Best of our wil blogs: 8 Nov 12

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from teamseagrass

Plant-Bird Relationship: 10. Anacardiaceae, Annonaceae and Apocynaceae
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Feathers fly over bird's early morning call

Some complain that Asian Koel disrupts their sleep, but others sing its praises
David Ee Straits Times 8 Nov 12;

The calls of the male Asian Koel (above) are territorial, and the birds stake their first territorial claims in the early morning, said the Nature Society's Bird Group chairman Wing Chong. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF WEE YEOW CHIN

WITH its early morning cry of "ko-wel, ko-wel", it is a familiar feature of dawn in Singapore.

But not everyone is singing the praises of the ubiquitous Asian Koel.

Last week, a writer to The Straits Times Forum Page complained that the birds disrupt his nightly rest. He called on the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to step in. His letter was followed by others yesterday, with one deriding the bird and another fighting in its corner.

But three out of every four Facebook users who subsequently wrote on The Straits Times' homepage had no complaints about the Koel. Some said it showed that their urban residences were truly immersed in nature. Others loved the bird simply for its familiar call.

Teacher Mandy Low, 42, said she used to "wake up to the flute-like music" of the Koel when she lived in Yio Chu Kang. She said: "The lush greenery together with the Koel and other migratory birds... simply brightened my day."

Others wrote in support of the bird, calling it their "resident alarm clock".

Engineer Harinder Singh, 30, who moved to Singapore in 2003, said the Koel brings back fond memories of his childhood years in a village in India, where he grew up hearing its call.

But Madam Low conceded that what was music to some might not be so to others. This was especially so for those whose curtailed sleep literally left them with a headache.

"If I don't get enough sleep, I get headaches and I can't study well," said student Chen Jiawen, 19, who lives in Chai Chee. The Koels start calling from 5am, she said, and their "sharp and irritating" calls wake her up.

The same is true for Ms Jasmine Wong, 35, a Bukit Merah resident. She has had to make do with three to four hours' sleep on some nights because of the Koel's call. "If it is during the day, it's fine, but it's in the middle of the night and it goes on for hours," she said.

The Asian Koel is a large, migratory black bird that has settled here over the past two decades, drawn by abundant food sources such as palm fruit.

It is protected under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, which includes all species except domestic dogs and cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, domestic pigs, poultry and ducks. This means that Koels cannot be trapped, killed or kept without a licence.

Bird experts said they are drawn to residential areas as they are a brood parasite of the house crow, which frequents the same areas as a scavenger.

Koels lay their eggs in the crows' nests. The Koel population here is unknown, as no census has been carried out.

The calls by males of the species are territorial, said Mr Wing Chong, chairman of the Nature Society's Bird Group. Although they may call at any time of day, they stake their first territorial claims in the early morning.

Residents need to be more tolerant, said Dr Wee Yeow Chin of the Bird Ecology Study Group, as the Koels "are part and parcel of the nature in our Garden City".

The AVA said it is working with town councils to remove crows' nests and food sources, and prune trees, to discourage Koels from remaining in residential areas.

It added that "while we are aware that there are Singaporeans who have been inconvenienced... there are also others who enjoy the presence of such wildlife in our environment".

Dr Lena Chan, director of the National Biodiversity Centre, said that Singapore's transformation into a "City in a Garden" means nature can be "part of everyday life for all Singaporeans".

"The more we learn about our rich biodiversity, the more we grow to appreciate it," she said.

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Biodiversity in the Singapore story

Grace Chua Straits Times 8 Nov 12;

THE other day, as I stood drying my hands in a Botanic Gardens bathroom, I saw a crimson sunbird flitting about, not 3m from the roar of the hand-dryer.

The common bird is a scarlet, palm-length marvel, right there for the viewing for anyone with a little patience and a good set of eyes.

It's not the only surprise Singapore's biodiversity has in store.

As a tropical island, Singapore has an impressive list of species both resident and visitor - more than 300 bird species, 58 mammal and 68 freshwater fish species.

Its marine biodiversity is even richer. Singapore waters host a third of the world's hard coral species and more than 100 species of intertidal sponge.

Among the species found are some "fellow Singaporeans", such as the rare mangrove Bruguiera hainesii or berus mata buaya, the crocodile's eye in Malay; the Elysia singaporensis, a 3cm, leaf-shaped aquatic slug; and the Johora singaporensis, a highly endangered freshwater stream crab found nowhere else on Earth.

They live cheek by jowl with other introduced species that have decided to settle here and breed.

Some, like the green crested lizard, are pushed further into the forest by foreign competitors such as the changeable lizard.

Who knows what other species have been lost to development? Singapore's mangroves have shrunk from 6,400ha in 1953 to about 500ha today, and field biologists have seen old sites, such as Tanjong Gul in Tuas and Tanah Merah beach, turned into indus-trial areas and runways.

Still, its current diversity belies the line, often used by proponents of further development, that urbanised Singapore is a sterile place.

Arguably, biodiversity in a highly urbanised city-state is a balancing act.

Singapore has one of the world's busiest ports, but it is also carrying out its largest-scale audit of marine life yet to better understand what is out there and how best to protect it.

Why protect Singapore's wildlife, though?

I'd argue that the story of Singapore's biodiversity is really the story of Singapore the city.

Once upon a time, during an ice age, sea levels were much lower than they are today. Singapore the island was physically connected to the greater Asian land mass by a chunk of land called the Sunda shelf. Then, animals could cross from what is now Sumatra to what is now Borneo, or from today's Singapore to Malaysia.

Today, these countries share overlapping sets of land animals, testament that they were once a continuous land mass, just as languages, ethnicities and food dishes Singapore shares with its neighbours point to a common heritage.

Fast-forward a few millennia. Singapore the city has its own rhythms: the shipping port, the hawker centres, schools, offices, buses, trains. Singapore's ecosystems have their own: night, day, the tides, the seasonal bloom of durian flowers, the spawning of coral.

To see all these, one has to get out almost before dawn. Then, flocks of swifts wheel overhead, snapping up insects on the wing. Low tide can be in the middle of the night but is the best time to spot exposed shore life.

Sometimes, nature comes straight to you. Early one morning, I nearly tripped over a pangolin on a MacRitchie nature trail.

Those who study it are a different breed from the rest of us. National University of Singapore biologist Zeehan Jaafar spends her time staring at gobies, small fish the size of an ikan bilis - and they are all brown. As time goes by, she said, they do look different. One spot? Two spots? One stripe? Three?

"I think people like to study the big sexy things, but in terms of biomass, the small ones are very important," she said, referring to the sheer mass of living organisms.

There is a lesson here.

In an ecosystem, just as in a city, every species counts. Not just the big charismatic ones or the flashy pretty ones. The small brown ones are predators and prey for other, larger fish. They are what keep the ecosystem chugging along.

And no one knows what is there until someone bothers to look.

In the last few years, both public and private funding has gone to a comprehensive marine biodiversity survey, which has already revealed several species such as a fat, bumpy anemone that could be entirely new to science.

I may never have seen all of Singapore's organisms alive but it should be a point of national pride to know they are out there. Even the small brown ones.

Today, Singapore is building its first natural history museum in decades.

"It's not about dead specimens," said Professor Leo Tan, a biologist who was chairman of the National Parks Board and director of the Singapore Science Centre and is now helming fund-raising for the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

"The dead animal tells me a lot about how they live, how they survive."

Other spaces can be living museums as well, Prof Tan said.

For example, the Labrador Nature Reserve holds the mainland's only remaining coral reef.

Without places like it, "your future generations will never appreciate how far we have come because they will never see what Raffles saw, what Singapore was when he landed", he said.

The story of Singapore's biodiversity, then, is a crucial part of Singapore's history.

"Biodiversity does not observe national boundaries," pointed out Dr Lena Chan, director of the National Biodiversity Centre at NParks.

So just as Singapore negotiates its place in international trade and other agreements, it is also a party to international conservation agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, and has helped come up with an index for cities to gauge how well they are protecting their nature.

Singapore's biodiversity is also clawing itself back. Seeds dropped on farms or kampungs cleared 30 years ago are now mature trees.

Now it must be managed, both to keep it thriving and to slow its approach as plenty of uses compete for the same space.

But where such natural spaces are available, both human and animal life can thrive. And it does so despite the odds, with the building of condominiums next to forest areas and the bustling ship traffic and refinery activity.

Prof Tan likes to tell of sea turtles hatching at East Coast Park several times in the last few years. Human volunteers shepherded them the right way, out to sea.

They may have swum around the world, and East Coast Park may be a flat patch of reclaimed land far too bright at night for their liking, but it makes no difference to them.

In 20 years, provided there is a beach to swim up on, when it comes time for these hawksbill turtles to lay their eggs, they will come home.

This is a Singaporean story indeed.



CRIMSON SUNBIRD: In 2002, this eye-catching sunbird - which could be described as a little red dot and is native to Singapore - won a Nature Society competition for the title of Singapore's national bird.

CROCODILE'S EYE: In 2003, plant expert Jean Yong, then at the National Institute of Education, found one of these rare, slow-growing and highly endangered mangrove species in Pasir Ris. There are only 10 to 12 known specimens in Singapore of Bruguiera hainesii, also known as berus mata buaya, or crocodile's eye in Malay. Conservationists have started a nursery to grow this and other uncommon mangrove species.

A GOBY NICKNAMED ZEE: This goby fish, measuring about 2cm, may be entirely new to science. It was found during a Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey at the Lim Chu Kang mudflats last year and is now being studied by Dr Zeehan Jaafar of the National University of Singapore.

BILL THE ANEMONE: This bumpy anemone was also found in the mudflats of Lim Chu Kang during a biodiversity survey. It is new to science and does not have a scientific name yet.

GREEN CRESTED LIZARD: This bright-green lizard, which grows to half a metre long, was once commonly seen along roadsides and in shrubs. Males have a distinctive head crest. Today, it can still be seen in parks and gardens but its range is shrinking due to the more aggressive, non-native, changeable lizard. It is native to Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia, the Philippines and other parts of South-east Asia.

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Malaysia: Surrender turtle bycatch, fishermen urged

Isabelle Lai The Star 8 Nov 12;

PETALING JAYA: Fishermen should not fear surrendering turtle bycatch to the authorities for rehabilitation and healing as they could help save lives, said sea turtle expert Dr Nicolas J. Pilcher.

Many fishermen were often unsure of what to do should they find a turtle accidentally caught (turtle bycatch) in their fishing nets, said the Marine Research Foundation (MRF) executive director.

“In Malaysia, it is illegal to kill a sea turtle. So if a turtle comes up that is alive in your fishing net, it would be a really good time for fishermen to bring it to the authorities,” he said.

Dr Pilcher confirmed that fishermen would not get into trouble by doing so, pointing out that the Fisheries Department had a very proactive turtle conservation programme.

“Accidental capture of sea turtles is probably the biggest problem in South-East Asia,” he said.

Dr Pilcher was currently working with fishing communities in Terengganu, Tioman, Sabah and Sarawak to help fishermen understand how they could help preserve the sea turtle population.

He also cautioned against over-collection of turtle eggs in areas where populations had experienced drastic decline.

Dr Pilcher pointed out that leatherback turtles in Terengganu had gone extinct due to 100% collection of eggs for two generations for commercial sales purposes.

“If the turtle population is doing very well, I don't see a big problem in taking some eggs to eat.

“But we should not be collecting the eggs of declining populations because we are not giving them the chance to recover,” he said.

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Malaysia: Rogue elephant finally captured

New Straits Times 8 Nov 12;

JUMBO TROUBLE: Pachyderm on four-month crop destroying rampage meets its match

THE Kelantan Wildlife Department finally captured an elephant which had been destroying crops since July.

The department's director, Rahmat Topani said the male elephant, aged between 20 and 25, was captured by rangers about 3.30pm on Tuesday.

"The team, led by Mohammad Sallehuddin Yusoff, went out in search of the pachyderm after receiving reports it had entered a smallholding and destroyed plants belonging to villagers in one of the three areas it had been roaming for the past few months.

"They carried out six operations to find the elephant but failed. The seventh operation was held on Monday morning and ended the next day with its capture."

Rahmat said besides Kampung Cheker, the elephant had also destroyed crops at Kampung Bukit Yong and Kampung Gong Genor.

He said the jumbo, which had been named Awang Cheker, weighed between four and five tonnes and was the 12th captured by the department this year.

It is set to be sent to the National Park.

Captured female elephant dies of infection
Ivan Loh The Star 10 Feb 13;

IPOH: The female elephant captured near Kampung Jalong, Sungai Siput, on Thursday has died of a bacterial infection of the blood known as septicemia.

State Perhilitan director Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said the elephant, aged between 15 to 20 years, was found lifeless at midnight yesterday.

“A post-mortem was conducted and we found that the elephant had been suffering from septicemia for some time,” he said.

Septicemia can be fatal if not treated.

The elephant matriarch, which was part of a herd of four, was captured by Perhilitan personnel after about four days of tracking the animals.

Kampung Jalong villagers had complained to Perhilitan on Monday that the elephants had destroyed their crops and vegetables.

Abdul Kadir said the elephant had looked sickly when Perhilitan personnel caught it.

He said they had tried to treat the sick elephant but were not able to save its life.

“We will bury its body to prevent the bacteria from spreading,” he added.

On the remaining three elephants, Abdul Kadir said they were still monitoring the forest for any sign of the animals.

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Thailand Phuket: dugong dies from hit by boat propeller

Phuket Gazette 7 Nov 12;

PHUKET: A dugong spotted injured off Cape Yamu, on Phuket’s east coast, last Saturday has died from its injuries after suffering severe cuts to its head and body inflicted by a boat propeller.

Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, head of the Marine Endangered Species Unit at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), told the Phuket Gazette that the sea cow was an adult female about 2.7 meters long and weighing 388 kilograms.

“It was a perfect breeder. We believe she had many sea cow babies before,” he added.

Dr Kongkiat explained that the PMBC received a report from a villager saying that a badly injured sea cow was seen trying to swim to the shore.

“Myself and other officers from the PMBC went to find her on Saturday morning, right after we received the report. After several hours, we spotted her in the bay. We kept her under observation on Saturday and Sunday to make sure she was able to dive and feed herself. We did not want to catch her and bring her to the center as we did not want her to be under added stress,” he explained.

“On Monday, she stopped eating and yesterday we brought her to the center. She was exhausted and she had seven deep wounds on her back. The wounds were starting to rot.

“She also had other wounds that looked like she had been stuck in a fishing net,” said Dr Kongkiat.

However, their efforts were too late. The sea cow died en route to the PMBC, located only a few kilometers away at Ao Yon, he added.

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India’s Festival of Lights darkens the future for owls

TRAFFIC 7 Nov 12;

New Delhi, India, 7th November 2012—TRAFFIC is warning of a possible increase in illegal owl trade and sacrifices around Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, which this year falls on 13th November.

Owls are sacrificed on auspicious occasions such as Diwali and their body parts used in ceremonial pujas and rituals, when Shaman or black magic practitioners, also referred to as tantriks, prescribe various uses for owls and their body parts, including the skull, feathers, ear-tuffs, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and bones.

“It is unfortunate that although many people consider the owl sacred in Indian culture and a vehicle (vahan) of Goddess Lakshmi, superstitions and false beliefs manipulated over the ages have created a demand for owls and their body parts in black magic ceremonies,” said TRAFFIC’s Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the Indian bird trade.

Although hunting and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, hundreds of owls are trapped and traded every year.

Owl species most highly sought after by traders are large species, particularly those with false “ear-tufts” (feather extensions on the head), since these are considered to have the greatest magical properties.

In 2010, TRAFFIC released Imperilled Custodians of the Night, a report highlighting the various ways owls or their body parts are used in black magic, street performances, taxidermy, consumption, occult medicines, for capturing other birds and even their eggs used for gambling.

The report highlighted that of the 30 owl species recorded from India, 15 had been recorded in the domestic live bird trade with the Spotted Owlet, Barn Owl and Rock Eagle-Owl the most commonly recorded species.

“Owls play an extremely useful ecological role by controlling the population of rats and large insects. In an agrarian country, where 60% of the population is dependent on agriculture, the role of owls should be recognized and strict protection should be given to these magnificent nocturnal birds,” said Ahmed.

MKS Pasha, Associate Director and Interim Head of TRAFFIC in India added, “Enforcement officers from forest departments, railways, Customs and police need to monitor and control the illegal bird trade through making regular raids and taking legal action against the perpetrators.”

He also noted the need for establishment of rescue and rehabilitation centers for seized owls and also adherence to proper release protocols.

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Sharks: Bad Creatures or Bad Image?

ScienceDaily 7 Nov 12;

Historically, the media have been particularly harsh to sharks, and it's affecting their survival. The results of a Michigan State University study, appearing in the current issue of the journal Conservation Biology, reviewed worldwide media coverage of sharks -- and the majority isn't good.

Australian and U.S. news articles were more likely to focus on negative reports featuring sharks and shark attacks rather than conservation efforts. Allowing such articles to dominate the overall news coverage diverts attention from key issues, such as shark populations are declining worldwide and many species are facing extinction, said Meredith Gore, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and the School of Criminal Justice.

"The most important aspect of this research is that risks from ­- rather than to -- sharks continue to dominate news coverage in large international media markets," said Gore, part of the research team led by Bret Muter, formerly at MSU and now with the Udall Foundation. "To the extent that media reflect social opinion, this is problematic for shark conservation."

According to the study, more than 52 percent of global coverage focused on shark attacks on people, and sharks were portrayed negatively in nearly 60 percent of the coverage. That's compared to a mere 10 percent featuring shark conservation issues and just 7 percent focusing on shark biology or ecology.

Another interesting fact from the study is who is quoted in the stories. Conservation groups were typically quoted or cited highlighting negative effects on sharks. They weren't, however, part of stories about shark conservation.

"This suggests that conservation groups are either not being sought out by the media in regards to shark conservation issues or they are not engaging enough to make headlines," Gore said.

The issues affecting sharks' survival are many. They include the threat of overfishing (overharvesting sharks for their fins), pollution, habitat loss and climate change. Sharks are especially vulnerable to these threats due to sharks' slow-growth rates, late age of maturity, long gestation periods and low reproductive output.

One way to improve sharks' image would be to balance the coverage. Examples of positive articles include highlighting the rarity of attacks, discussing preventive measures water users can take to reduce vulnerability to attacks, and discuss conservation issues related to local and threatened species of sharks, Gore said.

Journal Reference:

Bret A. Muter, Meredith L. Gore, Katie S. Gledhill, Christopher Lamont, Charlie Huveneers. Australian and U.S. News Media Portrayal of Sharks and Their Conservation. Conservation Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01952.x

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