Best of our wild blogs: 19 Feb 17

25 Feb (Sat) Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Flew In Visitors (17 Feb 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Butterfly of the Month - February 2017
Butterflies of Singapore

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New study of Singapore’s bird markets highlights dangers of overharvesting as critical bird trade Summit gets underway

TRAFFIC 18 Feb 17;

Singapore, 19th February 2016—A new TRAFFIC report has documented over 14,000 birds for sale in shops in Singapore over four days, 70% of them species non-native or formerly native to the country—a stark departure from patterns observed in other bird markets in the region.

Of the 14,085 birds of 109 species found in the market, some 6,473 (46%) were Oriental White-eyes Zosterops palpebrosus—a species once native to Singapore that was eradicated largely through trapping for the bird trade.

“The presence of thousands of Oriental White-eyes in Singapore’s bird markets is a poignant reminder of the dangers of persistent over harvesting and poorly managed trade,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Senior Programme Manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia and a co-author of the new study Songsters of Singapore: An Overview of the Bird Species in Singapore Pet Shops (PDF, 2.1 MB).

The study was released as experts from around the world gather to focus on developing and implementing a plan of action to avert the crisis facing Asia’s songbirds during the second Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit, which takes place from 19-21 February 2017 at the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.

During the first Summit held in 2015, the Oriental White-eye was among the species listed as of immediate concern from bird trapping in Asia along with the second most commonly observed species in Singapore’s markets—Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus, of which some 2,811 individuals were recorded.

“Singapore lost its Oriental White-eyes largely through excessive trapping, which should have hoisted a red flag warning that the ongoing trade will impose the same fate on this and other species elsewhere until there are no more left,” said Krishnasamy.

Previous TRAFFIC surveys of bird markets in Jakarta, Malang, Surabaya and Yogyakarta in Indonesia as well as Bangkok in Thailand, found that trade in those countries was dominated by species native to the country or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Of the species in Singapore, more than 30 percent were from Central and South America, said the report, highlighting Singapore’s specialist role in trading birds from that region, although the country has been an historical focus for the exotic bird trade in Asia since at least the mid-19th Century.

“The volume of birds in Singapore’s birds markets are comparable to those in Indonesia, although the majority in Singapore are non-native species, hence the need to be particularly vigilant about the impacts of trade elsewhere in Asia and beyond,” said Krishnasamy.

Of concern, 97% of the individual birds seen in Singapore’s markets were not species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meaning they are not subject to international regulation—and with trade largely under the radar, there is often little, if anything, known of its impact on wild populations.

The TRAFFIC report calls for, among other actions, clarity on protocols in place to regulate non-CITES and non-protected species that are being imported and exported from Singapore in large volumes. It also seeks a disclosure of any quotas set for trade as well as a captive breeding regulation and registration details to enable civil society organizations to aid conservation efforts.

“The people and organizations coming together at the important Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit are dedicated to ensuring none of the bird species threatened by trade are lost,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “It is very heartening to have so many experts coming together to tackle this crisis, and to make sure illegal and unsustainable trade does not lead to extinction.”

Members of the public who suspect that any illegal activity is occurring are encouraged to report suspected crime directly to AVA, or through TRAFFIC’s Wildlife Witness App, which can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play for free.

In November 2016, Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the country’s CITES Management Authority, found that 14 of 27 pet bird shops surveyed by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) did not comply with the government’s licensing conditions on welfare, while investigations into online bird trade for CITES Appendix I and II listed-species are ongoing.

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Celebrating the common man: The rise of community history in Singapore

Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Postgraduate student Kwek Li Yong is a familiar face to residents and shopkeepers in Queenstown. Since 2010, the heritage group the 27-year-old co-founded, My Community, has been running free guided tours in the neighbourhood’s estates.

Over the past seven years, the group’s guided tours have benefitted about 3,000 Singapore residents, and its volunteer base has grown to 50 strong. These volunteers include trail guides, resident ambassadors who promote its events, and researchers who go door-to-door to conduct oral history interviews with residents.

“We’ve seen this trend in the last four years. It’s not unique to Singapore,” said Mr Kwek, referring to greater community-driven interest in local heritage and the documentation of memories. “The trend mirrors those in fast-developing cities like Hong Kong, Taipei, where there are more vocal groups coming up to say, we should do something on vernacular heritage.”

When contacted for comment, the National Heritage Board (NHB) confirmed it has seen “a healthy, growing interest in ground-up community-driven projects and initiatives”.

Record levels of community participation in such projects have been accompanied by rising attendance numbers in its signature outreach events like the Singapore HeritageFest, according to NHB, citing an unprecedented 120 partners “contributing programmes and participating as volunteers” at 2016’s HeritageFest.

“This evolvement of the community’s role – from one of passive participant to active contributor – attests to the growing maturity of the heritage scene and (Singapore’s) progress as a nation,” said NHB assistant CEO Alvin Tan.

“There are a lot of pent-up memories that need to be told,” explained volunteer guide Huang Eu Chai, adding that My Community’s activities provided an avenue for residents like him to do something about heritage preservation, in the face of rapid change.

Describing his role guiding on the group’s Commonweath and Holland Village trail, Mr Huang, a lifelong resident of the area said: “I’m not just there to tell people what went on. I’m also there to encourage people who come on this tour to contribute to the story so it’s more of a discussion than a one-way lecture. And it’s turned out that way for most cases.”

Currently, My Community runs three trails, and has begun research on a fourth one, in Bukit Merah. According to Mr Kwek, each trail takes about two years to develop, due to the research, fundraising, and promotion work involved. “We’d also need to acquire rights to use old photographs, and speak to stakeholders to gain access to sites,” he added.


There are other groups in Singapore doing similar work, including non-profit organisations such as Tiong Bahru Heritage Volunteers; People’s Association-backed committees such as the Geylang Serai's Integration and Naturalisation Champions Committee, which organises free tours in that area; and commercial outfits like Geylang Adventures, which charges S$30-S$40 a head for a three-hour tour.

NHB, which supports some of these ground-up projects, including My Community’s, said that these efforts “contribute to the richness and diversity of the Singapore story”.

“Singapore’s success does not boil down to one person, one party, or a group of like-minded people. It’s made up of contributions and sacrifices from each and every one in our communities … We try to document these stories, so that we may understand how the common man’s experiences made our country successful,” said Mr Kwek, elaborating on his group’s focus on the history of everyday things.

“It’s a lot of work - asking the right questions to extract the memories, and getting old photos from residents. We need to build rapport and gain the trust of the residents,” admitted Mr Kwek’s co-founder Jasper Tan, adding that he’s fortunate to have the door closed in his face only once or twice, out of more than 7,000 households.

Part of the work also involves convincing the residents that their stories matter and are worth telling, according to the 27-year-old, who has a day job in a voluntary welfare organisation.

One resident who did not need much convincing is 69-year-old retiree Alice Lee, who has been helping out as a resident ambassador since Day one. Her role involves telling the story of her life in Tanglin Halt – spanning 49 years – at a designated stop along the Tanglin Halt and Margaret Drive trail.

“(Alice) actually has a key press, where she’s got various people’s house keys, so that if they happen to be out for example, and they’ve left the window open and it’s about to rain, she can go there can close the windows,” said Mr Huang, who runs a travel business.

“That tells you how tight the community is. And it’s something that comes out, only after you’ve lived in a place for 50 years," Mr Huang added.


But these social bonds and memories are under threat as residents move away or die, or when places get demolished and redeveloped, said Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin, naming Tanglin Halt, Dakota Crescent, and Rochor Centre as examples.

“A place becomes meaningful because we understand what happened there before, the stories that go around it and the people who are connected with it," explained the independent researcher. “Normally people don’t really see (the mundane stories) as important, but in most other countries you don’t face such a rapid pace of change."

Over years of research and advocacy, Ms Chua said she has observed greater willingness on the part of Government agencies to engage community stakeholders, understand different perspectives, and work with them to resolve issues.

“In recent years, NHB has got a whole department dedicated to supporting and encouraging community efforts,” she noted. “There’s a lot of encouragement from Government agencies. And what is encouraging Government interest is because this all (has) to do with national identity, community bonding.”

While thankful for greater government support and civic participation in community history, Mr Kwek is keenly aware of the need to celebrate and honour the past, without romanticising it.

“Nostalgia sells, but at the end of the day, I think if you ask anybody whether they’d want to go back to the kampung period, or to the one- or two-room, very rudimentary flats, I don’t think anyone would,” he said. “Of course there were good memories... but infrastructure has improved; they’re (now) living with better sanitary conditions, better (wheelchair) access.”

Overall, heritage champions like Mr Kwek, Ms Chua and heritage blogger Jerome Lim agree that present attitudes to community heritage and conservation are a far cry from the top-down, “bulldozer approach” seen in the 1960s to 80s.

“There is an element of – we’ve gone so far, so fast, so much so that we left a lot of things behind without having a chance to look back. For me, for example, (it felt as if) I woke up and the places that I was familiar with as a child - they’re all gone,” said Mr Lim.

The 52-year-old naval architect, who also runs the 12,566-strong Facebook group On a little street in Singapore, said that the numbers on his blog and Facebook group have seen a “10-fold increase from two to three years ago”.

“I suppose there was a ready audience,” he said. “People like to remember, talk about bits and pieces of the past that don’t exist anymore. It helps us to cope, reconnect, and identify ourselves with Singapore.”

- CNA/ll

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From harvesting vegetables to crafting wood: Kampung Kampus offers space to learn and play

Rachel Phua Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Away from Singapore's cityscape is new community space where residents can take part in "kampung-style" activities like harvesting vegetables, crafting wood and creating mud bricks for simple construction works.

It's called Kampung Kampus, which opened on Saturday (Feb 18) at the former Bottle Tree Park at Khatib. It is run by non-profit group Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), as a space where people can learn and play.

For instance, a permanent workshop will be built for Touchwood, a social enterprise under GUI that specialises in craft works. There will also be other DIY craft studios and a new camping site for schools and companies to hold overnight group events.

The opening of the 26,000 sqm centre on Saturday is the first of three phases. Construction of the second and third phases of Kampung Kampus is expected to start from 2018 and will involve the building of spaces such as a bamboo gallery and refurbished kampung-style huts.

It is hoped that the new centre will encourage more Singaporeans to participate in environmental and social projects, and “get in touch with their roots," said founder of GUI Tay Lai Hock.

This is also in line with Singapore's drive to get more Singaporeans to engage in social projects, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee during the launch.

“Hopefully, this will in turn kickstart more projects around Singapore to promote active participation in social causes but more importantly, that we feel it is our responsibility to grow these social causes,” said Mr Lee.

This is particularly important for a globalised and digital world, Mr Lee added, where Singaporeans are looking for and succeeding in opportunities outside of the country.

“We need to counter-balance this with a deeper sense of rootedness. Our roots must run deeper … and it can never only be an initiative the government leads. In fact, civil society, communities, volunteers, all play an important part in helping Singaporeans find their feet and to find their identity and to grow it and evolve it along the way,” Lee added.

So far, GUI has spent S$1 million on the new sites, and the financing was partially sponsored by local construction companies, the non-profit group said.

- CNA/xk

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