Best of our wild blogs: 8 Mar 13

The Last Hurrah! for the Raffles Museum
from Otterman speaks

Olive-winged Bulbul and Dillenia suffruticosa
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Tiger, tiger burning bright... finally

The last record of the tiger orchid seen blooming in the wild here was in 1900
David Ee Straits Times 8 Mar 13;

KEEP your eyes peeled the next time you drive down Holland Road, or take a stroll at East Coast Park - you might just spy a graceful giant last seen in Singapore over a century ago.

The tiger orchid - the world's largest tree-growing orchid - has bloomed in the wild for the first time since the Botanic Gardens re-introduced the native plant to the island in 1999.

One would have had to go back to 1900 for the last time the maroon-speckled yellow flowers, which went extinct in the wild due to habitat loss, were recorded being seen. But early last month, about 20 of the plants, which can grow to the size of a car, started flowering.

It has been a long wait for the Garden's senior orchid breeding researcher Yam Tim Wing, who told The Straits Times that these slow-growing orchids take at least five years to bloom.

Even then, a host of factors need to align: the right maturity, adequate sunlight, a rich supply of nutrients, and an environmental trigger such as heavy rain.

While 20 plants have flowered this time, about 800 others in places such as Orchard Boulevard, Pulau Ubin and Upper Peirce Reservoir have not.

The fragrant flowers may stay in bloom for another month, but are at their peak now.

"The next two weeks are the perfect time for people to see them," said Dr Yam.

Of the 226 native species of wild orchids that used to grow here, only 55 remain. The only specimens of species that are extinct in the wild are at the Botanic Gardens.

Reintroducing orchids into the city and nature reserves is part of the country's City in a Garden vision and 18 species of orchids, including the tiger orchid, have been grown across the island to date.

For now, Dr Yam has only a small window to study the flowers before they wilt. Three times a week, he visits the blooms to search for fruit.

The fruit will mature and split after about five months, casting out millions of seeds which can be carried for kilometres by the wind. Although the tiger orchid is found on trees, it may occasionally grow on rocks. He said: "If the seeds are dispersed successfully, we may see natural populations take root again. This is our hope."

By the way, these tiger orchids are for your eyes only. It is illegal to take plant samples or cuttings from public green spaces.


Holland Road

On trees along Holland Road. The most spectacular - 2.4m wide and with 12 orchid sprays - are on the road divider opposite the Botanic Gardens

Napier Road

Along Napier Road, on the road divider opposite the US embassy

East Coast Park

Near area D; and the East Coast Parkway, outside the former Budget Terminal, before one goes on the PIE

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Deadly Fungus Detected in Southeast Asia's Amphibian Trade

ScienceDaily 6 Mar 13;

A team of scientists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the National University of Singapore (NUS), revealed in a new study, for the first time, the presence of the pathogenic chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) in amphibians sampled in Singapore. And the American bullfrog may be a central player in the spread of the disease.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal EcoHealth, and is the first to consider the role that Southeast Asia's commercial trade plays in the spread of amphibian pathogens.
Demand for amphibians through local and international trade is high and fueled by use of frogs as pets, food, bait, and as a source of traditional 'medicine.' More than 40 percent of amphibian species are in decline globally due, not only to chytrid fungus, but also overharvesting, competition from invasive species, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.

In the study, scientists collected samples from 2,389 individual animals in Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore at 51 different sites including farms, locally supplied markets, pet stores, and from the wild.

The molecular testing of samples was led by Dr. Tracie Seimon at WCS's Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at the Bronx Zoo. Results showed that frogs from Lao PDR and Vietnam tested negative for chytrid. In Cambodia, one frog intended for food tested positive. In addition, 74 animals in Cambodia and Vietnam were screened for ranavirus and tested negative, suggesting that these specific pathogens are not yet a conservation threat in species tested from these countries.

In Singapore, however, 13 samples tested positive for chytrid and represent the first report of chytrid in the territory. Eleven of those samples were collected from four pet stores and the remaining two were taken from amphibians in the wild.

The scientists noted that the chytrid detections were most prevalent in the American bullfrog (Lithobates aka Rana catesbeiana), a common species in the trade and one that is tolerant of chytrid infections.

"Finding chytrid in four of the seven Singaporean pet stores we sampled is cause for concern," said lead author and WCS Scientist Martin Gilbert. "Since the American bullfrog is able to tolerate this pathogen, it may act as a carrier for spreading chytrid to the region when it is imported through commercial trade."

In another alarming discovery, the scientists found that all 497 frogs sampled from 23 frog farms in Vietnam had skin lesions ranging from swelling and inflammation to ulcers and deformed or missing digits in the most severe cases. Disease examination revealed four of the animals had bacteria associated with the lesions that in two cases appeared to have spread to other organs.

While the bacteria and its role as primary or secondary pathogen could not be positively identified, the scientists noted that frog farms could serve as a source of infection for the wider environment.

The study noted that lesions among frogs raised at commercial facilities in Vietnam are of particular concern, in light of the low level of bio-security that exists. All of the farms in the study disposed of untreated wastewater directly into natural watercourses, which becomes an avenue to spread infection to other places and other species.

According to the authors, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) requires its 174 member countries, which include the four countries in this study, to conduct surveillance for chytrid fungus, report confirmed cases, and implement measures to control their spread.

Co-author of the study, Assistant Professor David Bickford from the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science, said, "In light of the fact that this emerging infectious disease is now known to be spread by commercial trade, it is in everyone's best interest to eliminate it from the trade in live animals before both the native amphibian populations of Southeast Asia are affected and before it completely decimates the commercial trade and people are unable to make a living. This is not just about the frogs."

The paper concludes, "There is an urgent need to conduct wider surveys of wild amphibians in Southeast Asia to determine the extent and severity of chytrid fungus and other infectious diseases among a range of species, and whether and how these change over time. Studies should focus on differentiating Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis strains that may be endemic to the region from exotic strains that may be introduced through routes including international trade."

Authors of the study include Martin Gilbert of WCS; David Bickford of NUS; Leanne Clark, Arlyne Johnson, Priscilla H. Joyner, Lucy Ogg Keatts, Kongsy Khammavong, Long Nguyễn Văn, Alisa Newton of WCS; Tiffany P. W. Seow of NUS; Scott Roberton, Soubanh Silithammavong of WCS; Sinpakhone Singhalath of the National University of Laos; Angela Yang, and Tracie A. Seimon of WCS.

Captive frogs may be spreading diseases to wild cousins across Southeast Asia 7 Mar 13;

Scientists have documented a series of links between exotic frogs for trade and diseases in wild frogs in Southeast Asia, including the first documented case of the chytrid fungus—a virulent and lethal disease—in Singapore. According to researchers writing in a new study in EcoHealth, frogs imported into Southeast Asia as pets, food, or traditional medicine are very likely spreading diseases to wild populations.

Collecting samples of some 2,300 wild and captive frogs across four countries (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore), researchers found that disease was widespread. Most worryingly, the researchers found chytrid fungus on two wild frogs and eleven captive frogs in Sinapore. In fact, four out of seven pet stores visited on the island nations sold frogs already infected with chytrid. They believe the American bullfrog is the primarily culprit.

"Since the American bullfrog is able to tolerate this pathogen, it may act as a carrier for spreading chytrid to the region when it is imported through commercial trade," explains lead author Martin Gilbert with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Chytrid fungus has spread rapidly around the world, decimating even remote and protected frog populations. It is believed to be responsible, at least in part, for a number of extinctions worldwide.

Fortunately the team didn't detect chytrid fungus in Laos or Vietnam, but did find one imported frog—to be sold as food—that was carrying the disease. Another worrisome disease, ranavirus, was not discovered during testing.

However, the researchers also report that amphibians in Vietnamese frog farms were rife with skin lesions. Every frog tested—497 individuals—at 23 different facilities sported some type of skin disease from inflammation to missing digits.

"In light of the fact that this emerging infectious disease is now known to be spread by commercial trade, it is in everyone’s best interest to eliminate it from the trade in live animals before both the native amphibian populations of Southeast Asia are affected and before it completely decimates the commercial trade and people are unable to make a living," said co-author David Bickford with the NUS Faculty of Science, adding, "This is not just about the frogs."

Amphibians are among the world's most endangered family groups: habitat loss, over-exploitation, invasive species, pollution, and disease has put nearly 41 percent of the world's amphibians are considered threatened with extinction.

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Indonesia: Conversion of forest to mining reduces anoa population

Antara 7 Mar 13;

Kendari, SE Sulawesi (ANTARA News) - The conversion of forest areas has threatened the population of anoa (Bubalus depressicornis) and other endangered animals, according to an official of the Southeast Sulawesi Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

"We suspect that the population of anoa, which is an endemic fauna and the mascot of Southeast Sulawesi has decreased due to the forest conversion to mining," Sahulata R Rohana, the head of the Southeast Sulawesi BKSDA, said here on Thursday.

Between 180 and 200 anoas are estimated to have existed in North Buton sanctuary and Tanjung Peropa sanctuary in South Konawe, Southeast Sulawesi.

Based on the data in 2009-2010, there were around 50-60 anoas in Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park in South Konawe.

In addition to the anoa population in the 276,000-ha conservation areas, thousands of anoas are believed to have existed in the province`s forests.

However, the anoa population has decreased due to the conversion of protected forest areas to production forest mainly for mining activities, she said.

Due to the encroachment of their habitat, a number of anoas have entered plantations and villages to find food.

Anoa consists of two species (types), namely mountains of anoa (Bubalus quarlesi) and lowland anoa (Bubalus depressicornis).

Both Anoa Mountains and Lowland Anoa have been categorized by the IUCN Redlist in animal conservation status "endangered" or three levels below the status "extinct".

The anoa is a species of pigmy buffalo having short pointed horns, and they are the smallest of the wild cattle. They are small, stocky animals with short legs.

Anoas are extremely rare, and little is known about their behaviour. Lowland Anoas are found in lowland forest and swampy areas. Mountain Anoa inhabit upland montane forest but have also been observed at sea-level. Unlike most cattle species that live in herds, Anoas tend to be solitary or live in pairs.


Editor: Ella Syafputri

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