Best of our wild blogs: 18-19 Jun 17

Chek Jawa Wetlands Tour (Pulau Ubin) - Part I
Rojak Librarian and Part II

Butterfly of the Month - June 2017
Butterflies of Singapore

Equatorial Spitting Cobra (Naja sumatrana) @ Bedok Reservoir
Monday Morgue

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Hidden sentinels of Singapore’s biodiversity

SIAU MING EN Today Online 17 Jun 17;

SINGAPORE — On a regular dive trip to Pulau Hantu, all her friends were excited about seeing a dirty-green frogfish for the first time but Ms Toh Chay Hoon just could not spot the 12cm-long ambush predator no matter how she tried.

Her friends had to point it to her eventually.

“When I dive and people ask me to find things, (I have a) problem (if it is) bigger than 2cm,” said the 40-year-old senior executive with a chuckle.

Her eye for minute marine creatures though, has stood her in good stead as a volunteer with the National Parks Board (NParks): She has discovered a new species of coral mimic crab and about 10 new records of sea slugs in Singapore’s waters over the years.

An accidental discovery while she was on the lookout for sea slugs, the 0.4cm cream-coloured spotted crab was found to be an undescribed species that was previously only spotted in the Philippines.

Her supervisor at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Professor Peter Ng, named the crab Nursia tohae — after her last name Toh. It was in recognition of Ms Toh’s “knack for finding small and interesting species during her many beach-combing trips”, wrote Prof Ng in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement.

Little known to many, volunteers like Ms Toh have been doing important work, on top of their day-jobs, that adds to the rich biodiversity and contributes to conservation efforts in Singapore.

Their work come in many forms, from the discovery and sightings of flora and fauna, guiding at nature reserves and parks, bird-watching to the surveying of Singapore’s shores.

Last month, NParks announced that over 500 species of marine and terrestrial animals, plants and insects have been newly discovered or rediscovered by their staff, researchers and volunteers in the past five years.

Volunteers have contributed to NParks’ work since 1993. Today, more than 25,000 have participated in a wide range of activities, such as the citizen science programmes, which gets the public to participate and collaborate in scientific research.

While the coral mimic crab she discovered was a new species, Ms Toh’s main passion is in nudibranch or sea slugs. In the Singapore Biodiversity Records, about 10 species, ranging in size from 0.2cm to 5cm, were identified and recorded by her.

Ms Toh’s love affair with sea slugs started when she began volunteering as a guide at Chek Jaya in 2003. Back then, she did not even know what sea slugs were. But after setting her eyes on the species’ colourful bodies, she started reading up on them.

She also picked up diving so she could scour for sea slugs underwater — an activity she spends about 12 hours each month on now.

Whenever she spots a species that looks unfamiliar, Ms Toh would take pictures of it before checking them against a reference book she keeps at home. If they have never been seen here, she would contribute her sightings to the Singapore Biodiversity Records.

“There (wasn’t) a moment where I thought of giving up (on) volunteering because every time we go out, we look forward to finding stuff on our shores, and hopefully something new,” said Ms Toh, who has been guiding and searching for sea slugs for 13 years.


But contributing to Singapore’s biodiversity is not always about discovering new species or recording first sightings in Singapore.

As bird-watcher George Cheah, 58, said when people ask if his work involves finding new species of birds: “Let’s try to keep the existing species alive first.”

Armed with a pair of binoculars, his fisherman’s hat, a clipboard and a plastic folder containing information on 30 common birds here, the vice-principal of a secondary school in the east spends two weekends in April and November — the breeding and migratory seasons respectively — as part of NParks’ Garden Bird Watch.

For about two hours in the morning those days, he would stand at places such as East Coast Park and HortPark identifying, counting and recording the number of different bird species he sees.

The data collected can shed light on bird populations and where they are found around Singapore, which is useful information for better park management and conservation measures as well.

While others might think this is a small role to play, the father of two girls finds his role meaningful in the larger picture of conservation as the authorities can keep track of the bird species and their habitat changes, for instance.If there are noticeable changes to population numbers, for example, they would be the ones to sound the alarm bells and get the authorities to look into it, he noted.

Mr Cheah only started bird-watching last year — he decided it was time to “get back into nature” — but he can now identify some of the birds by their calls.

At the start, he had no problems spotting common birds, such as the rock pigeon and mynahs, out in the open. But things were different when it came to birds in the trees. “It was really difficult. They were so well-camouflaged that unless they call out, or they sang or moved, it wasn’t easy to spot them,” he added.

Ms Ria Tan, 61, is another who chips in by keeping watch over Singapore’s shores. She has been spending about 100 days a year, or roughly twice a month, combing through various shores during the spring low tides, at times looking out for coral bleaching or mass fish deaths.

The founder of nature site, the former civil servant is well-known among marine enthusiasts and professionals alike.

When Singapore experienced the longest mass coral bleaching incident last year, Ms Tan was one of the first to document these on her website. Bleaching occurs when the waters are too warm and forces the corals to expel the algae called zooxanthellae living in their tissues and exposing their limestone skeleton.

She continues to share photos and her findings on how the corals are recovering from the bleaching incident as well as how the north-eastern coast is coping after they were affected by the oil spill in Johor.

At times, dropping in on the shores feels like paying visits to a grandmother, she noted. “Some shores are really, literally dying. And we’ve seen grandma in better days and every time we see her, she’s like declining a little bit more. But we still want to visit her,” she said.

To catch the low tides, she sets off sometimes as early as 2am to take a boat out to Singapore’s northern and southern shoes, accompanied by other volunteers and researchers at times. She has to transfer to a dinghy before wading through knee-deep water to reach the reefs.

With a towel tied around her head and dressed in a neck gaiter, rash guard, track pants, and dive booties, Ms Tan treads along the shore with her walking stick, stopping every now and then to take photos of the marine life, from hard and soft corals, small octopuses, sea anemone to sea cucumbers.

Unlike some others who splurge on long-distance holidays, Ms Tan spends her savings on visiting Singapore’s shores, paying S$10,000 to S$20,000 a year, mostly for hiring boats.
But surveying the shores “is the most fun part of my life”, she said.

Despite her long volunteering experience, Ms Tan said she continues to struggle with raising problems or issues with the relevant stakeholders. “The thing about it is that people get angry, which is not what I want,” she said.

For instance, if someone is seen fishing illegally, she grapples with how she can raise the issue without turning the public against the individual who may not have done it with ill-intentions.

“It’s these kind of issues that cause me grief. I have to think about it, figure out a way to deal with it which doesn’t hurt people,” Ms Tan said.

“I think everybody is trying their best. Everyone has their own focus and constraints, it’s just a matter of finding a way to synergise, collaborate.”


Volunteering amid Singapore’s nature does not always require an individual to invest a lot of time or money.

Healthcare professional Michelle Neo, 29, who volunteers as a guide at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, said a common misconception people have is that it is a very time-consuming endeavour.

“I’m here just once a month and that is very manageable,” she said, adding that she also has the flexibility to choose when she would like to volunteer for other activities.

People also have the wrong impression that volunteer work means helping out with registration or administrative tasks, said Ms Neo, who developed an interest for plants while collecting Young Scientist badges in primary school.

“When people hear that I’m volunteering as a guide, (they) are very surprised. They wonder whether I received professional training in this area … whether I need a degree. In fact … I do not have any educational specialisation in this but it can still be done,” she added.

Even for nature guide Jenny Lim, 52, who has a Bachelor of Science degree, she said she barely recalls what she learned at school because “she only studied to pass the exams”.

“I never really liked botany (that) much,” said Ms Lim, who only started to develop an interest in plants after participating in a sensory trail with her students at Pulau Ubin some seven years ago.

The senior teacher at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore Woodlands Garden now picks up new plant knowledge from fellow volunteers and NParks officers at their monthly sharing sessions or WhatsApp chat group with them.

The nature guide at Pulau Ubin and the Istana also applied what she has learnt by setting up a butterfly garden at her school last year. To attract butterflies, the garden grows plants, such as the Seven Candlesticks, Snakeweeds, Lantana and Rose Myrtle.

What gets her goat when she is volunteering is meeting individuals who insist on releasing non-native species, such as terrapins, in the wild and do not understand why this could damage the environment.

“There are those who might not understand the idea of why it’s important to protect our own native species and not just bring in insects or plants (that are not preyed on in that area),” she said.

“(Sometimes) it takes time for them to buy your idea but we don’t stop telling them what is right … We (just) do what we can.”

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To keep wild animals is to neglect their welfare

Straits Times 18 Jun 17;

Wild animals are in no way suitable to be pets in our urban lifestyle. By advocating for a legal wildlife trade, one blatantly ignores the welfare of these wild animals (Expand list of animals allowed as pets, by Mr Ong Junkai; June 11)

Over the years, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) has rescued more than 400 exotic wild animals in Singapore, most of which had been abandoned or released.

Since 2015, we have rescued 25 sugar gliders and 18 hedgehogs abandoned in residential areas.

Many of these animals were either dead on arrival, or had serious health issues resulting from dietary complications and abandonment.

Like all wild animals, whether or not they are captive-bred, they have varied needs that are almost impossible to provide for in captivity.

Even the legally allowed red-eared sliders are found in every public freshwater pond in Singapore, as a result of abandonment.

It is also misleading to think that there are no health risks related to keeping reptiles or wild animals.

The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of turtle-associated salmonellosis in humans.

Expanding the list of pet animals is not a marker of progress, as it neglects the welfare concerns of animals and health concerns of humans.

We are thankful to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority for its enforcement against the illegal wildlife trade and the legislation that protects most wild animals from being kept as pets.

Sumita Thiagarajan (Ms)

Education Executive

Animal Concerns Research and Education Society

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Banks on the path of responsible financing

Today Online 15 Jun 17;

When banks loan companies money without considering environmental, social and governance factors, they run the risk of supporting companies that engage in unsustainable practices (“DBS, OCBC financed Indonesian palm oil firms engaged in unsustainable practices: Report”; June 2, Channel NewsAsia).

Unsustainable practices in the palm oil and paper industries are a cause of the haze that has affected Singapore. Non-governmental organisation People’s Movement to Stop Haze therefore applauds DBS, OCBC and UOB for outlining in their annual reports how they will be more discerning going forward.

Their financing policies embed environmental, social and governance factors into decisions about whom they lend to and the conditions included.

DBS has gone further by setting a sector-specific standard for palm oil: New borrowers should “additionally demonstrate alignment with no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation policies”.

Even if there is only one loan, regardless of the size, to a company in a high-risk sector, there is a right way to do it.

No deforestation, peat and exploitation (NDPE) is increasingly recognised as the gold standard in the agriculture and forestry industries.

It reduces the risk of fire and haze, as deforestation and peat drainage create dry and flammable landscapes, while exploitation often leads to land conflict, with fire used as a weapon.

Our banks play a role in promoting responsible practices globally and shrinking the pool of funds for irresponsible companies’ destructive ways.

To keep the momentum going, firstly we urge OCBC and UOB to develop and adopt a palm oil policy with NDPE. This would reinforce their commitment to a haze-free Singapore and South-east Asia.

Secondly, all three local banks should publicly disclose sector-specific policies for the high-risk industries mentioned in the Association of Banks in Singapore guidelines: Agriculture, chemicals, defence, energy, forestry, infrastructure, mining and metals and waste management.

For decades, our banks have served Singaporeans well as a safe place for deposits. As we face environmental and social threats, we hope that our banks continue to serve us well by lending money for a safer world.

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Malaysia: Elephant dead on highway


IPOH: A two-year-old elephant was found dead in a pool of blood by the roadside of the Gerik-Jeli Highway in Gerik, some 130km from here.

Perak Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) director Loo Kean Seong said state officers found the carcass at around 7am last Friday.

“While incidents like this do not happen often, we would like motorists to be extra careful when driving along this highway.

“We have already erected signboards to notify motorists that there would be elephant crossings along the stretch of the highway, so they need to be more responsible, especially when they are driving late at night or early in the morning,” said Loo.

Loo also urged motorists throughout the country to report to their respective state Perhilitan if they knocked into any endangered or protected species like elephants, tigers, tapirs or leopards.

“This is so that we can at least investigate and bury the carcass instead of leaving it to rot at the roadside,” he added.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) co-founder and chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian said the particular stretch of the highway itself should be viewed as a heritage road with potential for ecotourism.

In view of the wildlife viaducts and countless articles written about the Belum-Temengor forest complex, the road and its wildlife, he said motorists must be extra careful.

“This is to avoid accidents as well as to show courtesy, respect and adherence to wildlife laws that are meant to also protect our other protected users,” he added.

Teacher crashes, kills elephant calf in highway accident
Bernama New Straits Times 19 Jun 17;

IPOH: A teacher, who panicked when she came across a herd of elephants, crashed into an elephant calf at Km43.6 of the East-West Highway near Air Banun early this morning.

Gerik police chief Supt Ismail Che Isa said the incident occurred at about 2.30am when Aznida Alias, 49, was travelling from Tanah Merah, Kelantan to Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in Arau, Perlis. “It was pitch dark and the victim, who was driving a Nissan Almera did not expect to see a herd of elephants in the middle of the road.

“As the elephants were so close to her car, she could not avoid hitting and killing one of them.

“She then headed to the nearest police station to make a report,” he told Bernama.

He said the teacher, her husband and their three children who were in the car, escaped unhurt.

Meanwhile, Ismail refuted claims that after the incident several of the elephants went into a rampage.

“The news which went viral on Facebook and WhatsApp are false and should be stopped as people are now afraid to use the road.

“No elephants or mother elephant went on a rampage,” he said.

He said the location was an area where elephants and other wild animals roam and the herd of elephant there tends to be very active from 10pm until the wee hours of the morning. – BERNAMA

Enforce speed limits to prevent another elephant tragedy
MEI MEI CHU The Star 19 Jun 17;

PETALING JAYA: Speed limits need to be enforced at the Gerik-Jeli Highway to prevent accidents with endangered wildlife like elephants crossing the highway, say animal conservationists.

This is the view of experts like Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) principal investigator Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, who said that this problem would get worse as Malaysia continues to develop its infrastructure.

“When we drive through the habitat of wildlife and we go fast, we are likely to kill small mammals, so going a bit slower can prevent this. When it comes to elephants, you are saving yourself as well,” he said.

Campos-Arceiz added that people need to be aware that they are driving through a wildlife habitat and should not need to speed in such an ecologically sensitive area.

“We need to prevent traffic and control the speed limit on the (Gerik-Jeli) highway. We recommend a lower speed limit, and we recommend enforcement; we also recommend speed bumps and good lighting so there is good visibility at night,” he said.

Last Friday, a two-year-old male elephant was killed in a hit and run accident on the highway some 130km from Gerik.

Perak Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) state officers found its carcass lying in a pool of blood by the side of the highway.

Campos-Arceiz said that infrastructure development like the Gerik-Jeli highway is fragmenting the forest, endangering wildlife movement and habitats.

He added that he fears that future expansions of the highway would lead to more serious issues for the threatened wildlife in the area.

Campos-Arceiz pointed out that in 2010, a big female elephant was killed after being hit by a truck on the Gerik-Jeli highway while an elephant was suffered minor injuries after it was hit by a vehicle in 2014.

Similar views were shared by Gerik-based MEME field manager Alicia Solana Mena, who said that the highway is an accident-prone area, especially because of high lorry activity.

"There is a lot of roadkill here, you can see dead langur, macaques and wild boar every week. Last year, a tiger was killed in a hit and run," she said, adding that the Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex has a high wildlife density but the highway cutting through the forest has made it a dangerous place for them.

Solana Mena, who was at the scene of the accident involving the baby elephant, believes that it had died on the spot after being hit on the head by a speeding vehicle.

“There were many pieces of debris scattered around, but no sign nor clues as to the make of the car or the identity of the driver,” she said, adding that the blood and elephant footprints and dung from the herd was still fresh when she arrived at the scene at 9am last Friday.

According to Solana Mena’s survey of the area, the baby was travelling with a herd of approximately seven elephants.

She added that the herd was believed to have been looking for food and was eating grass at the side of the highway before crossing the highway at a spot where there are no metal barricades.

"The accident happened along about 700 metres of straight road, so the visibility must have been high as it happened early in the morning. It is unlikely that the driver could not see the herd," said Solana Mena.

She said that she suspects the driver was speeding and could not brake in time, adding that there is a possibility that driver was sleepy or distracted when the accident happened.

Solana Mena also said that she believes that after the calf was hit, the herd stayed to mourn its death before leaving the scene.

"It is natural behaviour for elephants to mourn the death of a family member; the mother and aunts would usually be around and try to wake him up, but they had left by the time we arrived," she said.

Meanwhile, Perhilitan director Loo Kean Seong has advised motorists to be extra careful when driving along the Gerik-Jeli highway.

"We have already erected signboards to notify motorists that there would be elephant crossings along stretches of the highway, so they need to be more responsible, especially when they are driving late at night or early in the morning,” said Loo.

In 2012, a pregnant tiger was killed by an MPV while crossing the East Coast Expressway Phase 2 (LPT2), sparking a call for the authorities to build safe animal crossings for wildlife to cross highways safely.

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Malaysia: Turtle killed by boat propeller in Pulau Perhentian

MEI MEI CHU The Star 18 Jun 17;

PETALING JAYA: A healthy male green turtle in Pulau Perhentian known as Vicky died on Saturday after being struck by a boat propeller that cracked its shell and injured its lungs.

Believed to be about 25 years old, Vicky was a resident turtle at Turtle Bay, often seen feeding on sea grass around the islands.

On Saturday morning, Perhentian Island Resort guests who were snorkelling at Teluk Pauh in Pulau Perhentian Besar spotted Vicky injured and barely moving at the bottom of the sea.

They immediately returned to shore to inform resort workers, who asked the staff at the Perhentian Turtle Project, a turtle conservation non-governmental organisation, for help.

Project leader Wan Zuriana Wan Sulaiman told The Star that moments before they went snorkelling, the guests had seen a boat speeding in the waters close to where Vicky was found.

"According to the Whatsapp message sent by the guests, the turtle was hardly moving. Earlier, they saw a boat zooming past, stopped in the middle of the water for a moment, and then continued moving," she said.

When Wan Zuriana and her team found Vicky, the turtle had already succumbed to its injuries.

"He had a big boat strike on his carapace. We think the strike was too severe," she said.

The team performed a necropsy on Vicky after recovering him from the water and found blood clots on the carapace.

Wan Zuriana explained that the boat propeller had cracked through the turtle's shell and hit its lungs.

"We discovered that apart from the large crack in the shell from the boat strike, there was a small piece of fishing wire in his stomach," she said, adding that the fishing line could have been ingested together with seagrass.

"If it hadn't been for the boat strike, he could live up to 100 years old," she said.

According to data from the Perhentian Turtle Project, the male-to-female ratio of sea turtles in Pulau Perhentian is not balanced.

"Since the Perhentian Turtle Project started in 2015, we have identified 250 individual turtles, including male, female and juvenile. However, the male population is less than 5% (if the total)," she said, adding that the fewer number of male turtles is also one of the factors contributing to the extinction of the leatherback turtles in Malaysia.

Wan Zuriana said Vicky was the second turtle to die from a boat strike within the span of one year.

"There are many turtles in Perhentian Island along the channel between Perhentian Besar and Perhential Kecil. Around this time last year, we found a turtle that had also died because of a boat strike.

"Many others get hit by speeding boats. We have seen turtles with scars and cracks from the impact of boat propellers, but Vicky was the most severe case so far," she said.

Wan Zuriana says the authorities need to enforce a speed limit within marine parks to ensure that boat activity does not claim another marine life.

"The boats play an important role in turtle conservation, but sometimes boatmen enjoy speeding to impress guests," she said, adding that taxi boats are also often seen rushing to pick up customers.

Although there are buoy lines where boats are not allowed to cross, Wan Zuriana said this protects the guests but not marine life as "turtles don't obey buoy lines."

There have also been several reported cases of high boat activity and speeding boats in marine parks injuring tourists.

In 2013, a British woman reportedly died and an Australian man was injured after being struck by a boat propeller while diving off Pulau Perhentian Kecil.

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Thailand: Wounded dugong, one of very few off Krabi, dies on way to veterinary facility

Sittichai Sikawat The Nation 18 Jun 17;

A badly injured and emancipated dugong was found in a bay in Krabi province on Sunday morning. Despite urgent medical care, the animal died on the way to a veterinary facility.

This dugong was about two metres long and estimated to be five years old.

Rachawadee Chandra, a veterinarian from the Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Centre of the Eastern Gulf of Thailand, said the dugong’s body showed bite wounds.

“We gave it an injection and loaded it into a boat in the hope of sending it to the centre’s base but it died on the way to the shore,” she said.

It is believed that the dugong might have fought with another male of the species in a mating contest and been injured. Its wound apparently had become infected, causing death.

A recent survey showed that there were between 10 and 12 dugongs in the sea off Krabi.

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