Best of our wild blogs: 29 Dec 16

Checking up on Chek Jawa's northern sand bar
wild shores of singapore

Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2016
Conservation news

The top 5 CSR stories in 2016

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TP students help schools achieve sustainability goals

Despite the rejections they received, these four Temasek Poly students helped four schools achieve green goals during internship
Isabelle Liew The New Paper 29 Dec 16;

Their passion for environment sustainability started at the integrated facility management (IFM) course in Temasek Polytechnic's (TP) School of Engineering.

In their final year, they completed a six-month internship with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), where the team of four had to pitch to schools for the Back to School Programme, a pioneer environmental initiative.

Mr Gordon Lim, 20, Miss Tng Jie Min, 20, Miss Zoe Cheng, 21, and Mr Xue Jiade, 19,were rejected by six of 10 schools.

But the two secondary schools they helped received Green Mark Golds - a step above the lowest grade Green Mark Certified - and two primary schools got Green Mark Gold Plus - a step below the highest grade of Green Mark Platinum - for their Green Mark Rating.

The rating is where buildings are evaluated by BCA for environmental impact and performance. By 2020, all public sector buildings with more than 5,000 sq m gross floor areas but less than 10,000 sq m air-conditioned floor areas are required by BCA to attain Green Mark Gold.

The results came after months of conducting gap analyses, pitching ideas and assisting with implementation.

Some changes they introduced include switching the schools' air-con to an energy-saving one, and changing the lights to energy-efficient LED lights.

They also held meetings with the schools' principals and vice-principals, and conducted workshops and talks for teachers and students about environmental sustainability.

Mr Lim told The New Paper: "When I ( start working), I know I must push for environmental sustainability."

He has been inspired by modules including the sustainable facility management in his poly.

"TP's IFM course equipped me with the relevant knowledge. The people from the schools were surprised at the knowledge we had. But we need more than theory-based learning," he said.

The rejections the team faced were discouraging.

"We felt demoralised and were doubting our abilities. But I'm thankful the (people) from the schools (we worked with) trusted us," Mr Lim said.

Miss Tng also said the internship has helped her mature.

"I now look at the world (differently). There are a lot of hardships I didn't know about, such as rejections," she said.

Lecturer-in-charge of the internship, Miss Joanne Koh, said the schools had rejected the team as they were "only teenagers".

"Though they are students, they were able to help the schools accomplish their goal. They received commendation letters," she said. "BCA is looking to work with TP again, and the team will coach juniors taking up this internship."

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Man jailed 8 months for smuggling 23 puppies into Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 28 Dec 16;

SINGAPORE: A Malaysian man was on Wednesday (Dec 28) sentenced to eight months’ jail for illegally importing 23 puppies, 11 of which later succumbed to illness and died. Yeun Jian Iun, 21, will serve a concurrent four-month sentence for animal cruelty.

Yeun and his Singaporean accomplice, Cheow Yon Siong, 51, had tried to smuggle live puppies into Singapore on board Cheow's yacht on Oct 28, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in a statement.

At around 4.15pm, the Singapore-registered yacht was stopped by Police Coast Guard officers for a routine inspection off Changi General Purposes Anchorage.

Officers found the puppies - comprising nine poodles, five shih tzus, four pomeranians, three French bulldogs, and two golden retrievers - kept in cramped conditions in six pet carriers, which were hidden under bath towels.

The men did not have AVA import permits or health certificates for the puppies.

AVA added that its investigators found that the puppies were not given any food or water during their journey.

Some of the puppies showed signs of lethargy, lack of appetite and diarrhoea, said AVA, adding that the puppies’ condition did not improve despite veterinary treatment.

11 of the puppies succumbed to illness and died.

While the case was being investigated, the 12 surviving puppies were cared for and quarantined at AVA’s Sembawang Animal Quarantine Station (SAQS). They were kept under observation for signs of infectious or contagious diseases, especially rabies – a disease which is fatal to animals and humans.

AVA noted that animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of unknown health status, and that in the case of dogs and cats, the foremost concern is rabies. It added that Singapore has been free from rabies for over 60 years, but warned against complacency as the disease is endemic in the region.

To import an animal into Singapore, the animal needs to meet AVA’s import conditions, including vaccination and health certification requirements. Doing so without an AVA permit carries a maximum penalty of S$10,000 and/or jail of up to a year.

Cheow was charged for the same offence as Yeun, but intends to appeal. His case will be mentioned again on Jan 18 next year.

- CNA/xk

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Preserving a unique slice of Singapore's rural life

Audrey Tan, The New Paper AsiaOne 28 Dec 16;

New coffee table book features Kranji countryside's charm, history, farms and people

Visitors to Singapore's countryside are often charmed by its farms and nature areas, but not many may know that the Kranji area is also home to an old fire-breathing dragon.

The brick dragon kiln in the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle - one of the enterprises under the Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) - dates back to the 1940s. But it is still used today by potters who favour the disappearing art of using wood-firing kilns instead of contemporary methods of heating with gas or electricity.

Ceramics made in such kilns usually look unique as they are engulfed in fire and the ashes react with the glaze to produce unpredictable colours and textures during the wood- firing process.

Thow Kwang Industry offers hands-on sessions and tours of the historical kiln, but it is now possible to learn more about it in a new book, The Kranji Countryside - Soul Of Singapore.

The coffee table book, featuring photographs taken by French photographer Bertrand Chauvel, was written by marketing communications professional Carolyn Ortega, who is in her 40s.

The book highlights various aspects of the Kranji countryside - its history and wilderness, the farms, and the people hoping this slice of rustic life can be preserved.

Farmland takes up about 1 per cent of Singapore's land. Close to 600ha has been allocated to over 200 farms - many of which are in Kranji - for the production of food and non-food items.

But the agricultural sector, though small, plays a strategic role in the nation's food security, supplying some 10 per cent of its food.

Said Ms Ortega, who wrote the book on her own time: "We wanted to show Singaporeans and tourists the many facets of Kranji. Singapore is small, yet it has its own farms; we hope that the gem of our countryside can be preserved."

Earlier this year, 62 farms in the Lim Chu Kang and Kranji areas were told by the Government that they would have to move out by the end of 2019, to make way for the Defence Ministry's new training grounds.

The deadline had initially been June next year, but the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) pushed it back 2½ years to give farms more transit time.

Affected farmers will be able to bid for new farmland early next year, but exact details of the locations and new plot sizes have yet to be announced. The first tranche of land sales will be launched next year, AVA said last month.

KCA president Kenny Eng said the book is a photographic journey through Kranji, past and present, with its rich heritage and diversity. "The countryside is a unique ecosystem of mostly family-run farms... existing alongside natural conservation areas, poignant cemeteries and our defence forces. There is nowhere in the world a countryside is so small yet so rich. This book will be the only consolidated testament we have if it is removed."

The Kranji Countryside - Soul Of Singapore is priced at $30 and can be bought at Bollywood Veggies, Jurong Frog Farm, Hay Dairies, Nyee Phoe Gardenasia and at Uncle William's shop at

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2016 year in review: When animals crawl into the limelight

Chen Jingwen, Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Dec 16;

The surprise discovery of a rare and mysterious trilobite beetle in Singapore in November became big news in November when a Facebook video of it garnered millions of views.

Yet another testimony to the rich biodiversity hidden within the crevices of our modern concrete jungle, the "ancient-looking insect has kept scientists baffled for nearly two centuries", said the National Geographic Society.

The intriguing strange-looking beetle is so rare that researchers succeeded in observing its mating only twice, in 1924 and 1993.

If you think the spiders at Pulau Ubin are so scarily big, then it could be a more hair-raising experience if one is trapped in Charlotte's web.

Reportedly the world's biggest Huntsman spider ever to be photographed, Charlotte is an eight-legged whopper from Queensland, Australia, which became a Facebook sensation of sorts after her photos went viral in recent months.

A cousin of Charlotte also managed to spin headlines in Australia around the same time with its amazing feat.

Huntsman spider named Hermie (cover photo) aroused the interest of many after they saw it displaying 'Herculean' might as it dragged a poor mouse up a fridge in a video that went viral.

It would certainly be nightmarish if one were to be chased by a spiky predator.
But your heart might soften if Nelson the hedgehog snorts his way to you. You see, he has no spikes, and there's no way he can protect himself from meaner creatures.

Being taken care of at a rescue centre in Norfolk in the United Kingdom, Nelson gets a pampering oil massage thrice a day for he had lost his fur too.

The heartwarming story is another favourite among readers fascinated by news on the animal kingdom this year.

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Looking forward to 2017: Building momentum in efforts to protect local history

Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Dec 16;

Even as 2016 draws to a close, with many notable events shaping what has been called by many a year of change, 2017 looks to be a significant year. The Straits Times looks at what to expect for housing, education and heritage in the new year.


For years, the former National Aerated Water Company factory stood, disused and seemingly forgotten. Then, on Dec 9, came the news that the 62-year-old building in Serangoon Road had been sold to a Malaysian developer and could be razed to make way for a condominium.

It sparked rigorous discussion in the heritage community, which opposed the move, citing the building's history and architecture.

Although the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced later that the building could be conserved, its fate is still unclear and some sort of compromise between URA and the new owner will have to be struck.

This tension between development and heritage conservation and preservation could be eased when the results of the National Heritage Board's (NHB's) tangible heritage survey are released in the second half of next year.

The study - the first such comprehensive survey by the board - seeks to put together a list of Singapore's key landmarks and sites, with the aim of stepping up efforts to safeguard heritage as part of the NHB's broader mission of heritage commemoration and preservation. The findings will be shared with the public, who can contribute their personal stories and memories.

A $550,000 tender for the study called by NHB was awarded to art and history consultant Art Logica last year.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, who is part of the Art Logica team, said the public can look forward to "some interesting findings".

Singapore Heritage Society executive member Yeo Kang Shua said the data will come in useful if particular areas or places are targeted for development in future.

"The information will arm us with the knowledge of what we can safeguard. More importantly, it will also form the basis of an informed, rational and objective dialogue of what we can't save and take proactive measures to mitigate the loss," Dr Yeo said.

The survey results are expected to improve coordination among development agencies, heritage bodies and civil society.

Meanwhile, a team from anthropology company Ethnographica was tasked with handling NHB's intangible cultural heritage survey earlier this year.

NHB said results for this will likely be announced in 2018. About 150 types of intangible cultural heritage, including oral traditions such as folktales, are expected to be identified.

Within the sector, there could be a push towards greater emphasis on more skilled restoration techniques and processes.

At the URA's Architectural Heritage Awards in October, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee said: "While we can conserve buildings, we can achieve better heritage outcomes if they are restored through appropriate research, considered design and technical or scientific methods by professionals."

In a similar vein, experts have been calling for more Singaporeans to be trained to acquire the know- how to protect the country's historic structures and streetscapes. This would require all players, including academia, to contribute.

Another item on the community's wish list is better coordination of public portals among custodians of the country's historical records and heritage data.

This is on the back of a clear trend: More Singaporeans are interested enough to visit museums and heritage institutions.

Last year, about 3.8 million people - an all-time high - visited the national museums and heritage institutions, up from three million the year before.

Next year, new trails and revamped galleries will be added to the mix.

For instance, NHB will be launching a heritage trail of Little India next month. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, the board will be organising a series of World War II guided tours, among other things. And on Feb 16, the National Archives of Singapore will be re-opening its Memories at Old Ford Factory museum, which focuses on World War II.

The National Parks Board has also launched a Pulau Ubin trail to celebrate the island's cultural heritage and rustic character.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens will open its Learning Forest early next year as well as roll out an exhibition at its CDL Green Gallery, which will run from late February to April. This will feature the works of Mr Eng Siak Loy, who designed some of the Gardens' heritage landmarks such as its clock tower.

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Malaysia: Environment ministry set to propose new procedure in EIA, DEIA for all projects in the country

BALVIN KAUR New Straits Times 28 Dec 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The Environment and Natural Resources Ministry will propose a new ruling of a compulsory procedure for a new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Detailed Environmental Impact Assesment (DEIA) system for all development projects in the country.

Its Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the new EIA and DEIA proposal would be submitted to the Cabinet, National Land Council and National Physical Planning Council before it was implemented.

"If the proposal is approved, it will be the new EIA and DEIA system practised in the entire country and not just in Penang," he said in a statement issued today. Wan Junaidi was referring to the land reclamation projects in Penang.

It was reported that the DAP-led state government had proposed some 1,500ha of land reclamation off the southwestern coast of the island to fund its ambitious mega-transportation project.

The RM46 billion Penang Transport Masterplan (PTMP) project, will include Light Rail Transit, Monorail, and expressway.

He said there had been many reports on the land reclamation of late, as such he had ordered for a detailed EIA and DEIA for land reclamation in Penang.

"The current EIA and DEIA only focuses on projects approved by the state government or federal government in protecting the environment.

It is not inclusive as many elements are sidelines, which eventually affects the environment." he said.

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Malaysia: Johor reiterates pledge to end polystyrene packaging, plastic bags use by 2018

AHMAD FAIRUZ OTHMAN New Straits Times 28 Dec 16;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The Johor government has expressed its commitment to eliminating the use of polystyrene packaging and plastic bags in supermarkets and other businesses, given its January 2018 target to fully implement the ruling.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said a state government-initiated roadmap to eliminate the usage of polystyrene and plastic packaging is being drafted, and it will contain policies that will encourage businesses to gradually switch to biodegradable packaging alternatives.

"By June 2017, all large supermarkets in the state will be encouraged to replace the usage of plastics and polystyrene packaging and replace them with paper bags or other biodegradable alternatives.

Many supermarkets have done so now as there is the no-plastic bag day on Saturdays with a 20 sen charge if customers still want a plastic bag.

"But by 2018, the state government will fully implement (the ban) for plastics and polystyrene," said Ayub in a press conference at the Dato Jaafar Muhammad Building in Kota Iskandar, here today.

In April this year, Ayub had told the state assembly that the Johor government planned to replace the use of polystyrene and plastic packaging for food with biodegradable alternatives.

Only biodegradable containers for Johor in 2018
The Star 29 Dec 16;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The state government will enforce the use of biodegradable food containers in Johor from 2018 to replace plastic and polystyrene food containers.

State Health and Environment committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat (pic) said an awareness campaign to promote the use of biodegradable containers along with bio compost would be carried out between January and June next year.

He said that after June, supermarkets and hypermarkets would be encouraged to start using alternatives, including paper bags or any other biodegradable bags.

“Although we have yet to start our campaign, some food operators have taken the initiative to replace the use of polystyrene food containers,” he said, adding that RM250,000 had been allocated by the state government for the effort.

He said Johor Biotechnology and Biodiversity Corp (J-Biotech) would be spearheading the effort.

This included creating awareness, research as well as finding biodegradable alternatives for food operators.

Ayub said the state would also be looking into the pricing of the biodegradable containers.

Although costlier compared to polystyrene containers, he said, prices would fall when there was greater demand.

“If the difference is only about five to 10 sen, it should not be an issue,” said Ayub.

He also applauded the effort by supermarkets and hypermarkets that introduced “no plastic bag days” on Saturdays and hoped they would extend this to other days.

“We also encourage local councils to take part in conducting awareness programmes, especially before we start enforcing it in 2018,” he said.

He pointed out that Selangor took two years before enforcing a ban on polystyrene food containers, which takes effect next month.

Ayub said that the effort was vital for the environment, as Johor produced about 1,800 tonnes of rubbish per day, including 360 tonnes of polystyrene and plastic.

Disposal of the waste costs the state RM360mil every year, he said.

On a separate matter, he said, Johor had to date recorded a 31% decline on dengue cases with 10,567 cases this year compared to 15,777 cases in the corresponding period in 2015.

He said the number of deaths from dengue also declined by 50% with 22 deaths recorded compared to the 44 deaths in the same period last year.

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Malaysia: Sunday's landslides, floods at Tanah Rata due to 'abnormal rainfall'

The Star 28 Dec 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The landslides and flash floods in several areas here on Sunday were not caused by land encroachment activities.

Cameron Highlands district police chief DSP Hasadid A. Hamid said they were due to abnormal rainfall, causing soil movements at the hill slopes.

He said Tanah Rata received over 100mm of rain compared to the normal 20mm, when it rained from 2pm to 5pm on Sunday.

"Investigations by the police, Public Works Department, district council and the Fire and Rescue Department found that the flash floods and landslides were caused by the extraordinary downpour," he told reporters at a landslide location at the Tenaga Nasional Berhad's (TNB) holiday bungalow, 'The Sharples,'

In the incident on Sunday, the landslide damaged the front portion of the bungalow and four vehicles but there was no loss of life.

Landslides and falling trees were reported at KM55 Tapah-Tanah Rata road, near the Bharat Tea Plantation; KM59 Tapah-Tanah Rata road, near the Oly Apartment; and Jalan Perdah, while the police housing at Tanah Rata was inundated by flash flood.

"All the locations which experienced flash floods and landslides have been reopened and safe for all vehicles except at The Sharples," said Hasadid.

He said police had received three reports to date, on the incidents and a full investigation report could be obtained within three months.

"But, I reiterate, that the incidents have nothing to do with land encroachments as there are no activities which flout the law on the hills," he said. - Bernama

Heavy rain, not illegal land-clearing to blame for Cameron landslide
ZAHRATULHAYAT MAT ARIF New Straits Times 28 Dec 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Illegal constructions or land clearing did not lead to the landslide on Sunday which occurred near Tenaga Nasional Berhad's (TNB) Sharples Bungalow. Cameron Highlands police chief Deputy Superintendent

Hasadid A Hamid said the landslide was triggered due to heavy rain. "During the incident, the state Meteorological Department recorded rainfall measuring a total of 100.9mm.

"The number recorded was above the normal rate of only 20mm per day.

The total rainfall on that day was similar to that of the day of the worst landslide here in Nov 2014," he told a press conference at the scene today.

Hasadid said police have conducted checks at the hill near the bungalow and no illegal activities were found.

"I also urge members of the public to not believe rumors on social media," he said, adding that the official report on the incident would be released in three months.

It was reported on Sunday that 13 guests were evacuated and four cars parked near the bungalow were damaged after a landslide hit the area following heavy rain. No one was injured in the 3pm incident. Occupants were immediately instructed to leave the building for their safety.

The heavy rain had also caused a landslip at Jalan Cameron Highlands-Tapah and a team of firemen were deployed to cut and remove the uprooted trees that had obstructed traffic in the area.

OCPD: Heavy rain caused Xmas Day flash floods in Camerons
T. AVINESHWARAN The Star 29 Dec 16;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The sudden flash floods and landslides in Cameron Highlands on Christmas Day happened due to heavy rainfall and not because of illegal land clearing, says OCPD DSP Hasadid A. Hamid.

“Based on our investigations, no land clearing works were on-going in the areas affected by landslides and floods.

“The incidents were deemed a natural disaster. There was excessive rainfall on that day which lasted for a few hours,” he said yesterday after inspecting the Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) bungalow at Jalan Tengkolok in Tanah Rata.

On Christmas Day, floods affected the district police headquarters, barracks and a housing area in Jalan Masjid.

Landslides also hit the TNB bungalow, Oly Apartment and the Cameron Highlands-Tapah trunk road which blocked access near the Bharat Tea Plantation in Tanah Rata.

No casualties were reported.

Thirteen people staying at the TNB bungalow for the holidays escaped unhurt after the landslide hit part of the house and damaged four cars.

“Cameron Highlands is safe to visit. Although there is risk when it comes to hilly areas, the authorities are always monitoring the situation, including the hotspots.

“Places like Bharat Tea Plantations in Tanah Rata, Bertam, Kuala Terla and Kampung Raja are always monitored if it rains.

“Several agencies are also checking the slopes for soil movement and water runoff.

“Don’t trust viral messages and photographs spread through social media and always seek verification first.

“You can share information sent out by the government agencies. It’s a crime to spread false stories. If you need clarification, please check with us,” he added.

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Indonesia: Dead Sun Bear Found in Lampung, Body Parts Likely Stolen for Black Market Trade

Feriawan Hidayat & Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 28 Dec 16;

Jakarta. A sun bear was found dead at Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park's Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation Center in Talangsimpang, Lampung.

The national park security patrol team found the bear's carcass near the park borders in Sugi Sane village earlier this month.

"We found the bear's chest cut open, indicating the perpetrator took its enzyme-rich gallbladder intending to sell it," Ketut, the national park's security patrol representative, said in a statement on Tuesday (27/12).

Ketut explained that the bear was likely tortured before its death as it was initially trapped by a sling iron. The perpetrator then appeared to have pulled out all of its teeth and claws with force. This was to get the bear's adrenaline flowing, which in turn makes its bile sac enlarge.

"The bear was tortured to extract its enzymes. We suspect that the enzymes would then be sold on the black market, where they are worth millions," Ketut added.

The national park's security patrol team found that the offender also took the bear's teeth and claws to be sold illegally.

Poaching is rampant in the national park. Our team often finds abandoned animal carcasses, the result of hunting in the area," the officer stated. The team previously found several porcupine and mouse deer carcasses, as well as deer legs, which were discarded after their meat was taken by hunters.

The bear carcass discovery proves that hunting protected animals is becoming too common and increased action and attention from law enforcement is needed to prevent this.

Sun bears are protected under Indonesian law and are listed as "vulnerable" in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Endangered Animals.

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Indonesia: Jokowi inaugurates Rp 6.18t-worth geothermal power plants

Lita Aruperes The Jakarta Post 27 Dec 16;

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inaugurated on Tuesday three geothermal power plant (PLTP) infrastructure projects worth Rp 6.18 trillion (US$532.07 million) belonging to state oil and gas firm Pertamina.

The projects comprise the development of PLTP Lahendong unit 5 and 6 with a capacity of 2 x 20 Megawatts (MW) in Tompaso, North Sulawesi. The construction of the Rp 3.3 trillion-worth projects started on July 5, 2015. The third project is the construction of PLTP Ulubeli unit 3 with a capacity of 1 x 55 MW in Tanggamus, Lampung. The construction of the Rp 2.8 trillion project started in July 5, 2015.

Jokowi said Indonesia had vast geothermal power plant potential, which reached 29,000 MW. “Only 5 percent of the total potential has been utilized, which is still very small. The remaining 95 percent must be utilized. We are targeting to utilize 7,500 MW of our geothermal power plant potentials,” said Jokowi during the inauguration of the new power plants in Manado.

PLTP Lahendong unit 5 was finished on Sept.15, while unit 6 was completed on Dec.9, although the two power plants had been targeted to be completed by December and June 2017, respectively. Targeted to be finished in August, PLTP Ulubelu unit 3 was included in the Tanggamus electricity system on July 26, or one month earlier.

“Pertamina, as the mother company of Pertamina Geothermal Energy [PGE], appreciates all PGE workers who have proven their main competency by completing these projects earlier than scheduled so we can immediately help the government expand electricity services,” said Pertamina president director Dwi Soetjipto. (ebf)

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China in biggest-ever pangolin scale seizure: reports

AFP Yahoo News 28 Dec 16;

Shanghai (AFP) - Chinese customs seized over three tonnes of pangolin scales, state media said, in the country's biggest-ever smuggling case involving the animal parts.

Shanghai Customs found around 3.1 tonnes of pangolin scales mixed in with a container of wood products imported from Nigeria, state broadcaster CCTV reported Tuesday.

It estimated up to 7,500 of the creatures could have been killed.

The reclusive pangolin has become the most trafficked mammal on Earth due to soaring demand in Asia for their scales for traditional medicine and their flesh, considered a delicacy.

State media have previously said the scales fetch around 5,000 yuan ($700) per kilogram ($700) on the black market -- which would make the seizure worth more than $2 million.

Although the international pangolin trade is illegal in China and they are listed as one of the most-protected wild animals, law enforcement remains weak.

Pangolins are also farmed in the country and an online site selling traditional Chinese medicine offers them at 7,000 yuan per kilogram.

The scales are nothing more than keratin, the same substance that makes up fingernails. Yet it has been falsely touted as a cure for multiple ailments, including cancer, among some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

Shanghai Customs arrested three suspects who were suspected of smuggling the scales from Africa since 2015, the report said.

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After Asia, palm oil faces backlash in Africa

AFP 28 Dec 16;

Its lower cost has made it popular in commercial food production, but after being blamed for deforestation in Asia, palm oil plantations are now getting a similar rap in Africa.

The sheer scale of land required is having an impact in Gabon, Cameroon and the Congo Basin, environmentalists say.

With financing coming from American, European and Asian agri-businesses, palm bunches are cultivated then cut from trees and sent to factories where oil is extracted by hot pressing.

But the production process accelerates deforestation, contributes to climate change and threatens fauna and flora in vulnerable areas, opponents argue.

However the companies say that palm oil is not only less expensive than soya or sunflower oil but requires much less land to produce and provides much-needed jobs.

Gabon -- where forest covers 80 percent of the territory -- is feeling the brunt.

Brainforest and Mighty, two environmental groups, investigated the activities of Olam, an agri-business from Singapore, which said it has planted 58,000 hectares of palm trees in Gabon.

"It is estimated that Olam has deforested 20,000 hectares in its Gabonese concessions of Awala et Mouila since 2012," the groups said in a report released in mid-December. "Investigators on the scene witnessed and filmed bulldozers knocking down huge trees en masse."

Olam said palm trees had been planted on 25,000 hectares of land which had previously been forested, but that this had been "highly logged and degraded secondary forest" and represented just 0.1 percent of Gabon's forests.

In response to the report Olam published advertisements touting the almost 11,000 jobs it has created, the 1,100 hectares of food crops planted and 251 kilometres (150 miles) of roads built.

- A wider impact -

But the impact appears wider. In their report, the environmental groups expressed fears that the Congo Basin, considered the lung of Africa, could go the same way as forests in Sumatra, Indonesia and on Borneo.

"A few decades ago, these places were almost entirely covered with forests, a paradise for orangutans, rhinos, elephants and exotic birds. Today, only 20-30 percent of the forest cover exists."

The report was released in Libreville when an environmental film festival honoured the French documentary "Et Maintenant Nos Terres" (And Now Our Land).

Its directors, Julien Le Net and Benjamin Polle, chronicled how villages in Cameroon and Senegal were being affected by what they called "land grabs" by multinational companies.

In southwest Cameroon 244 farmers have filed a trespassing complaint against a company that intends to plant 20,000 hectares of palm trees.

Hearings in the case against Sustainable Oils Cameroon, formerly a subsidiary of American company Herakles Farms, were postponed after reports of unrest in the area in November.

Greenpeace has asked Cameroon not to renew the company's concession which expired at the end of November, and it cited "six years of illegal foresting, trampling of locals' rights, unfulfilled investments and destruction of forest".

A petition signed by 180,000 people against renewal of the contract was sent last week to Cameroon President Paul Biya, Greenpeace said.

The government has not yet made a decision but Greenpeace said it hoped it would hear the voices of "thousands of Cameroonians".

Meanwhile the plantations of Socapalm, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg company Socfin in which the family firm of French businessman Vincent Bollore owns a large minority stake, were targeted by protests in November.

"No to pollution and massive environmental destruction" read one banner, while another urged the company to open a dialogue with residents.

"More than 5,000 hectares has been used," a resident called Ebeneser Ekango told AFPTV at the time, complaining there wasn't enough land to plant the staple crop cassava. "What do we eat?"

Greenpeace, which has complained that Socfin concessions have included old-growth forests, applauded the company publishing in December a responsible management policy commits to "eliminating deforestation".

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