Conservation NGO courting influential patrons in Singapore

International conservation group Fauna and Flora International (FFI) is hoping to court deep-pocketed, influential patrons here who are keen on protecting biodiversity.

Its president, Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, launched the Singapore arm of its Conservation Circle at a dinner at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Tuesday night. Already, members like Mr Anderson Tanoto, scion of the founder of pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April), have signed on.

The Conservation Circle comprises about 75 individuals around the world, such as Ms Diana Van de Kemp, director of wildlife charity Wildinvest, and Ms Georgina Swire, part of the British family which started the Swire Group shipping, agribusiness and aviation empire.

"The way that FFI is financed is very much from organisations, governments and private wealth, which allows us to direct most of the funding directly to the work we do on the ground," Princess Laurentien said. It is starting its Conservation Circle here because "Singapore is a regional hub for many things, and we're mirroring that," she added.

FFI set up its Asia-Pacific regional headquarters here in 2011 to oversee its Asian projects such as protecting tigers in Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park, and re-introducing Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia. Tuesday's event marks a ramping up of its activities in Singapore. Its other activities will include a forest governance and haze workshop with the National University of Singapore in August, and a US$900,000 (S$1.1 million) fund for small loans to environmentally-sustainable Indonesian businesses, to be run from Singapore.

Meanwhile, pulp and paper firm April intends to expand its 20,000ha ecosystem restoration project in Indonesia's Riau province, which it started with FFI early in 2013.

The firm has set aside two more pieces of land in Riau's Kampar Peninsula for conservation, April chairman Bey Soo Khiang said on the sidelines of Tuesday's event.

Ahead of this year's haze season, Mr Bey said the firm was also working with local police and security forces to talk to villagers about the hazards of burning.

April earlier this year pledged to stop clearing forests for plantations by December, after the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a group of large firms committed to sustainability, put its membership on hold for a year for allegations of deforestation practices.

Pulp and paper firms are among those that have been blamed for clearing natural forests for fibre which reduces habitat for wildlife such as tigers and orangutans, and for either causing or condoning burning to clear land which contributes to smoke haze.