Singapore one of few remaining strongholds for endangered songbird

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 9 Dec 16;

SINGAPORE — The Republic can play a crucial role in conserving a songbird called the Straw-headed bulbul, whose numbers have been decimated in much of South-east Asia — the only region where it can be found, say local bird enthusiasts.

The bird’s conservation status was yesterday raised to “endangered” from “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which classifies species at high risk of global extinction.

The Straw-headed bulbul’s global numbers have plunged due to the illegal bird trade. From a 2001 estimate of 10,000 to 19,999 mature individuals in the wild, the estimate is now merely 600 to 1,700.

Known for its melodious and warbling song, the bird is considered locally extinct in Java, Thailand and possibly Sumatra, while numbers in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia are in rapid decline. Each bird can fetch about US$500 (S$708) in the Indonesian market, according to current research.

In contrast, its numbers in Singapore are relatively secure due to low poaching pressures, and may even be increasing, said Mr Yong Ding Li of the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, who is a PhD student at Australian National University.

Singapore is “one of the few remaining strongholds for the species”, which should be a high priority for the Republic’s conservation efforts, according to a recent report by wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

The Straw-headed bulbul is the most endangered songbird found in Singapore, said Traffic, which has highlighted the plight of South-east Asian songbirds threatened by demand from the caged-bird trade.

The latest IUCN Red List update saw 19 bird species in Asia moved to a higher threat category, including six to Critically Endangered, according to conservation partnership Birdlife International.

Two other affected species — the Greater green leafbird and Javan myna, from “least concern” to “vulnerable” — can be found here, but it is the Straw-headed bulbul whose plight is most dire.

The bird is listed on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which means trading requires a valid Cites export permit or re-export certificate. Singapore is a signatory to the convention.

There are at least 200 Straw-headed bulbuls in Singapore and its population is estimated to be increasing, based on research led by the Nature Society (Singapore), said Mr Yong.

A significant group of Straw-headed bulbuls can be found on Pulau Ubin, which could house the largest known population in a particular area, added Mr Yong, who led a study on its population patterns. Others involved in the study include conservationist Dr Ho Hua Chew and veteran birdwatchers Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah, who are brothers.

The Straw-headed bulbul can be seen in Singapore year-round and is “quite sedentary”, said Mr Lim Kim Seng. “It likes to forage near water, yet water seems to be a significant barrier for its dispersal.”

This could explain why the bird has not been spotted in Pulau Tekong or the woodland remnants of Changi and Pasir Ris on mainland Singapore, despite the areas’ close proximity to Ubin.

“It has a very powerful song, one of the most characteristic bird sounds of South-east Asia,” added Mr Yong.

The Singapore birdwatchers want more conservation efforts here targeting the Straw-headed bulbul, which is not dependent on good-quality rainforest but has instead colonised many patches of secondary woodland.

The authorities could consider gazetting Ubin as a nature reserve to accord it the highest level of biodiversity protection, for instance, said Mr Yong, who is a member of the Red List Authority of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, which can flag a species for review if there is adequate field evidence that it is in decline.

The birdwatchers plan to monitor the Straw-headed bulbul’s population changes in Singapore, and assess the threat of poaching here. They also plan to push for a regional species management plan for the bird.

Mr Yong believes drastic measures are needed to save the Straw-headed bulbul — such as ensuring conditions for the survival of some wild populations, and bringing some into captivity at recognised zoological institutions.

Calling for greater enforcement against poaching, Mr Yong said a working group on the songbird could be set up for better sharing of information.

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Malaysia: Record number of staghorn corals identified in Sabah

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 9 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: About 70% of the world’s staghorn corals which provide habitat and food for many marine species have been identified in waters around Sabah.

Researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) reported 83 species of staghorn corals occurring in Sabah waters, as published in the November issue of the scientific journal Zootaxa (Magnolia Press).

The staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is a branching, stony coral with cylindrical branches ranging from a few centimetres to over two metres in length and height.

It occurs in back reef and fore reef environments from zero up to 30m in depth. There are 120 known staghorn corals in the world.

The report was based on a review of published accounts over the last three decades by various research groups and records of specimens deposited in the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI), UMS’ Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) and Museum of Tropical Queensland in Australia.

The staghorn corals draw a parallel with those in Indonesia and other neighbouring countries.

Most of the staghorn corals, including rare species, were found at Darvel Bay in Lahad Datu, Sabah’s Banggi group of islands and waters off Semporna in the east coast.

Former Biotechnology Research Institute director and principal investigator of the project, Assoc Prof Dr Vijay Kumar, said: “The number of staghorn coral species we tallied for Sabah is nothing short of impressive as its coastline is relatively much shorter compared with other coastal countries in the region.

“Our findings further highlight the staggering diversity of Sabah’s biological resources in the marine environment.”

Twelve staghorn coral species in the checklist include a rare species, Acropora suharsonoi, which was collected during a marine bio-prospecting project undertaken recently by BRI.

The corals of Darvel Bay are the best studied in Sabah and much of the current knowledge regarding its biodiversity is attributed to a 1998 scientific expedition led by researchers from Denmark and BMRI, according to Rolando Robert, the first author of the paper.

A third of Sabah’s staghorn corals are listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Sabah Biodiversity Centre director Dr Abdul Fatah Amir said the state government’s move to gazette the Banggi islands as a marine park earlier this year was based on the rich biodiversity in the area.

He said the information in the checklist would help promote in-depth studies on understanding biological organisms involving staghorn corals.

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Malaysia: Sabah government should release rhino conservation funds - Musa Hitam

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 8 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah government should release federal funds meant for the conservation of the state's Sumatran Rhinos soon, said Sime Darby Foundation chairman Tun Musa Hitam.

Musa said that RM11.9mil was supposed to reach its target group early this year, adding that the funds seem to have been halted for reasons that were unclear.

The RM11.9 mil from the Federal Government is meant to support Advanced Reproductive Technology (ART) to keep the rhinos from going extinct.

"There seems to be a halt in the disbursement of the funds to the relevant bodies,” he said during a field trip to the Ulu Segama forest reserve in Lahad Datu on Wednesday.

Musa said that before the announcement of the funding, the Foundation had been supporting programmes to help protect and rehabilitate rhinos in Sabah since 2009.

He added that the Foundation had ceased funding in July 2016 but resumed funding conservation efforts when they were told that the funds had yet to arrive.

Musa added that there were signs that rhinos were still living in the wild in the Danum Valley conservation area and said that various efforts have been drawn up to prevent their extinction.

“I am not sure where the problem is as we were told that the funding had already been released to the Sabah government,” he said.

Musa said that he hoped the funds would allow the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary programme to continue.

The Borneo Rhino Sanctuary programme is under the care of the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA).

“We also hope that the three rhinos under BORA - Puntung, Iman and Kertam - will remain under BORA’s diligent care as the survival of the species depends on it,” he said.

Musa also said that the Foundation would continue replanting trees in the Bukit Piton forest reserve in Ulu Segama, Lahad Datu as the 10-year reforestation project is set to come to an end next year.

He added that he was very surprised and amazed to know that their efforts were paying off as orangutans were returning and making the forest reserve their home with nests seen in many areas.

"We partnered with the Sabah Forestry Department and Sime Darby Plantation to reforest 5,400 hectares of forest reserve, with RM25mil committed by our foundations towards the project over a period of 10 years," Musa said.

He added that the tree planting is scheduled for completion by 2017, and said this would be followed by maintenance of the planted trees until the end of 2018.

A total of 4, 724 hectares of degraded forest has been reforested with 350, 000 seedlings of various trees.

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Malaysia: Getting behind the 'Save the Sun Bear Campaign'

ELENA KOSHY New Straits Times 8 Dec 16;

While efforts are made to rescue, rehabilitate and release sun bears into the wild, their prospects still look less than sunny, write Elena Koshy and the Malaysian Nature Society Conservation Division.

IT is a bittersweet moment when juvenile sun bear Avi is released into the wild. She seems more interested in getting back to her human caretakers than the life she’s meant to live. Behind her is the lush green forest of the Terengganu National Park, and in front, anxious humans aboard boats on Kenyir Lake. Avi doesn’t seem too keen to explore her surroundings, instead, she heads for the people without fear.

This comes as no surprise to her National Wildlife Rescue Centre (NWRC) caretakers, many of whom use the word manja to describe this female bear. Manja is a Malay word for affectionate and a bit clingy, and this fits Avi. Hand-reared after she was found abandoned as a three-month-old cub near the National Zoo, Avi, who is almost 2, is the most affectionate of the sun bear rescues at NWRC.

This is the reality of rescue, where success is letting animals live their lives, risks and all, in the wild. The sun bear has a life expectancy of 30 years, and although NWRC is the only home Avi has ever known, it’s hoped that the rehabilitation process has taught her enough skills to survive and live out the rest of her natural life where she’s meant to be.

That’s the aim of the Save The Sun Bear Campaign — a collaboration between Felda Global Ventures Holdings (FGV), the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan), the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

“The release is the third such activity under the five-year programme that started last year, concentrating on a three-pronged approach of rescue, rehabilitation and release (3Rs), public awareness and research,” says K. Ilangovan, FGV’s head of Sustainability Technical, under the Environmental & Sustainability Division.


The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), the world’s smallest bear species, used to thrive in our tropical rainforest. With short sleek black fur and an orange-yellow crescent-shaped patch near the neck that looks uncannily like the rising sun, sun bears are also expert climbers with the ability to swing from tree to tree like primates.

Because of their penchant for honey, which they expertly scoop out of wild bee nests with their long agile tongue, they’re also known as honey bears.

These days, our sun bears face threats of an unprecedented nature, thanks to habitat loss, poaching, wildlife trade of body parts and illegal trafficking of live cubs, earning them a “vulnerable” status under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list for threatened species.

“Sun bear parts and products have long been targeted for trade, particularly its gall bladder for traditional Chinese medicine, its paws as a food delicacy and, more recently, in Malaysia, as pets,” says Kanitha Krishnasamy, senior programme manager of Traffic Southeast Asia.

A Traffic study released in 2015 discovered that in a survey of 365 traditional medicine shops across Malaysia, a whopping 48 per cent claimed to be selling bear gall bladders and medicinal products containing bear bile. “If you walk into many traditional medicine shops in the country, especially the older, well-established ones, the chances of finding bear gall bladders, or vials or pills are high,” adds Kanitha.

The report also found that nearly 60 per cent of 298 bear gall bladders for sale were claimed to be from wild sun bears killed locally through either opportunistic or deliberate poaching.


In fairy tales, legends and popular childhood stories, the bear is a beloved childhood icon. However, human fascination with bears hasn’t worked in the bear’s favour.

“The illegal trafficking of sun bears as pets is a fairly new and growing phenomenon in Malaysia,” says Kanitha. “Just recently, Perhilitan seized a sun bear cub that looks like an Asiatic Black Bear that’s not native to Malaysia, indicating that people are seeking these animals out even from beyond our borders. This particular case doesn’t just make it a domestic trade violation, but a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) violation at an international level.”

With adult bears being killed or poached for their parts, bear cubs are the latest commodity traded as exotic pets by people who have no inkling about how to rear them. “The craze for keeping cubs isn’t a well thought-out decision. Young bears eventually grow up to be adults. Unless one has proper knowledge and experience to care for them, it could end up doing more harm to the animal and risk its chances of survival,” warns Kanitha.

While sun bear cubs are undeniably adorable, the adults can reach up to a height of 1.5m and weigh 80kg, with 10cm long claws and a scarily strong bite force. Once grown, unmanageable “pet” bears are abandoned, locked away in tiny cages or sold to wildlife traffickers by pet owners unable to cope with the responsibility of owning a wild animal.


NWRC deals with rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing such bears into their natural habitat. With seven bears released last year and one last May, this brings the figures to 12 sun bears released under the programme, with five left at NWRC. However, three are infirm — one is too old, another is blind and the last had lost a paw — with no hope of survival in the wild.

They will spend the remainder of their days under care. The remaining two are still being rehabilitated, and will be assessed on their suitability to live in the wild, which includes ability to forage for food, climb trees and avoid conflict with humans.

As the boats back away, Avi is busy splashing merrily in the water. Her keepers joke that given a chance, she would happily try to climb aboard one of the vessels to be with the only family she has ever known.

This family will keep a watch on the release sites for up to a week, and on Avi and the others via their radio collars for up to a year, but that’s all that they can do.

The future is unknown for Avi, the manja sun bear who sucks her rear paw when stressed, as a child would suck its thumb for comfort. However, those who believe in the Save The Sun Bear Campaign surely have to trust that they’re doing the right thing for this Malayan sun bear and her kin, and for the future of the species as a whole.

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Malaysia: Malacca reclamation - Weigh socio-economic gains against ecological losses, authorities urged

ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL New Straits Times 8 Dec 16;

MALACCA: The long-term effect of land reclamation could be felt by the masses as marine-based produce and services deplete, along with coastal livelihoods, eventually directly impacting the cost of living.

A marine scientist said it was likely that reclamation works had caused the rapid and intensified coastal erosion that hit Kampung Hailam beach in Tanjung Kling recently.

Malaysian Society of Marine Sciences president Dr Harinder Rai Singh called on state and federal governments to weigh the socio-economic gains against the ecological losses.

He said ecologically sensitive areas such as the coast of Malacca had high biodiversity value.

“Coastal reclamation can affect coastal currents and wave fronts, which can affect sediment transport and sedimentation in coastal habitats such as mangroves, mudflats, corals, sandy beaches and seagrass beds.”

He was commenting on a New Straits Times special report on the proposed reclamation of a man-made island to be turned into the Kuala Linggi International Port (KLIP) project and the already rapid reclamation of Malacca’s southern coastline, which had raised public concern.

“Reclamation can cause coastal erosion and may also reduce current and wave energy, resulting in accretion of sediment. This may happen in the vicinity of the project or some distance away. The erosion in Kampung Hailam has probably been happening over the years, either due to natural causes or accelerated due to human intervention in the marine and coastal environment.”

Harinder said the question of how necessary reclamation was, compared with its adverse effects on ecology, remained one that divided public opinion.

“That is a socio-economic issue for the state and the federal governments to decide. Ecologically, reclamation is a disturbance, where changes to coastal and marine habitats are acute, and such changes can be drastic.

“One example is loss in feeding, nursery, breeding and spawning grounds for coastal organisms. For example, soil or sand dumping for reclamation smothers and kills sessile invertebrates that are the diet of demersal fish (bottom feeders).

“Mangroves, coral, seagrass, mudflat and shallow coastal water habitat loss is translated into loss of goods and services, which ultimately affects coastal livelihoods,” said Harinder, who is attached to the Faculty of Applied Sciences at Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Shah Alam campus.

Environmental governance at risk
EDITORIAL New Straits Times 8 Dec 16;

THE environmental impact assessment (EIA), whose ideas go back to the United Nations Declaration on the Human Environment at the Stockholm Conference in 1972, is critical in ensuring sustainable development.

More than 170 countries declared their commitment to strike a balance between environmental concerns and economic needs at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the EIA was recognised as one of the tools to achieve this.

Malaysia is one of the earliest countries that embraced the EIA concept. Following in the footsteps of various developed countries, Malaysia adapted the EIA practice into local legal regimes in 1974.

The impending construction of the RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port in the first quarter of next year clearly shows the lack of respect the developers in question have for the EIA process.

They have blatantly ignored the objections of a team of experts, which has declared the port project an environmental hazard.

The team, which had produced a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report on the proposed airport, was adamant that the Department of Environment did not approve the project.

The main issue was the location. The facility would be built on reclaimed land, which would form an island right at the mouth of Sungai Linggi.

The concern is that this may disrupt the hydrodynamics and cause floods, which would affect towns and people upstream.

The consensus was the choice of site was inappropriate as it would disrupt the flow of water from the river, marine life and livelihood of the people.

The start of the project, as announced by owners TAG Marine Sdn Bhd on Nov 28, came as a shock to those involved in the DEIA report. The proposed port would be an expansion of the Kuala Linggi port, which opened in 2001.

Another valid complaint is the excessive land reclamation exercise along Malacca’s 70km-long coastline.

Along the coast of Malacca, once popular stretches of beaches in Klebang have disappeared, jeopardising the future of fishermen. Land reclamation has presented many countries with available land to develop, without the need to demolish existing infrastructure or relocate people from their homes.

But taking land from the sea also raises huge problems such as the decimation of entire coastal areas, wiping out their native fish and aquatic plant populations as a result of the changes that land reclamation can trigger.

Experts talk about serious dangers such as irreversible environmental damage, coastal erosion, subsidence, damage to fishery resources and, most of all, those sites are usually vulnerable to sea level rise.

As Malacca is economically dependent on tourism, it is vital to keep its environment and aquatic life as pristine as possible.

Is Malaysia’s environmental governance going through a crisis? If people chose not to see it before, they should now, following this latest episode.

Ignoring EIA reports is the first step towards killing the EIA process in Malaysia. It is abundantly clear that the priority of these particular developers is not the protection of the environment.

The “anti-environment” stance of such developers will lead to a huge crisis in environmental governance in Malaysia.

We will see the impact of their foolishness in the form of irreparable damage to ecology and an immense economic burden on the people of Malaysia.

Malacca govt to help secure approvals for RM12.5b KLIP project
ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL AND ARFA YUNUS New Straits Times 8 Dec 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port (KLIP) project by TAG Marine Sdn Bhd cannot commence until the company has obtained all the necessary approvals.

Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron, however, said the state government would help the company in getting the approvals.

“The state government will always lend a hand should any requirement be beyond the capacity of the developers.

“We will manage the mechanisms needed... the developers will have to sit down and discuss comprehensively with the authorities on how to find either a new location, new coordinates or on how best we can solve the problems to meet the requirements,” he told the New Straits Times.

Idris said this was to ensure that there would be no negative impact arising from the project.

Asked whether there were plans to move the project site, he said the location of KLIP would have to be near the area, as it was the perfect natural harbour.

“It’s the best area with the depth and maritime requirements (for a port). The area is one of a kind, with a natural harbour. Ship captains and owners have said that the area is the best place for ships to dock.”

TAG Marine managing director Datuk Noormustafa Kamal Yahya had last month announced that the project would commence next year, with the bulk of the funding coming from Chinese investors. The project is an expansion of the Kuala Linggi Port, which opened in 2001.

Yesterday, the NST published an exclusive report stating that environmentalists were puzzled as to how TAG Marine could have announced the project when the team that analysed the company’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report had rejected it.

The team’s report said the location was unsuitable as it would disrupt the flow of water from Sungai Linggi; and because the project was at the mouth of the river, it would endanger marine life and fishermen’s livelihood.

Water quality and modelling specialist Dr Zaki Zainuddin, who led the team that rejected the project’s EIA, had told the NST the proposed location of KLIP was unsuitable as it could cause adverse shifts in hydrodynamics, which could potentially result in flooding inland.

In Malacca, Idris said the development of the state’s coast would move towards the industrialisation of its maritime services through new ports.

He said traditional agro-based professions might soon come to an end.

“I read about the grouses and I want to reply that you cannot forever remain as fishermen or traditional farmers because life requires you to go through different experiences. Now is the age to build ports.

“So, if you are still catching fish, then I fear there are other sentiments behind it. Reclamation began 44 years ago, so why are you complaining about it now?”

Idris, who was speaking after chairing the state executive council meeting, was responding to questions on the KLIP project and what had been called excessive reclamation works on Malacca’s coast.

He told the public to look to the future as the sprawling developments planned along the Malacca coast would attract opportunities.

He recalled a meeting with a farmer-turned-landlord in China recently, saying: “I was in Shenzhen, China, and I was told by this stylish landlord that 18 years ago he was just a small farmer earning a tough living. Today, he is the landlord of several expensive properties.

“I asked him what he does and he said he doesn’t farm anymore. Now, he helps ship owners clean their vessels docked at a port and monitors the rental collection for his properties in Shenzhen.

“Reclamation has been taking place in Malacca since 1972 for 44 years. Those in the Portuguese settlement have been catching fish for as long. You must remember that we were once rubber tappers, traditional fishermen and farmers.

“All those who lived by the coast were fishermen. But they do not remain fishermen forever.”

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Indonesia: Floods, landslides leave thousands displaced

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, Ganug Nugroho Adi, and Agus Maryono
The Jakarta Post Jakarta Post 8 Dec 16;

Bad weather has continued to hit regions across the country, leading to overflowing rivers, landslides and floods that have resulted in thousands of people leaving their houses and farmers enduring crop failures.

Heavy downpours in West Sumatra caused rivers in the northern part of the province to overflow and inundate hundreds of houses and farming areas, covering dozens of hectares.

According to the head of the logistics and emergency unit at the West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), R. Pagar Negara, as of Wednesday, at least 260 houses in the Ujung Gading district in West Pasaman regency were inundated with up to 1.5 meters of water.

“In East Pasaman regency, some 30 houses have been inundated and dozens of hectares of farming areas have been damaged,” Pagar said in Padang on Wednesday.

Landslides have cut off access to major roads in Agam regency. In Palupuh, for example, collapsing sediment had blocked a road connecting the province’s two biggest cities, Padang and Bukittinggi, he said.

“The major road connecting Bukittinggi to areas in North Sumatra was eventually reopened after more than six hours of work to clear up the collapsed debris,” he said.

Pagar said West Sumatra BPBD had issued warnings for people in the province to stay alert because extreme weather was predicted to continue through January.

He added almost all areas in the province were prone to heavy downpour and winds while fishermen living on the Mentawai Islands have been asked to stay alert for oversized waves.

In Wonogiri, Central Java, hundreds of people from six different villages have been living at temporary shelters due to the Beton river overflowing and flooding their homes.

“The depth of the inundation varies, between 50 centimeters to one meter. Almost every year we have suffered from flooding, but this time it seems to be the worse,” Heru Susilo, a resident, said.

Wonogiri BPBD head Bambang Haryanto said as many as 10 inflatable boats had been deployed to help evacuate residents.

“Affected residents have been temporarily sheltered in mosques and schools,” Bambang said.

The landslides in Sukomakmur Village in Magelang, Central Java, and Citorek Village in Lebak, Banten, meanwhile, have killed five people collectively, according to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

The prolonged heavy rain in the northern part of Central Java has damaged major roads. The total length of road damages reached 80 kilometers across four regencies, according to Djoko Satriyo from the Bina Marga road directorate general, which oversees roads in the Banyumas-Purworejo area.

Data from BNPB showed that, as of October this year, there have been 575 landslides, killing 177 people, which is an increase from last year’s 515 landslides resulting in 135 fatalities.

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Indonesia: Nearly 100 killed, hundreds hurt as quake strikes Aceh

Reuters 7 Dec 16;

Nearly 100 people were killed and hundreds injured in Indonesia on Wednesday when a strong earthquake hit its Aceh province and rescuers used earth movers and bare hands to search for survivors in scores of toppled buildings.

Medical volunteers rushed in fading evening light to get people to hospitals, which were straining to cope with the influx of injured.

The Aceh provincial government said in a statement 93 people had died and more than 500 were injured, many seriously.

Sutopo Nugroho of Indonesia's national disaster management agency, said a state of emergency had been declared in Aceh, which sits on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

"We are now focusing on searching for victims and possible survivors," said Nugroho. His agency put the death toll at 94.

Aceh was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami centered on its western coast near the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, on Dec. 26, 2004. That tsunami killed 226,000 people along Indian Ocean shorelines.

Officials urged people to sleep outdoors as twilight fell, in case aftershocks caused more damage to already precarious buildings.

President Joko Widodo was expected to visit the area on Thursday, his deputy told media.

Wednesday's quake hit the east coast of the province, about 170 km (105 miles) from Banda Aceh. Nugroho said Aceh's Pidie Jaya regency, with a population of about 140,000, was worst hit.

Many victims had suffered broken bones and gashes and had to be treated in hospital corridors and hastily erected disaster tents, a Reuters witness said.

Television showed footage of flattened mosques, fallen electricity poles and crushed cars.

A Red Crescent volunteer said health workers were struggling.

"There aren't enough medical staff," the Red Crescent's Muklis, who like many Indonesians uses one name, told TVOne.

Nugroho said more than 1,000 personnel, including military officers and volunteers, had been deployed to help in disaster relief.

At least five aftershocks were felt after the initial quake, the disaster management agency said.

The region suffered massive destruction in 2004 when a 9.2 magnitude quake triggered a tsunami that wiped out entire communities in Indonesia and other countries around the Indian Ocean.

Indonesia was the hardest hit, with more than 120,000 people killed in Aceh.

(Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA and Reuters stringer in PIDIE JAYA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Aid groups descend on Aceh quake zone as deaths reach 102
Today Online 9 Dec 16;

MEUREUDU (Indonesia) — Humanitarian organisations descended on Indonesia’s Aceh province yesterday as the local disaster agency called for urgent food supplies and officials raced to assess the full extent of damage from an earthquake that has killed more than 100 people.

Volunteers and nearly 1,500 rescuers concentrated their search on the hard-hit town of Meureudu in Pidie Jaya district near the epicentre of the 6.5-magnitude quake that struck before dawn on Wednesday. But the small number of heavy excavators on the scene meant progress was slow. Humanitarian assessment teams fanned out to other areas of the district.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll had risen to 102 and warned it could increase. Search teams were using devices that detect mobile phone signals within a 100m radius to help guide their efforts as they scoured the rubble. The disaster agency said more than 750 people were injured.

Thousands of people are homeless or afraid to return to their homes.

Mr Nugroho said more than 11,000 people have been displaced and are staying in shelters and mosques or with relatives. About 10,500 homes were damaged and dozens of mosques and shop houses collapsed, he added.

Mr Mohammad Jafar, 60, said his daughter, granddaughter and grandson died in the quake but he was resigned to it as “God’s will”.

Killer quakes occur regularly in the region, where many live with the terrifying memory of a giant Dec 26, 2004, earthquake that struck off Sumatra. The 9.1-magnitude quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 100,000 Acehnese.
Mr Sulaiman, a Disaster Mitigation Agency official in Aceh, said staple foods for women and babies are most urgently needed. He said medicines are sufficient for the time being because assistance is coming from the army, police, state-run companies and local governments.

“What’s badly needed now are staple foods such as rice, cooking oil, salted fish and other foods,’’ said Mr Sulaiman, who like many Indonesians, go by one name. He said people had complained about a lack of clean water, but the problem has been tackled and electricity supply is returning to normal in many areas.

Mr Nugroho, at a news conference in Jakarta, said urgent items needed include clothing, temporary shelters, heavy excavation equipment, medical tools and specialist doctors for victims suffering fractures.

President Joko Widodo asked all Indonesians to pray for their countrymen in the disaster-stricken province.

“Aceh is not alone,” he posted on his official Twitter account.

The government announced 50 tonnes of urgent aid for the province, including 10 generators, tents, folding beds, baby supplies and body bags.

“Every aid and civil society organisation is piling into the area with as many boxes of rice, instant noodles, blankets and other aid as they can shift,’’ said Mr Paul Dillon, a spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has an assessment team in northern Aceh.

It will take at least two more days before a fuller picture emerges of how many people are displaced and of the relief effort required, he said. On Twitter, the IOM said one mosque was sheltering 2,000 displaced women and children.

The Indonesian military is setting up an emergency field hospital and sending two dozen doctors, and the Health Ministry is sending a medical team and medicines. The Red Cross sent aid such as water trucks on Wednesday and humanitarian group Care is leading an assessment team of four international aid groups to avoid duplication of efforts.

Two officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force left for Indonesia yesterday, as part of a regional emergency response and assessment team to help determine the critical resources required. They are expected to be there for a week. The Singapore Armed Forces has offered help to its Indonesian counterparts.

Mercy Relief of Singapore also announced yesterday that it will be deploying a two-man disaster response team on the ground. The governments of Malaysia, Australia and Japan, among others, have also offered to help with the humanitarian response.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake was centred about 19km south-east of Sigli, a town near the northern tip of Sumatra, at a depth of 17km. It did not generate a tsunami but aftershocks rattled the area.

The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. The 2004 quake and tsunami killed a total of 230,000 people in a dozen countries, most of them in Aceh. AGENCIES


Singapore’s leaders have expressed their condolences and offered assistance to Indonesian President Joko Widodo after the deadly Aceh earthquake.

In his letter to Mr Widodo on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “Singapore stands ready to assist Indonesia in whatever way we can”. Mr Lee also conveyed his condolences to those who lost their loved ones in the quake and said he was saddened by the “tragic loss of lives and widespread damage”.

In a separate letter, President Tony Tan Keng Yam also said that “our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Indonesia during this difficult period”.

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Giraffes, rarer than elephants, put on extinction watch list

SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press Yahoo News 8 Dec 16;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The giraffe, the tallest land animal, is now at risk of extinction, biologists say.

Because the giraffe population has shrunk nearly 40 percent in just 30 years, scientists put it on the official watch list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, calling it "vulnerable." That's two steps up the danger ladder from its previous designation of being a species of least concern. In 1985, there were between 151,000 and 163,000 giraffes but in 2015 the number was down to 97,562, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

At a biodiversity meeting Wednesday in Mexico, the IUCN increased the threat level for 35 species and lowered the threat level for seven species on its "Red List" of threatened species, considered by scientists the official list of what animals and plants are in danger of disappearing.

The giraffe is the only mammal whose status changed on the list this year. Scientists blame habitat loss.

While everyone worries about elephants, Earth has four times as many pachyderms as giraffes, said Julian Fennessy and Noelle Kumpel, co-chairs of the specialty group of biologists that put the giraffe on the IUCN Red List. They both called what's happening to giraffes a "silent extinction."

"Everyone assumes giraffes are everywhere," said Fennessy, co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

But they're not, Fennessy said. Until recently, biologists hadn't done a good job assessing giraffes' numbers and where they can be found, and they have been lumped into one broad species instead of nine separate subspecies.

"There's a strong tendency to think that familiar species (such as giraffes, chimps, etc.) must be OK because they are familiar and we see them in zoos," said Duke University conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, who wasn't part of the work and has criticized the IUCN for not putting enough species on the threat list. "This is dangerous."

Fennessy blamed shrinking living space as the main culprit in the declining giraffe population, worsened by poaching and disease. People are moving into giraffe areas especially in central and eastern Africa. Giraffe numbers are plunging most in central and eastern Africa and are being offset by increases in southern Africa, he said.

This has fragmented giraffe populations, making them shrink in size with wild giraffes gone from seven countries — Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal, said Kumpel of the Zoological Society of London.

The IUCN says 860 plant and animal species are extinct, and another 68 are extinct in the wild. Nearly 13,000 are endangered or critically endangered. The next level is vulnerable, where giraffes were placed, followed by near threatened and least concerned.

The status of two snake species worsened. The ornate ground snake, which lives on the tiny island of Saint Lucia, deteriorated from endangered to critically endangered. The Lacepede's ground snake of Martinique, which was already critically endangered, is now considered possibly extinct, pending confirmation, as is the trondo mainty, a river fish in Madagascar.

But there is also good news for some species. The Victoria stonebasher, a freshwater fish in Africa, went from being considered endangered to least concerned with a stable population. And an African plant, the acmadenia candida, which was declared extinct, has been rediscovered and is now considered endangered. Another freshwater fish, ptychochromoides itasy, which hadn't been seen since the 1960s, has been rediscovered in small numbers in Africa's Sakay River and is now considered critically endangered.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature:

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