hard for tourists to see the fireflies’ signals but it is even harder for fireflies to be seen by potential mates, thus, affecting the survival of their population in mangrove forests. As the lights produced by each species are species-specific, the haze may interrupt the communication between species and as a result, the males would not be able to locate females. A real risk is that the fireflies would not be able to produce lights (survive) at all due to the smoke haze effects. This is due to the essential chemical reaction in which light is produced in fireflies known as bioluminescence, and is unlikely to occur with the absence of oxygen. Moreover, with less oxygen available in the smoky air, the fireflies, like other tiny insects, might be killed or expected to be less energetic than usual.

Furthermore, when shelled organisms are at risk from acidification of the ocean, the entire marine food chain is at risk. Today, more than a billion people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein, not to mention the jobs and economies around the world dependent upon the fish and shellfish in our oceans.

Bees, birds, bats, beetles and butterflies are pollinators. Pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so they can grow and produce food. Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive. Without bees to spread seeds, many plants—including food crops—would die off.

The different trophic level effects on the food chain are bound to affect wildlife feeding ecology over the long term, but may not be immediately obvious since the haze phenomenon is not continuous throughout the year. Nevertheless we are fully aware that the haze phenomenon is not likely to stop immediately and that the prolonged effects of the haze have already likely impacted our wildlife and will continue to do so as long as the issue persists.

WWF Malaysia urges the relevant governments in Southeast Asia, including the Malaysian government to treat this as a major threat not only to our natural heritage, but also to ourselves, and to work towards reducing forest fires that are causing the annual haze phenomenon.

Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma
Executive Director/CEO WWF-Malaysia

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Malaysia: Sabah to probe photos of minister being served turtle eggs in Sandakan

RUBEN SARIO The Star 4 Nov 15;

KOTA KINABALU: A probe will be launched over photos of a federal minister being served what appears to be turtle eggs in Sandakan.

The photographs show Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob having dinner at a seafood restaurant together with Beluran Umno chief Datuk James Ratib.

A plate of what appears to be at least two-dozen turtle eggs is seen on the table before them.

Turtles are protected under the under Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.

It is considered an offence to harvest, sell or consume turtle eggs in the state and those convicted are liable to a fine of RM50,000 or to five years' imprisonment or both.

The photographs, which have gone viral on social media, have sparked an outcry among conservationists here.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said an investigation was initiated after the photographs surfaced.

“The Sabah Wildlife Department is probing this matter,” he said on Wednesday.

When contacted, James denied that turtle eggs were served during the dinner.

On what type of eggs are seen in the photos, James said, “I don’t know.”

A group of NGOs and research organisations said they were shocked upon discovering the photographs.

“What message are we conveying to the world when our own government officials consume products of endangered species,” said the group.

They said the Sabah Wildlife Department must take action to send out a strong message that protected species were not for sale or consumption.

Ismail Sabri: I didn’t eat turtle eggs, I only ate fish
DINA MURAD The Star 4 Nov 15;

PETALING JAYA: Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has denied consuming turtle eggs during an event in Sabah.

“During that particular dinner, I did not take any turtle eggs. I only ate fish, because I have to control my cholesterol level,” he said.

Photographs which went viral on Wednesday show the minister having dinner at a seafood restaurant in Sandakan together with Beluran Umno chief Datuk James Ratib.

A plate of what appears to be at least two-dozen turtle eggs is seen on the table before them.

Being a guest at the function, Ismail added that he was not aware that the restaurant was going to serve turtle eggs.

He also said that he was regretful that turtle eggs may have been served during the event as he was a campaigner of “say no to shark’s fin” during his tenure in the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry.

He added that he is also actively involved in turtle-conservation efforts in Redang Island.

When contacted on the matter earlier, Beluran Umno chief James denied that turtle eggs were served during the dinner.

On what type of eggs were seen in the photos, James said, “I don’t know.”

Turtles became protected under the under Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.

It is considered an offence to harvest, sell or consume turtle eggs in the state and those convicted are liable to a fine of RM50,000 or to five years’ imprisonment or both.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said an investigation was initiated after the photographs surfaced.

“The Sabah Wildlife Department is probing this matter,” he said.

Ismail Sabri denies eating turtle eggs
RUBEN SARIO and DINA MURAD The Star 5 nov 15;

PETALING JAYA: Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has denied consuming turtle eggs during an event in Sabah.

“Saya memang pantang makan telur penyu kerana kolesterol yang tinggi (I don’t eat turtle eggs as they are high in cholesterol).

“It has been a long time since I’ve eaten turtle eggs,” he said in a text message to The Star.

He said this yesterday when told the Sabah Wildlife Department had opened investigations into the matter after photographs of him being served turtle eggs at a seafood restaurant in Sandakan appeared all over social media.

Seated with him at the table where the alleged turtle eggs were placed was Beluran Umno chief Datuk James Ratib.

In Kota Kinabalu, Wildlife Department director William Baya said they had begun their probe after being made aware of the photographs.

Turtles are protected under the Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.

It is considered an offence to be in possession of these animals or their products such as eggs and those convicted face a fine of RM50,000 or up to five years’ jail or both.

The photographs, which have gone viral on social media, have sparked an outcry among conservationists here.

“I have directed two of my officers to investigate this case by questioning the owner of the restaurant.

“We will also seek the assistance of the Sandakan Municipal Council and the organisers of the dinner function to get a better picture of how turtle eggs managed to make it on the menu,” said William.

When contacted, James denied that turtle eggs were served during the dinner.

Asked what where the eggs on their table, James replied: “I don’t know.”

A group of NGOs and research organisations expressed disappointment upon discovering the photographs.

“What message are we conveying to the world when our own government officials consume products of endangered species?” they asked.

They urged the state Wildlife Department to act against the offenders to send out a strong message that protected species were not for sale or consumption.

More trouble over turtle eggs
The Star 20 Nov 15;

KOTA KINABALU: The turtle egg eaters are in for another round of trouble after new photos, this time showing consumed eggs on the plates of a federal minister and Sabah Assemblyman at a dinner recently.

The new photographs went viral again on social media, after the first round early this month where Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob attended a dinner with Beluran Umno chief Datuk James Ratib.

After the first batch of photos went viral, Ismail denied eating turtle eggs offered at the dinner, saying that he was watching his cholesterol levels and Ratib had said he did not know what type of eggs were served.

In one of the earlier photographs taken at an event on Aug 29, Ismail was seen seated at the table near a plate of unconsumed turtle eggs.

Citing evidence based on four new photos posted by "Deadturtle Sabah" in the comments section of the Walai Penyu Resort Libaran Facebook page, several NGOs as well as research organisation Danau Girang Field Centre said the authorities must take necessary action regardless of the positions held by individuals in the photos.

“We are asking the Sabah Wildlife Department if they will charge the guests of the dinner for consuming, and the owner of the restaurant for serving eggs of a Totally Protected species,” they said in a joint statement yesterday.

In Parliament, Ismail Sabri continued to defend himself, saying that during a kenduri (feast), Muslims would serve beef.

“Just because there is beef, one cannot assume that the Hindus attending the kenduri will eat the beef. Hindus in Malaysia will not eat beef as it is against their religious belief.

“So, please do not assume that just because it is served on the table, one has eaten it,” he said before starting his ministry’s winding up speech for debate on the 2016 Budget.

Groups urge action over turtle eggs issue
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 19 Nov 15;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department has been urged to investigate and take action again those responsible for the “turtle eggs issue”, regardless of their position.

New photos surfaced recently purportedly showing consumed turtle eggs on the plates of Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Beluran Umno chief Datuk James Ratib plates at an event on Aug 29.

Earlier this month, photos went viral on social media of a plate of unconsumed turtle eggs on the table at the dinner in Sandakan.

Citing evidence based on four new photos posted by user Deadturtle Sabah in the comments section of the Walai Penyu Resort Libaran Facebook page, several NGOs and research organisation Danau Girang Field Centre said the authorities must take necessary action.

“We are asking the Sabah Wildlife Department if they will charge the guests of the dinner for consuming, and the owner of the restaurant for serving eggs of a Totally Protected species,” they said in a joint statement on Thursday.

“Nobody should be above the law. We look forward to hearing the results of the department’s investigation into the matter,” said the representatives of Borneo Rhino Alliance, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, HUTAN, Kudat Turtle Conservation Society, Land Empowerment Animals People, PACOS, Reef Guardian, Sabah Environmental Trust, Sabah Shark Protection Association and Sabah Environmental Protection Association.

They pointed out that a boatman was arrested recently following the seizure of 3,000 turtle eggs on a pump boat and that the Wildlife Department has stated the suspect would be charged under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment.

The groups said it was alarming that endangered species were being traded or killed in Sabah despite stringent laws, such as the case of two sun bears highlighted in the media just a few days ago.

“We cannot stay silent and allow this to go on and on. The public needs to voice their concern and the enforcement authorities need to do their job,” the groups added.

They added that regardless of where the eggs were from, such as from a neighbouring country, it was illegal to possess, sell or consume them.

Ismail Sabri has denied consuming the eggs, while Ratib said he did not know what type of eggs had been served.

On Thursday, the minister once again rebutted accusations against him, urging people not to assume that he ate the eggs just because they were served at the dinner.

“In these new images, there is indication that the personalities in question did indeed consume turtle eggs. This is not acceptable at all,” the groups said

Just because turtle eggs were served doesn’t mean I ate them, says Ismail Sabri

KUALA LUMPUR: Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (pic) has once again defended himself in relation to the turtle egg issue.

Likening the situation to Hindus at a feast where beef is served, Ismail Sabri urged people not to assume that he had consumed turtle eggs at a dinner with Beluran Umno chief Datuk James Ratib.

“There will be Hindus who also attend the kenduri (feast) and on the table, there will be beef dishes, either rendang or gulai kawah.

“Just because there is beef, one cannot assume that the Hindus attending the kenduri will eat the beef.

“Hindus in Malaysia will not eat beef as it is against their religious believes.

“So please do not assume that just because it is served on the table, one has eaten it, that cannot be accepted,” he said before starting his ministry’s winding up speech for Budget 2016 in Parliament on Thursday.

New photos surfaced recently purportedly showing consumed turtle eggs on Ismail Sabri and James’ plates at the event in Sandakan on Aug 29.

Earlier this month, photos of a plate of unconsumed turtle eggs on the table at the event went viral on social media.

Ismail Sabri, who is also Bera MP, had at the time denied consuming the eggs, adding that he only ate the fish served as he has to control his cholesterol level.

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Malaysia: Johor landfills will not last for 30 years if waste is not separated

MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star 5 Nov 15;

KULAI: Landfills in Johor will not last more than 30 years if people do not recycle, says State Housing and Local Government Committee chairman Datuk Abdul Latiff Bandi.

“If people continue to throw all their rubbish, including recyclable items, then the landfills will not be able to sustain the load much longer.

“One landfill can last for more than 30 years but with the higher amount of waste being generated, its lifespan would be reduced,” he said at a rubbish separation seminar at Dewan Putra here.

It was for this reason that the waste separation programme was implemented on Sept 1, he added.

Abdul Latiff pointed out that Johor produced between 3,600 and 4,000 tonnes of garbage daily, which is sent to the 12 landfills throughout the state.

“The state government will expand the waste separation programme to ensure that all locals separate recyclable items from waste.

“Although we have received positive feedback since the programme started, we believe that not many people are practising it,” he said.

He said the authorities would start taking action, including issuing compounds, against those who fail to follow the ruling, from July 1 next year.

“Until then, we will continue to educate the public about the benefits of trash separation and recycling.”

Abdul Latiff said Malaysia still recorded a relatively low rate for recycling, at a mere 10%, while other nations had reached over 40%.

“The Government is serious in making sure Malaysia becomes a developed, high-income country by 2020.

“But the achievement will mean nothing if the people’s mindset on does not change,” he said.

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Indonesia: Baru Jari eruption forces Bali airport closure

The Jakarta Post 4 Nov 15;

Volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Baru Jari , A sub-volcano of Mount Rinjani, in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, forced authorities to close I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali on Tuesday evening.

Trikora Harjo, General manager of state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura I (AP I), which operates the facility, said that the closure was based on a Notice to Airmen (Notam) No. A2468/15 issued by the transportation ministry.

“The closure was from 7:30 until 11:30 p.m.,” Trikora explained.

At least nine international flights connecting Australia and Bali have been canceled since Tuesday morning, affecting 1,480 passengers.

The cancellations consisted of four flights operated by Australian low-cost airline Jetstar Airways and five flights of Australia’s second-biggest carrier Virgin Australia airlines.

Mt. Rinjani eruption forces flight cancellations in Bali 3 Nov 15;

Flights to and from Bali were canceled on Tuesday following the eruption of Mount Rinjani on the nearby island of Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara.

Ngurah Rai International Airport was temporarily closed from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., affecting 11 international and 14 domestic flights, an airport official said.

“Flights to Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong have been canceled,” the airport’s operations manager Ngurah Ardita told on Tuesday night.

Affected airlines included Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Cathay Pacific and KLM, according to Ardita. “We will reevaluate the situation tonight,” he added.

Meanwhile, seven villages in North Lombok were reportedly covered with ash, while the West Nusa Tenggara Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) had prepared some 4,000 masks for affected villagers, .com reported.

Agency head H. Azhar said that the volcano had been on alert status since erupting last week. “The BPBD has also prepared some evacuation scenarios for the affected areas,” he said.

The latest disruption comes three months after a major eruption at Mount Raung on Java led to widespread travel chaos at Bali’s airport, leaving passengers stranded for days. (iik)

Bali airport reopened 5 Nov 15;

Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport reopened on Thursday afternoon after ash cleared from the sky following recent eruptions of Mount Barujari in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara.

Trikora Harjo, general manager of Ngurah Rai airport’s operator PT Angkasa Pura I, said airport re-opened at 2:30 p.m. local time and the decision was based on information from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) and from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in Darwin, Australia.

"They informed us that the wind was now taking volcanic ash […] to the south, away from Bali,” he said as reported by state news agency Antara.

Trikora said the authorities also took into consideration the first-hand visual evidence of less volcanic ash being visable near the airport.

Flight operations cannot proceed immediately, however, because it will take the airport at least two hours to get ready.

"We have to clean the apron and the runways. Airlines also need to clean their aircrafts," he said.

Angkasa Pura also needed to prepare general airport systems including goods check-ins and immigration checks.

No information has been given yet about which flights and airlines would depart and arrive first in Bali as airport authorities still need to coordinate with air navigation authorities and airlines.

The airport was closed on Tuesday leaving more than 6,000 domestic and international passengers stranded. Authorities initially decided to close the airport until Friday due to intensified volcanic activity at Mt. Barujari, located inside the caldera of Mount Rinjani.

Thousands of passengers welcomed the announcement of the opening of the airport on Thursday.

"Finally, after waiting all day, we can go home," said Hugh Millard, a Malaysia Airlines passenger flying home to London. (rin)(+)

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Indonesia: Jakarta Is Ready as BMKG Predicts December Floods -- Deputy Governor

Lenny Tristia Tambun Jakarta Globe 4 Nov 15;

Jakarta. Deputy Governor of Jakarta Djarot Saiful Hidayat has said the capital is ready for potential floods in December as the dry season begins to break.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has predicted Jakarta will likely welcome the wet season next month, prompting preparations for seasonal flooding from the city government.

Monday night's long-awaited heavy rain provided an opportunity for officials to map spots in the city with the potential to flood. These areas will be the focus of repairs to roads and water channels.

“It becomes a very challenging task when it comes to managing the water channels in crowded areas. We also have dredged sediments lying on the bottom of the water channels, rivers, reservoirs and ponds,” Djarot said on Wednesday.

Water pumps around the west and eastern flood canals are also under repair, allowing for easier flow of floodwater out of the city.

“We are doing our best to make sure that destructive floods, like last year's, will not take place again,” Djarot said.

Meanwhile, Tri Djoko Sri Margianto, head of Jakarta's Water Management Agency, has said that sediment dredging will continue until March next year in anticipation of an extended wet season.

“The [Environment and Forestry] Ministry as well as some contractors will help Jakarta's Water Management Agency in the dredging process,” Tri said.

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Thailand: Phuket sea cow ‘decapitated for teeth’

PHUKET: Experts at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC) believe that a sea cow off the east coast of the island was decapitated for its teeth, which are revered by some as omens of good luck.
Darawan Naknakhon Phuket News 4 Nov 15;

The headless remains of the sea mammal was found washed up at a beach on Koh Yao Yai, an island little more than 10km off Phuket’s east coast, yesterday evening (Nov 3).

“Villagers reported the discovery to us at 8pm, and we dispatched a team to recover the body today so would could inspect it,” said PMBC Director Dr Kongkiet Kittiwattanwong.

Dr Kongkiet and PMBC veterinarian Phatcharaporn Kaeomong examined the headless cadaver after it was brought to the centre at Ao Makham.

The sea cow, technically a dugong, was a three-metre long male weighing about 330 kilogrammes.

“It was more than 40 years old,” noted Dr Kongkiet.

“After examining the remains, we can confirm that the sea cow had its head cut off after it had died,” he said.

“We also found deep bruising from its left side to its back and that a 50cm section of its spine had been broken, as if the animal had suffered a very strong blow by a blunt object.

“We believe that this was most likely caused by a boat,” Dr Kongkiet said.

The severe trauma to the dugong’s back is what led Dr Kongkiet and his contemporaries at the PMBC to believe the dugong’s head was chopped off by opportunists.

“We suspect that people who found the dugong’s body cut the head off so they could keep the teeth, which have been known to be used as good luck charms,” said Dr Kongkiet.

“However, we have notified the police on Koh Yao to keep an eye out for any persons who may have been involved in this, and to keep an eye out for the teeth,” he added.

Body of Dismembered Dugong Found Floating Off Phuket
Prasit Tarnsirisin Phuketwan 4 Nov 15;

PHUKET: The body of a headless dugong was found floating off Phuket yesterday. Marine biologists fear the harmless creature may have been dismembered so its teeth could be used in amulets.

The body of the male dugong, more than 40 years old and weighing as much as 350 kilos before its head was removed, was found floating between Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi islands.

"There are probably only about 10 of this endangered species still in the Andaman zone," said Dr Kongkiat Kittwattana, head of the Rare Marine Species, Marine Division, at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre on Cape Panwa.

A team at the centre on Phuket's east coast was examining the dugong's remains today.

Their conclusion is that marks on the body indicated the animal may have been pulled on board a trawler or some other boat where it was probably beheaded.

"The teeth of this remarkable animal unfortunately are believed to have some protective properties and are a valuable commodity for amulets,"' Dr Kongkiat said.

Sea grass beds that are the dugongs' food have been polluted by coastal resort construction and the animals have been put at risk by an increasing number of tourist boats and their propellors.

The animal found floating yesterday was probably two metres long and aged at least 40, Dr Kongkiat said.

The skeleton of the creature is likely to be kept for future education.

A dead male dolphin pulled from the sea off Rawai and measuring close to two metres in length will have an autopsy performed on Friday at the marine biological centre.

Dr Kongkiat said it was usually the case that bottlenose dolphins died from illness while dugongs usually were killed by fishermen.

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Hong Kong: `Perfect storm' coming in 85 years

Joey Hung The Hong Kong Standard 5 Nov 15;

A "perfect storm" could see sea levels surge by six meters and flood the Cross-Harbour Tunnel by the end of the century.
Hong Kong-based World Green Organisation made the claim yesterday and said this situation would cripple the SAR's infrastructure.

While Hong Kong has been able to dodge most super typhoons in recent years, rising sea levels, high tides with heavy rain and storm surges make for a perfect storm.

"We have constructed a perfect storm scenario, which is possible by the end of the century," said WGO chief executive William Yu Yuen-ping.

Their prediction is based on the fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-backed international organization for climate change assessment.

"As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has almost reached a level that makes the temperature increase by two degrees, this climate change may lead to extreme weather around the world," Yu said.

Using Tai Po Kau as an example, if a storm similar to 2013's Typhoon Usagi hit Hong Kong at the end of the century, the sea level will rise six meters, flooding the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.

If there is a storm similar to Typhoon Haiyan which killed 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013 sea levels could rise by eight meters.

This would exceed the drainage capacity of infrastructure such as gasworks and power plants. Fifteen percent of Hong Kong is considered lowland area. This includes Sheung Wan, Tai O and Sai Kung. These places will be more prone to flooding in the future, Yu said.

He said according to Hong Kong Observatory data, Typhoon Hagupit in 2008 caused sea levels to rise 3.53 meters at Victoria Harbour a situation that occurs once in 50 years.

However, this may drop to once in five years during the middle of this century and even every year at the end of the century.

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India: Tenth Dead Dolphin Washes Ashore in Mumbai

Ankita Sinha NDTV 4 Nov 15;

MUMBAI: Concern over rising levels of water pollution has once again gripped Mumbai after a dead dolphin washed ashore Manori beach on Monday. While a toxicology report stating the cause of death is yet to be released, experts are concerned over the increasing number of such incidents in India's maximum city.

Animal activists claim it's the 10th humpback dolphin, a protected species, to be found dead this year.

"One of our wildlife experts reached the location and identified the body as an Indo Pacific Humpback dolphin which is a very rare and threatened species under the International Olympic Committee guidelines and Wildlife Protection Act," Dr Madhurita Gupta, President of Myvets Charitable Trust & Research Centre, told NDTV.

This June, 42-foot-long blue whale was washed ashore near Alibag in Raigad district of Maharashtra. Some people even took pictures standing on the animal. Environmentalists insist rising sea pollution, ingestion of plastic and possibly even poaching in the deep seas could have led to these mysterious deaths.

Dr Anish Andheria from the Wildlife Conservation Trust says, "Oceans are getting polluted in a grave manner and there is no regulation on what matter can go into the sea. Apart from fecal matter there is a large amount of industrial and toxic waste that goes into the sea. These are not banned in India but this should be regulated as it seriously impacts the marine life."

Sources in the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) have ruled out death due to water pollution claiming that reports of tests on dead dolphins in the past doesn't point to pollution as a cause of these deaths. But experts say without a toxicology test it's impossible to conclude why they died. They claim the MPCB has not conducted these.

This time, however, samples have been taken for toxicology tests and animal activists hope it will throw some light as to what's causing large marine animals to die off Mumbai's coast.

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South Africa to name two more provinces as drought disaster areas

Ed Stoddard PlanetArk 5 Nov 15;

South Africa's drought-hit northern Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces will be declared disaster areas for agriculture this week or next, an official said on Wednesday, a development that will make them eligible for emergency assistance from the National Treasury.

Ben Kgakatsi, director of risk management in the department of agriculture, also told Reuters that the sugar-growing province of KwaZulu-Natal would soon be declared a disaster area for agriculture. The province has already been declared as such for general water supplies.

"The assessments are being carried out and then they will submit their applications for disaster declarations to their premiers," he said.

The maize-growing Free State and North West provinces have already been designated disaster areas for agriculture as a blistering drought sucks moisture from the soil and dam levels fall, delaying the planting of crops for the crucial southern hemisphere summer season.

Mpumalanga has a diverse agricultural base, with maize grown in its west and big sugar farms in the sub-tropical east of the province. It is also the main source of coal production in South Africa, an industry that heavily relies on water.

Limpopo is the heart of South Africa's game ranching industry but also accounts for a third of the citrus crop in the world's second-biggest exporter of the fruits. Citrus farmers in the province already face water restrictions.

South African cattle, sheep and goat farmers were urged by the government on Tuesday to cut the size of their herds as drought conditions scorch grazing land.

The South African Weather Service said last week that an El Nino weather system, which was already forecast to bring drought conditions for much of the summer, now looks like it will extend into autumn next year.

(Editing by James Macharia)

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