Best of our wild blogs: 16 Feb 13

The last kampong in Singapore
from Rojak Librarian

Chek Jawa with long driftnet
from wild shores of singapore

Black-naped Oriole stole an egg
from Bird Ecology Study Group

World Pangolin Day 2013
from EDGE Blog

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Number of dengue cases weekly hits 5-year high

322 cases recorded last week, four new dengue clusters identified by NEA
Today Online 16 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE — The number of dengue cases weekly hit a five-and-a-half-year high last week with 322 cases, while four new dengue clusters have been identified.

The last time numbers reached such levels was in July 2007, when weekly figures hit as high as 426 cases in one week.

The number of dengue cases has been rising steadily in the first six weeks of the year, from 134 cases in the first week to 295 in the fifth week, to last week’s high of 322.

Altogether, there have been 1,442 cases in the first six weeks of the year, compared to 419 during the same period last year. As of 3pm on Thursday, there were 148 cases for the seventh week of the year.

The four new dengue clusters identified by the authorities are Jalan Usaha, Lorong Ong Lye, Block 27, Marine Crescent and Block 55, Marine Terrace and Ubi Avenue 1.

This brings the total number of active dengue clusters to 32.

An area is identified as a dengue cluster when two or more dengue cases occur within 14 days and the homes of the dengue victims are within 150m of each other.

The most active cluster as of Feb 14 is an area consisting of Lorong K Telok Kurau and East Coast Road, which had 123 cases. Within this cluster, St Patrick’s Road had 44 cases.

In an advisory posted on, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the public should take preventive steps to remove stagnant water in homes.

Those diagnosed with dengue should sleep in air-conditioned rooms or apply insect repellent to break the dengue transmission chain.

The public can visit, check the myENV app, or sign up for X-Dengue SMS alerts at for updates on dengue case numbers and affected areas.

Those who come across mosquito breeding habitats should contact the NEA through its 24-hour hotline at 1800-2255 632, or contact their managing agents or Town Councils to have them removed.

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Malaysia: Injured dolphin rescued in Sepanggar Bay

The Star 16 Feb 13;

KOTA KINABALU: The Wildlife Department and Universiti Malaysia Sabah have teamed up to save an injured dolphin at Sepanggar Bay.

They rescued the dolphin after it was spotted to be in distress about 100m from the shore at about 1pm yesterday. It is belived the injuries were caused by fishing nets.

The university's director of the Borneo Marine Research Institute, Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa, said the dolphin was weak from its injuries and would be placed in the institute's hatchery while its wounds were tended to.

This was the second dolphin spotted in two days.

The first was seen near the Sutera Harbour Resort near here on Thursday.

Prof Saleem said dolphin sightings in Sabah had increased over the years, and this proved the success of marine conservation efforts.

A pod of dolphins was spotted on Jan 6 and Jan 8 near Gaya Island, he said.

Rescued Sepanggar Bay dolphin dies
The Star 28 Feb 13;

KOTA KINABALU: An injured female dolphin found in Sepanggar Bay here two weeks ago has died.

The dolphin died on Feb 25 while at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah Borneo Marine Institute hatchery, which was treating it.

Institute Director Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa said the 3m-long mammal, a Delphinidae dolphin, died due to its injuries.

“The dolphin arrived with infected wounds and despite the best effort of staffers and students and the Wildlife Department, it could not be saved,” he said, adding that it was sad to see another mammal die on Malaysian shores.

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Malaysia needs an environs court, says Malaysian Nature Society

The Star 16 Feb 13;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is in dire need of a specialised environment court to handle cases involving wildlife and environmental crimes, said Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed.

He said such a court would result in the appointment of specialist judges well-versed in various acts pertaining to wildlife and nature.

“MNS and other NGOs would be more than happy to conduct dialogues and workshops for judges.

“For example, do they know that the Malayan tiger is critically endangered?,” he said.

Dr Maketab said the most recent example was the disappointing lack of fines meted out to wildlife trader Mohd Nor Shahrizam Nasir despite the fact that he was caught with eight tiger skins, 22 whole tiger bones and nine African elephant tusks.

The Alor Setar Sessions Court sentenced him to a total of 60 months jail 24 months each for possession of tiger skins and bones, and 12 months for the tusks.

However, the sentences will run concurrently, meaning he will spend only two years in jail.

“This means he will spend a little over a month for each of the 22 tigers despite being an accessory to the murder. Is that the value of a tiger, conservation wise?” he asked.

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One in five reptile species faces extinction – study

Half of all freshwater turtles close to extinction while three species, including jungle runner lizard, are possibly extinct
John Vidal The Guardian 15 Feb 13;

Nearly one in five of the world's estimated 10,000 species of lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodiles and other reptiles are threatened with extinction, according to a study conducted by 200 experts.

But the risk of extinction was found to be unevenly spread throughout the extremely diverse group of animals. According to the paper, an alarming 50% of all freshwater turtles are close to extinction, possibly because they are traded on international markets.

The study, published by the Zoological Society of London in conjunction with the IUCN species survival commission, is the first of its kind summarising the global conservation status of reptiles, and used 1,500 randomly selected reptiles worldwide.

Out of the estimated 19% of reptiles threatened with extinction, in order of magnitude of danger, 12% are classified as critically endangered, 41% endangered and 47% vulnerable.

Three species were found to be possibly extinct. One, a jungle runner lizard, Ameiva vittata, has only ever been recorded in one part of Bolivia. In Haiti, six of the nine species of anolis lizard included in this study have an elevated risk of extinction, due to extensive deforestation affecting the country.

The spread of farming and deforestation in tropical regions represents two of the greatest threats to reptiles, says the paper.

"The proportion of threatened reptile species is highest in freshwater environments, tropical regions and on oceanic islands, while data deficiency was highest in tropical areas, such as central Africa and south-east Asia," the paper says. "Levels of threat remain particularly high in tropical regions, mainly as a result of habitat conversion for agriculture and logging."

Monika Böhm, lead author of the paper, said: "Reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world. But many species are very highly specialised in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes."

Reptiles have a long and complex history, having first appeared on the planet about 300m years ago. They play a number of crucial roles in the proper functioning of the world's ecosystems, in their roles as predators as well as prey.

Philip Bowles, co-ordinator of IUCN's snake and lizard red list authority, said the findings sounded alarm bells on the state of reptiles.

"Tackling the identified threats, which include habitat loss and harvesting, are key conservation priorities in order to reverse the declines in these reptiles,"

World's reptiles at risk of extinction
Ella Davies 15 Feb 13;

Almost a fifth of the world's reptile species are at risk of extinction, according to scientists.

Research led by the Zoological Society of London found that the future of 19% of the world's reptiles are threatened.

Conservation experts also confirmed that 47% are vulnerable and highlighted the possible extinction of three species.

The figures are based on a random sample of 1,500 of the world's reptile species.

"It's essentially an election poll set up - using this sample to give an example of how reptiles are doing as a whole," explained Dr Monika Bohm, lead author of the study published in the journal Biological Conservation.

The study was made in conjunction with 200 experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission.

Reptiles are a group of vertebrates that includes turtles, tortoises, snakes, lizards, crocodiles and amphisbaenians - commonly known as worm lizards. Tuataras, lizard-like animals found only in New Zealand are also included.

There are an estimated 9,500 different reptile species in the world.

"Reptiles can really be important in natural food webs: they're really important as predators as well as prey," said Dr Bohm.

"The risk is - if you lose a really important food source you can change food webs quite dramatically."

Although some species, including the tuatara, have survived relatively unchanged for millions of years, Dr Bohm pointed out that reptiles can often be "indicators" of environmental problems.

"Reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats and tough environmental conditions, so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world," she said.

"However, many species are very highly specialised in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes."
Under pressure

The study highlighted that levels of threat to the diverse group of animals are particularly high in tropical regions due to pressures from agriculture and logging.

One species previously listed as Critically Endangered is the jungle runner lizard Ameiva vittata, which had only ever been recorded in one part of Bolivia.

But, prompted by the destruction of its habitat, two recent searches for the animal were unsuccessful, causing conservationists to question its future existence.

In Haiti, six of the nine species of Anolis lizard studied also had an elevated level of localised extinction due to extensive deforestation.

Freshwater turtles were also flagged as a considerable concern. The study estimated 50% were at risk of extinction, and 30% of freshwater reptiles are in danger of disappearing as a whole.

Dr Bohm hopes the study's results will focus attention on their plight.

"With turtles, what's quite often the case is they are affected by harvesting and they're quite often used for food or the pet trade," she told BBC Nature.

The survey is one of many that aims to provide an indicator of biodiversity both now and over time, in an effort to make such research more collaborative.

"This gives us an indication of how reptiles are faring and we can compare this to other species groups."

"We can then find out if there's a similar picture across all of them or if there are some that are particularly threatened," Dr Bohm commented.

"It's more of a drive to really pool information rather than everybody doing their own thing... really working together, getting it out there and giving it more emphasis."

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Antibiotics search to focus on sea bed

BBC News 15 Feb 13;

Researchers are embarking on an £8m project to discover new antibiotics at the bottom of the ocean.

A team, led by scientists at Aberdeen University, is hunting for undiscovered chemicals among life that has evolved in deep sea trenches.

Prof Marcel Jaspars said the team hoped to find "the next generation" of infection-fighting drugs.

England's chief medical officer has warned of an "antibiotic apocalypse" with too few new drugs in the pipeline.

Few samples have ever been collected from ocean trenches - deep, narrow valleys in the sea floor which can plunge down to almost 6.8 miles (11km).

Yet researchers believe there is great potential for discovering antibiotics in these extreme conditions.

Life in these incredibly hostile environments is effectively cut off and has evolved differently in each trench.

The international team will use fishing vessels to drop sampling equipment on a reel of cables to the trench bed to collect sediment.

Scientists will then attempt to grow unique bacteria and fungi from the sediment that can be extracted and refined to discover new antibiotics.

Starting in the autumn with the Atacama Trench in the eastern Pacific Ocean - about 100 miles (161km) off the coast of Chile and Peru - the EU-funded research will also search deep trenches off New Zealand as well waters off Antarctica.

Arctic waters off Norway will also be explored.

'Pre-antibiotic era'

The inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics - and an over-reliance on the drugs - has led to a rapid increase in resistant bugs and medical experts fear effective antibiotics might soon run out completely.

In January, Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, compared the threat to global warming and said going for a routine operation could become deadly due to the risk of untreatable infection.

Project leader Marcel Jaspars, professor of chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, said: "If nothing's done to combat this problem, we're going to be back to a 'pre-antibiotic era' in around 10 or 20 years, where bugs and infections that are currently quite simple to treat could be fatal."

He said there had not been a "completely new" antibiotic registered since 2003 - "partially because of a lack of interest by drugs companies as antibiotics are not particularly profitable".

"The average person uses an antibiotic for only a few weeks and the drug itself only has around a five to 10-year lifespan, so the firms don't see much return on their investment."

He said he expected scientists to be working on samples in the laboratory within 18 months and added that, if new treatments were discovered, they could be available within a decade.

Project co-ordinator Dr Camila Esguerra, from the University of Leuven in Belgium, said: "We'll be testing many unique chemical compounds from these marine samples that have literally never seen the light of day.

"We're quite hopeful that we'll find a number of exciting new drug leads."

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