Best of our wild blogs: 20 May 16

Heritage Fest 2016 - Ubin
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Six-week-old otter pup rescued, reunited with family after it almost drowned

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 May 16;

SINGAPORE - Things are now going swimmingly well for an otter pup called Toby by the otter watching community here, despite a rough start in life.

On May 9, the six-week-old smooth-coated otter pup almost drowned after it fell off a ledge into a canal near Fort Road.

It was rescued by retiree and property investor Patrick Ng, 60, who dived in to fish Toby out of the waters. "After rescuing it, I left it on the ledge near the entrance to its holt and quickly swam away, in case the adults came back," Mr Ng said.

But the adult otters did not. The otter watching community later realised Toby's family had not returned for it when they found a new home nearby.

At 6pm that day, the pup was rescued and sent to Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) for treatment.

Things took a turn for the better on Thursday (May 19), when the Marina 9 pack, as the family is affectionately known, was reunited.

As the pack scurried off into nearby vegetation, an adult otter was seen carrying Toby in its mouth, which is how animals such as otters move their young before they are strong enough to do so on their own.

The reunion was made possible thanks to the joint efforts of otter watchers from the informal community OtterWatch, scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS), staff from the National Parks Board (NParks), as well as veterinarians from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Ever since the Marina 9 were observed to be making regular crossings across East Coast Park Service Road to get between their holt and the sea, the OtterWatch community has been closely monitoring the pack to look out for the safety of the otters and other road users.

Last Monday (May 9), they noticed Toby peeking out of the holt, seemingly alone. It eventually ventured out onto the ledge and later fell into the canal.

Otter pups rely on their mother for milk, and are usually fed several times a day.

The pup could have emerged from the holt in the first place as it was hungry and searching for its parents, said Mr N Sivasothi, a lecturer at NUS' department of biological sciences who was involved in the rescue effort.

With only an hour of daylight left, rescue efforts were carried out at 6pm, and the pup was sent to WRS for treatment. Otter watcher Jeffery Teo, 44, who was part of the rescue team, said Toby was hiding inside a narrow trough.

While under WRS' care, Toby was nursed by Dr Serena Oh, assistant director of the WRS veterinary department. The pup was bottle-fed regularly, given a Vitamin B injection and dewormed. It showed positive signs of recovery throughout this period, WRS and NParks said in a joint response to media queries.

On Thursday morning (May 19), Toby was deemed strong enough to be released back into the wild.

It was also important to ensure that the wild otter pup did not get used to humans, Mr Sivasothi said. Wild animals usually keep a distance from people they encounter, which makes them less susceptible to cases of poaching, abuse, or "well-intentioned help", when people try to help animals that do not need rescuing, he added.

As the otter watchers had consistently monitored the movements of the pack, rescuers had a better idea of where the pup should be placed so the adults would notice it.

Toby was initially placed in a carrier it was used to, which was further surrounded by a pet fence to prevent it from wandering. But the pup was quiet and did not emerge from the carrier.

"The strange structure, and the lack of vocalisation from the pup, made the adults wary, although they did make a few attempts to get near," said Mr Sivasothi.

So the team tried a different strategy.

They removed Toby from its comfort zone and placed it on the sand. "It was uneasy and began squeaking and moving around, which immediately caught the attention of the adults nearby. They came over urgently but cautiously, and sniffed the pup," Mr Sivasothi added. The family scurried off together at about noon.

NParks and WRS said post-acceptance monitoring is being conducted to ensure that the otter pup is successfully assimilated into its family.

On the successful reunion, Mr Sivasothi said: "Today I experienced a strong, unencumbered feeling of joy. No doubt about how we did what we did. Still aglow from that wonderful conclusion!"

OtterWatch's Mr Teo added: "The rescue and reintroduction of Toby has demonstrated an unprecedented collaboration and 'make-it-happen' spirit between members of the public and across multiple agencies. Everyone puts in their best, not for pride nor glory, we just want to bring Toby home. This is humanity at its best form."

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Bishan train depot to run on solar energy by year end

CLIFFORD LEE Today Online 20 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s largest train depot at Bishan will run on solar energy by the end of the year, after SMRT signed a deal with clean energy provider Sunseap Leasing.

The power system to be installed at the premises could potentially generate enough electricity to power 270 four-room public housing (HDB) flats for a year, and will be capable of meeting the depot’s operational energy needs — excluding train movements within the depot.

The other rail depot to tap on solar energy by the end of the year will be the new Tuas depot, which will serve the North-South and East-West Lines, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) told TODAY.

For the Bishan depot, SMRT and Sunseap said in a joint statement on Thursday (May 19) that a pilot one Megawatt-peak (MWp) solar photovoltaic (PV) system will be set up there and it is expected to be operational by the end of October. It will cover an initial area of 10,000sqm on the depot’s roof.

Mr Brandon Lee, Sunseap’s business development manager, said that this would be part of the first phase of the installation.

“If proven to be successful, they will further expand this system by another 4MWp, going to a total of 5MWp for the Bishan depot,” he said.

On the leasing model, Mr Lee said that SMRT would have to pay based on the amount of energy generated by the solar panels. “The leasing model is a performance-based model — when it generates power, it generates revenue for Sunseap,” he said.

With the new system, SMRT would be able to reduce its carbon footprint by 553 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, the transport operator said.

On whether solar panels would be installed at other train depots and facilities, SMRT said that it would conduct feasibility studies before deciding on other possible implementations, such as at above-ground MRT stations.

In 2014, the LTA announced plans to harness solar energy at two new train depots by 2016: Gali Batu and Tuas depots.

It was part of the first tender it called for contractors to design, supply and install a 1.96MWp solar PV system at the rail depots. The project was awarded to Germany-based group Phoenix Solar, which develops, builds and operates large-scale solar PV plants.

The Gali Batu depot in Woodlands, which opened late last year and serves the Downtown Line, was the first train depot to have solar panels installed on its roofs. This and the one at Tuas presented an ideal opportunity to harvest solar energy, LTA said, because they have large roof areas and are not surrounded by tall buildings.

Solar-powered Bishan Depot to be ready by October this year
The rail depot will see a pilot 1 Megawatt-peak (MWp) solar photovoltaic (PV) system installed within the depot’s premise, say SMRT and Sunseap.
Channel NewsAsia 19 May 16;

SINGAPORE: SMRT's Bishan Depot will be able to run on solar power by the end of the year, after the transport operator signed a deal with Sunseap Leasing, a clean energy provider.

According to a joint press release on Thursday (May 19), a pilot 1 Megawatt-peak (MWp) solar photovoltaic (PV) system will be installed within the depot’s premise. This will sufficiently provide for the energy needs of the depot's buildings and workshops, excluding the energy required to power the trains' movements within the depot, they said.

The system will cover an initial area of about 10,000 square metres, and will be installed on the rooftop of the Main Depot building. Installation will take place in the third quarter of this year and is expected to be operational by October 2016.

This will allow SMRT to reduce its carbon footprint by 553 tonnes of CO2 annually. Under optimal conditions, the system can generate electricity equal to the annual energy consumption of about 270 four-room HDB flats, the press release said.

Both parties added that the system may be extended to provide up to 5 MWp should the trial be successful, while feasibility studies will be conducted to determine how solar panels can be implemented in other facilities such as aboveground MRT stations.

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Indonesia: Sibolangit disaster blamed on illegal logging

Jakarta Post 19 May 16;

Rampant illegal logging in the upstream areas of protected forests around Mount Sibayak, Karo regency, North Sumatra, is believed to be the cause of a flash flood that hit the Dua Warna Waterfall resort in Sibolangit, Deli Serdang regency, on Sunday.

Kusnadi Oldani, North Sumatra director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment ( Walhi ), said around 25 percent of the protected forests around Mount Sibayak had been depleted due to illegal logging. Kusnadi added that the deforestation in upstream areas was believed to be the cause of the flash flood.

“The upstream area has been badly deforested, so it failed to hold the high level of rainfall and triggered the flash flood and landslide in downstream Sibolangit,” Kusnadi told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Kusnadi said illegal logging in protected forests around Mount Sibayak had been taking place for a long time. However, he added, forestry officers had not been seen to stop the logging activities, despite the fact that they often took place close to the capital of Karo regency.

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Thailand: Severe coral bleaching threatens popular Phi Phi dive spots

Phuket Gazette 19 May 16;

PHUKET: Coral bleaching is rife in Phi Phi national park – the worst ever recorded in Thailand – alarmed conservation officials reported yesterday.

Many varieties of coral have been affected by the bleaching, which is due to the sea temperature rising to between 31 to 35 degrees Celsius, said an official from the Department of National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

Staghorn coral, lesser coral, mushroom coral, cauliflower coral, and hump coral are all being affected by the bleaching, which is far worse than observed in 2010, said Tikamporn Wongtawatchai, a specialist from Marine National Park and Protected Areas Innovation Center (MNIPC).

“Coral bleaching has been recorded all over the Hat Noppharat Thara-Mu Ko Phi Phi marine national park, but the bleaching is worse at Koh Kai,” said Mr Tikamporn.

This is the first time hump coral has been affected by bleaching, indicating that the bleaching is far worse than ever before. The bleaching has occurred in several popular dive spots, including Pileh Bay, Loh Samah Bay, Koh Yoong, Monkey Beach, Koh Pai and Koh Gai.

Conservationists earlier this week proposed closing off Maya Bay to tourists to help restore the bleached coral and other endangered marine life there (story here).

“We cannot control nature. However, we can stop people from disturbing the marine life in these spots. Hopefully, this latest report of the extensive damage will persuade the DNP to take quick action by closing off Maya bay and other spots in Phi Phi national park affected by the bleaching,” said Mr Tikamporn.

— Kritsada Mueanhawong

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