Chicken-culling issue ought to have been better managed: AVA

TOH EE MING Today Online 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — When it comes to managing Singapore’s animal population, culling will be done only as “a last resort”, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20).

He was responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh in relation to the culling of 24 free-roaming chickens in the Sin Ming area, which had sparked a public outcry recently.

Dr Koh pointed out that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) had found that the free-roaming chicken population in the Sin Ming area had “more than doubled” in the past two years, from about 20 in 2014 to 50 last year.

Given that chickens are more susceptible to bird flu, compared to other birds such as pigeons, and can transmit the virus to humans, Dr Koh said the AVA decided to remove some of the chickens, and to keep their population close to the “baseline level”.

When asked by Mr Ng for the number of people who complained, rather than the number of complaints relating to the chickens in Sin Ming, Dr Koh disclosed there were three people who complained in 2014, five in 2015 and 13 people last year.

Countering suggestions that the chickens could have been easily relocated to the wild, such as in Pulau Ubin or other forested areas, Dr Koh said this could create a situation of inter-breeding, thus adversely affecting the genetic stock of the endangered species of red junglefowl, which are found in Ubin and the Western Catchment area.

And while rehoming of chickens is a possible solution, it cannot be done in the same way it is done for cats and dogs, since the fowl cannot be housed in Housing and Development Board flats and they also carry the risk of transmitting avian influenza.

However, Dr Koh said that the AVA acknowledged that engagement and communications with residents and other stakeholders on the Sin Ming chickens issue “ought to have been better managed”.

Adding that there is no “magic number” on what the threshold figure should be before the authorities decide to cull, and citing a lack of specific recommendations on when to cull free-roaming chickens when there is no bird flu infection, Dr Koh reiterated that the AVA takes a “calibrated and measured approach” to reduce the risks posed to public health.

To find the best way to manage the population of free-ranging chickens and other birds, the AVA is currently undertaking research with academics, wildlife experts and other public agencies, he added.

For instance, in January last year, the authority initiated a study with the National University of Singapore to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species, such as free-range chickens, in Singapore.

Separately, in response to another parliamentary question filed by Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Dr Koh said the AVA received about 21,000 cases of bird-related complaints in the last three years, mostly related to the feeding of pigeons by the public, and pigeon nuisance.

Beyond reducing cases of birds feeding on leftover food in hawker centres, Dr Koh cited other solutions to the problem, such as bird deterrent gels, oral contraceptives for pigeons, and fogging trees to deter mynahs.

However, in situations where the authorities perceive the risk is high or there is a higher incidence of bird flu around the region, for instance, they might have to step up measures “more aggressively”, such as culling these birds to reduce the risk.

“Clearly, there is no perfect answer. If you want a perfectly safe environment, then yes, we should go all out, guns blazing, to remove every single bird from the sky of Singapore.

“But that’s not a practical approach ... You can cull a thousand birds today and tomorrow, another thousand will fly in from somewhere else ... So, it’s something we have to take a practical view and escalate when necessary,” Dr Koh said.

Culling of free-ranging chickens will only be done as 'last resort': MND
Melissa Zhu Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will only cull free-ranging chickens and other animals as a "last resort", Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20).

AVA recently said it culled 24 free-roaming chickens in the Sin Ming area after getting about 20 complaints from residents last year, largely about noise. This ignited public debate, after which AVA director-general Yap Him Hoo clarified that the culling was due to concerns over public health and safety and not the noise issue.

Responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Daniel Goh on Monday, Dr Koh said AVA found that the free-roaming chicken population near Sin Ming Avenue had more than doubled in the last two years from about 20 to more than 50 birds.

AVA received complaints about the fowl from three people in 2014, five in 2015 and 13 in 2016. The higher number of people complaining "clearly correlates" to the increased sighting of birds, Dr Koh said.

Noting that free-roaming chickens had a higher risk than other birds of being infected with and transmitting the bird flu virus to humans, Dr Koh reiterated that AVA's culling of the birds was not motivated solely by noise concerns.

"That said, AVA acknowledges that engagement and communications with residents and other stakeholders on this issue ought to have been better managed," he said.

Dr Koh, who is also MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, urged the community to "act responsibly" by not feeding wildlife. Doing so would disturb the balance in the ecosystem and increase the risks of human-animal cross-transmission of diseases as well as conflicts due to human-wildlife contact, he explained.

Regarding suggestions that the chickens could be re-located to the wild, such as to Pulau Ubin or other forested areas, Dr Koh said the free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming and most urban settings were "highly unlikely" to be of native stock.

The free-ranging chickens were brought in by humans, perhaps to be raised as pets, and would therefore be different from the endangered indigenous red junglefowl, the Minister of State said. Thus, they could threaten the genetic stock of the native species if there was inter-breeding.

Dr Koh also encouraged the public to refrain from abandoning pets. He said: "Not only is it cruel and against the law, but it will also cause an imbalance and an adverse impact on our native wildlife population."

However, Mr Ng said he had seen photos of the chickens at the Sin Ming area and at least some of them were red junglefowl.

In answer to this, Dr Koh acknowledged that AVA would need to conduct genetic studies to ascertain whether the chickens found in the area were red junglefowl or other breeds.

AVA is continuing to undertake research with academics, wildlife experts and other public agencies to find the best ways to manage the population of free-ranging chickens and other birds, according to Dr Koh.

The agency will involve different stakeholders, including the community and animal welfare groups, in exploring various approaches and solutions to the issue, he added.

- CNA/mz


Chickens had to be culled due to health risks: Dr Koh
Audrey Tan, The New Paper AsiaOne 21 Feb 17;

Culling of animals will only be done as a last resort, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon after a public outcry over the culling of 24 free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming last month.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Dr Koh said the population of free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming had doubled to 50, and studies have shown chicken are more susceptible to the bird flu virus, compared to other birds such as pigeons.

Citing a report by the World Health Organisation, Dr Koh added that there is scientific evidence that chickens can in turn transmit the disease to humans.

That is why the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) felt it had to take action to manage the chicken population there, he said, noting that complaints about noise was not the only reason behind the culling.

Also the chickens, though free-roaming, are not wild birds, he said in response to Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, who asked about the episode, which generated a debate that lasted nearly 30 minutes, as MPs sought more clarity on the issue and AVA's approach to culling.

ADVERSE

That is why they could not be relocated, as doing so adversely affects the genetic stock of the native red junglefowl - the endangered ancestor of the domestic chicken.

Dr Koh told Parliament that AVA is conducting scientific studies to enhance its animal management strategies.

He also urged people not to feed wildlife, as such a practice disturbs the balance in the ecosystem and will invariably increase human-wildlife contact, and lead to conflict.

On the Sin Ming birds, Dr Koh said AVA had initiated a study with the National University of Singapore in January last year to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species here, one of which is free-ranging chickens.

He said: "AVA will also involve different stakeholders, including the community and animal welfare groups, in exploring various approaches and solutions.

"Culling will only be done as a last resort. Ultimately, we want to thrive as a City in a Garden, living in harmony with nature, and enjoying the flora and fauna around us."

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