Best of our wild blogs: 14 Feb 18

Publication Alert! – Managing giant clams in the South China Sea
Mei Lin NEO

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Indranee Rajah shares 'Budget preview video' featuring Singapore otters

Lydia Lam Straits Times 14 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - On Tuesday (Feb 13), Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah shared a "sneak preview" of the Budget statement on Facebook.

However, instead of hard numbers and dry facts, the 1min 47sec clip, titled An Otterly Singaporean Budget, is filled with photos and videos of otters.

"To prepare for the future, we must see what's ahead," read the subtitles in the video. "Three big things are coming our way. Economic action is shifting to Asia. Technology is changing everything. Our population is ageing. What do we do? We have a plan... starting with Budget 2018!"

The video goes on to talk about various steps to be taken, including embracing technology, keeping Singapore green, building strong families and keeping the country secure.

Ms Indranee, who is also MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, told The Straits Times that she came up with the concept for the video after professional photographer Hilarion Goh shared with her some pictures and videos of otters that he had taken.

"I thought the pictures were great and the otters were so cute," she said. "However, I have obviously been immersed in the Budget process for too long because every time I looked at the images, these Budget themes kept popping into my head! This kept happening so much so that in the end I decided that I might as well make a video out of it."

Ms Indranee asked Mr Goh for permission to use his pictures and requested one of the PAP media team members to help edit the video.

An otterly Singaporean budget

The video editor declined an interview as he was "very shy", Ms Indranee said.

In her Facebook post, she clarified that it was not an official Budget video done by the Ministry of Finance, although MOF later shared it on its Facebook page.

Mr Goh, 60, told ST that he has been an adviser to the Tanjong Pagar Photography Club for 13 years.

He only recently took up photographing otters. His forte is in fashion photography.

"I know Ms Indranee is quite an animal lover," he said. "After I shot some otters I sent one to her and she fell in love."

Mr Goh is also a grassroots volunteer at Tanjong Pagar. He was not paid for his photos and videos.

Ms Indranee said she likes "pretty much all animals, and of course the otters are so cute, anyone would find it hard not to like them".

"Why otters? There wouldn't have been a video but for the fact that Hilarion sent me those pics and the Budget themes kept buzzing around in my head," she said.

"But I think it also has to do with the fact that the otters have such human expressions and their activities so easily correlate to the things we do. I think of the otter in the deterring threats picture as the Ministry of Defence otter!

"And course, they are very much part of the Singapore landscape. It helped a lot that they seem to really get around the island with lots of interesting backgrounds."

The video, which Ms Indranee wrote the text for, was produced in just over a week.

Asked for her thoughts on this year's Budget, which is set to be unveiled on Feb 19 by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Ms Indranee said: "The thoughts on this year's Budget that I would like to share at this point in time are all in the video."

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Rare turtles smuggled via Sri Lanka to Hong Kong and Singapore

Colombo Gazette 13 Feb 18;

Rare turtles are being smuggled out of India to Hong Kong and Singapore through two routes including one via Sri Lanka, investigations have revealed.

Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) has sent intelligence inputs to wildlife officials in Madhya Pradesh regarding the alleged wildlife crimes of Manivannam Murgesan, accused of being an international turtle smuggler who was arrested by MP’s special task force (STF) wildlife crimes from Chennai earlier this month, The Hindustan Times quoted senior STF officials as saying.

STF will now write to the Interpol to get a red corner notice issued against the Murgesan, accused of being the kingpin of India’s illegal turtle trade market so that he could be prosecuted in Thailand where he is wanted in alleged wildlife crimes, said STF officials.

The communiqué sent by Interpol environmental security program states, “We would like to congratulate India on the arrest of Manivannan Murugesan. Manivannan Murugesan is suspected to be a big turtle smuggler. He has been under review for a few years…”

Confirming the development, Ritesh Sirothia in-charge STF (wildlife crime) said after they arrested Murgesan from Chennai and brought him to MP, they wrote to Interpol, urging it to provide details about his wildlife crimes in other countries.

“We didn’t want that he should get a bail and abscond like has happened in some earlier cases with us. So to make our case more strong before the judge, we wrote to Interpol about our big catch and asked them to provide us details about his crimes in other countries. They not only provided us with the details of his crimes, they also lauded us for the big catch, who operates in many countries”, he said.

In October 2016, Interpol’s environment crime wing had issued a red corner notice against international wildlife smuggler Jaiy Tamang alias Passang Limi, who hails from Tibet, following a request by MP’s wildlife department in a case pertaining to smuggling of pangolin and tiger bones. STF had arrested the 42-year-old Jaiy Tamang from Delhi in October 2015, but he absconded after securing bail in MP later. STF officials said as he operates in the entire South Asia, especially Nepal, Tibet, China, Myanmar, they were not sure about his whereabouts now.

The ongoing investigation by STF has unveiled a pan-India poaching and trafficking network that smuggles rare turtles out of the country to Hong Kong and Singapore through two routes-one via Madras-Sri Lanka and other through Kolkata-Bangladesh route.

Sirothia said Murgesan was a Singapore based businessman and had illegal trade links in Thailand, Malaysia, Macau, Hong Kong, China and Madagascar besides Singapore.

On February 1, four-member STF team led by Ritesh Sirothia had brought Murgesan to MP after arresting him in Chennai and presented him before the Special Court at Sagar. According to STF officials, Murgesan was wanted by STF, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Uttar Pradesh STF for a long time. (Colombo Gazette)

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Malaysia: Sunda pangolin now a totally protected species

stephanie lee The Star 13 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: The endangered but highly sought after Sunda pangolin is now a totally protected species.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the state cabinet had approved for a proposal to elevate the status of the animal.

Previously, the Sunda pangolins which are only found in Sabah were protected under Part 1 Schedule 2 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment, allowing for them to be hunted with permits.

Now, this new status would see pangolins being listed under Schedule 1 of the Enactment, which means the hunting this animal is prohibited.

His speech was delivered by Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Kamarlin Ombi.

He said though pangolins were under the protected species list, the selling of these meat was still rampant, even in local markets known as Tamu.

Speaking on the launching of the Sunda pangolin replica, Masidi said it was a good effort taken by various organisations including the Future Alam Borneo, Danau Girang Field Centre and Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad to raise awareness on this critically endangered species.

He said the replica made using recycled items such as advertisement boards, plastic bottles and plastic was a fun way to let visitors and locals know the need to protect this species.

The programme was held in conjunction with the World Pangolin Day which falls on the third Saturday of February every year.

In the global context, Masidi said the numbers of pangolins were declining in Asia and Africa, due to the increasing demands as exotic food and medicine or supplements especially from China nationals.

"Here in Sabah, we are also told of restaurants secretly serving the meat to rich guests and tourists," he said.

Critically Endangered Sunda Pangolins finally receives the highest protection it deserves

TRAFFIC 13 Feb 18;

Sabah, Malaysia, 13th February 2018—There’s a little good news for the world’s most trafficked mammal ahead of World Pangolin Day this year.

The state of Sabah in Malaysia, which has seen some of the country’s biggest pangolin seizures, has given the Critically Endangered Sunda Pangolin Manis javanica the highest level of protection under national legislation.

Sabah’s cabinet approved the listing of the pangolin in the “Totally Protected” category of its wildlife law which bars hunting, collection or trade in the animal and provides significantly higher penalties for traffickers.

The decision to elevate the status of the species was announced earlier today by a state official who delivered a speech on behalf of Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, which was quickly picked up by media.

This higher protection for Sunda Pangolins comes 20 years after Sabah’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 came into place and brings protection for pangolins in line with the rest of Malaysia. Sabah has since revised the 1997 Enactment and it is now known as Wildlife Conservation (Amendment) Enactment 2016.

The Sunda Pangolin has been considered Totally Protected in Peninsular Malaysia since 1972 and in Sarawak, since 1998. In Sabah, however, the species had been listed as “Protected”, allowing for them to be hunted with permits, though these were rarely issued.

Sabah’s move now makes it the only place in Malaysia where Sunda Pangolin traffickers are likely to receive a six-month stay in jail upon conviction.

This is due to the 2016 amendments to Sabah’s wildlife law, establishing higher fines for many offences including a fine of up to MYR250,000 (USD60,000) or a minimum imprisonment term of 6 month to 5 years, or both for anyone caught in possession of a Totally Protected species.

“Sabah’s commitment to saving the Sunda Pangolin is to be commended and couldn’t come at a better time with World Pangolin Day just ahead of us,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Acting Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

“The species is under incredible threat from illegal trade with the unyielding demand for its scales and meat. Upping the risks for poachers and traffickers sends a clear message that they’ll have to pay for their crimes,” said Krishnasamy.

In 2011, customs officers seized closed to five tonnes of skinned pangolins from a boat off Sabah waters. TRAFFIC’s analysis of record books seized from a warehouse in Sabah showed 22,000 pangolins trafficked from that one location over a period of 14 months between 2007 and 2009.

Sabah has also been in the spotlight for recent large-scale interceptions of pangolin scales where custom officers seized a whopping 13 tonnes from just two shipments. In both seizures, two local men, including one who owned the company that was reportedly shipping the scales to China, were arrested to aid with investigations. Over a seven month period, Royal Malaysian Customs intercepted a staggering 15 tonnes of pangolin scales.

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Indonesia: Satellites Detect 15 Hotspots in Riau

Tempo 13 Feb 18;

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The Terra and Aqua satellites detected 15 hotspots indicating forest and plantation fires in Riau Province, Monday. The 15 hotspots emerged in four districts of the province, Slamet Riyadi, head of the data and information section of the Pekanbaru meteorology station, stated.

"The hotspots, with a confidence level of above 50 percent, were detected in Meranti Islands, Indragiri Hilir, Pelalawan, and Bengkalis districts," he remarked.

Nine of the 15 hotspots were confirmed to have arisen from wildfires, he noted. Of the nine hotspots, five were found in Meranti Islands, two in Pelalawan, and two in Indragiri Hilir.

Senior Commissioner Guntur Aryo Tejo, spokesman of the Riau Provincial Police, urged local farmers to not use fire to clear land for farming area. Those found violating the rule will face 10 years' imprisonment and have to pay a fine of up to Rp10 billion, he remarked.

The Pelalawan police have arrested a farmer identified by his initial as M in early February for using fire to clear land for starting a chili farm. Several provinces on Sumatra Island had in the past borne witness to forest fires that produced smoke or haze shrouding several cities.

However, over the past couple of years, the Indonesian authorities have managed to significantly reduce the number of wildfires, thereby preventing the occurrence of haze.

Despite the success, the Indonesian government remains vigilant and is currently implementing preventive measures to ensure that forest fires will not occur during the implementation of the 18th Asian Games to be co-host by Jakarta and Palembang in South Sumatra.

"This year, we will host the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang. I remind you to not let the smoke from forest and land fires arise during the implementation of the event," President Joko Widodo noted during a briefing to participants of the National Coordination Meeting on Forest and Land Fire Control in 2018 at the State Palace in Jakarta on February 6, 2018.

He pointed out that haze from forest and land fires will tarnish the image of Indonesia and disrupt flights during the Asian Games.


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Indonesia: New trees a second chance for peatland farmers

Syafrizaldi THE JAKARTA POST 13 Feb 18;

One afternoon, local farmer Sri Poniyem, 43, was gathering cow dung mixed with urine in her backyard’s concrete tub measuring two by four meters, which would be turned into liquid manure. Using a hose, she connected the tub to a jerrycan and patiently waited for it to fill with liquid manure.

Despite its bad odor, the mixture of urine, manure and water is a farmer’s best friend that gives valuable nutrition to the soil, which is more environmentally friendly than chemical fertilizer.

Poniyem, the head of the Women’s Farmer Group of Pandan Sejahtera village, Geragai district, Tanjung Jabung Timur regency, Jambi, said later in the afternoon the group members would collect the jerrycans to be used in their respective fields.

The villagers in the area have for the last two years realized the need to maintain a natural balance.

“Illegal logging used to prevail here. My husband was also involved,” Poniyem said.

Poniyem’s spouse, Tasyono, was arrested by the police in 2006 for his illegal activity and has since made no such violation, but his past actions have harmed the environment as seen in the damaged peatland in the regency. Today, the greater part of the peatland has been converted into oil palm plantations.

Several peat fires have also affected the lives of the locals. The worst blaze, noted Poniyem, was in 2015 when residents were forced to flee their homes as they couldn’t bear the thick smoke, which also brought economic losses and reduced biological diversity.

The disaster changed the course of their lives.

“Since the big fire, we’ve been thinking of maintaining a natural equilibrium,” she said.

Poniyem and her family own some hectares of oil palm plantations. She plans to grow more productive crops instead.

“Almost one hectare of my oil palm trees were decimated. I want to grow plants that are more compatible with peat soil,” she said.

Her motivation to experiment with new crops on peatland is thanks to the Mitra Aksi (Action Partner) field school, which has helped change the farmers’ mindset.

Poniyem and her group are now trying to plant dragon fruit trees, the seedlings of which have been obtained, while also growing kapok trees to provide supporting columns for the fruits. She is also developing perennial crop agriculture, such as cacao and areca palm trees.

“If fertilizer is needed, the group has prepared compost from the cow excrement,” she said.

Mitra Aksi has received a grant from the Millennium Challenge Account Indonesia, which is restoring peatland in eastern Sumatra. This region is adjacent to Berbak National Park, Orang Kayo Hitam Forest Park (Tahura OKH) and Berbak Protected Peat Forest.

The environmentally friendly pattern of farming, said Poniyem, should rely on farmers’ ability to utilize the natural resources available around them. As well as promoting the family economy, this farming method causes no damage to the soil.

Two kilometers from Poniyem’s home, another local, Rusmilan, 43, was building what he called a canal partition, which raises the depth of the water.

“The principle is that peat soil will be wet, which will prevent fire,” Rusmilan said.

He and his group were constructing partitions by filling sacks with sand and gravel. The sacks were then piled up to form canal dams, which were covered with thick black plastic sheets before being shielded with wooden planks.

The partitions looked like bridges connecting both sides of the canal. There was a hole on each partition to regulate the release of water.

“When it rains, water can be released. But in the dry season, water is retained to ensure the peat remains wet,” he said.

Fish are put into the partitions so as to draw the group’s attention to the water level.

“We’re developing the principle of the 3Rs: re-wetting, re-vegetating and revitalizing the economy. Re-wetting is carried out through the canal partitions. In some places they build hydrant wells to wet the soil,” he said, adding that Mitra Aksi assisted them in building 15 canal partitions and 30 drilled wells.

Southeast of Poniyem’s village, Ahmad Baihaki was planting jackfruit trees in the Tahura OKH restoration area. From Saponjen village, Kumpeh district, Muaro Jambi regency, Ahmad sailed aboard a small boat for almost two hours to reach the peat restoration site.

“Besides, we’ve grown jelutung [Dyera costulala], duku [lanson], durian and mango trees,” he said.

No less than 30,000 trees have filled the 250-hectare restoration area. “But only 24,876 of them are growing well,” Ahmad said.

He hopes that these plants could be productive and benefit at least three villages involved in the restoration effort, namely Saponjen, Gedong Karya and Sungai Aur.

Controlling water: A man inspects a canal partition in Pandan Sejahtera village, which is used to regulate the release of water onto the peatland.
Controlling water: A man inspects a canal partition in Pandan Sejahtera village, which is used to regulate the release of water onto the peatland. (JP/Syafrizaldi)

The villagers are assisted by Gita Buana (natural resources management organization) in the peatland revitalization program. Gita Buana program coordinator Lambok Panjaitan described community involvement as the key to peat restoration.

“The government and local people have been restoring peatland since 2016 under the coordination of the Peat Restoration Agency, with a target to cover 2.5 million hectares in 2020 in seven priority provinces, namely Jambi, Riau, South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and Papua,” he said.

As a part of the peatland restoration, locals also monitor hot spots. Villagers can access peat areas for planting and harvesting, at the same time monitoring environmental conditions including hot spots and canal partitions.

“We don’t want the 2015 peat fire to happen again. Growing trees helps speed up peat restoration, which motivates us to continue this activity,” Ahmad said.

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Satellites show warming is accelerating sea level rise

Seth Borenstein Associated Press 13 Feb 18;

WASHINGTON (AP) — Melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are speeding up the already fast pace of sea level rise, new satellite research shows.

At the current rate, the world’s oceans on average will be at least 2 feet (61 centimeters) higher by the end of the century compared to today, according to researchers who published in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Sea level rise is caused by warming of the ocean and melting from glaciers and ice sheets. The research, based on 25 years of satellite data, shows that pace has quickened, mainly from the melting of massive ice sheets. It confirms scientists’ computer simulations and is in line with predictions from the United Nations, which releases regular climate change reports.

“It’s a big deal” because the projected sea level rise is a conservative estimate and it is likely to be higher, said lead author Steve Nerem of the University of Colorado.

Outside scientists said even small changes in sea levels can lead to flooding and erosion.

“Any flooding concerns that coastal communities have for 2100 may occur over the next few decades,” Oregon State University coastal flooding expert Katy Serafin said in an email.

Of the 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) of sea level rise in the past quarter century, about 55 percent is from warmer water expanding, and the rest is from melting ice.

But the process is accelerating, and more than three-quarters of that acceleration since 1993 is due to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the study shows.

Like weather and climate, there are two factors in sea level rise: year-to-year small rises and falls that are caused by natural events and larger long-term rising trends that are linked to man-made climate change. Nerem’s team removed the natural effects of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption that temporarily chilled Earth and the climate phenomena El Nino and La Nina, and found the accelerating trend.

Sea level rise, more than temperature, is a better gauge of climate change in action, said Anny Cazenave, director of Earth science at the International Space Science Institute in France, who edited the study. Cazenave is one of the pioneers of space-based sea level research.

Global sea levels were stable for about 3,000 years until the 20th century when they rose and then accelerated due to global warming caused by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, said climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute in Germany, who wasn’t part of the study.

Two feet of sea level rise by the end of the century “would have big effects on places like Miami and New Orleans, but I don’t still view that as catastrophic” because those cities can survive — at great expense — that amount of rising seas under normal situations, Nerem said.

But when a storm hits like 2012′s Superstorm Sandy, sea level rise on top of storm surge can lead to record-setting damages, researchers said.

Some scientists at the American Geophysical Union meeting last year said Antarctica may be melting faster than predicted by Monday’s study.

Greenland has caused three times more sea level rise than Antarctica so far, but ice melt on the southern continent is responsible for more of the acceleration.

“Antarctica seems less stable than we thought a few years ago,” Rutgers climate scientist Robert Kopp said.

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