Best of our wild blogs: 31 Jul 11

Work on Bukit Timah Eco-Link begins
from The Biology Refugia

Life History of Arhopala amphimuta amphimuta
from Butterflies of Singapore

Fishes galore on oil-slicked Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore and More plastic spill on Tanah Merah

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Preserve ecological gem in Bedok

Sunday Times 31 Jul 11;

I was dismayed to learn that the heavily wooded forest that abuts onto the hill at Bedok Reservoir Park will be sliced off for an upcoming low-rise residential development by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Picture the new scenario: a condominium that dominates the landscape, with signposts stating that trespassers will be prosecuted; the din during the construction when one is trying to enjoy nature at the hilltop; and the many giant trees that will be felled, which will destroy the natural habitats of birds and other wildlife.

The hill is a prominent landmark for many joggers and nature lovers. By turning its vicinity into a residential estate, the whole scene will become an eyesore.

We should consider safeguarding as much of the natural environment as possible.

It has taken decades for the trees in the area to grow to such a mature stage, particularly the giant banyan trees. The lush vegetation also serves as a carbon sink and natural air-conditioner.

The National Parks Board could perhaps take over this verdant oasis and make it accessible to the public. This green parcel alongside Bedok Reservoir hill could be conserved as an avian sanctuary and a haven for little creatures.

I hope that URA would listen with a heart and preserve this ecological gem.

Sor Boon Kia

Greenery fast vanishing in Fernvale
Sunday Times 31 Jul 11;

Ten years ago, my husband and I chose our new flat at Fernvale in Sengkang, lured by promises of 'lush greenery'.

However, over the last few years, we have witnessed blocks of new flats sprouting up around us with alarming speed. The promised lush greenery is fast disappearing, and Fernvale is in danger of becoming densely populated.

While I understand that a certain level of population is required to support commercial activities in the area, the Housing Board should revisit its initial blueprint for Fernvale and ensure that the overall concept is maintained, while providing new residential projects.

I hope that in the years to come, I will still be able to enjoy the view of green fields and open skies when I look out of my windows.

Ang Chin Chin (Ms)

Care taken to save trees in Bedok
Sunday Times 7 Aug 11;

We thank Mr Sor Boon Kia for his letter last Sunday ('Preserve ecological gem in Bedok').

We recognise the importance of keeping our green spaces as Singapore develops. However, given Singapore's land limitations, we need to take a balanced approach to ensure that sufficient land is also provided for our housing needs.

Even when we released the land parcel at Bedok Reservoir Road/Bedok North Road for residential development, we have been careful to retain the existing public access to the hill, as well as the mature banyan trees within Bedok Reservoir Park.

The site boundaries of this development will also not encroach upon the bird sanctuary within Bedok Reservoir Park, which is safeguarded as park land.

The proposed development has been kept low-scale so as to keep it compatible with the surroundings.

The developer is also encouraged to sensitively design the development to keep the existing topography and retain as many trees as possible.

Hwang Yu-Ning (Ms)
Group Director (Physical Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority

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Poaching problem growing in Singapore

Higher number of cases reported to AVA only tip of the iceberg, say nature lovers
Judith Tan Straits Times 31 Jul 11;

Night-time is not safe for wild birds and animals here, it seems.

Under the cover of darkness, poachers are trapping wildlife, said nature lovers, who added that the higher number of cases reported to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) represents only the tip of the iceberg.

The AVA handled 22 cases last year, more than double the figure of 10 the year before.

Of the 22 and 10 cases, 20 and nine were linked to birds. AVA said two people were fined between $300 and $500 for trapping spotted doves in 2007 and 2009.

More offences were also committed in the parks and nature reserves. Since January this year, the National Parks Board (NParks) has issued 10 notices of offence, compared to 12 for the whole of last year.

The culprits could be fined or given a warning, said its spokesman.

But nature lovers, like public relations manager Ng Li Huang, feel that the numbers caught merely scratch the surface.

'They would turn up during dusk and at night, after the park rangers have left,' said Ms Ng, 49, who often spots them when she jogs in the Venus Drive and Lower Peirce areas.

Poachers catch the animals for food, to keep as pets or to sell them to pet shops.

Some of the animals caught are endangered, such as the pangolin, straw-headed bulbul and red junglefowl.

Sometimes, other unintended animals fall victim too. Last month, The Straits Times reported stray dogs being maimed by wild-boar traps in forested areas in the north. Animal activists had also posted pictures online of injured dogs, with some missing up to three limbs.

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

Businessman and nature lover Jim Chua, 37, who feeds stray dogs in wooded areas in the east, dismantled three wild-boar traps recently.

'One wild boar even lost a foot in these traps and now has to depend on volunteers, like myself, to get sustenance,' he said.

The authorities are fighting back.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew, commissioner of parks and recreation at NParks, said its officers are authorised to apprehend and prosecute anyone caught in the act.

'The traps and devices are also confiscated as evidence and subsequently destroyed and disposed of when the case is concluded,' he said.

Its rangers also work beyond the nine-to-five shifts to deter illicit activities.

AVA investigates and conducts checks in areas where poaching is reported and staff will revisit the places to ensure there is no poaching.

While national water agency PUB has allowed for more recreational activities such as fishing in selected areas in reservoirs since 2006, it is believed many also cast lines at illegal spots, often under the cover of darkness.

A PUB spokesman said it takes a serious view of poachers who use nets to catch fish 'as this will deplete the fish stock and affect the ecosystem'.

'Our officers carry out daily patrol and enforcement in the reservoirs, including weekends and public holidays,' she added.

PUB is also working with residents, park users and other government agencies to educate the public on not fishing illegally, she said, adding that it has built fishing jetties and designated fishing grounds for the public.

If you suspect or spot any poaching activity, call AVA on 6227-0670, PUB on 1800-284-6600 or NParks on 1800-471-7300.


Under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, it is an offence to trap, keep or kill wild animals and birds (except those in the Schedule such as crows, mynahs and pigeons) without a licence from the AVA.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and forfeiture of the birds or wild animals. Offenders may also be charged with animal cruelty if the animal is found injured.

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Keppel Club, River Safari receive ABC Waters Certification 2011

Lynda Hong Channel NewsAsia 30 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: A 107-year-old country club and an upcoming river safari were both awarded the Active Beautiful and Clean (ABC) Waters Certification 2011.

Keppel Club and River Safari received the certifications for their environmentally friendly water features.

The country club, which has been in its original location since 1904, said its greening practices started four years ago.

Deputy Manager of Keppel Club, Desmond Chua, said the managing of golf courses are now becoming more environmentally friendly.

He added that the widely-held perception that golf courses use too much chemical and waste too much water is changing.

Mr Chua said: "Superintendents who manage the golf course are now equipped with the latest information, knowledge, to develop integrated pest management programme, that will put them in a very responsible way of managing the golf course, which uses chemicals in an orderly manner, in a systematic style.

"Previously, people felt that golf courses excessively use chemicals to maintain their golf courses. But right now, with education and proper training and knowledge."

The club's need for water is provided naturally, using rainwater to irrigate and wash heavy machinery with its nine ponds that are interconnected underground.

Over at the River Safari, one of their ABC Waters Design Features is the open air multi storey carpark at River Safari channels.

Fourteen per cent of the total catchment area rainwater flows down to a bio-retention planter box where it will be filtered by four layers of sand and soil before being channelled to a nearby pond.

Cham Tud Yinn, Director, Exhibit Design & Development, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said: "River safari is a project where basically we want to highlight how freshwater habitats are endangered and this is the best showcase for river safari.

"For us, being so near the Seletar Reservoir, our first priority is to protect the environment around us, and highlight the beauty of freshwater habitats, and this is the best example for the project."

More similar systems will be implemented near the River Safari's freshwater animal habitats.

- CNA/fa

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New Shrews Found in Indonesia

New Shrew Review
National Geographic News 27 Jul 11;

Photograph courtesy Jake Esselstyn

A newfound white-toothed shrew of the Crocidura genus (pictured) is one of four potential new shrew species discovered during an April field survey of Mount Tompotika, a small mountain on the eastern tip of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. DNA analyses currently underway will reveal which of the mammals are truly new to science.

Like all shrews, the mammals have small eyes and a sharply developed sense of smell for rooting out small invertebrates such as earthworms, said team member Jake Esselstyn, a biologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

"People don't appreciate how little we know about the natural world—even basics like how many species there are on Sulawesi," Esselstyn said.

"This kind of work is important to [show] how many species live in particular places, what their evolutionary history is, and how we can preserve natural biological communities."

—Christine Dell'Amore

Published July 27, 2011

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Malaysia: Nature gets a helping hand from sci-fi tech

Chai Mei Ling New Straits Times 31 Jul 11;

The aircraft glided across the skies over a vast expanse of forest, a sensor strapped to its underside capturing detailed and breathtaking shots, before this only seen in the realm of science fiction.

The hyperspectral imaging kit is able to identify individual trees, and amazingly -- after lab work -- zero in on the species.

Tree canopies will be bathed in a multitude of colours when scanned, as if buckets of paint had fallen off the sky and rained on the treetops.

In a population of mangroves, bakau minyak stands out in striking red, bakau kurap is swathed in turquoise, berembang purple, membuta emerald, piai pink, perepat yellow and gedabu bright green.

The rainbow of colours is a result of the vegetation's "varying reflectance", says Dr Alias Mohd Sood of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).

When the sun shines upon objects, some of the rays are scattered and reflected.

This reflected energy is what's measured by the sensor, resulting in different colours, depending on the strength of the reflectance.

"In vegetation, chlorophyll absorbs red and blue lights but reflects green. That's why we see the leaf as green. That's the theory of light," says Alias.

While the human eye sees visible light in three bands, and satellite imaging captures eight, spectral imaging breaks down the electromagnetic spectrum into many, many more.

Up until two years ago, the airborne hyperspectral imaging system had over 200 bands, extending beyond the visible, which is why it could capture a colour and divide it into many more sub-colours.

When the sensor, attached to the belly of an aircraft, flies over forests, everything that makes up the texture of its canopy -- the combination of leaves, the shape of the leaf, the size, thickness, the branches, the subcanopy -- will be registered.

"Different plant species have different canopy textures, so they reflect light in their own way.

"That's why they appear in different colours in images," says Alias, a specialist in remote sensing, with a forestry background.

The system, put together by Professor Kamaruzaman Jusoff of UPM, was first used in the 1990s.

It detected cracks in boulders along the highway, surveyed forest reserves and mapped sedimentation in rivers.

After much fine-tuning by the forest engineering survey expert, the system was commercialised in 2004 through a joint venture between UPM and Aeroscan Precision (M) Sdn Bhd.

Among the company's earlier projects were mapping the Gunung Stong Forest Reserve in Kelantan, making an inventory of Kuala Lumpur's forested areas, and charting the coral distribution in Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Terengganu.

Then, two years ago, the company replaced the near-obsolete sensor with the latest technology -- one which comes with 488 bands at a cost of RM2.4 million.

The increased bandwidth propelled the potential of the kit's application to new areas.

The kit could now tell not just the tree condition, but also help zero in on the degree of its health, says Izani Ibrahim, chief operating officer of Aeroscan Precision.

This added edge is especially useful in the agriculture sector.

Healthy, stressed and dead trees can be revealed in a single imaging -- unhealthy trees have less chlorophyll, which in turn reflect less light. So, they register a weaker or duller colour.

"Imagine the time and manpower saved from reducing the need for plantation workers to go down to the ground and inspect each and every tree on hectares and hectares of land.

"If one-fifth or more of the tree is infected, there is no point saving it. Let it die. If the degree of infection is lower, treatment can still be carried out," says Izani.

Another useful function of the system is to identify nutrient level.

"In the oil palm business, fertiliser constitutes 50 to 60 per cent of the cost. If the tree health is already at an optimum level, there's no need for blanket application of fertiliser.

"If you're healthy, why take additional vitamins and supplements? This is precision agriculture -- applying the right amount of fertiliser to the right trees at the right time. And you save money," Izani adds.

Aside from species identification and mapping of tree height, diameter and tree crown feature, the imaging system is also able to capture tree stand count, forest health and density, timber volume estimation and vegetation index.

The kit also makes a better information-gathering tool in marine ecology, as it's able to perform ocean depth measurement and mappings of coral reef, water quality and beach infrastructure.

It can tell hard, soft and dead corals apart, the classification of coral genus and seaweed and seagrass distribution.

As the sole provider of hyperspectral imaging service in the country and the Southeast Asian region, Aeroscan Precision plans to expand its offerings overseas.

Its services has been sought by Arab countries to inventory their date plantations and map out tree health.

It is also working on sharpening the sensor's detection of valuable resources, such as minerals, gaharu in karas trees, and honeycombs on tualang trees.

Although the system is useful to detect illegal logging because it provides near real-time imagery, the noble intention of the practice is outweighed by the surging cost.

An area is surveyed only upon request because it is expensive to rent an aircraft, onto which the sensor is strapped.

Aircraft rental ranges from RM4,000 to RM4,500 an hour, and flights should only take place between 10am and 2pm -- the brightest hours of the day -- and only if the weather is good.

Rain, haze and a cloud cover of more than 20 per cent spell added cost, as the company still has to foot the aircraft rental bill despite not being able to fly.

Because of these limitations, hyperspectral imaging service does not come cheap. Aeroscan Precision charges RM30 to RM60 per hectare surveyed, an area of about 2.5 football fields.

Nevertheless, Izani stresses the importance of conservation.

The mapping of rare and endangered tree species is crucial so that the country is aware of the wealth of biodiversity that it has and can forge a better understanding on conservation methods.

Having an inventory of the distribution of corals will also encourage protection of the nation's marine ecosystem.

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Third of freshwater fish threatened with extinction

Freshwater fish are the most endangered group of animals on the planet, with more than a third threatened with extinction, according to a report being compiled by British scientists.
Richard Gray The Telegraph 30 Jul 11;

Among those at the greatest risk of dying out are several species from UK rivers and lakes including the European eel, Shetland charr and many little known fish that have become isolated in remote waterways in Wales and Scotland.

Others critically endangered include types of sturgeon, which provide some of the world's most expensive caviar, and giant river dwellers such as the Mekong giant catfish and freshwater stingray, which can grow as long as 15 feet.

The scientists have blamed human activities such as overfishing, pollution and construction for pushing so many species to the brink of extinction.

They also warn that the loss of the fish could have serious implications for humans. In Africa alone more than 7.5 million people rely on freshwater fish for food and income.

The precarious status of the species has been revealed in interim results from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List assessment of freshwater fish.

Dr William Darwall, manager of the freshwater unit at the IUCN in Cambridge, said: "There are still some big gaps in our knowledge, but of the 5,685 species that have been assessed, 36 per cent of them are threatened.

"Compared to mammals, where 21 per cent are threatened, and birds, where 12 per cent are threatened, it is clear that fresh water ecosystems are among the most threatened in the world.

"Sadly, it is also not going to get any better as human need for fresh water, power and food continues to grown and we exploit freshwater environments for these resources."

The IUCN conducts assessments on the status of species around the world. It most recently completed an assessment of amphibians and found 30 of the planet's amphibians are threatened with extinction.

The assessments form the basis for conservation groups and governments to conserve biodiversity and protect the most threatened species.

There are an estimated 15,000 freshwater fish species that have been discovered and so far 5,685 of them have had their status assessed.

The preliminary results of the assessment were revealed at the annual conference of the Fisheries Society of the British Isles at Bournemouth University.

Professor Rudy Golzan, director of the centre for conservation ecology at Bournemouth University, said: "Freshwater biodiversity is a crucial issue and more important than people think. Billions of people rely upon freshwater species for food and work.

"We have to find ways of reducing impacts on these ecosystems while allowing people to continue to use the resources that freshwater environments have to offer."

In the UK a relative of the salmon, called the Gwyniad, is found in just one lake in Wales called Llyn Tegid, where it became trapped after the end of the last ice age.

The introduction of another fish called the ruffe, which preys upon the eggs and young Gwyniads, has seen their numbers fall to as low as 31 females since the 1980s.

The European eel, another species found in UK streams, rivers and lakes which is an important food source for many birds and other fish, has also declined by 90 per cent since the early 1980s.

Atlantic sturgeon, which is the source of one of the most expensive forms of caviar and were once common in rivers around Europe including the UK, is now only found in the Garonne river in France, where it has an estimated wild population of between 20 and 750.

The results show that in Africa around 28 per cent of freshwater fish are threatened while in Europe 38 per cent are threatened.

Among the most threatened with extinction are giant freshwater species such as the Mekong giant catfish, which can grow up to 10 feet long, may have as few as has just 250 individuals left in the wild.

The Mekong freshwater stingray, which grow up to 15 feet long and can weigh up to 1,300lbs, has suffered declines of up to 50 per cent in Thailand and Cambodia.

The giant Mekong salmon carp has also seen numbers plummet by more than 90 per cent due to overfishing and damage to its habitat.

Scientists fear that dam construction in China, Laos, and Thailand will further threaten these species by cutting off fish populations and preventing the species from reaching their spawning grounds.

Professor David Dudgeon, chair of ecology and biodiversity at the University of Hong Kong, said: "There are eight Chinese dams in the upper reaches of the Mekong river while there are another 11 dams planned downstream.

"They will prevent many threatened species from reaching their spawning sites upstream. The impact on the people there will be huge too as they will reduce flow by 70 per cent."

Other species such as the knifetooth sawfish, found in inshore estuaries of the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indonesia have seen numbers plummet due to over fishing.

The red tailed shark from lowland streams in Thailand and the Nilgiri shark in India are also critically endangered.

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