Best of our wild blogs: 21 Oct 16

Awesome October RUMbles
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Is this…? I think it is…? No, wait! What?
Neo Mei Lin

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Illegal wildlife trade linked to terror groups

Illegal wildlife trade used to fund terrorist groups, says anti-trafficking organisation
New Paper 21 Oct 16;

The illegal wildlife trade is "big business".

Thousands of protected animals have been slaughtered and their parts turned into rare ornaments, lucky charms, or even "miracle cures".

The New Paper's investigation into this lucrative trade shows that items made from wildlife parts are only advertised for sale online, but they are also smuggled into Singapore by visiting Thai spiritual masters called arjans, who claim the amulets and charms possess "magical powers".

Some experts have even linked the trade to terrorists and organised crime.

Mr Fiachra Kearney, chief executive officer of Global Eye, a counter-trafficking organisation, told TNP: "We live in a truly (global) world where international trade and travel is commonplace...

"The people we tackle are adept at circumventing multiple laws and often hide in the inefficiency of law enforcement in their home countries while conducting serious illegal activities in other nations."

In an undercover operation in Singapore, agents from Global Eye exposed an arjan known on Facebook as Arjan Pheimrung Wanchanna, who boasted that he could smuggle dead tiger cubs, human foetuses, and skull fragments into the Republic.

It is claimed that these charms bring wealth and protection to their owners.

Well-known publications such as Time magazine and The Guardian have reported on the links between animal poaching and terror groups, particularly in Africa.

In August last year, The Guardian reported that National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy had given a fake elephant ivory with an embedded GPS tracking device to traffickers in the Central African Republic.

The fake ivory was tracked north to the headquarters of rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which is headed by Joseph Kony, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

It was later passed on to the Sudanese army in exchange for money or weapons, The Guardian reported.


Mr Christy also interviewed an LRA deserter who said that an armed detachment of the LRA was tasked with killing people, and another with killing elephants.

Estimates vary on how much the illegal wildlife trade is worth every year.

The United Nations Environment Programme's May 2016 Illegal Trade in Wildlife Fact Sheet puts the figure at about US$213 billion (S$300 billion) annually.

Despite some animals being hunted to near extinction, criminal networks still gravitate towards the trade because of the high profits.

Mr Kearney said that the issue should not be viewed solely as a wildlife trafficking problem.

He said: "There are breaches of quarantine, customs and organised crime laws. They may include elements of serious financial crime and, in certain cases, directly compromise national security.

"So it is not enough to consider these actions only as wildlife and human trafficking, but rather as serious and multilayered international crimes that must be treated as such."

The Global Eye probe on Arjan Pheim revealed that he maintains a network across several South-east Asian countries including Singapore.

Arjan Pheim, who is one of many Thai arjans visiting Singapore every year, advertised his business openly on Facebook.

But he will sell highly illegal items such as tiger cubs, human foetuses and fingers only to trusted buyers who are in private chat groups on his WeChat account.

The availability of banned wildlife amulets in Singapore hint at the demand for them, said Mr Kearney.

"The case of this arjan shows there are Singaporeans who buy parts of endangered species and dead human beings," he said.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has employed a multi-pronged approach in tackling the illegal wildlife trade.

Some measures include working closely with administrators of online forums to post warnings about the possession and sale of illegal wildlife, sharing of information with partner enforcement agencies, investigating all feedback on the illegal wildlife trade, conducting regular unannounced checks on retail outlets, and inspecting shipments from high-risk countries.

An AVA spokesman told TNP: "We have zero tolerance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to trade endangered species and their parts.

"Any illegally acquired or imported products that contain or purport to contain endangered species detected will be seized."

The agency also said it had been collaborating with international and local agencies on border inspections and intelligence gathering.

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Getting community engagement right

CHIRAG AGARWAL Today Online 21 Oct 16;

In the old days, you would vote a candidate into public office, and hope he or she did their job well. That is no longer enough.

Following the latest SGfuture public engagement exercise, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said that Singaporeans had expressed a desire to be more involved in the next phase of the country’s development. The Government is also thinking about how it can change the way it engages Singaporeans.

Currently, the Government’s primary form of citizen engagement to discuss and develop sound public policies is through its website, Reach. While it is easy to access, using the Internet can be impersonal and may exclude citizens who are not comfortable with using technology or voicing their opinions online.

At Meet-the-People sessions, on the other hand, Singaporeans tend to discuss individual grievances or municipal matters with their Members of Parliament rather than deliberate national issues.

With the success of the Our Singapore Conversation and SGfuture exercises, more permanent avenues should be established for Singaporeans to help shape policies and solve problems facing their community.

These could be townhall meetings that encourage public deliberation early in any policy development. It could also include participatory budgeting — where citizens are asked to help decide how to spend a portion of a town council’s budget, including government grants for local infrastructure development.

The recent public forums organised by Reach to discuss the Elected Presidency, as well as one on the economy and jobs in Singapore, are steps in the right direction. Singaporeans should make the most of these opportunities to engage with the Government.

While Singaporeans generally have high levels of trust in the Government, businesses, the media and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer — which measures public trust in institutions — these levels differ across society.

There is a double-digit gap in trust between the “informed public” (72 points) and the “mass population” (62 points), and between the “high income” (67 points) and “low income” (50 points) populations in Singapore.

It would be most unfortunate if, for instance, a divisive ultra-nationalist politician was able to pander to citizens’ insecurities and take advantage of this gap in trust.

It is a phenomenon currently witnessed across Europe, for example in the lead-up to Brexit; in the United States, with the rise of Mr Donald Trump; and even in Australia, with the revival of Ms Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

In response, not only must governments aim to be more inclusive, they must do so by becoming more participatory so as to meet the aspirations of better-educated and informed citizens who want to be more involved in the governing process.

The benefits of engaging citizens are threefold. First, governments seldom have all the answers to the problems they are tasked to deal with. Furthermore, the public service, like any other organisation, can suffer from groupthink, which can restrict the options considered. Using the wider public as a resource may allow a government to overcome these limitations.

Second, regular engagement prompts citizens to think about their civic duties and examine the trade-offs involved in policymaking, instead of just stating their wishlists. Interactive engagements also mean citizens are more likely to accept an outcome even if it is not to their liking.

In 2012, the Mayor of Denver, Colorado, Michael Hancock, facing a potential US$94 million (S$130.6 million) budget shortfall, used the opportunity to introduce a participatory budget process to close the gap. Citizens not only selected the projects they would like to see funded, they were also given a chance to add to that list. They were then presented with the same trade-offs that the Mayor would face given the budget constraint. This placed them in a problem-solving mindset and forced them to prioritise how they would spend the limited amount of money.

Third, engagement and closer interaction with its citizens can improve the legitimacy of a government.

A study conducted in 2013 on public perceptions in England and Wales showed that local civic participation by citizens — for example, attending a public meeting set up by the government to discuss policies or tackle crime by volunteering with the police — improved the legitimacy of the government in the participants’ eyes, regardless of their general opinion on policy outcomes. Those engaged believed they had, at least, received a fair hearing and a chance to participate in the decision-making process.

This is not to say community engagement is easy. Communities are not necessarily homogenous or coherent. They do not necessarily speak in one voice like formal institutions. The views in a community are diverse, and it is important not to generalise based on the views of the organised few that are easier to reach. Community engagement can also be hijacked by a third party such as an NGO or business as they are more organised.

Furthermore, communities may not think about the collective interests of society as a whole, something the government is tasked to do. They may suffer from the prisoner’s dilemma, where they protect their interests rather than cooperate for the greater good.

All this makes engaging any community very tricky. Government agencies conducting public consultations must discern vested interests from public interest.

Also, if the government asks, must it then listen? One way to tackle this is for government agencies to conduct public consultations as early as possible, rather than get stuck debating a “yes” or “no” decision. Officials should also make clear what the government is expecting out of the engagement so as to manage citizens’ expectations.

Engaging the community is fraught with difficulty but, if done right, can help build a vibrant democracy in Singapore where all of us can play a part in shaping the country’s future.


Chirag Agarwal, a former Singapore civil servant, recently completed his Master of Public Policy and Management degree at The University of Melbourne and is currently working as a public policy consultant in Australia.

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Most Singapore firms silent on sustainability

Jacquelyn Cheok Business Times 20 Oct 16;

MOST Singapore companies are still not communicating sustainability, a study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School's Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations (CGIO) and Asean CSR Network (ACN) has found.

Over 60 per cent of Singapore-listed companies are found guilty of that, according to findings from the study titled Sustainability reporting in Singapore: The State of Practice among Singapore Exchange (SGX) Mainboard Listed Companies 2015.

Of the 502 mainboard-listed companies studied, 186 of them reported that they communicate their sustainability practices to stakeholders, with an average level of disclosure of 43.6 points. This is an increase from 160 companies in 2013 and 79 in 2011.

Lawrence Loh, director of CGIO at NUS Business School, said that while Singapore has made good progress, it still lags behind its regional peers substantially. He added that at its current rate of progress, less than half of Singapore companies will be reporting sustainability by 2018.

"While the new SGX sustainability reporting requirement of 'comply or explain' is timely, it won't be enough," said Associate Prof Loh. "Companies have to recognise the long-term benefits of consistently reporting sustainability, and take action."

Among the four indicators of quality of disclosures studied - governance, economic, environmental and social - governance was best disclosed and environmental was the least disclosed indicator.

Notably, the study found that disclosures pertaining to climate change were "insufficiently addressed". Only 12.9 per cent of companies disclosed information about their climate change efforts, and even fewer companies disclosed information on biodiversity management efforts.

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Malaysia: Wildlife dept nabs five traffickers in three-state ops

The Star 21 Oct 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Five wildlife traffickers were caught and 32 rare animals, including a tiger cub, bearcat and dwarf caiman, were rescued by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

The nearly 20 species of animal recovered in the operation were worth about RM500,000, among them a leopard cat, mouse-deer, turtle, four baby monkeys, birds and squirrels.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the operation was carried out on Wednesday following checks on sales of wildlife through the Internet and via social media.

He said that among the animals rescued were threatened species.

“Their numbers in the wild are small and they’re almost extinct,” he said at Wisma Sumber Asli here.

“Take the tiger for example, there are only 250 to 300 left while binturong (bearcat) and squirrels are hard to find,” he said.

The operation, dubbed Ops Taring, was carried out in Kedah, Kelantan and Selangor. Two pet shops and three private premises were raided.

Dr Wan Junaidi said Perhilitan will decide what to do with the animals after their DNA was tested.

The five traffickers, believed part of a criminal network smuggling wildlife obtained from communities living near forests, were being investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

On the same day as the operation, Perhilitan also arrested an Indian national suspected of smuggling part of an animal, believed to be a tiger.

The man was remanded to help in an investigation into the importing of parts of a protected animal without a permit.

The Government will not hesitate to take stern action against those engaged in such criminal activities, said Dr Wan Junaidi.

He urged the public to be the eyes and ears of Perhilitan, and to inform the department of any illegal activities.

The minister added that Perhilitan had in previous operations caught 59 individuals in total for illegally trapping and keeping wild animals.

Rare animals rescued in three states, five traffickers nabbed
The Star 20 Oct 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Five animal traffickers were put out of business and nearly 20 different species of rare animals, including a tiger cub, a bear cat and a dwarf caiman, rescued in a wildlife operation in three states.

The 32 animals rescued in the operation are worth an estimated half a million ringgit and included birds, turtles and squirrels.

The catch was made by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) during Ops Taring in Kedah, Kelantan, Selangor and KLIA on Wednesday.

The operation was the result of monitoring of the sale of the wildlife online and the raids were carried by 25 Perhilitan enforcers.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Thursday the animals will have their DNA tested to find the most suitable habitat for them.

The next course of action will be decided by Perhilitan.

Caiman, bearcat, tiger cub among animals rescued in nationwide op
AZURA ABAS New Straits Times 20 Oct 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The Wildlife Department rescued 30 endangered and exotic animals, including a tiger cub, in five raids nationwide under Op Taring 4 yesterday.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said five people were arrested during the raids conducted in Kedah, Selangor and Kelantan.

Among the animals seized were a dwarf caiman, an owl, a Mollucan Cockatoo and a bearcat.

"These animals are endangered and they have their own crucial roles in keeping the balance of the ecosystem,” Wan Junaidi told reporters at a press conference to announce the success of Op Taring 4 today.

But he said most of those caught could easily come up with the money to pay fines even as high as the maximum RM500,000.

Wan Junaidi said that a mandatory jail sentence could be an effective deterrent that would make anyone think twice before committing the crime.

"We can consider making it an (offense punishable with a) mandatory jail sentence for those caught with endangered species by amending the relevant laws," "Animals do not like to be caged. I believe the perpetrators will not like (to be jailed) too," he said.

Wan Junaidi said the female tiger cub rescued during a raid at a private residence in Hulu Langat could fetch a handsome price of between RM150,000 and RM200,000.

The authorities also detained a foreigner at KLIA yesterday allegedly trying to smuggle out body parts believed to be from a tiger.

The Wildlife Department had conducted a three month-long surveillance based on information gathered from social media before carrying out the raids.

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Malaysia: Villagers still jittery over jumbos

IVAN LOH The Star 21 Oct 16;

IPOH: Orang asli at the Pos Kemar settlement in the Belum-Temengor Rainforest complex are still having sleepless nights as the conflict between them and elephants shows no signs of abating.

The Kampung Ralak village at the settlement was again raided by elephants last week and one house was destroyed by the animals.

Kampung Ralak villager Nor Era Kelawak, 18, said the elephants came at night and ate one of the villagers’ ration of food, including rice, sugar cane, tapioca, rambutan and durians.

“It was fortunate that no one was injured during the incident.

“The villagers are taking turns to stay up at night to watch out for the animals,” she said.

The villagers, she said, had complained to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) but nothing had been done to resolve the issue.

It was reported by The Star in March this year that the conflict started since 2010 when Perhilitan translocated 36 elephants into the area.

Since then, a “war” has been ongoing with casualties from both sides.

A 15-year-old boy was killed when an elephant rampaged in the village while at least six elephants were killed by the orang asli using poison-laced fruits and death traps over two years.

Perak Perhilitan director Noor Alif Wira Osman said they planned to set up electrical fences in the area near the settlement to stave off the animals.

“We have surveyed the area and think that the fence could prevent the animals from going into the village.

“However, we don’t have the budget for it and we will try to talk to the state about it.

“For now, we will try to resolve the matter in other ways,” he added.

Noor Alif said Perhilitan could only respond by driving the elephants away from the settlement whenever a complaint was received.

“But please understand that the settlement is located within a forest and the animals roam there.

“They are bound to come in contact with each other,” he said, adding that elephants rescued from other part of the state would usually be relocated to the Royal Belum Rainforest complex.

“Our officers can’t be there all the time but we will do what we can to resolve it,” he said.

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Malaysia: Market-goers see increase in seafood prices due to high-tide phenomenon

DAWN CHAN New Straits Times 20 Oct 16;

PORT KLANG: Azizah Majid now has to think twice before buying her usual assortment of fresh fish, prawn and squid from the Pandamaran wet market.

This is because the recent high-tide phenomenon, which hit parts of Klang and Selangor’s other coastal areas, had led to a hike in the prices of seafood products.

Azizah, 46, a housewife from Bandar Botanic, says she has had to fork out several ringgit extra since Saturday to buy the goods.

“I noticed that the prices had increased slightly over the past few days. Normally, I would make a quick stop and would not hesitate to buy fish, prawns and squid from one or two stalls here.

"However, over the past few days, I have been going from one stall to another just to survey the prices before deciding on the best deal.

"Today (yesterday), the price for a kilogramme of ikan kembung had gone up from RM6 to RM7 when it was usually RM5. I saw a stall setting the price at RM20 for a kilogramme of squid.

I was told that due to the high-tide phenomenon, fishermen are going out to the sea less frequently, causing the prices to increase.

“For the time being, I have switched to cooking chicken dishes as the price hasn’t changed, just like vegetables," said Azizah. Azizah, met at the Pandamaran wet market yesterday, hoped the prices would come down soon.

"I have to be smart with my money the next time around. I am contemplating stocking up on food items a week before to be more cost-effective."

Another Pandamaran wet market shopper, Mohd Nasir Abu, said he, too, noticed that the prices of fresh fish, prawns and squid, had gone up since Sunday.

"One kilogramme of squid had cost only about RM15 last week, but on Sunday it increased by RM5.

I saw that the price of ikan kerisi was at RM6.50 at one stall while another was priced at RM6. The stall offering RM6.50 was of better quality while the RM6 had more pieces of fish that did not look very fresh.

So I guess we have to stretch our money for the next few days, but I cannot complain because the prices here are still very affordable compared to supermarkets," he said.

Nasir, who works as a boat mechanic, said the increased prices could be due to less fishermen going out to sea.

The 56-year-old said choppy waters, coupled with strong winds, are hazardous to fishermen, especially those with smaller vessels.

"They may want to maximise their profits to make up for the days they are unable to go out to sea," he added. Meanwhile, stall operator Razali Abdul Ghani said the price of ikan siakap (sea bass) was already set at RM11 a kilogramme by his supplier.

He added that the fishermen did not want to take risks as the waves are high and the situation has been compounded by the downpour, hence why the prices offered to him had gone up.

"I increased the price by only RM1, so my profit is very minimal. I have to take care of my customers and at the same time pay my employees. So I am not making money at all but at a loss.

But this would happen only for the next few days and I hope the prices will drop soon," said Razali, who has been in the business for 10 years.

Meanwhile, Fisheries Development Authority chairman Datuk Seri Irmohizam Ibrahim said they were monitoring the supply of fish, which he said is stable for the time being.

"There is a stock of about 20-tonnes of frozen 'ikan rakyat' under the National Fishermen's Association (NEKMAT) catered for the peninsular which can last for two months," he told the New Straits Times.

Ikan rakyat are made up of kembung, pelaling, selayang, kerisi, cencaru and selar.

Govt mulls bringing more seafood supplies from overseas during high tide, says minister
INTAN BAHA New Straits Times 19 Oct 16;

TAPAH: The government is considering bringing in more seafood from abroad to offset possible price rise following the high tide phenomenon in the country.

Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said he agreed that at the moment, there was limited supply of seafood available in the local markets which trigger a price increase.

He said consumers should also prepared paying 'reasonable price' for seafood due to high-tide phenomenon.

"Our fishermen risks their lives to brave strong winds whenever they go out to sea.

"I will consider to bring in more seafood supplies from overseas to offer alternative to consumers," he said.

Hamzah was speaking to reporters at the launch of Price Control Scheme for Deepavali 2016 at TF Mart Value, here.

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UN tells Bangladesh to halt mangrove-threatening coal plant

Climate Home: Rampal coal plant poses a ‘serious threat’ to a key ecosystem for Bengal tigers and must be cancelled, says the UN world heritage body
Karl Mathiesen for Climate Home The Guardian 19 Oct 16;

The UN’s world heritage body has made an urgent intervention to stop the construction of a coal power station in Bangladesh.

Unesco said the plant could damage the world heritage-listed Sundarbans mangrove forest, which houses up to 450 Bengal tigers.

A fact finding mission, published by Unesco and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Tuesday, found that the proposed site of the Rampal coal power plant, which is 65km north of the Sundarbans world heritage area, would expose the downriver forests to pollution and acid rain.

Ships carrying coal and other material for the plant’s functioning will move through the mangrove reserve, requiring dredging and dumping of 32.1 million cubic metres of river bottom at first and further annual dredging. This threatens the breeding grounds of the endangered Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins.

Fresh water supply to the mangroves, already stretched by agriculture, must not be placed under any more stress, the observers said.

Their report concluded that the power station posed “a serious threat to the site”.

“The mission recommends that the Rampal power plant project be cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location,” said a Unesco statement on Tuesday.

The statement also warned Bangladesh that the Sundarbans forest reserve would be considered for possible inscription on the list of world heritage in danger at the next meeting of the World Heritage Committee in 2017. This listing is used as a diplomatic stick for countries seen to be failing their commitment to protect world heritage sites.

The Sundarbans straddle the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers and are one of the world’s largest surviving mangrove forests. These liminal ecosystems are already greatly threatened by rising sea levels which threatens to drown the fragile trees.

Payal Parekh, a programme director at the NGO said there were alternatives available to provide electricity to Bangladeshis.

“Solar panels already provide affordable, reliable energy to 18 million people in the country, and other renewable energy options like wind power can be harnessed instead of condemning the Bangladeshi people to the toxic impacts from the 4.7 million tonnes of coal Rampal is set to burn every year,” she said.

The Rampal station is financed by the Indian government. The Unesco/IUCN team noted that inadequate environmental assessments had been conducted prior to the initial land purchase for the plant.

Also on Tuesday, the Economic Times reported that an Indian-Bangla people’s movement had written to the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, urging him to rethink the development.

“40% of the Sundarbans is in India and any damage to that will have devastating impact on thousands of fishworkers and forest dwellers depending on it, apart from the damage to the natural protection from natural calamities like tsunami and cyclones,” said the All India Union of Forest Working People and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM).

India’s National Thermal Power Corporation, which owns the proposed plant, has been contacted for comment.

A second coal plant, the Orion power station, is also scheduled for construction near the site. Unesco officials questioned Bangladeshi assertions that the plant had been cancelled, given it remained apparently active on the Orion website.

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