Best of our wild blogs: 4 Jul 18

Wormy Wednesdays features polychaetes of Singapore!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Is a typhoon coming? Giant clam shells may help predict future storms!
Mei Lin NEO

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Albino kingfisher chick draws birding community to East Coast Park

Toh Ting Wei Straits Times 3 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - A rare albino kingfisher chick is shooting to mini-stardom among the birding community here, after it was spotted last Wednesday (June 27) by wildlife observers at East Coast Park.

While white-collared kingfishers are common in Singapore, the sighting of an albino one was the first for many watchers, said observers.

The bird first flew into the public eye on Facebook pages such as the Nature Society (Singapore) group, and has made regular appearances online since.

Jeremiah Loei, administrator of wildlife interest group Birds, Insects N Creatures of Asia, told The Straits Times that the chick now draws 30 to 50 photographers daily.

"I think there will be much more people who are more aware and will come down. That's the reason why we shared (the photos), because we want the public to be more aware of the animals around us," said Mr Loei, 54.

The bird has had its fair share of drama. Photographers tracking it had to divert bicycles on a bicycle track when the chick unwittingly flew onto it, and wildlife group Animal Concerns Research & Education Society had to rescue the bird after it unwittingly settled in a canal on Saturday night, said Mr Loei.

Veteran nature guide Subaraj Rajathurai, 55, said it was only the second time that he had heard of an albino kingfisher in his 38 years of observing wildlife. The last known albino kingfisher was spotted near MacRitchie Reservoir Park about seven to eight years ago.

Mr Subaraj said the chick will likely stay with its parents for a few weeks, before flying off to find a new home of its own.

Photographers flocking to document the bird should do so from a safe distance, he added.

"Nowadays, with so many people out there taking photos of birds, sometimes there is an over-zealousness among all the photographers to get that special shot," he cautioned.

A Blue-Crowned Hanging Parrot takes its first flight as its mother looks on from their nest along Owen Road, next to Pek Kio Market and Food Centre.
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"So when you have a whole group of 50 to 60 photographers trying to get a photo of one little kingfisher, that can cause a lot of stress for the bird especially as it is a youngster."

The birding community has much to celebrate in recent times, with the sightings of various rare birds here.

In May, a photographer spotted a rare woodpecker previously thought to be extinct here at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Two Asian emerald cuckoos, last spotted more than a decade ago in Singapore, were also observed at Sentosa in December.

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Two men fined for pigeon feeding: AVA

Channel NewsAsia 3 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE: Two men have been fined for feeding pigeons in two separate cases, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said in a statement on Tuesday (Jul 3).

In the first case, 62-year-old V Rajandran was fined S$400 on one count of pigeon feeding, which he did with bread crumbs at the void deck of Blk 145 at Potong Pasir Avenue 2 in February 2018.

In the second case, 68-year-old Abdul Aziz Saik Mohamed, was fined S$1,500 for five counts of pigeon feeding, with another six counts taken into consideration during sentencing.

Investigations showed Abdul Aziz had fed pigeons at a grass verge at Blk 825 at Woodlands Street 81 on multiple occasions between December 2017 and May 2018, despite previous warnings from AVA and a “No feeding” signboard nearby.

Both men were repeat offenders, with Rajandran and Abdul Aziz having been fined on four and two previous occasions respectively.

Pigeon feeding in a public place is an offence that carries a fine of up to S$500 under the Animals and Birds (Pigeons) Rules.

“The presence of feeders provides a regular source of food which may lead to pigeons congregating in the area. Feeding encourages pigeons to breed and results in an increase in their population,” AVA said.

“Pigeons dirty the environment with droppings, and leftover food from pigeon feeding may attract other pests, like rats, that carry diseases and pose a risk to public health,” AVA added.

Two men fined $1,500 and $400 for feeding pigeons in two separate cases
Charmaine Ng Straits Times 4 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - Two men were fined $400 and $1,500 for feeding pigeons in two separate cases in court on Tuesday (July 3).

In the first case, Abdul Aziz Saik Mohamed, 68, was fined $1,500 for five counts of pigeon feeding, with another six counts taken into consideration during sentencing.

In October last year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore was alerted to a case of pigeon feeding at Block 825 Woodlands Street 81, said the AVA in a statement on Tuesday.

Investigations found that Abdul Aziz had been feeding pigeons at a grass verge near a "No Feeding" sign on multiple occasions between last December and May this year.

Despite several warnings from the AVA, he continued to feed pigeons, and was previously fined on two occasions for a similar offence, said the authority.

In the second case, 62-year-old V Rajandran was fined $400 for one count of pigeon feeding.

The authority was alerted in February to the case at Block 145 Potong Pasir Avenue 2, where V Rajandran had been feeding pigeons with bread crumbs at the void deck.

He was previously fined four times for a similar offence, said the AVA.

Pigeon feeding in any premises or public place, including at Housing Board estates, is an offence, the AVA added.

"The presence of feeders provides a regular source of food which may lead to pigeons congregating in the area. Feeding encourages pigeons to breed and results in an increase in their population," said the authority.

"Pigeons dirty the environment with droppings, and leftover food from pigeon feeding may attract other pests, like rats, that carry diseases and pose a risk to public health."

Those caught feeding pigeons can be fined up to $500.

In its statement, the AVA encouraged the public not the feed pigeons and to report pigeon feeding activities using its online feedback form or through the OneService app.

"Members of the public can also talk to others about the downsides of feeding. By leveraging their sphere of influence, they can help change the behaviour and perspectives within their community," it added.

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Indonesia: Elephant ecotourism stomps illegal logging


Sandwiched between Mount Leuser National Park in North Sumatra and the oil palm estates of state-owned plantation company PT Perkebunan Nusantara II, Tangkahan was, from around the 1990s to the early 2000s, a haven for illegal loggers from Namo Sialang village, the neighboring Sei Serdang village and elsewhere.

They used Tangkahan as a transit point where they sent timber (mostly ironwood) they took from inside the jungle of Mount Leuser National Park to Tanjung Pura.

“If these outsiders could take timber from the national park right in front of us, why couldn’t we?” said local community leader Rutkita Sembiring, himself a former illegal logger from 1996 to 2000.

“At that time, about 90 percent of men in all the villages across the Batang Serangan district in Mt. Leuser’s buffer zones engaged in illegal logging,” said another ex-illegal logger, Karya Depari.

Things changed when in 1999 two student activists and environmentalists, Syukur Al-Fajar and the late Syaiful Bahri, who were later joined by another student activist, Taufik Ramadhan, visited Tangkahan.

Fascinated by Tangkahan’s natural beauty but alarmed by the rapid pace of its destruction, they provided the illegal loggers with environmental education and convinced them that “they could still earn money without having to fell a single tree through ecotourism”.

“They told us our lives would be miserable if the forests were destroyed,” said ex-illegal logger Seh Ukur Depari.

Rutkita said their admonition came at a time when a number of loggers had been injured, disabled and even killed when cutting trees, which “got us thinking, ‘What’s the point of making lots of money if the risk is that high?’”. Moreover, they were under constant threat of getting arrested and imprisoned by authorities.

So they established, together with Rutkita, Seh Ukur and other repentant ex-illegal loggers of Namo Sialang and Sei Serdang villages, the Tangkahan Tourism Foundation (LLP) in 2002, now known as CV Community Tour Operator (CTO).

CTO is a local community business partnership that manages Tangkahan ecotourism based on a 2002 memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Awriya Ibrahim, head of the Mount Leuser National Park Service.

“Awriya granted us the right to use 17,500 hectares of the park for ecotourist purposes after seeing how we, ex-illegal loggers, mounted a staunch resistance against illegal logging,” Seh Ukur said, quoting Awriya as saying that “by signing this MoU, I risk my job but I believe you”. A week after signing the MoU, Awriya was transferred to Ujung Kulon National Park.

“In the late 1990s, the income we earned from selling timber ranged between Rp 2 million [US$142.85] and Rp 30 million a week,” recalled Rutkita, who himself earned around Rp 2 million a week.

However, the big money came with many accidents, injuries and even fatalities. Rutkita’s father broke his arm while cutting down a tree. Seh Ukur’s father died after being struck by falling log.

Moreover, “money comes in and goes away very fast,” recalled former illegal logger Juan Kartika Sitepu, who said he, like the rest of his fellow loggers, spent his sudden “wealth” on drinking, gambling and womanizing.

“We are actually afraid of cutting down trees because there are ancestral spirits indwelling them that cause misfortune and even death to those felling the big trees where they reside,” said ex-illegal logger Imanta Sembiring.

Such belief, according to Iskandaruddin, head of the Tangkahan site management unit responsible for the area, was part of pemena, an ancient animistic belief of the local Karo Batak tribe, which, according to Rutkita, was rendered irrelevant by their conversion to either Christianity or Islam and eclipsed by their obsession with becoming rich through illegal logging.

This drove Karya, initially a smallholder rubber farmer who earned around Rp 500,000 every two weeks from selling latex he collected from rubber trees grown on his land, to try his luck.

Deciding to have his own logging business, he borrowed a lot of money from the tauke (buyer-cum-financier) to whom he sold his timber in order to buy a used chainsaw and start logging on his own.

However, a surprise joint anti-illegal logging operation involving the local police, the military and park authorities thwarted his plan. He escaped arrest but all of the unsold timber he left in the forest was

“I had already incurred so many debts at that time that I had to sell the land where I grew rubber trees to pay them off. Now I can’t recall where the money went. That’s devil’s money that got eaten by ghosts, as the saying goes,” said Karya, who now grows maize in his neighbor’s oil palm plots to supplement his monthly income from selling oil palm fronds to feed Tangkahan elephants for ecotourism.

The “ghost” that ate most of the money, according to Syukur, was bribery. In order to steal timber from the national park without getting caught, they had to bribe many. “In the end, they only got 50 percent of the proceeds. This made them very unhappy but they had no choice,” Syukur said.

Responding to what Syukur said, Karya said it was his tauke’s accomplices, not he, who handed out the bribes.

Syukur said Syaiful and he later adopted a two-pronged strategy to change the situation.

Syaiful inculcated in Tangkahan youths the importance of environmental awareness and mobilized them to convince their illegal logging fathers that their way of doing things was not sustainable. “Unlike their fathers to whom money is what matters most, these young people have a different spirit,” recalled Syukur. They organized these young people into a team called the Tangkahan Simalem Rangers.

Meanwhile, Syukur approached the Indonesian Ecotourism Network to help introduce ecotourism into the area. Despite facing resistance, he kept on persuading illegal loggers to abandon logging in favor of ecotourism.

“We want the local community to take full ownership and control of the business of ecotourism in Tangkahan. We don’t want them to work for outsiders who control the business as is the case with the orangutan sanctuary in Bukit Lawang,” said Syukur.

Their effort paid off. Logging was completely stopped in 2003 and elephant-centered ecotourism was introduced in 2004, attracting a flurry of tourists far beyond their expectations and original intention of using elephants to patrol the forests to scare off illegal loggers.

“Most of the tourists are foreigners because we very, very rarely promoted Tangkahan domestically. Thus far, we have received foreign tourists from 57 countries, with most coming from Holland,” Rutkita said. “In recent years, however, the number is declining.”

He attributed recessions, animal welfare campaigns in the West against the use of elephants for domesticated purposes and bad road conditions caused by a busy sand mining operation nearby — which would not have been there had it not been for a permit from the local government — as factors that contributed to the decline in the number of visitors.

Under a revenue-sharing scheme currently in place, Rutkita said 57 percent of revenues went to CTO. The remaining 43 percent is used to pay local guides, visitor center and search and rescue (SAR) staffers, English teachers and janitorial and garbage workers. “Since 2015, CTO’s average annual revenue has averaged at Rp 12 billion and is increasing, which is much higher than the income we earned from illegal logging,” said Rutkita.

These days, Rutkita said, the number of local visitors had been increasing, averaging at 60,000 a year. However, the trash they leave behind has presented a problem of its own. “The amount we spend on cleaning the garbage is more than the revenues we obtain,” he said.

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Indonesia: Police arrest two for killing elephant in East Aceh

Antara 2 Jul 18;

Pidi, Aceh (ANTARA News) - The police arrested two people for killing an elephant belonging to the Conservation Response Unit in June 2018.

Head of East Aceh Resort Police Senior Commissioner Adjunct Wahyu Kuncoro stated here on Monday that the arrest was made following investigations conducted by a special team.

The officers had found the body of a dead elephant in Serbajadi on Saturday (June 9).

The police also seized elephant ivory measuring 120 centimeters in height.

The officer detained the perpetrators to conduct legal proceedings. The police will look into the developments to investigate the case of the elephant`s death.

"We arrested the perpetrators from different locations in East Aceh region," Kuncoro stated.

The perpetrators had also planned to sell the ivory. The East Aceh Resort Police has kept the evidence.

The officer had earlier found the body of a dead elephant named Bunta in the Bunin Village of Serbajadi Sub-district.

The elephant`s head was bleeding owing to attack by sharp weapons.

The officer also found pieces of evidence, such as banana and other fruit. They believe that the fruits had been poisoned to kill the elephant.

Reported by Mukhlis
Editor: Heru Purwanto

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The Himalayan state that declared war on plastic bags

Swapping bags for banana leaves – and cloth sacks – the tiny Indian state of Sikkim has transformed shoppers’ habits. Can Mumbai follow its example?
Amrit Dhillon The Guardian 3 Jul 18;

As a boy growing up in Sikkim, the Indian state nestled below the Himalayas, Rajendra Gurung remembers how, before leaving the house to go shopping, his parents would always ask each other: “Have you got the bag?”

Back then, no shopkeeper used plastic bags. Families took their own, made of cloth. Meat, fish and cheese came wrapped in a banana leaf, tied with bamboo twine. If people bought cooking oil, they took an empty bottle or can.

But in the early 1980s, plastic bags started to become the norm. “The first ones were actually prized possessions because they were re-usable,” says Gurung. By the mid-80s, they were used for everything.

Yet discarded plastic bags blocked drains, and even caused a spate of landslides. In 1998, Sikkim banned their use.

Now, at the vegetable market in Lal Bazar in the Sikkim capital, Gangtok, most people come armed with cloth bags – and those who have forgotten them can buy one from the lines strung up at vegetable stalls. A street vendor selling fermented soya bean wraps his produce inside a leaf from a fig tree. Even bulky items like metal pails are covered with newspaper.

A 2014 survey by Toxic Links, a New Delhi organisation, found that in Gangtok and other main towns, plastic bags are now rarely used.

Sikkim’s progress is being studied closely by other states. These include Mumbai, the commercial capital, where drains clogged by bags have caused flooding in the streets during monsoon season.

A combination of factors made the ban successful, says Gurung, who now heads the Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim. “Shopkeepers were not given licences, and licences weren’t renewed every year if they were using plastic bags. Inspectors watched them. Heavy fines were imposed. CCTV cameras were installed. Consumers were also made aware,” he says. Campaigns in schools educated children on the damage plastic can do.

Out of India’ s 29 states, 25 have some kind of plastic ban. But it is rarely enforced by the authorities and ignored by residents. Part of Sikkim’s success is down to people’s respect for the law. Gurung attributes this partly to the fact that until 1975, the state was a monarchy. People obeyed the king instinctively and this same attitude was transferred to the chief ministers who succeeded him.

The state also has a large Buddhist minority, which means respect for nature is widespread. “Every forest is a sacred forest, every lake is a sacred lake, the Himalayas are sacred. This reverence for nature – combined with our disciplined habits – feeds into the desire to protect the environment,” says Prem Das Rai, the MP for Sikkim.

However, not all is perfect. Some people have begun using non-woven polypropylene bags. They look and feel like fabric but they are in fact made of plastic and are equally damaging to the environment. Gurung says consumers need to be educated about this before they start becoming popular.

In 2016, Sikkim took its plastic ban further, by ending the use of bottled water in government offices and functions. Ministers have started taking reusable water bottles to the office and filtered water is served in jugs or glasses.

On top of this, tourists are being told not to bring in plastic bottles of water. To encourage them, clean water points have been set up where water, certified as safe by the government, is sold to fill reusable bottles.

Gurung believes the best way to stop tourists bringing in, or asking for, bottled water is for restaurants and hotels to display certificates proving that the water in their kitchens has been purified.

Sikkim has also banned the sale and use of styrofoam and thermocol disposable plates, cutlery and food containers. “We are going to have to go back either to washing dishes, as before, or using plates made of leaves, areca nut and sugar-cane bagasse, and spoons and straws made of bamboo,” says Priya Shrestha, team leader at the World Wildlife Fund in Gangtok.

Sikkim’s success will not be easy to replicate in other states. Buying vegetables and food put in plastic bags is an ingrained habit. They are convenient, hygienic, light, durable and cheap. Surveys have shown that 99% of vegetable sellers in most cities use plastic bags.

Sikkim is also small. Its population is only 610,000 people. This is compared with Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, which has just imposed a stringent ban on plastic bags out of concern for the flooding caused by mountains of the stuff. Its population is more than 100 million.

Nonetheless, Sikkim’s relentless campaign to educate the public is one feature that can be replicated in other states, says Gurung.

“With large populations, random fines alone cannot work. You have to have intensive campaigns like ours to change people’s habits. Only when the message is lodged in the mind does a ban work and for that, you have to start, as we did, in schools.”

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