Best of our wild blogs: 1 Jan 12

Butterfly of the Month - December 2011
from Butterflies of Singapore

BESG: A new year… a new start
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Lepidopterans @ Bukit Brown
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

2011 last bird watching@Jurong Lake
from PurpleMangrove

111230 Chestnut Avenue
from Singapore Nature

Read more!

To spread green message to 100,000 people

2011 was a significant year for civil activism. Advocates pushed passionately and were heard. What do they hope for in the new year? Judith Tan & Feng Zengkun find out
Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

MS OLIVIA CHOONG, 32 Environmentalist

Environmentalist Olivia Choong has a number for 2012: 100,000.

That's the number of people she wants to reach with her Safer Skin campaign, which will be launched this year. The campaign, which will be conducted online and in print media, seeks to raise awareness of the chemicals in skin products that can harm both the environment and people.

'Coal tar, for example, is a by-product of coal gas and is used in many medicated soaps and shampoo to treat dandruff,' said Ms Choong, 32, who founded the local chapter of Green Drinks, a monthly meeting of the eco-conscious here.

She said the campaign will target products for men, women, babies and even pets. In fact, she has a wish list of chemicals she would like to see taken off the shelves: parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, petroleum jelly, propylparaben, 1,4-dioxane and more.

Parabens, found in some underarm deodorants, for example, has been linked to breast cancer, while petroleum jelly is made from crude oil.

Ms Choong said her 'green' awakening came after she watched Live Earth 2007, a series of concerts in 11 cities to raise awareness about environmental issues.

About 30 people showed up for the first Green Drinks meeting in November 2007. Now, about 80 people show up regularly. Even her own firm, a public relations outfit called Sustainable PR, aims to raise the profile of local eco-businesses.

Ms Choong said she also supports the battle to conserve the Bukit Brown cemetery.

'That's not just about heritage but also about the environment and what we will lose if we don't treasure it,' she said.

To keep rail track as green corridor
2011 was a significant year for civil activism. Advocates pushed passionately and were heard. What do they hope for in the new year? Judith Tan & Feng Zengkun find out
Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

MR AZMI MOHAMED, 41, Member, Nature Society

Preservation is on the mind of Mr Azmi Mohamed, 41, who is marking his 12th anniversary as a Nature Society member.

The science teacher at River Valley High School wants the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu's (KTM) 26km train route from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands to be kept as a green corridor, and more young people to join the society and keep it going.

The society has about 1,500 members and submitted a proposal to the Ministry of National Development in 2010 to conserve the former railway track as a heritage site.

It said this would provide a 'grand spine' to the National Parks Board's park connector system and also preserve the biodiversity along the route.

'If we leave the land as it is, more people will be able to appreciate the natural part of Singapore's heritage,' said Mr Azmi.

The avid bird-watcher started trekking in nature reserves when he was a teenager.

In 2000, he joined the society to meet like-minded people. Now, he conducts at least four tours a year to green spots such as the Kranji Marsh and Pulau Semakau, a landfill which is also a wildlife haven rich in mangroves and coral reefs.

Mr Azmi said he tries to liven the tours up with gadgets such as telescopes which can magnify birds up to 60 times.

'You can see the real beauty of common birds when they are up close,' he said.

He also persuades his three children and his students to spend more time outdoors.

For family holidays, he favours destinations with more nature than concrete.

'We've gone to Fraser's Hill in Malaysia and Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. If we can get more people interested in nature here, then it will be left in good hands,' he said.

To banish dog and pony shows

2011 was a significant year for civil activism. Advocates pushed passionately and were heard. What do they hope for in the new year? Judith Tan & Feng Zengkun find out
Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

MR RICKY YEO, 43, Founder, Action for Singapore Dogs

To ensure that it's not just all bark but little action, Mr Ricky Yeo, founder of Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), wants the authorities, animal welfare groups and pet lovers to 'work together amicably'.

'There has to be cooperation, dialogue,' he said, citing one example - the lobbying over the last seven years for Housing Board flat owners to be allowed to keep street dogs - which has yielded results.

Last year, the authorities lifted the long-held ban by allowing a pilot project for stray dogs and cats to find homes in Housing Board flats this year.

Mr Yeo, 43, while pleased with this significant development, also wants more land to be allocated for animal shelters, to provide another refuge for strays.

Established in December 2000 as a non-profit organisation to improve the welfare of stray and abandoned dogs, ASD currently has 95 dogs at its centre here, and 17 in Johor.

Another 10 dogs are housed in foster homes, and Mr Yeo said more of such foster homes are needed to house the street dogs.

His third wish for this year is to see ASD achieve Institution of a Public Character status. This means that as an independent charity, it would be authorised to receive tax-deductible donations.

'In doing so, we will be able to attract more donations, especially from corporations, and attract more volunteers,' he said.

There are now eight committee members as well as 10 core and 20 ad hoc volunteers at ASD.

While Mr Yeo is happy that when it comes to active citizenry in Singapore, dog and animal welfare groups are ahead of the pack, he cautions them not to let 'emotions rule their heads'.

'We must learn to work together, come up with concrete plans and not simply pay lip service. One group must learn not to antagonise the other; otherwise, the dogs will be the ones that suffer,' he noted.

Read more!

Social capital will define Singapore's success as a nation: PM Lee

Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 31 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans must strengthen their values of tolerance, mutual respect and empathy, as their country's success as a nation is increasingly defined not just in economic terms but also by the country's social capital.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the call in his 2012 New Year message on Saturday, saying the effort must go beyond being civil and considerate.

He said it involves actively appreciating others' perspectives, caring for fellow citizens, conducting a constructive public discourse and accepting the need to make compromises that benefit the majority.

Mr Lee said these are essential attributes of a mature, gracious society, which he believes Singaporeans want for their country.

He said he is glad to see signs of such positive engagement emerging and cited the work of nature, heritage and other interest groups as an example.

He praised them for working closely and enthusiastically with the Ministry of National Development on the project to redevelop the former KTM railway land.

At the same time, interested Singa­poreans are making innovative suggestions on how to balance development and nature along the rail corridor.

Mr Lee said Singaporeans need to handle other more contentious issues as constructively too, such as the building of new expressways, train lines or nursing homes that affect residents nearby.

He said if all sides refuse to budge, Singapore will be gridlocked and nothing will move.

He urged Singaporeans to uphold a spirit of give and take, actively search for creative and practical outcomes that serve the common good, as well as rally behind collective decisions.

- CNA/fa

Read more!

Unusually high tide raises brows

Grace Chua Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

High tide at East Coast over the Christmas weekend. The canals that drain into the sea were nearly full as the tide on Christmas Day was 3.4m, which is 0.2m higher than the predicted level. -- ST PHOTO: CORRIE TAN

Beachgoers at East Coast over the Christmas weekend might have been surprised by unusually high tides, which ran up the beach and filled the canals that drain into the sea.

The recorded tide on Christmas Day was 3.4m, said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. That is 0.2m higher than the predicted level, which is based on the movements of the moon and sun, it added.

'It is normal to record a higher spring tide during the north-east monsoon and the difference is mainly due to meteorological factors largely due to strong or prolonged winds,' a spokesman said.

A spring tide occurs when the moon is full or new, the moon and sun are aligned, and the gravitational pull of both is strongest; at those times, maximum tides are very high and minimum ones are very low.

The highest tide recorded here was 3.9m, on Feb 9, 1974. Despite the lack of rain, parts of the island were flooded.

Civil engineer Tan Yew Meng, 55, who was cycling with his family at East Coast Park on Boxing Day, was startled by the tide.

'This is the highest tide I've seen,' he said.

'The canal was almost full to the brim - if it rains, that would mean it cannot contain more water and would cause flooding.'

Since 1991, the Government has mandated that new reclaimed land be 1.25m above the highest recorded tide, but many of the recreation areas at East Coast, West Coast and Changi were reclaimed before then.

Last year, national water agency PUB also revised its drainage code for better protection against floods.

Building platform levels must be 60cm above the highest recorded flood level or 30cm to 60 cm above ground level, and the new minimum level for reclaimed land is about 1m higher than current standards.

Grace Chua

Read more!

Final pieces of KTM track removed

Grace Chua Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

The last of the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway tracks have been dismantled and sent home to Malaysia, capping off a year in which the Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar railroad stretch was decommissioned in a landmark land swop.

The 26km tract from Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar was returned to Singapore last July as agreed with Malaysia, in exchange for land parcels in Marina South and Ophir-Rochor.

In the weeks after the train service to Woodlands ceased, thousands of recreational explorers and shutterbugs thronged the tracks, hoping to capture a slice of history.

Trains had run from Tanjong Pagar since 1932, and continue to run north from Woodlands.

Removal works started in July. Small structures, railway tracks, sleepers, ballast, cables, gates, posts and debris were removed.

The lush green stretch was also turfed over, save for brief stretches preserved at the former railway stations.

The Tanjong Pagar railway station is to be a national monument, while the smaller, rustic Bukit Timah station is a conserved building.

At both sites, the railway platforms and tracks next to the platforms have been retained. So too are two historic steel bridges and their tracks, one in Dunearn Road and the other in Upper Bukit Timah Road near the Rail Mall.

'Short stretches of the former railway line are in their final stages of turfing works,' said a spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority, which oversaw the project.

The removal works were completed on schedule last month.

Some of the challenges included controlling access points into the site, the narrow working area - only a few metres wide at points - and minimising damage to the trees and plants there.

Meanwhile, the so-called Rail Corridor site may get a new lease of life yet.

Civc interest groups have called for it to be kept a continuous tract, and helped organise a travelling exhibition showing off its potential as a leisure and heritage destination. The exhibition is on at the Marina Barrage till Feb 12.

Grace Chua

Read more!

Malaysia: Coastal alert after wet and windy forecast

New Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: The first week of the new year is expected to be a wet one, as isolated rain and thunderstorms are predicted in the afternoon throughout the week, particularly in the coastal areas.

Isolated thunderstorms are expected to hit Johor, Sarawak and the West Coast interior, Kudat and Sandakan areas of Sabah today in the afternoon.

The Meteorological Department also issued a strong wind and rough seas warning yesterday.

Strong northeasterly winds more than 60kph with waves of more than 5.5m will occur over waters off Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, east Johor, Islands of Samui, Tioman Bunguran, Condore, Reef North and Layang-Layang.

Additionally, northeasterly winds of 50-60 kph with waves of up to 4.5 metres will occur over the waters off Sarawak, Labuan, Sabah (Interior, West Coast and Kudat), Reef South and Palawan.

The weather condition is considered dangerous to all coastal and shipping activities, including fishing and ferry services and workers on oil platforms. The strong winds are expected to continue until Thursday.

Meanwhile, the number of flood victims in six relief centres in Johor dropped to 220 yesterday afternoon.

The evacuees from 54 families were from Kampung Spangloi, Kampung Batu Badak, Kampung Sanglang, Kampung Pogoh, Kampung Tandong and Kampung Kuala Paya, said the National Security Council in its portal.

Sarawak has recovered from floods with all relief centres in Kuching closed and the remaining evacuees allowed to return home yesterday morning.

Floods: Situation In Johor Under Control, Number Of Victims Remain At 241
Bernama 31 Dec 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 (Bernama) -- The situation in flood-affected areas in Johor is under control this morning and the number of flood victims staying at the relief centres in Segamat remained at 241 with six centres still remaining open.

A spokesman of the Johor Disaster Operations Room Headquarters said as of 10am, the six centres were accommodating 58 families from Kampung Spangloi, Kampung Batu Badak, Kampung Sanglang, Kampung Pogoh, Kampung Tandong and Kampung Kuala Paya.

According to the spokesman, the flood situation in the six affected villages had yet to subside as the water level of the river had risen due to the high tide.

Meanwhile, according to the National Security Council portal, the flood situation in Pahang had receded completely and all victims had returned to their homes.


Read more!

Malaysia: Another animal bill on the way

Stricter law will inform people how to care for animals
Tan Choe Choe New Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: THERE is already an Animal Act 1953 and there will be an Animal Welfare Act soon -- two laws instead of just one to look into the proper handling, care and welfare of animals in Malaysia.

Although the former is regarded as almost obsolete and is awaiting amendments and the latter has yet to be tabled, has Malaysia come to a stage where there is a need for so many laws to tell us how to care for animals?

In the past 31 years that he has been in the Veterinary Services Department (DVS), Datuk Dr Mohammad Azmie Zakaria said he had seen how Malaysians had become "more and more detached" in their dealings with animals.

He described how people he met during the earlier years of his service in the industry, used to cry if their animals were harmed or injured -- even if they were just cattle used to till the land.

"They cared for them because the relationship between the animal and their livelihood and their family was so close," the director of biosecurity and the sanitary and phyto-sanitary division told the New Sunday Times in an interview recently.

Dr Azmie said that rampant commercialism today had changed all that.

"You own it, but you probably don't touch it. You see it as a business and somebody else cares for it. So you don't feel for the animal. We want to bring back the element of seeing that animal as part of your family."

Azmie said this was also true in the case of pets. With affluence, more and more people would want to own pets because they were cute or because they were expensive and a status symbol. "Pets become toys. People forget that owning a pet comes with responsibility -- that you have to not just care for it and give it shelter, but also to provide for its emotional well-being."

There was a need to re-educate our society, he said.

"Animals are living, breathing beings -- like you and I -- and they can experience pain, joy and sadness, too.

"We have to have laws to restructure, to re-align our society back to the kind of thinking that we have lost."

Azmie said it was no longer sufficient to only look at the issue of cruelty to animals.

"That is very real but very basic. When we talk about animal welfare, we are talking about beyond that, about improving our people, our attitude, our world views and civic consciousness to another level."

As such, the department, under the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, is drafting the Animal Welfare Bill -- which it hopes will become law by the end of this year -- for this purpose.

DVS director-general Datuk Dr Abd Aziz Jamaluddin had last September revealed that once the Animal Welfare Act became law, it would punish those who were cruel to animals with a fine of up to RM100,000 and a jail term of not more than six months. It covers all types of animals, including fish and insects owned by individuals or businesses.

The term "animal cruelty" will also being redefined in the act -- for example, whether intentional or accidental. Failure to feed an animal is tantamount to cruelty.

The act was originally scheduled to be tabled in Parliament early next year.

"We have the draft act ready but we are still soliciting feedback from relevant stakeholders now."

While it is clear that this act will take some time to become law, Azmie said the ministry was gravely concerned about the issue of animal welfare in the country now -- from the cases of abuse that have been cropping up, not the least of which was the recent issue of pet cats allegedly being left to starve in an animal hotel at Damansara Damai, Selangor.

As such, as an interim measure, the Malaysia Animal Welfare Advisory Committee has been set up to address any issues related to animal welfare now.

Through this platform, animal welfare activists and animal lovers can raise and bring to the attention of relevant authorities any matters pertaining to animal welfare.

"One of the priorities outlined by this advisory committee now is the issue of management of strays," said Azmie.

Read more!