Best of our wild blogs: 23 Feb 17

Singapore’s Budget 2017: How it impacts our environment

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Experts plan to save Asia’s songbirds

TRAFFIC 22 Feb 17;

Singapore, 22nd February 2017—Experts from wildlife conservation and research organisations gathered at the second Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit have devised a comprehensive strategy to protect the region’s songbirds from the impacts of excessive trapping for the cage bird trade.

Organised by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and TRAFFIC, the three day summit from 19th to 21st February held at Jurong Bird Park in Singapore was a platform to launch the Conservation Strategy for Southeast Asian Songbirds in Trade (PDF, 3 MB).

The Strategy’s recommendations included greater education and community outreach, establishing and expanding conservation breeding colonies such as those currently found at Jurong Bird Park, and further research into the taxonomy and wild populations of species of concern, such as the Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulax rufifrons, a formerly common species restricted to the mountains of western and central Java whose population has been decimated by trapping.

Fifty-four representatives from a range of conservation non-governmental organisations, government agencies, the eco-tourism industry, academic and zoological institutions gathered to review progress and refine plans aimed at curbing such over-exploitation of songbirds in Asia, which has seen a number of formerly common species decline across the region.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said, “The unsustainable songbird trade has become a major threat to the survival of Southeast Asia songbirds and has given rise to the eerie ‘silent forest syndrome’. Concerted efforts as spelled out in the Songbird Conservation Strategy is essential if we were to have any chance of averting this extinction crisis facing one the most wonderful groups of creatures on earth.”

In September 2015 the first Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit was held to begin the process of co-ordinating a response to the alarming numbers of songbirds trapped from the wild for domestic and international trade in Southeast Asia.

The second Summit began with participants sharing updates on developments since 2015, followed by presentations on potential opportunities including campaigns by zoos and behaviour change strategies to reduce the unsustainable demand for wild birds using bottom-up approaches.

Other priority action areas included improving knowledge on wild populations, supporting law enforcement successes along the trade chain and developing a plan for the rehabilitation and release of confiscated birds.

“Huge open markets selling millions of birds each year persist throughout the region, and facilitate unsustainable and often illegal trade,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “Shutting these markets down is essential, if efforts to save some species from extinction is going to be possible.”

A framework for co-ordination of actions across the diverse group was developed during the Summit, to facilitate co-operation and monitor progress in saving Asia’s songbirds.

“It’s heartening to see the truly international concern and support to help protect Asia’s bird life, but ultimately change must come from within—it’s our region’s birds that are being decimated and it’s in the hearts of Asian people to protect them,” said Ria Saryanthi, Head of Communication and Institutional Development for Burung Indonesia.

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Singapore the No.1 tree city

Audrey Tan THE NEW PAPER AsiaOne 23 Feb 17;

When it comes to urban tree density, Singapore wears the crown.

The City in a Garden trumped 16 cities around the world, in a study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the World Economic Forum.

Almost 30 per cent of the Republic's urban areas are covered by greenery.

This puts Singapore ahead of Sydney, Australia, and Vancouver, Canada, which are tied for second place with 25.9 per cent.

The US city of Sacramento, capital of California state, follows closely with 23.6 per cent.

Of the 17 cities, Paris has the smallest percentage of greened urban areas at 8.8 per cent.

More cities will gradually be added to the database, the researchers said in December, when the list was uploaded on a website known as Treepedia.

It was again highlighted by news site Business Insider earlier this week.

Researchers use data from Google Street View to measure trees and vegetation in cities around the world to form the Green View Index (GVI), presented on a scale of 0 to 100.

It shows the percentage of canopy cover for a particular location. The researchers determine this by obtaining Google Street View images in each city, then extracting green areas using computer vision techniques, which is processed to obtain the GVI.

As Google Street View shows panoramic photographs of streets and buildings, it allows the study to capture data such as vertical gardens.


But as the images are taken by cameras perched atop cars, only areas with roads are covered in the study, said Mr So Wonyoung, a data visualisation specialist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, which is involved in the project.

Professor Carlo Ratti, the director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and head of the project, said the goal of Treepedia is to get people to take action to improve urban tree cover in their cities, by campaigning for the authorities to plant more trees in a certain area, for instance.

Plant scientist Lahiru Wijedasa, who is pursuing a doctorate at the National University of Singapore, said the study showed the success of Singapore's long-term planning.

Indeed, the amount of high-rise greenery in Singapore, which includes gardens on roofs and building facades, is a good indicator. This had grown from 61ha in 2013 to 72ha in 2015, which far exceeded the 2009 target of 50ha the government had hoped to hit by 2030.

The most recent figures from the authorities show it has hit 100ha. The new target is now 200ha of building greenery by the same deadline.

But Mr Lahiru said climate change poses a new threat for roadside trees here, which already grapple with stressors such as having to share space with electrical cables and drainage systems.

"I have concerns about whether our greenery as it is today can survive. We have seen healthy trees die standing up during droughts in the recent years," he said.

The answer to this could lie in greater research on developing more resilient roadside trees, and developing better soil conditions, he said.

Staying rooted in Garden City
Audrey Tan Straits Times 25 Feb 17;

Singapore has come out tops among 17 cities for its urban greenery, crowning its City in a Garden status.

Seeds of this success were planted decades ago.

The Republic has been spreading its green mantle since the 1960s, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew envisioned tree-lined expressways to impress investors. The strategy was trademark Singapore: To pursue long-term growth, with far-sighted planning, flexibility, an eye on the price tag and common sense. (Planting trees which are more drought-resistant, to give one example, has drastically cut down on the need for watering.)

It has worked. Despite intense urbanisation and an expanding population, vegetation cover has increased steadily, and continues to grow.

The authorities are even sending tendrils into the sky: The plan is to have 200ha of skyrise greenery by 2030, up from the more than 100ha now.

Urban greenery is the backbone of this effort. The National Parks Board manages about two million trees along streets and in parks and state land. Roadside sentinels are an integral part of the verdant landscape, creating respite from the heat, a chance to enjoy nature wherever the eye roams, and a haven for wildlife, which is making a comeback here.

The latest study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the World Economic Forum found that almost 30 per cent of the Republic's urban areas are swathed in greenery, more than cities in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

Research from the Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Centre shows another cool fact: 70 per cent of shade in local streets comes from vegetation.

Animals, too, seem to have given their stamp of approval. Recently, for instance, a pair of goshawks and their chicks - a rare predatory bird here - were seen in a tree at a Bedok carpark.

Above all, there are the intangibles - like the feeling a weary Singaporean traveller gets when touching down at Changi Airport amid a sea of foliage.

After all, this little red dot would not be home, truly, without its green.

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Jurong Island project to manage stray dogs without culling shows results

KELLY NG Today Online 22 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — After two years, a project to control the population of stray dogs on Jurong Island without culling them has borne fruit, with about 70 per cent of the pack sterilised.

A total of 168 of the 504 neutered dogs have also found new homes on the mainland with the help of animal welfare groups.

But the question of how to manage the dogs, the majority of which are now sheltered in holding areas instead of freely roaming, remains.

The Trap-Neuter-Release-and-Manage (TNRM) programme — a partnership between JTC Corporation and animal welfare groups, namely the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD) and Action for Singapore Dogs — was launched in December 2014 to manage the population. There are about 400 strays on the reclaimed island that is also home to more than 100 petrochemical companies.

“The stray population now has stabilised, it won’t increase any more because there are much fewer puppies … Eventually, the dogs will die out because they have been sterilised and they won’t give birth any more,” said SOSD president Siew Tuck Wah.

On Feb 15, SOSD shared a video on the project’s progress on its Facebook page.

Under the programme, dogs are first trapped and kept in a holding area while awaiting sterilisation. Dogs at this first holding area are often fearful, lost and choose to shut people out. “Some (stray) dogs grow up without any human contact at all, so they are very scared of people … This is where we slowly earn their trust,” said Dr Siew.

Those that are sterilised will be shifted to a second holding area where they are cared for, socialised and rehabilitated to assess if they can be rehomed.

Depending on their temperament, some dogs are released onto the island after sterilisation, while others are rehomed, said Ms Madeline Chia, a volunteer with Noah’s Ark Cares, which came on board the project two years ago. “Whoever can get a home easily or quicker than other dogs because of their temperament, or their age, we will try as best as possible to find them a home,” she said.

While the eventual goal is to release all the sterilised dogs and let them roam freely, most are currently kept in captivity (at the two holdings areas) to be “conditioned” — among other things, they need to be taught where they can get food and which high-traffic areas to avoid.

“Companies on the island must also be aware of what to expect, how to respond if a dog enters their site, how to prevent that from happening,” said Ms Chia. “It is a long process, like getting neighbours to live together harmoniously.”

According to an update on SOSD’s Facebook page last Thursday, about 100 sterilised dogs have been released onto the island.

Collectively, SOSD and Noah’s Ark Cares now have six members on staff at the island — four full-time and two part-time — and depend on about five to six volunteers over the weekend. This team is in charge of cleaning up the holding areas, and feeding and spending time with the dogs, including those allowed to roam around the island.

While those involved hope to boost the manpower, they are limited by the number of passes available to access the island and the processes of having to apply for them, which can often take up to a week.

Such limitations and inaccessibility also pose challenges for the animal welfare groups, especially in times of emergency. “It is not like working on the mainland, where you can easily get to a vet … Here I either need to get a vet with a pass onto the island, to transport the dogs out of the island, which is quite challenging,” said Ms Chia.

Eventually, the animal welfare groups hope to establish a community of dog carers among the people who work at Jurong Island.

Said Dr Siew: “It is tougher to do a TNRM project in Jurong Island because it is an industrial island … It is not like Pulau Ubin, where we have had another very successful TNRM project, and that is easier because the dogs are in a community, a kampong, where people will play with them and feed them.”

Between October 2014 and May last year, SOSD sterilised 74 dogs at Pulau Ubin. The population also fell from more than 100 dogs to over 70, over the same period.

Acres president and executive director Louis Ng said his organisation is in discussion with JTC to push the TNRM model to more locations on the mainland.

“(Before this,) dogs have always been culled in Jurong Island, that is why we set up this TNRM model … TNRM has worked by far. Whether we choose culling or another option, without details and proper studies being done, it is hard to decide which is the best course of action,” said Mr Ng, who is also a Member of Parliament for Nee Soon.

He added: “Based on the estimates, there are 6,000 to 10,000 stray dogs left in Singapore now. But this culling does not seem to end. If it was going to work, it would have worked long ago.”

Affirming the TNRM project in Jurong Island, JTC’s director of facilities and estates management Mark Koh said: “We are glad that this partnership with the animal welfare groups … together with the full support from companies on Jurong Island, has enabled us to better manage the stray dog situation on Jurong Island and prevent it from affecting those working there.”

Salaries: S$18,000
Food for dogs: S$14,000
Trapping: S$8,000
Sterilisation: S$6,000
Medical: S$4,000
Total estimated monthly: S$50,000

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Singapore Budget 2017: Singapore’s environment makes it a clear winner

Panellists at post-Budget roundtable welcome the focus on green issues
Chia Yan Min Straits Times 23 Feb 17;

Singapore's clean environment is a competitive advantage over other Asian cities and a strong draw for top talent from around the world.

Panellists at a post-Budget roundtable yesterday underlined the economic benefits of the Republic's clean environment in welcoming the Budget's focus on green issues. The event was organised by The Straits Times in partnership with United Overseas Bank, and brought together four panellists representing different sectors to discuss the Budget.

Panellist Gerard Ee, president of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, said he was pleased that the Budget, delivered on Monday by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, did not neglect the environment.

"The competitive advantage Singapore has over other bustling cities in Asia is our clean environment," said Mr Ee, who is also chairman of the Charity Council.

"We want it to be so liveable that it is the preferred choice for people and their families to be based here."

The Budget contained several measures that reflected a strong emphasis on the environment. It introduced a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with global efforts to combat climate change. It also restructured diesel taxes to a volume-based duty to encourage a reduction in diesel consumption, as well as adjusted two incentive schemes to encourage the use of cleaner vehicles.

Mr Ee and his fellow panellists - UOB economist Jimmy Koh, Garena group president Nick Nash and NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong - discussed a wide range of other issues, including the misconception that Singapore is not an innovative society.

"Sometimes, we short-change ourselves," said Mr Ee. "(As an auditor) I have seen some things my clients have created - but these innovations are often created for large multinationals and not credited to Singapore companies.

"We need to ferret out these stories of (innovative companies) and give Singaporeans the confidence... We should also help them to scale up."

Mr Nash said his firm, tech company Garena, is a good example of a home-grown business made good.

The company was founded in a "little shophouse" in 2009 and has since become one of South-east Asia's largest tech unicorns with more than 5,000 employees.

"All of our technology is by and large built right here in Singapore...

"There is a lot of innovation happening in Singapore, we probably don't talk enough about it," added Mr Nash.

More roundtable coverage wil be in The Sunday Times this weekend.

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Malaysia: Protecting proboscis monkeys

The Star 23 Feb 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Local and international experts are collaborating to come up with a plan to protect the proboscis monkey in Sabah.

Malaysian and international scientists, government agencies and industry players will congregate at the three-day Proboscis Monkey Workshop, which starts today, to draft a policy for the purpose.

The workshop is organised by the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Sabah Wildlife Department.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said several experts would propose recommendations at the event for the primate’s conservation based on findings from an extensive five-year research on the endangered species.

A proboscis monkey action plan for Sabah would be drafted following the recommendations, he said.

“I hope the plan will be adopted by the state government to save the species endemic to Borneo, which is threatened by habitat loss and forest fragmentation in Sabah,” Dr Goossens said.

On the research, he said both the centre and department had collected crucial information on the primate’s population in Sabah, including data on demography, behaviour, genetics and health over the past five years.

Surveys were carried out on proboscis monkeys along several rivers such as the Kinabatangan, Segama, Klias and Sugut, with many blood samples collected for genetic analyses.

“Information on genetic isolation, lack of gene flow between populations, risks of inbreeding and extinction will be discussed during the workshop,” Dr Goossens said.

He said the workshop will see input from relevant stakeholders – government department officers, representatives from NGOs, tourism and palm oil industries, local communities, scientists and experts on proboscis monkeys – to formulate pragmatic solutions to preserve the proboscis monkey.

These researches were made possible with the support of Yayasan Sime Darby, which had committed RM3.96mil over six years since 2011.

DGFC’s work on the proboscis monkey is one of three crucial projects being conducted by the research organisation on endangered, endemic species to Borneo found in Sabah’s Kinabatangan area. Its other two vital research projects are on the Sunda clouded leopard and Bornean banteng.

Tackle proboscis monkey habitat loss
The Star 2 Mar 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A long-term conservation plan for Sabah’s iconic proboscis monkeys will be needed to address the primate’s habitat loss in the eastern and northern part of the state.

Wildlife experts agree that the proboscis monkey population was most threatened by habitat loss from the clearing of mangroves in east coast districts of Lahad Datu, Semporna and Tawau.

Research NGO Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) director Dr Benoit Goossens said a similar habitat loss was also affecting proboscis monkey populations in northern Kudat, Pitas and Kota Belud districts.

“The action plan will have to address other issues affecting them, including illegal hunting,” he said yesterday.

DGFC and the Sabah Wildlife Department held a three-day conference last month to get input from dozens of wildlife experts and researchers for the action plan on the primates.

Goossens said the preservation of mangrove forests must be implemented now.

He said that researchers also agreed on the need for a population survey of the primates in Sabah, which was now estimated to number about 6,000.

DGFC was collaborating with the department in drafting the action plan, which was expected to be launched later this year.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga had said the management plan for the proboscis monkeys would be the latest of the conservation strategies initiated by the state.

The other species that needed to be watched and protected are the Bornean elephant, orang utan and Sumatran rhino.

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Indonesia: Conversion of peatland concessions into conservation areas commences

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 22 Feb 17;

The Indonesian government has started the process of converting concessions and plantations in peatlands into conservation areas in its effort to prevent peat fires, which occur every year across the country. The conversion was targeted to cover 2.5 million hectares of land.

The peat conversion plan has been laid out in four ministerial regulations issued as a follow-up of the revision of a government regulation on peatland protection and the government’s peatland hydrological area (KHG) map.

Recently completed by the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s environmental pollution and damage control directorate general, the map divides Indonesia’s peatland areas into two categories, namely conservation and production.

According to the map, there should be 12.4 million ha of conservation areas and 12.2 million ha of production areas.

Plantations in peatland that were converted into concessions will be converted back to their original functions, the ministry said.

Signed by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar on Wednesday, the ministerial regulations stipulate that concession owners are prohibited from planting on areas designated as conservation areas.

For companies already growing commodities on the conservation areas, the government has allowed them to harvest their commodities only once.

“After that, they are not allowed to plant in the areas. They are also required to recover [the peat areas] and allow them to be used for conservation purposes,” the ministry’s sustainable forest management director-general, Ida Bagus Putera Parthama, said.

The plan will affect at least 101 concession owners, but no further details were provided about the number of plantation owners that will be affected by the changes. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Hot spots reappear in Riau as dry season approaches

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 21 Feb 17;

While other parts of Indonesia are experiencing flooding and heavy downpours, Riau is bracing for the dry season as a number of hot spots have been detected across the province.

According to the Pekanbaru Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Terra and Aqua satellites, 12 hot spots have been detected in Riau.

Four hot spots were detected in Tanah Putih district in Rokan Hilir regency, three in Siak Sri Indrapura and Sungai Apit districts in Siak regency, two in Mandah district in Indragiri Hilir regency, two in Bunut and Kuala Kampar districts in Pelalawan regency and one in Tapung district in Kampar regency.

“Of the 12 hot spots, seven of them were considered hot spots with a confidence level of 70 percent,” said head of data and information division at BMKG Pekanbaru, Slamet Riyadi, on Tuesday.

Slamet said the number of hot spots in the province on Tuesday had increased from the previous day, which recorded seven hot spots.

“As predicted, the first cycle of the dry season in Riau will occur from mid-February to mid-March. The hot spot reappearance marks the beginning of the dry season,” he added.

Separately, Riau joint task force chief Brig. Gen. Nurendi has called on his personnel to work hand-in-hand with local authorities to handle forest fires as the dry season approaches. (trw)

Riau BMKG Records 12 Hotspots
Tempo 21 Feb 16;

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency Station in Pekanbaru stated that the Tera and Aqua satellite has recorded 12 hotspots believed to indicate forest fire in a number of regions in Riau. The number is higher compared to previous days, when the satellite only recorded six hotspots.

"The hotspots were monitored on 7:00 AM [Western Indonesia Time]," said BMKG Pekanbaru Chief Sugarin on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

Sugarin asserted that Rokal Hilir remains as the largest contributor to the number of hotspots with four hotspots, followed by Siak (three hotspots), Indragiri Hilir (two hotspots), Pelalawan (two hotspots), and Kampar (one hotspot).

Sugarin added that seven of the hotspots will potentially turn into forest fires.

Sugarin explained that in general, Riau is experiencing sunny weather with occurrences of occasional overcast, while light to medium intensity rain followed by thunderstorm and gale wind occurred in Central Riau.

Sugarin said that forest fires have been happening in several regions in the province within the last week. Around 20 hectares of peatland in Tanah Putih and Rokan Hilir were on fire, along with peatland in Kermutan and Teluk Meranti in Pelalawan Regency.

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