Best of our wild blogs: 5 Apr 17

Join us as a Toddycats volunteer at Festival of Biodiversity 2017!

Herpy Anniversary to us at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve!
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Parliamentary Debate 2017- engaging policy makers on the haze
People's Movement to Stop Haze

Exhibition: On Sharks & Humanity at Parkview Museum
Green Drinks Singapore

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Chickens in Pasir Ris culled to better manage bird flu risk: MND

Channel NewsAsia 4 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: Free-roaming chickens in Pasir Ris were culled earlier this year to better manage the bird flu risk, Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament on Tuesday (Apr 4).

The culling was done in January, around the same time that the the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) put down 24 chickens which had been roaming freely around Thomson View and Sin Ming Avenue.

Following feedback from residents on the presence of significant numbers of free-roaming chickens in Sungei Api Api, the AVA did a check and found more than 100 chickens in the area, Dr Koh said.

He was responding to questions on the Pasir Ris culling from Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng. Mr Ng asked how many residents complained about the free-ranging chickens in the last year and how many were culled.

“AVA had taken actions to remove some of the free-roaming chickens there to better manage the bird flu risk,” Dr Koh said.

While the AVA had previously said that it said it was "highly unlikely" the culled birds were the red junglefowl, an endangered species in Singapore, Mr Ng, who is also the founder of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), said that they are indeed the same birds.

In response, Dr Koh noted a recent bird flu outbreak “close to home” in Kelantan, Malaysia, which resulted in authorities there culling more than 56,000 chickens. He said the AVA takes a “risk-based approach” in its culling decisions.

To Mr Ng’s question on whether AVA will consider vaccinating all free-ranging chickens against bird flu instead of culling them, Dr Koh said that the vaccination of free-roaming chickens alone may not be an effective solution to manage the bird flu risk.

“There are many bird flu strains and the virus is known to mutate. While bird flu vaccinations can provide partial protection against certain strains, the vaccinated chickens can still be infected by other strains,” he said.

He added that AVA aims to enhance its management of animal populations, including free-roaming chickens, and will involve stakeholders like academics, wildlife experts, the community, and animal welfare groups in exploring various approaches and solutions.

The culling of the chickens at Sin Ming had sparked an outcry. Authorities initially said they received 20 complaints over the chickens, largely about noise, but the director-general of the AVA later clarified that the birds were culled due to bird flu concerns.

An AVA spokesperson also stated that the chickens were humanely euthanised as relocation options are not available in land-scarce Singapore.

- CNA/ja

Vaccination of chickens alone ‘not enough to manage bird flu risk’
ALFRED CHUA Today Online 4 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — The vaccination of free-roaming chickens is not, on its own, an effective solution in managing the risk of bird flu, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Tuesday (April 4), in response to questions about the culling of chickens at Sungei Api Api in Pasir Ris.

Noting that there were more than 100 chickens in the area, he reiterated that the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) takes a risk-based approach to managing the bird flu risk, but did not say how many birds were culled there, or the number of complaints received.

Dr Koh, who was replying to questions from Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng, told the House that there are many bird flu strains, and the virus is known to mutate.

“While bird flu vaccinations can provide partial protection against certain strains, the vaccinated chickens can still be infected by other strains, particularly since free-roaming chickens have contact with other wildlife,” he added.

Dr Koh said the culling of chickens at Sungei Api Api took place at around the same time as culling operations at Sin Ming. In January, free-roaming chickens were put down there over fears of bird flu risks.

Initial reports stated that the AVA had carried out the operations at Sin Ming after receiving 20 complaints from residents last year, most of them related to noise.

However, in a letter to TODAY’s Voices page on Feb 13 this year, Dr Yap Him Hoo, the AVA’s director-general, said: “The noise issues only serve to bring attention to the relatively high numbers of free-roaming chicken in certain areas, which in turn raise the exposure risk to bird flu in these localities.”

Stressing the need to “put things in context”, Dr Koh said Singapore is in an area of bird flu risk, with cases reported in the Malaysian state of Kelantan.

The Malaysian authorities have also culled about 57,000 chickens.

“In reducing the number of chickens, AVA takes an assessment on the ground, not necessarily on the number of complaints or feedback per se.

“But if the numbers were high enough to take pre-emptive action — regardless of any amount of feedback — we will have to take action to reduce ... I think we have to understand this is not just about the chickens, but also about public safety and human health,” said Dr Koh.

Chicken culling necessary to protect against bird flu: Koh Poh Koon
Hannah Teoh Yahoo News 4 Apr 17;

The vaccination of free-roaming chickens may not be an effective solution to manage the risk of bird flu, given that there are many strains of the virus and the fact that it has been known to mutate, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon on Tuesday (3 April).

Koh, who is also a Member of Parliament (MP) for Ang Mo Kio GRC, was responding to a parliamentary question from Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng about the culling of free-ranging chickens at Sungei Api Api in January.

Ng, a noted animal rights activist, asked how many residents had complained about the fowl and how many of the chickens were culled. He also queried if the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) would consider vaccinating free-ranging chickens instead of destroying them.

Speaking in Parliament, Koh said, “While bird flu vaccinations can provide some partial protection against certain strains, the vaccinated chickens can still be infected by other strains that are not covered by the vaccination, particularly since the free-roaming chickens are free to interact and make contact with other wildlife.”

“So I think we have to understand that this is not just about the chickens. It is also about public safety and human health. At the end of the day, AVA also has a responsibility towards the health and safety of Singaporeans.”

Koh added that Singapore is located in a region where the risk of bird flu is real. Last month, an outbreak of bird flu in Kelantan saw Malaysian authorities culling almost 57,000 chickens.

According to media reports, the AVA also culled 24 chickens in Sin Ming in January after the agency received 20 complaints about noise and in response to concerns over avian flu. The move sparked a public outcry that resulted in Koh telling Parliament that the culling was only done as a last resort.

Koh told the House on Tuesday that the AVA aims to enhance its management of animal populations by involving stakeholders such as academics, wildlife experts, the community and animal welfare groups in exploring various approaches and solutions.

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Tengah environmental study findings to be out soon

ALFRED CHUA Today Online 5 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — The environmental baseline study to be done at new housing estate Tengah is expected to be completed by the first half of this year, and its key findings would be made known to the public, the Ministry of National Development said of Singapore’s first housing estate dubbed a “forest town”.

Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for National Development, on Tuesday (April 4) addressed a question by Member of Parliament Louis Ng, who asked if the ministry could make public the results of environmental tests done in relation to the development of the new town.

Tengah sits on a green area linking the western part of Singapore to ecosystems in the Western Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Mr Ng also asked if the Housing and Development Board (HDB) would do a more in-depth study or assessment on the environmental impact of the development, instead of a baseline study.

Mr Lee said in Parliament that the baseline study was chosen because Tengah was made up of young secondary forests, scrubland, abandoned sundry cultivation — such as farms and orchards — as well as old brickworks demolished in 2008, and now used as a military training ground.

On what the plans are for the wildlife now living in the area, Mr Lee said that the HDB would put in place wildlife management strategies, such as shepherding wildlife to adjacent forest areas that would not be developed in the short term, so as to minimise the impact on the animals when development works are carried out.

This would not be the first time that the Government is making public the results of an environmental study on a major development project. Last year, due to strong public interest, the Land Transport Authority made the rare move of publishing online the first phase of an environmental impact assessment report on the new rail network, the Cross Island Line.

The masterplan for Tengah was unveiled last September, and HDB said that town planners are setting up a 100m-wide, 5km-long forest corridor there that would link the Western and Central Catchment areas.

Tengah, about the size of Bishan, is the first new public housing estate to be developed since Punggol two decades ago. It is touted by the Government to be a “green” town boasting a car-free town centre, a 20ha park as well as hiking trails. It is expected to be fully developed over 20 years, with public housing making up more than 70 per cent of the 42,000 new homes to be built there.

Parliament: Environmental study, wildlife shepherding plan to be done in Tengah
Audrey Tan Straits Times 4 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE - The animals in Tengah, a secondary forest area in western Singapore where the Republic's first "forest town" will be built, will get help in finding new homes when developmental works start.

Wildlife will be shepherded to adjacent vegetated areas unaffected by development in the short term. This will help reduce the potential impact of works on wildlife, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee told Parliament on Tuesday (April 4).

The Housing and Development Board (HDB), which is building a new town the size of Bishan in Tengah, will also be conducting an environmental baseline study to better understand the topography, hydrology, flora and existing wildlife in the area, said Mr Lee.

"We will share the key findings of the study with the public in due course," he told the House.

Mr Lee was responding to a question from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who had asked if the Ministry of National Development would make public the results of all environmental impact assessments or studies done in relation to the development of Tengah. He also asked what the ministry's plans were for existing wildlife living in that area.

HDB's decision to conduct a wildlife shepherding plan in Tengah follows a similar move by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2016.

A 30ha plot in Lentor designated for private housing was gradually cleared so that animals are herded to nearby green areas, such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. The URA's move had helped to save several animals, including the critically endangered Sunda pangolin and the flying lemur. These were relocated or shepherded to nearby green plots.

In Tengah, nine species of birds threatened with extinction have been spotted in the secondary forests there, including the changeable hawk eagle and the red-wattled lapwing, according to the Nature Society (Singapore).

Tengah is the first new town to be developed since Punggol two decades ago, and is touted by the Government as a "green" town boasting a car-free town centre and a 5km "forest corridor" with hiking trails. It will also have a forest corridor that will serve as a wildlife connector between the Western Water Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Located between Jurong East to the south, Choa Chu Kang to the north and Bukit Batok to the east, the Tengah area today is largely forest and scrubland. But it will eventually contain 42,000 new homes: 30,000 units of public housing and 12,000 of private housing. The first public flats there will be launched in 2018.

Mr Ng told The Straits Times he was heartened to see that a baseline study on wildlife would be done in Tengah, and that HDB would also be considering a wildlife shepherding programme.

"It is important to balance our needs for developments with the need for conservation and wildlife protection. I look forward to our dialogues with HDB on this and working with them to incorporate public feedback before the plans are finalised," he said.

"I hope that the public will be given sufficient time to review the study results and provide their feedback to HDB."

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Malaysia, Johor: Giving new life to river

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 4 Apr 17;

JOHOR BARU: Work on the multi-million ringgit Sungai Segget rehabilitation and rejuvenation project is almost complete as it is now under the testing and commissioning stage.

Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) chief executive Datuk Ismail Ibrahim said that while works on the surface had been completed, there was still some testing work being carried out before the project was handed over to the Johor Baru City Council (MBJB).

“So far, some RM240mil has been spent on the project including the rehabilitation and rejuvenation of the river along with the building of a 11-storey centralised sewerage treatment plant (CSTP),” he said in an interview.

The multi-million Sungai Segget Rejuvenation Project comprises an integrated water treatment plant and the development of a flood mitigation and sewerage system, followed by the river beautification project.

Dubbed as the Gem of Johor Baru City, the upgrading of Sungai Segget is part of the plan to transform the city centre into a vibrant place.

Ismail added that there were delays to the project as there were many obstacles that the team had to overcome, including some parts that were below sea level-which would naturally flood when it rained.

The team also had to deal with old utilities and even timber from an old saw mill nearby the river.

He said that pipes were placed under Sungai Segget to collect sewerage water from buildings along the river.

“This water is then pumped and treated at the CSTP before clean water is channelled back into Sungai Segget.

“I hope people will maintain the cleanliness of the area and not throw rubbish and litter the river,” he said, adding that stricter enforcement was being carried out to deter litterbugs from polluting the river.

When asked about criticism on the project, due to past incidences of flooding around the city, Ismail said IRDA would do its best to mitigate the issues.

On other matters, he added that, “So far, Iskandar Malaysia was growing steadily despite the uncertainties globally.”

He added that Iskandar Malaysia was growing much higher than the national average of 4.5% to 5% annually.

He added that they were still looking into improving connectivity within the region including the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Rapid Transit System (RTS), High Speed Rail and more flights at Senai International Airport.

On the RTS, he said that they had narrowed the options from 19 possible crossings into Johor Baru to two or three options.

“On whether it will be a tunnel or high bridge, the leaders from both Malaysia and Singapore will decide on it before making an announcement,” he added.

Irda: At least one year for polluted Sg Segget to recover
Rizalman Hammim New Straits Times 12 Apr 17;

JOHOR BARU: The completion of the combined sewerage treatment plant (CSTP) here is expected to help improve the water quality of Sungai Segget but it could take up to a year before the target of improving the water quality to Class IIB is achieved.

Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) head of projects and programme management Mohd Zam Mustaman said at the moment, Sungai Segget is considered as the second most polluted river in Malaysia and is classified as Class IV.

"Previously, all the affluent from houses or businesses flows directly to the river, which is why it became so polluted. With the completion of the CSTP, we would process the affluent before releasing it into the river.

"Our target is to improve Sungai Segget's water quality to Class IIB, which means that it would be safe if consumed by human and aquatic life would thrive. However, this would take time, a minimum of six month, maybe up to a year," said Mohd Zam.

He said the public should also play their part by abandoning their habit of throwing rubbish into the river.

Mohd Zam was speaking to the media after a familiarisation tour of the plant yesterday.

The CSTP, which was built at a cost of RM120 million, is part of the Sungai Segget rehabilitation project. It began operation in January and have a maximum operating capacity of over 33,000 cubic metre a day.

The plant not only processes sewage but also river water from Sungai Segget's upstream before releasing it downstream.

Mohd Zam said the plant caters to a population of about 150,000 around the Johor Baru city centre.

"At the moment, the plant is operating at about 10 per cent of its capacity. It will operate at 100 per cent capacity once all the various developments in the city centre are completed."

He also said that depending on the future development and population growth in the city, it is likely that another treatment plant would be needed in order to meet an increased demand for sewage treatment.

"We have already set the model and standard that can be use. Any plans for the building of another plant would also depend on the allocation that Irda would receive," said Mohd Zam.

The CSTP would eventually be operated by the Johor Baru City Council.

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Indonesian police arrest man who bought orangutan, leopard, bear

Associated Press Jakarta Post 5 Apr 17;

Indonesian police say they saved a young sun bear, a clouded leopard and a baby orangutan from the wildlife trade after a tip from conservationists who tracked the illegal activities through Instagram.

Jakarta police spokesman Prabowo Argo Yuwono said Abdul Malik was arrested Tuesday in a raid on his southern Jakarta house where the animals were found caged.

Malik told police he arranged for the purchase of the animals through Instagram messages and paid 25 million rupiah ($1,900) for the orangutan, 15 million rupiah ($1,125) for the sun bear and 60 million rupiah ($4,500) for the leopard.

Yuwono said the police were helped by conservationists who were tracking an Instagram account they believed to be a front for the illegal trade in threatened species. Police are still searching for the wildlife trader.

Orangutans, found only in Borneo and Sumatra, are critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which publishes the authoritative "Red List" of threatened species. It says the sun bear and Sunda clouded leopard are both vulnerable species.

The habitats of the three species in Indonesia have been dramatically reduced by destruction of tropical forests for mining and plantations.

Violations of Indonesia's conservation law are punishable by up to five years in prison and a 100 million rupiah ($7,500) fine.

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Indonesia: Gadjah Mada University reveals causes of Ponorogo landslide

Antara 5 Apr 17;

Ponorogo, E Java (ANTARA News) - Spatial change of land use and heavy rains were among the factors that triggered a deadly landslide in the Banaran Village, Ponorogo District, East Java, last Saturday (Apr 1), the University of Gadjah Mada revealed.

"The causes of the landslide in Ponorogo are quite complex," Bagus Bestari Kamarulah, a member of a swift study team, stated here, Tuesday.

Based on a brief study conducted by the team, other factors are the gradient of the cliff and the composition of the rocks, he noted.

The area is highly prone to landslides, as the gradient of the cliff is 60 degrees.

On the slope of Gede Cliff, the local people have planted ginger and bamboo plants.

"These types of plants are not suitable for cliff areas. They should be planted below the cliff," he remarked.

Moreover, the high precipitation had also caused the landslide. Incessant downpours had lashed the cliff for three days prior to the landslide.

The study was conducted in cooperation with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the Center of Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation.

The landslide buried 35 homes, and 28 people went missing.

The BNPB has warned the local villagers to anticipate more landslides, as further rains are forecast to fall in the area in the current rainy season.

The study indicated that the village is at risk of landslides, Tri Budiarto, deputy in charge of disaster emergency mitigation at the BNPB, pointed out.

The team also found cracks on the right and left sides of the Gede Cliff in a radius of up to 150 meters from the landslide spot.

Of the 28 missing victims, only three bodies have been found so far.

Bad weather, mostly heavy rains, had hampered the search efforts.(*)

BNPB calls on Ponorogo residents to stay alert over subsequent landslides
The Jakarta Post 4 Apr 17;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has called on all search and rescue components and societal elements in Banaran, a village affected by landslides in Ponogoro regency, East Java, to stay alert over the possibility of subsequent landslides.

“Based on the result of our evaluation together with the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency [PVMBG] and the Gadjah Mada University’s Geology team, we must stay alert over the potential of subsequent landslides,” the BNPB’s deputy head for disaster emergency mitigation, Tri Budiarto, said as quoted by Antara on Tuesday.

Tri further said the risk of subsequent landslides remained high because there was a crack spanning from the slope of Bukit Gede to areas within a 150-meter radius on its left and right side.

Moreover, rain of medium to high intensity has continued to shower the area, hampering search and rescue operations on Sunday and Monday.

Tri said follow up mitigation steps conducted by the BNPB together with the search and rescue agency, local disaster mitigation agencies (BPBD), Indonesian Military and National Police aimed to urge locals to stay alert over the possibility of subsequent landslide.

"We have to remain vigilant. Not just people in Ponorogo but all people across East Java, Central Java and West Java must stay alert because of the high rainfall intensity," he said. So far, the search and rescue team has found only three out of 28 people reportedly buried. (dis/ebf)

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Green groups condemn UN plan to use $136m from climate fund for large dams

Activists warn of serious environmental consequences for UN-backed hydro projects in Nepal, Tajikistan and the Solomon Islands
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 4 Apr 17;

Plans to earmark more than $136m (£109m) of UN money for large dam projects in Nepal, Tajikistan and the Solomon Islands have been angrily condemned by activists, who have warned the projects could have serious environmental consequences.

The UN’s green climate fund was set up during the Paris climate agreement to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 for poor countries looking for innovative and transformational projects.

These were supposed to promote “paradigm shifts” to clean and climate-resilient energy, in the context of the UN’s sustainable development goals. However, to use the green climate fund to build mega dams ignores the risk they pose to ecology as well as climate.

An alliance of green groups claims that the Tajik funding would merely patch up a decrepit Soviet-era dam, while the Solomon Islands project would flood forests and vegetation, threatening biodiversity and releasing large volumes of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Andrea Rodriguez, a senior attorney for the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defence, said the projects would have “tremendous negative impacts” on ecosystems and indigenous people.

“Large dams are not suited to adapt to climate risks because they alter seasonal patterns, by storing floods and increasing dry period flows,” she told the Guardian. “Large infrastructure does not guarantee development or climate solutions.”

A protest letter to the board, seen by the Guardian, says that 19m fish are currently being killed each year by turbines at the 126MW Soviet-built Qairokkum plant in Tajikistan. The country’s electricity network is already 98% reliant on hydropower, powered by shrinking glacier melt volumes.

In Nepal, the 216MW Upper Trishuli-1 project “would have no transformational impact,” the letter says. “It faces severe climate and disaster risks, and it would have significant impacts on indigenous communities – and the environment – that have not been adequately studied, nor mitigation plans prepared.”

The letter was signed by nine groups including Friends of the Earth, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation and the Centre for International Environmental Law.

Hydropower is considered a renewable energy source by international agencies, finance institutions and governments, because of the lack of CO2 emissions created when water is run down elevated reservoirs to power turbines.

But critics say this fails to take into account up to a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases created by dams each year, as well as the damage often inflicted on carbon sinks, and hydropower’s vulnerability to shifts in rainfall patterns likely to accelerate because of climate change.

In all, nine projects worth $854m will be discussed by the green climate fund’s 24-person board in a meeting in Songdo, South Korea, on Tuesday.

Fund board members declined requests for interview, but officials confirmed that the informal meeting would try to reach consensus on the projects.

One source said: “There’s an expectation that the board will consider these funding proposals – and the three [hydro projects] are part of them, so most likely they will address them. It is the usual approach.”

Other projects up for consideration include a $100m programme to help Ethiopian women threatened by drought, and $55m for water irrigation and conservation projects in Morocco.

If all projects are approved, they will take the fund’s disbursements to far to $2.4bn, 62% of which have gone to Africa and 23% to Asia-Pacific region.

Half of the money has been spent on climate mitigation – renewable energy and power efficiency investments – with the remainder split between adaptation to climate change, and “cross-cutting” programmes that contain elements of both.

The UN’s green climate fund declined to comment for this article.

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