Best of our wild blogs: 22 Feb 13

Feeding strategies: 2. Birds feeding on palm fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Job: Part-time field assistant for vegetation plot research in secondary forests of Singapore (Mar-Jun 2013) from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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A plan to house 2m more people

Veteran architect proposes building up southern coast
Leonard Lim Straits Times 22 Feb 13;

Even as the debate continues over the 6.9 million figure in the population White Paper, veteran architect Tay Kheng Soon said at an industry lecture last night that Singapore can accommodate a population increase of up to two million.

All two million would be housed on a 2,187ha swathe of land along the southern coastline, stretching from Pandan Reservoir in the west to the East Coast Park beach.

Land where the Keppel and Marina Bay golf courses are currently sited would make way for housing, as would the port area once container port functions are consolidated in Tuas in the long term.

Space around the Gardens by the Bay would cater to the super-rich, with homes built on the sea to entice those keen on waterfront living. Some parts of the south would also be for schools, offices and factories.

And while this might mean Singapore loses its biggest beach, he said all other areas, including green and heritage spaces, need not be "disturbed".

Mr Tay's "southern intensification" proposal comes two weeks after an intense parliamentary debate over the population White Paper that projects Singapore's population rising by 1.6 million by 2030.

"What I hear is a lot of grumbling (about the White Paper), so let us as a profession contribute," said the former president of the Singapore Institute of Architects who is known for his outspoken and at times radical views.

The 73-year-old said his ideas came about before the policy document was unveiled, and were several years in the making. "I've been wanting to know the density limit for Singapore."

Unlike the Government Land Use Plan which also proposes reclaiming more land and consolidating military activities onto Tekong Island, his proposal focuses on the single large strip of land, building more densely on it.

Based on an assumption of 50 sq m of floor area per person that is comparable to a region in Virginia on the East Coast of the United States, a gross plot ratio of 4.5 can accommodate 1.968 million, he said. If this ratio is lowered to 4, then about 1.75 million people can be housed in the south.

Gross plot ratio is a measure of the density of building units in a given space. He said that the highest ratio here currently is 3.24, in Punggol.

Meanwhile, he proposed restructuring estates in other parts of Singapore, by having a central corridor in each. Schools, businesses and other amenities would be located along it, to build social cohesion and bonding.

The lecture drew a crowd of about 100 guests, including vice-president of the Economic Society of Singapore Yeoh Lam Keong.

Despite the seemingly controversial nature of the southern intensification plan, no one raised questions about it during a question-and-answer session after the lecture, at the Singapore Institute of Architects' premises in Tanjong Pagar.

Mr Yeoh, who has been following the population White Paper debate, told The Straits Times later: "Physically you might be able to squeeze in another two million... but it doesn't fully measure or avoid the negative impact on social well-being from increase in income and wealth inequality and overcrowding in common facilities."

Responding, Mr Tay said: "That's why I proposed not intensifying land use in other parts of Singapore, so that we can build social cohesion there. It will be like New York in the south of the country, and Bali in the north."

Keep kampung spirit, even in a big city
Pioneering Singapore architect Tay Kheng Soon says the real concern for any society isn't overcrowding, but how cohesive and trusting the community will be.
Cheong Suk-wai Straits Times 23 Feb 13;

WHILE many Singaporeans are complaining of cramped and intense city living these days, pioneering architect Tay Kheng Soon is confident that Singapore still has room for two million more people - and keep the kampung community spirit.

The solution is to house them compactly within a 2,187ha stretch of land in southern Singapore, from Pandan Reservoir in the west to East Coast Park, he said.

This was his startling proposal at a talk on Thursday night to about 100 people here, as part of an ongoing lecture series by master architects organised by the Singapore Institute of Architects.

Singaporeans fed up with crowded trains and public spaces flinched at the projection in the recent population White Paper that the 5.3 million-strong population here may burgeon to 6.9 million in 2030. The Government's Land Use Plan then detailed how it would reclaim more land and consolidate military training grounds to free up more space for all.

But disquiet continued, even after a five-day debate on the issue in Parliament.

Mr Tay however thinks "if it has to", the city-state can accommodate two million more residents comfortably.

He elaborates on his proposal: The southern coastline will house homes, offices, schools and factories for the extra two million residents. Places like the Keppel and Marina Bay golf courses there would have to go, along with the port, whose operations will be consolidated in Tuas in future.

The area around Gardens By The Bay could feature waterfront homes, he suggested.

Interestingly, no one at the talk challenged his proposal. The audience posed only three questions: whether or not women should do national service; how to deepen the dialogue between architects and city planners here; and if a research institute for architects should be set up.

Mr Tay, 73, is well-known for thinking out of the box or, as his detractors might say, throwing a spanner in the works.

But the respected architect said that his proposal was not in response to the White Paper; he had, in recent years, been trying to determine the density limit in Singapore.

The limit proved a hard nut to crack, he added, because very few places, including Singapore, publish or even track total floor area, which is necessary to calculate density.

"At the moment," he noted, "because we do not know how much floor space there is, we just add more floor area here and not put so much there. Such over- developing is wrong."

Fortunately, one place that did track total floor area was Fairfax County, just outside Washington, DC in the American state of Virginia, which has a population of one million and is 11/2 times the size of Singapore.

Mr Tay thought Fairfax's figures instructive for Singapore because it also grew rich via the aviation industry and was a hub for many multinationals, including Innova, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

He settled on 50 sq m as the "magic figure" of comfortably habitable total floor area per person, which is about half the size of the average HDB flat.

The method for planning space for each person in society takes into account every building in which he or she would likely be in, so that would include one's entire workspace, from office desk to boss' room to office corridor, and one's entire living space from bedroom to bathroom. But it would exclude recreational space.

With that 50 sq m criterion, and with a gross plot ratio (GPR) of 4.5, Mr Tay calculated that the southern strip he proposed for denser build-up would house 1.97 million people comfortably. This, he said, would result in an estate that would look like a cross between the 50-storey blocks of Pinnacle@Duxton and the quite dense Punggol estate, which has the highest GPR in Singapore today, that is, 3.24.

GPR is a measure of density of building units in a given space.

If that ratio dropped to four, then a cosier number would be 1.75 million. If it was lowered further to three, the optimal population density for that space would be 1.31 million.

Mr Tay said he suggested what he called "southern intensification" so as to leave the rest of Singapore today untouched in future.

That meant no cementing over nature reserves, public parks or other spaces to breathe.

Speaking to The Straits Times right after the talk, he said: "It's about not aggravating the rest of the island, and helping us plan in detail how to make everything here super-accessible."

But wouldn't building over East Coast Parkway, Singapore's biggest beach, take yet another beloved place away from Singaporeans? That, he said, could be replaced with man-made lagoons, filtered by rock bunds, along the southern coastline that could function as public swimming pools.

Mr Tay, who teaches architecture at the National University of Singapore (NUS) twice a week, said his deeper concern was how to reconfigure Singapore's neighbourhoods so that the people who live there could build their resilience, learn to look out for one another and, ultimately, be much happier.

His ideal HDB estate would have a spine running right through the centre of the neighbourhood, on which will be shops, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), civic space and individual classrooms - as opposed to fully built-up schools - which children could go in and out of for lessons, like undergraduates on campus.

While some may find this suggestion not very different from the rows of shops and amenities that already exist in their estates, Mr Tay said these would be much more stretched out in his plan.

"The spine would be a 1.5km necklace on which will be strung shops, schools, civic spaces and arts and culture spaces to encourage residents to walk in the streets and make the estate abuzz.

"This would enable successful sharing," Mr Tay said, "which would break down walls, including prejudice."

As for encouraging SMEs in neighbourhoods, he said the entrepreneurial spirit was crucial to build resilience. He cited Spain's Mondragon cooperative whose owner-workers ran their own banks, grew their own food and provided for the community in general.

"We should not be producing employees, we should be producing employers," he stressed, adding that housewives could earn money by taking turns to deliver meals to the elderly within the estate, give them massages or run errands for them.

Might it not be too late to put such kampung spirit back into HDB neighbourhoods? Surely it is dissonant to be talking about kampung-like living in the 21st century, when the IT-weaned youth live in their minds?

"That is why schools should be integrated within the community," he pointed out. "Children should live in the real world, not the abstract."

He added that the way forward, perhaps, was to build a test neighbourhood, say, at MacPherson, one of the oldest estates here - and one with many old people - where, since 2011, he and his team of 20 NUS students have been researching how to turn a big, old housing estate here into a "modern kampung" that can accommodate toddlers as well as their grandparents-cum-babysitters.

He recalled how old folk in MacPherson were initially chary of his idea to bond the community, that is, by getting them to plant fast-growing greens like chye sim for sale and their own consumption, in the passageways between their HDB blocks.

He even designed a waist-high table for the elderly so that they would not have to bend over for long minutes while tending their mini vegetable plots set in polystyrene boxes.

But when Mr Tay showed the elderly there that they could actually make $500 a month from cultivating vegetables for only two hours a day, they were all for it.

While Mr Tay had all these ideas, he was also a realist. "For all this to work, we will need solidarity and trust, but we are still far from that.

"But we should start somewhere, otherwise, we will only be fighting gridlock."

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Singapore called on to ‘do more to intercept illegal ivory shipments’

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 22 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE — Although Singapore has become less of a market for ivory, two conservation groups say the Republic could do more yet in preventing the contraband from landing in other countries.

Calling for greater enforcement to intercept illegal ivory shipments transiting through Singapore — despite the authorities here seizing a major haul last month — wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic and the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore pointed to illegal ivory tusks that have reportedly passed through Singapore undetected.

Last September, the Vietnamese authorities seized 19kg of ivory from a woman who had taken a Vietnam Airlines flight from Singapore. And last July, 405 tusks that had passed through Singapore were seized in Johor, the groups said.

Last month, however, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and Singapore Customs intercepted a shipment of about 1.8 tonnes of raw ivory tusks declared as “waste paper” from Africa — the second-largest seizure since 2002.

Ivory is generally smuggled from Africa to Asia. And Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, according to Traffic South-east Asia’s Senior Programme Officer Kanitha Krishnasamy, are the region’s major transit points.

The amount of illegal ivory seized globally reached a record-high of 38.8 tonnes in 2011, according to the Elephant Trade Information System, which tracks seizures by countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This amounted to at least 2,500 elephants killed, said Ms Kanitha. There were 17 large-scale seizures (where over 800kg is seized) in 2011, more than double the previous high of eight in 2009.

She added that closer collaboration with ivory-exporting countries could also help enforcement, as the authorities there are more likely to have access to information on shipping routes or individuals. “A lot of times we see the buck stop at seizures. There should be more effort put into investigating who’s behind the trade, how things are being moved around, what else is involved,” she said.

International trade in ivory has been banned under the CITES since 1989. In Singapore, domestic trade in specimens acquired before 1990 — when elephants became listed as protected species — is allowed.

CITES permits must be obtained from the AVA by anyone who wants to import or re-export ivory products as personal effects, and they must have documentary proof that their specimens were legally acquired.

An AVA spokesperson added that ivory traders here are required to register their pre-convention ivory with the authority. The AVA tracks their stock balances during inspections.

Meanwhile, a survey of 100 shops here by Traffic and WWF Singapore found 19 selling ivory that vendors said were pre-convention stocks, down from 55 out of 100 surveyed in 2002. Vendors reported that ivory products were no longer popular here.

Keep close watch on illegal wildlife trade
Straits Times Forum 21 Feb 13;

THE report ("$2.5m shipment of illegal ivory from Africa seized"; Jan 31) revealed that about 1.8 tonnes of raw ivory tusks were seized in Singapore last month.

According to a 2012 report by the Traffic wildlife monitoring network, groups involved in the illegal wildlife trade have been tapping Singapore's status as a trading hub.

Singapore has also been identified as a key laundering point for illegally caught birds from the Solomon Islands ("S'pore named 'bird-laundering point'"; July 19, 2012).

More often than not, those who smuggle illegal wildlife products also smuggle other illegal items such as drugs. It is important that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and Singapore Customs keep a close watch on the illegal wildlife trade.

The money coming from consumers who pay high prices for ivory products fuels the black market run by rebels and smugglers.

In recent years, the illegal ivory trade has greatly empowered poachers with riches that buy them heavy weapons, and an increasing number of park rangers have been killed by poachers.

There have been incidents in Africa where armed groups of up to 30 rebels drove their trucks into national parks, shooting both animals and humans on sight. There have also been reports of poachers shooting elephants and rhinos from their helicopters. A rebel group known to kidnap and use children as soldiers and sex slaves is now also killing elephants for ivory.

The type of poaching we see today is no longer the poaching we knew a decade ago.

When we buy illegal animal products, we fund black market operations and help rebels buy weapons. We approve brutal violence to not just animals but also humans. While the riches of the black market soar, those working to conserve the wildlife in Africa struggle to work with limited money and resources.

Elephants that are poached for ivory die a horrific death. They are shot multiple times by automatic weapons, and as the root of their tusks is located near the eyes, approximately half of their faces together with their mouths and trunks are hacked off completely by axes or chainsaws. This allows poachers to extract full-length tusks from their kill.

In Singapore, all ivory products attained after the international trade ban in 1989 are illegal. We urge travellers never to buy ivory and other illegal wildlife parts when travelling, and to contact the authorities if ivory products are spotted on sale in Singapore.

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Project: WILD

Fewer shops sell ivory, demand here 'bucks global trend'
Wildlife groups call for Republic to do more to halt illegal trade
Grace Chua Straits Times 23 Feb 13;

THE number of shops selling ivory here has more than halved in the last decade, a survey by two wildlife conservation groups has found.

In 2002, 55 of 100 ornament, antique, jewellery and souvenir shops polled at random sold ivory. Last year, only 19 of 100 did.

Worldwide demand for ivory is on the rise but these findings suggest that Singapore is bucking the trend, said Ms Kanitha Krishnasamy, senior programme officer at Traffic Southeast Asia, which carried out the survey with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore.

The amount of ivory seized in 2011 worldwide hit a high of 38.8 tonnes, according to an Elephant Trade Information System report - which translates to about 2,500 animals killed.

Last year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) reported that elephant poaching levels were at their worst in a decade.

Singapore laws state that it is legal to sell ivory obtained only before 1990 when elephants became listed as an endangered species under an international agreement.

Such trade must be backed by documentary proof that the ivory was acquired legally.

Those who want to import or re-export ivory products must also have such proof and a permit from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Traders here must register their pre-convention ivory stocks with the authority, which tracks their stock balances during inspections but does not disclose the total figure.

A Chinatown Complex stall, Wo Cheung Classic, - with a glass case of ivory bracelets and beads - displays its certificate showing that the material was imported before 1990.

But its proprietor, a woman who gave her name only as Mrs Ching, believes ivory is becoming unfashionable. She said: "No one buys ivory any more. Everyone knows elephants are endangered."

But Ms Krishnasamy said there is a possibility the trade may be shifting online or underground.

Traffic Southeast Asia and WWF Singapore have called for the Republic and other countries to disclose how much ivory stock they have, "simply to help figure out the dynamics of the trade", she said.

They also called for Singapore to do more to halt the illegal ivory trade by working with African countries which are exporting it.

As an international trading hub, Singapore is said to be a transit point for such contraband shipments, which are banned under Cites, an international convention on endangered species trade.

Last month, the AVA and Singapore Customs seized a 1.8 tonne, $2.5 million shipment of tusks from Africa disguised as waste paper. These were sent back to Africa for investigations.

Other recent illegal ivory shipments have been recorded as passing through the Republic. Last September, the Vietnamese authorities seized 19kg of ivory from a woman on a flight from Singapore and in July a shipment of 405 raw tusks that had earlier passed through Singapore was seized in Johor.

Most illegal ivory flows from Africa to Asia, said Ms Krishnasamy. "Africa has opened its doors to development from Asia, so there are larger flows of everything both ways." Contraband shipments may get missed in this higher volume of material.

Destination countries include China and Vietnam, while Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are transit points, she said.

Besides the disclosure of ivory stocks, methods like DNA mapping can tell where in Africa a piece of ivory came from.

Other tests can show how old the elephant was at death and even how recently it was killed, University of Washington conservation biologist Samuel Wasser told The Straits Times.

Such methods have been used on seizures, including those made in Singapore, to trace them back to specific countries, he said.

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Malaysia: New law to bite back at animal abusers

Joseph Sipalan The Star 22 Feb 13;

PUTRAJAYA: A new law that is ready for tabling in Parliament is about to get nasty with animal abusers.

The Animal Welfare Bill proposes that first time offenders be fined between RM20,000 and RM100,000 or sit behind bars for up to three years.

Commit the crime again, and they will not only be fined up to double the amount imposed for their previous offence, but also face at least three months in jail.

The final draft of the Bill which included several amendments suggested by participants in a series of public engagements was also aimed at more extensive and intensive enforcement of the law, said Veterinary Department director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Jamaluddin.

“Animals cannot talk, they cannot take to the streets and hold a demonstration. We need to have something punitive to act as a deterrent (against animal abuse).

“The severity of the penalties was proposed by the public, not just by us,” he said.

Now, the penalty for animal abuse is a fine of up to RM50,000, not more than a year’s jail, or both, following last year’s amendments to the Animal Act 1953.

Prior to the amendments, the penalty was a paltry RM200 fine, six months’ jail or both.

How the new regulations are to be enforced is a major aspect of the final draft, with the proposed creation of Malaysia’s own Animal Cops – a team of officers who will keep a close watch on the treatment of animals.

Unlike the department’s existing enforcement officers – who are only mobilised for specific operations – the animal welfare officers would be on the ground at all times to make sure nobody took advantage of hapless animals, Dr Abdul Aziz said.

“Just like welfare officers, they will inspect and monitor their areas to make sure the law is upheld. There will be no need to wait for cases to be reported before we send people over.

“If, for example, they come across a pet that has not been fed for days, they will have the power to investigate the case and take the owner to court ... so you had better make sure your pet is taken care of before flying off for your holiday,” he added.

Dr Abdul Aziz hoped the Bill could be debated and passed by Parliament this year for it to be gazetted and enforced in 2014.

Groups: Spell out powers of animal welfare officers
Yuen Meikeng The Star 22 Feb 13;

PETALING JAYA: Animal rights groups have welcomed the stricter enforcement on animal abuse in the final draft of the Animal Welfare Bill but want more details about the role of animal welfare officers.

PAWS shelter manager Edward Lim said the Veterinary Services Department should explain the powers of these officers.

“Can they enter someone’s house compound without a warrant? Also, how does one draw the line on what is abuse and what is not?” he asked.

Lim said animal abuse should also be clearly defined because people might have different interpretations.

“I may chain up my dog for a long time and some may view it as abuse but others may not,” he said.

He lauded the proposed fine of between RM20,000 and RM100,000 for first-time animal abusers, describing it as “wonderful news”.

“For a start, the amount is sufficient to deter offenders. However, it should be revised periodically according to current needs,” he said.

Furry Friends Farm president Myza Nordin said the proposal to introduce animal welfare officers was a good step, likening them to policemen making their rounds.

“However, the procedures for taking action should be spelled out. Will they be able to issue compounds for offenders on the spot?” she asked.

She said increasing the fine for animal abuse from a mere RM200 to a minimum of RM20,000 would help prevent animal cruelty.

Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better rescue coordinator Irene Low said the proposal to introduce animal welfare officers was long overdue.

“It is a good idea to have our own version of ‘Animal Cops’. But those selected for the job should be people who are on the ground and have experience in working with animals.

“They should not be those who only know policies by way of theory,” she said.

Animal officers with a bite
New Straits Times 22 Feb 13;

PUTRAJAYA: Animal welfare officers appointed under the proposed Animal Welfare Bill will be given the power to arrest animal abusers.

The proposed law will put some teeth into efforts to curb cruelty against animals in the country, Veterinary Services Department director-general Datuk Dr Abd Aziz Jamaluddin said yesterday.

"The animal welfare officers can make an arrest and build a case, but the prosecution will be done by the Attorney-General's Chambers."

Aziz said the proposed law would not spare pet owners who forgot to feed or care for their dogs and cats, or other animals that they kept as pets. The animal welfare officers would also work with non-governmental organisations.

The draft law also suggested a fine of between RM20,000 and RM100,000 for animal abuse, and a jail term of not more than three years. Aziz said the quantum of punishment proposed had been suggested by the public, and not the department.

The director-general said pet owners would be made to register their animals and this would be carried out in stages.

He said under the Animal Welfare Bill, premises that conducted activities related to animals, including circuses, pounds, zoos, shops, clinics, animal boarding establishments, safari parks, recreational places, breeding premises and even schools and universities that use animals for research purposes, were required to register with the department.

Their details would be kept in the department's database.

To date, about 3,000 cats, dogs and horses had been registered by their owners via the department and private veterinary clinics.

On the horse meat scandal in Europe, Aziz said Malaysia was not affected.

"In this respect, the public should not have any doubts about the integrity of meat products in Malaysia. The meat products coming in are from abattoirs that have received the department's and Jakim's accreditation," he said.

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