Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 18

Changi boardwalk: a death trap for wildlife?
wild shores of singapore

Two newborn Javan rhinos spotted on camera in Indonesian park
Conservation news

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NUS geography researchers determine benefits of Singapore's mangroves

Mangrove forests bring cultural and environmental values in the long run

A three-year study conducted by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has identified and quantified the benefits of mangrove forests to people in Singapore. These researchers concluded that apart from cultural benefits, mangroves act as nursery habitat for fish and as coastal defence, as well as storing carbon that could help offset some of our climate change emissions.

Associate Professor Daniel Friess from the Department of Geography at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at NUS conducted the study with a team of ten researchers, undergraduate and graduate students between 2014 and 2017.

Cultural benefits

A unique outcome from this in-depth study was quantifying the cultural benefits mangroves can offer, through the use of photographs taken and posted online on websites like Flickr.

"If someone takes a photo of the landscape, we assume that is because they appreciate, or take value from the landscape; people think the view is nice. That is a type of cultural value. If they take a photo of a crab or otter, they're valuing the biodiversity there. Taking selfies means that people value social recreation, using the places as social spaces," explained Assoc Prof Friess.

As the photographs were tagged with their specific locations, the researchers were then able to create maps based on the information gathered to approximate what different segments of the mangroves are valued for. This could be used as a tool to help managers to improve visitor experience in nature parks.

Environmental benefits

Mangroves also provide environmental benefits such as acting as nursery habitat for important fish species, defending the coast against tides and storms, and storing carbon.

The team discovered that the mangroves that were sampled had a very different composition of important fish when compared to other habitats. This means that losing mangroves could have considerable impact on the populations of these species of fish.

Another observation was that the tangled roots of many mangrove species can help to defend the coast.

Assoc Prof Friess said, "When the waves hit the roots, they take out the energy of the wave so that by the time the wave travels through the mangrove it is a lot smaller. This means that we do not have as many problems with erosion, and it is easier to maintain our seawalls."

Finally, mangroves take carbon out of the atmosphere during photosynthesis and can store it in the tree and the soil. This carbon storage capability of mangroves outranks many other forests, and can be up to five times more efficient than a tropical rainforest. Their presence in Singapore could thus potentially be useful in offsetting the nation's carbon emissions.

"In total, Singapore's mangroves store some 450,000 tonnes of carbon, which is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 620,000 people in Singapore," shared Assoc Prof Friess.

However, the carbon storing ability of mangroves comes with its downside. Losing mangroves would result in a larger amount of carbon being released into the environment, creating a larger impact. This makes conservation of mangroves even more vital.

Findings to guide planning

Assoc Prof Friess hopes that these findings can be used to help guide future planning.

"In Singapore and other urban areas, there are a lot of different demands on land, but we can use information on the benefits of mangroves to prioritise and optimise our planning so that we get what we hope is a win-win situation," he said. This can be used in other rapidly urbanising coastal cities in Southeast Asia such as Jakarta.

Assoc Prof Friess and a large team of collaborators have secured funding and in the next step will be using a similar approach to study all major ecosystems in Singapore, including forests, urban landscapes and coastal ecosystems, in order to assess the true state of Singapore's environment and the benefits they provide to us.

Related link
Knowing the value of mangroves, Straits Times

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DBS banking on renewable energy to power 40 per cent of its operations

Gracia Lee Straits Times 26 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - DBS will use renewable energy sources to power 40 per cent of its operations by the end of this year, the local bank announced on Thursday (April 26).

This is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power more than 3,000 four-room HDB flats a year.

To meet this goal, DBS said it plans to operate its own solar energy installations, procure renewable energy and continue driving efficient energy usage across its organisation.

DBS also launched a solar energy installation at the rooftop of its DBS Asia Hub in Changi Business Park.

The installation, which is owned and maintained by the bank, consists of 1,200 solar panels spread across an area about half the size of a football field.

It will generate over 460MW hours per year, offsetting about 3 per cent of the building's power consumption, according to chief operating officer of technology and operations Michael Power.

These efforts are part of the bank's larger goal to power its entire Singapore operations with renewable energy by 2030.

DBS is the first company in Singapore and the first Asian bank to make this commitment under RE100, a global renewable energy campaign that brings together global businesses committed to using only renewable energy to power their operations.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who was the guest of honour, stressed the severity of climate change - something Singapore is already feeling the effects of in terms of rising sea levels and extreme weather.

While the Government has been making efforts to combat climate change, such as introducing a carbon tax, improving public transport and transforming the waste industry, Mr Masagos said it is not enough.

"At the end of the day, all of us have a very big role to do... our part to contribute towards limiting the greenhouse gas effects," he said, urging people to sign the Climate Action pledge as part of the Year of Climate Action 2018.

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IndonesiaL Critically endangered Javan Rhino dies

AFP Yahoo News 26 Apr 18;

Jakarta (AFP) - A Javan rhino has died in Indonesia, the environment ministry said Thursday, bringing the critically endangered mammals closer to extinction with just 60 believed to be still living in the wild.

The body of the male rhino was found inside West Java's Ujung Kulon national park, the creature's last remaining habitat.

Its death was believed to be from old age rather than poaching.

The animal has been driven to the brink of extinction as their horns are highly valued in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine, although most countries in the region have banned the trade.

"We found it on (Monday) and are now performing an autopsy," said environment ministry spokesman Djati Witjaksono Hadi.

The 40-year-old rhino didn't had any offspring, he added.

Javan and Sumatran rhinos are classified as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Javan rhino is distinguished from African rhinos by its smaller size, single horn and loose skin folds which give it the appearance of wearing armour plating.

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Indonesia: Greenpeace investigation claims palm oil supplier to major brands behind further deforestation

Anna Isaac The Telegraph 27 Apr 18

A supplier of palm oil with links to major brands including Unilever, Nestle, PepsiCo and Mars, has been destroying rainforests in a protected area of Papua, Indonesia, a Greenpeace investigation claims.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil found in a wide variety of consumer goods. Global appetites for the commodity have been associated with large scale deforestation in areas including Indonesia and Malaysia.

Video and images gathered by the environmental campaign group’s helicopter appear to show the clearance of 4,000 hectares of rainforest within the PT Megakarya Jaya Raya concession between May 2015 and April 2017.

The company which owns the land in question, the Hayel Saeed Anam Group (HSA) is a Yemeni-owned conglomerate with palm oil supplier subsidiaries. Deeds seen by The Daily Telegraph appear to show the land is held in names of members of the Saeed family which owns HSA Group.

One HSA subsidiary, Arma Foods, is a direct supplier to Mars, PepsiCo and Unilever. Another, Pacific Oils and Fats is listed as a supplier for Nestle. Pacific Inter-Link is also an HSA subsidiary with links to Unilever.

The area in which Greenpeace and a second group, Aidenvironment, claim to have documented the clearance of forest includes peatland.

Peatland has been given an extra level of protection of deforestation, following devastating fires in Indonesia. A presidential decree laid down by Indonesian president Joko Widodo prohibited any clearance on new or previously issued concessions.

The investigation comes as the Indonesian government has attempted to defend the palm oil industry against moves by the EU parliament to discourage the use of the commodity in biofuel on environmental grounds.

All of the firms listed by Greenpeace in their investigation have made public commitments to end deforestation activities within their respective supply chains.

A Unilever spokesman said: “Following recent investigations and monitoring of HSA Group’s activity, we have concluded that the allegations were not being sufficiently addressed. As we have not seen progress that complies with our Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Policy, we have therefore suspended the placement of any new orders from Pacific Inter-Link and Arma Food Industries, HSA Group’s suppliers, until the allegations have been satisfactorily addressed by them.”

A Nestle spokesman said that the company was opposed to deforestation and destruction of peatland in all parts of the world.

He added: “We have identified some issues with one of our palm oil suppliers with operations in Papua, Indonesia, which was also mentioned by Greenpeace in its recent investigation. We are concerned by these findings and are working closely with The Forest Trust and our supplier to address them.”

A Mars spokesman said: “We are engaging with Arma regarding Greenpeace’s allegations of risk of association with deforestation. As a supplier to Mars, we fully expect Arma to comply with our deforestation and palm oil policies. We are assessing the situation and are prepared to take further action should Arma be found to be non-compliant.”

HSA has not responded to The Daily Telegraph’s request for comment.

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Indonesia: More land, forests burned down in Jambi

Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 26 Apr 18;

Land and forest fires have been detected in the regencies of Batanghari and Kerinci, as well as Sungai Penuh city in Jambi, the Batanghari Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has said.

Two fires occurred in January, while one incident occurred in April. “A total of 3.2 hectares has been burned down, with five hot spots,” he said on Thursday.

Production Forest Management Office (KPHP) unit I head Neneng Susanti said that as of April, the office had extinguished fires on 288.5-ha of land and forests in Kerinci regency and Sungai Penuh city, of which 122-ha of land and forests were burned down in January and the remaining 83.5-ha in February.

“The land and forest fires have caused hundreds of millions of rupiah in losses."

Citing reports from the Land and Forest Fire Control task force, Neneng said the forests were intentionally burned using slash-and-burn techniques to open plantations.

“The team found evidence, including gasoline, on the burned areas,” she said.

Neneng called on farming communities to use traditional techniques to clear land to protect and conserve forests.

Land and forest fire cases occur in Jambi every year. The Jambi Forestry Agency said 566- ha of land and forests across the province were burned down in 2017, up from 254-ha in the previous year. A massive forest fire in 2015 destroyed 19,528-ha of land and forests in Jambi. (ebf)

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Indo-China: Continuing haze points to failure of Asean agreement

Pratch Rujivanarom The Nation 26 Apr 18;

Activists call for tighter controls over contract farming activities of food firms

THE FAILURE in the implementation of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) has led to the prolonged and severe haze season in the northern region of Southeast Asia, while the goal of a haze-free Asean by 2020 was far from achievable, environmentalists said yesterday

Greenpeace called for tighter regulations to control the overseas operations of big food companies, as it highlighted that contract farming through the subsidiaries of the multinational corporations was a major factor behind the high number of haze hotspots this dry season in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia as well as the severe seasonal haze in the north of Asean

Despite a slight improvement in air pollution from the accumulation of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in the North of Thailand yesterday, PM2.5 daily average levels in some areas such as Chiang Mai and Lampang were still above the country’s safe average Unusually, the haze problem in the North this year is more severe at this time of the year as compared to previous years

The air pollution monitoring stations of the Pollution Control Department (PCD) reported yesterday that Chiang Mai and Lampang still had a problem with the harmful level of air pollution The PM2.5 daily average level of these provinces reached 66.56 micrograms per cubic metre of air and 58.47 micrograms respectively, which was higher than the safe standards of both Thailand and the World Health Organisation

The PCD’s safe standard for PM2.5 daily average level was 50 micrograms, while the WHO safe standard was set at 25 micrograms The Chiang Mai University Climate Change Data Centre said that the smog problem in the North was not only the result of increasing open burning activities within the region after the 60-day ban on burning ended He said the hotspots outside the country also contributed to transboundary haze that also affected Thailand

Greenpeace country director for Thailand Tara Buakamsri said the ongoing air pollution over the northern part of Southeast Asia and also in the North of Thailand pointed to the failure of the AATHP implementation and uncontrolled expansion of monoculture farming in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia through the contract farming system.

“Asean’s haze agreement cannot prevent or solve the problem of transboundary haze in the region, because it lacks the power to force the member countries to take constructive measures to tackle transboundary haze,” Tara said However, he pointed out that the main reason for the recurrence of the haze problem in northern Asean was the result of expansion of monoculture farming and rapid deforestation in these countries

“From the satellite data of Nasa, it was seen that Cambodia has the highest rate of deforestation in Asean This is partly the result of contracted farming investment in the country, which in turn increases the number of hotspots from open-burning activities in agricultural sector,” he said

“A similar problem has also been noticed in Laos and Myanmar, as big food companies continue to invest through subsidiaries and expand monoculture farming in these regions This requires burning during the dry season to clear leftover material on the field to prepare for the new crop in the rainy season.”

He called for control over contract farming in these countries through tighter regulation, similar to how Singapore had imposed strict rules on multinational palm oil companies that invested in IndonesiaOtherwise the regional goal to be haze-free by 2020 will be impossible

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India: Sundarbans Census - Dolphins declining

Pinaki Roy The Daily Star 27 Apr 18;

The dolphin census going on in the Sundarbans area is indicating that the number of the mammals in the mangrove forest rivers is dropping and the experts are blaming climate change and withdrawal of fresh water from upstream.

Experts think rise of salinity in the coastal rivers, poor flow of fresh water in the Ganges river system and growing commercial activities in and around the Sundarbans are threatening the iconic animal.

“We have not completed the census yet, but still we can say that the number of dolphins is decreasing, comparing it with the number of the last census in 2006,” said Monirul H Khan, eminent wildlife expert who is leading the census team.

His two-member team has completed their work in most areas of the Sundarbans.

The department of forest is carrying out the census with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The first dolphin survey in the Sundarbans was conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 2006. It found 225 gangetic dolphins, locally known as Sushuk, and 451 irrawaddy dolphins.

Of the 40 species of dolphins in the world, four are found in the Sundarbans area. Finless porpoise and the pink Indo-pacific humpback dolphins are occasionally seen here.

“This time we have seen one family of four pink dolphins and two finless porpoise. It is hard to determine their status as these two species are not found in the Sundarbans on a regular basis,” said Monirul.

This is the first time a survey team has seen the pink dolphins in the Sundarbans area. They are one of the largest dolphins and found in the east coast of India, and through the Indo-Malay archipelago and east towards Australia where the water is very saline.

The pink dolphin was first sighted in the country in 2002.

Asked if the pink dolphins were living in the Sundarbans as the water salinity increased, Monirul said it could not be said without research.

“What we can say is that we have seen a family of four dolphins, may be for the first time a full family has been sighted in the Sundarbans,” he said.

Dolphins are among the world's most endangered mammals as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red data book. Dolphin experts have been pushing the government to announce parts of the Sundarbans rivers as dolphin sanctuaries as the mangrove forest is the world's largest single habitat of freshwater cetaceans.

In 2012, the government declared, 10.7 square km area of the Pashur and Andharmanik rivers and their channels in Dhangmari, Chandpai and Dudhmukhi areas as “dolphin sanctuaries”.

During dolphin census last week near the Dhangmari sanctuary, 15 to 20 dolphins, adults and juveniles, were spotted.

Modinul Ahsan, divisional forest officer Wild life Sundarbans and also the census project director, said it was necessary to impose more restrictions to conserve the dolphins in the Sundarbans.

Even the sanctuary areas are not protected. In some areas, one side of a river is marked as protected while the other half is not. Fishermen fish in one side of the river there. This is not realistic, said Modinul.

Although dolphins are not usually captured with intent, every year dozens of dolphins get entangled in fishing nets and die. They are also threatened by pollution of water transports operating in the Sundarbans.

Poor flow of fresh water from upstream, blamed on the upper riparian country, is increasing salinity of river water, resulting in dolphins disappearing, experts said.

They said just a few years ago, dolphins could be sighted in all major rivers of the country. But now they can only be seen in some large rivers, like the Padma and the Karnaphuli.

Three decades ago, there were dolphins in the Buriganga near Dhaka, said Khasru Chowdhury, eminent Sundarbans expert who went to see the census being carried out.

Experts said over-fishing was a major cause for the decline in dolphin numbers. They also reported that dolphins become entangled in bank-to-bank fishing nets and are hunted in some areas for their alleged medicinal properties.

Khurshid Alam, assistant country director to the UNDP, Bangladesh, said, they were supporting the dolphin survey of Bangladesh as part of supporting Bangladesh to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (14), which is protecting underwater biodiversity.

Under this project, they are also supporting local fishermen community with alternative livelihood so that they do not disturb the dolphin habitat.

They might extent their support for expanding sanctuaries in future, Khurshid said.

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, manager of the project titled, “Expanding the Protected Area System to Incorporate Aquatic Systems Project”, said they were trying to create awareness among locals so that they do not kill dolphins.

The other member of the two-member Dolphin census team is Dr Aziz of the zoology department at Jahangirnagar University.

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Two otters found dead on Changi Beach

AMANDA LEE Today Online 26 Apr 18;

Two otters were found dead at Changi Beach. One of the otters was found along the beach (left), while the other was found in a metal trap used to catch crabs and fish near the Changi Sailing Club.

SINGAPORE ― Two otters were found dead at Changi Beach on Wednesday (April 25).

One of the otters was found in a metal trap used to catch crabs and fish near the Changi Sailing Club, while the other was found along the beach.

Otter community group Otterwatch posted photos of the dead animals on Facebook on Thursday morning, and the news spread quickly on social media.

There are at least 60 otters in Singapore, and they can be found in places such as Pasir Ris, Sungei Buloh, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Pulau Ubin, and the Gardens By The Bay. Popular with Singaporeans, the smooth-coated otters have often been spotted frolicking in the water and on land.

OtterWatch said in a post that the two otters were “likely” to be members of the Pasir Ris family, and that they were discovered by members of the public.

A spokesman from OtterWatch told TODAY that the otter in the trap had half of its head “chewed off by (a) monitor lizard”.

This is not the first time that such an incident has occurred. In June last year, a dead otter was found in a cage along the Marina Promenade, and a man was subsequently caught setting traps in the area.

“Many traps were recovered and removed by agencies and volunteers… When will there be an end to this irresponsible trapping?” said the Otterwatch spokesman.

“One man’s leisure and pleasure is causing so much harm to marine creatures. It should be banned.”

Changi Sailing Club general manager Edwin Low told TODAY that this was the first time he had heard of an otter being killed by a trap. He added: “Maybe the authorities could issue advisories to these fishing enthusiasts, and even ban the use of these traps.

“I would like to see a ‘no fishing zone’ where we are located.”

Responding to queries, Mr Kalai Vanan, deputy chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said it is aware of the incident and is “very sad that (the) two otters have been found dead”.

Abandoned fish and crab traps, as well as fishing lines with hooks and nets can be found in many of Singapore’s waterways and coastal areas, added Mr Kalai. Apart from otters, turtles and monitor lizards caught on fish hooks often suffer slow and painful deaths.

He also called on the public to be vigilant when walking along the waterways and coastal areas “to look out for abandoned fish traps/lines and report them to the authorities”.

“We hope the agencies will investigate this matter to find out more and look into better enforcement measures to deter such incidents,” added Mr Kalai.

Dead otters Pasir Ris
Nicole Chang Channel NewsAsia 26 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: Two otters, one of which was in a fishing trap, were found dead on Wednesday (Apr 25) at the boardwalk near the Changi Sailing Club.

The owner of a sailing boat company, Mr Scott McCook, told Channel NewsAsia that he was at the sailing club in the afternoon when a club employee told him that a dead otter had been found.

“By the time we found the cage it was 4pm or 5pm,” he said. He saw the dead otter inside a fishing trap, while another dead otter was “on the beach” in the water.

He said he did not know who to contact about the carcasses, but took some photographs.

By the next morning, one of the carcasses had “drifted off”, said Mr McCook, but the 56-year-old came across members of the OtterWatch community group along Changi Beach and showed them the photos he had.

OtterWatch member Alvin Tan told Channel NewsAsia that the group was taking photos of some otters at Changi Beach on Thursday morning when Mr McCook told them about the dead otters.

“We asked him to bring us over immediately,” said Mr Tan.

Mr McCook took them to the fishing trap, where they saw the dead otter, its head “badly rotten”.

“We saw a lot of maggots on the head of the otter,” he said. “In fact there (was) a big monitor lizard biting at this dead otter.

“We managed to chase the monitor lizard away. The head of the otter was almost gone, the body and legs were all swollen.”

He added that OtterWatch was working with authorities over the incident.

Mr Jeffery Teo, another member of OtterWatch, told Channel NewsAsia that these metal traps can be found along coastal areas. Some were new traps and some had been abandoned, he said.

"How many marine animals must be killed before law and enforcement keep up with these irresponsible actions using large-size metal cages?" Mr Teo said.

Singapore's Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) also called on the relevant agencies to investigate and look into better enforcement measures to deter such incidences.

"Abandoned fish or crab traps, fishing lines with hooks and nets can be found in many of our waterways and coastal areas," said the animal welfare group in response to Channel NewsAsia's queries.

"Besides otters, so many other animals suffer as well. Turtles and monitor lizards get caught on fish hooks as well, often suffering a slow painful death."

ACRES said it is "very sad" that two otters have been found dead. It urged members of the public "be vigilant" when walking along waterways and coastal regions, and report cases of abandoned fish traps or lines to the authorities.

In response to Channel NewsAsia's queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it is investigating the incident. "One otter carcass was retrieved and WRS (Wildlife Reserves Singapore) is carrying out a necropsy on it," AVA added.

Source: CNA/nc(cy)

2 otters found dead near Changi Sailing Club, including 1 trapped in illegal fishing cage
Ng Huiwen Straits Times 26 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Two otters believed to be from the Pasir Ris family were found dead near the Changi Sailing Club.

While one was found trapped in an illegal fishing cage, the other was seen on the beach near the cage.

A member of the public who found the otters on Wednesday alerted Facebook page OtterWatch on Thursday (April 26) morning.

Photos shared by OtterWatch show one of the otters covered in mud in a large metal cage under a boardwalk, while the other had been washed up on the beach.

Avid otter watcher Jeffrey Teo, who is part of OtterWatch, told The Straits Times that the otter found in the cage was "in a bad shape".

It had metal cuts on its face and a monitor lizard was seen chewing on its body, he said, adding that the carcass will be handed over to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore for a post-mortem.

However, the carcass of the other otter which was found on the beach near the cage, was no longer there by the time volunteers went down.

National University of Singapore biology lecturer N. Sivasothi, who heads the Otter Working Group, told ST that the otters were likely from the Pasir Ris family, comprising 10 adults and four pups.

The family usually roam the waters in Pasir Ris and Changi, and in November last year, made a surprising appearance on the tarmac of Changi Airport.

Mr Sivasothi said that the otters, just like other wild animals, could have been in search of food, when they became trapped.

"Any wild animal will explore their surroundings in great detail in pursuit of food," he said.

"While otters are usually suspicious of new structures and are careful around them, there could be a possibility that the cage has been there for quite a while, and they have become familiar enough with it to explore it."

He added that if fish was used as bait in the cage, then this may have driven the otters to enter it and get caught, before drowning.

With Singapore's waterways now relatively clear of pollution, wildlife has started to make a return in recent years, he noted.

Hence, there is a greater urgency to eradicate illegal fishing practices that could have a significant detrimental effect on wild animals, he said.

Currently, the public is able to alert national water agency PUB on suspicious activities in Singapore's reservoirs.

But in other areas, it is often the public who remove illegal traps, cages or fishing lines on their own initiative.

In June last year, a dead otter from the Bishan family was found in a cage at Marina Promenade in the Kallang Basin. A man was caught setting up traps in the area later that day.

And in January, otters were spotted climbing an illegal fish-trapping cage in the Marina Reservoir. An otter watcher alerted PUB, which removed the cage with the help of otter community group OtterWatch.

It is illegal to use such trapping cages in any reservoirs or waterways, even in areas where fishing is allowed.

Additionally, those caught trapping any animal or doing any act which injures fauna in any reservoir may be fined up to $3,000.

Related link
Otterwatch facebook post on the incident.

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