Best of our wild blogs: 5 Oct 12

Man eating lizards and pigs
from Ubin.sgkopi

Plant-Bird Relationship: 3. Euphorbiaceae
from Bird Ecology Study Group

What and where are the Peatlands in Southeast Asia? (ebook and poster) from Otterman speaks

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Row, sail or canoe in the Marina Reservoir

All at sea
Row, sail or canoe in the Marina Reservoir right in the heart of town
Rachel Chan Straits Times 5 Oct 12;

The skyscrapers seem so close you could touch them. And yet here you are, in a sailboat traversing the waters flowing around the big city. Afterwards, you can sink a few drinks on a pontoon and watch the sun set. It may seem the backdrop to somewhere like Miami, but it is right here in Singapore.

Yes, even right by the concrete jungle, you can go paddling in a dragonboat, or go kayaking, rowing and sailing, courtesy of the Marina Reservoir, a body of water that encompasses Kallang Basin and Marina Bay, lapping closely to downtown Singapore.

Its main function is as a freshwater reservoir, harvesting stormwater and water from five rivers that run into it to augment Singapore's water supply.

However, a happy spin-off is that it is a great spot for water sports fans, who are lapping up the chance to make a splash near the city. On weekends between 8am and noon, there can be more than 400 dragonboat paddlers in the triangle of water between Sheares Bridge, Nicoll Highway and the Tanjong Rhu suspension footbridge, says the secretary-general of the Singapore Dragon Boat Association, Mr Raizal Abdol Jalil.

Throw in up to 70 kayakers from the Singapore Canoe Federation, a handful of rowboats from the d'Barrage Rowing Club and a sailboat or two from the Singapore Sailing Federation, and the result is a lively mix that could match busy road traffic.

However, you would not see swimmers and water skiiers as only sports that do not involve bodily contact with the water are allowed on the reservoir. This is due to safety reasons because Marina Reservoir receives water from highly urbanised catchment areas, says a spokesman for the Public Utilities Board, the national water agency. Still, from the Kallang Water Sports Centre in the Kallang Basin and the Marina Barrage to the Marina Bay area, there is bound to be at least one way you can get out on the water. Even confirmed landlubbers can venture out, by hopping aboard boats that have the skipper and crew laid on.

Experiential sailing, which means that you do not need to know how to skipper a boat to try it, is the newest offering in the reservoir. The Singapore Sailing Federation, which runs the National Sailing Centre in East Coast Parkway, and carmaker Audi launched sailing for city folk in February with eight 20ft keelboats for advance bookings, complete with a skipper. The boats are docked in front of Marina Bay City Gallery, a stone's throw from integrated resort Marina Bay Sands.

Keelboats are designed not to capsize, so you can board without getting wet. More adventurous sailors can try one of the federation's 10 capsizable dinghies berthed at the Marina Barrage. The federation has received between 30 and 40 bookings a month for its Marina locations since February.

Experiential sailing is particularly popular among corporate organisations which charter the boats for events, says Mr Jason Lim, the federation's general manager and secretary-general. Most recently, it launched a three-part TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) series beginning last Friday. Participants meet at the pontoon near Marina Bay City Gallery and set off for a fun race in the bay area.

Mr Lim says: "People used to say that they don't want to go sailing because the facilities are ulu (Malay for far-flung). Now, we have brought sailing right into the heart of the city, so there is no excuse not to try it." Handing out cans of beer to TGIF participants, he adds: "The idea is to get people to come for a sail when they knock off early on Friday, then sit back and relax with a couple of beers right here on the waterfront."

Mr Stanley Chan, 35, a first officer with Singapore Airlines and a former national sailor, was among the revellers when Life!Weekend visited.

Mr Chan, who registered for the sailing series with nine pilot colleagues, says: "Sailing in the city is conducive for beginners. Conditions are mild and the water is calm. It can be challenging for competitors, however, because the wind could be coming from anywhere, but the scenic landscape more than makes up for it."

Interest in water sports is on the rise, say five water sports associations Life!Weekend spoke to.

"When PUB opened up the reservoirs for recreational use, it brought about a big change. There is easily a 300 to 400 per cent increase in membership," says Mr Joseph Ang, general manager of the Singapore Canoe Federation.

The PUB opened up designated areas of reservoirs to water sports activities in February 2005. There has also been an increase in the number of dragonboat teams affiliated with the Singapore Dragon Boat Association, from 90 teams five years ago to 110 teams currently.

PA Water-Venture head Saini Hassan noted that dragonboating is becoming increasingly popular among community groups. He says: "Dragonboating used to be seen as a competitive sport for the very fit. But now people join it for fitness reasons and for team bonding. The People's Association created races to cater to different age groups, such as teens and senior citizens, so more people compete with others at their level."

The sight of the gleaming cityscape is an obvious perk for other sports enthusiasts too. Student Vythiswari Murali, 15, was at a kayaking course with 14 schoolmates from her co-curricular group at Yuhua Secondary School when Life!Weekend was at the Kallang beach last Saturday. "I've seen the Singapore Flyer from the road and never from the water. It's even more beautiful," she says.


What: For those not keen on getting wet, going sailing on a keelboat, which is very stable, in Marina Bay is ideal. Women can even wear a dress, but no heels please. Only flat, rubber- soled shoes are allowed on board. Do not fret if you do not know your abeam from your astern as a skipper is provided. If a dunking does not bother you, try a pacer, which is capsizable, at Marina Barrage.

Where: Keelboats set sail from the jetty in front of the Marina Bay City Gallery, near ThePromontory@Marina Bay, while pacers depart from the Marina Barrage, 260 Marina Way

When: 7am to 7pm daily

Prices: For a 20ft keelboat at Marina Bay which takes up to five adults, $363.80 (off-peak hours - weekdays before 5pm) and $417.30 (peak hours - weekdays after 5pm and weekends) for 21/2 hours. For a 13.5ft pacer at Marina Barrage for up to four adults, $53.50 a person or $98.10 for one adult and one child, for two hours. Prices include a skipper.

For who: Those seven years old and above and can swim at least 50m with the aid of a personal flotation device

Info: Call 6444-4555 or go to; e-mail to book a keelboat or ask to be put on a mailing list about corporate events by the Singapore Sailing Federation; e-mail for booking of pacers


What: Rowing was one of the sports featured in the Youth Olympic Games 2010 and the Marina Barrage was the location for the 1,000m racing course.

Although 22 Singaporean rowers took part, rowing is considered a niche sport compared to kayaking and is more popular among Britons and Europeans.

To get started, enrol in this Basic Learn To Row course.

Where: d'Barrage Rowing Club, Marina Barrage, 260 Marina Way

When: Saturday mornings

Prices: Basic course is $160 for four sessions; Advanced Learn To Row is $240 for four sessions. Hire fees are $40 for a single boat, $60 for a double boat and $80 for a four-man boat. Each session lasts two hours.

For who: Those who can swim 50m unaided

Info: Call Mr Budiman Osman of d'Barrage Rowing Club on 8383-4118 to register for classes. E-mail and go to


What: You need to have a group of 10 to get started in this team sport or you could join an existing one. The Singapore Dragon Boat Association (SDBA) offers recreational and competitive dragonboating. PA Water-Venture (Kallang) is one of four locations islandwide run by the People's Association (PA) which offers dragonboat hire, an orientation programme and certification courses.

Where: Singapore Dragon Boat Association, Kallang Water Sports Centre, No. 10 Stadium Lane; PA Water-Venture (Kallang), 4876 Beach Road

When: Singapore Dragon Boat Association - Learn-to-paddle courses are available on an ad-hoc basis; contact the association for details. Technical or competitive courses are usually run quarterly. Basic courses have finished for the year. The new training calendar starts in January. It will be up on the association's website about the end of the year.

PA Water-Venture (Kallang) - There will be an orientation programme involving a 10km expedition around the reservoir on Nov 24, 10am to 1pm.

Prices: Singapore Dragon Boat Association - Rental of a standard 20-seat dragonboat is $220, a 10-seater costs $180; for two hours. A trainer and a steersman are included.

PA Water-Venture (Kallang) - Renting a 20-seat dragonboat costs $100; a 10-seater is $60. A steersman costs $60. Sign up for an orientation programme for $12 (students) or $15 (adults). The Reservoir Discovery Series @ Kallang orientation course costs $30.

For who: Those 12 years old and above and can swim 50m with the aid of a flotation device

Info: Call 6440-9763 (SDBA) and 6296-6683 (PA Water-Venture (Kallang).

Go to and


What: Kayaking differs from canoeing in that a double-bladed paddle is used instead of a single-bladed one, which requires more effort.

You need to have passed at least a 1 Star Personal Skill Award to paddle without a coach.

Sign up for a course with PA Water-Venture (Kallang) or the Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF). After you have certification, go to PA Water- Venture (Kallang) for walk-in rentals as the federation does not entertain walk-ins.

Where: Singapore Canoe Federation, Kallang Water Sports Centre, No. 10 Stadium Lane; PA Water-Venture (Kallang), 4876 Beach Road

When: The Kayaking 1 Star Personal Skill Award is a two-day course. Upcoming dates: Tomorrow and Sunday, 8am to 2pm (SCF). PA Water-Venture tomorrow and Sunday, Oct 13 & 14, 20 & 21, Nov 3 & 4, 10 & 11, 10am to 5pm

Prices: SCF - 1 Star Personal Skill Award Course at $80 (adults); $60 (students enrolled in Ministry of Education institutions); $70 (NSF). The same course at PA Water-Venture costs $50 (students) and $80 (adults). Rent a kayak for $15 for two hours or $30 for the whole day.

For who: Those 12 years old and above and can swim 50m with the aid of a flotation device

Info: Call 6296-6683, PA Water-Venture (Kallang). Call Mr Goh Eng Soon on 9690-1619 or e-mail him at (SCF). Go to and

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Glowing Mushrooms, Stalk-Eyed Bugs & Plant Toilet Found in Borneo

Megan Gannon Yahoo News 5 Oct 12;

A recent expedition to the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia turned up some trippy species: bioluminescent mushrooms, stalk-eyed flies, jumping spiders and a pitcher plant that doubles as a toilet for small animals.

Mountain tree shrews (Tupaia Montana), like this one, feed on the nectar coating the undersides of leaves of the Nepenthes lowii pitcher plant. Conveniently, they can also defecate into the pitcher, leaving nitrogen-rich feces

"It has been a successful expedition," team leader Menno Schilthuizen, of Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, said in a statement. "A lot of material has been collected … Now the next phase will start, namely DNA research into the relationships."

The team of Dutch and Malaysian researchers aimed to investigate the biodiversity around Mount Kinabalu, Borneo's highest point, and they say they've collected some 3,500 DNA samples of more than 1,400 species of plants, fungi and animals. Of these, they've identified about 160 species previously unknown to science, inlcuding spiders, mushrooms, beetles, snails, damselflies, ferns, termites and possibly a frog. [See Photos of the Borneo Finds]

The scientists won't publish their finds until next year, but they described this part of Borneo as an "El Dorado" for fungi experts.

"While the plant and animal life of this mountain has been the focus of numerous research projects, Kinabalu has remained terra incognita for scientific studies on fungi," team member and mycologist József Geml said in a statement. "One of the manifestations of this diversity comes in the endless variety of shapes and colors that sometimes are truly breathtaking."

During walks through the jungle in the dark, Geml and his team found two glowing species of fungi, one of which might be new to science.

"Glowing mushrooms are rare but they do exist outside the psychedelic world," Luis Morgado, who worked with Geml, wrote in a September blog post for the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. "During daytime one might pass by and even photograph them without knowing it, but only a nocturnal excursion reveals this incredible phenomenon that remains hidden in plain daylight."

Among the other highlights of the expedition was the study of the region's stalk-eyed flies whose peepers sit on stems that are sometimes even longer than their bodies.

"The longer the stalks of the male flies, the more attractive they are to the females," Hans Feijen explained in an August blog post on Naturalis' website. Feijen said samples collected in Borneo could help answer questions about the life history of the flies.

"In Asia, species produce up to 5 or 6 generations per year, while species in Africa produce only one generation per year," Feijen said in the post. "On the other hand, there is one stalk-eyed fly in Borneo that can live up to 1.5 years. How is that possible? Does this have to do with the parasite fungi on the flies, which are killing them? Do the ageing flies in Borneo lack these fungi, or did they find a way to live happily together? We would like to answer these kinds of questions."

The researchers also spotted a species of pitcher plant, Nepenthes lowii, in an undisclosed area where it hadn't been recorded previously. The plant, which is endemic to Borneo, gets much-needed nitrogen from the poop of small animals like mountain tree shrews.

"To accomplish this, it attracts and feeds small mammals with exudates (nectar) produced by glands in the inner lid of the pitchers," team researcher Rachel Schwallier wrote in a September blog post. "As the tree shrew sits to feast on this plant-produced meal, its feces fall into the opening of the trap for a nitrogen rich snack for N. lowii — what an awesome strategy for nutrients!"

See also National Geographic New Species Photos: Giant Millipede, Horned Frog Among Borneo Finds

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Philippines is way behind biodiversity protection: admits Environment Department report

Nikko Dizon Philippine Daily Inquirer 5 Oct 12;

MANILA, Philippines—In its first report in 20 years since the enactment of a law aimed to ensure the conservation of the country’s biodiversity, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) acknowledged that much has to be done even as there have been gains in its efforts in protected areas management.

The 48-page report entitled “Communities in Nature: State of Protected Areas Management in the Philippines” admitted that the country’s biodiversity has remained threatened.

It said: “Many scientists have expressed the concern that despite the significant gains in protected areas management, the Philippines is still losing its remaining forest and coastal ecosystems at an alarming rate.”

“In other words, the country is either not effective in conserving its resources, or not fast enough in protecting ecosystems at risk,” the report said.

Nonetheless, the DENR was able to establish “a system of protected areas for biodiversity conservation and has rehabilitated and restored degraded ecosystems,” according to DENR Secretary Ramon Paje.

Dr. Mundita Lim, national project director of the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP), said the government might have been “slow” in addressing biodiversity conservation because there have been gaps in the identification of protected areas nationwide, funding constraints as well as the capacities and awareness gaps among people, including DENR employees themselves.

“Management is a problem itself. We want to sustainably manage the protected areas themselves,” said Lim, who is also the director of the DENR Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB).

She stressed the need for the participation of stakeholders, particularly the local governments, which could invest their money in conservation efforts.

“They know that if they invest in protected areas, the returns would be huge. Everything would come in later. There should be the recognition of the people of the value of biodiversity to them, even the national government. Once the national government recognizes that (biodiversity) is actually the foundation for development, they would invest more than what we are getting at the moment,” Lim said.

Between 2005 and 2009, the PAWB was allocated less than P1 million to support activities for protected areas system management, according to the report.

But Lim also said that recognizing the problems in protected areas management was already a “good step towards addressing (the issue).”

While he has yet to see the report, Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan of the conservation group WWF-Philippines told the Inquirer by phone that “generally, protected areas management is insufficiently funded.”

“There is much room for improved management and enforcement. The rules of the NIPAS ACAT have by and large proven to be cumbersome, throwing, in many cases, too many roadblocks that would allow for improved effective management,” he said.

He added: “The situation is a slope. There are protected areas that are truly called leaders globally in protected areas management while there are areas that are laggards in protected areas management.”

Tan said that among the successes were the Tubbatha Reef in Palawan and the Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park in Mindoro Occidental, which has been home to the endangered tamaraw, while much can be done for the Penablanca protected area in Cagayan, the Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur, and even Mt. Makiling in Laguna.

“There should be a sense of ownership among the people… Governance is not government… It is the quality of local ownership, seeing private sector interest, support, and money (in the protected areas management),” Tan said.

One of the 17 mega-diverse countries, the Philippines hosts about 70 to 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Ironically, it is also one of the hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Two decades after the implementation of the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), a total of 240 protected areas have been established, covering 5.4 million hectares of land and sea. Of the figure, the total land area consists of 13.6 percent and only 0.64 percent of the country’s vast marine territory.

Eventually, 228 key biodiversity areas covering 7.6 million hectares, including 128 terrestrial and 100 marine sites, were identified.

The report said key biodiversity areas were “habitats of 209 globally threatened species,” among others.

“Since many of the (protected areas) were established long before the (key biodiversity areas) were identified, only about 35 percent of the key biodiversity areas are deemed protected by law. That is, about 65 percent of the country’s key biodiversity areas still lack protection through the NIPAS,” Lim said.

The report noted the lack of a systemic data on the impact of the protected area management system on “whether there is improvement in biophysical condition of (protected areas), quality of life of communities, or increased benefits to the country.”

According to the report, the fact that protected areas are the “host communities—even entire municipalities—presents a “unique challenge” in biodiversity protection

Lim said the DENR intended to come up with a report on the state of the protected areas management every two years.

The first report came out in time for the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, India, next week.

The report was prepared with the support of the United Nations Development Programme, the Ateneo School of Government, the University of the Philippines, and the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation Inc., among others.

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World food prices rise, stay close to crisis levels: U.N.

Catherine Hornby Reuters 4 Oct 12;

(Reuters) - World food prices rose in September and are seen remaining close to levels reached during the 2008 food crisis, the United Nations' food agency said on Thursday, while cutting its forecast for global cereal output.

The worst drought in more than 50 years in the United States sent corn and soybean prices to record highs over the summer, and, coupled with drought in Russia and other Black Sea exporting countries, raised fears of a renewed crisis.

Grains prices have retreated in recent weeks due to rapid harvest progress and concerns about weak demand in a slowing global economy.

But the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) price index, which measures monthly price changes for a food basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, rose 1.4 percent to an average of 216 points in September after remaining stable at 213 points in August.

The rise reflected mainly higher dairy and meat prices, with more contained increases for cereals, it said.

"Prices are remaining high... prices are sustained, it's highly unlikely we will see a normalization of prices anytime soon," FAO senior economist Abdolreza Abbassian told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He added however that it was not clear whether the small increase in September meant prices were now on an upward trend, but he expected volatility in markets could intensify in coming months.

Parmjit Singh, head of the food and drink sector at law firm Eversheds, said higher prices would place further pressure on squeezed international food supply chains.

"Manufacturers and producers will naturally want to pass on increased costs to their clients but they will meet with stiff resistance from retailers who are reluctant to increase checkout prices for increasingly value-conscious customers," Singh said.

FAO's index is below a peak of 238 points hit in February 2011, when high food prices helped drive the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, but current levels are very close to those seen in 2008 which sparked riots in poor countries.


The Rome-based agency said it had cut its 2012 world cereals output forecast by 0.4 percent to 2.286 billion tonnes from a previous estimate of 2.295 billion tonnes, mainly due to a smaller maize crop in central and southeastern parts of Europe, where yields have been hit by prolonged dry conditions.

It also decreased its forecast for world cereal stocks at the end of the 2013 season to 499 million tonnes, down 4 million tonnes from its projection last month.

Despite the rise in food prices, the United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome said on Thursday it had agreed with other countries that a meeting of the emergency Rapid Response Forum to discuss food prices under the G20 agriculture body AMIS was not necessary.

"Agricultural commodity markets are functioning," the mission said.

Abbassian said a ministerial meeting on the food market situation was still planned for Oct 16.

Aid agency Oxfam called on governments to tackle the root causes of food price volatility at the meeting.

"They need to boost food reserves and strengthen social protection programmes for populations that are at risk of hunger," Oxfam spokesman Colin Roche said in a statement.

"We cannot afford to sleepwalk into the next food crisis."

French President Francois Hollande has launched a global campaign to win support for strategic stocks of agricultural commodities, but EU development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said this week that was not the best way to tame food prices, advising a focus on agricultural investment to boost production.

(Editing by Veronica Brown and James Jukwey)

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