Best of our wild blogs: 15 May 11

16-21 May: Wayang at Ubin
from wild shores of singapore

Butterfly of the Month - The Green Imperial
from Butterflies of Singapore

Along Old Upper Thomson Road Part 2
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Chek Jawa with the Naked Hermit Crabs
from wild shores of singapore

Collared kingfisher - breeding along canal
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
from Fahrenheit minus 459

Seagrass Watch Magazine issue 43 (April 2011)
from teamseagrass

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Making friends in the wild: our long-tailed macaques

Joel Cooper Straits Times 15 May 11;

Whenever I get a day off work, I like nothing better than to relax in the company of my new friends.

They are a lively, free-spirited bunch who really know how to have fun.

OK, they can be a little boisterous at times. Fights have been known to break out, and I once caught two of them sharing an, ahem, intimate moment in full view of several shocked passers-by.

Not that my friends cared. After all, they are only long-tailed macaques.

My friendship with the wild monkeys of MacRitchie Reservoir Park is perhaps a little one-sided. Most of the time they either ignore me or simply stare with a slightly bored expression that seems to say: 'Give me some food, or get lost.'

But even though I'm far from the first Homo sapien to intrude on their territory, every moment I spend with them feels like a rare and magical privilege.

It reminds me of a wildlife documentary I watched as a child, in which the presenter manages to ingratiate himself with a band of mountain gorillas, who lovingly groom him for insects as if he were just another member of the family.

My monkeys do not actually touch me, of course - except for one time when a surprisingly heavy patriarch trod on my foot with his front paw. I could tell by his bulging belly, bushy white sideburns and the way he sauntered confidently around that he was Commander-in-Chief of Monkey Land, so I let the insult pass.

I can't honestly say that my new friends recognise me, either. This is fair enough, as although I might think I've seen an individual monkey before, I have no way of genuinely telling them apart.

When they interact as a family, however, their personalities begin to shine through. Glued to the spot, I crouch in the shade of the jungle canopy and watch as a vibrant tableau of familiar relationships takes shape before me.

There are the bickering, hormone-charged youths who wrestle on the boardwalk next to the reservoir. They remind me of my brother and I as kids growing up in England. In fact, their furry fringes look a bit like the haircut I had as a teenager.

Then there are the lovers, stretched out languorously in a haze of conjugal bliss, tenderly picking bugs from one another's hairy flanks. Ah, the joys of romance.

But by far the most arresting sight I have witnessed during my day-pass visits to Monkey Land was that of a wide-eyed baby, clinging fearlessly to its mother's belly as she leapt through thin air from branch to branch. Safely back on solid ground, she cradled her baby in a tender embrace.

Meanwhile, the clan formed a protective shield around the curious infant, gently batting its paw away each time it reached out to touch my shoe.

The bond between mother and child moved me deeply and I could not help thinking about the happy day when, I hope, my wife and I will have a little monkey of our own.

Fascinating as they are, it was not the macaques that first drew me to MacRitchie. Instead, I was attracted by its winding forest trails, which are ideal for running. During my seven years spent living in London, I would often jog along the banks of the River Thames, in the shadow of Big Ben.

Impressive though that route was, nothing compares to the freedom of racing through the jungle, with shafts of milky sunlight filtering through the foliage and the shrill cry of cicadas filling your ears.

When I moved to Singapore in October, I found it a frustrating place to jog. My late working hours on The Straits Times news desk meant I had no time to run at night, away from the sun's relentless glare.

As for jogging during the day - forget it. My ang moh face would turn red as a tomato within minutes.

I ended up pounding away week after week on a gym treadmill, with nothing to occupy my brain but daydreams of tackling more interesting routes - up and down Arabian dunes with the desert sand whipping through my hair, or across polar glaciers, pursued by hungry bears.

Then I discovered MacRitchie, a place where I could jog to my heart's content, shielded from the sun by lush vegetation. Nowadays, I do far less actual running there, as my attention is distracted by the monkeys. I guess I should try to do more.

After all, there is a saying: 'The traveller who drags his feet raises only dust.'

Its author? The legendary Sun Wukong, otherwise known as the Monkey King. Maybe my new friends aren't so simple after all.

The writer, from England, is a Straits Times copy editor. He has lived in Singapore for seven months.

Joel Cooper

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More and cheaper organic veggies in Singapore

Retailers are increasing variety to meet demand and farms are using technology to boost yield
Jessica Lim Straits Times 15 May 11;

More consumers are going 'organic', and supermarkets here are happy to oblige, while bringing prices down too.

Organic vegetables are grown without pesticides and other chemicals.

Pasar Organic - the housebrand organic range of supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice - now stocks white asparagus, sugar snap peas and chayote shoot.

By August, 27 other greens will be added, doubling the number of organic items under this housebrand. Cost savings can go up to 70 per cent less than the brand-name counterparts.

FairPrice reckons that demand for its organic greens has grown 25 per cent year on year since 2008, when the trend first took off.

Cold Storage and Jasons Market Place too have had organic vegetables on their shelves for some years.

Over the past two years, they have increased their range of organic vegetables by 30 per cent, with demand seeing year-on-year double-digit percentage point growth during that time.

One wholesaler, Zenxin Organic Food, a major organic greens supplier to supermarkets and restaurants, has seen a 20 per cent jump in sales over the past two years. It now sells 100 types of organic vegetables, up from 70 two years ago. Among the new items it has started importing are four-angled beans, silverbeets, kale, Swede and lemongrass.

'Customers requested these items so we decided to bring them in,' said the company's director, Mr Tai Seng Yee, 28, who owns five farms in Malaysia.

He felt that the generally lower prices of such greens now have helped to spur demand. 'Last time you could not get any organic vegetables for less than $2 per 250g. Now, you can,' he said.

Mr Tai sells organic xiao bai cai at $1.99 for 250g, and sweet potato leaf at $1.80 for 250g. Two years ago, these items would have cost more than $2.

Mr Tng Ah Yiam, FairPrice's managing director of group purchasing, merchandising and international trading, attributed the lower prices to increased supply from the region as a result of improved technology and the heightened demand.

'Previously, many farmers in these places did not know how to get high-yield levels without using pesticide. Improved technology has changed that,' he said. He added that increased demand encouraged more farmers to grow such crops. 'The trend is really catching on. Consumers are now more educated and health-conscious.'

Consumers also benefit price-wise when more farmers in the region grow organic vegetables, since it is cheaper to transport vegetables from such areas than from farther-flung countries.

FairPrice pushes prices down even further for Pasar Organic by cutting down on middlemen. It goes straight to the source - 11 farms in Thailand, sweetened by long-term contracts.

The chain also helps the farms to source for organic seeds, increase their yield and transport their harvests to Singapore in air-conditioned trucks.

Pasar Organic also comes with its own certification label guaranteeing that the items are truly organic. Some rules: The farms in Thailand have to be about 10km away from industrial land, and organic produce must be packed in special containers away from non-organic ones.

The chain aims to stock its organic brand at 50 of its stores by 2013. It now stocks it at 30 stores, including all FairPrice Finest outlets, up from 20 in 2008.

Teacher Christine Teo, 24, started going organic a month ago.'I've read a lot about the harmful effects of pesticides and now it's not as expensive as before. I pay just a little more, so why not?' she said, adding that the recent food scares also played a part in her decision to go organic.

Others, like Madam Fang Qiu Li, 52, a civil servant, eat organic vegetables for health reasons and the added nutrition.

Experts, however, say this is a myth.

'The term organic describes a method of production rather than the characteristics of the food,' said Mr Lim Meng Thiam, a dietitian at the Health Promotion Board's Adult Health Division.

'There is no conclusive evidence that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventionally produced food.'

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Sarawak on full alert for haze

The Star 14 May 11;

KUCHING: The Sarawak Natural Resources and Enviroment Board (NREB), a state-owned environmental protection and preservation agency, is now on alert over the possible return of haze in view of the prolonged hot and dry season.

NREB controller Peter Sawal said NREB offices in Kuching, Betong, Sibu, Mukah, Bintulu, Miri and Limbang had been directed to monitor any activity, especially open burning, in the urban and rural areas that might cause a haze.

"At the moment there will be no blanket ban on open burning in Sarawak but if the weather continues to be drier, then we will take immediate measures," he told Bernama, here Saturday.

Peter said one of the protocols that needed to be adhered to when imposing a blanket ban on open burning was that the Air Pollution Index (API) reading must reach an unhealthy level of above 100.

"As of now, the API is still below 100 but with the weather expected to get humid in the coming weeks, the NREB will monitor (the situation) closely," he said.

Peter, however, said the ban on open burning would be based on a case-to-case basis depending on weather conditions in their respective areas.

"If the weather gets drier, even those who had the permission from NREB to conduct open burning will be required to stop their activities as soon as possible," he said - Bernama

Sarawak on the alert as dry spell prolongs
New Straits Times 14 May 11;

KUCHING: The Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB), a state-owned environmental protection and preservation agency, is on the alert for haze in view of the prolonged hot and dry season.

Bernama reports that NREB controller Peter Sawal said NREB offices here, in Betong, Sibu, Mukah, Bintulu, Miri and Limbang had been directed to monitor any activity, especially open burning, that might cause haze.

"At the moment, there is no blanket ban on open burning in Sarawak but if the weather continues to be dry, we will take immediate steps."

Sawal said imposing a blanket ban on open burning would only be considered if the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading was above 100.

"As of now, the API is below 100 but with the weather expected to get more humid in the coming weeks, we will monitor the situation closely."

He said the ban on open burning would be carried out on a case-to-case basis depending on weather conditions.

"If the weather gets worse, even those who have the NREB's permission to conduct open burning will be required to stop their activities."

Meanwhile, Minderjeet Kaur reports that the air quality nationwide remained at "good" and "moderate" levels yesterday for the second time this week, with isolated thunderstorms and rain.

Sporadic rain is also expected next week.

The downpour three days ago helped clear the hazy skyline which had enveloped most cities since the start of this week. The temperature dropped from 36.2oC a few days ago to 33.5oC yesterday.

People were also breathing in better air quality with API readings of below 70 compared with 90 and above earlier this week.

Johor and Bukit Rambai in Malacca recorded an API of 70 while the rest of the country recorded readings of 65 and below.

Tanjung Malim, which recorded an unhealthy API of above 100 earlier in the week, had a reading of 34 yesterday, while Miri recorded the lowest at 16.

According to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry website, air quality readings nationwide ranged from 30 to 60.

(API readings of 50 and below are categorised as healthy; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; and, above 300, hazardous.)

The Meteorological Department's website said isolated thunderstorms and rain continued up to last night with a maximum temperature of 34oC, which dropped to between 25oC and 27oC at night in most parts of the country.

The department had earlier said hot temperatures were expected to last for the next few weeks with sporadic showers.

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Malaysia: female panther trapped in Negeri Sembilan

Perhilitan traps female panther in Negeri Sembilan
New Straits Times 14 May 11;

KUALA PILAH: The Negeri Sembilan Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) has caught a female panther in Kampung Tanjung Limau Purut, Ulu Bendul here yesterday.

Its director, Mohd Zaide Mohamed Zin, said the three-year-old female panther, weighing 20kg, was caught after she fell into a trap behind a villager's house, which was set since May 5 using a goose as bait.

"At 7.55pm yesterday, the villager heard the fall of the trap-door and believing that the panther had been trapped, he contacted our officials.

"We have sent the panther to be taken care of by the Melaka Zoo," he told Bernama when contacted, here today.

Mohd Zaide said this was the second panther caught in the village after the first one in February.

Prior to this, he said a villager, Muhamad Yunus, who is also goose breeder, had filed a complaint to Perhilitan after some of his geese and turkeys, were devoured by the panther, causing him to suffer losses amounting to RM400.

"We have carried out investigation and identified the possible predator before setting up the trap," he said. -- Bernama

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