Best of our wild blogs: 20 Feb 17

Sisters Islands Marine Park in Parliament, what's next?
wild shores of singapore

Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) @ Chek Jawa
Monday Morgue

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Marine biologist third Singaporean to have own TED Talk

Today Online 19 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — This April, marine biologist Dr Neo Mei Lin will join the likes of tech giant Bill Gates and former US vice-president Al Gore in having her own TED Talk in Vancouver, Canada.

The 30-year-old is one of 15 change-makers this year – and the third Singaporean to date – selected by the non-profit organisation devoted to spreading ideas through its influential TED Talks as a TED Fellow.

She will get 18 minutes to share with the world her passion for giant clams and how these endangered species are vital to the survival of coral reefs.

Thrilled to join the over 400 young innovators across disciplines on the eight-year-old TED Fellow programme, Dr Neo told TODAY she aims to use the influential global platform to convince the world on the importance of marine conservation, in particular giant clams.

“(What) I really want to talk about is why saving giant clams may also save coral reefs too, and share why this very special group of animals are important to coral reefs, how their presence help enhance the coral reefs’ environment, and (also) shed light on further conservation messages,” the research fellow with the St’s John’s Island National Marine Laboratory and Tropical Marine Science Institute of National University of Singapore said.

Nicknamed “Mother of Clams” due to her work rearing and releasing giant clams into the wild, Dr Neo has faced down scores of people who do not take her work seriously. Even her own businessman father had curiously asked her “What do you actually do? Do you really study the clams everyday?”

What is so fascinating about these marine creatures, which can grow up to one metre long and weigh over 300kg, is that they play multiple roles in their life span of up to 100 years, she said.

There are only 12 species of giant clams in the Indo-Pacific, and they contribute to the health of coral reefs by serving both as a source of food for a variety of marine animals, including fishes and crabs, as well as shelters, which led her to nickname them “condominiums of the sea”.

Growing up as a child who always had a keen interest in flora, fauna and conservation of the environment, the elder child of a typical Singaporean family never imagined she would grow up to be a marine biologist. Her passion for these bi-valves is something she stumbled upon by chance as a undergraduate in 2006, which has since grown into a life-long passion.

Her current focus of research is on how a batch of three-year-old giant clams cultivated in an aquarium can survive in the challenges of Singapore’s murky waters with low visibility, and hence, less sunlight. Getting sufficient sunlight is essential to giant clams’ survival.

She is also researching which of the 12 species of giant clams are more endangered, depending on their different locations or ecological roles. Based on the results, she hopes to then support why a certain species may need more help than others.

“Giant clams are like guardians of the seas. Because they can live up to 100 years-old, they can tell us a lot about the reef’s history and health. Whatever safeguards can be done for the giant clams, by extension, also benefit coral reefs,” said Dr Neo.

The only other two Singaporeans to have been selected as a TED Fellow are Dr Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics at Nanyang Technological University, who shared his macroscopic invisibility cloak in 2013; and designer Tino Chow who spoke about combining his love for design, story telling, and the entrepreneurial way of thinking to help his clients come up with creative solutions to make the world a better place in 2009.

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Chickens are domestic poultry and pose bird flu risk

Today Online 20 Feb 17;

In his letter “Experts don’t recommend culling of wild birds”, Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan highlighted that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health do not recommend the culling of wild birds.

He questioned the need to do so in Singapore, and we wish to clarify that the organisations do not classify chickens as wild birds but as domestic poultry.

Both organisations mention the critical role of domestic poultry in the entry and spread of bird flu, as well as the risk of the virus evolving into a more dangerous, highly pathogenic form.

Free-roaming poultry are exposed to wild birds, which are often reservoirs of the bird flu virus. Studies have shown that chickens are more susceptible to the virus, compared with other birds such as pigeons.

There is also scientific evidence that chickens can, in turn, transmit the disease to humans.

The World Health Organisation has reported that the majority of human cases of bird flu infection have been associated with contact with infected live or dead poultry, including chickens.

In contrast, the risk to human health from wild birds carrying the virus is low.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) takes reference from these international guidelines.

We do not cull wild birds for bird flu prevention. But we take the public health risks associated with chickens seriously.

That is why we are engaging academics and experts in more research to understand the risks and determine the best way forward.

The AVA has the challenging task of ensuring public health and safety, while maintaining the balance in our urban ecosystem.

We will continue to explore feasible options and engage relevant stakeholders in our work.

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Travellers divided over ban on poultry from countries with avian flu risk

ALFRED CHUA MINGFENG Today Online 20 Feb 17;

Singapore — With the risk of bird flu in the news after the culling of free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming, a lesser-known poultry regulation has also ruffled some feathers.

Currently, poultry in any form — cooked or raw — from countries where there is still a risk of avian influenza, such as Malaysia, cannot be brought into Singapore.

Those who make trips across the Causeway whom TODAY spoke to were mostly unaware of the regulation. Of 20 travellers, 14 said they did not know cooked poultry was not allowed to be brought back to Singapore.

They also had mixed reactions to the regulation. Some thought it unnecessary, as cooking the food thoroughly would eliminate the virus.

Ms Kamesh Raja, 26, said, “While I can see the reasoning behind not allowing uncooked (poultry) into Singapore because of health safety risks, this might be going too far for cooked food meant for personal consumption”.

Freelance photographer Yeo Kai Wen, who was unaware of the regulation, said it was “going to be a waste of food ... if (the cooked poultry) was confiscated”.

Some travellers, such as Ms Farhanah Rahman, 21, said they exercise caution when buying food from Malaysia. She said her family would only buy from places that practise good hygiene.

While Ms Farhanah and her family have had food confiscated at Customs and thrown away, other travellers said that enforcement was not strict or evenly enforced.

Mr James Toh, 32, said he had once been let off with a “stern warning, after telling the Customs officer that I didn’t know” about the regulation. That same reason led to his friend’s meal being confiscated.

Regardless, there were travellers who felt the rule was needed to ensure overall food safety. A business manager who wanted to be known only as Riya said, “The authorities must have their reasons for doing so, and as travellers, we just obey”.

Social marketer Adli Jumat said the regulation would help keep “disease microbes” out of Singapore — “Even though the food is cooked, there is a possibility certain micro-organisms (might) still survive.”

Homemaker Suhailah Aziz, 40, told TODAY, “It’s better to be safe than sorry, just in case.”

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam said the virus causing avian influenza would have “technically been killed during the cooking process”.

However, he noted, “Cooked chicken, or for that matter, any kind of cooked food, can be contaminated with any type of bacteria, including salmonella and cholera, as well as avian influenza-causing viruses.”

This could result from the improper handling of cooked food, leading to cross-contamination.

In a Voices letter last week, TODAY reader Jeffrey Lai questioned the necessity of the ban on cooked poultry. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) told him earlier that meat and meat products were classified as high-risk, and that “imports can only be allowed from AVA-approved sources”.

“AVA also needs to evaluate the source of raw meat and the heat treatment that the items have been subjected to — whether the heat treatment is sufficient to deactivate the avian influenza according to World Organisation for Animal Health’s guidelines before allowing any import,” it said.

Noting that Malaysia and Hong Kong, which Mr Lai had also enquired about, were “not free from avian influenza”, the AVA added that “the source of raw poultry meat and heat treatment (including the core temperature and duration) are also unknown”. ALFRED CHUA

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Study reveals effects of poorly run wildlife trade on Singapore’s bird species

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Seven in 10 birds offered for sale in shops here are species not native or previously native to Singapore, raising concerns over the dangers of a poorly run trade and overharvesting, a study released on Sunday (Feb 19) has found.

Conducted by wildlife-trade monitoring network Traffic, the study’s release coincides with the Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit, which began on Sunday and ends on Tuesday at Jurong Bird Park.

Experts from across the globe are drawing up and implementing a plan of action to avert a crisis confronting the region’s songbirds, which are being threatened by trade.

The study — an overview of the bird species in Singapore’s pet shops — showed that 46 per cent of the 14,085 birds from more than 100 species it documented over four days were Oriental White-eyes, or Zosterops palpebrosus. This was a once-native species wiped out predominantly through bird trapping.

Ms Kanitha Krishnasamy, a co-author of the study, said the presence of nearly 6,500 such birds in the Singaporean market was a “poignant reminder of the dangers of persistent overharvesting and (a) poorly managed trade”.

The Oriental White-eye was among the species cited as of “immediate concern from bird trapping in Asia” at the first summit in 2015.

“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,” said Ms Krishnasamy, who is Traffic in South-east Asia’s senior programme manager.

Meanwhile, the study noted that 97 per cent of birds found here were species not subject to international regulation, since they were not listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

With trade occurring largely below the radar, “there’s often little, if anything, known of its impact on wild populations”, Traffic said.

Among other things, the study urged clarity in the protocols in place to regulate species not covered by the treaty, as well as non-protected species that are imported into and exported from Singapore in large numbers.

It also called for a disclosure of any trade quotas, the regulation of captive breeding and registration details to enable civil society groups to aid conservation efforts. The study also found that more than 30 per cent of the non-native species in Singapore were from Central and South America, underscoring the country’s “specialist role” in trading birds from that region.

That most of the species here are non-native highlights the need for Singapore, where the volume of birds is comparable to Indonesia’s, “to be particularly vigilant about the impact of trade elsewhere in Asia and beyond,” said Ms Krishnasamy.

Members of the public who suspect illegal trading activities should report them to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore or via Traffic’s Wildlife Witness app (

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Malaysia: Najib pledges to address problem of uncontrolled river pollution

New Straits Times 19 Feb 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: With uncontrolled pollution starting to affect rivers in the country, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today pledged look into the matter as soon as possible.

He cited an example of the polluted river near Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur, which he said is has proven to be an inconvenience to those walking around the area.

Masjid Jamek is one of the oldest mosques in Kuala Lumpur. It is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak River and may be accessed via Jalan Tun Perak.

“Masjid Jamek Kuala Lumpur stood majestically in the middle of the hustle and bustle of city life. Not only is it among the oldest mosques in the country, it also holds the unique point of confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers.

“However, uncontrolled pollution has affected our rivers and development has also reduced the attractiveness of the surrounding area, to the point that there are reports saying that it’s not suitable (for people) to walk along the river bank,” he said in a Facebook post today.

The prime minister also pointed out that cities in other developed countries such as New York, Paris and South Korea do not neglect their rivers.

He said rivers or coastal areas in these countries are spots where festive celebrations would be held, apart from being tourists attractions.

“Various initiatives have been implemented and more effort should be done to restore our pride.

“God willing, I will look into this matter in the near future,” Najib added.

The Masjid Jamek is also known as the Friday Mosque. It was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback and built in 1907.

It was officially opened by the Sultan of Selangor in 1909.

Besides being the oldest one in the city, Masjid Jamek was also built on the first Malay burial ground in the city.

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Indonesia: Five arrested on tiger skin trade charges

Antara 20 Feb 17;

Padang, W Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The West Sumatra environment and forestry authorities on Sunday morning arrested five people on charges of attempting to sell a Sumatran tiger skin.

"The arrest followed a public report that there would be a trade transaction of tiger skin and other parts. We later spied on the suspected perpetrators," chief of the West Sumatra and Riau environment and forestry security and law enforcement agency (BPPLHK) Edward Hutapea said.

The five were arrested at Jorong Simpang Nagari Koto Gadang village, Gunung Talang sub-district, Solok district, at around 08.00 a.m. local time, he said.

Based on the results of preliminary investigation, the five, identified by their initials as SY (35), N (49), IZ (23), SU (33), and DMS (28), hail from neighboring Riau and Jambi provinces, he said.

During the arrest, a team of the West Sumatra and Riau BPPLHK and Natural Resources Conservation Agency (NKSDA) officers also seized a skin of tiger believed to be two years old, eight mobile phones and two cars.

If found guilty, the perpetrators can be sentenced to up to five years in jail and fined up to Rp100 million, he said.(*)

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