Best of our wild blogs: 26 Dec 12

Short-lived scorpions
from The annotated budak

Migratory Terns: Flocking and Communal Bathing
from Bird Ecology Study Group

brahminy kites mobbing a raptor @ kranji war memorial - Dec2012
from sgbeachbum

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NGOs roped in to combat litter menace

Volunteers will undergo training, be empowered to take enforcement action against litterbugs
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 26 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE - Senior members of non-government organisations such as the Waterways Watch Society (WWS) and the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) have been roped in to undergo training to combat the litter menace.

Last month, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan wrote on his blog that, under the National Environment Agency's (NEA) new empowerment scheme, it will start conducting a "special training course" in January for senior members of environmental NGOs. For a start, more than 20 members from the WWS and SEC could be involved, TODAY understands.

The NEA's new scheme comes as the WWS - which is currently active at Kallang Riverside Park - hopes to set up another office at the Punggol housing estate, to help keep the precinct's award-winning waterway project free from litter.

After completing training, these volunteers will be issued authority cards which will enable them to "identify and take enforcement action against recalcitrant persons who insist on littering", as Dr Balakrishnan had put it.

In response to TODAY's queries, the NEA said the volunteers' training will be similar to that of its officers.

"The training will cover the respective legislation, the rules of engagement and enforcement procedures. The training will include both theory and practical sessions to equip the volunteers with the skills and knowledge to undertake their duties," an NEA spokesperson said.

She added that the NEA is "finalising the details of the recruitment" for the volunteers. The empowerment scheme will be rolled out in tandem with enhanced fines for littering. From March, the fines for first-time offenders will increase from S$300 to S$500.

WWS founder Eugene Heng, 63, said his NGO will recommend "less than 10 per cent" of its 260 members for the scheme. Mr Heng said that he understands that the prospective volunteers will first be interviewed by the NEA, before they undergo training.

He said: "We should not make the training so complex, as these are all volunteers here. Apart from equipping them with an understanding of the rules, more importantly we have to teach them how to approach people. We have to make them understand how not to abuse this enforcement privilege. We don't want to create a whole new force of vigilantes."

Mr Heng, who also sits on the Public Hygiene Council, said the council may also get involved with the NEA's new scheme in some form.

"We are targeting council members to help monitor and enforce. Whenever possible, we will get the members to share and speak out against littering. Aggressive enforcement is a last resort," he said.

"Ultimately, we should have a network of different representatives from all strata of society to combat this, instead of just relying on NGOs, and I have also shared this with the NEA."

SEC Executive Director Jose Raymond said the NEA had approached his organisation to assist in the empowerment scheme. For now, three of the SEC's staff members will be trained under the scheme.

"But this can increase depending on our workload for the year and our other projects," he said.

Mr Raymond reiterated that it is essential that the volunteers are trained "on how to approach members of the public when they spot the offender and ... how to manage difficult members of the public who may turn nasty or abusive".

He added: "Public cleanliness remains an issue which needs to be dealt with, and through various possible options ... We hope that with more hands on deck, and from ground up, we will be able to help bring about a cleaner Singapore."

Meanwhile, Mr Heng said his NGO plans to set up its second office at Punggol estate in "two to three months".

Currently, the WWS has an office under Merdeka Bridge and helps to watch over the Kallang Riverside Park. Thirty of its members were issued volunteer cards by the National Parks Board (NParks) and national water agency PUB, to enable them to approach members of the public to advise them not to litter, among other things.

Said NParks' Parks Director Chia Seng Jiang: "The WWS encourages park users to dispose of rubbish into bins and report instances of illegal entry into parks by motorised vehicles and damage to park property. The WWS also organises park clean-up activities at Kallang Riverside Park, and we have since noticed less litter there."

Mr Heng said that as more people move into Punggol, there is a risk that its waterway could be polluted.

"Punggol leads to two major reservoirs, Punggol Reservoir and Serangoon Reservoir ... So if we don't do well (to keep the waters clean), it's a lose-lose situation," he said. Additional reporting by Tan Weizhen

Weekly patrols to clean up waterways
by Woo Sian Boon
Soft-drink bottles and cans, balls, safety cones, and even car bumpers and a lamp. These are some of the items dumped into the Kallang River Basin which volunteers from Waterways Watch Society (WWS) have fished up over the years.

Set up 15 years ago, the environment group, consisting of 260 volunteers, has been going on weekly patrols to clean the waterway of litter so that it is safe for users - despite being mistaken at times for litterbugs serving their Corrective Work Orders. Split into land and water teams, the volunteers also look out for oil spills and other pollutants released into the river from drains on their rounds, and then pass on the information to relevant agencies.

Still, some trickier concerns remain, noted WWS founder Eugene Heng. For instance, with the PUB authorising more fishing spots recently - including the Marina Reservoir - fishing lines and hooks can pose a danger to those engaging in water sports, he said.

"The fishing lines might entangle in boat engines, kayakers can step on fishing hooks or even get cut by the lines if they fall into the water," said Mr Heng. WOO SIAN BOON

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11 structures near former Bt Timah railway station being demolished

Lip Kwok Wai Channel NewsAsia 25 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE: Since last month, demolition works have been carried out on 11 small buildings and structures near the former Bukit Timah Railway Station.

The works are expected to be completed next month.

The structures include gate huts along the Rail Corridor at Bukit Gombak, Stagmont Ring, Sungei Kadut, Blackmore Drive and Tanglin Halt.

Many of the huts were work stations of railway workers previously.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) says the structures have been assessed to be structurally unsound, and are being demolished for safety reasons.

The authorities have also put up signs to inform the public to keep away from the structures.

SLA will also work with relevant agencies to identify suitable existing plots along the Rail Corridor for short-term uses, such as rest stops or rain shelters for the public.

Since April this year, the former Bukit Timah and Tanjong Pagar Railway Stations have been open to individuals and organisations for activities.

They are on land formerly occupied by Malayan Railways or Keretapi Tanah Melayu, but which has since reverted to the State.

Next month, a competitive run will be held along the Rail Corridor.

SLA says since April, it has approved 28 applications to hold activities along the corridor.

As survey works are currently being carried out at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, it will remain closed to the public. Details on its re-opening will be announced at a later date.

Mr David Poh, Senior Director of PropNex Realty, said: "The railway tracks extend across many areas. If you conserve too many structures along the tracks, it will affect development plans. We need to strike a balance between conservation and modernity."

- CNA/de

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Saving the rhino with surveillance drones

South African farmer plans to put 30 drones in the air to help combat poachers
David Smith 25 Dec 12;

A rhino farmer in South Africa is planning to use surveillance drones designed for the US military to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.

Clive Vivier, cofounder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal province, said he has been granted permission by the US state department to buy the state-of-the-art Arcturus T-20 drone.

He is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.

Radical solutions are needed, he argues, at the end of a year which has seen a record of more than 650 rhinos slaughtered for their horns to meet demand from the Far East.

Vivier believes the true figure may be closer to 1,000, a significant dent in a population of around 20,000. "We're now eating into our capital of rhino," he said. "From here they are heading rapidly towards extinction. Despite all our efforts, we're just historians recording the demise of a species. We don't have the numbers on the ground to see people and stop them killing the animals."

Around 400 rhinos have been killed this year in the world-famous Kruger national park, which spans 2m hectares – impossible for a limited number of rangers to guard effectively. Vivier estimates it as the equivalent of a town with one policeman for every 100,000 houses, "all with the doors and windows and open and rhino horn inside".

He continued: "We need to change the rules of the game. We need technology. The only thing that can see these people before they do the dirty deed is surveillance drones."

The answer, he believes, is the unmanned Arcturus T-20, which, with a 17ft wingspan, can fly for 16 hours without refuelling at a height of 15,000 feet. Its lack of noise and infrared camera would be invaluable for spotting poachers at night. "It can tell whether a man is carrying a shovel or firearm and whether he has his finger on the trigger or not," said Vivier, 65. "We can see the poacher but he can't see us. We're good at arresting them when we know where they are. Otherwise it's a needle in a haystack."

Vivier has spent two years in talks with civil aviation officials and is hopeful that he will soon get the green light for a six-month trial. He proposes 10 of the drones for Kruger park, and a further 20 for other vulnerable reserves in South Africa.

He estimates that each drone would cost roughly $300,000 (£184,445) to keep in the air for two years, making a total of around $9m (£5.53m).

"The drones are economical to fly and will get us information at a very low cost. We need this technology to put us in a position to catch the guys. We need to do it before they kill rhino. The drone is, in my opinion, the only solution. It is highly sophisticated and can see things no other technology can."

After the worst rhino poaching year on record in South Africa, air technology is seen as a crucial preventative step. Earlier this month, a reconnaissance plane with surveillance equipment including thermal imaging began patrolling over Kruger park.

But Vivier believes such alternatives lack the Calfornia-built Arcturus T-20's capability. "The smaller ones are like using a bucket to put out a fire at the Empire State building. We need fire engines. We're now an inferno. If we don't wake up and do something, the world will lose the rhino."

He appealed for the US, UK or other countries to help raise the necessary funds. "The company making the drone has to be paid and we don't have the money. We need the best technology because the criminals are sharp. We've had approval from the US state department and we're trying to work with them. It's a world problem and the rest of the world needs to help us."

Vivier is among a group of rhino farmers who believe that legalising the trade in horn would thwart the black market and reduce poaching. Several conservation groups disagree and call for measures that will reduce demand in countries such as Vietnam, where horn is seen as a delicacy with health benefits.

Ike Phaahla, a spokesman for South African National Parks, welcomed moves to put eyes in the sky. "In the past three months that is a strategy we have decided to use," he said. "We are able to use the intelligence to intercept the poachers, although you can't have a silver bullet for this kind of thing."

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