Best of our wild blogs: 5 Feb 18

Reclamation in Singapore - glimpses of plans ahead
wild shores of singapore

Should Singapore Accede to the Ramsar Convention?

Sumatran Palm Civet (Paradoxurus musangus) @ Clementi Road
Monday Morgue

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Building boldly: 5 things you might not know about infrastructure planning in Singapore

Straits Times 4 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - Singapore needs to make bold and decisive moves in infrastructure if it wants to stay ahead of the global competition - instead of just being content with incremental changes.

This was the message that National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Urban Redevelopment Authority Chief Planner Hwang Yu-Ning had when they spoke to Insight on upcoming infrastructure plans that will take Singapore into the next phase of its urban development.

Speaking ahead of this year's Budget, Mr Wong referred to expensive mega projects that are likely to mean increased infrastructure spending over the next few decades. These include: the High-Speed Rail between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, the Tuas megaport, and Changi Airport Terminal 5.

These projects are important because they will ensure Singapore remains "a competitive, attractive regional centre", giving Singapore "the best chance of success in an uncertain world".

This week's Insight looks at the big moves ahead in Singapore's urban planning, including five things you may not know about infrastructure planning here.


Land reclamation will continue to be an important way for Singapore to overcome its land constraints.

In recent years, the Republic has turned to a Dutch reclamation method called empoldering, that can save 40 per cent in sand volume and construction costs, said Mr Wong.

The method is being used in Pulau Tekong, which is set to grow by 810 ha, or the size or Toa Payoh, by 2022. The added land will be used for military training, freeing up space on the mainland - in Tengah - for housing.

Asked about complaints in Cambodia by local environmental groups that alleged sand had been illegally exported to Singapore, Mr Wong said: "The key thing is that all procurement agencies that procure sand from commercial providers will require requisite permits from the source countries - that is the ultimate check."

"We will not allow for any commercial provider of sand to come in without a valid export permit."

Not all areas identified to be of reclamation potential have seen reclamation works yet. Works only begin when there is a developmental need.

"In doing so, we make sure that we do all the necessary impact assessments, environmental impact assessments and a range of studies to make sure that whatever we are doing is sustainable," Mr Wong added.


Another idea to overcome space constraints here is building on sea - or using large "floating vessels" that can support big structures, including buildings.

Ms Hwang said the Government is studying this idea, but one key obstacle is that maritime space is already very crowded.

One solution currently being examined is whether ships can be parked using four-point anchors, which will reduce the space they need, as the current one-point anchor causes ships to drift in a circle.

"With proper anchoring, we can make our sea space more efficient and potentially make ideas like floating vessels (that one can build structures on) be more practical to implement," she said.


As infrastructure spending goes up, one area of concern is whether there are sufficient checks, so that money is spent prudently.

Mr Wong said all projects have to undergo at least two sets of checks: one at the ministry overseeing the project - to see if the benefits justify the costs, and another at the Finance Ministry, which scrutinises the project again and works out financing.

Big projects worth more than $500 million go through a more stringent process, with expert panels that review different aspects of the project: design, scope of works and cost effectiveness, among others.

"Those are processes we have put in place to make sure that every project is done in a way that achieves value for money," Mr Wong said.


While urban planners are eager to examine new and imaginative possibilities, not all their ideas come to fruition. Some plans are shelved for the time being - or even for good.

Last year, a plan to build an underground ring road in the central part of the island was set aside.

It was a plan that was 20 years in the making, and subterranean space at 295 properties had been previously safeguarded for the plan.

The road was not built because it was no longer needed, due to improvements to public transport and new land use policies.

Another plan that has not yet been implemented is the Long Island Project.

Under this plan, an island would be reclaimed off East Coast Park for recreation and premium waterfront housing.

This plan was set aside because of a lack of demand for it, said Ms Hwang.

"People love East Coast Park, so do we really want to commit to the plan if we don't need it? Some of these options can be safeguarded for future use," she said.

"If we need to dust off these plans later on, we would have already studied the idea."

Mr Wong said: "We have to do our due diligence; we have to study all options. We have to consider all possibilities as we go about planning for the future."

"When we do that, you may not want to embark on everything."


During the interview, Mr Wong cited three major challenges to urban and infrastructure planning that other countries have seen. Singapore needs to overcome these challenges, if it is to stay ahead of the competition.

The first is fiscal constraints. The second is political gridlock. The third is the 'not-in-my-backyard' syndrome, also known as "Nimby".

Because of these three factors, infrastructure sometimes does not get renewed in other countries, as governments choose to kick the can down the road.

"New infrastructure doesn't come in and as a result, it does have a significant drag on productivity, on competitiveness and it ultimately impacts liveability," Mr Wong said.

"We must never allow that to happen in Singapore."

Bold moves in infrastructure: Thinking big pays off for Singapore planners
Ng Jun Sen Straits Times 4 Feb 18;

Whatever happened to Singapore's Long Island Project?

A natural reaction to that would be, "What Long Island Project?"

Over time, it has become largely forgotten. But decades ago, urban planners envisioned building an island using reclaimed land off East Coast Park for recreation and with beautiful waterfront housing.

But this plan - known as the Long Island Project - has since been put aside as there was little demand for it, reveals the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) chief planner, Ms Hwang Yu-Ning, in an interview with Insight.

"People love East Coast Park, so do we really want to commit to the plan if we don't need it? Some of these options can be safeguarded for future use," she says.

"If we need to dust off these plans later on, we would have already studied the idea."

The decision underscores the changing and complex nature of infrastructure planning.

It is hard to say when is the right time to build ahead of demand, says Ms Hwang. There is a risk that the demand for a project may never come, if plans proceed too quickly.

Even so, Singapore has bet big in the past - and seen those bold gambles pay off in a big way.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, in his interview with Insight, cites several examples - moving the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi, which made Singapore an aviation centre; building the region's first container port; and converting Jurong from swampland to an industrial estate.

The Punggol Digital District masterplan aims to transform the area into a hub for the digital economy's key growth sectors. The district will also serve as a test bed for a slew of new features and planning practices. The zoning rules - which affect

Infrastructure has always been a key part of Singapore's economic strategy, says Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Finance.

"We are building for practical needs, to enhance our hub status to attract more investments and create more jobs for Singaporeans."

Construction of Jewel Changi Airport. To future-proof Singapore against competition and increase the chances of attracting investments, the Government is betting big by embarking on billion-dollar projects.

He stresses the importance of being prepared to think big and make decisive moves, instead of just incremental changes.

This is because Singapore has to navigate an uncertain global environment and the threat of other countries bypassing the Republic as a regional hub, Mr Wong says.

For instance, other countries are building new ports, and new shipping routes are being created.

To future-proof Singapore against intensifying competition, the Government is - once more - betting big by embarking on billion-dollar projects such as the upcoming High-Speed Rail between Jurong and Kuala Lumpur, the mega port in Tuas and a fifth airport terminal in Changi.

These "big-ticket items" are a key reason why government spending on infrastructure is slated to rise in the coming years.

On these mega projects, Mr Wong says: "It's about giving us the best possible chance of attracting investments, remaining a competitive, attractive regional centre, and giving Singapore the best chance of success in an uncertain world."


A steady stream of public-sector projects is being rolled out, from MRT projects to new Housing Board blocks.

The total value of construction contracts to be awarded this year is projected to rise from last year's $24.5 billion to up to $31 billion.

Pointing to the pipeline of infrastructure projects in the coming years, Mr Wong says: "That's the nature of infrastructure. From time to time, you will need new projects, new spending in order to refresh and update your infrastructure."

Replacing ageing infrastructure is another reason why spending will go up over time, he adds.

"From a longer-term perspective, we do also need to plan for asset replacement of existing infrastructure, besides spending on new projects," he says.

He describes public infrastructure spending as cyclical, with similar spending increases in the past.

This is unlike healthcare spending, which has seen significant increases and is expected to rise sharply because of Singapore's rapidly ageing population, he notes.

On ageing infrastructure, he says people have to expect more issues as infrastructure gets older.

"All of us have to be mentally prepared for that, and anticipate and respond to the issues and rectify them. It's no different from when we buy a household appliance or a new car. (The) first few years (when) it's new, you don't expect a lot of issues," he says.

But deterioration and wear and tear are normal as equipment ages, he adds. This requires more repair work, replacement of parts and, eventually, buying an entirely new asset.

Asked if Singaporeans are prepared to accept the idea that things are ageing and will break down, he replies: "Part of it is recognising that as assets get older, this is bound to happen. It's natural.

"But even though we know that this would happen with older assets, we're not simply saying there's nothing we can do about it.

"We're not saying, 'Everybody, you've got to live with more faults.'"

He lists several ways the authorities are tackling the issue, including beefing up the pool of technicians here and training them well, doing predictive maintenance instead of simply reacting to faults, and tightening regulations if needed.

Besides high-profile MRT disruptions, there has also been a series of lift breakdowns. On lifts, Mr Wong says breakdown rates have been coming down overall.

"At the national level, if you look at our assets - infrastructure as a whole - we're not doing too badly," he says. "But still, we should work hard to improve."


The URA's Concept Plans provide the long-term blueprint for Singapore's land use and major infrastructure developments.

They are revisited every decade, with the next one due in 2021.

In between - every five years - the Master Plans will "dust off" these ideas and set them in motion when the time is right, says Ms Hwang, who is also URA's acting deputy chief executive.

While the Concept and Master Plans follow a regular schedule, URA's approach to urban planning has changed greatly over the years, she says.

One notable change is the increased use of data analytics to guide policymakers.

"Using data, we can actually look at the real travel patterns of people and see if (the plans) are working or not, and where there could be tweaks to improve the plans," says Ms Hwang.

EZ-Link data, for example, is being used by URA to look at how the elderly move around, alerting planners to where there is a need for more elderly-friendly facilities.

The Government has also noticeably changed its approach to urban planning in some districts.

Where planners had strived to optimise individual parcels of land in the past, they are now doing so with a broader brush.

"We have to look at it from the broader district level and see how we can achieve better connectivity seamlessly, better integration of utilities," says Mr Wong.

He cites the upcoming Jurong Lake District and Punggol Digital District as two projects that will boast "whole of district" features which require years of planning.

An underground district cooling system, for example, can pipe chilled water to air-conditioning units in the entire district.

Other big moves occurring beyond 2030 include the relocation of Paya Lebar airbase to the expanded Tengah and Changi airbases. This will free up around 800ha of land, an area bigger than Toa Payoh. The development of the Greater Southern Waterfront can also begin after the city port terminals move to the mega port in Tuas, which will extend the downtown area beyond Marina Bay.

"We don't have very concrete plans yet for these, because these are indeed very long-term, but we know that we want to do these things from an urban planning point of view," says Mr Wong.


With the bill for major infrastructure projects amounting to billions of dollars each, Insight asks Mr Wong what safeguards are in place to ensure the right calls are made.

He replies that each project is first considered by the ministry overseeing it, examining the outcomes, whether the project is beneficial and what are its costs.

The Finance Ministry (MOF) then scrutinises the individual projects again, and financing is worked out.

Larger projects that cost more than $500 million have to go through a "gateway process", where civil servants pore over details, asking difficult questions about cost, revenue sources and feasibility.

Mr Wong says a technical panel is formed to review projects at every stage, from design to the scope of works to cost effectiveness.

"Those are processes we have put in place to make sure that every project is done in a way that achieves value for money," he adds.


There are also plans that never make it to MOF, with some shelved indefinitely or even scrapped.

Last year, the authorities scuttled a 20-year-old plan to build an underground ring road system under central Singapore, freeing up subterranean space that was previously safeguarded at 295 properties.

The URA and the Land Transport Authority say enhancements to the public transport network and changes in land use policies have removed the need for it.

Asked about the cost of discarding such plans, Mr Wong says money may have been spent on preliminary design work or feasibility studies."But we have to do our due diligence, we have to study all options. We have to consider all possibilities as we go about planning for the future," he says.

"When we do that, you may not want to embark on everything."

And while Singapore is often lauded for its robust planning, its much-vaunted system has come up short in several instances.

Indeed, planners failed to anticipate the population surge in the 2000s, resulting in congested MRT trains and buses.

The Government was also unable to respond in time to a surge in demand for public housing, and had to ramp up supply later.

Asked how the Government can ensure it is able to anticipate future demands, Mr Wong says the issue is not just about planning, but also implementation and execution.

Raising housing as an example, he says building flats ahead of demand could result in under-utilisation, under-occupation and potential wastage.

"If you wait till demand is there before building, you will minimise the wastage, take-up will be very good. But because (building) infrastructure takes time, you may be behind the curve," he notes. "So we have been on both sides of this before."

Mr Wong adds: "We know it's a difficult balance to strike.

"How to get that balance right, and that implementation and execution right... it's not easy. But we're always working to see how we can improve our processes."

He acknowledges that the authorities "have not gotten it right in the past, we have not been perfect in the past".

Getting the timing right is not easy, he adds, "because the market moves in cycles and we can't predict exactly when is the right time".

"We just have to understand that this is part of the dynamics of the market, and try to get the balance right," he says.

On why the Government misses its construction spending estimates, Mr Wong says the estimates will be affected by delays of major projects such as the North-South Corridor.

The Corridor is a 21.5km expressway with integrated cycling paths, continuous bus lanes and greenery features that will run from Woodlands to the city. Insight understands that it was delayed as more time was required to finalise plans.

Mr Wong says delays could be due to various reasons, including tighter project scrutiny.

A lot more time is also being spent on a whole range of studies and assessments, he adds, from environmental impact to noise impact, and what mitigation measures may be needed before construction begins. "We have to do all of these things to get broad support for new projects," he says.


As Singapore seeks to embark on these ambitious projects, Mr Wong highlights three challenges seen in other countries which could derail these plans.

First, fiscal constraints that prevent governments from renewing or replacing necessary infrastructure.

Second, political gridlock, where disagreement at the political level prevents projects from being carried out. And third, a "not in my backyard" or "Nimby" mentality, where ready plans are shelved due to strong public opposition, he says.

These are the three main reasons why ageing infrastructure does not get renewed or replaced in quite a number of developed cities, he says.

"New infrastructure doesn't come in and, as a result, it does have a significant drag on productivity, on competitiveness, and it ultimately impacts liveability," Mr Wong adds.

"We must never allow that to happen in Singapore," he cautions.

While he did not give specific examples, the Nimby effect reared its head in 2012 when 40 Bishan residents petitioned against the Health Ministry's plans to build a 260-bed nursing home, stating it would deprive them of an empty field for recreational activities and the flow of fresh air into their homes.

Says Mr Wong: "If there is strong opposition to anything in your backyard, it will be very hard to keep rejuvenating our city.

"You need the Government, people and the whole of society to work together to share that same vision of wanting to build a better Singapore."

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Masterplan of Singapore's underground spaces ready by 2019

It will provide the first comprehensive look at subterranean spaces and their potential uses
Ng Jun Sen Straits Times 5 Feb 18;

An underground masterplan that maps out Singapore's underground spaces and their potential uses is set to be unveiled next year.

It will be released as part of the next Master Plan guiding Singapore's development in the medium term, said Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) chief planner Hwang Yu-Ning.

This subterranean masterplan will provide the first comprehensive look at what lies tens and hundreds of metres underground.

Ms Hwang said the URA is working towards having a more complete 3D map of the underground spaces and infrastructure here.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told The Straits Times that the Government has to take stock of what is underground, including pipes and power grids.

"We have to take stock and have a good database of information, and are compiling it as a central repository so we have a good basis plan," he said.

Then National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had raised the idea of a plan for Singapore's subterranean development in a blog post in September 2013.

Ms Hwang, who is also URA's acting deputy chief executive, cited underground oil storage as a way to use underground space and free up surface land for other uses.

Already, the Government has made the necessary legislative changes empowering it to acquire stratas of underground space under private land in 2015, paving the way for a future underground metropolis.

The authorities also have to plan for new items at the district and national levels.

Government agencies are already actively pursuing some ideas, including relocating common utilities found above ground, such as refuse systems and electrical substations, underground.

National water agency PUB is studying if underground water storage is viable on a large scale.

On Jurong Island, hazardous petrochemical materials are stored in the 130m-deep Jurong Rock Caverns, freeing up more than 60ha, or 84 football fields, of development space on the island.

But Jurong Island consists mostly of reclaimed and island land managed under a single agency. Bringing that scale of project to the mainland has far more complications.

Currently, details of what lies underground are known only to each relevant agency.

The Energy Market Authority, for example, keeps track of where its power grids are laid around the country, while PUB manages its own database of its water pipes.

When a developer tries to build underground, it can be difficult to figure out whether there is scope to do so as the information is spread out, said Institute of Real Estate Studies director Sing Tien Foo.

Said the National University of Singapore associate professor: "With more emphasis in future on building our infrastructure underground, it is critical for the developer, building consultants and the public to know and have access to this information."

While the URA intends for anyone to be able to see a complete map of what lies underneath, Ms Hwang noted that not everyone can access this information freely. This is due to security concerns.

"If we share too much, we are concerned about the security threat of having unsavoury people use this information. We are still thinking how precise and how much information we want to make available to the public," she said.

Mr Tony Khoo, president of the Singapore chapter of the International Facility Management Association, hailed the emphasis on underground utilities to save space, though he noted that they will be far costlier than their terrestrial counterparts.

He also pointed out how an underground water pipe rupture today often leads to an entire stretch of road being dug up, disrupting traffic and residents. "This is why these facilities must be designed for easy maintainability, with ample access points above ground, to make sure that they are really sustainable in the long term," said Mr Khoo.

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Drains and canal overflow at East Coast Park after unusually high tide

LIM YAOHUI Straits Times 4 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - Parts of East Coast Park was covered in water as rain and and an exceptional high tide hit the coastal area on Sunday (Feb 4).

At around 1.30pm, the tide had swelled to 3.3m, causing seawater to overflow the banks of a canal and drain.

Tide levels of 3m and above are considered higher than normal, according to the PUB.

Earlier on Friday (Feb 2), the agency released an advisory after a high tide of 3.44m occurred around noon in eastern Singapore.

Friday's tide subsided after an hour, but it resulted in seawater overflowing from the roadside drain onto the junction of Amber Road and Mountbatten Road.

"During the high tide periods, canals and drains which lead to the sea and are therefore influenced by tides, will see high water levels," said PUB. "Seawater may also overflow from the drains and flood the roads."

In the advisory, PUB added that in the event of heavy rain coinciding with the high tides, flash floods may occur in the low-lying coastal areas such as Jalan Seaview, Meyer Road, Fort Road and Tanjong Rhu.

"We advise the public to exercise care should flash floods occur, and avoid stepping into or driving into any flooded areas," it added.

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Prices rise for fish, abalone and scallops this Chinese New Year

Gracia Lee Straits Times 2 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - People looking forward to indulging in traditional Chinese New Year (CNY) food like abalone, scallops and fish will have to fork out more cash this year.

Retailers and wholesalers singled out bad weather as the main culprit responsible for pushing down supply, and driving up prices as a result.

The Chinese pomfret, which is popular during this festive season, has doubled in price thanks to demand and supply factors.

"It has been raining a lot so the fishermen go out less to fish," said a spokesman for Song Fish Dealer, adding that the pomfret now costs $60 per kg. It was about $30 to $40 per kg.

Mr Ang Jwee Herng, director of Hai Sia Seafood, said a higher demand for the fish as the new year rolls around has also contributed to the price spike.

The red garoupa, another popular fish served during CNY, has also seen a 30 to 50 per cent price increase due to the same reasons, said wholesalers.

Consumers, however, can find respite in the prices of frozen fish, which retailers and wholesalers said are more stable.

Prices for abalone have also risen by up to 20 per cent from last year. At Teck Yin Soon Chinese Medical Hall in Temple Street, a can of Calmex abalone from Mexico now costs $198. It was $145 in 2016 and $160 last year.

At Hockhua Tonic, which has 63 outlets in Singapore, a can of abalone from New Zealand costs $32 while a can from China costs $19.80. They were priced at $27 and $16.80 respectively last year.

"The fishermen have been harvesting fewer (abalones) because there were a lot of storms," said Mr James Teo, general manager of Hockhua Tonic.

Dried Japanese scallops are up to 30 per cent more expensive as well compared to last year, with retailers attributing this to dirtier waters and typhoons in Japan that have disrupted the scallops' growth.

"Growing scallops takes about three years, so the market takes a while to recover when something like a typhoon happens," said Mr Mario Chua, chairman of Victoria Wholesale Centre. Scallops at the centre now cost between $22 and $40 per 100g.

But Mr Chua assured customers that prices at the centre will not rise further even as demand increases closer to CNY.

Prices for dried fish maw, sea cucumbers and mushrooms are generally more stable and comparable to last year's.

Despite the rise in prices, some consumers are willing to bear the extra cost.

Housewife Geraldine Mok, 59, said though she may try to find cheaper alternatives, she will still spend whatever is necessary to put together a good meal for her family.

"After all, it's only once a year that we have a reunion dinner so I would want everyone to have a good time," she said.

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Malaysia: Turtle landing on Labuan marine parks dwindle 33 per cent last year

Bernama New Straits Times 4 Jan 18;

LABUAN: The number of turtle landings on the Labuan Marine Park has declined by 33 per cent compared to 21 nests recorded in 2016.

The decline was due to a number of threats including the increase in the number of oil rigs that anchored close to the parks and uncontrolled fishing activities.

Labuan Marine Park director Anuar Deraman told Bernama the worrying situation must be effectively addressed to avoid the continuous decline.

“Despite the increase of 18 per cent in the hawksbill sea turtle landing on our marine park beach, the overall landing of turtles has declined, we hope we will not see the landing sites perishing,” he said.

The islands of Kuraman and Rusukan Besar are the homes for hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata), olive-ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) and green turtle (Chelonia Mydas), with 12 nests found on the beaches throughout last year.

“The bright light from the oil rigs at night can disturb the movement of these turtles to lay eggs on our marine parks.

“In addition, there were death cases of turtles reported by members of the public as a consequence of getting stuck in drift nets and hit by the boat engine propellers,” Anuar said.

He also disclosed the drifting timber found on the shore of the marine parks that occurred in October to February every year had also prevented turtle landings.

According to Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) marine biologist Juanita Joseph in her previous press statement, the implication of this is that once the local population of breeding turtles has disappeared, it will be gone forever.

“This is because (most) sea turtles only return to breed at their natal beach. They may travel thousands of miles to reach foraging grounds, crossing transnational borders, but all turtles return to the area where they were born to breed and nest,” he said. — BERNAMA

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Malaysia: Probe Taiwan pangolin meat, police urged

victoria brown The Star 5 Feb 2018

PETALING JAYA: Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has urged Taiwan and Malaysia to get to the bottom of the 4,000 butchered pangolins found in a cargo container at Taiwan’s Kaohsiung harbour.

“While large-scale seizures are great, it must be followed by arrests and prosecution for an impact to be made on the illegal trade,” said Traffic South-East Asia senior communications officer Elizabeth John.

Taiwanese Customs found 4,000 dead pangolins shipped from Malaysia in a cargo container at Kaohsiung harbour last Thursday.

English-language newspaper Taipei Times reported that the Kaohsiung Customs administration office found the pangolins without scales or organs when the shipping company failed to return the container to its original address.

The container was shipped from Malaysia to Kaohsiung on Dec 27, but remained in an unloading bay because the recipient did not submit a Customs form.

The recipient refused to accept the shipment, prompting the Customs office to inspect the container.

Frozen sardines were stacked in the front section of the container to conceal the pangolins at the back.

The Customs office suspected that the recipient was a shell company, as the ship’s manifest was false.

Meanwhile, John urged Malaysian authorities to investigate if the seizure in Taiwan is connected with the large-scale African pangolin seizures in Malaysia last year.

Between May and August 2017, there were six confirmed seizures of African pangolin scales in Malaysia, totalling 6,695kg.

All species of pangolins are under threat and protected under national and international laws.

Pangolin meat is a delicacy in China, Vietnam and Africa, while their scales are used in traditional medicine.

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