Best of our wild blogs: 22 Aug 16

Corals weeping at Raffles Lighthouse
wild shores of singapore

Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber tisamenus) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Monday Morgue

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Not all wild over sightings of wild boar in Punggol

Rachel Oh and Chew Hui Min MyPaper AsiaOne 22 Aug 16;

People have been seen feeding wild boars in the Lorong Halus area, raising concerns.

Some Punggol residents are squealing in delight at the prospect of more wild boars seen in the area while others are mortified.

Sightings in Punggol have doubled from last year, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Across the island, from January to July this year, it received 58 instances of wild-boar-related feedback compared with 77 for the whole of last year, it told The Straits Times.

But some 24 sightings have been reported in Punggol for the first seven months of the year alone, double the figure from 12 last year.

The numbers tripled in Lorong Halus in Pasir Ris, with 12 incidents from January to July, versus four last year.

However, sightings in other areas of Singapore have gone down, according to the AVA.

Five were sighted in Upper Thomson from January to July, down from 12 last year, and 17 in other parts of Singapore, down from 49 last year.

Housewife Chu Wei Ping encountered a wild boar a few months ago in Punggol East Park where she jogs.

"I was afraid it would charge at me so I just moved away quickly," she said.

But her fears are unfounded, said wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai, 53, adding that the idea of wild boars charging at people is a misconception.

"As long as you don't get between mums and babies or provoke them, there is no problem," he added.

He explained that the rise of wild boar sightings in Punggol is not necessarily linked to their population growth.

"There is an increase in areas where their habitats have been cleared, making the wild boars more visible. Once they get used to people, they'll wander out into the open and will get seen more easily," he said.

Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive at Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said the recent spike in sightings could be linked to residents who feed the boars.

"(The rise in sightings) is quite recent so it could be the developments in the area that cause more people to use the place which may, in turn, lead to people feeding the boars," she noted.

As for why boar sightings reported to AVA fell in Thomson, Mr Subaraj said it could be that the recent clearing of palm and rubber trees there led to the animals wandering away.

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Malaysia: More reasons to protect Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary forests

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 22 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Researchers have found more reasons for the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary forests, where a proposal for a road and bridge has met with protests, to be preserved.

Meaghan Evans, a PhD student at Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and lead author of the paper Small Carnivore Conservation, said the finding that there were 16 different mammalian carnivore species existing within the fragmented forests of the sanctuary was incredible.

“It also demonstrates the importance of even small forests in the persistence of rich biodiversity.

“We are especially excited to see the presence of a breeding population of otter civets - this represents a new locality for the species and suggests that the sanctuary may act as a species reservoir,” she said.

“We suspect that despite the large amount of industrial oil palm plantations within the floodplains, these blocks of protected forests might actually offset the immediate danger those landscapes represent to sensitive species such as the flat-headed cat or the otter civet,” added Evans.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goosens said the study clearly showed that the lower Kinabatangan was a critical area for biodiversity.

The proposed project for a road and bridge in nearby Sukau, he added, would surely disturb this already precarious environment and increase the isolation of animal populations, which could ultimately lead to the extinction of some species.

“Kinabatangan is one of the last nature jewels of the state and the only hope of a corridor of forests to link the mangroves of the east coast to central forest reserves such as Segaliud Lokan, Deramakot, Tang­kulap, Malua, Ulu Segama and Kuamut,” he said.

A bridge, warned Dr Goosens, would certainly put into danger this corridor of life, which would instead become a “corridor of death”.

Conservationists have campaigned against the bridge and road project over the Kinabatangan river near Kampung Sukau.

Sabah Wildlife Department senior officer Soffian Abu Bakar said the sanctuary comprised 10 forest lots, most of which were degraded and isolated from other forest tracts.

Using camera traps, researchers had collected nearly 420,000 photos of wildlife throughout the study, representing the most extensive and longest running effort in the region, he said.

Some of the species found in the area were the Sunda clouded leopard, the Malayan sun bear and a host of incredibly understudied small carnivore species, he said.

The study, which also documented the endangered otter civet – a species considered to be sensitive to habitat quality – is supported by the Sime Darby Foundation and Houston Zoo.

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Malaysia: Wildlife no longer safe in Sabah, laments state Wildlife Dept chief

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 21 AUg 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) arrested two local men in possession of four bear paws and one gall bladder, suspected to be from at least one poached sun bear, yesterday.

This came less than two weeks after two locals were found to be in possession of eight bear paws and two bear gall bladders.

“The duo from the interior region of Sabah were arrested in Asia City downtown at 11.45am while trying to sell these illegal wildlife products to the public.

"The suspects, aged 28 and 41, are being remanded for four days to assist investigation. They will soon be charged under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, Section 41(1) which carries a jail term of up to five years or a fine of up to RM50,000, or both," said department director William Baya.

William said the two latest incidents showed that wildlife poaching in Sabah has reached epic proportions and if not curbed, will spell total extinction of not only sun bears but also most other wildlife in Sabah.

"Having new roads traversing protected forest reserves and wildlife sanctuaries have severely increased these illegal hunting activities throughout Sabah. "There is no safe place for wildlife anymore in Sabah," added William in a statement.

He noted that illegal wildlife trade is also seeing a resurgence in Sabah with the rampant use of social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp.

"We are monitoring these developments closely.

We see that this illegal trade are not just confined to people living near forest reserves but also government officers and professionals in urban areas.

"Rest assured my department will work harder and tirelessly to apprehend these criminals who are destroying Sabah’s natural resources due to their greed," he said.

Online ads lead to arrest of illegal wildlife trader in Sabah
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 21 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: An illegal wildlife trader's online marketing strategy led to his arrest when wildlife rangers came upon his advertisements.

The suspect, together with a partner who was found in possession of four sun bear paws and gall bladder believed sourced from at least one poached animal, were nabbed at about 11.45am Saturday.

Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya said the duo from an interior region in the state were trying to sell the illegal products at the Asia City commercial compound near here.

"They are now being remanded four days to facilitate investigations under Section 41 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for possession of protected species, which carries a sentence of a jail term of up to five years or a fine of up to RM50,000 or both," he said.

This is the second case involving sun bears in two weeks, after the arrest of two men for possession of eight sun bear paws and two gall bladders recently.

“In just a matter of less than two weeks we have arrested four men trying to sell suspected body parts of at least three poached sun bears," Baya said.

"This shows that wildlife poaching in Sabah has reached epic proportions and it will spell extinction of not only sun bears but also most of our other wildlife animals if such activities are not curbed," he said.

He added that new roads traversing protected forest reserves and wildlife sanctuaries have severely increased illegal hunting activities throughout Sabah.

"It seems that there is no safe place for wildlife anymore in Sabah" Baya said.

He said the illegal wildlife trade is also seeing a resurgence with the rampant use of social media such as Facebook and Whatsapp.

"We are monitoring these portals closely and we see that the illegal trade is not just confined to people living near forest reserves but also government officers and professionals in urban areas," he said.

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Indonesia: The Hardships for Bornean Orangutans in Central Kalimantan

Ratri M. Siniwi & Megan Herndon Jakarta Globe 21 Aug 16;

Palangka Raya. Endemic to the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, orangutans have become the symbol for the archipelago’s tropical jungles nurturer, as the animal’s name itself translates to "the people of the jungle."

Well known for their similarity to human DNA, the great ape species are currently under high threat, with both Sumatran and Bornean orangutans listed under the red list of critically endangered animals released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Their habitats' degradation due to commodity concessions, as well as illegal hunting and trade, have been the two main causes of the slump of population across the two islands.

With growing demand for palm oil around the globe, concessions around Kalimantan have crossed the border lines of conservation areas and shrunk the habitats of the primates, leaving them to scour for food in settlements and at risk of human conflict.

Despite being protected by the Indonesian government, many still keep orangutans as pets, hunt them for tribal necessities, or sell them in the wildlife trade black market.

“Orangutans are still being eaten by tribal communities as their skulls are used as ornaments of pride, while some are taken to circuses in Thailand and displayed in zoos of exotic wildlife collectors,” Putu, former WWF Indonesia conservation officer for orangutans in Central Kalimantan, said.

Putu, who has been studying orangutans for over seven years, explained that orangutan babies are worth millions in the market, making their mothers more vulnerable to hunters.

“Orangutan babies are very attached to their mothers, so hunters would have to kill the mother to get the baby,” Putu said. “If you kill one mother, you kill five orangutans at once, as an orangutan mother can only give birth to four babies.”

A visit to Palas Island

Palas Island, managed and owned by the Bornean Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) founded in 1991, is the center of operation for the non-government organization that focuses on the conservation and rehabilitation of orangutans around Borneo. The only way to visit it is by a boat ride on Central Kalimantan's Rungun River.

One of the islands inhabited by orangutans in Central Kalimantan is Palas, which is only accessible by boat. (JG Photo/Megan Herndon) One of the islands inhabited by orangutans in Central Kalimantan is Palas, which is only accessible by boat. (JG Photo/Megan Herndon)
The organization also owns Kaja and Bengamat islands, which are used for rehabilitation process of orangutans, located around Central Kalimantan. The two islands are for more "advanced" orangutan, with Bengamat as the island with a mixture of relocated orang-utans and the rehabilitated ones.

The reintroduction program center is located at Nyarung Menteng, which houses 478 orangutans – 23 of which are babies.

“Many of the orangutans here have been seized [from perpetrators], while some are found by villages near palm oil plantations,” Kinantiti Alif, BOSF Central Kalimantan fundraising officer, said.

When the team arrived at BOSF, they shared an educational video of Rimba, a young orphan orangutan whose mother was shot to be sold as an exotic pet in Jakarta.

After over a decade spent in confinement, Rimba was then confiscated from her owners by Jakarta’s natural resource agency in 1999, and was sent to BOSF for rehabilitation.

Around the pre-release island of Palas, rangers are scattered around in various parts of the island in post guard shelters. (JG Photo/Megan Herndon) Around the pre-release island of Palas, rangers are scattered around in various parts of the island in post guard shelters. (JG Photo/Megan Herndon)
At BOSF, she was taken to forest school to learn about basic survival skills, such as building nests and finding food. After 'graduating', she was placed in an enclosure to socialize with other orangutans, to prepare them for the prerelease island.

It took Rimba 13 years to finally get back into the wild.

The orangutan is now in her twenties and has three babies of her own at the Bukit Betikap Conservation Area in the Muller Schwaner mountain range.

“Since 2012, we have released 177 orangutans in Central Kalimantan from our sanctuary,” said Kinanti.

Long period of rehabilitation and increasing problems

However, Kinanti was not happy with the increasing number of orangutans coming into the rehabilitation center, as it is an indicator of more trouble in the rainforests.

“This means that their habitat is getting destroyed. With no more orangutans, there will be no more forests,” Kinanti stated.

“Our biggest dream at BOSF is that one day, the enclosure will close permanently, because that’s a good sign.”

Kinanti explained that aside from the long period of rehabilitation for orangutans, especially for traumatized babies, the hardest part is getting the government to go along with the idea of orangutan conservation.

“We need to get a license from the government to release orangutans in the wild, and it’s hard work too. We need to cooperate with the local natural resource agency to conduct an area survey to ensure that there is food available on the area, and the release area must be a primary forest,” Kinanti added.

It takes an average of 15 years for orangutans to return to the wild, with BOSF carefully choosing and monitoring each orangutans in their pre-release stages for four years or so, to ensure that they are ready to get back to their natural habitat.

“They have to be quarantined after pre-release, to ensure that they are free from any illness that might be contracted during their time at the island,” Kinanti said.

She took an example of Kessie, a one-handed 15 year old orangutan at her pre-release stage, currently roaming around Palas island.

Kessie tends to shy away from the other orangutans in the island and often hides behind trees due to her disability. (JG Photo/Megan Herndon) Kessie tends to shy away from the other orangutans in the island and often hides behind trees due to her disability. (JG Photo/Megan Herndon)
Kessie has won the hearts of many of BOSF rangers, after losing her left hand to an infected wound from being chained at a palm oil plantation. The villagers rescued her and was immediately sent to the rehab center at Nyaru Menteng.

Putu, the former WWF Indonesia conservation officer said: “She has been at the rehab center for many years, and it was a huge debate on whether Kessie should be sent to Palas.”

Kessie continues to defy the expectations of many, being the only one who survived with just one hand in the wild for seven years. In three years, BOSF will decide whether Kessie should stay in the island or be relocated to Kaja, a high school for rehabilitated orangutans.

So far, BOSF has released their orangutans at Bukit Betikap Conservation Area, but are currently looking into releasing them to Bukit Raya National Park. This would be a collaborated effort with the district’s tourism agency to push for the national park as one of Indonesia’s seven summits.

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Mass coral bleaching at Saipan lagoon

Federal surveys reinforce status of imperiled coral, sea life in lagoon
Dennis B. Chan Saipan Tribune 21 Aug 16;

The Bureau of Environmental Quality on Friday concurred with recent survey observations from federal biologists revealing wide spread coral death in the Saipan lagoon and ongoing coral bleaching.

The local environmental agency points to warming sea surface temperatures as the likely causes.

This month, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine ecologists Matt Kendall and Bryan Costa completed a two-week survey on the Saipan lagoon, covering about 550 dive spots where they recorded high resolution video and observed the state of coral, sea grass, and bottom life there.

Kendall says that most of the staghorn coral they saw were dead.

“Ninety percent of it, especially, in the Wing Beach and Sugar Dock area is dead. And the 10 percent that is left, is bleached.”

“That’s not good,” he added. This means if bleaching is severe, the coral will probably die. And if the bleaching does not kill the coral, a burst of disease usually hits a few months after bleaching occurs.

“That kills a lot of coral too, if the bleaching doesn’t do it,” Kendall said in a recent interview.

On Friday, BECQ said bleaching events in 2013 and 2014 caused the majority of the death.

BECQ lead biologist Lyza Johnston said these events as well as the current bleaching are due to “warmer than usual sea surface temperatures.”

She added, though, that other local stressors like polluted runoff, physical damage (anchors, stepping on the corals), sedimentation, and overfishing can reduce the resilience of the corals—making them more susceptible to broader scale disturbances like bleaching from thermal stress.

“So we need to try to reduce or eliminate as many of the stressors as possible to keep the reefs healthy so they have a chance to bounce back from disturbances,” Johnston said in an email to Saipan Tribune.

Johnston said BECQ has also observed the same patterns as the NOAA biologists.

After the 2013/14 bleaching, she said, BECQ recorded a loss of 85 percent of staghorn corals at their long-term monitoring sites in the lagoon.

The agency, she said, will be going out in the next few weeks to assess the current bleaching, which seems to be restricted to the lagoon at this point.

“These [recent] storms and cloudy weather have actually been really good for the coral as it has caused a drop in water temperatures and sunlight. So hopefully it won’t be as bad as was predicted earlier in the summer when we thought we would start seeing widespread bleaching by the end of August.”

Habitat harmed

Kendall said that even the coral survives the bleaching and disease, they may not grow or reproduce as fast.

For the 90 percent of dead staghorn seen, Kendall says there are still standing coral, and not broken down into rubble yet.

“What happen is, sponges and other organism burrow in there, algae puts in little roots, organism bore into it to make their homes, waves come along and break that coral skeleton and you still have these complex thicket of branches where fish and other organism like to live—all of it breaks down and gets flat. And that’s a total different habitat that is not great for a lot of the fish that need to hide in those branching areas of the coral,” Kendall said.

Kendall also said they were surprised to find large swaths of cyanobacteria in the lagoon, where otherwise they expected plain sand.

The NOAA biologists drew on maps from biologist Peter Houk some 10 years ago for their initial drafts of the lagoon.

They hope to finish their high resolution mapping replete with depth and other features by the end of the year, to make it public by early next year.

The previous maps, for one, did not show large swaths of algae that the biologists say covered a large area in the lagoon.

“We swam down there and it was this algal mat…It covered huge areas. It’s not a good thing. It’s a sign of too much nutrients in the water. It’s a sign that something is not right. What it tends to do is kind of smother everything and does not leave enough room [for life] to grow,” Kendall said.

‘Lagoon use mapping plan’

All the recently recorded data will go toward helping BECQ’s “lagoon use mapping plan.”

Big picture in mind, BECQ and NOAA are working really closely to understand “what’s out there and how it’s changed” since the last time the lagoon was mapped some 10 years ago, Kendall said.
The biologists aim to get more spatially resolved maps, or extremely detailed and precise maps of the lagoon’s bottom.

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