Best of our wild blogs: 13 Mar 17

Calling for volunteers for the Sisters Islands Marine Park!
Sisters' Island Marine Park

18 Mar 2017 (Sat) Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Chinese Pond Mussel (Sinanodonta woodiana) @ Tampines Quarry
Monday Morgue

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Getting humans to learn to live in harmony with wildlife

Lena Chan Straits Times 10 Mar 17;

Humans have been living with wildlife since time immemorial. But with the growth of cities, people have become so distant from nature and wildlife that many think there is no native flora and fauna left in urban jungles. This alienation raised such concern in the global community that the United Nations General Assembly has designated March 3 each year as World Wildlife Day, to celebrate and raise awareness of the world's wild animals and plants.

Fortunately, despite the high rate of urbanisation in Singapore, we can still find rich native biodiversity here that we can appreciate, enjoy and be enchanted by.

Not many people realise that Singapore has around 392 native bird species - more than Germany's 248 species; 324 butterfly species - compared to 59 native species found in the United Kingdom; and 122 dragonfly species - more than double the 57 species recorded in Britain.

With buildings ever encroaching into nature spaces, it is inevitable that people will encounter more wildlife in their backyards.

In many cases, though, just because people see animals such as long-tailed macaques and pangolins more often, their numbers may not have actually increased. Wildlife has simply become more visible. So we will have to re-learn how to live with wildlife in our midst.

Human-wildlife interactions cannot be pigeon-holed. Some people love wildlife and are thrilled at a chance encounter with a hornbill or pangolin; some shriek at the sight of a bat or curse at the noisy calls of the koel, a cuckoo commonly seen here. Yet foreign visitors envy us because we are lulled to sleep by the chirps of night-jars right in the heart of the city - a luxury they can experience only in remote areas back home.

In Austin, Texas, residents and tourists queue up to watch the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that reside in the underside of the city's Congress Avenue Bridge during the summer. They are seen as a natural wonder to behold in a city. But in Singapore, some say that the free-roaming smooth-coated otters should be kept in zoos instead.

Contrary to the complaints by some members of the public here about monkeys being a nuisance and that there are too many around, the research findings of an internationally well-regarded primatologist, Professor Agustin Fuentes from the University of Notre Dame in the US, observed that "the macaques of Singapore are healthy, at a reasonable density and have a low impact in conflict with humans... In fact, the lowest of any place where this has been studied."

He attributed the primary stimulus of the monkey-human conflict in Singapore to the easy access of human food, and residences built directly inside the monkey's natural range.

In his recent book, Handbook Of Biophilic Planning And Design, Professor Timothy Beatley observed that "coexistence with wildlife in cities has become an important goal and challenge in cities".

It has never been more important to live peacefully with what's left of our wildlife, as they are crucial for physical and psychological health.

Research studies in Japan have shown that an experimental group who went for walks in forests registered a lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure, compared to a group that walked in a city area. Wildlife is also a good indicator of the environment, as powerfully illustrated in Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring.


A detailed plan is already in place. The National Parks Board has intensified its biodiversity conservation efforts with a Nature Conservation Masterplan. This has four thrusts: conservation of key habitats; habitat enhancement, restoration and species recovery; applied research in conservation biology and planning; and community stewardship and outreach in nature.

Under NParks' jurisdiction are four nature reserves, around 350 parks, 300km of park connectors and more than 2,500ha of roadside greenery. The agency also promotes skyrise greenery encompassing 72ha of green roofs.

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve, Labrador Nature Reserve, and Pulau Ubin form the core biodiversity areas that are key gene pool repositories - which are buffered and supplemented by the nature parks (such as Dairy Farm, Springleaf, and the recently launched Chestnut) as well as parks (like Pasir Ris Park, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Coney Island Park). Park connectors and streetscapes planted with the appropriate plants can increase foraging grounds for wildlife.

With habitat enhancement and restoration efforts in all the areas under NParks' management, the quality and quantity of sites that can be used by wildlife for feeding, foraging and breeding have multiplied.

These initiatives might sound easy, but they have to be supported by reliable data rigorously collected through comprehensive biodiversity surveys, long-term quantitative monitoring of plant and wildlife populations, agent-based modelling and other studies, all based on sound science.

For instance, in natural ecosystems, a complex food web evolves with predators and prey controlling populations. The more humans impose change on such ecosystems, the more this natural balance will be disturbed. Then, others have to intervene to hopefully restore this equilibrium. In cities, the top predators have generally disappeared, and humans have to assume this role by proper management before the problem arises - guided by science. There are alternative ways other than culling, such as reduction of food supply and sterilisation, for instance.

No matter how much effort is put in place to reduce human-wildlife conflict, human behaviour - like the feeding of wild animals that might be good-intentioned or provoking wildlife, for instance - would negate any well-planned practices.

Hence, this journey requires everyone's commitment and participation, including the public, private sector, schools, tertiary institutions, non-governmental organisations and government agencies.

We are all stakeholders. Community stewardship and outreach are crucial to the success of measures taken to conciliate human-wildlife interaction.

Prominent conservationist E. O. Wilson popularised the term biophilia to describe "the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms". When sustainability experts were looking for a city to film which represented this spirit, they chose Singapore, in recognition of its greening efforts as a Garden City evolving into a City In A Garden.

Nonetheless, there is a segment of population - the unconverted - who are uncomfortable with or even fear wildlife. The challenge is to educate and convince them of the benefits of wildlife. Neither should we neglect the converted, whose commitment must be sustained.

With forward planning, collaboration among the people, government agencies and the private sector, and a biophilic ethos supported by sound science, Singapore is heading in the direction of harmonious coexistence between people and wildlife. For our survival and quality of life, we have no other choice.

392: Number of native bird species Singapore has, which is more than Germany's 248 species.
324: Number of butterfly species Singapore has, compared with 59 found in the United Kingdom.
122: Number of dragonfly species Singapore has, compared with the 57 recorded in Britain.

Keeping the public engaged with nature
Dr Lena Chan Straits Times 10 Mar 17;

Keen naturalists will always find ways to connect with nature. Conducting wildlife training workshops, bio blitz, nature watches and citizen science projects allows enthusiasts to add another dimension to their commitment.

Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research, including data monitoring and collection. With these organised activities, they not only observe wildlife but also systematically document our native plants and animals as citizen scientists. They can also carry out hands-on habitat enhancement and restoration projects, such as reforestation, weeding out invasive alien species and doing coastal cleanups that will be beneficial to wildlife.

Armed with these rich experiences and knowledge, they are the best advocates to educate the unconvinced.


We cannot love what we do not know. Unless individuals understand the benefits of wildlife in our midst, they will not appreciate the importance of wildlife to human survival in urbanised areas, and their contribution to our quality of life.

To convert the unconverted, we need to create opportunities for them to take part in public awareness events, especially when they are run by enthusiastic nature lovers. This is why the annual Festival of Biodiversity, organised by National Parks Board and the Biodiversity Roundtable to celebrate biodiversity, is always held in a popular mall.

We should instil the values of biodiversity conservation in young children and students. Incorporating biodiversity into the school and tertiary institution curricula opens them to the science and the art of biodiversity conservation in our formal education.

About the writer

Dr Lena Chan is group director of the National Biodiversity Centre at the National Parks Board (NParks). She helms a team of officers who are responsible for a diverse range of matters pertaining to biodiversity conservation.

Dr Chan is a member of the advisory committee for the Cities and Biodiversity Outlook for the Convention on Biological Diversity. She is also a member of the advisory board for the Biophilic Cities Network, which aims to advance the planning for biophilic cities through research, dialogue and exchange, and teaching.

She has published numerous scientific papers and book chapters on conservation biology and ecology.

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NTU on the hunt for top minds in food science

Students accepted into its programme from this year will get Nanyang Scholarship
Samantha Boh Straits Times 10 Mar 17;

Singapore imports 90 per cent of the food it consumes - everything from chickens to bean sprouts - so naturally, food security is a major concern, not just for the Government but the scientific community too.

Recently, scientists at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority turned okara, the by-product that is produced when turning soya beans into soya milk, into tasty "meat" floss.

The desire to attract some of the best minds to the field to discover ways to produce food more efficiently, sustainably and safely, while reducing wastage, has seen Nanyang Technological University (NTU) elevate its Food Science and Technology programme to lure the top A-level, polytechnic and International Baccalaureate performers.

Only 30 students will be offered a place in the 2017 intake and they will be given the prestigious Nanyang Scholarship. They will have their tuition fees fully covered and receive an allowance of $6,000 per academic year, among other benefits.

The Deputy Provost (Education) of NTU, Professor Kam Chan Hin, said: "The elevation of our Food Science and Technology programme to a scholarship programme reflects our efforts to attract the best students to this increasingly important field to address new challenges in food security.

"With its interdisciplinary approach, the programme aims to produce the much-needed skilled manpower to help ensure Singapore's food industry is future-ready."

Currently, 143 undergraduates are enrolled in the programme, which was started in 2014 in partnership with Wageningen University and Research (WUR) from the Netherlands - a top agriculture institution.

The students major in bioengineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, biological sciences or chemistry and biological chemistry. Those who are accepted this year will have the opportunity to go on a six-month exchange programme at WUR or undertake their final-year research project under the joint supervision of NTU and WUR professors.

This is on top of a two-week immersion programme at WUR, where half the time will be spent on laboratory practicum lessons and the other half on visits to food companies.

There is a separate food science degree programme offered at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and diploma programmes offered at several polytechnics.

NUS said its food science graduates are among the most employable across all courses, and, on average, those with an honours degree get a starting pay of $3,300 a month.

An NTU-WUR PhD programme was launched last year and a joint master's course is in the pipeline.

Specialist in the field

Wageningen University and Research (WUR) is a Dutch college and research centre that specialises in life sciences, formed through a collaboration between Wageningen University and the Wageningen Research foundation.

Its areas of focus in education and research include food and food production, sustainable use of natural resources, and health.

The university has 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 125 countries, and more than 1,900 post-doctorate candidates.

The research centre has more than 2,400 full-time faculty and staff, and had a turnover of €314 million (S$469 million) in 2015.

WUR ranked top in agriculture and forestry, and sixth in environmental sciences in the QS World University Rankings by Subject released this week, and the 65th best university in the 2017 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

30: Number of students who will be offered a place in the 2017 intake of NTU's Food Science and Technology programme.

143: Number of undergraduates currently in the programme.

Samantha Boh

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Indonesia declares more outermost islands

The Jakarta Post 12 Mar 17;

In an effort to protect the country's border areas against foreign territorial claims, the government has declared 111 outer islands, which include some previously not stated as border areas.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti welcomed Presidential Decree No. 6/2017 on outermost islands, the new regulation signed by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, which revises a 2005 decree that only named 92 islands.

The newly mentioned islands include Bintan and Berakit in the province of Riau Islands and Nusa Penida in Bali.

“The enactment of these [111] islands is to prevent issues of occupation or claims of possession by other nations,” said Susi on Saturday, as quoted by

The latest government move comes after several disputes over peripheral islands with neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore.

Last year, Indonesia was also involved in a spat with China over fishing activities in waters near Natuna Island.

The government, according to Susi, will keep close watch over the 111 islands to prevent activities like drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal fishing.

The minister also expressed her hope that natural resources in the outermost and remote islands could be utilized in the interest of the local people and the government. (mrc/wit)

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