Best of our wild blogs: 31 Mar 13

Have You Seen These Creatures in the Wild ? - Part 1
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Two Cyrenes in one trip!
from wild shores of singapore

Life History of the Malay Tailed Judy
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Indonesia: No flight of fancy with Mr Wildlife

Indonesian tycoon is single-minded in his conservation effort, and doing it his way
David Ee Straits Times 31 Mar 13;

Just an hour's flight south of Singapore lies a place that feels like the very end of the earth. Swathed in thick jungle and with nothing but the ocean lying between it and Antarctica, this remote coastal forest on the south-western tip of Sumatra, Indonesia, might at first glimpse appear untended and undistinguished.

But descend towards the sandy shore and a wide airstrip reveals itself - a pale green band slicing through the dark forest. Later, as one encounters uniformed guards on horseback and officers on paraplane patrols, it becomes clear that this forest is no ordinary one.

The Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation reserve is the private ecological endeavour of one of Indonesia's richest men, businessman Tomy Winata.

The 54-year-old head of the Artha Graha conglomerate has 35,000 employees, and oversees operations ranging from banking and mining to real estate. In 2011, Globe Asia ranked him as the country's 46th richest man, with a net worth of US$570 million (S$707 million).

The reserve might well represent the next frontier of conservation in Indonesia, a country whose rich forests remain threatened by extensive logging and mining interests.

Singapore has extended green fingers to aid Mr Winata - researchers from the Singapore Botanic Gardens visited Tambling in January to advise him and his team regarding forest restoration, as part of the Gardens' efforts to share its wealth of knowledge throughout the region.

Tambling, despite appearances, is hardly pristine. It still bears the scars of illegal logging and mining, which took place before Mr Winata secured the 45,000ha from the Indonesian government in 1996. More than half the size of Singapore, it was once part of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

Eight years were spent tackling pollution and setting up ranger patrols and guard posts to deter loggers and poachers. Mr Winata has spent US$25 million of his own money on the reserve, which remains closed to the public for now, though eco-tourism is on his mind.

Busy as he is, he is not running the reserve by proxy from Jakarta. Once a month, he sheds his business suits and leaves the capital behind, heading for his little slice of paradise to personally direct the progress there. He spends up to a week there each time, clad in baggy polo tees, wrinkled shorts and slippers. Staff update him as he saunters through the cluster of lodges in the home base.

Occasionally, accompanied by rangers, he drives a golf cart into the reserve's fringes to inspect camera traps and try to spot unrecorded animal species.

The tycoon, who grew to love nature as a young man while working as a military contractor in Kalimantan and Irian Jaya, says Tambling is a place where he can breathe.

His love affair with the area and conservation began with a moment of disquiet. In 1995, he went to Tambling with friends to hunt deer. "I didn't feel good," he says. "I kept quiet. But deep in my heart, I knew I would come back."

He returned the next year. Now, 17 years on, Tambling has drawn curiosity, praise and scepticism from many quarters - at the root of which is Mr Winata's unconventional approach to conservation.

One source of controversy has been his re-introduction of "conflict" tigers into the reserve.

These captured Sumatran tigers attacked or killed humans in the past. Conventional wisdom holds that they should be kept under lock and key. However, with fewer than 400 of these critically endangered tigers left in the wild, Mr Winata is determined to save them, and is convinced they can be rehabilitated and released into the jungle safely.

In the reserve, the attempt is being made primarily by keeping the animals in isolation at a tiger rescue centre and minimising their contact with humans. In addition, the 150 villagers living in the reserve are told not to venture deep into the forest and not to cut down trees on which tigers have left scratch marks to mark their territory.

Five tigers have been released and have joined the estimated 15 already living in the reserve. So far, no villagers have been attacked.

Populations of elephants, rhinos, wild buffalo, tapir and sambar deer are flourishing as well.

And the Tambling forest is slowly regenerating, in stark contrast to the surrounding national park where, as Mr Winata points out in an aerial photograph, illegal logging and mining persist.

His single-mindedness in protecting the reserve appears to be succeeding where government efforts have faltered. He is determined to go it alone, convinced his way is the best way to conserve Tambling's rich flora and fauna - red tape be damned.

Little surprise then that his favourite karaoke song - one he can often be heard crooning at night in the main lodge while hosting guests - is Frank Sinatra's hit, My Way.

Given how things have turned out, Mr Winata feels vindicated.

"People think, 10 hours from Jakarta, you still find illegal logging. How is it possible that, one hour from Jakarta, you can conserve?" he says.

He laughs off criticism from groups that question his intentions, given that rich supplies of gold and iron ore lie within the reserve - he chooses to be judged by Tambling itself. "They can not like me, but they cannot not like my reserve."

Explaining his project's Singapore connection, he says Tambling does not yet have a resident ecologist. "I need Singapore's science and biology. They tell us which species are important - if not, we wouldn't know. I'm trying to make Tambling as it was originally."

In January, researchers from the Botanic Gardens brought precious cargo from its own collection of plant specimens: about 150kg of seeds from hardwoods such as the Belian and Meranti - species once endemic to Sumatra but since lost to timber logging.

While in Tambling, the researchers trained the reserve's staff in basic ecological techniques, such as how to propagate seeds and nurture saplings. They also identified important species to preserve, including a variety of saline-resistant Syzygium grande that forms a tree buffer along the coast, protecting inland trees from salty winds.

In addition, a team from Tambling has visited Singapore to train at the Botanic Gardens. Eventually, the tree seeds could be planted in the reserve, setting it on a path back to the way it once was.

Mr Winata says he appreciates how much Singapore researchers value what they see in Tambling - an attitude he rarely sees in his own country. "Maybe because Singapore does not have much forest... in Indonesia, we have too much forest, so we don't care."

He has plans to protect a similar forest reserve in Sulawesi, and start a botanic garden in Bali. He says he aims to spend 60 per cent of his business profits on conservation and social causes, and hopes more people like him will follow suit.

"We have 28 million hectares (of forest) in Indonesia. There's a lot of room for businessmen to show they care," he says.

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Sumatran rhino footprints found in Borneo

WWF 31 Mar 13;

Sendawar, Indonesia -- A team from WWF-Indonesia has found fresh footprints resembling those of a critically endangered Sumatran rhino in the Heart of Borneo (HoB) area of East Kalimantan, Indonesia, the first time in over two decades that traces of the elusive rhino have appeared in the area.

To confirm the presence of the rare animal, a second team comprised of WWF-Indonesia, the West Kutai Forestry Agency, Mulawarman University and local observers launched a follow-up survey that found more evidence of rhino footprints, active mud wallows, marks on tree trunks, and signs that the rhinoceros species had been feeding in the area.

The survey team also identified more than 20 plant species rhinos feed on in abundance in the area, including Dillenia supruticosa, Glochidion glomemerulatum and Nblia Japanica. The abundant food and the overall natural conditions of the area further support the findings.

“This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia's conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai,” said Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry.

“Information surrounding the presence becomes important to draft strategies to protect the population, if it is found to be viable and breeding, and to educate [people living around] the habitat where [traces] of rhinos have been found,” continued Bambang.

Experts taking part in the survey stated that no visual sighting has been made to date, and also cautioned that it is still too early to confirm whether the signs were made by a group of rhinos or just one remaining individual.

Sumatran rhinos in Kalimantan were presumed extinct in early 1990s. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the rare animal as Critically Endangered, with a population of fewer than 275 individuals now living in the wild.

Commenting on the findings, WWF-Indonesia conservation director Nazir Foead said, “WWF-Indonesia together with all stakeholders will conduct a follow-up and more comprehensive survey to map rhinos' habitat preference and their population in West Kutai.”

“Based on the result of this survey, joint strategies and comprehensive and holistic action plans need to be immediately formulated.”

Nazir further stated that the conservation plan and efforts for Sumatran Rhinos needed to be long-term, and therefore sustainable funding was needed, partly to ensure that the work also benefit people living around the rhinos' habitat.

The head of the West Kutai district, Ismael Thomas SH. M.Si, said, “Rhinos, dolphins, clouded leopards and local buffalo are among God's creations that are getting rare, but apparently they're still alive in West Kutai”. Ismael added, “We must protect them, and the communities must live in harmony with nature.”

According to Ismael, the West Kutai administration is committed to protecting rhinos, and will immediately issue a law on Endangered Animal and Plant Protection.

In partnership with WWF Indonesia, the local government will form a team to study and investigate the presence of the animals, to decide on precise conservation policies and programs, as well as sources of funding to support efforts to protect rhinos.

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 13

Masked Lapwing, six years on
from Bird Ecology Study Group

First guided walk at Pasir Ris mangrove for year 2013
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

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Singapore's first LNG terminal

It will import 3 million tonnes a year to diversify sources of natural gas
Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE got its first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) this week, in time for the Republic's first LNG terminal, which will be up and running in the next few weeks.

The LNG cargo arrived on Wednesday from Qatar on a massive QMax carrier ship, heralding a new era in energy security for the island.

Up until now, Singapore has relied largely on piped natural gas from Indonesia and Malaysia for its energy needs.

With the new Singapore LNG Terminal at Jurong Island, it will import some 3 million tonnes of LNG a year to diversify the geographical sources of natural gas, the main fuel it uses for power generation.

Singapore gets more than 80 per cent of its electricity from natural gas, about 18 per cent from fuel oil, and the rest from other sources like waste incineration.

The $1.7 billion Singapore LNG terminal is built and run by the government-owned Singapore LNG Corporation.

There are plans to install more tanks to be able to import up to 9 million tonnes a year, and room for even more tanks in future.

For now, Singapore plans to import LNG from Trinidad & Tobago, Egypt and countries in West Africa.

Singapore LNG Corporation had previously said it looked to Qatar for its first batch of LNG because it offered the most competitive terms overall.

Earlier this month, The Straits Times visited Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar's answer to Jurong Island.

Where Jurong Island is a mere 32 sq km and lacks natural resources, Ras Laffan is a full 295 sq km and taps a 6,000 sq km gas field off Qatar's north-east shore.

This North Field was discovered in 1971, and today Qatar is the world's largest producer of LNG, accounting for 77 million tonnes a year.

The gas is pumped from offshore platforms, and water, sulphur, carbon dioxide and heavier hydrocarbons called condensates are removed.

What is left is methane, the part that is burnt for energy generation. That is cooled to minus 160 deg C, which turns it into liquid.

Piped natural gas from neighbouring countries needs undersea pipelines. LNG, after it is regasified, will still have to be piped around Singapore, but no undersea pipelines are needed as it comes in by ship.

The world is demanding - and supplying - more natural gas.

The International Energy Agency reckons global use of gas by 2035 will rise 50 per cent from 2010 levels and account for a quarter of the world's energy mix, especially as China's demand rises and if countries use it instead of coal.

Closer to home, Singapore firms will be installing more than 2,000MW of power generating capacity by 2015, adding to the current 10,000 or so MW, largely to meet future industrial de-mand.

Meanwhile, the United States is considering exporting some of its shale gas as LNG.

But will importing LNG lower energy costs for Singapore consumers? Not necessarily.

While a large supply has driven gas prices down in the US, where gas is traded freely, Asian gas prices are still tied to crude oil.

And US pipeline gas must be processed and transported before it eventually arrives in Asia, which will add costs.

As a fossil fuel, natural gas emits the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when it is burned, but a third less than oil and half as much as coal, said Professor Michael Quah, director of the National University of Singapore's Energy Office.

If Singapore wants to de-link its energy use from its economic growth, Prof Quah said, it can keep domestic energy demand down through conservation and increased energy efficiency, while for petrochemicals, manufacturing and power generation, moving to lower-carbon-footprint industries could help along with energy efficiency measures.

But natural gas will be around for the long term.

"At issue are the economics versus Singapore's ability to harness renewable energy, including from our next nearest neighbours," he said.

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Dengue infections on the rise across Asia

Straits Times 30 Mar 13;

DENGUE fever outbreaks are on the rise again in various parts of Asia, claiming victims in remote villages of India as well as tourist spots such as Bali.

In Indonesia, several regions have seen a spike in dengue cases. In East Java province, with 41 million people, there were 4,997 cases in January and February, three times the figure in the same period last year, local reports said. The number of deaths rose to 49, from 32 in the same period.

All four strains of the disease are present in Indonesia. Regions with higher incidence of dengue include Padang in West Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and Bali.

Australian media reported this month that 415 cases - or 80 per cent of all dengue cases in West Australia last year - could be traced to Indonesia, mostly in Bali.

The peak season of transmission in Indonesia is from January to May, as the rainy season gives way to warmer weather - a combination that fosters the spread of the mosquito-borne disease. Widespread puddles of stagnant water form perfect incubators for the Aedes mosquito.

Over in Thailand, experts warn that the country could be headed for a record year for dengue fever infections. As of March 11, there were 13,200 cases, a nearly fourfold increase compared to the same period last year.

Dr Monir Islam, acting World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Thailand, said the rising figures are worrying because they are happening even before the start of the rainy season.

Thailand's Ministry of Public Health and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration have issued public warnings. The ministry has stocked up on medical supplies and trained more clinicians to spot symptoms, said Dr Islam.

As to the reasons for the surge in infections, he suggested several. "It could be because water is collecting in more places like tyres or coconut husks, or it could be that the surveillance system has gotten better."

Another could be that people were becoming more complacent, and not protecting themselves when the Aedes mosquito strikes.

Dr A.P. Dash, regional adviser for vector-borne diseases at the WHO's South-east Asia regional office in New Delhi, said cases of hospitalisation from secondary infection are rising in India, Indonesia and Thailand. Population growth, urbanisation, and increased movement of people contribute to this surge.

India, with 1.2 billion people, will find it difficult to detect and contain the disease. WHO records show 17,744 cases with 117 deaths in 2011. Last year, the figures shot up to 49,602 cases and 241 deaths.

"The truth is India has a huge population and rudimentary disease recording so the whole shape and size and scope of the problem in India is poorly known," said United States-based tropical disease expert Scott Halstead, who focuses on dengue research. "There could be millions of cases."

Methods of containing the disease usually involve door-to-door checks and fogging. Malaysia, which stepped up such measures after a major outbreak in 2010, is confident of curtailing its spread.

As of March 23, there were some 5,700 cases, with Selangor and Johor registering the highest numbers. But the total number of cases has actually fallen compared to the 6,000 cases recorded over the same period last year.

Reporting by Zakir Hussain in Jakarta, Nirmala Ganapathy in New Delhi, Tan Hui Yee in Bangkok and Yong Yen Nie in Kuala Lumpur

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Yangtze finless porpoise population nosedives to 1,000

WWF 29 Mar 13;

Wuhan, China -- The Yangtze finless porpoise population has declined to a mere 1,000 individuals, making the endangered species even more rare than the wild giant panda, the 2012 Yangtze Freshwater Dolphin Survey Report reveals.

The population in the mainstream of the Yangtze River was less than half of what a similar survey found six years ago, with food shortages and human disturbance such as increased shipping traffic major threats to their survival.

The study also found that the rare species annual rate of decline now stands at 13.7 percent, which means that the Yangtze finless porpoise could be extinct as early as the year 2025.

The report comes after a 44-day and 3,400-kilometer round-trip research expedition on the Yangtze River between Yichang in Hubei Province and Shanghai. Led by China's Ministry of Agriculture and organized by the Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, WWF and the Wuhan Baiji Dolphin Conservation Fund, the expedition first set sail on 11 November 2012.

The crew visually identified 380 individual Yangtze finless porpoise in the river’s mainstream during the 2012 survey. Based on this observation, scientists determined through analyses that the population in the Yangtze mainstream is about 500, down from 1,225 in 2006.

In October 2012, research was carried out in two adjoining lakes, the Poyang and Dongting, where the population was about 450 and 90, respectively, according to the report.

In a sharp contrast, 851 individuals of Yangtze finless porpoise were visually identified in the mainstream of the Yangtze during the 2006 survey. That research, however, did not cover the two lakes.

“The species is moving fast toward its extinction,” said Wang Ding, head of the research expedition and a professor at the IHB.

Attempts to find traces of the Baiji Dolphin, another rare cetacean and close relative of the finless porpoise, failed during the 2012 survey. The Baiji dolphin was declared “functionally extinct.”

According to data captured by acoustic equipment onboard the observation ships, the largest numbers of finless porpoise were found in the river sections east of Wuhan, with 67 percent recorded between Hukou in Jiangxi Province and Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, the report shows.

There is a notable sign of scattered distribution pattern which could be the result of “shipping traffic that made migration harder, projects that altered hydrological conditions in the middle and lower reaches and habitat loss,” said Wang with the IHB.

The report also cautions that small groups of Yangtze finless porpoise living in comparative isolation may have a negative impact on their ability to reproduce.

There are fewer finless porpoise in the mainstream of the Yangtze while more discoveries were made in wharf and port areas, scientists found.

“They may risk their lives for rich fish bait resources there. But busy shipping traffic close to the port areas poses a threat to the survival of finless porpoise,” said Wang.

“Lack of fishery resources and human disturbances including shipping traffic are among the key threats to the Yangtze finless porpoise survival,” Lei Gang, director of freshwater programme at WWF-China, said.

Researchers found dense distributions of finless porpoise in waters that are not open to navigation and attribute this to less human disturbance. Less optimistic was the discovery of illegal fishing practices in these areas, including traps that could affect finless porpoise.

A set of enhanced measures that include in-situ conservation and ex-situ conservation approaches are essential for efforts of saving the species from its distinction, said Lei.

Given that, the report calls for all-year-round fishing ban for all river dolphin reserves, establishment of a national reserve in Poyang Lake and ex-situ conservation reserves along the Yangtze.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Mar 13

1 Apr (Mon): Talk on "Lessons from Chek Jawa" by N. Sivasothi
from wild shores of singapore

Seabed Survey (21 Mar 2013)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

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Why heartlanders should not be left green with envy

Liew Kai Khiun Today Online 29 Mar 13;

I am heartened that work has started on the incorporation of the 9.8-hectare forested site along Tyersall Avenue into the Botanic Gardens.

I am also reminded, though, that several other natural sites in Singapore will not be sharing the same protection in the immediate future.

While the latest land use plans have envisioned more connectivity to green spaces, where 85 per cent of homes will be within a 10- to 15-minute walk from a park, residents and conservationists have been concerned about the impending loss of rich ecological spaces.

These include the Pasir Ris green belt and the Punggol knoll.

In this respect, I wonder what determinants the authorities use in prioritising and allocating land for conservation.

From looking at the satellite images of Singapore on Google maps, one would see an uneven spread of green spaces around the Bukit Timah estate, where the residential population density is relatively low.

In contrast, in the densely populated heartlands of Pasir Ris and Punggol, one would mainly see greyish building shapes.

Even as Singapore is lauded as Asia’s greenest city, with 66 sq m of green area per person, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the internal disparity is obvious.

A public housing dweller in Potong Pasir, like myself, has significantly less green space than those living in Bukit Timah, with its convenient access to golf courses, parks and reservoirs as well as sports fields around the area.

For me, the gap will probably widen when the former Bidadari Cemetery is redeveloped into residential housing.

While the discussion of inequality in Singapore has often been framed in monetary terms, one must not lose sight of other variables of inequality — in this context, spatial and ecological inequalities.

It would be sad if only the minority can enjoy more natural forests and world-class botanical gardens, while heartlanders have to crowd in artificially manicured neighbourhood parks with sparse natural vegetation and tree cover.

As much as the Tyersall site brings much greenery to residents of Holland Road, the same can be said for the Bidadari woodlands, Pasir Ris green belt and Punggol knoll for ordinary Singaporeans.

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Lead and learn

The number of volunteer guides at museums, parks and wildlife reserves here is rising
Kezia Toh Straits Times 29 Mar 13;

If spending your weekends attending lectures, reading and conducting mock exhibition tours sounds like fun rather than work, you may want to sign up as a docent at museums, parks and wildlife sites here.

Docent means "to teach" in Latin. If you love animals, nature, art or history and want to spread that love to others, you can join training programmes to lead guided tours once or twice a month around museums and the zoo.

More and more people are volunteering to be docents, says Friends of the Museums president Elaine Cheong, 60, who oversees more than 500 docents, 20per cent up in numbers from three years ago.

The non-profit group of mostly women run a $500 six-month training programme where one must attend lectures and tours and write research papers before he can be certified as a docent at five museums and heritage institutions run by the National Heritage Board.

These are the Singapore Art Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, Peranakan Museum, National Museum of Singapore and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.

The training fee is borne by the docent.

The docents also serve the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, which does not come under the board, and they will start guiding at the Malay Heritage Centre in May.

They may do "soapbox guiding" when the museums offer free admission to Singaporeans and permanent residents from May 18, helping to ease traffic from a potential spike in visitor numbers.

"Rather than taking hordes of visitors along and crowding the gallery, we could station docents in various parts of the gallery and visitors go to them instead," she says. She adds that the group is prepared to put up more tours if there is a massive influx of visitors.

Hers is the largest group serving museums run by the board. The other two groups are the Museum Volunteers - a newer and smaller group with mostly Singaporean guides - and one with the Preservation of Monuments Board, which promotes an appreciation of national monuments.

Overall, volunteer numbers of the three groups have risen from 530 in 2011 to more than 900 as of January, said a spokesman for the National Heritage Board.

Volunteer numbers at the National Parks Board have grown too by a third from 2011. More than 800 people help out for free at public parks and gardens with activities such as guided tours and conservation programmes, says director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah, 56.

Those with a passion for animals can volunteer at the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park. They have a total of 154 docents, up from just 30 in 1997 when the docent programme started, says Ms May Lok, 51, director of education at Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

It is looking to introduce tours in Mandarin and get more retirees to become docents.

Heritage sites such as the Sultan Mosque in Arab Street and Baba House along Neil Road are also docent hot spots.

The programme at the Sultan Mosque was started in 2002 to counter the problem of visitors attending tours handled by tour agencies which sometimes gave "inaccurate information" such as bowing in the wrong direction during prayer, says the mosque's executive officer Asmawi Said, 59.

Today, 10 docents conduct tours at the mosque, up from just two in 2002 when the programme started, he says. Most are female retirees aged 60 and above.

A half-day training gives guides information on the mosque's history and, most importantly, do's and don'ts - such as wearing proper attire and not shouting. "After all, this is a place of worship and we have to protect its sanctity," says Mr Asmawi.

The five-year-old docent programme at the Baba House - a heritage house showcasing Straits Chinese culture managed by the National University of Singapore Museum - is one of the newest here with 19 guides.

The ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, which opened in 2011, employs 14 full-time, paid docents. It is the only organisation here to pay its docents. It declined to reveal how much they are paid.

It offers a career to docents as they are in the frontline, delivering the best museum experience, says associate director Ross Leo, 36.

He adds: "It is important that our docents have a passion for the creativity at the heart of art and science - and for sharing it with others."


Spreading the message of conservation often hits a snag when visitors ask zoo docent Rachael Lim if a specimen is for sale.

Sometimes, they also ask if a specimen, such as the horns of an antelope, should be better used as medicine instead.

"It is difficult to persuade them otherwise," says the 24-year-old docent with a sigh. She frowns on poaching as animals are killed to harness their medicinal benefits. Antelope horns, for example, are used in Chinese herbal medicine to disperse heat.

Getting through to young children is the best way, says Miss Lim, who is single.

For example, she fishes out specimens, such as lion and cheetah skulls and leopard skin, for children to touch and feel, while more mischievous youngsters put their heads in the big cats' jaws.

"When they touch and interact with these specimens, they feel closer to the animals and view them as creatures to be protected," she says.

The laboratory officer at the Health Sciences Authority has spent the past three years volunteering at the zoo, going back to her undergraduate days reading chemistry at the National University of Singapore.

She volunteers at the big cats and reptile stations every Sunday and leads tour groups of up to 20 visitors.

Another perk of her weekend job: She shadows a keeper at the reptile station, checking on lizards and snakes to ensure they are well-fed.

She says: "Reptiles are amazing. They gradually get used to people and, as long as I stay calm, they feel it and will fall asleep in my arms."

While these slithery creatures may strike fear in those who do not know them well, they awaken in her an instinct that is almost maternal.

She explains: "They cannot speak and need someone else to express on their behalf that they are creatures surviving alongside humans."


Wildlife Reserves Singapore

What: Docents are based at the Jurong Bird Park, Night Safari and Singapore Zoo.

Training: A $150 eight-week programme to equip docents with knowledge on animals and wildlife conservation and public presentation skills. They must also complete a group project.

Commitment: Once a month for a year. Go to

Preservation of Monuments Board

What: Guides conduct special tours of national monuments such as the Sri Perumal Temple and the former Cathay Building (now The Cathay).

Training: A $200 three-month programme to equip guides with knowledge about Singapore's built heritage and issues surrounding preservation, as well as guiding skills.

Commitment: One year. Go to

Friends of the Museums

What: The 35-year-old non-profit group serves National Heritage Board museums such as the Asian Civilisations Museum, National Museum of Singapore and the Peranakan Museum.

Training: A $500 six-month programme of lectures, research papers and following tours of qualified docents.

Commitment: A year's guiding at the museum where the docent is trained. E-mail

Museum Volunteers

What: A non-profit group that gives visitors guided tours at National Heritage Board museums.

Training: A four-month programme on guiding skills and etiquette, history of building, lectures and gallery walk-throughs by curators. The training fee for the Peranakan Museum and Singapore Art Museum is $200; training is free for other museums.

Commitment: Once a month for a year. Go to

ArtScience Museum

What: Full-time paid position to guide visitors around travelling exhibitions at the museum.

Training: Three months, including full museum orientation, written assessments and shadowing senior docents. Free.

Baba House

What: Docents take visitors around this heritage house, containing National University of Singapore Museum's Straits Chinese collection.

Training: A four-month programme including lectures, walking tours and workshops. Trainees do research on Peranakan culture, Baba House and its Neil Road neighbourhood and write papers. Commitment: One year. E-mail for price and details.

National Parks Board

What: Volunteer guides take visitors around parks such as Fort Canning Park, Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, sharing information about their flora and fauna.

Training: Varies, depending on location. Free.

Commitment: At least four times a year. Go to

Sultan Mosque

What: Multilingual docents guide visitors in English, Malay, Japanese and Chinese around the mosque, which dates back to 1824.

Training: A half-day free training programme detailing the history of the mosque, do's and don'ts at a place of worship and public speaking tips.

Commitment: At least twice a month.

Call 6293-4405 for details.


A hearing-impaired group touring the ArtScience Museum's Titanic exhibition a year ago received a pleasant surprise when senior docent Gina Soh signed to them in response to their questions.

Although a sign-language interpreter was present, the 35-year-old former social worker - who attended a year-long sign-language course at the Singapore Association for the Deaf - could answer questions directly.

"It really helps to build rapport with the visitors: I can relate more to them and they learn more," says Ms Soh.

She leads the Marina Bay Sands museum's only tours in sign language, conducted on request from visitors.

She started working with the docent programme - a full-time paid position - two years ago, a change from her previous work helping the disabled find jobs. Ms Soh, who is single, leads about seven tours a day.

"It is an opportunity for me to meet people from all over the world and share experience that goes beyond reading the label next to the artefact," she says.

For example, New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya, whose Lego sculptures are showcased in the museum's ongoing The Art Of The Brick exhibition, visited last year. He related to Ms Soh the personal anecdotes behind each piece, which she now passes on to her tour groups.

These include the story behind the artist's 6m-long T-Rex skeleton sculpture and which part of the dinosaur he found the most challenging to construct from Lego bricks - its rib cage.

She says: "It is through passing on these little stories that I feel like an ambassador of sorts, which is very fulfilling."


Mr Poh Lip Hang, 28, relishes being a museum guide so much that he sometimes takes leave from his civil service job to conduct tours.

The assistant director at the Competition Commission of Singapore uses his days off accumulated from overseas work trips and about a third of his annual leave to be a guide at the National Museum of Singapore.

He volunteers with non-profit organisation Friends of the Museums, where taking charge of school groups is his favourite part of the job, particularly as expatriates, many of whom volunteer as docents, are often not keen on leading local students.

"Local kids are more reserved, so sometimes expat guides are a little worried because it is hard to draw them out," he says.

To engage them, Mr Poh designed a guiding method: throw leading questions to elicit responses that lead students to their own conclusions.

He pauses at a portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles, for example, and asks: "Is he an important man?" "Look at what he is wearing - is he local or from the Western world?" From there, students are led to probe deeper into history, such as the role of Raffles.

"There are many ways you can sell a story," explains Mr Poh, who is single, and started guiding two years ago during his undergraduate days reading economics and business at Singapore Management University.

However, guiding youngsters through the highs and lows of the nation's history comes with its challenges, says the docent, citing how he led a group of lower primary pupils this month through the museum's prized funeral hearse exhibit belonging to the late philanthropist Tan Jiak Kim, when a boy turned pale and burst into tears.

"After this, I learnt that with young kids, we have to be very sensitive with artefacts that feature death," he says.

Now, he guides once a month at the National Museum and heads its student programmes.

The interactions on the job - with both young and old - keep him going. He says: "Older Singaporeans share interesting anecdotes growing up here during the 1950s and 1960s. I learn about their perspectives of Singapore and through them, see how Singapore came to be."


He may be only 16, but Choo Yi Feng can steer visitors expertly through mangroves that dot the Chek Jawa wetlands, pointing out mudskippers, sea snails and worms.

Four years ago, when Yi Feng - then a Primary 6 pupil at Yu Neng Primary - led his first tour through Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin, his father had to be a chaperone.

Today, the Dunman High School student is no longer the "nervous and trembling" guide of before, he declares.

The National Parks Board volunteer guide now leads tours once a month, although the school holidays in June and December see him on the island - a one-hour bus and bumboat ride from his home - as often as five times a month.

He conducts tours for groups of about 15 people and, two years ago, even guided President Tony Tan.

Yi Feng's love for sea animals was sparked by a visit to Underwater World as a child and, after that, the aspiring marine biologist eagerly read up on sea animals.

"I enjoy understanding the relationship between marine plants and their surroundings, like how a sea hibiscus releases sweet water on the underside of its leaves to attract ants to protect it," he says.

Unlike artefacts in a museum, the changing face of nature makes each tour different, he adds. "Once, I got really excited when someone on my tour spotted a small mud-coloured octopus, which is a rare find," he says.

His young age, he is quick to add, is no barrier to being a guide. "I just try to sound professional," he says.

But he is sometimes stumped by the barrage of questions visitors fling his way, such as one who quizzed him on the relationship between a clownfish and sea anemone.

His strategy is to explain as much as he knows. As for the rest, he says: "It is up to me to hit the books and read up on what I don't know."

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 28 Mar 13

Hantu Blog Celebrates 10 Years!
from Pulau Hantu and Yellow-lipped sea krait

Red Junglefowl Third Brood
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Thu 28 Mar 2013: 1pm @ NUS LT14 – “How much is that doggy in the window?” from Otterman speaks

Wed 10 Apr 2013: 7.00pm @ NUS Museum – Frank Bucks’ “Tiger Fangs” from Otterman speaks

APP suppliers allegedly slashing forests and peatlands in Indonesia, despite new 'no deforestation' policy from news by Rhett Butler

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Hazy conditions expected in Singapore over next few days: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 27 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) said hazy skies in Singapore are due to more hotspots in the northern South-East Asian region experiencing the traditional dry season.

"This has led to an increased concentration of particulate matter such as dust particles in the air over the region, including Singapore," it said in a statement, adding that weakening winds over Singapore in the past few days have added to the current hazy situation.

The NEA said the PSI as of 4pm on Wednesday is in the good to moderate range of between 39 and 53.

The hazy condition is expected to persist over the next few days, and NEA will continue to monitor the situation.

- CNA/xq

Overseas hot spots contributed to haze: NEA
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Mar 13;

SMOGGY skies the previous two nights were not just due to Tuesday's shipyard fire at Jurong and the blaze that gutted several motorcycles at Hougang.

Rather, dust particles and other particulate matter have drifted over from hot spots in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, which are going through their dry season, said the National Environment Agency.

"With the weakening of winds over Singapore in recent days, the accumulation of increased particulate matter in the air could have led to the current hazy condition," explained an NEA spokesman.

Winds are light and variable during the current inter-monsoon period between the North-East and South- West monsoons, which typically lasts from late March to May.

At 4pm yesterday, the PSI, a measure of air pollution, was between 39 and 53, in the good to moderate range. The level of PM2.5, or very fine particulate matter, was between 25 and 39 micrograms per cubic metre.

While those levels did not trigger any health advisories for the general population, those who are unusually sensitive to haze should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion, the NEA said.

The hazy condition is expected to persist over the next few days and NEA will continue to monitor the situation, said a spokesman.

Mr Dave Liew, a 43-year-old artist, complained of a scratchy throat and headaches since Monday.

"It's like an assassin," he said. "It gets you before you can actually see it."

Air quality readings and health advisories are available at, or at the Weather@SG website, on Twitter @NEAsg, by calling 1800 CALL NEA (1800 2255 632), or via the myENV iPhone or Android app.

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Indonesia: Tainted Turtle Meat Kills at Least Three Kids, Poisons Hundreds in West Sumatra

Jakarta Globe 27 Mar 13;

At least three people have died and hundreds more were sickened after consuming toxic turtle meat in Mentawai Island, West Sumatra, a local news portal reported on Wednesday.

Rijel Samaloisa, deputy mayor of Mentawai, told news portal that three children — a 3-year-old, an 8-year-old and an 11-month-old – died after eating the tainted meat on Tuesday night.

“The first victim died this morning [Tuesday] and the other two passed away in the afternoon. The latest information, a child aged 7 years old, is in critical condition at the Tuapejat Regional Hospital,” Rijel said.

He said residents of a fisherman’s community in the Sao hamlet of Bosua village, South Sipora, ate turtle that had been caught on Sunday. The deputy mayor added that some victims died because their families could not seek treatment in time.

“People were [sick] on Sunday but they were not directly taken to get medication,” he said.

All of the poisoned survivors have since received medical treatment, Rijel said, adding that they were admitted to Tuapeijat Hospital and Sioban community health center. reported that limited access to the village hindered the ability to seek treatment for the sickened villagers, as the only means of transportation which can accommodate many people at once is a boat with an outboard engine. Soa hamlet is located at the southern part of Sipora island and it can take up to two hours in good weather to reach the district health facilities. The regional hospital could take up to four hours to reach from the village, which has no mobile phone coverage, according to the portal.

Rijel said this was not the first time Mentawai people were sickened after consuming turtle meat.

“People have never learned, there were similar cases like this in the past,” he said. reported that 36 people on the island were poisoned from turtle meat on March 16.

Mentawai Island Health Office head Warta Siritoitet said there were four cases of poisoning from turtle meat in the past year in Mentawai.

Rijel said that the Mentawai administration would issue a mandate to prohibit the consumption of turtle.

“People will be prohibited to eat any kinds of turtle. We will distribute [a circular about the ban] in the mosques, churches, governments offices and other places,” he said.

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Solomon Island villagers kill another 70 dolphins

Solomon Star 28 Mar 13;

MORE than 70 dolphins were reportedly killed by Fanalei villages, Malaita, last week.

Sources from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources revealed this to Solomon Star yesterday.

One source said that a team from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources was last week sent to observe and assess the people’s ongoing traditional hunting practices.

“More than 70 dolphins were hunted and killed last week when we (Fisheries team) were there,” the source said.

“There were in-fact two traditional hunts that took place-the first hunt I believe they caught around 40 dolphins,” he said.

When asked about the current dolphin ban, the source explained the ban only applies to life export,

“Traditional dolphin hunting is a way of life of many people in our coastal areas. The ban doesn’t apply to them but it restricts them to a certain number of dolphins caught during a particular hunt,” the source said.

He added that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is now currently working on a dolphin management plan to help restrict the number of dolphin catches in particular traditional hunts.

“We are now working on a management plan which will then be implemented and made aware to our coastal people.

“This will safeguard our dolphins stock,” he said.

This latest killing is likely to infuriate animal rights groups who have recently condemned the killing of up to a thousand dolphins in recent weeks.

The villagers kill the dolphins for their meat and teeth.

By Jeremy Inifiri

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Dolphin slaughter affecting Solomon Islands tourism Campbell Cooney and Sam Bolitho Radio Australia 30 Jan 13;

700 dolphins slaughtered in Solomons money row Campbell Cooney ABC 24 Jan 13;

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US regulators under fire over bee-toxic pesticides

Kerry Sheridan (AFP) Google News 28 Mar 13;

WASHINGTON — US environmental regulators are under fire from beekeepers and conservationists who say they are failing to vet risky pesticides that put people and valuable crop pollinators like bees in peril.

On Wednesday, the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a scathing report of the Environmental Protection Agency's record of using a loophole to allow more than 10,000 "untested or under-tested" pesticides on the market.

That followed a lawsuit brought last week by several beekeepers and environmental groups, accusing the EPA of failing to protect pollinators and challenging practices that speed to market about two-thirds of all pesticides.

The suit seeks to suspend the EPA registrations of pesticides that have been identified as toxic to bees.

Pesticides in a family called neonicotinoids are believed to contribute to colony collapse disorder, a mysterious plague that has killed off about 30 percent of bees annually since 2007.

The two pesticides highlighted in the federal district court suit are clothianidin and thiamethoxam, both of which were first used heavily in the mid-2000s, around the time that the bee die-offs began worldwide.

Last year, France banned thiamethoxam, found in a pesticide made by Swiss giant Syngenta, after research showed it shortened bees' lifespans.

A handful of European countries have restricted or banned neonicotinoids but the European Union earlier this month failed to reach a consensus on the issue.

In the case of clothianidin, Bayer CropScience was granted conditional registration from the US EPA in 2003.

It has been used widely to treat canola and corn seed. Nearly all of the 92 million acres of corn seeds planted annually in the United States are coated with these pesticides, said Larissa Walker of the Center for Food Safety, one of the parties bringing the lawsuit.

"A lot of the farmers feel that it is difficult for them to find seeds these days that don't contain a neonicotinoid product," she told AFP.

The EPA approved the pesticide but said Bayer had to submit a field study of the effects on bees by 2004.

"Unfortunately the field study that Bayer handed in was not only late by several years but was poorly conducted, and had some serious flaws in it," said a senior scientist at NRDC, Jennifer Sass.

A separate study by Purdue University in 2012 showed clothianidin-coated seeds contaminated farm machinery with as much as 700,000 times a bee's lethal dose of pesticide.

"Nonetheless, EPA continues to rely on the Bayer CropScience studies only that failed to find harmful effects on bees," Sass told reporters.

In response, Bayer CropScience said it "has no concerns about the quality of the field study in question" and that the NRDC claims "are incorrect and unwarranted with regard to bee health," according to a statement sent to AFP.

Environmental groups say a congressional loophole dating back to 1978 has allowed the EPA to approve more than 10,000 pesticides with minimal testing.

This "conditional registration" was meant for rare cases -- such as a disease outbreak or a public health crisis -- but instead has been used for 65 percent of the 16,000 pesticides on the market, the NRDC said.

Mae Wu, an attorney at NRDC, said the EPA was not tracking the conditional registrations properly and that supposedly temporary pesticides were falling into a "black hole."

The EPA said it "does not comment on pending litigation."

However, it defended the practice of conditional registration, saying 90 percent of the pesticides approved that way are identical to or differ just slightly from products already on the market.

The EPA also said it is "accelerating the schedule for registration review of the neonicotinoid pesticides because of uncertainties about these pesticides and their potential effects on bees."

The NRDC urged the EPA to review all its conditionally registered pesticides, cancel the registration for clothianidin and a germ-killer known as nanosilver, and start a publicly searchable database of approved pesticides.

Neonicotinoid pesticides 'damage brains of bees'
Rebecca Morelle BBC World Service 27 Mar 13;

Commonly used pesticides are damaging honey bee brains, studies suggest.

Scientists have found that two types of chemicals called neonicotinoids and coumaphos are interfering with the insect's ability to learn and remember.

Experiments revealed that exposure was also lowering brain activity, especially when the two pesticides were used in combination.

The research is detailed in two papers in Nature Communications and the Journal of Experimental Biology.

But a company that makes the substances said laboratory-based studies did not always apply to bees in the wild.

And another report, published by the Defra's Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), concluded that there was no link between bee health and exposure to neonicotinoids.

The government agency carried out a study looking at bumblebees living on the edges of fields treated with the chemicals.

Falling numbers

Honey bees around the world are facing an uncertain future.

They have been hit with a host of diseases, losses of habitat, and in the US the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder has caused numbers to plummet.

Now researchers are asking whether pesticides are also playing a role in their decline.

To investigate, scientists looked at two common pesticides: neonicotinoids, which are used to control pests on oil seed rape and other crops, and a group of organophosphate chemicals called coumaphos, which are used to kill the Varroa mite, a parasite that attacks the honey bee.

Neonicotinoids are used more commonly in Europe, while coumaphos are more often employed in the United States.

Work carried out by the University of Dundee, in Scotland, revealed that if the pesticides were applied directly to the brains of the pollinators, they caused a loss of brain activity.

Dr Christopher Connolly said: "We found neonicotinoids cause an immediate hyper-activation - so an epileptic type activity - this was proceeded by neuronal inactivation, where the brain goes quiet and cannot communicate any more. The same effects occur when we used organophosphates.

"And if we used them together, the effect was additive, so they added to the toxicity: the effect was greater when both were present."

Another series of laboratory-based experiments, carried out at Newcastle University, examined the behaviour of the bees.

The researchers there found that bees exposed to both pesticides were unable to learn and then remember floral smells associated with a sweet nectar reward - a skill that is essential for bees in search of food.

Dr Sally Williamson said: "It would imply that the bees are able to forage less effectively, they are less able to find and learn and remember and then communicate to their hive mates what the good sources of pollen and nectar are."

'No threat'

She said that companies that are manufacturing the pesticides should take these findings into account when considering the safety of the chemicals.

She explained: "At the moment, the initial tests for bee toxicity are giving the bees an acute dose and then watching them to see if they die.

"But because bees do these complex learning tasks, they are very social animals and they have a complex behavioural repertoire, they don't need to be killed outright in order not to be affected."

The European Commission recently called for a temporary moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids after a report by the European Food Safety Authority concluded that they posed a high acute risk to pollinators.

But 14 out of the 27 EU nations - including the UK and Germany - opposed the ban, and the proposal has now been delayed.

Ian Boyd, chief scientist at Defra, said: "Decisions on the use of neonicotinoids must be based on sound scientific evidence."

He said that the results of the Fera bumblebee study suggested that the extent of the impact might not be as high as some studies had suggested - and called for "further data based on more realistic field trials is required".

Dr Julian Little, communications and government affairs manager at Bayer Crop Science Limited, which makes some of the pesticides, said the findings of laboratory-based studies should not be automatically extrapolated to the field.

"If you take an insecticide and you give it directly to an insect, I can guarantee that you will have an effect - I am not at all surprised that this is what you will see," he explained.

"What is really important is seeing what happens in real situations - in real fields, in real bee colonies, in real bee hives, with real bee keepers."

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 27 Mar 13

President Tony Tan visits RMBR for a Last Hurrah too!
from Raffles Museum News

Random Gallery - Cycad Blue
from Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

More reliable forecasts with new climate centre?

Research centre will focus on Singapore's tropical conditions
Grace Chua Straits Times 27 Mar 13;

IS IT possible to predict monsoon storms more accurately? How will climate change affect rainfall in Singapore?

The new Centre for Climate Research, which opened officially yesterday, will tackle these questions, before advising agencies on managing water resources and flood risks, for example.

The centre, which is part of the National Environment Agency's Meteorological Service, will be led by senior British researcher Chris Gordon, the former head of the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre, Britain's climate research arm.

One of its first priorities will be to work on Singapore's second climate-change vulnerability study, the first phase of which is expected to be done by late 2014, said Dr Gordon, who begins as director on April 15.

It will use the latest climate models to update the first such study, started in 2007, to improve the reliability of predictions.

The centre will also study poorly understood tropical weather systems which have unique features such as thunderstorms caused by convection - hot moist air rising and forming clouds.

The centre, located in Paya Lebar, hopes to produce seasonal weather forecasts. For example, while February is normally warm and dry, a monsoon surge made last month exceptionally wet. Researchers hope to predict such unusual patterns ahead of time.

"The single biggest issue is to explain uncertainty in a way that doesn't cause people to lose confidence. People don't want a range of outcomes - they want the outcome," Dr Gordon said.

The centre, which will cost between $7 million and $8 million a year to run and have a staff of 25, is part of national plans to build climate science capabilities, and focus on Singapore's tropical climate.

It was first mooted in 2011, a year after intense rain caused flash floods across the island, including the Orchard Road shopping district.

The director-general of the Meteorological Service, Ms Wong Chin Ling, said: "There is a common misconception that climate change and environmental issues are a problem for the distant future.

"The reality is that preparedness must begin in the present."

New Centre for Climate Research aims to improve weather prediction
Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 26 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has a new Centre for Climate Research, which aims to improve weather prediction for the country. It was officially opened by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

The centre also plans to advance scientific understanding and forecasting of the climate over the wider Southeast Asia region. It is the first in the world to use high resolution computer models do this.

Dr Chris Gordon is the centre's director and will lead a core team of research scientists to look into weather simulation.

The centre will also network with overseas and local experts to ensure that latest scientific developments are incorporated.


Read more!

Dengue set to worsen with 3 active strains

Trend points to outbreak worse than 2005, when 25 people died
Salma Khalik Straits Times 27 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE'S dengue fever epidemic has entered its 12th week and is looking serious.

There are three strains of the virus that are almost equally active, and this is a rare occurrence.

As a result, weekly infection cases are at a six-year high, and more than double the figures seen in the first three months of the last three years.

Experts fear that if these trends continue, this year's outbreak could be worse than in 2005, when 14,000 people fell ill and 25 died.

So far this year, more than 3,100 people have been infected by the mosquito-borne disease, with a quarter landing in hospital. There have been no deaths so far.

Last week, 308 people were diagnosed. Usually, there are fewer than 100 infections a week this early in the year.

Latest figures from the Ministry of Health show that the long dormant Den-3 strain of the virus has resurfaced, and was responsible for 33 per cent of infections last month. The Den-2 strain - the most common strain since 2007 - made up 39 per cent, and the Den-1 strain accounted for 26 per cent.

Dengue sufferers develop an immunity to the particular strain they contract that usually arrests further spread of the disease.

As the Den-3 strain has stayed low key for more than a decade, people in Singapore do not have immunity to it, said internal medicine specialist Doshi Mukund of Parkway East Hospital.

To make matters worse, the presence of three strong strains means a dengue sufferer who recovers can more easily be re-infected with a different strain.

"Those who have been exposed to previous two viruses and contract the new virus will be at risk of having a more severe disease," said Dr Mukund.

Clinical director of the Communicable Disease Centre Leo Yee Sin noted that the two newly-active strains - Den-1 and Den-3 - are infecting more than half the patients.

"This requires close monitoring," she said.

Historically, dengue epidemics come in five-year to seven-year cycles, with each peak significantly higher than the previous one.

Experts expect this year's numbers to rise further, as dengue cases usually peak during the hotter months of May to July.

"There is typically a lag period from the wet months to the peak of the dengue cases," noted Dr Indumathi Venkatachalam, an infectious diseases expert at the National University Hospital.

If this is the lead-up to the usual mid-year highs, then the number of infections this year could exceed Singapore's worst outbreak in 2005. That was the only time weekly infections topped 300 a week this early.

A Health Ministry spokesman said yesterday that although the number of infections is up, the number of people with haemorrhagic fever is low and nobody has died.

The biggest hot spot is Tampines, where 167 people are down with it.

Responding to queries, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it is stepping up ground-level checks nationwide to spot and eradicate potential mosquito breeding grounds.

At the two biggest clusters - both in Tampines - NEA's search and destroy operations "are being extended to another 20 blocks outside each cluster zone to create a wider buffer to prevent further spread of the virus".

As a preventive measure, it will also send more than 60 officers to check homes and outdoor areas of about 100 blocks of flats between these clusters.

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4 vessels catch fire at shipyard, man injured

Joyce Lim Straits Times 27 Mar 13;

A MAN had to be rescued last night after four vessels caught fire at a shipyard.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) rushed to Tanoto Shipyard, off Shipyard Road, after being informed of the blaze at around 9.20pm.

Officers arrived to find four vessels on fire, all berthed alongside each other. Some were believed to be tugboats.

One of the vessels was fully engulfed in flames and eventually sank.

The man was rescued from the blaze with burn injuries and taken to the Singapore General Hospital.

It took the officers 90 minutes to get the blaze under control, an SCDF spokesman told The Straits Times. Four fire engines, two Red Rhinos, six supporting vehicles, two ambulances and two marine fire vessels were deployed.

The SCDF used eight hand-held water jets from the fire engines and two foam monitors from one of the marine fire vessels.

It is not known how many people were on the vessels that caught fire, or the cause of the blaze.

The SCDF was still conducting secondary rescue operations at press time.

Man injured in shipyard blaze in critical condition
Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 27 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: A man injured in a blaze at a shipyard in Jurong is in critical condition, with 38 per cent burns to his body.

Singapore General Hospital (SGH) says the man was admitted to its burns unit early Wednesday morning.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said the fire broke out at Tanoto Shipyard at around 9.15pm on Tuesday.

Four vessels, berthed alongside one another, were on fire.

One of the vessels was fully engulfed in flames and sank.

- CNA/ir

Tugboat blaze: Three still missing
Jalelah Abu Baker Straits Times 28 Mar 13;

THREE men were still missing in the waters off Jurong yesterday, after a blaze destroyed four tugboats the previous night.

Rescuers in three craft fanned out to look for the three foreigners, who are believed to have been on the tugboats at Tanoto Shipyard in Jurong.

They are from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, which is coordinating the search and rescue mission, and the Police Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, the tugboats lie in ruin.

Surveying the scene from a boat off the shoreline yesterday, The Straits Times saw the charred remains of part of three vessels, as the rest had sunk under water.

The fourth tugboat vanished under water on Tuesday night, soon after the fire broke out at about 9pm.

Firefighters took around seven hours to put out the inferno, whose cause is not known. It had started on one tug boat and spread swiftly to the other three which were also in the ship repair yard in Jalan Samulun.

Four foreign crew members were injured in the fire, two of whom are in critical condition at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). One suffered 30 per cent burns to his body and the other, 40 per cent burns to the body, said an SGH spokesman. Both are unconscious and on ventilator support.

Of the other two, one has burns and the other, a suspected fractured finger and cuts. They were warded at the National University Hospital.

Three of the injured crewmen were in a vessel that was passing near the fire.

They were ferried by a Police Coast Guard craft to the Police Coast Guard Gul Base nearby, and then taken to hospital by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

The National Environment Agency, whose officers were checking for pollution in the area yesterday, said that except for isolated patches of light oil sheen, the waters were clear. Tanoto Shipyard had cleared the oil.

Driver Rajaraman Suresh, who works at a nearby shipyard, said he heard an explosion at about 8.40pm on Tuesday.

"It was scary. The ground shook and we were all told to leave. I could see thick, black smoke, and there was a strong burning smell," the 30-year-old said.

Additional reporting by Eugene Chua

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Indonesia: Wild boar hunts threaten Sumatran tiger habitat

Antara 26 Mar 13;

Padang (ANTARA News) - The rising number of wild boar hunts in several parts of West Sumatra has threatened the habitat and population of Sumatran tigers, an environment official said.

Each Sumatran tiger consumes an average of 50 wild boars annually, the coordinator of biodiversity and conservation at the West Sumatra Natural Resource Conservation Board (BKSDA), Rusdiyan Aritonga, told a national seminar on tiger conservation at Andalas University here on Monday.

"If people keep hunting the wild boars, the Sumatran tigers will fearfully lose their food," he said.

In the long run, the tigers will migrate to other places and their population will shrink because many of them will die, he said.

The rising number of wild boar hunts may put the habitat of Sumatran tigers in the province on the line, he said.

The population of Sumatran tigers was estimated at 500 in 1994. And their numbers are believed to decline every year, he said.

According to the BKSDA, the habitat of Sumatran tigers in West Sumatra is 77 percent found in all over the province. "Only in Bukittinggi city, Padangpanjang city and Mentawai islands no signs of Sumatran tiger habitat are found," he said.

In those areas wild boar hunts are rife, he said.

The BKKSDA, along with other agencies engaged in the protection of Sumatran tigers has by thus far made every effort to protect the tigers by among others monitoring and translocating them and familiarizing the public with the need to conserve the endangered animal species.

Yet the public`s low awareness and limited funds pose an obstacle to the effort, he said.

"If this continues to happen, the Sumatran tigers will fearfully become extinct earlier than expected," he said.

Meanwhile, Adiyanto of the Wild Species Protection Institute said rampant wild boar hunts and illegal trade in tiger parts may accelerate the pace of Sumatran tiger extinction.

"Those involved in tiger hunts and illegal trade in tiger parts must be sentenced as severely as possible," he said.

(Reporting by Ikhwan Wahyudi, editing by Suharto)

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Bengkulu targets hatching 1,500 sea turtle eggs this year

Antara 26 Mar 13;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - The Bengkulu Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA) has set a hatching target of 1,500 turtle eggs in two conservation locations run by local community groups this year.

"In 2012, we hatched 570 turtle eggs and the hatchlings were released into their habitats. This year`s target is 1,500 eggs," Rasyidin Prima of the Mukomuko BKSDA said here on Tuesday on behalf of Head of the Bengkulu BKSDA Anggoro Dwi Sujianto.

During the January-March 2013 period, 362 eggs had been hatched and the hatchlings had been released into the nearest habitat.

Three species of turtles live along the coastal area of the Air Hitam and Air Rami reserves in Mukomuko District, namely green turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).

The population of hawksbill and olive ridley turtles is higher than green turtle in Mukomuko, he said.

The two community groups running turtle conservation areas under the supervision of BKSDA Bengkulu are "Penyu Lestari" Group in Retak Ilir village and the Nature and Environment-Loving Youth Group in Air Hitam village, Mukomuko District.

The two community groups have voluntarily helped the turtle conservation because of their concern about the survival of turtles in the district. Turtle eggs are often stolen and traded illegally in the region.

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New Tiger Reserve Established in India

Douglas Main Yahoo News 27 Mar 13;

The area, part of the Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary, is home to about 25 tigers, according to a release from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a conservation group. This population of tigers rivals the size of some of India's better-known reserves, the statement said.

This will be the 42nd tiger reserve in the country, which is home to the largest population of tigers in the world. The 272-square-mile (705 square kilometers) protected area will help connect several adjacent parks, making it one of the largest continuous tiger habitats in the world, according to the WWF. The area is also home to elephants, leopards, hyenas and vultures.

For more than a decade, WWF-India has worked with local authorities in the state of Tamil Nadu (where the reserve is found) to support projects to counter poaching, improve communications via cellular phones and wireless networks, train forest rangers and monitor tigers, the statement said.

"The tiger is the national animal of India, and WWF congratulates the government for yet another important milestone in its conservation efforts that will make a tremendous contribution to the goal of conserving wild tigers and their natural habitats in the country," said Dipankar Ghose, of WWF-India, in the statement.

Tiger numbers have declined by about 95 percent in the last century across their entire historic range, and experts think there are only about 3,000 left in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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Tiny Lemur Twins Are Two New Species

Stephanie Pappas LiveScience 26 Mar 13;

Two new species of lemur look so similar that it's impossible to tell them apart without sequencing their genes.

The itsy-bitsy primates are both mouse lemurs, which are tiny, nocturnal lemurs that measure less than 11 inches (27 centimeters) from nose to tail. The newly discovered Madagascar natives have gray-brown coats and weigh only 2.5 to 3 ounces (65-85 grams).

Study researcher Rodin Rasoloarison of the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar first captured specimens of the two new species in 2003 and 2007. He weighed the animals, measured them and took small skin samples for later analysis.

It was an analysis of these skin samples that revealed the two nearly identical lemurs are actually two different species. Researchers named one the Anosy mouse lemur (Microcebus tanosi) and the other the Marohita mouse lemur (Microcebus marohita). The Marohita mouse lemur was named after the forest where it was found. According to the researchers, the Marohita lemur is losing that forest and is threatened by that habitat loss. [Image Gallery: Leaping Lemurs!]

In fact, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Marohita mouse lemur "endangered" before scientists had even finalized and formalized its name and description. It's a fate shared by many lemurs in Madacasgar, where slash-and-burn agriculture is taking a toll on the forests.

"This species is a prime example of the current state of many other lemur species," said study researcher Peter Kappeler of the German Primate Center in Goettingen. Lemurs are the most endangered mammals on the planet, with 91 percent of known species threatened by extinction.

Researchers want to preserve lemurs not only for their own sake, but for humans' sake as well. As a primate, the mouse lemur is more closely related to humans than rats or mice, which are commonly used in medical research. The grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) develops a neurological disease much like Alzheimer's, making it an important model for understanding the human brain.

"Before we can say whether a particular genetic variant in mouse lemurs is associated with Alzheimer's, we need to know whether that variant is specific to all mouse lemurs or just select species," said Anne Yoder, the director of the Duke University Lemur Center. "Every new mouse lemur species we sample in the wild will help researchers put the genetic diversity we see in grey mouse lemurs in a broader context."

The researchers reported their findings March 26 in the International Journal of Primatology.

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Chimps, gorillas, other apes being lost to trade

Pamela Sampson Associated Press Yahoo News 26 Mar 13;

BANGKOK (AP) — The multibillion-dollar trade in illegal wildlife — clandestine trafficking that has driven iconic creatures like the tiger to near-extinction — is also threatening the survival of great apes, a new U.N. report says.

Endangered chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos are disappearing from the wild in frightening numbers, as private owners pay top dollar for exotic pets, while disreputable zoos, amusement parks and traveling circuses clamor for smuggled primates to entertain audiences.

More than 22,000 great apes are estimated to have been traded illegally over a seven-year period ending in 2011. That's about 3,000 a year; more than half are chimpanzees, the U.N. report said.

"These great apes make up an important part of our natural heritage. But as with all things of value, great apes are used by man for commercial profit and the illegal trafficking of the species constitutes a serious threat to their existence," Henri Djombo, a government minister from the Republic of Congo, was quoted as saying.

The U.N. report paints a dire picture of the fight to protect vulnerable and dwindling flora and fauna from organized criminal networks that often have the upper hand.

Apes are hunted in their own habitats, which are concentrated in central and western Africa, by sophisticated smugglers who transport them on private cargo planes using small airstrips in the African bush. Their destination is usually the Middle East and Asia.

In countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, great apes are purchased to display as show pieces in private gardens and menageries.

In Asia, the animals are typically destined for public zoos and amusement parks. China is a main destination for gorillas and chimpanzees. Thailand and Cambodia have recorded cases of orangutans being used for entertainment in "clumsy boxing matches," the report said.

Lax enforcement and corruption make it easy to smuggle the animals through African cities like Nairobi, Kenya, and Khartoum, Sudan, which are trafficking hubs. Bangkok, the Thai capital, is a major hub for the orangutan trade.

Conditions are usually brutal. In February 2005, customs officials at the Nairobi airport seized a large crate that had arrived from Egypt. The crate held six chimpanzees and four monkeys, stuffed into tiny compartments. The crate had been refused at the airport in Cairo, a well-known trafficking hub for shipment to the Middle East, and returned to Kenya. One chimp died of hunger and thirst.

The proliferation of logging and mining camps throughout Africa has also increased the demand for primate meat. Adults and juveniles are killed for consumption, and their orphans are captured to sell into the live trade. Villagers also pluck primates out of rural areas to sell in the cities.

Humans also have been encroaching upon and destroying the primates' natural habitats, destroying their forest homes to build infrastructure and for other purposes. That forces the animals to move into greater proximity and conflict with people.

Sometimes animals are even the victims of war.

Arrests are rare largely because authorities in Africa, where most great apes originate, do not have the policing resources to cope with the criminal poaching networks. Corruption is rampant and those in authority sometimes are among those dealing in the illegal trade. Between 2005 and 2011, only 27 arrests were made in Africa and Asia.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates the trade of animals and plants to ensure their survival. Under the agreement, trade in great apes caught in the wild is illegal. But traffickers often get around that by falsely declaring animals as bred in captivity.

The orangutan is the only great ape found in Asia. One species, the Sumatran orangutan, is critically endangered, with its population having dropped by 80 percent over the last 75 years. Their numbers are in great peril due to the pace of land clearance and forest destruction for industrial or agricultural use.

The report estimates that nearly all of the orangutan's natural habitat will be disturbed or destroyed by the year 2030.

"There are no wild spaces left for them," said Douglas Cress, a co-author of the report and head of a U.N. sponsored program that works for the survival of great apes. "There'll be nothing left at this rate. It's down to the bone. If it disappears, they go, too."

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Madagascar needs more than $41 million to end locust plague

Half of the country infested by locusts - food production seriously at risk
FAO 26 Mar 13;

Rome, 26 March 2013 - Madagascar needs more than $22 million of emergency funding by June to start fighting a severe locust plague that threatens the country's next cropping seasons and the food security of more than half the country's population, FAO said today. The agency underlined, however, that a three-year strategy is needed - requiring an additional $19 million.

Currently, about half the country is infested by hoppers and flying swarms - each swarm made up of billions of plant-devouring insects. FAO estimates that about two-thirds of the island country will be affected by the locust plague by September 2013 if no action is taken.

In view of the deteriorating situation, the Ministry of Agriculture of Madagascar declared a state of locust alert and a public disaster for the whole country on 27 November 2012. In December, the Ministry of Agriculture requested technical and financial assistance from FAO to address the current locust plague, ensure the mobilization of funds as well as the coordination and implementation of an emergency response.

The emergency funding that has to arrive by June will allow FAO, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, to launch a full-scale spraying campaign for the first year.

Nearly 60 percent of the island's more than 22 million people could be threatened by a significant worsening of hunger in a country that already has extremely high rates of food insecurity and malnutrition. In the poorest southern regions, where the plague started, around 70 percent of households are food insecure.

The plague now threatens 60 percent of the country's rice production. Rice is the main staple in Madagascar, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar per day.

The locust swarms would also consume most green vegetation that might normally serve as pasture for livestock.

From start to finish

"We know from experience that this plague will require three years of anti-locust campaigns. We need funds now to procure supplies and to timely set-up the aerial survey and control operations," said Annie Monard, FAO Senior Officer and Coordinator of the FAO locust response.

"Failure to respond now will lead to massive food aid requirements later on," said Dominique Burgeon, Director of the FAO Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.

"Campaigns in past years were underfunded, and unfortunately it means that not all locust infestations were controlled," said Monard. She compared it to not uprooting the roots of a weed, in which case even more weeds come back.

Current national efforts

The national Locust Control Centre has thus far treated 30 000 hectares of farmland since the six-month rainy season began in October 2012, but some 100 000 hectares that need to be treated haven't been, due to the government's limited capacity.

In late February, the situation was made even worse by Cyclone Haruna, which not only damaged crops and homes but also provided optimal conditions for one more generation of locusts to breed.

The first year of the FAO strategy to control locusts would rely on large-scale aerial operations. Some 1.5 million hectares will be treated in 2013-14, which declines to 500 000 hectares in the second year and 150 000 hectares in the third and last year of the strategy. All the operations will be implemented in respect of human health and the environment.

The strategy also includes:

establishment and training of a Locust Watch Unit inside the Plant Protection Directorate, for monitoring and analysis of the locust situation over the whole invasion area;
aerial and ground survey operations;
monitoring and mitigation of locust control operations to preserve human health and protect the environment;
training in pesticide and spraying operations management.

An impact assessment of the locust crisis on crops and pasture will be conducted each year to determine the type of support needed by farming households whose livelihoods have been affected.

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Mar 13

Happy 10th Anniversary Dives to Hantu Blog!
from Psychedelic Nature

Eastern Cattle Egret Eating A Frog
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Overseas community service (OCS)/ Youth expedition project (YEP) part 3: Are there still more things to check if my water is safe? from Water Quality in Singapore

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More funds to be raised for new natural history museum

Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 25 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: An additional S$10 million is being raised for the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History for manpower and programme needs.

So far, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has raised S$56 million for the first purpose-built natural history museum which opens in 2014.

President Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, who is also the NUS Chancellor, said this after a visit to the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

The Raffles Museum will close at the end of March to move to the new natural history museum.

The President opened the museum 24 years ago.

He said the museum still plays an extremely scientific and national role.

"It should be used to educate our young Singaporeans about nature. And to interest them in what they see around them and to know that what is unique about our ecological surroundings here," Dr Tony Tan said.

- CNA/ck

Museum homecoming for President Tan
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 26 Mar 13;

ABOUT 25 years ago, President Tony Tan Keng Yam launched a collection that was to play an instrumental role in the growth of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in Kent Ridge.

Yesterday, it was like a homecoming when he was invited to tour the place, one week before the packing starts on one of the largest collections of South-east Asian animals in the region.

The museum is moving to a new and larger home next year, about 850m away on the National University of Singapore campus.

It will be renamed Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

"It's very interesting for me to see how it has evolved and still playing an extremely valuable scientific and national role," said President Tan after an hour-long tour of the public gallery and the compacter shelves, where most of the specimens are kept.

The collection has grown from 160,000 in 1988 - when President Tan, then education minister, opened the Zoological Reference Collection at the NUS science faculty - to 500,000 now.

Calling the museum a "national treasure", President Tan said a proper natural history museum is "highly needed in Singapore" and will be a valuable addition to the country's medley of museums and the study of nature.

Its director Peter Ng said the museum's closure marks "the end of one cycle".

In the last 25 years, it has grown beyond being just a reference collection for scientific research. In 2001, a public gallery was created as the museum embarked on outreach, education and heritage programmes.

"We want to do it on an even grander scale in our new home," said Professor Ng.

Related links
Donate to the new natural history museum.

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Flood-proofing can boost water security in Singapore

Steven Lee Thien Poh Today Online 26 Mar 13;

In his commentary, “Treading between the painful and the popular” (March 22), Mr Terence Poon suggests that there must be a trade-off between flood-proofing and water security.

He suggests flood-proofing was a decision to win votes but might hurt Singapore in the long term, while proper water management would hurt in the short term but help in the long run.

To my mind, both are equally important, need to be addressed together and would benefit Singapore in the long term.

He mentioned that flood-proofing will cost S$750 million, whereas the damage from the flash floods in June-July 2010 amounted to only S$23 million. However, the S$750 million is to ensure that we do not have flash floods for years to come.

And we cannot assume that flood damage would, at most, be S$23 million every year. Global warming is causing climate change, the risk of floods will get higher and the damage will get bigger. Flood-proofing is also likely to be costlier in the future.

Mr Poon said that technology such as membranes for reverse osmosis, used in NEWater processes, have done more to wean Singapore off imported water, whereas drainage work only channels rainwater to reservoirs and boosts water supply.

However, there will be more demand for water as the population and economic activities increase. Just recycling the current waste water would be insufficient. The flood-proofing work now will make more water available for treatment to meet the extra demand.

I agree, though, that we must continue spending on water treatment research and development.

Treading between the painful and the popular
Terence Poon Today Online 22 Mar 13;

When they turn on the tap, Singaporeans know there will be water. They know it will be clean and safe to drink. The tap symbolises Singapore’s progress from water rationing to water security over the past 50 years.

But Singapore faces risks in continuing its remarkable success story in handling water and flood issues, as more Singaporeans seek a say in national decisions.

The risk in the water sector is simple: Will the Government make decisions that could lose votes in the coming years, but help Singapore in coming decades?

Or will it make decisions that win votes in the near term, but might hurt the country in the long term?

As voters speak louder, the Government will need to learn how it can strike a balance between populism and paternalism, in regard to water and other national issues. A failure to learn may impede popular participation or create problems decades later.


A comparison of water management in the 1970s and today illustrates this challenge. Decades ago, the Government adopted water policies that hurt in the short term, but helped in the long term.

In 1977, it cleaned the Singapore River. More than 40,000 squatters were resettled and 610 pig farmers lost their way of life. The farmers voted against the People’s Action Party (PAP) for many years after, recalled former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Yet this unpopular policy made the river clean enough so its water can be made potable. The Singapore River became the Marina Reservoir in 2010, with a capacity to supply 10 per cent of water used in Singapore. An unpopular decision with short-term pain led to benefits — greater water security.

Today, the Government risks adopting water policies that enrich in the short term, but could hurt in the long term. The PUB is investing S$750 million over five years to improve expand drainage capacity in 20 areas, after the flash floods in 2010 and 2011 and the last General Election.

This figure compares with an estimated S$23 million of damages from flash floods in June–July 2010. It dwarfs the S$470 million the Government has allocated to finance R&D and grow the water industry since 2006.

Although drainage works channel rainwater to reservoirs and boost water supply, technologies like membranes for reverse osmosis, used in NEWater processes, have played a bigger role in weaning Singapore off imported water.

In expanding drainage capacity, the Government is responding to the people, as it should. But it risks overlooking more important water needs, like R&D. Short-term gains may hurt in the future.


This generation of political leaders, not so accustomed to having to win the hearts and minds of the people at the polls, will need to tread carefully.

On the one hand, it needs to take into account views from the majority, the minority, the noisy, the silent, as people seek a louder say in making policy. Popular participation will give people a stake in the country. It preserves autonomy.

On the other, the Government and citizens need to take into account longer-term benefits, such as water security or fiscal sustainability; for the selfish, the future is a problem for future generations.

To address this challenge, the Government could share crucial information so it partners people in informed discussion about trade-offs: Flood-proofing or water security? Informed discussion could lead to novel suggestions and improve policies.

It could help the Government consider issues from new perspectives and people reinterpret their interests. For instance, people may consider the benefit of water security for their children and grandchildren to outweigh the cost of occasional flash floods to themselves.

Informed discussion will enable Singaporeans and their leaders to recognise problems, options and trade-offs. Informed discussion can even make hard decisions easier: People can accept decisions they disagree with if they understand why it is made and if they have been involved in it.

Yet, crucial nuggets of information are often hard to find in Singapore, impoverishing discussion. For instance, does the S$750-million drainage investment add to or repackage planned investment? What are the monetary and non-monetary returns on drainage works compared with that on R&D?

Without information, people cannot suggest improvements, reconsider interests or support a policy with which they disagree but understand.

The Government will need to learn to share information and exchange ideas with the people.

It has started Our Singapore Conversation to spark discussion with and among citizens about the future of Singapore. Similarly, it can learn to converse with citizens about the possible future of Singapore’s water story, strike a balance between populism and paternalism, and build “water for all”.


Terence Poon is a Master in Public Administration student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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