Best of our wild blogs: 21 - 22 Jan 17

Sat 04 Feb 2016: 7.45am – 11.00am @ Lim Chu Kang – Let’s throw out the trash this Chinese New Year
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Butterfly Photography 101 - Part 3
Butterflies of Singapore

Singapore Raptor Report – December 2016
Singapore Bird Group

Toddycats roll out a quarterly animal shelter spring cleaning project with “The Shelter Pawject”

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Farms affected by Johor oil spill can resume fish sales: AVA

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE: Eleven fish farms that were affected by the massive oil spill off Johor more than two weeks ago have been given the green light to sell fish again, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority on Friday (Jan 20).

Fish samples from those farms have passed the food safety evaluation.

The sales suspension remains, however, for crustaceans like lobsters and crabs. Another farm, which only produces molluscs, is also not able to resume business as food safety evaluation for crustaceans and molluscs is still ongoing.

A total of 12 farms were affected by the oil spill on Jan 3 which was caused by a collision between two container vessels off Johor. "Most of the farms in the East Johor Strait have completed clean-up and put up mitigation measures like canvas skirting to prevent re-entry of residual oil," said AVA.

It added that it will continue to monitor the situation and conduct sampling at the farms.

- CNA/gs

Suspension lifted at some fish farms
Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Jan 17;

Some of the 12 fish farms in the East Johor Strait have had their sales suspension lifted.

The announcement by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) yesterday came in the wake of a collision between two container vessels in the strait separating Singapore and Malaysia on Jan 4.

The collision resulted in roughly 300 tonnes of oil being spilled into the surrounding waters.

As of yesterday, two farms which produced only fish were allowed to sell their stocks.

While another nine farms were given the green light to sell their fish, the sales suspension was not lifted for crustaceans and molluscs sold by these farms due to ongoing food-safety evaluation, AVA said.

Similarly, the sales suspension remained for one farm which produced only molluscs.

Read Also: NParks volunteers help with oil spill cleanup efforts at Chek Jawa over the weekend

An AVA spokesman said: "Most of the farms in the East Johor Strait have completed clean-up and put up mitigation measures to prevent re-entry of residual oil.

"Fish samples collected from the farms have also passed our food-safety evaluation."

Meanwhile, AVA will continue to monitor the situation and conduct sampling at the East Johor Strait coastal fish farms.

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Trials done to remove, disperse mynas, says AVA

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 21 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE — The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) does not control the population of mynas in Singapore, but it has conducted two trials to test “removal” and “dispersal” methods.

In July 2015, it conducted a mist-netting trial in Hougang, trapping mynas in nylon nets made up of three to four panels that overlap to form pockets. Eleven mynas were trapped during the three-day trial and were euthanised because relocation was not feasible, the AVA said.

It added that mist-netting is a common trapping method used by conservationists to capture birds for monitoring and bird banding: “The method is humane, as the birds are captured alive with minimal human intervention.” The agency has not used mist-netting since the trial.

Last year, the AVA began a fogging trial that is ongoing in Yishun and Clementi. Selected trees are fogged with a chemical made of methylated soybean oil and a grape extract that repels mynas by causing a brief, temporary burning feeling in the mouths, throats and other parts of their faces. With repeated fogging, the AVA hopes that the birds will learn to avoid the areas. The chemical is not known to have adverse effects on humans or animals and has been successfully used in the United States to prevent birds from feeding on crops.

“If successful, fogging may help supplement existing measures for more effective, long-term management of myna-related issues in Singapore,” the AVA said, adding that it is evaluating the effectiveness of this method.

From a study on the Javan myna that concluded in 2013, the AVA found that removal of food sources would help curb its population in the long run. The study also recommended that AVA take a multi-pronged approach of dispersal and removal as short-term measures to manage myna-related issues.

Measures have also been deployed for other birds — the AVA controls the crow population, and started a trial in 2015 using a drug that acts as oral contraceptives for pigeons. In February 2015, it embarked on a year-long trial of using bird-deterrent gels at Block 755 Choa Chu Kang North 5, and observed that this was effective in stopping birds from roosting where the gels were placed.

The agency has shared the findings with parties such as town councils and building managers to see if they would like to try the gels.

“Bird-related issues, including nuisances caused by mynas, are often complex and there is no standalone solution,” the AVA said. 

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Creative conservation may help globally threatened species: Study

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 21 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE — You probably could not tell from the abundance of Javan mynas in Singapore, but the yellow-beaked grey bird is a victim of the illegal wildlife trade in its native range in Java, where its population has plummeted.

Its wild population in Java and Bali in Indonesia is estimated to be between 2,500 and 9,999. In contrast, more than 100,000 of them are found in Singapore, where they were introduced via the caged bird trade and have been established since 1925.

Dr Luke Gibson of the University of Hong Kong and Mr Yong Ding Li, a Singaporean PhD student at Australian National University, have proposed in a new research paper two ways in which Singapore and other cities can help in the conservation of globally threatened species.

The harvest of mynas and other species introduced here, such as the Red-breasted parakeet and Goffin’s cockatoo in Singapore, could offset demand from the pet trade in their native ranges, they said.

The Red-breasted parakeet is quite common on Pulau Ubin and the western catchment area, and its population here is likely to be in the thousands, Mr Yong said. The Goffin’s cockatoo, also called the Tanimbar cockatoo, is found on the remote Tanimbar Islands of Indonesia, and its Singapore population is believed to have originated from captive individuals that escaped. It has since built sustaining populations in places such as Changi Village, and Mr Yong estimated that there are a few hundred of them in Singapore.

A second approach is for these populations to be reintroduced to their native ranges to buffer declining populations.

“As many species disappear from their native ranges while thriving in other parts of the world where they have been introduced, we urge conservationists to explore innovative approaches to protect species,” the authors wrote in the paper, published this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The suggestions may invite questions on whether introduced populations would indeed ease pressure on native populations and how their impact can be effectively monitored. Would the harvesting of introduced populations also reinforce the notion that it is acceptable to keep wildlife as pets?

Mr Yong said that to some extent, the trade in pet birds is driven by humans’ fondness for rarer species. “I think harvesting these populations could increase the supply of individuals of these animals and thus affect supply chains. When this happens, it may not be so attractive to keep such species as pets,” he told TODAY. “I believe such a solution is better than maintaining the status quo.”

With wildlife trade, some species pushed to the brink of extinction have at the same time been deliberately or accidentally released in new places and have established feral populations, threatening the native species and habitats of those places.

In Singapore, the Javan myna has out-competed the Common myna. Elsewhere, invasive populations of Burmese pythons have caused populations of native mammal species in the Florida Everglades to crash, while in their native South-east Asia, the pythons have been relentlessly harvested for their skin, for medicine and for the pet trade.

Other experts agree with the authors’ proposals and precautions to be taken. Dr Darren Yeo of the National University of Singapore’s Freshwater and Invasion Biology Laboratory noted that the authors have flagged the need to first consider if harvesting of introduced populations would elevate demand and poaching of native populations. Regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) may have to be met if the species is threatened, Dr Yeo added. “If Cites is not applicable to introduced populations, then there must still be measures to ensure or certify that the traded individuals are indeed from the introduced populations,” he said.

On the suggestion to re-introduce animals drawn from introduced populations, Dr Chris Shepherd, regional director of wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic in South-east Asia, agreed that such efforts should not be pursued until populations in their native ranges are better studied and have receive improved protection. Otherwise, the re-introduced populations would simply be hunted out again, he said.

Disease transmission is a threat and the genetics of many species in the region have not been adequately worked out, so there is a risk of trans-locating species or sub-species into areas where they are not native, 
Dr Shepherd added. “If these considerations are met, this is a feasible conservation strategy and ... is one of the actions considered for the Javan myna under the conservation strategy for South-east Asian songbirds in trade (arising from a summit in September 2015),” he said.

Read more!

Upgrading along Kallang River, Sungei Whampoa to bring residents closer to water

Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 22 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE: Viewing decks and new spaces have been built along Kallang River and Sungei Whampoa, as part of national water agency PUB’s Active, Beautiful and Clean (ABC) Waters programme.

The project at Kallang River was officially opened on Sunday morning (Jan 22) by Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim who is also the MP for Jalan Besar GRC.

The project involved an upgrade of a 320-metre stretch to feature a promenade that is significantly widened from 3 to 15 metres, so pedestrians and cyclists can use the recreational space together.

There is now also a ramp for the wheelchair-bound to access the upgraded promenade. Room has been set aside for plants - particularly those that attract butterflies, like the Rose Myrtle - to increase biodiversity in the area.

There are also rain gardens with specially-selected plants and soil to cleanse rainwater from the promenade, before it goes into the river. And a touch of nostalgia - shelters have been built to mimic the masts of vessels that often sailed along Kallang River in the 19th century.

All this is meant to bring the community closer to Singapore’s waters. For instance, Kong Hwa School which is the project’s first adopter, is coming up with a learning trail for its students.

“The ABC Waters design features, such as the rain gardens, coupled with the tradition and significance of the Kallang neighbourhood, make for great learning opportunities and reinforce character and citizenship education beyond the classroom,” said Mr Jerry Yang, a teacher.

The upgrading works along Kallang River cost about S$3.8 million, and is the first ABC project to be opened this year.

Similar enhancements have been made further upstream at Sungei Whampoa, which flows into Kallang River. For example, the previously fenced up and unused space beside Whampoa Community Club has been spruced up.

There are now lookout decks along a 450-metre stretch for residents to relax and carry out various activities.

There is also a rain garden built here, to clean the rainwater runoff from the newly upgraded CC, before it is discharged into the canal. Efforts have also been made to green the canal walls. These enhancements, which cost about $1.8 million, will officially be opened in February.

“ABC Waters @ Kallang River and Sungei Whampoa are really about building for the future. Both projects were planned to be integrated with upcoming development works in the vicinity”, said PUB’s Chief Sustainability Officer Mr Tan Nguan Sen.

“As both Kallang River and Sungei Whampoa flow into the Marina Reservoir - a source of water supply, we hope residents will help to play their part in keeping the waters free from litter so that all of us can enjoy cleaner, clearer waters and a better living environment”, he added.

- CNA/mn

A chance to enjoy Kallang River thanks to A, B, C
JEONG HONGBIN Today Online 22 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE — Residents living along the Kallang River between Upper Boon Keng Road and Sims Avenue now have more ways to enjoy the riverfront with new boat-shaped viewing decks and a wider promenade for taking in the evening breeze.

The S$3.8 million improvements, which took one-and-a-half years to complete, comes under Singapore’s national water agency PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) programme, which aims to transform the nation’s water bodies beyond their utilitarian function.

At ABC Waters@Kallang River, the pathway for cyclists and pedestrians have been doubled to 6 metres wide, and now has in place of stairs, making it easier for cyclists and wheelchair users to access the riverfront.

The new viewing decks, with a design inspired by the masts of early sailing vessels which used to ply the river, are expected to become the new landmarks in the area. Two rain gardens, which will detain and cleanse rainwater that run off the promenade before it gets discharged into the river, can be used as outdoor classrooms for students.

Kong Hwa School has already ‘adopted’ the space, with a plan to design an ABC Waters Learning Trail to augment its curriculum for students. Kolam Ayer Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) also has plans to use the area to hold various grassroots events to promote community bonding.

The project was officially opened on Sunday (Jan 22) by Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

Further upstream at Sungei Whampoa, a second ABC Waters improvement has also been completed. The S$1.8 million remodelling took one year, and is expected to be officially opened on Feb 26.

This ABC Waters @ Sungei Whampoa project includes a lookout deck, seating, a boardwalk and a rain garden along the 450m stretch of the river between Kim Keat Road and Central Expressway (CTE).

“We hope through the enjoyment of these places, residents can develop a sense of ownership towards our waters and understand also the importance of having to keep our waterways clean,” said Cheng Geok Ling, PUB’s deputy director of sustainability.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sipadan orca sighting unusual, but not unheard-of occurrence

AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 21 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The sighting of a pod of orcas by a group of divers in Sipadan waters last Sunday was not a first, as the marine mammals have been spotted in Sabah waters several times before.

This was shared by other divers following New Straits Times’ online report on the recent encounter near the world-renowned island.

Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventures managing director Richard Swann told the NST that there had been several sightings in the past, wherein orcas were seen passing through waters off Sipadan and Layang-Layang islands.

"Although I have yet to encounter them, I know others who have. They spotted a pod of orcas in Sipadan waters a few years back.

"The killer whales were seen chasing dolphins, but I am not sure if (the divers) were able to document the event, because the boat… could not catch up (with the mammals)," Swann said.

He added that another group of divers spotted killer whales near Layang-Layang in March last year.

Swann, who is a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Platinum course director, has been diving in Sabah for over 10 years.

During his dives in the state, he has encountered whale sharks and dolphins.

"I (saw) melon-headed whales (often referred to as 'blackfish' or 'false killer whales') in 2005 in Sipadan waters, but I missed the killer whales.

"At that time, there could have been hundreds of dolphins... probably more than a thousand (different) species. As for melon-headed whales, it is hard to say (how many of them there were), as they seemed to be very cautious and kept their distance.

"Every now and again, there is a huge number of dolphins passing through and predators naturally follow, on occasion.
"It can be breath-taking, (it’s) like some kind of marine convention, and they socialise when they come together, unless being hunted – then they are just on full speed," said Swann.

Last Sunday, 32-year-old diver Faridzul Adzli Mad Adim encountered about eight orcas and took videos of them swimming and jumping out of the water.

His videos, which he posted on his Facebook page, have garnered more than 8,000 views.

Meanwhile, Sabah Fisheries Director Ahemad Sade said presence of killer whale in Sabah waters was not common but noted they have been spotted in waters off Semporna.

"As for now we can tentatively identify it as killer whale by looking at the white spot under the dorsal fin (based on Faridzul's video).

"The orcas could have used our waters as part of their migratory route since waters off Sipadan is quiet deep.

"The area is also a migratory route for yellow fin and big eye tuna," he said.

While it carries the name ‘whale’, this marine mammal belongs to the dolphin family and is its largest member.

Although killer whales tend to inhabit cold oceans, they can be found in all of the world's major seas, from the Arctic and Antarctica, to various tropical regions located in and around the equator.

They usually prey on squid, octopus, seal, sea lion, sea otter, ray, dolphin, shark, baleen whale and of course, bony fishes. Occasionally, turtles and seabirds, including penguins, are added to their diet.

Sipadan divers spot orcas in Malaysian waters, awestruck by encounter
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 21 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: In what was supposed to be another typical fun dive, a group of 14 divers were treated to an experience of a lifetime when they spotted a pod of orcas in the tropical waters off the east coast of Sabah.

The presence of killer whales near the world-renowed Sipadan Island took them by surprise last Sunday while they were completing their first leisure dive at the South Point diving site.

Faridzul Adzli Mad Adim, 32, said it was about 11am when they resurfaced and the boatman told them to get on the boat.

He was with a Swedish, four Hungarians and four Chinese divers together with three dive masters.

"The boatman signalled us to get out off the water, saying we had to move to the open sea. He sounded excited.

"We were wondering what had happened when he told us that he just saw an orca jumped out of the water," he told New Straits Times when contacted.

The group kept their eyes peeled as the boatman took them further out to the open sea, about 10 minutes away from South Point.

"And then we saw the killer whales and they were jumping out of the water about five metres away from us. Everyone shouted excitedly and we were in awe," added Faridzul.

Although he was unsure, the executive officer with the Sultan of Selangor's Office, said there could have been eight orcas at that time.

He said the group tried to get closer to the pod but each time they did, the orcas moved away.

"Probably they were afraid of the engine's sound so one of the dive masters told the boatman to turn it off.

"We stayed for 30 minutes to enjoy the sight. It was everyone's first encounter with orcas and we were suprised that it appeared in our waters since they are known to live in cold waters," he said, adding that the sea temperature was about 25 degrees Celsius.

This sighting of killer whales or Orcinus orca is believed to be the first in Malaysian waters.

While it carries the name whale, this marine mammal belongs to the dolphin family and it is its largest member.

Although killer whales are often found living in cold ocean waters they can also be found in all of the world's major oceans from the Arctic and Antarctic to various tropical regions located in and around the equator.

Hard for sea poachers to go after killer whales in Sabah, assures animal expert
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 25 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Tight maritime security in Sabah’s east coast and strict regulation on international trade of marine mammals will make it difficult for outsiders to hunt killer whales in the state waters.

Marine mammals expert Dr Lindsay Porter, when contacted, told the New Straits Times that it was impossible for hunters to escape with a large marine mammal without being noticed.

Porter, who works with the World Wide Fund for Nature, deals with dolphins, whales, porpoises, and dugongs. She also works on issues of marine mammal harvesting and hunting for food, bait or traditional uses.

On Jan 21, the NST reported on the sightings of a pod of orcas – the largest species of dolphin – near Sipadan Island. The killer whales were spotted by a group of divers.

Following the report, readers expressed concern that publicising such report would attract sea poachers or marine mammal hunters into the area.

“Perhaps this is a risk but I am somewhat baffled as to who would have a vessel large enough and explosive harpoons available to kill a killer whale?

“They are not small. Small rifle fire unlikely to do much damage and quite frankly, what market would there be for dead killer whales? And live ones, it would be extremely difficult to catch one on the east coast of Sabah,” responded Porter.

“There is a strict regulation on international trade of marine mammals, even if someone could catch and hold a killer whale…there are also regular patrols by security forces as well as Fisheries and Wildlife agencies.

“Sabah’s east coast is heavily patrolled by maritime security (possibly) making it very difficult for outsiders to try and come into our waters for such purposes,” she said, stressing killer whales are large and fast predators.

With respect to concerns that some people may exploit killer whales in Sabah waters, Porter said it was unlikely that anyone from the state could or would opportunistically hunt or kill orcas.

While pointing there was some evidence that traditional hunts for small dolphins occurred in the past, she said this was different as it was easier than hunting a killer whale.

“I do this work for the International Whaling Commission that is interested in all aspects of humans using marine mammals for food or any other purpose.

“We have done extensive work on where and who in Asia would or has exploited marine mammals (including hunting them or killing them if they get tangle in fishing nets).

“Sabah has a very low reporting rate of any consumption or bait use. Only some of the coastal people may use dolphin teeth as currency or dowry but this is poorly documented.

“This was why I find it unlikely that Sabahans would hunt the killer whales as they neither have the skills nor equipment to do so and there is no traditional demand or market.”

She however noted that In Indonesia, the people of Lamellera are famous for their daring attempts to harpoon sperm whales by using traditional spears.

For experienced hunters like these people, Porter said they might be capable of successfully harpooning a killer whale.

On presence of orcas in Sabah waters, she noted there had been several sightings of in Sabah waters but none of encounters were in the news.

“It is great to see marine mammals and the oceans being featured in news.

“I don’t think that reporting the sighting of these amazing oceanic predators increases the risk of anyone trying to harm or hunt these animals.

“I think instead that reporting this species, highlighting Sabah’s rich and diverse marine wildlife and reminding everyone that the oceans are ours to look after is a great privilege that the many means of news media broadcasting can provide.”

Read more!

Malaysia Land reclamation: Adhere to environmental guidelines, Wan Junaidi tells Malacca

ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL New Straits Times 21 Jan 17;

MALACCA: The Malacca government has been warned by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to ensure all coastal development works adhere to its guidelines, particularly the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Order 2015.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar yesterday urged the state government to study the impact of rapid reclamation along the Klebang coast to ensure no adverse impact on the environment and livelihood of those dependent on marine life.

In reaction to escalating issues surrounding reclamation and coastal development in Klebang here, Wan Junaidi reminded the state government of the implementation of the EIA Order.

“The ministry, through the Department of Environment (DOE), is responsible for the EIA and Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) reports, but we do not object to the state’s development.”

He said every project must adhere to regulations, particularly the Quality of Environment Order 2015 and EIA Order 2015.

“Reclamation in Klebang began in 2012 and it is guided by the EIA Macro Study, which was reviewed by the DOE to form guidelines in planning for reclamation projects in Malacca,” said Wan Junaidi.

Issues and public concern over allegedly excessive reclamation along the Klebang coast, have triggered alarm bells in recent weeks, with fishermen complaining about illegal sand mining alongside reclaimed areas.

Public concern has also been highlighted by the poor level of dialogue, especially over the sale of commercial land on reclaimed plots, raising questions whether such projects were done to enable land sales.

Wan Junaidi said reclamation in Malacca was conducted by companies that had been given concessions by the state government prior to the enforcement of the EIA Order 2015 and were guided by the DOE’s EIA Macro review 1999.

Reclamation of areas not more than 50ha were not subjected to the EIA Order, prior to amendments made in 2015.

“The amendments were made in 2015 in view of the rapid development of the coast, thus, it means that reclamation of areas not more than 50ha are required to provide a Schedule 1 EIA report,” said Wan Junaidi.

Reclamation of more than 50ha, he said, required a Schedule 2 EIA report, which compelled public exhibit and dialogue for the purpose of approval by the DOE director-general.

Wan Junaidi said the proposed EIA and DEIA dual system would require compulsory extensive procedures for all development projects in the country.

The proposal for the new system is to be tabled before the cabinet, Federal Land and the National Physical Development Councils before being implemented.

Read more!

Malaysia: Poachers target Asian jumbos

SIM LEOI LEOI The Star 22 Jan 17;

PETALING JAYA: Elephants in Malaysia and parts of Asia may be in the crosshairs of poachers hunting for ivory.

Ivory tusks from Asian elephants are a lot rarer than those from Africa and fetch a higher price, said an international group probing the illegal wildlife trade.

Investigators from the Wildlife Justice Commission said given the unique nature of these tusks, these might attract a significant price.

“Our investigators have been offered so-called Asian ivory on va­rious occasions.

“Asian ivory is a lot rarer than those from Africa and a higher price is charged,” they said in an e-mail here.

The investigators, responsible for toppling some of South-East Asia’s most prolific illegal wildlife traders, were responding to the recent case in Sabah where two Bornean elephants were killed for their tusks.

One of the elephants – known as Sabre among the scientists – had a pair of uniquely reversed tusks and was previously featured in newspapers.

The investigators said given the unique nature of the tusks, these were unlikely to be cut up for jewellery or chopsticks.

“These would most likely be sold as a pair of tusks,” they said.

On the possible route for the tusks to be smuggled out of the country, the investigators said given the large movement of people in and out of Sabah, these could be transported by air (passenger baggage or cargo) or by sea.

“Once they reach mainland Ma­­lay­sia, they may be transported by vehicles across the Thai border and from there, they could make their way through Laos to China or Viet­nam or flown out from Kuala Lum­pur directly to China,” they said.

Although China had pledged to close its ivory market by the end of this year, the investigators said the final destination country was still likely to be the republic.

“The closing of the official markets will not necessarily stop all trade in ivory. It may just force it underground,” they said.

The commission’s executive director Olivia Swaak-Goldman said the fact that the world’s smallest elephants were being killed for their ivory showed the length these criminal networks would go to and the need to crack down on them.

“They are escalating their efforts to locate ivory,” he said.

Dr Chris R. Shepherd, regional director for Traffic in South-East Asia, said as only male Asian elephants had tusks, poachers might be desperate to take every opportunity to acquire the tusks.

“If preventive measures aren’t taken now and closer monitoring of wild elephant populations is not put in place, Malaysia could see more of its wild elephants killed for the ivory trade,” he said.

Asked if the closing down of China’s market would see a shift to other countries in the region, he said: “It’s possible that some countries in South-East Asia may become a greater market focus following the closure of China’s ivory markets but it is difficult to say with certainty which country is most vulnerable.”

With the exception of Malaysia and Brunei, Dr Shepherd said all other South-East Asian countries had some level of ivory trade.

“The latest case doesn’t firmly indicate the existence of a local market,” he said, calling the matter unusual and demanding for a more detailed investigation.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sabah Dept keen to know origin of tusks found on Indonesia woman

The Star 22 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Wildlife Department is keen to know the origin of the five elephant tusks recovered from an Indonesian woman believed to be heading from Tawau to Nunukan, Indonesia.

Although it could not be certain whether the elephant tusks were from recently killed jumbos in Sabah, wildlife authorities here are hoping to help Indonesia to verify their origin through DNA tests.

The tusks were found hidden in the woman’s bag on Jan 13. They were spotted through an x-ray machine.

Indonesian Customs, Immigra­tion and Quarantine officials let her off after she told them that the tusks did not belong to her and that she was just asked to carry them as marriage dowry.

No details were available about who gave them to her.

Indonesian workers usually go home via Tawau to Nunukan.

“We have contacted Indonesia’s CITES Management Authority about the matter through the assistance of Traffic South-East Asia,” Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said.

“We will wait for the outcome of their investigation,” he added.

Conservationists here suspected the tusks could be from three endangered Pygmy elephants which died between October and December last year.

They could also be from the rare sabre-tusked elephant of which the skeletal remains were found on Dec 31, in the Segama area of Kinaba­tangan district.

DNA tests needed to determine origin of elephant tusks seized in North Kalimantan: Sabah Wildlife Dept
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 21 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Further investigations are needed to determine if the elephant tusks seized by Indonesian authorities a week ago in North Kalimantan belonged to the two pygmy elephants killed in Sabah last month.

State Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said this today, following an Indonesian media reports that officials had stopped a woman carrying five pieces of elephant tusks in Nunukan, North Kalimantan, a week ago.

The reports said the tusks were believed to be from Malaysia.

Officials at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine station at Nunukan however released the woman but the tusks, valued at Rp 100 million (RM33,200), have been seized and sent to higher authorities in Tarakan.

“So far, we don't know exactly where the tusks could have come from.

“It can only be ascertained when the Indonesian wildlife authorities had taken a statement from the person or conduct a DNA analysis to compare them with the specimens of animals killed in Sabah,” he said in a statement.

Augustine added that he hoped the Indonesian authorities would conduct a thorough investigation into the case.

Last month, Sabah Wildlife and Danau Girang Field Centre had discovered two elephant carcasses, found 1.5 kilometres apart, were slaughtered for their ivory near a forest reserve in Kinabatangan.

The state had also offered RM10,000 reward to those who could assist the department in catching the culprits responsible for the killing.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun had also said the government would mull for less publicity on unique wildlife. He added the publicity on one of the elephants, including ‘sabre’, the rare pygmy elephant with downward tusks might have attract poachers to the state.

Read more!

Malaysia: Floods in Terengganu, Kelantan and Sabah

Terengganu floods -- 27 schools closed, over 3,000 evacuated

KUALA TERENGGANU: The worsening floods that hit again in many parts of the state has forced the closure of 27 schools in five districts.

State Education Department director Shafruddin Ali Hussin said in a statement Sunday that the closure affected 5,824 students and 681 teachers.

Fourteen of the schools were located in Hulu Terengganu, nine in Setiu, two in Besut and one each in Dungun and Kemaman.

"On Sunday morning, we had decided that due to the worsening floods, these schools had to be closed.

"Many of the schools had been inundated by flood waters. Some roads linking to the schools had been cut off while other schools were used as evacuation centres," he said.

He added that those who arrived at the schools were allowed to return home for their safety.

In Hulu Terengganu, the affected schools are SK Tengkawang, SK Matang, SK Kua, SK Bukit Tadok, SK Lubok Periuk, SK Tg Ampuan Intan, SMA Mahmudiah, SM Imtiaz Kuala Berang, SK K Ping, SK Getang, SMK Kuala Jenderis, SK Teris, SK Padang Setebu and SK Kuala Jenderis.

As of 8am on Sunday, the total number of flood victims was 3,998 in four districts.

According to the statistics from the state Civil Defence Force, Besut recorded the most evacuees at 1,398 from 343 families in 30 evacuation centres.

Hulu Terengganu was next in line with 1,386 victims from 497 families in 19 centres.

Setiu recorded 1,070 victims from 286 families housed in 26 evacuation centres, while Kemaman had 144 victims from 40 families placed in six centres.

13 schools in Terengganu closed due to floods

SETIU: Thirteen schools in Terengganu will be closed on Sunday after four districts were affected by floods.

State Education, Science, Technology and Transformation Committee chairman A. Latiff Awang said the four districts were Setiu, Hulu Terengganu, Besut and Kemaman.

Some 2,679 students and 307 teachers were involved.

"Of the eight primary schools in Setiu, six will be closed after it was inundated by floodwaters while two more will be used as evacuation centres.

"The six schools inundated by flood waters were SK Kampung Besut, SK Chalok, SK Langkap, SK Kampung Buloh, SK Sungai Las and SK Kampung Bukit.

"The other two schools which will be used as evacuation centres are SK Alur Lek Kasar and SK Merbau Menyusut," he said.

In Hulu Terengganu, A. Latiff said the schools involved were SK Tengkawang and SK Matang; SK Padang Kubu in Kemaman while the two schools in Besut were SK Kampung Nangka and SK Tembila.

Terengganu flood situation deteriorates, 4,449 evacuated this morning
ZARINA ABDULLAH New Straits Times 22 Jan 17;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Flooding in the state has reached a critical level with the number of flood evacuees skyrocketing to 4,449 people from 1,277 families, and 17 more relief centres being opened in four districts this morning. As of 7am, the state flood watch Welfare Department portal reported that 91 relief centres are now in operation.

This morning’s numbers are an increase from 3,465 people from 959 families who moved to 74 relief centres last night.

The portal states that the worst-affected district is Besut with 1,747 evacuees from 435 families who are staying at 36 relief centres, compared with 1,693 people from 427 families evacuated last night.

In Setiu, the number of evacuees rose to 1,172 from 302 families who are housed at 30 relief centres, compared with last night. Hulu Terengganu has also seen a rise to 1,386 victims from 497 families taking shelter at 19 relief centres, compared to 739 victims from 250 families at 11 relief centres last night. In Kemaman, the number of victims rose to 144 people from 44 families at six relief centres.

Terengganu braces for fourth wave of floods

SETIU: The state is once again being hit by floods – the fourth wave in less than two months – and the people have been told to prepare for the worst.

State Disaster Management Committee secretary Mejar Amirsarifudin Zalman said the floods this time might be as bad as the third wave that hit from Dec 31 to Jan 9, which saw some 13,400 victims evacuated.

The first wave was from Nov 29 to Dec 1, followed by the second from Dec 26 to 28. The current wave started on Friday.

“The number of evacuees may go as high as the previous wave. The Meteorological Department has issued orange and red alerts to some districts with moderate and heavy rains predicted in the next few days.

“This is not to scare the public but to get them to be prepared for any eventuality,” he said.

Amirsarifudin added that all respective agencies were on standby with many of the personnel’s leave frozen.

“We hope that the situation does not reach a critical level although our team is ready.”

As of 6pm yesterday, four districts were affected by floods, with 3,316 victims from 908 families placed at 70 evacuation centres. Besut topped with 1,693 evacuees; Setiu (904); Hulu Terengganu (631); and Kemaman (88).

Areas here, especially in Kampung Nyatoh and Kampung Permaisuri, also saw many low-lying areas inundated. Villagers were seen moving their belongings to a safer place and getting prepared to move to the evacuation centres.

For many, it was the second time in two weeks that their homes were flooded, an experience that Rozali Jusoh, 67, found very tiring for him and his wife.

“The family had just come back from staying at the relief centre for five days and now we are going back again.

“It’s quite a task to carry the furniture and belongings, then clean the whole house and put back all the things, only to repeat the entire process and worse, all of a sudden,” he said.

He was also worried about his children’s safety as the flood waters rose quickly to 2m.

The floods also saw access to 19 roads in Hulu Terengganu, Setiu and Besut cut off.

Thirteen schools in Terengganu will be closed today with some 2,679 students and 307 teachers in the four districts affected.

Kelantan floods worsen considerably; almost 12,000 people evacuated
BERNAMA New Straits Times 22 Jan 17;

KOTA BARU: The number of flood victims in Kelantan shot up to 11,748 from 3,255 families as at 8am today, compared to 9,220 from 2,587 families at 8pm last night.

According to the Social Welfare Department, through their infobanjir application, all the flood victims are currently housed at 65 relief centres in seven districts in the state.

Out of the total, 5,109 people from 1,334 families are housed in 24 relief centres in Kota Baru, 2,507 people (678 families) are at 10 relief centres in Pasir Puteh, 2,086 people (665 families) are at 21 relief centres in Pasir Mas, and 1,238 people (356 families) are at three centres in Tumpat.

Additionally, 522 people from 141 families are housed at a relief centre in Bachok, 197people (56 families) are in four centres in Machang, and 89 people (25 families) are in two centres in Tanah Merah.

Meanwhile, according to the portal, the water level at Sungai Golok in Rantau Panjang has remained at 10.11 metres as at 8am. The river’s danger level is nine metres. -- BERNAMA

Over 3,000 evacuated as floods worsen in Kelantan
The Star 21 Jan 17;

KOTA BARU: The floods have worsened in Kelantan, requiring the evacuation of 3,232 people in seven districts as at 8am Saturday.

The evacuees, from 866 families, are being housed at 35 relief centres in the districts of Kota Baru, Pasir Mas, Pasir Puteh, Bachok, Machang, Tanah Merah and Tumpat, according to the Social Welfare Department's "infobanjir" app.

The data on the number of evacuees, families and relief centres is as follows:

Kota Baru - 1,345 evacuees from 341 families at 10 relief centres.

Pasir Mas - 688 evacuees from 185 families at 13 relief centres.

Pasir Puteh - 632 evacuees from 180 families at six relief centres.

Bachok - 295 evacuees from 86 families at one relief centre.

Machang - 101 evacuees from 28 families at one relief centre.

Tanah Merah - 99 evacuees from 27 families at three relief centres.

Tumpat - 72 evacuees from 19 families at one relief centre.

The Kelantan state government portal reported that the level of Sungai Golok at Rantau Panjang was 9.95m at 8am, which is above the warning point of 9m. - Bernama

CNY festivities ruined for Kelantan folk
SYED AZHAR The Star 22 Jan 17;

KOTA BARU: Kuang Lena Yien stood rooted to the spot as flood waters started rising during a bout of heavy rain in Wakaf Baru here.

Within minutes, it gushed into her double-storey terrace house, ruining everything in its path.

The frightening experience on Friday evening was still fresh in her mind when she spoke yesterday.

“Almost everything on the lower floor is damaged. Luckily, I managed to drive my car to higher ground.

“It happened very fast. There was nothing we could do,” said the businesswoman.

Kuang, 46, said the incident has spoiled her mood to celebrate Chinese New Year.

She said her housing area was flood-prone and the residents were always prepared every monsoon season.

“But this year, the flood was exceptionally high, causing much losses.

“Now, it is cleaning time and we need to put our celebrations on hold,” she said.

Heavy rain was still lashing the area and as a safety precaution, Kuang has prepared a rubber dinghy for her son, aged seven.

In Melur, Pasir Puteh, Mandy Aw Siew Sin’s shophouse was inundated by flood water that reached 0.3m high.

“This has never happened before, as long as I can remember,” said Aw, who lives with her 65-year-old mother.

“During the major flood in 2014, the water was not even near this level.”

Still visibly shaken, the mother of two girls said she would be spending the next week cleaning the house of mud and debris.

Aw said that although it has been raining the past few days, it was the norm during the monsoon season.

“But this time it is crazy. My house is just 100m from the river.

“Never before has the water risen so fast and gushed in,” she said, adding that they waited more than 12 hours for the water to recede.

On the coming Chinese New Year, Aw said there would be no celebrations as most of her furniture and electrical appliances were damaged.

The overcast skies suggest that the rain is not about to go away anytime soon.

As at 8pm yesterday, more than 9,220 residents from Tumpat, Tanah Merah, Pasir Puteh, Pasir Mas, Machang, Bachok and here have been evacuated.

They are being sheltered in about 57 flood relief centres.

The level of Sungai Golok in Rantau Panjang is 10.11m, above the 9m danger mark.

Kelantan submerged once more following three days of rain
KALBANA PERIMBANAYAGAM New Straits Times 21 Jan 17;

KOTA BARU: More flood relief centres have been opened following three days of continuous heavy rain in parts of Kelantan. As of 9am today, 32 relief centres were opened state-wide, sheltering 2,744 flood victims evacuated from Pasir Putih, Bachok, Pasir Mas, Tanah Merah, Kota Baru, Tumpat and Machang.

State Welfare Department director Mohammad Hanafi Maulud said the 2,744 victims are from 744 families whose houses were deemed unsafe after being inundated by floodwaters since yesterday. He said the number of evacuees is expected to increase if the rain does not stop by this afternoon.

“It rained throughout the night, and more low-lying areas have been inundated.

"The latest centres opened at 6am today are in Gual Periok and Bunut Susu in Pasir Mas, with 11 and 116 victims respectively,” Hanafi said.

There are 13 relief centres in Pasir Mas, followed by nine in Kota Baru – making them the districts with the most evacuees, with 675 and 1,088, respectively.

Hanafi said that they are currently in the midst of opening another centre in Pasir Mas at Sekolah Bayu Lalang.

Meanwhile, checks on the water at Sungai Golok showed that it has exceeded the danger level by 0.95 metres, causing it to overflow in Rantau Panjang; while in Pasir Putih, Sungai Semarak has reached the warning level of 2.45 metres, just short of the danger level.

Sungai Kelantan however, showed no significant change. Several roads in Machang and Pasir Mas have been closed due to the flash floods.

Among them are Jalan Kampung Pek-Paloh Rawa, Jalan Pangkal Gong-Kemubu, Jalan Machang-Kota Bharu in Machang and Jalan Bukit Tuku-Batu Hampar, Jalan Lubok Jong-Pohon Tanjong and Jalan Pengkalan Rakit in Pasir Mas.

Sabah floods worsen with almost 3,000 villagers evacuated
BERNAMA New Straits Times 20 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Twelve evacuation centres are sheltering 2,957 flood victims from 936 families in Kota Marudu and Pitas as of 7am today.

Sabah State Disaster Management Committee secretariat chief Col Mulliadi Al-Hamdi Ladin said 2,880 from 910 families are staying at 11 evacuation centres in Kota Marudu, while 77 from 26 families are at another centre in Pitas.

He said the water at Sungai Bengkoka and Sungai Kebatasan also remain at the danger level of 4.0 metres and 6.07 metres respectively.

In Sandakan, 37 residents in Kampung Binsulong, Paitan, were moved to Dewan Serbaguna Kampung Binsulong when flood hit the village at around 9pm last night.

Sandakan Fire and Rescue operations officer Haikal Jammy Ngali Abdullah said the evacuation ended at 12.11pm. -- BERNAMA

Floods return to northern Sabah, rivers reach danger levels
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 22 Jan 17;

KOTA MARUDU: Rising flood waters forced the evacuation of up to 427 people from 100 families from here, Pitas and Paitan by 9.30am today. Malaysian Civil Defence Force state director Colonel Muliadi Al-Hamdi Ladin said one temporary relief centre has been set up in every district.

"The water level at Sungai Bongon is at 7.42 meters and at Sungai Bandau, 6.9 meters, which are the alert levels.

"In Pitas, Sg Batasan is at 6.45 metres and Sg Bengkoka is at 4.23 metres – both are at the danger level," he said in a statement, adding that 18 villages in Pitas were affected, while eight roads are not safe to be used. He added that rain is continuing to pour in all three districts.

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Indonesia to fight against forest fires starting early this year

Haeril Halim, Rizal Harahap and Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 21 Jan 17;

January is not over yet, but two regencies in Riau province have already declared emergency alert statuses to tackle any potential forest fires, which could get out of control when the weather gets drier in upcoming months.

The decision made by Rokan Hulu regency and Dumai city to raise their alert statuses, which would allow the central government to send aid to the regions, has been lauded by government officials in Jakarta.

Indonesia has learned the hard way that failing to act as fast as possible to address forest fires would cost it dearly. In 2015, massive forest fires ravaged Sumatra and Kalimantan and caused diplomatic tensions as cities in Malaysia and Singapore, were covered by smoky haze for weeks.

With the weather in 2017 expected to be drier than in 2016, the country could not afford to risk another disaster.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has called on other fire-prone regions in Sumatra and Kalimantan to follow the initiatives of Rokan and Dumai before the dry season starts in late January and runs until the end of March, the period hot spots could quickly turn into fires if treated late.

A break from fires is expected to take place between April and May this year when rain pours down on the country, but threats of fire could recur from June to late October in haze-producing regions like Sumatra, Riau and Kalimantan, said BNPT spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

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

Sutopo said that the BNPB had improved its early warning system to detect the emergence of hot spots across the country and had asked the Regional Mitigation Agencies (BPBD) to prepare artificial rain as an anticipatory move ahead of the dry season.

“We have instructed the BPBDs to urge local administrations to declare emergency alert statuses before it is too late to do so. It is a good move that Rokan and Dumai took the initiative. We hope that other regions follow suit. Next week, there will be a meeting at the State Palace to discuss preparations to prevent forest fires,” Sutopo told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Sutopo said that the BNPB could directly send helicopters to regions that had declared emergency alert statuses as an early anticipation to prevent forest fires.

The head of the Rokan Hulu BPBD, Aceng Herdiana, said that the status was effective from Jan. 16 to May 31. He said in the last 10 days hot spots detected in a number of districts were identified to be forest and land fires.

“That’s why the regency administration considers it necessary to declare the emergency siaga alert status,” Aceng said.

The Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had also been routinely reporting that the rainfall in a number of regions in Riau would be very limited until April 2017, he said.

Such indicators, he said, had to be watched, because it meant that the potential for fire in several fireprone districts was increasing.

Riau BPBD head Edwar Sanger said that he expected the Riau provincial administration would also soon declare a standby emergency status as an early measure to prevent hot spots from expanding.

“The objective is to maintain the situation. The haze-free achievement made by Riau in 2016 has to be maintained this year,” he said.

He said the emergency alert status on the provincial level would be announced on Monday during a meeting led by Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman.

Meanwhile, the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s fire mitigation director Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan said the alert status was declared when the fires were still under control and it would only be raised to “emergency” status when fires became massive.

Raffles added that the status could be raised quickly, unlike in 2015 when some regional governments were too late raising their alert statuses, resulting in late responses.

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Indonesia: Sumatra mill destroying environment, say activists

Straits Times 20 Jan 17;

JAKARTA • Green groups said yesterday that one of the world's biggest pulp mills, which started production on Indonesia's Sumatra island last month, was causing enormous environmental damage.

The groups said the US$3 billion (S$4.3 billion) mill belonging to industry giant Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) was sourcing raw materials mostly from trees grown on drained peatlands, where haze-belching fires occur every year.

The facility produces a raw material that can later be made into paper.

Ms Woro Supartinah, whose non-governmental organisation was among the groups, called on the government to "promote a broader set of interests", rather than just helping big firms reap profits.

"Restoring peatlands will generate economic growth and environmental security over the long term," she said.

The groups included Wetlands International, Eyes on the Forest and Rainforest Action Network.

APP said it aims to responsibly raise production capacity. In a statement, it said its pulpwood suppliers were bound by its conservation policies, which include committing to "no new development on peatland since February 2013, as well as the implementation of responsible peatland best management practice".

Vast areas of peatland, which store carbon, have been drained in recent years by using networks of canals to convert them into plantations for trees to produce pulp and palm oil.

The drained peatlands emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and the arid tracts of land created are vulnerable to going up in flames.

Huge fires erupt on and around plantation land every year in Sumatra, much of them in peat.

The fires in 2015 were among the worst on record and cloaked South-east Asia in toxic haze for weeks, causing many to fall ill, schools to close and flights to be cancelled.

About three-quarters of the plantations supplying APP's mill are on peatlands, said the green groups.

The government has stepped up efforts to protect the peatlands, especially after the 2015 fires, which according to the World Bank caused US$16 billion in losses for the archipelago's economy.


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The skin cure fad threatening Myanmar's elephants

Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 17;

MT KYAIKHTEEYOE, Myanmar: Under the shadow of Myanmar's famed "Golden Rock" punters haggle for the latest traditional medicine cure - slices of skin from the country's fast disappearing wild elephants sold for a few dollars a square inch.

A set of stairs winds behind one of the Buddhist country's most holy sites to a maze of shops openly selling everything from pieces of ivory and tiger's teeth to vials of bear oil.

But there is a new fad luring devotees of traditional medicine.

"Elephant's skin can cure skin diseases like eczema," one shop owner, who requested anonymity, told AFP next to a counter brimming with porcupine quills and snake skins.

"You burn pieces of skin by putting them in a clay pot. Then you get the ash and mix it with coconut oil to apply on the eczema."

He breaks off to talk to a potential buyer, who baulks at the price tag of 5,000 kyat ($3.65) per square inch (6.5 square centimetres) of elephant skin.

Another young man touting his wares nearby promised a paste made from ground up elephant teeth would "cure pimples and remove black spots".

"Your face will be smooth and white after you use it," he said grinning.

Elephant poaching in Myanmar has jumped tenfold in recent years, the government said this week, driven by growing demand for ivory, hide and body parts.

Increasingly carcasses are being found stripped of their skin, the hide used for traditional medicine or reportedly turned into beads for jewellery.

Some of it is sold in local markets, but the vast majority goes to feed neighbouring China's inexhaustible taste for exotic animals.

Myanmar's wild elephant population is thought to have almost halved over the past decade to around 2,000-3,000.

The animals are killed or smuggled alive to be used in the tourist industry in neighbouring Thailand.

"We're in the middle of a crisis," said Antony Lynam, regional adviser at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"If we're losing this number it can't be too many more years before wild elephants are gone."

- Weak laws -

Elephants are one of dozens of endangered species being trafficked through Myanmar, which has become a key hub in the $20 billion a year global wildlife trade.

Watchdog TRAFFIC claims the country has "the largest unregulated open markets for tiger parts" in Southeast Asia, which experts say also sell everything from African rhino horn and clouded leopard skins to pangolins.

Much of the trade runs through the country's lawless eastern periphery, controlled by a sophisticated network of criminals who are thought to be armed and funded by powerful "kingpins" in China.

It is lucrative business: in Mong La, on Myanmar's eastern border, sales of ivory alone are thought to rake in tens of millions of dollars a year.

Hunting endangered animals is illegal in Myanmar, which is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

But the maximum fine for anyone caught is less than $60, while laws are poorly enforced.

"As a result the number of cases that we see in terms of wildlife crimes are really, really low," said Giovanni Broussard, regional coordinator at the UN's drug and crime enforcement agency.

This week the government pledged to strengthen the law on killing elephants and clamp down on the trade in ivory and body parts.

At a regional level, Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN has set up a wildlife enforcement network to stop trafficking and seizures of endangered animal products have been on the rise.

Last month China also said it would ban the ivory trade by the end of 2017.

Still, experts say Myanmar has a long way to go to save its elephants.

"There is a lack of political will and society as a whole is not really interested," said Vincent Nijman, a professor at Oxford Brookes University who has studied wildlife trafficking in Myanmar for a decade.


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Sea levels could rise by six to nine metres over time, new study warns

Evidence that continental ice sheets are sensitive to slight increases in ocean temperature suggests ocean levels will continue to rise for centuries
Hannah Devlin The Guardian 19 Jan 17;

Sea surface temperatures today are strikingly similar to those during the last interglacial period, when sea levels were six to nine metres above their present height, according to research.

The findings provide compelling evidence that Greenland and Antarctica’s continental ice sheets are highly sensitive to slight increases in ocean temperatures, and raise the prospect of sea levels continuing to rise for many centuries.

Previous research had shown that sea levels rose by several metres during the last interglacial (LIG), between 129,000 to 116,000 years ago, but until now the picture of how sea temperatures had varied over the same period had remained patchy.

The latest research, based on marine sediment core records from 83 sites, concludes that sea temperatures towards the end of the LIG were comparable to those seen today.

Rob DeConto, a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved in the research said: “This tells us that the big ice sheets are really sensitive to just a little bit of warming. That’s a really powerful message.”

During the LIG, the Earth’s climate warmed due to a shift in the tilt of the planet, which led to average temperatures around 2C warmer than today. The hippopotamus was found as far north as the river Thames and forests reached well into the Arctic Circle.

Scientists view the period as an important reference for how the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere might respond to the current warming trend in the future.

The study, published in the journal Science, compared records from 83 marine sediment core sites to data from 1870-1889 (pre-industrial times) and 1995-2014.

Records of both the local surface temperatures and global sea levels are locked into the layers of sediment. Surface-feeding plankton act as natural thermometers as the ratio of magnesium to calcium accumulated in their shells depends on the water temperature. Another plankton species acts as a gauge for the extent of continental ice shelves. The ratio of two different forms of oxygen (O16 and O18) is different in continental ice sheets and seawater, so by tracking these ratios in the plankton, scientists can work out how much ice there was at a given point in time.

The analysis found that, at the onset of the LIG 129,000 years ago, the global ocean sea surface temperatures were similar to the 1870-1889 average. By 125,000 years ago, these had increased by 0.5C, reaching a temperature indistinguishable from the 1995-2014 average.

Sea levels respond directly to global temperatures, both through the melting of ice shelves and through the expansion of water as it warms. However, the process happens slowly, so the full extent of sea level rises may only become apparent hundreds or thousands of years into the future.

Professor Andrew Watson, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter, said: “The good news is that with luck it will continue to rise slowly, so that we have time to adapt, but the bad news is that eventually all our present coastal city locations will be inundated.”

A crucial unknown is the rate at which the ice sheets will melt in the future, and the latest findings do not have a direct bearing on this question, according to Jeremy Hoffman, a climate scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia and the paper’s lead author.

During the LIG, warming occurred over more than 10,000 years, meaning that changes to the global ice sheets could happen in parallel. The current warming trend has occurred over decades, and it is not clear how far behind the melting of ice will lag.

The UN estimates that global sea levels will rise between 13cm and 68cm by 2050 and a high profile paper by DeConto’s group last year predicted a two metre rise by the end of the century.

Louise Sime, head of palaeoclimate research at the British Antarctic Survey, said: “The rates of ice sheet loss are really difficult to predict. Estimates are anything from 200 to 7,000 years.”

The Science paper also highlights apparent deficits in most climate models, which fail to replicate the warming of the oceans seen in the sediment cores when they are applied to this period.

“This refined picture really clearly identifies that the modelling experiments do not create enough warming during the last interglacial,” said Hoffman.

One explanation is that the models are underestimating feedback mechanisms in the Earth’s system, such as the reduction of sunlight that is reflected back as ice melts, leading to an underestimation of how quickly ocean temperatures ramp up.

“We think there might be some process missing that we’re just not capturing,” said Hoffman. “If we’re missing something from this period of the Earth’s history, what might we be missing from future projections?”

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