Monday, 11 January 2016

Letter to the Editor: Highway Construction Will Hasten Wildlife Extinction


Malaysian social media was set abuzz in the past few days over photographs of a displaced Sumatran serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) in a residential neighbourhood in Ukay Perdana, not far from Taman Rimba Ampang which has recently been closed to the public to facilitate the construction of the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE).

Although the sighting of the rare mammal constituted proof of the existence of serows in the forests of Selangor, concerned citizens, environmental activists and wildlife experts expressed their fear that this incident is only the beginning in the irreversible process of destruction of wildlife habitats and the continued displacement, endangerment and local extinction of wildlife once construction of the EKVE begins in earnest. The Sumatran serow is already described in the IUCN Red List as being vulnerable, endangered and in significant decline due to overhunting and habitat loss.

Wildlife sighting in urban areas is not cute. It is a sign that habitats are destroyed and fragmented, and wildlife are unable to find food and water, establish territory or reproduce. Wild animals wandering into urban areas are at risk of being poached, poisoned, harassed by people or domestic animals and injured and killed by motor vehicles.

Environmental organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, Forest Stewardship Council and Global Forest Watch have long reported that road and highway construction play a large role in causing habitat and biodiversity loss and species extinction. In their 2002 paper “What Drives Tropical Deforestation?”, scientists Helmut Geist and Eric Lambin reported that overland transport infrastructure, that is, road and highway construction, accounted for 72% of tropical deforestation. Highway and road construction create opportunities for unscrupulous loggers, poachers, developers, vandals, and profiteers to enter into, plunder and destroy previously inaccessible forested areas. Road construction also kills animals and plants directly, and breaks up habitats into fragments too small to sustain wildlife populations.

Although the Selangor State Government claims that there is a list of conditions drawn up by the Drainage and Irrigation Department, Public Works Department, and MPAJ’s Planning Department as guidelines in the construction and management of the said expressway, none of these mitigation measures have been made available for public viewing and feedback, and the bewildered and displaced serow is a strong indication that the existing mitigation measures, if any, are insufficient to protect wildlife populations.

The extinction of endangered species such as the Sumatran serow is just one of the probable adverse environmental impacts of proceeding with the construction of the EKVE. The construction of the EKVE, which will cut through the Selangor State Park and other forest reserves, will compromise air quality, water resources and other ecosystem services.

The Selangor State Government needs to honour its initial promise during the last General Elections to halt or terminate all proposed highway projects. No mitigation measure, wildlife corridor or wildlife barrier can sufficiently protect human and environmental health or wildlife populations in an environmentally-sensitive area such as the Selangor State Park and Ampang and Ulu Gombak forest reserves. The EKVE project needs to be scrapped with immediate effect before further devastation occurs. Despite popular belief, tropical rainforests are not a renewable resource. Old-growth, biologically diverse rainforests cannot just be replanted or replaced. Once logged, it takes decades and centuries for forests to return to their previous status as carbon sinks and water catchment areas. The State Government and MB must cease paying lip service to the ideas of environmental sustainability and social justice, and start taking actions consistent with their claims and election manifesto.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

Out and About with friends from Hyderabad

One of the perks of owning my own home and being single is that I get to entertain friends as often as I want to, and can have guests to stay without any inconvenience to myself or my guests.

I was thrilled when my old friend Jayasimha, who I met at the Asia for Animals Conference in Chengdu in 2011, informed me that he intended to visit Peninsular Malaysia with his family around Christmas, and I immediately offered them a place to stay.

The best thing about having guests from abroad is that you get to see your own country and city through different and new eyes all over again. Playing host and tour guide to Jayasimha, Divya and 3-year-old Vedanth gave me great pleasure. They arrived on Boxing Day and we visited my favourite places in the Klang Valley for 3 days. They left for Puteri Harbour and Legoland in Johor on Day 4, after which I returned to work.

Katniss has a new best friend. I don't think she wants to let Vedanth go home to Hyderabad now.

First stop: Batu Caves!

The interior of the main cave was under construction :( Most disappointing! They should leave it as natural as possible. Tourists and devotees are not here to see a built-up temple and painted cave walls)

Cool wind coming in from the openings of the cave.

Taking a break on the temple steps. 

The story of Muruga and Ganesha. I love it that Little Ganesha has a Little Mushika with him.(Unfortunately partly cropped out of the picture in my haste).

Beneath the idol of Muruga with his peacock.

At the Dark Caves run by the Malaysian Nature Society

Second stop: Volunteering with Reach Out Malaysia and then stopping by Central Market to see arts and crafts.

My guests joined in to help with the distribution :) Divya was put in charge of the apples and Jayasimha and Divya got to experience volunteering with the homeless and urban poor on their first day in KL.

With apples, cakes and chips sponsored by Aravind, ZiKi, Mark, Nicole and me.

Once we were done with the distribution (which Jayasimha was quite impressed with due to the speed and efficiency of the Reach Out team and the discipline of our homeless clients), we went to Central Market to look at arts and crafts and souvenirs.

Tasting rambutan for the first time :)

And of course this had to happen later that night since I live 10 minutes away from Ikea!

Vedanth got to ride the Postman Pat van when we made a 'quick stop' at Daiso near my apartment the following morning. Everyone knows that Daiso is a time machine -- you plan to get in and out within 10 minutes and end up lost in there for hours.

We went to my favourite restaurant, Vegelife, for lunch. Jayasimha is an adventurous eater and loved the Hakka green tea rice.

We arrived in Kuala Selangor 5 minutes after the last tram and were very disappointed when they would not sell us any more tickets. We pleaded with and cajoled the nice council worker and tram driver and asked Vedanth to give them his saddest face and they finally relented and made a special trip just for us! I gave them a nice tip for being so obliging.

The tram took us to the top of Bukit Malawati and stopped there for a little while so we could enjoy the sunset.

Taking the tram back down the hill and through the town. So glad the rain stopped long enough and the driver was so kind as to go out of his way for us.

Taking Vedanth to say Thank You to the nice Tram Driver Uncle and Council Officer Uncle for taking us on a tram ride after official business hours.

And we drove back up the hill in my car to meet the gentle friendly silver leaf monkeys of Bukit Malawati. Here is a mother with her youngster whose fur is still golden and has not moulted.

Vedanth meets the gentle friendly silver leaf monkeys under my close supervision (since he is braver than Appa and wanted to meet the monkeys so much!)

Vedanth has many interesting things to say to the gentle friendly silver leaf monkeys. "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me! Would you like a nice banana? Or a nice slice of potato?" 
I foresee a successful career in Marketing for Vedanth.

And once again the Universe conspired to make good things happen for us! There was distant lightning in the sky as we left Kuala Selangor Nature Park and I was afraid it would rain before we got to see the fireflies. But the weather held up and we got there and purchased our tickets and were in a rowboat within minutes. And we got to see the famous synchronous congregating fireflies of Sungai Selangor. 
Well, it's like the 7th time for me of course, but the first time for my dear friends and they were delighted.
It rained like crazy on the drive home.
Thank you, Universe, for holding on to the rain clouds until we got off the boat.

The jetty from a distance taken from our little rowboat.

My friends left in their rented car for Johor on Day 4 but not before leaving me with a feast of vegan goodies from their home city.

Vegan sweets from Hyderabad! I'm not sharing! I'm not sharing!
Well, okay maybe I will but we must cut them into leeeetle-leeeetle pieces so we can try all the different ones.

I trust my friends enjoyed their stay with me as much as I enjoyed hosting them! Please come again soon, Jayasimha, Divya and Vedanth, and tell your friends and family that Malaysia is a nice country with nice people!

Kedai Jalanan and Green Living Collaboration

Kedai Jalanan is such a great project that by the middle of the year, I was making plans with Lin Idrus to have a joint session to get Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Green Living to work together with Kedai Jalanan. What's there not to love about it? Preloved clothes, bags and usable items are kept out of landfills and are given a new lease of life. The urban poor and homeless community are treated with dignity and offered useful things new to them. MNS members get to volunteer with the homeless community and meet our street clients, many for the first time.
I did an event writeup and announcement in our newsletter which ran for two months to give our members sufficient time to spring clean for a good cause. I included facts such as that most  of the clothes dropped off in recycling bins end up being sold in 'bundle stores' in developing countries instead of being used to directly benefit the underprivileged in our own city. Many of our clients have also requested clothes suitable for work (e.g. blouses, work shirts, trousers, shoes, baju kurung) as they wish to attend job interviews to seek better employment opportunities, so let us help them in order that they may help themselves. The objective of this project is to help redirect usable resources to local beneficiaries.

The first month, I received a few inquiries, but the second month onwards, response was phenomenal. MNS members from near and far called to arrange for collection and delivery of clothing and other items. Many asked to volunteer. Lin and I were pleasantly surprised by the positive response, especially at the last minute. There was a carnival-like atmosphere at the sidewalks of Jalan Panggung on the Sunday afternoon we set up our pop-up store (20th Dec). Even some of the homeless individuals came to help us unpack and hang up clothing and put up clothing racks.
The volunteers interacted really well with our street clients and everyone felt it to be a very positive experience.

The meeting point.
(Photo credits: Liza Manshoor)

Volunteers helping to put up racks and hang up clothing. Some of our street clients showed up early to help so that they would be first in line to choose the items they want.  We love interacting with them when they come early to help, before things get too crazy at the pop-up store and conversation becomes impossible.

Some of our MNS volunteers from Kuantan and other cities coordinated their visits to KL with this weekend so that they could come and help out.

Rangamal and Rizal working together to sort and hang up clothing.

 Proud of our reliable volunteers: Rangamal, Liza, Illani and Pui May.
Pasu, Jehan, Husna and Fashilah. Volunteers and friends like them is what makes our country beautiful. 
 MNS volunteers, represent!
From left: Pasupathy, Rizal, me, Illani and Pui May.
 (Photo credits: Liza Manshoor)

Business in full swing. Our street clients were very happy that they got to choose more items this time around thanks to the increased number of donated items.

Lin Idrus (left) and her fantastic UM team. Our good friends Leena (4th from left) and Jun (far right) were in town and joined in, too. 
We received so many donated goods that our pop-up store extended to the sidewalks of 3 shophouses (all of which are thankfully closed on Sundays). Our street clients can be seen here choosing footwear, bags and toiletries. 

Most of the items were all taken up by our street clients by the end of the evening (around 7 p.m.) and the volunteers packed up the remaining items to be taken to the urban poor community in Chow Kit, so nothing was wasted.
It was a wonderful and productive Sunday and a good start to the holiday season. Sharing our resources is good for the Planet and human society, and volunteering makes better persons of us all.