Best of our wild blogs: 17 Apr 17

An otterly wonderful walk at the Pasir Ris Mangroves
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Conservation of Giant Clams – Part 3
Neo Mei Lin

Relooking at the numbers of Singapore's water supply: 3 very interesting deductions (part 1)
Water Quality in Singapore

Greater Banded Hornet (Vespa tropica) @ Lower Seletar Reservoir
Monday Morgue

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Yachting community comes on board for scientific cause

Owners of nine yachts pledge their vessels in support of marine science and conservation
Audrey Tan Straits Times 15 Apr 17;

Marine science in Singapore and the region has a new champion: The recreational yachting community.

Owners of nine yachts have pledged their vessels to the scientific cause, such as by hosting marine researchers on expeditions so they can collect data or carry out experiments.

Their offer will help reduce substantially the cost of marine research because boat fees can take up to 50 per cent of a project's budget, said Dr Toh Tai Chong, a marine biologist at the Tropical Marine Science Institute in the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The move by the vessel owners is in keeping with the mission of The International SeaKeepers Society, which supports marine science and conservation efforts by offering members' yachts for use.

The American society, formed in 1998, had launched its Asia chapter in Singapore last year, led by president Julian Chang.

He said its growth here comes amid a "heightened consciousness of conservation in Singapore and the surrounding region".

The three yachts supplied initially by Discovery Yachts members have increased to nine, he told The Straits Times during a society dinner last week.

SeaKeepers Asia has yet to launch a scientist-led expedition but there are plans to do so, he added.

Said Dr Toh: "With SeaKeepers, potential areas of interest include going out to sea to sample waters and conduct biodiversity surveys."

Also, under its Discovery Yachts Programme, the society's members would take along oceanographic equipment, like instruments that measure temperature and salinity, to collect data as they sail around the world.

To mark World Oceans Day in June, SeaKeepers Asia, NUS scientists and other partners plan to send divers underwater to pick up marine trash. The vessels have also been used as "floating classrooms" for youth groups and students from such schools as Ang Mo Kio Secondary and Deyi Secondary.

In March last year, students from the Singapore American School went on a SeaKeepers yachtto learn about coastal development and marine life from NUS scientist Ng Ngan Kee. They were given nets to collect samples of marine life, which they later identified and examined with a microscope.

Marine conservationist Fabien Cousteau, a member of SeaKeepers' Scientific Advisory Council and the grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, was at the SeaKeepers' dinner last week.

Mr Cousteau said: "By donating boat time... the yacht owners can be part of the research.

"This is not only invaluable to the scientific community, but also engages them as part of the effort."

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Awash with wildlife

Greening of urban Singapore leads to more sightings of wild animals
Audrey Tan Straits Times 14 Apr 17;

Singapore's "City in a Garden" status appears to have received the stamp of approval from animals as well as men.

More land and sea creatures are making urban Singapore their home, and they are being seen more frequently too. For instance, about six weeks ago, five baby otters were born in the heart of the city at the Singapore River.

And in the past week, photographers flocked to Pek Kio Market and Food Centre to document the rare sight of nesting blue-crowned hanging parrots and their chicks.

The increased wildlife sightings can be attributed to Singapore's successful go-green efforts, said experts. These include initiatives such as park connectors, vegetated buffer areas around nature reserves, and wildlife corridors - green belts that wildlife can use to get from one green space to another.

Eco-bridges, such as the one spanning the Bukit Timah Expressway, also link green spaces, noted Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore) and a senior lecturer at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU's) Asian School of the Environment.

Macaques often bother residents in areas close to their habitats, such as Thomson and Bukit Timah, by rummaging through the bins and even entering homes.

They have helped to boost Singapore's animal population and diversity by creating and enhancing living spaces for local wildlife.

"Without suitable habitats, animals cannot thrive, and by connecting pockets of habitat, the effective size increases," said Dr Lum.

The wild smooth-coated otters, for instance, have benefited from Singapore's network of clean and green waterways that teem with their favourite fish.

"About three decades ago, seeing an otter was like winning 4-D. Now, it is an almost guaranteed experience," said Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"Previously, all researchers saw was the scat, or droppings, of the otter,'' he added.

Prof Ng credits the growing abundance of the creatures to less pollution, cleaner waters and more habitats, saying: "The otters have become comfortable on the island."

But the joy of watching otters sunbathe on the floating platform at Marina Bay, or seeing pangolins explore NUS and NTU - they were spotted on campus last November - has been marred by clashes between man and beast.

Wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) responded last year to 93 cases of animals, such as pythons and wild boars, being run over by vehicles - almost 40 per cent more than the 67 cases in 2015.

Complaints about animals have risen too, with birds, monkeys and snakes topping the list, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

For birds, the number was 7,860 last year, against around 7,340 in the previous years. The corresponding figures for snakes are 850 and 780, and for monkeys, 910 and 750.

Dr Lum said part of the reason for the surge in complaints could be that the creatures are being forced out of their habitats as human homes encroach into the natural spaces. A case in point are the condominiums built near the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

In January, debates erupted over the culling of free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming and Pasir Ris after residents complained about them. The AVA said the birds posed a risk of spreading bird flu. However, many Singaporeans urged their fellow countrymen to appreciate the Republic's world of nature, especially as there is not much left of it.

Dr Lum agrees. Succeeding in bringing back various animals and birds, such as the otter and the hornbill, from the brink of extinction in Singapore is heartening, he said.

But there may be other native species edging closer to local extinction because they are more sensitive and confined to natural habitats, he pointed out. These animals, like the Raffles' banded langur, a shy monkey, may not be able to adapt as well to the urban environment. Most native animals are also restricted to little-disturbed deep forest habitats and do not easily coexist with development.

He acknowledged that it may not be easy to love every creature - insects, lizards and snakes are not necessarily cute and cuddly - "but they deserve a better fate than being stomped on, bludgeoned or exterminated because we don't like them". He added: "Singapore is a small place, but there is more than ample room to accommodate our lifestyles while permitting wildlife to enjoy theirs too."

• When encountering a wild animal, be calm and move slowly away from the creature. Talking loudly or using flash photography, for example, could scare and provoke animals such as otters.

• Do not feed wild animals. They can find their own food in the natural environment, and their eating habits help keep the ecosystem healthy.

• Do not let pets, such as dogs, chase after wild animals as this may frighten them.

• Keep a safe distance when observing wildlife. No matter how cute wild boars may look, Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum advises against approaching them. The piglets, especially, should not be approached as their mother may react aggressively to defend them.

Sources: NParks, Dr Shawn Lum

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Singapore wildlife faces poaching threat

Number of cases appears small, but experts say widespread problem is often under-reported
Audrey Tan Straits Times 15 Apr 17;

Wildlife is thriving as Singapore becomes greener. But some animals, including birds, wild boars and fish, face the threat of poaching.

Songbirds are among those most at risk - as collectors are willing to pay a pretty penny for a bird that can carry a tune.

On websites such as Locanto or Facebook groups that sell birds, people are buying and selling magpie robins - black and white birds that call in melodious trills - for between $250 and $888, a check by The Straits Times (ST) showed.

In response to ST queries, the authorities said they have received reports of magpie robins, spotted doves and red-whiskered bulbuls being caught from the wild.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it investigated 24 cases of alleged poaching over the past five years - from 2012 to last year. Of these, six cases were resolved with fines. For the rest, warnings and advisories were issued.

Over the same period, the National Parks Board (NParks) said it looked into 17 cases of alleged bird poaching within parks and nature reserves. Fines were paid in eight cases, and in the other cases, people were given warnings and advisories.

The numbers appear small, but observers say they do not accurately reflect the widespread nature of the problem. Poaching is often under-reported, as it is difficult to catch poachers in the act, said Mr Alan Owyong of the Nature Society (Singapore) bird group.

"The authorities will act only if they witness the poaching itself, or from photographic or video evidence," said Mr Owyong.

Trainer and freelance photographer Steven Tor, 55, agreed. Last month, he saw three men who appeared to be trying to catch a bird near Seletar Aerospace Park.

"They seemed to be trying to lure a wild magpie robin into a cage, which contained another magpie robin that kept calling out," said Mr Tor. He called the AVA twice that day, but no one turned up.

In response to queries from ST, an AVA spokesman said it is following up and investigating the alleged bird-poaching activities in Seletar.

Poachers also trap birds by laying spike-studded wires on the ground to ensnare them, said Mr Louis Ng, chief executive of wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society. He has seen people poaching birds in the Lim Chu Kang area.

Another poaching hot spot is the vegetated area next to the old railway track in Tanglin Halt, said Ms Lucy Davis, a former resident of the area who has come across two poaching incidents there.

Ms Davis, an artist and founder of The Migrant Ecologies Project that studies culture and nature in South-east Asia, spent three years studying the interactions between humans and birds in the area.

"Most of the time, the poachers appear to be 'uncles' who grew up catching birds in their kampung days. To them, it seems to be a form of male bonding," she said.

Under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, it is illegal to kill, take or keep any wild animal or bird without a licence, said AVA. Those found guilty can be fined up to $1,000 per animal, and have the animal confiscated.

The mere possession of bird traps or trapping devices is an offence within NParks-managed areas, said NParks' group director for conservation Wong Tuan Wah.

Mr Ng, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC, added: "To effectively reduce the number of poaching incidents, the authorities should ban the sale of trapping devices in pet stores."


$5,000 If the animal is poached from a public park.

$50,000 If the animal is poached from nature reserves or national parks.

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Malaysia: Conserve river banks for proboscis monkeys’ future

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 17 Apr 17;

KINABATANGAN: There is a need to rehabilitate and conserve river banks especially in Kinabatangan, which have been badly degraded, for the sake of Sabah’s iconic proboscis monkeys, said Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) research student Danica Stark.

Stark, who led a study on the home range of the proboscis monkeys along the Kinabatangan River, said 10 proboscis monkeys were collared to allow researchers to estimate their home ranges.

The study, which was funded by Yayasan Sime Darby and Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, was jointly carried out by the DGFC and the Sabah Wildlife Department.

The value of a home range size of proboscis monkeys in a riparian habitat ranged from 24ha to 165ha, Stark said.

“Further work will allow us to ascertain the movement patterns and habitat selection within the home ranges, with other factors affecting range size differences and differences between ranges.

“It will contribute towards the conservation of this endangered and totally protected species in Sabah, with better understanding of its needs in highly disturbed habitats,” Stark added.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said the study showed the importance of riparian reserves for the survival of proboscis monkeys in Sabah.

“Proboscis monkeys rely on such reserves for feeding and sleeping at night. They do not venture into oil palm plantations, even if they have only a narrow strip of riparian forest between the river and the plantation.

“This shows the importance for oil palm estates to stop encroaching riparian reserves and to surrender non-productive land for conservation,” added Dr Goossens.

The state wildlife department and DGFC are drafting a State Action Plan for the proboscis monkeys and to identify the correct actions to be taken to ensure the monkeys will strive.

Proboscis monkey highly dependent on riparian areas for survival: study
BRANDON JOHN New Straits Times 16 Apr 17;

KINABATANGAN: A new study by Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) revealed key details about the proboscis monkey including its dependence on riparian or riverside areas.

The centre's director Dr Genoit Goossens said in a statement that those riparian areas were important habitat that provide food and shelter fot the monkeys.

"The study also revealed that the monkeys did not venture into oil palm plantations, even when there was only a narrow strip of riparian forest between the river and the plantation.

"This shows the importance of oil palm estates to stop encroaching riparian reserves and to surrender non-productive land for conservation," said Goosens, who is also a lecturer at Cardiff University.

The study, conducted last year, was funded by Yayasan Sime Darby and Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation.

He added such studies were necessary as the data obtained allowed researchers to figure out Sabah's carrying capacity for proboscis populations - which can determine their long-term survival in the state.

“Similar data was used in our recent population and habitat viability analysis workshop, held last February at Gaya Island Resort.

"State-of-the-art scientific data are of importance to identify the correct actions to be undertaken in order to ensure that proboscis monkeys will strive,” Goossens added.

As follow-up to the research, SWD and DGFC are currently drafting a State Action Plan in hopes of securing a future for Borneo's enigmatic monkeys.

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