Best of our wild blogs: 12 Feb 17

Cyrene: seagrasses back, but no knobblies?
wild shores of singapore

Read more!

1 dead, 4 injured after Tembusu tree falls at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Channel NewAsia 11 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: One person died on Saturday (Feb 11) after a massive Tembusu tree toppled at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, interrupting an event organised by the High Commission of Canada that was scheduled to start at 5pm.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it was alerted to the incident near the Symphony Stage at 4.25pm and that five people were taken to the National University Hospital.

The National Parks Board (NParks) confirmed in a statement at 8.32pm that one of the five had died. The agency also said it was investigating the cause of the tree falling.

"Our priority now is to accord assistance to the families of the deceased and the injured," it added in the statement.

Police said the person who died is a 38-year-old female Indian national who was there with her family. Her husband, a 39-year-old French national, and their two children, both aged one, suffered injuries.

The High Commission of Canada, in a post on Twitter, said it was "deeply saddened" by the death.

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam called the incident a "terrible accident".

"Our deepest sympathies to the family of the person who was killed by the falling Tembusu tree at the Botanic Gardens this afternoon. Hope the four others injured will recover soon," Mr Tharman wrote on Facebook at about 10.40pm.


Eyewitness Jonathan Ang, who was there for the concert, said he was sitting at the open area away from most of the trees.

"Suddenly we heard a cracking sound, like thunder," he said.

Across the main path, a tree fell "within five seconds", taking another tree beside it down with it.

"There were easily a hundred of us that rushed forward to help push the branches, the logs away," he added, estimating that there were about four to six people under the "huge" tree when it fell.

According to the Singapore Botanic Gardens' website, the Tembusu tree - which was 40m tall with a girth of 6.5m - is estimated to be more than 270 years old and is the largest of its kind in the Gardens.

Mr Ang said that thankfully, there were not many people sitting in the area as it was under the sun. Most of those nearby also appeared to be unharmed - "except for one poor woman, I'm not sure if she made it ... She was unconscious and her husband was calling for her."

SCDF arrived within about five minutes, and paramedics appeared to be trying to revive the woman, he added.


A note posted on the Canada High Commission's Twitter account at 5.18pm said the Canada 150 concert had been cancelled due to "unforeseen circumstances". The event was meant to countdown to the country's 150th birthday with a concert by renowned Canadian pianist Roger Lord and an opening performance by the Canadian International School’s Symphonic Band 9-12. Singaporean DJ duo Rave Republic was also at the Botanic Gardens.

When Channel NewsAsia arrived at the scene at about 5.45pm, police were seen on the site and the area had been cordoned off.

More than 20 workers were also seen clearing the branches from the toppled tree at about 6.15pm.

At about 6.30pm, SCDF added that it was working with NParks personnel in the search operation.

All programmes at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Sunday have been cancelled.

- CNA/mz

Botanic Gardens' Tembusu tree that fell last inspected in September: NParks
Melissa Zhu Channel NewsAsia 12 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The heritage Tembusu tree that collapsed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Saturday (Feb 11), killing one person and injuring four others, was last inspected and found to be healthy in September 2016, according to the National Park Board (NParks).

The 40m-tall tree was uprooted at the edge of Palm Valley in the Gardens, bringing down surrounding palm trees as it fell. The tree was more than 270 years old and predated the establishment of the Gardens, according to the authority.

NParks added that as a Singapore Botanic Gardens heritage tree, the tree was inspected twice a year - a higher frequency than other trees in the Gardens.

"The tree was also protected by a lightning conductor and fenced off to prevent compaction of its root zone by visitors. Leaf litter is routinely applied to the root zone to encourage healthy root growth," it said.

Tan Huan Arboriculture Services managing director Andy Tan said he would expect a tree this old to have been inspected every month, to ensure that issues such as fungi and termites do not set in.

Nonetheless, he said it was unlikely that fungi or termites were the cause of the incident. These issues could take up to one or two years to weaken such a big tree enough for it to fall, and tell-tale signs such as unhealthy leaves or termite tracks would be evident months before, according to Mr Tan.

The tree expert's opinion was that the most likely cause of the tree toppling was water-logging due to recent heavy rains. This could result in the surrounding soil loosening and the roots rotting. Strong winds during storms could have further exacerbated the problem, he added.

"Still, you would seldom see this for the Tembusu tree as they have very large roots ... their base is very strong."

NParks is investigating the cause of the tree falling.

- CNA/mz

Fallen Tembusu tree at Botanic Gardens kills 1, injures 4
Today Online 12 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — A 38-year-old woman from India was killed and four others injured when a 40m tall Tembusu tree collapsed in the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Saturday afternoon (Feb 11), shortly before the start of a concert and movie screening.

The deceased's husband, a 39-year-old French national, and their two children, both aged one, were among the injured. A 26-year-old Singaporean woman was also hurt during the incident, the police said.

The tree, which had a 6.5m girth, was uprooted at 4.25pm at the edge of the Palm Valley in the Botanic Gardens, near the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, the Nationals Parks Board (NParks) said in a statement.

"We are investigating the cause of the tree fall. Our priority now is to accord assistance to the families of the deceased and the injured," said Mr Kenneth Er, chief executive officer of NParks.

According to NParks, the tree that fell was more than 270 years old and predated the establishment of the Gardens. It was last inspected in September last year and was found to be healthy.

"As an SBG Heritage tree, it was inspected twice a year, which is of a higher frequency than other trees in the Gardens," said Mr Er. "The tree was also protected by a lightning conductor and fenced off to prevent compaction of its root zone by visitors. Leaf litter is routinely applied to the root zone to encourage healthy root growth."

The fallen Tembusu tree brought down several surrounding palm trees during the incident. The injured were taken to the National University Hospital on Saturday. The extent of their injurires are unclear.

In a Facebook post, the High Commission of Canada in Singapore expressed sympathy for the friends and families of the injured, adding: "We are sincerely grateful to those who came so quickly to the aid of those injured."

The High Commission had organised the event to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday through music and film. It was due to start at 5pm.

An eyewitness video posted on social media showed park goers rushing to the aid of what appeared to be victims trapped by the fallen tree. The SCDF said it sent two fire engines, one Red Rhino, one Fire Bike, four ambulances and two support vehicles to the scene.

Following the incident, the Singapore Botanic Gardens announced that all programmes scheduled at the park on Sunday have been cancelled. Events scheduled in the park on Sunday include a Valentines' Day musical performance at the Bandstand.

Read more!

Malaysia: Receding waters leave vector-borne diseases in their wake

JO TIMBUONG The Star 12 Feb 17;

PETALING JAYA: As floodwaters recede for the season, the danger may not be over yet for those affected.

This is because the muddy waters leave in their wake health threats brought by water- and vector-borne diseases such as respiratory tract infection, gastroenteritis and even leptospirosis.

While the Health Department has been able to take steps to keep such threats from recent floods under control, Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam confirmed that there had since been three cases of leptospirosis in Kelantan.

Although the department did not release any death statistics from diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery, it is greatly concerned about these illnesses that could cause death.

“These diseases are caused by consuming contaminated water and food, which is why it is important to use potable water for personal hygiene and food preparation,” said Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

A multitude of water-borne diseases brought in by floodwaters, he said, were a result of contamination from broken sewage systems, animal wastes and chemical pollution.

However, compared with those after the big floods that swept the east coast states in 2014, the number of post-flood disease cases has been significantly lower.

According to the department, there was a drastic reduction in cases such as acute gastroenteritis (AGE), acute respiratory illnesses (ARI) and leptospirosis (rat urine disease) in the recent floods that started in early Decem­ber.

The number of ARI cases dropped from 8,276 in 2014 to 1,439 in the current period, while there were only 162 cases of AGE this season compared to 1,062 then.

Statistics also showed that there were 379 leptospirosis cases in flood-hit areas during the 2014 disaster while it was only recently confirmed by the minister there were three this season.

Dr Noor Hisham said most of the communicable diseases encountered during the recent floods were isolated cases of ARI and skin infection but there had been no outbreak of cholera or dengue.

He linked the drop in cases to the preventive measures carried out by the health department before, during and after the floods.

One of them was to treat flood victims at evacuation centres and at the same time conduct early detection of any communicable diseases.

The team also inspected facilities for food preparation and monitored wells and sanitation.

“The education programme on how to prevent communicable diseases also helped,” he added.


Read more!

Malaysia: Penang reclamation - Fishermen upset as last patch of mangroves cleared for development

New Straits Times 12 Feb 17;

GEORGE TOWN: The last remaining mangroves along the northern coast of Penang island look set to be wiped out to make way for development.

Fishermen from Bagan Jermal here had complained that an area of nearly 10ha of mangroves, or more than 10 football fields, was being cleared to make way for a reclamation project.

A signboard with the words “Lesen Mengambil Hasil Hutan” (Licence to collect forest product) has been put up at the entrance of the project site.

Fisherman Harun Abdul Rashid, 53, told the New Sunday Times that fishermen used to catch crabs, fishes and white prawns in the mangroves.

However, he said, the mangroves had been inaccessible for almost two years.

“There used to be a long stretch of mangroves, stretching from Bagan Jermal right up to Tanjung Tokong. Now, the only patch of mangroves is set to make way for development.

“What will become of the fishermen? As it is, there is very little marine life left on our coast. With the mangroves being cleared, we dread to imagine what would happen in future,” he said at his house in Kampung Nelayan, Tanjung Tokong.

Harun said his grandfather and father used to fish near the mangroves.

“When I started out 40 years ago, I could easily bring home between RM2,000 and RM3,000 in my daily catch.

“These days, I can’t even make RM300 going out to sea for two straight days.

“Also, I used to bring home between 30kg and 40kg of crabs per trip from the mangroves. Now, I hardly get 2kg,” he lamented.

Fishermen from Tanjung Tokong took their plight to their Facebook page, Nelayan Tanjung Tokong, to express their unhappiness.

“The mangroves are a habitat for flora and fauna. The mangroves, along with mudflats along Gurney Drive, serve as a landing site for migratory birds.

“Imagine the impact of its clearing on the environment,” the group said.

Consumers’ Association of Penang expressed its disappointment that the mangroves in the state continued to be felled although there had been many protests, especially by fishermen.

Its president, S.M. Mohamed Idris, said the ongoing clearing showed that the state government was not serious in protecting the environment and the lives of the people, particularly fishermen.

Read more!

Malaysia: Protect Rafflesia by educating tourists


KOTA BARU: MALAYSIA is host to several species of the Rafflesia, known in Bahasa Malaysia as bunga pakma, which is recognised as the biggest flower in the world. Unfortunately, the number of Rafflesia is dwindling and the flower is under threat now.

In the peninsula, Rafflesia kerrii, said to be the biggest among the group of unique flowers, is found only in Lojing Highlands in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

The rarity of the species has led to a flow of enthusiasts, especially foreigners, to visit the sites of the endangered flower. But sometimes, tourists trample on the host plant or young buds when trying to get a closer look at, or to take pictures of, the flowers.

Kelantan Forestry Department director Datuk Zahari Ibrahim said the department had received information on the threat posed by visitors who stopped by while on their way to Cameron Highlands, or enroute to Pulau Perhentian in Terengganu, especially at Pos Jedik, which was part of the Lojing Permanent Forest Reserve.

“Some tourists step on the buds and host plants without realising the damage.

“It should not happen in the first place because the Rafflesia Kerri is among the state’s tourism products, and all parties, including travel agents, must play their role in keeping the flower safe,” he said.

Zahari said to protect the plant under the High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) management plan for the Rafflesia kerri species, the state government had decided to fence 18 plots on a 50ha land at the forest reserve, from which visitors would be barred from entering.

He added that the department’s rangers would carry out surveillance at the reserve, which would be turned into a Rafflesia preservation area.

“Our surveillance will include checking on host plants. The Rafflesia depends on its host for food.”

Zahari said under the HCVF plan, the Kelantan government would allocate RM120,000 for forest development, including setting up fences and guard huts.
Besides being threatened by tourists, Rafflesia was also under threat due to rampant land clearing.

Alhough the Kelantan government had in 2009 gazetted 550ha of the highlands as an area for the conservation of the flower, the worsening situation is worrying nature lovers as no monitoring group had been set up.

There was uncontrolled opening of land for farming around the area in 2008, which had damaged the environment and caused several rivers to be polluted.

Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK) is conducting a study on Rafflesia at Lojing Highlands to find out its growth rate and to ensure the survival of the species.

The dean of UMK’s Natural Resources and Sustainability Science department, Zulhazman Hamzah, said the university was aware of the threats and had taken necessary measures to help the authorities.

“The tourism sector is a likely contributor to the destruction of the Rafflesia’s habitat,” he said.

He said the university also started awareness campaigns to educate the Orang Asli and other communities in the state about the preservation of the flower.

“We have been promoting the Rafflesia as a tourist attraction in Lojing Highlands for some time now.

“This provides the Orang Asli more job opportunities as they can work as tour guides.

“We also give talks and share our knowledge with state government departments, local agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the flower’s recovery and its potential to help the people through eco-tourism activities.”

He said UMK’s study on Rafflesia in Lojing Highlands started in 2008 and was still ongoing. Its latest study, he said, was on the odour released by the flower to attract insects during its pollination process.

“A special team to study Rafflesia was set up in 2010, led by myself, with the assistance of several agencies and departments, such as the Forestry Department and Lojing sub-district Land Office,” he said, adding that the Rafflesia needed to be looked after as it was a priceless treasure.

'Touching Rafflesia with hands may cause them to wilt or die'

KOTA BARU: Tour guide Bukhari Mat, who often escorts tourists to Lojing Highlands, said he had seen tourists causing damage to the Rafflesia.

Bukhari, 37, who has been in the business since 1996, said, however, none of his clients were involved as he had briefed them on the do’s and don’ts before visiting the Rafflesia sites.

“My real expertise is in bringing visitors to Gunong Stong (at the border of Jeli-Kuala Krai-Gua Musang) but I also go to Lojing Highlands if there are requests.

“l have seen tourists brought by other agents touching the Rafflesia with their hands when they wanted to take pictures,” said Bukhari, who is popularly called Bob.

He said he normally took between 10 and 15 visitors on each trip to Lojing Highlands.

The tour guide, who is also the vice-president of the Kelantan Licensed Tourist Guides Association, said the Rafflesia was a sensitive species and touching it would definitely cause damage to the flower.

“The bacteria on our hands may cause the flower to wilt or die. Therefore, tour guides should explain the do’s and don’ts to their clients before they enter the area,” said Bukhari, who operates Stong Outdoors and Adventures based in Gua Musang.

Another tour guide, known only as Kimi, said tourists should not harm the Rafflesia as it was a rare species.

“The flower is valuable to us. When the government decided to gazette the area for the Rafflesia, many of us, especially the tour guides, were happy.

“We felt that the decision should have been made a long time ago,” he said.

The 41-year-old part-time guide, who has been in the job for more than 10 years, said the tourism business was important as it boosted the state’s economy and brought more job opportunities for the people.

Read more!