Best of our wild blogs: 14 May 13

Checklist of the Plant Species of Nee Soon Swamp Forest, Singapore: Bryophytes to Angiosperms from Raffles Museum News

Pinna, Porifera, and Pseudobiceros’ Penises
from Pulau Hantu

Random Gallery - Purple Duke
from Butterflies of Singapore and Random Gallery - Knight

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Four killed, 62 injured by fallen trees over last 10 years: Khaw

Channel NewsAsia 14 May 13;

SINGAPORE: Four people have died and 62 injured by fallen trees over the last ten years.

In 2012, there were 1,050 cases of tree failures, most of which were broken branches and uprooted trees. As of April 2013, there were 438 cases of tree failures, which is five per cent lower compared to the same period last year.

In a written parliamentary reply to Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said NParks has stepped up its inspection frequency of mature trees significantly since June 2012.

NParks manages over 1.4 million trees.

- CNA/ac

Measures in place to minimise tree falls
Straits Times Forum 14 My 13;

WE AGREE with Mr Daniel Chia that there is a need to ensure enough space for tree roots to grow ("Plant only deep-rooted trees along roads"; Forum Online, May 3). Most roads in Singapore have planting verges that are wide enough. For narrower verges, we are mindful to select smaller trees for planting.

But as Mr Heng Cho Choon pointed out, it is not possible to totally eliminate the risk of tree falls, as healthy trees can be affected by gusty winds and heavy rainfall ("Trees can be felled by natural forces beyond NParks' control"; Forum Online, May 6). Our records show that fallen branches and trees were mainly due to such adverse weather conditions.

We are aware of these concerns and assure the public that we are committed to minimising the number of falling trees and branches through enhanced training, continual review of tree management procedures and better use of technology.
Earn a world-class Master Business Degree in Singapore now!

Our staff are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, and we are adopting its best management practices. Continuing education programmes are also conducted regularly for our staff to ensure that they keep up with the latest knowledge and skills in arboriculture.

We thank Mr Chia and Mr Heng for sharing their concerns with us. More information is available on our tree care page at

Oh Cheow Sheng
Director, Streetscape
National Parks Board

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Without sustained transmission, low risk of virus outbreak: Gan

Singapore does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry from China. Photo: AP
Nh Jing Yng Today Online 14 May 13;

SINGAPORE — As long as there is no “sustained” human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 bird flu virus or the novel coronavirus, the risk of an outbreak in Singapore will remain low, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Mr Gan was speaking in Parliament yesterday, which saw five Members of Parliament (MP) flagging concerns about H7N9 and the novel coronavirus.

The most likely source of the H7N9 outbreak in China is from infected poultry and contaminated live poultry markets, while the source of the novel coronavirus — which has been reported in the Middle East and Europe — is still unclear.

In both cases, there have been no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission so far, although there have been possible incidences of limited human-to-human transmission, Mr Gan said.

Also, Singapore does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry meat from China, he added. Still, the Government has stepped up on checks. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, for instance, has increased surveillance testing on birds, including migratory birds.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has also alerted all hospitals and doctors to look out for symptoms like fever and cough.

“To date, the MOH has been notified of 11 cases who have been investigated for H7N9, and 24 who were investigated for novel coronavirus,” Mr Gan said. “None have been positive”.

If a confirmed case is detected, the Government is prepared to undertake contact tracing and phone surveillance of close contacts, and ICU isolation beds are available to manage severely ill patients, he added.

Mr Gan urged Singaporeans travelling during the June school holidays to stay updated on global disease situations and the MOH’s travel advisories.

The minister also assured the House that the MOH has been working with other government agencies to prepare for potential infectious disease outbreaks. This includes ensuring an adequate supply of hospital beds and introducing control measures like quarantine, if necessary.

Member of Parliament (MP) Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West) pointed out that the novel coronavirus might be transmitted from an infected passenger to others during a seven-to-eight hour flight from the Middle East to Singapore and asked if surveillance measures are sufficient at points of entry. He also asked Mr Gan to explain the meaning of “sustained human-to-human” transmission.

Mr Gan responded that while the World Health Organization has yet to recommend travel restrictions, Singapore has put up notices to remind travellers to take precautions.

And “sustained transmission means that there is sustained transmission beyond the immediate contact”, he said.

Asked by Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast Group Representation Constituency) about the country’s preparedness compared to previous outbreaks like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Mr Gan said Singapore is much better prepared today. While every new disease brings new challenges, the local healthcare institutions are ready, he assured.

As for Nominated MP Nicholas Fang’s question about encouraging community-driven efforts to deal with infectious diseases, Mr Gan said the MOH will continue to work with agencies and organisations to raise awareness levels among residents and healthcare workers.

11 investigated for H7N9, 24 for novel coronavirus; none positive
Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Channel NewsAsia 13 May 13;

SINGAPORE: Eleven people in Singapore have been investigated for the avian flu virus H7N9 and another 24 for novel coronavirus to date.

But none was positive.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who revealed this in Parliament on Monday, said that so long as there is no sustained human-to-human transmission of the two diseases, the risk of an outbreak in Singapore will remain low.

Mr Gan said the H7 avian influenza virus has not been detected in tests on local and imported birds.

Singapore also does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry meat from China.

A potential concern, however, is the transmission of H7N9 to Singapore via migratory birds carrying the virus.

So surveillance testing on such birds has been stepped up.

Mr Gan said Singapore still needs to be vigilant against the possibility of cases in travellers coming to Singapore.

Hospitals have been asked to look out for suspect cases of both H7N9 and novel coronavirus.

Mr Gan assured the House that plans are in place if there is a pandemic.

He said: "We have worked with hospitals and clinics to ensure that there is adequate surge capacity in healthcare infrastructure and beds.

"At the national level, we have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and antiviral stockpiles (for influenza), which can be deployed should the need arises.

"Possible control measures include isolation of cases, quarantine of close contacts and social distancing measures to reduce community transmission, if necessary.

"With our experience in SARS, we are now much better prepared than 10 years ago.

"However with each new infectious disease, it will bring in new experiences, new challenges, new threats and therefore it is a continuing journey.

"So, our healthcare institutions are working together preparing for the possibility of the arrival of H7N9 or novel coronavirus patients in Singapore.

"I think our institutions are ready and will be able to manage them."

- CNA/ir

Singapore better prepared to deal with epidemics
It is much better equipped than during Sars crisis: Health Minister
Tracy Quek Straits Times 14 May 13;

SINGAPORE is much better prepared today than it was during the 2003 Sars epidemic to handle infectious disease outbreaks, including the H7N9 strain of bird flu and a deadly new Sars-like virus, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

Still, the health authorities, government agencies, hospitals and doctors remain vigilant and are monitoring for the possibility of H7N9 or novel coronavirus (NCoV) cases in travellers to Singapore as well as transmission in the community, he added.

NCoV is from the same family as Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and its source remains unclear.

The risk of an H7N9 or NCoV outbreak in Singapore remains low currently, he said, as there has been no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of both diseases worldwide.

Mr Gan was replying to four MPs, including Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC).

"With each new infectious disease it will bring in new experiences, new challenges, new threats. Therefore it is a continuing journey of learning," he said.

"Our health-care professionals, our health-care institutions are working together preparing for the possibility of the arrival of H7N9 or NCoV in Singapore."

He added: "Our institutions are ready and will be able to manage them."

Since the first H7N9 infections were reported in China this March, there have been 130 confirmed cases, including 35 deaths. Infected poultry and contaminated live poultry markets are the most likely sources of infection.

The first NCoV infection was reported last September. Since then, there have been 34 confirmed cases worldwide, including in Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with 18 deaths.

On whether there were enough hospital beds should the two viruses strike, Mr Gan said hospitals had been working with his ministry to expand capacity at short notice.

The extra beds could be freed up fast by deferring elective surgery operations and speeding up the discharge of medically stable patients, he added.

Hospitals are ready to respond to emergency cases, he said.

To deal with the possibility of infected travellers, the Health Ministry has alerted all hospitals and doctors to look out for suspect cases with such symptoms as fever, cough and signs of pneumonia, and previous travel to affected regions.

Suspect cases will be isolated and tested for H7N9 or NCoV, Mr Gan said.

So far, the Health Ministry has investigated 11 notified cases for H7N9 and 24 for NCoV. None was positive.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority is also testing imported poultry, inspecting pet shops and monitoring birds in wetland reserves including migratory birds, Mr Gan said.

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Penalties for high-rise littering need to be significantly raised: Vivian Balakrishnan

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 13 May 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has said the penalties for high-rise littering will need to be significantly raised.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Dr Balakrishnan said there also needs to be a more effective way of identifying the culprits.

Close-circuit cameras started to be installed in HDB blocks in 2011 to address the problem of high-rise littering.

Giving an update, Dr Balakrishnan said the surveillance cameras have identified 12 suspects engaged in high-rise littering, and so far, five of them have been prosecuted.

The courts have imposed fines ranging from S$800 to S$1,500. But this may not be enough.

Dr Balakrishnan said more than 8,000 complaints of high-rise littering are received every year. But only 10 to 12 cases have been brought to court a year.

Dr Balakrishnan is less than satisfied with the numbers because the cameras have been installed to increase the probability of culprits being caught.

He acknowledged that it is not practical to have cameras in every HDB block, and it should only be used as a last resort.

His ministry will encourage the adoption of personal responsibility and cultivation of proper social norms within neighbourhoods.

In addition, Dr Balakrishnan said he will be reviewing the process of camera installation for greater deterrent effect.

He elaborated: "Because right now, I sometimes receive irate e-mails from complainants (saying), 'This is ridiculous. You put up a camera, you tell everybody exactly where and when you are putting it up. So, the person just naturally makes sure he does not litter at that point, and then he resumes after that.'

"So, yes, we will make some changes, but I still want to emphasise this cat-and-mouse game cannot be the real solution, and we need more effective assumption of personal responsibility, and we need local action on the ground by people who are actually living there and who know who the culprits are."

- CNA/ms

High-rise litterbugs may face tougher penalties
Ministry to review procedure for deployment of security cameras to catch offenders
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 14 My 13;

SINGAPORE — The penalties for high-rise littering “need to be significantly raised”, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday, adding that the standard operating procedure for the deployment of surveillance cameras to catch offenders is being reviewed.

Speaking in Parliament, Dr Balakrishan said since 2011, 12 suspects have been caught on camera, while five have been prosecuted in court after the National Environment Agency (NEA) piloted the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at hot spots to deter high-rise littering.

In response to Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Member of Parliament (MP) Lim Wee Kiak’s questions, Dr Balakrishnan said that he was “not satisfied” with the situation.

The minister pointed out that while more than 8,000 complaints of high-rise littering are reported each year, only about 10 to 12 are taken to court.

Dr Balakrishnan added: “Given the fact that (culprits in) most recent cases were only fined between S$800 and S$1,500 ... we probably need to review the penalties ... I think the penalties need to be significantly raised.”

He said “a spectrum of penalties which makes it easier or less restrictive when agencies need to take action” against high-rise littering is necessary but did not say when the review of the penalties will be completed.

Currently, those convicted of high-rise littering for the first time can be fined up to S$1,000 and ordered to perform the Corrective Work Order (CWO) for up to 12 hours.

Second-time offenders can be fined up to S$2,000, while third and subsequent offenders can be fined a maximum of S$5,000.

They can also be ordered to perform the CWO for up to 12 hours.

As for high-rise surveillance using CCTV cameras, Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry is reviewing the standard operating procedure for “second and third deployments” of cameras so that residents will not be informed of when they will be installed for a “greater deterrent effect”.

He noted that the NEA currently sends letters to residents to inform them of when and where a camera will be installed.

This, however, has led to a “ridiculous” situation where littering is minimised when the camera is in operation, but the social nuisance rears its head when the camera is removed.

The NEA had previously said that more than 300 locations where residents have reported high-rise littering incidents have been placed under camera surveillance as of the end of February.

When asked by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah if other technology, such as DNA testing on sanitary pads, can be used to nab high-rise litterbugs, Dr Balakrishnan said this would “take intrusive surveillance to new heights” as a DNA database would need to be set up.

He also emphasised that the “more effective assumption of personal responsibility” should be the real solution to deter littering, instead of a “cat-and-mouse game” of trying to catch offenders in the act.

“Our primary line of defence must remain the adoption of personal responsibility and cultivation of appropriate social norms within our neighbourhoods,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Slap litterbugs with harsher penalties, say HDB residents
But first, do more to nab culprits who are rarely caught and punished now
Lim Yi Han Straits Times 17 May 13;

RESIDENTS of Housing Board estates agree with a minister's assessment that high-rise littering persists because litterbugs are rarely caught and punished.

To do so, there need to be more enforcement officers on the ground and permanently-installed surveillance cameras, residents told The Straits Times.

Heavier penalties such as jail time should also be put in place, but the first step to improving the situation would be to nab more culprits, they added.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament on Monday that penalties need to be "significantly raised", and there should be a more effective way of identifying the culprits.

First-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and be given a Corrective Work Order of up to 12 hours.

Dr Balakrishnan said thousands of complaints of high-rise littering are received every year, but only about 10 cases a year are brought to court.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency (NEA) said 55 individuals have been caught from 2003 till last month.

This is despite the high number of complaints to the authorities, totalling 8,152 last year, and 5,232 in 2011. In the first three months of this year, 2,018 complaints were received.

The spokesman said the agency works with town councils to send letters where there are complaints urging residents to refrain from high-rise littering. NEA officers also visit households to talk to residents.

If the problem persists, officers conduct stakeouts and deploy cameras opposite the block.

Since last August, surveillance cameras have been placed at more than 300 locations where there were reported high-rise littering incidents. By April, the cameras had been removed in 60 per cent of these locations, as there were no more complaints from residents.

But most of the 90 residents in Toa Payoh, Bukit Batok, Woodlands and Sengkang, whom The Straits Times interviewed yesterday, felt that more can be done, including drastic measures such as repossessing the flats of offenders.

They also suggested forming neighbourhood watch groups, as well as having permanent surveillance cameras, and more checks to be conducted by NEA officers.

Three blocks - Block 52 Toa Payoh Lorong 6, Block 383 Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 and Block 769 Woodlands Drive - were recorded by NEA as having the greatest volume of high-rise litter feedback between the end of August last year and January this year.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said that harsher penalties are necessary because "littering is poor social behaviour that compromises safety".

She added: "But higher penalties are deterrence that will bite only if you actually catch people. Having the rules is one thing, but policing it is another."

The residents listed laziness, convenience and getting away with it as common reasons for high- rise littering.

Housewife Tiou Cheow Tee, 49, who lives in Toa Payoh, said: "My clothes had holes because of cigarette butts. These litterbugs are really inconsiderate and there should be a heavier fine."

Madam Ramlah Yassin, 45, a chef, another resident in the area, added: "I live on the ground floor and the litter lands right outside my flat. The problem's got worse, and I have to sweep and throw away the rubbish myself. I don't let my grandchildren play outside anymore, as it's dangerous."

Additional reporting by Chan Huan Jun, Farah Mohd Ismail and Natalie Kuan

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Singapore has interest in the Arctic region

Esther Teo Straits Times 14 May 13;

SINGAPORE'S application for permanent observer status in the Arctic Council might seem like an obscure pitch for a country lying just a smidge north of the Equator.

But the Republic's interest in the icy northern region ranges from the risk of rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice to the possibility that its port might be bypassed should the Northern Sea Route running through the Arctic coast take off in a big way.

The council comprises eight Arctic states, including Canada, Russia and the United States.

Tomorrow's Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, which takes place once every two years and will open in Kiruna in northern Sweden, is expected to decide on the applications. Singapore's special envoy for Arctic Affairs Kemal Siddique is in Sweden.

Singapore applied for permanent observer status, which is likely to allow a country to attend council meetings and take part in working groups, in December 2011. Others that have applied for similar status include China, the European Union, India, Japan, Italy and South Korea.

While Singapore has no territorial or resource claims, it does have various economic and political interests in the Arctic. As a major international port, it takes a keen interest in maritime affairs.

The emergence of new sea routes would reduce the distance between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, causing shifts in shipping patterns a few months every year. The implications of these shifts could have far-reaching consequences for Singapore's economic viability and existence.

Rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice could threaten Singapore. Moreover, the island is on the migratory pathway of some Arctic species and the effects of climate change on Arctic flora and fauna would affect those here.

Singapore hopes to contribute its shipping-related expertise in areas such as oil spill prevention and maritime traffic management to the Arctic Council.

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Ice-Free Arctic May Be Near, Study Suggests

Denise Chow Yahoo News 9 May 13;

The Arctic experienced an extended period of warm temperatures about 3.6 million years ago — before the onset of the ice ages — at a time when the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere was not much higher than the levels being recorded today, a new study finds. The research suggests that an ice-free Arctic may be a reality in the near future.

An international team of researchers analyzed sediment cores collected in 2009 from Lake El'gygytgyn (pronounced El-Gee-Git-Kin), the oldest deep lake in the northeast Russian Arctic. The samples enabled the scientists to peer back into the Arctic's climate history dating from 2.2 million to 3.6 million years ago, during the middle Pliocene and early Pleistocene epochs.

The researchers found that during this time, the Arctic was very warm, with summer temperatures about 14 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) warmer than they are in the region today, said Julie Brigham-Grette, a professor in the department of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and lead author of the new study, which was published today (May 9) in the journal Science.

"There was probably no sea ice, and the whole Arctic was pretty well forested, so it was a very different world," Brigham-Grette told LiveScience. "So, how did we go from that to the tundra that we have today, and what does this tell us about the future?" [Images of Melt: Earth's Vanishing Ice]

A window into the past

Lake El'gygytgyn, or "Lake E," as the researchers refer to it, was formed 3.6 million years ago when a meteorite hit Earth and carved out an 11-mile-across (18 kilometers) crater. The lake is one of the few Arctic areas not eroded by continental ice sheets during the ice ages, meaning it has collected a continuous and undisturbed sediment record, the researchers said.

The lake, which today is covered in ice for most of the year, is so deep that if the Washington monument were placed inside it, the tip would just barely appear above the surface, Brigham-Grette said.

The researchers examined fossil pollen in the sediment core and discovered traces of Douglas fir and hemlock. Understanding the vegetation in the area during that time helped the scientists piece together more clues about the precipitation and climate.

"To get Douglas fir and hemlock that far north of the Arctic Circle — you have to have pretty warm summers and warm winters in order for those trees to establish there," Brigham-Grette said.

Previous research suggests the proportion of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere in the Middle Pliocene and Early Pleistocene was similar to the levels that are recorded today and attributed to man-made sources. If this is the case, Earth's climate may be more sensitive to carbon dioxide than scientists previously thought, Brigham-Grette said.

"We can see that the Arctic is quite sensitive to CO2 changes, and levels in the Pliocene were thought to be similar to today," Brigham-Grette explained. "Some of the changes we see going on now — sea ice melting, tree lines migrating and glaciers with tremendous ablation rate — suggest that we're heading back to the Pliocene."

Rising greenhouse gases

Climate scientists are expecting the atmospheric carbon dioxide level to exceed 400 parts per million any day now, which will break a 3-million-year record. Hitting that level means there are 400 molecules of carbon dioxide in the air for every 1 million air molecules.

"We want to know these mechanisms so we can understand better if the climate system has real, serious tipping points," Brigham-Grette said. "As we get warmer, is there a tipping point where the climate would shift into a different kind of regime that we would be worried about? Understanding the past helps inform us of what the future might hold for us." [Earth in the Balance: 7 Crucial Tipping Points]

The results of this new study represent an important contribution toward understanding how Earth is affected by man-made greenhouse gases, said Kate Moran, an ocean engineer who was not involved with the study. Moran is director of NEPTUNE Canada, an underwater ocean observatory managed by the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

"This new paleoclimate record adds to the growing evidence that Earth's sensitivity to these levels of greenhouse gases may be higher than previously thought," Moran said. "Understanding Earth's sensitivity is one of the key parameters for predicting future conditions of the planet under global warming."

And a return to Pliocene-type conditions may not be too far off in the future, said Gifford Miller, a professor in the department of geological sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, who conducts research in the Canadian Arctic.

"The ice is melting at all elevations," Miller said. "Even if there is no additional warming, it's only a matter of time before the ice is all gone."

Rethinking the timeline

The extended warm period during the middle Pliocene also raises new questions about the subsequent ice ages. According to the new study, warm Arctic temperatures persisted past the time when previous studies estimated the start of expanding glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere, Moran said.

These conflicting results mean scientists are still unclear when big continental ice sheets began to expand and grow, and what triggered these changes.

"It really stays relatively warm in the Arctic, even in the onset of the first part of the ice age cycle," Miller said. "That one was unexpected."

But, researchers are slowly filling in the history of the Arctic's climate.

"I like to think of it as working on a big 500-piece puzzle," she said. "We had 200 pieces before, and now the lake record provides us with another 100 pieces, and the picture is starting to become more and more clear."

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Malaysia: Cyclone takes the heat for hot weather

Yvonne Lim The Star 14 May 13;

PETALING JAYA: The hot, dry weather the Klang Valley has been experiencing lately is temporary and can be attributed to changing wind patterns and the effects of the cyclonic storm Mahesan over the Bay of Bengal, said the Malaysian Meteorological Department.

A department spokesman explained that changing wind patterns during the current inter-monsoon season in the country’s west coast caused less cloud coverage over the Klang Valley, simultaneously decreasing the shielding from the sun’s rays in the area.

This caused the days to be hotter, he said.

“We have just finished the April monsoon season and we are expected to enter the South-East monsoon at the end of this month. When the wind pattern stabilises, we will get more rain.

“Currently, the temperature in the Klang Valley is averaging at around 35°C but we can expect it to drop towards the end of the month,” he said, describing the inter-monsoon dryness as a common phenomenon.

He, however, added that based on the wind patterns, this year’s South-East monsoon was expected to be drier, with fewer rainy days compared with recent years.

He said this year’s inter-monsoon dry spell had lasted longer than usual, but added that it was nothing to worry about.

The cyclonic storm over the Bay of Bengal, he said, had driven moisture from around the region into it.

“Nevertheless, we are expecting this to die off by the end of this week as the cyclone is expected to head northeast towards the Bangladesh-Myanmar coast.”

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Malaysia: Forest Institute to tap potential of 'jungle medicine'

New Straits Times 14 May 13;

KUCHING: Traditional medicine has kept us healthy for generations, but modern living has eroded good health away. As the majority of Malaysia's ethnic population has moved forward into modernity, the Orang Asli have kept their jungle knowledge dear to them.

Six years ago, the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) had embarked on a study involving the 18 Orang Asli tribes in the peninsula. The research was part of the 9th Malaysia Plan initiative by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

FRIM documented data on "jungle medicine" from 13 tribes and found four wild tree species that could help improve general health and those who are diabetic.

Its deputy director-general (operations), Dr Noraini Haron, said there were many wild plants that could serve medicinal purposes and that the Orang Asli had this expertise.

"We are not revealing any details on this finding for now as our studies also show that it has the potential for the consumer market.

"This research is geared towards the commercial use of 'jungle medicine' and the proceeds from it will later go back to the Orang Asli community, which is why we do not want to say much about it," she said yesterday.

FRIM is coming up with a prototype medicine for the commercial market sometime this year. It will seek assistance from the United Nations (UN) Development Programme and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to work on the project.

Meanwhile, Kuching North Mayor Datuk Abang Wahap Abang Julai said the Kuching North City Hall would work with FRIM to make the city green and educational under its Clean, Beautiful and Safe programme.

"We have a lot of vacant land and we want to turn it into little jungle clusters to beautify our city."

Read more: FRIM to tap potential of 'jungle medicine' - General - New Straits Times

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Good news for sharks at Indian Ocean Tuna Commission meeting

WWF 13 May 13;

Gland, Switzerland: WWF welcomes the adoption of key conservation measures for oceanic white-tip sharks, whale sharks and cetaceans following the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) annual meeting last week in Mauritius.

IOTC member states agreed on important measures for the management of tuna fisheries and other vulnerable species such as white-tip sharks, which are not to be retained and need to be released unharmed if possible, while purse seiners can no longer set around whale sharks and cetaceans.

One very positive outcome was the adoption of a proposal by the Maldives with regard to interim target and reference points, and a framework for management decisions to be taken in response to changes in stock status.

A reference point is a benchmark value that helps managers decide how the fishery is performing and is often based on an indicator such as fishery stock size or the level of fishing. Fisheries scientists conduct a fishery stock assessment to provide estimates of a fishery stock size and fishing mortality over time. Reference points serve as a standard to compare those estimates based on our understanding of the biological characteristics of the targeted species.

"This is an important step towards the implementation of full harvest control rules and paves the way for the development of management tools essential for a sustainable fishery", said Dr Wetjens Dimmlich, Indian Ocean Tuna Coordinator for WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative.

"WWF welcomes the increasing involvement of Indian Ocean coastal developing states in conservation proposals, demonstrating an awareness of the need to responsibly manage tuna fisheries in the region," Dr Dimmlich added.

"Negotiation and successful adoption of the Maldives proposal for the management of tunas in the Indian Ocean is indeed a giant leap forward in the history of IOTC.

"We are now confident and convinced that together we can make IOTC an effective tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisation", said Dr Hussain R Hassan, the Maldives Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture, and head of the Maldives’ delegation.

WWF looks forward to continuing work in cooperation with the Maldives Government and other developing coastal states in the region to improve the management and conservation of tuna stocks.

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Bugs are food of the future: UN agency

Ella Ide AFP News Yahoo News 14 May 13;

Beetles, caterpillars and wasps could supplement diets around the world as an environmentally friendly food source if only Western consumers could get over their "disgust", the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Monday.

"The main message is really: 'Eat insects'", Eva Mueller, director of forest economics at the FAO, told a press conference in Rome.

"Insects are abundant and they are a valuable source of protein and minerals," she said.

"Two billion people -- a third of the world's population -- are already eating insects because they are delicious and nutritious," she said.

Also speaking at the press conference was Gabon Forestry Minister Gabriel Tchango who said: "Insect consumption is part of our daily life."

He said some insects -- like beetle larvae and grilled termites -- were considered delicacies.

"Insects contribute about 10 percent of animal protein consumed by the population," he said.

The report said insect farming was "one of the many ways to address food and feed insecurity".

"Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint," said the report, co-authored by the FAO and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But the authors admitted that "consumer disgust remains one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries".

Mueller said that brands such as yoghurt maker Danone and Italian alcoholic drinks maker Campari used dye from insects to colour their products.

It suggested that the food industry could help in "raising the status of insects" by including them in recipes and putting them on restaurant menus.

"Beetles, grasshoppers and other insects... are now showing up though on the menus of some restaurants in some European capitals," said Mueller, as she showed photo slides of crickets being used as decoration on top of high-end restaurant desserts.

The report also called for wider use of insects as feed for livestock, saying that poor regulation and under-investment currently meant it "cannot compete" with traditional sources of feed.

"The use of insects on a large scale as a feed ingredient is technically feasible, and established companies in various parts of the world are already leading the way," it added, highlighting in particular producers in China, South Africa, Spain and the United States.

"Insects can supplement traditional feed sources such as soy, maize, grains and fishmeal," it said, adding that the ones with most potential were larvae of the black soldier fly, the common housefly and the yellow mealworm.

The report also said the insects most commonly consumed by humans are beetles (31 percent), caterpillars (18 percent) and bees, wasps and ants (14 percent), followed by grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent).

The report said a total of 1,900 species of insects are consumed around the world.

It said trade in insects was thriving in cities such as Bangkok and Kinshasa and that a similar culture of insect consumption -- entomophagy -- should be established elsewhere, stressing that it was often cheaper to farm insects.

While beef has an iron content of 6.0 miligrams per 100 grams of dry weight, the iron content of locusts varies between 8.0 and and 20 miligrams per 100 grams, the report said.

It also said that insects require just two kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of insect meat compared to a ratio of 8-to-1 for beef.

The report concluded: "History has shown that dietary patterns can change quickly, particularly in a globalised world. The rapid acceptance of raw fish in the form of sushi is a good example."

"Not everybody is ready to pop a bug in their mouth," Mueller said. "It will probably take a while. But some people are already doing it."

UN: Eat more insects; good for you, good for world
Frances D'Emilio Associated Press Yahoo News 13 May 13;

ROME (AP) — The latest weapon in the U.N.'s fight against hunger, global warming and pollution might be flying by you right now.

Edible insects are being promoted as a low-fat, high-protein food for people, pets and livestock. According to the U.N., they come with appetizing side benefits: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and livestock pollution, creating jobs in developing countries and feeding the millions of hungry people in the world.

Some edible insect information in bite-sized form:


Two billion people do, largely in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said Monday as it issued a report exploring edible insect potential.

Some insects may already be in your food (and this is no fly-in-my-soup joke). Demand for natural food coloring as opposed to artificial dyes is increasing, the agency's experts say. A red coloring produced from the cochineal, a scaled insect often exported from Peru, already puts the hue in a trendy Italian aperitif and an internationally popular brand of strawberry yogurt. Many pharmaceutical companies also use colorings from insects in their pills.


Scientists who have studied the nutritional value of edible insects have found that red ants, small grasshoppers and some water beetles pack (gram-per-gram or ounce-per-ounce) enough protein to rank with lean ground beef while having less fat per gram.

Bored with bran as a source of fiber in your diet? Edible insects can oblige, and they also contain useful minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.


Beetles and caterpillars are the most common meals among the more than 1,900 edible insect species that people eat. Other popular insect foods are bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. Less popular are termites and flies, according to U.N. data.


Insects on average can convert 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of feed into 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of edible meat. In comparison, cattle require 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of feed to produce a kilogram of meat. Most insects raised for food are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than livestock, the U.N. agency says.


Edible insects are a money-maker. In Africa, four big water bottles filled with grasshoppers can fetch a gatherer 15 euros ($20). Some caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia are considered delicacies and command high prices.

Insect-farms tend to be small, serving niche markets like fish bait businesses. But since insects thrive across a wide range of locations — from deserts to mountains — and are highly adaptable, experts see big potential for the insect farming industry, especially those farming insects for animal feed. Most edible insects are now gathered in forests.


A 3 million euro ($4 million) European Union-funded research project is studying the common housefly to see if a lot of flies can help recycle animal waste by essentially eating it while helping to produce feed for animals such as chickens. Right now farmers can only use so much manure as fertilizer and many often pay handsome sums for someone to cart away animal waste and burn it.

A South African fly factory that rears the insects en masse to transform blood, guts, manure and discarded food into animal feed has won a $100,000 U.N.-backed innovation prize.


Details about the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's work on edible insects at

Breed insects to improve human food security: UN report

Farms processing insects for animal feed might soon become global reality as demand grows for sustainable feed sources
John Vidal 13 May 13;

The best way to feed the 9 billion people expected to be alive by 2050 could be to rear billions of common houseflies on a diet of human faeces and abattoir blood and grind them up to use as animal feed, a UN report published on Monday suggests. Doing so would reduce the pressure on the Earth's forests and seas as food sources.

The case for houseflies - or other insects like crickets, beetles, bees, wasps, caterpillars, grasshoppers, termites and ants - becoming a major industrial food source is being taken seriously by governments, says the report, because they grow exceptionally fast and thrive on the waste of many industrial processes. The authors envisage fully automated insect works being set up close to breweries or food factories that produce high volumes of farm waste. Each could breed hundreds of tonnes of insects a year that would be fed to other animals.

"The prospect of farms processing insects for feed might soon become a global reality due to a growing demand for sustainable feed sources," say the authors who have been working with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on the potential for insects improving human food security.

"The bioconversion process takes low-cost waste materials and generates a valuable commodity. Depending on the species, a single female fly can lay up to 1,000 eggs over a seven-day period, which then hatch into larvae. Potential big users would need vast quantities of the product – some pet food businesses alone could use over 1,000 tonnes per month," the report adds.

Insect eating may be frowned upon in the west but termites, mealybugs, dung beetles, stink bugs, leaf cutter ants, paper wasps, even some species of mosquitoes are all relished by someone, somewhere, suggests the study. Eighty grasshopper species are regularly eaten; in Ghana during the spring rains, winged termites are collected and fried or made into bread. In South Africa they are eaten with a maize porridge. Chocolate-coated bees are popular in Nigeria, certain caterpillars are favoured in Zimbabwe, and rice cooked with crunchy wasps was a favourite meal of the late Emperor Hirohito in Japan.

"In the past there has been a tendency to say insects are for primitive, stupid people. This is nonsense, a misconception that must be corrected," says lead author Arnold van Huis, who has helped write a Dutch insect recipe book that includes mealyworm pizza and locust ravioli.

Westerners barely know what they are missing, he suggests. Dragonflies boiled in coconut milk with ginger are an Indonesian delicacy; beekeepers in parts of China are considered virile because they eat larvae from their hives, and tarantulas are popular in Cambodia. Europe gave up eating them centuries ago, but Pliny the elder, the Roman scholar, wrote that aristocrats "loved to eat beetle larvae reared on flour and wine" while Aristotle described the best time to harvest cicadas: "The larva on attaining full size becomes a nymph; then it tastes best, before the husk is broken. At first the males are better to eat, but after copulation the females, which are then full of white eggs," he wrote.

So far, says the UN, more than 1,900 species of insects have been identified as human food, with insects forming part of the traditional diets of possibly 2 billion people. The most consumed insects are the beetles (468 species), followed by ants, bees and wasps (351), crickets, locusts and cockroaches (267), and butterflies, moths and silkworms (253).

The crunch factor for governments and food producers may be the lower costs. Cattle and poultry are poor at converting food to body weight, but crickets, says the report, need just two kilograms of feed for every one kilogram of weight gained. "In addition, insects can be reared on organic side-streams including human and animal waste, and can help reduce contamination. Insects are reported to emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs, and they require significantly less land and water than cattle rearing," says the report.

It is because insects are metabolically more efficient that it is potentially far cheaper to raise them om a large scale than any other animal, says Van Huis. But because of the psychological factors [of many people not liking the idea of eating insects directly] the greatest potential in the short term at least, could be to rear insects to provide animal feed, he said.

Eva Muller, director of the FAO's forest economic policy and products division, which co-authored the report, said: "We are not saying that people should be eating bugs. We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests, and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed."

Insects, say the authors, are widely misunderstood. "[They] deliver a host of ecological services that are fundamental to the survival of humankind. They play an important role as pollinators in plant reproduction, in improving soil fertility through waste bioconversion, and in natural biocontrol for harmful pest species, and they provide a variety of valuable products for humans such as honey and silk and medical applications such as maggot therapy."

The Netherlands is now the centre for research into industrial-scale insect rearing with several companies and universities working on ways to scale up production. "The larvae of mealworm species and the superworm are [now] reared as feed for reptile, fish and avian pets [in the Netherlands]. They are also considered particularly fit for human consumption and are offered as human food in specialised shops," says the report.

Insect recipes

Grasshopper tortillas

Collect 1,000 young grasshoppers. Soak for 24 hours. Boil and let dry. Fry in a pan with garlic, onion, salt and lemon. Roll up in tortillas with chilli sauce and guacamole.

Witchetty grub barbecue

Sear grubs with butter and garlic in a hot pan until brown. Grab the head and bite off the rest. The taste is of fried egg with a hint of nuts.

Forest products critical to fight hunger - including insects
New study highlights role of insects for food and feed consumption
FAO 13 May 13;

Rome, 13 May 2013 РForests, trees on farms and agroforestry are critical in the fight against hunger and should be better integrated into food security and land use policies, FAO Director-General Jos̩ Graziano da Silva said today at the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition in Rome (13-15 May).

“Forests contribute to the livelihoods of more than a billion people, including many of the world’s neediest. Forests provide food, fuel for cooking, fodder for animals and income to buy food,” Graziano da Silva said.

“Wild animals and insects are often the main protein source for people in forest areas, while leaves, seeds, mushrooms, honey and fruits provide minerals and vitamins, thus ensuring a nutritious diet.”

“But forests and agroforestry systems are rarely considered in food security and land use policies. Often, rural people do not have secure access rights to forests and trees, putting their food security in danger. The important contributions forests can make to the food security and nutrition of rural people should be better recognized,” Graziano da Silva said.

Frittered critters – wild and farm-raised insects

One major and readily available source of nutritious and protein-rich food that comes from forests are insects, according to a new study FAO launched at the forests for food security and nutrition conference. It is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. Insect gathering and farming can offer employment and cash income, for now mostly at the household level but also potentially in industrial operations.

An astounding array of creatures

With about 1 million known species, insects account for more than half of all living organisms classified so far on the planet.

According to FAO’s research, done in partnership with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, more than 1900 insect species are consumed by humans worldwide. Globally, the most consumed insects are: beetles (31 percent); caterpillars (18 percent); bees, wasps and ants (14 percent); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent). Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc. Beef has an iron content of 6 mg per 100 g of dry weight, while the iron content of locusts varies between 8 and 20 mg per 100 g of dry weight, depending on the species and the kind of food they themselves consume.

First steps for the squeamish

“We are not saying that people should be eating bugs,” said Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, which co-authored “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security”.

“We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests, and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed,” Muller explained.

Farming insects sustainably could help avoid over-harvesting, which could affect more prized species. Some species, such as meal worms, are already produced at commercial levels, since they are used in niche markets such as pet food, for zoos and in recreational fishing.

If production were to be further automated, this would eventually bring costs down to a level where industry would profit from substituting fishmeal, for example, with insect meal in livestock feed. The advantage would be an increase in fish supplies available for human consumption.

Bugs get bigger on less

Because they are cold-blooded, insects don’t use energy from feed to maintain body temperature. On average, insects use just 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kilo of insect meat. Cattle, at the other end of the spectrum, require 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.

In addition, insects produce a fraction of emissions such as methane, ammonia, climate-warming greenhouse gases and manure, all of which contaminate the environment. In fact, insects can be used to break down waste, assisting in the composting processes that deliver nutrients back to the soil while also diminishing foul odours.

Enabling policies lacking

However, legislation in most industrialized nations forbids the actual feeding of waste materials and slurry or swill to animals, even though this would be the material that insects normally feed on. Further research would be necessary, especially as regards the raising of insects on waste streams. But it is widely understood by scientists that insects are so biologically different from mammals that it is highly unlikely that insect diseases could be transmitted to humans.

Regulations often also bar using insects in food for human consumption, although with a growing number of novel food stores and restaurants cropping up in developed countries, it seems to be largely tolerated.

As with other types of food, hygienic production, processing and food preparation will be important to avoid the growth of bacteria and other micro-organisms that could affect human health. Food safety standards can be expanded to include insects and insect-based products, and quality control standards along the production chain will be key to creating consumer confidence in feed and food containing insects or derived from insects.

“The private sector is ready to invest in insect farming. We have huge opportunities before us,” said Paul Vantomme, one of the authors of the report. “But until there is clarity in the legal sphere, no major business is going to take the risk to invest funds when the laws remains unclear or actually hinders development of this new sector,” he explained.

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Shipping chemical 'unsafe for birds'

BBC News 13 May 13;

Wildlife charities are calling for tighter regulations to protect seabirds from a group of chemicals that caused hundreds of seabirds to be washed up off the south coast of England.

The number of seabirds affected by the recent spill of polyisobutene (PIB) has now reached 4,000, said the RSPB.

The sticky chemical is used as a lubricant in ships' engines.

It is also moved in large quantities, as it is used to make chewing gum, adhesive tape and sealants.

The organisations are appealing to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to "reclassify" the chemical.

The RSPB said in a statement: "The risk of PIB is seriously underestimated.

"We are urging the government to call on the IMO to urgently review [its] hazard classification and implement regulations and a systematic monitoring programme that prevent any further tragic and wholly avoidable incidents like the one just witnessed."

Currently, it is legal to discharge PIB in small quantities, based on certain conditions as set out by the international MARPOL Convention (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships).

But the group of charities, which includes the Wildlife Trusts, the Marine Conservation Society and the RSPCA, wants this to be stopped.

"Even if it's legitimately discharged, it's clearly harmful," said an RSPB spokesperson.
Industry support

The joint call is being supported by the industry body, the UK Chamber of Shipping.

Alec Taylor, marine policy officer for the RSPB, said that, with this support, he was hopeful that the UK government could "push for tighter regulations preventing the discharge of PIB into the sea for good".

The organisations have timed their call to coincide with the latest assembly of the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee, which takes place in London from 13 to 17 May.

David Balston, director of safety and environment at the UK Chamber of Shipping, admitted that no regulation could eliminate the possibility of illegal activity.

He added: "We strongly support an urgent review to see how best to help prevent a recurrence of the recent deaths and injury to wildlife."

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is still investigating the exact cause of this incident and the vessel responsible.

It said: "The MCA has been collecting data of the ships that passed through the area during a specific time frame, and has been looking through detailed cargo manifests.

"The number of tankers currently being investigated further stands at seven.

"If the MCA can locate any ship that was responsible for an illegal discharge, then we will take steps to prosecute."

Species affected

Arctic skua
Great skua
Herring gull
Great black-backed gull
Manx shearwater
Great northern diver
Little auk
Common tern
Sandwich tern (possible)

Source: RSPB

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