Best of our wild blogs: 15 Oct 14

Container ship runs aground near Pulau Sebarok on 14 Oct 2014
from wild shores of singapore

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For birds, skyscrapers can mean fatal collision

Lim Yi Han The Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Oct 14;

The carcasses of a blue-winged pitta (left) and chestnut-winged cuckoo, both migratory birds, spotted in Jurong.

Singapore's skyline may be revered by tourists but it is spelling death for scores of migratory birds.

The Nature Society (Singapore) has found that every year, many of these birds die after hitting skyscrapers here.

While millions of birds worldwide also die in this way, many studies have been done to mitigate the problem overseas. The society, however, noted that such a phenomenon is "chronically understudied" in Asia.

With the avian migratory season under way, the Nature Society's Bird Group has started a survey and is asking for those who have witnessed dead or injured migratory birds here to come forward.

It plans to collect information from now until next May and release a preliminary report by late next year. There are plans to run the survey for at least five years to observe short-term trends.

Mr Yong Ding Li, 30, a coordinator of the project, said such crashes may lead to a loss in the bird population, which is already in decline due to habitat loss, hunting and climate change.

"If we know which species are more affected, and what settings increase their risk of crashes, we might then be able to make recommendations to mitigate this," said Mr Yong, a graduate student specialising in ecology and bird conservation at the Australian National University.

Each year, some 2,000 migratory birds from countries like Russia, Mongolia, China and Japan arrive in Sungei Buloh in August and September for a respite from harsh winters, said the National Parks Board.

Some fly off again, heading to Australia or Indonesia, while others live in Sungei Buloh and surrounding areas till the next March or April.

Mr Yong explained that migratory birds crash into buildings because many fly at night. They are often attracted to, or disoriented by, the lighting from buildings, as they navigate using star patterns of the night sky.

They may also be confused by the reflection of trees and sky on the buildings' exterior.

Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai, 51, noting that the study was interesting and worthwhile, said: "We know this is happening but we don't know on what scale. "But it's not an easy study to do because we have such an efficient clean-up system in Singapore... Our clean-up crew may sweep away the dead birds before anyone wakes up."

Bird Ecology Study Group co-founder Wee Yeow Chin, 77, said: "In other countries, there are architectural adaptations so that birds don't crash. This study can help us find out the extent of the tragedy and whether we need to take some steps to crack down on this."

Visit to help in the survey.

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Marine conservation veteran continuing passion after retirement: Prof Chou Loke Ming

Audrey Tan Straits Times AsiaOne 15 Oct 14;

HE HAS been scarred by sharp coral, pricked by a sea urchin, and twice he had close brushes with death when he ran out of air under water.

Yet, his passion for the sea and the urge to protect all creatures in it - dangerous or not - could not be easily doused.

When he retires at the end of the month, National University of Singapore (NUS) marine biologist Chou Loke Ming, 67, can look back on three decades of effort to advance marine conservation.

Along with other active marine conservationists, such as lawyer Francis Lee, 68, Professor Chou had led calls for the establishment of a marine park. A 40ha patch that includes the Sisters' Islands and reefs off nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor was finally set up earlier this year.

In 1987, Prof Chou and Mr Lee also started the Singapore Reef Conservation Committee, training 200 ecology specialist divers to survey the southern reefs, which were affected by extensive land reclamation works.

But even as he prepares to drop the sails on teaching, Prof Chou has packed his post-retirement schedule with more plans to contribute to marine biology.

Just last week, he jetted off to Bali, Indonesia, to prepare for two books on coastal management that he plans to co-write when he retires.

He will also take on an adjunct role at the Tropical Marine Science Institute - spending eight hours each week managing a reef restoration project.

Prof Chou also hopes to nurture a similar love for the ocean in his grandsons, aged two and three, by taking them to the aquarium and on snorkelling trips.

"I just hope to expose them to (the sea), not indoctrinate them, they will still be free to pursue their own dreams," said the soft-spoken professor, who is the principal investigator at NUS' Reef Ecology Lab.

His love for the sea, Prof Chou said, is anchored in his childhood. As a child growing up in a fishing village in Siglap with a younger sister, he spent his days swimming frequently in the sea and mixing with fishermen.

As a pre-university student at Victoria School, he went on field trips to the Southern Islands.

Back then, the waters were much clearer, said Prof Chou, and a far cry from the heavily sedimented waters that surround Singapore today. "It was easy to see the whole reef, up to 10m under, from the surface," said Prof Chou.

He later went on to research house lizards for his doctorate in zoology at NUS, where he met his wife, Renee, and picked up the electric guitar.

He and his wife, a retired aquaculture officer at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, have a daughter in her late 30s.

In 1977, he fulfilled his aspiration of becoming a university lecturer. "At that time, the only opening at the university was for the role of a vertebrae zoologist, and house lizards were one of the easiest vertebrates to study," he said.

But Prof Chou could not resist the call of the ocean. Three years later, in 1980, he switched his field of study back to the marine realm and started to do research on nudibranchs - the colourful slugs of the sea. In 1986, his laboratory - originally a hub for studying reptiles - was renamed the Reef Ecology Laboratory, with research in areas such as coral reef biology, reef restoration and intertidal ecology.

Prof Chou's former student, Dr Neo Mei Lin, 28, said: "He has always been a father figure in the lab, and his charisma draws many students like myself to join marine biology.

"I will always remember his words of wisdom on marine conservation in Singapore... It's not about how much change we make, but how that small difference can lead to something bigger."

But the Reef Ecology Lab will be phased out when Prof Chou leaves the department at the end of the month. He said he "will be glad if a suitable candidate decides to revive it".

On retirement, he said: "In a way, I am relieved that I no longer have to do mundane admin work.

"But I am also prepared for retirement... I will be involved in many projects in the region," he added. "For me, marine biology is a form of relaxation."

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Afternoon storm damages golf course, fells trees

Channel NewsAsia 14 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: Heavy showers on Tuesday afternoon (Oct 14) proved to be costly for All Star Golf Range, as it caused structural damage to the facility that will result in possible closure of approximately two to three months.

Owner of the golf range, Tendy Tsai, told Channel NewsAsia that the thunderstorm and hailstones happened at around 2.30pm and no one was injured. It did cause some of the range's structure to fall, he added.

He is now waiting for the surveyor to assess the damage, and added: "The golf range will be closed for approximately two to three months, and we will incur a loss of about S$300,000."

Channel NewsAsia understands that at least five trees were uprooted and three had fallen on cars. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it received two calls for assistance - one at Turf Club Road, and the other at Vanda Link nearby. No one was trapped or injured, a spokesperson said. SCDF also pitched in to help clear obstructions on the road.

Yazi Bandi Ng shared pictures of the aftermath, as well as a video of hailstones which interrupted his coaches' meeting at The Rainforest Sports Hub.

Channel NewsAsia producer Keval Singh was stuck in a traffic jam caused by fallen tree branches that littered the roads. "At least one tree had been uprooted, some others had parts of their trunks or branches broken and were blocking one or more lanes along Dunearn Road. SCDF and police personnel were on site to direct traffic onto Bukit Timah Road where possible. Others managed to squeeze through a single lane to continue towards the city," he recounted.

He said several bus passengers, including students from schools like Hwa Chong Institution disembarked and had to walk, although pavements were blocked by fallen branches as well.

He also saw a brick wall at a property had collapsed. "No sign whatsoever to explain its fall though – not even the tree next to it," he said.

A woman, who declined to be named, sent the following photos and said the storm was "like a hurricane came". She, too, was stuck in slow-moving traffic around Bukit Timah and Dunearn Road, and said there were "lots of police cars" on the scene.

Buildings hit as hailstorm pelts Turf City
Today Online 15 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE — A heavy thunderstorm pelted Turf City with hailstones yesterday afternoon, felling trees and causing damage that could prove costly for some businesses there.

The owner of All Star Golf Range, Mr Tendy Tsai, told Channel NewsAsia that the severe thunderstorm happened at around 2.30pm and caused some structural damage to the facility, but no one was injured.

Mr Tsai said he was waiting for the surveyor to assess the damage.

“The golf range will be closed for approximately two to three months and we will incur a loss of about S$300,000,” he added.

Mr Derrick Tan, operations manager at Sunny Heights, a daycare centre for pets, said he thought the afternoon storm was just going to be like any other. “But about 10 minutes later, we could see our tentages flying around outside our office. There were also small hailstones raining down,” he said. “At that time, from our CCTV, we could see trees falling down. One fell on the edge of our roofs and caused minor dents and cracks on the glasses.

“But our pavilion, where people can relax with their pets, and the walkway leading to it were completely covered by a tree that collapsed.”

The centre’s water pipes have also burst, which means business will be closed for a period of time, Mr Tan said. “But I’m not sure for how long we’ll be closed. Luckily, no pets and nobody were injured.”

Mr Aung Kolatt, 31, who also works at Sunny Heights, said when he arrived at the centre to help clear the fallen trees, he was shocked at the extent of the damage caused.

“We helped to cut and clear the trees,” said Mr Aung. “We have been working for about two-and-a-half hours (but) we haven’t made much progress.” CHANNEL NEWSASIA, with ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ELGIN CHONG

Car dealership damaged by freak thunderstorm
Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 16 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: Car dealers at the Grandstand Car Mall at Turf City are taking stock of the damage from Tuesday's (Oct 14) freak thunderstorm in Bukit Timah. Some people who were at Turf City that day said the storm brought small hailstones, and parts of a golf range was left in tatters.

Mr Rolland Ng, director of ST Carz, sent Channel NewsAsia CCTV footage showing parts of the roofing collapsing amid wild winds and heavy rain at 2:25pm. Metal bars and polycarbonate sheets were dislodged. The dealership is at the basement car park of Turf City.

No one was injured, but Mr Ng estimates the damage at around S$5,000. He said several other dealerships also suffered damage from collapsing roofs, and even falling trees.

While staff from the Grandstand helped clear away the debris, Mr Ng said he thinks the management is unlikely to compensate the dealers.

- CNA/dl

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Malaysia: Going after the big-time wildlife smugglers

victoria brown The Star 15 Oct 14;

PETALING JAYA: It has been largely the small fish who get caught in the illegal wildlife trade.

Wildlife authorities, however, are attempting to change that scenario as they focus on those who are really behind the trade – the large orga­nised criminal network run by kingpins.

“It is tough for us because the big-time smugglers are very smart. Most of the time, they don’t get their hands dirty so it is sometimes hard to find evidence against them,” said Department of Wildlife and Na­tional Parks (Perhilitan) deputy director-general Dr Zaaba Zainol Abidin.

He said his department’s move to nab the kingpins involved deeper in­­vestigation and, for this, undercover operations were on the agenda.

“Our goal is to be one step ahead so that we can pinpoint the illegal activities of the criminal organisation,” said Dr Zaaba.

Perhilitan has strengthened its wildlife crime and intelligence unit, enabling it to expand its network of informants and enhance the intel­ligence received.

“We also work with other agencies, both locally and internationally, in the fight against wildlife crime,” said Dr Zaaba.

He said Perhilitan usually carried out investigations after a report was lodged and, in some cases, officers had to go undercover.

He stressed, however, that it took a longer time to catch “the big fish”.

Traffic South-East Asia regional director Dr Chris R. Shepherd acknowledged that the authorities were “upping their game” against illegal wildlife trade in Malaysia.

However, he felt that wildlife ­traders were still “running circles around us” and the battle was still being lost.

“They (illegal wildlife traders) are really organised criminal organisations and heaps of money are being made.

“You only need to look at the IUCN Red List on species that are listed as critically endangered. That is a big indication that we’re losing,” said Dr Shepherd.

He said not many species listed on the IUCN Red List had recovered, and many were still on the decline, inching closer to extinction.

Notable prosecutions against the wildlife trade include that of Malaysian Anson Wong, known as the “Lizard King”.

Wong was convicted and impri­soned for 71 months in the United States after pleading guilty to trafficking in endangered reptiles in 2001.

This followed his arrest and conviction for attempting to smuggle snakes in his luggage from Penang to Jakarta. Wong was released on Feb 12.

Wong’s wife Cheah Bing Shee has been charged with illegal possession of five elongated tortoises and her case has been fixed for hearing on Dec 11.

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TRAFFIC and Alibaba Group sign Memorandum of Understanding to jointly reduce illegal wildlife trade online

TRAFFIC 14 Oct 14;

Hangzhou China, 14th October 2014—Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and Alibaba Group today announced the signing of a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to join forces to address the illegal wildlife trade that is devastating threatened and endangered species of wild plants and animals worldwide.

On 14th October at the corporate campus of Alibaba Group in Hangzhou, China, the organizations signed a MoU to co-operate on efforts to reduce illegal wildlife trade, pledging zero tolerance towards the listing and sales of illegal wildlife products online and working to jointly educate consumers.

Growing demand for illegal wildlife products has taken a toll on many species. According to TRAFFIC statistics, there are only an estimated 3,200 tigers left in the wild, a population decline of almost 97% since the 1900s. TRAFFIC’s analysis also shows that illegal rhino horn trade has now reached the highest levels since the early 1990s, with more than 1,000 rhinos poached in South Africa for their horns in 2013. Illegal trade in ivory increased by nearly 300% from 1998 to 2011.

“Alibaba Group has and will continue to work towards combating illegal wildlife trade over our platforms and is pleased to engage in this extremely meaningful collaboration with TRAFFIC; we welcome co-operation with other partners to explore innovative ways to jointly protect endangered species and also call on our employees, customers and industry peers to work towards reducing the demand for endangered wildlife products and proactively adopt socially responsible policies that drive sustainable development,” said Yu Weimin, Vice President of Internet Security, Alibaba Group.

“Convincing action to ‘starve the supply’ of and reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products into the online market is critical if we are to succeed in conserving some of our most charismatic wild species. In this, we are delighted to have Alibaba Group as a partner and are certain the example they set will inspire positive behavioural change,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC.

Under the MoU, the organizations will carry out online monitoring and information sharing to enable effective action to reduce illegal wildlife products entering the e-commerce market.

TRAFFIC will provide training and technical support to help Alibaba Group's staff build the capacity to identify illegal wildlife products offered for sale online. Creative messaging will be developed and distributed through online ads, apps and social media channels, to influence both buyers and sellers to reject illicit trade in wildlife parts and products.

About Alibaba Group
Alibaba Group’s mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. The company is the largest online and mobile commerce company in the world in terms of gross merchandise volume. Founded in 1999, the company provides the fundamental technology infrastructure and marketing reach to help businesses leverage the power of the Internet to establish an online presence and conduct commerce with hundreds of millions of consumers and other businesses.
Alibaba Group’s major businesses include:

Taobao Marketplace (, China's largest online shopping destination (, China’s largest third-party platform for brands and retailers
Juhuasuan (, China’s most popular online group buying marketplace
AliExpress (, a global online marketplace for consumers to buy directly from China (, China’s largest global online wholesale platform for small businesses (, a leading online wholesale marketplace in China
Alibaba Cloud Computing (, a provider of cloud computing services to businesses and entrepreneurs

Alibaba Group also provides payment and/or escrow services on its marketplaces through its contractual arrangements with Alipay (, a related company of Alibaba Group.
Through China Smart Logistics, a 48%-owned affiliate, Alibaba Group operates a central logistics information system that connects a network of express delivery companies in China.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is the leading non-governmental organization working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. TRAFFIC was established in 1976 in what remains a unique role as a global specialist, leading and supporting efforts to identify conservation challenges and support solutions linked to trade in wild animals and plants. TRAFFIC’s mission is to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature.

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U.S. military lays out plan for coping with climate change

Ayesha Rascoe PlanetArk 14 Oct 14;

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap at the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas held in Arequipa, Peru.

"Climate change is a long-term trend, but with wise planning and risk mitigation now, we can reduce adverse impacts down range," Hagel said.

The plan calls for the department to identify and assess effects of climate change on the military, integrate climate considerations and collaborate with other federal agencies and state governments on meeting challenges.

President Barack Obama has made combating climate change a priority of his second term. With climate legislation stalled in Congress, Obama has pledged to use the executive branch to help with reining in greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans have criticized the Obama administration's focus on climate, saying it has come at the expense of the economy and that taxpayer dollars might be better spent.

While it may not be possible to precisely project all of the impacts of climate change, Hagel said that uncertainty "cannot be an excuse for delaying action."

Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and other consequences of a changing climate could exacerbate "many challenges, including infectious disease and terrorism," the department said.

"The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters," the plan noted.

Hagel warned that the department was already beginning to see some of these impacts.

Climate change can also affect the military at home, they said. The plan warned that areas like the Hampton Roads region in southeastern Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of U.S. military sites in the world, sees recurrent flooding now and could experience a 1.5-foot rise in sea levels in the next 20 to 50 years.

More details on the report can be found here:

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, editing by Ros Krasny and Gunna Dickson)

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