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

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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.


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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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