Best of our wild blogs: 3 Sep 11

After Rain @ Bah Soon Pah (BSP)
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Feeding Spotted Dove: 19. An explosion of feathers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Fun in the Forest
from Fun with Nature and Fun at Chek Jawa and Fun with Hydroponics and Butterflies

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Part of KTM railway land to be reopened

The public can access 1.4km stretch in Bukit Timah from Sept 16
Grace Chua Straits Times 3 Sep 11;

THOSE who flocked to Bukit Timah railway station in the wake of the closure of the Tanjong Pagar station can do so again from Sept 16.

A 1.4km stretch in Bukit Timah of the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway land is the first section to have rail-removal works completed and will be reopened to the public.

But the tracks and equipment at the Bukit Timah railway station and the black steel bridge across Bukit Timah Road have been retained.

The 26km tract from Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar reverted to Singapore in July, and as agreed with Malaysia, most tracks and other structures are being removed and returned by Dec 31. The stretch is also being turfed over.

About 30 per cent of the work is done and sections of the strip of land will be opened to the public as and when they are ready.

The tracks and equipment in Tanjong Pagar railway station will also be retained, along with steel bridges and tracks across Bukit Timah Road, Hindhede Road and Upper Bukit Timah.

In all, about 400m of tracks will be kept.

Early yesterday morning , as hornbills cawed overhead, Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam walked the tracks near King Albert Park with Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

Accompanying them were officers from various government agencies as well as Nature Society (Singapore) and Singapore Heritage Society members and members of the Green Corridor railway-land interest group.

Said Mr Shanmugam: 'A lot of people have asked us, why can't we preserve the tracks? I understand that but it's not possible because under the treaty, these belong to Malaysia and we have to give (them) back to them.'

The Law Ministry oversees the Singapore Land Authority which is carrying out the removal works.

Mr Shanmugam reassured the public that no trees will be felled and as little vegetation cleared as possible in the process.

Long-term plans for the area are being studied by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and people are invited to submit ideas at

So far, members of interest groups such as Nature Society (Singapore) and Singapore Heritage Society have met regularly with the authorities to discuss ideas.

Already, the National Parks Board, National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nature Society (Singapore) are doing a survey of the plants, birds and animals along the 26km stretch.

Next month, an exhibition about the railway's natural and social history will be held at URA Centre in Maxwell Road.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Heritage Society and NUS are documenting how the railway - beyond its stations and tracks - was significant to the country's history.

For example, several Hindu temples such as Sri Muneeswaran Temple in Tanglin Halt were started by railway labourers.

'We want to move beyond the obvious, the safeguarded buildings, to uncharted territories,' said Mr Ho Weng Hin, 37, a Singapore Heritage Society committee member and an architect by training.

Train services to Malaysia now operate from Woodlands Train Checkpoint. Tanjong Pagar station has been gazetted as a national monument while Bukit Timah station is a conserved building.

Part of Jurong Line in master plan
Esther Ng Today Online 3 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE - It might not be as well known as the main line but a 2.5km stretch of the old Jurong Line - which passes through the steel bridge over Ulu Pandan Canal - will be included in the conceptual master planning of the rail corridor, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has told Today.

The URA explained that parts of the Jurong Line have been committed to, or are undergoing development work. For instance, the installation of new roads at the International Business Park and the Faber residential estate will improve traffic and "facilitate future developments", said a URA spokesperson.

"The former Jurong Line is not part of the main line from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands and has been abandoned for many years. In some places, the rail line has been turfed over or is in a severe state of disrepair," the spokesperson added.

The particular 2.5km stretch of the Jurong Line is rich in biodiversity - the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) has found the critically endangered Asian drongo-cuckoo, the endangered straw-headed bulbul and the changeable hawk eagle there.

Faber Heights resident Wang Bin told Today he had spotted the critically-endangered grey-headed fish eagle in the area near the International Business Park.

NSS vice-president Leong Kwok Peng said the stretch "gives a different feel to an industrial area".

Nature lovers and the NSS have been lobbying for the entire 26km main line and 14km out of 20km of the old Jurong Line to be kept intact as one continuous green corridor. ESTHER NG

Old Bukit Timah Railway Station to be opened to public
Esther Ng Today Online 3 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE - Allaying concerns that the removal of the KTM railway tracks would damage the flora and fauna, Law Minister K Shanmugam yesterday invited nature groups and the media to view a stretch of the tracks and the old Bukit Timah Railway Station, which will be opened to the public on Sept 16.

Mr Shanmugam said: "I've been assured, in this area, that none of the trees have been taken down. (There is) very little damage to the vegetation ... I think people can see for themselves."

The 1.4km stretch to be re-opened starts southwards from the steel bridge along Bukit Timah Road and runs past the old station, which will be conserved.

Nature Society (Singapore) conservation committee chairman Ho Hua Chew told Today that he was satisfied with the minimal damage to the environment along the old rail line.

He said: "When a stream in Clementi Woodlands was clogged up by a road created for dismantling works by a contractor, the National Parks Board (NParks) worked with the Singapore Land Authority and got a culvert installed and the stream is flowing again."

Mr Ho said that NParks also discusses with NSS whenever it needs to cut dead or "withering" trees along the tracks.

Singapore Heritage Society's rail corridor committee member Ho Weng Hin said the old station's condition looked "sound" and hoped that cameras will be installed to prevent vandalism.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Foreign Minister, noted that there have been a few calls from the public to preserve the entire railway track.

But he explained that this was not possible as most of the tracks have to be returned to Malaysia by the end of the year under the terms of the treaty which Singapore had signed with Malaysia.

In total, some 400m of the tracks - those next to the platforms of Bukit Timah and Tanjong Pagar railway stations, and those on the steel bridges at Dunearn Road and Upper Bukit Timah Road - will be retained.

So far, about 30 per cent of the tracks have been removed, Mr Shanmugam said.

Other parts of the railway land will be progressively opened to the public, said Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who was also present at the visit yesterday.

Bukit Timah Railway Station open to public from Sept 16
Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 2 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: The old Bukit Timah Railway Station and surrounding railway land will be open to the public in two weeks.

Announcing this on Friday, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said the station and railway land extending 1.4km southwards from the steel bridge along Bukit Timah Road will be open from September 16.

The SLA said other portions of the railway land will also be progressively open after removal works are completed.

Providing an update on the removal works Friday morning, Law Minister K Shanmugam said that about 30 per cent of the tracks have been dismantled.

Under the Points of Agreement with Malaysia, Singapore has to remove the tracks and ancillary structures of the KTM Railway by the end of this year.

Once the tracks are removed, the gravel is flattened and will be covered by grass.

"A lot of people have asked us why can't we preserve the railway tracks. I can understand that but it's not possible simply because under the treaty, all of this belongs to Malaysia and we have to give it back to them. There are small parts, where we are preserving some, with agreement," said Mr Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam also reassured nature lovers that there was minimal clearance of vegetation and no trees were felled in that area.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority is studying the possibility of marrying development with greenery for the railway land by maintaining a continuous green link along the rail corridor without affecting the development potential.

- CNA/cc

Bukit Timah Railway Station opens to public from Sept 16
Uma Shankari Business Times 3 Sep 11;

THE old Bukit Timah Railway Station and surrounding railway land will be open to the public from Sept 16, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said yesterday.

Members of the public will be able to enjoy walks along this stretch of the rail corridor. Other portions of the former railway land will also be progressively opened up to the public as the railway tracks are removed.

Law Minister K Shanmugam, who provided an update on the removal works yesterday morning, said that about 30 per cent of the tracks have been dismantled.

Under the agreement with Malaysia, Singapore has to remove the tracks and ancillary structures of the KTM Railway by the end of this year.

'A lot of people have asked us why can't we preserve the railway tracks. I can understand that but it's not possible simply because under the treaty, all of this belongs to Malaysia and we have to give it back to them,' said Mr Shanmugam. But he added that there are small parts of the tracks that are being preserved.

Mr Shanmugam also reassured nature lovers that there was minimal clearance of vegetation and no trees were felled during the dismantlement process.

The longer term plans for Bukit Timah Railway Station will be part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) comprehensive review of development plans for all former railway land and the surrounding areas.

URA will study the possibility of marrying development and greenery, and consider maintaining a continuous green link along the rail corridor - without affecting the development potential of the lands.

Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said that URA will conduct a competition next year to get ideas for a masterplan for redeveloping the entire railway corridor.

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Teens' passion to volunteer wanes with adult burdens

Judith Tan Straits Times 3 Sep 11;

HALF the teenagers here are eager to do volunteer work, but as job, marriage and parenthood come up, their ability and willingness for it tail off.

A survey has found that only one in five working adults devotes time and energy to charitable causes.

Enthusiasm for volunteer work does not - as one would expect - pick up again later among senior citizens, whose careers and parenting responsibilities are behind them: only one in 10 volunteers.

The survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) was done last year with 1,815 people aged 15 and up. Called the Individual Giving Survey 2010, it sought to gain insight on volunteerism and philanthropy here through face-to-face interviews on the kind of giving people had done in the preceding 12 months.

The survey found that for more than four in five participants, the compulsory community work done under the Community Involvement Programme (CIP) while in school had been a positive experience, and that it was often students' first brush with community work.

NVPC chief executive officer Laurence Lien said that the CIP was a gateway to volunteerism and connected students to social concerns.

But the survey deliberately excluded questions on compulsory community work like the kind done under the CIP, in order to get a clearer picture on volunteerism here.

Mr Lien disclosed that, to improve the CIP, the NVPC's volunteer arm SG Cares is working on a pilot project with schools to introduce what is known as an asset-based community development model. This approach to community work taps the skills and strengths which people in the community have, instead of focusing on the needs of charitable organisations.

The pilot was launched early this year by then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at the 21st International Association for Volunteer Effort World Volunteer Conference.

LinkStudents 'keen to volunteer'
Channel NewsAsia Today Online 3 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE - A survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) has found that while students were enthusiastic about volunteering, adults were not so keen as their priorities have changed.

Nearly half of those in the school-going age of between 15 and 19 volunteered in the past year but the figure dropped to 23 per cent among those in the 20-to-24 age group and 16 per cent in the 25-to-29 age group.

The NVPC's Individual Giving Survey 2010 polled 1,815 respondents aged 15 and above. It did not include those who did compulsory community work under the community involvement programme (CIP), except where they had voluntarily served more hours than they had to. The survey found that four in five participants of community work in school said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the experience.

Mr Laurence Lien, NVPC's chief executive officer, saw CIP as "a gateway to volunteerism" as it connected students to social concerns and the exposure was likely to spark continued volunteerism.

But he believed more can be done to make CIP "more impactful" and NVPC's volunteer arm, SG Cares, is working on a pilot project with schools to introduce an "Asset-Based Community Development model" - an approach to informal volunteering that focuses on assets in the community, rather than needs.

Confirming a trend noted in an earlier survey in 2008, the NVPC said those earning below S$1,000 monthly continued to donate a higher percentage of their income compared to other income groups. But those with personal incomes of S$4,000 and above registered the highest percentage of an intention to donate online.

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25 dolphins bound for China

Solomon Star 3 Sep 11;

ABOUT 25 bottlenose dolphins worth millions of dollars will be exported out of the country destined for China, Tuesday next week.

This was revealed to the Solomon Star yesterday by Earth Island Institute regional director and dolphin activist Lawrence Makili.

Mr Makili said he has received reports that Dr Badley Anita who operates a dolphin business on Mbugana Island, Central Province was planning the export.

It was understood the Ministry of Environment issued an export license to Dr Anita on Thursday this week.

However, Mr Makili said this was done illegally as the Fisheries Ministry has not issued any business license to dolphin operators this year.

Therefore, Mr Makili said the Environment Ministry has issued an illegal license to an illegal business operator.

“Under whose directive was the license issued for the export,” Mr Makili questioned.

“The Fisheries Ministry has never given a dolphin business license to dolphin operators this year but yet the Environment Ministry sees fit to allocate an export license to Dr Anita.”

Mr Makili said the planned export would have a negative impact on the two proposed canneries Don Wong and Frabelle tuna companies that were planning to establish in the country.

In April this year, members of Don Wong held a meeting with the Government about their interest in operating in the country.

And one of the main issues discussed was to address the issue of dolphin trade in the country.

Mr Makili said the planned export could jeopardise efforts of tuna investment in the country.

Meanwhile, Mr Makili challenged the Minister of Environment to step in and revoke the permit.

“I’m calling on the minister to step in and investigate this matter because why does the ministry issue an export licence for dolphins to be exported to benefit only a few people; a decision that could risk a tuna cannery that aims to provide thousands of jobs for Solomon Islanders,” Mr Makili said.

Attempts to talk with officials from both ministries and Dr Anita were unsuccessful when this paper went to press last night.

In 2007, 28 live dolphins were also exported to Dubai; four years after a similar shipment to Mexico sparked an international outcry in 2003.

The Government lifted a four-year ban on the trade of dolphins in 2007 although there was a public outcry from local and international conservation groups against exportation of live dolphins.


25 dolphins to be exported to mainland China
Solomon Star 7 Sep 11;

THE Government’s green light given for the export of 25 bottlenose dolphins to China is unacceptable and a total misinterpretation of the legal processes of the issuance of license to the exporter.

The meeting between officials from the Ministry of Environment and Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to allow the export to proceed shows the inability of the current Government to sense wrong things and right things.

This had proved beyond reasonable doubts that the pressure is coming from above. The officers from the said Ministries are not stupid to issue an Export Permit when Dr. Anita has no business license since the beginning of this year.

It indicates clearly the involvement of politicians who only care for the interest of cronies not our country as a whole cannot be ruled out.

The current Government’s statement using the Cabinet decision passed by the previous Hon. Derrick Sikua Government is a handsome excuse use to deter any accusation on them.

Why use lame excuses and play crisscross puzzles to deter public scrutiny? The current Government had decided and concluded decisions that only benefits cronies and colleagues. When will the current National Government come up with a Cabinet decision that reflects the nation’s interest?

The Live Dolphin Export will directly have a negative impact on the development of the tuna industry of this nation simply because an industry that benefits a few was given favor and lives above the laws and regulations of the Fisheries Act.

During Dong Won Fishing Company’s high level visit to the country early this year, the company was very concerned with the issue of the Dolphin Trade.

It was also raised in their discussions that the Dolphin Trade has to end in order for the Tuna products to be acceptable in the European Market.

Frabelle Tuna Fishing Company also shared the same sentiments.

However, the current Government’s style of double standards over these various issues is a concern.

The Minister for Environment and Conservation would have performed better.

The expectations of the country for his best performance since appointed as the Minister for Environment sunk deeper into the skins and sprung out as sweats.

The 50-100 quotas make no sense when the survey is yet to be complete.

The determination to allow the export has no sense at all. How can one determine a quota when you have no scientific data?

How did the Minister for Environment and Conservation who is also the acting Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources view any justification to issue an export permit, when the applicant holds no valid Business License since the beginning of the year?

Here we go again leave it to the academics we will be fine.

In reference to the CITES Appendices the individual rights were does not allow one to do whatever he/she wants to do.

The nature of the species in particular must be considered, its population in the wild must be known scientifically and many more as these are criteria to proof that the specific animal that we are dealing with is supported scientifically that the particular animal can be considered exploiting.

To the current National Government, if the export is going to go on it will get Dong Won Tuna Fishing Company and Frabelle Tuna Fishing Company to reconsider their plans to invest in this country.

And this is a fact.

The country will lose two Multi-International Tuna Fishing Companies that are waiting next door to invest.

The Solomon Islands as a country exist only to lose our reputation at International community by the actions of our corrupt leaders, who always play the scratch my back and I scratch your back game for their own interest.

I am now considering stepping up to the options of taking action on the current Tuna Operators in the country as a step to show the National Government that I am serious with this campaign to end the Dolphin Trade.

And if I’m to pull the plug, I will do it!

So decide.

Earth Island Institute Regional Director

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Hong Kong drops plan to import rare whales

(AFP) Google News 2 Sep 11;

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong theme park has dropped a contentious plan to buy and import rare wild-caught beluga whales, in a decision lauded Friday by conservationists who had protested against the bid.

Activists opposed Ocean Park's plan to import the whales, classified as "near threatened", from Russia, saying they are often injured or killed during capture and mortality rates are high among those in captivity.

The park had wanted to use the belugas, usually found around the Arctic circle, to raise public awareness of climate change through its new Polar Adventure attraction to open next year.

"After due consideration, we have decided not to pursue an acquisition from the wild even though the removal of some beluga whales has been shown to be sustainable," Allan Zeman, Ocean Park's chairman, said in a statement.

The popular 34-year-old theme park and aquarium is owned by the Hong Kong government and has set out ambitious plans to boost visitors. The park recorded five million tourists last year.

The beluga, or white whale, is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) "red list" of "near threatened" species, while the US and Canada have effectively banned the whales' capture from their waters.

"The park did the right thing. We certainly welcome the decision," Samuel Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, told AFP.

"It's not right to confine a large intelligent mammal inside a tank, this is harming their chance of survival and send a wrong message to the public -- that whenever we need them for entertainment purpose, we can go out to catch them."

The park has previously come under the spotlight over its conservation and protection of rare animals.

Last year, Washington-based Animal Welfare Institute has said Ocean Park was trying to capture some 30 dolphins in the Soloman Islands, possibly in breach of animal conservation rules -- a claim which was later rejected by the park.

Any dolphin imports from the cluster of islands near Papua New Guinea would breach the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

In 2009, three rare sturgeon -- which were among a group of 10 sturgeon donated to the theme park to mark China's hosting of the Olympics in 2008 -- died in the park.

The endangered fish died because of different reasons including head injury, blood clotting, infection while one was killed by a bite from barracuda in the aquarium.

Outside the park, conservation groups such as the WWF have consistently appealed to restaurants in Hong Kong -- the largest importer of shark fin globally in 2007 -- to stop using the fins in the popular soup delicacy.

Scientists blame the practice of shark-finning for a worldwide collapse in shark populations.

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New ‘Demon’ Bat Species Found in Vietnam

Danielle Venton Wired Science 2 Sep 11;

Three new bat species, one resembling the Lord of the Underworld, have been discovered in the tropical forests of southern Indochina.

The tiny ‘demon,’ named Beelzebub’s tube-nosed bat, has been seen only in Vietnam.

“We chose the name Beelzebub to reflect the dark ‘diabolic’ coloration of the new species and its fierce protective behavior in the field,” said Gabor Csorba of the Hungarian Natural History Museum.

Bats represent nearly a third of the known mammal species in South East Asia already. But the true number of bat species in the region may be twice current count, based on recent genetic research, said Paul Racey, bat specialist and Vice Chairman of Fauna and Flora International, in a press release today.

Murina beelzebub, like the other two tube-nosed bats discovered, depends on the tropical forest for its survival. The bats are especially vulnerable due to ongoing deforestation in the region, researchers warn.

The new bats, found by biologists and conservationists from the Hungarian Natural History Museum and Fauna & Flora International, are described in the current issue of the Journal of Mammalogy .

Image: HNHM/Fauna & Flora International.

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Sri Lankan elephant numbers are 'healthy': survey

Amal Jayasinghe AFP Yahoo News 3 Sep 11;

Sri Lanka's elephant population remains healthy despite decades of fighting between government and rebel forces, the first survey since the end of the nation's bloody civil war showed Friday.

Wildlife officials said Sri Lanka has 7,379 elephants. Of that number, some 5,879 wild elephants are living near wildlife parks and sanctuaries while another 1,500 were estimated to be in other areas.

"We have an elephant population which is in good health and its population growth is also very good," Wildlife Conservation Department director H.D. Ratnayake told reporters in Colombo.

Before the count, the department said it believed the elephant population totalled just 5,350. The country boasted 12,000 elephants in 1900.

The survey counted 1,107 baby elephants, Ratnayake added.

It is the first count since Sri Lanka's military crushed Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in May 2009, making wildlife sanctuaries and jungles more accessible to officials.

About 3,500 people took part in the four-day survey, checking watering holes, ancient irrigation tanks and lakes commonly used by elephants, Ratnayake said, adding that they had set up 1,553 counting posts.

Migratory patterns suggest elephants may have moved out of the island's embattled northern region during the conflict and moved to neighbouring areas to avoid the fighting, officials said.

Wildlife authorities have treated elephants who stepped on anti-personnel mines or been shot during the decades-long separatist war.

But the count carried out last month was marked by controversy.

Hundreds of conservationists did not take part because of worries the survey would be used to seize elephants and send them to temples for use in religious ceremonies.

Elephants are treated as sacred animals in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka and domesticated pachyderms are paraded during temple ceremonies as well as at cultural events.

Wildlife Minister S. M. Chandrasena denied on Friday media reports quoting him as saying that the survey was to identify wild animals to be domesticated.

He told reporters that there would be no move to capture elephants.

"Not a single wild elephant will be captured. It is illegal to capture wild animals," the minister said.

However, he said baby elephants at two orphanages run by the government may be given to temples on a case-by-case basis.

Wildlife Conservation Department director Ratnayake said the survey numbers were especially encouraging as the count was carried out at a time when the conflict between humans and elephants has increased sharply.

Nearly 200 elephants are being killed each year by villagers as the animals stray into agricultural areas and some 50 people also are killed each year by marauding jumbos, officials say.

The authorities hope the survey results will be used to better target conservation efforts and minimise clashes with farmers.

Sri Lanka count finds more elephants than expected
Bharatha Mallawarachi Associated Press Yahoo News 2 Sep 11;

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The first national survey of Sri Lanka's wild elephants found more than had been estimated — a sign the endangered species has a healthy, growing population on the Indian Ocean island.

The count conducted last month in forests and wildlife parks found 5,879 wild elephants, of which 122 are tuskers and 1,107 calves, Wildlife Minister S.M. Chandrasena said Friday.

Previous counts did not cover the entire island, but the end of a quarter-century civil war in 2009 opened former war zones to wildlife workers.

The information gathered from the survey will be used to devise plans to protect the endangered species, Wildlife Department Director General H.D. Ratnayake said.

The previous population estimate was 5,350 elephants, he said.

"These statistics show that Sri Lanka's elephants are in good health and that their population is growing," Ratnayake said.

Ratnayake said other details of the survey are still being processed and would be released later.

About 20 wildlife groups withdrew their support of the count, accusing the government of using it as a "smoke screen" for capturing the endangered animals and domesticating some of the young for use in Buddhist temples, tourism and labor.

Their accusation came after Chandrasena was quoted as saying 300 young elephants would be captured and handed over to Buddhist temples after the census. Elephants in elaborate costumes are often used in Buddhist ceremonies where they parade through the streets carrying the sacred relics of the Buddha.

Chandrasena has said he was misquoted and no wild elephants would be captured.

In the early 1900s, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 elephants roamed wild on this tropical island off southern India. But poaching and the loss of habitat due to human activities such as deforestation for farming have taken their toll.

Wild elephants are increasingly entering villages in search of food, rampaging through houses, destroying crops and killing an estimated 50 people a year.

Around 250 elephants are killed annually, mostly by farmers defending their crops or villages.

The survey was conducted using the method known as "water hole count" and about 4,000 wildlife workers, farmers and villagers were deployed for three days at more than 1,500 locations across the country to survey the elephants as they come to water sources for a drink.

Previous elephant counts were confined to specific regions. One such census, in 1993, found 1,967 elephants, but it excluded the island's north and east, where a civil war was raging at the time. With the war's end in 2009, wildlife officials this time conducted the survey in the former war zones too.

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Culling bats won’t curb virus

Relocating or culling bat colonies could increase Hendra virus outbreaks, according to James Cook University academics.
James Cook University Science Alert 2 Sep 11;

Dr Lee Skerratt, who is Leader of the One Health Research Group within the Anton Breinl Centre for Public Health and Tropical Medicine in the School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, said flying foxes were a ‘reservoir host’ for Hendra virus.

“We just don’t know, the science has not been done. We need to understand viral dynamics in flying foxes before we consider using these ideas as management options for Hendra virus,” Dr Skerratt said.

Outbreaks have occurred when the virus ‘has spilled over’ into horses, which appear particularly
susceptible to the virus, and humans have become infected from horses, Dr Skerratt said.

“Outbreaks of Hendra virus continue and there has been a significant increase in outbreaks this year - 16 this year versus 14 in total from 1994-2010. Hence, there is a need to better manage the risk to horses.”

He said while there had been no human cases this year, which was promising in terms of risk management for humans, the relative large number of horse cases was cause for concern.

“There are various ways to improve the management of the risk of Hendra virus, including preventing horses being exposed to flying foxes and their excrements. People should take hygiene precautions when handling horses as infected horses can transmit the virus before they become obviously ill.”

Dr Jon Luly, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said culling flying foxes was an impractical, cruel and potentially ineffective approach to reducing the incidence of Hendra virus.

It would also deprive society and the environment of ecosystem services flying foxes perform better than any other animal, he said.

“Colony re-location is unlikely to reduce the risk of Hendra virus transmission to horses and may even make the problem worse. Flying fox colonies do not pose a direct risk to public health. The expense of colony relocation or dispersal far outweighs any apparent benefits from a biosecurity point of view.”

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