Best of our wild blogs: 14 Dec 12

Help vote for maker of the “Singapore got wildlife, meh?” documentary’s TEDxYale talk! from Nature rambles

Changi rocky shore in the rain
from wonderful creation

Rainy day check on seagrasses at Changi
from wild shores of singapore

Feeding frenzy and rice left for stray dogs
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Highlights of trips with Northern Expedition 2012
from wonderful creation

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While Singapore is sleeping, this group is sweeping

Charissa Yong Straits Times 14 Dec 12;

IT MAY be 6.30am on a Sunday but the Pang family is up and about, sweeping and picking up other people's litter.

Fund manager Pang Cheng Duan, 49, his wife Theresa Wee and their 11-year-old daughter Sze Ann are armed with brooms and dustpans, hunting down stray pieces of trash at the public carpark outside Eunos MRT station.

They attract curious stares from onlookers and have even been mistaken for offenders doing community service.

The Pangs are part of a group of volunteers from Shinnyo-en Singapore. For nearly 30 years, this religious organisation - a 4,000-strong local chapter of a Buddhist order in Japan - has been cleaning public spaces early in the morning. Every fourth Sunday of the month, between 60 and 100 of its volunteers clean up MRT carparks around the island.

Keeping the environment clean is their contribution to society, said volunteers, including 63-year-old retiree Tan Yen Seng, a litter-picker for 10 years.

Agreeing, entrepreneur Michael Tasrif, 29, said: "As people living in Singapore, we have the responsibility to keep our country clean,"

The group first began cleaning Clifford Pier once a month in 1983. Six years later, it started cleaning the void decks of HDB flats in Farrer Road.

Since 1994, with approval from the National Environment Agency, it has been cleaning the surrounding areas of the Clementi, Ang Mo Kio and Eunos MRT stations, because many of its members were living around there. They keep each session short so as not to get in the way of residents and commuters, said Madam Wee, a 47-year-old housewife.

Public reactions vary. Most people stare, some ask what they are up to, while others thank them for their work.

Madam Wee's daughter Sze Ann, a Tao Nan pupil, said it is a meaningful task and she is happy to do the cleaning. They sometimes collect several bags full of rubbish and salvage recyclables.

Said Madam Wee: "We hope our little effort can go some way towards changing Singaporeans' mindset and attitudes, and that Singapore will one day become a clean city because our people take pride in keeping it clean."

The volunteers, mostly in white shirts with the Shinnyo-en logo, gladly go about their labour despite having to sacrifice sleep each last Sunday of the month.

"I'm not an early bird," admitted civil servant Han Fei Ni, who is in her late 30s. "But it's gradually become a habit I enjoy because it's a good cause."

For more information on the group and its activities, go to

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NTU team invents 'eyes and ears' for underwater vessels

Blind fish inspire creation of sensors that detect changes in water pressure
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 14 Dec 12;

A BREED of blind cave fish has inspired new "eyes and ears" for underwater robots and vessels such as submarines.

The creatures, which are found in the caves of Mexico, rely on a strip of sensitive skin on their sides to detect changes in water pressure caused by predators or obstacles.

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have studied them and come up with similar water pressure-based sensors that could help submarines and underwater robots to navigate their environment.

The new sensors are currently undergoing testing in Singapore waters and could be commercialised within two years.

Currently, underwater robots and vessels usually use sonar sensors or cameras to gather data about their surroundings.

But cameras can be thwarted by murky water, while sonar or soundwave technology is expensive and can harm marine life.

Like the cave fish's organic sensors, the NTU invention relies on water pressure changes to locate and identify obstacles.

When swimmers pass each other, for example, they can feel changes in the water pressure on their skin. The NTU sensors work in the same way.

"To mimic nature, our team created microscopic sensory pillars wrapped in hydrogel," said Associate Professor Miao Jianmin, from NTU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Each sensor is 1.8mm by 1.8mm. They are clustered in groups of 20, with each cluster costing less than $100 to make. They also require little power, meaning they are cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the conventional sensors.

The NTU invention could also be used for defence, as it can detect nearby submarines without using sonar, which gives away the user's location.

Its only drawback is its limited range, since water-pressure changes weaken with distance. The researchers estimated that vessels equipped with the sensors would detect obstacles only less than one body length away.

NTU is working with the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology to outfit autonomous underwater vehicles with the sensors, and will present two papers on the work at a prestigious conference next month.

These craft could be fitted with chemical sensors and used to detect pollution in Singapore's waters.

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New slow loris found in Borneo

Matt Walker BBC Nature 13 Dec 12;

A new species of small nocturnal primate has been discovered by scientists in Borneo.

The primate is a type of slow loris, a small cute-looking animal that is more closely related to bushbabies and lemurs than to monkeys or apes.

Uniquely among primates, they have a toxic bite, belying their appearance.

Two previously known subspecies of slow loris have also been accorded full species status.

Details of the discoveries are published in the American Journal of Primatology.

The new species of slow loris, named Nycticebus kayan, has gone unrecognised until now, in part due to its nocturnal lifestyle.

Animals that are active by night often rely less on visual clues, and can therefore appear more similar to one another.

So the scientists had to look hard to discover the differences between the new species.

An international team of researchers, led by Professor Anna Nekaris of Oxford Brookes University in the UK, and Rachel Munds from the University of Missouri in Columbia, US, surveyed slow lorises living in the forests of Borneo and the Philippines.

They focused on studying the primates' facial markings, which take the appearance of a mask, with the eyes being covered by distinct dark patches and the heads by varying patterns.

Part of Prof Nekaris's research was filmed by the BBC programme Natural World, which followed members of the team as they conducted surveys.

This research has revealed there are actually four species of slow loris in the Philippines and Borneo, each with their own, subtly different but distinct head markings.

Originally there was thought to be just a single species, called N. menagensis.

Two of these new species, N. bancanus and N. borneanus, were previously considered subspecies of N. menagensis.

While, N. kayan, is new to science.

"In Borneo in particular, from where three of the new species hail, this will mean that three new lorises will be added as threatened to some degree on the IUCN Red List of threatened species," says Prof Nekaris.

"With more than 40% of the world's primates already threatened with extinction, this brings the toll even higher."

Outside of Borneo and the Philippines, four other slow loris species are known, living across south and southeast Asia.

All have a difficult relationship with humans.

They are the only primates with a toxic bite, secreting the toxin from glands in their elbows.

Slow lorises lick this toxin, and mix it with their saliva. They then use it when they bite, or to coat the fur of their offspring, possibly as a way to deter predators from attacking their young.

The toxin is powerful enough to potentially cause fatal anaphylactic shock in people.

But the slow lorises' cute appearance also makes them a favoured target of the pet trade.

Captured animals often have their canine and incisor teeth pulled out before being sold on as pets, in a bid to protect their potential owner.

Harming the animals this way, though, can quickly lead to their death, as the toothless primates are unable to feed properly.

The discovery that more slow loris species exist also has implications for their survival.

"Well-meaning groups rescue lorises and rarely follow proper guidelines when releasing them back to the wild," says Prof Nekaris.

"That means that the wrong species of loris has found itself in many a new place throughout Asia, if they have survived the traumatising practice of hard release to the wild in the first place."

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Video Reveals Rare Tiger Cubs in Sumatran Forest

Douglas Main Yahoo News 14 Dec 12;

A camera trap caught video of a mother tiger and her two cubs in a protected Sumatran forest, the first evidence of breeding in this location, conservationists say.

The footage was captured in Sumatra's Sembilang National Park. Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have documented evidence before of the endangered species in nearby Berbak National Park.

The video of these big cats shows the mother and her two youngsters walking past the camera. Scientists said they estimate the cubs are less than a year old, according to a ZSL release.

"This is the best early Christmas present, and we are absolutely delighted to find the first evidence of breeding in Sembilang," said Sarah Christie, ZSL head of regional conservation programs, in a statement. "We will continue working with leaders of both national parks as well as the government to ensure the areas are better protected and well patrolled."

The finding gives scientists some hope; there are only 300 Sumatran tigers, the smallest of the tiger species, estimated to be in the wild, according to the release. Camera traps have also caught video of tapirs and sunbears in the nearby Berbak forest.

Sembilang and Berbak National Park are some of the only places in the world where these tigers remain, according to the release.

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Thailand: Turtle egg find floats hope of leatherbacks returning to Phuket

Phuket Gazette 13 Dec 12;

PHUKET: Hopes that turtles are returning to their traditional nesting sites along the Andaman Coast soared as a second clutch of leatherback turtle eggs was discovered on Tai Muang Beach in Phang Nga, just north of Phuket, within an eight day period.

The discovery of the nest on Tuesday follows a leatherback turtle being spotted laying eggs on the beach on December 3.

However, officers at the Khao Lampi – Hat Thai Mueang National Park, where both nests were created, believe that the two clutches of eggs were laid by different turtles.

“The turtle spotted on December 3 was 2.12 meters long, but tracks left in the sand from this second turtle indicate that it is much smaller than the first one,” said park officer Witoon Detpramuanphol.

The nest discovered by local villagers early Tuesday morning was located about 500 meters from where the first turtle was spotted on December 3.

“We found 109 eggs in the nest, but we did not see the mother,” said Mr Witoon.

“The nest contained 109 eggs: 99 of them are good, 10 are undeveloped. The good eggs have been transferred to a safe place. We expect them to hatch in about 60 days,” he added.

Mr Witoon said that he and fellow park officers will be monitoring the area in the hope that the turtles will return to lay more eggs.

“We believe that the first turtle will come back to lay more eggs sometime between today and Saturday, as leatherback turtles usually lay eggs twice, about 10 days apart,” he said.

“The first turtle laid 131 eggs – 99 of them had been fertilized, and 32 were undeveloped. We removed the fertilized eggs to a safe place near our checkpoint so our officers can look after them and keep them safe from predators, man or otherwise,” Mr Witoon explained.

“The number of people visiting Mai Khao and development in the area have forced many turtles to lay their eggs elsewhere,” he added.

The continual rise in tourist numbers and the expansion of beachfront development have deterred leatherbacks from returning to their traditional nesting sites along the Andaman Coast, resulting in turtle nest sightings becoming increasingly rare in the region.

“Leatherback turtles used to lay eggs every year at Mai Khao Beach in Phuket and here at Tai Muang, but the last time we saw this was in January 2010,” Mr Witoon said.

However, the recent return of leatherbacks to Tai Muang Beach is being heralded as good news, and Mr Witoon believes that more leatherbacks have already returned to the area to lay eggs.

“We have seen tracks from other turtles on the beach, so we may see more turtles coming ashore to lay eggs here,” he said.

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Cook Islands' shark sanctuary creates world's largest

BBC News 13 Dec 12;

The Cook Islands has approved a shark sanctuary in its waters, making for the largest such sanctuary in the world.

The South Pacific island chain declared a 1.9 million-sq-km sanctuary, contiguous with one established last week by neighbouring French Polynesia.

That sees a ban on shark fishing and possession or sale of shark products in an area now totalling 6.7 million sq km - nearly the size of Australia.

As top predators, overfishing of sharks disrupts complex oceanic food webs.

And about a third of ocean-going sharks appear on the internationally-recognised Red List of Threatened Species.

"We are proud as Cook Islanders to provide our entire exclusive economic zone... as a shark sanctuary," said Teina Bishop, Cook Islands minister of marine resources.

"We join our Pacific neighbours to protect this animal, which is very vital to the health of our oceans, and our culture."

Other island nations with sanctuaries also include Palau, the Maldives, Tokelau, Honduras and the Bahamas.

Last week's move by French Polynesia overtook the Marshall Islands' area, outlined in late 2011, as the world's largest - and the Cook Island's claim adds 40% more area to that title.

As with the Marshall Islands' declaration, the Cook Islands' effort was with the help of the Pew Environment Group, which advocates island nations' involvement because of the vast scope of their territorial waters.

Pew worked for more than a year with the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative ahead of Thursday's announcement.

"This is hopeful news for the world's sharks and our efforts to protect them," said Jill Hepp, director of shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group.

"We are thrilled to see the Cook Islands become part of this global movement during a time when so many shark populations are threatened."

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Malaysia: Public urged to refrain from throwing rubbish into drains and rivers

Faik Zolkepli, Winnie Yeoh, Han Kar Kay and Nigel Edgar The Star 14 Dec 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Even with a RM828mil allocation this year for flood mitigation projects, local authorities are fighting against time to clear clogged drains and prevent flash floods during the current rainy season.

However, there is a better, cheaper and more obvious solution stop people from throwing rubbish wantonly.

According to Drainage and Irrigation Department's senior director Datuk Zainor Rahim Ibrahim, public awareness and civic consciousness in maintaining clean drains were low.

“The garbage snagged on log booms that are used to trap debris in the rivers prove that people are simply discarding things into drains, which then flow into rivers,” he said.

He said a DID study pointed to Kajang, Sungai Buloh, Klang, Seri Kembangan and Sungai Besi as “hot spots” for flash floods.

“Clogged drains are one of the main causes for floods in these places,” he said.

Zainor said that although drains were designed and built to prevent flooding, deluges could still occur if rainfall exceeded the design's limit.

The DID has taken several steps to prevent floods, including the construction of new water retention ponds and upgrading existing ones.

“The department also helps local authorities by providing technical advice,” Zainor said.

“But the operation and maintenance of urban drainage systems are under the control of the councils.”

Zainor said there should be higher public awareness on the importance of maintaining clean drains.

He said all the public had to do was to refrain from throwing waste into drains, waterways and lakes, adding that communities could also hold gotong-royong sessions to clean up the drains in their neighbourhoods.

“Recycling of waste should also be done voluntarily to reduce waste at landfills,” said Zainor.

“As for housing developers, they should implement the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan (ESCP) to reduce clogging of drains and waterways from silt and sediment, “ he said.

Zainor said the DID had been working with non-governmental organisations to spread the word on keeping drains clean.

Among the NGOs active in this are the GAB Foundation, Global Environment Centre and Pemandu's River of Life project here.

“I hope more will join in the cause.”

‘River Rangers’ have their hands full with clean-up work
The Star 14 Dec 12;

GEORGE TOWN: Local councils and communities here have been busy working to clear clogged drains and rivers during the wet season, which is expected to last until the end of the month.

State Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) director Anuar Yahya said the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) had also met representatives of all relevant agencies to discuss the issue of clogged drains recently.

“We also have a River Ranger project involving two categories Rukun Tetangga (RT) members and schoolchildren.

“Members are required to clear the drainage systems and clean up rivers to prevent floods,” he said.

State Agriculture, Agro-based Industries, Rural Development and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Law Choo Kiang identified Jalan P. Ramlee, Kampung Dodol, Kampung Masjid and Jalan Mahsuri as the most flood-prone areas on the island.

“The mostly likely areas to be flooded on the mainland are Alma, Kampung Titi Hitam in Jawi and Jalan Permatang Rawa.

“There are several ongoing flood mitigation projects, including in Alma, Seberang Perai and Jalan Barrack in George Town,” he added.

Bayan Baru RT chairman Chai Tsing Boo said residents in the area were planning to hold a gotong-royong session soon to ensure smooth flow of the drainage system.

In Kuching, Sarawak Disaster Relief Committee Chairman Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang urged the public to stop discarding rubbish into drains to prevent clogging and flash floods.

Jabu, who is also Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, said that besides clogged drains, the other common causes of flash floods in Kuching were silt and sediment from construction sites and road projects in urban and suburban areas.

Kajang council doing its best to unclog drains
The Star 14 Dec 12;

PETALING JAYA: The Kajang Municipal Council (MPKj) is trying its best to clear the drains as quickly as possible during the current rainy spell to ensure that flash floods do not recur.

The latest flash flood which occurred in Country Heights in September served as a reminder that the area surrounding the town is flood-prone.

Kajang councillor Lee Learn Eng said the local authority had been pro-active in its flood preventive measures, including widening monsoon drains in housing areas.

“Realistically speaking, the council has been trying its best to widen and clear the drains but I don't think it is enough.

“Most of the old housing areas in Kajang have small drains, which often overflow due to rubbish clogging the drains,” he said.

Lee said there were still many drains to clean and many were not linked to Onside Stormwater Detention Ponds (OSDs).

“We are looking to install the OSDs in the drains but this is a long process. Some monsoon drains are not suitable for the OSDs but we are trying to explore other ways,” he said.

“Our efforts are not 100% effective but we are trying to do as much as possible,” he said.

He said the council understood the people's fear of flash floods.

“We need the cooperation of the public, especially in not dumping rubbish into the drains. We can do our part in cleaning the drains, even widening it but the people must also play their part,” he added.

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