Best of our wild blogs: 10 Mar 16

Ailanthus integrifolia: Born to Fly
Flying Fish Friends

How green is your coastal cleanup?
Otterman speaks

Fri 11 Mar 2016: 4.00pm – Dan Friess – “What’s driving mangrove deforestation in Southeast Asia?”
Otterman speak

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Fighting of fires must continue under blue skies

SIMON TAY Today Online 10 Mar 16;

Blue skies breed amnesia. With the clear skies, many may now struggle to recall the urgency and anger over the smoke haze pollution in the region. Last year was one of the worst on historical record for fires and it was barely six months ago that the haze reached its peak, hitting a Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) of 2,300 in Central Kalimantan.

It is critical that governments, corporations in the relevant industries and concerned citizens continue to work on the issue. Predictions are that 2016 may not be as dry as last year. Smaller fires began breaking out in East Kalimantan in December, and the situation has worsened recently, with Riau declaring a state of emergency over forest and land fires in Sumatra on Tuesday, indicating that there is no place for complacency.

There are fears that fires will flare up again in earnest once the rainy season ends in March.

The coming weeks will see a number of notable gatherings that can gauge commitment and progress. This week, the General Assembly of the Tropical Forest Alliance will be held in Jakarta — a meeting to promote deforestation-free supply chains. In April, the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources will review commitments among key plantation sectors such as palm oil and pulp and paper, as well as discuss the responsibilities of consumers, governments, and financial institutions.

While companies and civil society must do their part, the government of Indonesia must lead, as most of the fires stem from their provinces and affect their own people first and foremost. There are positive signs that the administration of President Joko Widodo is stepping up efforts.

Mr Widodo personally attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at end-2015 and reiterated Indonesia’s pledge to reduce emissions by 29 per cent by 2030. A large part of this reduction must come from stopping the fires and haze, as this was the major source of Indonesian emissions in 2015.

The President also emphasised the problem of peatlands, which, once dried, have been the major source of fires. A nationwide moratorium on draining and developing peatland has been announced, and a Peatland Restoration Agency established. Its chief, Nazir Foead, has been appointed with a ministerial rank and will report directly to the President’s office.

In mid-January, at a closed door meeting, the President told officials in the provinces that they must prevent fires or face consequences. Sources say the President was focused and forthright at the meeting and will apply a reward-or-punish approach even to local police and army chiefs. The Jokowi administration has also revoked the licences of almost 20 companies with concessions where fires were started. These measures are steps in the right direction to minimise the costs of fires and haze in future. A recent estimate by the World Bank values the economic losses in Indonesia at US$16 billion (S$22 billion) — equivalent to 1.9 per cent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product and more than twice the reconstruction cost after the 2004 tsunami.

Having toured the worst-affected provinces during the fire spell, Mr Widodo knows full well the human misery suffered by Indonesian communities nearest to the fires. More than half a million people were treated for acute lung infections, with children living in affected provinces being the main casualties.

At the regional level, the Indonesian Minister for Environment and Forestry, Dr Siti Nurbaya, is reported to have given assurances to her regional counterparts that every effort will be made to prevent a repeat of last year’s problems.

Even as the Jokowi administration and other governments push ahead, corporations in the supply chain of the palm oil, and pulp and paper industries can and should respond to make their operations sustainable and fire-free.

A shift from fire suppression to fire prevention is seen in the efforts of some corporations, with the creation of fire-free villages involving collaboration between communities, enforcement agencies and local NGOs. Regulatory bodies and financial institutions, likewise, must tighten their environmental, social and governance guidelines to avoid financing actions that cause or contribute to the fires.

When the Singapore Institute of International Affairs met the Peatlands Restoration Agency recently, there was a frank recognition of the challenges ahead.

The problem cuts across physical and jurisdictional lines, requiring coordination between environment and agriculture, and also with economic agencies and provincial authorities.

The challenge to control major companies is compounded by the need to assist many more small plantations to avoid the use of fire for land clearance.

It remains to be seen whether what is promised can be delivered and will be enough. But it is clear that to avoid another ill season of fire and haze, the work must continue to push ahead even under the blue skies.


Simon Tay is Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). The SIIA will host the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources on April 15 to strengthen commitments to sustainable resource development in the region.

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Breaking the habit of pigeon feeding

With a doubling in the number of people being fined for feeding pigeons, what can be done to reverse the trend?
Lim Jia Qi, 938LIVE Channel NewsAsia 9 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: At around 7pm every evening, dozens of pigeons congregate between blocks 34 and 36 of Circuit Road in MacPherson. Some perch on the railings, others just hop around on the pavement – waiting for their dinner.

Residents said it is the same person who gives them an evening meal. An elderly woman, who appears to be in her 80s, usually comes by at that time with a red trolley loaded with food and water.

On this occasion, she dumped a large bowl of cooked rice on the grass patch to feed her feathered friends.

When asked why she is doing this, the woman, who also feeds cats from her trolley, said in Mandarin: "(The pigeons) want to snatch the cats' food. Actually I don't want to feed them. I'm already in my 80s, I'm not working, I don't have money to buy food for them to eat."

She declined to be named or answer further questions.

But her generosity to the pigeons is well known to people in the area, and some of them are annoyed. A resident, who only wanted to be known as Ms Nur, said she has complained to the authorities many times but the problem persists.

"We have been complaining for eight years, not only us but other neighbours around here have been complaining...sometimes it's very smelly," she said.

Mr Koh, a resident who has been living in MacPherson for seven years, added that there should be greater enforcement.

"(The town council) should fine that person who's feeding the pigeons. But they don't dare to give the fine to them. Because there's no enforcement, that's why the person keeps repeating the habits."

The elderly woman is also not a stranger to the town council. MP for MacPherson SMC, Ms Tin Pei Ling, said her team has been engaging the elderly woman on "a very regular basis".

Ms Tin added that the woman, who lives alone, has also been fined four times since 2008. She still has three outstanding fines amounting to S$700.

"She's just unable to pay because she's single, she's alone, and she's very low-income. She's on social welfare essentially. So given this history, this track record, I don't think continuing issuing fines on her will have a very big impact," said Ms Tin.

Nonetheless, Ms Tin said her team will step up efforts to persuade the woman to stop feeding the pigeons.

"She'll stop for a while and then it'll happen again. Even with the fines, she continues. Because she's low-income and she's so old, I think any harsher action beyond the fine may be too harsh on her. But for the town council and the grassroots, we'll continue to engage her, try to dissuade her, and hopefully we'll be able to convince her to stop feeding the pigeons."

Ms Tin added that the town council conducts a weekly pigeon culling exercise to help control the problem and she seeks her residents' understanding on the matter.


Those found guilty of feeding pigeons can be fined up to S$500. But the possibility of a financial penalty does not discourage everyone. About 130 fines were handed out by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore in 2015, double the number in 2014.

About 4,000 complaints about pigeon-related problems were received in 2015, 60 per cent more than 2014. The complaints included hygiene issues arising from the spread of pigeon droppings.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said pigeons can spread several diseases such as cryptococcosis, a fungal infection that affects the lungs.

"The droppings of the pigeons are poisonous. They can drop and land in the environment where we live in. They get dried and thereafter become airborne. The germs will float into the air and into the environment and you can breathe in, causing infection in human beings."

To control the pigeon population, AVA piloted a new "birth control" method at Palmer Road last year. The programme involves feeding the pigeons a corn-based feed containing nicarbazin, a drug that functions as an oral contraceptive for birds.

A trial was also started at Choa Chu Kang last year, which involves the use of a gel substance to prevent birds from roosting on ledges.

But while awareness of the risks has grown and more people are being fined, other approaches are being used to manage the problem.


At Jalan Besar GRC, the town council does not issue any fines to residents who are caught feeding pigeons. Instead, the council uses a multi-pronged approach to educate people, said MP for Jalan Besar GRC Lily Neo.

"I think fines may not work as well. I think we should have various methods together or various initiatives to put together to try to solve this more holistically. By combining the circulars, notice board messages, and of course we also try to see whether we can prevent the pigeons from resting at certain areas or concentrating at certain areas," said Dr Neo who is also chairman of the town council.

The approach has resulted in a change in the behaviour of 83-year-old Low Yip Cheong, who has been feeding pigeons for the past two months. He had been throwing rice out of the window of his second-floor apartment.

"I see the pigeons have nothing to eat. They are starving. It's the same when humans are hungry, they also hope that other people can spare them some food. If the government doesn't want us to feed the pigeons, I'll cooperate, I'll see whether there will be fewer pigeons," said Mr Low, who lives with his wife.

Dr Neo said the town council will also install bird netting at certain blocks in April to prevent pigeons from roosting on air-con ledges.

With fines not working in all cases, it is this kind of approach which may see the pigeon problem fly away for good.

- 938LIVE/cy

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Malaysia: Wind on our side, so don't worry about Indonesian haze for now

NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 9 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians need not worry about the return of the haze after Indonesia declared a state of emergency in the Riau province in Sumatra over forest and land fires.

Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said the country should be safe from transboundary haze, at least for now, due to the northeast monsoon.

“The wind is blowing in the northeast direction, meaning that whatever smoke that is coming from Indonesia won’t be blown to Malaysia.

“That will last until March and in April it will be the inter-monsoon, when the wind will be light and variable and we will have more rainfall, especially in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

"It's in May or June when the southwest monsoon comes when we have to worry,” Che Gayah said.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the Riau provincial government declared an emergency due to the fires but said it was a precautionary measure to prevent a repeat of the 2015 haze.

The air pollutant index (API) readings across the country showed moderate to good air quality as of 2pm Wednesday.

However, firemen nationwide are battling to control as many as eight hotspots in the country.

The Fire and Rescue Department said, while the fires, mostly Pahang and Kelantan, were still manageable, the situation could get out of hand due to the prolonged dry season.

According to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution website, one hotspot was detected in Sumatra, while Pahang has three.

Kelantan and Negri Sembilan recorded two forest fires while Sabah recorded one.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the fires in Malaysia were still manageable, expressing more concern over the fires in Riau.

“We have more hotspots but they are smaller than in Indonesia. We have our enforcement officers on the ground to extinguish them and we are moving fast.

"Indonesia is struggling at the moment. If Indonesia were to ask for help, we can still assist them," he said.

No need to worry about haze, yet
NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 10 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians need not worry about the haze returning despite fires burning in Riau, Sumatra, and in parts of Malaysia – at least until May.

Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said Malaysia was safe from the choking smog from Sumatra because of the north-east monsoon.

“The wind is blowing from the north-east direction, meaning whatever haze that is coming from Indo­nesia won’t be blown to Malaysia.

“That will last until March and April will see the inter monsoon, where the wind will be light and variable and we will have more rainfall, especially in the west coast of peninsular Malaysia.

“It’s in May or June when the south-west monsoon comes that we have to worry,” she said.

Air pollutant index readings across the country were moderate to good as of 2pm yesterday.

Indonesia is also on guard over the forest and land fires , having declared a state of emergency in Riau, which the provincial government said was a precautionary measure to prevent a repeat of the 2015 haze.

Che Gayah said, for the time being, Malaysia’s only worry about haze was those produced from within its borders, as firemen nationwide work to battle as many as 11 raging hotspots in the country.

The Fire and Rescue Department said that the Malaysian fires – mostly in Pahang, Kelantan and Sabah – were still manageable but the situation could get out of hand fast if the prolonged dry season continued.

“Just yesterday, we had 34 bush fires reported by 2pm. If the hot weather continues, there will definitely be more. But these are small fires that we can contain and put out fast,” said the department’s deputy director-general (operations) Datuk Soiman Jahid.

He said the biggest fire raging now was in Sepang near the 27.4km mark of the Elite Highway, where 1.62ha of peat soil was still burning.

Officers have been battling the fires there for a week now.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said fires in Malaysia were still manageable and expressed more concern over the fires in Riau.

“We have more hotspots but they are smaller than in Indonesia. We have our enforcement officers on the ground to extinguish them and we are moving fast. Indonesia is struggling at the moment. If they were to ask for help, we can assist their mission if the need arises,” he said.

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Malaysia: No details yet on Indonesia's haze -- Environment Minister

NURADZIMMAH DAIM New Straits Times 9 Mar 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has yet to get details on the recent forest fires in Riau which had prompted the authorities there to declare a state of emergency.

Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said he had given instructions to his officers to get details on the haze in Riau and Kalimantan, if any.

“So far, Malaysia is not affected by the fire as we were saved by the wind cycle, according to the Meteorological Department.

We have yet to receive specific information whether it (the fires) will cause us harm.

“We will nevertheless contact our counterparts in Indonesia for further details before we can offer our assistance in putting out the fires,” he said.

Wan Junaidi added that the government had also not yet received feedback from the Indonesia government on the memorandum of understanding to address the problem of trans-boundary haze, which has been delayed several times.

“The ministry had sent nine letters to the Indonesian government since the idea to sign the MoU was suggested in July last year.

Unfortunately, we have yet to receive any response from the Indonesian Environment Ministry.

I even sent a letter on Feb 18 to my counterpart but have yet to receive anything,” he said in the lobby of Parliament.

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Malaysia: Negri Sembilan dams nearing critical levels, water rationing may start

The Star 10 Mar 16;

SEREMBAN: Consumers in Negri Sembilan have been told to be prudent with water usage as the dry spell has left water levels worryingly low.

Five dams in the state have fallen dangerously close to critical while the level at the dam in Gemencheh, which supplies raw water to treatment plants and for consumers in Tampin and parts of Rembau, has been below the critical level for months now.

The five dams close to critical are Sg Terip, Kelinchi, Talang, Teriang and Sg Berinigin.

Only the Ulu Sepri dam remains unaffected by the dry weather.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said the absence of rainfall in all water catchment areas in the state over the past two weeks had compounded matters.

He said that if the unusually dry conditions persisted, these dams would only be able to supply raw water to the respective treatment plants for another three to four weeks.

“Please be frugal when consuming water as the prolonged dry weather has caused water levels at almost all rivers to fall drastically.

“We will consider if there is a need to ration water once we get a report from Syarikat Air Negri Sembilan in the next few days,” he told reporters after chairing the state exco meeting.

He said the water level along the Ulu Sg Muar river had also fallen drastically.

“We have five pump houses along the river and some of these are unable to function due to the drop in water level,” he said.

Mohamad added that as a remedial measure, his administration would encourage more

Negri Sembilan may consider water rationing in two weeks, if dry spell continues: MB
NUR AQIDAH AZIZI New Straits Times 9 Mar 16;

SEREMBAN: Negri Sembilan will consider imposing water rationing in two weeks, if the dry spell continues.

Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said the incessant hot weather had resulted in the decline of the water level at various dams in the state.

“Several dams in the state will be able to last between 20 to 35 days, before the water level decreases to critical levels.

We are observing the condition and water rationing is likely to be imposed if there is no rainfall in the next two weeks or if the water level hits the critical level,” said Mohamad. “We have no intention to cause trouble to the public.

But this move is needed to ensure that the state’s water supply can last longer,” he said at a press conference after chairing the EXCO meeting at Wisma Negeri today.

He said all mosques in the state were required to perform ‘Solat Hajat’ this Friday, to end the long drought.

He also urged the public to use water wisely to avoid water wastage.

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Malaysia: Rare agarwood species is back

The Star 10 Mar 16;

PETALING JAYA: A critically endangered species of agarwood, which has been elusive for more than 100 years, has resurfaced.

The Aquilaria rostrata was first discovered in 1911 and was thought to be native only to Wray’s Camp in Taman Negara, Pahang.

Since then, nobody had spotted the species.

However, two Forestry Department rangers found what they suspected to be the elusive species in April last year in Besut, Terengganu, some 100km away from where it was first discovered.

Their suspicion was soon confirmed by a research team in Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) led by associate professor Dr Rozi Mohamed.

“At first, we thought that it was a new species but after making comparisons with a 100-year-old specimen at Herbarium Botanic Gardens in Singapore, we discovered that it was the Aquilaria rostrata,” she said in a statement.

Dr Rozi, who published her findings in Blumen, an international journal on plant taxonomy, said the tree was found among felled timber in an area of about 700m above sea level.

“It is not available anywhere else but only in peninsular Malaysia and is in danger of extinction,” she said.

Some 50 of the same species were found in the same area, ranging between 2m and 5m in height. The trees were flowering and bore fruits. They were not cut down when found.

UPM Forestry Management Department head associate professor Dr Mohd Nazre Saleh said the rediscovery of Aquilaria rostrata was significant to floristic records everywhere.

“More so now because the species was discovered somewhere else from where it was originally found,” he told The Star.

Dr Mohd Nazre said this particular tree was “extremely rare” and was one of the species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

He called for more conservation efforts to “protect and preserve” the tree from being exploited.

Dr Rozi, whose study was funded by the Higher Education Ministry’s Fundamental Research Grant, also agreed that the species should be safeguarded from “unscrupulous quarters out to get hold of agarwood”.

Aquilaria rostrata was first discovered in 1911 by H.N. Ridley, with the findings published in 1924.

The species is listed as critically endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List and is believed to have declined due to the high demand for agarwood.

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Indonesia: Peatland agency gears up for haze crisis

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 10 Mar 16;

The newly established Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), which is tasked with restoring 2 million hectares of damaged peatland over the next five years, is preparing to begin work amid fears of a repeat of the country’s chronic haze problem.

The BRG said on Monday that hot spots had been detected in areas where the agency was to carry out restoration, a telltale sign of a looming haze crisis.

“[BRG head] Nazir Foead is currently in Pekanbaru, Riau, to coordinate [the agency’s work there],” BRG deputy of participation, campaigns and partnerships, Myrna A. Safitri, said during a visit to The Jakarta Post.

In mid-February, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) detected 69 hot spots, including 14 in Riau and six in North Sumatra.

This year, the agency is focusing on four regencies: Pulang Pisau in Central Kalimantan, Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra and Ogan Komering Ilir and Meranti Islands in Riau.

The four regencies were the worst-hit by last year’s forest fires, when fires spread across a total of 2.61 million hectares of forest and peatland, resulting in choking haze blanketing numerous areas for a period of five months.

Peat swamps are highly susceptible to fires in the dry season. Anything from a carelessly discarded cigarette butt to a smoldering campfire can cause tinder-dry peat to blaze out of control and, in high winds, spread rapidly. Peat fires are also set deliberately by corporations and small-scale farmers who burn peat brush to clear the land for oil-palm plantations.

If the BRG is successful, uncontrolled peatland infernos will be a thing of the past, according to BRG secretary Hartono Prawiraatmadja.

“The fires will only occur on the surface [of the land], where they’re much easier to put out,” he said.

With another potential haze crisis approaching, Hartono said that the agency had begun to map out which peatland could be safely used for cultivation and which should be preserved. “In each peat hydrology area, we will analyze and review the land use using light detection and ranging [LiDAR] technology,” he said.

“There’s no point rewetting in an area that is not the core of peat hydrology area. But we can still do rewetting [before the mapping is finished] in an emergency — if we wait to complete the mapping when the area’s already burning, it’ll be too late,” he said.

Land swaps hoped to speed up peatland restoration
Anton Hermansyah, 8 Mar 16;

The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) plans to offer asset swaps to local communities using peatland for plantation purposes in an effort to restore two million hectares of peatland in five years.

BRG secretary Hartono Prawiratmadja said peatland owners would be presented with three options to free their land from plantation activities. The three options were compensation, relocation and commodity adjustment.

"If they agree with compensation, the BRG will simply talk to the land concession owner and pay. Relocation is provided to deal with community-owned plantations from which people make a living, which will be swapped for sites where plantation is permitted," he said on Tuesday in Jakarta.

Meanwhile, commodity adjustment pertains to switching from the existing plants to more suitable crops for peatland cultivation, such as sago. "Sago is productive and can recover the quality of the peatland’s water, but not all sites are suitable for sago," Hartono said.

The relocation through asset swap, he continued, was based on spatial administration regulations. Regarding customary land, which is owned by indigenous communities, the agency would use customary land rules.

"The rule [for customary land] was already prepared by the Forestry and Environmental Ministry last year," Myrna A. Safitri, deputy for education, participation and partnership at the BRG, told

The agency aims to restore 2 million hectares of exploited peatlands nationwide, with some 600,000 ha to be restored this year. Another 1,200,000 ha will be restored from 2017 to 2019, leaving the last 200,000 ha to be restored in 2020. (ags)(+)

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Indonesia: World Bank provides grant to help prevent forest fires

Antara 9 Mar 16;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The World Bank has provided a grant amounting to some US$12 million this year to help prevent forest fires, Chairman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei stated.

The World Bank recorded that forest and plantation fires, which had ravaged Indonesia last year, inflicted material losses worth trillions of rupiah, in addition to the operational costs involved in extinguishing the fires, Rampangilei noted here recently while attending a Movement on Prevention of Forest and Plantation Fires.

Therefore, the government is empowering the communities to help prevent forest fires, he affirmed.

Community-based preventive measures will be implemented, particularly in regions prone to forest fire disasters, he remarked.

The government will also provide adequate facilities to support the efforts.

He lauded South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin for launching the movement involving personnel of the military, police, NGO activists, and firefighters.

Recently, the BNPB reported that the government was empowering the rural communities to prevent forest fires.

"In this case, the communities are a section of the society that will take early action in any disaster," he noted while speaking at a press conference on "The Latest Disaster Mitigation Efforts."

In fire-prone regions, the rural communities must be actively involved in preventing the outbreak of fires.

To this end, the government will improve their organizational capability, increase their awareness about disaster risks, and strengthen their capability in preventing forest fires.

"Besides this, control commands will be developed at the rural to national level, so that the preventive efforts undertaken by the communities would be well-planned, coordinated, integrated, and measurable," he emphasized.

The concept is being developed based on experiences in empowering the rural communities by the regional governments, NGOs, and companies, he added.(*)

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Indonesia: Tiger shot dead, chopped up, eaten

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 10 Mar 16;

A female Sumatran tiger has been shot dead after wandering into a village in North Tapanuli regency, North Sumatra, according to the North Sumatra Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

The agency’s protection, preservation and mapping section head, Joko Iswanto, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that residents of Silantom Tong village had had the beast shot, then butchered it.

“Only the head remains; we’re keeping it safe at the BKSDA office in Medan,” Joko said.

His office, he added, had not yet ascertained the age of the ill-fated animal, but said that going by the size of its head, it was an adult.

According to reports compiled by Joko, the tiger was caught in a trap set by villagers.

It managed to free itself, but instead of fleeing back into the jungle, the tiger instead made its way into the village.

The tiger reportedly roamed the streets of the village for some time, unnerving residents, who reported the sighting to the police.

R. Simatupang, a resident of Silantom Tong, said that he and his fellow villagers had asked the police to shoot the tiger; once the tiger was dead, the villagers dismembered and diced the carcass, distributing the meat to the settlement’s households to be eaten.

Locals refer to such practices as binda.

“Binda is a traditional way to treat wild animals — we cut them into pieces and distribute the meat,” Simatupang said.

He would not be surprised, he added, to see further tigers enter the village, which is located on the edge of the jungle.

“We hope the [local] forestry agency and security officers will determine the whereabouts of tigers in the forest near Silantom and stop them from disturbing people,” Simatupang said.

Joko, meanwhile, said that the tiger was a victim of growing conflict between humankind and other species, as its habitat had been destroyed by illegal logging.

“Tigers are forced to leave their natural habitats because the forest and surroundings are being damaged by illegal logging,” Joko said.

He added that the conflict between tigers and humans had claimed numerous lives on both sides.

In 2014, a Sumatran tiger was speared to death by people in Toba Samosir regency.

Last year, a 5-year-old tiger almost died after one of its legs was amputated. The leg was decaying after being caught in a trap set by residents of Batu Madinding subdistrict in Mandailing Natal regency.

In terms of human fatalities, Joko said, at least eight people living in the environs of Batang Gadis National Park (TNBG) in North Sumatra had reportedly been killed in tiger attacks between 2008 and 2014.

The population of Sumatran tigers in the park is thought to stand at between 10 and 19.

The Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Sumatran tiger as a critically endangered species since 1996.

The organization has reported that the species is struggling with habitat loss amid the expansion of oil palm and acacia plantations, as well as illegal trading, primarily for the domestic market.

Poachers frequently hunt the tigers, which are native to the vast and diverse habitats of Sumatra, as their body parts fetch high prices for use in traditional medicines in Asia.

Data from the BKSDA show that the population of Sumatran tigers in the wild currently stands at around 400 across the entirety of the island of Sumatra.

Death of rare Sumatran tiger draws ire, scorn
Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 11 Mar 16;

Enviromental activists have condemned the killing and butchering of a Sumatran tiger by residents of Silantom Tonga village in North Tapanuli regency, North Sumatra.

Activists from the Sumatra Rainforest Institute, Scorpion, the Indonesian Species Conservation Program and the Orangutan Information Center on Thursday flocked to the North Sumatra Police headquarters in Medan to urge the force to thoroughly investigate the mistreatment of the tiger.

A spokesperson for the groups, Panut Hadisiswoyo, said they had called on the police to take tough action against the police officer reported to have shot the tiger dead after it wandered into Silantom Tonga.

“This was a barbaric act and a violation of law,” Panut said after meeting officers from the North Sumatra Police’s special crime directorate.

When tigers wandered into villages, he went on, they should not be killed, but shooed away back into the jungle.

“Ironically, it was a police officer — who should be aware that the Sumatran tiger is a protected animal — who shot the tiger,” he said.

Directorate head Adj. Sr. Comr. Robin Simatupang said the force would begin investigation upon reception of complete reports from the North Tapanuli Police..

The 1.5-meter female tiger weighing 80 kilograms was shot dead by an officer from the Pangaribuan Police on Monday, at the request of local people who had alerted the police after the beast wandered into the village.

The villagers then dismembered and butchered the carcass, distributing the meat to local households to be eaten.

Such practices are locally referred to as binda, a tradition whereby any wild animals encountered are slaughtered and eaten.

Anthropologist and noted Batak cultural figure Bungaran Simanjuntak of Medan State University insisted that eating wild animals, especially protected ones, was not a Batak tradition.

If certain Batak communities ate tiger meat, he said, it might mean they were related to a certain cult or local tradition.

“For a long time now, we Bataks have shunned eating the meat of Sumatran tigers,” Bungaran said.

Animals traditionally eaten by the Batak people as part of certain traditions included buffalo, swine, cows and goats, he said.

Bungaran added that although the killing of the tiger was intolerable, he did not want to rush to blame the denizens of Silantom Tonga.

“It’s possible that they didn’t realize that the Sumatran tiger was a protected species,” he suggested.

To prevent similar incidents from reoccurring, he urged authorities to inform villagers of which species were endangered and should not be eaten.

North Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) protection section head Joko Iswanto said the agency would summon 50 residents of Silantom Tonga for questioning.

Questioning, Joko said, would be carried out in stages, starting from village leaders to local community figures. “We will announce later whether they are guilty or not,” he said.

“We have noted 50 names allegedly involved in the distribution of the tiger meat,” he added.

BKSDA data show that the population of Sumatran tigers in North Sumatra is sharply decreasing as a result of conflict with humans.

In 2014 a Sumatran tiger was speared to death by people in Toba Samosir regency, while last year, a 5-year-old tiger almost died after having its leg amputated. The leg was decaying after being caught in a trap set by residents in Batu Madinding subdistrict, Batang Natal district, Mandailing Natal regency.

The Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program (WCSIP) has recorded a decrease in the population of Sumatran tigers from 150 in the 1990s to 100 as of today; the majority live in and around Mount Leuser National Park, which straddles the border between North Sumatra and Aceh.

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Rhino poaching: Another year, another grim record

David Shukman BBC 10 Mar 16;

The mass slaughter of rhinos has increased for the sixth year in a row, according to grim new figures from international researchers.
At least 1,338 of the iconic animals were killed for their horns in Africa last year.

This is the greatest loss in a single year since an intense wave of poaching began recently.

Since 2008, as many as 5,940 rhinos have been killed although scientists fear that could be an underestimate.

The findings were compiled by researchers from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The losses come despite a drive to fight poaching gangs by strengthening patrols, harnessing satellite technology and boosting intelligence-gathering.

The IUCN blames continuing demand from South East Asia - where rhino horn is wrongly believed to have medicinal properties - fed by increasingly sophisticated international crime networks.

'Nowhere is safe'

Officials say that amid the killings there are some helpful developments.

Overall, the rate of increase in poaching has fallen slightly and in South Africa, home to the greatest number of rhinos, the numbers killed in a single year fell slightly for the first time since 2008.

Dr Richard Emslie, of the IUCN's African Rhino Specialist Group, told the BBC:

"Any increase in poaching is alarming but there are some positives. When poaching started to escalate in 2008, we saw year after year of exponentially increasingly poaching.

"But over the last couple of years we've seen a decline in the rate of increase."

Dr Emslie described this as "an encouraging trend" and he highlighted how South Africa has managed to reduce the number of rhinos slaughtered from 1,215 in 2014 to 1,175 last year.

But success in one area can lead to further poaching elsewhere and while South Africa can point to a slightly improved picture, other countries have seen sharp increases in losses.

According to the new data, the number of rhinos killed in Namibia has quadrupled in just the last two years while losses in Zimbabwe doubled over the same period.

No rhinos in the wild

Dr Emslie described the fight against poaching as like squeezing a balloon.

"If you clamp down on poaching on the one side of the Kruger National Park beside the Mozambique border, then suddenly the balloon pops out a bit the other side and you can get more poaching.

"There's a trend of poaching from different park to different park and also from one country to another so no individual country is safe and all need to be on their guard given the huge threat."

Commenting on the latest figures, Craig Bruce, a rhino specialist at the Zoological Society of London, said: "I think it's a dire situation and despite reports of a decrease in the Kruger National Park, I don't think it's a cause for celebration.

"If we continue with the current rate of losses, then I would estimate that within five to 10 years, all we will have is rhinos in very strictly controlled captivity scenarios and we will basically have lost the species in the wild."

After a previous collapse in rhino numbers during the 1960s, a concerted effort which was backed by determined governments and generous funding saw populations restored.

Unprecedented aggression

But this crisis is seen as more serious and therefore harder to tackle because of the sheer aggression and growing sophistication of the poaching gangs, fuelled by the high price for rhino horn on the black market.

Mr Bruce told me that every new technological advance designed to help the conservation effort - including drones, radios and intelligence-gathering - is matched by the poachers.

The illegal rhino trade
*Wildlife crime is the fourth largest global illegal trade, according to WWF, after drugs, counterfeiting, and human trafficking
*Rhino horn is one of the world's most expensive commodities, fetching about $60,000 (£40,500) per kilo - it is worth more by weight than gold or diamonds
*Poaching is by no means restricted to South Africa, home to the world's largest population of rhinos - it is also a threat to smaller rhino populations elsewhere eg in Asia

"What's frightening is that the same technology that we are able to use, they are also able to use. Shockingly, as much as we're using them to combat the poachers, they're using them to facilitate their poaching.

"They understand intelligence as well as we do. They understand how to threaten people to get information, how to threaten people to keep them quiet so the whole criminal element has just advanced in a way that's unprecedented."

The latest data will reignite long-running debates over the best way to stem the losses.

Ideas range from cutting off the rhinos' horns in order to deny poachers and to flood the market with cheap horn to fitting monitoring devices or even cameras to the animals to help provide warning of attacks.

With the global total of rhinos now only in the region of 25,000, there will be renewed attention in the approach to a major international meeting of the CITES convention, set up to combat the illegal trade in endangered species, in Johannesburg in September.

And the South African government has just announced the logo for the event: an image of a rhino.

IUCN reports deepening rhino poaching crisis in Africa
IUCN 9 Mar 16;

The number of African rhinos killed by poachers has increased for the sixth year in a row with at least 1,338 rhinos killed by poachers across Africa in 2015, according to new data compiled by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG).

This is the highest level since the current crisis began to emerge in 2008. Since then poachers have killed at least 5,940 African rhinos.

Demand for rhino horn from South East Asia is being illegally supplied by sophisticated transnational organised crime networks. “The extensive poaching for the illegal trade in horn continues to undermine the rhino conservation successes made in Africa over the last two decades,” says Mike Knight, Chair of IUCN’s AfRSG, which just concluded its biennial meeting.

However, increased law enforcement effort and expenditure in recent years have coincided with a slowing down in the rate of increase of poaching continentally from 2013-2015. Over the last two years, poaching has declined in Kenya and, for the first time since 2008, the number of rhinos poached in the major range state, South Africa, fell slightly last year (including in Kruger National Park).

“This is testimony to the valiant and enormous efforts underway – often against overwhelming odds – to curb the losses,” says IUCN Director General, Inger Andersen. “It also demonstrates the commitment of field rangers who – at tremendous cost to themselves and their families – work tirelessly, risking their lives daily. Sadly, these improvements have been dampened by alarming increases in poaching over the past year in other vitally important range states, such as Namibia and Zimbabwe.”

The continued poaching has impacted on rhino numbers. According to the experts who met recently in South Africa, numbers of the more numerous white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) appear to have levelled off on the continent, with 2015 numbers provisionally estimated at between 19,682 and 21,077. While the total white rhino estimate is down -0.4% per annum since 2012 (compared to the updated 2012 estimate), this difference is within the margin of error around the estimates and not statistically significant.

The black rhino (Diceros bicornis) – listed on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ as Critically Endangered – has fared slightly better with continental numbers for 2015 estimated at between 5,042 and 5,455 rhinos, representing a statistically significant +2.9% per annum increase on the updated 2012 estimate. Poaching has, however, reduced growth in black rhino numbers to below the usual +5% per annum target growth rate.

South Africa currently conserves 79% of Africa’s rhinos and has suffered the bulk (85%) of poaching on the continent since 2008. The country’s vast Kruger National Park is home to the world’s largest rhino population and has borne the brunt of the killing. While the margins of error around the Kruger National Park rhino population estimates between 2012 and 2015 overlapped, statistical modelling suggests that in all likelihood the populations of both black and white rhinos have decreased in the Park. This has however been countered by net increases in the numbers of black and white rhino elsewhere in South Africa and other countries.

Rhinos lost to poaching also represent a significant loss of revenue for African countries, reducing incentives for the private sector and communities to conserve rhino. Based on recorded average live rhino sale values from some major sellers, rhinos killed illegally in 2015 in South Africa alone represent an estimated loss of around US$25 million. The meeting heard how substantially increased security costs and risks to staff and rhinos, coupled with declining and limited economic incentives, is resulting in increasing numbers of private white rhino owners in South Africa selling or looking to sell many or all of their white rhino. Poaching threatens to reduce the range area available to rhino in future as well as cutting conservation agency revenue and budgets.

IUCN’s AfRSG recognises the important role that commercial wildlife enterprises, including live sales, tourism and limited controlled trophy hunting, have played in generating incentives for conservation and stimulating population increases of rhinos on state, private and communal land in Africa. Other themes such as alternative conservation funding mechanisms, the importance of community livelihoods, and strategies to reduce demand for illegally sourced rhino horn were discussed at the meeting to both enhance the value and conservation of rhinos on the African landscape.

While there is certainly room for improvement, Mozambique, which has been heavily implicated in much of the poaching and trafficking of horn, has made some recent progress, with AfRSG noting increased collaboration with neighbouring Kruger National Park. The country is also in the process of tightening legislation, increasing penalties and entering into bilateral agreements. The IUCN Group remains hopeful that proposed new laws with increased penalties for poaching and trafficking will be passed soon and then stringently enforced. Mozambican progress in implementing its National Ivory and Rhino Action plan is being followed closely; with the country due to report back to CITES on progress.

Wildlife crime is just one form of organised criminal activity undertaken by powerful transnational crime syndicates that also traffic in drugs, weapons and people. These criminals are now widely recognised as a global challenge and threat to national security. Such networks control much of the illegal trade in wildlife, destabilising communities and countries and corrupting government officials and structures. There is worrying evidence of the increasing involvement of Chinese citizens along with nationals from South East Asian countries like Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, as well as North Korea, in the illicit trade in rhino horn.

“With immediate, urgent interventions on all fronts,” Dr Knight concludes, “we hopefully will be able to get rhinos onto a more positive growth curve again.”

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