Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jun 16

Dolphin sightings (May - Jun 2016)
wild shores of singapore

Food Waste Training Workshop for Wastebusters (9 Jul)
Zero Waste Singapore

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Malaysia: Highways open doors to poaching

LOH FOON FONG The Star 29 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: The building of highways that cut across important habitats of protected animals and plants has opened doors to poa­chers stealing the country’s priceless treasures, said a researcher.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s Kenyir Research Institute Assoc Prof Dr Reuben Clements said that when he did his research on orang asli in Perak, for example, there was evidence of high poaching pressure in forests beside the 203km-long East-West Highway bisecting the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex.

“People can just park their vehicles at the side of the road and go into the jungle and hunt and it is difficult for the authorities to monitor their movement,” he said at a talk on roads, wildlife and orang asli organised by the Centre for Malaysian Indigenous Studies in Universiti Malaya.

Dr Clements, a conservation scientist, said the poachers included Malaysians and foreigners, suspected to be from Vietnam and Cam­bodia.

“The foreign poachers have been stealing highly priced gaharu wood from our forests and selling them at a high price,” he said.

According to Dr Colin Nicholas, coordinator for the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, the price of gaharu will double once it reaches foreign markets such as those in Singapore.

He said the poachers were also competing resources with the orang asli.

Meanwhile, Dr Clements said that poachers also set up snares and traps to catch priced animals, wounding many species.

Dr Clements, who currently conducts his research in Kenyir, Tereng­ganu, said Kenyir was considered an important mammal conservation area as it contained almost all the mammal species documented in peninsular Malaysia but was also divided by state road T156 and provided access to many poachers.

“Recent studies show that Be­­lum and Kenyir are home to endangered species such as pangolins and tigers, which are highly sought after by poachers for traditional medicine and game,” he added.

In view of this, Rimba, which Dr Clements co-founded, recently made a video highlighting the im­­portance of conserving endangered species such as tigers and sam­­bar deer from an Islamic perspective.

The video also featured Tereng­ganu Ruler Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin advocating the conservation of flora and fauna.

“It is important to avoid building more roads in important forests such as Belum and Kenyir,” the sultan said.

Dr Clements said from his re­search involving 144 households from 10 villages in Belum-Temen­gor, most supported the presence of the highway and 65% supported construction of additional roads to their villages even though the use was low (2%-28%).

He said when constructing a road, the authorities should consult the orang asli as those living nearer to it support its building while those living more inland did not.

He said those living in Belum did not want more roads as they bring many visitors and diseases.

To prevent unregulated development along highways which cut through ecological linkages in the Central Forest Spine, they should be gazetted as protected areas, he said.

If a road were to be built in an important wildlife habitat, Environ­mental Impact Assessments should be made mandatory and the Public Works Department should hold consultations with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the local communities, Dr Clements said.

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Malaysia: Huge jump in measles cases

The Star 27 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Children not immunised against measles has led to a 340% leap in the number of in­fections within the first week of this month.

There were 873 cases reported in that week compared to the 197 recorded in the corresponding pe­­riod last year, an increase of 676.

Health Department director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah attributed the increase to the fact that children were not immunised against the disease.

Most of the cases involved private homes (63.6%) followed by institutions (28.8%) and community (7.6%).

“Last year, there were 1,318 cases of measles with two deaths. There has not been any death this year,” he said in a posting on his Facebook page yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham said 66 outbreaks were reported during the first week of June, a five-fold increase compared to the same period last year.

Immunisation against measles are given to children when they are between nine and 12 months under the national immunisation programme.

Previous reports stated that an increasing number of parents are not immunising their children over fears that the vaccines are not halal.

Kedah has the highest number of rejection cases in the country.

This was despite a declaration by the National Fatwa Council that the vaccines are halal.

On Saturday, Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan said they would discuss with their counterparts in the Health Ministry about mandatory vaccinations for students nationwide.

This was important to protect their health, he said.

His comments came about following the death of a seven-year-old girl who died from diphtheria bacterial infection in Malacca.

In Kedah, a two-year-old toddler has also died, believed to be from the same illness.

Last Wednesday, the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia said the resurgence of infectious diseases such as diphtheria, which had virtually disappeared in Malay­sia, was due to the reluctance of some parents to vaccinate their children.

“Factors identified for this reluctance to vaccinate include misinformation, untruths and myths found on the Internet and social media,” said association president Prof Datuk Dr Abd Rahim Mohamad.

In his statement, he said that the rejection of vaccination also stem­med from “adopting pseudo-religious arguments about the status of vaccines by a few religious groups and individuals who do not have any expertise in science and the complexities of medicine”.

He urged muftis and religious scholars to provide correct information about immunisation and to “steer away from myths, fiction and conspiracy theories”.

The Malaysian Medical Associa­tion said last week that Malaysia had had good infant immunisation co­verage for infants for the past three decades.

“With regret, we note that immunisation coverage of our infants has been hampered by pockets of population who either refuse immunisation or may have been missed,” said its president Dr John Chew Chee Ming.

‘Failure to vaccinate poses danger to child and community’

PETALING JAYA: Refusing to vaccinate a child is not a personal choice but may put the well-being of the greater society at risk, Health Department director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham says.

In a Facebook post, Dr Noor Hisham said living in a civilised society required certain obligations and not wantonly bringing back vaccine-preventable diseases.

“There’s simply no choice when it comes to saving children’s lives,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham was responding to a front page article in a Malay vernacular tabloid which reported that many parents in Kedah had admitted being reluctant to vaccinate their children due to concerns over side-effects and halal status of vaccines.

Newspapers are supposed to educate, he said, and not contribute to public confusion.

He pointed out even Saudi Arabia had a national immunisation programme for disease prevention and were considering making it a re­­quirement for those going to Mecca to get vaccinated for meningococcal.

The Star yesterday reported that children not immunised against measles have led to a 340% leap in the number of in­fections within the first week of this month.

There were 873 cases reported in that week compared to 197 in the corresponding pe­­riod last year, an increase of 676 cases.

Last year, there were 1,318 cases of measles with two deaths.

Despite a declaration by the National Fatwa Council that the vaccines are halal, an increasing number of parents, mostly in Kedah, are still not immunising their children.

To-date, a seven-year-old girl died from diphtheria bacterial infection in Malacca, while another death of a two-year-old toddler in Kedah is also believed to have been caused by the same illness.

In Butterworth, state Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin urged anti-vaccine groups not to hamper the need for vaccination to protect children against the diphtheria bacterial infection.

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Indonesia: Hot weather may spark fires in N. Sumatra

Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported on Monday that temperatures in the eastern part of North Sumatra were rising and may lead to new hot spots in forests.

Mega Sirait, an official at the BMKG office in Kualanamu, said that the rise in temperature was caused by east monsoon winds that carry dry weather from Australia and cause rain in the region.

“The eastern part of North Sumatra is now entering the dry season. Temperatures can reach 36 degrees Celsius during the day, and 26 degrees C at night,” Mega told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Temperatures in the province usually peak between June and July, he went on, and people take the opportunity to burn land and forests to open new plantations. So far this year, however, the agency has discovered no significant hot spots caused by burning.

“We have only detected hot spots in Padang Lawas regency,” Mega revealed.

Medan BMKG office information officer Sunadi urged residents to reduce outdoor activities in order to stay healthy during Ramadhan.

“For those who are fasting, the hot weather is exhausting,” he said.

Sunardi said it was better for residents to remain at home to avoid dehydration and migraines caused by the heat.

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Indonesia: 5 palm oil firms face lawsuit over forest fires

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

The government is gearing up to take some of the alleged perpetrators of last year’s massive forest fires to court for the first time. However, an environmental organization has lamented the limited scope of the action in comparison to the profound damage caused by the fires.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is in the final stage of filing civil lawsuits against five palm oil companies allegedly responsible for some of the 2015 forest fires, a tragedy that has been called a crime against humanity as it killed 19 people, mostly children, and caused more than US$16 billion in economic losses.

Amid public pressure, the government decided to hand down administrative sanctions to 23 companies suspected of being behind the land and forest fires last year. These companies had their land-clearing licenses either revoked or frozen for their failure to act to prevent the fires, which led to the worst pollution in the region for almost two decades.

While the government has started legal action in response to the fires, it has not taken any cases to court yet.

According to the ministry’s environmental dispute settlement director Jasmin Ragil Utomo, the process of taking last year’s forest fires to court takes a long time because there are numerous steps that the government has to take.

“There is field work, laboratory investigations, calculations and processing the cases through evidence. This takes a long time because the evidence is scattered not only in companies but also in other institutions,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Jasmin refused to name the five companies.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) legal and executive policy manager Muhnur Satyahaprabu said the lawsuits were not comparable to the scale of last year’s fires.

“Five companies is too few. If the names of the companies behind last year’s forest fires were published, the number could be dozens,” he told the Post.

Providing more detail on the cases, Jasmin said the government wanted to implement the concept of strict liability, which was why it took a long time to prepare the lawsuits.

Strict liability is recognized by Article 88 of Law No. 32/2009 on the environment, which stipulates that any person whose actions, business and/or activities use hazardous or toxic waste ( B3 ), produce and/or manage toxic waste and/or cause serious threats to the environment is fully responsible for the damage done, without their liability having to be proven.

Law experts said the article could be used to immediately put responsibility for the fires on the shoulders of the culprits, even though there was no proof that the fires on their concessions had been caused by them or their negligence.

Jasmin said the government would use strict liability in two of the five lawsuits, while it would provide it as an option to judges in the other three.

“So even though the companies did something to prevent the forest fires, as long as there’s pollution and environmental damage, they’re still responsible,” he said.

Each of the five companies allegedly burned between 500 and 2,000 hectares of land in Palembang, South Sumatra, Jambi and South Kalimantan, totalling more than 2.6 million ha of land, or 4.5 times the size of Bali Island.

“We can’t choose the size of the case because when we went to the field, that’s what we found, between 500 ha and 2,000 ha. If we pinpoint a bigger case, then of course we will deal with it,” Jasmin said.

Besides using the strict liability concept, the ministry also plans to strengthen the role of experts in its law enforcement.

The ministry’s law enforcement director general Rasio Ridho Sani said he would build a network of experts who could support the government’s law enforcement in environmental cases.

“We will involve them from the very beginning, especially in cases that are complex and science-based. The support from experts will help judges understand the technicalities of environmental cases,” he said.

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Indonesia: Whale sharks seen in Gorontalo

Antara 28 Jun 16;

Gorontalo (ANTARA News) - At least three whale sharks were seen in the waters near the Saronde Island of Gorontalo Province in the last two days.

The director of PT Gorontalo Alam Bahari, Mia Amalia, said here on Tuesday that the whale sharks were of varying sizes.

"While the whale shark that was seen yesterday was nine meters in length, the two seen earlier were smaller," Amalia said.

She added that some employees in Saronde saw the whale sharks from up close. The creatures were looking for food near the Saronde dock.

Amalia noted the whale sharks hunt the fishes and plankton near the island since the Saronde waters are home to many kinds of small fish.

While locals have been noticing the whale sharks since last month, the creatures were seen closer to the seashore in recent weeks.

Amalia said the whale shark has the potential to attract tourists to the island.

The Saronde Island is a favorite tourism destination in Gorontalo and has a restaurant, cottages and water sports.

The whale sharks were also seen in Botubarani Village of Bone Bolango District in March, 2016, turning it into an incidental tourism site for a week.

The administration noted that at least thousands of tourists visited the area on Sunday.(*)

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Indonesia: Gorontalo locals told to protect turtles

Syamsul Huda M. Suhari The Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

Dudepo Island is part of a chain of islets in North Gorontalo regency, Gorontalo province, facing the Sulawesi Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The island, located some 14 kilometers away from Anggrek Seaport, can be reached by boat in around half an hour in fine weather.

It is on this fairly remote island that the Gorontalo Nusa Warna community has been holding a variety of literacy activities for the past three years. They set up a small hut, measuring 12 square meters, called the Dream Room, in which members of the community provide education in remote areas. They teach children in fishing communities how to read papers, and other skills, and guide them in various creative activities.

“We have been focusing on providing environmental awareness lately, especially in turtle conservation, because on the island, inhabited by more than 1,000 people, turtle hunting is extensive, either for consumption or [trade],” said Um Ayman Fikriani, a literacy activist from the Nusa Warna community, on Monday.

Ayman, usually called Aika, was once offered a side dish of turtle meat there. Even recently, she found fishermen bringing home green turtles (Chelonia mydas) from fishing. They were about to sell the turtles, which were still small, at the relatively cheap price of Rp 100,000 (US$7.40) each.

“I asked them to sell me a turtle. They asked me what it was for and I told them I would return it to the sea, so they refused,” she said.

Lately, she found out the turtles were not accidentally caught, but had been ordered specifically by someone in Limboto, Gorontalo regency.

Aika and her community then became more vigorous in campaigning for turtle protection on the remote island, focusing on fishermen’s elementary school-aged children.

The children were told about the important role of turtles in the marine ecosystem. Green turtles, for example, play an important role in spreading nutrients into the sea through their droppings, which become fertilizer or feed for a variety of marine life. Their existence is quite important, keeping in mind the cruising range of turtles which is quite extensive, reaching tens of thousands of kilometers.

Besides that, together with children in coastal communities, the campaign has also held beach clean-up activities. The massive volume of garbage along the coast also endangers turtle survival. Waste, especially styrofoam, can kill hatchling turtles that accidentally eat it.

The Nusa Warna community also distributed flyers to homes urging residents to not kill, consume or trade in turtles, as well as explaining the ecological reasons.

“We know it’s no easy matter, but at least we are making an effort,” said Aika.

Gorontalo is known as a turtle habitat. Of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, Gorontalo has at least four of them, namely the green turtle, the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

Gorontalo is home to two turtle conservation areas: Panua natural reserve in Pohuwato regency, located in the Tomini Bay region, and Popaya Mas Raja natural reserve, a Dutch heritage conservation area located in North Gorontalo regency, close to Dudepo Island.

Recently, the police caught a fisherman in waters off Torosiaje village, a floating village of the Bajo ethnic community in Pohuwato, carrying a green turtle on his boat.

“Our members provided counselling for the man and released the turtle back into the sea,” said Gorontalo Police spokesperson Adj. Sr. Comr. Bagus Santoso.

Torosiaje community figure Umar Pasandre said the practice of turtle hunting was taking place due to demand. A turtle can fetch between Rp 100,000 and Rp 300,000 depending on its size.

Some also order them, for a variety of reasons, such as to be served as side dishes at weddings, as a tola-tola snack and as an accompaniment for traditional liquor.

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Indonesia Faces Environmental Time Bomb After Coal Bust

Fergus Jensen Jakarta Globe 29 Jun 16;

Samarinda. Thousands of mines are closing in Indonesia's tropical coal belt as prices languish and seams run dry. But almost none of the companies have paid their share of billions of dollars owed to repair the badly scarred landscape they have left behind.

Abandoned mine pits dot the bare, treeless hillsides in Samarinda, the capital of East Kalimantan province on Indonesia's part of Borneo island. It is ground zero for a coal boom that made Indonesia the world's biggest exporter of the mineral that fuels power plants. Abandoned mining pits have now become death traps for children who swim in them, and their acidic water is killing nearby rice paddies.

Indonesia has tried, mostly in vain, to get mining companies to keep their promises to clean up the ravaged landscape. But it doesn't even have basic data on who holds the many thousands of mining licenses that were handed out during the boom days, officials say.

"Nobody was in control," said Dian Patria, who works on natural resources at the country's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

Patria estimated that 90 percent of the more than 10,000 mining license holders had not paid the reclamation funds they owe by law. One-third are for coal.

Even if they wanted to, many companies now lack the cash. The same large banks that lent billions during the boom have now pulled out of coal, wary of the sector's commercial outlook and contribution to climate change.

The problem is not unique to Indonesia. As mineral prices languish, even major global miners are trying to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in increasingly hefty closure costs, mostly by selling off pits.

Few question asked

After pro-democracy protesters swept Indonesia's authoritarian president Suharto from power in 1998, the Jakarta government gave towns and districts control of natural resources as part of far-reaching decentralization reforms aimed at preventing the archipelago from fracturing.

Newly empowered local leaders handed out thousands of mining licenses, many of them to small operators, as coal prices leapt from around $40 per tonne in 2005 to nearly $200 at their peak in 2008. In East Kalimantan alone, around half the province was covered in coal mining permits.

Under President Joko Widodo, elected in 2014, Indonesia has promised to turn around its dismal environmental record. The administration has also wrested control over natural resources away from local leaders, giving it to provincial governors instead.

Awang Faroek Ishak, East Kalimantan's governor, has issued a moratorium on new licenses. He is threatening to punish mining companies that have failed to restore the land, he said in an interview. But the data on mining companies and funds for rehabilitation are missing, he said.

"How can we look into this if we don't have the documents," he complained.

Greenpeace activist Kiki Taufik says governors do, however, have the authority to freeze permits and operations while they investigate. "The governors have authority, but they never use this authority."

Patchy oversight

Most of the mining licenses went to small firms, many of which have gone bankrupt or simply abandoned their operations, mining industry officials say.

"For now, it's really difficult not to lose money," said Budi Situmorang, a mining engineer at small coal miner CV Arjuna. "All we can really do is hold on. Looking at the 56 mines in Samarinda, no more than 10 are still active."

The mining companies themselves are supposed to restore the land from money they paid into accounts held at state banks and supervised by local officials.

"That's what you're supposed to do, but in practice very few people do it," except for the major mining firms, the head of Indonesia's Coal Mining Association, Pandu Sjahrir, told Reuters.

The central government has had a list since 2011 of nearly 4,000 licenses that have failed to meet their requirements. It expects to be able to revoke the problematic permits only by January 2017.

Patria's team at the anti-corruption agency is pushing for the national government's Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) to investigate miners - including over unpaid rehabilitation funds estimated in the hundreds of millions.

Even that is only a fraction of the cash that would actually be required, says Merah Johansyah from the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM).

Pressure from campaigners is increasing as mine closures reach a peak by 2020, according to some industry estimates. One set of 2,272 coal permits and contracts, compiled by mining consultancy SMGC and reviewed by Reuters, showed the average expiry date of the permit is October 2017.

Mining without permits

But environmental watchdogs say an end to permits does not mean an end to mining. "In East Kalimantan, even where permits have long been revoked, they're still operating," Syahrul Fitra, a legal researcher at the environmental NGO Auriga told Reuters. "What we found in the field is that no punishments have been applied."

In areas where companies are conducting reclamation activities, it is usually not to replant forests—most mining concessions are being turned into housing developments, agricultural land or other uses, environmentalists and industry officials say.

In the meantime, the run-off water and mud from abandoned pits, numbering around 150 in Samarinda alone, are polluting surrounding rice paddies and rivers.

After his employer closed a small mine in Samarinda, Suyadi, who like many Indonesians uses one name, went back to working the small rice paddy on his family's farm on the edge of the city. The mines, however, have followed him there.

"Like it or not, the tailing flow here," says Suyadi, referring to the stream of chemically treated mining debris that is left after coal is extracted.

"If they continue to leave it like this, where else will that water flow? To the lower areas where there are rice paddies," Suyadi said.

The attractive aqua hue of the water in the abandoned pits conceals a darker story: 24 local children using them as swimming holes have drowned around Samarinda over the past five years.

Govt prepares lawsuits against coal mining firms
Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 30 Jun 16;

The government is seeking to sue more companies blamed for 25 deaths at depleted coal mine pits in East Kalimantan that took place between 2011 and 2016 after years of protracted inaction.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is currently collecting data and information regarding the deaths in order to build legal cases against the mining companies.

“We will enforce criminal law [on these companies],” the ministry’s law enforcement director-general Rasio Ridho Sani told The Jakarta Post.

So far, the East Kalimantan Police have named suspects in six cases involving deaths. Two cases occurred in Kutai Kartanegara and four in Samarinda.

The police, however, have declined to disclose which companies are responsible for those cases, saying that “those responsible will flee” if their names are revealed to the media.

Besides enforcing the law, the government has also taken some steps so that the depleted coal mine pits do not claim more lives in the future.

“We have taken some steps since the end of 2014,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the Post.

Those steps include ordering two coal companies to halt their operations so that they could close down the pits, according to Rasio.

East Kalimantan Governor Awang Faroek Ishak has also stopped the operations of 11 companies, he added.

“Furthermore, the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, the Presidential Staff Office, the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK] and the East Kalimantan provincial government have met with 111 mining companies to ensure that they uphold good mining practices to prevent further casualties and environmental devastation,” Rasio said.

Last month, the Presidential Staff Office also promised to coordinate with the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry and the Environment and Forestry Ministry to handle the cases in the near future.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) have decried the government’s protracted inaction in dealing with the deaths, saying that the government had neglected its foremost obligation to monitor mining activities in three regions in the province, including Kutai Kartanegara, North Penajam Paser and Samarinda.

“We have found that the government turned a blind eye toward coal mining companies that did not conduct reclamation after mining activities that led to 25 deaths between 2011 and 2015,” KPAI chairman Asrorun Niam Sholeh said in a letter to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

He added that so far only one case had been brought to trial from the 25 deaths. He said further that the verdict in the trial was too lenient as the prosecutors only demanded two months of jail time.

“This thing really harmed justice because it did not affect the owner and decision makers in the company,” Asrorun said.

Komnas HAM commissioner Roichatul Aswidah said, meanwhile, that both the central government and local administrations had failed to uphold the obligation of companies to restore unused sites after 30 days without any mining activities, as stipulated in a 2010 governmental decree on reclamation and post-mining activity.

The 2010 governmental decree stipulates that a mining company is obliged to pay some amount of money to the government as a guarantee that they will restore their unused mining sites in the future.

“The government is obliged to monitor their activities. As the party responsible for granting mining permits to companies, the government could revoke those permits if they are found to have disregarded their obligations as stipulated by law,” Roichatul said.

According to data from Network for Mining Advocacy (Jatam) made available to the Post, death cases took place in unrestored mining sites owned by 17 private companies.

Three of these companies gained their mining permits from the central government, one obtained its permit from the provincial administration and the rest gained their permits from either the Samarinda Municipality or the Kutai Kartanegara and North Penajam Paser Regency.

Another Komnas HAM commissioner, Siti Noor Laila, said recalcitrant companies had violated a number of human rights, ranging from the right to life and the right to safety to the rights of children.

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Vietnam: Son Tra Nature Reserve biodiversity threatened

Overlapping efforts and poor management among agencies pose serious threats to biodiversity in the Son Tra Nature Reserve, a biologist said during a dialogue on protecting the red-shanked douc langur

VietNamNet Bridge 28 Jun 16;

The Da Nang-based reserve is home to 300 red-shanked douc langurs, which are critically endangered and found only in east-central Laos and Viet Nam. The animals are further threatened by illegal logging and rampant hunting.

Poor management resulted in the illegal logging of 10ha of forest in an area intended for local residents to use for commercial purposes. The case was only discovered when biologists from the Biodiversity Conservation Centre of GreenViet, an NGO in Da Nang, took a field trip to the area.

An effective management board is essential to monitor forest protection and the disaster response measures.

However, the reserve has yet to establish a management board, as other reserves have done nationwide. It is being managed by different agencies, including the Son Tra-Ngu Hanh Son forest protection sub-department; Tho Quang Ward’s administration; Son Tra peninsula’s management board of beaches and tourism; and the Border Guard, Air Defence and Navy.

GreenViet director Tran Huu Vy criticised the fact that each agency only manages one assigned area, and they do not work together to handle common problems and threats. He added that agencies should more closely monitor visitors at the reserve entrance.

“(Both residents and tourists) need to be supervised at the entrance into the reserve,” Vy said. “Loggers or poachers could come to the protected forest easily if they do not have a check-in procedure at the control post.”

Vy, who spent over 10 years researching biodiversity in the Son Tra Nature Reserve, said illegal hunters would use steel wire traps and handmade air guns to kill wild animals for money. A live animal could earn an illegal hunter VND6 million (US$285).

In 2015, five hunters from Nghe An Province were arrested after they were caught with 100 traps, as well as a bag of dried meat and the bones of three red-shanked doucs.

The illegal hunters admitted that they had spent one month in the forest of Son Tra to hunt langurs.

The nature reserve has shrunk from over 4,400ha to 2,500ha to make room for the development of dozens of resorts and hotel projects in the area.

According to GreenViet’s latest survey, over 20 streams in the reserve have dried up – the worst it has seen in 20 years.

Vu Ngoc Thanh, a representative of the US-based Douc Langur Foundation, which operates as an NGO in Viet Nam, said the Son Tra Nature Reserve is a precious treasure of Da Nang that needs a special protection policy.

“You could not find any place like Son Tra Nature Reserve, as visitors can watch the endangered primates at close range any time of the year, even in bad weather conditions,” Thanh said.

He said scientists and biologists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) agreed to list the red-shanked douc langur as critically endangered with unlimited protection status in the world. The IUCN had previously listed the animal as endangered in 2013.

He said Da Nang should choose the red-shanked douc langur as its symbol for promoting the rich biodiversity of the Son Tra Nature Reserve to the rest of the world.

Vy also suggested that the city create a special programme to protect biodiversity in the forest, as well as form an effective and uniform management team to handle illegal hunting and logging.

“It’s an urgent action, or biodiversity in the reserve will soon dwindle,” Vy said. “A checkpoint should be set up to control visitors at three main entrances into the Son Tra reserve, because over 10,000 visitors come to the reserve monthly.”

Nguyen Thi Hien, from the city’s Natural Resources and Environment Department, said the city has approved a plan through 2030 on the protection of biodiversity in Son Tra Nature Reserve.

She said the city plans to make the red-shanked douc langur the city’s symbol of biodiversity at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Summit (APEC) in Da Nang next year.

A series of communication campaigns and education programmes on the protection of the red-shanked douc langur were launched by GreenViet and the Douc Langur Foundation at primary schools in Da Nang.

The Son Tra Nature Reserve, which is 600m above sea level, is known for its rich biodiversity, with 287 animal species and 985 plant species.

Despite an action plan outlined by the city administration, biologists and volunteers from GreenViet and rangers dismantled over 2,000 traps in the reserve, and continued to find traces of illegal hunting and logging in the area.
GreenViet is also co-operating with the Frankfurt Zoological Society of Germany, San Diego Zoo Global in the United States and the IUCN to protect the red-shanked douc langurs through long-term campaigns.

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Rains or not, India faces drinking water crisis

Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 16;

GANGNAULI: As large swathes of drought-devastated India desperately wait for the monsoon rains to arrive, one village in the dry, hot north is flush with water.

But this farming area's bountiful water supplies are feared contaminated with heavy metals, underscoring the profound challenges facing the world's second most populous nation.

From toxic pollution of rivers and lakes to contamination of groundwater supplies, together with chronic shortages in drought-hit districts, India's water challenges are acute.

In Gangnauli village, residents suspect their groundwater has been polluted by waste from local industries.

"The children complain of stomach pains and skin problems and I fear for their health," Divya Rathi says as she watches her daughter play with buckets of water in her yard in Gangnauli in Uttar Pradesh state.

"We need the government to do something about this," said the 25-year-old, adding she could not afford the expensive water purifiers used by wealthier households.

More than 130 million people live in areas of India where groundwater supplies are contaminated with at least one dangerous pollutant such as arsenic or nitrate, according to the World Resources Institute.

Its analysis shows more than 20 million live in districts where supplies contain at least three pollutants exceeding safe limits.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has pledged billions of dollars to clean up the filthy holy Ganges river, while efforts are also under way to stop raw sewage and industrial waste spewing into India's waterways.

But researcher Sushmita Sengupta warned it could be too late in some areas where groundwater has long been mismanaged.

"Once the groundwater is contaminated it's an almost irreversible process. Once it's destroyed it's lost forever," said Sengupta, of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.


Parts of India are anxiously waiting for the annual monsoon currently sweeping across the country to provide relief to 330 million farmers and others.

But experts say the torrential rains will not solve India's water problems unless much more is done to manage supplies.

Rajendra Singh, dubbed the Water Man of India, said rains will fail to replenish the water table in many areas because unchecked urbanisation has destroyed wetlands and other natural recharge spots.

"It will just be a flash flood," said Singh, who has called for a ban on groundwater extraction for all purposes other than for drinking to allow aquifers a chance to recover.

"There is not enough drinkable water for the Indian people. Without water security there is nothing," said Singh, who last year won the Stockholm Water Prize for his work to boost supplies in villages in the desert state of Rajasthan.

In Gangnauli, authorities have painted a red stripe on communal handpumps to warn residents after testing found groundwater was contaminated.

India's environment court, the National Green Tribunal, ordered handpumps in the district be sealed, and raised concerns about the health of residents drinking from them.

Many instead draw water from borewells installed in their backyards. But they fear this groundwater is also contaminated by polluted rivers which have seeped into the water table.

"There is poison in the water," said farmer Dhramveer Singh, 50, who blames his son's severe bone deformities on the water.

District magistrate Hriday Shankar Tiwari said the state government has acted to supply villagers with alternate supplies -- including via water tanks and pipelines whose supplies are sourced from clean water deeper underground.

"We have also been sensitising villagers about the hazards of consuming contaminated water," Tiwari told AFP, although he casts doubt on concerns residents are falling ill.

Village head Dharmendra Rathi said up to half of its 5,000 residents now received piped water, a situation he said was "way better than what it used to be".

But he said the pollution remained a problem, with factory waste from neighbouring districts still discharged into the rivers.

- AFP/ec

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