Best of our wild blogs: 30 Apr 17

21 May (Sun)- Want to learn how to be a nature guide? Come join the Chek Jawa Familiarisation Tour with the Naked Hermit Crabs!
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Kusu Island, 龟屿岛

Kusu Island still reefy
wild shores of singapore

Favourite Nectaring Plants #10
Butterflies of Singapore

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Singapore has reached its end

Surekha A. Yadav Malay Mail 30 Apr 17;

APRIL 30 — Marina Bay used to have the best steamboat restaurants in Singapore. That line of hotpot spots are now replaced by… well, the entire city.

I had never really thought much about our expanding shoreline although I should have — considering coast lines that I knew growing up are now so deep in-land you cannot even see the water anymore.

Samat Subramaniam’s wonderful article in the New York Times recently got me thinking and reading up about this.

He delves into this matter in more exquisite and accurate detail but basically Singapore needs land.

From the moment our nation came into existence, our government has taken determined steps to manage the nation’s most scarce resource.

The scale of Singapore’s sand imports are such that vast swathes of our neighbours; Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar have been affected by sand mining.

Key eco-systems — dunes, beaches, forests — have been quarried away to be sold to Singapore for a few dollars a ton.

The problem is sufficiently significant that virtually every country in the region has enacted bans on the export of sand — and particularly the export of sand to Singapore.

Singapore is a small country. Barely 700 square kilometres, it ranks around 180 out of the world’s 196 or so countries and territories.

Single cities like New York or Beijing are far larger than our nation, yet our economy is larger than the economies of major and large-sized nations like Pakistan, New Zealand or the Philippines.

Our land area is tiny but our ambitions are vast and we are home to over five million people.

Resolving this conundrum with just a few hundred square kilometres of land is not easy — and the reality is that size has always been our enemy.

The government now owns over 90 per cent of the country’s land area — on which it works to maximise the productivity of every square foot.

Even the 10 per cent of land it doesn’t own outright it regulates tightly and reserves the right to acquire.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority co-ordinates across ministries and engages experts and academics to ensure that our land use is optimised.

But even with the some of the tightest planning in the world, we need to carve new land out of the sea.

To date, Singapore has reclaimed over 100 square kilometres of land or 10-20 per cent of our total land area.

Our airport, our industrial zones (Jurong), huge sections of the port, our finance centre from Beach Road to Marina Bay Sands, even the entertainment/casino hubs on Sentosa... all of these are built partly or entirely on reclaimed land.

Our ambitions may be limitless but the truth is we are hitting physical limit. We just can’t keep reclaiming.

Technology, costs, the physical supply of sand mean we can’t keep growing our land mass.

Even politically, if we keep growing we’ll begin encroaching on territory claimed by Malaysia and Indonesia and the South China Sea doesn’t need another territorial dispute.

This will be an enormous challenge for our governments, our planners and our population but well, we’ve overcome some seemingly insurmountable obstacles before and the chances are we will get over this.

Already we’re experimenting with high rise factories, multi-story farms and floating stages. The reality is that as a people we must get high, really high.

Sky parks, sky farms it may sound like science fiction but with the sand running out the sky will have to be the limit.

Born and bred in Singapore, Surekha A. Yadav is a freelance journalist in Southeast Asia.

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Malaysia: Johor converting sewage treatment plants into water reclamation facilities

Ahmad Fairuz Othman New Straits Times 30 Apr 17;

PASIR GUDANG: Plans are underway to convert 158 sewage treatment plants in the Pasir Gudang and Tebrau areas into water reclamation plants which can produce potable water for industrial use here.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang said the ministry will soon hold discussions on the plan with the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) at the authority's next meeting, to be chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

"Such a move has been (carried out) in Kuala Lumpur.

"Discharge from (sewage) treatment plants can produce potable water for industrial use. The 158 sewage treatment plants in the Pasir Gudang and Tebrau areas have a catchment area of 1.5 million people, which means (they) can supply up to 260 MLD (million litres per day) of water.

"This will be used for Pasir Gudang's industries," said Zaini after the My River, My Property programme launched by Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin at Pasar Nelayan, Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru, today.

Khaled urged the federal government to give priority to such a project, because Iskandar Malaysia is a big contributor to the country's economy.

Govt to replace 158 sewerage treatment plants in Johor
NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 1 May 17;

JOHOR BARU: All 158 sewerage treatment plants, which are treating waste water from 1.2 million people living in Pasir Gudang and Tebrau, will be replaced under a Federal Government plan.

The proposal is to replace all these aging sewerage treatment plants with one centralised system known as water reclamation plant (WRP), which not only treats the water but also can produce about 260 million litres of water per day for industries.

Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the project was vital for the growth of Iskandar Malaysia.

“Phase 1 of the project itself will cost more than RM1bil. We hope this treated water can be channel­led to industries in Pasir Gudang,” he said, adding that the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minis­try would undertake this project.

“This will be good for Iskandar. WRP can help to supply water to industries instead of them relying on treated water from Syarikat Air Johor,” he said at the launch of the Sungaiku Hartaku programme along Sungai Masai here.

Mohamed Khaled said the WRP was not cheap as the Government spent RM250mil to build a plant to treat Sungai Segget in Johor Baru.

Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang said he would discuss the matter with the Iskandar Regional Development Authority soon.

Many of the sewerage treatment plants were between 20 and 30 years old, he said.

“They are not able to process all the sewerage and this is channelled into our waterways,” he added.

On another matter, Mohamed Khaled reminded the public not to discard rubbish into waterways as 229 rivers out of the 473 rivers nationwide are polluted.

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Malaysia: Steps taken to preserve Malayan tiger habitat

The Star 30 Apr 17;

PETALING JAYA: The Government has identified over 600,000ha in Peninsular Malaysia as a special protection area to preserve the habitat of the endangered Malayan tigers.

Perhilitan director-general Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said proactive measures had been taken by the fede­ral and state governments to gazette a few areas for this purpose.

“The preservation of forest reserves other than the special protected areas, especially at the central forest spine, must be managed sustainably to ensure that Malayan tigers will conti­nue to be protected from the threat of extinction,” he said in statement.

Perhilitan signed a memorandum of understanding with Malay­sian Na­­tio­nal Animal Welfare Foun­dation, World Wide Fund for Nature Ma­­lay­sia, and Wild­life Conser­vation Society Malaysia to assist in conducting the first National Tiger Survey (NTS) aimed at identifying the exact population and habitat of the dwindling species in the peninsula.

Currently, the Malayan tiger subspecies, which was first formally re­­cognised in 2004 after genetic tests, is listed as endangered by the Interna­tional Union for Conserva­tion of Nature Red List.

The survey is the first covering all forest reserves in the peninsula and will take at least two years.

Abdul Kadir said there were about 250 to 340 Malayan tigers based on a study conducted by Perhilitan and other NGOs at three of its main habitats – the National Park (Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan), Belum-Temengor (Perak) and Endau-Rompin (Johor).

He said the moratorium on deer hunting, which was introduced last November, would be enforced until Nov 30, 2021.

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Indonesia's yellow-crested cockatoo population threatened

Markus Makur The Jakarta Post 30 Apr 17;

The populations of the yellowcrested cockatoo on several islands are in critical danger due to massive exploitation, researchers say.

Anna Reuleaux from Manchester Metropolitan University said recently that she had been conducting research and compiling population data.

According to the data, there are around 200 birds on Sulawesi, 18 birds on Masalembo, 107 birds on Sumbawa, 40 birds on Flores, 70 birds on Rinca, 218 birds on Komodo, 258 birds on Alor and 288 birds on Pantar.

Approximately 2,000 birds still exist on Sumba and 200 to 300 birds on Timor and Timor Leste. On Tanahjampea, it is estimated that there are still 15 birds and there are eight birds on Tukangbesi.

Reuleaux conducted this research for conservation purposes, including to study the breeding of the birds, so that she could provide recommendations for stakeholders in Indonesia on how to preserve the species.

“I have been conducting research about the breeding of yellow-crested cockatoos on several islands since August last year and will continue until July next year,” the Germany native said.

She has been researching on Flores, starting from West Manggarai in Golomori, Rinca and Komodo and went further to Adonara and Alor. She also went to Sulawesi and Java.

“I traveled in East Nusa Tenggara for three months to Sumba, Flores, Alor, Timor and Rote. This is a conservation effort for Indonesian endemic birds, together with Burung Indonesia and the Bogor Agriculture Institute.”

Reuleaux explained that the yellow-Crested cockatoo is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the highest category of threat, “critically endangered,” due entirely to its massive exploitation as a cage bird. Seven subspecies are distributed in and just outside Wallacea, although the Sumba subspecies, known as the citron-crested Cockatoo, to aviculturists is probably a separate species. The population status of each of these subspecies is believed to be very serious.

Reuleaux said this research aimed to conduct extensive surveys of remaining cockatoo populations across its entire range, to produce accurate estimations of local population sizes and to determine their ecological and management requirement.

It is also intended to identify areas, which have or could have the right conditions to be local sites for future management interventions or re-introductions, and to generate in-depth information on the ecology of the citron-crested cockatoo on Sumba and possibly another subspecies in order to inform management practices for all populations. The research would also provide training and qualifications for one European and one Indonesian researcher in order to build capacity for cockatoo research and conservation.

The research is sponsored by Zoologishe Gesellschaff fur Arten-Und Biotopschute (ZGAP Germany) and Loro Porgue Fundacion in Spain.

She explained that the previous research, including in 1993, found there were 6,000 birds. However in 1994, there were cases of illegal trade of the species. Since then, the population has continued to dwindle more and more each year.

“We can find this bird in East Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi and East Java. People are interested in this bird because of its unique yellow crest.”

The outcome of the project will be conservation relevant information on the size of remaining cockatoo populations, identification of new populations and explanations of why some areas retain cockatoo populations and others do not.

Romi Lungga Dangolimu, a field researcher from the Lembaga Burung Indonesia (Indonesian Bird Institute) on Sumba, who accompanied the German researcher, said the population of the bird on the island was quite good.

In 2000, there was a massive hunting of this bird. Then in 2013, Burung Indonesia stepped in to raise awareness to protect the endemic species.

He explained that the awareness program from Burung Indonesia had shown good results, with local people establishing groups to campaign about the protection of the species.

“Overall, there is no more yellow-crested cockatoo hunting on Sumba, although some people still attempted to set up traps in trees to catch the birds. But thanks to the monitoring groups, their attempts failed. The groups removed the traps and cleaned up the trees from the glue.”

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Indonesia: Hungry elephants in Sumatra destroy local plantations

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 30 Apr 17;

Locals have called on authorities to take action to drive away three wild elephants, which came close to residential areas in Bengkalis regency, Riau province and destroyed palm and crop plantations.

The herd of the endangered animal had visited Jl. Rangau, Pematang Pudu subdistrict, Mandau district, in the past two weeks, but it was only in the past week that they began eating the local’s plantations, local Nimrot Sinaga said.

“They also destroyed an 8-hectare 3-year old palm plantation, which belongs to my parents,” he said on Friday.

The elephants usually came at night, he said, adding that he and the other residents tried to drive the elephants away using firecrackers. However, the elephants remained circling the area as other residents also tried to cast them away from the opposite direction.

He predicted that the three elephants are one family as they comprised of two adults and one calf around five years old.

“We expect the Riau Natural Resource Conservation Agency [BKSDA] will soon deploy a tamed elephant to lead the wild elephants away from the plantations and residences,” he said.

Tamed elephants are usually used to mitigate conflict between wild elephants and humans.

Nimrot said if authorities did not take swift action, he feared the local people would not be able to contain their anger as their palm plantations were eaten by the elephants. He said the elephants ate the palm shoots, which will kill the trees.

Besides palms, the elephants also ate other crops including sweet potatoes, beans and many other kinds of vegetables.

“If they keep causing restlessness among locals, I fear for their safety. They are protected animals, but their lives could be at risk,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mandau district head Djoko Edy Imhar said he had contacted Riau BKSDA to report the incident.

“BKSDA must lead the wild elephants away from local residences and plantations to prevent any possible conflicts,” he said.

Agency official R. Hutajulu said his office had assigned a team to monitor the wild elephant’s movements. It was detected that they were around the Jambon public cemetery and the team would try to lead them to Talang Forest at night.

From this monitoring, it was known that the herds’ movements were slow as one of the adult elephants could not walk properly. The elephant’s leg was wounded from a trap, which struck it some time ago. The agency’s team had treated the wound, but he said the healing process might take a while as the wound was on the elephant’s foot.

Hutajulu urged people not to get panicky if the three wild elephants passed their yards while they were herded to the Talang Forest.

“People must remain calm as Riau BKSDA is following their movements. It is better for people to stay at a safe distance so the elephants do not feel threatened and chase people instead,” he said.

The rampant conversion of forests into plantations has increased the rate of human-elephant conflicts in the country. Data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia in 2015 showed that Indonesia had the highest number of human-elephant conflicts in Asia.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 17

Seagrassy East Coast Park is alive
wild shores of singapore

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This Singapore crab is not for eating

Just a few hundred J. singaporensis remain, so species has its own national protection plan
Lin Yangchen The Straits Times 28 Apr 17;

A drab brown crab looking as monotonous as the sand around it - apart from its faintly striped legs - is not something you would suspect to be of national importance.

But Johora singaporensis, the Singapore freshwater crab, has been given its very own national action plan of protection, for it is truly, uniquely Singaporean and is not found anywhere else in the world.

Its abodes in rocky, crystal-clear freshwater streams in the forested hills of Singapore are so critical that the National Parks Board (NParks) safeguards information on the locations as if it were a state secret.

Scientists estimate that only a few hundred mature individuals remain in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers it critically endangered and among the 100 most threatened species worldwide.

No bigger than a USB flash drive, it feeds on plants and animals dead or alive, and helps recycle nutrients in the aquatic ecosystem.

Despite its small size, Singapore is teeming with a large variety of animal and plant species. But conserving them is an ongoing challenge. In this five-part weekly series done in conjunction with Biodiversity Week that starts on May 20, The Straits Times highlights several of the species which have been saved from the brink of extinction. Today, in the first of this series, we look at the Singapore freshwater crab.

Assistant Professor Darren Yeo, from the National University of Singapore's (NUS') department of biological sciences, said the species originated about five million years ago when a population of crabs was geographically isolated from similar populations elsewhere and evolved into J. singaporensis.

The species was officially described and named in 1986 by NUS' Professor Peter Ng, who later taught Prof Yeo when he was an undergrad.

Three freshwater crab species are found only in Singapore, but the other two have less stringent habitat requirements or are found in better-protected areas like the Nee Soon Swamp Forest, said Prof Yeo.

He remembers the first time he saw the crab in the wild, while he was an undergraduate helping NParks with a survey of freshwater streams in the mid-1990s.

Turning over rocks and leaves in the water, he spotted the elusive creature. "I said to myself: 'Oh, this is cool; this is the thing that my professor described.' And then it went back into the water," he said.

In 2008, researchers discovered that J. singaporensis had disappeared from Jungle Fall Valley in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR), where it was originally found by Prof Ng.

NUS biological sciences lecturer N. Sivasothi, one of the researchers who made the discovery, said: "It was the start of a realisation that the environment had changed."

He and his colleagues then uncovered a report that had previous measurements of the water at the stream, and found that the water had increased in acidity. The reason for this remains a mystery, as other streams in the reserve appear to be unaffected.

Meanwhile, the crab clings to a tenuous existence in a handful of other freshwater streams in BTNR, Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak.

The episode motivated Mr Sivasothi to enrol some of his undergraduate students in project work to better understand the characteristics of freshwater streams here.

"I tell the students that we have a national responsibility," he said.

In 2014, researchers and officers from NParks, NUS, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, IUCN, other government agencies and non-governmental organisations met to form a conservation strategy for the crab.

A year or two later, some of the crabs were translocated to a stream with suitable conditions where they had not been found before.

Today, the crabs seem to be thriving there. The researchers found that some had shed and renewed their exoskeletons - a sign that they had grown bigger.

NParks is working with its partners on a population enhancement and monitoring programme, including captive breeding.

Conservationists say the crab can be a national icon. For a start, it was pure luck that the most vulnerable of the three crabs found only in Singapore was named after the country. This has helped elevate its status, said Prof Yeo.

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Conservationist Lena Chan: Singapore’s very own ‘mother nature’ at work

Conservationist Lena Chan leads fight to preserve natural heritage
Lin Yangchen The Straits Times 28 Apr 17;

Over the past decade, Singapore has progressed by leaps and bounds in preserving its natural heritage despite the ever-present pressure of urban development.

And one woman especially has been toiling behind the scenes, whipping up the collective resolve to make sure that the birds and trees live to see tomorrow.

With her luxuriant grey hair, Dr Lena Chan could well be Singapore's very own "mother nature".

"It didn't happen overnight," said the group director of the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC), a branch of the National Parks Board (NParks). She met The Straits Times under her favourite tree at the Botanic Gardens, a Jelawai Jaha that soars 50m into the sky, supported by enormous buttresses.

Biodiversity conservation efforts went into high gear here back in 2009, when NBC formulated Singapore's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to fulfil the country's obligation to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

With Dr Chan at the helm, NBC has become the nerve centre for coordinating nationwide conservation efforts, such as the planting of trees that provide a multi-layered canopy of leaves similar to that found in a pristine tropical rainforest.

These efforts complement the agency's species recovery programme, which has identified 46 plant and animal species that are rare or unique to Singapore, such as the secretive, tree-dwelling Raffles' Banded Langur, which relies on high-quality forest habitat.

Dr Chan - who formulated nature conservation strategies for various Malaysian state governments during the 1980s as part of her work for the World Wide Fund for Nature - also underscores the importance of extending conservation efforts beyond NParks-controlled areas, since nature knows no administrative boundaries.

NParks has worked with agencies, from the Singapore Tourism Board to the Ministry of Defence to national water agency PUB, among many others.

As an example, Dr Chan cited the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, a project announced in 2014 to protect marine biodiversity here.

"When we commit to something like that, it's a whole-of-government commitment," she said.

NParks is expanding efforts to get the public psyched up about conservation too. For example, almost 100 schools have signed up for its Greening Schools for Biodiversity programme, which helps students conduct wildlife surveys and grow biodiversity-enhancing plants.

Many of these initiatives are part of NParks' Nature Conservation Masterplan (NCMP) of 2015, which lays out the conservation road map until 2020, as the NBSAP is put into action.

Dr Chan's legacy will live on too, in a little spider that makes its home on Bukit Timah Hill. Scientists named it after her - Singaporemma lenachanae.

The brown critter is tiny, only about 1mm in size. Hardly anything is known about it.

But it could be a crucial link in the web of nature, and Dr Chan believes that people must continue to protect these essential components of a healthy environment.

In her words, "there will always be more to do".

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Bukit Timah’s secret kampung, hidden in a forest

In this upscale district, where landed houses outnumber HDB flats, lies the little-known remnants of its kampung past, hidden by time and nature. On The Red Dot uncovers its secrets.
Desmond Ng and Trinh Hoang Ly Channel NewsAsia 28 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve abounds with dense vegetation, a variety of forest animals, noisy insects - and the ruins of an old Chinese kampung so well-hidden that few know it exists.

Flanked by thick foliage, this piece of land just behind Hindhede Drive contains the remaining structures of several Chinese kampung houses, with remnants of a well, a bathroom stall, a kitchen and a storage area still standing.

It has so far eluded many of the joggers, nature lovers and families who frequent this nature reserve.

Mr Sani Abdul Rahim, whose maternal grandparents used to live in the area, said: “Maybe (the authorities) can put a sign to indicate that there was a village here. Many people who trek in this area may see the structure, but they don’t know the history of it.”

Mr Sani, 54, spent much of his childhood in the 1960s and 1970s roaming the Bukit Timah area.

Bukit is Malay for "hill" while the name ‘"Timah" is believed to have originated from a corruption of the name of the Temak tree which grows in the area. The nature reserve, which is the largest primary rainforest in Singapore, was also believed to be infested with tigers in the early 1800s.

Mr Sani remembers that the hidden settlement area used to be the site of a Malay and a Chinese kampung, but only remnants of the latter remain today.

The area is just a five-minute walk from the visitor centre off Hindhede Drive. It can be accessed via some crumbling granite steps.

A sign at the start of a trail states “Kampung trail”, but there are no markings on the map at the visitor centre as to where these remnants are.

Mr Sani, who is with the Temasek Rural Exploring Enthusiasts, told the programme On The Red Dot that the group discovered the ruins a few years ago. They occasionally conduct free walking tours to the site.

This freelance photographer pointed to some of the remaining structures, and described how back then, the lower part of the house walls was made of concrete to prevent snakes and other animals from sneaking in.

The rest of the walls would be made of wood as it was abundant and cheaper to obtain.

A cooking stove belonging to a family can still be found half-covered in creepers. The wood used for cooking was usually stored in the crevices under the stove, said Mr Sani.


Also surviving are the brick structures of a common toilet, where human waste was collected in a galvanised metal bucket. Because of the smell, these toilets were usually located a distance from the main house.

Mr Sani recalled how he and his friends would run away whenever they saw the night-soil collectors coming. These men had the unenviable task of taking the away the human waste to plantations on the city’s outskirts, balancing the stinking buckets on bamboo poles slung over their backs.

“We would run because of the smell. And the way those people carried the buckets was very funny - we would laugh and cover our mouths,” he said.

More fond memories were created playing along a stream by the kampung. It was where the villagers showered, did their laundry and collected water.

“For us, this was our favourite location to play with our boats,” Mr Sani said.

Watch the full episode on Bukit Timah here. Catch That’s My Backyard - On The Red Dot, on Fridays, 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.

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Singapore showcases response capabilities at multi-agency chemical spill exercise

MPA News Release 28 Apr 17;

To test and demonstrate Singapore’s readiness to tackle oil and chemical spills, a multi-agency joint chemical spill exercise was conducted today. Organised by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) the exercise took place at the conclusion of the 10th International Chemical and Oil Pollution Conference & Exhibition (ICOPCE), held in conjunction with the Singapore Maritime Week 2017.

2 ChemSpill 2017 comprised a tabletop management exercise at MPA's Port Operations Control Centre Vista and a full scale chemical and oil spill response equipment deployment. A total of 150 personnel from 25 agencies participated in the table top exercise and seaward exercise, located along Raffles Reserved Anchorage. (See Annex A for list of participating agencies)

3 ChemSpill 2017 simulated a collision between a fully laden chemical tanker and a bunker barge off Raffles Reserved Anchorage. The former sustained severe damage, resulting in the spillage of 600 tonnes of Cyclohexane, a type of chemical used as industrial solvent and paint or varnish remover. Two crew members on-board the tanker were found unconscious and required immediate evacuation for medical treatment.

4 The exercise included responses to combat chemical pollution and test multi-agency responsiveness and co-operation.

5 Spill response teams deployed chemical protective gears, gas detectors, chemical containment booms, damage control equipment to seal leaks, and diving equipment for underwater damage assessments.

6 Mr Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of MPA, said, "As one of the busiest ports in the world and leading bunkering port, the ability to respond to any maritime incident swiftly, including chemical and oil spill is critical. Good coordination across various agencies is essential. Today’s multi-agency exercise is a good opportunity for us to hone our response strategies as well as share best practices. We are pleased to have ExxonMobil Asia Pacific Pte Ltd and Chembulk Tankers supporting today’s exercise. We look forward to working with others to raise the overall level of safety in our waters.”

7 Some 40 ICOPCE delegates from the international shipping, oil and gas sectors were present to observe the exercise.

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Temperature-boosting El Niño set for early return this year

The climate event that helped supercharge global warming to record levels in 2015 and 2016 is 50-60% likely in 2017, says World Meteorological Organization
Damian Carrington The Guardian 28 Apr 17;

The El Niño climate event that helped supercharge global warming to record levels in 2015 and 2016 is set for an early return, according to a forecast from the World Meteorological Organization.

El Niño events are prompted by natural fluctuation in ocean temperatures in the Pacific but have a global impact, leading to flooding, droughts and heatwaves. They also exacerbate the increased extreme weather events occurring due to the continued heating of the world as a result of human-caused climate change.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday that a new El Niño was 50-60% likely before the end of 2017. “Memories are still fresh of the powerful 2015-2016 El Niño which was associated with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world and which, combined with long-term climate change, led to the increase of global temperatures to new record highs in both 2015 and 2016,” said Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s climate prediction and adaptation division.

It is unusual for El Niño conditions to return so swiftly, said Tim Stockdale, principal scientist at the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), one of the leading prediction centres around the world and which contributed to the WMO forecast. “Normally we would expect a longer interval before another warming. But, having said that, El Niño variability is really rather irregular.”

Friday’s forecast is a early one, based on observations, climate models and historical trends. At present the likelihood is that any El Niño event will be a moderate one. “It will become clearer in the next couple of months,” said Stockdale.

However, regional warming associated with El Niño has already caused very heavy rains and floods in Peru and Ecuador, after the sea surface temperatures in the far eastern tropical Pacific ocean rose to 2C or more above average during February and March. This phenomenon has in the past sometimes been followed by a global El Niño.

Another concern is that the variation in El Niño over decades may be switching to a new, hotter phase. “For the last decade, the tropical Pacific has tended to be on the cold side, and that has helped keep global temperatures down. With this warming coming back so soon, it makes you wonder if the decadal trend is a bit more on to the positive side,” said Stockdale. “Obviously if that were sustained over the next five to 10 years, it would make the global warming signal stand out more strongly than it has done over the past decade.”

The impacts of El Niño events vary but often lead to hot, dry conditions in south and eastern Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the Philippines and south-eastern Africa. The Indian monsoon rainfall, upon which millions depend, also tends to be lower than normal. Wetter than usual conditions are typically seen along the Gulf coast of the US, and the west coast of tropical South America.

It remains unclear whether climate change is affecting the frequency or severity of El Niño events, partly because with complex phenomena many years of data are needed to distinguish the human-caused and natural influences.

The ability to forecast El Niño events has improved in recent years, enabling authorities to make preparations. “Accurate predictions of the most recent El Niño saved untold lives. These [are] essential for the agricultural and food security sectors, for management of water resources and public health, as well as for disaster risk reduction,” said Dilley.

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Greenpeace halts campaign against palm oil trader that has 'come a long way'

Malaysia-based IOI Group announces further moves to address deforestation and exploitation in its supply chain
Elle Hunt The Guardian 28 Apr 17;

Greenpeace has suspended its campaign against one of the world’s largest palm oil traders in recognition of its “significant commitment” to address deforestation and exploitation in its supply chain.

One year after its sustainability certificate was suspended, IOI Group announced further commitments to improve its environmental practice in a nine-month progress report released on Friday.

Greenpeace simultaneously confirmed it was suspending its active campaign against IOI to give the Malaysia-based conglomerate time for its changes to take effect.

Kiki Taufik, the global head of Greenpeace’s Indonesian forests campaign, said IOI’s “meaningful steps” could make significant inroads towards eliminating deforestation and exploitation in the palm oil industry.

“IOI has come a long way in the past 12 months … There is still a lot of work to be done to clean up the palm oil industry and we expect other traders to respond with action plans of their own.”

IOI Group is one of the largest plantation owners in the industry, with an operation spanning more than 230,000 hectares in Malaysia and Indonesia, and exports products to more than 85 countries.

It has been on track to improve its environmental performance since its certification with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil was stripped in March 2016, prompting several major multinationals to drop the company as an approved supplier. IOI Group’s certificate was reinstated five months later in August 2016, coinciding with the company’s launch of a sustainability implementation plan.

The RSPO said at the time that IOI Group had made “good progress” towards improving its sustainability credentials but warned that implementation of its action plan would continue to be independently monitored.

IOI Group said on Friday work had begun on many of its policy commitments, including the implementation of a monitoring system to eliminate labour rights violations and programs to protect peat areas. It said it had addressed labour issues identified at its Peninsular Malaysia plantations, and commissioned external consultants to verify its progress.

It was also working to ensure compliance with its sustainability plan from its third-party partners, which Taufik said was crucial to addressing issues within the industry when major traders’ “no deforestation” policies were often not observed by their suppliers.

“The only way to clean up the industry is for other palm oil traders to follow IOI’s lead and start cutting off suppliers that destroy rainforests or abuse workers,” Taufik said.

The first of IOI Group’s plantations will undergo the RSPO’s Next audit – which verifies member companies that have voluntarily exceeded its requirements for certification – later this year, with the rest due to follow between 2018 and 2020.

The conglomerate announced on Friday that it would undergo a separate independent audit of its operations early next year.

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Indonesia: Environmental destruction is 'haram' -- Women clerics

Nurul Fitri Ramadhani The Jakarta Post 28 Apr 17;

Muslim clerics have issued a fatwa, declaring the destruction of nature for the sake of economic development as haram, or forbidden under Islamic law, because it can trigger social and economic imbalances.

A result of Indonesia’s first National Congress of Women Ulema in Cirebon, West Java, on Thursday, the fatwa is based on the Quran, Al Hadist (words and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) and the 1945 Constitution.

“Commercial development is still possible as long as the use of natural resources doesn't cross the limit of what the [project] needs. Any development is not allowed to cause natural destruction,” said a female cleric from Batam while reading out the fatwa.

The fatwa urged the state to remove any laws or regulations that use natural resources as a source of development, and called on the government to tighten its regulations on natural protection.

The fatwa also called for an “Ibu Bumi” (Mother Nature) movement in which women play central roles in preserving nature.

“Nature is closer to women than men. So, it's important to put women as central actors in the protection of natures,” said female cleric and congress organizer Neng Dara Affiah. (ebf)

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Malaysia: Puntung gains 4kg with better appetite

The Star 29 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Puntung, the Sumatran rhino that successfully underwent a life-saving operation two weeks ago, has regained her appetite and put on 4kg.

However, veterinarians are continuing to give her full-time care and all the necessary medication she needs, in the hope of a full recovery.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said Puntung, one of the last three Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, was doing well and consuming up to 30kg of food a day now – the typical intake for rhinos of her age and size.

Puntung is 20 years old and weighs 520kg, according to the Borneo Rhino Alliance website.

Tuuga said Puntung had started chewing food – mainly leaves – on the right side of her mouth after surgery on her upper left jaw.

“Puntung is also vocalising a lot, which is a good sign,” he said in a statement here.

Tuuga said three of Puntung’s teeth had to be removed on April 19 because of a large, life-threatening abscess.

He said the keepers also give Puntung a mud pack daily because she missed her wallow.

When Puntung is not out and about, she sleeps on a 20cm-thick mattress.

Dr Zainal Zainuddin, the veterinarian in charge of Puntung’s care, said the swelling and open wound on her left cheek were healing slowly with twice-daily antiseptic washes.

“This is a difficult task as we can’t get the rinse deep enough – she won’t allow it.

“Also, she tends to rub her face against the metal posts and wooden walls of her night stall,” he said.

“We have varied the type of antibiotics given to try to kill off all potential sources of infection,” he said.

“It will be several months before she is 100% recovered,” he added.

Brighter days ahead for Puntung
BRANDON JOHN New Straits Times 28 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: It will take several more months for Sumatran rhino Puntung to fully recover following surgery to remove a severe abscess in her left jaw.

The adult female, one the last three remaining Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, was reported to have shown good progress under full-time intensive care by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD).

Although there were concerns that the swelling on her left cheek would hinder her ability to eat, Puntung had apparently adapted by chewing leaves on the right side of her mouth.

“She is doing well, vocalising a lot, and eating between 25 and 30 kilogrammes of leaves daily,” said SWD Director Augustine Tuuga, who added that the rhino had gained four kilogrammes since the surgery.

The team in charge of Puntung’s care did however meet with some challenges in her treatment, such as the rhino’s tendency to rub her open wound on the metal posts and wooden walls of her enclosure.

This necessitated the use of various antibiotics to prevent potential infection, said the department’s veterinarian Dr Zainal Z. Zainuddin.

“Furthermore, the wound is flushed with antiseptic twice daily but this is a difficult task as we can’t get the rinse deep enough – she won’t allow it.”

“Still, prognosis is good. However, it will still require several more months before she is 100 per cent recovered,” he said in a press statement.

Puntung had been suffering from an abscess on the upper left side of her jaw before it was removed on April 19.

The two-and-a-half hour operation by a global team of veterinary experts ended with a sigh of relief as Puntung, one of the remaining survivors of a critically-endangered species, continues on her road to recovery.

How Social Media Saved One of the World’s Last Sumatran Rhinos
The female rhino Puntung was treated for an injury in a daring mission.
Austa Somvichian-Clausen National Geographic 25 Apr 17;

Millions of people around the world rely on social media platforms like Twitter to receive minute-to-minute updates on news breaking globally. It isn’t every day though that a single tweet can cause a domino effect that led to the rescue of a severely endangered Sumatran Rhino named Puntung.

A few weeks ago, South Africa-based environmental journalist Adam Welz clicked on a link to an article about one of the last two female Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia, and the facial abscess that threatened to take her life.

The tweet that started it all, which was sent out by Adam Welz shortly after reading about Puntung.

Despite not describing himself as a “bunny hugger,” Welz knew that saving this animal’s life had real conservational significance. “When you’re dealing with a species right on the edge of extinction, every last individual matters,” he says.

There are less than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, and only three in Malaysia. Welz immediately sprang into action upon reading the article by contacting Johan Marais, CEO of Saving the Survivors, a South African non-profit organization that treats and cares for endangered wildlife that falls victim to poaching or traumatic incidents. Welz connected STS with the Borneo Rhino Alliance, where Puntung resides.

At this point, the Borneo Rhino Alliance had unsuccessfully been treating Puntung for her abscess and had determined that an infected tooth was the cause.

With the help and coordination of Zoe Glyphis of Saving the Survivors, veterinary dentist Tum Chinkangsadam from Thailand flew in to help, along with the Singapore Zoo’s senior veterinarian, Abraham Mathew, who had the skill and knowledge to perform an extremely tricky Sumatran Rhino anesthetization without killing Puntung in the process.

The group of doctors used the messaging application WhatsApp to coordinate their travel logistics.

“This all happened in less than 10 days. The first correspondence was on the 7th of April and we boarded our flight on the morning of the 17th,” says Glyphis. “Puntung is one of three remaining Sumatran rhinos in Malaysia. This species is critically endangered and it is our responsibility to ensure they get the care they need and deserve.”


The band of multinational veterinarians trekked to the remote sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia. First, Mathew put Puntung under general anesthesia. Next the team took radiographs of the teeth. Chinkangsadam removed three of her teeth.

Three of Puntung's teeth ended up having to be removed as a result of her life-threatening facial abscess.

Within two hours of the procedure, Puntung was starting to feed again and slowly became more vocal, “just like a Sumatran rhino should,” says Glyphis.

It is Welz’s hope that the success of Puntung’s surgery will help draw attention to the Borneo Rhino Alliance and their efforts to save the Sumatran rhino. He explained that the NGO is critically underfunded because attention has been focused on more well-known charismatic megafauna, such as the elephant. “I think the Sumatran rhino has not had good PR,” says Welz.

Despite the amount of international travel that occurred this week to save Puntung, Welz orchestrated these efforts all from the comfort of his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

“I can sit here halfway around the world and broker veterinary care for a rhino,” says Welz. “I like the fact that I can be sitting at my desk half a world away and just go ‘hmmm…here’s a problem. I think I can help to solve it.’” If you would like to donate to the Borneo Rhino Alliance you can do so by clicking here, and to donate to Saving the Survivors click here.

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Philippines says completes scientific survey in disputed sea

The Philippines has completed an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea to assess the condition of coral reefs and draw a nautical map of disputed area, a top security official said on Thursday.
Channel NewsAsia 28 Apr 17;

MANILA: The Philippines has completed an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea to assess the condition of coral reefs and draw a nautical map of disputed area, a top security official said on Thursday.

Two survey ships, including an advanced research vessel acquired from the United States, conducted surveys around Scarborough Shoal and on three islands, including Thitu, in the Spratly group, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said.

"This purely scientific and environmental undertaking was pursued in line with Philippine responsibilities under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea to protect the marine biodiversity and ensure the safety of navigation within the Philippines' EEZ," Esperon said in a statement.

He gave no details of the findings from the reef assessments and nautical mapping of the area done from April 7-25.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but it appeared to have allowed the survey. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the strategic waterway.

Other countries in the region were regularly making scientific surveys in the area, said a navy official who declined to be named.

The navy official told Reuters the Philippines also conducts marine survey from time to time, but this was its first major undertaking since 2011, when a Chinese patrol boat harassed a survey ship hired by an Anglo-Filipino company to explore for oil and gas in the Reed Bank.

Esperon said researchers from the environment ministry, the country's premier university and the navy took part in the expedition.

"This is the first leg of the expedition," he said, adding the government also plans to conduct research in Benham Rise, part of the Philippines' continental shelf, in the Pacific Ocean.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Larry King)

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Thailand may close tourist spot Maya Bay due to coral bleaching

Deutsche Presse Agentur The Australian 28 Apr 17;

The Thai government is considering a temporary closure of Maya Bay, a popular tourist destination in the south of the country, following the recent discovery of coral bleaching.

The planned closure - the first for Maya Bay - is expected to last three to four months in the second half of the year, according to Sarayuth Tanthien, head of Nopparat Thara - Phi Phi Island National Park.

The pristine beach of Maya Bay - part of the popular tourist destination of Phi Phi island in the southern city of Krabi - was the main filming location of The Beach, a Hollywood blockbuster released in 2000.

The plan to shut down Maya Bay temporarily may be necessary to rehabilitate marine life, Sarayuth said, after national park officials discovered bleached coral reefs, a result of sea anchor deployment.

A number of academics have campaigned for a temporary closure of Phi Phi island over the years, citing an urgent need to allow the natural environment to recover.

More than one million people visited Phi Phi island last year, with as many as 5000 visitors each day during the high season, according to the national park.

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Can the Maldives save its coral reefs?

Nicki Shields, CNN 28 Apr 17;

Malé (Maldives) (CNN)Alongside the famed Great Barrier Reef, the Maldives is also home to some of the most enchanting and diverse coral reefs in the world, its crystal clear waters bursting with color and life.

However, since 2014 this tropical paradise has been struck by severe coral bleaching, affecting between 60 percent and 90 percent of its coral, depending on the area.

Rising temperatures

Corals become bleached when under stress because of changing conditions, such as rising sea water temperature. This causes the coral to expel the algae living in its tissues, turning white.

The coral is not dead, but it is starving, as the algae provide up to 80 percent of its nutrients. Prolonged higher temperatures can kill the corals completely, with a cascade of negative effects on the many species that depend on them, including the human communities that they support.

Bleaching episodes typically last one year, but the most recent has been going since 2014. Australia's Great Barrier Reef has also been affected, with more than two thirds of it experiencing "shocking" amounts of bleaching.

"In 2014 reefs around the world were hit with one of the worst coral bleaching events on record", said Thomas le Berre, a French coastal oceanographer who is responsible for some of the top environmental projects in the Maldives.

The previously vibrant corals, which help attract over one million tourists a year to the archipelago, have turned into a ghostly shadow of their former self.

Le Berre says part of the blame goes to El Niño, a cyclical weather event that takes place every few years resulting in warmer waters passing through the Pacific and Indian Ocean. Combined with global warming, it has seen water temperature reach new highs of 34 degrees in some area, causing the corals to go beyond their thermal limit, which results in bleaching and sometimes death.

A study conducted by the University of Exeter confirms that, as a result of a strong El Niño in 2016, an increase in surface ocean temperatures has led to a major coral die-off in the Maldives. It has also found that some species of fish, particularly parrotfish, are eroding the reefs more intensely following the bleaching event.

According to Le Berre, although bleaching is "quite low on the government's list of priorities" he is working closely with them with them to ensure it is on their agenda. His project, the Reefscapers Coral Reef Restoration programme, aims to make the Maldivian reefs resilient to these changes in temperature and increase their rate of regeneration.

Using metal frames, small branches of coral can be attached and spread out to create 'coral nurseries'.

Corals compete for the nutrients in the immediate environment around them, so by spreading them out they can recover faster. Using this method, researchers here have seen a four-fold increase in growth rates, over an array of about 560 frames.

Lost habitat

Recovery can take a long time. The last severe bleaching event was in 1998 and it took almost 12 years for the reefs to recover.

Worryingly, the bleaching affects not just corals: "Habitat for small fish is also lost," said Shiham Adam, the Maldives' Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture.

"Long nose hawk fish feed exclusively on live corals, and they are now almost gone. Butterfly fish abundance also gone."

The Four Seasons and The Banyan Tree in the Maldives are both leading the charge, with their own team of researchers leading coral recovery programs: "it's very difficult for us to monitor the coral bleaching so it's important for us to work very closely with some of the resorts," sad Thoriq Ibrahim, Minister of the Environment.

But some relief most come from a more global perspective: "The Paris Agreement was a huge milestone for us in progress to minimizing global warming," Ibrahim added.

"This is what we need to happen in order to save our reefs."

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Scientists investigate large number of humpback whale deaths


Government scientists launched an investigation Thursday into an unusually large number of humpback whale deaths from North Carolina to Maine, the first such "unusual mortality event" declaration in a decade.

Forty-one whales have died in the region in 2016 and so far in 2017, far exceeding the average of about 14 per year, said Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Fisheries.

Ten of the 20 whales that have been examined so far were killed by collisions with boats, something scientists are currently at a loss to explain because there's been no corresponding spike in ship traffic.

The investigation will focus on possible common threads like toxins and illness, prey movement that could bring whales into shipping lanes, or other factors, officials said.

Humpbacks can grow to 60 feet long and are found in oceans around the world. They're popular with whale watchers because of the dramatic way they breach the ocean's surface, then flop back into the water.

"The humpback is generally people's favorite because they're so animated. They're the ones that like to jump out of the ocean completely," said Zack Klyver, a naturalist with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.

The humpback whale population that feeds in North Atlantic waters each summer was removed from the Endangered Species Act last year when NOAA divided humpback populations into 14 distinct population segments around the world. There are currently about 10,500 in the population that visits North Atlantic waters, scientists say.

While they're not threatened, federal scientists are nonetheless keeping close tabs on the whales, said NOAA spokeswoman Kate Brogan.

The humpback whale deaths that prompted the "unusual mortality event" designation break down to 26 last year and 15 to date this year.

NOAA also declared "unusual mortality events" involving humpbacks in 2003, 2005 and 2006, Fauquier said. No conclusive cause of the deaths was determined in those investigations, she said.

The 10 confirmed fatal boat strikes far exceeds the annual average of fewer than two per year attributed to boat collisions, officials said.

Whales tend to be somewhat oblivious to boats when they're feeding or socializing, said Gregory Silber, coordinator of recovery activities for large whales in NOAA's Office of Protected Resources.

"A vessel of any size can harm a whale. In smaller vessels they tend to be propeller strikes. And in larger vessels they appear to be in the form of blunt trauma, hemorrhaging or broken bones," he said.

Klyver said any whale death is upsetting. Scientists and whale watchers know many of the whales that visit each summer.

"Each whale has its own personality," he said. "We are connected to so many of them as individuals that we hate to see any of them perish."

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Apr 17

Changi seagrasses four months after the oil spill
wild shores of singapore

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PUB looking for smart devices to monitor water usage during showers

Today Online 28 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — National water agency PUB has called for proposals to mass produce devices that can provide real-time information on water usage during showers, as part of a demonstration project involving 10,000 households to show this method’s effectiveness in reducing water usage.

Through the request for proposals, which will close at the end of next month, PUB also aims to improve the features of current smart shower devices in the market, such as allowing data on water usage to be ported to personal smart devices, so that progress can be monitored over a period.

The Smart Shower Programme, set to begin in the first quarter next year, comes in the wake of a study conducted from July 2015 to March last year showing that each person uses five litres less water per day when there is real-time information on water usage during showers. Yesterday, PUB said such devices can potentially help households save about 3 per cent of their monthly water bill.

“Showering typically comprises 29 per cent of a household’s monthly water consumption. There is great potential to achieve substantial savings if we can change the user’s behaviour during his/her shower time,” said Mr Michael Toh, PUB’s director of Water Supply (Network).

Last year, households used 148 litres of water per capita per day. This figure is lower than the previous reported level of about 151 litres and just shy of Singapore’s target of 147 litres by 2020, although still a stretch from the 2030 target of 140 litres.

Water prices are scheduled to go up by 30 per cent over two rounds on July 1 this year and next year, with help being provided to most households.

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Malaysia: Six men jailed and fined for possessing 1,308 protected turtles

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 27 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Six fishermen were sentenced to six months’ jail and fined RM30,000 each by the Sessions Court here for possession of a protected species of turtle.

The six men were locals Rashed Delan, 38, and Alsadat Belog, 39; and Filipinos Madal Juldin, 37; Ibrahim Kahal, 44; Sidik Napaeh, 23; and Rasid Alain, 38.

They were found guilty of possessing 1,308 turtles illegally at Mengalum Island near here on Dec 7 last year.

Sessions judge Ainul Shahrin Mohamad handed down the sentence on Thursday after the prosecution proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Each man’s jail term was to run from the date of conviction while failure to pay the fine will result in an additional 30 days in prison.

The court also ordered the Filipinos to be referred to the Immigration Department for deportation after they have served their sentence.

According to the facts of the case, the men were found in illegal possession of Malayan box turtles (Cuora amboinensis), which are listed in the CITES Appendix II (Convention), at 2.45am on Dec 7 in Mangalum Island waters near Pulau Gaya.

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, while Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is closely controlled.

The six men were convicted under Section 41(2)/34 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, punishable under Section 41(4) of the same Enactment, which provides for a jail term of up to three years, or a fine of up to RM100,000, or both.

Defence counsel Azhier Farhan Arisin, in applying for leniency for his six clients, urged the court to show compassion to the accused and their families as the men were only fishermen earning a minimal income.

He said his clients deserved a second chance.

Wildlife Department prosecuting officer Abdul Karim Dakog sought a deterrent sentence, saying the case involved public interest.

He said their crime was a serious environmental offence and possessing 1,308 turtles was not a small matter.

“Cases such as this always get the attention of domestic and international groups," Abdul Karim said.

He then applied for the surviving turtles, numbering about 100, to be released into the wild and the carcasses of the dead ones to be disposed of.

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Indonesia: Riau extends emergency alert status to maintain control of forest fires

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 11 Apr 17;

Riau province has extended its emergency alert status in order to maintain a tight grip on forest fires in the province, an official has said.

The decision was made following a meeting at the Riau administration office on Thursday. The meeting concluded that the measures taken by the government, including declaring an emergency alert status, had been effective in curbing forest fires.

“The measures to mitigate forest fires have been effective after the provincial administration declared an emergency alert status on Jan. 24, or a few days after Dumai and Rokan Hulu regency did so,” Riau administration secretary Ahmad Hijazi said.

The current emergency alert status was scheduled to expire on April 30. It has now been extended until Nov. 30, Ahmad said.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency head Edwar Sanger said the extension of the emergency alert status did not mean that forest fires were on the rise in the province. “This step was taken to prevent forest fires,” he said.

By setting the emergency standby statuses early, regions can ask for aid from the central government to tackle very small fires to prevent them from growing into bigger ones when the dry season begins. (ary)

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Vietnam: Southern provinces face subsidence

VietNamNet Bridge 27 Apr 17;

HCM City districts and Mekong Delta provinces are facing risks of soil submersion, studies have shown.

A group of researchers from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, led by Prof. Le Van Trung of HCM City Polytechnic, compared remote sensing images between 1992 and 2010, which were updated in 2016.

They said the ground in the city’s Binh Chanh District, southern areas of Binh Tan District and District 8, as well as the northwestern area of Nha Be, has been sinking at 5 mm to 10 mm annually.

Human impact on the natural environment such as urbanisation, exploitation of underground water, and ground vibration from road traffic were the main causes of ground submersion, the studies said.

Trung said the soil for several years had been sinking and was now below the national height limit.

In low-lying zones, soil depression plus rising sea levels (an average of 3mm a year due to climate change) has enlarged inundated areas and created new ones, Trung said.

In coastal areas, the over-exploitation of underground water has caused saltwater intrusion, which negatively affects growth of plants and trees as well as sustainable agricultural development.

“Necessary measures should be taken to limit ground submersion,” Trung warned. “Without efforts to reduce it, the region could face stronger soil sinking, like that encountered by Shanghai, causing a number of areas in the region to sink into the sea.”

Ecologist Nguyen Huu Thien said that soil depression plus rising sea levels would cause the Mekong Delta and HCM City areas to submerge faster.

However, authorities have focused more efforts on rising sea levels than on soil submersion, which is more urgent.

Sea levels are rising about 3mm per year, while the region has faced soil sinking 10 to 20 times higher. Therefore, the most urgent effort should be focused on ground submersion, he added.


A study from the Norwegian Geo-technical Institute (NGI) released in 2012 – 2013 said that ground submersion extends from the Mekong Delta to Ca Mau Cape at the southern tip of the country.

In Ca Mau Province, the soil is sinking at 2cm to 5cm per year, while most of the ground in the locality is less than 1.5m above sea level.

This means the entire province could submerge into the sea in the next few decades if local residents continue to use underground water.

Substantial evidence shows that most Mekong provinces would face similar risks of soil submersion because of underground water exploitation, which has been affecting 24 million residents in the region, according to the NGI study.

Meanwhile, a report released by the Ca Mau’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said there were 141,226 underground water wells (30 wells on each sq metre of land) in Ca Mau, the largest number in the Mekong provinces.

The wells allow Ca Mau residents to pump out nearly 400,000 cubic metres of underground water per day.

Being over-exploited, many underground water wells in Ca Mau have become exhausted. More than 2,100 wells in the province have been left unexploited due to exhaustion of underground water.

A source from the Ca Mau Department of Natural Resources and Environment said these abandoned wells posed risks of underground water pollution.

He said 1,500 of these abandoned wells had been filled and the remaining wells would be filled with cement by the end of the year.

To Quoc Nam, deputy director of Ca Mau’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said Ca Mau planned to reserve fresh water, including irrigating water from Hau (Posterior Mekong) River to the province.

In the near future, the province will build a 100ha reservoir to supply fresh water to three northern districts of U Minh, Thoi Binh and Tran Van Thoi.

The reservoir project will require investment of VND200 billion (nearly US$9.7 million).

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 17

13th May 2017 (Sat): FREE Guided Herp Walk @ Macritchie Reservoir
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Festival of Biodiversity 2017 – May 27 & 28 @ Serangoon NEX

Otters and crocs @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – Toddycats gear up for Festival of Biodiversity in May

Nesting of an Olive-winged Bulbul
Singapore Bird Group

Shiny Dollars & Yellow Bills at Lorong Halus
Winging It

Singapore convicts rosewood trader in historic CITES seizure
Conservation news on

First Meeting of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore Zone Captains, 5th Apr 2017
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Photographer fined for baiting birds

He gets $3,800 fine for feeding three birds at Botanic Gardens, venturing off-trail
Audrey Tan Straits Times 26 Apr 17;

A nature photographer was yesterday fined $3,800 in total for flouting the law just to get good pictures of birds - the second time in seven months that a nature enthusiast has been rapped for unethical photography practices.

Johnson Chua, 51, who works in the information technology industry, was fined $3,000 for feeding birds with live mealworms at the Singapore Botanic Gardens without authority. He was fined $800 for venturing into an area of the national park which is closed to the public.

Last October, orthopaedic surgeon Lee Soon Tai, 63, was fined $2,000 for feeding endangered grey-headed fish eagles with live fish injected with air at Bukit Batok Town Park, a public park.

Under the Parks and Trees Act, national parks and nature reserves are accorded greater protection than public parks. Those guilty of unauthorised entry into closed areas of all parks and nature reserves can be fined up to $2,000. The penalty for unlawful feeding of animals in national parks and nature reserves is a fine of up to $50,000, up to six months' jail, or both.

In what is believed to be the first case of baiting for a photo in a national park to be brought before the courts, Chua was photographed by other visitors going off-trail at the Rainforest Trail within the Singapore Botanic Gardens - one of the remnants of Singapore's primary rainforests - on Jan 14.

One photo taken by a witness seen by The Straits Times captured him peering through a camera set up on a tripod. He was on the wrong side of a rope barrier, despite a signboard warning people against climbing over or feeding animals.

A white plastic bag was hanging from the tripod. According to court documents, the bag held a container filled with mealworms.

Chua went off-trail at about 4.30pm. He grabbed a handful of live mealworms and scattered them on a fallen tree log before returning to his camera. The bait attracted a silver pheasant, which ate the mealworms as photographers snapped away.

Chua did this three more times within the next half an hour, attracting two other species of birds - an orange-headed thrush and a red-legged crake.

All three species are not commonly sighted in Singapore. The red-legged crake, a Singapore native, is considered locally vulnerable to extinction. The silver pheasant was likely brought to Singapore via the pet trade, while the thrush seasonally migrates here from northern South-east Asia.

Photographers use bait to lure birds closer to the camera to obtain highly sought after "food in mouth" shots , said National University of Singapore bird scientist David Tan.

And with the number of amateur nature photographers here growing, the uptick in the number of baiting incidents could lead to more severe consequences, warned Mr Tan.

Other than potentially causing imbalances in the animals' diet, baiting also alters their natural behaviour, which can lead to negative side effects, as in the case of macaques in Segar Road, he noted. People fed the monkeys there, and they started entering residents' flats, stealing food and biting humans.

"Baiting could also result in a loss of fear of humans, which can lead to animals being more easily poached, or killed by vehicles. It can also heighten the risk of disease spread and vermin abundance at baiting sites, since these are hardly ever cleaned," said Mr Tan.

Dr Nigel Taylor, group director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, said members of the public should practise proper etiquette when taking photos and avoid manipulating any flora or fauna.

Additional reporting by Elena Chong

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Indonesia: Hot spots detected in Jambi

Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 27 Apr 17;

Jambi province is stepping up monitoring for fires to prepare for the upcoming dry season following the recent detection of hot spots by the Sultan Thaha Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Station.

The hot spots are located in Muarabulian district, Batanghari regency and Tungkal Ilir district in West Tanjung Jabung regency by the Terra and Aqua satellites.

An agency forecaster, Kurnia Ningsih, said that based on observation the hot spots were suspected to be burning land. The hot spots, however, disappeared after rains.

“We need to raise awareness of forest and land fires in anticipating the emergence of hot spots,” she said, adding that the dry season is predicted to start in May.

Jambi Governor Zumi Zola called on all palm oil companies and industrial forests operating in Jambi to be more alert to any possible land and forest fires.

“Based on the BMKG’s prediction, the dry season this year could be similar to the dry season in 2015,” he said. (rin)

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Indonesia: Locals suffer clean water scarcity as drought hits Wonogiri

Ganug Nugroho Adi The Jakarta Post 26 Apr 17;

Dry season has begun to hit areas across Java.

About 15,000 residents of eight villages in the southern area of Wonogiri regency in Central Java have reportedly been suffering from severe drought for the last several weeks. As a result, villagers have had to collectively pay between Rp 70,000 (US$5.3) and Rp 100,000 for a 6,000-liter tank of water.

“Rain has been extremely rare lately. Farmers have been hit the hardest. They need up to two tanks of water for a week,” Waluyo, 39, a resident of Johunut village in Paranggupito district said on Wednesday.

Wells, ponds and water springs, which were villagers’ source of water, are reportedly going dry.

Villagers who cannot afford to buy water have had to walk for kilometers to find other sources of water.

“There are ponds and rivers not far away that are still watered but the flow is very little. It could take half an hour to fill up a 10-liter bucket. We don’t have other options,” said 57-year-old Sunarni.

Paranggupito district official Dwi Hartono said almost half of the residents in the district began to order water tanks about a month ago.

“Some residents have big water tubs to catch rainwater. Since there is no more rain, they buy tank water to fill up the tubs,” Dwi said.

Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) Wonogiri head Bambang Haryanto said the agency had prepared 70 6,000-liter water tanks to be deployed to five villages in Paranggupito. (bbs)

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Indonesia: 6 more orangutans released into Kehje Sewen forests

N. Adri The Jakarta Post 11 Apr 17;

Conservation group Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) released six orangutans into the Kehje Sewen forests in East Kutai, East Kalimantan, on Tuesday.

“This is our 12th release, conducted via land route. The team drove from Samboja Lestari to Muara Wahau and then continued traveling to a location near the forests,” said BOSF spokesperson Paulina Laurensia.

East Kutai is located around 850 kilometers north of Balikpapan. Every two hours, the team stopped to check the condition of the East Kalimantan orangutans and give them food and water.

Paulina said the orangutans, two males and four females, were rehabilitated at the BOSF Forest School in Samboja Lestari. Each orangutan has a name to make it easier for their keepers to identify them.

“The two male orangutans are Justin, 10, and Robert, 11, while the females are Ung, 14, Reckie, 9, Tree, 11, and Heli, 9,” said Paulina. She said the six orangutans were released in the southern part of Kehje Sewen, where 24 orangutans had been previously released.

Before releasing them fully into the wild, BOSF will first make sure that the orangutans are able to live independently in their natural habitat, Paulina said.

BOSF chose the Kehje Sewen tropical forests as the location to release orangutans in 2012. In total, 69 orangutans have been released into the forests. Two baby orangutans have been born from the orangutans released there. (ebf)

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Indonesia can profit from private management of conservation areas

Moses Ompusunggu The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 17;

Ecotourism in Indonesia could flourish more if the operation of conservation areas like national parks is managed by the private sector, a top researcher said on Wednesday.

University of Indonesia professor of conservation biology Jatna Supriatna, who chairs the university’s Research Center for Climate Change, said privatizing the management of national parks was an ideal move to make national parks “profit centers” like in foreign countries, notably in the United States.

“In Indonesia, conservation areas are not prepared to serve as profit centers for the state. Ideally, the government should act merely as a regulator, while the development of national parks should be managed by the private sector,” Jatna said in a public lecture.

In Ujung Kulon National Park in Banten, a home to the near-extinct Javanese rhinoceros, a lack of adequate infrastructure such as roads has prevented tourists from visiting the site. Jatna said the situation would change if the government could give business players a chance to manage conservation areas because this would lead to their improvement, which would eventually attract more tourists.

“Generating profit does not always lead to destruction. It has been globally agreed that national parks could serve as sources of profit for the state,” Jatna added.

A 2011 government regulation allows public-private partnerships for managing conservation areas. In 2016, the Environment and Forestry Ministry signed an agreement with timber company APRIL to manage the newly launched Zamrud National Park in Riau, but it was eventually canceled because of what the ministry called an “indication of infringement”, Antara reported. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Tourists to Raja Ampat must pay additional fee

Otniel Tamindael Antara 26 Apr 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Local as well as foreign tourists visiting the tourism attractions of Raja Ampat in West Papua Province are required to pay an additional fee for environmental maintenance services.

Raja Ampat district government has determined that every tourist is obliged to pay an environmental maintenance service fee of Rp500 thousand for local tourists and Rp1 million for foreign tourists per person.

The money will be used to finance local people who are in charge of maintaining the cleanliness of the environment and marine ecosystems in the tourist destinations islands.

Raja Ampat comprises of four big islands and hundreds of dots and specks off the fragmented western corner of the land of Papua, the worlds second largest island.

According to the head of Raja Ampat Regional Public Service Board for Water Conservation Area, Adrian Yusuf, the local government has tightened its supervision to track tourists visiting the islands without paying the environmental service fees.

The supervision is tightened in the waters which become the main route of tourists visiting the islands by speed boats directly from the city of Sorong.

Recently, there are travel agents who use speedboats to transport their guests from the City of Sorong directly to the tourist islands without stopping at the Raja Ampat district town of Waisai to pay the fee.

"Hence, every tourist who uses speedboat from Sorong City to visit Raja Ampat must stop at Waisai to pay the fee before heading to the tourist destinations," Yusuf remarked in Sorong on Tuesday.

In order to increase supervision, the local government will build security and service payment posts on every island of the tourist destination, he said.

In addition to supervising the tourists, the local government will also oversee the community activities in conservation areas to prevent undersea ecosystem damage.

The Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat is known to be the most bio-diverse habitat on earth and is considered an ideal destination for both local and foreign tourists to relax and unwind.

Hence, the government is implementing a sustainable tourism development program in Raja Ampat. To make the program work, the human resources in the local community must be improved.

According to Ranny Iriani, Raja Ampat Tourism Offices local partner for sustainable tourism development, the local communities must be empowered to help them preserve the natural resources and environmental sustainability there.

Situated in the Coral Triangle, which stretches from the Philippines to Timor and extends to Papua, Raja Ampat has three quarters of the worlds coral varieties, 10 times that of the Caribbean.

The high-definition visibility means that in one glance, without having to swim a stroke, visitors can see a multitude of corals resembling Murano vases or bunches of baby corn, marbled plumbing fittings, peanut brittle, cobwebs, and an oversized cabbage patch.

Visitors to Raja Ampat can witness a multitude of marine habitats and coral reefs at one glance without having to swim a stroke.

Therefore, public awareness on maintaining the cleanliness in the sea and avoid catching fish using hazardous materials must be increased, so that the beautiful natural wealth is not damaged and can be enjoyed by the visitors and the next generation, remarked Iriani.

In addition to improving the tourism infrastructure and facilities in Raja Ampat, Iriani maintained that the central and local governments should encourage the local communities to communicate and serve the visitors in a friendly and courteous manner.

"If the local communities are empowered to serve the visitors in a friendly and courteous manner, the development of sustainable tourism in Raja Ampat will be realized and maintained for generations in the future," she asserted.

Raja Ampats natural potential and culture are beautiful and unique. Therefore, the local people must be encouraged to improve their work ethics and adopt clean habits to attract even more local and foreign tourists, she added.

Most visitors arrive in Raja Ampat through Sorong, a city on the far west coast of Papua, which has an airport, army barracks, and a karaoke bar called Happy Puppy.

In less than two hours from Sorong, the visitors can reach Raja Ampat, where they can indulge in activities such as swimming, diving, and snorkeling, or just relax.

Raja Ampat is home to a multitude of attractions and experiences.

With thousands of people visiting Raja Ampats marine and natural attractions, visitors can skip the crowds and experience it all.

Every day, many tourists from different countries go to Raja Ampat, where they can enjoy not only the beautiful marine biodiversity but also the scenic beaches and gain local insights into its history.

In terms of historic relevance, the Raja Ampat Archipelago, in the 15th century, was part of the reign of Tidore Sultanate, a great kingdom centered in Maluku Islands.

To run its government, the Sultanate of Tidore appointed four local kings to rule the islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool, which are the fourth largest until this day.

The term "Four Kings" who ruled the islands became the basis for the name Raja Ampat, which comprises some 610 islands, with a total length of 753 kilometers of coastal line.

Foreign tourists visiting Raja Ampat are enthralled by its beauty found nowhere else in the world.(*)

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Apr 17

Friend's day out Island Exploration at St John's Island, Lazarus and Seringat-Kias
Offshore Singapore

When starfruits fall from the sky and rare birds just fly by
Love our MacRitchie Forest

7th Parrot Count 2017
Singapore Bird Group

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Large wild boar hit by car near Lentor Avenue, driver reportedly unhurt

Lydia Lam Straits Times 24 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE - A large wild boar said to weigh up to 100kg was killed after being hit by a car near Lentor Avenue on Sunday night (April 23).

While the animal's leg was broken from the impact, the driver was not hurt, Lianhe Wanbao said in a report on Monday.

The incident happened at a road near Lentor Avenue, towards Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6, at about 8pm.

Wanbao reported that the boar had dashed out into the middle of the road, and the driver could not stop in time.

When Wanbao visited the scene, the driver had already left. A reader told the Chinese newspaper that he had not been injured.

Mr Kalai Vanan, deputy chief executive officer of Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres), told The Straits Times that the group did not receive a call about this case.

"It is unfortunate that the wild boar sustained injuries and died," he said. "They can be found in this area due to the close proximity to nearby nature areas like Lentor and Seletar."

According to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority's (AVA's) website, wild boars are "unpredictable animals and can be dangerous".

"Due to their solid body build, wild boars are considered to be particularly dangerous when involved in car accidents," said the advisory.

Mr Kalai said he advised the public to be alert when driving on roads where there are adjacent nature areas, and to look out for wild animals that may be crossing.

"In the event of an accident, please call us at 9783-7782," he said. "Do not approach the animal as they may be severely injured and defensive. If possible and safe, help to divert traffic and call the relevant authorities for help."

Last November, a motorcyclist was hospitalised after colliding with a wild boar on the Bukit Timah Expressway at night.

In April last year, another motorcyclist fractured his shoulder after running into a wild boar in the evening along the Seletar Expressway.

Here is what to do if you encounter a wild boar, according to an advisory by AVA, the National Parks Board and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

- Be calm and move slowly away from the animal. Do not approach or attempt to feed the animal.

- Keep a safe distance and do not corner or provoke the animal i.e. by using flash while taking pictures.

- If you see adults with young piglets, leave them alone. These are potentially more dangerous because they may attempt to defend their young.

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New Zika cluster reported at Highland Road, Jansen Close in Kovan

Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: A new Zika cluster has been confirmed at Highland Road and Jansen Close near Kovan, with two cases of locally transmitted infection, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Tuesday (Apr 25).

Both are residents in the area, said NEA, adding that it has started operations to kill mosquitoes in the area.

There are now three active Zika clusters in Singapore around the same neighbourhood. NEA said an additional case was confirmed at the Glasgow Road cluster on Monday and another new case at the Poh Huat Road West/Poh Huat Terrace/Terrasse Lane cluster on Tuesday.

The cluster at Flower Road/Hendry Close closed on Tuesday and is being kept under surveillance, said NEA.

It urged residents to be vigilant and continue to eliminate mosquito breeding habitats, as there could still be "asymptomatic or mild, undiagnosed cases which might result in further transmission of the virus if there are mosquitoes in the vicinity".


New Zika cluster identified at Highland Road/Jansen Close
Today Online 25 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — A new Zika cluster at Highland Road and Jansen Close has emerged, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday (April 25).

The agency said on its website that two new cases had been reported in the past two weeks, and it has started vector control operations in the area.

However, the cluster at Flower Road/Hendry Close has since been closed and is under surveillance. The clusters at Glasgow Road and Poh Huat Road West/Poh Huat Terrace/Terrasse Lane are still active.

The NEA has urged residents and stakeholders to remain vigilant and to take immediate steps to eliminate mosquito-breeding habitats by practising the five-step Mozzie Wipeout.

Most people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, which heightens the risk of a Zika resurgence, as it may take some time before a reintroduced Zika virus is detected.

Members of the public are advised to seek medical attention if they are unwell, especially with symptoms such as fever and rash. They should also inform their doctors of the location of their residence and workplace.

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Malaysia: Sun bear injured by poacher's snare stages remarkable recovery

BRANDON JOHN New Straits Times 25 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A sun bear caught by a poacher's snare and left injured three weeks ago, was successfully treated and released back into the wild yesterday.

In a video uploaded to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit Facebook page, the adult male bear can be seen tentatively exiting its cage, which was unlocked by a ranger, before eagerly scurrying off into the woods.

According to unit veterinarian Dr Laura Benedict, the bear's current condition is in stark contrast to when wildlife rangers first found it on March 25, in a forest on Sabah’s east coast.

"He was (limping around) the Maliau Basin conservation area, with part of the snare still attached to his front paw.

"In addition to a deep cut caused by the trap, there was also a (badly) infected wound on his back, which was likely caused by a spear, locally known as ‘bujak’," she said when contacted.

Laura added that considering the injuries, the fact that the bear recovered so well is nothing short of amazing – though her team did meet with some difficulties.

"Being a wild animal, his natural instinct is to avoid or act aggressively towards humans – this made it quite challenging for us to treat him.

"But he eventually co-operated quite well, making the recovery process go much smoother," she explained.

Although this sun bear's story turned out well, concerns remain over the increase in poaching activities in Sabah, and the effect it is having on the state's endangered species.

"If poachers can do this in a protected conservation area like Maliau Basin, it means they can do it elsewhere just as easily.

"These acts of poaching need to stop before it is too late (for endangered animals to survive)," Laura added.

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Indonesia: Two caught apparently trading Sumatran tiger skin

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 17;

The Kerinci Seblat National Park's Sumatran tiger preservation team claimed to have recently caught two people transporting a piece of a Sumatran tiger skin on the border of Bungo regency, Jambi province, and Dharmasraya regency, West Sumatra.

The team, together with another from the National Park Management Section Region 2 Merangin and the Bungo Police, on Sunday evening searched a car in which they said they found a bag containing a skin of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, the head of the park, Arief Toengkagie, said. The tiger was determined to have been a one-and-a-half-year-old female.

"The tiger could have been hunted some six months to a year ago in a forest in Dharmasraya,” Arief said on Monday.

The two suspects were Syamsir, 55, of East Dumai, Riau province, and Aris Sulardi, 57, of Koto Baru, Dharmasraya. Both were under investigation by the Bungo police. A third person ran away during the raid, Arief said.

The raid was conducted following a tip-off that Syamsir was allegedly about to procure a tiger skin in the area. Surveillance on him led investigators to a suspicious car that had stopped at a gas station.

"Syamsir could be the trader or middleman that looks for goods to be traded from hunters, while Aris' role is still being investigated," said Arief.

There are only between 162 and 174 Sumatran tigers left in the national park, he added.

The population continues decreasing year after year because of conflicts with people, as well as because of poaching.

"Illegal trade and poacher networks can be found in every area around the park," he said.

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