Best of our wild blogs: 11 May 17

Mercy Release…or not?
BES Drongos

Morning Walk At Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (10 May 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Malaysia: Kelantan bird flu outbreak contained; 56,000 chickens culled

Bernama New Straits Times 11 May 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: Bird flu (H5N1) in Kelantan has been contained within a 30km radius of Kampung Pulau Tebu, Tunjong, covering six districts in the state.

In a statement, the Veterinary Services Department said the infection was detected among free range chickens reared by several small-scale farmers, and is under control and restricted to the immediate area.

According to the statement, 36 locations in six districts were confirmed positive for the disease, namely Kota Baru (in 15 locations), Pasir Mas (six), Tumpat (five), Bachok (six), Pasir Puteh (three) and Tanah Merah (one).

"As of yesterday, no new H5N1 cases or locations were detected. Culling of 56,953 chickens and disposal of 17,531 eggs in the 36 locations have been completed," the statement said.

The Veterinary Department added that through roadblock operations, 5,482 vehicles were checked and 272 poultry seized in 55 separate cases. -- BERNAMA

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Malaysia: Dengue, chikungunya cases soar in Kedah

Bernama New Straits Times 11 May 17;

SUNGAI PETANI: A total of 513 cases of dengue fever were recorded in Kedah from Jan to May 6 this year – an increase of 67.1 per cent compared with the corresponding period last year.

State Health director Datuk Dr Norhizan Ismail said three deaths due to dengue were recorded during the same period – one case in Kulim and two cases in Kuala Muda.

In the case of chikungunya, a total of 128 cases were recorded in the state during the same period this year. Dr Norhizan said cases were reported in three districts, namely Kuala Muda (58), Baling (69) and Kulim (one).

He said among the factors contributing to the increase in dengue and chikungunya cases in the state is an increase in population density, which has led to the creation of ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. -- Bernama

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Malaysia: 1-tonne male elephant captured while roaming Kelantan park

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 9 May 17;

GUA MUSANG: Rangers from the Kelantan Wildlife Department yesterday captured a potentially-dangerous male elephant at Taman Wangi here – the fifth captured by the department this year.

Its director, Mohd Hasdi Husin, said the elephant was roaming near the rear of the Gua Musang Fire Services and Rescue station when it was captured at about 2.45pm.

“The male elephant is believed to have come out from Gunung Rabong forest and had been roaming the area for several hours before he was captured,” he said today.

Mohd Hasdi said the male jumbo, weighing about one metric tonne, is believed to be between 12 and 15 years old.

“The elephant will be sent to Kuala Gandah, in Pahang, as soon as possible,” he added.

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Malaysia: Ivory tusk smuggler caught again

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 11 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Indonesian authorities have finally caught up with a woman who was detained and let go in Kalimantan on Jan 13, despite being found with ivory tusks believed to be from poached Borneo Pygmy elephants in Sabah.

According to officials, the 37-year-old Indonesian woman, who had been living in Sabah, was arrested upon her return to Nunukan via the state’s border town of Tawau at about 10pm on May 3.

A Kalimantan wildlife official, Subhan, said the woman was currently held at the Nunukan prison while the five ivory tusks earlier seized from her was in the safekeeping of the Natural Resource Conservation Centre in Samarinda, East Kalimantan.

She is being investigated for smuggling ivory from Sabah to Nunukan.

Subhan said that under the country’s Conservation of Biological and Natural Resources law, the woman now faced up to five years in prison and a fine of 100mil Rupiah.

The tusks were found on her days after reports emerged of three elephants, including a rare sabre-tusked animal whose rescue from a Tawau plantation in August was featured in newspapers, were found killed in Sabah.

However, the woman disappeared after she was let off by Indonesian Customs officials when they seized the tusks found in her bag.

Subhan said that on Jan 13, the woman had arrived on a ferry at Nunukan port from Tawau with the tusks, which were found after a scan by Customs.

“Customs officials explained that they released the woman because they had to check if the tusks were genuine. After it was found that these were genuine, we started to look for her but she refused to come back.

“We sought the help of the Indonesian Consulate for her to be deported. Eventually, she returned and she was arrested,” Subhan was quoted as saying by the Indonesian media.

However, he said Indonesian authorities had yet to find out where she got the tusks from and those behind the smuggling, adding that investigation was ongoing.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said it had been trying to check the DNA of the tusks seized.

“We have communicated (with the Indonesian authorities) but they are not responding,” he said.

“We are hoping that they (Indonesia) will work with us to conduct the DNA (testing) on the tusks,” he said, adding that the department also hoped to get leads on those behind the illegal trade in Sabah.

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Malaysia: Uncontrolled logging causing mud floods, says Galas rep

The Star 10 May 17;

GUA MUSANG: Uncontrolled logging activities to open up land for farming is the major cause of increasingly frequent mud floods here, says Galas assemblyman Ab Aziz Yusof.

He said logging activities have increased erosion in the hill slopes areas.

"The Gua Musang-Lojing road had never been hit by a mud flood, but it happened yesterday (Tuesday), forcing the road to be closed for hours.

"We are worried that an untoward incident may happen in future if the state government does do something about the mud flood problem immediately," he told reporters after viewing the affected area on Wednesday.

Ab Aziz said the Orang Asli at a few settlements, particularly Kampung Jedip at Pos Brooke, were no longer safe especially if it rained heavily for more than five hours.

"Continuous rain will cause the water level in the rivers to rise rapidly due to the absence of buffer zones as the hills have been stripped bare for agriculture purposes.

"I have raised this matter several times, especially during state assembly sittings but there has been no concrete solution to the problem implemented by the state government," he said. – Bernama

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Indonesia: Coral reefs in Sawu Sea cover 63,339 hectares

Antara 9 May 17;

Kupang, E Nusa Tenggara (ANTARA News) - The Head of East Nusa Tenggara Provinces Environment Office, Benyamin Lola, stated that various studies have revealed that Sawu Sea has high biodiversity potential with identified coral reefs covering 63,339,32 hectares.

"The East Nusa Tenggara is one of the best areas in Indonesia that has tremendous coral reef potential," he said here on Tuesday.

Sawu Sea has more than 500 species of corals; 5,019.53 hectares of mangroves; 5,320.62 hectares of sea grass beds; and 1,769.1 hectares of estuaries.

In addition, at least five of six turtle species in the world, as well as 30 species of marine mammals (whales and dolphins), including the endangered sperm whale and blue whale, can be found in Sawu Sea ecosystem.

"These types of mammal are easy to find in the area and are pelagic and demersal species, he noted.

To maintain the natural potentials, the East Nusa Tenggara provincial administration has implemented regulations on coral reef management through the Governor Regulation Number 1/2009.

The regulation manages the coral reefs to support the lives of people living in coastal areas.

"Every June 6, we celebrate Coral Triangle Day," Benjamin said, adding that the day aims to foster a sense of love, commitment, and care to safeguard and harness the reef ecosystem in a sustainable manner.(*)

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Indonesia: Thousands of hectares of land in S Sumatra to be restored

Antara 9 May 17;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - An area of 400 thousand hectares of land in South Sumatra province is targeted for restoration and revegetation until 2020.

The initiative of restoration of the critical land was discussed at the meeting of Asia-Pacific environment ministers or Bonn Challenge in Palembang on May 9 and 10, Regional Secretary of South Sumatra province Joko Imam Sentosa said here on Tuesday.

He stated that the meeting discussed the restoration of critical land including peat lands, among others.

Moreover, South Sumatra has a lot of peat and deforested lands, due to fire in 2015, which need to be restored.

Therefore, South Sumatra hosted the meeting of international ministers. The main purpose of the meeting was to restore the deforested and critical lands, including peat lands.

Indeed, South Sumatra has been implementing the restoration of land. Hence, the participants of the meeting also inspected the land being restored, which was located in Sepucuk village, Ogan Komering Ilir district, South Sumatra province.

Governor of South Sumatra Alex Noerdin remarked that the restoration of land required substantial funds and support from all parties.

Likewise, the ministerial meeting was a form of state commitment for the preservation of forests, as various countries and non-governmental organizations will assist in the implementation of land and forest restoration, he added.(*)

World lends North Sumatra hand in restoring peatland areas
Safrin La Batu The Jakarta Post 11 May 17;

The Bonn-Challenge High Level Roundtable Meeting in Palembang, South Sumatra, concluded on Thursday with participants agreeing to help the province restore peatland areas that were damaged by catastrophic fires in 1997 and 2006.

The meeting kicked off on Tuesday, but the formal closed-door discussion started the next day. Delegates from 29 countries, central government representatives and local administration officials from Sumatra participated in the talks.

Speaking after the closed-door session on Wednesday evening, South Sumatra Governor Alex Nurdin said the participants had agreed to assist the province in restoring 11 damaged areas, nine of which were peatland areas.

“The form of assistance is land restoration. We are not going to receive money, but it is in the form of programs [to restore the damaged land],” Alex said when asked how much money the provincial administration would receive under the program.

Details of the restoration work would be discussed soon by technical teams, the governor added.

At least 739,000 hectares of peatland have been damaged by fires in the province. Alex said on Tuesday that it had taken five years for the province to restore the areas, at a cost of around Rp 15 million (US$1,122) for every hectare of land each year.

The governor said the province did not have enough funds to do that alone. Therefore, he expected the restoration to involve various stakeholders, including private companies and local residents.

The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of the world's deforested and degraded land by 2020 and 350 million ha by 2030. The donors behind the global initiative include Germany, Norway and the US. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Conservationists plan expedition to secret ‘Noah’s Ark’ in Sumatra

After photographing tigers and tapirs in one of Sumatra’s least known wildernesses, an unlikely pair of conservationists are hoping to discover a hidden population of orangutans in high altitude forests – and who knows what else.
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 10 May 17;

Just a few years ago this place had no name. And in fact its new moniker – Hadabaun Hills – is the sole creation of Indonesian conservationist Haray Sam Munthe. Hadabaun means “fall” in the local language – Munthe suffered a terrible one in these hills while looking for tigers in 2013. But Hadabaun or Fall Hills remains unrecognised by the Indonesian governments and is a blank spot on the world’s maps – though it may be one of the last great refuges for big mammals on the island of Sumatra.

Last year a ragtag, independent group of local and international conservationists, led by Munthe and Greg McCann of Habitat ID, used camera traps to confirm Sumatran tigers and Malayan tapirs in these hills. Next month they hope to uncover a lost population of Sumatran orangutans.

“I’d call it a Noah’s Ark for endangered and critically endangered species amidst an ocean of palm oil plantations,” said Greg McCann, the Project Coordinator for Habitat ID.

McCann, an American who lives in Taiwan, spends much of his time swashbuckling Indiana Jones-style across south-east Asia’s last remaining – and highly threatened – rainforests. It’s a passion with a purpose: McCann’s group, Habitat ID, is working to document rare species in a bid to convince governments, NGOs and the public to care about long-overlooked forests.

Hadabaun Hills is their latest target.

“Not so long ago nearly the entire island of Sumatra was blanketed in tropical rainforest. Today the mountain ranges that are too steep for big plantations are the default wildlife refuges, relics of the once great forests that were never documented by science,” McCann said. “This is where wildlife makes its last stand.”

Sumatra has changed remarkably in the last few decades, from an island of villages and wilderness to one of vast monoculture plantations of pulp and paper and palm oil. Since 1985 the island has lost more than half its lowland forest, and it continues to have one of the highest deforestation rates on the planet. Its large mammals – many of which are found nowhere else in the world – have undergone a severe contraction, leaving them at risk of total extinction.

McCann first visited the Hadabaun Hills in 2016 after being invited by Munthe. In a short trip the pair saw siamang (the world’s biggest gibbons), lar gibbons, rhinoceros hornbills, Oriental pied hornbills and Argus pheasant, among other species.

But it was the two camera traps – just two – that they left behind that really proved the promise of Hadabaun Hills. In just one month they photographed their first Malayan tapir, a species categorised as endangered on the IUCN Red List with its population believed to have dropped by more than half in the last 36 years.

And in three months’ time a Sumtran tiger posed for the camera. Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers are believed to survive in the wild today and the species continues to be decimated by deforestation, snaring and poaching. Munthe runs the Sumatran Tiger Rangers, a group working to protect the top predator by removing snares, and working to mitigate human-tiger conflict. This is Indonesia’s last tiger: the Javan went extinct in the 1970s.

The team’s camera traps also photographed golden cat, sun bear, Malayan porcupine, Sumatran porcupine, wild pig and pig-tailed macaque, proving the area is bursting with threatened Sumatran mammals.

This year McCann and Munthe plan to trek far further into a mountaintop forest dubbed the “extreme area” by Munthe. First they will take a boat to the bottom of the hills and then cut their way through the forest to reach a little village where they hope to convince a local to guide them to the top of the mountains.

“We’ll be likely bushwhacking to this hamlet and startling the local residents with a small contingent of bu-lays [the local name for foreigners] emerging wet and muddy from nearby jungle for the first time ever,” McCann said. “I expect to see children scattering in every direction and to hear Siamangs and hornbills in the forest beyond. After the hamlet we are in terra incognita.”

They plan to spend seven days trekking into and through the “extreme area”. Beyond local people, few – if any – have ever been here, but it’s this high-altitude forest that may be home to an undiscovered population of Sumatran orangutans. These great apes – a different species from those in Borneo – are classified as critically endangered and have a total population of around 14,000.

Since Sumatran orangutans rarely, if ever, touch down from the trees, McCann and Munthe don’t expect to catch them on camera. Instead they hope to find orangutan nests, photograph them, and bring back the images for confirmation by experts.

The team also hopes a new army of camera traps will document the Sunda clouded leopard, helmeted hornbill, the Sumatran striped rabbit and the Sumatran muntjac, a type of small deer that McCann describes as so rare as to be “ near-mythical”.

“There’s even a very slim possibility of finding Sumatran rhinoceros,” McCann said. “Last year we camped on a plateau at about 600 metres that went by the name of Rhinoceros Hill. Historically, there were rhinos in this region. When did the last one get poached out? Probably nobody knows.”

Pretty much every big mammal in Sumatra is threatened, but Sumatran rhinos have the terrible honour of being one of the rarest mammals on the planet: less than 100 survive today. And a subspecies found in Borneo is on the verge of total extinction.

Munthe said that in his explorations he has found rhino dung in the Hadabaun Hills. Confirming rhinos there would be a major boon to a species so close to vanishing.

Indeed, Hadabaun Hills remains a land so removed it’s full of rumours. Munthe said locals claim to run into a “large black monkey” in the hills. There is also talk of a mythical tribe of humans known as the Suke Mante in this area. Munthe was also told by a local that at the top of the mountain lives a “black-furred, orangutan-like creature walks on two legs”. Historically there have been numerous reports of an unidentified ape in Sumatra called the “orang pendek”, which is similar to an orangutan but smaller with brown-to-black fur and a penchant for walking on the ground.

But no one has brought back any real proof of his legendary animal – and many believe that even if such an animal ever existed it has likely been wiped out in Sumatra’s ecological catastrophe.

None of the Hadabaun Hills is formally protected. About half the area is considered community forest and the other has no status, according to McCann. On the ground, he said, it didn’t matter what was community-run and what remained without any formal status.

“It’s all under threat from agricultural encroachment, logging, road building, snaring – all the usual suspects.”

McCann and Munthe asked that the exact location of the Hadabaun Hills remain unpublished due to concerns that such information could lead to an increase in poachers. Munthe said he feared poachers were already entering this lost world.

“I have mentioned the Hadabuan Hills and its scarce animals to the forestry minister and the head of the district administration. Until now there is no help to protect [the Hadabaun Hills] from the government,” Munthe said.

Most of the world’s biggest conservation groups have a presence in Sumatra – such as WWF, WCS, and Conservation International – but none of them have explored this particular forest.

“Funding for new conservation projects seems difficult to come by, and in the past the large NGOs poured their time and money into places like Gunung Leuser National Park and Kerinci National Park – and with good reason,” McCann explained. “Those places are so important, so magical, and they need urgent protection.”

But still McCann worries about a “curiosity crisis” in conservation today, pointing to the lack of interest in the Hadabaun Hills as an example.

“Why aren’t scientists and conservationists seeking out these last holdouts?” he asks, noting tantalisingly that Hadabaun Hills isn’t the only unexplored area of Sumatra.

“Sumatra is one of the last places where you can use Google Earth, zoom around on the map and wonder: ‘What might be lurking in there? It’s not a national park or a protected area. What’s in there?’ Nobody knows except the locals.”

But McCann’s organisation, Habitat ID, almost had to cancel the expedition due to a lack of funding. Instead these rogue conservationists have decided to press ahead by paying for most the trip out of pocket and scaling back initial plans. All this despite the fact that the team had already documented tapirs and tigers in Hadaban Hills.

McCann said the team was close to securing funding for the expedition until the donor asked to see government data on Hadabaun Hills. But, of course, there is none.

“That’s the reason why we want to explore it – it’s an empty page for wildlife surveying,” said McCann.

Without more funding, the team is left self-funding the bulk of the trip and missing out on the potential of bringing more camera traps to increase their chance of documenting rare or even new species.

A struggle to secure funding is not new to McCann, who ran into the same issue when trying to document wildlife in Virachey National Park in Cambodia. McCann was able to prove that Virachey was home to many threatened mammals, including elephants, even though big conservation groups had largely abandoned the park.

“I think that money will only go where money is,” McCann said. “Few want to go it alone; it’s seen as being too risky … if another NGO is already working there and you can collaborate and share, then your chances of landing funding shoot up. So places that enjoy some level of NGO support will get more support, and ones that don’t will languish.”

But such shortsightedness means that exploratory expeditions have trouble getting off the ground and small NGOs like McCann’s – with far less overhead and often a larger penchant for risk-taking – struggle to find the funds to survive.

“We really had the wind taken out of our sails on this when we didn’t get the funding and it almost killed the project,” McCann said. But he is now turning to crowdfunding in a bid to raise some extra funds for more camera trapping on their trip.

In our age there are fewer and fewer places like Hadabuan Hills – newly named, wholly unexplored – yet that’s the draw for adventurers and conservationists like McCann and Munthe.

“When you trek up into the inmost heart of the mountains like we will be doing, and in an untrodden area such as this, mysteries may reveal themselves,” McCann said.

It sounds like language out of another time, another age: but for all our hubris our little planet – third from the sun – remains full of mysteries. Most of the species on Earth have never been documented or named by scientists and there are places – even on an island like Sumatra which has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world – where every turn, every snapshot of a camera trap, could reveal a new world.

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Indonesia: Government pushes usage of eco-friendly plastics

Antara 9 May 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Maritime Coordinator Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said that the government has pushed the usage of eco-friendly plastics.

During a press conference in Jakarta on Monday, Luhut noted that Indonesia was struggling to fight plastics wastes amid industrial use and peoples awareness regarding the plastics wrapping.

"We are still seeking the rules so that non-plastics materials could be used more widely. This is regarding environmental issue," he stated during his visit to PT Inter Aneka Lestari Kimia in Tangerang, Banten, on Monday.

He stated that people and industries still could not avoid plastic packaging. Therefore, a special attention towards the environmental problems was required.

"Those wrappers should be eco-friendly," he remarked.

PT Inter Aneka Lestari Kimia has claimed that they are the producers of degradable and eco-friendly plastics. They use cassava as one of the main material, which is different from other plastics materials that commonly make use of oil.

Luhut appreciated the companys efforts for not only producing biodegradable products but also increasing their usage of local contents.

"The local contents usage is around 50 percent. If the production volume increased, the price could still be lower," he noted.

Yet, he also revealed that this industry should try to create a new innovation to handle flaws such as the heat resistance.

Luhut added that although the industries related need to be given incentives, they should asses the environmental effects as well.

"The licenses would be compared first with the environmental effects," he explained.

During his visit, Luhut was accompanied by Minister of Industry Airlangga Hartanto.(*)

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Thailand: Dugongs face extinction

Dugongs face extinction in Thailand
DUGONGS IN Thailand’s waters face extinction unless their habitat and food sources are protected, according to a recent study.

DUGONGS IN Thailand’s waters face extinction unless their habitat and food sources are protected, according to a recent study.

One of the most gentle marine mammals, dugongs are facing a serious threat as recent research by the Marine and Coastal Resources Department showed that only about 200 of the animals live in Thai waters. The species has a low birth rate and approximately eight dugongs die every year.

Trang’s Had Chao Mai National Park chief Manoj Wongsureerat said that in order to save dugongs in Thai territory, a proper survey on the animals’ behaviour, habitat and feeding grounds was essential so authorities could designate a protected zone.

“In all Thai territory, Trang has the highest dugong population. In this province alone there are around 160 dugongs. However, of this number, about five die every year and at this death rate, the dugong population is in danger in the long term,” Manoj said.

“An in-depth study of dugongs is important, because right now we do not know much about their behaviour and habitat, and cannot precisely designate a safe zone for them.”

He said the national park was working with the National Science and Technology Development Agency on a dugong GPS tracking system, with three dugongs in Had Chao Mai National Park having already been fitted with tracking devices.

“This project is still in the initial phase and has to extend to the entire dugong population in Trang’s sea, so we can track them and understand their behaviour, which will lead to the creation of a safe haven,” he said.

However, the future of the project was uncertain because of budgetary issues, he said, urging authorities to provide funding for more tracking devices.

Dr Nantarika Chansue, director of the Sea Animal Diseases Control Centre at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, said the most commonly identified causes of dugong deaths were fishing equipment and collisions with boats.

“Most of the dugong carcasses that we found were killed by becoming trapped in fishing equipment. This is because their habitat is also fishing grounds and a water-navigation route. Recently, a female dugong and her cub died from being trapped in a fishing net in Trang,” Nantarika said.

She added that every death was a serious blow because dugongs’ fertility rate was so low.

“Dugongs are like elephants. The pregnancy period is very long and females also nurture cubs for a long time, so the birth rate is very low. Moreover, we still cannot breed dugongs in captivity,” she said.

“It is very important that we have a preservation zone for dugongs where fishing and navigation are limited, to save their lives.” However, Nantarika, who recently gained nationwide acclaim for her efforts to help sea turtles, said the most important factor in safeguarding the population was to preserve fields of seagrass, which is the animal’s principal source of food.

“We have learned from the vanishing of dugongs along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand. The vast industrialisation and the busy sea navigation destroyed seagrass fields in the region and caused the extinction of dugongs,” Nantarika said.

She gave the example of a bay in Rayong called Ao Phayoon, or “dugong bay”, where dugongs were wiped out long ago after seagrass fields were devastated, leaving only a barren, muddy seafloor. She said dugongs still existed along the Andaman coast because of the relatively abundant seagrass fields in the area.

Dugongs are listed as one of 19 protected wild animals in Thailand, according to the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act.

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