Best of our wild blogs: 13 June 11

Reef Survey @ Big Sisters Island 2011
from colourful clouds

Critters & Current
from Pulau Hantu

Anemone hunt in the mangroves!
from wild shores of singapore

Snake spotted on Upper Thomson Rd
from Lazy Lizard's Tales and Python spotted in Bukit Panjang drain during heavy downpour

from The annotated budak

Moulting in the Insect Kingdom
from Macro Photography in Singapore

110611 Tampines Eco-Green
from Singapore Nature

Sunda Pangolin
from Monday Morgue

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Bukit Brown: Progress comes first

Straits Times Forum 13 Jun 11;

I DISAGREE with Ms Erika Lim ('Protect what's left of cultural value'; last Saturday) that Bukit Brown cemetery deserves to be preserved. Cemeteries have to give way if our housing needs are to be met.

If the Government did not redevelop cemeteries along Orchard Road, we would not have buildings such as the Ngee Ann City shopping mall.

My grandparents were buried at Peck San Theng - now the Bishan housing estate. I used to enjoy clearing tall grass to find their tombstones during Qing Ming, and remember my elders burning joss sticks and incense papers.

The hills are gone, but we can still reminisce by looking at old photographs.

In land-scarce Singapore, social progress must prevail over conserving burial grounds. Life goes on. When one window to history is closed, we open a new one for future generations.

Paul Chan

Bukit Brown: Spare a thought for the alternative
Straits Times Forum 13 Jun 11;

THE fate of Bukit Brown cemetery echoes that of the old National Library. Upon the latter's removal, then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said: 'I hope... the new National Library will one day evoke similar memories for the younger Singaporeans.'

Six years on, however, the new library has not achieved the same level of public resonance as the old one. What is often overlooked is the fact that it is impossible to have the same affinity for new glass-and-steel buildings as one has for older constructions. Once destroyed, that quality can never be replicated or replaced.

In the new economy, old fragments are not just good for memories' sake, but help a city's competitive advantage by bolstering the sense of diversity, contradiction and creativity - all valuable assets now.

We need to see our history not as a hindrance or trade-off to progress, but a resource for it. Cities such as London and Paris are great precisely because they layer their history and keep so much of their old fabric intact.

Paradoxically, the inability to 'layer' is a typical Singaporean trait; the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Housing Board adopt a rather narrow definition of history, favouring more 'glorious' colonial-style buildings and shophouses while removing the less 'presentable' parts. For example, with the exception of Tiong Bahru, hardly a trace can be seen of earlier Housing Board estates or reminders of our nation-building past.

The scarcity of land is always cited as a reason against conservation. Singapore's land area is 712.4 sq km with a population density of 7,126 people per sq km. By contrast, Manhattan's land area is just 59.5 sq km with a density of 27,485 people per sq km. Potentially, 11 Manhattans can fit into one Singapore, with leftovers. This leads us to the question of the old library tunnel and Bukit Brown. Does it absolutely have to be that plot of land? It seems to be more an issue of values and priorities rather than necessity.

If there is no significant change in our value system and conservation policy, Singapore would be heading towards a homogenised future, with each generation preserving less and less of what is distinct. I urge the URA and Housing Board to spare a thought for the alternative.

Liu Zhenghao

It's about what we hold dear
Straits Times Forum 13 Jun 11;

THE current debate over the fate of Bukit Brown cemetery reminds me of an earlier one over the old National Library building.

Many impassioned pleas were made to preserve the building, but the Government insisted it was necessary to replace it with an underground road tunnel that seems, to me at least, to be under-utilised.

Ultimately, it is not just a matter of what we need but also what we want and what we hold dear. In Rome and many other Italian cities, the streets are extremely narrow because the people hold dear their millennia-old buildings. They could well have argued for a need to demolish these buildings to improve traffic flow, but they chose instead to live with the inconvenience.

More than a need to clear Bukit Brown for housing, we need to evaluate our needs and priorities as well as the possible options. For a start, we need to reconsider if we really need or want a projected population of 6.5 million people.

And if housing needs are that pressing, will Bukit Brown be converted into a Housing Board estate for the masses? Or will it, being in the prime district, be set aside for a small number of first-class bungalows for the rich?

Are there really no other options when, all over Singapore, there are pockets of old and under-utilised buildings?

Richard Seah

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Plumb depths of Singapore floods for good solutions

One year on, no one seems any wiser on the cause of recent floods
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 13 Jun 11;

NEARLY one year after flash floods rained on Singapore's proudest parade Orchard Road, some were surprised that there would be a replay of the baffling waterworks last Sunday.

After all, the national water agency, PUB, had vowed to do all it could to protect businesses and buildings in the area, and elsewhere, after last year's flood.

In the one year since two bouts of intense rain got dumped along the shopping avenue one morning, submerging the Scotts and Orchard Road junction, PUB had dived right into raising 1.4km of roads from Orchard Parade Hotel to Cairnhill Road to the tune of $26 million.

Yet, last Sunday, shoppers found themselves splashing about in ankle-deep water in Tanglin Mall while their groceries floated by. The Tanglin area has been spared floods for the past 25 years; last Sunday's washout surprised even PUB head Khoo Teng Chye.

So what happened? And why was it that the PUB's best efforts a year ago did not prevent more floods in Orchard Road?

Depending on who you talk to, everyone - from the agency to academics to angry coffee shop conversationalists - has a point of view.

Some say the weather is at fault. Perhaps weather patterns have changed, suggested Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, just two weeks into his job as Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. It's time to relook Singapore's drainage system to cope better with this phenomenon, he added.

But geographers demur that it's still too early to tell if weather patterns have changed. One terrible thunderstorm does not a climate trend make.

Indeed, statistics from the National Environment Agency (NEA) show no discernible trend in rainfall patterns over the last 30 years.

From 1980 to last year, the total annual rainfall has gone up and down, with the highest recorded in 2007 at 2,886mm and the lowest at 1,119mm in 1997. Last year, it was 2,075mm.

Rainfall intensity has also tended to fluctuate over the years and does not display a clear trajectory.

In other words, there's no data to support the theory that there is more rain these days, or that the rain is falling more intensely than decades ago.

Another common explanation for the floods is urbanisation. A concretised built-up environment spells the end of green spaces which formerly absorbed water run-offs. Now, all that water has nowhere to go, argued engineers and even greenies. These people want to see more green areas preserved or created to absorb or slow down the surface run-off.

In a post on Dr Balakrishnan's blog, one netizen who works in the construction industry, fingered jet grouting as the culprit. Used to treat and stabilise soil, this process makes the soil impermeable to water, a problem compounded by the density of buildings in Orchard Road.

'So in effect, we have a bowl-shaped, rock-hard valley with Orchard Road in the middle,' he described.

New developments have come up along Orchard Road, which some say contribute to the floods in heavy rain. After all, the mammoth Ion Orchard mall was once a 1.86ha green lung.

A third group blames the Marina Barrage, and says water accumulating there simply wasn't pumped out fast enough into the sea, causing a backflow.

The Government has been quick to pooh-pooh both theories. In Orchard Road, it says, drainage capacity had been factored in before the first bricks for Ion were even laid. It did concede that with Orchard Road nearly completely urbanised, the drains designed to service it have also maxed out.

As for the barrage, the Government says it has helped keep Chinatown, Boat Quay and other low-lying city areas free from flash floods. In any case, the upper end of Orchard Road is too far to have any impact on the barrage, PUB said.

Perhaps that exercise to raise roads after last year's floods channelled water to the Tanglin and Cuscaden stretches, the Orchard Road Business Association contended.

No, the situation could be far worse if not for the raised roads, countered PUB. Cuscaden also sits on a higher plane, so water should be flowing down to Orchard Road instead, it added.

PUB has since said that this year's flood was caused by a smaller drain at Grange Road that overflowed. It also said there were inadequate drainage pumps in buildings such as Tanglin Mall and Liat Towers, failing to keep the water out.

After last year's floodings in Orchard Road, PUB had first said it was a clogged drain. Then, it conceded that the 4km long Stamford Canal simply couldn't cope with all that rain that came pouring down in two hours.

The truth is that one year after the first spate of Orchard Road floods, no one - not even the experts in government - seems able to give a conclusive answer on what led to the floodings.

Was it because rainfall patterns had changed? While the Government said the rain last week was unusually intense, it has also admitted that rain intensity fluctuates and there is no clear pattern.

If there was no discernible change in rainfall patterns, were the floods due to urbanisation?

Due to unfortunate isolated incidents of a drain that got choked?

Or because drains and canals criss-crossing Orchard Road are too small to cope with sudden downpours?

So far, straight answers are not forthcoming - maybe it is impossible to pinpoint one single reason among the confluence of factors.

Meanwhile, PUB is ramping up its drain and road improvement works. These are mitigation measures that will probably be useful - but they may or may not prevent future floods.

This is why it is vital that this new panel of local and overseas experts that Dr Balakrishnan is appointing to review Singapore's flood-protection measures provide the answers that people are looking for.

It is important to plumb the depths of the floods and be as clear as possible on the root problem - what is causing these floods? Only then can good solutions be put in place.

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Illegal wild boar traps maiming stray dogs

Judith Tan Straits Times 13 Jun 11;

STRAY dogs are being maimed by illegal boar traps laid in forested areas of the north.

The canines have been losing legs after becoming ensnared in the wire loops.

Monkeys and even endangered species such as the pangolin have also been caught by the devices.

It is not known who is laying the traps, although groups of men have been seen entering the forested areas. It is believed they were hoping to trap the wild boar for food.

The dogs were abandoned when farms cleared out of areas in the north of Singapore. They live in deserted areas, foraging for food and falling prey to the illegal traps.

Their plight was brought to light when animal activists posted pictures online of injured dogs, some with only one, two or three limbs.

When The Straits Times visited the areas near Kranji on Friday, animal activists were trying to retrieve a female dog that had lost three legs, with the help of retiree S.C. Nar.

Mr Nar, 63, has been regularly feeding the strays every day for the past 11 years, spending up to $1,000 a month.

He told The Straits Times that the illegal traps were placed deep in the forested area, 'sometimes among the wild lalang'.

'Whenever one of the dogs goes missing, I will venture into the tall lalang, taller than me, to look for it, but I am growing apprehensive because of these traps,' he said.

Volunteer Colleen Goh, 42, was amazed at how trusting the dog with one good leg was, to allow Mr Nar to place it inside the carrier.

'I was very touched to see the trust she had for Uncle and how he, even though he tried not to show it, was so sad to see her leave. He called her Gao Bu (Hokkien for mother dog) and told her that she will be safe and was going somewhere where they will take care of her,' said Ms Goh.

The dog is being treated at Mount Pleasant Animal Hospital.

Wild boar can be found throughout much of Singapore: areas north of the Pan-Island Expressway; clusters around the Nee Soon Swamp Forest, Lower Peirce and Kranji Reservoirs, and the Western Catchment Area; and the forested areas along Old Choa Chu Kang Road.

At Lower Peirce Reservoir, a group of up to 15 wild boar has been sighted repeatedly.

In the Jurong area, sightings have become so common that at least two 'Caution! Animals Crossing' signs have been put up at the Jalan Bahar side entrance of the Nanyang Technological University.

In 2009, a sub-contractor fell into a camouflaged 3m-deep pit while looking for herbs and durians in Lim Chu Kang. The impact shattered a bone in his left foot.

A few weeks after that, a dog was rescued by animal welfare group Action for Singapore Dogs in the same area with its hind paw severed.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said yesterday that it was aware of the problem and is investigating.

Last year, the NParks and AVA were reported as saying they had no intention of capturing these animals.

The AVA does, however, authorise limited trapping or culling of wild boars, if they pose a nuisance or safety concern.

Although wild boar are not a threatened species, anyone found killing or keeping them can be charged under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, and fined up to $1,000 per animal.

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Mission to save Sabah's majestic wild cattle

Dennis Wong New Straits Times 13 Jun 11;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department recently launched a campaign to save the Bornean Banteng, a wild cattle species, from possibly becoming the first large mammal in recent times to become extinct.

The Bornean Banteng Programme, conducted together with the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and non-governmental organisation Hutan, is aimed at understanding the habits of the endangered species in order to save it.

The number of Bornean Banteng (Bos javanicus) is, after years of poaching and encroachment on its natural habitat, believed to be much less than that of elephants here and is on the endangered list.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said the programme would be a long-term one to provide insights into the ecology of the species.

"The results will assist us to develop an action plan for all bantengs in Sabah.

"With this, we hope to increase the awareness and appreciation of Sabah's wildlife, which we should protect against poaching, habitat degradation and loss."

Ecological information is crucial to the conservation of the banteng. However, its elusive behaviour, the remote inhospitable forest habitat and its small population make studies difficult.

"To overcome these problems, we will study its population in two forests reserves -- Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Malua Forest Reserve -- using satellite telemetry, camera traps and genetic analyses," said DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens.

The programme receives funding from the Houston Zoo, Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and Woodland Park Zoo.

It will also collaborate with several partners such as the Sabah Forestry Department, New Forests Asia Sdn Bhd and the Malua Biobank Project, Cardiff University, and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Cardiff University doctorate student Penny Gardner, who is attached to DGFC, said they had started setting up camera traps in Malua and Tabin.

"In Malua, we have collected some pictures of healthy adult males and females, as well as juveniles," she said.

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Malaysia: Smugglers want more pangolins

Audrey Dermawan New Straits Times 13 Jun 11;

GEORGE TOWN: Syndicates are trying to cash in on an increase in the price of pangolins in the black market by smuggling them into neighbouring countries.

Pangolins are currently priced at RM220 per kilogramme, up from RM200 just five months ago. State Wildlife Department officers, however, have been on the alert and early Saturday thwarted an attempt to smuggle 35 of the animals.

Following surveillance on the activities of one syndicate, officers moved in while several men were transferring the pangolins from the boot of one car to another in Butterworth about 4am.

The officers managed to arrest one of the men, but the others managed to flee.

State wildlife enforcement unit chief Khairul Nizam Yahaya said his officers managed to save the pangolins and also seized both the cars being used by the syndicate.

Khairul said initial investigations revealed that the syndicate had used a nearby temple as a transit point.

"They carry out the smuggling activities in the early hours of the morning to avoid detection by our officers but whatever their modus operandi was, we still managed to clip their wings."

Pangolin meat is believed to have medicinal value and is widely sought after in the black market.

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