Best of our wild blogs: 9 Apr 14

"An Evening of Biodiversity: The Secret Lives of Mammals in Singapore" from habitatnews

“Nature Kids”- a documentary review
from My Nature Experiences

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Volunteers keep tabs on birds for NParks

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Apr 14;

During last Saturday's overcast morning, a group of Jurong residents walked around the Japanese Garden park, peering into bushes and around trees at the edge of ponds to look for herons.

They were among 200 volunteers who showed up at more than 70 spots around the island to track down the distinctive big birds as part of the National Parks Board's (NParks) ongoing Heron Watch project.

It asked members of the public to collect data on how many herons there are here and where they appear in a bid to help NParks design research projects and save habitats.

Such "citizen science" initiatives are gaining ground. NParks National Biodiversity Centre director Lena Chan said that beside Heron Watch, volunteers have also collected and photographed marine organisms for Singapore's first marine and shore life census.

Meanwhile, nature interest groups have been keeping track of birds, butterflies and seagrass - the only flowering plant to grow under water. Schools have also helped by counting plants and animals around their campuses.

Undergraduate David Tan, 25, who collects bird carcasses to build a genetic database of local species for the Avian Genetics Laboratory at the National University of Singapore, even counts on the public to call him when they spot a dead bird.

"The everyday layperson is a much better spotter of birds than I am because I'm always cooped up in the lab," he said.

The Internet has also opened up new ways to collect and analyse data. NParks is asking people to post their photos of flowering plants, along with their location, in a Facebook album called Singapore Blooms.

In February, a group of botanists and enthusiasts started a Singapore Flowering Facebook page to document the mass flowering triggered by the recent dry spell.

Botanical researcher Adrian Loo, 42, who started the page, said: "It was to get people excited about flowering and also to gather as much info as possible from different parts of Singapore."

Since 2005, NUS senior lecturer N. Sivasothi has gone online to solicit public sightings of animals such as rare moths, civet cats, otters and red junglefowl. To researchers' surprise, he said, public reports revealed that "red junglefowl must be all over the island".

In future, low-cost sensors or smartphone apps could be used by people to collect natural data around the world, the science journal Nature reported last month.

But ultimately, said Mr Sivasothi, researchers have to verify the sightings. And the locations of sightings are not published if researchers think people might poach or harm species, he added.

Still, with clear, detailed instructions, he said, "People can do pretty amazing things."

And get to experience something new.

Construction consultant Tai Yoon Cheng, 44, took his wife and young son to Saturday's Heron Watch session. "We've always joined the residents' committee activities, but this is our first time birdwatching."

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Endangered crab to get help to make babies

NParks and NUS are in the midst of assessing the numbers, habitat conditions, breeding and interaction patterns of the endangered Johora singaporensis freshwater crab.
Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Apr 14;

Several uniquely Singaporean crabs are going to get help in making babies.

The River Safari is planning a breeding programme to make sure that some of the world's most endangered freshwater species which are found only in Singapore do not get consigned to history.

The programme is one of the outcomes of last month's two-day roundtable on saving the pebble-size Johora singaporensis crab, which is found only in hill streams at Bukit Timah and Bukit Batok, and nowhere else in the world.

Other rare cousins include the swamp forest crab, found only in Nee Soon swamp forest, and the Johnson's freshwater crab, which lives only in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

"They belong to this country, this island, and if they die, this island is also responsible," said crab expert, Professor Peter Ng, who gave J. singaporensis its name.

The trial breeding programme was announced at a public seminar on March 29 by Mr Lee Meng Tat, chief executive of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which runs the River Safari.

He added that WRS would also spread public awareness of these threatened species.

Only a smidgen larger than a 50-cent coin, the J. singaporensis crab was first discovered in 1986 at a freshwater hill stream in Bukit Timah. But in 2007, researchers found it had vanished from the original site, possibly due to the stream water there becoming more acidic.

It is still found at other spots at Bukit Timah. Still, it is not known how many are out there as the shy nocturnal crustacean hides under rocks and is hard to find.

Currently, a two-year study by National Parks Board (NParks) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) is assessing its numbers, habitat conditions, how it breeds and how it interacts with other forest creatures.

Dr Lena Chan of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre said the agency has also taken steps to protect the crabs' habitat. It has re-directed a cycling trail and closed off sensitive stream sites to public access.

Assistant Professor Darren Yeo, an NUS freshwater ecology expert who initiated the roundtable, said participants - which included expert crab breeders and the International Union for Conservation of Nature - will also develop a comprehensive conservation plan for the rare crabs.

The plan will be one of the first in the world for any invertebrate, which are animals without a backbone, such as worms and insects.

They will also look for suitable sites to release captive-bred crabs.

But has anyone successfully bred any?

Not yet, said Dr Daniel Ng, an NUS postdoctoral researcher helping to monitor the crabs. Mating behaviour has been seen among crabs in the lab but they have produced no babies, he added.

But, he said, "we are cautiously optimistic that this crab can be saved."

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Malaysia: No taking clean water supply for granted now -- Experts

The Star 9 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: The ongoing water rationing is causing hardship and frustration but it is the only way to cope with the crisis, say experts.

They also believe that the exercise would change the attitude of consumers who had been careless when using water.

Water and Energy Consumer Association of Malaysia secretary-general Foon Weng Lian said the awareness to conserve water was still low among consumers.

“The water rationing is a wake-up call for users to learn how to reduce their consumption and appreciate the true value of a continuous supply of clean and safe water,” he said.

Foon said rationing and water demand management were only short-term measures, adding that long-term planning was vital to prevent such crises from recurring.

Among the long-term plans were inter-state raw water transfers, reduction of non-revenue water rate, permanent gazetting of all water catchment areas, and the implementation of a holistic national water policy covering water resources, supply, demand and waste water.

Foon said rationing was the only option available to help cope with the shortage, adding that it was still too early to say that it had failed.

According to the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry, people in Selangor were only using 7% less water even with rationing imposed in the state.

As of yesterday morning, the Sungai Selangor dam in Kuala Kubu Baru recorded a 37.31% capacity. Its critical level is 30%.

Environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said water rationing needed to be done in a proper manner without upsetting the consumers.

“Rationing is needed because when the water level is low and supply to households is not controlled, consumers will use it like usual and will not make an effort to conserve it,” he said.

Dr Theng said Malaysians should learn a lesson from this crisis.

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Malaysia: Re-mention of wildlife case against Wong's wife on May 8

The Star 9 Apr 14;

BALIK PULAU: The case of wildlife trader Anson Wong’s wife Cheah Bing Shee, charged with illegal possession of five elongated tortoises, a totally protected wildlife species, has been fixed for re-mention on May 8.

Magistrate Muhammad Najib Ismail fixed the date on behalf of Sessions judge Caroline Bee Majanil, who was away.

The court was told that the defence requested for more documents on log books from the prosecution, which has since been taken over by DPP Charanjit Singh from Shahruddin Othman of the Wildlife and National Parks Department.

Cheah, 56, is jointly charged with Syarikat Rona Wildlife Enterprise and its director K. Muthukomar under Section 68(1)(a) of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 with keeping three male elongated tortoises (Indotestudo elangota), also known as baning lonjong jantan, without a special permit.


Cheah, believed to be the manager of Rona Wildlife, Muthukomar and the company are also alleged to have kept two female elongated tortoises without a special permit, an offence under Section 70(1) of the same Act.

They are alleged to have committed the offences at Lot 157, Mukim 1, Pantai Acheh, Balik Pulau, at 1.30pm on Nov 24 last year.

The first offence carries a maximum fine of RM100,000 or a jail term of up to three years, or both, while the second offence carries a maximum fine of RM300,000 or a jail term of up to 10 years, or both.

All three are represented by counsel Ramesh Raj.

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Indonesia: Sumatran Elephant Found Dead in Aceh Forest

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 8 Apr 14;

Banda Aceh. A male Sumatran elephant was found dead in the forest of Teuping Panah Village in West Aceh, allegedly killed for its ivory, officials said on Tuesday.

Head of Aceh’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency [BKSDA] Genman Suhefti Hasibuan said members of the agency, along with an elephant handler, had departed to the location to investigate..

“Based on reports from a local village chief, the elephant was said to have died a week ago,” Genman told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday. “The team has had difficulty reaching the location, as there are still a herd of elephants [at the location]. We are bringing an elephant handler to drive away the herd.”

Many scientific reports have claimed that elephants engage in long mourning rituals for their dead, which could be the why the group of animals has remained at the supposed location. To get to the specific area, the team must take a 6-hour long trek into the jungle.

Genman said the agency cannot yet confirm how the elephant died, but according to an investigation conducted by local police and testimony from residents around the area, the elephant was murdered for its tusks.

“It was initially reported that two elephants were found dead, but the village chief insisted that there was only one,” he said. “We will know for sure once the team reaches the location.”

Meanwhile, a local villager claimed the elephant’s tusks were removed with a chainsaw.

“There was a trap around a tree,” said the resident, who declined to be identified. “We suspect ivory hunters put the trap there.”

Genman said that this was the province’s second recorded elephant death this year; an elephant was killed in February after it was caught in a hog trap set up by locals in Southeast Aceh.

“It was not meant to kill the elephant — there were hog pests in the plantation area,” he said.

Elephants living in Aceh have suffered in recent years. Increasing deforestation in the province has resulted in increasing habitat loss and more human and elephant conflicts. Even over the past three months, 20 cases of elephant-related disturbances have been recorded in Aceh.

“It takes a group effort involving all parties from the regional administration, BKSDA and local people to handle the conflicts. If not, the conflicts will continue,” Genman said.

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