Best of our wild blogs: 21 Dec 16

Singapore Raptor Report – November 2016
Singapore Bird Group

Birdwatching in Bidadari (18 December 2016)
Rojak Librarian

Birdwatching in Hindhede Nature Park (15 December 2016)
Rojak Librarian

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Singapore not taking breather even as it cuts gas emissions

Lin Yangchen, Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Dec 16;

Something grew more slowly than Singapore's economy in the last decade, and it was good news for the environment.

From 2000 to 2012, the economy grew 5.7 per cent a year on average, while greenhouse gas emissions rose just 2 per cent a year, the National Climate Change Secretariat and the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said in a joint statement yesterday.

This means a 35 per cent reduction in "emission intensity", which measures a country's emissions relative to its economic activity.

This was one of the key points in a biennial report submitted to the United Nations last Friday in fulfilment of Singapore's obligations to the UN Framework Convention On Climate Change.

The switch from fuel oil to mostly natural gas, the cleanest form of fossil fuel for power generation, helped Singapore achieve the reduction.

The report also stated that most of the country's emissions in 2012 were from power generation - about 83 per cent - either for the grid or by large industrial companies generating their own power.

Transport, excluding aviation and international shipping, contributed about 15 per cent.

The warming effect of these emissions was equivalent to that of about 48 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - termed "carbon dioxide equivalent" - and carbon dioxide itself constituted about 97 per cent of it.

Singapore has also refined the procedure for calculating emissions. It now factors in land-use categories that absorb carbon dioxide, such as forests.

Such land categories absorbed 0.239 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012, which offset 0.5 per cent of Singapore's emissions.

More refinements are in store. Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced that the Government would be finding ways to enhance emission monitoring and reporting by big industrial energy users, just as the Paris Climate accord came into force.

The Government will work to reduce Singapore's emission intensity even further. By 2030, emission intensity should be 36 per cent less than it was in 2005, with a peak in emissions around 2030, said yesterday's statement.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said although renewable energy will play a bigger role in the future, its scope in reducing emissions is limited.

"We only have solar, and solar energy is limited because of humidity and rain and cloud... Renewables can only do so much.

"The biggest improvement that Singapore can hope for would be from energy efficiency," he added - whether in buildings, industrial processes or electric vehicles.

For example, NTU is working with government agencies like the Building And Construction Authority and JTC Corporation to design more efficient buildings that not only feature insulating materials but also consider human behaviour in the design, and use sensors and data analytics to optimise energy consumption.

Ms Nur Adibah A. Majeed, an environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council, urged the public to join the cause through actions such as taking public transport and reducing electricity consumption.

"We urge our nation to come together and contribute collectively by leading greener lifestyles... Every bit of action adds up."

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Malaysia: Plantations seen behind more than half Malaysian Borneo deforestation

Rozanna Latiff Reuters 20 Dec 16;

Palm oil and pulp wood companies are responsible for more than half of the rapid deforestation in the Malaysian part of Borneo island, an environmental scientist said in an interview.

David Gaveau, of the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), used satellite images and data on concessions from more than four decades to determine how fast deforested land was converted into industrial plantations on Borneo.

"The faster the conversion, the more likely that the lands were cleared by plantation companies," Gaveau told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Just half of Borneo - which is shared by Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia - is now covered by forests compared with 76 percent in 1973, Gaveau said.

The findings by Gaveau and his group are likely to compound criticism of the palm oil industry in particular, which has faced condemnation for its land-clearing by burning and resulting smoke across Southeast Asia every year.

Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia are the world's top two producers of palm oil, a widely used edible oil found in everything from cookies to soaps. Both countries are also major producers of timber and timber products.

Plantations operating on both the Malaysian and Indonesian parts of Borneo have come under scrutiny over the clearing of forest, which has also resulted in a dramatic loss of habitat for wildlife including orangutans.

"By and large, we can say that the oil palm industry has always been the major driver of deforestation," Gaveau said.

But the link between plantations and deforestation was much more stark in Malaysian Borneo, Gaveau said.

Malaysia lost 4.2 million hectares, or 28 percent, of its original forest cover on Borneo between 1973 and 2015, and up to 60 percent of the cleared land was rapidly converted to plantations, Gaveau said.

At the end of 2015, Malaysia had about 10.8 million hectares still covered by forest on Borneo, he said.

But in Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo, only about 16 percent of cleared land was rapidly turned into plantations, he said.

"Most of the plantations in Kalimantan were developed either on land that were cleared much earlier, or in forest areas that had been degraded by recurring fires brought on by droughts," Gaveau said.

"But plantations on the Malaysian side have always expanded into forested areas and this has been constant over the past forty years."

However, he said, Indonesian palm oil plantations were rapidly catching up with Malaysia, clearing swathes of Borneo forest from 2005, following a palm-oil market boom.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Indonesia: Javan Slow Lorises Released Back Into the Wild

Vento Saudale & Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 20 Dec 16;

Jakarta. Javan slow lorises that were under the custody of West Java's Natural Resources Conservation Agency, or BKSDA, have been released to Mount Halimun Salak National Park in West Java by an environmental organization.

International Animal Rescue Indonesia (Yiari) has already released 10 slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus), some of which were confiscated from poachers by BKSDA. The release process had to be done in stages.

"Before [the animals] were released, they had to undergo a series of checkups and microchipping," Yiari veterinarian Wendi Prameswari said on Monday (19/12).

In several weeks 10 more animals will be returned to their habitat.

"We are doing the final preparations for the release of 10 more slow lorises. One or two of them will have radio transmitters, so we'll be able to track their progress," Wendi said.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Javan slow lorises are critically endangered. Under the Indonesian law, whoever keeps them as pets or is engaged in illegal wildlife trade, can face 5 years in prison.

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Indonesia: The fight to save Earth's smallest rhino in Sumatra's jungles

AFP Yahoo News 20 Dec 16;

Way Kambas National Park (Indonesia) (AFP) - Deep from within the Indonesian jungle a solitary, seldom seen forest giant emerges from the undergrowth.

It is a Sumatran rhino, one of the rarest large mammals on Earth.

There are no more than 100 left on the entire planet and Andatu -- a four-year old male -- is one of the last remaining hopes for the future of the species.

He is part of a special breeding programme at Way Kambas National Park in eastern Sumatra that is trying to save this critically endangered species from disappearing forever.

The species is so rarely seen that even villagers living near the park were stunned when a wild rhino wandered into their community.

“They thought it was a mythical creature,” Zulfi Arsan, head veterinary surgeon at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary at Way Kambas, told AFP.

“They chased her, and so we had to rescue her.”

Sumatran rhinos are the smallest of all rhinos, and the only Asian variety with two horns.

Unlike their better-known cousins in Africa, Sumatran rhinos are born covered in shaggy, reddish-brown fur, earning them the nickname “hairy rhino”.

Their woolly covering fades to black or disappears almost entirely over their lifetimes, which span 35 to 40 years.

This hair -- coupled with their smaller stature and short horns -- gives Sumatran rhinos like Andatu a gentler, softer appearance than their imposing, armour-plated cousins.

- Hunted for horns -

They once roamed the vast, dense forests of Sumatra, Borneo and Malaysia but land-clearing and poaching have devastated their numbers.

In 2015, the species was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia, leaving just tiny herds of two to five rhinos scattered across Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo.

Somewhere within the 1,300 square-kilometres (500 square miles) of Way Kambas live an estimated 36 wild rhinos, Arsan said.

In Sumatra there are also small clusters in the west and the island's northern Leuser ecosystem -- the last place on Earth where wild rhinos, orangutans, tigers and elephants roam together.

Poaching is a serious threat. The last rhino killed in Way Kambas was in 2006, Arsan said, but staff take no chances in this section of lowland forest.

Armed rhino protection units patrol the habitat, disabling snares and notifying authorities of intruders and suspicious activity.

“There’s still illegal activities inside the park,” Arsan said.

“The demand for the horn, for rhino products, is still there.”

Three males, including Andatu, and four females are kept in a 100-hectare natural rainforest enclosure within Way Kambas, where vets and researchers take every opportunity to study their unusual breeding patterns.

Sumatran rhinos are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

Females are only fertile for a small window each cycle, and need male contact to ovulate. Even then, intercourse does not guarantee conception.

To make matters worse, Sumatran rhinos are solitary by nature and often clash upon interaction.

“In one hundred years we’ve had just seven babies. It’s very hard,” Arsan said of historic efforts to breed the rhinos.

Andatu’s birth in 2012 was heralded as a milestone: he was the first Sumatran rhino born in an Asian breeding facility in more than 140 years.

Since then he has been joined by a sister, who arrived this May to much fanfare.

Andatu is close to reaching sexual maturity, and conservationists hope he can play a star role in ensuring the longevity of the species.

“Every birth is a hope,” Arsan said.

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El Niño fueled Zika outbreak, new study suggests

University of Liverpool Science Daily 19 Dec 16;

A change in weather patterns, brought on by the 'Godzilla' El Niño of 2015, fueled the Zika outbreak in South America, researchers report.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have shown that a change in weather patterns, brought on by the 'Godzilla' El Niño of 2015, fuelled the Zika outbreak in South America.

The findings were revealed using a new epidemiological model that looked at how climate affects the spread of Zika virus by both of its major vectors, the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).

The model can also be used to predict the risk of future outbreaks, and help public health officials tailor mosquito control measures and travel advice.

The model used the worldwide distribution of both vectors as well as temperature-dependent factors, such as mosquito biting rates, mortality rates and viral development rates within mosquitoes, to predict the effect of climate on virus transmission. It found that in 2015, when the Zika outbreak occurred, the risk of transmission was greatest in South America.

The researchers believe that this was likely due to a combination of El Niño -- a naturally occurring phenomenon that sees above-normal temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and causes extreme weather around the world -- and climate change, creating conducive conditions for the mosquito vectors.

El Niños occur every three to seven years in varying intensity, with the 2015 El Niño, nicknamed the 'Godzilla', one of the strongest on record. Effects can include severe drought, heavy rains and temperature rises at global scale.

Dr Cyril Caminade, a population and epidemiology researcher who led the work, said: "It's thought that the Zika virus probably arrived in Brazil from Southeast Asia or the Pacific islands in 2013.

"However, our model suggests that it was temperature conditions related to the 2015 El Niño that played a key role in igniting the outbreak -- almost two years after the virus was believed to be introduced on the continent."

"In addition to El Niño, other critical factors might have played a role in the amplification of the outbreak, such as the non-exposed South American population, the risk posed by travel and trade, the virulence of the Zika virus strain and co-infections with other viruses such as dengue."

The World Health Organisation recently declared that Zika, which has been linked to birth defects and neurological complications, will no longer be treated as an international emergency, but as a "significant enduring public health challenge."

Professor Matthew Baylis, from the University's Institute of Infection and Global Health, added: "Zika is not going away, and so the development of tools that could help predict potential future outbreaks and spread are extremely important.

"Our model predicts a potential seasonal transmission risk for Zika virus, in the south eastern United States, southern China, and to a lesser extent over southern Europe during summer."

The researchers now plan to adapt the model to other important flaviviruses, such as Chikungunya and Dengue fever, with the aim of developing disease early warning systems that could help public health officials prepare for, or even prevent, future outbreaks.

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Emerging Infections and Zoonoses, a collaboration between the University of Liverpool, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Public Health England.

The paper 'Global risk model for vector-borne transmission of Zika virus reveals the role of El Niño 2015' is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Journal Reference:

Matthew Baylis et al. Global risk model for vector-borne transmission of Zika virus reveals the role of El Niño 2015. PNAS, December 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1614303114

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El Nino-linked cyclones to increase in Pacific with global warming - research

Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Hawaii could face an increased frequency in powerful storms during El Nino
Umberto Bacchi Thomson Reuters Foundation 20 Dec 16;

LONDON, Dec 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Small Pacific island states could be hit by more tropical cyclones during future El Nino weather patterns due to climate change, scientists said on Tuesday.

El Nino is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific occurring every two to seven years which can trigger both floods and drought in different parts of the world.

Its opposite phase, a cooling of the same waters known as La Nina, is associated with the increased probability of wetter conditions over much of Australia and increased numbers of tropical cyclones.

Between 2070 and the end of the century, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Hawaii could face an increased frequency in powerful storms during El Nino of up to 40 percent, Australian meteorologists said in a study.

However cyclones may be up to 60 percent less frequent during the opposite La Nina pattern, according to the study published in Nature Climate Change magazine.

Cyclones bring destructive winds, torrential rain and storm surges that are likely to be exacerbated by rising sea levels caused by global warming, posing a serious threat to Pacific islands, the authors said.

"Storm surge...can lead to massive waves propagating far inland, devastating structures and vegetation in its path," co-author Kevin Tory, of the Australia's Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email.

"Salt water inundation can also damage soil, leading to years of reduced agricultural yield," he said.

Researchers said in the last three decades of the century, the ocean's surface waters will be hotter than usual in the Western Pacific due to global warming, resulting in more frequent cyclones during El Nino.

"These results suggest tropical cyclone activity in these regions will increase in a future warmer climate," one of the study's authors, Savin Chand, of Federation University Australia said in an email.

The latest El Nino, which emerged in 2015 and ended in May this year resulted in sea temperatures rising to the highest levels in 19 years.

Small island developing states are already suffering the impacts of climate change, including rising seas and worsening extreme weather, and have pushed hard for more ambitious international efforts to reduce planet-warming emissions.

The Marshall Islands, Fiji and Palau were the first three countries to ratify the Paris climate change agreement to limit global temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius earlier this year.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit

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Safeguarding of biodiversity must be integrated across agricultural sectors

UN Conference agrees to mainstreaming biodiversity to ensure sustainable development
FAO 20 Dec 16;

20 December 2016, Rome - Governments from 167 countries have given unprecedented recognition to the need to protect biodiversity across the agricultural sectors as a key action to achieve sustainable development, including ensuring food security and addressing climate change.

Meeting in Cancun, Mexico at the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP13) which ended on 17 December, governments agreed on specific steps to promote the integration of the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity within and across the agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism sectors.

The Conference Declaration stresses that the international community must involve different governmental and economic sectors and not just environment ministries to protect biodiversity - the thousands of interconnected species that make up a vital web of ecosystem services upon which global food production depends.

"This is a turning point," said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General. "The agriculture sectors and biodiversity have often been regarded as separate and even conflicting concerns, yet they are inextricably connected. Agriculture is by nature a major user of biodiversity, but it also has the potential to contribute to its protection," she added.

"Now that the international community has demonstrated its commitment to link both, we can really start building bridges, breaking down silos and tackling global challenges in a more concerted and coherent manner," Semedo said.

FAO Biodiversity Platform - breaking barriers

At the Cancun meeting, governments welcomed relevant policy frameworks, guidance, and tools developed by FAO and invited countries to use guidance from FAO related to biodiversity and the agricultural sectors.

The Cancun meeting also welcomed the new biodiversity platform launched by FAO at the Conference to build bridges between sectors, identify synergies, align goals and develop integrated cross-sectoral approaches to mainstreaming biodiversity in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors.

Aimed at facilitating cross-sector dialogue, the platform will allow ministries of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and environment to share experiences and explore how to best encourage sectors that depend or have an impact on biodiversity to adopt integrated approaches for its conservation and sustainable use

Stepping up efforts

The Cancun meeting invited FAO to continue supporting countries in the development and implementation of measures, guidance and tools to promote the mainstreaming of biodiversity in the relevant sectors.

Earlier this month, FAO's Council, the organization's executive, endorsed principles of a Common Vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture as a basis for the policy dialogue and governance arrangements needed to identify sustainable development pathways across sectors and along related value chains.

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