Best of our wild blogs: 18 Mar 12

Sunbird nesting in my underwear
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Life History of the Common Lascar
from Butterflies of Singapore

Kids out at the Pasir Ris mangrove boardwalk!
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs and wonderful creations

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Three parks to be developed into Destination Parks

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 17 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: Admiralty Park, East Coast Park and Jurong Lake Park will be developed into large regional parks, offering recreational features not usually found in public parks.

Called Destination Parks, the three were selected based on geographical location - one each in the North, East and West regions of Singapore.

They're expected to be developed within three to five years.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this at the re-opening of Bishan Park on Saturday morning.

After more than two years of redevelopment, the Bishan Park has been completely transformed.

What used to be a concrete canal at the Bishan Park, is now a meandering river with landscaped banks and gentle slopes.

It allows visitors to walk and play along the water.

Following the redevelopment of the Bishan Park, Mr Lee said that it will be renamed as Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

Mr Lee believes the park will still be the focal point for both Bishan and Ang Mo Kio residents. It will also attract Singaporeans from all across the country.

He said: "We're building more parks like Bishan Park, Destination Parks in other parts of Singapore, each one with its unique attractions. So, all over Singapore, whether you're downtown, in the Marina Bay which is very beautiful or whether you're in the neighbourhood, whether in the north, in the east, in the west, there's nothing south of Marina Bay unfortunately, we'll be able to have nature, we'll have active, beautiful and clean waters."

Mr Lee added the redevelopment of Bishan Park fits into the vision to transform Singapore into a City in a Garden.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said the concept of Destination Parks will spearhead the redevelopment of parks in the future.

About 30 to 35 other parks could fit the model of Destination Parks.

Poon Hong Yuen, chief executive officer, National Parks Board, said: "In Destination Parks, you'll probably see elements that are much more exciting than the normal park. So, for example in the play element, you would not probably see the standard type of play equipment, but you will see play experiences that are first of their kind in Singapore."

Admiralty Park has hilly terrain, which opens up possibilities of a playground with feature giant slides and climbing slopes.

East Coast Park can be improved to offer more family-oriented fun.

As for Jurong Lake Park, the presence of a lake can offer a unique play experience, such as an adventure land connected by islands.

Some of the park features were suggested by the public as part of the 4,000 ideas gathered from the City in a Garden public engagement exercise last August.

In the next few months, NParks will be organising roadshows and focus group discussions for the public to share their views.

NParks said to help Singaporeans from all over the island enjoy these Destination Parks, accessibility to these locations will be enhanced.

Construction of the three Destination Parks could start as early as next year.

- CNA/ck

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Garden scheme blooms

Since 2005, 480 community gardens have sprung up under NParks' Community In Bloom programme
Cheryl Faith Wee Straits Times 18 Mar 12;

About 20 enthusiastic gardeners in Clementi made headlines last week with their 30-year-old 'illegal' garden on state land. But there is no need for keen gardeners here to break the law.

There are about 480 community gardens under the NParks Community In Bloom scheme. Public and private housing estates, educational institutions and organisations such as hospitals can apply to start a community garden under this scheme.

Since it began in 2005, about 50 new gardens from 100 sq m to 300 sq m have sprouted each year.

NParks gets budding enthusiasts started by helping to choose a good location for the garden. Factors such as the amount of sunlight and water sources are considered. It also offers advice on the design of the gardens and suitable plants. But the upkeep of the plot, including funding, is the responsibility of the community gardeners.

Those who think their gardens are worthy can also apply for the Community In Bloom awards which are held once every two years. The first awards were given out in 2006. A panel, made up of individuals from various organisations such as the Singapore Gardening Society, will judge which gardens deserve platinum, gold, silver or bronze awards.

Special awards and cash prizes of $1,000 are also given out. They are the Best Community Garden, Best New Garden and biodiversity and environment awards.

According to NParks, the number of platinum-standard gardens doubled in 2010 as compared to 2008. The judges will start making rounds for this year's awards soon. Meanwhile, here are some of the more impressive gardens.

Green selling point

Seamstress Salamah Ahmed, 60, can still remember the taste of the first crop of lady's fingers harvested from the community garden in Punggol Coral two years ago.

She boiled the crisp, young vegetables and ate them dipped in sambal chilli.

There was enough to fill up one NTUC plastic bag and she distributed the rest to about five other gardeners. She had cultivated the vegetables from seeds over about two months.

But fresh ingredients for her kitchen are not the only perks of helping out at a community garden.

She says: 'I like to feel the soil between my fingers. Being in the garden also gives me inspiration for embroidery for the sarong kebaya and baju kurong garments I make.'

Every morning before heading to work, she spends two hours watering the plot, which is about two-thirds the size of a basketball court.

The garden was started by a group of Punggol Coral residents in 2005 and received the Community In Bloom gold award in 2008 and a platinum award in 2010.

Within the plot are features such as an overhanging structure with dangling passionfruit, paved pathways made from recycled tiles and four small ponds containing water lilies and goldfish.

There is also a wide range of fruit, vegetables and plants such as papayas, kai lan and orchids.

Little wonder then that it needs tending by over 10 gardeners. Mr Joseph Lim, chairman of the Punggol Coral Residents' Committee, took charge of the garden last year.

But there is also a self-appointed leader, Mr Lim Keng Tiong, 69, who spends at least four days a week at the garden, from about 8am to 5pm. He has been doing so for three years. The retired contractor fondly calls it his 'office job' and takes it upon himself to delegate tasks such as weeding and pruning.

Almost every week, children from the nearby childcare centre My First Skool at Edgedale Plains visit the plot to learn about plants. A group of elderly people from the neighbourhood also meet there regularly to chit chat and have a meal.

Retired nutritionist Eunice Lo, 69, bought a five-room flat in Punggol Coral eight months ago because of the garden. She was worried that her 60-year-old pots of bonsai plants would not fare well in the move from her bungalow home to an HDB flat. However, her fears were put to rest when she found a new home for her bonsai in the community garden.

She says: 'I have had them since I was nine years old when I started gardening and they are very precious to me. I picked the sunniest spot in the garden for them.'

Taxi drivers call it Orchid Street

The road sign says Bedok Ria Crescent, but to some taxi drivers, the road is known as the 'orchid street' because its roadside plots are full of the flowers.

About 10 households in the private estate decided to plant orchids in those plots in 2008 so they could take part in the NParks Community In Bloom programme.

Housewife Helen Tan, who is in her 40s, says: 'Some cab drivers even circle round to have a second look at the orchids or they get out and pinch the flowers in disbelief to see if they are real.'

The neighbourhood's obsession with the flower started with Madam Tan, who is known to her neighbours as the 'orchid lady' because of her lush collection of orchids, some of which are displayed on the trees by her front gate. She spends up to $1,000 a year on fertilisers and new plants.

Her neighbours decided to tap Madam Tan's expertise and plant the flowers too. More than 20 different species of orchids are now thriving on the plots along the road. The estate received a Community In Bloom gold award in 2010.

Besides trying to outdo gardeners in other estates, friendly competition also exists between neighbours.

One of the gardeners, housewife Wong Juat Fee, 65, says: 'I eye the other orchids in the neighbourhood and see which ones I do not have. Sometimes, I get tempted to buy more or I wait for the orchid lady's flowers to bloom so that we can transplant some of her 'babies' to my garden.'

Maintenance of every roadside plot costs each household about $300 a year. And in return, each household is treated to the sight of orchids from their living rooms and bedrooms.

Almost every morning, commercial pilot Kevin Tan and his wife, housewife Doreen Tan, who are both in their 50s, walk out their front gate and are greeted by the pleasing fragrance of orchids.

Different species emit scents at different times of the day and Mr Tan says jokingly: 'We considered planting a combination of species so that we could get a different scent at all hours of the day.'

A haven for butterflies

Retired businessman Victor Oh, 63, has stage-four prostate cancer and is going through a divorce. But when he steps into the Tampines Changkat butterfly garden for several hours in the morning and evening, he forgets his worries.

Mr Oh, who lives with his 23-year-old daughter and has another daughter in her 30s, adds: 'The fluttering of the butterfly wings relaxes me.'

The garden, which was launched last November, is the brainchild of Tampines GRC Member of Parliament Irene Ng. It was built from scratch by the Tampines Changkat town council with help from butterfly expert Khew Sin Khoon, who published A Field Guide To The Butterflies Of Singapore in 2010.

While the Tampines Town Council has hired contractors to water the plants every morning, a butterfly garden interest group of about 82 members helps with maintenance such as loosening the soil. They meet every Saturday morning at the 120 sq m enclosed garden.

The head of the interest group, delegates sales manager Suzana Ahmad Dawan, 54, also checks on the garden every day and sends a daily 'report card' to the town council.

So far, the 10 varieties of plants such as lime and ixora in the garden have attracted a population of about 50 butterflies of seven different species. The leaves of the plants in the garden are teeming with butterfly eggs, caterpillars and cocoons.

Besides keeping an eye out for the creatures in the butterfly garden, the interest group also learn nifty tricks such as putting a drop of sweat on your finger to attract butterflies to land there.

A member of the group, 25-year-old Koh Wei Qi, who works in the Esplanade's box office, says: 'I am still mustering the courage to touch caterpillars and butterflies. But I like to watch them from afar.'

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Crittercam inventor in Singapore - monkeys collared

Critters' best friend
The scientist who invented the Crittercam gives Singaporeans a peek at the world from his own perspective
Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 18 Mar 12;

On his visit here, two of adult male macaques that roam the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Upper Seletar Reservoir Park were trapped and collared with the Crittercam.

Does it hurt the animals? Does the weight of the camera affect them? Peppered with questions such as these by Singapore primary school students, biologist, inventor and filmmaker Dr Greg Marshall was surprised by how "adult" the queries were, and that they were coming from kids he'd assumed would be "reserved".

Earlier this month, the American who revolutionised natural history filmmaking dropped in at Methodist Girls' School and Ahmad Ibrahim Primary School. He intrigued the students with footage from his Crittercam - a device attached to wildlife that captures images, sound and data from their point of view, allowing unprecedented scope to study these animals in their natural setting.

"The students were so engaged, and in an authentic way, which shows that they care about the animals and recognise the importance of research into how they live," said Dr Marshall, 53.

He added: "I am trying to get kids to care. If we can get people to care, we have won the game of conservation."


For the last few years, Dr Marshall and his team at National Geographic's Remote Imaging programme have been pushing the conservation mission by engaging with researchers worldwide, as well as conveying intimate stories of wildlife to television audiences.

The idea for the Crittercam came out of the blue - the deep blue ocean, to be exact.

In 1986, then 28, Dr Marshall was filming sharks as part of his graduate project at Stony Brook University, and noticed a remora fish clinging to the belly of a shark. It was an Eureka moment: From its vantage point, the remora could see everything the shark saw, so what about inventing a camera that could do the same?

"What an amazing experience we could have riding along with that shark into its world," he marvelled.

But the concept was very new and unproven. "Many people in the research community couldn't imagine that animals would behave normally with a Crittercam."

He approached National Geographic which encouraged him to continue his research and to return when he had more substantial results. He did and in 1991, he was invited to submit a research grant proposal.

Today, he is funded by the National Geographic Society, philanthropic foundations and federal grants. He also holds two Emmy Awards for cinematography and sound.

Born in Minneapolis, he lived in countries such as Korea and Japan for the first 15 years of his life, where his father, a lawyer and businessman, ran companies. At university he did his undergraduate degree in international relations. But then he decided change his life's course.

"We are an appetitive species and as such, we will utilise natural resources to satisfy those appetites - yet those resources are inevitably limited, so we must be responsible in our use of them. Somehow this became very personal one day as I reflected on my life," he said.


While Dr Marshall's visit to Singapore was part of the National Geographic Explorer programme (which has engaged 80 primary and secondary schools here), there was another purpose to it - the result of a 15-minute meeting last year in Washington.

A discussion with fellow researcher Dr Agustin Fuentes at a National Geographic Society symposium had sparked the idea for the Crittercam to be used on wild macaques here.

Dr Fuentes, from the University of Notre Dame, has been studying primates in Singapore, and his success at deploying satellite transmitters on macaques had "opened up the opportunities to imagine the possibility of doing it with the Crittercam system as well", in Dr Marshall's words.

So on his visit here, two of the adult male macaques that roam the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Upper Seletar Reservoir Park were trapped with food and collared with the Crittercam. Each US$5,000-device (S$6,287) weighs about 170g and is about the size of a pack of cards; each can record 10 hours of footage. The collars were rigged to fall off on their own and after two days, both cameras were retrieved. The footage will be evaluated.

In recent months, wild macaques have received bad press for apparent attacks on visitors to the Hort Park; there have also been similar sporadic reports over the years, and some members of the public have suggested culling the monkeys.

Dispelling the notion that there was any overpopulation problem - and hence, killing them was not the solution - Dr Fuentes said studies conducted with the National Parks Board and Nanyang Technological University have shown that "the actual rate and intensity of conflict between people and monkeys are the lowest in Singapore".

The problem arises only when people feed the monkeys. So the simple answer is to follow the law and not feed them, he added.

Asked what he thought, Dr Marshall - who was off next to mingle with killer whales in Alaska and beluga whales in the Arctic - said: "I wish I had this problem in my back yard - it's really wonderful to have these animals living in close proximity, and what a pleasure to experience them in the wild."

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Malaysia: Helping wildlife roam free

Joniston Bangkuai New Straits Times 18 Mar 12;

CONSERVATION EFFORT: Japanese firm gives 2.3ha to bridge fragmented forests in Kinabatangan sanctuary

KINABATANGAN: BORNEO Conservation Trust (BCT) has secured 2.3ha identified as one of the key ecological corridors for elephants and orang utans in Lower Kinabatangan.

The area, which was acquired with the financial support from Japanese firm Co-op Clean Company Ltd, is a crucial "link" to connect the fragmented forests within the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary to ensure the free movement of wildlife, especially elephants and orang utans.

"The purchase of the forest land is a positive step in achieving BCT's vision to secure the ecological corridor for elephants and orang utans," said BCT chairman Tan Sri Ibrahim Menudin.

Co-op Clean managing director Hideyuki Ohara said the company's financial support for the conservation project was made possible through its pledge to donate to BCT ¥1 (3 sen) from the sale of each of its detergent products to its 250 million consumers in Japan.

The company sold 2.6 million units of its products last year, thus enabling it to contribute ¥2.6 million towards the purchase of the land.

"Co-op Clean's deep concern over the issue of sustainable management and conservation of the ecosystem has driven the company to work towards achieving greater sales so that a bigger contribution could be made to BCT."

BCT conservation and research head Raymond Alfred said Co-op Clean's corporate social responsibility model could be duplicated in Sabah or throughout Malaysia, as long as corporations knew where and how they can contribute.

"Part of our plan to secure the link is by inviting the private sector, such as agricultural developers and product suppliers, to participate in our conservation effort and understand where their contribution is being channelled."

Through land purchase, securing and restoration of riparian reserve, BCT hopes to re-establish the vital wildlife corridors linking key habitat and protected areas together.

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Tour of Indonesian Animal Markets Finds Protected Species

Jakarta Globe 17 Mar 12;

A survey of animal markets in Java and Bali has found that the illegal trade in protected birds is not only continuing unchecked, but is picking up speed.

And not only are more protected birds being traded, but there is also a greater variety of being offered, according to ProFauna Indonesia, which visited eight markets on the islands in the first two months of the year.

In February, the animal protection group found more than 62 protected birds on sale in the markets, up from 41 in January. There were 15 different species in February, from 12 in January.

The markets visited included Splendid market in Malang and Turi market in Surabaya, both in East Java, Pramuka, Jatinegara and Barito markets in Jakarta, and Satria market in Denpasar.

Pramuka, Jatinegara and Satria had the most protected birds for sale, according to ProFauna.

Protected birds such as white-bellied sea eagles, black-winged starlings, flame-fronted barbets, spotted kestrels, Bali starlings, black eagles and banded pittas were easily available in the markets, the group said.

It said a white-bellied sea eagle cost about Rp 500,000 ($55), while flame-fronted barbets and black eagles could fetch anywhere from Rp 100,000 to Rp 500,000.

The group said that it also found other protected animals being sold illegally. These included Javan langurs and slow lorises, which were among 109 primate species being traded. Javan langurs were being sold for Rp 250,000.

“The illegal wildlife trade in bird markets must be curbed,” said Rosek Nursahid, chairman of ProFauna Indonesia.

The country has laws against the trade in protected species, with offenders facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to Rp 100 million.

However, these laws are often openly flouted, with protected species being sold out in the open at animal markets across the country with little apparent fear of arrest or prosecution by the sellers or their customers.

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Philippines: Tribal fishing practices could save Irrawaddy dolphins

Kristine L. Alave Philippine Daily Inquirer 17 Mar 12;

MANILA, Philippines—The Tagbanua tribe of Malampaya Sound may be obscure and small, but their indigenous practices could be the thing that could pull Irrawaddy dolphins out of the brink of extinction.

Over the years, destructive fishing practices have culled the population of Irrawaddy dolphins in the waters of nothwest Palawan, a recent study by the World Wide Fund for Nature–Philippines showed.

According to the environmental group, the population of the marine mammals in Malampaya Sound, one of the two areas in the country where they can be found, has plummeted to 42 from 77 in 2001.

Joel Palma, a WWF conservationist, said up to seven dolphins died every year, tangled up in fishing nets and traps used by the fishermen in the Sound, an ecologically rich region that boasts of coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, and lowland forests.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has classified Orcaella brevirostris as critically endangered – the highest risk category for any animal species. There are only about 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins left worldwide, the WWF said. It would be nearly impossible to replenish the population of the dolphins if the number drops below 40.

The WFF has called for a change in the fishing practices in the sound and urged local communities there to follow the sustainable fishing methods of the Tagbanua tribe.

According to the WWF, the tribe’s fishing practices have shown “how people can steward nature without destroying it.” Not only would this help curb the dolphin deaths, it would also preserve the ecosystem of the resource-rich Malampaya waters.

“Everything is interlinked – the survival of the Irrawaddy dolphins and the conservation of Malampaya Sound are dependent on the economy and the culture of its own stewards,” Palma said.

“Dolphins are top-tier predators and their presence indicates the soaring health of local marine ecosystems. Should the dolphins be pushed into extinction, the Malampaya Sound’s rich fishing industry might crash as well,” he added.

Dr. Raoul Cola, who studied the indigenous practices of the tribe for the WWF in his book Conserving Nature As Lifeways that was published last week, said the Tagbanua people conserve marine resources using extraction schedule and selective harvesting. The Tagbanuas catch certain fish species based on the position of the moon or the tide. They also share their catch among neighbors and relatives, avoiding wastage and overfishing.

Their methods, Cola said, do leave a heavy impact on the environment and provide time for resource restoration. The Tagbanuas show the important role that indigenous peoples play in the protection of the threatened but highly-biodiverse areas they call home.

Mavic Matillano, who was in charge of the Irrawaddy study, said the tribe’s sustainable practices were rooted in their belief that nature has to be respected. In the tribe’s mythical belief system, for instance, the dolphins are messengers of the deity and should not be caught.

“For them, the dolphins are bearers of good tidings and are also the omen of something bad that will happen like typhoons or calamities, depending on the behavior of the animal,” she said.

“That, in a way, made the lumads also believe that when you hurt a dolphin, something bad may happen to you,” she added.

But as time passed and migrants settled around the sound, the Tagbanua’s indigenous practices were replaced by modern fishing methods that rapidly depleted resources.

WWF said migrant fishermen there used long line traps and fishing nets which they leave overnight to catch crabs and fishes. Because these fishing tools are under water and are difficult to detect via echolocation, the dolphins found themselves trapped in the lines and unable to surface for air. “The dolphins could not breathe so they drowned,” Palma said.

Dolphins are not the only species in decline. “Although the Sound was long recognized as a fish basket of the country, its production noticeably decreased. It cannot keep up with the market-driven harvesting of the settlers and commercial fishers,” Cola said in his study, published last week.

WWF officials said the most important thing to do right now was to change the fishing practices of the coastal communities there. WWF and Cola pointed to the Tagbanua’s fishing practices as a model of sustainable practice.

The WWF said they have urged the communities to switch to individual traps and safer fishing gear.

Palma said the switch has led to a dramatic decrease in mortality rates, with 1 or 2 dolphin casualties in a year.

Instead of a market-driven harvesting, Cola urged fishermen in Malampaya Sound to share and schedule their marine croppings. He also advocated the use of simple technologies that do not disrupt the ecosystem and the establishment of no-touch zones.

“Based on the principle of the interconnection, not only of ecosystems but also of the natural, social, and spiritual worlds, these strategies demonstrate that the world view of the users molds their environment and defines the prospect of its sustainability,” Cola said.

Meanwhile, the WWF said hewing closely to the indigenous practices of the Tagbanua tribe is just one step in preserving the dolphin population in Malampaya Sound.

WWF communications manager Gregg Yan said no private or public body is investing in the conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphins in the Philippines.

“We urgently need a localized species conservation strategy for these beleaguered dolphins. To effectively implement this plan, WWF needs to coordinate closely with the DENR, BFAR, LGUs and other stakeholders. But the first step is to find a funder,” he said.

“Immediate action is necessary to secure the future of this population. Otherwise, the population will become so small that conservation efforts are effectively futile,” he added.

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