Singapore is much wilder than it seems

Ground-breaking documentary shows the island's rich biodiversity, so much so that NParks takes a conservation-minded approach in developing Thomson Nature Park.
CHEAH UI-HOON Business Times 11 Nov 16;

AFTER having lived in Singapore for 25 years, executive producer Jocelyn Little knew there was something more to the island state than just its urban, built-up city centre.

"Over the years, we knew there were possibilities of producing a natural history documentary in Singapore. Based on research we've come across and also personal experience, we knew that wild life was thriving - and it's been something we wanted to do," says the founding partner of Beach House Pictures whose clients include Nat Geo International, ABC Australia, Discovery Networks International, BBC, ZooMoo Networks and Fox International Channels.

The catalyst was when Channel News Asia and the SG50 Fund announced that they were looking for content that celebrated Singapore. "We thought it was a perfect opportunity - based on our idea about how the natural world interacts with the human world in Singapore and the fact that Singapore was a city within a garden."

Two years later, three episodes of the ground-breaking wild life documentary Wild City were made and aired. The last episode was screened this March.

It was a coup getting the godfather of wildlife shows, David Attenborough, to narrate it, and after Singapore, Wild City has been aired in Australia, Germany, France and the UK, and continues to make its way around international TV circuits.

The documentary launched the natural history arm of Beach House Pictures as they are now producing a 10-part series on Borneo for Discovery and a UK TV Channel, and are looking at producing Wild City internationally.

"Wild City really put us on the map," says Ms Little.

The beauty of the show is that a lot of people don't realise the breadth of species that can be found in Singapore, in the wild, she says. The production house brought in specialist cameramen to film "exotic" animals in their habitat, such as the pangolin and the colugo (a flying lemur). But mostly, they got great support from local wildlife and natural history enthusiasts and also some local filmmakers in Singapore.

Star of the show

The otters became the star of the show, and the production house even spun off a show called Otter Town for Nat Geo Wild.

What's been the local audience response to Wild City? "People from every walk of life - the taxi driver, the auntie at the market, our lawyers - the first thing they say when they find out that we produced Wild City, is that they didn't realise Singapore had so much wildlife."

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the National Parks Board (NParks) is working hard to make sure that Singapore's wildlife is protected - even while it creates recreational space for Singapore residents.

Conserving biodiversity is the primary aim, for example, at the upcoming Thomson Nature Park to open in 2018.

The 50-hectare nature park wedged between Old Upper Thomson Road and Upper Thomson Road was first announced in 2014. It'll also be the first park where the structures of an existing old Hainanese village - abandoned since the 1960s - will be conserved and not torn down for the nature trail.

"We're taking a conservation-minded approach because there are a lot of animals moving between Upper Pierce and Lower Seletar reservoirs to breed and feed," explains Wong Tuan Wah, NParks group director of conservation. NParks is now doing a biodiversity survey of animals and their behaviour in the area.

"Once we know how the animals move about, we'll be better able to plan where to put the public facilities and amenities. So far, camera traps have captured the Raffles' banded langur (nationally critically endangered), Malayan porcupine (thought to be extinct until sighted in 2005), Sunda pangolin, Sambar deer and the leopard cat. The freshwater streams are also home to many native aquatic species such as the spotted tree frog which is near threatened on IUCN Red list, as well as the Malayan box terrapin.

Mr Wong says that NParks will be very light-handed in its approach as it's simply cleaning up and making good the former roads of the kampung, or village, which used to have about 50 households.

Thomson Park sits just outside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. It is one of four such parks announced by NParks in 2014 as part of its plan to extend the green buffer for Singapore's largest nature reserve - the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

As for the village, the intention is to re-open the old roads so that the public can see what the village was like. A total of 4km of trails have been earmarked.

Architecture professor Lai Chee Kien, who has researched the history of the Hainanese village which had Singapore's first rambutan plantation, commended NParks for its plan to leave the buildings as they are, untouched. "The walls and staircases of the houses, for example, will not even be repainted. I think this idea became more acceptable to them after they developed Coney Island which also has an old house. So for this, you'll see the patina of age on the ruins, which is very different from the urban experience and I think quite interesting for the public to see."

The park will also be a chance to tell the social histories of local places in Singapore. "It's a good start because it's a way to know our local history. So the draw is that it's not completely a nature trail but a former settlement as well," Prof Lai notes.

Another important reason for the park is that it acts as a buffer park to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Mr Wong says: "In this case, we can reduce and redistribute the number of visitors to Upper Pierce, for example, and give visitors an alternative."

But when NParks does look at park development, its priority is conserving biodiversity first, before it looks at the function of the park and what facilities it should have to meet the needs of the public, he notes.

Leong Kwok Peng, vice-president of the Singapore Nature Society, says that it's a good thing if Thomson Nature Park's primary function is to draw the crowd away from Bukit Timah or MacRitchie.

"It's first and foremost a buffer zone, that's my take, which is good because those two Nature Reserves can do with less visitorship," he explains. "For Nature Reserves, it should be conservation first and visitors second."

Exercising at a Nature Park has less impact, for instance. "It's fine if people just walk and enjoy nature, but they're running up and down and going off-trail at Bukit Timah, or often running on the boardwalks at Sungai Buloh - which aren't good for the local wildlife," he points out.

So, do Singaporeans realise just how rich in biodiversity we are?

Even if Singapore is known for being a garden city, the idea still persists that Singapore is somewhat sterile and devoid of natural wildlife. Not that the local population's interest in flora and fauna is not there. In fact, environmental organisations such as Wild Singapore can barely cater to the demand for its marine programmes from the time its founder, Ria Tan, started giving guided walks at Chek Jawa 15 years ago.

"Interest didn't build up over the years . . . it was there from Day One!" declares the avid environmentalist and specialist in Singapore's coastal waters.

Back in 2001, when she and other volunteers started the Chek Jawa walks, every visit was fully booked.

"And those were the days before even blogs. NParks didn't even have a website then. People found out about our walks by word-of-mouth and came," relates Ms Tan, who has visited every one of Singapore's 40 shores and was involved in the blueprint for the setting up of Sisters' Island Marine Park in 2014.

From the time she started blogging about Singapore's marine life - Singapore's waters are home to more than 250 species of hard corals (32 per cent of hard coral species found worldwide), more than 100 species of reef fish, about 200 species of sponges and 12 seagrass species - it took a life of its own.

"It's been this monster that I try to feed," she quips. Till today, every walk is booked within hours, even with the increased number of volunteers they have.

Ivan Kwan, a volunteer nature guide, notes: "There's definitely an increase in the number of people visiting our parks and nature reserves over the last decade or so. There is often an overwhelming response whenever free guided walks conducted by various nature interest groups are advertised. There also appears to be more corporations keen on spending a day out on say, Pulau Ubin, as part of a company outing, or schools bringing students to these green spaces as part of their enrichment programmes."

Young and curious

Mr Kwan says that the younger ones in his groups are curious and excited about everything they see - even the smallest insects often draw their attention. "Many of them are actually full of questions about how a particular animal or plant survives in its natural habitat, or are eager to share their own previous experiences or even things they learnt from watching nature documentaries or reading books.

"Our forests, mangroves, coral reefs and other habitats may not be as extensive or as grand as those of neighbouring countries, but what we have left is no less worthy of protection and active conservation efforts. At the same time, there are several species that can thrive in our midst, as long as we provide the right environment for them, and in some cases, find solutions that allow both humans and wildlife to coexist."

Ms Tan points out just how easy it is to get to a reef, rainforest or marshland in Singapore, within an hour. "We've all the major tropical eco-systems within easy reach - and a six-star hotel nearby to get a drink after a visit. This is a huge natural heritage treasure that we have and it should be part of the Singapore story, and what makes Singapore special and interesting to visit and live in!"


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Pigeon number at Palmer Road drops after 'birth control' trial

Samantha Boh Straits Times 10 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE - Call it birth control for birds.

A corn-based feed containing a drug called nicarbazin, which stops female birds from producing eggs or causes them to lay eggs that do not hatch, has helped to reduce the pigeon population outside Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh mosque by 60 to 70 per cent.

The population of 400 birds there has dropped to between 120 to 160.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) revealed the results of the year-long trial of the drug outside the Palmer Road mosque after it had concluded last month (Oct).

Mr Mohamed Idris, secretary of the management board of Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh, said: "There has definitely been a visible and positive improvement. A stark difference and the best thing is it was achieved without culling".

He said while the birds still find their way into the mosque sometimes, this has become much less frequent. Fewer people are getting soiled by the birds that lurk in the area too.

"In the past, the dropping might hit you as soon as you stepped out," he added.

He said that the mosque management is open to extending the trial and has discussed this with the AVA.

The drug does not harm the birds and is not toxic to animals or humans if taken in small amounts. It would take 40kg of the feed to see toxic effects in dogs and cats, and 60kg for a child.

Commenting on the trial's results, AVA said the drop is unlikely due to the effect of the drug alone, and that other factors may have contributed.

For example, the AVA found 15 dead pigeons at the trial site in April this year (16), which post-mortem examinations found were due to dehydration.

The agency added that it has been keeping watch on the area to prevent people from feeding the birds. Since October last year, it has issued around 60 warning letters and fines to individuals caught feeding the pigeons there.

Feeding pigeons is illegal and those found to have flouted the rules face a fine of up to $500.

As the effectiveness of the nicarbazin feed remains inconclusive, AVA started another year-long trial using the same feed at Waterloo Street outside the Sri Krishnan Temple, in September. There are about 150 pigeons there.

The Waterloo Street trial will also study if the level of human traffic, which is closely linked to the amount of food left for the birds, impacts the effectiveness of the feed. The birds will be fed once a day by a temple staff.

As of last month, the AVA had received feedback 13 times regarding pigeons in the Waterloo Street trial area since the start of the year. This compares to 20 times last year.

Overall, the AVA received 3,500 pigeon-related feedback from January to October this year. Last year it received about 4,000, an increase from about 2,500 in 2014.

It has also received some 6,400 feedback about all kinds of birds, including pigeons, over the same period this year. About 7,300 messages were received last year, and about 5,700 in 2014.


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'Car-lite' Bencoolen Street to have sheltered linkways, cycling path: LTA

Channel NewsAsia 10 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE: When it reopens in the first quarter of 2017, Bencoolen Street will have more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly features, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Thursday (Nov 10).

Giving details of its "car-lite" plan for the street in a news release, LTA said there will be sheltered linkways from the Downtown Line 3's new Bencoolen station to nearby facilities and developments, such as Hotel Rendezvous and Manulife Centre.

A new dedicated cycling path along Bencoolen Street will also connect Rochor Canal to the planned cycling route along the future North-South Corridor to the Central Business District, LTA said.

A total of 125 bicycle parking lots will be provided at various locations along the street, such as at the entrances of the new Bencoolen MRT station, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), V Hotel and Bayview Hotel.

LTA will also collaborate with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, students and alumni from NAFA to design the benches that will line Bencoolen Street, "to inject a touch of creativity to the streetscape", it said.

TRAFFIC ADJUSTMENTS IN BENCOOLEN AREA

As construction work for the Downtown Line 3's Bencoolen station enters its final stage, there will be several traffic adjustments in the vicinity, LTA said.

Starting Sunday, all vehicles except for buses will not be allowed to turn left into Bras Basah Road from Bencoolen Street. "Motorists are advised to seek alternative routes if they are heading towards Bras Basah Road," it said.

On the same day, Waterloo Street - currently a one-way street - will be converted to a two-way street and the direction of traffic for the stretch of Queen Street between Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road will be diverted to Bras Basah Road.

From Dec 11, a dedicated bus lane along Bencoolen Street between Middle Road and Bras Basah Road will help improve travel time, LTA said. Bus services 64, 65, 131, 139, 147, 166 and 857 will also be reinstated to ply the street.

With the reopening of Bencoolen Street, the stretch of Prinsep Street and Selegie Road between Bras Basah Road and Middle Road - which allowed traffic flow in two directions during the closure - will revert to a one-way street.


Pedestrian-friendly facilities for redesigned Bencoolen Street
CYNTHIA CHOO Today Online 10 Nov 16;

SINGAPORE — Pedestrians and cyclists will have an easier time commuting along Bencoolen Street come the first quarter of next year, as the redesigned street will be opened with features such as wider footpaths and additional bike parking facilities.

The street will be opened following the completion of Downtown Line 3 works for Bencoolen Station.

There will be sheltered linkways from the new Bencoolen MRT station to nearby facilities and developments, such as Hotel Rendezvous and Manulife Centre, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Thursday (Nov 10).

Cyclists will also be able to ride straight to the Central Business District via a new cycling route. Some 125 bicycle parking lots will be provided at various locations along Bencoolen Street, such as at the entrances of the new Bencoolen MRT station, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), V Hotel, and Bayview Hotel.

The LTA is also collaborating with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and students and alumni from NAFA to design the benches along Bencoolen Street to inject a touch of creativity to the streetscape.

TRAFFIC ADVISORY

The LTA also noted on Thursday that traffic will be affected during the final stage of works at Bencoolen Street.

Due to electrical and mechanical installation and architectural works for the new Bencoolen MRT station, all vehicles except for buses are restricted from turning left onto Bras Basah Road from Bencoolen Street from Nov 13.

Motorists are advised to seek alternative routes if they are heading towards Bras Basah Road.

From Nov 13 as well, Waterloo Street, currently a one-way street, will convert to a two-way street. The traffic direction for the stretch of Queen Street between Bras Basah Road to Stamford Road will also be converted towards Bras Basah Road.

From Dec 11, Prinsep Street and Selegie Road (between Bras Basah Road to Middle Road) will also be reinstated to a one-way road. A dedicated bus lane along the stretch of Bencoolen Street between Middle Road and Bras Basah Road will also be implemented to allow for smoother journeys for commuters. Bus Services 64, 65, 131, 139, 147, 166 and 857 will be reinstated to ply along Bencoolen Street.


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Malaysia: To mitigate flash floods, Penang government to closely monitor all development projects

PHUAH KEN LIN New Straits Times 10 Nov 16;

GEORGE TOWN: All development projects on the island will henceforth be closely scrutinised by the state government in a pre-emptive move to mitigate future flash floods.

State Local Government and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said primary focus will be placed on development projects near hillslopes and the river basin.

He said the Penang Island City Council (MPBB) will be tasked with identifying and monitoring project sites to help relevant authorities tackle chronic flash flooding which has occurred four times in the state since Oct 29.

"MBPP will map out projects, (especially) on the fringes of hills and near the river basin.

"There are six rivers on the island, and the state government will vet area maps as a reference point to step-up flood mitigation measures related to Sungai Pinang and its tributaries, as well as hill areas," Chow said today.

Asked on the number of projects estimated to make the list, Chow said he did not have the exact figures, but estimated that the number could run into the hundreds.

He was speaking to reporters after inspecting the RM7.2 million upgrade works at the Chowrasta Market, which is 95 per cent complete.

The refurbished site is slated to begin operations as early as the end of the year. Some 330 stalls located inside and outside the premises will be available for rental.

Meanwhile, Chow said the state government has collected RM100 million in drainage works contributions from developers since 2008.

"The state government has been carrying out small-scale flood mitigation measures for projects ranging in worth from RM500,000 to RM5 million at district areas," he said.


Penang council instructed to map out development projects
The Star 11 Nov 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Island City Council has been instructed to map out planned and ongoing developments along the river basin and the fringe of hills.

State executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow said the map would be ready in a few days.

“I have requested the mayor to detail all planned and ongoing developments to allay the concerns of the people.

“We would also like to know and be assured that these projects do not cause siltation, mud slides or flooding,” said Chow, who is in charge of the Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee during a visit to Chowrasta Market to check on upgrading work there yesterday.

Chow said many general statements were made but no one could name any development projects when queried.

“We should be guided by facts and not mere accusations,” he said in response to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar’s remarks that the recent flash floods in Penang were a result of “uncontrollable development”.

Dr Wan Junaidi said rapid development, especially along riverbanks, caused problems to the drainage system, which should have been looked into by the state government and local council.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said floods had also inundated parts of Penang Island that were untouched.

“Even Jalan Teluk Bahang had a landslide. There are no developments there.

“The landslide happened because of exceptionally heavy rain with up to 300mm in three days, causing floods even in rural areas.

“Let us look at the real cause of the floods,” he said at the Penang Development Corporation’s Deepavali celebration.

Lim said flood mitigation projects, especially the Sungai Pinang flood mitigation plan could reduce flooding and “possibly overcome it”.


Bald hillslope: Environment group slams Penang govt
PHUAH KEN LIN New Straits Times 12 Nov 16;

GEORGE TOWN: AN environmental group has slammed the Penang state government for neglecting a bald hillslope patch here, after heavy rainfall on Monday caused a landslide.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S.M. Mohamed Idris said the exposed section next to the Jalan Paya Terubong main road posed a risk to road users.

“The hillslope is a sensitive area but local authorities have chosen not to do anything about it. “Remedial work is not coming and the likelihood for another landslide to recur is high.

“There is clearly a lack of urgency to address the bald patch.” The bald hillslope had caused jitters among motorists plying the main road.

Checks by the New Straits Times showed that the patch, which was located next to a development site, remained exposed despite concerns that rain would wash more earth down the slope off Jalan Paya Terubong.

Motorists had hit out at the inaction of local authorities to cover the section with tarpaulin or plastic sheets. It was learnt that the section was located outside the boundary of the development project and the developer was not bound by law to carry out remedial work.


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Malaysia: Over 3,000 smuggled turtle eggs seized from express bus

AWANG ALI OMAR New Straits Times 10 Nov 16;

SANDAKAN: The district Wildlife Department seized 3,011 turtle eggs meant to be smuggled to the west coast at the main bus terminal here this morning.

District wildlife officer Hussien Miun said his party received a public tip-off at around 8am on three boxes believed to be filled with the eggs.

Initial inspection indicated that the eggs were to be delivered to Kota Marudu using an express bus service on the Sandakan-Kudat route.

"Our team conducted an investigation, and even though there is no record of the sender, we received information about the recipient.

"This is the first turtle egg seizure recorded involving a smuggling attempt using public transportation.

We believe this is the modus operandi practised by irresponsible parties to market the eggs in the west coast area," he added.


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Malaysia: Thousands of dead fishes wash up in Sungai Bernam

ROSMAN SHAMSUDIN New Straits Times 10 Nov 16;

TANJUNG MALIM: Thousands of dead fishes were found floating in Sungai Bernam today, believed to have been caused by pollution.

Sungai Selisik village head Ishak Ahmad, 50, said the discovery was made by residents as they were about to go fishing at the river, located near the Selangor border.

He said a report was lodged with the Perak Fisheries Department to be forwarded to the Department of Environment.

"The irresponsible act of some quarters had polluted the river, killing the fishes along the way.

"Cases such as this will affect the locals' livelihood as their earnings depend on the catch from the river. This issue must be dealt with seriously and the culprits must be brought to book," he told Berita Harian.

Ishak also expressed concern for the well-being of thousands of residents in the area as the river is a source of raw water for six villages there.

A Fisheries Department spokesman confirmed the report.

"Instructions have been issued to our officials at the Batang Padang district office to carry out an investigation," he said.

It is learnt that the officers from the department's Tapah district office are carrying out tests on the water sample taken near Behrang.


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Philippines to offer land to Malaysia for oil palm plantations

AZURA ABAS AND FAIRUZ MOHD SHAHAR New Straits Times 10 Nov 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The Philippines government is ready to offer Malaysia land for oil palm plantations in southern Philippines to boost the economy there.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said Philippines President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has agreed to offer the land to any interested parties.

Najib however, stressed that security aspects remain a concern.

“We have to look at the security level. A peaceful southern Philippines will draw more new investments from Malaysia.

“Such an investment is highly needed by the people of southern Philippines,” he told a press conference after a bilateral meeting with Duterte today.

Najib also expressed hope that Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) can open its regional office in Kota Kinabalu.

However, due to legal issues and the Philippines' claim on Sabah, it has become a stumbling block, and has yet to be realised.

"In this respect, I have suggested to Duterte to put aside the Sabah claim issue and find a practical solution to enable the set up of the BIM-EAGA office," he said.


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The political implications of Thailand's rice issue

Panu Wongcha-um, Channel NewsAsia 10 Nov 16;

CHACHOENGSAO, Thailand: The issue of rice is once again turning into a political hot potato in Thailand.

With the price of jasmine rice hitting an almost 10-year low in some parts of the country, the military government has introduced a series of subsidy schemes worth more than US$1 billion to help farmers.

Those who pledge to store their rice for several months will get paid in interest-free loans while they wait to sell their stock at a better market rate.

Critics have said there is little difference between this programme and the failed rice purchase scheme by the previous government led by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Ms Yingluck, who was ousted in the 2014 military coup, faces up to 10 years in prison and a US$1 billion fine for her administration's rice policy.

However, the current government denies and has said its programmes are just a short-term solution. For the long term, it is urging farmers to diversify their crops or stop farming all together.

"We have to look at the demand to see how much rice we want for domestic consumption and for export,” said Commerce Ministry Permanent Secretary Wiboonlak Ruamrak. “Then we plan our production.

“This means some farming will have to stop or the pace of production must be slower. We have to find these farmers alternative professions or we have to give them incentives to reduce farmland so we can control the supply."

Farrmers are asking for urgent assistance. In Central Thailand’s Chachoengsao province - the home of the country’s famous jasmine rice – good monsoon rains have contributed to an oversupply of the rice, causing prices to plunge.

The sharp drop of prices for premium grade Hom Mali - or Jasmine unmilled rice - in many parts of the country prompted many farmers to call on the government to step in ahead of this year’s harvesting season.

Jasmine rice can only be grown once a year and it makes up about a quarter of all rice produced in the country.

Many disagree with the government's advice to diversify. “It is not worth it for us to raise chickens or ducks, for instance, because we need to build more farmhouses for that,” said Vimol Riamsri, the village chief and a rice farmer. “The government tells us to stop growing rice and to grow potatoes, corn, or raise chickens – I don’t think it is possible. Our farmland is very different."

One analyst told Channel NewsAsia new strategies are needed to help the struggling farmers. “In the past, governments have been helping by trying to address the cost of rice production through loans, but they did very little to improve the performance of the market, like better storage silos and better market mechanisms within communities," said Somporn Isvilanonda, a senior fellow at the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand.

The rice-growing areas in the north and northeast are the political heartland of deposed Prime Minister Yingluck and her family. With a general election scheduled for 2017, the military government knows there are deeper implications to keeping farmers happy than simply protecting Thailand’s rice bowl.

- CNA/ek


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Indonesia: Govt to get locals more involved in peatland restoration

Nurul Fitri Ramadhani The Jakarta Post 10 Nov 16;

The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) should focus on engaging locals by involving them in its peatland restoration program, experts say.

Korea SG Consulting, a South Korean-based environmental NGO, suggested that Indonesia conduct a socioeconomic survey by interviewing local residents living near the restoration land and involving them in mapping the project before carrying out the restoration.

“Without [local residents], we can’t complete the agenda. We need to know their expectations and what incentives they expect from the government and stakeholders,” Korea SG Consulting general manager Gyeongmin Roh said on Tuesday in a seminar held by the Indonesian government, South Korean Embassy and Korea Forest Agency (KFS).

The seminar was a follow up of an agreement on peatland restoration and forest fire prevention signed by Jakarta and Seoul in May this year.

Roh went on to say that the incentive options could include job creation related to the project, goods for agriculture and forestry and the provision of subsidies. More importantly, he said, the government should also provide an enhancement of the forest fire management system and a community forest.

Indonesia, although seeking to restore all burned or damaged peatland belonging to locals, companies and protected areas across the country, has yet to find any specific approach or method for the restoration.

During a visit to South Korea on May 16, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signed seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs), which cover maritime issues, the creative industry, corruption, peatland forest restoration, defense technology, special economic zones and the development of energy and mineral research for clean energy.

The President had set a target to restore 2 million hectares of peatland in seven provinces in Kalimantan, Papua and Sumatra by 2020, including 875,000 hectares of peatland that had been burned in a 2015 forest fire.

The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), which promotes sustainable development, encouraged the BRG to work together with the local community to conduct livelihood assessments so that the locals could design their own businesses and be rewarded for their efforts.

“The big issue we have to face is the community center. We have to find a solution for the community, including a business plan, so that it [the restoration] can provide them an additional benefit,” GIZ researcher Berthold Haasler said.

The government admitted it had not done enough to involve the local people in its restoration program.

BRG deputy chairman for planning and cooperation, Budi Wardana, said that the local people often illegally cleared restored peatland just because they were not aware of the government’s program.

They even once damaged the part of the canal blocked by the government because the government had not disseminated information of the canal’s establishment, he said.

“We could learn from the input, including about embracing the local community. After this, we will map out what to do ahead of the restoration project,” Budi said.

“We actually already had a guideline from the [Environment and Forestry] Ministry, yet we do refer to experts and opinions on how to develop the idea, so we will combine all guidelines altogether, including integrating a map for the restoration area,” he added.


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Indonesia: Riau villagers in fear after bear attacks farmer

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 10 Nov 16;

Residents in some villages in Rambah district, Rokan Hulu regency, Riau, have become restless after a bear attacked a farmer and caused serious injuries to the 54-year-old woman.

Rasmi Hasibuan of Hulu Sei Deras hamlet, Rambah Tengah Barat village, was attacked by the wild animal during a lunch break on her rubber plantation last Friday.

The bear, believed to be of the sun bear species, attacked her from behind and caused injuries to her head and back.

Rasmi managed to escape and tried to walk home, only to collapse from exhaustion when she was about to reach her house 1 kilometer away from the farm.

She was helped by her son-in-law who took her to the hospital. Rasmi received a number of stitches for wounds caused by bear scratches and bites.

“The bear has actually been terrorizing the community since it first appeared in early September,” said Koto Tinggi villager Amran Maksum. Residents had often spotted the bear when walking along village roads, he added.

“We are scared every time we go to the fields, fearing that the bear could attack us,” Amran said on Wednesday.

He expressed regret over the slow response by the authorities.

“A resident has become a victim; is that not enough?” he lamented.

According to Amran, residents have written to the Rokan Hulu forestry and plantation office at least three times, asking officials to capture the animal.

Rasmi, meanwhile, is still being treated at the Pasir Pangaraian Hospital; her condition is improving, according to her husband Idris.

He said he could not afford the hospital bill, which so far had reached Rp 6.7 million (US$496). He said he would have to borrow from his neighbors and relatives.

“I’ve asked the government to help pay the hospital costs through the village head,” he said.

“My wife was attacked by a bear, an animal that is protected by the state, so it’s appropriate that the government is responsible for any damage caused by the animal,” Idris added.

Rokan Hulu forestry and plantation office head Sri Handono said he was coordinating with the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) to catch and relocate the bear.

“Police rangers have actually been deployed several times to track its whereabouts, but they lost trail, because the bear kept moving,” said Handono.

“Based on earlier reports, it was in Rambah Tengah Hulu village, but then moved to Sialang Jaya village and then moved again to the villages of Suka Maju and Koto Tinggi and finally to Rambah Tengah Barat,” he added.

Regarding Rasmi’s medical cost, Handono said that victims of wild animal attacks would receive assistance from the social services office.

“The domain of the forestry and plantation office only covers the handling of the bear, including the costs for its relocation, which has already been prepared,” he said.

Conflicts between humans and bears are common in Riau. Environmentalists say the animals are being threatened by habitat destruction, forest fires and poaching for their body parts.

As a consequence, bears are pushed out of their natural habitat and occasionally enter gardens and feed on crops.

Sun bears, which are found in tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia, have been protected in Indonesia since 1973. The sun bear is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to large-scale deforestation.


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Indonesia: Police seizes 2.5 tons of pangolin meat in Jambi

Antara 10 Nov 16;

Jambi (ANTARA News) - Jambi Police confiscated 2.5 tons of pangolin (Manis javanica) meat and arrested three persons who were suspected of involvement in an attempt to smuggle the protected animal.

"The police are calculating the exact weight of the trafficked goods with the help of experts from Jambis Industry and Trade Office," the spokesperson of Jambi Police, Commissioner Wirmanto, said here on Thursday.

The authority managed to seize 2.5 tons of pangolin meat and 279 kg of pangolin scales believed to be valued at seven billion rupiah in the black market.

Three suspects---YKY, a Malaysian national, and two residents of Jambi, SM (44), and WMA (40)---worked as guards at the warehouse where the animal meat was kept, have been arrested by the police.

Jambi Police, in cooperation with the Jakarta Metro Police, managed to seize the illicit goods from a warehouse in Kilangan Village, Muarabulian Sub-district, Batanghari District, Jambi after it carried out investigations and obtained from information following the arrest of a drug dealer in Jakarta.

As per the investigation, the pangolin meat was going to be sold to Singapore, Taiwan, China and Malaysia.

The Malaysian suspect revealed that the pangolin scales were going to be traded to China where they are used as an ingredient in meth crystal.

The suspects are facing a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rp100 million.

Previously, the Jambi Police had foiled an attempt to smuggle 35 live pangolins (Manis javanica) and some Sumatran tiger bones packed in a bag, from Jambi to Medan, North Sumatra.

The racket was caught by the personnel of the Police Sector Office of Telanaipura, Jambi.

The Chief of Jambi Police, Senior Commissioner Bernard Sibarani, had said on Nov 2 that the authorities seized the protected animals from a vehicle, carrying license plate B 3471 AG, during a routine patrolling in Buluran, Telanaipura Sub-district.

The police arrested a resident of West Sumatra Province, identified as SM, as a suspect in the smuggling attempt.

During the investigation, SM disclosed that the illicit goods were to be traded to Medan, North Sumatra.

The police is carrying out investigations to track down the supplier and the owner.

Pangolins are on the brink of extinction, despite the fact that they are protected under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and trading in the animal and their products is illegal.

The nocturnal mammals are in high demand because their meat and scales are prized mostly in China and Vietnam as food and medicine.

Pangolins are also included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008 as endangered animals.(*)


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Indonesia: More than $274B Worth of Climate-Smart Investments Up for Grabs - IFC

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 10 Nov 16;

Jakarta. A new study by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, or IFC, revealed that the Paris Agreement climate change pact has opened up $23 trillion of opportunities in climate-smart investments in emerging markets from now to 2030.

IFC has estimated over $274 billion worth of investment opportunities in Indonesia for climate-smart projects in a variety of sectors, including renewable energy and urban infrastructure.

“Investment in renewable energy accounts for almost $23 billion by 2030, with under half of this [$9.3 billion] for biomass, and the other half for geothermal energy [$10 billion] and small hydropower [$3 billion],” IFC said in the report.

Meanwhile, with the population of the country expected to grow beyond 300 million by 2030, climate resilient buildings should also be growing in relation, especially in urban areas such as Jakarta, Riau, Banten, Yogyakarta and West Java.

“The low-carbon buildings sector in Indonesia should grow as a result of new green building codes and energy efficiency incentives, representing a $23.2 billion investment opportunity by 2020, while the transport and waste sectors are expected to require $250 billion in investment combined,” the report said.

With this finding, IFC believes that now is the best time for investors to bet money on climate-smart projects, particularly as smart policies are on the rise while the price of clean technologies decline.

As Indonesia aims to generate 23 percent of energy consumption through renewables by 2025, the outlook for investment in this sector seems bright.

“It is important to set ambitious goals – which is why IFC has pledged to increase our climate investments to a goal of $3.5 billion a year by 2020, and catalyze another $13 billion through other investors,” said IFC executive vice president Philippe Le HouĂ©rou in a statement on Tuesday (08/11).

To attract more investments in this sector, IFC suggests Indonesia align land development policies with climate goals and align efforts for Indonesia’s goals for nationally determined contributions (NDC) with the Financial Services Authority’s (OJK) sustainable finance roadmap.

The financier for emerging markets stated that the Indonesian government has improved policy framework for climate investments through the 13 policies, which has supported investments for green buildings and renewable energy projects.

In Indonesia, IFC has provided financial support to independent power producer Bajradaya Sentranusa through a $280 million loan, which will support the operations of a hydroelectric power plant in North Sumatra.


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Viet Nam under scrutiny after remarkable sequence of ivory seizures

TRAFFIC 11 Nov 16;

Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 11th November 2016—A staggering five significant ivory seizures in the weeks leading up to Viet Nam hosting a major intergovernmental event on illegal wildlife trade highlights ongoing concerns about the nation’s role in illicit wildlife trade.

In total, Vietnamese authorities confiscated over four and a half tonnes of trafficked ivory during October 2016. The first confiscation, a 309 kg shipment from Lagos, Nigeria, was the only one made at Ha Noi’s Noi Bai International Airport and took place on 1 October. The date coincided with the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP17) taking place in South Africa, where Viet Nam and other countries were reporting to the international community on their efforts to combat the illegal trade of wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn.

The other seizures took place in Cat Lai Sea Port in Ho Chi Minh City on 6 October, when the largest seizure—569 pieces of ivory totalling two tonnes—declared as timber from Mozambique took place; on 21st a container with 595 kg of ivory and 277 kg of pangolin scales from Mozambique was seized; on 26th, almost a tonne of ivory originating in Kenya and bound for Cambodia was seized; finally, on 31st, Customs seized 446 kg ivory from Nigeria.

The seizures took place just weeks ahead of the Hanoi Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, which takes place on 16-18 November, when representatives from around 50 nations will meet to review their progress in addressing wildlife crime following commitments made at the London Conference in 2014 and the Kasane Conference in 2015.

“In many ways these interdictions could not have come at a more opportune time for highlighting Viet Nam’s significant role in international ivory trafficking,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s expert on ivory trade.

An analysis of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), released just ahead of CITES CoP17, identified Viet Nam as a “country of primary concern” because of its role as both a transit conduit and an end-use market for large quantities of ivory flowing from Africa to Asia. The report noted the growing evidence of ivory processing in Viet Nam, especially for cross border ivory trade primarily catering to Chinese tourists.

“The agencies who made the seizures are to be congratulated, but the fact remains that international criminal networks are trafficking large quantities of ivory into Viet Nam, which is deeply damaging to a nation whose reputation is already tarnished over its role as a major driver of rhino poaching in Africa and Asia,” said Milliken.

“TRAFFIC urges Viet Nam to carry out its obligations under CITES and ensure the ivory in these large-scale seizures is forensically examined so that every lead can be followed up—such action is essential both to support the international efforts to end wildlife crime and for Viet Nam’s national dignity.”

Last year, TRAFFIC highlighted Da Nang Port in Viet Nam as an emerging location of choice for trafficking ivory from Africa. The latest seizures at Cat Lai Sea Port signal the criminals behind the trafficking adapt quickly to enforcement efforts. However, according to the United Nations Resident Co-ordinator and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, less than 1% of confiscations in Viet Nam result in convictions.

“Criminal gangs persist with trafficking via Viet Nam and doubtless the light penalties and very low risk of prosecution are major factors in that decision—this November’s Ha Noi conference is the ideal opportunity for Viet Nam to demonstrate to the international community that it can and will get tough with those whose activities are bringing the nation into disrepute,” said Madelon Willemsen, Head of TRAFFIC’s Viet Nam Office.

The pressure on Viet Nam is likely to rise further next week when the Wildlife Justice Commission, who investigate global organized criminal networks, holds a Public Hearing on 14–15 November at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. There, a panel of expert witnesses will highlight the country’s ongoing failure to live up to its international obligations to end wildlife crime.

“Viet Nam should be open about what it still needs to do and what support it needs from the international community to play a full role in the global efforts to bring down the organized criminals networks trafficking wildlife,” said Willemsen.

“TRAFFIC offers our full support to assist with this process and sincerely hopes our offer will not be spurned.”

At next week’s Hanoi Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, TRAFFIC will be calling on governments to implement their commitments made under the London Declaration and Kasane Statement and at CITES CoP17. These include commitments to close domestic ivory markets and phase out tiger and bear farms; enhance trade monitoring, anti-corruption activities and enforcement actions such as the use of controlled deliveries related to wildlife trafficking; improve relevant legislation and impose heavier penalties for wildlife crime; and increase information exchange between enforcement agencies regionally and globally.


Vietnam destroys huge ivory, rhino horn cache
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 12 Nov 16;

HANOI: Vietnam destroyed a huge stockpile of ivory and rhino horn on Saturday (Nov 12), urging the public to stop consuming illegal wildlife products driving several species towards extinction.

The ivory and rhino horn trade is officially banned in Vietnam, but its use in traditional medicine and for decoration remains widespread, especially among the communist country's growing elite.

It is also a popular transit point for African ivory and rhino horn destined for neighbouring China, the main market for products fuelling the illicit and lucrative trade.

More than two tonnes of ivory and 70 kilogrammes of rhino horn were crushed and burned on the outskirts of Hanoi as armed guards protected the more than 30 crates of horns, tusks and bones being destroyed.

Mr Ha Cong Tuan, Vietnam’s Deputy Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, said: “Vietnam will not accept wildlife trafficking and will aggressively fight the trafficking of endangered species. We also call on the people not to use it, and to put an end to trafficking as it is illegal and they will be punished.”

"The government is committed to combating the illegal wildlife trade and another message is that the government and Vietnamese people are not allowed to use the wildlife products that come from illegal trade," said Mr Vuong Tien Manh, deputy director of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Rapacious appetites for horns and tusks in parts of Asia have affected elephant and rhino populations in much of Africa, where poaching is rampant.

"Elephants are disappearing in certain areas and rhinos have almost disappeared, so it is important to show the willingness of the whole world to fight against poaching," Mozambique's ambassador to Vietnam Gamaliel Munguambe told AFP at the event.

Conservationists have urged Vietnam's government to crack down on smugglers who facilitate the trade.

"Vietnam is doing so much in terms of educating the public, trying to reduce demand, increasing the number of seizures - it's a lot of positive news here, but there are some holes," said Ms Teresa Telecky, Director of Wildlife at Humane Society International.

She urged the government to increase DNA sampling of ivory and rhino horn to track where the products were coming from to cut off supply chains.

“There are only about 28,000 rhinos of five species left on earth today. They're absolutely being driven to extinction by poaching for their horn, which has no medicinal value at all, and that's the real tragedy, it's just a waste, a waste of life, a waste of people's income that they spend buying rhino born thinking it's medicine, it's not medicine,” said Ms Telecky.

Vietnam now joins 20 other countries that have destroyed ivory and rhino horn seized from smugglers.

Saturday's event came ahead of a major international wildlife conference in Hanoi opening on Thursday that will be attended by Britain's Prince William, who has championed animal conservation.

- AFP/CNA/nc/de


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