Best of our wild blogs: 21 Aug 14

Greater Banded Hornet nest
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Is there a Singapore Scops Owl?
from Francis' Random Yaks, Articles & Photos

Mating Woodpeckers attacking its image
from Singapore Bird Group

Indonesia's forests so damaged they burn whether or not there's drought
from news by Rhett Butler

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Singapore's food security dependent on diversifying sources: Maliki

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 21 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: The Republic is reliant on other countries in terms of food support, but diversifying food sources minimises the impact of a crisis on any single food source, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman on Thursday (Aug 21).

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food supply from about 160 countries, but it is aware of the challenges associated with food security in Asia, such as the shift towards urbanisation, decreasing food production and the loss of farming land, Dr Maliki said in his keynote speech at the International Conference on Asian Food Security.

“In February this year, Singapore experienced its worst dry spell in history since 1869. The high temperatures reduced the level of dissolved oxygen in our seawater, resulting in massive fish deaths at our coastal fish farms. Such episodes can occur anywhere,” said Dr Maliki.

He highlighted the role of research and development (R&D) as a solution to the food security problem. “We should seize the opportunities to invest in technology now so as to be better prepared to tackle the effects of climate change on farming.”

"The United Nations estimates that even today, about 20 per cent of our total world food comes from our cities," he said. "So as an urban society, what can we do? Try breeding plants that grow in much better in limited spaces, with limited water and limited sunlight.

"We can do more and all this requires technology. Technology in terms of water compensation, water utilisation, space limitations, the ability to use sunlight - all this requires R&D."

Another conference speaker told Channel NewsAsia that Singapore can use its strengths in R&D to help neighbouring countries, and find new ways of producing food in an urban landscape.

Professor Paul Teng, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, said: “Whatever discoveries made here can be applied in neighbouring countries. It doesn’t take long for new discoveries to be translated into products. As an urban society, we can try breeding plants that grow much better in a limited space, with limited water and sunlight.

“Singapore also has several hundreds of rooftop surfaces. Can we develop new technologies that allow us to better utilise this rooftop space?" he added.

The International Conference on Asian Food Security, organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, aims to identify initiatives in policy and technology to mitigate challenges associated with food security in Asia. The opening of the two-day conference was attended by about 150 participants from 19 countries.

Even as experts pointed out the role of technological advances in securing food supply, some said that in the future this could mean consuming food that is completely different to what we're used to today, such as synthetic meat produced from cells.

- CNA/kk/ek

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Increase in fires due to dry spell: SCDF

Amanda Lee and Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 20 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: More fire calls were made in the first half of this year despite a drop in fires at residential premises, according to the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) mid-year report released on Wednesday (Aug 20).

The SCDF said it responded to 2,532 fires between January and June this year – an increase of 407 cases, or 19.2 per cent, from 2,125 fires during the same period last year. A total of 42 incidents resulted in casualties, with 21 smoke inhalation cases and 35 fire injuries. There were two fatalities from a fire that broke out at the Marina Bay Suites on Jan 13.

The increase was largely due to a rise in vegetation fires as a result of a dry spell from January to March, the SCDF said. There was a “significant” rise in the number of vegetation fires during the first six months of the year to 529 cases, compared with the 104 cases in the first half of 2013.


Another concern was the increase of vehicular fires which went up from 95 in the first six months of last year, to 114 cases in the same period this year - a 20 per cent jump.

SCDF says most of the fires occurred while the vehicles were on the road, due to electrical faults or overheating of the engine compartment.

"Most vehicle fires start small but can develop rapidly due to the presence of flammables such as petrol or diesel in vehicles," said an SCDF spokesperson. "To prevent vehicle fires, we urge vehicle owners to conduct regular servicing on their vehicles and, as much as possible, equip their vehicles with fire extinguishers."


However, the number of fires in residential premises fell to 1,493 cases, down 3.1 per cent compared with the 1,541 fires in the same period last year. Fires in rubbish chutes and bins formed the bulk of these fires, at 54.9 per cent or 819 cases. This was an increase of 20.4 per cent from last year.

The SCDF said it observed a spike in the number of rubbish fires during the festive season. A total of 389 cases, or 47.5 per cent, of the rubbish fires occurred in January and February, due to the “indiscriminate disposal of lighted materials such as sparklers, charcoal and incense materials”, it said.

Fires involving discarded items fell 55.5 per cent, while fires involving unattended cooking fires fell 24 per cent and those involving household contents fell by 17 per cent. However, electrical fires for the first six months of 2014 rose by 16.8 per cent, mainly caused by the poor condition or maintenance of electrical wirings and cables, loose or improper connections, or electrical appliances that short-circuited, the SCDF said.

The number of enforcement checks for fire safety standards in the first half of 2014 also increased compared to the same period in 2013. SCDF says they issued 530 more notices to building owners and management for fire hazard violations between January and June in 2014 - an increase from 1,093 in the previous year.


Between January and June, the SCDF’s Emergency Medical Services responded to more ambulance calls. A total of 76,063 ambulance calls were made during the period, a marginal increase of 39 calls (or 0.1 per cent), as compared to last year with 76,024 ambulance calls.

Emergency calls made up 96 per cent of the calls; 1.9 per cent were non-emergency calls and 2.1 per cent were false alarms.

The number of false alarms remains a drain to ambulance resources, and can deprive those who are in genuine need of emergency medical assistance, said the SCDF.

The number of emergency calls dipped slightly by 0.2 per cent from 73,146 to 73,023. The SCDF attributed this to the drop of 3.6 per cent in the number of road traffic accident related injuries that it responded to, from 5,476 cases to 5,280 cases.

Of the 73,023 emergency calls, 74.6 per cent were medical cases, 7.2 per cent were road traffic accident related cases and 18.2 per cent were related to other trauma cases such as industrial accidents, falls and assaults.


The SCDF also officially announced an Emergency Short Messaging Service (SMS) feature specially catered to people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or those with a speech impairment (DHS). The SMS feature was initially piloted in July. Members of the DHS community can use their mobile phone to send an SMS to 70995 to inform the SCDF of emergencies, such as a fire or a medical emergency that requires a fire engine or an SCDF emergency ambulance.

To use the service, a member of the DHS community must register with one of three organisations: The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf), TOUCH Community Services (Silent Club) or SG Enable.


2,500 fires broke out in first half of year
Lester Hio The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Aug 14;

A surge in the number of vegetation fires during an "unusual dry spell" between January and March has led to a rise in the total number of fires in the first half of this year.

From January to June, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) had to deal with around 2,500 fires, compared to around 2,100 in the same period last year.

This was due to the 529 vegetation fires - five times the number in the first six months of last year, when there were 104 cases.

The last time there were more of such fires over a six-month period was in 2005, where there were 697 cases.

The statistics also showed that vehicle fires have climbed by a fifth, from 95 in the first half of last year to 114 cases.

SCDF could not pinpoint the reason for the increase, but said that many of the fires were caused by electrical faults or overheating in the engine compartment.

Mr Hanafi Othman, who owns East West Auto Service, said that such fires may also be caused by wear and tear of the fuel line.

"It may cause fuel leakage. If the fuel touches anything hot, like the exhaust, the fuel will catch fire and spread across the car," he said.

Also on the rise were indus-trial fires, which went up by nearly 17 per cent to 83 cases. One-fifth of the incidents involved warehouses.

While the number of residential fires fell by just 3 per cent, SCDF noticed a "big drop" in those caused by discarded items - from 319 cases to 142.

Rubbish fires caused by improper disposal of lighted materials continued to form the bulk of residential fires at 55 per cent.

Fires on commercial premises dropped as well, by 7.3 per cent. Despite the fall, fires in eating establishments, such as coffee shops, remain an "area of concern", said SCDF director of operations Anwar Abdullah, as they can engulf the area quickly.

There were 34 such cases in the six months.

More than half of the fires that happened this year so far were caused by a "dropped light", which includes lighted cigarette butts that were not properly extinguished, embers from charcoal, and lighted incense sticks. They accounted for 1,307 cases in the six months.

And while the number of people injured by fire shrank - there was a 45 per cent drop in smoke inhalation cases to 21 this year, and a 19 per cent dip in burn injuries to 35 - there were more deaths reported.

Security guards Sim Lai Huat, 55, and Sooria Kala Kanaseon, 33, died in a fire at the Marina Bay Suites condominium on Jan 13 this year.

In the first half of last year, no one died from a fire, but four people died in the later half.

Meanwhile, to make sure they can do more than just treat heart attack cases, fire bikers will undergo an Emergency Medical Technician course, the SCDF announced yesterday.

It will teach them how to provide help to people with other ailments - such as serious injury and loss of consciousness.

Said SCDF's chief medical officer, Colonel Dr Ng Yih Yng: "The fire bikers get to cases faster as they are more mobile. This will lead to improved response time and the care of patients."

Car fires on the rise
Colin Tham The New Paper AsiaOne 23 Aug 14;

If you have not been taking your car to a workshop regularly for checks and maintenance, you may be playing with fire, literally.

The number of vehicles that caught fire has gone up by 20 per cent, from 95 in the first six months of last year to 114 cases in the first half of this year.

The numbers were released by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) yesterday.

More than half of this year's cases involved cars.

Said Assistant Commissioner Anwar Abdullah, the SCDF operations department director: "It is important to have a proper, timely and regular maintenance check on the vehicle at an authorised workshop."

He also warned that drivers should not have any illegal modifications installed on their cars as these could cause fires.

Mr Joey Lim, managing director of Harmony Motor, a vehicle servicing workshop, agreed that regular checks can prevent such mishaps.

"Vehicles get older and would naturally suffer from wear and tear. As Singaporeans are not technically inclined, they go to a workshop only when they notice a problem."

He said that drivers should follow their car manufacturers' maintenance guidelines.


Seeing a more gradual rise over the years is the number of calls to the SCDF by the elderly.

Colonel (Dr) Ng Yih Yng, the chief medical officer of the SCDF medical department, said this could be due to our ageing population.

"The elderly account for about 10 per cent of Singapore's population and calls made by them to the SCDF have been increasing over the last four to five years," he said.

Last year, 36.2 per cent of calls to the SCDF were from the elderly.

Mr David Kan, the founder and programme director of Family Life First, a voluntary welfare organisation, suggested that the increase may be due to emotional stress when someone reaches a certain age.

"The elderly may feel a lack of adequate human interaction and connection in old age and they may be inclined to pick up the phone and look for a listening ear to cope with it," he said.

The number of false alarms this year also rose, by 9 per cent.

Said Col (Dr) Ng: "False alarms may occur when people panic when they see someone unwell and immediately call for an ambulance.

"They may later find out that the people whom they had called in for may actually be okay."

But he warned against making prank calls because these do not only drain the SCDF's ambulance resources, they can also deprive those who may be in genuine need of emergency assistance.

"Prank calling could potentially take away an ambulance from someone who actually needs help," he said.

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Energy-intensive firms could see returns from sustainability efforts in under 3 years: NEA

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 20 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) says some heavy users of energy may not have to wait long to see the returns from their efforts to save energy.

This follows the agency's initial assessment of energy reports submitted by 167 companies, which operate 211 energy-intensive industrial facilities. About 60 per cent of the energy-saving projects planned by these companies could see returns in less than three years, NEA said.

This year marks the first time heavy energy users have had to submit energy reports to NEA by the end of June, as required under the Energy Conservation Act that came into effect in 2013. These reports include information such as the fuels these facilities use, which machines use a lot of energy and the companies' energy-saving plans over the next few years.

NEA said information in these reports could be used to identify major energy-consuming systems across companies and help the agency design its policies. For example, a best practices guide could be developed for certain systems..

Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) was one of the 167 companies that submitted energy reports to the NEA. Producing beers like Heineken and Tiger is a long and energy-intensive process for the company, and includes boiling a mixture of malt and water to produce an extract called wort, fermenting and then pasteurising the beer.

APB has been generating energy reports internally for 18 years, and this has allowed it to make improvements throughout its operations. Mr Andre van Schuijlenburg, head of supply chain at Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, explained: “For example, in our wort boiling, we generate a lot of heat. The heat goes to the atmosphere so the heat is lost and we could see it was lost, so we implemented the heat recovery system. We collect the heat, we heat up the water with this heat, and we can use that heated water for cleaning purposes."

While NEA is still reviewing the reports, initial findings show there are many easy-to-achieve outcomes identified by companies. This may be timely news for an industry that has been accused of being reluctant to move to greener technology or retrofit older equipment with more energy-efficient parts.

Professor Low Teck Seng, CEO of the National Research Foundation, said: "Everyone in the industry realises we need to move towards better sustainability in everything we do, but it is a question of balancing the cost that needs to be incurred and a pragmatic approach towards a long-term installation plan that will work for both the companies and the public."

NEA said current incentive schemes may also be refined, a move welcomed by companies like APB. With several schemes available, APB said that companies may need help when trying to decide which one would fit them best.

Mr Andre van Schuijlenburg said: "There are many (sources of help) available, but it is not always so clear which one to go to. So if there could be a one-stop shop where you could go with your projects and they could help you in which grants to apply for, that could make it even easier.”

- CNA/ms

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Pulau Ubin micro-grid to be platform for energy-related technologies

Channel NewsAsia 20 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: The development of energy-related technologies is the focus for the next phase of the Pulau Ubin Micro-grid Test-bed. The Energy Market Authority (EMA) announced on Wednesday (Aug 20) the launch of a Request for Proposals (RFP), calling on companies and research organisations to leverage on the Micro-grid Test-bed to pilot innovative technologies.

This phase will be a chance to “extract useful learning points to prepare our power grid for a larger scale deployment of solar energy in Singapore”, said EMA Chief Executive Chee Hong Tat. “This includes the development of technology solutions to overcome challenges associated with the intermittent nature of solar energy.”

Phase 1 saw the construction of micro-grid infrastructure at Pulau Ubin’s jetty area by a local consortium comprising Daily Life Renewable Energy Pte Ltd and OKH Holdings Pte Ltd. This involved the integration of technologies such as solar photovoltaic, energy storage and control systems, and the system was completed in 2013.

As a result, more than 30 business-owners and residents in this area now pay relatively more competitive prices for the electricity supply from the micro-grid, compared to what they were paying when using their own diesel generators, said EMA.

Under Phase 2, this existing infrastructure will serve as a platform for trying out innovative technologies in areas such as energy analytics, energy storage and grid asset management. Propsals are to be submitted by noon on Oct 10. The RFP can be downloaded here.

- CNA/xy

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Python caught at Braddell Road

Channel NewsAsia 21 Aug 14;

ACRES was alerted at 9.10am, and the python was caught 50 minutes later.

The python was sighted on the fence outside of the old Braddell-Westlake Secondary School. (Photo: Shaliha Rasid)

SINGAPORE: A reticulated python was spotted at a bus stop along Braddell Road, outside the old Braddell-Westlake Secondary School on Thursday (Aug 21) morning.

Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) said it was alerted by the police and a member of public at 9.10am. Its rescue team arrived at the scene at 10am and caught the python.

“Reticulated pythons are native to Singapore, and the majority of their diet constitutes of rats,” said ACRES Group Director Anbarasi Boopal. “They play an important ecological role in controlling rat population in Singapore. They are non-venomous and like most other wild animals, they tend to avoid humans.”

Members of public are advised to keep their distance if they see wildlife animals in public spaces. They can call the 24-hour wildlife rescue hotline 9783 7782 for assistance or advice. Wildlife animals should not be hurt or captured by the public. If they are sighted in canals or green reserves and the animal does not appear to be injured or stuck, it is best to leave them alone, said ACRES' wildlife rescue team.

- CNA/xk

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Malaysia: Sunda pangolin heading for extinction

The Star 21 Aug 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Conservationists here fear that a shy nocturnal creature is heading for extinction due to demand for its meat.

They say the Sunda pangolin is under threat due to a combination of factors, including illegal trade with organised syndicates linked to international networks.

Pangolins are captured for their meat and other uses, and yet not much is discussed about the fate of the species unlike that of the Bornean pygmy elephant or orang utan.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) masters student Elisa Panjang (pic), who has been studying pangolin ecology, said besides poaching, habitat degradation was also affecting the creature’s survival.

“Pangolins are quite easy to capture because they roll up into a ball when threatened.

“A study by the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, which fights illegal wildlife crime, showed that hunters in Sabah come from a variety of social backgrounds and usually hunt the animal to supplement their income,” she said.

She said an estimated 22,000 pangolins have been captured in Sabah over a period of about 14 months based on a 2010 Traffic report.

Elisa, who will undertake a PhD course on pangolins with the Danau Girang Field Centre and Cardiff University, said there was a pressing need to better understand the plight of the species, apart from educating poachers and potential hunters.

A workshop to discuss steps in creating awareness about pangolins locally will be held today at the Sabah Wildlife Department.

Dr Benoit Goossens, who is the centre’s director and also co-organiser of the workshop, hoped this would be the first step towards better protection of the Sunda pangolin in Sabah.

“It will bring researchers, wildlife officers, environmental educators and NGOs to share current trade data and conservation activities on pangolins, identify the gaps in resources and knowledge, design an awareness campaign and decide on important actions to avoid potential extinction of the species,” she said.

Due to rampant poaching, the International Union of Conservation for Nature last month upgraded the Sunda pangolin to “critically endangered” status, the worst listing on the Red List before a species is declared extinct.

In Sabah, the Sunda pangolin is currently listed as a protected animal, in Part One of Schedule Two of the state’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, which means a hunting licence is required to hunt them.

However, no hunting licence has ever been issued.

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UK: Sky lanterns and launchers steered by new safety code of practice

Chinese or paper lantern dangers prompt government guidance, ranging from lamp design to advice on where and how to set free
James Meikle The Guardian 20 Aug 14;

Chinese and other paper lanterns should not be released by people under the influence of alcohol and air-traffic control should be notified if lanterns are to be set free within 10 miles of an airfield, according to new government guidance.

The guidance also says that instructions for use of sky lanterns, under a industry-written code of practice and endorsed by ministers and trading standards officials, should include prosecution warnings.

The change follows growing concern about the risk from lanterns to people, wildlife and the environment, farm animals, aviation, property, including campsites and waste sites, and coastal rescue services.

The guidance, which also gives requirements over lantern design, size, shape, manufacture and safety checks, says the floating lights must always be launched by two people, one holding the item, the other igniting the fuel cell, and that launchers should not be under the influence of alcohol nor set free the lights near crops, haystacks or power lines.

Air traffic control at any airfield within 10 miles must be notified before lanterns are launched, as must local coastguards if the location is near the sea.

Event organisers are also advised to ask local authorities for risk assessments and not to release lanterns in wind speeds of 5mph or higher. The new code also says lanterns should be biodegradable, not harmful to animals, and not coloured red or orange to ensure they are not mistaken for distress flares.

Age checks on buyers should also be made to help ensure lanterns, which are also commonly used at private celebrations, are sold to, and used by, adults.

The industry code was published a year after chief fire officers appealed for the public and event organisers not to use lanterns of this kind. At an industrial fire in Smethwick, west Midlands, last summer, 10 firefighters were injured in a blaze said to have been caused by a Chinese lantern.

The government rejected calls from farming groups and animal charities for a lantern ban. Meanwhile the National Outdoor Events Association asked its members not to use them, citing their "danger", and Tesco and Poundland were among retailers who stopped selling lanterns.

The industry code followed talks with the government and was approved and published by the Trading Standards Institute.

George Eustice, the minister for farming, said the rules would help ensure sky lanterns were safe, biodegradable and sold responsibly. "People are becoming more aware of the dangers of sky lanterns and how to reduce the risk of causing damage. Over the last year Defra has highlighted these risks, and a number of retailers have decided to stop selling them while some local authorities and event organisers have banned sky lanterns altogether."

The Chief Fire Officers' Association, which had wanted a government review of lantern safety, called the guidance a step forward towards minimising the potential risks and encouraging best practice.

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