Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 13

Two Terumbus in one trip!
from wild shores of singapore

21 April in Hantu
from Climb, Dive, Grow

Probe confirms Singapore-based palm oil company engaged in land-grabbing in Borneo from news by Rhett Butler

Save the Frogs Day 2013
from ARKive blog

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Natural greenery 'key to diverse wildlife'

Species in cultivated green areas do not differ much from site to site: Researcher
Grace Chua Straits Times 27 Apr 13;

NOT all green areas in Singapore are created equal - and, for the first time, researchers here are able to measure how unequal they are.

Some 47 per cent of the island state's land area is under green cover - meaning any sort of plant life, from manicured lawns to wild forests.

But only about half of that is "natural", meaning scrubland, forest or other greenery that has been allowed to spring up on its own, said National University of Singapore biology doctoral student Chong Kwek Yan, 29.

Mr Chong's doctoral research, presented last week, confirmed what many intuitively suspect: That while cultivated green areas have a fairly wide range of bird and butterfly species, the collection of species does not differ much from site to site.

By contrast, one natural site may have a very different set of species from another.

"In Singapore, cultivated greenery is currently not a good substitute for natural greenery," said Mr Chong.

But much of this natural greenery is made up of fragments of wild vegetation outside nature reserves, and could succumb to development as Singapore's population grows, he added.

Mr Chong and his colleagues surveyed 42 sites from Tampines to Tuas. These were classed as low greenery, high cultivated greenery or high natural greenery areas, based on the amount and type of green cover.

The team suggested that planners either plant trees in cultivated areas or try to preserve big trees in places being developed, as these serve as a haven for species.

"We need to explicitly plan for natural greenery in our built-up environment if we are to maintain a diverse urban wildlife," said Associate Professor Hugh Tan, Mr Chong's thesis supervisor.

The work was funded by the Ministry of National Development's research fund for the built environment, and aims to develop frameworks for greenery planning in high-density cities.

Such studies have been done in temperate cities but this is one of the first specific to Singapore's tropical vegetation.

There are benefits to exposing urban dwellers to nature that go beyond providing shade and oxygen, said Mr Chong.

"Urban areas are where most of the world's population will live and determine the kind of nature that the majority of the world's population will have contact with."

In turn, that will determine the level of public support for conservation, he added.

The different shades of green
Manicured landscapes no substitute for natural vegetation, study finds
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 27 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — Cultivated greenery is a poor substitute for natural greenery when it comes to sustaining richness of biodiversity, a local study has found.

A higher percentage of natural vegetation cover supports richer and diverse communities of bird and butterfly species. In contrast, cultivated greenery was found to support a homogenous community of species — albeit a higher number than areas of low greenery.

Part of a National University of Singapore (NUS) biological sciences graduate’s doctoral thesis, the findings have implications on the management of green spaces here. It is a first step towards quantifying trade-offs in biodiversity levels when natural green spaces make way for development, as well as how the effects of development could be mitigated, said Mr Chong Kwek Yan, the study’s author.

The research was funded by the Ministry of National Development’s Research Fund for the Built Environment.

Vegetation covers about 56 per cent of Singapore’s land area — 27 per cent is cultivated greenery and 29 per cent is natural greenery. Common bird species found in low greenery areas are mynas, pigeons and sparrows, while in high cultivated greenery areas, species like the Asian koel and sunbirds can be sighted.

Mr Chong analysed surveys of 42 plots of land islandwide measuring 500m by 100m.

Twenty-three plots in places like the city and newer heartlands like Tampines were classified as that with low greenery, nine were of high cultivated greenery and 10 — such as along Changi Coast Road and Bukit Batok Nature Park — were of high natural greenery. The areas were classified based on factors including percentage cover of cultivated trees and natural shrub and grassland.

Areas with 80 per cent natural vegetation cover had an average of about 45 bird species and 25 butterfly species, while areas with 20 per cent natural vegetation cover averaged 35 bird species and fewer than 20 butterfly species.

While the authorities already know cultivated greenery is not a replacement for natural greenery, the study, with its quantitative findings, helps measure the trade-offs when certain actions are undertaken, said Mr Chong, 29.

NUS Associate Professor Hugh Tan, Mr Chong’s thesis supervisor, said: “If our objective is to have a diverse urban wildlife, we must explicitly make plans for natural greenery.”

The research also found that big trees were the component of cultivated greenery that support rich urban wildlife. Hence, it is important to keep as many healthy large trees as possible when land plots are developed, said Assoc Prof Tan. Another option is to have minimal maintenance of cultivated landscapes to achieve a more semi-natural state for these areas.

Comparing latest findings with surveys done in 2000 and 2001, Mr Chong also found that numbers for 14 of the 20 most common bird species here, such as the Javan myna and brown-throated sunbird, had increased. But whether this is at the expense of rarer bird species is unclear, as different surveyors were used in the older and newer surveys.

Going forward, more research can be done on the interplay between traffic and greenery on biodiversity, as well as on the status of the species found, suggested Mr Chong.

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Mosquito spreading two types of fever

Chikungunya cases on the rise even as Singapore fights losing battle with dengue
Salma Khalik Straits Times 27 Apr 13;

THE Aedes mosquito is wreaking havoc in Singapore, spreading not just dengue fever but more recently the very painful chikungunya as well.

This month alone, 56 people have become sick with chikungunya - which translates from an African language as "to become contorted".

This is up from just 22 for the whole of last year. Symptoms include a sudden fever and severe joint swelling and pain. Victims often also suffer from muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rashes. It is rarely fatal and lasts between several days to a week - although some people have complained of continued joint aches for months and years.

In spite of the National Environment Agency's best efforts, the number of chikungunya infections has been growing over the past month - from six in the first week of April, to 15 in the second, and 35 in the third.

A Health Ministry spokesman said that of the 35 people infected last week, 27 are foreign workers and two are Singaporeans who live or work around the Kranji-Sungei Kadut area. The other six are residents in the Fifth Avenue, Sixth Avenue and Trevose Crescent area along Bukit Timah Road.

Meanwhile, Singapore also appears to be losing its fight against the spread of dengue, which has infected more than 5,000 people so far this year.

Both dengue and chikungunya are viral diseases that can be spread only by mosquitoes.

About 110 people were hospitalised for dengue last week out of the 510 who were infected. More will need such care this week as the number of infections continues to soar, with another 386 diagnosed with dengue since Sunday.

Experts have predicted a huge dengue epidemic this year as the current surge in cases comes before the usual peak during the hotter months in the middle of the year. The change in the dominant type of dengue virus means fewer people are immune to it.

There are four types of dengue viruses. Once infected, a person is protected against that viral type but can still be infected by any of the other three.

According to the Ministry of Health, about one in three people diagnosed with dengue end up in hospital - or about 1,600 of the 5,000 cases so far this year. In the 2005 epidemic, 14,000 people were infected and 25 died.

But Associate Professor Leo Yee Sin, clinical director at the Communicable Disease Centre, hopes that the experience doctors have gained over the past years will mean fewer or perhaps no deaths at all this year, even if infection numbers go up.

Up to $10m contract for campaign against dengue
Poon Chian Hui Straits Times 27 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE, in its fight against dengue, has awarded a contract worth up to $10 million to an advertising firm for year-round campaigns against the deadly disease.

The contract from the National Environment Agency (NEA) to DDB Worldwide is made up of two parts: $5 million for campaign costs from now till next March and another $5 million should the contract be extended another year.

The year-round campaign against the worsening epidemic starts tomorrow and there will be no let-up even during the months when the Aedes mosquito is lying low.

The disease peaks during the hotter months between May and October.

But this year, the 5,127 cases so far have already surpassed the 4,632 recorded for the whole of last year, official figures show.

Both DDB and NEA declined to comment on the contract but according to the tender documents, the key target group is housewives and working mothers.

This is likely due to the fact that seven in 10 breeding spots of the dengue-causing mosquitoes are found in homes, such as in containers and flower pots.

Singapore now has 48 dengue clusters, mainly in the east. The worst-hit area is Tampines Street 12, 21 and 22 where 124 people fell ill.

The battle will be fought on several fronts: from social media to grassroots events and roadshows at construction sites.

It will include using the traffic light warning system wherein banners in red, yellow and green colours are put up in dengue clusters to indicate the severity of the situation in the area.

This is on top of a "mozzie wipeout" drive to urge people to clear stagnant water in homes that can breed mosquitoes. But there is one nagging problem, according to the tender. People tend to become complacent when infection rates start to fall.

Public health experts have observed that people "naturally will not remain in a state of alert... unless the threat is constantly made visible to them", said the tender.

There is a need to inculcate a "sense of ownership", and have the messages communicated in an "intensive manner", it added.

Year-long campaigns, however, are a challenge, said Nanyang Technological University's Assistant Professor Marko Skoric from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

"Do you want to hear about dengue for a year? I'm not sure."

He suggested giving a variety of materials, rather than crafting a specific message, so people can continually discuss and reflect on the topic.

Social media like Facebook can be particularly useful.

"When you share a message, there's a certain sense of commitment," said Dr Skoric. "In the process, you may persuade not just others, but also yourself, that it's important to do something about dengue."

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Malaysia: Tapir under threat

Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal New Straits Times 27 Apr 13;

World Tapir Day today puts a timely spotlight on an animal that’s seriously under threat of extinction, writes Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal

IT’S not the best looking of animals. Neither is it the sort that makes you want to reach out and cuddle it. In fact, the tapir, with its short, prehensile snout, small beady eyes, horse-like head and a shape similar to a pig, looks rather odd, almost like it was assembled somewhat hurriedly when it was created.

According to Chinese folklore, after God created the land and sea, He decided to fill it with live inhabitants. He moulded different body parts comprising various shapes and sizes for the creation of wildlife and combined them together to create elephants, wild boars, tigers, monkeys, birds and others. God was satisfied with his work but there were still some leftover body parts. Not wanting to waste anything, He put together the leftovers and made the tapir. That’s why the tapir is also known as si bu xiang, which simply means having the resemblance of four different animals while looking like neither.

Handsome or not, the tapir is being celebrated in conjunction with World Tapir Day today. The animal is an important part of the ecosystem in its role as seed disperser. It’s also one of the oldest surviving genera in the animal kingdom. But despite its size, history and ecological importance, the poor tapir remains one of the least recognised species of animals.


World Tapir Day, which takes place every year on April 27, was established to raise awareness of the four species of tapir that inhabit central and south America and Southeast Asia.

All are in decline, with the mountain tapir facing extinction within the next 20 years if conservation efforts aren’t introduced in its ever-shrinking habitat in Colombia and Ecuador. The baird’s tapir, the largest mammal of the Americas, is facing a similar threat in its home range in central America.

Meanwhile, the Malayan tapir is also facing severe threat in Indonesia and other countries due to habitat destruction. Even the Brazilian tapir, the most numerous species of tapir, is vulnerable because of the increasing rate of destruction of the Amazon.


As large herbivores, the tapir is the first to be affected by human encroachment into its territory. It’s also the last to return to re-growth forest. The mountain tapir and Asian tapir population are the most at risk. The Sumatran population of the Asian tapir may no longer be viable as there have been suggestions that only 50 animals remain in the wild.

Tapirs require substantial tracts of undisturbed land for them to maintain a genetically-diverse population. They inhabit jungles, grasslands, swamps and cloud forests — all threatened by human activity, whether through mining, oil palm plantations, roads or settlements.

The plight of tapirs is symbolic of the wider threat to their habitats specifically, and world ecology in general. The decline of tapir populations is indicative of the general health of their ranges. Their disappearance from their home ranges often marks a point of no return for the natural environment. The destruction of forests into small, isolated enclaves and the encroachment of human activity into pristine forests affect all native species. However, as the largest, and perhaps the quietest, of animals in their ranges, tapirs disappear without trace, along with countless
other species.


The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), in collaboration with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), Department Of Forestry and National Parks (Perhilitan), Faculty Of Forestry of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Mutiara Resort Taman Negara, is celebrating World Tapir Day today at the Mutiara Resort Taman Negara — Kuala Tahan, as a public event for the first time ever in the country.

The main objective is to create awareness of the importance of Malayan tapir conservation especially in the peninsula. Events such as guided walks, colouring competition, talks and a musical performance have all been lined up.

There will also be an overnight education camp today and on April 28, conducted by UPM for local students. Details at

Tapir Specialist Group

IN 1980, the Tapir Specialist Group (TSG), a scientific organisation was founded as one of the 120 Specialist Groups of the International Union For The Conservation Of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC).
Its primary goal is to conserve biological diversity by stimulating, developing, and executing practical programs to study, save, restore and manage all four species of tapir and their remaining habitats in Southeast Asia as well as central and south America.

The members are involved in various projects to understand tapirs better and to protect remaining populations of all four tapir species. They carry out scientific research (both in the wild and in captivity), conduct educational and public awareness programmes in local communities near tapir habitats and support habitat protection efforts.

Today, the TSG has approximately 100 members from 25 countries worldwide — including field researchers, educators, veterinarians, governmental agencies, NGO representatives, zoo personnel, university professors and students — who are directly or indirectly involved in tapir field research and/or captive breeding in their respective regions.

Support the Tapir Specialist Group conservation efforts at

Fast facts

• The Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), also called the Asian tapir, is the largest of the four species of tapir, measuring up to 1.8m long and weighing up to 350kg. It’s also the only one native to Asia.

• The Malayan tapir lives in the rainforests of Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Sumatra in Indonesia.

• Tapirs aren’t related to anteaters, pigs or hippopotamuses. Their closest relatives are horses and rhinoceroses — the only remaining families of the Perissodactyla order. Extinct species of tapir would have looked similar to the four extant species, although the proboscis (snout) only evolved in the last few million years.

• A tapir can live up to 30 years, but like many aspects of tapirs, the average lifespan of wild tapirs is poorly researched. The gestation period of a calf is around 13 months. Baby tapirs have striped and spotted coats for camouflage and weigh between 8-12kg at birth.

• Tapirs prefer a wet climate and usually live near water, but can on occasion, be found in comparatively dry forests. They like to bathe, they swim well and can remain submerged for several minutes to escape predators. They’re also excellent climbers and with their size and thick skin, can bulldoze through thick vegetation to escape.

• The Malayan tapir eats the twigs and growing tips of a wide range of vegetation, including snapping small to large saplings with its mouth to get to plant parts that are out of reach. It also takes a large variety of fruit and leaves from the forest floor.

• The Malayan tapir is an important seed disperser. They consume large amounts of fruit, helping to disperse the seeds. IT is regarded as keystone species that play an important role in shaping and conserving the biological diversity and ecological functions of the forest.

• The Malayan tapir is an important indicator of the health of its forest environment. Due to its bulky disposition, it’s sensitive to changes in its surroundings and is usually amongst the first to be affected.

(Source: Malaysian Nature Society)

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