Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 18

1 Apr: Registration opens for Sisters Islands Intertidal walks in May 2018
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Birding at Simei-Changi Business Park
Singapore Bird Group

Tree Top Treats & Sketchy Nights
Winging It

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No 'observable increase' in roadkill since Mandai development works began, says developer

Channel NewsAsia 29 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: There has been no "observable increase" in roadkill of wildlife animals since work began on the Mandai Project, said Philip Yim, senior vice-president of the Mandai Park Development, on Thursday (Mar 29).

He was responding to Channel NewsAsia's queries on the animals that have been killed by vehicles since the Mandai development works started.

Mr Yim confirmed that two incidents - involving a pangolin and a leopard cat - happened along Mandai Lake Road in September 2017 and February 2018, respectively. A sambar deer was also killed last month on Mandai Road, about 450m outside of the boundaries of the Mandai Project.

Mr Yim said that several measures have been implemented to prevent such incidents from happening since 2016, even before the development works started.

For instance, speed limits for most parts of Mandai Lake Road have been reduced to between 20 and 40kmh, while road humps and speed regulating strips have been put in place.

"In addition, there are wildlife crossing signs placed at multiple locations along the road and at car park entrances to remind drivers to slow down and pay attention to wildlife crossings," said Mr Yim.

"To raise awareness of the need for drivers to slow down for wildlife, we have also reached out to major transport companies (including taxis and private hire companies) and travel agents that operate tour buses."

He said that Mandai Park Holdings (MPH), the company that is driving the rejuvenation of the precinct, has been working with Animal Concerns Research and Education Society to rescue and rehabilitate animals that were involved in accidents as well.

It has also been consulting its environmental advisory panel, experts and stakeholders from the nature community to ensure that the project is being developed "sensitively and in careful consideration" of the neighbouring nature reserve and local wildlife in the area.

"The development is also guided by the recommendations of the Environmental Impact Assessment and we have been reviewing our monitoring data and progressively enhancing our measures in response to these learnings," said Mr Yim.

"We will continue to work with these partners to seek their inputs and identify new and innovative solutions to help reduce wildlife road incidents."


Mr Yim also shared that the construction of the eco-link bridge, which will link two parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and provide safe passage for wildlife in Mandai, has started and is underway.

It is slated for completion in 2019.

In the meantime, he said that MPH has begun adding "aerial crossing aids on Mandai Lake Road to facilitate connectivity for tree-dwelling animals" across the road.

"All incidents of roadkill are of concern to us, and we continually review the effectiveness of our speed reduction and wildlife protection measures, to strengthen them," Mr Yim said.

"We have a dedicated team that monitors and responds to wildlife road incidents within and around the project area. The public can report wildlife incidents along the road through our wildlife response hotline at 9088 5068."

Announced in January 2017, the Mandai Project is aimed at rejuvenating the Mandai area and includes a development of a new Rainforest Park in the same area as the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari.

The parks are located in close proximity to wildlife in Mandai.

Once developed, Mandai's eco-tourism hub is expected to attract more than 10 million visitors each year, as well as generate a significant number of jobs in conservation research, tourism and hospitality.

Source: CNA/ng

Make Mandai Road vehicle-light to reduce roadkill
Straits Times Forum 29 Mar 18;

The reports on the incidents of roadkill involving the critically endangered leopard cat and Sunda pangolin, as well as the rare sambar deer are deeply troubling (Animals affected by Mandai park works: Wildlife groups; March 24).

The animal deaths took place close to where the new Rainforest Park and relocated Bird Parkare being constructed.

Any road mortality involving our native wildlife, especially an endangered species, is one too many.

Developer Mandai Park Holdings (MPH) in 2016 had stated that mitigation measures at the construction and operation phases of the new development would reduce its impact on wildlife and that it was committed to being a responsible steward of nature.

MPH should keep its word.

This large new development sits next to our fragile Central Catchment Nature Reserve, where rare native species of our flora and fauna are found.

Hence, we would like to see smaller-scale developments and more effective mitigation measures.

We applaud the traffic-calming measures implemented, and that underground culverts are being retained along Mandai Lake Road for the safe passage of ground-dwelling wildlife.

But to effectively prevent more roadkill incidents involving endangered species, Mandai Lake Road should be made vehicle-light at the very least.

At best, the bigger Mandai Road should be diverted away from the wildlife-sensitive areas of theCentral Catchment Nature Reserve and moved north.

The new road could be designed to be Singapore's first wildlife-friendly road, while the current road becomes a park or is reforested.

Vilma D'Rozario (Ms)
Cicada Tree Eco-Place

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Malaysia: Too late to plant green seed among world's forgotten palm oil farmers?

Michael Taylor Reuters 29 Mar 18;

JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When palm oil farmer Isnin Kasno eventually retires, his three children will turn their backs on the family’s small plantation in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor.

Like many ageing oil palm growers in Southeast Asia, the 58-year-old struggles to make ends meet from his 2 hectares (5 acres), and his adult children have little appetite for the physically demanding work and dwindling financial rewards.

“It makes me very sad,” said Kasno, who planted his land in 1983 after working in Singapore’s construction industry. “Soon, when I no longer have the energy to help with the harvesting, my only option will be to lease my farm.”

There are more than 2 million smallholders tending 5.6 million hectares of land in Malaysia and Indonesia - the two countries that dominate the world’s supply of the vegetable oil used widely in food, household products and biodiesel.

This army of farmers produces about 40 percent of palm oil from those two countries.

Over the last decade, growing pressure from green groups and consumers has pushed big companies that produce, trade or buy palm oil to tackle labor abuses on plantations and commit to ending deforestation that is contributing to climate change.

But smallholders like Kasno have been left behind, say industry officials.

Only 78,000 smallholders are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body of consumer organizations, environmental groups and plantation firms that aims to make the industry greener and more ethical.

Some 35 years ago, Kasno and three workers spent 12 months clearing a plot of lush forest land near the city of Johor Bahru using chainsaws and burning.

The farmer planted oil palm on the carbon-rich peatland and then registered the land in his name for a nominal fee.

Kasno, who also does a part-time job to support his family, pays two Indonesians a monthly wage of 150 ringgit ($39) each to help harvest his plantation.

The father of three has heard of, but knows little about RSPO certification, a sustainability scheme that promotes best practice and is backed by major European buyers of palm oil.

The challenge for international companies now - faced with a scarcity of land to expand and the need to secure future supplies - is to work with small growers like Kasno, even though many farmers find it hard to follow sustainability rules.


Smallholders across the region often live in poverty and have only a basic education level, industry officials said.

Averaging from 2 to 7 hectares of land each, they struggle to make large profits because they do not use the latest farming methods, cannot buy the best fertilisers and pesticides cheaply, and their yields are usually lower than the industry average.

Unlike major palm growers, independent farmers also face logistical problems getting their fresh palm fruit to mills for processing, and are inefficient because they cannot afford modern farming equipment.

During low output months when seasonal monsoon rains are at their heaviest, their income can plummet, forcing them to cut down on labor costs or spending on fertilisers. This harms harvests and quality further.

Fluctuating global palm prices also hurt farmers - many of whom cannot access credit or insurance that would help them when extreme weather damages their crops.

Growing oil palm promised big profits 25 years ago but has turned out to be a “false dream” for many smallholders, said Marianne Martinet of The Forest Trust, a non-profit that works with large plantations, consumers and smallholders.

“The common challenge now is low productivity and yields ... also the financial ability to manage a business.”

Smallholders outside Johor Bahru said they need lower or subsidized fertilizer prices, training in the best farming practices, more help to increase yields and financial support from governments - especially when palm oil prices drop.

The children of smallholders in Malaysia, who complain about a lack of entertainment and the difficulty of finding a partner in rural areas, often seek better-paid work in urban areas. Halting that trend is crucial, farmers and dealers said.

“The priorities of smallholders, in most cases, (are) to put food on the table,” said Carl Bek-Nielsen, chief executive director of United Plantations, which has palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

“More resources need to be channeled to help smallholders, simply because they make up such a huge part of the (palm) cake. It’s a huge, huge task, but you have to start somewhere.”


Established back in 2004, the RSPO’s focus has been mostly on making large and medium-sized palm oil companies more sustainable, trying to achieve the maximum with limited funds.

But in 2012, it certified a first batch of smallholders, and three years later, set up a working group to look at how best to help them. In July last year, a roadmap was completed to open up the RSPO to more small growers, aimed at improving their livelihoods, sustainability and yields.

Eventually, with more funding and training, the goal is to make it easier for smallholders to get RSPO certification and access international markets. RSPO-certified palm oil is preferred by many European buyers, and is sold at a premium.

The RSPO launched a two-year pilot project late last year, partly funded by UN Environment, which will train smallholders in Sabah, Malaysia and Central Kalimantan in Indonesia.

“This is not only about economics but access to education, better healthcare,” said Julia Majail, RSPO associate director.

The RSPO project is similar to schemes backed by big palm buyers like Nestle, Unilever and Procter & Gamble (P&G), which partner with sustainability advisors like The Forest Trust, Wild Asia and Proforest.

Such schemes train pockets of smallholders to adopt modern farming techniques and ensure workplace safety, as well as to avoid planting on peatland or burning during land clearance.

Smoke from slash-and-burn agriculture is blamed for the polluting haze that brings health risks across Southeast Asia most years.

Besides helping farmers achieve RSPO certification, the hope is that other smallholders will notice the gains made by participating growers, and change their methods too.

“If we want to drive more production with the same land - improve productivity (and) minimize deforestation - the way to go about it is to work with the smallholders,” said Girish Deshpande, a global business planner at P&G.


But some say achieving RSPO certification is too costly and complicated for most smallholders, citing the remoteness of plantations, the number of middlemen in the supply chain and the scale of monitoring required.

“I’m now beginning to question whether certification is the route for smallholders,” said Simon Lord, chief sustainability officer at Sime Darby Plantation and former chair of the RSPO smallholders’ working group.

“It’s just sheer logistics. The number of audit hours to do that just blows it out of the water, in terms of expense.”

Lord, who has more than 30 years of industry experience, said smallholders should form collectives, while government-run schemes offer them an easier “entry level” into sustainability.

The RSPO is reviewing how to simplify its certification process and standards for smallholders, said Majail, a process likely to be finalised by November.

Back in rural Johor, Malaysian navy veteran Farid Harith, 48, spotted a trend of smallholders leaving their land back in 2004, and now manages 70 plantations for owners who have moved to the cities or are too elderly to manage their crops.

“A lot of young people go to study at university and then pursue corporate careers,” said Harith, who employs some 17 Indonesian workers to help him.

“It is a great loss, because I see the opportunities there are to make money in the palm plantations,” he added. “We need to change the mindset.”

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5 New Cities That Are Set To Shake Up The Future (For Better Or Worse)

Wade Shepard Forbes 29 Mar 18;

Entire new cities are being built across Asia and Africa as emerging markets step onto the global stage and challenge our paradigms of how the world works. Over 40 countries are currently building hundreds of new cities — places with names like Cyberjaya, Naypyidaw, Nanhui, Gracefield Island, Dompak, and Tbilisi Sea New City — which are attempts at redefining what entire nations are and the role that they play in the global economy of the future.

I will start this list with one of the most controversial new city building projects to break ground in recent years — or, as the case is, make ground. With $100 billion of funding behind it — roughly the total annual GDP of Morocco — Forest City is designed to be the Malaysia’s answer to Singapore.

Built as a partnership between the Chinese developer Country Garden and Esplanade Danga, which is 99.9% owned by the Sultan of Johor, Forest City was designed to attract masses of Singaporean residents and Chinese real estate investors looking to offshore their assets.

Forest City is nothing if not ambitious. It is idealized as a “city of the future” -- an eco-city four times the size of Central Park in New York where the buildings will be covered in plants and there will be no cars. Accommodation is currently being built for 700,000 people, as residential high-rises, office towers, shopping malls, and hotels are rising up from land that was reclaimed from the sea.

That’s right, Forest City is being built on four artificial islands which protrude from the tip of peninsular Malaysia and flank the northwestern corner of Singapore, which sits hardly two kilometers away.

According to an article by Nicole Kobie on Wired, Forest City will have “homes so smart they'll keep your orchid perfectly watered without human intervention, that a window broken by local children kicking around a football will be fixed before you return home.”

Due for completion in 2035, Forest City is envisioned to be a new economic engine that could compete with Singapore and create 220,000 jobs.

However, this is an endeavor that has been much maligned in the international and regional media. Criticisms revolve around the contradiction of an “eco-city” that is built on 162 million cubic meters of shipped in sand that has severely disrupted the surrounding maritime environment, to it being a political firing rod between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore, to a simple analysis of economic fundamentals: as in, who is actually going to buy and live in all of these new homes?

There are also some other elements of the project that come off as a little obtuse. Such as the fact that if 700,000 people really were to be packed into Forest City's 14 square kilometers it would make it the most densely populated place on the planet, as Kobie pointed out in her story for Wired.

Xiong’an New Area, China

China’s state-level new areas are pretty much guaranteed to succeed. That’s what recent history tells us, anyway. The state-level designation means that a new development area has the full support of Beijing — meaning billions of dollars of investment and the political power to move companies and institutions in -- by guile and fiat. Pudong (Shanghai), Binhai (Tianjin), Liangjiang (Chongqing), Nanshan (Guangzhou), and Tianfu (Chengdu) are all state-level new areas and, not coincidentally, are some of the biggest economic engines that China has today.

So when a new state-level new area is announced it not only garners a massive amount of attention but a massive amount of investors who are gung-ho to get in early and have few qualms about throwing down large sums of money. This is especially true when the new state-level new area is located near a city like Beijing and is touted as being a core part of a major massive development initiative to link multiple big cities together into a mega-region of unheard of proportions called Jing-Jin-Ji.

Xiong’an is the newest State-level new area in China, and early reports began positing that it could become “China’s third economic engine.” Created from scratch last April, the new development zone which sits 100 kilometers from Beijing sparked such a flurry of economic activity that investors proverbially broke the place. Regulators had to step in and temporarily pull the plug on local property sales as the prices spiked from $1,450 to $2,500 per square meter in a matter of days and a quarter of the 20 top stocks on the Shanghai exchange had to suspend trading for two days after eclipsing their daily limits.

Initially, Xiong’an is expected to cover an expanse of 100 square kilometers and then incrementally grow to become a 2,000 square kilometer colossus — which is significantly larger than Greater London.

It’s location was chosen to form a near perfect equilateral triangle with Beijing and Tianjin, but it’s location is far enough away from both to inhibit commuting, which will apply pressure for the place to become a true new city by requiring it to develop all aspects of a well-balanced urban environment. As Steven McCord from JLL mentioned on his blog:

Nor is Xiong’an envisioned as a “bedroom community” commuter suburb. Instead, it will be an entirely new city. At an equivalent distance from Beijing as the city of Tianjin, daily commutes are not practical, even with high-speed rail. The project has more in common with “new capitals”, cities purpose-built by edict around the world such as Canberra in Australia, Brasilia in Brazil, and Putrajaya in Malaysia.

However, the Xiong’an strategy takes this idea and turns it inside-out: the new city’s purpose is to be everything that Beijing doesn’t want to be, and allow Beijing to strengthen its core purpose of being the national administrative centre.

Xiong’an is meant to become a new hub for China’s trademark economic “experimentation,” where more free-market policies and systems are tried out in an almost laboratory-like setting that can be easily controlled and adapted. The place is meant to become a hub for research, education, and high-tech R&D, and we can expect to see a large amount of such institutions — such as firms from the Zhongguancun tech zone and science and engineering units from established universities — being shipped in.

Nurkent, Kazakhstan

Far out on the Eurasian steppes, one tick from the Eurasian Pole of Inaccessibility — the farthest point on earth from an ocean — is a bi-national development zone that is set to shake up how we view the economic potential of the inland realms of Eurasia.

Straddling the border between China and Kazakhstan is a place called Khorgos. On the Chinese side there is the $3.25 billion new city of Horgos that is being built for 200,000 people and on the Kazakhstan side is the Khorgos East Gate special economic zone, which contains the 49% Chinese owned Khorgos Gateway dry port. Connecting the two sides is the International Center for Boundary Cooperation, which is a one of a kind bi-national duty free zone.

While multifaceted urban development is booming on the Chinese side of this development area, the Kazakh side remains rather, let's say, transport-oriented. At this point, it’s basically just a train station. But this is all set to change, and Nurkent is what’s intended to put the wheels of this transition in motion.

Nurkent is a purpose-built new city that links together the various transportation and industrial projects of the Khorgos area. As of now, it is basically just a work camp of 1,200 people — the employees of the dry port and nearby customs offices and train station and their families — but it is set to grow into a full-fledged 100,000 person commercial and cultural center by 2035. This is an endeavor that is coming straight down from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev himself, it is said, and it is a key part of his $9 billion Nurly Zhol initiative to diversify Kazakhstan’s economy via the transportation sector. $34 million has already been allocated for the new city and, if what Nazarbeyev did with Astana is any indication, expect big changes to come to Nurkent in the near future.

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