Best of our wild blogs: 26 Apr 13

"Pulau Ubin - facts and discussion" - Tue 30 Apr 2013: 7.00pm - 9.30
from ecotax at Yahoo! Groups

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park Green Activities in May
from The Green Volunteers and Happy Api Api

Sat April 27 Tour
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Wet wet trip to Tekukor
from wild shores of singapore

Straw-headed Bulbul contact call
from Bird Ecology Study Group

The Otter Cycling Trail v2.0 – Of herons, storks, owls, otters and stories galore from Toddycats!

Random Gallery - Malayan Lascar
from Butterflies of Singapore

Female Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker collects tiny bits of bark
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

PUB explores groundwater in western and southern Singapore

AsiaOne 26 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE - National water agency PUB is looking into the potential of tapping underground water sources.

The agency said on Friday that it has called a tender for consultancy services to study the potential of tapping aquifers and other underground water sources in the western and southern parts of the island, in an area known as the Jurong Formation.

The three-year Groundwater resource assessment in Jurong Formation study will be awarded in July 2013.

Here is the press release from PUB:

SINGAPORE - National water agency PUB has called a tender for consultancy services to study the potential of tapping aquifersand other underground water sources in the western and southern part of the island, in an area known as the Jurong Formation.

Titled "Groundwater resource assessment in Jurong Formation", this three year study will be awarded in July 2013.

The study comprises three key areas:

a. Development of groundwater flow model of Jurong Formation
b. Field Investigation Programme
c. Validation Study

Over the last 50 years, through integrated water management, and investments in R&D, PUB has put in place a long - term water supply strategy called the Four National Taps.

The Four National Taps comprise local catchment water, imported water, ultra-clean, high-grade reclaimed water branded as NEWater, and desalinated water.

The Four National Taps has ensured a robust and sustainable water supply for Singapore. Singapore's water demand currently stands at approximately 400 million gallons a day (mgd), and is projected to almost double by 2060.

With competing demands for land for other uses such as housing, industries and other services, it will be increasingly challenging to build new reservoirs to meet our water needs. To enhance the long term sustainability of Singapore's water resources, PUB is always on the lookout for new water sources.

There are potential solutions in the form of naturally occurring aquifers and groundwater.

"Through this study, we are exploring the presence of deep aquifers within Singapore's geology and if it is possible for us to tap on this water source," said Mr Harry Seah, PUB's Chief Technology Officer.

"However, the extraction of groundwater will only be carried out if the risks of groundwater extraction can be adequately managed with no impact on existing buildings and infrastructure, which will be verified by the groundwater models to be developed through this work." he added.

Despite its small size, Singapore's geology is thought to be complex, spanning rocks hundreds of millions of years in age to more recent soils and sediments.

At the surface, the Bukit Timah Granite is seen in the central and northern regions, sedimentary rocks of the Jurong Formation are seen in the western and southern regions, and old alluvium is seen in the eastern region.

Based on knowledge of other rock formations worldwide, and from observations made during engineering work , it may be possible that the Jurong Formation could host a deep, confined aquifer which could be less prone to surface pollution or subsidence.

Singapore's geological setting indicates that there are other groundwater prospects, each with their specific advantages and challenges. This includes unconfined aquifers in the Old Alluvium, fractured rock in the Bukit Timah Granite, and confined aquifers in other rock formations of Singapore.

Besides Singapore's main is land, PUB has embarked on a study to verify the feasibility of extracting groundwater from reclaimed land in Jurong Island.

The R& D project entails assessing the potential yield and quality of groundwater, and the necessary groundwater management measures to prevent any land subsidence due to groundwater extraction. The project has been awarded and has commenced in April 2013.

PUB is in the midst of finalising the appoint ment of an international Expert Panel on Hydrogeology to give guidance and direction on its underground water exploration endeavours.

"This is Singapore's first foray in the search for deep aquifers . Besides exte nsive examination of our underground geology, we also want to learn from and tap on the expertise of overseas experts who have vast experience studying and carrying out groundwater exploration work in other countries," said Mr Seah.

The Expert Panel will convene at least once a year to discuss and provide advice on the two groundwater projects and any other related matters on hydrogeology.

Singapore’s fifth ‘national tap’ may draw on groundwater
Eugene Neubronner Today Online 27 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — Looking to add a fifth “national tap” to Singapore’s existing four, national water agency PUB announced yesterday that it was looking to study the possibility of drawing on “naturally occurring aquifers and groundwater” in the area of the Jurong Formation.

Aquifers are underground layers of water-bearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials, such as sand, from which groundwater can be extracted.

The PUB has called a three-year consultancy services tender to study the potential of tapping on aquifers and other underground water sources in the western and southern part of the island, which contain rock deposits called the Jurong Formation.

The study will look at the development of groundwater flow models, field investigation programmes and validation studies.

The tender will be awarded in July. PUB declined to review the budget for the study.

Singapore’s current four “taps” are the local catchment areas, imported water, desalinated water and reclaimed water, known as NEWater.

The PUB said that water demand here will nearly double by 2060 — from about 400 million gallons a day currently — of which about 70 per cent of demand will come from the non-domestic sector.

With “competing demands for land”, the PUB said, it would be “challenging” to build new reservoirs to meet Singapore’s water needs.

“Based on knowledge of other rock formations worldwide and from observations made during engineering work, it may be possible that the Jurong Formation could host a deep, confined aquifer which could be less prone to surface pollution or subsidence,” the PUB said.

The agency noted that advances in geophysical exploration methods over the last few decades make surveying today “more effective than in the past” and will help in the study.

PUB Chief Technology Officer Harry Seah said “extraction of groundwater will only be carried out if the risks of groundwater extraction can be adequately managed with no impact on existing buildings and infrastructure.”

This will be verified by the models that will be developed in the study, he added.

Academics TODAY spoke to said such aquifers would probably be at depths of 50 to 100 metres.

Earth Observatory of Singapore Director Kerry Sieh suggested three areas the study is likely to look at: Porosity, permeability and fracturing.

Porosity is the amount of space for water to flow in while permeability is how easily water can flow. Fracturing is when rocks are broken up with enough spaces in between for water to accumulate.

“The next question would then be, is there enough water to pump it out?” he said.

Assistant Professor Chew Soon Hoe from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore pointed out the challenges the study would have to address if they do indeed strike gold.

“How would you recharge the amount of water that goes back in?” he asked. “And how do you make the well pumping economical?”

Dr Sieh also echoed some of these concerns. He gave the example of India’s river Ganges, which has had so much water pulled out it is “measured in dropping meters per year”. Singapore, like elsewhere, will have to ensure that such sources are tapped “sustainably”.

The PUB has also embarked on a study to verify the feasibility of extracting groundwater from reclaimed land in Jurong Island. The project has been awarded and commenced earlier this month.

Additionally, the PUB is finalising the appointment of an international expert panel on hydrogeology to “give guidance and direction on its underground water exploration endeavours”.

More about PUB’s tender
Today Online 27 Apr 13;

What is an aquifer?

An underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock. There are two kinds: Confined and unconfined. Confined aquifers are typically deeper and separated from the surface by a low-permeability layer.

How will we get the water?

Most likely by using pumping stations to suck the water out like a straw.

Why is the PUB doing this now?

Water usage here is expected to almost double by 2060 from approximately 400 million gallons a day today. While the PUB has been aware of some amount of surface groundwater, it is now looking at confined aquifers through a comprehensive study.

Which other countries are doing this?

Most countries tap on groundwater for their freshwater needs. Queensland and parts of South Australia, for example, tap on the Great Artesian Basin, one of the largest ground aquifers in the world.

PUB calls for tender on studying groundwater potential
Maryam Mokhtar Straits Times 27 Apr 13;

NATIONAL water agency PUB has called a tender for consultancy services to study the potential of tapping underground water sources in the western and southern parts of Singapore, it said in a press release yesterday.

The area to be studied is part of the Jurong Formation, a bedrock of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, shale and limestone.

The three-year study, to be awarded in July, will assess if the water stored deep in the pores and crevices of these sedimentary rocks can be harnessed and used.

Built on the 230-million- year-old Jurong Formation are areas like Jurong, Clementi, Bukit Merah, and Choa Chu Kang.

The study will comprise the development of a groundwater flow model, field investigations and a validation study.

"Through this, we are exploring the presence of deep aquifers within Singapore's geology and if it is possible for us to tap this water source," said Mr Harry Seah, PUB's chief technology officer.

Aside from homes using well water in the past, Singapore has not tapped underground sources on a larger scale. Groundwater is significant for countries such as the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Seah noted that the extraction of groundwater would be carried out only if the risks of extraction can be managed and there is no impact on existing buildings and infrastructure.

The rock formations in Singapore are "significantly large" and technically, have the potential for extracting groundwater, said Mr Chong Kee Sen, vice-president of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES). He added that in IES' view, the studies should take into account the potential impact on land stability and subsidence and consider factors such as changes in groundwater flow that could be critical to grassland or wetland habitats.

Singapore's water demand currently stands at approximately 400 million gallons a day and the figure could almost double by 2060 - enough to fill more than 1,200 Olympic-size swimming pools a day.

The country's water sources comprise imported water, treated rainwater and sea water, and reclaimed used water.

PUB also embarked on a study this month to see if groundwater can be extracted from reclaimed land in Jurong Island.

In 2010, PUB found the island had fresh groundwater, after it dug a 5m-deep well and pumped a litre of water per second from it for three months.

Read more!

MND to raise animal welfare standards

Channel NewsAsia 26 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of National Development (MND) has accepted all 24 recommendations proposed by the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC).

The ministry said it would partner with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to work out detailed implementation plans and roll out the recommendations in phases.

MND added that it also welcomes chairman of AWLRC Yeo Guat Kwang’s plans to table a Private Member's Bill to amend the animal welfare legislation in the Animal and Birds Act as a follow-up to the committee's recommendations.

Mr Yeo said: "It marks a significant step for animal welfare in Singapore, as we will move on to more proactive and responsive legislation as well as instilling responsible and appropriate behaviour in all stakeholders who play a part in an animal's life cycle.”

Recommendations include the establishing of a minimum age for pet buyers – only those aged 16 or older will be allowed to buy a pet. This will also become a condition for the licensing of pet shops and pet farms selling pets.

Also among the recommendations is a tiered penalty structure that differentiates the intent of the offender and nature of the offence.

The committee has proposed different penalties for individuals and corporate bodies such as pet shops and farms.

The current penalty is a maximum fine of S$10,000 and/or a 1 year jail term.

The AWLRC has recommended that repeat malicious offenders of animal cruelty and abuse be given a maximum fine of S$50,000 and/or 3 years' jail. The offender would also be prohibited from keeping animals for up to one year.

The committee also proposed a new penalty for those with the deliberate or malicious intent of being cruel to an animal and for repeat offenders who fail to ensure adequate care; the recommendations call for a maximum fine of S$20,000 and/or 2 years' jail. The offender would also be prohibited from keeping animals for up to one year.

The proposed recommendations also call for first-time offenders who are reckless, ignorant or those who fail to provide care to the animals to be fined a maximum of S$10,000 and/or jailed for one year. The offender would also have to perform community service.

Corporate bodies will also face stiffer penalties depending on the nature of the offence.

Under the recommendations, repeat corporate offenders who commit wilful or cruelty cases can be fined up to S$100,000 and/or be prohibited from engaging in animal-related trade for up to one year.

Wilful offenders and repeat offenders will face a maximum S$40,000 fine and/or be prohibited from engaging in animal-related trade for up to one year.

Businesses that are deemed to be reckless, ignorant and that fail to provide care can also face a maximum S$20,000 fine.

The recommendations, both legislative and non-legislative, are grouped under four thrusts.

These include ensuring reasonable care and welfare of animals, increasing deterrence and stepping up action against wrongdoers, fostering greater responsibility in the industry to ensure animal welfare, as well as fostering greater responsibility amongst pet owners and greater community awareness of animal welfare.

MND said this is a significant step towards improving animal welfare in Singapore.

- CNA/jc

MND accepts recommendations to improve animal welfare
Walter Sim Straits Times 26 Apr 13;

The Ministry of National Development (MND) has accepted all 24 recommendations made by a Government-commissioned committee in a "significant step towards improving" animal welfare, MND said in a statement on Friday.

This follows a year-long study by the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee, which included representatives from members of parliament, community leaders and industry representatives. Public input was sought through an online feedback portal and focus group discussions.

The recommendations have been grouped into four areas: to ensure reasonable care and welfare of animals; to increase deterrence and stepping up action against wrongdoers; to foster greater responsibility in industry; and to foster greater responsibility among pet owners and greater community awareness.

MND said the recommendations are "timely and essential to achieving a harmonious living environment", especially with animal welfare being a "complex and emotive" subject that has "gained prominence in recent years". The full report can be found at

MND added that it plans to work with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to work out implementation plans and roll out the recommendations in phases.

This is the second victory for animal welfare in a week. On Monday, the Education Ministry announced that it will be incorporating a new syllabus - Character and Citizenship Education - from next year, to educate primary and secondary students on the importance of animal welfare

Govt says 'yes' to all recommendations of animal welfare panel
It will work with AVA to roll out the proposals in phases
David Ee And Walter Sim Straits Times 27 Apr 13;

THE National Development Ministry yesterday accepted wholesale the recommendations made by an expert panel to better protect animals here, in what it called "a significant step towards improving animal welfare".

The last major review of animal welfare legislation was in 2002. In a statement, the ministry called the move "timely and essential", but also noted the need to balance diverse views in society.

The Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee proposed 24 measures in a report last month after a year-long study, including heftier fines and longer jail terms for animal abusers and mandatory pre-sale screening of pet buyers, who must be aged 16 and above.

The pet industry has also committed to raising its own standards, a development which committee chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said was key. The Pet Enterprises and Traders Association of Singapore (Petas) will lead an accreditation scheme for pet farms, shops and groomers.

The ministry said it will work with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to roll out the recommendations in phases. Mr Yeo told The Straits Times that he aims to table a draft Bill in Parliament by November.

This comes against the backdrop of heightened animal welfare concerns. There were 1,426 reported cases of animal abuse in 2011, up from 1,162 in 2007.

Two ministers who have been vocal about animal rights weighed in on the developments.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin gave the efforts a "thumbs up" in a post on his Facebook page. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said: "I am personally very, very pleased that the recommendations have all been accepted and the law will be amended to better protect animals... This is a milestone, but it is not the end point. There is much more to do."

Committee members emphasised that their open approach of taking in views from all stakeholders helped "pave the way" forward. The committee comprised MPs and members from animal welfare groups, Petas, town councils and residents' committees. It held a month-long online consultation with the public, and also met with community groups.

"I'm pleased, not only with the outcome, but with the process. We agreed to disagree (on some issues), and yet came to a consensus," said Mr Yeo.

Committee member Louis Ng, executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, added: "This signals quite a change in how policies can be drafted. It's really a bottom-up approach."

But they stressed that much work lies ahead. Mr Yeo acknowledged there will be challenges in enforcing the new measures.

Many welcomed the move. A spokesman for pet shop Pet Lovers Centre said the recommendations will "push pet businesses to be more ethical in their operations". Mr Marcus Khoo, 39, executive director of Petopia, which offers pet grooming and boarding services, said industry-wide standards are timely, but there may be "teething problems".

"Many pet businesses may not see the value in this, until it becomes more widely recognised. To be effective, the scheme should be made mandatory."

Dog owner Gail Sethi, 49, said it was a good step but was equally circumspect: "We can have all the laws in the world but how do we make sure they can be enforced?"

Read more!

Island idyll: Escape to Pulau Ubin

Escape to Pulau Ubin, a rustic island paradise just a short bumboat ride away
Kezia Toh Straits Times 26 Apr 13;

It is Singapore's last kampung, a lone village frozen in time and a whisper away from the mainland concrete jungle.

Residents on Pulau Ubin proudly call themselves islanders.

Technically, so are Singaporeans - give or take a clutch of towering skyscrapers - but Ubinites are the real deal.

"There, you see," gestures Ms Koh Bee Choo, 43, at a dusty wooden signboard that crows "We are islanders", as seven wild dogs play and run amok through her bicycle rental shop.

Her community of villagers had an eviction scare last month, thanks to a poorly worded census notice. The authorities later confirmed that there are no present plans to develop the island, which is to be kept in a "rustic state for as long as possible".

No doubt this brought a sigh of relief not just to residents, but to the more than 300,000 visitors that the island gets each year.

Want an idyllic weekend getaway without having to pack your passport?

Life!Weekend plans a day at Pulau Ubin for you, laying out the sights, sounds and smells you should not miss.


Private bumboat operators herd passengers towards waiting vessels. Each can take up to 12 people. A pretty sandy beach and small jetty are your first glimpse of Pulau Ubin, which means "granite island" in Malay, a nod to the abandoned granite quarries there.


From the jetty, it is a five-minute bicycle or van ride to the north-east of the island, cutting through dirt paths and overgrown shrubs.

Celebrity television chef Bobby Chinn has made the same journey to attend a half-day cooking class run by culinary school Cookery Magic ($120 to $140 for about four hours,, call 6348-9667), whose classes are conducted by Ms Ruqxana Vasanwala. Lessons take place at 54-year-old Madam Kamariah Abdullah's house.

But first, there is breakfast - lontong (rice cakes and vegetables in a curry), sweet Malay kueh and tea, slurped and sipped while sitting cross-legged on the floor of a 100-year-old kampung house on stilts, lined with orange-white wood panels. A peek beneath the house reveals a surprise: A lime-green boat belonging to Madam Kamariah's great-grandfather, carved from a single tree trunk, still hangs.


Time to get to work. Instructor Vasawala's voice rings through Madam Kamariah's leafy jungle backyard.

During a one-hour walk to pluck herbs for cooking, the 51-year-old regales her group of 20 with tips on the medicinal properties of wild plants.

The hibiscus flower and papaya leaf prevent pregnancy, she says, pointing out Mother Nature's contraceptives. And the cekur - sand ginger - can help a new mother recuperate after birth, she adds.


"No, cannot," barks Ms Vasanwala, as strict as a Peranakan matriarch, staring down my blob of half-pounded sambal belacan on pestle and mortar.

It is not dainty work: crouching on the ground, pounding fresh chilli, garlic cloves, galangal and shallots to a fine paste.

Twenty minutes of hard, rhythmic pounding later, she pronounces it "good enough" - though a longer time at the grinder could produce a creamier paste. "It is about how it feels in your mouth, that is what cooking is," she says.

Later, you stir-fry this paste over high heat, letting it bubble into a steamy red sauce that is perfect "at the point when you choke and sneeze", says Ms Vasanwala, hovering over my shoulder.

The spice paste is to accompany nasi kerabu, a Malay herb rice chock-full of finely chopped mint, kaffir lime leaves, coriander and Thai basil. It is served with butter prawns tossed with garlic cloves and black pepper.

The class offers a chance to combine heritage with practical cooking skills, says lawyer Shamim Dhilawala, 50, who attended the class two years ago.

She says: "It was truly memorable to learn in an authentic kampung house, pick herbs from the surroundings and soak up the old rustic charm."

12.30PM: LUNCH

To top off the rustic feel, lunch is served on bird's nest fern leaves plucked from the backyard. For a nostalgic dessert, an antique shaved-ice machine makes quick work of ice blocks, which are shaped into ice balls and doused with rose and kiwi syrup.


You will want to flex your muscles a little after pigging out.

Take another five-minute bicycle or van ride back to the beach, a stone's throw away from the jetty.

Suitable for beginners and even children, this scenic kayaking route through river and marshland is best done at a leisurely pace, all the better to spot mudskippers and small fish skimming across the river surface, and hornbills and egrets flitting past above.

Asian Detours ($60 for about three hours,, call 6297-6998) runs guided tours, which includes equipment and insurance.

The activity is a workout and an educational lesson at the same time, says housewife Grace Wong, 33, who took her two sons aged four and six on the kayaking trip earlier this month.

She says: "The route was very gentle and amid the mangroves, the guides explained why these are important for the environment, which was educational for my boys.

"We were very lucky that day - we even spotted otters on the river bank," she adds.


This is another of Pulau Ubin's well-kept secrets. In a tiny temple on the south-western side is a tiny one-room temple with a shrine to a German girl, or "Nadu Guniang" as the villagers call her, in a jumble of Malay and Chinese.

A smiling Barbie doll encased in glass sits on the altar, surrounded by flowers and other "offerings": bottles of rosewater, a tube of lipstick, a Pears' soap bar and trinkets such as hairbands and coin purses.

Outside the sheltered space is an urn for joss sticks and a furnace to burn paper offerings.

The exact origins of the temple are unknown. Local folklore has it that the girl, the daughter of a coffee plantation manager, fell off a cliff to her death in her haste to escape from British soldiers at the end of World War I.

Some local workers found her corpse and gave her a proper burial.

About 10 people visit the shrine each week, says caretaker Lim Cheng Teck, 55, a former Ubin resident who moved to the mainland 10 years ago. He commutes here every day to watch over the temple, as well as ferry visitors in a taxi-van.

The shrine is not linked to any religion, he says. "I have seen people offer joss sticks, or make the sign of the Catholic cross here," he adds.

Devotees pray for health and safety, says Mr Lim. But their best bet?

He says wryly: "Lottery numbers, what else?"


On the south-eastern part of the island is one of Singapore's unspoilt wetlands. You will recognise it on your bike from a two-storey Tudor-style house (No. 1 Pulau Ubin, free admission), which marks the entrance to the 100ha Chek Jawa.

Built in the 1930s by the British colonial government's chief surveyor Landon Williams as a holiday home, the two-storey abode now houses a visitor centre, complete with a working fireplace - a bizarre addition in this hot climate.

The house overlooks a tiny islet shaped like a frog. Legend spins a tale of three animals - a frog, pig and elephant - that failed to reach the shores of Johor, and were turned into stone. The elephant and pig together turned into Pulau Ubin while the frog became Pulau Sekudu, or Frog Island.

Chek Jawa (free admission, 8.30am to 6pm) houses one of the Republic's richest ecosystems. There is a seagrass lagoon with carpet anemones and sea cucumbers, a coral rubble area with living corals and fan worms and mangroves teeming with fiddler crabs and mudskippers.

Visitors tread on a boardwalk and mount the 20m-tall Jejawi Tower for panoramic views.

Leaving Chek Jawa, some hidden secrets lie in wait: four unknown tombstones off a dirt path - "frozen in time, but most people just walk by without a second glance", says sports coach Colin Koh, 49, who conducts kayaking classes on the island - and wild boars aplenty. These roam in the leafy forests off the path, but occasionally sidle up to visitors.


In the centre of the town square on the south side of the island is a fiery-red temple dedicated to Tua Pek Kong, a popular Taoist deity also known as the God of Prosperity.

It faces a traditional wayang stage, where shows such as traditional Teochew operas and getai are sometimes staged, so "the deity can watch", says custodian Doreen Lim, who is in her 50s.

She moved to the island with her husband in 1997 after the economic crisis, when she was retrenched from her travel agency job.

Villagers consider the Taoist deity the island's guardian, as Pulau Ubin was left unscathed during the Japanese Occupation.


From the temple, it is a 10-minute stroll to the sensory trail. This 1.5km-long easy-walking trail offers a distilled experience of the island's flora and fauna in 11/2 hours, letting visitors experience the island using their senses of touch, hearing and smell.

Along the path, resident birds such as the magpie robbin and bulbul call out, and the smells of lemongrass and pandan abound. The trail meanders through a vegetable garden, orchard and mangroves.


Dinner options on the island are limited to mostly coffee shops.

Near the jetty, the Marine Coffee Shop sells bottled drinks for $1.50 and Malay favourites such as mee rebus and nasi lemak for $3.

The Celestial Ubin Beach Resort also runs a snack bar, with sandwiches going for $3.50 and seafood dishes such as sambal prawns and pepper squid at $10.


Want to put your feet up for the night? Operator Bertrand Choo, 47, runs Celestial Ubin Beach Resort (8V Pulau Ubin Island, call 6542-9749 or e-mail, which has eight standard rooms at $168 to $188 a night for two guests.

Rooms are spartan. For those looking for more luxury, there are two beachfront villas at $299.60 to $353.10 a night for four guests.

Camping is free: Visitors bring their own gear to spots such as Mamam Beach and Jelutong campsite, which come with toilet facilities.

For Singaporeans more accustomed to the bustle of city life, the island is a fresh respite, says Ms Mandy Xu, 38, who runs a phone business.

"I come here once every two weeks or so for the fresh air and just to get away from it all," she says.


How to get there

A one-way bumboat ride from Changi Point ferry terminal costs $2.50, and boats run to-and-fro from 5.30am till 9pm. If you bring a bicycle, you pay an extra $2.

There are no fixed departure times: Each boat leaves once it has 12 passengers.

The journey takes about 15 minutes.

How to get around

Visitors can hike for free or rent a bicycle for less than $10 a day at several bicycle rental shops in the town square.

Air-conditioned vans are available for hire from a makeshift taxi stand near the jetty. A one-way ride to a location on the island typically costs less than $10 for two, though prices depend on distance and number of passengers. Visitors agree on the price with the driver beforehand.

Read more!

Care for animals goes beyond pets

Grace Chua Straits Times 26 Apr 13;

EARLIER this week, the Ministry of Education said compassion for animals is to become part of a national school syllabus for character education.

This is welcome. Any such syllabus must, however, go beyond looking at animals as pets, to inculcate a more holistic compassion for all animals.

A committee has reviewed animal-welfare-related legislation, including the Animals and Birds Act, the main piece of legislation governing the treatment of animals here.

Made up of MPs, animal welfare groups, vets, industry representatives and other stakeholders, it wants to shift mindsets of Singaporeans towards animals.

Too much of animal welfare law now addresses acts of cruelty only after they have been committed. The committee wants to see codes of welfare for animals to make pet owners responsible for complying with clearly-defined duties of care.

New Zealand and Britain have such codes of welfare. A code of welfare - such as enclosure size, a suitable diet, protection from the elements - serves as an anchoring guideline for how people should care for their pets and remind them that pets are not products or toys but living things.

The committee also recommends tightening penalties for those who do abuse animals. The maximum fine of $500 and jail term of six months were raised in 2002 to $10,000 and 12 months during the last revision of the Animals and Birds Act.

The review committee recommended a tiered structure that distinguishes between those who offend out of ignorance and those who do so out of malice.

The legislation reviewers also recommended improving the pet industry - by setting a minimum age (16) for children to buy pets, as Britain did in 2002. It also suggested screening pet buyers and licensing facilities, among others.

The committee's current focus is understandably on pets because most complaints of cruelty or neglect are about pets and pet owners.

As a society, Singapore may love its pets, but the country still has a long way to go when it comes to a broader, more humane appreciation of animals and their rightful place in the ecosystem.

Too many people regard monkeys or birds as pests, making it acceptable to complain about them to the authorities, who are often forced to put them down.

In 2010, there were 800 monkey-nuisance complaints; in 2012, 920. Overall, there were more than 9,500 cases of animal-related issues such as stray pets and alleged cruelty reported to the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) last year, up 20 per cent from the year before.

The AVA also loans out traps to residents; once they catch monkeys, the AVA retrieves the traps and puts the animals down.

Monkeys and other animals may become pests or even pose a danger to humans in some circumstances. But managed well, humans can learn to live peaceably with them without the need for culling.

Then there is the approach to community-owned cats and strays, which face the threat of being culled. In 2010, the AVA put down about 5,100 stray cats.

Today, only dogs need to be licensed with the AVA to keep tabs on rabies and other diseases. There are about 57,000 licensed dogs here.

Is there scope to give community cats some form of legal status rather than leaving them vulnerable to culling after residents' complaints or abuse?

Then there are the animals we eat or farm for eggs. Regulations here focus on protecting food safety and maintaining bio-security - that is, preventing the spread of animal disease. But Europe, for instance, has farm-animal welfare laws that set out how animals should be taken care of.

In the recent Our Singapore Conversation sessions, many participants have said that they want Singapore to be a more compassionate society.

What exactly does that mean?

It means protecting the most vulnerable members of society - the destitute, migrant workers and animals, which have no quarrel with people.

When it comes to animal welfare, Singapore is getting some of the big pieces in place: recognising the limits of its current laws and taking steps to update them, introducing mediation between neighbours to deal with animal nuisance complaints and recognising the need to teach its young compassion to animals.

But judging from the calls to cull animals which stray into our path, it has a long way to go to inculcate a genuine tolerance of and respect for the rights of animals to co-exist in our shared living environment.

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Indonesia: Conservation center to set free 3,000 pythons annually

Antara 26 Apr 13;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - The Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) in Bengkulu said it would set free around 3,000 pythons a year.

The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has recommended the center to produce 8,000 pythons, the head of the center conservation, Anggoro Dwi Sujatmiko, said here on Friday.

Anggoro said the center would breed the large species of snake with young pythons supplied from snake eggs hatching business units outside Bengkulu, Anggoro said.

He said the plan is in line with the quota of pythons as recommended by LIPI that Bengkulu is set to produce 8,000 pythons a year .

The center would raise the animals for their skins for exports or use by local industry , he said.

The 3,000 pythons would be set free in a location save from human settlement as people would protest if their areas would be made a habitat for so many pythons, he said.

If no such place is found, a special location would be chosen to raise the snakes, he added.

He said Bengkulu has large empty swampy or bush areas that could be used to breed pythons.

People have often caught grown up pythons in the swampy Jenggolo riverside areas in the sub-district of Sukaraja, Seluma District.

However, farmers need pythons to scare away rats from their rice fields , he said.

In area where there are pythons rice fields would be free from rats as pythons feed on live animals including rodents.

Editor: Jafar M Sidik

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Thailand: Shark fin-free hotels 'blue listed'

Bangkok Post 25 Apr 13;

A group of 23 luxury hotels have pledged to ban shark fin soup, as part of a campaign to halt the decline of shark populations.

The hotels, including the Peninsula Bangkok, Banyan Tree and Shangri-La, have signed up to a so-called “blue list”, promoting Thai hotels that don't serve shark fin soup.

The Fin Free Thailand campaign is calling on other hotels to join the list and is offering free information on alternative sustainable options to those that need help phasing shark fin soup off their menus.

“Many hotels are taking shark fin off their menus out of concern for endangered shark populations threatened by overfishing. They should be commended for this important action to protect sharks and the marine environment,” said Jirayu Ekkul, Fin Free Thailand spokesperson and marine conservation campaign director for Love Wildlife Foundation.

“We’ve found that some hotels not openly offering or promoting shark fin soup in the name of conservation, are still serving hundreds of bowls at request for business and wedding banquets. We want them to be honest with the public and make a real commitment to marine conservation by completely banning shark fin. The Fin Free Blue List highlights hotels making a 100% commitment to protect sharks by not serving shark fin at all.”

Katja Henke, general manager of the Peninsula Bangkok, said the hotel's management believe they have a duty to protect sharks for future generations. She said: “Given the scientific evidence on the drastic decline of shark populations, we believe that it is our responsibility, as Asia’s oldest hotel company, to no longer serve shark fin at any of our hotels. We can’t let sharks disappear."

The blue list was unveiled at the International School Bangkok in front of students learning about the campaign. Seventh grade pupil Pavin Sethbhakdi said: “I’ve told my family, including my grandparents; we need to say 'no' to shark fin soup. I’m not a diver or environmental activist, but I know what’s being done to sharks is wrong and unsustainable.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 90% of the world's sharks have disappeared over the past 100 years due to overfishing, while humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins.

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Philippines: Finding Nognog - Donsol missing four whale sharks

Jonas Cabiles Soltes Inquirer Southern Luzon 26 Apr 13;

DONSOL—Forget about finding Nemo.

At least four whale sharks that have made the waters of Donsol, Sorsogon, their home and feeding grounds for years—long enough for locals to give them names—are nowhere to be found.

It’s the peak season for butanding (local name for the whale shark or Rhincodon typus) but guides are yet to spot Putol, Kuping, Nognog and Puti.

Putol has no caudal or tail fin. Kuping has a folded dorsal or back fin. Nognog looks dark. Puti has a whitish coloration due to spottiness.

Where did they go?

There are speculations that they might have gone to Oslob in Cebu, where whale sharks, having been hand-fed, are growing in number.

But local tourism officer Nenita Pedragosa doubts that Donsol’s butanding have migrated to Cebu. Most likely, the culprit is climate change, making Donsol’s waters no longer attractive to whale sharks, added guide Randy Radana.

Radana, 36, a butanding interaction officer, or trained guide on whale shark interaction, said only the 4-meter Kulit had been seen roaming around this season, which kicked off in November last year.

Kulit is so-named for his elusiveness.

“It’s hard to interact with Kulit. [The whale shark] always swims the other way,” said Radana.

He could not tell whether the whale sharks would be back but he is praying the gentle giants would do so soon, or he would lose his only source of income.

Huge tourist drawer

A former food server and landscaper, Radana learned to be a whale shark interaction officer when news of whale sharks frequenting the waters of his hometown brought droves of tourists to the once sleepy and depressed municipality of Donsol.

A quick glance at the tourist arrival data of Donsol shows visits by people of various nationalities—from Americans, who top the list, to Ethiopians, Slovaks and Swedes. Domestic tourists, however, still surpassed foreigners.

But fewer whale sharks have been sighted in Donsol since 2011, which makes the future appear bleak for interaction officers.

Since 1998, Radana has been earning a daily net pay of P450, which he stands to lose once the whale sharks are gone.

Pedragosa said fewer sightings of whale sharks have resulted in a drop in tourist arrivals.

She said a 20-percent drop in the number of tourists coming to Donsol has been noted from January to April this year compared to the same period last year.

For the month of April alone, a larger decline in tourist arrivals was posted, from 9,114 the whole month of April last year to only 2,567 as of April 22 this year.

Pedragosa has attributed the decline to fewer sightings.

Off to Oslob

She said those who do not see whale sharks in Donsol would usually go to Oslob, which also offers whale shark interaction.

“But we are not threatened by whale shark interaction in Oslob because tourists still prefer the thrill of spotting and interacting with whale sharks in their natural state. Those in Oslob are hand-fed. Those who want to see butanding come to Donsol first. They only go to Oslob when they fail to see one here,” Pedragosa said.

She said it is not true that whale sharks in Donsol are going to Oslob.

“Studies show that the whale shark population in Donsol is different from that in Oslob, although there was one recorded incident when a whale shark from here was found there,” she said.

Radana blamed fewer sightings on climate change, which he said had brought rains even in summer, causing Donsol River to discharge murky water in the seas off Donsol, making it hard for them to spot whale sharks.

He also blamed rampant illegal fishing in the area. Activities traced to illegal fishers, according to him, might have disturbed the whale sharks, disrupting their feeding habits and causing them to leave.

No sighting guaranteed

Pedragosa said the tourism office would always warn tourists that sighting a whale shark was not guaranteed so they would not be frustrated.

“We offer various packages as alternatives, including island hopping and firefly watching at night,” she said.

She said the tourism boom due to the presence of whale sharks, indeed, has turned around Donsol.

“We were once a fifth-class [municipality]; now, we are a third-class town and we are actually applying to be classified as first class,” she said.


To be classified as first class, a town should be earning more than P55 million a year, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.

Donsol earns at least P35 million a year now.

Donsol, evidently, is a boomtown these days. The once forlorn municipal road is now a stretch of national road fringed by resorts and restaurants. Tricycle drivers and lodging houses are making a killing.

But all these could be gone if the whale sharks would not return or continue leaving the municipality’s troubled waters, as what could be happening these days.

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California authorities target smuggling of bladders from endangered fish

Marty Graham PlanetArk 26 Apr 13;

U.S. border officers in California are seizing a large number of smuggled bladders from an endangered fish that are prized for use in Chinese soups, with seven people charged since February in connection with the trade, authorities said on Wednesday.

The bladders of the totoaba macdonaldi fish are smuggled across the border from Mexico, with each organ fetching $5,000 on the U.S. black market and over $10,000 in Asia, federal prosecutors said. The fish is found in the Gulf of California between the Mexican mainland and Baja California.

The totoaba's swim bladder is a tube-shaped organ that fills with gas to help control the buoyancy of the fish, which the U.S. Attorney's Office said can grow over 6 feet long, weigh up to 220 pounds (100 kg) and live to the age of 25.

The United States listed the totoaba as an endangered species in 1979 and they are also protected in Mexico. Officials said the fish's bladder was seen in some Chinese cuisine as a prime ingredient in a type of soup and prized for its supposed ability to boost fertility and circulation.

"The Mexican fish is very similar to a Chinese species of fish that was eaten to extinction," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent in Charge Jill Birchell told reporters.

The totoaba spawn in the spring, and during that time they swim to shallow waters at the mouth of the Colorado River on the north end of the Gulf of California and fishermen begin to go after them, as the black market trade in the animal's swim bladders heats up, officials said.

"The shores are littered with carcasses because catching them (totoaba) is illegal and they don't want to move the entire fish," Birchell said.

In the latest case that led to criminal charges, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer inspecting a car at the Calexico-Mexicali port of entry, about 130 miles east of San Diego, found 27 totoaba bladders hidden under floor mats in the back seat of a car, U.S. prosecutors said in a statement.

Federal agents returned all but one bladder to the driver, Song Shen Zhen, 73, of Calexico, California, officials said.

"The officer thought something was fishy," said U.S. Customs officer Billy Whitford.

Federal agents followed Zhen to a rented house in Calexico. When they returned to the home with a search warrant, they found over 200 fish bladders spread out on floors and counters to dry, officials said.

They also found packing material and ledgers for other shipments that went to China and Hong Kong, said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. In all, the bladders taken from Zhen could have fetched more than $3.6 million in foreign markets, prosecutors said in the statement.

Zhen was charged last Friday with smuggling and unlawful importation of wildlife. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

No attorney for Zhen was listed in court documents, and he could not be reached for comment.

Six other people have been charged since February in connection with the smuggling of the endangered fish bladders, in cases that authorities say are not related. In two of the cases, the defendants are still at large.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Cooney)

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