Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jun 12

Otterman in Alumnus
from Raffles Museum News

Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 25, Memorial Issue for Navjot Sodhi from Raffles Museum News

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Wild boars: Public safety a prime concern for NParks

Straits Times Forum 30 Jun 12;

WE REFER to the letter by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society ('Culling wild boars: Explore humane options'; Tuesday).

As recently as 1997, no wild boars were sighted in our nature reserves during extensive surveys.

Now, they can be found all over the reserves and many parts of the island, indicating that their population has grown exponentially.

Based on numerous studies done elsewhere, the upper limit of the natural population in a balanced ecosystem is 100 in the nature reserves, and seven in the Lower Peirce area.

However, in the Lower Peirce area alone, we have observed two herds, adding up to a total of 80 to 100 wild boars. This could double within the year.

Our primary concern with wild boars is public safety.

Although they appear shy, they are wild animals and are unpredictable in behaviour.

Wild boars have already attacked people at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and killed a pet dog in the Chestnut area.

Our staff's vehicle also had a near collision with a large herd of wild boars dashing across Old Upper Thomson Road.

Fatalities have been reported in wild boar attacks in Malaysia.

As the lead agency for biodiversity conservation, we monitor the health of our forests, which are home to a rich variety of flora and fauna.

Active management is required when the rising population of a particular species threatens the ecological balance.

Research by Dr Kalan Ickes and others showed that large populations of wild boars in the Pasoh Forest Reserve in Malaysia have caused extensive negative impact on small animals and flora.

Similar negative impact on our forest has already been documented by our staff in the Lower Peirce area.

Managing the wild boar population is necessary to lower the risk of human-wild boar conflicts and to conserve the integrity of our nature reserves.

We will look into other public suggestions and consult experts before taking action.

Wong Tuan Wah
Director, Conservation
National Parks Board

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Gardens by the Bay: No walk in the park

Escalating costs fuelled by building frenzy dogged Gardens by the Bay
Cheong Suk-Wai Straits Times 30 Jun 12;

THE just-opened Gardens by the Bay is not a garden in any traditional sense, but rather a theme park based on plants.

Its chief executive, Dr Tan Wee Kiat, 69, says: 'We consider the Gardens a New Age park, a truly tropical garden very much based on the understanding that we are creating a people's garden by reflecting their culture.

'What this also means is that we are developing a garden for people who don't normally come to gardens.'

That is because visiting parks is not a tropical tradition, not least because of the sweltering climate and because there are few of the mass flowerings that people in temperate countries enjoy.

What a leap the $1 billion Gardens is from the time former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew planted his first tree on Tree Planting Day in 1963, thus entrenching for his countrymen the vision of bush-lined boulevards, neighbourhoods and even industrial estates, and to signal to investors that Singaporeans were highly disciplined workers and well worth investing in.

The Government has been so committed to that garden city vision that from the get-go, it housed its parks department under the Ministry of National Development to emphasise that greening was an essential part of Singapore's infrastructure.

In 1973, it set up the Garden City Action Committee, which reported regularly to the prime minister, no less, on national greening efforts.

Dr Tan recalls that Mr Goh Chok Tong, who succeeded Mr Lee, once remarked that Singapore was the only country he knew whose head of government read garden reports.

The Republic also shut the door on lucrative but polluting heavy industries.

Today, says the National Parks Board, Singapore has achieved the improbable - it has grown even more green spaces despite ever-rapid urbanisation; in 2007, 47 per cent of the island was green compared with 36 per cent in 1986.

Such relentless greening is how the Gardens came to exist.

It all began in 2004, when Singapore's city planners and park developers sat down together to work out how to shape a 360ha piece of prime land next to the Central Business District that had been reclaimed in the 1970s. That will be the New Downtown.

In an interview earlier this month, HDB chief executive Cheong Koon Hean, 55, who then headed the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2004, said she wanted Singapore to have a green lung like London's Hyde Park or New York's Central Park and that 360ha site was the perfect opportunity to do so.

They eventually settled on carving out 101ha for that green lung, which would house three gardens - the 54ha Bay South (which opened yesterday), the 32ha Bay East and the 15ha Bay Central.

At this point, Dr Tan, who was then chief of the National Parks Board and had spruced up the Botanic Gardens, proposed that they not only rejuvenate Marina City Park, but also make it Singapore's second Botanic Gardens.

He recalls: 'By 2004, the Botanic Gardens here had attained a popularity that was causing it to strain its resources as a recreation spot.

'So we felt it was time for another park of the same scope, scale and magnitude as the Botanic Gardens to take some of the heat of attraction off it, and allow it to perform its more traditional role as a botanic institution.'

For more than 100 years, the plant-rich Botanic Gardens has been a treasure trove for international botanists, including housing a species capable of fighting HIV.

The proposal for the new park, which Dr Tan named Gardens by the Bay, went up to the Ministry of Finance and then the Cabinet in 2004. The Cabinet allowed them to craft the project brief in 2005 and launch an international design competition in 2006, which drew 76 entries.

Mr Khew Sin Khoon, president and chief executive of CPG Corp (the former Public Works Department), which is the overall consultant for the Gardens, travelled with Dr Tan and his team to visit designers, famous as well as unknown, during the competition.

Mr Khew recalls: 'We weren't sure how many landscape architects would take part because it was just gardens, which might not have the international buzz of a building.'

Eventually, small British firm Grant Associates won the right to mastermind the building of the Gardens. Announcing this, then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said: 'I would expect that $300 million to $400 million will be needed to develop a normal group of Gardens of this nature.'

All well and good, but the Gardens team had first the mammoth task of transforming a barren site bereft of roads, drains, sewers and electricity. Worse, it was all reclaimed land, which meant they had to express as much water out as possible to hasten the settling of what was essentially sand on top of the sea floor, by piling on rich soil in which plants could grow.

Dr Tan lets on that the site seemed so unpromising that an earlier suggestion that it be offered to Malaysia in exchange for Tanjong Pagar railway land was seen as a non-starter. On top of that, recalls Mr Ng Boon Gee, the Gardens' assistant director of development, they had to build an underground canal the size of Bukit Timah Canal to channel out rainwater that might otherwise flood the Gardens' grounds.

And just as Dr Tan's team broke ground in September 2007, right after the Cabinet gave them $893 million to build the Gardens, the cost of construction materials and labour spiked by 34 per cent, and as infrastructure works soaked up almost 80 per cent of the budget, they would certainly bust it.

Dr Tan says evenly: 'When we say our final expenditure was $1 billion, people think, 'That $1 billion went into what?' Well, a lot of it went into what you don't see as basic infrastructure. What you do see, like the 700,000 plants, cost less than 20 per cent of the budget.'

Singapore was in a building frenzy then, with two integrated resorts (IRs) and numerous condominiums to complete. Worse, there was also a global building boom fuelled by China, causing demand to outstrip supply madly. Mr Ng recalls: 'We were caught in between the building of two IRs and the contractors sent in such high bids to us!"

In the end, they settled on five main contractors, all local.

Grimly, they began cutting back, even deliberately delaying the opening by almost two years so that the five local main contractors could spread out the costs. They settled for aluminium instead of titanium shelters, cement instead of granite pavements and 18 instead of 36 supertrees.

Things came to such a head that they almost had to scrap the Gardens' two iconic glasshouses, or domes, which cost $400 million in total to build.

Asked why there should be domes, Dr Tan says: 'People were telling me, 'We want roses and cherry blossoms, we want colour, shade and open spaces but we don't want humidity.' So the glasshouses fulfil that.'

A garden looks its best when it is mature but with only five years to create the Gardens, Dr Tan and his team had to comb construction sites for old trees that had to go, and salvaged cannonballs from Upper Cross Street, Madras thorns from Seletar Airbase and frangipanis from Bidadari Cemetery to be replanted in the Gardens.

In the end, they busted the original budget by 16 per cent but managed to justify keeping the glasshouses, bringing the total spent so far to $1 billion.

They also got to keep the glasshouses because they found a way to cool them without money-guzzling air-conditioners. Instead, the domes are cooled from the bottom up using underground chilled water pipes cooled by electricity generated from the burning of plant detritus. That has cut the domes' energy bill by 30 per cent, although Dr Tan and his team still will not divulge the cooling costs.

But he did allow that maintaining the entire Gardens would cost about $50 million a year, little of which they will recoup even if the 2.7 million visitors they expect yearly give them the projected revenue of $1 billion in the next 10 years.

Admission to the Gardens is free, save for the domes ($20) and the skybridge walk ($5).

Dr Tan says: 'The payments will not pay for replacements without the help of sponsors, and that is why we have been going around with a tin cup.'

So it is that while the Gardens is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, it is of such social and educational benefit that the Commissioner of Charities has recognised it as a charity and an Institution of a Public Character. This means it pays no tax except goods and services tax and can accept donations, and those who donate get a 250 per cent tax rebate.

Also, recognising that the Gardens is really public infrastructure, the Government underwrites the shortfall between what the Gardens earns and what it has to spend to maintain the Gardens.

Speaking of which, Dr Tan admits that he does not have enough staff to check that visitors do not pluck or take away the Gardens' plants, 60 per cent of which are rarely seen here.

He says: 'Building these Gardens is like giving you an iPad with which you do your own thing... So enjoy it but protect it and prevent others from destroying what is yours.'

Additional reporting by Tan Dawn Wei

The day the earth moved beneath the feet
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 30 Jun 12;

WHEN Mr Kenneth Er stood on a 54ha piece of reclaimed land that was to become one of Gardens by the Bay's three gardens, he felt the earth move under his feet.


Contractors were speeding up the settlement of the land, which required loading it with earth mounds and sucking water out from the soil 30m to 40m deep.

One of the mounds slipped, causing a landslide.

'We literally ran for our lives. It was like an earthquake,' recalled the 40-year-old chief operating officer of the new gardens.

When he went back to look at it again, his first thought was: How are we going to get this fixed?

The answer came from his chief executive, Dr Tan Wee Kiat, who looked at the damage and said: 'We will turn this into a wetland.'

Getting Singapore's next great icon ready over the last seven years has been no walk in the park. 'We used to joke that people who came on this project didn't ride on business class. It was cargo. It was a lot of turbulence along the way,' said Mr Er, a forest ecologist who has spent most of his career at the National Parks Board (NParks).

That thought did not quite cross his mind when he was first asked to get on board.

He had finished a secondment term as deputy director of infrastructure at the National Development Ministry and it was his first day back at NParks.

'There was no team, no big buzz about it. I was just told to report to work. You just didn't have time to get excited about it,' he said matter-of-factly.

But the magnitude of the project soon sank in.

'You look at the site and what you have to do, and it seemed so insurmountable.' Especially for a forestry expert who had to put together advanced engineering systems to make the manmade mega-park hum.

An enormous amount of research has gone into every aspect of the gardens' operations - from studying how much temperature and light are needed for plants to flower and how long the flowers would hold, to how to keep heat out of the conservatories but let in as much light as possible, and what energy sources to use.

Then there was the re-engineering work that had to be done when the project was hit by escalating costs because of a crunch in the construction industry.

'Every day and night, even Christmas, we were doing value engineering - how to contain the cost,' said Mr Er, who has a master's degree in forestry from the University of British Columbia in Canada.

That has meant cutting down the number of supertrees from 36 to 18; making them lighter, thus using less steel; and reducing the excavation needed for the carpark and service tunnels.

When asked what aspect of the project he is most proud of, Mr Er did not hesitate.

'That all the main contractors are local ones.'

On a personal note, Gardens by the Bay has been a dream come true.

'You would never think that you would ever be involved in something like this - to deal with plants of such palette and variety and experiment with a wide array of technologies,' he said, with a smile.

'But now, I still feel we have a long way more to go. And we'll just keep going.'

'Once in a lifetime project' for design team
Straits Times 30 Jun 12;

WHEN a National Parks Board team was in London to meet architects to tell them about an international competition to design a major landscape project, two people from small landscape architecture firm Grant Associates took a train from Bath to the big city.

There, they met the Singaporeans in a hotel lobby, and were wowed by the prospects of the project. The company's director, Mr Andrew Grant, 53, had won awards before. But never had he, in the 15 years since he set up his own practice, taken on anything of this magnitude.

The brief: to design the world's best tropical garden. A significant visitor attraction. One with a conservatory with two distinct environments and habitats.

It was hard to pass up on it. He got down to work, building a team comprising architects Wilkinson Eyre, structural engineers Atelier One and environmental engineers Atelier Ten.

The masterplan: a series of supertrees with a science fiction feel, inspired by the Valley of the Giants in south-west Australia. It features a tree-top walk through a grove of more than 400-year-old giant trees. And two huge cooled conservatories that, at 2ha together, would be among the biggest the world has ever seen.

'We have maps that show different regions and other extraordinary glasshouses, but they sure as hell are not on the equator,' said Mr Paul Baker, 53, director of Wilkinson Eyre, with a laugh. He was responsible for designing the twin domes.

Ten teams were shortlisted from over 70 applications and flown to Singapore. When the Grant-led team had a chance to peek at the other entries, they were surprised by how different each designing team responded to the brief.

'We felt the conservatories should be near the waterfront. Others positioned them in the middle. But by being near the water, you could get good daylight and there is maximum exposure,' said Mr Keith French, 43, landscape architect and director of Grant Associates.

'Some were really crazy, like conservatories built underground, or with an opaque roof,' said Mr Baker of the other ideas.

'But there was a feeling Singapore didn't want to play very safe. Singapore in the last 10 years had rebranded itself.'

Their design was good enough to win over the international jury panel, which included the heads of various statutory boards and famed Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki.

Seven years on, the team acknowledges that a large, complex and iconic project like Gardens by the Bay has helped bolster their portfolio; the companies have even set up branches here.

'You think, wouldn't it be fun to do something like that in another part of the world? But it will never happen,' said Mr Baker.

'It's a project you're lucky to do once in your lifetime,' said Mr Meredith Davey, 33, senior associate director at Atelier Ten.


A variety that stumps even an expert
Straits Times 30 Jun 12;

MR ANTON van der Schans may be the go-to guy for all things horticultural at Singapore's latest national garden, Gardens By The Bay.

But even the plant expert admits that of the over 2,000 plant species showcased, about 10 per cent of them were alien to him.

Between the two conservatories, the 18 supertrees and the rest of the outdoor gardens, there are some 700,000 plants from nearly every continent, except the Antarctica. There are also a large number of trees salvaged from land affected by development elsewhere on the island.

'In selecting the plants, we wanted to showcase a diversity, particularly plants that are not commonly seen in this part of the world,' said the Australian.

Yes, Singaporeans who were surveyed during the concept stage of the Gardens said that they wanted flowers and colour. But in the end, aesthetics was only one factor in determining the horticultural displays at Bay South, the first of the three parks which opened yesterday.

They should carry important themes and messages too, said Mr van der Schans, 48, who is assistant director of horticulture at the Gardens. 'Our aim is to entertain and educate visitors by transporting them into diverse botanical worlds and presenting the plant kingdom in a compelling way that illustrates its important relationship with man and the ecosystem.'

The largest order the Gardens made was for its Bromeliad collection, which boasts 210,000 plants comprising 3,475 varieties, both species and hybrids. But the most difficult-to-find plant was the Mauritia flexuosa, one of Mr van der Schan's favourite palm species from the Amazon. To date, he has only been able to obtain small seedlings as it is not widely planted outside of the Amazon.

And the most difficult to transport? The Baobab, or Adansonia digitata, from Senegal. 'It was too large to fit in a normal 40-foot shipping container, so it had to come on an open, flatbed container,' he recalled of the 12m-tall tree.

The National Parks Board (NParks) had been carrying out extensive experiments for this project, going as far as building a prototype glasshouse at Hort Park to test the survivability of many of these non-native plants.

The most eye-opening experience for Mr van der Schan, who studied landscape architecture in the School of Built Environment at the Queensland University of Technology, was how adaptable some of the plants have been.

Prior to joining the Gardens, he was a partner in a small landscape architecture practice in Cairns, specialising in botanical survey and planting design.

He met the Gardens chief executive Tan Wee Kiat a few years ago when the Singaporean was in his hometown of Cairns for a plant sourcing trip.

When asked which particular section of the Gardens he was most proud of, he said: 'It wouldn't be fair to pick a favourite 'child'.

'However, our palm collection spread through the theme gardens and elsewhere is fairly comprehensive.'


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Fires threaten to 'extinguish' critical Indonesian orangutan population

Conservationists claim a massive new wave of fires has been set in Tripa peat swamp to make way for palm oil plantations
Oliver Milman 29 Jun 12;

The world's densest population of orangutans is set to be "extinguished" by a massive new wave of fires that is clearing large tracts of a peat swamp forest in the Indonesian island of Sumatra, conservationists have warned.

Environmentalists claim that satellite images show a huge surge in forest blazes across the Tripa peat swamp in order to create palm oil plantations, including areas that have not been permitted for clearing.

Tripa is home to a tight-knit enclave of around 200 critically endangered orangutans. However, this number has plummeted from an estimated population of 3,000.

Just 7,000 orangutans remain in Sumatra, with rampant forest clearing for palm oil cultivation blamed for their decline.

Ian Singleton, head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), said that the Tripa orangutans are being "extinguished."

"The situation is indeed extremely dire," he said. "Every time I have visited Tripa in the last 12 months I have found several orangutans hanging on for their very survival, right at the forest edge."

"When you see the scale and speed of the current wave of destruction and the condition of the remaining forests, there can be no doubt whatsoever that many have already died in Tripa due to the fires themselves, or due to starvation as a result of the loss of their habitat and food resources."

Felling trees from Tripa's carbon-rich peat also triggers the release of large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Indonesia has been named as the third highest emitter of CO2 emissions in the world when deforestation is a factor, although the country disputes this.

Environmentalists have lodged a lawsuit against PT Kallista Alam, one of the five palm oil firms operating in Tripa, and Irwandi Yusuf, the former governor of Aceh, over the approval of a permit for the 1,600-hectare (3,950-acre) palm oil plantation.

Irawardi, previously styled as a "green" governor, says he granted the permit due to delays in the UN's Redd+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme, which has seen Norway pledge $US1bn to Indonesia to reduce deforestation.

"The international community think our forest is a free toilet for their carbon," Irawardi said in April. "Every day they are saying they want clean air and to protect forests … but they want to inhale our clean air without paying anything."

SOCP and lawyers representing Tripa's local communities have called upon the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to bypass an ongoing government investigation into the forest clearing and immediately halt the razing of the area.

"This whole thing makes absolutely no sense at all, not environmentally, nor even economically," said Singleton.

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Australia: Scientists baffled as Townsville turtle deaths rise to 73

Alina Derevyanko Sydney Morning Herald 29 Jun 12;

The death toll of vulnerable green sea turtles south of Townsville has shown no signs of slowing down, with more sick animals washing up on beaches today.

Queensland authorities have carried out two helicopter surveys after more than 20 of the vulnerable species, mostly adult females, were discovered washed up on beaches around Upstart Bay last week.

Two more were found today on Wunjunga Beach, about 100 kilometres south of Townsville, and their cause of death continue to baffle scientists.

A total of 73 dead turtles have now been discovered.

Marty McLaughlin, operations manager at Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services, says the turtles were nourished with no obvious signs of illness.

"This is classified as an unusual event," Mr McLaughlin said.

"We now have better data about the number of turtles, but they are continuing to wash up.

"We still can't rule out poisoning as toxicology reports have yet to be finalised."

The department says the results from toxicology will be known over the next two weeks.

The deaths have come just weeks after a damning UNESCO report criticising Australia's management of the Great Barrier Reef, an important feeding area for green sea turtles.

The species is considered vulnerable under national legislation and a loss of just one breeding sized individual can have an impact on the population.

Most of the green turtles found dead have been adult females, with some adult males and adolescents as well.

Adults have a shell length of about one metre and average about 130 kg, although some nesting females can weigh more than 180 kg.


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King Cobra faces loss of habitat

The Times of India 29 Jun 12;

NEW DELHI: The King Cobra, world's longest venomous snake found predominantly in Indian rain forests, are increasingly threatened due to loss of habitat and over-exploitation for medicinal purposes.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included the King Cobra in its latest "Red List of Threatened Species".

Rain forests in the Western Ghats, which receives high annual rainfall, is the home of the much respected and feared King Cobra, which is also a powerful and ancient religious icon in India.

Indonesia and the Philippines are also home to these majestic and ecologically valuable snakes, which average at 3 to 4 m in length and typically weigh about 6 kg.

"The world's largest venomous snake, the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), is listed as vulnerable due to loss of habitat and over-exploitation for medicinal purposes," says the IUCN Red List.

It shows that 10 per cent of snakes endemic to China and South East Asia are threatened with extinction.

Snakes are used in traditional medicines and anti-venom serum as food and are a source of income from the sale of skins.

Nearly 43 per cent of the endemic snake species in South East Asia in the endangered and vulnerable categories are threatened by unsustainable use.

The Burmese Python (Python bivittatus), best-known in the West as an invasive species in the Florida Everglades, is also listed as vulnerable in its native range, with trade and over-exploitation for food and skins, especially in China and Vietnam, being the main threats to the species.

Despite its designation as a protected species in China, populations there show no evidence of recovery, and illegal harvesting continues, says the IUCN.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jun 12

Laced Woodpecker and durians
from Bird Ecology Study Group

New articles on Nature in Singapore website
from Raffles Museum News

96 percent of the world's species remain unevaluated by the Red List from news by Jeremy Hance

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Decision to build Gardens by the Bay not an easy one: PM Lee

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE : Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the decision to build Gardens by the Bay was not an easy one.

Speaking to some 700 guests at the official opening of the Gardens on Thursday, Mr Lee pointed out the land could have been used for more valuable developments.

But he said that looking at it now, the decision to build it was correct.

Gardens by the Bay is Singapore's latest manifestation of its 'City in a Garden' vision.

Spanning 101 hectares, the S$1 billion superpark houses over a quarter of a million rare plants.

It is now an icon of the redeveloped Marina Bay.

But the decision to build it was not easy.

Mr Lee said: "(We) could have used this for far more valuable commercial or residential developments, right in the middle of the new Singapore city. But our planners in URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) believed that a large and beautiful park was an important element of our new downtown in Marina Bay South, just like Central Park in New York, or Hyde Park in London.

"Mr Mah Bow Tan, who was then the Minister for National Development, strongly supported this project. He saw value in having Gardens by the Bay right in the city, value beyond enhancing the value of the rest of the land in Marina Bay."

Mr Lee said Gardens by the Bay is not just a pretty flower to admire from afar, but the "people's garden" for all to enjoy every single day.

And he urged all Singaporeans to visit the Gardens and embrace it as their own.

Mr Lee said: "This is just one example of how we are transforming Singapore's living environment. It may be a densely populated city, maybe one of the densest in the world, but we are determined that our people should be able to live comfortably, pleasantly, graciously.

"Not just good homes, efficient public transport, which we are working hard to improve, or safe streets. But also be in touch with nature, never far from green spaces and blue waters."

Gardens by the Bay features two conservatory domes - known as Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.

Cloud Forest contains a man-made mountain that houses a variety of high altitude plants that are not normally found in tropical Singapore, while Flower Dome features an indoor Mediterranean garden and seasonal changing floral displays.

There is also an Outdoor Gardens which members of the public can go to free of charge.

The Gardens cost about S$1 billion to build.

CEO of Gardens by the Bay, Dr Tan Wee Kiat, explained: "First of all, this is reclaimed land; in order to be the first project in here, you have got to drain the place, provide canals, bring in roads, electricity - in other words, a lot of the money is spent, half of it is on infrastructure.

"The major portion of the other half are the two glass domes. Twenty per cent of that budget, which is very high for most developments, goes into securing plant material. And it is money rightfully spent because Singaporeans want a bit of spring and autumn, which you can never in the land of perpetual summer."

The new green space opens to the public on Friday, and more than 30,000 visitors are expected to flock here.

- CNA/ms

Gardens by the Bay not an easy decision: PM
Vital to have such green space despite giving up 101ha of prime land, he says
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 29 Jun 12;

SETTING aside 101ha of prime land in the heart of Singapore's new downtown for Gardens by the Bay was not an easy decision, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

The land could have been used for far more valuable commercial and residential developments, but planners believed in the value of an iconic green space - one that would be a key part of the new downtown in Marina Bay South and Singapore's answer to New York's Central Park and London's Hyde Park.

Speaking at the opening of the attraction, at which he unveiled a silver plaque, he said that with the city-state being so densely populated, such green lungs were needed.

'In fact, the more developed a city Singapore is, the more important it is for us to have such peaceful oases amid our tropical concrete and expressways, in order to give us emotional well-being and a sense of belonging.'

He was addressing 700 civil servants, corporate partners and students who were at the Flower Dome conservatory for the opening ceremony. He had earlier gone on a tour of the Gardens, taking in the sights from the OCBC Skyway, a 128m-long aerial walkway linking two 42m-tall Supertrees.

Mr Lee had announced the idea for the Gardens in his National Day Rally speech in 2005.

By far the largest and most expensive endeavour undertaken by the National Parks Board, the facility is made up of three gardens and is the latest manifestation of the city-in-a-garden vision.

The first and largest of the gardens, Bay South, took five years and $1 billion to build. It has two cooled conservatories that are among the largest in the world. The other gardens, Bay East and Bay Central, will be developed later. A global design competition in 2005 was won by British firm Grant Associates, which came up with the idea for the Supertrees.

A construction boom fuelled by developments like Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa resulted in the cost of the Gardens going up by 35 per cent.

After some rethinking, the number of Supertrees was halved to 18, and excavation work for a full basement carpark forgone.

The Gardens' chief executive Tan Wee Kiat said the project had its share of problems, chief of which was that it was a full-fledged garden built on reclaimed land - and in a short time at that.

Yesterday, Mr Lee singled out former national development minister Mah Bow Tan for pushing for the project when he was in charge.

'He saw value in having Gardens by the Bay right in the city, a value beyond enhancing the price of the rest of the land in Marina Bay,' said Mr Lee.

Speaking to The Straits Times later, Mr Mah said no one would think of putting a commercial value on New York's Central Park. He said: 'Can you imagine if someone said, 'We should have built houses on Hyde Park'? Or 'Let's turn Botanic Gardens into good-class bungalows'?'

National Parks Board chief Poon Hong Yuen said he expects the new Gardens to attract five million visitors in its first year.

Guests at yesterday's opening took many pictures of the lit Supertrees, but the one thing that left most of them awestruck was the 30m waterfall in the Cloud Forest conservatory. 'Wow!' was the word that escaped many lips.

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West's Wildfires A Preview Of Changed Climate: Scientists

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 29 Jun 12;

Scorching heat, high winds and bone-dry conditions are fueling catastrophic wildfires in the U.S. West that offer a preview of the kind of disasters that human-caused climate change could bring, a trio of scientists said on Thursday.

"What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like," Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer said during a telephone press briefing. "It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster ... This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."

In Colorado, wildfires that have raged for weeks have killed four people, displaced thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes. Because winter snowpack was lighter than usual and melted sooner, fire season started earlier in the U.S. West, with wildfires out of control in Colorado, Montana and Utah.

The high temperatures that are helping drive these fires are consistent with projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said this kind of extreme heat, with little cooling overnight, is one kind of damaging impact of global warming.

Others include more severe storms, floods and droughts, Oppenheimer said.

The stage was set for these fires when winter snowpack was lighter than usual, said Steven Running, a forest ecologist at the University of Montana.

Mountain snows melted an average of two weeks earlier than normal this year, Running said. "That just sets us up for a longer, dryer summer. Then all you need is an ignition source and wind."

Warmer-than-usual winters also allow tree-killing mountain pine beetles to survive the winter and attack Western forests, leaving behind dry wood to fuel wildfires earlier in the season, Running said.

"Now we have a lot of dead trees to burn ... it's not even July yet," he said. Trying to stop such blazes driven by high winds is a bit like to trying to stop a hurricane, Running said: "There is nothing to stop that kind of holocaust."

Fires cost about $1 billion or more a year, and exact a toll on human health, ranging from increased risk of heart, lung and kidney ailments to post-traumatic stress disorder, said Howard Frumkin, a public health expert at the University of Washington.

"Wildfire smoke is like intense air pollution," Frumkin said. "Pollution levels can reach many times higher than a bad day in Mexico City or Beijing."

The elderly, the very young and the ill are most vulnerable to the heat that adds to wildfire risk, he said. The strain of fleeing homes and living in communities in the path of a wildfire can trigger ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

The briefing was convened by Climate Nexus, an advocacy and communications group. An accompanying report on heat waves and climate change was released simultaneously here.

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jun 12

Oil spill at Tanjung Piai, Johor
from wild shores of singapore

A fearsome threesome
from The annotated budak

White-crested Laughingthrush encounter
from Bird Ecology Study Group

eagle showtime @ the esplanade - June 2012
from sgbeachbum

Celebrating the Durian Season
from G33k5p34k's Blog

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Malaysia: Tanjung Piai National Park Closed Due To Oil Spill

Bernama 27 Jun 12;

PONTIAN, June 27 (Bernama) -- The Tanjung Piai National Park here has been closed to tourists due to an oil slick measuring about 600 metre-long sighted on the beach yesterday afternoon.

Johor National Parks Corporation director Suhairi Hashim said the closure was to facilitate cleaning-up work which would take three days.

"We are awaiting the Beach Cleaning Committee's decision before launching the clean-up operation.

"The committee is made up of several agencies, including the Department of Environment (DOE), the Pontian Land Office, and the Pontian District Office," he told reporters here Wednesday.

Suhairi said the oil slick, which was believed to have occurred during fuel transfer from vessels off Tanjung Piai, was spotted by Tanjung Piai National Park personnel at about 2pm yesterday.


Oil spill forces park closure
Ahmad Fairuz Othman AND Sim Bak Heng New Straits Times 28 Jun 12;

ECOLOGICAL PROBLEM: Tanjung Piai National Park and Pulau Kukup affected

An oil slick in the swamp area at the Tanjung Piai National Park. Pic courtesy of Taman Negara Tanjung Piai

PONTIAN: The Tanjung Piai National Park here will be closed after an oil spill washed up onto a 600m coastal stretch located in the park and nearby Pulau Kukup.

The park, which has received about 30,000 tourists since January, will be closed to facilitate a three-day clean-up.

The oil spill was believed to have occurred when illegal vessel-to-vessel fuel transfers off the coast here took place since Tuesday.

The national park's staff were notified of the incident at 2pm on Tuesday. It was also reported to the Pontian District Office and the Marine Department.

"The oil spill could be seen along a 600m stretch along the main walkway heading towards the globe structure, which is the main landmark at the national park. The globe marks the southernmost tip of mainland Asia," said Johor National Parks Corporation director, Suhairi Hashim.

It also damaged the pedestrian walkway at the national park, causing birds and mangrove trees to be covered in oil sludge and affecting at least 10 species of marine life and insects in the park.

"It is feared the incident will endanger further the species of birds, shellfish and fish, as the oil has covered mangrove tree roots and can cause the plants to wither in two months."

The incident at the eco-tourism spot, listed as a Ramsar site, was the second incident since February this year. Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention of 1971.

"Checks showed that the oil spill has also affected the Pulau Kukup National Park which is located not far from Tanjung Piai National Park."

Additional reporting by Jassmine Shadiqe

Lack of skills hampers oil sludge clean-up
New Straits Times 29 Jun 12;

PONTIAN: The lack of expertise and equipment is hampering the cleaning up of oil sludge at the Tanjung Piai National Park.

A Pulau Kukup National Park employee hard at work cleaning up an area spoilt by an oil spill. The park was closed after an oil spill washed up onto a 600m stretch in the park and nearby Pulau Kukup. Pic by Zulkarnain Ahmad Tajuddin

Johor National Parks Corporation director Suhairi Hashim said more than 30 workers from the national parks in Johor, including those from the Pulau Kukup National Park, had been roped in to help with the operation.

He said the cleaning was done manually with equipment like hoes, spades and absorbents provided by the state Department of Environment.

"They are digging up the oil sludge, packing them in plastic bags and wiping the mangrove tree roots with absorbent pads.

"The cleaning job is difficult because Tanjung Piai covers about 562ha and has over 1,000 mangrove trees.

"We expect the oil sludge will destroy more trees and kill more marine life.

"Last February, we had a similar clean-up which cost us RM50,000, yet more than 300 trees withered two months later.

"We expect to spend more than RM50,000 this time, too, but hope to rope in agencies, such as the Malaysian Nature Society, to help us with their expertise to minimise the impact of the pollution on our flora and fauna.

"As the cleaning exercise will stretch for five days, we welcome anyone with expertise and equipment to assist in our work so that it could be done faster and more effectively."

Those interested to assist in the cleaning can contact Tanjung Piai National Park at 07-6969712.

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Rhinos in Indonesia in more critical condition

Antara 27 Jun 12;

Bandarlampung, Lampung (ANTARA News) - The International Rhinos Foundation (IRF) disclosed that the rhinos in Indonesia are in a critical condition compared to those in other parts of the world.

"Since the last 20 years, the rhinos in Indonesia, especially in Sumatra, have practically lost their habitat as the result of massive illegal hunting," IRF Manager Sussie Ellise said in East Lampung on Wednesday.

She said the ILF with a partnership of the Indonesian Rhino Foundation (YABI) will be giving its firm support to the team in Indonesia to the survival of the big animals.

"Especially now that Andatu, the recently born rhino, will serve as a momentum in efforts for the survival of the rhinos in Sumatra," she added.

She also said that she has received many short messages and emails from many parts of the world congratulating the birth of Andatu, especially as the rhino population has not increased in the last 140 years, and that Andatu`s birth was the fourth in the world and the first in South East Asia.

Coordinator of the Sumatra Rhinos Wildlife Reserve (SRS) Dedi Chandra said the tiny rhino born to from a male Andalas and female Andatu is now in an excellent condition and continued familiarizing with its surroundings.

"Immediately two hours after its birth yesterday (June 26), it began searching for its mother`s milk, although often falling in the effort," Dedi.

In the next two weeks a team of Indonesian and foreign doctors will be monitoring until Andatu has reached a truly good and stable condition considering that the first two weeks following birth are critical.

A male Sumatra rhino was born in SRS TNWK East Lampung on Saturday (June 23) at 00.45 West Indonesia Time.

In a press release head of TNWK Institute Iwen Supranata said the birth of the rhino was the first after the breeding conservation in Asia 124 years ago.

"The birth of the rhino served as an historical milestone for the preservation of Sumatra rhinos and would hopefully increase world confidence in the government in preserving the rare animals in Indonesia," he said.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Jun 12

Singapore's sea bed is rich with marine life!
from wild shores of singapore

Random Gallery - Tajuria dominus
from Butterflies of Singapore

The Bidadari Squirrel
from Urban Forest

Caught Red Handed
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Extensive survey near submerged reefs off Pulau Hantu
from wild shores of singapore and Floating barriers installed along Sentosa shore and Work on seawalls at Labrador

the kamikaze? @ the Riverwalk - June 2012
from sgbeachbum

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More 'flight' than 'fight' in wild boars

Straits Times Forum 27 Jun 12;

HAVING lived in Thomson Road for 16 years, I have had my fair share of wild boar sightings, which have increased over the past few years.

Many of these wild boars have more 'flight' than 'fight' in them.

They usually appear late at night when there are few people around. When they are startled by passing cars, they hurriedly dash back into the forested area.

I do not deny that wild boars can be a threat to public safety, but then again, wouldn't most wild animals attack if cornered?

Culling wild boars is not the way to control their population. Fencing up the places where they are often sighted would be a better solution, to prevent not only wild boars from venturing out, but also other wildlife that wander around and get run over by passing cars.

It would be a safer option for both the wildlife and the public.

I remember getting very excited over my first wild boar sighting, and I still get that feeling every time I spot one.

I am sure many people who do not live around forested areas will also be as thrilled. Some people even take their families to these areas to catch a glimpse of the wildlife, such as monkeys and wild boars.

I hope the wild boars will be spared. Let us enjoy nature in our urban city.

Teng Jiahui (Miss)

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South Korea to ban catching of dolphins for shows

AFP Yahoo News 27 Jun 12;

South Korea will ban the catching of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins for use in shows by designating them as protected mammals, the maritime affairs ministry said Tuesday.

An upcoming bill will also designate sea turtles and sea horses as protected species, the ministry said.

Currently it is legal to catch dolphins and whales for a show or for research if authorities give prior approval. Otherwise, it is punishable by a jail term of up to two years or a fine of up to five million won ($4,300).

The revised law would authorise seizures only for research. It would raise penalties to up to three years' imprisonment or a fine of up to 20 million won.

Dolphins are widely used for shows in South Korea. But Seoul's main zoo agreed in March to suspend its popular show over claims by activists that one of the dolphins was captured illegally.

In April, a court on the southern holiday island of Jeju ordered the release into the ocean of five dolphins which had been captured without permission and used in a show.

Some experts say dolphin shows have educational value and released mammals may not be able to adapt to the open sea. But animal rights activists have called for a ban on dolphin shows and tough rules on seizures.

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Keeping Asia's big cities afloat

Gavin Jones for The Straits Times 27 Jun 12;

BANGKOK, Jakarta and Manila are the megacities of South- east Asia today and, as with most other megacities, they are beset by environmental concerns.

These three megacities sit in low-lying coastal areas barely above sea level, although parts of outer Jakarta and Manila are elevated. So flood woes are prominent in Manila from typhoons, and in Jakarta from its yearly wet season.

Residential developments in nature and water catchment areas have exacerbated the flooding, including a luxurious housing estate in north Jakarta in a conservatory forest area. The forest was to have prevented seawater intrusion and stabilised high tides and floods but now, without it, routine flooding plagues the area.

As for Bangkok, in years when the Chao Phraya River brings run-off from unusually high seasonal rainfall from Thailand's north to central plains, floods can be disastrous. Last year, for example, the total rainfall in the Chao Phraya basin was between 50 per cent and 100 per cent more than the yearly wet season average.

Another aggravating factor seems to have been the conversion of low-lying agricultural land for urban use. Farmers in flood-prone areas of Thailand used to plant long-stem varieties of rice because these could keep ahead of rising floodwaters but now, land paved over for urban use is unable to absorb floodwaters. This, on top of coastal erosion, provides multiple challenges for Bangkok's planners.

Meanwhile, Jakarta and Manila are in the throes of transportation woes. Both have more vehicles than road capacity for them - neither capital has a subway either. Indonesia's petrol subsidies, for example, have spawned a housing sprawl around its major toll roads, causing much rush-hour congestion.

It is hard to measure exactly how large these megacities are, chiefly because official metropolitan boundaries fail to capture the considerable population and economic spillovers from downtown to outlying urban areas.

For example, in 2000, when Jakarta and Manila's total populations were adjusted to include people in surrounding built-up areas, the resulting megacity population estimates jumped from 8.4 million to 17.8 million for Jakarta, and from 9.5 million to 16.2 million for Manila. Similar adjustments for Bangkok raised its population from 6.3 million to 8.3 million.

These populations have since increased considerably and I am now leading a study under the auspices of National University of Singapore's Global Asia Institute (NUS-GAI), to find ways of projecting the populations of such megacities and the urban regions around their metropolitan boundaries.

Might moving South-east Asia's capital cities to less environmentally challenged locations be a solution?

Such a decision cannot be taken lightly. The concentration of wealth and power in these mega-urban regions is such that it contributes as much as 30 per cent to a country's gross domestic product. So moving to greener areas will not greatly stem the flow of people into cities.

The only way, it seems, is to work consistently on many fronts to improve the liveability of these megacities, on which the well-being of so many people depends.

Professor Gavin Jones is director of the J.Y. Pillay Comparative Asia Research Centre at NUS-GAI and he will be speaking at the NUS-GAI Signature Conference on Thursday and Friday.

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Jun 12

Flying Fish Friends Speak
from Flying Fish Friends

Secret Sirens of Singapore: Dugongs in our midst
from wild shores of singapore

Another side of Mandai mangroves
from wild shores of singapore

Palp romance
from The annotated budak

eagle v kamikaze @ high street - June 2012
from sgbeachbum

Brown-Throated Sunbird Collecting Cocoon Silk
from Bird Ecology Study Group

The Asian Green Youth Challenge Conference 2012
from Green Drinks Singapore

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Researcher, residents study and observe wild boars

Evelyn Lam/Valerie Chang Channel NewsAsia 25 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: News that a wild boar wandered out of the forest around Lower Peirce Reservoir and charged at a security guard and a five-year-old boy at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park last Friday may have raised concerns in some quarters.

But now a wild life researcher says wild boars moving out of the woods does not necessarily mean that there is an overpopulation of them.

Mr Ong Say Lin, Research Student, Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, said: "This may not just be a sign that their numbers are increasing too quickly. We don't know that for sure yet, and I can't deny that as well. They are coming out and they are spreading to bigger areas. And they can't tell the difference between a natural area and a housing estate that has planted fruit trees. To them it's really all the same, and it's just their normal foraging behaviour."

And observing wild boars' foraging behaviour has become a new past-time for some of the residents at Upper Thomson.

They say wild boars foraging for food by the roadside is now almost a daily occurrence, which attracted many drivers to take snapshots of them.

One resident even turned his home-grown jackfruit tree into an 'observation post', where he spends up to two hours watching the wild boars from a safe distance.

To better understand wild boars, Mr Ong has put in place more than 30 camera traps to track the animals.

He has also set up a webpage and Facebook page where he published his research findings, to be shared with the public.

The public can share their sightings or knowledge of wild boars on the Facebook page to help others learn more about the habits and behaviour of the animals.

- CNA/de

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Culling wild boars: Explore humane options

Straits Times 26 Jun 12;

THERE is currently insufficient scientific data to support the proposed culling of wild boars. We are not calling for no action to be taken, but for humane solutions to be explored.

Two reasons were given for culling wild boars, and both have not been properly justified ('Why wild boars have to be culled'; June 16).

The first reason is that the wild boar population is surging, and this has a detrimental impact on our forests.

At a meeting with non-governmental organisations last month, however, the National Parks Board (NParks) stated that the current carrying capacity for wild boars in our forests is 500.

This means that our forests can sustain a maximum of 500 wild boars.

NParks also stated that the current population of wild boars in Singapore is between 200 and 300; this is about half the maximum carrying capacity.

Scientifically, there is no need to cull the wild boars yet.

All other arguments provided, such as the 'detrimental impact on our forests', are based on impressions rather than proper scientific studies.

More studies need to be conducted before a conclusion is made and any action taken.

The second reason given is public safety, which is undoubtedly important.

The reality, however, is that 'wild boars are not aggressive by nature, but all wild animals will attack if provoked'.

Culling in response to public safety does not address the root of the problem.

Wild boars will venture out of our forests if we continue to have fruit-bearing plants in the areas bordering our nature reserves. Wild boars simply do not understand that they have to remain in the nature reserves and that they will be killed if they venture out.

To address the issue of public safety, NParks should consider fencing up hot spots where wild boars have been spotted, and erecting signs on the road to urge motorists to slow down.

Other countries have already fenced up their protected areas, and this recommendation has been suggested by the public for the past few years.

We have been working with NParks to clamp down on the poaching of wild boars, and it has been actively destroying wild boar traps found in our forests. It would seem contradictory to now cull the wild boars we fought so hard to protect.

We live in a highly urbanised city and there will be more human-wildlife conflicts. Let us promote tolerance, compassion and respect for other species we share this island with.

Louis Ng
Executive Director
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society

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Hotter days ahead, says weatherman

Maximum temperature may hit 34 deg C in the coming weeks
Jalelah Abu Baker & Melissa Pang Straits Times 26 Jun 12;

WHILE possible rain in the next few days may bring some cheer to Singaporeans suffering in a sweltering June, the weatherman is also projecting hotter days ahead.

The Meteorological Service Singapore yesterday noted that while the highest temperature in this month's first 24 days was 32.7 deg C, daily maximum temperatures in the coming weeks may hit 34 deg C.

June temperatures so far have been milder compared with those in the past five years, with the highest in 2007 at 34 deg C. The highest temperature ever recorded in June is 35 deg C in 1985.

A spokesman for the meteorological service blames the sweaty conditions on strong solar heating, low rainfall and light winds.

While the next few days are expected to be rainy, the amount of rain may not be able to alleviate the heat, the spokesman added.

Professor Ong Choon Nam, director of National University of Singapore's Environmental Research Institute, said it has been a dryer June compared with last year, when floods occurred.

A dry spell could mean there is less moisture in the ground to absorb heat from the sun, causing more heat to be reflected.

The amount of rain is significantly less than in past years, noted Dr Lim Hock Beng, director of research and development at the Intelligent Systems Centre, Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Data from a weather station at NTU showed there have been only four days of rain so far this month, compared with 15 last year.

The heatwave has led to more people seeking help in hospitals. Khoo Teck Puat Hospital had 11 patients with heat disorders from January to June 21 this year. There were eight such cases in the first six months of last year.

Changi General Hospital has had 19 cases so far this year, compared with 14 in the same period last year. Dr Benny Goh of theemergency department said these were mostly athletes who spent long hours training in the sun.

Some traditional Chinese medicine clinics are treating more patients for illnesses related to 'heatiness' like sore throat and fever. Physician Chong Shaw Fong, who runs a medical hall in Upper Cross Street, said it handled about 23 such patients in the past month - twice the usual number.

Construction firms have tweaked their practices to protect workers from the sun. Staff at YMH Builder get 30-minute breaks from about three weeks ago, instead of 15-minute ones.

But some businesses are making hay while the sun shines.

A spokesman for supermarket NTUC FairPrice said sales of ice, ice cream, house-brand water and canned and bottled drinks have increased by 15 per cent this month compared with June last year.

Mr Eugene Fung, managing director of diner Merry Men, which offers al fresco dining, said business has soared twofold because there is less rain.

'More people tend to sit outside but they do not stay too long because of the heat,' he said. 'So overall it is good for business, as when there are empty tables we can then take in more people.'

Additional reporting by Walter Sim and Janice Tai

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Taiwan looking to Singapore on sea landfill

Taiwan EPA to hold land reclamation project conferences soon
Officials are reviewing the experience of countries such as Singapore and Japan in creating landfills utilizing sea reclamation
Lee I-chia Taipei Times 26 Jun 12;

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has scheduled four conferences in August aimed at developing a consensus on a proposed sea reclamation project using waste resources.

Industrial manufacturing and economic development have contributed to the generation of waste, the EPA said, adding that although about 80 percent of industrial waste is now reused or recycled, a shortage of landfill sites has led to an increase in illegal dumping.

Given that existing landfill and construction soil treatment sites are expected to reach capacity within three to four years, while local community protests hinder the building of news ones, the lack of final disposal sites has become a serious problem, the EPA said.

To address this problem, the EPA, drawing on the experience of countries such as Japan and Singapore, has proposed an interdepartmental project, creating a landfill by sea reclamation using waste resources.

The project, which has aroused concern that it could cause pollution, is now undergoing an environmental impact assessment, it said.

The EPA cited successful examples of sea reclamation using waste materials, such as the Tokyo Bay Central Breakwater Reclamation Project and the Osaka Bay Phoenix Project in Japan and the Pulau Semakau in Singapore, adding that not only did they solve the problem of waste treatment, but also created new land.

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Protecting Malaysia's richly diverse seascape

Tan Cheng Li The Star 26 Jun 12;

The twin scourge of tourism and pollution is slowly denuding our underwater rainforest.

OUR coral reefs are slowly losing their shine. That, more or less, sums up the condition of this underwater realm, said to rival tropical rainforests in terms of species diversity.

Surveys by volunteer divers show that our reefs have only “fair” coverage of live hard and soft corals. In fact, coral cover has declined over the last three years, from 49.94% to 42.57% last year. Sponges, algae, recently killed corals, rocks, rubble, sand and silt make up the rest of the reefs. (Coral coverage of 51% to 75% is considered “good” and above that, “excellent”.)

Some reefs are smothered by algae, pointing to nutrient pollution that is likely to have come from poor sewage treatment. Many species of fish which are routinely used to gauge healthy reefs were absent during the surveys carried out by volunteers trained in the Reef Check survey method.

Founded in 1996, Reef Check is an international coral reef monitoring programme involving volunteer recreational divers and marine scientists. The local chapter, Reef Check Malaysia, was set up in 2007. It runs several programmes dedicated to coral reef conservation and its annual reef survey is now going into its sixth year.

Reef scrutiny

It is important to monitor reefs on a regular basis, as changes can then be detected and corrective action taken to avert further deterioration of the reef. Last year, 100 surveys were completed – 52 covered islands off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia (Bidong, Kapas, Perhentian, Redang, Tenggol, Tioman and Yu), while 48 were at the Lankayan, Mataking and Mabul islands in Sabah, and Miri in Sarawak.

To see how reefs are faring, divers observe the substrate cover (whether it is live or dead corals, rubble or sand) and look for “indicator species” which include certain species of fish and invertebrates. They also note down damage to the reef caused by coral bleaching, anchoring, destructive fishing methods and pollution.

In its recently released report, Reef Check Malaysia states that table fish such as sweetlips, Barramundi cod and grouper, as well as giant clams and lobsters, were seen only in low numbers in many reefs, an indication of current or historical fishing pressure. Bumphead parrotfish were a rare sight too while humphead wrasses, which are netted for the live fish trade, were not recorded in a single site. On a more positive note, butterfly fish were fairly common – a good indication of low collection pressure for the popular aquarium fish. The high numbers seen at some sites reflect the fairly healthy status of these reefs as the fish thrive in areas with flourishing corals.

The abundance of these indicator fish species has changed little over the past three years – possibly due to low abundance in the first place and difficulties in monitoring them. What is clear, however, is that the population of these species has not grown over the last three years. So Reef Check Malaysia advocates greater protection of coral reefs and fishing restrictions to aid recovery of the fish population. It says the absence of some fish species has dire consequences for reefs. For instance, parrotfish, being herbivores, are important for protecting corals from a proliferation of algae.

Several marine invertebrates which are sought after for the aquarium and curio trade – such as pencil and collector urchins and triton shells – were absent in all the surveys conducted in the peninsula. Sea cucumbers, widely collected for food and medicinal use, have also become uncommon. Although known to be uncommon in some of the sites, the rarity of these species suggests that small populations might have been affected by previous over-harvesting activities and are recovering very slowly.

Tourists’ footprints

Island tourism has grown massively, but without the ensuing supporting infrastructure such as sewage treatment, garbage disposal and ecologically mindful construction. Reefs off the east coast have high levels of algae, suggesting nutrient pollution. This, coupled with low herbivorous fish populations (which feed on the algae), can spell disaster for the reef. Algae is a natural and essential part of the reef but if allowed to grow unchecked, can smother corals, cutting off the sunlight they need for photosynthesis.

Algae-smothered reefs were most extensive off islands with many resorts and villages, namely Perhentian, Redang and Tenggol. Fuelling the algal growth is the discharge of raw or inadequately treated sewage from these facilities. This is consistent with data from the Department of Environment, which shows Escherichia coli (a bacteria associated with raw sewage) contamination in waters off islands and marine parks.

Eventually, the shift from coral- to algae-dominated reefs can reduce the tourism appeal of these places. Most resorts and village houses on the islands rely on septic tanks which, if not correctly designed and maintained, can overflow, releasing sewage into the sea. To improve sewage treatment on the islands, the report recommends that state governments establish a system for regular desludging of septic tanks to ensure that they operate effectively. This will be cheaper and less disruptive than constructing big, centralised sewage treatment facilities.

Plenty of trash

Growing visitor numbers has also left many islands with a garbage problem. Only Pulau Tioman has a trash incinerator. At the other islands, garbage is shipped to the mainland for disposal but sometimes, ends up indiscriminately dumped or buried in secluded corners and eventually, gets washed into the sea. Waste segregation needs to be encouraged among resort operators and villagers, as it will allow for easier recycling of valuable waste, composting of organic waste and separation of hazardous wastes (such as used engine oil and batteries). To promote better waste management and reduce littering, there should be more education and awareness campaigns.

Reef Check Malaysia also voices concern over the mushrooming of resorts and tourism infrastructure, such as jetties. It says if poorly planned and lacking in environment protection measures, construction activities can be destructive to the marine realm. Resort development should be managed to ensure minimum land clearing, otherwise, silt will cloud up the sea and smother reefs. Jetties should be sited where they will have the least impact on water movement, and should not be built directly on reefs. It is also important for tourists to be briefed and supervised by tour operators on “reef etiquette”, to minimise their impact on coral reefs. Harmful actions include touching and standing on corals, and littering.

Harmful fisheries

Illegal fishing around some islands, particularly Perhentian and Tenggol, often occur during the monsoon season when visitor numbers drop and enforcement patrols are restricted by the rough sea.

In Sabah and Sarawak, dynamite fishing is still rampant and has reduced many reefs to rubble, as observed in the islands of Mataking and Pom Pom off Sabah. The devastation is long-lasting as it will be years before the reefs regenerate.

The growing population in Sabah and Sarawak is also raising fishing pressure, with commercial trawlers sweeping up fish from the reefs in some areas. Bumphead parrotfish, the last large fish species in Miri, are commonly sold in the local fish market. In the Lahad Datu market, traders tout the meat of giant clams.

Educational programmes for local populations are needed to curb the use of bombs to fish, and to create awareness on the economic importance of reefs for future generations. Presently, large areas of coral reefs in Sabah and Sarawak remain unprotected. Gazetting more reefs as protected areas, and ensuring effective enforcement, can reduce threats such as dynamite fishing.

Another threat to reefs comes in the form of silt from the mainland. Sabah and Sarawak are drained by long rivers, resulting in huge outflows of sediment into the sea. During surveys, divers detected layers of silt covering corals. They also saw accelerated algal growth in reefs formerly free of the plants. This is linked to fertiliser-laced run-offs from oil palm plantations.

Reef Check Malaysia asserts that managing and reducing local threats such as dynamite fishing, over-fishing and damaging tourism development, will ensure coral reefs are healthy and resilient enough to face what is to come – climate change. Higher sea temperatures will lead to coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Reefs have barely recovered the massive coral bleaching event of 1998, which killed an estimated 40% of corals in reefs around the peninsula, before soaring sea temperatures in 2010 again caused the corals to expel the life-supporting and colourful algae that live within their tissues (a phenomenon known as coral bleaching).

Scientists foresee more widespread coral bleaching as the world warms up. The Marine Parks Department and Reef Check Malaysia have prepared a bleaching response plan which includes tracking the severity of a bleaching event and closing off affected areas to tourists, to prevent more damage. Also, scientists are slowly recognising that reefs should be connected as this will provide a corridor to support coral larvae flow, and encourage the development of networks of marine protected areas rather than isolated ones. Such underwater connectivity will enable coral larvae to move from resistant and resilient reefs to damaged sites.

Monitoring of additional coral reefs, including those outside of marine parks, is essential to provide better information on the health of our reefs and fish stocks, asserts Reef Check Malaysia. This will help managers draw up improved management plans and fishing policies. Getting more locals, tour operators and tourists involved in reef monitoring will enhance the sense of ownership and responsibility while creating awareness about the reefs. It also allows for large amounts of data to be collected at a lower cost.

Reef Check Malaysia trained 50 people – five of whom are officers with the Marine Parks Department – in the reef survey method last year. But with some 4,000 sqkm of reefs skirting the country’s coasts and islands, the group certainly could do with more help.

Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde asserts that the laws to set up marine parks are in place; what is required now is heightened awareness among all related parties so as to improve legal compliance. “If more people understand how important reefs are, they will take a more active role in protecting them. I used to operate a dive centre on Tioman and I recognised that the reefs were my key business asset. Without the reefs, I would have no more customers, no more business. We need more people to start thinking like that so that conservation is embedded in the way they operate their businesses.

“Let’s not forget that reefs are valuable both ecologically and economically. They are an important source of biodiversity, not to mention an important habitat for marine species. Economically, they provide jobs for thousands of people in the fisheries and tourism industries. Once reefs are destroyed, these values are also gone, along with the food source and the jobs. But are we ever truly going to understand just how important reefs are to so many people? If we don’t, will we really commit to controlling these threats to allow damaged reefs to recover and become productive?”

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Sustaining the Coral Triangle’s Marine Biodiversity and its People: “Building Sustainable Blue Economies”

WWF 25 Jun 12;

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- A group of countries from Southeast Asia and the Pacific came together at the Rio+20 Summit this week to showcase their combined efforts to save the Coral Triangle, one of the most biologically diverse and ecologically rich marine regions on earth.

On the world stage at Rio, Brazil, at a high level side event hosted by the Government of Indonesia, the Coral Triangle countries renewed their commitment to the multi-country partnership ‘Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security’ (CTI-CFF).

In 2009, the six countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste) signed onto one of the world’s most comprehensive regional marine and coastal resource management plans.

They agreed to an ambitious and visionary 10-year Regional Plan of Action (RPOA) to safeguard the Coral Triangle’s marine and coastal biological resources.

Strategically, the Initiative has goals and regional priority actions to address the major threats to the region’s marine biodiversity and resources, many of which are common threats faced around the globe.

The strategies are also demonstrably effective actions which are strategically placed to deliver on marine and oceans related priorities arising from the Rio+20 Summit.

The CTI-CFF side event at the Rio+20 Summit was attended by Indonesia’s Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, together with the Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, Malaysia’s Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, the Philippines’ Undersecretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Timor Leste Vice Minister for Economy and Development.

A number of the countries expressed their vision for developing blue economies, recognising the importance of people-centred approaches and healthy marine ecosystems to the livelihoods, income and sustainable development of their countries.

His Excellency Sharif C. Sutardjo, Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia said “Indonesia is strongly committed to the CTI-CFF as an implementing framework for developing a blue economy.”

WWF, a development partner to the Coral Triangle Initiative, congratulated the countries for their leadership, and commitment.

“WWF shares the vision for the Coral Triangle Initiative to be an implementing framework for developing blue economies that can derive economic and social benefits from oceans in an efficient, equitable and sustainable way,” said Yolanda Kakabadse, WWF International President.

Kakabadse also congratulated the Australian Government for its announcement committing eight million (AUD) dollars to the Initiative and welcomed the interest in the Coral Triangle expressed by the Government of Germany.

“As one of seven development partners to the CTI-CFF, WWF offers continued support to the Initiative, and remains committed to helping achieve the critical political, economic and social force capable of leading the rapid and large-scale changes required to halt and reverse the threats facing the Coral Triangle,” said Ms Kakabadse.

“The Coral Triangle is an illustration of the importance of countries cooperating on a regional basis to provide sustainable management of their significant and shared ocean and coastal resources to secure the linkages between healthy ecosystems and sustainable livelihoods and incomes” she added.

Indonesia’s Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries extended an invitation to the Coral Triangle countries to attend a CTI-CFF summit at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) which will be hosted by Indonesia in 2013.

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Malaysia, Sarawak: Peat fire has firemen swamped

New Straits Times 25 Jun 12;

MIRI: An army of firefighters, battling a week-old underground peat fire raging in Kuala Baram near the the Sarawak-Brunei border, now have a real fight on their hands.

The fire has spread further to inaccessible parts of the forest.

The 100 firefighters, comprising regular firemen and civil defence personnel as well as personnel from a host of other government agencies, now fear the fire could get out of control as their task to extinguish it had been made more difficult.

Their biggest fear is that a gust of wind could further fan the flames in the tinder box forest.

State Department of Environment (DOE) director Ismail Ithnin said that even if they brought the fire under control, a gust of wind could cause it to flare up again.

The thick smoke and ash of the fire had enveloped a large part of the area in Baram, sending the air quality plummeting to the "unhealthy" level in the DOE's Air Pollutant Index (API).

At noon yesterday, the API reading of the areas surrounding the Miri Industrial Training Institute stood at an unhealthy 144.

The reading for Miri, 27km away, was 66 (moderate quality) as of noon.

Apart from the institute, the nearby Kompleks Kebajikan Hamidah, an orphanage which houses about 100 children and Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (SJKC) Chung Hua Tudan, were also among the hardest hit by the smoke and ash.

Residents of areas close by have also complained of breathing difficulty and particles raining down on them.

So far, none of the residents of the orphanage have been moved out, nor has the school been ordered to shut down. To avert potential health problems, the DOE had distributed 850 face masks to the orphanage and school.

Firefighters are now working round the clock to bring the fire under control and Ismail said the plan was to flood more of the peat land and deprive oxygen to the fire burning under ground.

He said so far, 18 areas of the forest had been flooded.

"We plan to flood two more areas."

Ismail said firefighters plan to create two more water wells, bringing to eight the number of wells from which they could draw water, to flood the remaining burning peat land.

Better air quality, except in Miri
New Straits Times 25 Jun 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Air quality in Klang Valley and other parts of the country improved yesterday with the exception of Miri in Sarawak.

Department of Environment's air quality monitoring stations nationwide recorded 16 areas with "good" air quality at 11am, compared with nine on Thursday, 33 areas with "moderate" and only one with an "unhealthy level".

The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Klang Valley improved from readings of above 100 registered a week earlier to below 60 in most areas yesterday.

The department classifies API readings of between 0 and 50 as "good", 51-100 as "moderate", 101-200 as "unhealthy", 201-300 as "very unhealthy" and more than 300 as "hazardous".

Meanwhile, the dry weather and hot spell is expected to continue with the Malaysian Meteorological Department forecast for the next three days showing no rain throughout Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Malacca, Pahang and Johor, with only isolated showers in the afternoon.

Penang's weather outlook is cloudy with isolated rain over the coastal areas. Perak is also predicted to be cloudy in the morning with no rain in the day.

Kedah forecast shows isolated rain over coastal areas in the morning, while Terengganu is expected to have isolated afternoon thunderstorms.

On the other hand, isolated rain and thunderstorms were forecast over Sarawak.

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Best of our wild blogs: 25 Jun 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [18 - 24 Jun 2012]
from Green Business Times

Share your wild boar experiences on a new facebook page
from wild shores of singapore

Hot Mangrove Action at Pasir Ris
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

3+1 hoppers
from The annotated budak

New Nature Blog: Sweat, Blood and Seawater
from Darwin Shrugged and Illogical

Cyrene Reef - Land of Sea Stars
from Peiyan.Photography

Pink-necked Green Pigeon
from Monday Morgue

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LTA seeks feedback on Land Transport Masterplan

Channel NewsAsia 25 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is seeking public feedback on its existing and future Land Transport Masterplan.

The plan maps out strategies that will go into formulating the country's transport policies.

The last plan, launched in 2008, saw initiatives such as expanded rail and road networks as well as improved barrier free access to bus and rail stations.

As part of its update, the LTA will gather public views on how the various programmes under the 2008 masterplan can be refined as well as identify new initiatives.

To give feedback, go to this website:

The portal will host online discussion forums and surveys that the public can participate in.

Detailed information on the scope of the consultation process and the 2008 Masterplan is also available.

Alternatively, members of the public can email the LTA at

The LTA said those who participate stand to win an EZ-Link card worth S$10.

Feedback channels will open till 30 September.

As part of the consultation process, LTA will also carry out a series of focus group discussions, after which views will be consolidated and released with the updated masterplan, which is targeted for 2013.

- CNA/ck

LTA seeks commuter views on new Land Transport Masterplan
Royston Sim Straits Times 25 Jun 12;

Commuters can weigh in on what they would like to see in a new Land Transport Masterplan.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) plans to consult the public and gather views on how existing initiatives listed in the 2008 Masterplan can be refined. It will also seek their input on new initiatives.

In a statement on Monday, the LTA said the updated Masterplan 'will build on what LTA has planned to date and also map out new initiatives to take us forward for the next 10-15 years of our land transport journey'.

The authority has set up a web portal for the public to give their feedback - Commuters can also e-mail their views to

Those who participate in the public consultation can win an EZ-Link card worth $10. LTA will select 30 winners through a draw and contact them by e-mail after the consultation is completed.

The LTA will receive feedback till Sept 30, and it will also carry out a series of focus group discussions.

A summary of the feedback received and the LTA's responses will be released together with the updated Masterplan, which is targeted for release next year.

Transport feedback wanted
Straits Times 26 Jun 12;

MEMBERS of the public have been asked what they would like to see in an updated Land Transport Masterplan.

Their feedback will be used to help refine the existing 2008 document, a new version of which is expected next year.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) released a statement yesterday saying it was time to review the masterplan to address emerging challenges and identify new initiatives to 'deliver a transport network that better meets the needs of Singaporeans'.

It also consulted commuters before it released the 2008 version. The public can give their feedback online at

The website will host online discussion forums and surveys that visitors can take part in.

Commuters can also e-mail their feedback to

Detailed information on the scope of the consultation process and the 2008 Masterplan is available on the website.

Those who take part in the exercise can win an ez-link card worth $10.

Thirty winners will be selected in a draw and will receive an e-mail after the consultation is completed.

The exercise will last until Sept 30, and a series of in-depth focus group discussions will also be carried out.

A summary of the feedback received and the authority's responses will be released together with the updated masterplan.

Since 2008, various initiatives have been implemented, including an expanded rail network and distance-based fares.


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Australia: Mystery turtle deaths stump scientists

The Australian 25 Jun 12;

THE mysterious death of 22 green turtles, a protected species, is puzzling experts in North Queensland.

The experts have not ruled out poisoning and even drowning as a cause.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is investigating the deaths of the turtles found at Wunjunga Beach, about 100 kilometres south of Townsville.

The department's director of threatened species, Wolf Sievers, said the vulnerable animals have been washing up on the beach for over a week.

"It is very unusual for this many turtles to have stranded on one beach and we will be making every effort to establish what may have happened," Mr Sievers said.

Senior turtle expert Dr Ian Bell said that initial investigations found no injuries, no obvious signs of malnutrition or illness.

"It's a bit like turtle CSI, it's all about ruling out possible alternatives," Dr Bell said.

"We're ruling out starvation. It doesn't look like it's any infectious type of disease, and it leaves us with two possibilities.

"One is potential poisoning, and we're also looking at the possibility of a drowning.

"At this stage we really don't know."

The department hopes they will be able to establish the causes of death after performing further necropsies.

The entire Great Barrier Reef is an important feeding area for green turtles, which are classified as a vulnerable species nationally under legislation.

All of the green turtles, except one, have been large adult female green turtles. Adults have a shell length of about 1m and average about 130 kg, although some nesting females can weigh more than 180 kg.

A loss of just one breeding size individual can have an impact on the species.

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Best of our wild blogs: 24 Jun 12

Cyrene again with lots of sea anemones
from wild shores of singapore

Durian season 2012
from Ubin

120621 Cyrene Reef
from Singapore Nature and Terumbu Semakau and Beting Bronok

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MP holds dialogue on wild boars

Inderjit Singh hears Lower Peirce Reservoir residents' concerns about animals in their neighbourhood
Straits Times 24 Jun 12;

About 40 people living near the Lower Peirce Reservoir met their Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh yesterday to discuss how to curb the wild boar population in their neighbourhood.

And a majority at the closed-door session - about 95 per cent - voted in favour of culling the animals.

Mr Singh, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said he arranged the dialogue after hearing from many residents who had spotted the boars in their neighbourhood. His constituents have also become more concerned after one of the animals attacked two people in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park last Friday.

A five-year-old boy was flung into the air when the boar charged at him, and a Cisco officer was also struck down by the same animal.

The incident came about a week after the National Parks Board (NParks) announced that there was a need to manage the wild boar population here because of the rising numbers.

Mr Singh said numerous residents have told him of wild boar sightings in the past few months. The creatures used to restrict themselves to the forested areas near the reservoir.

'It could be that they have run out of food in their natural environment, and came out to forage.'

He said the NParks estimates that there are 100 wild boars in the area, a third of them roaming residential areas. The MP added that he had asked the authorities to find a humane way to control the animals' population.

'We just want to keep the numbers at a manageable level so that they won't create trouble for my residents,' he added.

A man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Teng and has been living near the Lower Peirce Reservoir for three years, said he has seen the wild boars fewer than 10 times.

'They're harmless. They're just out here looking for food. I think the incident at the park was just unusual. Most of the time they are the ones hit by speeding vehicles,' he said.

Cheryl Ong

MP Inderjit Singh hopes wild boar issue can be resolved quickly
Evelyn Lam Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Inderjit Singh, hopes authorities can look for a way to resolve the wild boar issue quickly.

He was speaking to the media after a closed door dialogue with some residents who live near the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, where two wild boars were spotted on Friday.

Several residents have seen the wild boars around Lower Peirce Reservoir.

On Friday, a wild boar reportedly charged at a security guard and a five-year-old boy at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

Some residents are now worried that the wild boars may pose a danger to their personal safety.

But others said it's not a big problem, as long as residents keep their distance from the animals.

Channel NewsAsia understands about 40 people attended the closed door dialogue.

95 per cent of them support the move to reduce the wild boar population.

Apart from residents, there were also representatives from various government agencies.

Mr Inderjit Singh said: "The wild boars have shown that they can attack, so we would have to resolve this quite urgently and that NParks (National Parks Board) gather as much research and information as possible to resolve this quickly.

"It is quite logical to see that the food in the forest must be running out, because the numbers are large so the wild boars are now exploring further away from the jungle area to look for food."

- CNA/ck

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