Best of our wild blogs: 14 Mar 18

18 Mar (Sun): FREE screening of "Birth of a Marine Park"
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Nudibranchs – What on earth are they?
Hantu Blog

Garden in the City (Part I): Tracing the Legal History of Singapore’s Green Spaces

How Singapore firms are shrinking their packaging footprint

Read more!

A Malaysian Insta-City Becomes a Flash Point for Chinese Colonialism — and Capital Flight

BROOK LARMER New York Times Magazine 13 Mar 18;

Off the southern coast of Malaysia, a futuristic city is rising from the sea. An artificial island, the first of four that will anchor the projected $100 billion Forest City project, has materialized in the Straits of Johor, the channel that separates the Malay Peninsula from Singapore. Three years ago, this was open water. Today, a phalanx of half-built high-rises stretches across the new island, a flock of construction cranes hovering above. When completed, Forest City is expected to cover an area the size of four Central Parks and accommodate 700,000 residents. The metropolis will evoke a high-tech Atlantis, a “smart” eco-city where spacecraft-shaped towers will be draped with greenery, all motorized traffic will flow underground and every inch of the island cluster will be monitored by a state-of-the-art security system. In the words of a promotional video: “It is a pride and dream paradise for all mankind.”

Forest City is billed as one of China’s biggest overseas development projects, but it is hardly the world’s first insta-city. We are, in fact, living in the golden age of the master-planned metropolis. In the last two decades, more than 100 new cities have been (or are being) created from scratch, according to Sarah Moser, an assistant professor of geography at Montreal’s McGill University, where she runs a research lab that tracks new cities. These recent additions to the map tend to arise in developing countries like Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda, Myanmar and Indonesia.

The center of this city-building frenzy is China, where most of the urban landscape has been created anew over the last 30 years. Forest City, however, takes the trend into a strange new dimension. It sits inside Malaysian territory, yet it has been designed, financed and marketed mainly by and for mainland Chinese (and members of the Chinese diaspora). Forest City’s developer, Country Garden, is one of many powerful Chinese real estate companies that have expanded overseas as growth slows at home. Its Malaysian partner is a company controlled by Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, royal heir to the 500-year-old sultanate of Johor. Even as the sultan ties his family legacy to the project — his portrait hangs prominently in the sales gallery — he has also afforded the Chinese investors a remarkable degree of autonomy. After all, Country Garden knows exactly how to appeal to the needs and longings of China’s aspirational middle class.

A staff of 70 salespeople in bright yellow golf shirts greets prospective customers, and their sales pitches highlight many reasons Chinese are looking to invest abroad: a clean environment (none of China’s pollution here); a Western education (a Minnesota boarding school will open a Forest City branch this fall); a hedge against an uncertain future (Malaysia offers long-term visas as well as a path toward citizenship). There’s also the comfort of high-level security — retinal scans and facial-recognition cameras — for a population conditioned to think of Big Brother as benign. Nepali guards patrol Forest City around the clock — in part, one salesman said, because Chinese clients might not feel comfortable interacting with local Muslims.

Within a year of putting its initial offerings on the market in December 2015, Forest City had sold 80 percent of all units on the first island. The project is a relatively cheap alternative to property havens in North America, Australia and China itself. A luxury two-bedroom apartment costs only $180,000 in Forest City, about a third of what it would command in Shanghai. Still, the sheer volume in sales means that Forest City raked in more than $3 billion in 2016 alone, according to the company. Much of this money was Chinese flight capital, but Country Garden has tried to make buying into Forest City seem almost patriotic. One Olympic-themed show unit features the gold-medal shooters Du Li and Pang Wei, who have invested here, too. (A sign proclaims in Chinese: “Welcome home, Olympic champions!”) Throughout the sales tour, potential buyers are reminded that Forest City sits in a strategic geographical position for China — astride a vital maritime route that connects their homeland with the rest of the world.

But after a banner year in 2016, Forest City encountered significant setbacks in 2017 — revealing some of the fault lines created by the phenomenal growth of Chinese wealth. The uncomfortable fact that hundreds of thousands of Chinese may soon be residents of Malaysia led a former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, to lash out at the project last year. “We should realize that once we sell land to others, we no longer have any ownership over it,” he said. The sultan of Johor accused Mahathir of “playing the politics of fear and race” ahead of nationwide elections in which the former prime minister is running. But Mahathir, 92, railed on. He even compared the situation to the sultanate’s sale of the neighboring island of Temasek to the British nearly two centuries ago. That island is now the wealthy city-state Singapore.

Geopolitics only added to the controversy. Forest City sits just a few miles off the Straits of Malacca, an indispensable channel for commerce ever since the beginning of the global spice trade in the 16th century. Today the straits are China’s Achilles’ heel, a vulnerable choke point through which 80 percent of its oil imports flow. China is building pipelines, ports and railways in Pakistan and Myanmar to relieve its dependence on this waterway. It is also lavishing Malaysia with large investments, like a $7.2 billion port complex in Malacca, to secure its position along the straits. Forest City is not a government infrastructure project, but it is a largely autonomous Chinese outpost in a strategic location. “Where else in the world has a foreign company created new land in another country, populated it with people from its home country and asserted sovereignty over it?” Moser asks. “This is a brand-new level of colonial expansion.”

And yet the greatest blow to Forest City last year was struck by the Chinese government, through a set of new restrictions that underscore the tension inherent in Beijing’s economic vision, in which it encourages companies to “go global” yet fears the exodus of its citizens’ new wealth. Over the last decade, China has seen an estimated $3.8 trillion in capital leave the country, much of it going into offshore real estate. In an effort to crack down on rampant capital flight, Beijing tightened its capital controls, making it nearly impossible for investors to send large amounts of money out of the country. The limit on foreign transfers remains $50,000 a year per person, but now senders must sign a pledge that no money will be used to buy property — and face investigation if they violate the pledge. The tougher controls have strengthened China’s currency and stabilized its foreign reserves, but many Chinese investors, including some Forest City customers, were left stranded: They had made down payments on their tropical idylls, but banks wouldn’t let them send the rest.

Soon after the restrictions were put in place, Country Garden shuttered its Forest City sales offices in China — “for renovation,” a notice said — and scrambled to find new customers in Dubai, Japan, Thailand and beyond. Yu Runze, the president of Country Garden Pacificview, the joint venture that runs Forest City, told Today, a Singapore newspaper, last year that capital controls gave them “an opportunity to shift our sales strategy to be more international.” Forest City hasn’t revealed its 2017 sales figures, so it’s hard to tell just how much its business has suffered.

Still, on a recent Saturday, a few hundred visitors — almost all of them Mandarin speakers — circulated through the sales gallery. They gaped at the sleek scale model with “sold out” towers, tested a facial-recognition camera and ate dumplings at one of the Chinese restaurants. No transactions seemed to be taking place, but outside, the flock of construction cranes kept moving and Forest City continued to rise. “There are so many permutations on how this project can move ahead that it’s unwise to write it off prematurely,” Yu said. “Never underestimate the resolve of a new China.” /•/

Brook Larmer is a contributing writer for the magazine.

Kirsten Han contributed reporting from Forest City.

Read more!

Malaysia: Forestry officials seize timber worth RM3mil

The Star 14 Mar 18;

BERA: The Pahang Forestry Department has confiscated 2,400 pieces of valuable wood worth more than RM3mil believed to have been logged illegally from the Chini Forest Reserve and the Chini Forest Reserve Extension.

JPNP director Datuk Dr Mohd Hizamri Mohd Yasin said the seized logs were high-value meranti and keruing timber estimated to weigh 2,500 tonnes.

According to Bernama, the raid was carried out on Saturday by 60 State Forestry Department personnel following information from the public.

The personnel came across nine heaps of logs around the forest reserve.

“Subsequently, the department detained four local men who were transporting the split wood out,” he told reporters after inspecting the location here.

The men, aged between 20 and 60, were all released later on police bail after their statements were taken to assist investigation for possession of forest products.

Also seized were three tractors, two four-wheel-drive vehicles and a lorry.

He said the men appeared to be professional.

At the same time, he said, the department would utilise the RM1mil allocated by the Government to buy drones and new vehicles to monitor illegal logging.

“We will also continue to use the forest monitoring using remote sensing (FMRS Plus) system developed by the Peninsular Malaysia Forestry headquarters to see the extent of the damage caused,” he added.

Read more!

Malaysia: Elephant found shot dead in Perak with tusks and trunk removed

ivan loh The Star 13 Mar 18;

GERIK: A 30-year-old male elephant was found shot to death at Hutan Piah here, with its trunk and tusks removed.

Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order director Comm Datuk Seri Zulkifli Abdullah said the animal is believed to have been killed a week ago.

"The dead animal was found some 15km from the main road of Jalan Gerik-Kuala Kangsar," he said.

Comm Zulkifli said that the animal was shot three times, twice in its head and once more in its rear.

He said upon receiving a tip off, a team comprising the police, General Operation Forces and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, arrested four men aged between 40 and 49 at various locations on Sunday (Mar 11).

"One of them led the police to a house in Kampung Padang Jeri here where they found two rifles, two homemade shotguns, RM10,500 in cash, 255 bullets, wire traps, machetes, chainsaw and various hunting equipment.

"We also seized a deer horn and seven bone fragments, believed to be from a tiger," he said.

"All four suspects will be remanded until March 18 to be investigated for possessing illegal firearms, unlicensed weapons or ammunitions and for carrying weapons in public," he added.

Cops take down jumbo hunters
ivan loh The Star 14 Mar 18;

GERIK: The police have arrested four men and seized firearms along with hunting equipment used in illegal hunts here.

This followed the discovery of a 30-year-old male elephant which was shot dead at Hutan Piah, about 15km from Jalan Gerik-Kuala Kangsar, here on Sunday.

Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order director Comm Datuk Seri Zulkifli Abdullah said a 40-man raiding team, including police and Department of Wildlife and Na­­tional Parks (Perhilitan) officers, arrested the four, aged between 40 and 49, at various locations.

“One of them led police to a house in Kampung Padang Jeri where they found two rifles, two homemade shotguns, 255 bullets, wire traps, machetes, chainsaw and other equipment used for hunting.

“Police also seized RM10,500, a deer horn and seven bone pieces believed to be from a tiger,” he told a press conference here.

Comm Zulkifli said those arrested included a 44-year-old contractor from Kuala Lumpur, who works with the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, a 40-year-old backhoe operator from Kota Baru, Kelantan, a 49-year-old latex seller from Lenggong and a rubber tapper, 40, from here.

“The latex seller has two criminal cases for extortion, he said.

“All four suspects will be remanded until March 18 to be investigated for possessing illegal firearms, unlicensed weapons or ammunitions and also for carrying weapons in public,” he added.

Comm Zulkifli said one of the suspects had admitted to selling an elephant tusk to a middleman at the border of Rantau Panjang for RM12,000.

“The market value for a tusk is between RM200 and RM400 per 100g, based on demand.

“From the suspect’s account, he started hunting illegally since 2009,” he said, adding that the police believed that some 20 elephants have been killed by the suspects.

“A post-mortem conducted by Perhilitan at its forensics department in Cheras showed that the animal was shot twice in the head and once on its right buttock,” he added.

Comm Zulkifli appealed to the public and related non-governmental organisations for information with regards to illegal hunting activities.

FRIM DG: our people not involved with killing elephant in Gerik, Perak
ivan loh The Star 14 Mar 18;

IPOH: The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) has denied that one of the suspects involved with the killing of a male elephant in Hutan Piah, Gerik, works for them.

A FRIM Corporate Communication Unit spokesman said its director-general Datuk Dr Abd Latif Mohmod took immediate action to verify the matter and confirmed that the person implicated was neither a contract staff nor a contractor engaged to provide services to them.

“We are outraged by the senseless killing and appalled at the thought that one of our staff may be involved in this case,” he said, adding that it was important for him to clarify the situation because the report may affect FRIM’s image and reputation.

"FRIM takes a serious view on any misconduct of its employees and gave its assurance to the public that anyone found to be involved in any illegal activities will face severe and immediate action," he added.

This was following the discovery on Sunday of a 30-year-old male elephant which had been shot dead in the forest, about 15km from the Gerik-Kuala Kangsar road.

Those arrested included a 44-year-old contractor from Kuala Lumpur, a 40-year-old backhoe operator from Kota Baru, Kelantan, a 49-year-old latex seller from Lenggong, Perak and a 40-year-old rubber tapper from Gerik.

Apart from money and equipment used for hunting, other items seized from the suspects included a deer horn and bone pieces, believed to be from a tiger.

Elephant poachers arrested in Malaysia
AFP 13 Mar 18;

Four heavily armed poachers who targeted wild elephants in Malaysia have been caught, officials said Tuesday, the second such arrest in less than two years.

Wildlife officials said the gang caught near the town of Gerik in the northern Malaysian state of Perak was found with deer antlers and suspected tiger bones.

A joint police and wildlife department investigation also led the agents to find an elephant shot dead by the poachers in a nearby forest with its tusks ripped out.

"This crew is notorious. They hunt elephants," wildlife department chief Abdul Kadir Abdul Hashim told AFP.

"There are maybe two more (poaching) groups (in the area). We are working together with the police on this."

A police statement said weapons including rifles and homemade shotguns as well as animal snares were found after they arrested the gang.

The elephant's tusks were not found, with a wildlife official believing that they were already sold.

He added that the gang -- all locals -- were believed to have been operating since 2009, and were also active in the nearby state of Kelantan.

The arrests come a year after a seven-man gang was arrested in Kelantan, with explosives, guns and parts of tusks seized.

Elizabeth John, senior communications officer of wildlife trade watchdog Traffic Southeast Asia, hoped to see more busts like these in the future.

"The seizure of high powered weapons clearly shows what wildlife and other authorities are up against," she said.

There are believed to be some 1,200 wild Asian elephants in peninsular Malaysia, down from as many as 1,700 in 2011.

Though endangered and protected by law, many of these pachyderms have been hunted for their ivory, which can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market.

Read more!

Talks focus on upscaling the use of mangroves eco-systems to reduce disaster risks

Government of Tonga ReliefWeb 13 Mar 18;

Mangrove eco-systems around the region were the focus of talks in Suva, Fiji last week as regional representatives joined experts in discussing how the mangroves eco-systems can help reduce risks in the face of changing climate.

Hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the workshop combined government representatives from Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, who joined the IUCN and three representatives from the ‘Mangroves for the Future’ in Asia and the ‘Global Mangrove Alliance’ partners.

Tonga was represented by Ms Ta’hirih Fifita Hokafonu, the Principal Assistant Secretary (Principal Biodiversity Officer & Head of Biodiversity Division) at the Department of Environment here with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MEIDECC).

The workshop was held under the theme “Mangrove Eco-systems for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Deduction”.

Regional representatives heard from technical experts from India, Pakistan and Australia, who shared learnings from their own countries and also from experts of the Mangroves for the Future.

Ms Hokafonu said the workshop identified a number of issues relating to the mangroves eco-systems in the different countries.

“Pacific islands heard the status of mangroves initiatives in the region from country status report and the need for more technical assistance on that area,” she said.

“The workshop acknowledged that there is the need for national level to upscale mangroves initiatives at the region to address climate change adaptation and risk resilience.

“And the need to have continued collaboration with the IUCN in leading mangroves initiatives with provided forum spaces for Pacific Islands to share learning and knowledge.”

Participants were able to establish a common and shared understanding of opportunities for mangrove conservation and restoration for reducing direct and indirect impacts of disasters and climate change impacts and discussed the importance of and benefits from highly biodiverse and intact mangrove ecosystems versus restored mono-cultures. The trend of thought that it is enough talk and time for action with expectation that countries representative with the acquired new information can act on identified opportunities to enhancing mangroves initiative at national and at regional level.

The concept of nature based solutions for disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and community resilience was highlighted during the workshop and participants were able to learn from the sharing of knowledge and experiences from ‘Mangroves for the Future in Asia-Pacific’.

These would help in the planning process for the future work of the Pacific Mangrove Initiative.

A major discussion during the workshop was based on the learning provided from the ‘Mangroves for the Future’ organization with their proven approach for consideration in mobilization for a type of regional initiative for Oceania.

Part of the workshop programme carried out field visit to the ‘My Suva Park’ along Suva Point where participants witnessed recent efforts in mangrove replanting and visiting the proposed Eco-Park project in Vatuwaqa.

Ms Hokafonu said learnings from the workshop would be shared amongst her colleagues at the Department of Environment, and with communities who play a major role in managing mangrove areas and its associated species in Tonga.

The Department of Environment play a leading role in coordinating programmes aimed at restoring mangrove plantations around the Kingdom, including the Tonga Ridge to Reef’s Fanga’uta Lagoon Catchment Area from Popu’a to Manuka and mangrove forests on Vava’u, Ha’apai and other parts of Tongatapu.

Read more!

World’s great forests could lose half of all wildlife as planet warms – report

From the Amazon to Africa, WWF report predicts catastrophic losses of as much as 60% of plants and 50% of animals by the end of the century
Jonathan Watts The Guardian 14 Mar 18;

The world’s greatest forests could lose more than half of their plant species by the end of the century unless nations ramp up efforts to tackle climate change, according to a new report on the impacts of global warming on biodiversity hotspots.

Mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds are also likely to disappear on a catastrophic scale in the Amazon and other naturally rich ecosysterms in Africa, Asia, North America and Australia if temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, concludes the study by WWF, the University of East Anglia and the James Cook University.

The research in the journal Climate Change examined the impact of three different levels of warming – 2C (the upper target in the 2015 Paris agreement), 3.2C (the likely rise given existing national commitments) and 4.5C (the forecast outcome if emissions trends remain unchanged) on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most biodiverse regions.

If governments fail to set more ambitious commitments than those currently on the table, the report projects devastating losses of more than 60% of plant species and almost 50% of animal species in the Amazon at a temperature rise of 3.2C.

If countries lift their efforts sufficiently to reach the 2C goal, the outlook is improved – but still grim – with more than 35% of species at risk of local extinction in the region. If no actions are taken, the picture is apocalyptic, with a likely loss of more than 70% of plant and reptile species and a more than 60% decline of mammal, reptile and bird species in the Amazon.

The picture was similarly alarming in the two other worst affected areas – south-west Australia and the Miombo woodlands in Africa. But nowhere among the selected 35 hotspots escaped massive losses of wildlife, which would have a dire knock-on effect on human society and wellbeing.

The authors considered how warmer weather and wilder rainfall patterns (more droughts and storms) could negatively affect savannas in Africa, jungles in Bangladesh, the Cerrado-Pantanal in Brazil, the Yangtze delta and coastlines in Europe, Madagascar and the Caribbean. It noted how this would create tensions over water between humans and animals, for example African elephants, which drink as much as 250 litres (50 gallons) a day. Sea-level rises would also be devastating for many species, such as tigers in the Sundarbans, which would see 96% of breeding grounds submerged.

The losses might even be higher because the disappearance of one species - such as a tree - can have a knock-on effect on other ecosystems. Fewer plants can also means less rain, according to other recent studies on the role played by the Amazon. More pressing risks – such as habitat loss from land clearance and pollution – were not accounted for.

William Laurance, director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, said: “For the Amazon and Guianas, the WWF report is scary as hell. The loss of half or more of the region’s stunning plant diversity would be a biological blow of almost unimaginable severity.

“However, such computer models with all their assumptions and complexities are really ‘scientific cartoons’ giving us only a rough sketch of the future. But even if they’re only half right, these are very frightening cartoons indeed.”

The study considered two main ways to reduce these losses: adaptation (helping species to migrate to new territories) and mitigation (cutting greenhouse gases more aggressively). The former produced modest improvements thanks to the creation of eco-corridors between protected areas, but this was little help to slow-moving or almost stationary groups, such as orchids, plants, amphibians and reptiles. WWF said there may be a need to translocate such species, which would otherwise be outrun by the pace of climate change.

A partial solution may be relocation. Some animals, such as wolves, have been successfully reintroduced to their former ranges. A paper published today by the Royal identified 130 areas across the globe that might be suitable for carnivore reintroduction and concluded that rewilding will be essential for conservation in the future.

Far better, the authors say, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep warming as close to 1.5C as possible.

“The numbers are a bit of a wake-up call,” said Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser to WWF on climate issues. “If there is one message it is that mitigation makes a big difference. But even that is not enough for a lot of species ... What will be the new normal in coming decades is not something that wildlife has seen before.”

Experts on Amazon wildlife said the findings were alarming, though they noted that such projections are a rough guide to the future.

Last month, a separate study predicted an ecological tipping point if 25% of the Amazon is deforested, which would cause droughts and environmental degradation over a wider area. The authors argue the 2014-15 drought in São Paulo is a precursor to what may come unless deforestation is halted and more trees are planted. While this is contentious and relates to the size of the forest rather than the number of species, it highlights the wider impacts of a diminished Amazon, which would apply to a different extent with the weakening of forests in other countries.

Many species are already at risk from other factors, such as habitat destruction, invasive rivals and disease. Climate change adds to those pressures, prompting fears that a sixth mass extinction is already underway.

Read more!