Best of our wild blogs: 12 Mar 18

17-18 Mar: Meet Singapore Marine Scientists!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Butterfly of the Month - March 2018
Butterflies of Singapore

Buff & Brown with a Dark side(d)
Winging It

NSS Kids’ Fun with Frogs at Tampines Eco-Green
Fun with Nature by Fun with Nature

Fun with Otters at Marina Bay
Fun with Nature by Fun with Nature

Keel-bellied Whip Snake (Dryophiops rubescens) @ Pulau Ubin
Monday Morgue

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Climate change needs better storytelling to address severe threats

Benjamin P Horton Channel NewsAsia 11 Mar 18;

The World Economic Forum says extreme weather events are the most likely and most severe threat facing humanity in 2018 yet climate change doesn’t get the attention it needs, says one expert from the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

SINGAPORE: The story about climate change arguably got its first big public hit more than ten years ago with Al Gore’s documentary about global warming An Inconvenient Truth.

But maintaining public attention and keeping the heat on climate change action have been tough.

People are hungry for news about the risk of climate change but boring, technical jargon is alienating them, said the United Nations top environment official Erik Solheim in December 2017.

People need to be excited and inspired to take action and change their behaviour, he added.

Yet “the language of environmentalists has been boring, so uninspiring ... If we just speak a technical language, with many acronyms and politically-correct phrases, no one will listen,” he said in an interview during a Bonn conference on landscapes.

Perhaps the consequences of human-driven climate change seem abstract, technical or too far away in the future.

Do these in turn cause readers to look at climate change news, shrug and then move on to other stories?

There’s a strong case to be made about the importance of communicating the priority we need to place on climate change.

Recent extreme weather pattern are giving us a glimpse into the catastrophe we might find ourselves in if we fail to act.


The start of 2018 has been marked by extreme weather with widespread impact on public safety, transport, energy and health around the world.

A major winter storm hit the United States Atlantic coast in early January, battering coastal areas with heavy snow, blizzards and strong winds and a drop in temperatures.

Boston suffered coastal flooding after it saw the highest ever recorded tide since 1921.

Flash flooding and deadly mudslides took place in southern California because of intense rain, in areas where protective vegetation have been destroyed by devastating wildfires in late 2017.

In Asia, central and eastern China saw heavy rain and snow in Shaanxi, Henan, Hubei, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces in early January, with monthly maximum rainfall levels broken in 92 counties.

In the southern hemisphere, Cape Town is running out of water, because reliable winter rains have vanished — a phenomenon one meteorologist calls a once-in-628-years weather event.

Australia was gripped by intense heat, with the weather station in Sydney reaching 47.3°C on Jan 7, the hottest in 80 years.

Flash floods, strong winds and hailstones in Singapore coupled with a bout of freakish cool weather, the longest cold spell experienced here in at least a decade showed we were not immune.


These extreme weather events were both signals of a dangerous, human-made shift in Earth’s climate as much as they were a natural stretch of bad luck.

Monsoon surges that bring cool weather partially explains what transpired in Singapore.

Natural climate cycles, especially the interplay between upper atmospheric conditions over polar regions and mid-latitude conditions over the oceans and on land, were primary forces driving the extreme weather globally.

But natural cycles by themselves don’t explain the recent number of record-breaking extreme weather events.

The reality is that the forces undergirding is global warming – and it’s all coming to a head.


The Earth is getting warmer, with significantly more moisture in the atmosphere. Decades of data show that a long-term build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is trapping heat and warming up lands, oceans, and the atmosphere.

17 of the 18 warmest years in the 136-year global temperature record all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998.

The year 2016 ranks as the warmest on record globally and here in Singapore, which had a mean annual temperature of 28.4°C.

2016 was an El Niño year, and mainland Southeast Asia encountered its warmest monthly mean surface air temperatures in April 2016 since record-keeping began.

Apart from surpassing national temperature records in mainland Southeast Asia, this event disrupted crop production, imposed societal distress and resulted in peak energy consumption.

El Niño might have exacerbated the situation, but the temperatures would never have happened without the human-made shift in Earth’s climate.

Some models have predicted that the warming of the Earth’s climate could increase the average strength of hurricanes and typhoons.

Scientists are confident that rising sea levels are leading to higher storm surges and more floods - and the mean sea level in the Strait of Singapore has increased at the rate of 1.2mm to 1.7mm each year in the period 1975 to 2009.

By the end of the century, the average world temperature could increase by 5 °C, depending in part on how much carbon we emit between now and then.

The latest climate models concluded with high confidence that with continued warming projected for the rest of this century, Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia will experience more frequent, record-breaking hot Aprils, just like the extreme weather event of 2016.


The Global Risks Report 2018 of the World Economic Forum (WEF) states that extreme weather events are the most likely and most severe threat facing humanity in 2018 – because scientists expect the frequency of extreme weather events to increase substantially.

The trend towards more frequent extreme weather events only underscores how important it is that we enhance our ability to predict and manage them. So what can we do?

The solution has been clear for more than two decades: Governments must take aggressive action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The extreme weather lends greater urgency to climate change initiatives like those under the Paris Agreement.

An essential key to meeting the challenge of extreme weather is critical environmental intelligence.

Just like the intelligence of the security world, intelligence in the environmental arena combines data, analysis, modelling, and assessment.

The smart approach to extreme weather is to attack all the risk factors, by designing crops that can survive drought, buildings that can resist floods and high winds, policies that discourage people from building in dangerous places - and of course, by shifting our economy to greener energy sources and reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions.

Singapore has taken steps to reduce the impact of extreme weather events by improving drainage to reduce flood-prone areas, developing weather-proof technologies, and cooling the island by growing urban green spaces such as rooftop gardens.

Where climate change poses a real danger, we cannot take the attitude that it’s someone else’s job to sort out.

Indeed, the biggest challenge we must guard against in this battle against climate change is people tuning out to the message about global warming.

Erik Solheim mentioned this when he said:

For this to happen, we have to speak in a different language that is simpler and breaks down the science to explain to people what climate change really means for them, in their daily lives, here and now.

As individuals, we should seize everyday opportunities to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We can recycle, reuse and reduce. Whenever we can, we should use public transport and walk.

Quite literally, small steps can lead to large-scale change when we, citizens of the earth, act together.

Professor Benjamin P Horton is principal investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore at Nanyang Technological University.

Source: CNA/sl

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On our love affair with Malaysian mangroves

DR. A. ALDRIE AMIR New Straits Times 11 Mar 18;

No matter how sturdy they seem to be, or how eerie they may appear, mangrove forests deserve vigilant attention and tender loving care.

Caring for mangroves is a simple, straightforward love affair. Just by setting them free from vicious anthropogenic disturbances, they in return shall unconditionally defend and serve us to the best of their ability. As a matter of fact, they have been doing this for a very long time.

Mangrove forests provide multiple ecosystem services and benefits to humans and nature. Their full functions and roles are still way beyond our understanding. But a miniscule portion of their gifts have been identified by scientists, and many more aspects are yet to be discovered. Some of their documented functions are as a regulator of various natural cycles and processes. For instance, mangroves are identified as the most efficient tropical habitat to capture and fix atmospheric carbon in the pursuit to mitigate the increase in temperature and to adapt to global climate change. They are also able to efficiently absorb and sustain water and precipitation.

Mangroves are instrumental as a natural defense from hazardous, life-threatening disasters such as, you may still remember, the tsunami, and other coastal catastrophes. Mangrove forests are the key habitat in the life cycle of a vast number of marine creatures. They are the breeding and spawning grounds for fishes and other marine animals, a sanctuary for birds and marine mammals, and a connecting habitat between terrestrial and marine environments. Mangroves act as a sponge to absorb pollutants from being flushed into the seas, and as a natural buffer protecting people and human settlements from severe wind and typhoons. Simply put, mangroves act as a

protector from disturbances both landward and seaward.

For many generations, mangroves have sustained the livelihoods of coastal communities and sparked the birth of many civilisations in the tropics and subtropics. Human dependency on this resource is immense and again, beyond human realisation. A majority of local coastal communities in Malaysia associate their survival with the status of mangroves within their vicinity, both socially and economically. But how far would they go to uphold this love affair environmentally?

Being the third-largest mangrove-holding nation in the world, Malaysia has the advantage and is in the position to set an exemplary act and lead the way for the best mangrove management practice, impactful mangrove research, solid mangrove protection, and sustainable mangrove conservation. Malaysia and Southeast Asia are the centre for mangrove species distribution in the Indo-West Pacific ecological region. We host the highest diversity of mangrove plant species and boast 45 per cent of the world’s total mangrove forest area.

Unfortunately, in the past 60 years, Malaysia alone lost half of its precious mangroves due to multiple anthropogenic factors. Due to that, the coastline of Peninsular Malaysia is currently threatened by severe erosion, particularly on the western and southern ends. Our coastal land is in dire straits, but do Malaysians in general realise this?

Malaysian mangroves, especially the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve in Perak, have been a reference site for studies on forest management and mangrove ecology by researchers from all over the world since the beginning of the last century. The protection and sustainable management of Matang mangroves started in 1901, and at one point, it was recognised as the best managed mangrove forest in the world. Indeed, that was a great recognition and a great achievement for Malaysia, but besides Matang, how about the rest of the mangroves in the country?

Malaysian scientists like Dr Ong Jin Eong, Dr Gong Wooi Khoon, Dr. A. Sasekumar, Dr. Chan Hung Tuck and Dr Chong Ving Ching are globally known figures for their significant contributions to the main body of knowledge on mangrove ecology for the last 40 years. They have recorded so many novel findings and published hundreds

of scientific reports and articles concerning Malaysian mangroves. Google these names and you will realise where Malaysia stands in the scientific world of mangroves. However, locally, their knowledge and contributions seem not to have been properly recognised or appreciated.

It occurs to me that the more scientific evidence we acquire, the more mangroves are being lost year in, year out. These scientists’ hard work and knowledge gains should be applied and utilised for the benefit of our mangroves, and this again actually puts Malaysia at the advantage to being a key global reference.

With the little knowledge on the characteristics and values of mangroves, it is very clear that this habitat is worthy to be fully protected and conserved. Partial protection and patchy exploitation resulted in the fragmentation of mangrove habitats, thus limiting their ability and lowering their efficiency in providing the many ecosystem services they naturally do.

Therefore, mangroves must be treated as a valuable inheritance. Here is a simple analogy: Being lucky, you inherit your great grandparents’ wealth in the form of high valued lands and properties. What would you do with these gifts? First, being smart, you would keep them as a fixed deposit or an insurance security for your kids and their kids to enjoy, as the value and benefits would surely increase with time.

Or secondly, being less smart, you dispose of and sell them piece by piece for some inconsiderable short term gains.

As a lucky nation, which option would Malaysia opt for?

Dr. A. Aldrie Amir is a Senior Lecturer and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He is also the coordinator of the Malaysian Mangrove Research Alliance and Network (MyMangrove)

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Indonesia: Hi-tech conservationists fight wildlife crime

Harry PEARL AFP Yahoo News 11 Mar 18;

From cutting-edge DNA barcoding to smartphone apps that can identify illegal wildlife sales, conservationists are turning to hi-tech tools in their battle against Indonesia's animal traffickers.

Spread across more than 17,000 islands, the Southeast Asian nation's dense tropical rainforests boast some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, from scaly pangolins to the endangered orangutan.

But that enormous array of flora and fauna means Indonesia is also on the frontline of an illicit global trade estimated to be worth as much as $23 billion a year -- a shadowy operation bringing some species to the brink of extinction.

To tackle the problem, conservationists have begun using a slew of new gadgets to protect the archipelago's rare and threatened wildlife.

"Without a doubt (technology) is probably one of the largest resources that will help the good guys get the bad guys," Matthew Pritchett, from anti-trafficking group Freeland Foundation, told AFP.

"The criminals that are behind the illegal wildlife trade are large organised syndicates that are extremely sophisticated."

To keep pace with these vast trafficking groups, activists are now deploying the kind of technology once reserved for combating drug cartels and crime lords.

For instance, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which works with Indonesian authorities to halt wildlife crime, uses similar computer software to map criminal networks and extract data from seized electronic devices.

- Hunting hotspots -

Conservation group International Animal Rescue Indonesia (IAR) is examining crime scene evidence with the help of DNA barcoding -- a taxonomic method that relies on short genetic sequences to identify species.

Tissue samples from confiscated animals can be cross-referenced with a database of stored genetic codes, helping to unambiguously differentiate between species and sub-species -- not all of which may be endangered.

For instance, IAR is building a barcode database for different species of slow loris, a cute but venomous primate being hunted to extinction for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

"If we have animals with a known origin and we have animals that appear, for example, in Jakarta, we can then compare the genetic samples," Christine Rattel, IAR programme advisor, told AFP.

"We can then track down the hunting hotspots and what the trading routes are."

Despite a raft of laws aimed at protecting Indonesia's wildlife, forest rangers and police are under-resourced and lack specialised scientific knowledge, experts say.

Detection is often left to NGOs that scan wildlife markets and social media for threatened species, carry out investigations in the field and then notify police.

"What a lot of people don't realise is that law enforcement officers are not biologists," Pritchett said.

"There might be some of them that specialise, but when it comes down to it we are talking about something like 25,000 to 30,000 species across the world that are protected from international trade."

- Few prosecutions -

This is a gap that the Freeland Foundation wanted to plug when it developed its smartphone identification app WildScan.

Law enforcement officials and members of the public can swipe and click through questions and photos to determine whether they have a protected species in front of them.

If it turns out they do, they can then photograph and report it to authorities across Southeast Asia using the app.

Pritchett said reports generated through the app -- which has a database of some 700 species and 2,000 photos -- have already resulted in authorities taking action in Indonesia and Thailand.

Still, despite the best efforts of conservationists and huge advances in technology, many experts believe the battle is being lost.

Outdated laws, scarce enforcement resources and low prosecution rates remain key challenges in halting the trade, according to a 2015 report by development agency USAID.

Above all, there is a lack of political will to tackle the lucrative black market, said Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), which uses drones to keep track of orangutans and illegal forest clearing that threatens their habitat.

"Without government will, no amount of technology will ever change anything," he said.

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Indonesia: Sumatran tiger kills a man in Riau

Agence France-Presse Jakarta Post 11 Mar 18;

A Indonesian man has been mauled to death by a Sumatran tiger in a remote village, authorities said Sunday, the second deadly attack this year.

Yusri Effendi, 34, was found with fatal wounds to his neck by workmates and local villagers in Riau province on Sumatra island on Saturday evening, the local conservation agency said.

The victim was working on a building to lure the edible-nest swiftlet in Tanjung Simpang village when the tiger began lurking around the construction site.

Several hours after first seeing the big cat, Effendi and his three workmates -- thinking the coast was clear -- made a dash for safety, only to come face-to-face with the animal a short distance away.

Effendi's colleagues, who all survived the incident, told authorities they scattered to evade the animal, but the victim was not so lucky.

A search party found the victim unconscious at the edge of a river a short time later, authorities said.

"[When] they opened his clothes they saw a gaping wound on his neck," the Riau conservation agency said in a statement.

Human-animal conflicts are common across the vast Indonesian archipelago, especially in areas where the clearing of rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is destroying animals' habitats and bringing them into closer contact with people.

Earlier this month, locals from Hatupangan village in North Sumatra disemboweled a Sumatran tiger and then hung the big cat from a ceiling after it attacked a pair of villagers.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with 400 to 500 remaining in the wild.

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Indonesia: 3-meter-high corpse flower blooms in Sinabung

Nurni Sulaiman The Jakarta Post 11 Mar 18;

A tall corpse flower, also known as titan arum, bloomed near Mount Sinabung in Tiga Nderket district in Karo regency, and attracted locals who came to look at the flower and take pictures. The last known occasion that such a flower bloomed in the area was in December 2016, locals said.

“People could come and see the flower closer because it could be reached by a motorcycle; even for a city car, it could be reached safely,” said local resident Sadrah Peranginangin.

In the past five years, locals noticed the plant had bloomed in the area at least five times, said Sarimin Purba, the secretary of Gunung Merlawan village.

On March 2, a local saw the flower, which at the time was only 1 meter high. Sadrah said over the weekend it had grown to about 3 m.

A visitor from Brastagi, Sugeng Nuryono, said besides looking at the flower, the 60 or so families living in the village nearby were also friendly and had interesting stories. “If you want to see the flower blooming, just coordinate with the local people,” said Sugeng.

It can take up to three years for the flower to grow from a seed to tall flower, which could reach up to 6 m in height. (evi)

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