Best of our wild blogs: 23 Apr 18

Coral Rebirth on Satumu reef
Hantu Blog

Red-tailed Rasbora (Rasbora borapetensis @ Kranji Marshes
Monday Morgue

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Saving the environment, one image at a time

Visual impact of nature documentaries can spark efforts to save the planet
Cheow Sue-ann Today Online 23 Apr 18;

At the rate it is going, some of the world's natural habitat and wildlife might not be around for long.

That is why passionate nature documentarians work so hard to preserve these sights in pictures and on film.

Increasingly, such work has inspired viewers to take action to save the planet.

Planet Earth, BBC's award-winning documentary series, returned in 2016 with a strong message on the impact of activities like deforestation.

Two years later, its sister series, Blue Planet, returned with a sequel that had such hard-hitting images about the impact of plastic waste on our oceans that the series' parent company, BBC, immediately banned plastic cups and utensils in its offices.

One particularly moving scene featured a hawksbill turtle tangled in a plastic sack.

The British government has also announced more efforts to relook plastic pollution in the oceans as a result of the series.

The reaction does not surprise Mike Gunton, executive producer of the award-winning Planet Earth 1 and 2, especially in light of the influence of social media.

"We have been talking about the issue of plastics in the ocean for so many years, but the message had fallen on deaf ears," he told The New Paper over the phone from New York recently.

"But in recent years, as the younger people, the social media generation, get fired up, they see things such as the plastics in Blue Planet and call out for more to be done, leading to real change."

Gunton and the teams that spend years capturing footage is heartened by the response.

"When working on such documentaries, every day is filled with memorable sights and moments," he said.

"You get to know these creatures and when you leave, it feels like you are leaving family.

"For example, watching a mother protecting her young is one of the most beautiful things. It is so easy to relate to. As a parent, I see my own life in them."

Gunton added that being a parent to three daughters, he wants to show them as much of the natural world while it is still around, but he often wonders how long it will still be there.

The nature documentary, he said, has real potential to effect change.

"If one can find ways to get the audience to feel something for the animals and connect with the image, then we have achieved half of the goal," he said, bringing up the much-watched clip from Planet Earth 2 of an iguana being chased by a mass of snakes.

"When you see that trapped iguana escape, you cannot help but cheer.

"I would like to think that (the documentary can impact conservation in the world). People feel pleasure watching the documentary and enjoying it, but they also feel like this is something important or valuable and want to do something to make sure it is not lost."

He said that part of the challenge in producing documentaries, is remaining objective and ensuring that the documentary does not push an agenda.

He added: "We have to let people decide for themselves."

In Planet Earth 2, an episode featuring urban habitats includes a discussion on how Singapore coexists with its local wildlife.

For the episode, Gunton spent some time here and found Singapore to a be a "forward-thinking, green city".

He said: "Singapore is making interesting efforts to allow humans and animals to coexist. Singapore shows that, with just a small amount of forethought, it is possible to create a happy cohabitation."


Young documentarians here say more can be done to capture and preserve the biodiversity we pride ourselves on.

Kennie Pan, 28, who photographs rare local bird species in Singapore, said: "As so many habitats are disappearing, it becomes important to capture the behaviour and images of these birds, so at least future generations have something of it left."

Pan's photographs of wildlife has won him several international awards.

He said that while there is little market and appreciation in Singapore for wildlife photography and documentaries, he finds some personal motivation in capturing such images.

He said: "Even if it is an ordinary mynah, doing something extraordinary - so many Singaporeans do not even realise that we have wildlife - to be able to capture it to show people is really fulfilling."

Pan hopes his work can go some way in raising awareness.

He said: "When Singaporeans are aware of and appreciate the wildlife, there could be more interest in conservation."

Young documentary filmmaker, Rachel Quek, 23, who received the National Geographic Young Explorer's Grant last year to document the relationship between people and mangroves in Pulau Ubin, agrees it is time to step up efforts to document Singapore's nature.

She said: "The reason we destroy things is for convenience, and this desire to get things (done) faster affects nature and the community.

"But when we understand the story or get out there and realise that we have all this nature, it could ignite a desire to make a difference."

Her film, Ubin, Sayang, which was released last year, documents the people and wildlife in Ubin and exploresthe residents' relationship with the environment.

Quek said her impression of what village living was all about was changed during the process of making the film.

She said: "It is as much about the community as it is about living and working with the space and wildlife."

Ms Laura Glassman, vice-president, Factual Channels, National Geographic, Fox Networks Group Asia, said the channel believes that the documentaries it creates become a tool it uses to speak to audiences.

She said: "We have covered conservation stories and issues the world faces on climate, population pressures etc. Much of our content focuses on education as we push the boundaries of knowledge, with the aim to give the world both the tools and information they need to inspire generations of responsible citizens."

Similarly, Pan and Quek also feel that documentaries can help raise awareness in Singapore.

Quek said: "Singaporeans don't even know about many of these places. And sometimes we just need to point them out, and when people go out and see them and understand the stories, that is the first step."

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Reports of alleged animal cruelty cases up, but actual cases fall

Aqil Hamzah The New Paper 23 Apr 18;

Someone once called the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to give a tip-off about a cat killer.

But investigations showed that the so-called killer's alleged victim had died from an attack by stray dogs.

The AVA said it has been receiving more complaints about animal cruelty over the years, but many of them were found to be not cases of cruelty.

This led to the unusual situation where the number of confirmed animal cruelty cases fell by seven from 2016 to last year despite the number of complaints rising by 47 over the same period.

In 2016, the AVA received 323 complaints, but investigations confirmed that only 29 were cruelty related.

Last year, the complaints rose to 370, but only 22 turned out to be cases of cruelty.

This year, as of March, there have been 122 complaints, of which 55 are being investigated.

Mr Joshua Teoh, director of the regulatory department for AVA's animal management group, told The New Paper: "Precious time and resources are expended on such cases, only to find they were inaccurate or grossly exaggerated.

"This time could otherwise have been spent on genuine cases to protect and help animals."

And it is not just the AVA that has had to waste resources on false leads.

While unable to provide figures, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it has also been receiving more complaints on animal cruelty.

SPCA executive director Jaipal Singh Gill cited a complaint about a crocodile kept in such a small container that it could not straighten its tail.

Investigations found that it was a wooden toy with a curled-up tail.


In another case two weeks ago, cat lover Tiffany Heng posted on Facebook that about 40 cats had been poisoned at North Link Building in an industrial estate in Admiralty.

She claimed several cats had been found dead but later changed it to four dead among an estimated feline population of 20.

Her post was shared by cat lovers who directed their ire at North Link's management.

But only one dead cat was found recently, North Link's management told Ms Heng during a meeting with her and SPCA officers on April 9.

The cause of death is unknown because the body had been disposed of.

North Link's spokesman told TNP: "SPCA has directly clarified this situation as a non-issue and closed the case."

Ms Heng has since removed her post.

Despite most complaints not panning out, the SPCA's Dr Gill advised anyone who suspects a case of animal abuse to speak to an SPCA officer.

"The public should not avoid making complaints if they feel there is a legitimate case where an animal was harmed, even if they do not have concrete evidence," he said.

"We need to be careful to not make assumptions until an investigation is carried out."

Among abuse cases this year was a cat found drenched in blood in Jurong in January.

A veterinarian discovered a stab wound in its mouth, apparently made by a knife, but was unable to save the animal.

AVA said investigations are ongoing.

The AVA's Mr Teoh said that while the public should avoid spreading misinformation or speculation on animal deaths, they should still contact AVA's 24-hour hotline at 1800-476-1600 if they suspect a case of animal cruelty.

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Stargazing and intertidal walks part of new family camps launched by People's Association

Adrian Lim Straits Times 22 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Parents can learn about astronomy through star gazing, as well as discover marine creatures during an intertidal walk with their children, in a series of themed camps launched by the People's Association (PA) on Sunday (April 22).

The camps, aimed at promoting family bonding and getting parents and their children to go outdoors, will be held in June and November at a new campsite built at Jalan Mempurong in Sembawang.

The 7,000 sq m site, which is located beside the PA's Sembawang Water-Venture facility, can accommodate about 200 campers at a time and received its temporary occupation permit status in February.

Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak said the campsite makes use of the surrounding nature - such as the lush greenery and intertidal zones - to provide an ideal setting for educational family activities.

The campsite will also benefit young families which are now moving into his constituency's Build-to-Order Housing Board flats, Dr Lim added.

These thematic family camps, which are two-day, one-night affairs, revolve around three themes: A science camp with activities such as a forest walk and stargazing; A pets camp to let families experience being a pet owner; and an eco camp with a coastal clean up and kayaking.

The PA intends to reach out to 1,000 participants through these camps this year.

The inaugural run of the science camp concluded on Sunday, with 22 families taking part.

One of the campers, financial planner Kelvin Ang, 41, who was with his wife and three children, said the camp was well-facilitated with tents provided by the PA and lessons given on how to pitch them.

"It's a good way to enjoy camping as a first-time experience. I think it's very important for kids to see the outdoors, and I believe in experiential learning outside the classroom," said Mr Ang.

Parents can visit the official PA Water-Venture Facebook page for more information and to register for the camps.

The pets camp will take place on June 2 and 3, the next science camp on June 9 and 10, and the eco camp on June 16 and 17. Dates for November's camps will be announced later.

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Earth Day: Shared umbrellas to cut carbon footprint

Calvin Yang Straits Times 23 Apr 18;

An initiative that involves sharing umbrellas is encouraging Nee Soon South residents to walk when it rains, instead of taking a car for a short distance, in a bid reduce their carbon footprint.

The move was launched by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah during a litter-picking exercise as part of Earth Day activities yesterday.

The initiative was among a series of activities that took place over the weekend to mark Earth Day, which is observed on April 22.

The umbrella-sharing initiative encourages residents to do their part to save the earth, said Ms Lee. "It is also cheaper and healthier."

She added that "walking and taking the public transport reduce air pollution and emissions", which slows down global warming and helps to preserve our environment.

Several events elsewhere in Singapore also focused on getting people to play a part in saving the environment. These included pupils planting trees, and hotels encouraging guests to reuse towels and linen as well as rallying staff to carpool.

On Saturday, Keppel Land and Keppel Reit Management, both subsidiaries of Keppel Corporation, held a public screening of A Plastic Ocean at the Singapore Botanic Gardens to raise awareness on the urgent challenge of climate change. The documentary reveals the consequences of plastic pollution.

At the screening, individuals submitted an online pledge to do their part to combat climate change.

Some also brought their own bottles and used the water dispensers provided on-site, instead of purchasing plastic bottled drinks. Carpets made from recycled materials, such as discarded fishing nets, were also provided as substitutes for plastic mats for the audience to sit on.

At the event, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said that while Singapore has taken steps - from developing measures to clean up waterways to putting in place an integrated waste management and collection system - involvement from individuals and organisations is needed to tackle environmental issues.

"Government efforts alone can neither curb excessive plastic usage nor ensure that our waters are free from plastics," she said. "We need to work together to bring about a plastic-free ocean, and address the larger issue of climate change."

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Malaysia: Sunda leopards need right ‘cover’

The Star 23 Apr 18;

KOTA KINABALU: The endangered Sunda clouded leopards in Sabah are found to be able to move more comfortably in covered forests.

Researchers are therefore calling for under-productive and flooded oil palm estates to be converted into conservation areas.

According to scientists working on the international leading journal Biological Conservation, forest canopy cover facilitates the movements of these cats through the landscape in the lower Kinaba­tangan area.

“But recently cleared or under-productive and flooded oil palm plantation areas tend to resist their movements,” said lead researcher Dr Andrew Hearn of Oxford University.

He said their study provides the first evidence that forest cover was crucial in maintaining the connectivity of clouded leopard populations, while the protection of the large areas of privately owned forest in Kinabatangan, much of which had been earmarked for conversion to plantations, was critical for the animal’s survival.

Dr Samuel Cushman, director of the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service Center for Landscape Science, said the analysis produced a clear finding that clouded leo­pards were highly resistant to moving outside of forest cover.

Dr Cushman, the study collaborator who developed the analytical and modelling approaches for the research, said the scenario analyses provided useful guidance to managers about the costs and benefits of alternative conservation planning in the Kinaba­tangan region.

Dr Benoit Goossens, director of the Danau Girang Field Centre and reader at Cardiff University, said their research showed that the conversion of frequently flooded and under-productive plantation areas to forest would bring large benefits to the leopards.

“It would also minimise impact to the plantation industry,” Goossens said.

“These findings will be integrated in the State Action Plan for the Sunda clouded leopard that is being drafted and will be launched in September,” Dr Goossens said.

The data was collected via the observation of four tagged Sunda clouded leopards at the lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.

The research is supported by Yayasan Sime Darby, Robertson Foundation, Recanati-Kaplan Foun­dation, Clouded Leopard Project, Houston Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and Panthera.

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Japan's renewable energy puzzle: solar push threatens environment

As the country rushes to cut carbon emissions by 26%, campaigners worry that forests and wildlife are being trampled
Justin McCurry The Guardian 19 Apr 18;

The tens of thousands of solar panels resting on the surface of the Yamakura dam reservoir have finally begun to earn their keep.

This floating solar farm in Chiba prefecture is the biggest of its kind in Japan – and one of the largest in the world – covering 180,000 square metres, or roughly equivalent to 25 Wembley stadium pitches.

Over the next two decades its 51,000 solar panels will generate an estimated 16,170 megawatt hours annually — enough to power thousands of local households.

In the post-Fukushima era, local authorities around Japan are courting private investment in renewables as part of a push to dramatically increase their share of the national energy mix.

The project, along with dozens of other large-scale solar farms, is also supposed to help Japan – the world’s fifth-biggest carbon emitter – honour its Paris climate agreement vow to cut carbon emissions by 26% by 2030 from 2013 levels.

But while most residents support the Yamakura plant’s construction, in other parts of Chiba prefecture campaigners say the rush to blanket large areas with solar panels has the potential to unleash environmental catastrophes, even as they lower CO2 emissions.

Pressure on Japan to increase renewables’ share of the energy mix means the number of large-scale solar farms is expected to rise. But, far from welcoming the dawn of a new age of clean energy on their doorstep, residents near the proposed site of a huge solar farm in the city of Kamogawa are mounting a last-ditch effort to prevent its construction.

To make the Kamogawa mega solar plant, developers will destroy 300 hectares of pristine forest.

The irony of chopping down trees, which absorb CO2 in the air as they grow, to replace them with a solar plant has not been lost on campaigners, who claim the facility will destroy the natural environment and put the area at the mercy of the elements.

Of all of the countries investing in renewables, few are as in need of a fundamental rethink on energy policy as Japan. The country recently marked the seventh anniversary of the tsunami disaster and Fukushima meltdown – which resulted in the closure of dozens of nuclear reactors – yet it still lags behind other countries in clean energy development.

China is by far the biggest investor in renewables, according to a 2017 report by the International Energy Agency. By 2022, the report said, solar and wind capacity in China could reach twice Japan’s current total power capacity. Over the next four years, the growth in renewable energy capacity in the US, India and the European Union are forecast to outstrip that in Japan.

According to the ministry of economy, trade and industry, renewable energy accounts for almost 15% of Japan’ energy mix but is dwarfed by coal at 30% and liquefied natural gas at almost 40%.

In response, the government is aiming to increase renewables’ share to between 22% and 24% by 2030 – a target described as “ambitious” by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, but criticised by his foreign minister, Taro Kono.

“For too long, Japan has turned a blind eye to global trends, such as the dramatic decrease in the price of renewables and the inevitable shift to decarbonisation in the face of climate change,” Kono told a meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.

He said Japan’s 2030 pledge was woefully inadequate given that renewable energy already accounts for 24% of total global energy generation. “As Japanese foreign minister, I consider these circumstances lamentable.”

The company behind the Kamogawa mega solar plant has vowed to spare trees on half of the site but that gesture will not be enough to save local wildlife, according to Noriyuki Imanishi, who heads a local group opposing the Kamogawa plant.

“Under Japan’s renewable drive there is no need to conduct environmental impact assessments, but we are certain that the plant will have a negative impact on local animals,” Imanishi said. “There are lots of deer and wild boar in the area, and this will threaten their environment.”

A Chiba prefectural official said solar plants were part of the central government’s drive to promote renewables. “We’re aware that there is opposition and we now take a more holistic approach to building new facilities so that we can gain the understanding of the local community,” he said.

Chiba prefecture, which is served by the electricity company Tepco, is one of several local regions that are courting private renewable investors, offering public land for the construction of ever-larger solar farms on land and water.

Developers, meanwhile, are seeking bigger, more economical, sites – which come at a premium in a mountainous country with a large coastal population, and where large tracts of flat land are hard to come by.

“After the Fukushima disaster we identified the need to diversify our energy supply to include solar, wind and micro-hydroelectric, and at the same time stimulate the local economy,” said Kouichi Ishige, a deputy director in the prefecture’s industrial waterworks bureau.

In its 2017 report on the industry, the Japan Renewable Energy Institute noted mounting concern about the impact mega plants were having on areas of natural and historical importance, echoing campaigners’ fears that the destruction of heavily wooded, mountainous land could increase the risk posed by floods and landslides.

Mega solar projects are under construction in other parts of the country, including in areas of natural beauty such as the Izu peninsula and Nikko, a national park.

But as long as local authorities see mega solar plants as a source of tax revenue – as well as cheap electricity – opponents appear powerless to halt their construction.

“This isn’t about pitting renewable energy against nuclear power,” said Yasufumi Horie, an opponent of the Kamogawa plant, who believes Fukushima has proved nuclear power is no longer a viable source of energy in Japan. “I’m in favour of renewables – the issue is the solar plants’ size and location.”

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