Best of our wild blogs: 7 Apr 16

HSS Turns 1!
Herpetological Society of Singapore

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Indonesia begins pilot project to restore damaged peatlands

The Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG) is starting with a pilot project in four districts - Meranti Islands in Riau, Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, and Pulau Pisang in Central Kalimantan.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 7 Apr 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia's special agency tasked to restore damaged peatlands and prevent forest fires has received around US$135 million pledged by donors.

The head of the Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG) Nazir Foead told Channel NewsAsia he expects more support to come in if the agency can do a good job in its first year of operations. However, Mr Nazir said the impact of its work resulting in less forest fires happening may only be felt next year.

The agency is starting with a pilot project in four districts - Meranti Islands in Riau, Ogan Komering Ilir and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, and Pulau Pisang in Central Kalimantan.

Mr Nazir said the pilot will start in some district next week. “The strategy is being approved by the stakeholders this year, but to see the impact, if indeed the water table (in the peatlands) is rising, the moisture is rising, and less and less fires, we can only start to see it next year,” said Mr Nazir.

Last year, forest fires raged for months in Indonesia, causing haze and choking parts of the country and the region. The unprecedented environmental disaster destroyed more than two million hectares of land - mostly peatlands.

The government then set up the Peatlands Restoration Agency in January this year to repair the damaged land.

Mr Nazir, an environmental expert, and former World Wildlife Fund director, was appointed to undertake this massive task for the next five years. He aims to introduce standard methods of re-wetting the peatlands by raising the water levels - using dams and irrigation canals.

“The peatland naturally, they are wet even in dry season. They are still relatively wet, and very difficult to get burnt, but what caused the big problems for Indonesia was those wet peatlands was drained mostly by companies who gets concession in the past, and companies wanted to plant crops that can only grow in dry land.

"Therefore, the peatland becomes dry easily, and catches fire. So, in this case we need to close the canals, and the water flowing out have to be controlled in the interest of the fire prevention.”

The agency is also trying to establish a more detailed map of the damaged peatlands starting with the districts in the pilot project.

The map, which will be made public, is a part of Indonesia’s One Map Policy aimed at helping resolve disagreements resulting in the use of different data and maps, which often cause land disputes.

Mr Nazir said the detailed map of the four districts will take about three to four months to complete.

“The map will be useful for law enforcement, but it has to be used by the enforcement officials. So, we want to create very close collaboration with law enforcement officials, coordinated by the ministry of environment and forestry, or local chief of police to also use the map for monitoring,” said Mr Nazir.

But, Mr Nazir admits that the detailed map has raised concerns among some concession owners.

“The President requested BRG to do an honest mapping to pinpoint which area is supposed to be fully protected, and which area of peatland can be cultivated.

"So, can you imagine that then we say, "Oh, okay, Mr President Pak Jokowi, after we do our planning, we find that this area has to be protected because it is a very deep peatland and it’s only good for conservation for water." But, there have been planting of concession on top of it. So, the likely chance is that the licence has to be cancelled.”

- CNA/de

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Malaysia: Johor confident of weathering long dry spell without rationing

The Star 7 Apr 16;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: Johor is confident of getting through the long dry spell without having to ration its water despite falling levels at its 15 dams.

“Water rationing would be the last resort,” said state Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammed. “The dams are able to supply two to three months of water if there is no rain.”

He acknowledged that in the past the state had to resort to water rationing, sometimes for up to four months, due to critical levels at the Sungai Lebam and Sungai Layang dams.

He said the state was taking steps to avoid a recurrence, including starting a project to fill up the Sg Layang dam and transferring water from Sungai Seluyut to the Sungai Lebam dam.

Also, state water authorities have been directed to find alternative sources of water that can be pumped into the dams, and to start cloud seeding operations.

Its 44 water treatment plants are functioning normally, supplying some 1.7 billion litres of treated water daily.

No water rationing needed in Johor, says exco man
NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 6 Apr 16;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: Johor is confident that it can weather the dry spell without water rationing despite the decreasing levels in the 15 dams state-wide.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammed said water rationing will be the last resort because the dams now have supply for two to three months even if there is no rain.

He added that the dry spell is expected to last until June.

He said that in the past the state had to resort to water rationing, sometimes for up to four months, because of critical levels at the Sg Lebam and Sg Layang dams.

"We have now started the Raw Water Project to Rapid project to fill up the Sg Lebam dam which will be operational by next month and the water transfer to the Sg Layang dam from Sg Seluyut which will be completed by the end of the year," he told reporters here on Wednesday.

Hasni stressed that although both dams are considered the "worst" because of their critical water levels, the state is confident that its measures will be able to resolve the problem.

He said the state water authorities have also been directed to identify alternative water sources for the dams and carry out cloud-seeding operations.

"I ask the public not to panic but instead be wise when using water," he said, adding that all 44 water treatment plants in the state were functioning normally, pumping out 1,700 million litres of treated water to Johoreans each day.

Hasni also directed all agencies such as the Department of Environment and the Drainage and Irrigation Department to monitor effluents being discharged into the waterways.

"Our Sultan Ismail water treatment plant, which draws water from Sg Skudai, always has problems because of the poor water quality," he said.

No water rationing for Johor
AHMAD FAIRUZ OTHMAN New Straits Times 6 Apr 16;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The Johor government will not resort to water rationing, but instead continue with raw water transfer projects to boost the levels at two dams faced with critically low reserves.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said various measures have been put in place after the state faced water rationing in three districts last year.

"Regardless of the extent of the El Nino affect, we managed to put in place various projects that will be developed to handle (effects of the) severe weather condition.

"Unlike last year, when the only option was to resort to water rationing, starting from this year, upon completion of the various ongoing projects, we will not be adopting rationing as a step to overcome such issues," Hasni told reporters at Kota Iskandar today.

He said the Petronas Raw Water Supply Project to RAPID (Pamer) slated to be completed next month will transfer 30 million litres per day of raw water to Sungai Lebam, Kota Tinggi.

Another RM100 million project approved by the federal government will transfer raw water from Seluyut Dam to the Upper Layang Dam and has also started.

On Tuesday, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said the government was keeping a close watch on six dams in four states, which included the Lebam Dam and Layang Dams in Johor because their raw water levels dipped to 30 per cent and below.

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Malaysia: Rain brings relief to haze-hit Sabah

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 6 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Rain brought relief to several districts in the west coast and interior of Sabah yesterday.

Acting State Meteorological Department director Lim Ze Hui said more rains were forecast in weeks to come.

Rainfall was observed at Beaufort, Tambunan, Kota Belud and Tuaran on Tuesday afternoon, and Papar, Kota Kinabalu and Penampang at night.

Meanwhile, Natural Resources and Environment Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said a 200ha area at Binsuluk Forest Reserve in Beaufort is still burning while most of the fires in the Kimanis/Bongawan and Jalan Membakut/Bongawan forest areas have been extinguished.

"The fire which had destroyed 50ha of jungle at Padas Damit Forest Reserve has been put out. “Those fires were caused by farmers’ activities who carried out open burning, and later spread to the forest reserves,” he said in a statement today.

A Department of Environment spokesman said the Air Pollutant index readings at Beaufort, Papar and Kuala Penyu dropped to moderate levels yesterday and are expected to drop further.

Planes ready to seed but no clouds in sight so far
The Star 7 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Royal Malaysian Air Force aircraft are on standby in Labuan to carry cloud-seeding in Sabah, but the weather is not being cooperative.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the absence of cumulus clouds over the state has prevented any such operation.

“We can only wait and hope for such clouds,” he said, while urging religious bodies to hold special prayer sessions for divine intervention to alleviate Sabah’s prolonged dry spell.

Cumulus clouds are suitable for cloud-seeding operations.

In the tropics, cloud-seeding is an attempt to induce rain by dispersing substances into the air that serve as points where condensation can occur.

In a related development, Science, Technology and Innovation Minis­ter Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau said the Meteorological Department had provided the salt solution needed for cloud-seeding.

“However, satellite imagery over the past several days has shown the absence of cumulus clouds over Sabah’s west coast districts,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Musa said firemen, with the aid of other authorities including Forest Department rangers, had been working round the clock to put out bush and forest fires.

Weather not favourable for cloud seeding, says Sabah chief minister
RUBEN SARIO The Star 6 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The Royal Malaysian Air Force aircraft is on standby in Labuan to carry out cloud seeding in Sabah but the weather is not conducive for the mission.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman (pic) said the absence of cumulus clouds over the state had so far prevented any such operations.

“We can only wait and hope for such clouds,” he said, urging religious bodies to hold special prayer sessions to alleviate Sabah’s prolonged dry spell.

In a related development, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau said the Meteorological Services Department (MetMalaysia) had provided the RMAF the salt solution needed for the cloud seeding.

“However satellite imagery over the past several days have shown the absence of cumulus clouds over Sabah’s west coast districts,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Musa said firemen with the help of other authorities including Forest Department rangers had been working around the clock to douse out bush and forest fires.

According to the Fire and Rescue Services Department, there were 23 hotspots around the state since April 6.

Acknowledging that fires and the ongoing drought had destroyed food crops including swathes of padi field and fruit trees, Musa said officials from the Agriculture Department had been assessing the damages.

“We will be assisting the affected farmers in the immediate and long term,” Musa added.

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Malaysia: Negri farmers urged to delay padi planting

The Star 7 Apr 16;

SEREMBAN: Padi growers in the state should defer their replanting activities due to the current dry spell.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Moha­mad Hasan said this was important to prevent farmers from suffering losses.

“I am sure farmers are aware that plenty of water is needed for their crops within weeks of replanting.

“Since the dry spell is expected to continue, it would be better for them to delay the replanting process,” he told reporters after chairing the exco meeting here yesterday.

Negri Sembilan padi farmers are concentrated mainly in the Kuala Pilah, Jempol, Jelebu and Tampin districts.

Mohamad said river waters could not be pumped into padi irrigation canals as the water was needed for human consumption.

“Our rivers are our main source of drinking water and we can’t take more water from there since the levels are already low,” he said.

On the water level at its seven dams, Mohamad said although the situation was not critical, it was crucial for the people to be prudent about water usage.

“We are worried as some dams are nearing critical levels. Remedial measures must be put in place now and we hope the rain will come soon,” he said, adding that special prayers would be held in mosques.

Mohamad added that there were no plans yet to impose water rationing.

“We are only worried about the Tampin and Rembau districts but have managed to overcome the problem by supplying additional treated water from the Sawah Raja plant,” he said.

Concerns over vegetation if hot weather continues
YEE XIANG YUN The Star 7 Apr 16;

JOHOR BARU: The Federation of Malaysian Vegetable Farmers’ Associations is worried that the vegetable supply in the country might be affected if the hot weather caused by El Nino persists.

Its president Tan So Tiok said the prolonged heatwave and drop in rainfall of 20% to 60% might cause disruptions in water supply, which is the most important element in growing the crops.

He said the last time that vegetable supply in the country was affected by the hot weather was in 2014 where it dropped by about 30%.

“There was very little rain back then and the dry spell lasted from January to April, which was bad news for our farmers as rivers and dams dried up,” he said.

Tan said so far, the vegetable supply in the country is still adequate but was worried that if the hot spell goes on until June as predicted, water supply would be affected and cause the overpopulation of insects that could destroy crops.

He said that during last year’s hot spell, also around March, crops were not affected as much as there was still enough water supply to ensure their growth.

“The crops could still grow well in hot weather as long as there is enough water,” he said, adding that a letter had been sent to the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry director-general about the federation’s concerns.

Tan added that Johor produced the most vegetables and supplied some 60% of the nation’s supply, followed by Perak.

The federation, which has about 6,000 members, records a yearly supply of 800,000 tonnes to 900,000 tonnes. About 25% of the amount is exported to Singapore.

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Indonesia sinks 23 foreign boats including 10 from Malaysia

BERNAMA New Straits Times 5 Apr 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities sank 23 foreign fishing boats on Tuesday, saying they were “operating illegally in the archipelago’s vast waters in continuation efforts for anti-poaching,” China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

The vessels, which include 13 Vietnamese and 10 Malaysian boats, were sunk in the waters of seven locations including Sumatra island’s Batam and Aceh.

Tuesday’s event, which was attended by police and navy personnel, marked the third sinking of foreign poaching boats so far this year and Indonesia has scuttled 174 of such ships since 2014.

“The government will continue to sink poaching ships,” Minister of Maritime and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters in Jakarta.

Since taking office in October 2014, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called on a war against illegal fishing and ordered authorities to take tough measures in tackling poaching.--BERNAMA

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Cambodia to repopulate forests with tigers from abroad

SOPHENG CHEANG Yahoo News 6 Apr 16;

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia has unveiled a plan to reintroduce tigers from abroad into the dry forests of the country, where the big cat has become virtually extinct thanks to poaching, conservation officials said Wednesday.

Between 20 and 50 tigers were believed to exist in Cambodia's forests, but years of illegal poaching — of the tigers as well as their prey — led to a dramatic decline in their population. The last tiger spotted in Cambodia was seen in 2007 by camera trap — a hidden camera that is remotely triggered by the movement of animals — in the forests of eastern Mondulkiri province, the WWF conservation group said in a statement.

"Today, there are no longer any breeding populations of tigers left in Cambodia, and they are therefore considered functionally extinct," it said.

The statement was released at a joint news conference by representatives of the government, WWF and the Wildlife Alliance, another conservation group.

Keo Omaliss, a government official in charge of wildlife, said Cambodia is considering negotiating with the governments of India, Malaysia and Thailand to bring at least seven to eight tigers to live in the protected forests of Mondulkiri so they can breed and repopulate the forests.

"This would be the world's first transnational tiger reintroduction and will be based on best practices developed from successful tiger reintroductions within India," the WWF statement said. The plan was approved by Cambodia's government on March 23.

The plan is to bring in the tigers after two years because Cambodia needs to resolve related issues such as poaching and rebuilding the population of tiger prey, which will be needed to sustain a tiger population, said Chhit Sam Ath, the director of WWF-Cambodia.

He said the arrival of the tigers could be pushed back to 2018 if the preservation efforts are not completed by 2017.

"Tigers are an iconic species and part of our natural heritage," he said. "To bring tigers back to Cambodia would be the biggest conversation feat of its kind and would support the conversation efforts of the whole landscape."

The entire plan will cost $20-50 million, which will come from donor countries.

After the Khmer Rouge's brutal rule in the 1970s left Cambodia devastated, poor rural dwellers scoured the forests for wildlife. Much of what was found was sold to traders connected to China, where many wild animals, including tigers, are believed to possess medical and sex-enhancing properties.

Tigers have been classified as nearly extinct species worldwide. There are about 3,200 tigers in only 13 countries globally, according to WWF.

Tigers declared extinct in Cambodia
Conservationists say Indochine tigers are ‘functionally extinct’ as they launch action plan for reintroduction
AFP The Guardian 6 Apr 16;

Tigers are “functionally extinct” in Cambodia, conservationists conceded for the first time on Wednesday, as they launched a bold action plan to reintroduce the big cats to the kingdom’s forests.

Cambodia’s dry forests used to be home to scores of Indochinese tigers but the WWF said intensive poaching of both tigers and their prey had devastated the numbers of the big cats.

The last tiger was seen on camera trap in the eastern Mondulkiri province in 2007, it said.

“Today, there are no longer any breeding populations of tigers left in Cambodia, and they are therefore considered functionally extinct,” the conservation group said in a statement.

In an effort to revive the population, the Cambodian government last month approved a plan to reintroduce the creatures into the Mondulkiri protected forest in the far of east the country.

The plan will see a chunk of suitable habitat carved out and protected against poachers by strong law enforcement, officials said, and action to protect the tigers’ prey.

“We want two male tigers and five to six females tigers for the start,” Keo Omaliss, director of the department of wildlife and biodiversity at the Forestry Administration, told reporters. “This is a huge task.”

The government needs $20 to $50m for the project, he said, adding talks had begun with countries including India, Thailand and Malaysia providing a small number of wild tigers to be introduced.

Conservation groups applauded the plan.

“It’s [the tiger] been hunted to extinction because of weak law enforcement and the government is now reacting,” said Suwanna Gauntlett, of the Wildlife Alliance.

Deforestation and poaching have devastated tiger numbers across Asia, with recent estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature putting the global population at just 2,154.

Countries with tiger populations - Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam - in 2010 launched a plan to double their numbers by 2022.

Officials from the 13 countries are set to meet from 12-14 April in Delhi to discuss the goals.

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Vietnam warns of dire impact from planned Mekong dams

STEPHEN WRIGHT Associated Press Yahoo News 5 Apr 16;

Research commissioned by Vietnam has warned of devastating environmental and economic effects for millions of people living along the Mekong River if 11 proposed dams are built on its mainstream.

The 2 1/2-year study by Danish water expert DHI was submitted recently by Vietnam to the Mekong River Commission, a body comprising Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos that was set up to mediate the conflicting water priorities of Mekong countries. The commission released a five-page summary of the study to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

It predicts "high to very high adverse effects" on fisheries and agriculture in Cambodia and Vietnam if all 11 dams are built, and even greater damage if the Mekong's tributaries also are dammed. The famed Irrawaddy dolphin would likely disappear from the Mekong, it says.

Unmitigated hydropower development will cause "long-lasting damage to the floodplains and aquatic environment, resulting in significant reduction in the socio-economic status of millions of residents," according to the study.

Much of Southeast Asia is suffering a record drought due to El Nino, and officials in Vietnam have said the effects are exacerbated by existing Chinese dams on the upper Mekong. The rice-bowl-sustaining river system flows into Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Mekong is also one of the world's largest inland fisheries, providing a livelihood to millions of people. Dams diminish fishing grounds by creating barriers to breeding-cycle migrations and creating river conditions that destroy habitat and food sources.

The study said agricultural production in the lower reaches of the Mekong Delta would drop steeply because the dams would trap river sediments, resulting in large reductions in the volume of nutrients flowing downstream. Less sediment downstream would also make the delta more at risk of saltwater incursion that can render land infertile.

It predicts annual fishery and farming losses of more than $760 million in Vietnam and $450 million in Cambodia. Fish catches would drop by 50 percent for Vietnam and Cambodia, and 10 percent of the delta's fish species would either disappear from the region or become extinct. The incomes of fishing and farming villages would likely fall by half.

Laos is behind many of the new dams proposed for the lower Mekong and went ahead with construction of the Xayaburi dam in 2012 despite the concerns of neighboring countries. It wants hydropower exports to become a mainstay of its economy, which is among the least developed in Asia.

The river commission said the Vietnamese report will help its own study, which was commissioned in 2011 and is expected to be completed next year.

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Industry threatens nearly half of natural heritage sites: WWF

Mariƫtte Le Roux Yahoo News 7 Apr 16;

Paris (AFP) - Almost half of all natural World Heritage Sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and Machu Picchu, are threatened by industrial activities such as mining, oil exploration and illegal logging, conservation group WWF warned Wednesday.

The 114 threatened sites, virtually half the total listed by UNESCO, provide food, water, shelter and medicine to over 11 million people -- more than the population of Portugal, according to a WWF-commissioned report.

The sites are meant to be protected for future generations.

"Despite the obvious benefits of these natural areas, we still haven't managed to decouple economic development from environmental degradation," WWF director general Marco Lambertini said in a foreword.

"Instead, too often, we grant concessions for exploration of oil, gas or minerals, and plan large-scale industrial projects without considering social and environmental risks."

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) lists 197 "natural" and 32 "mixed" Heritage Sites in 96 countries around the world, alongside 802 cultural sites.

The 229 natural and mixed sites, nominated by governments of the countries in which they are found, include national parks and nature reserves, forests, coral reefs, islands and coastal areas.

But among the 114 sites highlighted by the WWF, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the world's biggest coral reef ecosystem, is threatened by both mining and shipping.

In the US, the Grand Canyon Natural Park is threatened by dams or unsustainable water use.

And the 15th-century Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru, named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, is threatened by logging, the WWF said.

The report said oil or gas concessions had been granted in 40 of the sites and mining concessions in 42.

Twenty-eight sites were at risk from dams or unsustainable water use, a further 28 from illegal logging, two from overfishing, and 20 from construction of roads or railways. Many sites were threatened in more than one category.

Countries are meant to assume responsibility under the World Heritage Convention to protect listed sites within their borders.

- 'Not anti-development' -

"The World Heritage Committee is clear and definitive that extractive activities should not occur in World Heritage sites," WWF global conservation director Deon Nel told AFP by email.

"It has consistently maintained a position that oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation is 'incompatible with World Heritage status'. Despite this, about a third of natural sites have concessions allocated across them."

The WWF urged governments to cancel all such concessions, and also called on companies to refrain from harmful activities in protected areas, and on financial institutions not to fund them.

The report relies in large part on data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which monitors UNESCO's natural Heritage Sites.

It found that two-thirds of Heritage Sites are important for water provision, more than 90 percent provide jobs in tourism and other sectors, and over half provide flood prevention services and store potentially harmful carbon.

"Healthy natural World Heritage sites contribute to poverty reduction, help alleviate food insecurity, combat climate change and restore and promote the sustainable use of ecosystems," said Lambertini.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of Heritage Sites at risk, followed by South Asia.

"Protecting natural areas and ecosystems is not anti-development," stressed Lambertini.

"It is in the interest of long-term, robust and sustainable development that benefits people and natural systems, including our social stability, economic prosperity, and individual well-being."

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