Best of our wild blogs: 20 May 17

Expect delays at Changi bumboats during peak periods until 17 Sep 2017
wild shores of singapore

Intertidal Outing @ Nicoll Drive
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

Festival of Biodiversity Speaker Series – May 27 & 28

Toddycats’ prepare for Festival of Biodiversity 2017 – this time, a forest walk at the MacRitchie forest!

Nature Conservation Talk & Film Screening by Cicada Tree Eco-Place
Love our MacRitchie Forest

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Fish vaccines keep antibiotic risk at bay

It is more effective than antibiotics and benefits consumers' health too, but costs are higher for farms
Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 May 17;

Just as infants are vaccinated against certain diseases, young fish at three farms here are also getting the same treatment.

They are injected with vaccines instead of being fed with antibiotics, the usual practice currently.

This keeps the fish - and the humans who eat them - healthy. This is because vaccines reduce the risk of people developing a resistance to antibiotics.

When farmed animals, such as fish, are fed with antibiotics, there is the possibility of residual drugs passing through the food chain and ending up in the bellies of humans, said Emeritus Professor Hew Choy Leong from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) department of biological sciences.

"Many of these antibiotics are used to treat human diseases. If antibiotics are consumed excessively, the bacteria can develop a resistance to medicine that was previously able to kill them," he said.

Only three of some 120 fish farms here have started vaccinating their fish, but experts hope more will follow. Fish farm Marine Life Aquaculture, for example, started a pilot to swop antibiotics for vaccines about four years ago.

Its managing director Frank Tan said the pilot has been successful - 90 per cent of vaccinated fish survived, compared with 20 per cent of those fed with antibiotics.

The farm will scale this up from next month to all its fingerlings, or young fish about 10cm long.

"When we vaccinate the fish, there is herd immunity which prevents disease from spreading fast - important for farmed fish in close proximity to one another. Antibiotics are mainly used after a bacterial infection hits, and it may be too late," said Mr Tan.

Vaccines cost twice as much as antibiotics, and administering them is labour-intensive - workers have to manually vaccinate the fish one by one - but Mr Tan said the high survival rate was worth it.

The Straits Times reported last December that the Health Ministry was working with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the National Environment Agency and NUS on a nationwide strategy to tackle the problem of some bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

"Due to increasing worldwide concerns over the development of antimicrobial resistance, AVA has been stepping up efforts to advise and educate our farmers on proper fish health management to prevent infections without using antibiotics, and (on) prudent drug usage to treat disease when needed," an AVA spokesman told The Straits Times.

Farmers must follow certain procedures which, among other things, will prevent residual antimicrobials from exceeding certain levels, she said.

Whether more farms would start vaccinating their fish depends on factors such as cost, said Dr Grace Loo, a lecturer in marine science and aquaculture at Republic Polytechnic's School of Applied Science.

Dr Dirk Eichelberger, from fish farm Singapore Aquaculture Technologies, believes vaccines are key as they improve survival rates.

"However, there is a shortage of suitable vaccines in Singapore, and those that are available require a very high minimum order quantity," he said, adding that he uses antibiotics only in the rare event of disease outbreaks.

AVA said farms can tap its Agriculture and Productivity Fund to buy equipment, such as those required for fish vaccination, that boosts productivity.

Service executive Julie Ng, 60, said she is keen to buy vaccinated fish. "It sounds like the healthier choice, and why not, if the fish are cheaper too."

But teacher Ho Heng Mei, 56, said fresh fish are not sold with nutrition labels, making it hard for consumers to differentiate between vaccinated fish and fish fed with antibiotics. "There is no way to know the treatment process given. So as long as there is no health warning, I will continue to enjoy eating fish."

Why vaccines work better than antibiotics

Give a man a fish and he feeds for a day. Teach a man to fish and he feeds for a lifetime. That is essentially what antibiotics and vaccines do respectively.

Antibiotics are chemical compounds designed to kill bacteria - they treat a disease when it happens. Vaccines, on the other hand, are preventive. They contain biological compounds that bolster the body's own immune system to protect it against specific pathogens.

Mr Lee Yeng Sheng, a senior specialist for global marketing in aquaculture at MSD Animal Health, which developed the vaccines used by local fish farm Marine Life Aquaculture, said fish vaccines work like human vaccines. "Once administered, the fish will mount a natural immune response and be protected from infection by the disease, allowing for the use of medicines such as antibiotics when only absolutely necessary," he said.

This means that the next time a fish encounters an infection caused by bacteria or viruses it has been vaccinated against, its immune system will be ready to fight it. But if it had been given antibiotics instead, a new dose would be required every time there is an outbreak.

This could encourage and breed resistance in the bacteria, said Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

When fish are given antibiotics, the chemicals are usually mixed in its food.

"When the antibiotics go directly into the sea, or are excreted by the fish into the sea, it provides sub-therapeutic levels of the drug - which means the dosage is lower than that required to kill the pathogen," said Dr Leong. This makes it easy for the bacteria to mutate against the drug - an effect that vaccines do not have on the pathogen.

"In other words, give the fish antibiotics, you rid the bacteria for one day. Give the fish a vaccine, you teach the fish to fight the bacteria every day," he said.

Audrey Tan

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Gallop Stable guilty of animal cruelty, fined S$9,000

Vanessa Paige Chelvan Channel NewsAsia 19 May 17;

SINGAPORE: Horse-riding provider Gallop Stable was fined S$9,000 on Friday (May 19), following a conviction for animal cruelty last month.

A retired racehorse named Sharpy was found in poor condition at the stable's premises in Pasir Ris in May 2013 by Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) vet Dr Wendy Toh when she visited the ranch unannounced.

Dr Toh spotted the 17-year-old mare lying on the ground, breathing heavily and baring its teeth – signs the horse was in pain.

Gallop Stable was subsequently charged for animal cruelty, for “failing to provide (the horse) adequate veterinary attention”.

The stable’s director said he knew Sharpy was ill and had given the horse painkillers. He had also called a vet before being asked to do so by the AVA after its surprise visit, he testified last year.


But the vet, Dr Phyllis Yew, said stable hands had not followed her instructions on cleaning Sharpy’s festering wounds, leading to them becoming infested with maggots. Sharpy had become so sickly that both Dr Yew and Dr Toh recommended the horse be euthanised.

The stable refused.


“(The Stable) could have taken the easy, cost-effective route of having Sharpy put down, in accordance with the vets’ advice”, defence lawyer Simon Tan said. “No one would or could have faulted them.”

But the stable “genuinely believed” Sharpy could be saved, Mr Tan said. They spent almost S$16,000 on Sharpy’s medical bills, going so far as to rent special equipment needed for its care.

Sharpy is alive and well today, Mr Tan said, referring the court to videos of the mare “well and recovered (and) galloping in the stable”.

Gallop Stable manages close to 200 horses and ponies across three stables, many of which are retired racehorses like Sharpy, which would have been put down if they had not been adopted by the stable. “My client has given these retired horses a new lease of life”, Mr Tan said.

Far from being cruel, the stable works with several non-profit organisations to provide horse-therapy programs for cancer patients, the disabled and disadvantaged for rehabilitative, educational and therapeutic purposes, Mr Tan said.

He added the stable has since taken measures to prevent “any future incidents of this nature”, including more regular medical checkups. Stable hands have also been told to report and record any injuries or illness, “no matter how small”, and to uphold “requisite standards of care” for the horses.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Gabriel Choong, however, argued a S$10,000 fine should be imposed. Sharpy had suffered for five months before its condition improved, and the horse’s leg is permanently swollen and has left the horse “mildly lame”, the prosecutor said.

Mr Tan, who had asked for a fine of S$5,000, said Gallop Stable will lodge an appeal against the conviction and fine.


AVA said in a media statement on Friday night that the mare had experienced unnecessary pain and suffering which could have been mitigated with timely veterinary treatment.

Sharpy had a severely infected lower right hind leg and infected eyes, as well as a swollen left knee which was later diagnosed to be a case of severe hematoma - bleeding with a retained blood clot.

The authority's investigations found that the owner had been self-treating the mare and did not provide it with proper veterinary attention.

AVA instructed Gallop to seek veterinary attention for the horse immediately, and the two independent vets who examined Sharpy later also assessed that it had been subjected to unnecessary suffering.

"AVA condemns animal cruelty and will investigate all feedback on animal cruelty. We will take enforcement action against anyone who has committed an act of cruelty," it said in the statement.
Source: CNA/vc

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Malaysia: Man nabbed with 3,000 turtle eggs off Sandakan

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 19 May 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A man believed to be a smuggler was caught in the waters off Sandakan with 3,000 turtle eggs early Friday.

State marine police chief Asst Comm Mohd Yazib Abd Aziz said the suspect, a 40-year-old Filipino, was on a pump boat heading towards Kg Forest when marine police officers saw him.

"The officers at first saw an object in the water. As they approached it, they saw that it was a pump boat," he said.

Police gave chase when the suspect tried to flee in the 3.30am incident.

"Our men intercepted the pump boat and detained the suspect, who did not have any documents with him," ACP Yazib said.

Police also found 10 plastic bags containing 3,000 turtle eggs, believed smuggled from the Philippines for the local market here.

The eggs are worth about RM4,800.

Investigations are continuing under the Wildlife Rehabilitation Enactment 1997.

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Malaysians discard 17,800 tonnes of food daily; activists push for zero-wastage

Beatrice Nita Jay New Straits Times 20 May 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: The government must promote a zero-food wastage culture among Malaysians to help curb the growing problem of food wastage in the country.

Social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the move must be undertaken, as research by Solid Wastage Corporation Management (SWCorp) has shown that Malaysians discard 17,800 tonnes of food every day.

He said for the zero-food wastage initiative to succeed, all levels of the community must be roped in, as everyone has a responsibility to put a stop to all forms of wastage.

“If the education and awareness programme fails to change the negative behaviour of the public, the authorities may have to introduce new legislation that will ensure that those who waste food are fined or receive other kinds of punishment,” he said in a statement today.

Lee was commenting on a proposal made by the High-Level Committee on Urban Poverty to implement a food aid programme for the urban poor via the National Blue Ocean Strategy.

But after chairing the committee meeting on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the programme would inconvenience various ministries and hypermarket operators.

Lee said food wastage is rampant in Malaysia, as our people could be seen helping themselves to more food than they could consume, especially when at buffet spreads at hotels, restaurants and open houses.

He said this is especially so during the month of Ramadan, when Malaysians would pile their plates with huge portions of food and not be able to finish it.

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Malaysia: Rescued – only to die of poor care

VINCENT TAN and EDDIE CHUA The Star 20 May 17;

EXCLUSIVE: PETALING JAYA: Thousands of protected animals seized by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) have died in the hands of the authority in the past year due to mishandling.

These animals, many of which are endangered species and exotic, were being smuggled or kept illegally by local pet owners when they were seized.

A source said the lack of expertise and knowledge to handle these animals in captivity led to their death.

Among the animals that died in Perhilitan custody were 1,000 Indian Star tortoises and 10 juvenile and baby langurs.

These two species were seized from illegal dealers in mid-2016 and March 27 respectively.

Other animals that have died in the Perhilitan rescue centres include Asian Leopard Cats, small primates including endangered gibbons, and exotic white-rumped Shamas (murai batu).

The source said these animals were among many other seized species kept at the department’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Sungkai, Perak, and at Sungai Tengi, Selangor.

These two husbandries are Perhilitan’s main holding centres for seized animals.

The department has 11 other conservation centres nationwide which serve as holding centres for seized wildlife.

The source said many of the handlers have little or no knowledge in keeping, handling and caring for the animals.

“They are not well trained to handle these species and have little knowledge or technical expertise to take care of the animals, which are kept at the centres waiting to be repatriated to their country of origin.

“As such, these animals were neglected. They were not properly fed, given the right diet, or housed in proper facilities.

“These factors,” said the source, “caused the animals to be stressed from captivity, thus making them prone to disease and death.”

A former Perhilitan veterinarian said there was a need for rangers to be trained to handle these animals.

“Many do not know what are the best practices for the animals they are dealing with.

“They don’t have the basic knowledge such as the characteristics or even diet of these species to care for them.

“As such, the animals get sick, are stressed and die,” he said.

He said Perhilitan had its own veterinarians to deal with the seized animals but all these officers were seconded from the Veterinary Department.

“Many of us are trained in handling domestic animals and learn to deal with exotic animals and wildlife after joining Perhilitan,” he added.

Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, says Malaysia is one of many South-East Asian countries that does not have expertise to handle seized smuggled animals in captivity.

Its South-East Asia director Chris Shepherd said Traffic was aware of Perhilitan’s problem but added that this could be averted or minimised if the department takes steps to have a working group comprising members from Perhilitan, the Customs Department, and academicians.

He said it was a challenge for the department to care for the seized animals as it had to deal with many different species.

“However, if they pool their resources together, it would reduce the mortality rate,” he said.

Shepherd said that allowing a private rescue agency to deal with these exotic and imported species would also boost the survival rate of the seized animals.

‘A third of seized animals suffered injury or disease’
The Star 20 May 17;

PETALING JAYA: Nearly 30% – or one out of three – of the protected animals seized by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) died under its care.

A Perhilitan spokesman said that an average of between 25% and 30% of the seized animals died as these animals had suffered injury or contracted diseases while being moved from place to place.

“Some species are sensitive and get stressed very easily when travelling in unsuitable containers.

“Others already suffered internal injuries and illness before they were seized and had little chance of survival,” the spokesman said in an email reply to The Star.

It said that between September 2016 and January, the department conducted 837 enforcement raids.

Besides seizing wildlife smuggled into the country, Perhilitan enforcement also involved technical issues related to late licence renewal. Of the number of cases, 42 involved court action.

While the department did not address the fate of the 1,000 seized Indian Star tortoises, the spokesman said the reptiles were not repatriated as the Indian authorities had rejected the department’s offer to send them back home.

It said all seized animals were dealt with and handled according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines.

The local species seized from the traders have been treated and rehabilitated. They will be released back into the wild.

WWF: Set up animal welfare centre
The Star 20 May 17;

PETALING JAYA: An independently-run wildlife rescue and welfare centre should be established to help the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) to care for seized animals in this country.

WWF-Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma (pic) said the setting up of such a centre would reduce the mortality rate of the seized animals.

“The department handles different seized wildlife at different times. It has limited facilities and manpower to care for and handle the animals under its custody.

“A rescue centre can be the ideal solution,” he said.

Sharma said that, technically, some of these seized animals should be sent to zoos to be looked after.

He said the Malacca Zoo used to be under Perhilitan’s jurisdiction but after it was privatised, it was difficult for the facility or any other zoo in the country to take in and care for seized animals.

Sharma said an independently-run wildlife centre would allow the seized wildlife to be professionally looked after.

“It would also be responsible for rehabilitating some of the local seized animals to be released back into the wild,” he said.

Currently, he said, there was no such centre but if funds were available, it could be established with the help of non-governmental organisations involved in wildlife conservation.

Doc: Caring for seized wildlife not too difficult
VINCENT TAN The Star 21 May 17;

PETALING JAYA: Taking care of seized wildlife may be challenging, but it certainly is not very difficult, says a former Zoo Negara official.

Former Zoo Negara assistant director Datuk Dr S. Vellayan said given the correct living conditions and nutrition, these animals could survive.

He said many of those handling the seized animals in Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) have no proper training on wildlife husbandry, hence leading to complications in keeping the rescued animals alive.

He said many of the officers assigned to look after the animals would employ a trial and error method instead.

Dr Vellayan, currently an associate professor at the Puncak Alam campus of Universiti Teknologi Mara, said taking care of wildlife, whether in zoos or a conservation facility requires people with zoological knowledge and experience to understand wildlife physiology and nutritional needs.

“The department also needs funds to send their rangers and veterinarians, who are seconded from the Veterinary Department, to go on specialised courses on wildlife management,” he said.

Currently, many of Perhilitan’s officers, rangers and veterinarians managing the wildlife rescued and welfare centres lack formal training in wildlife husbandry and medicine. Many of them learned their skills on the job, he said.

“Perhilitan needs to draw up better standard operating procedures, including record-keeping as it is important to note observations like food intake and changes to the animals’ condition,” he said.

Dr Vellayan said the lack of knowledge of animals’ diet could also lead to their death.

The Star yesterday reported that thousands of protected animals seized by Perhilitan have died in the hands of the authority in the past year due to mishandling.

These animals, many of which are endangered species and exotic, were being smuggled or kept illegally by local pet owners when they were seized.

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Indonesia: Forest fires hit Sumatra again, causing smog

The Jakarta Post 19 May 17;

The Indonesian climate agency detected 18 hot spots on Friday, indicating forests and lands were burning in regions on Sumatra Island, as happens each year, resulting in pollution and upsetting neighboring countries.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said that fires had been found in Jambi, South Sumatra, Riau and Riau Islands, which are in the dry season.

“The hot spots have been recorded over the past week,” said Slamet Riyadi, head of the data and information division of the BMKG’s Pekanbaru branch in Riau.

There were seven hot spots in Jambi while four fires were burning in some areas of the Riau and South Sumatra provinces, according to the Terra and Aqua satellites.

Forest and land fires are perennial problems in the country, with the latest massive fires in 2015 resulting in a choking haze blanketing numerous areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, as well as neighboring countries, and costing the economy Rp 221 trillion, equal to about 1.9 percent of the country’s GDP. (mos/dan)

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