Best of our wild blogs: 12 Aug 17

Abandoned nets on Pulau Semakau, 01/07/17
Project Driftnet Singapore

Land-swap rule among Indonesian President Jokowi’s latest peat reforms

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Combat future haze by working with Indonesia and ASEAN

Weather forecasts suggest that we may not see the recurrence of major haze like in 2015, but Vivian Claire Liew argues we need to speed up work to combat the haze and work with Indonesia to tackle the problem at its roots.
Vivian Claire Liew Channel NewsAsia 12 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: After our severe episodes of haze in 2013 and 2015, we had a reprieve last year because of La Nina.

But we also owe the reprieve to the work of the Indonesian government including Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Fadilah, Nazir Foead of Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency, at least one provincial governor, and many Indonesian and international civil society servants working tirelessly to build maps, investigate soil conditions and train farmers.

Even though weather forecasts suggest that we won’t see the same recurrence of haze this year, and the Indonesian government has been working to put out hotspots developing in Kalimantan, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. It is useful that the Indonesian government continues to exercise vigilance but what do we need to address the problem of the haze for the long term?


There are three key drivers behind the haze which suggest that we may be at higher risk of haze going forward.

First, a surge in the global demand for pulp and palm oil, driven by a rising middle class. They are consuming huge amounts of consumer goods including products that use palm oil and paper, present in most products as a cheap stabiliser that extends shelf life.

Second, global warming, including higher temperatures especially near the equator, increasing the chances of plants and peatland catching fire. Dry conditions and lack of rain in dry seasons also make it faster for such fires to spread.

Rain storms in 2015 finally ended the fires after months of haze, but counting on rain storms is not a practical strategy.

Third, a rising proportion of peatland drained for cultivation increases fire risks. Peatland is carbon-rich; hence peatland fires result in larger amounts of carbon monoxide and particulate matter compared to regular soil. This explains why haze has not merely returned, but may be worsening at an accelerating pace.


Another core reason we must act now, is that the most damaging impact of the haze has yet to materialise.

Haze affects all of us, not just the children or the elderly. A hospital I checked in with noted a rise in patients with respiratory problems during the haze in 2015. Longitudinal studies that show the health impact after several years of exposure to air pollution can come many years after, leading to increased risks of stroke.

Singapore’s economy would also suffer again, especially retail, hospitality, food and beverage. Consumers and tourists may stay away.

More repercussions may follow, especially with severe haze recurring.

Fellow CEOs told me in 2015 that some corporates moved staff to Hong Kong for that period and most may move them permanently if the haze recurs. At least one senior banker sent his family to the Swiss Alps and another relocated to Stanford for the semester.


While a knee-jerk reaction to point the finger when a major haze occurs is commonplace, it is more constructive if we focus on solving the haze challenge at source and find sustainable win-win solutions, even in this period of “peace”.

Equipping Indonesia to deal with fires that emerge is key, so we need to ensure that there are sufficient water bombers on standby. Potential lease agreements with countries that can contribute and companies that can provide these capabilities at short notice may be one way.

The Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency under Nazir Foead, has decisively tackled the huge challenge head on. President Joko Widodo made an excellent choice in choosing him.

Substituting palm oil is not a solution because of its high yield; the crux is palm oil produced without burning peatland.

My view is that more immediately, we have to address why farmers still continue with slash-and-burn tactics. We have to address the fact that it costs US$500 to US$800 to hire labour and rent equipment to clear one hectare of land, which can amount to several months of income per farmer.

So pooling together equipment and labour that farmers can leverage to clear land can help lower costs and give farmers an alternative to slash-and-burn. Working with the local government is key to ensure incentives are aligned and followed, to ensure no burning of peatland.

In solving the haze, we also need a highly competent platform to support the Indonesian government.

The ASEAN Haze Coordination Centre, theoretically birthed in the ASEAN Haze Treaty more than 10 years ago, has the potential to be this vehicle for ASEAN to come together for any country that needs such help.

But we must ensure that it gets funding and highly competent talent that is results-oriented.

This will allow it to leverage LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to prioritise efforts given Indonesia’s huge archipelago, and essential peatland fire retardants.

Solving the haze matters to Singaporeans like me because it affects our lives and our country. Singapore celebrated SG50 just two years ago but most people don't know we have been afflicted with haze for almost as long. If we have Haze100, will SG100 exist? And even if we do, what kind of life would that be?

Because of all these, we must act now. We can solve the haze crisis for good - together. But there’s no time to lose.

Vivian Claire Liew is founding CEO of social enterprise PhilanthropyWorks and a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

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Malaysia: Dugong stranded near Sabah's coastal village, Wildlife Department to monitor situation

Awang Ali Omar New Straits Times 11 Aug 17;

SANDAKAN: An unexpected visitor in the form of a dugong greeted folks of a coastal village here, this morning.

Sim-Sim's residents alerted the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) upon discovering the marine mammal stranded in the shallow waters at 8.30am.

“Our department has received the report of the dugong, protected under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

“We have gone to the ground with our Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) to monitor the situation and have made early discussions with the Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s marine unit, the Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI).

“The university said they will send researchers to collect data on the presence of dugong. So we will wait for them to come,” said Sandakan wildlife officer Hussein Muin, adding the animal is still stranded at Sim-Sim waters as of now.

He also expressed hope that the communities especially those at the coastal area in Sim-Sim, would cooperate and help with conservation efforts towards the species, and not disturb the mammal until marine experts arrive to carry out studies.

The university’s BMRI director Prof Dr Rossita Shapawi clarified that they have heard and seen information circulated on the dugong’s presence there a few days ago, but were only informed about it officially now.

“Stranding (of marine life in shallow waters or beaches) is normal for we have seen it with dolphins before, but when it comes to dugong, it is quite rare.

“One of our researchers assisted by students will go down there soon, likely on Monday to observe and collect data on the species,” she said, explaining that the conservation jurisdiction do not fall below them but the Wildlife Department.

Dugong stranded in Sim Sim water village in Sabah
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 11 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The public has been told not to disturb a dugong stranded in the shallow waters of a water village in Sandakan.

A team of experts from the Borneo Marine Research Institute, Universiti Malaysia Sabah are headed to the village while state wildlife rangers ensure the safety of the dugong, an endangered species, after it was spotted by residents of the Sim Sim water village in Sandakan on Sabah's east coast at about 8.30am Friday.

Sandakan wildlife officer Hussein Muin urged the people not to disturb the animal pending the arrival of marine experts from Kota Kinabalu.

He said the dugong is listed as a protected species under the Conservation of Wildlife Enactment 1997, which makes it an offence to harm it.

"I hope everyone helps our conservation efforts," he said.

He said the team is expected to study the mammal, also known as a sea cow.

Residents of Kg Sim Sim say dugong sightings in their area are rare, and believe that this could be the first time the mammal turned up in the village.

Dugong proves it isn’t camera shy at Kampung Sim Sim
Rebecca Chong Borneo Post 11 Aug 17;

SANDAKAN: A dugong has been spotted in waters surrounding Kampung Sim Sim here on Wednesday.

Sandakan Wildlife Department officer Hussein Muin said in a statement here today that the Wildlife Rescue Unit had visited the area to check on the dugong.

After discussing with Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s (UMS) Marine Faculty, it was decided that UMS will send researchers to collect more data on the protected species before further action could be taken.

Locals, especially the villagers of Kampung Sim Sim, have been urged to cooperate in the conservation effort of the dugong.

The marine mammal can still be seen hanging around the same area where it was first spotted.

The average dugong has a long lifespan of 70 years or more, and a slow rate of reproduction. They are herbivorous and feed mainly on sea-grass, but have been hunted close to extinction for their meat and oil.

They are protected here under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

Help for dugong trapped in shallow waters
The Star 12 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: State wildlife rangers are trying to rescue a dugong stranded in shallow waters off the east coast of Sandakan.

A team of experts from Borneo Marine Research Institute is heading to the spot, near the Sim Sim water village, to assist.

The dugong, an endangered species, was spotted by some villagers at about 8.30am yesterday.

At that time, it was unable to get to deep water.

An adult of the species can typically grow to 3m in length and weigh about 420kg.

Sandakan Wildlife officer Hussein Muin said no one should disturb the marine mammal, adding that it was best to let experts handle the situation.

The dugong is protected under the Conservation of Wildlife Enactment 1997 and anyone disturbing or harming it is committing an offence, he said.

He added that the experts would also be studying the mammal which is also called a “sea cow”.

Several residents at Kampung Sim Sim said this was the first time a dugong had turned up there and that they had never seen one until now.

Stranded Sandakan dugong joined by another; SWD monitoring situation
KRISTY INUS and BH New Straits Times 13 Aug 17;

SANDAKAN: With more people flocking to see the two stranded dugongs, Kampung Sim-Sim residents are now worried over the safety of the marine mammals.

They are afraid that some might have bad intentions or potentially harm the dugongs, which are listed as totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

It was reported that Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) first received a report that a dugong was spotted at the shallow waters of the coastal village on Friday morning.

This morning, SWD director Augustine Tuuga said two mammals were sighted there based on the latest report.

“Our village has become a hot spot in the past week since the (first) dugong's presence. This is probably the first time the marine mammal appeared here.

“However, this species only appears during high tide (and is not there all the time).

“We are worried there might be some irresponsible people who want to capture this animal,” said a 59-year-old villager who wanted to be known as Chu.

Augustine said wildlife officers were monitoring the situation as they wait for the research team from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) to arrive and conduct their studies, scheduled tomorrow.

He said the department needed UMS help to assess the animals' condition before determining the next course of action.

He added that unless the dugongs are ill or injured, SWD plans to let them be, as they are not in immediate danger.

"(We will) let them (remain in the waters) there. But (we do) worry that people may harm them, or they are accidentally hit by passing boats," he said, adding that SWD has called on the public not to disturb the dugongs.

Meanwhile, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said normally, stranded marine wildlife such as dolphins are assisted back out to sea – unless the animals are injured, wherein they would be nursed back to health.

Masidi stressed that everyone needs to be proactive and not "pass the buck" when it comes to protecting the species.

Listed under Schedule 1 of the Enactment, dugongs are in the same totally protected category with Sumatran rhinoceros, orang utans, sun bears, proboscis monkeys, clouded leopards as well as green turtles and hawksbill turtles.

Dugong attracted to Sim Sim water village for food
RUBEN SARIO The Star 14 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A dugong stranded in shallow waters off Sandakan appears to be healthy and is attracted to the Sim Sim water village for food.

The adult animal was seen nibbling moss growing on the posts of the houses in the village.

Sabah Wildlife Department ranger Awang Basah who has been monitoring the dugong said the animal had been elusive and was occasionally spotted around the village over the past three days.

“It would come close to shore during the high tide and go out to sea when the low tide comes,” he said.

He said the Wildlife Department had been reminding villagers there against throwing any type of food to the dugong as this could harm the animal.

Awang said that although dugongs have been spotted in the Sulu Sea off Sandakan, it is unusual for one to come so close to shore.

Villagers first spotted the dugong at about 8.30am on Friday.

Since then, the Wildlife Department had dispatched its rangers to monitor the animal while awaiting the arrival of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Borneo Marine Research Institute experts.

The dugong is protected under the Conservation of Wildlife Enactment 1997.

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Malaysia: The world’s largest firefly can be found in Kuala Lumpur

EMILY CHAN The Star 12 Aug 17;

Could Bukit Kiara, a forested hill in Kuala Lumpur surrounded by housing areas, be the home of the world’s largest firefly? That was what had been circulating around social media prior to the first-ever “firefly walk” there in July.

Due to the online buzz, some 500 people turned up for the event, organised by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS). Lim Koon Hup, a MNS flora group volunteer, said he was taken aback by the large turnout. He explained that night walks were conducted quite often at Bukit Kiara, but not to see fireflies.

The discovery of the world’s largest firefly from the Lamprigera genus in Bukit Kiara had been confirmed by MNS officers a few months earlier. When word got out on social media, the place garnered ever more interest.

MNS president Henry Goh said that the walk was held in cooperation with local community group Friends Of Bukit Kiara (FOBK) to highlight the importance of conserving the hill, which is one of the last green lungs in the city.

“The firefly is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem,” he explained. “It uses biologically produced light to communicate with other fireflies (of the same species). There are over 2,000 firefly species worldwide but we’re not sure of the numbers in Malaysia as there are very few firefly researchers here. So many of the fireflies may be new to science.”

As fireflies are easier to spot in the dark, the walk began after the sun went down. Street lights lining the Bukit Kiara tarmac trail were specially turned off for the event. Due to the unexpectedly large number of visitors and the lack of a speaker system, participants were divided into smaller, more manageable groups.

Several different types of fireflies, as well as other bioluminescent insects like the star-worms, were spotted throughout the walk. “We intend to do these walks more regularly,” said Lim, who is also a FOBK member.

Firefly tourism

“When we do these group walks, eco-conscious members would often help pick up rubbish scattered along the way. What we hope is for people to be aware and not litter in the first place. We want the environment to be conducive for the flora and fauna – where people can go to appreciate nature.”

MNS wetlands programme manager Sonny Wong, a firefly expert who helped facilitate the walk, gave insights to the night’s star attraction.

“The larvae of the Lamprigera firefly has four light organs. Whereas, the adult female has a gold-yellowish colour and only two light organs, is huge and does not fly. Specimens of the larva from Indonesia can reach 13-14cm long,” he explained.

In contrast, the adult male Lamprigera is smaller in size and is able to fly. Wong said that judging by its life cycle of around a year, which is quite long for a firefly, the population of Lamprigera is likely to be low.

“The Lamprigera is not extremely rare, but it is uncommon,” he said. “We are quite lucky to have it in the city itself. To see it in Bukit Kiara, which is a secondary forest which used to be a rubber estate, is quite amazing.”

He added that, so far, based on the insects’ flash patterns, six types of fireflies are estimated to be in Bukit Kiara. “A daytime firefly was also spotted there. This firefly comes out during the day, uses smell or pheromones, and have remnant light spots.”

Wong also noted that countries like Taiwan have created a successful eco-tourism industry in fireflies. “They have created firefly parks in urban districts. The parks’ environment were created to mimic the habitat conducive for the fireflies. I’m hoping we can do the same for Bukit Kiara.”

Wong said that the public are encouraged to observe these fireflies. However, they are advised not to touch them.

“By touching them, we may be transferring fungus or bacteria that can kill them,” he cautioned. “There have been known cases of fireflies dying this way. Also, avoid shining bright torchlights at the firefly and refrain from taking photos using flash. Use red light as it least affects them.”

He is hopeful that more people will support the protection of Bukit Kiara. “The public voice,” underlined Wong, “plays a big role in conversation efforts.”

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Indonesia: Thousands of Central Java villages threatened by drought

Ganug Nugroho Adi The Jakarta Post 11 Aug 17;

It is estimated that 1,235 villages in 266 districts in Central Java will face water shortages as a result of drought. The province’s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has supplied clean water to 10 regencies since July.

“Drought and a clean-water crisis have affected half of the areas across Central Java. We have supplied clean water to 46 villages, 22 districts and 10 regencies in the province. These include Blora, Boloyali, Klaten and Wonogiri,” said BPBD Central Java acting chairman Sarwa Pramana on Friday.

He further said it was predicted that this year’s drought in Central Java would affect around 1.4 million people in areas that frequently suffer water shortages during the dry season.

“We have not yet reached the peak of the dry season as rain is still falling in a number of areas. According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency [BMKG], the peak of the dry season will be in October. The BPBD mapped out drought-affected areas in July to take anticipatory measures,” said Sarwa.

He further said the agency had called on all regions to remain on alert and get prepared to issue an emergency alert status. The alert-status announcement was needed for the disbursement of funds to tackle the impacts of drought such as clean-water shortages and forest fires.

Sarwa said the Central Java administration had prepared Rp 600 million (US$ 44,917) for the province’s BPBD to supply clean water. For each BPBD in regencies and municipalities, it will provide between Rp 200 million and Rp 400 million. (ebf)

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New study finds China’s ivory market shrinking ahead of incoming domestic ivory ban

TRAFFIC 12 Aug 17;

Beijing, China, 12th August 2017, World Elephant Day—Following China’s announcement late last year of a domestic ivory trade ban by the end of 2017, TRAFFIC and WWF surveys have found that the number of ivory items offered for sale—in both legal and illegal ivory markets in China—has declined alongside falling ivory prices.

Earlier this year, TRAFFIC and WWF researchers undertook a series of surveys of physical and online markets to assess their status after announcement of the incoming domestic ivory ban in China and the effectiveness of subsequent regulatory measures. The findings are published today in TRAFFIC and WWF’s new report Revisiting China’s ivory market in 2017.

At the time of its announcement, the ban was widely hailed by the international community as a game changer that could help to reverse the decline of wild African Elephant populations. It included a commitment to close over a third of the accredited ivory manufactures and retail stores by 31st March 2017, with the remaining two-thirds to be shut down before 31st December 2017.

Between April and May 2017, TRAFFIC and WWF staff visited 110 ivory stores in 23 cities, around 85% of all the stores accredited by the State Forestry Administration in 2015. Among them were 50 of the 55 stores shut down in the first round of closures, where the researchers found just one store still offering to sell ivory—albeit surreptitiously.

Of 60 stores surveyed, out of the remaining 88 slated to close by 31st December 2017, some 17 (28%) were found to be in violation of ivory registration and certification regulations to varying degrees. Lapses included failing to display accreditation licences and/or identification cards corresponding to displayed ivory items, as well as a lack of obligatory awareness materials. Meanwhile, four stores (7%) broke regulations by not operating in approved locations. Most stores were offering ivory items at significantly discounted prices.

“Although some implementation challenges remain, it is very encouraging that the timetabled phase out of the domestic ivory trade appears to be on track,” said Zhou Fei, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Office and the Wildlife Trade Programme of WWF China.

The researchers also visited 503 physical outlets located in 22 cities where ivory was found illegally for sale. A total of 2,307 ivory products were observed, averaging five ivory items openly displayed per outlet surveyed. Although samples vary between survey years, this can at least be crudely compared with 9 items observed per shop in 2016 and 18 items observed per shop in 2007

Online, a total of 1,687 new advertisements for ivory items were found by the researchers between January to April 2017 on 31 targeted websites: a 29% decrease since the identical period in 2016. On social media, a one-day snapshot survey on 24th April 2017 of 35 targeted users found 301 illegal ivory advertisements, as well as 1,779 pictures and 27 videos of ivory items. On average, roughly nine advertisements, 51 pictures and one video per targeted user, representing a decrease of 28%, 15% and 47%, respectively, compared to a survey in April 2016.

The researchers also documented the prices for ivory items, and found a significant differential between those in the legal and illegal markets. In the legal ivory market, the average price of ivory chopsticks was USD542/pair, the corresponding prices in the illegal market were USD153 for a pair of chopsticks, lower by 72%. Compared to 2012, the average price of ivory chopsticks in the illegal market had declined by 57%. Data from law enforcement authorities also show that the price of raw ivory has been falling sharply in recent years: in Beijing by some 20–25% between 2015 and 2016, and by 50% in 2017.

“There is an apparent decline in the market presence of ivory items while prices are falling too—while once implemented, the blanket ban on commercial ivory trade should facilitate law enforcement efforts and raise consumer awareness about the illegality of the trade,” said Zhou Fei.

“This is a critical year for China’s domestic ivory ban and it is vital to be vigilant in monitoring its impacts as many challenges remain, such as ensuring stockpiled ivory is prevented from illegally entering markets at home or abroad.”

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting held last year in South Africa, Resolution 10.10 on Trade in Elephant Specimens was revised to include a clear recommendation that “all Parties and non-Parties in whose jurisdiction there is a legal domestic market for ivory that is contributing to poaching or illegal trade, take all necessary legislative, regulatory and enforcement measures to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of urgency.”

“TRAFFIC and WWF are working to support this CITES resolution and urge those Parties, especially China’s neighboring countries with less scrutiny and continued legal sales, to urgently consider adopting similar bans in order to avoid ivory moving into these markets and to give elephants a chance for a future free from poaching,” said Zhou Fei.

WWF UK, WWF US and GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) are gratefully thanked for financial support for this study.

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