Best of our wild blogs: 24 Oct 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [17 - 23 Oct 2011]
from Green Business Times

Civets aka musang of Siglap
from wonderful creation

Wild boar... in Tampines?
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Mosquito coast
from The annotated budak

Pulau Ubin On 15 Oct
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Crimson-rumped Waxbills in my garden
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sun Bear Diary – Mary and ants
from Bornean Sun Bear Conservation

Heart Cockle
from Monday Morgue

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Bukit Brown can be Singapore's Arlington

Straits Times Forum 24 Oct 11;

BALANCING the needs of development against conservation has always been a delicate act in this small island that is our home ('Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants'; last Wednesday).

However, our home is also our country and a country needs its memories.

Without Singapore's history and the stories of its leaders and pioneers - what they lived, fought and died for - the country will have no heritage and no soul - no spiritual sustenance. It will be much like the situation of an unfortunate rich man with Alzheimer's disease.

Our survival as a nation depends much on our spirit.

Bukit Brown is the most significant and important cemetery left, filled with memorial gravestones of many of our pioneers and ancestors. The gravestones themselves are sculptural works of art and tablets of rich history.

This estate is adjacent to MacRitchie Reservoir and part of this land can be considered as catchment area.

Can we not keep most of this estate as a memorial and heritage park, much like the Arlington Cemetery in the United States, for citizens who served Singapore with honour?

It can also be used for recreation while the rest can still be used for some development, as roads or homes.

The Conservation Advisory Panel visited this estate in 2009 and was told then that the consideration of the site would be left for the future generation.

Each time I drive under the Fort Canning tunnel, I wonder if the destruction of our old National Library building was worth it.

Once an important heritage site like this is lost, it can never be regained. Can we really afford to lose this priceless part of our history?

Dr James Khoo

FORUM NOTE: The writer was chairman of the Conservation Advisory Panel from 2002 to 2010 and the founding chairman of the Asian Civilisations Museum. He is also a former member of the National Heritage Board.

A young nation needs its historical sites
Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

I APPLAUD Ms Chew I-Jin and her fellow signatories for appealing to the authorities to preserve the graves at Bukit Brown ('Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants', Oct 19).

Her appeal merits consideration.

The graves belong to pioneers who are well known to Singaporeans today because streets and places are named after them: Boon Lay, Boon Tat, Koon Seng, Hong Lim, Joo Chiat and Chong Pang. These are not just names. They are pioneer luminaries who are a very integral part of our short history.

As a young nation, we are short of historical sites or stories to form a strong foundation for national reference by future generations.

These graves appear to be those of the who's who of the last century and can really provide us with the teaching materials to enrich our social and moral education.

The aesthetics and architecture of these tombs are too beautiful and precious to be just bulldozed away. They are very precious as we would not find such craftsmanship anywhere else. It would be unthinkable if such structures of historical and heritage significance were to be wiped out just like any other building.

I strongly urge the authorities to heed the compelling appeal by Ms Chew and other signatories.

Albert Tye

Money cannot buy heritage
Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

ALTHOUGH I am not a descendant of a pioneer whose grave is at Bukit Brown, I fully agreed with Ms Chew I-Jin ('Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants'; last Wednesday).

Why should the Government clear this historical area just to make it convenient for vehicle owners or sell the land for money to build more condominiums?

There are not many historical sites in Singapore where we can honour our ancestors who made Singapore what it is today, and money cannot buy back all these places if we clear them now.

Our children will not even have a chance to see what is a real graveyard in future.

Peggy Tan (Ms)

Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants
Straits Times 19 Oct 11;

THE consequence of the decision by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to clear Bukit Brown Cemetery to make way for a highway and future housing developments is an irreplaceable loss to generations of Singaporeans ('Redevelopment plans for Bukit Brown site', Sept 13; and Forum letter 'Rethink road widening affecting cemetery' by Mr Liew Kai Khiun, Sept 16).

Indeed much of the historical and social value of Bukit Brown Cemetery is still being uncovered by volunteers today, yet preparations for clearing works are slated to start next month. The latest tender suggests that 24ha (10,000 graves) will be affected in the heart of the cemetery. This, we understand, is just the beginning.

Despite URA and LTA's assertions that they will work with the Singapore Heritage Society and other stakeholders to identify and document key heritage elements, it appears that this refers to mere 'data recording', and not a heritage study.

It is not widely known that the Bukit Brown, Ong clan and Hokkien Huay Kuan cluster form the biggest Chinese burial grounds outside China, with a quarter of a million graves.

The erasure of these grounds will deal a substantial blow to the cultural history of Singapore.

The graves contain our immigrant forebears, from paupers to almost all our local pioneers who remain largely unrecognised beyond the roads that bear their names, such as Ong Boon Tat, Cheong Koon Seng, Cheang Hong Lim, Chew Joo Chiat, Lim Chong Pang and Chew Boon Lay; and the wife of philanthropist Lim Nee Soon.

Each tomb tells of a journey from a village in China, their families, their achievements and their culture.

Stories discerned from the graves will no longer be accessible to future generations.

As descendants of Singapore's early pioneers, we appeal to the authorities to explore alternatives like widening existing roads or using flyovers to preserve this national heritage.

It is not too late to recognise that Bukit Brown is rich with 'living' possibility and multi-uses - not just for those who pay respects to ancestors but also as a place for learning and recreation.

Here is where creative lessons in biology, bird-watching, history, genealogy, art and poetry could take place as well as serious research. To take a quiet walk with family or tour with the passionate guides is to be moved by our history and feel truly connected with this place we call our home.

Let us not squander our heritage and dishonour our past for a few more condos and cars. Once we bulldoze through this history, it will be too late to resurrect the foundation of our national sense of identity.

Chew I-Jin (Ms)

Descendant of Chew Boon Lay

FORUM NOTE: The other signatories are Mr Chew Kheng Chuan (descendant of Chew Boon Lay), Mr Gerald Tan Kok Seng (descendant of Tan Tock Seng), Mr Chia Hock Jin (descendant of Chia Hood Theam) and Ms Ong Chwee Im, representing the descendants of Ong Chong Chew, Ong Ewe Hai and Ong Kew Hoe, who donated the land for use of the Ong clan in 1872).

Making way for the future is nice but...
Straits Times Forum 26 Oct 11;

I LIVE in Canada now, but my thoughts are often on Singapore. The remains of my ancestors Tan Kim Ching, who was the son of Tan Tock Seng (and who donated a large portion of the funds to complete the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, after the death of Tan Tock Seng, who made the original contribution), and Tan Boo Liat, (grandson of Tan Kim Ching) are buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The remains of the parents and grandparents of another ancestor, Dr Lim Boon Keng, my great-grandfather, are also buried there. My siblings and other family members continue to discover graves of other relatives whose inscriptions fill in previously unknown elements of our family tree.

If I, merely one person, can find such significance in Bukit Brown, consider how many others in Singapore and overseas would also recognise ancestors, famous or otherwise, buried there.

More than offering mere sentimentality, these graves are a monument to these illustrious pioneers of Singapore, and offer a rich repository of data for scholarly research into Singapore's history.

Looking to the future is nice, but if we don't reflect on from whence we came, it makes our onward trajectory considerably less well-framed.

Roads are insatiable. Within a few years' time it will be realised that this little fix was inadequate to make the road system work well, and another road will have to be built somewhere else.

Meanwhile, part of Singapore's heritage and an invaluable source of genealogical and historical data for scholars will be lost forever. Don't do it.

Lim Su Chong
Alberta, Canada

Taoist Mission supports preservation of cemetery
Letter from Lee Zhiwang President, Taoist Mission (Singapore)
Today Online 28 Oct 11;

THE Taoist Mission (Singapore) wholeheartedly supports the cause to preserve Bukit Brown Cemetery.

As a religious, cultural and heritage group, our mission is not only to propagate Taoism but also Chinese culture and tradition.

We believe it is important to preserve the cemetery because it contains a rich heritage, which would be invaluable to Singaporeans as a whole. Preserving it is also an exercise of filial piety to our pioneers, who have contributed enormously to nation building.

In support of preservation efforts, the Taoist Mission has recently taken over Keng Teck Whay Building and the responsibility to restore this national monument now renamed as Singapore Yu Huang Gong Temple of Heavenly Jade Emperor.

It was built approximately 170 years ago by a group of 36 Peranakan Chinese from Malacca. The grave of one of the founders has been found in Bukit Brown and, in time to come, we should be able to rediscover other founders' graves in that area.

Having said that, the Taoist Mission understands that Singapore is land scarce. If the area cannot be preserved in its entirety, at least part of it should be, and efforts should be made to document its history and heritage.

Build a virtual Bukit Brown if preservation is not an option
Straits Times Forum 1 Nov 11;

I AGREE with Dr James Khoo when he describes the Bukit Brown Cemetery's gravestones as sculptural works of art and tablets of rich history ('Bukit Brown can be Singapore's Arlington'; Oct 24).

About 30 years ago, the Government required that all 100,000 graves at Peck San Theng Cemetery be exhumed to make way for the Bishan New Town development.

Apart from facilitating the affected families to work with HDB- appointed contractors on the exhumation, the Peck San Theng cemetery management committee formed a working group comprising 21 volunteers to document the graves of significance, including recording their title, location and erected date.

These were mainly clan graves, or resting places for the wandering souls who did not have family members to perform rituals of respect during the spring and autumn festivals.

The group spent more than a year combing through the 324 acre (131ha) cemetery, documenting and photographing a total of 291 clan graves.

This good deed led to the preservation of a complete and invaluable set of records on the lost Cantonese clan graves.

Two years ago, an examination of the photograph of the common grave for seven Cantonese heroes, collectively called 'Qi Jun Zi', clarified a century-old misconception about them.

Until then, the consensus was that these seven men had sacrificed their lives to protect the cemetery. Hence they had to be accorded respect during the spring and autumn festivals.

But from the gravestone of the seven heroes, we inferred that this common grave was transferred from another Cantonese cemetery and reinstalled at Peck San Theng in 1963.

More importantly, these men were killed in 1841, while Peck San Theng was established in 1870. Hence, the seven heroes were more likely to have sacrificed their lives to protect the interests of the Cantonese community during its early days, rather than to protect Peck San Theng.

This is only one example to illustrate the value of the gravestones. It would be best to preserve all the graves at Bukit Brown.

The second best would be to use the latest technology, something like Google Maps, to build a virtual Bukit Brown Cemetery to preserve the 'site' and literature of all the tombs of this historic place.

Dr Sam Kong San

FORUM NOTE: The writer was president of Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng, a columbarium that is managed by 16 Cantonese and Hakka clan associations.

Cemetery should make way for the living
Straits Times Forum 3 Nov 11;

THE leader of Taoist Mission (Singapore), Reverend Master Lee Zhiwang, states that preserving Bukit Brown cemetery also exercises filial piety towards Singapore's pioneers ('Taoist mission'; Tuesday).

But that is not the active and working understanding of filial piety, which is the practice of respecting and honouring one's parents while they are still alive; not when they are dead.

Preserving the cemetery will deprive the living in Singapore of a basic need they expect and deserve, which is comfortable housing.

Bishan was once a cemetery and so was part of Orchard Road, which is now a flourishing shopping belt and a key geographical icon of modern Singapore.

Dr Sam Kong San's alternative, which is to build a virtual Bukit Brown Cemetery, is the best way to document and preserve the site's history ('Build a virtual Bukit Brown if preservation is not an option'; Tuesday).

Another option may be to build a monument, like the war memorial remembering the victims of the Japanese Occupation.

Daniel Chia

Read more!

Fish farm co-op fails to reel in big numbers

Original target did not factor in infrastructure and manpower issues
Jessica Lim Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

THE plan was to boost the monthly yields of eight fish farms to 120 tonnes each by next year, but output has remained stagnant at 60 tonnes a year.

The Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative (Smac) had announced ambitious goals when it was formed in January. It has 18 members, which collectively own the eight fish farms located off Changi and Pasir Ris.

'We miscalculated and didn't take into account the lack of infrastructure and manpower that some members were facing,' said co-op chief executive Alan Chia.

The target, he added, has been revised to a more modest 80 tonnes per year for each farm.

The members of Smac, which is the first co-op among fish farms here, rear mostly popular fish such as seabass, tiger grouper, golden trevally and red snapper.

An old sea ambulance, supposed to be running by March, has also been left languishing at one of the farms.

Smac had bought it in January and hoped to use it to patrol the Pasir Ris area and help farmers during emergencies, and take injured ones to shore quickly.

'We couldn't get a land base up till now. It has been repaired and it runs, but where do we dock?' said Mr Chia, 32, who owns a farm in Pasir Ris.

He added that another problem was the recent global shortage of fingerling, which are baby fish or fish fry, pushing up their prices by about 20 per cent over the past year.

The co-op is casting for opportunities abroad. Last month, it announced it had made an agreement with its counterparts in Indonesia. The plan is to build a US$4 million (S$5.1 million) processing plant there, and work with farmers to export seafood and vegetables to Singapore.

If all goes well, monthly production will hit 2,000 tonnes of seafood and 1,000 tonnes of vegetables.

When asked if this veered away from the co-op's social mission, Mr Chia said profits from the project will be ploughed into trying to increase local fish production.

'With this project, we will be able to increase our financial position and feed into our other projects,' he added, noting that the project will be funded by investors, mostly major importers of vegetables and fruits here.

He added that about 10 per cent of annual profits will also go into building children's homes in Indonesia.

The Registry of Co-operative Societies - under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports - said it does not intervene in the co-ops' internal affairs, as long as they do not contravene any rules and regulations.

The 85 co-ops here are regulated under the Co-operatives Societies Act. Basic requirements include having a minimum number of members and holding annual general meetings.

Co-ops in Singapore do not pay corporate taxes. Instead, they are required to contribute 5 per cent of the first $500,000 of their surpluses to a Central Co-operative Fund used to develop the co-op movement here.

In addition, 20 per cent of any surplus in excess of $500,000 will go to the Singapore Labour Foundation or the Central Co-operative Fund.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's push to increase the local production of fish has also not made much headway. Its goal was to increase production from 4 per cent to 15 per cent of total consumption by 2014.

Local production increased by 5,141 tonnes in 2008 (4.3 per cent of total consumption) to 5,689 tonnes in 2009 (4.6 per cent), only to fall back to 5,229 tonnes last year (4.32 per cent).

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'Venice of Punggol' opens

Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 23 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: It has been four years since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sketched out his vision for Punggol, a sleepy suburb located in the northeastern part of Singapore.

It was an ambitious project to transform what some residents have described as a backwater town into a "Waterfront Town of the 21st Century".

An earlier plan to remake Punggol had hit a bump, when the Asian Financial Crisis struck.

Built at a cost of S$225 million, the new waterway by the Housing and Development Board - described as the "Venice of Punggol" - was finally opened on Sunday evening.

Mr Lee, who was speaking at the opening of the Punggol Waterway, recounted how the waterway was originally conceived as a pipeline between Serangoon and Punggol reservoirs and credited former National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan for making the change.

The project cements Punggol's claim as Singapore's first eco-precinct, along with other green features incorporated into the town's design.

The town, one of the biggest in Singapore, will house some 23,000 families by the end of the year.

In sprucing up old neighbourhoods, Mr Lee said the government will partner residents and the community in the effort.

Mr Lee said: "Every estate that we build will have its own unique identity, its own distinct landmarks and its own particular charm. Each estate will not just be a set of block of flats or precincts, but a home for Singaporeans, a community of residents, a place where friendships are made and memories are formed."

In designing the waterway, memories of the area have also been preserved.

Alan Tan, Project Director, Waterway@Punggol, said: "For example at the Kelong bridge, we have some ideas of the poles and stilts, which are remnants of the fishing villages of the past in Punggol town. Also in the past, Punggol had a lot of mangroves, and now we've incorporated some mangroves into the eastern part of the waterway."

The man-made river is expected to become the focal point of the new town.

Mr Lee also reiterated the government's commitment to improve the amenities and conditions in older housing estates like Yishun and East Coast, even as newer ones get a facelift.

The government had announced in February this year that it will set aside S$10 billion over the next 10 years for upgrading projects.

- CNA/fa

New waterway heralds dawn of waterfront living
Carolyn Quek Today Online 24 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - A space not just for kayaking, cycling and jogging but also a one-of-a-kind waterway unlikely to be built in other estates here - that was how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described My Waterway@Punggol as he officially opened it yesterday.

Built over three years at a cost of S$225 million, the 4.2km-long waterway is the centrepiece in the Government's plan to transform the sleepy estate of Punggol into a waterfront town of the 21st century.

At 10 to 85m wide and 3 to 4m deep, the waterway - developed by Surbana International Consultants - spans about 22 football fields and connects to the Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs as well as the Lorong Halus wetlands.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Lee said he was happy to witness the completion of the waterway, a "green lung in the middle of our tight city".

Plans to build Punggol 21 were first conceived in the 1990s but were put on hold when the Asian financial crisis struck, he noted.

It was only after the economy had recovered that the plans were revisited and improved, culminating in Punggol 21 Plus, where waterfront living would become a reality.

The original idea was to build a simple pipeline connecting to Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs, "most practical, but unexciting", said Mr Lee. But it was the then-National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan who suggested a waterway instead.

"Make it something beautiful, something which Singaporeans can enjoy, something which can be special for the residents and which we can build on and appreciate for many more years," Mr Lee recounted of what Mr Mah had envisioned.

Looking ahead, around 21,000 public and private homes will be built along the Punggol waterway, including Waterway Terraces I, the first public housing precinct that was launched there, in June last year.

Three other Build-to-Order projects will also be built along the waterway. And by the end of this year, 23,000 families will call Punggol home.

In 2015, there will be a new commercial hub and town plaza by its MRT station, and the town will be almost as big as Ang Mo Kio.

Mr Lee said the Government is committed to improving amenties and conditions in older estates, too, like Yishun and East Coast, and is investing S$10 billion over the next 10 years in upgrading projects.

Lessons from Punggol's first "eco-precinct", the Treelodge@Punggol - from the use of solar panels to rainwater harvesting - will also be applied to other towns.

But even as Punggol is transformed, its heritage as a fishing village will be honoured, said Mr Lee. For example, a bridge along the waterway - the Kelong Bridge - is designed with stilt-like features along its structure.

Treelodge@Punggol resident Samuel Tan, who lives in a four-room unit overlooking the waterway, said he was pleasantly surprised by how much the waterway had been developed.

"In 2007 when I bought my flat, I thought the waterway would be something simple like a longkang (drain) ... but it has turned out well," said Mr Tan, who is in his 40s and works in the financial services industry.

'Venice of Punggol' the pride of former backwater
PM opens waterway, says Govt is committed to upgrading amenities in housing estates
Cai Haoxiang Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

THE Government is not only committed to ensuring that every Singaporean has a home, but also to improving amenities and conditions in housing estates, especially older ones, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

Each estate has its own unique identity, landmarks and charm, and all are places where friendships and memories are developed, he said.

'Each estate will not just be a set of blocks of flats or precincts, but a home for Singaporeans, a community for residents, a place where friendships are made and memories are formed,' he said when opening the 4.2km-long Punggol Waterway, whose development reflects the kind of enhancements and amenities residents can look forward to.

Built at a cost of $225 million, the waterway runs through Punggol estate. Yesterday, some 10,000 residents turned up to take part in waterfront activities such as cycling and kayaking.

Others took their evening stroll on the boardwalk, flew kites in the adjacent green open spaces, or admired the cascading water curtains along a 280m-long Heartwave Wall that features murals on the area's rich history.

Punggol resident Dorrynn Ong, 40, is pleased to have the waterfront where her two sons, aged seven and two, can go cycling.

'At least we now have our own park. I don't need to go to Pasir Ris any more,' said the housewife, who has lived in a five-room flat there for 10 years.

IT manager Alan Ng, 39, was impressed by the waterway and the town's development. 'Upgrading is good for the people. And if there is a theme to an estate, the resale value will go up.

'Punggol is now young and vibrant, interesting and new, with water sports and a link to Coney Island. It used to be that you could find towns near the sea only in East Coast and West Coast,' he said.

At the opening, PM Lee said the Government is investing $10 billion over the next 10 years to improve amenities and living conditions in older estates such as Yishun, East Coast and Ang Mo Kio. Plans were first announced in February, and he said the Government will partner residents and the community in these efforts.

It has been a long journey to complete the Punggol Waterway project, he said.

Punggol used to be a fishing village and farming area, and a relative backwater. PM Lee recalled going to Punggol Point to eat at its famous seafood restaurants, and to the area for an orienteering exercise when he attended the Outward Bound School.

'We had to navigate from point to point with a map but without a compass. It was quite possible in those days to be lost in Punggol because there were no roads, no signs; some attap houses and tracks, and you had to find your way around. But we got lost,' he said.

In 1996, the Government announced plans to develop the area, with private and public housing, MRT and light rail lines and water sports facilities, marinas and a waterfront park. But the project, Punggol 21, was halted in its tracks by the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

After the economy recovered, the Government revisited its plans for Punggol, and in 2007, PM Lee unveiled Punggol 21-Plus, which includes the waterway as the rejuvenated estate's centrepiece.

He said yesterday that some have called the waterway the 'Venice of Punggol', and promised more developments to come. By the end of the year, 23,000 families will be living in Punggol, and by 2015, there will be a new commercial hub and town plaza by the Punggol MRT station.

Punggol will be almost as big as Ang Mo Kio. 'Not at all an ulu (Malay for remote) town as it was many years ago,' he said.

PM Lee expressed his hope that Singaporeans would support 'the overall direction and thrust' in the Government's upgrading efforts, and that residents would keep the waterway clean so that others can enjoy facilities such as the promenades and greenery, and 'the Singapore that we have built together'.

Waterway idea came from Mah Bow Tan
Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

IF NOT for former national development minister Mah Bow Tan, a pipeline would have been all that connected the Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs.

But when the plans went to Mr Mah, he decided to develop a waterway instead so that Singaporeans would have something to appreciate and enjoy, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

In giving credit to Mr Mah, PM Lee said there would otherwise have been a 'most practical, most unexciting' pipeline in Punggol.

'Mr Mah said, 'No, don't build a pipeline. Let's make this a waterway, make it something beautiful which Singaporeans can enjoy, something special for the residents which we can build on and appreciate for many more years to come.'

'It's because of that decision that we have this successful project in Punggol. Some people even call it the 'Venice of Punggol'.'

PM Lee added, to applause from residents: 'Mr Mah Bow Tan is not able to be with us today, but I think we all owe him, especially the Punggol residents, a big vote of thanks for this and many other things which he has done for us.'

The waterway is the centrepiece of Punggol town, which was built with an environmentally friendly focus. It includes the HDB's first green housing project, Treelodge

@Punggol, which has solar panels, energy-saving lifts and a water catchment area on the roof.

Water entering the waterway is filtered and cleansed by gravel drains and 15 types of water plants along the banks.

Nearby, a 160m stretch of Old Punggol Road and an old bus stop have been conserved.

Also present at the event were Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MPs, among others.


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Indonesia: Toba 'orchid paradise' yields 200 new species

The Jakarta Post 23 Oct 11;

Scientists say they have found almost 200 new species of orchids in the Eden Park tourist forest in Sionggang village in Toba Samosir, North Sumatra.

A group led by botanists and orchid experts Ria Telambanua and Michele Sirait has been exploring the area for years.

“We’ve successfully identified almost 200 species of forest orchids after almost four years of research. We intentionally haven’t published any of them for the sake of preservation,” Ria said on Sunday in Toba Samosir.

The discovery of new orchid species was typically followed by large-scale exploitation, she said.

The researchers identified the new species by identifying morphological differences, using orchid catalogues and by consulting with experts.

“This area is an orchid paradise. It has extraordinary natural riches. There are thousands more orchid species that have yet to be identified here,” she said as quoted by Antara.

Ria and Michele will launch a book on the new species late next month, Ria said, adding that a portion of the profits would be donated to orchid experts.

Read more!

Malaysia: Leap in demand for frog meat

Abby Lu The Star 24 Oct 11;

Frog farming is a risky business but the rewards are there for those who persevere.

IT WAS the strangest place to hear the wail of a cat in heat: a former pig farm with still-intact concrete pens containing hundreds upon hundreds of hopping frogs. And these are bullfrogs, to be precise. As its name suggests, they croak like a bull, not meow like a cat.

Just what is going on?

The owner of the 1,018sqm bullfrog farm, who wants to be known as just Pang, grins knowingly. “That is the call of a sick frog – it is crying out in pain,” he says. Amazingly, of the dozens of pens filled with thousands of four-legged amphibians, Pang was able to single out the frog that was causing the ruckus.

His knowledge is understandable. Pang has been farming frogs for more than 10 years in Sepang, Selangor, following the Nipah virus outbreak in 1999. Like other pig farmers in the affected areas, Pang saw his entire livestock – and livelihood – being destroyed in a single stroke. Subsequently, the decree that there was to be no more pig farming within an 8km radius of the affected areas was made. Pang had no choice but to look for a viable alternative.

Dr C.K. Lim, a resident of nearby Sungai Pelek, says that many pig farmers, unsure of what to do with their land and existing infrastructure, ventured into new entreprises. “Some converted the (pig) pens into tanks to rear freshwater fishes, while others tried crab farming. Most of them failed,” says Lim.

A veterinarian by training, Lim was spurred to do some research on his own. “I felt for the farmers who have lost their livelihood and looked into the things they could do to replace the loss of income,” says Lim.

He found that bullfrog farming was a viable alternative and introduced it to a number of pig farmers – and that was how an agricultural disaster became a catalyst for the bullfrog farming industry in Malaysia.

However, frog farming is nothing new. “People have been trying to farm them since the 1950s but met with little success,” reveals Lim. “Frogs live in the wild. They don’t survive or breed well in captivity. They have to be fed live insects and fresh cockles; sometimes it is necessary to agitate the water to make them believe the cockles are alive!” he recalls.

It was only after years of selective breeding that the American bullfrogs reared by the Taiwanese started accepting pellets as food. This makes the American bullfrog the amphibian of choice at many frog farms, not only in Malaysia, but in China, Brazil and Thailand.

Back in the 1970s when Lim was a student at the University of Nottingham in England, a pair of breeders sold for 500 Malaysian dollars then. Now the market price is cheaper at RM11 per kg.

“Most people will start off with, say, 10 male and 50 female frogs,” says Lim.

A breeder is a frog that weighs between 300g and 500g. In Malaysia, it takes four to seven months for bullfrogs to reach that size. In Taiwan, it may take up to 14 months as they hibernate during winter. “This makes our weather very conducive for frog rearing,” says Lim.

Nevertheless, frog farming is hard work and many bullfrog farms have since ceased operations. For starters, even species which have been identified as relatively domestic take time to settle in. Lim describes frogs as “extremely nervous creatures” – they are frightened easily.

At Pang’s farm, for example, several scarecrows hang atop the frog enclosures to scare away kingfishers that may swoop in for a quick snack or two. However, Pang says that being eaten by the bird is not too bad – at maximum, they eat a couple. “More deaths will come from them crushing each other!” he exclaims.

When frightened, the frogs will hop on top of one another, forming a little amphibian hill. The ones at the bottom of the pile are crushed or suffocated, while others become sick from the stress.

Pang, who earns about RM3,000 a month, was once hit by a six-month lull during which he had nothing to sell.

These massive losses have made frog farmers extremely superstitious and wary. When contacted, many of them refused a visit. A supplier who wishes to be known as Ah Keong says that these frogs “cannot stand the sight of people” and that outsiders may be carriers of unwanted diseases.

It wasn’t always that way. Thomas Koh from Johor, for example, started out on a positive note. In 1999, Koh headed over to Taiwan to learn the ropes of the trade. He subsequently built a frog farm with 200 concrete ponds stretching over a hectare. Ten years ago, those ponds cost about RM1,000 each.

However, after being in the business for six years, he decided to call it a day even though he says the market is not bad. “Singapore alone requires about 200 tonnes per month,” Koh says. Still, the frequent outbreak of diseases became too much to bear.

“American bullfrogs thrive in temperatures below 30°C. Our weather can get too hot sometimes and because they live in the water, diseases spread very quickly,” he says.

Similar problems have been observed in many South-East Asian countries. In Indonesia, commercial farming of native frogs has failed. Bullfrog farming, which was initially encouraged by the Government in 1982, has seen little success.

The Chinese, Thais and Vietnamese are not the only ones who love frog meat. Greek and Roman culinary traditions have long considered frogs a delicacy.

In several Latin American, Asian and African countries, frogs are considered an important source of protein.

The French, who consider themselves purveyors of haute cuisine, have long held frogs’ legs (cuisses de grenouilles) in high esteem and have been heartily tucking in, for at least 1,000 years.

So much so that by the late 1970s, frog numbers became so dangerously low that the authorities took measures to shore up the population. In 1980, commercial frog harvesting was banned. According to an article in The Guardian by Jon Henley, poachers can be fined up to ‚10,000 (RM42,000) and have their vehicles and equipment confiscated.

However, this lack of local supply does not mean that frog legs have leapt off the menu. Every year, an estimated 4,000 tonnes of frog legs still find their way to the dining table, thanks to imports from Asia. This makes France one of the largest markets for frog legs.

High demands from other European Union countries such as Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, have made the EU the largest importer of frog legs in the world.

According to Canap├ęs To Extinction: The International Trade In Frogs’ Legs And Its Ecological Impact, a report commissioned by three wildlife conservation bodies, the EU imported a total of 46,400 tonnes of frog legs, mainly from Asia, between 2000 and 2009. This number may represent about 928 million to 2.3 billion frogs.

Close on the heels of the EU comes America. In the last decade, the United States imported a total of 43,137 tonnes of frogs and frog parts.

Frogs are popular amongst people living in the former French colony of Louisiana as well as the southern states of Texas and Arkansas. Members of the Asian-American communities love it, too. Even US President Barack Obama has been photographed munching on frog legs.

Like France, the frog population in the United States has been depleted; demand is met by sourcing from other countries.

Ironically, it is a homecoming of sorts because the bulk of the frogs that they buy comprises the American bullfrog. Most of these frogs come from the top exporting countries of Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan and China.

In Malaysia, several sources put our local production at 40 to 80 tonnes a month.

Almost all the frogs that are produced locally are absorbed by the local market and a small amount is exported to Singapore.

Apart from that, there are also indications that there is a shortage in the local market. For example, farmers are no longer required to sell their frogs according to grades.

“There used to be Grade A and B frogs, but due to the shortage, this grading is no longer observed,” adds Pang.

Frog population under threat
The Star 24 Oct 11;

IT MAY not be immediately clear but frogs play a vital role in our ecosystem as predator and prey.

As tadpoles, they are food for larger animals and filter feeders that consume bacteria and algae in a particular aquatic system. As frogs, they consume agricultural pests and mosquitoes, some of which carry deadly diseases.

Many countries that report a declining frog population are also reporting a corresponding increase in use of pesticides. This is disturbing because excessive use of pesticides is known to be harmful to people and the environment.

It is about time these creatures are given due attention. Amphibians – animals that live partly on land and in water – are the most threatened animal group. One-third of all amphibian species are now listed as threatened.

Besides the threats posed by environmental and climate changes, the global demand for frog meat is endangering the survival of the species.

At first glance, farming may seem to be the solution to a rapidly declining frog population. After all, it makes sense – more frogs from farms means less pressure on those in the wild, right?

Not true, says a 2009 paper published in Frontiers In Ecology And The Environment. Biologist Brian Gratwicke and his colleagues stress that farming is not an ecologically responsible option.

Firstly, farmed frogs have the potential to spread deadly diseases such as the chytridiomycosis fungus – the cause of numerous population die-offs – ranaviruses and Salmonella bacteria to other farmed stocks and wild populations.

The farming of non-native frogs can also cause serious problems if those species are released or escape and become invasive. The popular American bullfrog, for example, is on the list of “100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species”.

Cruelty towards frogs
The Star 24 Oct 11;

MANY people do not know much about frogs. They’re not as awe-inspiring as the majestic lion, or cute and cuddly like the koala bear.

And while birds sing, frogs croak. No wonder these slimy creatures are not on our radar.

While livestock may be accorded some care when they are being raised, transported or slaughtered, frogs are not so fortunate. Kept in small cages without water or food, frogs often meet an excruciating death. Frogs sold at the market and pasar malam are often skinned and cut open alive. Who can forget the sight of these miserable creatures wriggling and twitching in pain as their guts spill out?

Cruelty towards frogs is not only documented in Malaysia but in a lot of countries where they end up on the dinner plate.

In India, live frogs are dismembered by hand or have their legs snipped off by a pair of scissors.

Frogs that are captured from the wild also experience trauma. Although a variety of tools are used, the three-pronged spear is favoured and it sometimes causes such severe bruising that the animal is rejected by the buyer.

This is troubling because scientific studies show that frogs possess the appropriate neurological components for transmitting pain and demonstrate behavioural and physiological reactions to pain. This means that a frog’s ability to feel pain is probably similar to that of a mammal.

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Malaysia: States in the East Coast brace for floods

Farik Zolkepli and Syed Azhar The Star 24 Oct 11;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Terengganu and Kelantan are bracing for the upcoming monsoon and flood season with various preparations already implemented, including several flood mitigation projects in flood-prone areas and distribution of emergency supplies.

Terengganu Drainage and Irrigation Department director Mat Hussin Ghani said among the flood mitigation projects set to be completed this year were improving the drainage of Sungai Kerak Marang, improving water flow at the Batu Buruk public park in Kuala Terengganu and constructing a better water flow system for Kampung Chalok in Setiu.

“The department conducts maintenance work on the main drains in the state every year but it will be in vain if the people fail to clear the drains at their homes regularly,” he said yesterday.

“We discovered that some homes in flood-prone areas have clogged drains due to uncut weeds as well as rubbish.”

Mat Hussin said the flood problems in the state were a yearly affair and the department took proactive measures to implement mitigation.

“We expect the projects to be implemented next year and 2013, pending approval from the ministry,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state Welfare Department has sent out RM700,000 worth of emergency supplies of basic necessities such as food and blankets to 112 flood-prone areas.

Among the areas are Hulu Terengganu, Setiu, Besut, Kemaman and Dungun which are known to be flood-prone.

Department director Zuhaimi Omar said it had also sent food caches to hard to reach places such as Pulau Redang and Pulau Perhentian.

In KOTA BARU, Kelantan National Security Council secretary Roslee Mamat said the state was taking necessary precautions to guard against severe flooding.

“Although it is a standard operating procedure every year, we have reminded the Fire and Rescue, Drainage and Irrigation, Health and Welfare departments to be prepared due to the massive floods in Thailand.

“We do not want a repeat of the great floods of 2004 and we want to be ready for any eventuality,” he told The Star.

Roslee said all the relevant departments would be monitoring the flood situation at border towns in southern Thailand, as heavy downpours there would have adverse effects in towns like Pasir Panjang and the Pasir Mas district.

In the 2004 floods, 12 people were killed and 10,476 people evacuated.

Fire and Rescue Department assistant director-general Datuk Rusmani Muhamad said his department had put its 13,239-strong personnel nationwide on alert for possible floods, especially in the east coast states of Terengganu and Kelantan.

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Enough rice for export, say Thailand and Cambodia

Tham Yuen-C Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE'S rice imports from Thailand and Cambodia will not be affected, despite inundated padi fields there.

The ambassadors for the two flood-hit countries gave reassurances yesterday that there would be enough rice for export.

'Of course there will be less output this year, but I think there will be enough for export and for the consumption inside Thailand,' said the Thai Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Nopadol Gunavibool, yesterday.

He was speaking to media on the sidelines of an event to raise funds for flood victims in the two countries and the Philippines.

Since January, the export price of Thai fragrant rice has risen by 9 per cent, partly due to reduced supply after floods. Half of Singapore's supply comes from Thailand.

Mr Nopadol said experts in Thailand say that if water levels subside quickly enough, rice crops for the coming harvest in December will not be affected. He said the floods are expected to subside within a month.

Cambodian Ambassador Sin Serey said only 10 per cent of padi fields in Cambodia were affected by the floods. Some farmers there had also switched to flood-resistant rice grains which can continue to grow even if fields are flooded. She added that local supermarket chain FairPrice had bought rice from Cambodia, and that the country would be able to meet export commitments.

The two ambassadors, along with Mr Jed Llona, vice-consul of the Philippine Embassy, also thanked Singapore aid agency Mercy Relief for helping with relief efforts.

Mercy Relief sent teams to the countries and donated equipment, such as boats to Thailand and bicycle-powered filtration systems to Cambodia and the Philippines.

The filtration system consists of a membrane filter attached to a pump powered by the bicycle's pedals. It is capable of sucking up water and processing it to produce up to 80 litres of potable water per hour.

The systems were on show yesterday at a cycling marathon organised by Singapore Polytechnic's CD Lionhearter Club in response to Mercy Relief's appeal for donations. Some 150 students from the poly, ITE College East, ITE College West and Temasek Polytechnic cycled for 10 hours on the systems to raise funds. At least 160 other young people collected donations islandwide.

So far, Thailand has received $15,000 in donations from Wat Ananda Metyarama - a Thai temple in Bukit Merah - and another $10,000 from well-wishers who passed donations to the Thai Embassy, said Mr Nopadol.

Cambodia has received $100,000 from the Singapore Red Cross and another $126,000 from Mercy Relief, said Ms Sin.

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Flooding in Southeast Asia May Cause Food Shortages, UN Says

Luzi Ann Javier Bloomberg 23 Oct 11;

Communities in parts of Southeast Asia face “serious food shortages” after flooding devastated rice paddies and other crops since the start of September and aid deliveries are disrupted, the United Nations said.

About 12.5 percent of rice farmland in Thailand has been damaged, along with 6 percent in the Philippines, 12 percent in Cambodia, 7.5 percent in Laos and 0.4 percent in Vietnam, the UN Food & Agriculture Organization said in an Oct. 21 report.

Crop losses may help sustain a 17 percent rally in rice futures in Chicago this year, adding pressure on food costs, and creating more problems for government leaders across Asia, where the grain is the main staple, said Lynette Tan, an analyst at Phillip Futures Pte. The UN Food Price Index of 55 commodities including cereals, meat, sugar and dairy rose to a record in February.

“Given that flooding in Thailand is not really getting any better, we see that going forward, there could be some room for prices to go up,” Tan said by phone from Singapore today.

Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter, was forecast to account for 31 percent of the 34.2 million metric tons of global trade of the grain this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Vietnam is the second-largest shipper, according to the USDA. The Philippines was the largest buyer last year.
Prices Jump

Rough-rice for January delivery rose 0.5 percent to close at $16.715 per 100 pounds on the Chicago Board of Trade on Oct. 21. The export price for the 100 percent grade B Thai white rice, the benchmark in Asia, gained 1 percent to $625 per metric ton on Oct. 19, taking gains this year to 13 percent.

Thailand may lose 6 million tons of rough-rice from flooding, paring the main harvest to 19 million tons, Apichart Jongskul, secretary-general of the Office of Agricultural Economics, said Oct. 21. The damage estimate does not include rice stored in warehouses that have been submerged in floodwaters, he said.

Thailand’s main harvest, which typically accounts for 70 percent of annual production, was forecast by the government at 25.8 million tons before the floods.

The Philippines lost almost 600,000 tons of milled rice from typhoons that struck the country, Lito Banayo, administrator of National Food Authority said Oct. 20. That’s equal to almost 17 days of demand, according to Bloomberg calculations, based on the national daily consumption.

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How the hunt for seafood is ravaging a tropical island

Poorly controlled shrimp farms are causing widespread damage
Simeon Tegel The Independent 24 Oct 11;

Surrounded by mangroves, the tropical island of Muisne, off Ecuador's northern coast, sounds like an idyllic place to live.

Fishermen repair their nets on its palm-fringed beaches while "ecological taxis" – tricycles with passenger seats – patrol the unpaved streets; no motorised transport exists on the island. Yet Muisne and its Afro-Ecuadorian community of 8,000 are in decline. As the years roll by, there are fewer fish and shellfish to catch, the water becomes more polluted and a growing number of locals desperate to eke out a living migrate to the mainland, or leave Ecuador altogether.

Feeding the developed world's seemingly insatiable demand for cheap seafood, shrimp farms have ravaged Muisne's delicate mangrove ecosystem and turned its inhabitants from a poor but close-knit community to one scarred by a disturbing string of social ills.

"There is more poverty, more pollution, more alcoholism and more prostitution. This has been a curse for our community," says Lider Gongora, a Muisne resident and the executive director of CCONDEM, the national umbrella group that campaigns for mangrove communities. "It has devastated the local economy. Muisne is poorer as a result of the shrimp farms, and it is the same for all of Ecuador's communities that depend on mangroves."

In the 1970s, before shrimp farms arrived, the island had 20,000 hectares of mangroves. Now there are just over 5,000 hectares, nearly half of which is secondary forest, replanted by the community. From Indonesia to Brazil, the story is the same. Yet nowhere has the growth of farms for shrimp, prawns, salmon and other species been as explosive as in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, production in the region grew annually at 21.1 per cent between 1970 and 2008. Over the same period, annual global consumption of farm-reared seafood has risen from 700g to 7.8kg per capita.

Meanwhile, more than half of the world's estimated 32 million hectares of mangroves – one of the most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems – has been lost. In Ecuador, fewer than a third of the country's initial 360,000 hectares of mangroves survive. And in Honduras, scene of some of the least regulated shrimp farm expansion, which has led to a string of unresolved murders of fisherman, now has just a quarter of its 250,000 hectares of mangroves still standing.

The shrimp farms typically have a complex series of environmental impacts. Initially, sections of the mangrove are cleared to make way for the farms. Once operational, the farms may use large quantities of antibiotics and pesticides that often contaminate the surrounding forests. Farms can also obstruct the flow of rivers and streams, preventing them from mixing with seawater to provide the brackish water that mangroves need to thrive. In doing so, they provide a double whammy by stopping the farms' pollutants from being washed away, increasing the ecological devastation while the shrimp and prawns are reared in a cocktail of chemicals, stale water and bacteria.

As the mangroves' delicate ecological balance is disrupted, the effects can reach far beyond these unique, coastal forests. Many of the myriad species of fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects found in mangroves spend only one stage of their life there, hatching or breeding before migrating to other biomes, such as the open sea, nearby salt flats or inland forests.

The impact for Muisne has been depressingly predictable. Fishermen who wade waist-deep through the mangroves' soupy, opaque waters looking for black scallops have to spend longer and longer to catch less and less. Previously, one fisherman could harvest up to 2,000 scallops a day but now, working longer hours, it is 150 at most. "Sometimes you spend the whole day but don't get anything," complains Mr Gongora.

Despite the 2006 election of a leftist president, Rafael Correa, and the subsequent, groundbreaking rewriting of the constitution to include the "rights of nature", shrimp farming in Ecuador has actually increased, following a new law to expand production to fresh stretches of the country's Pacific coast. "Correa has his left-wing, environmentalist discourse but it is a big lie," Mr Gongora says, bitterly. "He justifies the shrimp farming by saying it brings foreign exchange, but what is the cost to Ecuadorians?"

Some Western businesses already appear to be heeding the environmentalists' message. Britain's largest retailer, Tesco, sources some of its shrimp and prawns from a Latin American farm (it will not reveal in which country) that it claims is the first organic shrimp hatchery and uses no antibiotics or pesticides. "We want to be selling seafood to our customers in 50 years' time so it's in our interest to ensure we're sourcing it responsibly," a spokesman for Tesco said.

But for some, shrimp farming's new age of corporate social responsibility may be too little, too late. In Honduras, possibly Latin America's most lawless country, shrimp farms continue to be built inside coastal areas protected under the UN's Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

"There has been total impunity," says Jorge Varela Marquez, the head of an environment group in the Gulf of Fonseca, on Honduras's Pacific coast. "Whenever these cases have gone to court, the justice system has been completely partial and favoured the shrimp farms."

And Mr Varela Marquez's message to British consumers could not be blunter: "Pay a fair price for shrimp and stop drinking the blood of our people."

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