Best of our wild blogs: 20 Dec 12

Northern Expedition featured in NUS news
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Random Gallery - Common Palmfly
from Butterflies of Singapore

Black-crowned night heron - Diversity of fish prey
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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It's about the quality of life for dolphins, not the length

Eric Ong Beng Kiong Today Online 20 Dec 12;

I refer to the letter, "Dolphins benefit from life parks: RWS", (TODAY, Dec 19).

While Resorts World Sentosa has met or exceeded international guidelines on the acquisition and care of its dolphins, it misses the point that forcibly capturing them from the wild has contributed to one of the threats to the dolphin population.

Is any among its team of animal lovers sure that dolphins thrive better in miniature pools compared to open oceans?

By saying that dolphins live longer in captivity than their counterparts in the wild, is RWS saying that it removed its 24 dolphins from the waters of the Solomon Islands so that they could lead long lives?

The quality of life for dolphins in the wild would be better than for dolphins faced with concrete walls, fed dead fish and unable to swim tens of kilometres daily in open waters. We should talk about this rather than length of life.

The Marine Life Park, with its size, can offer decent quality of life to most marine life in captivity apart from larger, more developed animals. Smaller sharks and manta rays, for instance, would do well in its enclosure.

I am not against the Marine Life Park, which I am sure will be a world-class attraction. RWS can still send a powerful conservation message to the international community by working with the relevant organisations to return the dolphins to the ocean.

Singapore should review evidence on dolphins
Jen Zhang Qinyan Today Online 19 Dec 12;

I refer to the letter, "Dolphins benefit from life parks: RWS" (Dec 19).

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums has stated that any collection of animals from the Solomon Islands would not adhere to its standards and guidelines.

How is it possible for RWS to now state that "the acquisition and care of our dolphins have met, will continue to meet and, wherever possible, surpass international guidelines"?

While RWS stated that "research shows that bottlenose dolphins thrive in zoological parks and live longer than their counterparts in the wild", this refers to the common bottlenose dolphin, a different species from the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins RWS acquired.

Animal lovers are not against zoos or the Marine Life Park. The issue is the way these facilities operate.

Animal lovers are against the capture of dolphins from the wild, which pushes species closer to extinction, and the keeping of animals who cannot cope with captivity.

Other countries have outlawed this practice; it is time for Singapore to review the evidence and follow the progressive examples of others.

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They play key role in keeping Singapore clean

How reliant are Singapore’s essential services on foreign labour? The Straits Times talks to people in three sectors to find out
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 20 Dec 12;

TAKE away Singapore's army of foreign cleaners and parts of the country could be filled with rubbish within days.

Foreigners are likely to make up at least 30 per cent of the cleaners who maintain Singapore's public spaces, The Straits Times has found.

This is partly because many local cleaners shun tough assignments such as sweeping public roads under the hot sun, cleaning companies said.

If there are Singaporeans who are up for the job, they tend to be elderly.

Currently, a handful of different government agencies handle the cleaning of common areas such as drains, roads and community parks.

In April, the Government formed the new Department of Public Cleanliness to streamline the management of public cleanliness, but the centralisation will only be completed by 2016.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that its public cleaning is mostly outsourced, with only a small percentage being handled by its own cleaners. For example, it outsources the cleaning of the country's public streets to three companies.

These companies employ more than 700 workers for the work. Of these, about half are foreigners, said the NEA.

Mr Milton Ng, 49, director of one of the companies, Ramky Cleantech Services, said 70 to 80 per cent of its Singaporean employees are aged 50 and above. These prefer cleaning jobs which are indoors in commercial buildings.

"Street cleaning is out in the open, in rain and shine, and there are no proper facilities such as washrooms out there," he said.

Other cleaning companies said foreigners are better suited for the laborious public cleaning jobs because they are usually younger and able to take more hardship.

Public waste disposal in the country is also likely to be heavily reliant on foreign labour. Four companies here handle the duties nationwide.

Veolia ES Singapore declined to comment on its workforce and two others - Colex Holdings and SembWaste - did not respond to repeated queries.

Only 800 Super Waste Management responded to the queries. It would only say that about 30 to 40 per cent of its employees are foreigners. "We have a lot of trouble hiring Singaporeans for the waste collection job," said an employee who declined to be named.

He added: "When we advertise, we say we want to hire drivers. But when they call and we say it's for waste collection, they just hang up."

Town councils which manage the cleaning of Singapore's public housing estates are likely to have the highest proportion of local cleaners.

The 14 PAP town councils have always had a quota where 70 per cent of the cleaners are Singaporeans, said Dr Teo Ho Pin last month. He is the coordinating chairman for the town councils.

The Government has introduced several measures to reduce the cleaning sector's reliance on foreign workers. Since July, foreigners can make up only 45 per cent of a cleaning company's staff, down from half previously. Levies for unskilled foreign cleaners on work permits have also risen.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has set a target to raise 10,000 cleaners' monthly salaries to at least $1,000 by 2015. There are about 69,000 cleaners in total here.

The median gross wage for cleaners and labourers had fallen from $1,277 in 2000 to $1,020 last year. This means half of the workers earned less than $1,020 a month last year.

The new Department of Public Cleanliness employs 285 citizens and permanent residents for public cleaning. There are no foreigners in its cleaning workforce.

But some cleaning companies said erasing the job's stigma among Singaporeans will be difficult. Said Mr Vincent Foo, 38, director of AO ServicePro: "This is the thinking among most Singaporeans: 'I'd rather be a cashier, office clerk or even pump attendant. I die, die don't want to be a cleaner'."

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