Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scrap Sandakan coal power plant plan

Sep 30, 08

Following a state-sponsored study tour to coal-fired power plants (CPP) in Kuching, Johor Baru, Perak and Selangor, a Sabah-based Anti-CPP action committee has returned even more fired-up in its objections against the proposed CPP project in Sandakan.

The four-day trip, in which 43 representatives from the Anti-CPP action committee and several other business, government and political bodies took part, was reportedly supported by the Sabah government in order to provide a clearer picture of the pros and cons of CPPs.

Action committee chairperson Stephen Wong, however, said the Sep 8-12 junket had only bolstered their resolve to reject the proposed 300MW CPP for Sandakan.

“After our visit to various coal power plants namely Sejingkat in Kuching Sarawak, Tanjung Bin in Johor Baru, Manjung in Perak, and Kapar in Selangor, we have doubts on the justification and reasoning to build a coal power plant in Sandakan,” he said in a statement today.

The reasons

Wong, who is also secretary-general of the Sandakan Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC), said the reasons the CPP project - which had originally been planned for Lahad Datu but was scrapped for public health and welfare and environmental reasons - should be rejected include:

- Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels and coal dust will litter Sandakan and settle far and wide in the town and residential areas surrounding it;

- Large amount of heat will be released into the atmosphere when coal is burnt, therefore spelling the possibility of climate change for Sandakan in the form of hotter days in dry seasons and more rain in the wet seasons. This will have tremendous effect on our crop and forest habitats;

- Non-combustible substances produced when burning coal such as fly ash and bottom ash contain arsenic, will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing just 50 parts of such ash per billion parts of water. The waste also contains lead, cadmium and other heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium;

- When burnt, the resulting haze from the burnt coal’s production of fly ash can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks and premature death;

- Bituminous coal, in particular, contains mercury and, when burnt will be released into the atmosphere and contaminate fish and plants. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake is said to render the fish therein unsafe to eat;

- The burning of coal produces carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary cause of global warming and climate change. The proposed site is slated to produce 2,700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent of cutting down 121 million trees;

- Incomplete burning of coal will produce 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease;

- The burning of coal will also release 10,000 tonnes of sulfur dioxide (SO2) per year, which causes acid rain and damages forests, lakes and buildings. Small airborne SO2 particles can penetrate into lungs;

- Even if SO2 is removed using the 'seawater desulfurization system', it will most probably be dumped into the sea. Both the marine life and fishermen of Sandakan Bay cannot afford to have toxic waste being poured into their waters;

- About 10,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide (Nox) a year will also be produced by the burning of coal, which is the equivalent of that emitted by half-a-million late-model cars. NOx causes smog, leads to the incidence of lung inflamation, the burning of lung tissue and makes people more susceptible to respiratory illness;

- The large volumes of seawater used as coolant will be released into the shore environments, thereby increasing their temperatures;

- The injection of chlorine and dispersants into the intake seawater to prevent the growth of fouling organisms on the surface of the cooling systems will result in chlorination by-products which might potentially inhibit microbes that play ecologically important roles in coastal ecosystems.

State gov't's call

Reminding Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman that he had on April 2 said the Lahad Datu CPP proposal was scrapped so as not to "risk the welfare and health of the communities in the area as well as any adverse impact on the environment," Wong said it is for these same reasons that the proposed CPP for Sandakan be junked.

"Sandakan does not need the coal power plant as other means of electricity supply are available, such as gas, hydro, bio-mass, wind and solar (power).

"The present and future electricity grid system can be available to deliver electricity to Sandakan. Please keep Sandakan free from environmental pollution by adopting a green energy (policy)," he said.

The Sabah Department of Environment (DOE) was earlier reported to have said it would be the state government that would decide on the fate of the Sandakan CPP project.

Even if an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval was obtained, the project may not be implemented, said DOE's principal assistant director Sharifah Zakiah Syed Sahab earlier this month.

Taib family's CMS to benefit from dam

Anil Netto Sep 30, 08

Who will foot the bill for the resettlement of those affected by the new RM3 billion Murum dam?

''Is it Sarawak Energy (Berhad) or will it be passed on directly to the state government and hence the taxpayer,'' asked one Sarawak-based activist, who declined to be identified.

In the case of Bakun, the mega-dam in central Sarawak which is still under construction, compensation to indigenous people and resettlement cost the Sarawak and federal governments over RM876 million.

''But there are still Bakun residents who have not received compensation even though they left the Bakun area 10 years ago,'' noted the auditor-general in his 2007 annual report.

Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), which is 65 percent owned by the Sarawak state government, will fund the Murum dam. It was reported in June that SEB would issue bonds to finance the project.

SEB has been in negotiations with infrastructure firm Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) and the multinational Rio Tinto Alcan to supply 900-1,200MW of electricity to power a huge smelter. A power purchase agreement was supposed to have been signed by Aug 31, and there has been no news since.

Both CMS and Rio Tinto are in a consortium, the Sarawak Aluminium Company (Salco), to build the US$2 billion aluminium smelter with an initial annual capacity of 550,000 tonnes, which could later be expanded to 1.5 million tonnes. The smelter is located in the Similajau area of Sarawak, not far from the proposed Murum and Bakun dams.

Rio Tinto Alcan, which has a 60 percent stake in Salco, owns bauxite mines, alumina refineries and aluminium smelters around the world.

CMS, a listed infrastructure firm controlled by Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud's family, is a major producer and supplier of steel, cement and other construction materials in the state. Taib (photo, far left) has been chief minister of Sarawak for more than 25 years.

According to the firm's 2007 annual report, the substantial shareholders of CMS are the chief minister's daughters, Jamilah Hamidah and Hanifah Hajar, son-in-law Syed Ahmad Alwee Alsree, and family concern Majaharta Sdn Bhd, each with a 14 percent stake.

Taib's wife Lejla has an 11 percent stake while sons, Sulaiman Abdul Rahman and Mahmud Abu Bekir, own 9 percent each.

Taib's brother-in-law, Aziz Husain, on the other hand, happens to be managing director of SEB.

Why the need of so many dams?

Sarawak plans to lure such energy-hungry industries by providing an abundant supply of cheap electricity within the 320-km long Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score), an economic development region, managed by the state, where abundant power would be supplied to energy-intensive private industries.

Score, launched by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in February 2008, aims to tap into the state's 20,000MW hydropower potential by building even more dams in the longer term.

Sarawak's current installed capacity is just 980MW, adequate for its current needs of about 750MW, but it aims to expand its hydro capacity to 7,000MW or more over the next decade by building a string of 12 dams along the various rivers in the state.

While smelters could create jobs and contribute to GDP, the funding for the dams required to supply cheap electricity will have to be raised by the state or borrowed from public pension funds (as in the case of Bakun).

And while indigenous communities are displaced, many foreign workers will have to be brought in for the construction of the dams. And then there are the
environmental costs.

''Will that justify building Murum at a probable estimated cost of RM3 billion, with likely cost overruns to RM5 billion?'' asked a Sarawak-based academic, who declined to be identified.

In the case of Bakun, ''cost over-runs of RM708 million were approved by the Finance Ministry even though the contract was for a fixed lump sum with all risks to be borne by the main contractor (a consortium of private Malaysian companies and China interests),'' chided the auditor-general in his report.

Sarawak Hidro, the Bakun dam developer, has outstanding borrowings (as at end-2007) of RM3.4 billion. It had received RM3 billion from a state-managed workers' pension fund, the Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) in 2007, and RM400 million from a state-owned pension trust fund in 2002.

The EPF loan is guaranteed by the federal government. The federal government had also allocated RM1.8 billion for the project between 1997 and 2004. Sarawak Hidro has already spent RM4 billion on the project.

Natives: Better bomb us now

So is Murum really necessary?

''For energy needs in Sarawak, we don't need the Murum, because Bakun is more than enough to supply the state's needs,'' says Raymond Abin of the Borneo Resource Institute (Brimas). ''Of course, (much of) this will not go to the really rural areas but will supply industry's needs."

"The impression among many sceptics is that these are all self-serving projects," said another senior academic in a Sarawak-based university, carefully weighing his words while requesting anonymity.

All these funds are not helping the most affected communities like the Penan.

''This is not development for the Penan. This is not assisting the Penan,'' says Weng, a Penan whose home will be submerged. ''This is killing the Penan. As our old headman said before, better bomb us now than 'kill' us slowly!''


Floods in Penang

I was in Penang Island today. Managed to capture the overflowing Sungai Pinang. Flood in Penang - is here to stay. Nothing will change unless a diversion tunnel to channel the rushing water away from the Farlim's valley. Here are what I found during my research into the flooding areas in Penang. Two main rivers feed Sungai Pinang. The confluence of the two rivers is beside Jalan Air Itam. Flooding happened after this confluence. The large volume of water came from Sungai Air Itam.
Jalan P. Ramlee on 30 Sept 08

Lorong Kulit. Rubbish blocking the flow.
Jalan Gopeng

Diversion tunnel exit at Mt Erskine.

A diversion tunnel was built from Jalan Kebun Bunga where the rich were affected by the flood then. The flood water diverted to Tanjung Tokong via Mt Erskine. If this diversion tunnel has been built from Farlim's valley, the flooding along Sungai Pinang could be lessen. Well, most affected along Sungai Pinang were squatters....so there is no reason to build a diversion tunnel.

Well, if you are rich and influential, you can influence the politicians to build a tunnel. That's life.

Map shows the confluence of Sungai Air Itam (Left) and Sungai Air Terjun (Right). Which is larger? Why diversion for a small river?


Floods, landslides hit Penang again

Tuesday September 30, 2008

GEORGETOWN: Thousands of motorists were caught in massive traffic jams Tuesday morning, when flash floods and mudslides hit Penang for the second time this month.

Flood-prone areas in the state, including the inner city, Jalan P. Ramlee, Balik Pulau, Bayan Lepas, Bayan Baru, Seberang Prai and Butterworth were the worst hit.

Heavy rainclouds loom over Georgetown in Penang after a spell of incessant rainfall since Monday night.

According to Central Seberang Prai police media relations officer Supt Shaharon Anuar Abdul Latif, Sungai Dua in Butterworth had overflowed its banks following heavy rains since Monday.

“On the island, the water level in Jalan P. Ramlee was waist-high about 7am. The alert level for the nearby Sungai Pinang is 2.6m but the current water level is 3m.

“Several vehicles were stuck because the roads were flooded,” he said, adding that police personnel have been placed on high alert.

He said among the other affected areas were Air Putih and Taman Manggis in Balik Pulau where the water rose to about 0.3m high.

“So far, three landslides have been reported along Jalan Tun Sardon. The road links Paya Terubong and Balik Pulau.

“The road from Teluk Kumbar to Balik Pulau has been closed,” he said.

Bayan Lepas assemblyman Syed Amerruddin Datuk Syed Ahmad said five villages - Kampung Nelayan, Kampung Mesjid, Kampung Padang, Kampung Bukit, Kampung Seronok and Kampung Binjai - were badly affected.

He said food and emergency aid was being distributed to the villages but “unfortunately Hari Raya preparations for many families have been ruined.”

Syed Amerruddin said he was worried about the noon high tide as the villages were located near the sea.

According to a state Meteorological Department spokesperson, the intermittent heavy rain should clear by Wednesday.

“The heavy shower started at about 10pm on Monday night, causing the flash floods.

“Everything is still under control but we are observing the situation closely, especially Jalan P. Ramlee.

“If the rain continues to be heavy we might announce an evacuation,” he said, adding that the rain affected all areas on the island and mainland.

He said the downpour was the “echo” from the tropical storm in Vietnam.

A North-East district operation centre spokesperson said three relief centres were opened at 8am this morning - SK Francis Light, Methodist Boys School and P. Ramlee auditorium .

On Sept 6, flash floods hit various parts of the state and roads from the city centre to Teluk Bahang and Balik Pulau were cut off due to landslides and fallen trees. This followed intermittent moderate to heavy rain.

Among the places flooded then were Bayan Baru, Bukit Mertajam, Taman Siakap in Seberang Jaya and parts of the city centre.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sarawak begins work on new RM3 bil dam

Anil Netto Sep 29, 08

Preliminary work on a RM3 billion dam in Murum in Sarawak has again put the spotlight on the government’s controversial scheme to build a string of 12 dams in the next decade to tap cheap electricity in the state.

Its advocates say that the proposed 944MW Murum dam, near the site of the contentious 2,400MW Bakun dam, still under construction, in the upper Rejang basin in central Sarawak will boost job opportunities, diversify sources of electricity generation and draw new investment.

But while private firms may benefit from the dam construction work and cheap electricity, critics argue that the human cost, the financial burden and risk to the state and the public, and the environmental cost could be too high.

Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), 65 percent owned by the Sarawak government, officially informed Bursa Malaysia on Sept 2 that the Murum dam project had been awarded to China's Three Gorges Project Corporation, which reportedly submitted the lowest bid among eight companies.

SEB also told the Malaysian stock exchange the same day that a ''detailed environmental impact assessment has been submitted to the relevant authorities for final approval'' - which means that the project was awarded before the final approval of the detailed EIA was obtained.

While the state is using its resources to build the dams, about 1,000 indigenous folk in the Murum Dam catchment area will lose their homeland. Most of these are Penan, amongst the last of the world's hunter-gatherers, living near the Murum, Plieran and Danum rivers and tributaries.

New dam lies in Bakun catchment area

Weng, a Penan, whose longhouse - traditional wooden houses - and ancestral land will be flooded, laments: ''The good things we ask for, they (the government) do not give. We ask for schools, clinics, but till now we have yet to see them. What we don't want, what is bad for us, that they provide - logging, oil palm plantations, acacia plantations...''

The haste to commence work on the dam leaves activists worried that there might not be proper consultation and inadequate work on the resettlement of one of the most marginalised and disenfranchised peoples in the country.

The experience of the problem-ridden Bakun dam, whose reservoir area will cover 695 sq km, is hardly inspiring. The RM8 billion Bakun dam is expected to be completed in June 2010 and start
generating power in 2012.

Some 11,000 indigenous people - mainly Kenyah, Kayan, Lahanan, Ukit and Penan - were displaced and just over 9,000 of them were transferred to a resettlement scheme in Asap River from 1997. A delegation from the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), visiting the area in 2006, found shoddy housing, poor drainage and roads, delays and disputes in the compensation payment.

Critics point out that a large portion of the dams' catchment areas has already been degraded by massive plantation developments.

"The whole Bakun catchment is being destroyed by logging and plantation," points out Raymond Abin, programme development officer at the Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas), a group working closely with indigenous communities to monitor environmental and development issues. Forests have been logged to plant oil palm, pulp and wood tree plantations.

Moreover, the Murum dam, just 60km upstream from Bakun, lies in one of the three main catchment areas for Bakun.

''Has any work been done on cumulative impacts? How will all this affect the micro-climate or local climate, the hydrological regimes, the animal life of the area, already much devastated by the logging and plantation development?'' asked a Sarawak-based academic, who declined to be named.

''Indeed, how will Murum affect Bakun? Doesn't the public deserve to know the results of these cumulative impact assessments?'' the academic added.

Uncertainty over Bakun-generated power

The plan for the Murum dam comes at a time when uncertainty hangs over what to do with all the electricity to be generated from the 205-metre high Bakun dam.

The original plan was to transmit the electricity via cables under the South China Sea to the peninsula, making it the world's longest undersea electricity transmission. But in 2001, the plan was changed to confine the supply to Sarawak and neighbouring Sabah.

In 2005, however, the government decided it would not be cost effective to transmit electricity to Sabah because of the distance. The cabinet decided the following year to once again channel Bakun's electricity to the peninsula even though the peninsula currently has a comfortable reserve

SEB entered into a ‘heads of agreement’ this May to supply 3,000MW of electricity to national electricity corporation Tenaga Nasional Bhd in the peninsula from 2017 and another 5,000MW from 2021.

But these plans were thrown into uncertainty after Sime Darby, a government-linked corporation, worried about the plan's viability, pulled out in August from an understanding to lead the laying of RM15 billion undersea cables.

The electricity from the Bakun dam will now be channelled to the aluminium smelter plants until the Murum dam is ready, the Sarawak Energy managing director said in June. If and when the submarine cables are laid in the South China Sea, the electricity from Bakun would then be channelled to the peninsula.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ibans fight for communal forests

Tony Thien Sep 27, 08

The Iban community in Rumah Sengok, about 80km up the Kemena River in Bintulu are fighting a losing battle to protect their communal forests or pulau, considered their most valuable assets, from loggers.

And they are not the only ones having to face such a problem - the same loggers are said to be moving to other villages in the upper reaches of the river and likely to encroach into their communal forests too, Jok Jau, Marudi-based co-ordinator of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) told Malaysiakini today.

“The loggers claim they have a permit to extract the timber and are ignoring the rights of the 26-door Sengok longhouse over their communal forests of about 300 to 400 hectares, taking away valuable timber species from the pulau,” he said.

Once they have finished work there, the loggers are expected to move to neighbouring areas to continue with timber harvesting, Jok Jau said, adding that at least 10 other Iban longhouses in the upper reaches of the Kemena River would be affected.

According him, the Ibans are not demanding for money but to preserve their rights which are recognised by law to the communal forests which supply their daily needs.

Jok Jau said a government-backed consortium Grand Perfect comprising three large local timber companies are managing and implementing a forest plantation project covering an area of more than 500,000 hectares extending from Bintulu right up to Balingian under a Forest Department licence.

Encroachment started in April

The licence was originally awarded to a pulp and paper company.

The consortium has their contractors to clear the area for the plantation and the process involves the harvesting of timber.

Rumah Sengok residents are complaining that these loggers have been encroaching into their pulau which is considered as part of what is known as native customary rights (NCR) land since April this year.

Jok Jau said the affected natives are rather helpless as their pleas have fallen on deaf ears with the loggers insisting that they have been given clearance by the authorities to clear and remove the timber.

He alluded to some threats being used against the natives as well.

In the first round of tree harvesting from the Rumah Sengok communal forests, an estimated 500 tonnes of timber - hill species such as meranti, kapor and keruing - have been taken out.

The company originally offered to pay the longhouse people RM6 per tonne of timber extracted but headman Sengok ak Sabang and his longhouse residents disagreed “because it is not money they want but the right to keep their communal forests which is important to their livelihood,” said the local SAM leader.

Present timber prices are high with growing overseas demand to increase stockpiles in log importing countries.

“I have been to Rumah Sengok and now I hear the logging company is going into other villages and this is most worrying,” Jok Jau said, adding that the state government should look into the rights of the natives over their NCR lands and communal forests.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Felling of Trees

A river volunteer at Bayan Lepas Waterfall, Penang, once told me that a contractor offered him RM2000 to chop down a tree beside the waterfall. He refused to accept the offer. The tree is still there today.
The aquaduct at Batu Fringghi was lined with huge trees. It was a protected area. No people can access the aquaduct. The trees were chopped. When we queried, they gave excuse that the trees were ageing and were a safety concern. The case eventually diluted in time.
Well, greed will continue to destroy our natural heritage. If only we have less greedy people working in Bolehland. But it won't happen any sooner. Read another story of felling trees in Ipoh. Another "I tak tahu"! Anyway, this is Bolehland lah!


Friday September 26, 2008 MYT 3:15:41 PM
Ipoh mayor stumped by felling of trees

IPOH: Ipoh Datuk Bandar Roshidi Hashim is in the dark over the recent felling of huge trees in front of a newly-completed building at Jalan Datuk Lau Pak Khuan here.

Expressing dismay and shock over the matter after Ipoh City councillor M. Kulasegaran raised the issue at the city council full board meeting on Friday, Roshidi said:

”I had not given any orders for the giant trees to be chopped down.

“It should not have happened and it could be due to my officers’ carelessness,” said Roshidi when apologising over the felled trees.

Roshidi said the council’s Landscape Department would plant new royal palm trees to replace the felled trees in two weeks’ time.

He also gave his assurance that no such incident would happen again.

On Wednesday, several people had called The Star office here to complain about the felling of the trees located in front of the post office.

On certain days, traders would set up shop to sell fruits, vegetables and flowers under the shady trees.

Earlier at the full board meeting, Kulasegaran said the four giant trees were about 30 years old and they did not pose any danger to the public.

The visibly upset Kulasegaran said 13 smaller trees were also chopped down along with the huge trees.

The Ipoh Barat MP said trees, plants and shrubs provided beauty and were crucial in improving the air quality for the city dwellers.

”The trees are on the job 24 hours daily working for us all to improve our environment and quality of life,” said Kulasegaran.

He added that Ipoh should be turned into a garden city instead of losing its identity and turning into a concrete jungle.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Garbage Enzyme to Save Our Earth

Read an interesting article about Garbage Enzyme. Yes, if one third of our garbages are reused to produce Garbage Enzyme then we could slow down the global warming process. Garbage Enzyme could be the answer to our ozone layer and lowering of our global temperature.
Discover the endless benefits of this Earth-saving enzyme you can make in your kitchen. It is rewarding to heal the Earth. Come and discover the following benefits.

· Save Money: Turn kitchen waste to DIY natural household cleaners.

· Multiple Usage: Natural household cleaner; air purifier; deodorizer; insecticide; detergent; body care; car care; organic fertilizer; etc.

· Reduce Pollution: Methane gas released from disposed garbage can trap up to 21 times more heat than CO2, worsen the global warming condition.

· Purify Air: Remove odour. Dissolve toxic air released from smoking, chemical residues from household products, etc.

· Purify Underground Water: Enzyme that flow underground will eventually purify the river and the sea.

· Natural Pesticides: Reduce mosquitoes, flies, rats, cockroaches, etc.

· Prevent Drainpipe Blockages : Release residues accumulated in the pipe of basins or toilet bowls.

Learn how to make your own GARBAGE ENZYME and its uses.
Check these sites:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wildlife Smuggling - Between Facts & Fictions

How do you explain the following:
- the continuous smuggling of wildlife
- the cheap, cheap fine for offences
- exotic meats are available if you know the right restaurant
- confiscated wildlifes were autioned to the public
- strangly, most smugglers were caught when the public reported to authority
Wildlife trading is lucrative. Rampant smuggling and corrupt officers in Bolehland - is it a fiction?
In Bolehland, when Government officers deny anything, chances are they are the exact opposite. Do you doubt it?
--------read this article below---------
NewsFocus: Malaysian who loved his wildlife
NST Online

Frilled dragons, native to New Guinea and Australia, turned up in the US with Malaysian paperwork; the star tortoise is a protected species under the Wildlife Act.

An American-penned hardcover details how Malaysian Anson Wong, dubbed 'the most important person in the international reptile business', was nabbed in Mexico and also his alleged links with Malaysian officials, writes ELIZABETH JOHN.

IT'S a story of crime, wildlife smuggling and money.

It stars flamboyant characters dripping with gold chains, driving luxury vehicles and politicians -- the smugglers who are as slippery as the rare reptiles they traffic across the globe for sums of money that beggar belief.

But what is so fascinating about The Lizard King or relevant here is the capture of one Malaysian reptile smuggler and his vast reach and influence.

Key agencies linked to the smuggler are the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and the Royal Malaysian Customs Department.

Perhilitan enforces the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) through checks, permits and quotas for the wildlife trade.

Customs controls what goods enter and exit at major entry points in the country.

Both agencies have responded to the links drawn between them and the smuggler in this recently published work of non-fiction by American lawyer and writer, Bryan Christy.

The 240-page hardcover that went on sale in Malaysia last month is dominated by the story of a cat-and-mouse chase.

It is the story of the Van Nostrands -- once the primary supplier of reptiles to pet stores and zoos around the world -- and the determined special agent Chip Bepler, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who tries to nab them.

The father-son team of Ray and Mike Van Nostrand ran Strictly Reptiles and were known as the most notorious reptile smugglers in the United States.

At its height, the company occupied a 10,000 square-foot warehouse in Hollywood overflowing with a menagerie of reptiles.

It boasted a frog room, arachnid room, python rooms, a locked venomous room and even walk-in freezers in which dead snakes and spiders were kept for voodoo rituals.

With specimens like giant Aldabra tortoises priced at US$22,500 (RM78,000) a pair, the money was good.

But the real thrill lay in collecting the rare, the unique and the hardly-ever-seen.

One of the Van Nostrands' many suppliers was Malaysian wildlife trader Anson Wong.

The book describes Wong as "the most important person in the international reptile business" and "reptile smuggling's crown jewel".

The chapter "Fortress Malaysia" tells of Wong's dealings with an undercover agent that leads to his arrest in Mexico City in 1998.

Wong was extradited to the US and in 2001, was sentenced in a US federal court in San Francisco to 71 months in prison for trafficking in rare and endangered wildlife.

It was dubbed one of the largest cases of illegal trade ever prosecuted in the US.

Drawing from legal documents, official investigation reports and interviews, Christy describes how Wong had laundered protected star tortoises by the hundreds though Malaysia and the Middle East.

Frilled dragons, native to New Guinea and Australia, turned up at the Miami International Airport accompanied by Malaysian paperwork.

Wong boasts about working things out with a high-level government official.

Christy also describes the awe of one human courier when he was received at the Penang airport and driven to Wong's office by a high-ranking Customs official.

And the book is peppered with Perhilitan officers.

Wong also boasted about bribing Cites officials to falsify permit details.

Perhilitan officers would sign a permit allowing the trade of a protected animal under the terms of the convention.

The convention ensures that international trade in wild plants and animals does not threaten their survival.

Quotes from recorded telephone conversations and from faxes and emails between Wong and the US agent who posed as a wildlife importer, tell how the former took advantage of loopholes in the law.

He would arrange for a fall guy to get arrested with smuggled wildlife and then buy the confiscated animals that are auctioned off by authorities, legally, under the law. All the while knowing he would be safe. As one quote reads: "I could sell a panda and nothing. As long as I'm here, I'm safe."

Obsessed with meaner, hotter creatures

AS a second-grader, Bryan Christy brought a king snake to school for show-and-tell. "Kids gathered, naturally; teachers from other grades poked their heads into the classroom, older boys stopped me in the hallway; The principal called me to his office so he could look inside my pillowcase.

"I don't think I ever recovered from the celebrity I achieved simply for holding what other people were afraid of, what they had been taught was wrong," Christy writes in his book The Lizard King.

It seemed like reptiles were always treated as nature's outlaws and for this one-time lawyer and Fulbright scholar, a crime story about reptiles seemed like the perfect vehicle to tell a reptile story and make it interesting even for people who didn't like them.

This is what he achieved in The Lizard King -- opened a small but rare window into the world of reptile smuggling where a childhood fondness for creepy crawlies morphs into an adult obsession for bigger, meaner, rarer and hotter creatures.

And when he discovered the ingenuity of Mike Van Norstrand, a king of that wild universe, and the incredible effort of agent Chip Bepler, who strove to stop him, Christy knew he had a reptile thriller.

"When I found out how their relationship ended, I wanted to write a book to honour that story," he said.

So Christy sought out Van Nostrand, slowly befriending him and finally persuading him to open up about himself, his world and legal troubles.

Then one day, Van Nostrand instructed his lawyer to turn over six years' worth of legal files to Christy.

"As a lawyer, getting access to a criminal's files was an incredible gift.

"I got the files late in my work so it was also an additional way to confirm that all my facts were right."

It took Christy four years of research and three months of writing to realise The Lizard King.

Dozens of official sources and countless meetings with every major character who played a part in the real-life version of the story added to the workload.

The response, he said, had been good in the conservation and wildlife trade communities.

That's no surprise when a book tells of turtles stuffed into suitcases and snakes smuggled in trousers, while painting a very human picture of crafty smugglers -- with insights into their childhood, families and obsessions.

The book isn't meant to judge.

"There are high walls between these two worlds. Midway into this book I realised I might be able to build a window.

"It made me realise the book might be important as well as entertaining and led me to ground it in history people might not know."

But the writer still thinks that illegal trafficking is a horrendous crime.

"There is not a country in the world that adequately polices illegal wildlife trade.

"By definition illegal trade is cross-border and there are no adequate resources or manpower devoted to it.

"Wildlife crime is crime and source countries and consumer countries need to treat it that way."

A work of fiction, says Wildlife Department

IT'S all fiction -- that's the response from the National Parks and Wildlife Department (Perhilitan) to some of the startling revelations in The Lizard King.

In a faxed response to the New Sunday Times, the department said it did not confer any immunity or special treatment to anyone in the wildlife trade and questioned the author's motives.

"Where the Wildlife and National Parks Department is concerned, this book is simply fiction.

"There is no reference or citation, thus its reliability and integrity is questionable," the fax read.

In the end notes, author Bryan Christy did list his sources.

The book was based on thousands of pages of telephone transcripts and investigative reports from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

In response to our questions, Christy said conversations in quotations were taken verbatim from recorded telephone conversations.

Christy added he had access to agents across the country and had assistance from enforcement agencies in the Netherlands who helped in the US investigations.

Lead investigator Chip Bepler's personal notes were made available to Christy and the US attorney's office in Miami made its prosecutors available throughout South Florida where much of the story is based.

Christy said he met most of the major characters, including Anson Wong whom he interviewed last year. He described Wong as "very gracious".

Perhilitan said Wong carried out his business legally and in compliance with domestic laws.

"The key person (Wong) mentioned in the said book has been compounded and dealt with under the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972," the department said.

In a follow-up telephone conversation, a Perhilitan officer clarified that this was for previous offences and not the case which led to Wong's arrest in 1998.

On the disposal of confiscated animals, the department said it had been carried out in compliance with procedures.

On Malaysia being a conduit for the illegal wildlife trade, the department said: "Due to the strategic location surrounded by rich biodiversity countries, Malaysia is the best target used as transit point to smuggle animals ever since the illicit wildlife flourishing (sic)."

Meanwhile, the Customs Department said it would investigate the incident implicating one of its officers.

In an email response, head of the public relations unit, Hamzah Ahamad, assured that if at all true, it was an isolated case.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pangolin smuggling on the rise

NST Online
By : Nisha Sabanayagam

KUALA LUMPUR: The shy pangolin deters its enemies by spraying them with urine but this strategy is next to useless when it comes to saving themselves from being caught and shipped to China.

Malaysia and Indonesia are hotspots in the illegal wildlife trade in pangolin, with China as the end market.

According to conservation group Traffic Southeast Asia, pangolins make up the largest number of mammals found in confiscated illegal wildlife cargoes in the region.

The pangolin species that is traded the most is believed to be the Malayan Pangolin (Manis javanica). It is sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia, as their populations elsewhere, including in Thailand, Myanmar and China, have been decimated.

Earlier this month, 16 pangolins were seized from smugglers in Muar, Johor. In April, the Wildlife and National Parks Department seized 98 pangolins worth RM50,000 in Penang.

Traffic Southeast Asia director Azrina Abdullah said pangolins were traded for their meat which was considered a delicacy.

"Their scales are used in Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean traditional medicine.

"The scales are said to help with menstruation, breast milk circulation and sexual performance."

The scales which are made of keratin (a major component in hair, fingernails and horns) are also used to treat allergies, skin conditions and sexually transmitted diseases.

Azrina said the demand for pangolin meat and scales increased dramatically in China in the 1990s, as more people were able to afford them.

In 2002, it was estimated that there were between 50,000 and 100,000 pangolins left in the wild in China, while the domestic demand for meat and scales was estimated to be up to the equivalent of 200,000 specimens annually.

According to Traffic's surveys, in 1997 a live pangolin cost between US$120 (RM408) and US$220 per kg in China.

In Malaysia, it cost between US$25 and US$45 per kg.

Between 1998 and 2007, the Malaysian media reported 34 cases of pangolin smuggling and the confiscation of 6,000 specimens.

During the same period, it was estimated that more than 30,000 specimens were seized in Southeast Asia and East Asia, again based on cases reported in the press.

"It should be noted that not all seizures are reported in the press and seizures only represent a very small number of the specimens which were actually traded," said Azrina.

She said although there was no population estimate for the Malayan Pangolin, the number of pangolins that were seized was quite impressive and a cause for concern considering the slow reproduction rate for the species.

Females generally give birth to only one young at a time and are likely to give birth only once a year.

All pangolin species (genus Manis) are on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES has established a zero annual export quota for the Malayan Pangolin, as well as the Indian, Chinese and Palawan Pangolin and for specimens removed from the wild and traded for primarily commercial purposes.

The pangolin is a nocturnal insectivore and uses its long, sticky tongue to catch ants, termites and other insects.

There are seven species of pangolins that live in grasslands and forests in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The region's pangolins, snakes and freshwater turtles are now the most intensely sought-after species, having eclipsed the trade in tiger bone, rhino horn and bear gall bladder due to the decimation of the latter species and tougher policing.

Pygmy elephant found dead

Saturday September 20, 2008

KOTA KINABALU: A young Borneo pygmy elephant was found dead under mysterious circumstances close to the Kinabatangan Jungle Resort at Kampung Bilit in Sabah’s east coast.

Sabah Wildlife Department officer in charge of Kinabatangan, Roland Niun, said it was difficult to establish the cause of death as it was in a state of decomposition when they were alerted about it on Sept 2.

He said that the cause of death of the two-year old elephant remained unknown but it could possibly be due to poisoning.

Sabah Wildlife department director Laurentius Ambu said that the endangered Borneo pygmy elephant is protected under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997 in Sabah and unlawful killing of an elephant carries a fine of RM50,000 or a jail term of five years or both under Section 25 (3)(b).

The Asian elephant sub-species is only found in Sabah, although some roam in neighbouring Kalimantan in Indonesia’s Borneo.

This makes Sabah the sole custodian of a unique sub-species of elephant.

“Today, we estimate that there are fewer than 1,500 left in Sabah and we take their protection and survival very seriously,” Ambu add-ed.

The department recognises that conflict between elephants and humans does arise when an elephant happens to damage crops.

However, anyone who takes the law into their own hands and harms or kills an elephant will be arrested and prosecuted, he warned.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fund for victims of wildlife attacks

NST Online
RM20,000 for attack victims

A fund for victims of wildlife attacks was set up last year

KUANTAN: If you were attacked by a wild animal, you can get compensation from the Welfare Department.

Victims or their family members can claim up to RM20,000 if they were confirmed to have been attacked by wild animals, including a tiger, panther, elephant, python, crocodile, bear or gaur.

State Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) director Saharudin Anan said those attacked should lodge a report with the department and fill in a form provided by the Welfare Department.

With the endorsement from Perhilitan and the hospital, he said a victim would be compensated based on the injuries.

"The maximum payment of RM20,000 will only be paid if the victim died or sufferred permanent disability after the attack."

Saharudin said the fund was set up last year, but no one had applied for it in Pahang.

He said a 49-year-old man, who was attacked by a panther in Kampung Panching near here on Sept 7, was eligible for the compensation. Saharudin said Perhilitan was still investigating the case.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Police stop march for Orang Asli rights

Do you know only the indigenous people of Malaysia can rightly call me "squatter"? And I can accept that. But not any other. Indigenous people have suffered. Land raped. Forest logged. They are being ill treated in their own land in a country called Bodohland.
NST Online
By Evangeline Majawat

KUALA LUMPUR: Police yesterday stopped a march by a group of indigenous people seeking greater protection of their rights.

Some 150 members of the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia (JOAS) had planned to go to Istana Negara to hand over a memorandum to the king.

The memorandum was to urge the government to honour the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People (DRIP), to which Malaysia is a signatory.

Their demands included the establishment of an Orang Asli native court in Peninsular Malaysia, the repeal of laws which marginalise the Orang Asal or indigenous people and an end to the government's practise of leasing native customary rights land without consulting native communities.

Today is the first anniversary of the DRIP.

Dressed in traditional finery, the group had planned to walk from the Central Market Annexe to Istana Negara.

However, police ordered the group to disperse just as it stepped out of the building at 10.15am.

They claimed that police had earlier assured them that the march could go on.

"We were given assurances this morning.

"All we want is to walk to the palace to hand over the memorandum," JOAS president Adrian Lasimbang said.

Lasimbang said JOAS had sent letters to the authorities and palace officials two weeks ago to notify them of the march.

"But the police only responded two days ago. They sent us a letter asking us to go to the police station."

Dang Wangi police chief ACP Mohamad Zulkarnain Abdul Rahman said the police stopped the march because the organisers had failed to obtain a permit.

Forced to disperse, the group retreated into the Central Market building.

There, Lasimbang and two other JOAS representatives briefed the media on the contents of the memorandum.

The nine-page memorandum highlighted articles from the DRIP and the plight of the indigenous peoples of Malay-sia.

Among the issues were encroachment on native customary rights land, violation of the right to self-governance and pressures to assimilate.

"JOAS has carried out a study comparing the declaration with local policies concerning Orang Asal," said Lasimbang.

"It is sad that the policies don't meet the standards. We Orang Asal have been marginalised for so long.

"The government has a commitment to implement all policies according to the declaration

"The handing over of the memorandum to the king is a symbolic gesture.

"We want to create more awareness about our problems and hope the public will respect us," JOAS member Mark Bujang said.

He said the Orang Asli had been labelled "anti-development and anti-establishment" for decades.

"We're not anti-development. We just want it on our terms and any development must benefit our communities.

"We want to be included in the decision-making process."

Bujang said native land issues were especially important because the Orang Asli's identities were related to the land.

"Our lives are tied to the land. Land is sacred to us. How can you take our native land from us?"

Lifir Tangkak from the Jakun settlement of Kampung Buluh Nipis, Pahang, took an eight-hour bus ride to lend his support to the cause.

"The authorities don't recognise our rights. They take our land indiscriminately.

"This must stop," the 70-year-old said.


Indigenous peoples: Listen to our cries

Rahmah Ghazali Sep 13, 08

Despite calling off a march to the King’s palace to submit a memorandum, our spirits are not broken and we will continue to voice our disappointment towards the government, the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia) said today.

In the memorandum, the network had protested the non-recognition of their customary lands, forced resettlement, non-recognition of cultural rights, unfair policies of assimilation and integration, and outright disregard for judicial decisions.

The march was planned in conjunction with the first anniversary of United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In the memorandum, the group highlighted several violations including Orang Asal rights as the land-owners.

“The federal and state governments have acted maliciously against the Orang Asal by forcibly taking our lands, territories and resources without our free, prior consent,” executive director of Borneo Resources Institute, Mark Bujang, told a press conference following the cancellation of the march this morning from police 'advice'.

Involuntary resettlement

Reading out the memorandum, Mark said in Selangor alone, about 7,000 hectares of Orang Asal reserves were degazetted without their knowledge. Neither were they informed when, where and how the areas were taken from them.

“In Sabah and Sarawak, an increasing number of communities are now finding out the hard way that their native customary lands have been given to oil palm and industrial tree plantation companies or leased to logging companies - again without their prior consent,” he added.

Furthermore, the Orang Asal have been subjected to force for involuntary resettlements because of government’s non-recognition of their native titles.

Mark cited as an example the forced resettlement of Chewong-Orang Asli community in the Kelau Dam project in Pahang where the indigenous people were intentionally misrepresented by the agents of the government and forced to resettle.

“To make matters worse, the indigenous community concerned need not be resettled as their village would not have been affected by the projects,” Mark explained.

Government should apologise

Among their demands, the Orang Asal have requested that customary land be returned and appropriate legal processes be taken for the restitution of the land obtained.

“The government must immediately halt the legal process to gazette land which indiscriminately acquire the indigenous customary lands,” said Mark.

He added the courts should prioritise cases involving customary land dispute and urged the government to provide legal assistance for their cases.

According to findings in the memorandum, the Orang Asal consist of more than 80 ethno-linguistic groups, each with its own culture, language and territory, totalling up to four million or 15 per cent of national population.

“In the context of Malaysia, however, no law or policy was found that mentions the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples, let alone, accord us that right,” said Mark.

According to him, the Orang Asal have suffered from injustices by previous regimes and governments since the formation of the government of Malaysia.

“Therefore, the government must apologise for all these injustices and prejudices that have happened throughout the history,” he stressed.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Flooding in Penang - People are Waking UP?

Yes, homo sapiens are selfish. If it does not affect them, they wouldn't care. Only when natural disaster affected their ownself, only then they will choose to wake up!

Flooding is a good way of waking up these people. And I hope more flooding and more landslides will happen all over Bolehland. Not that I am "ill-hearted" but I am for a long term sustainable environment. For a sustainable enivironment for your future generations too. Wake up, wake up before it is too late! Mother earth is bleeding.

If you have read my posts since the begining of my blog, you will notice that I have been advocating for a change, for a better environment. Not many were interested. Penang Hill is one example where even the people staying in Penang Hill doesn't care a hoot about the development. (BTW, I don't stay in Penang Island, ok).

There was a hindu friend who have been supporting the Barisan Najis government for years. When I asked her why she has not voted for the opposition during the many past elections but only now you are calling for change! "Saya sudah bangun dari tidur"(wake up from sleep), she added.

Well, well, I hope you guys "sudah bangun dari tidur" too. Brace for more landslides and more flooding so that you will be wide awake.

Read the story here: What is causing the flood.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Stall timber talks, NGO tells EU

Tony Thien Sep 5, 08 1:53pm

The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) is asking the European Union (EU) to stall its timber talks with Malaysia until the new allegation of Indonesian timber being smuggled via Sarawak is clarified.

“It is obvious that Malaysia is currently unable to fulfill the requirements of a voluntary partnership agreement with the EU because of widespread corruption at the government level, particularly in the timber-rich state of Sarawak,” the Basel/Switzerland-based NGO said in an emailed statement to Malaysiakini.

According to BMF, a top Sarawak leader is involved in a timber trade scam involving illegal imports of Indonesian logs and its re-export to third countries, including China, Taiwan and Japan.

The Swiss group - predominately involved in advocacy for peoples of the world’s rainforest -quoted a report in Tribun Pontianak, an Indonesian daily, that 30 shipments of illegal logs worth approximately US$220,000 were taken out from West Kalimantan by land or sea into Sarawak.

Also reported was the arrests of a forest controller and several other individuals - charged for complicity. Further, a top Sarawak leader as well as Hardwood Sdn Bhd - which belongs to a Sarawak state agency - have been implicated in the matter.

The Sarawak government so far has refrained from commenting.

EU ambassador to Malaysia Vincent Piket - while heading the EU delegation in Kuching - said that the timber trade agreement with Malaysia will be concluded by year-end, according to The Borneo Post.

“We are in the final phase of talks where we are looking at the mechanism whereby Malaysia certifies and authorises the export of timber,” he was quoted as saying.

He added: “ We are trying to see how Malaysia determines a log or piece of furniture to meet the legality condition and that is an important aspect, and once we have an agreement on that assessment mechanism, it means that we, as EU, can authorise without further legality tests or certification of timber coming from this country into the EU.”

NGOs dismayed

Meanwhile, BMF director Dr Lukas Straumann responding to Malaysiakini’s query said that he was worried about the news of the agreement concluding so quickly after the discovery in West Kalimantan.

“We are currently consulting with other NGOs to send a letter to the European Commission,” he said, adding that Malaysian-based NGOs are also unhappy with what is transpiring.

According to him, a Malaysian NGO walked out of the pro forma consultations in Kuala Lumpur a few months ago because none of their issues were given serious consideration.

Lukas said the main concern is that the Sarawak government will struggle to meet the legal parts of the timber agreement, due mainly to corruption.

“Any illegal activities related to timber trade from government actors can’t be tolerated if the EU is to conclude a voluntary partnership agreement with Malaysia,” the BMF director added.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Lights out? Experts fear fireflies are dwindling

Source: CNN

BAN LOMTUAN, Thailand (AP) -- Preecha Jiabyu used to take tourists on a rowboat to see the banks of the Mae Klong River aglow with thousands of fireflies.

A Thailand firefly, "Luciola Aquallis." Thailand's Mae Klong River was once aglow with thousands of fireflies.

These days, all he sees are the fluorescent lights of hotels, restaurants and highway overpasses. He says he'd have to row a good two miles (three kilometers) to see trees lit up with the magical creatures of his younger days.

"The firefly populations have dropped 70 percent in the past three years," said Preecha, 58, a former teacher who started providing dozens of row boats to compete with polluting motor boats. "It's sad. They were a symbol of our city."

The fate of the fireflies drew more than 100 entomologists and biologists to Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai last week for an international symposium on the "Diversity and Conservation of Fireflies."

They then traveled Friday to Ban Lomtuan, an hour outside of Bangkok, to see the synchronous firefly Pteroptyx malaccae -- known for its rapid, pulsating flashing that look like Christmas lights.

Yet another much-loved species imperiled by humankind? The evidence is entirely anecdotal, but there are anecdotes galore.

From backyards in Tennessee to riverbanks in Southeast Asia, researchers said they have seen fireflies -- also called glowworms or lightning bugs -- dwindling in number.

No single factor is blamed, but researchers in the United States and Europe mostly cite urban sprawl and industrial pollution that destroy insect habitat. The spread of artificial lights could also be a culprit, disrupting the intricate mating behavior that depends on a male winning over a female with its flashing backside.

"It is quite clear they are declining," said Stefan Ineichen, a researcher who studies fireflies in Switzerland and runs a Web site to gather information on firefly sightings.

"When you talk to old people about fireflies, it is always the same," he said. "They saw so many when they were young and now they are lucky now if they see one."

Fredric Vencl, a researcher at Stonybrook University in New York, discovered a new species two years ago only to learn its mountain habitat in Panama was threatened by logging.

Lynn Faust spent a decade researching fireflies on her 40-acre (16-hectare) farm in Knoxville, Tenn., but gave up on one species because she stopped seeing them.

"I know of populations that have disappeared on my farm because of development and light pollution," said Faust. "It's these McMansions with their floodlights. One house has 32 lights. Why do you need so many lights?"

But Faust and other experts said they still need scientific data, which has been difficult to come by with so few monitoring programs in place.

There are some 2,000 species and researchers are constantly discovering new ones. Many have never been studied, leaving scientists in the dark about the potential threats and the meaning of their Morse code-like flashes that signal everything from love to danger.

"It is like a mystery insect," said Anchana Thancharoen, who was part of a team that discovered a new species Luciola aquatilis two years ago in Thailand.

The problem is, a nocturnal insect as small as a human fingertip can't be tagged and tracked like bears or even butterflies, and counting is difficult when some females spend most of their time on the ground or don't flash.

And the firefly's adult life span of just one to three weeks makes counting even harder.

European researchers have tried taking a wooden frame and measuring the numbers that appear over a given time. Scientists at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia have been photographing fireflies populations monthly along the Selangor River.

But with little money and manpower to study the problem, experts are turning to volunteers for help. Web sites like the Citizen Science Firefly Survey in Boston, which started this year, encourage enthusiasts to report changes in their neighborhood firefly populations.

"Researchers hope this would allow us to track firefly populations over many years to determine if they are remaining stable or disappearing," said Christopher Cratsley, a firefly expert at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts who served as a consultant on the site run by the Boston Museum of Science.

Scientists acknowledge the urgency to assess fireflies may not match that of polar bears or Siberian tigers. But they insist fireflies are a "canary in a coal mine" in terms of understanding the health of an ecosystem.

Preecha, the teacher turned boatman, couldn't agree more. He has seen the pristine river of his childhood become polluted and fish populations disappear. Now, he fears the fireflies could be gone within a year.

"I feel like our way of life is being destroyed," Preecha said.